Friday, November 4, 2016

Online Benchmark Tests (Day 55)

First of all, by now you know that the Chicago Cubs are the World Series Champions. Back in March, I wrote about Back to the Future Day, or October 21st, 2015 -- the day to which Marty McFly travels to see the Cubs win the Word Series. Now we see that the real Back to the Future Day is November 3rd, 2016 -- the series was won on the 2nd, so McFly could read about it in a newspaper on the 3rd.

Okay, I started writing about the World Series in order to avoid mentioning the word that you're tired of reading about, and I'm tired of thinking about -- "Benchmarks." Everything that I did in class yesterday and today revolves around the Benchmark Tests.

As I wrote back on Wednesday, I wanted to have the eighth graders begin the online Benchmarks that day, only to have the music teacher unexpectedly show up. Well, I tried to start online Benchmarks yesterday during the math intervention time usually devoted to the other online program IXL. But the problem was that there was a power outage! I'd already charged the laptops before the blackout, but it was impossible to access WiFi during the outage, so the students couldn't access the online Benchmarks. The blackout began at the start of lunch and ended right at -- you guessed it -- 2:25 (that is, P.E. time).

The English teacher suggested that I have the eighth graders finish the written Benchmarks for her own class, since the students couldn't finish them during English class. Well, the students refused to work on them, and when I told them that they were supposed to be working on the essay, one girl called out, "Well, you're supposed to teach us science and you're not doing that!"

"Okay, then," I replied, "let's start the science assignment now."

It's a good thing that I purchased that Common Core Science book last month, since yesterday was my first opportunity to use it -- after all, science was the last thing on my mind with all of this Benchmark stuff. (Notice that there is no science Benchmark, even though eighth graders are supposed to take the NGSS science test.) So I just jumped into Chapter 7 of that book, which as I wrote in my October 10th post, is on Matter and Its Interactions. I just had the students start writing the definitions of some vocabulary from that chapter, but they only got through the first four terms after all the arguing about the essay and writing. Still, at least I got some science in at a time when I thought I'd have very little time for science.

This might have been a great time to squeeze in a lesson from Sarah Carter -- but of course I couldn't access Carter, otherwise we would've just done the Benchmarks. Interestingly enough, today Carter posts a science-like project she does in her Algebra I class -- so in some ways, this is similar to a STEM project from Illinois State. Here is her justification:

The other day, someone asked me how my physical science class was going.  I replied that it was going well and was definitely an interesting adventure.  Then, I told them that the most exciting thing that has come out of me teaching science is that it has changed the way I teach math.

Ironically, during the power outage, the history teacher -- who couldn't use his online program -- had the sixth graders work on their math homework! (Let's see -- math in history class, arguing over whether to do English or science during math intervention time, what's next?)

Today, the sixth graders are scheduled to have IXL time, not the eighth graders. Still, we need to get eighth graders started with online Benchmarks, and so I begin them during regular math time. Again, the test frustrates the students, as the online tests cover the entire year's worth of material. Calculators are allowed, but they don't help if the students haven't seen the material. The English teacher has the eighth grade math Benchmarks after lunch. In theory, the students are supposed to finish the math Benchmarks in one hour and the ELA test in another, but they've been working on them for two hours and they still haven't finished the math test!

My plan now is to have the students finish the online Benchmarks during IXL time on Monday. They can't do it during math time since that's when they have Monday coding! Meanwhile, it's possible that both the history and English teachers will give them time to work on them on Monday as well.

By the way, the song for today is the completed "One Billion Is Big" song from Square One TV, since Barry Carter doesn't include this song in this lyrics.

Recall that the English teacher is in charge of giving the online Benchmarks to 6th and 7th grades. So far, she hasn't needed me to give them in my class as well. And so I am able to give my regular lessons to the younger students.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I've decided to cover only one of the standards that appears on the (written) Benchmarks this week in each class. For 7th and 8th grades, the standards I've chosen can be easily taught in a short time -- 8th grade intro to functions and 7th grade opposites. In many ways, this is a wise decision -- exposing them to these topics allows them to get more questions correct on the Benchmarks without much effort or time needed to learn them.

In fact, I realize that the seventh grade lesson is so easy that today, I actually go back and have the students work on the Orienteering STEM project from the Illinois State text. This decision is easy to make, since my support staff member and Bruin Corps member are both present during the seventh grade math block. So I take one group outside, give them compasses, and have them create a map to hide the "treasure" (the textbook), and then another group takes the compasses and map and uses them to find the treasure.

While all of this is going on, my Bruin Corps member watches the rest of the class. She sees that they've already mastered the concept of opposites, so she has them do some general addition of integers that are not opposites. She has them play a game for points similar to the "Who Am I?" games that I played as a sub last year, and buys pizza for the winning group. The winners turn out to be the same group that hides the first treasure -- that is, they are outside for part of the game, yet they still come back to win. And this is more amazing because the smartest student in that group is in fact absent today, so it's not as if he's doing all the work.

Meanwhile, the sixth grade class is still having problems. The problem is that the chosen standard to cover this week is long division, which is obviously not an easy to cover. Perhaps I should have selected another topic to cover -- for example, the Statistics standards for all three grades could be considered easily since none of these appearing on the Benchmark require much calculation. But the Benchmarks are written with the strands given in Common Core order (that is, Ratio and Proportion first then the Number System, with Statistics last). It's better for me to follow this same order -- if I were to skip long division and go straight to stats, the students might be so dismayed by the division problems that they give up and start marking random answers long before reaching stats questions.

Yesterday I had a Bruin Corps member present during the sixth grade block. So here's what I did -- I began the class with a Warm-Up division problem from Illinois State -- 2400 / 51. Then I divided the class into two groups -- those who got the right answer and those who didn't. I gave the higher group to my Bruin Corps member, so he could help them move on, just as he and his fellow Bruin have helped with the higher grades this week.

But this led to problems. First of all, some students decided not to answer the Warm-Up. I remember one boy who chose not to answer, so I seated him with the students who didn't know division. Then when I assigned a division question, he answered it quickly -- meaning that he already knew all the steps and was just too lazy to do the Warm-Up. He complained that he had to sit with the students who didn't know division when he already knew it.

There were probably also some students who cheated and started copying the answers when they saw who was getting them right. I reckon that some teachers get around this by simply handing out colored cards rather than telling them where to sit. Then the students can't tell as easily who's getting the right answer, making it harder to cheat. Many of these problems persisted into the homework, where some students either skipped completely or wrote in nonsensical answers, such as "55 divided 8 is 55 remainder 3." And remember -- this is all despite the history teacher giving them time to do the math assignment in his class!

I tried to give the inspiration example I've mentioned earlier -- the Cubs. The North Siders have failed to win the World Series for 108 years before they won it all this week. They didn't let their past failure hinder their present success. Yet the students who can't divide aren't thinking like Cubs -- that is, like champions. They fail to divide, and so they keep coming up ways to avoid division rather than think, I don't know to divide now, but if I work hard (like the Cubs), I will.

Today during the IXL time, the struggling sixth graders continued to struggle. Indeed, I can't say that I've taught a single student to divide -- the stronger students already knowing division and the weaker students coming up with excuses. It doesn't help that I'm trying to crack down on students who don't remember their IXL passwords by telling them they can't use the computers. Weaker students who wish to avoid division just claim that they don't know their passwords!

During music break, I finally completed transcribing the lyrics to One Million Is Big, the Fat Boys song featured on Square One TV. Here is a link to another YouTube video (both this and the one earlier this week are 10 years old, but this one has clearer sound):

And here, posted on the Internet for the first time, are the lyrics to this old-school rap:

ONE BILLION IS BIG -- by the Fat Boys

1st Verse:
Have you seen the headline? We did OK,
We sold a million records in just one day.
That's a thousand times a thousand sold,
That's plenty of vinyl, a million whole.
A million dollar bills reach for the sky,
Stack 'em about three hundred feet high.
A billion dollars is a thousand times more,
A lot more money than we bargained for.

One million is big,
One billion is bigger.
One thousand times one million,
That's one billion.

2nd Verse:
We're getting kinda hungry for our favorite food,
Hey, what do ya say? Are you in the mood?
Let's satisfy our special taste,
And get some lunch at the burger place.
See that sign? "One billion served!"
Beef bucks, that's a lot of hamburgers.
One thousand times, when ya order fries,
A million times one thousand apple pies.
(Repeat Refrain)

3rd Verse:
If we multiply one million by ten,
How close are we to one million then?
If we take a look, we will see,
We got a way to go, my friend Markie Dee.
If we multiply by one hundred this time,
Let's take a look, and we will find,
That we're not even halfway there,
We need a lot more to be a billionaire.
If we order one billion cheeseburgers,
And eat one million cheeseburgers,
It would be enough to knock us off our feet,
'Cause we'd still have almost one billion burgers to eat.
One million's not even one percent of one billion. Wow!
(Repeat Refrain)

By the way, notice that I might not have written all the words correctly. I fear that the words "beef bucks" in the second verse may be incorrect.

The "Day in the Life" poster whose monthly posting date is the fourth is Hannah Schuhhardt:

Schuhhardt hasn't made her November 4th post yet, but she does have some interesting past posts, including her October 4th post:

Schuhhardt is an Illinois high school teacher -- maybe the reason she hasn't posted for November 4th post is that she's so giddy over her hometown Cubs! Last month, she wrote:

"Looping" with the kids into Calculus has been SO NICE. I love it. The kids trust me already so early in the year that they don't get nervous, frustrated, or anxious when problems take a long time or they try for a long time and end up with an incorrect answer. They're totally fine just trying again and taking time with their thoughts.

This is, of course, the exact opposite of my sixth graders. They do get nervous and frustrated with long division, so much that they seek out ways to weasel out of dividing.

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