Monday, January 23, 2017

Coding: Unity (Day 85)

Let's begin with the Pappas question of the day:

0.23 liters = ? centiliters

The answer is is 23 -- and of course today is the 23rd. Conversion of units is the lesson that my sixth graders just completed.

Five of my last six posts here on the blog are challenge posts. We've finally reached a lull in the challenges, as my last post for the Initiative will be Friday, while my next post for "Day in the Life" won't be until February 18th. Last week I made only two posts due to the holiday -- but I make up for it this week, with four posts scheduled. And let me keep this a challenge-free post and avoid even links to other challenge entries.

Meanwhile, today is a coding Monday. I've been lucky lately in avoiding one-day posts where that one day is coding Monday -- the last such post was October 24th. Today the eighth graders learn about Unity, a video game engine:

In case you're curious, sixth graders create logos for an imaginary company, while seventh graders learn about spreadsheets. The students learn about various Excel functions, including mean, median, and mode. I don't normally have music break on coding Mondays, but I couldn't help singing the Measures of Center song from last month to jog the students' memory.

I usually use the coding Monday posts to discuss other issues on my mind. There are two big issues to which I alluded in my challenge posts, but I didn't want to tie those posts up with these issues:

-- The students don't like the way I teach science (or fail to teach it).
-- The administration doesn't like the way I teach math.

I'm saving a discussion of science for the challenge post on Friday. This is because the Week 4 topic is to write about a teaching failure, and what bigger failure do I have teaching than science? Instead, I'll write about my math teaching and the administration. (Traditionalists, again this may be a good time to stop reading this post, since you won't like anything to follow.)

In my lone non-challenge post since the end of winter break (dated the 12th), I wrote about how I'm falling behind in covering all of the major content (MC) that may appear on the SBAC. Then in my "Day in the Life" post on the 18th, I mentioned several "bells and whistles" that are part of the Illinois State curriculum, but I haven't included in any lessons yet. In the Common Planning meeting, we (the elementary teachers and I) were told point blank that we must include these bells and whistles in our lessons, and we had to give a ten-minute report on how exactly we'll do so.

I've mentioned in previous posts that Illinois State provides a pacing plan, but I've had trouble deciphering it. After I complained about it, the developers added a "Year View" to the pacing plan, so that we can actually see how the units correspond to the calendar.

I've stated that of the various components, one ought to be taught in the order presented in the text -- and on the Year View, that is the traditional text (or Student Journal). This text covers all of the Common Core Standards in the order given by the Core itself -- start with Ratios and Proportional Reasoning, then Number System, Expressions and Equations, Geometry, and we end with Statistics and Probability. (For eighth grade, we drop Ratios and add Functions before Geometry.)

In some ways, the naive order of the standards is logical, since Ratios, Number System, and Expressions are all considered major content (MC) while Geometry (except for eighth grade) and Stats and Prob aren't. I instead tried to follow the order of the STEM projects, which ends up jumping between strands. So unfortunately I've already deviated from the Year View.

I don't want to post the Year View in full since I'm not following it, but I do want to show the relationship between the months and the standards for future reference. As usual, I'll post eighth grade only:

Aug. (last few days)-Sept.: NS1 through EE3
October: EE3 through EE6
November: EE6 through EE8a
December: EE8a through EE8c
January: EE8c through F3
February: F3 through G1a
March: G1a through G3
April: G3 through G5
May: G5 through G8
June: G8 through SP4

This isn't as much an issue in sixth and seventh grade where Geometry isn't MC, but for eighth grade, this is problematic. The last MC standard, G8, isn't completed until June 1st! Perhaps Number System should be omitted at the start of the year in order to get all of Geometry finished.

Each standard is allotted a certain number of days, from four to six. If there are four days, then the basic pattern is:

-- One day for STEM projects
-- One day for the traditional lesson (Student Journal)
-- One day for "centers" (that which I've been calling "bells and whistles" earlier)
-- One day for assessment

If there are five or six days available for the standard, then the extra days are to be assigned to the "centers" lesson. The Year View is based on four days of math per week -- which applies to our school as Mondays are for coding. So each standard spans a week to a week and a half.

For some reason, I still haven't figured out the "assessment" part of the Year View. There is supposed to be half a day of Pre-Assessment and half a day of Post-Assessment -- with the other half of the assessments given as homework? (The seventh grade assessments are done the same way, but the sixth grade is even worse -- all of the assessments are listed as "homework"!) There is also one day of Interactive Homework, which the kids are supposed to complete online.

Now since I'm behind schedule, I decide to reduce "centers" to one day. Then each standard spans a week -- and each part of the lesson corresponds to a day of the week:

Monday: Coding
Tuesday: STEM project
Wednesday: Student Journal
Thursday: Centers
Friday: Assessment

But now there's been yet another change -- this time to the daily "bell" schedule (a misnomer, as our charter lacks bells). Afraid that our students aren't prepared for the SBAC, the administration has reworked the bell schedule to incorporate SBAC prep. Here's my new schedule:

1. STEM 7
2. STEM 8
3, STEM 6
4. SBAC Math Prep 6
5. SBAC Math Prep 7

1. STEM 6
2. STEM 7
3. STEM 8
4. SBAC Math Prep 6
5. SBAC Math Prep 7

1. SBAC Math Prep 8
2. STEM 6
3. STEM 8
4. SBAC Science Prep 8
5. Advisory

This schedule will be tougher on the students as the sixth and seventh graders have much less P.E. -- instead of having it everyday except Wednesday, they have it only on Wednesday. It's also harder on both the English teacher and myself as neither of us get a break during said P.E. time! The kids are also losing their IXL computer time -- but computers may be used during the test prep time, since the SBAC itself will be given on a computer.

As for my schedule, I see the eighth graders less during the week -- except for Wednesdays, when I end up seeing them most of the day. Notice that for the first time, the word "science" actually appears on the eighth grade schedule -- not just "math" or "STEM." I did address a concern to those in charge that the eighth graders weren't getting enough science -- but that's all I'll say until Friday.

On the other hand, seventh grade math always seems to get the short end of the stick. Even the original schedule I received at the start of summer gave no seventh grade math on Wednesdays. At first that was changed so that I would see 7th grade on Wednesday -- except that was changed to music instead. (Now music has been eliminated as well -- once the music teacher recovers from his injury, he'll teach elementary only.)

Anyway, notice that the schedule has returned to my not seeing 7th grade at all on Wednesdays. And moreover, notice that seventh grade test prep is given the "period 5" spot -- which used to be the shorter P.E. period!

This also throws a wrench into the Year View pacing plan. Notice that periods are shorter on Wednesdays due to Common Planning -- and that's when the traditional lessons are. And seventh grade is left without traditional lessons at all! The only logical solution is to use the test prep time on Tuesday for the traditional lesson -- technically, I am preparing the students for the SBAC by actually teaching the math!

Well, we'll see how this new schedule goes on Wednesday. Tomorrow will be the last day we're on the old schedule.

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