Encouraging Student Accountability with Popsicle Sticks

Student participation in group discussions can be tricky, especially in my high school math class. And, while that is my experience, please stay with me no matter what level or subject you teach. This trick will help you increase student accountability through classroom discussions while keeping you organized and sane.

Sometimes, when teachers are leading a discussion, it is nice to have students volunteer to answer the question by raising their hands.

Other times, though, teachers need to guide the discussion more and hear from more students than just the ones willing to put themselves out there in front of their peers. From there, the name jar was conceived. Teachers put students' names in a jar and pull randomly. (Or they use an app- it's the same idea.)

If you have used one, you know the immediate unease that enters the room when you pull the jar out. There is a tension that comes with students being unsure about the question they will get and if they will know the answer or not. (More on this in a moment.) This tension is not necessarily a negative thing. For most, it can be positive. Students' focus increases, it gently pushes some out of their comfort zone, and it gives some students a chance to be heard when they would not normally raise their hand. It also provides the teacher with so much information as quick formative assessments. There are some problems with the system, though. 1. As soon as a name is drawn, the teacher has to decide what to do with it. If he/she puts it back in the jar, the teacher runs the risk of calling on that student more than once and not hearing from others. 2. If the teacher puts the called names aside, he/she loses that student. They check out. They have been called, the pressure is off...they're done for the day. So here is the solution to all your problems: A jar within a jar. Or in my case, a small cup within my bucket.

 (I teach secondary, so I have multiple classes. I color code my classes, but you could use all one color if you have just one class.)

Now when I select a name and call on the student, I insert it back into the bucket, but I can choose to put it into the cup and know I have already called on that student or I can put it back into the mix with the rest if I feel I may want to call this student again. My choice. The students think it is just one bucket- they can't see the cup. The students know they may be called again, so they never check out. It's AWESOME and it scores big points with my principal during evaluations.

I mentioned that I would come back to the tension the bucket creates with the students. For some students, the bucket causes serious anxiety. I want students ENGAGED- not ANXIOUS! Here is my cure for that. Since I also want students collaborating, I tell students I am going to be using the bucket for questioning and then I give the students a chance to discuss with their table the problem set or idea we are discussing. I tell them to make sure that if they feel confused to ask questions to their peers until they feel like they could explain it to the class if they were called. This reduces stress, engages 100% of the students in conversations about the content with their peers, and it gives me great formative data. Win. Win. Win!

I hope you found this to be a helpful and effective questioning technique. If you use it, I would love to hear from you! I would also love to hear about other effective questioning techniques you use! Please comment below!

How to Prepare Students for HS Math Standardized Tests

Hello again, friends!

I am here to present to you the details of a program I use in my high school Geometry classroom, which is both fun and proven to be very helpful! Read on to learn how to implement a version that fits your and your students' needs! SOS stands for Save Our Skills and while I did not create the acronym or the idea of practicing these skills, this post is about a way to effectively implement a way to help students, teachers, and schools.

Q: Who is this SOS program for? 
A: It is for any high school math student who takes any standardized general math test and their teachers and/or tutors.

Q: Why is this program important? 
A: When students begin taking subject-specific math courses (Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry, Pre-Cal, Calculus, Statistics, etc...), they become super focused on the current content. When they go to take a general math test, they wish they had reviewed and prepared for all the content on which they may be tested. In addition to the college entrance exams, some state end-of-course tests have become general subject tests, like the ACT Aspire exam. Keeping a firm grip on all previously learned material is also crucial in future math courses.

Q: So what? What is the way to help? 
A: SOS Activities! SOS stands for Save Our Skills. They are short review assignments which reinforce the previously learned skills. They are in addition to and not related to current classroom content. As a Geometry teacher, I focus on pre-Algebra and Algebra I skills. 

Q: When do you do these activities? 
A: This is up to each teacher, but I want to explain what I do because it is effective, consistent, and pushes the students without overwhelming them with loads of extra work. I distribute two SOS activities at one time. I print them back to back, so that totals 20 problems. I give them out at the beginning of one week and it is due at the end of the next week. So, essentially, they have two weeks to complete 20 review problems. This makes it manageable, since I assign this on top of any content homework. 
Q: When do you start? 
A: I suppose you could begin at the beginning of the year, or whenever you and your students are ready. I begin at the beginning of the spring semester, in January. I don't want them to get too sick of them before spring testing rolls around, but again, you do whatever works for your classroom and your students.

Q: Where do students complete the activities? 
A: My students mostly do them at home. We have very little down-time in class, so they do not get much of an opportunity to work on them in class. So, my students primarily do them as homework. My school has an advisory period which has a built-in study hall-ish period. Sometimes, my students come to me and work on them with me and get help during this time. I also try to spark their memory of how to work the problems by throwing some similar problems in for Bell Work once or twice throughout the two week period.
Q: Where do I find the SOS activities?
A: You could make your own. Or, save some time and you can get mine here: SOS ACTIVITIES

Q: How do you motivate students to care enough to do their best on these activities?
A:I give my students five reasons to do their SOS well. (I can think of more, but these are the five I present to them. If you need more, ask in the comments and I will be happy to help you with some!) Here are the five I give:
1. Class Grade. I grade the activities for accuracy and I give feedback. They need to do well because it will negatively impact their grade and therefore, their GPA.
2. Standardized Test Performance. For my students, they have an end-of-course test, which they need to do well on or potentially face some remediation. They are taking the ACT, the SAT, the PSAT and are trying to get the very highest score they can so they can get into college, earn scholarships, and try to qualify for National Merit.
3. To Avoid TGS. At our school, we have an option of assigning Teacher Guided Study (TGS) to students who are falling behind in classes or need to make up work. It is helpful, but is also punitive, and can carry further consequences if they don't attend. So, for you, this may be an option for you in the form of morning or lunch detention. Or parent contact. Reason Number 3 is the only one I give that is a potential consequence. They others are to motivate with incentives.
4. Individual Incentives. When I collect the SOS activities, I check for completion. I don't have time to check for accuracy, so all they have to do for the first reward is complete the entire activity. If it is complete, they get a ticket. (Those little blue tear-tickets from the big roll are really cheap.) They put their name on it and they place it in their class bucket. Then, I grade them and each student who gets a 20/20 receives an additional ticket in the bucket. This gives each student two chances for their name to be drawn on Drawing Day. Drawing Day comes the next day. I have a big treasure chest which is filled with toys and knick-knacks that I have collected throughout the years. It has candy bars in it, which I gladly buy with my own money. But the BIG prize for students are the reward passes. There is a pass for "One Bonus Point on an Assessment," "One Penalty-Free Homework Pass," and "Drop Lowest Homework Grade." These are a hit and my most coveted prizes...even over the candy bars!
5. Classroom Competition. I also up the ante by adding an element of student to student accountability. I count the number of students who turned in a completed SOS out of how many total students were present in each class. I publish (by posting on the wall) each class's turn in percentage. Each round, they anxiously await their class's percentage and placement. I offer a party to the winning class. This helps me so much because they are encouraging each other to do their work more than I ever could. They are offering to help each other and they send text reminders to each other, too.

If you try this out, please let me know how it goes! I love doing this with my students and I would love some feedback and different implementation ideas! :) 
Happy testing! 

Test Strategy: JuJu on that BEAT!

Hi Y'all!

So, this is the second year that my state has been using the ACT Aspire test as the End of Year summative assessment that replaced the PARCC, which replaced our state tests. It is supposed to help the students prepare to take the ACT test, but I am not finding the formats to be that aligned at all. First, the students are assessed on a computer. I understand why, but we are not a 1:1 school, and students do most/all of their geometry learning without a computer. There are also "Explain and Justify" questions, which the ACT does not have. I will only address the second point as I get kind of whiny and tend to complain when I get going about assessing our students on computers when the class is not taught on a computer.

So, how am I preparing my students to be assessed on the "Explain and Justify" questions on the ACT Aspire test? Well, our district brought in a specialist on Depth of Knowledge (DoK) questions. The idea was to teach us how to formulate DoK questions, so that we incorporate more into our formative assessments. So, my team and I have worked to give the students more questions like this. But, naturally, they were not doing well on these questions just because we were exposing them to more of them. They needed to be taught how to approach the questions, answer them completely and thoroughly enough to earn all points possible.

Well, I looked around for some strategies with no luck. So, I came up with my own and tried to make it culturally relevant. And with that, JuJu on the Beat was born. See the picture of the anchor chart below.

Of course, this strategy requires some practice with efficiency because the test is timed and difficult for students to complete in the given time restraints. But, with practice, it does help. Students tend to do better on open response prompts when they have worked the problem on paper before going straight to typing in the box. 

If you really want to make it stick though, you should actually do the popular dance! My high school students equally loved it and were embarrassed for me! It was great! 

In the end, have fun and do what you think is best for your students. If that is being goofy and dancing with them to help them remember a strategy...DO IT! :)