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SBG debriefing

June 8, 2012

It’s been a whirlwind, but it’s official, my first year of SBG is over and done with. I learned a lot, probably not as much as I could have, but more than enough to keep me chewing and thinking over the summer. A few highlights of my lessons learned.

-Without tracking homework some kids fell directly off the wagon. I had an unusually high number of meetings mid way through the year about kids who were failing. These were kids who had managed to master a bare 20% of available objectives and who had put zero effort into retesting or learning. In the end we got them all on board, some of them barely, some of them with legit success stories. (Fun fact, I prefer “legit” over “legitimate” because I can’t spell legitimate.) Some sort of 5% do-your-stuff category for next year might be needed. The fact that I’m teaching all honors and ap next year might mitigate this need though, something to ponder.

-Retests were a colossal drain on my time and energy, and weren’t nearly as organized as I had hoped. The web sign up worked, but by and large kids blew off the “what did you screw up?” “what did you do to unscrew?” fields and just wanted a second shot at the material. Looking over my grades I feel pretty good about the kids who had to remaster a handful of things a time or two each, and I feel pretty crummy about the kids who clearly took the shotgun approach to the process trying standards again and again until they got a question they liked. I’ve got some plans to address this behaviour that I’ll be writing about soon.

-Coordinating my sbg run classes with the three traditional sections my colleagues taught was a bit of a nightmare for all involved. Their kids tended to harass them with the whole “Dr. B let’s his kids retest anything!” complaint which surely got tedious. Not sure what to do about this at this point, the fact that I’m not sharing any class titles next year means I can probably push this concern off for another year though. Procrastination: It’s not just for kids!

-White boards, they’re amazing, but they need to be trained and ingrained for them to stay productive.

-The  mistake game, while wonderful, takes way more time than one might think. The problems chosen can be ill suited or well suited. In my classes students were frequently tempted to make their mistake some sort of mathematical error rather than a conceptual error. I don’t have any good fix for this yet.

-Presentations are great, but we really need more clarity about expectations and evaluation. Submitting a rough draft for fairly brutal feedback should, I hope, be a good first step that I plan to implement next year.

-Without retesting old material all the time long-term learning took a back seat to checking off the checklist of objectives. Huge problem. Diligence about retesting old material every single week should address this I think.

-Structure clash: Sorting out how SBG interacts with my end of the year A, B, C, D, F output is a puzzle. Am I troubled by the fact that my average grade this year was an A? What do the grades mean? What does my institution mean with an A? I haven’t had much luck unpacking this yet.

-In the proverbial wind I smell the end of in class lecturing. I smell a flipped classroom paradigm where teachers shift to coaching learners rather than pouring knowledge into sponges. I applaud this change, even if it takes me out of my comfort zone of waving my knowledge all over a whiteboard. Every year on our student evaluations there’s a “how much confidence do you have in your teacher’s mastery of the subject?” question, and each year I’ve scored nigh-perfect numbers. This year it was a substantial notch lower. Still in the “he’s super nifty” regime, but not quite the “zomg he knows everything” regime. I took this as a good sign. I think it means that I spent less time impressing them with my ability to do physics and more time working through their ability to do physics.  The less they know about how good I am, the more they know about how good they are. (In theory…)

Looks like I ran out of caffeine so I’ll post this and move on with my life for now. In theory I’ll do a brief write up on each of these points over the next couple of days

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 11, 2012 6:02 pm

    I totally hear you on a lot of these problems. I have some ideas about some of them for my own classes next year that I’m still working to flesh out. I switched to testing weekly this year and it made a big difference (a lot calmer, a lot more retention since old material came up frequently, etc). More frequent testing might help take care of some of the sit-and-wait crowd that you were talking about near the beginning (without necessarily having to give points for homework or anything). It is easier to call them out and get them back on track earlier when you are testing them every week. After a few weeks, they’ll just be drawing pictures instead of doing physics if they are that far behind, making the conversation about getting to work pretty obvious and easy.

    Can you tell me about how you are playing the mistake game? I don’t think it really takes any extra time (the way I do it), but the more I hear other people talk about it, the more I think I was unclear about how I set it up. Not that my way is the One Right Way, but there might be a way to salvage the good parts of it and cut out some time, too.

    • June 17, 2012 1:43 pm

      The mistake game in my class looks more or less like this:

      “Alright, mistake game time, let’s get into groups of three, grab a white board and some markers. You’re going to work on, solve, and present your problem to the class on your white board. But. You’re going to make a mistake. Something conceptual, so don’t just screw up dividing by two, or forgetting a square root, try to replicate the kind of mistake someone might make if they were doing this for homework. This isn’t easy, give it some thought.”

      And then I assign each group a problem from the homework. I tell them they have five minutes, they take fifteen, and then they give their presentations. It takes a lot of hovering for their mistakes to be something more sophisticated than math errors.

      From my reading of your work, the nature of my classroom and problem selection seems like the biggest differences. For a sense of what my classroom is like I have 12-17 students, wide range of math abilities, 95% juniors, and the class runs in a fairly traditional text-book encumbered manner. It’s not a modeling curriculum certainly. Thoughts?

      • June 19, 2012 8:00 am

        12 – 17 juniors is either close to what I usually have in my regular classes or just a few students larger (12-14 is usually pretty normal for the regular sections for me). They also have a wide range of math abilities (regular Algebra 2 all the way to BC Calculus at times), but the biggest difference sounds like the traditional-vs-Modeling class scheme.

        One thing that really helps me with getting them to make better mistakes is getting them to put mistakes that they actually made themselves while solving the problem. Sometimes these are kind of minor (but obviously relevant), but often that produces a lot better range of errors in the work. And is likely to overlap with a mistake someone else in the class made, leading to a pretty good discussion during the presentations.

        I think it might help to also give some examples of good mistakes to make. When giving the examples, I’d pick some pet peeves of yours because some students will just do the exact same mistake you showed them was a “good” one (and then at least the class will see that one a lot and probably do it less often on homework, quizzes, and tests).

        Have you tried putting a timer up somewhere for them so that they have a better sense of 5 minutes? That might help. And maybe starting with 8 or 10, then moving it down as the year goes on and they become more efficient?

        Oh, and how do you know that they are ready? I always have them put their boards up along the ledge of the big whiteboard (but backwards, so we can’t see what they’ve written until they present). That serves a lot of purposes, but for time reasons, it helps move along the slower groups. They see that 2, then 3, then 4 groups are finished, and they realize they need to pick up the pace.

        Okay, and the final thing is… make sure they understand that the mistake game isn’t about hiding a mistake. Everyone knows your board has a mistake. The game is about making your classmates have to ask good questions to get you to change your mistake. Once they get that, it helps shift them away from arithmetic mistakes (very easy to ask and correct) to more conceptual ones. At least for some of the students. 🙂

        What do you think?

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