Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Test Out PARCC's Computer Based Sample Items Now!

This is the moment I've been waiting for: the opportunity to see what PARCC can truly do.  Have you been wondering what the real advantage is of taking a computer-based exam instead of a paper-based exam?  Well now we can interact with computer based samples and practice using the tools that are available.  Tools include drag-and-drop, multiple select, text highlighting, equation builder and features that make the test more accessible for all students, including those with disabilities and English language learners.  I encourage you to check out the Computer Based PARCC Samples.

It is important for students to practice using these tools, but it is also important for parents, teachers and administrators to be able to navigate these computer-based assessments.  Please note that you must practice the English items (grades 3-5, grades 6-8 or high school) before getting to the math items.  Because I was more interested in the math items, I simply clicked the forward arrow through the English questions so that I could begin practicing using the math tools.  Tutorials are available for those who need a few tips.  Enjoy getting to know PARCC's features!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Group Work in the Math Classroom

Wordle: Group Worthy Tasks

I have a passion for group work.  There-I said it!  But this blog post is not about sharing my passions; it's about getting you math news and resources.  When done right, group work is an excellent way for students to collaboratively engage in all eight mathematical practices.  Group work is not easy to set-up, execute and maintain in the math classroom.  The following resources are videos, articles or even hints about how to help students learn through peer interaction in the math classroom.

For starters, one can't give the same task to a group that they give to an individual.  Group tasks must be group-worthy.  What does it mean to be group-worthy?  I'm so glad you asked!  There is a ton of research out of the University of Washington and Stanford on this very topic.  The article Group-Worthy Tasks, by Rachel Lotan, addresses this very question.

Once one has the lesson ready, one must consider the organization of the classroom.  Even the placements of desks can be crucial in creating the right group work environment.  The following video succinctly covers desk and table arrangements.  Arguably more important than a student's location is a student's role in group work.  Whether you call the student the facilitator, the resource manager, the harmonizer, the recorder/reporter or the team captain, the designation of roles is critical in the organization of group work in the math classroom.

Finally, recognizing competence when it comes to group work in the math classroom is very different than recognizing competence on an assessment.  Competence must be authentically assigned during group tasks.  Whether students are participating in a jigsaw, group quiz, math lab or exploration, the teacher must outline what a student needs to do to up front.  Here is an extensive list of ways to show you are smart in the math classroom.  I recommend showing the students this list and highlighting a few at the beginning of each activity.

Today you will show you are smart by:
-having a willingness to improve/having a willingness to be wrong
-asking questions
-explaining verbally/explaining by writing/explaining by showing (using pictures/diagrams)
-extending concepts
-identifying the right answer
-being relentless 
-being patient
-pushing your limits
-learning independently
-using your toolkit (vocab. reference sheets) appropriately
-using your number sense
-making connections between ideas, concepts, or theories
-being an out-of-the-box thinker
-recognizing patterns
-using technology as a support
-solving problems with multiple approaches
-working appropriately with a team/group
-interpreting/evaluating others’ work thoroughly

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Where Do I Find Math Performance Assessments?

'Performance assessment' is the new buzz phrase in U.S. schools.  Although performance assessments have been quite common for centuries in some of the higher achieving countries’ schools around the world, they have just recently begun to permeate our nation’s schools on a more consistent basis.  With the PARCC performance-based assessment field testing beginning in March and April, there seems to be more performance assessment urgency. Educators want to give their students authentic practice prior to administration.  Here are a few places that have Common Core State Standards for Mathematics aligned tasks.

1.  Core has published math modules for grades 3, 5 and 7.  These modules have been created by cross-district teams, piloted and revised. 

2. The PARCC website has released math sample items and task prototypes for grades 3 through high school.  Some of the items allow students to practice the technology tools that they will be able to utilize on the actual computer-based exams.

3. Arguably the largest database of tasks is Illustrative Mathematics.  There are over 900 illustrations that range from kindergarten through high school.

4. Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has released multiple Model Curriculum Units that are available for pre-kindergarten through Algebra II.  In order to access these units, simply enter your name and email address at the website below.  At the end of every unit is a CEPA (curriculum embedded performance assessment) that gives students the opportunity to synthesize what they have learned throughout the unit lessons.  

5.  Dan Meyer has a Google spreadsheet with over 60 Three-Act Math Tasks that range from grades 3 through high school. Act one always consists of a real world mathematical conflict.  Act two requires students to find and use resources.  Act three brings a resolution or solution. Three-Act Math Tasks present a unique way of approaching performance assessments.

Friday, January 10, 2014

What is College and Career Readiness?

Is it teaching real world math?  Is it working collaboratively?  Is it using a computer or tablet for more than just social networking?  The following piece draws parallels between the common core state standards and the practical book by Bill Coplin, 10 Things Employers Want You to Learn in College.  Read the article below if you truly want to know where these two worlds collide.

12 Skills the Common Core and Employers Want

Did you know that the General Education Development (GED) test is being replaced?  Massachusetts adults without a high school diploma are being asked to take a new test: the HiSET.  The HiSET exam will slowly introduce the national career and college readiness standards.  If you want to learn more about the HiSET, check out this local article.

State Chooses New High School Equivalency Test

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Marriage of Math and Programming

You have heard of Khan Academy.  You know the power of personalized, self-driven computer based math practice.  But have you heard of Code Academy?  Just like Khan Academy, Code Academy is free to use and highly individualized.  Additionally, learning code requires students to apply dozens of math skills while concurrently practicing valuable and relevant computer skills. 

Our first article introduces the “Hour of Code.”  This is a collaboration between President Obama and the House to get young people exposed to coding.  Although the tech industry is booming, very few Massachusetts high schools offer computer programming.  We can do better and An 'Hour of Code' Isn't Enough helps us take a small step towards improving.

A typical obstacle may be the fact that few teachers are trained in computer programming.  Also, there are so many common core standards that, on the surface, seem to be unrelated to coding.  Believe it or not, there is a way to connect our math content standards and practices to programming.  Bootstrap uses algebra as the vehicle for creating images and animations, and is aligned with 2011 Massachusetts State Frameworks for Mathematics.

The marriage of math and programming is possible.  In fact, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education just announced the availability of the Title II-B Competitive Grant for fiscal year 2014.  There is approximately $900,000 available for STEM teachers in high need districts. Additional information about the Request for Proposal can be found on the Department's website.