Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Parent/Teacher Conferences

(Cross-posted on The Fischbowl)

At my high school we hold parent/teacher conferences in the fall and spring. In the fall it's two consecutive nights from 4:00 - 7:30 pm and in the spring it's just one night. All the teachers are in our two gyms and we have "five to seven minute conferences" with parents.

You probably won't be surprised to find out that I don't particularly like this format. While I think it's great we dedicate time for conferences, the one-size-fits-all conference format isn't ideal, and I would much prefer that the students be present for the conference as well. (In fact, I would prefer student-led conferences, but I could live with students-at-least-being-present conferences).

Having said that, this is the format and structure I have, so I'm trying to make it be as meaningful as I can. I had intended to write this post about two weeks ago, so that I could get feedback before conferences were upon us, but that didn't happen. So, instead, I'm going to share what I just gave to my students and ask for feedback so that if I'm still in the classroom a year from now I can do this better next time.

Below is what I shared with my students (inside Google Apps - they write to the prompt and put it in a folder shared with me). I'm going to ask them to share it with their parents before conferences (I may even email it to their parents before conferences, still deciding), but I will also have it available at conferences in case they did not. I'm also going to email the parents to encourage them to come and to tell them that I think it's very important for the student to be present if at all possible.

I would love your thoughts/suggestions for ways to make it better (although please keep in mind the restrictions I'm working under - I don't have the ability to change the basic format of the nights).

Parent/Teacher Conferences are coming up next week. Since these conferences are about you, I think you should be there. It makes very little sense to me that we should have a conference about you and you’re not there, so I’m encouraging your parents to come and to bring you with them. Please bring your Algebra notebook as well, so that we can look at your work if we need to.

Whether you end up attending or not, I want you to spend some time thinking about what you want your parents to know about this class and how you are doing. Here are some questions for you to respond to.
  • Has class met your expectations? Why or why not?

  • What’s going well for you?

  • What’s challenging for you?

  • What could I do as your teacher that would help you be more successful?

  • What could you do as a student that would help you be more successful?

  • Is there anything your parents can do to help you be more successful?

  • Is there anything else you think your parents should know about this class or about how you are doing in this class?
Please be thoughtful and specific in your responses, and please don't wait until the last minute, as I want you to put some real thought into this. The more you put into it, the more valuable it will be for you, me and your parents.


Saturday, October 2, 2010

Days 20-23

Okay, so clearly I didn’t get caught up on my blogging. Again, I’ll try to do a week in this post and then see if I can find time this weekend to do individual posts for this past week. Again, all links to the openers, lessons, assessments, and other stuff are contained in the class blog posts that are linked from each day.

Day 20
Today’s opener contained a problem about the world’s largest chocolate bar (used it for dimensional analysis), as well as some intercept questions. The lesson was an application of slope-intercept involving me, calories and a treadmill. I think the students appreciated the context, especially when I explained that the numbers were reasonably accurate, but I still feel like I’m doing too much of the work/thinking. I also gave them the background information for our next Skype session, with an engineer from NREL that’s working on a geothermal hvac system at a new IKEA store that’s going up in our city.

Day 21
Today’s opener contained another dimensional analysis problem, this time around texting and driving. Again, the students seemed interested in the context, and the fact that I can apparently find openers just about every day in the newspaper, but they still struggle mightily with actually completing them on their own. I’m wondering if perhaps I should start class by having them do jumping jacks instead.

The lesson for today involved weighing pennies and coming up with a linear equation to predict the weight based on the number of pennies (thanks to Frank who gave me the idea in a comment a while back). I had them place the pennies in a beaker before they weighed them so that I could manufacture a y-intercept other than zero, and I also made sure that each group had pennies that were either all pre-1982 or post-1982 (when the composition, and therefore the weight, changed).

This lesson went okay, but some of the groups collected such poor data that it was hard for them to get what I was hoping they would get. I think they more or less understood when we discussed it at the end, but I’m wondering if all the data collecting I’m having them do is perhaps getting in the way of their learning.

Day 22
We assessed on Graphing Linear Equations Using Intercepts today. Once again I thought I had prepared them well and had constructed a straightforward (and easy) assessment. Turns out I was wrong, as there was still a wide range of performance on this assessment. Some students are clearly not studying at all for these assessment but, even if that’s the case, I would hope they would still be doing better based on what we’ve done in class.

I thought the lesson today was pretty interesting, as we looked at – and graphed – data based on the current tax bracket rates, the rates proposed by the Obama administration, and the rates if the current tax policy expires. We worked with the data first, before I told them what it was. I then asked them to guess what the data represented, and one of my students did guess (surprising even himself). Again, though, I’m worrying that while I find the context of these investigations very interesting, I’m not sure they do. We then looked at some linear wind chill data as well.

Day 23
I’ve decided to try to make my openers take less time. For a while, at least, I’m removing the longer (and more interesting I think) problems in favor of problems that focus directly on the skills we’re learning. They just seem to be getting lost with the more in-depth problems, and then we also run out of time in class for our lessons, so I’m going to try this for a few weeks and see if it helps.

The lesson today gathered data on drop height versus bounce height for various types of balls (bouncy balls, tennis balls, etc.). This went okay, and they seemed to be getting the idea but, once again, at the end of the day I wonder if they would’ve gotten just as much or more out of it if I had just provided them the data instead of them collecting it.