Saturday, January 31, 2015

Why I Do Vocabulary Assignments and Quizzes

During classroom discussions, my room used to sound a lot like this:

Me:  What do we know about these angles (points at a set of vertical angles)

Students: -----

Me:  What do these two angles share?

Student A:  A point

Me:  Great!  Where is that point located?

Student B:   Where they cross

Me:  What is that point called?

Students:  ------

The "discussion" would go on from there with me asking ever more information loaded questions trying to get the students to the point that the angles were vertical and therefore congruent.  It seriously made me doubt my teaching abilities.  Until the day that a light bulb went off in my head that is.  I realized that their lack of ability to answer my question had less to do with an understanding of the concepts and more to do with the fact that they lacked the language to express themselves mathematically.  I sat down that evening and made a list of all of the vocabulary that was new(er) to that unit.  Terms that they might have heard in passing or ones that I might have used, but not ones that they had ever really practiced.  I came up with almost 40.  I was astonished so I went back through the unit I was teaching and double-checked.  Nope, no mistake, it really was almost 40.  The next day I went into class and gave them five of them to define as bellwork.  The majority were able to give me two.  At that point I felt like I was in an old space movie - you know:  "Houston, we have a problem"...

As any good teacher does, however, I took the problem as a challenge to be tackled, addressed and fixed to benefit my students.  Out of this problem was born a simple solution - vocabulary assignments to launch each unit and periodic vocabulary quizzes through each unit.  

Vocabulary Bundle
Vocabulary Bundle
Each vocabulary assignment contained two parts.  The first part asks students define the term, draw a sketch (if possible) and to give any prior knowledge that they might have.  I stress to students to read the definition given in the glossary, the textbook or online and then to write it in their own words.  We talk about the fact that when they write it in their own words they will better understand it and retain it for future use.  For the prior knowledge portion we talk about maybe hearing it in a prior class, hearing it at home, seeing it in a book or other words a way may be used to help them start to make the connections.  I will admit, at first this is the column that they struggle with the most but as the year goes on, it gets filled in more and more.  The second part of the vocabulary assignment is a set of puzzles.  I include a crossword so that they read the definition and start to make connections to the term and a word search so that they learn to spell the vocabulary terms.  The students not only learn from doing these, but they also seem to enjoy them!  I have even had a few students ask if I could make them a specialized set!  (I have bundled an entire year of these assignments for Geometry here!)

The vocabulary quizzes that we do through the unit vary.  Sometimes they are matching with the definitions in one column and the terms in a second.  I also give them quizzes where there are paragraphs to fill-in with words from a word bank.  The hardest version, and the one that I tend to save until towards the end of the year, are the ones where I just give them the definition and they supply the word without being given a vocabulary list or word bank.  I find that as the year goes on, their scores on the quizzes get better and better.  

In order to help  my students practice the vocabulary throughout a unit, I will utilize a variety of review and practice techniques.  I have made a few matching activities where the students cut apart pieces and match the term, definition, diagram and label.  I sometimes will do this in stations and just give the students an answer sheet.  Other times, I will literally have them cut and paste everything together.  I also have a created a few vocabulary based BINGO games that we use.  Additionally, we use Kahoot and Socrative to practice as well.  

Wall Posters
Finally, I have also created a set of posters for every unit that we study.  Each poster features a single vocabulary term, a diagram, the definition and any other crucial information or facts to support the definition.  I print the posters on card stock and laminate them so that I have them.  I post the vocabulary for the entire semester along one wall of my room.  It stays up until the new semester starts.  I find that students will take pictures of parts of the wall, especially if they are studying for a test or quiz.  And yes, I even leave them up during an assessment (although I will cover a specific unit during a vocabulary quiz).  By the time we get to an assessment the students know the vocabulary well enough and realistically, I am testing their application of the concepts by that point, not their memorization.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

It's Saturday - Nerd Libs Time!!!! :)

I love, love, love this link-up by Mel and Gerdy!  Every Saturday they put out a set of "Nerd Libs" which are so much fun!  If you want to join up, please visit their site and get started! 

Please check out the other links at the bottom of their page to meet some amazing secondary teachers!

Friday, January 9, 2015

Quick Reference Sheets - A Perfect Fit for Interactive Notebooks and More!

Geometry (and math in general) is full of theorems, diagrams, formulas, calculations and so many more topic specific things to remember that students often suffer from brain overload.  Throughout my years of teaching math at the secondary level I have seen this happen on multiple occasions and when it happens, well the results are just not pretty.  The students begin to get frustrated trying to keep things straight, they act out or
Quick Ref
worse, they give up and shut down.  I am a big proponent of graphic organizers (coming soon in a future blog post!) but depending on the topic they can sometimes get lengthier than I would really like them to become.

Quick Ref
The need for something to help students really came to a head when we started talking about right triangle and trigonometry, specially the special right triangles formulas!  To overcome both the student shutting down and the length issues, I started thinking about how I remember things.  I mean, even though I'm a math teacher, I can't keep everything in my head at all times! :)  I realized that I often create "cheat sheets" for a lack of a better thing to call them.  These sheets usually consist of formulas, sketches and possibly shortcuts depending on what I'm trying to remember.  When I sat down to transfer my cheat sheets to something more students friendly, I ended up with something that was a cross between a graphic organizer and a formula list.

Each one ended up containing diagrams as well as the formulas that corresponded!  I decided that I didn't want to just give them everything thought.  I am a strong believer in the fact that when a student writes things down on their, they remember the information better.  As a result, I ended up creating two versions.

The first version has everything filled in as an answer key and as an accommodation for students with IEP's/504s.  This version also works great to leave at a station for an aide during a station review. 

Additionally, I have sent them home to parents to give them an overview of the unit that we are studying as well as putting them in my own unit plans.

The second version has blanks for students to fill in of the important information. 
I found that this works perfect for many things.  If they are printed two to a sheet, students can put them in an interactive notebook.  I have also used them as a review for a quiz or test and as a catch-up tool for absent students.

So far I have created six:  Circles, Transformations, Area, Surface Area and Volume, Quadrilaterals and Right Triangles/Trigonometry.  This last one is my newest freebie in my TeachersPayTeachers store!  Please
check it out and let me know what you think. I have also bundle all six of my Quick Reference Sheets in a money-saving bundle!  I have more planned to cover other units of Geometry and eventually I might branch out and make some for algebra! 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

New Year, New Resolution to Get Organized

At the beginning of the school year I went through and spent time getting myself organized both as a teacher and in my classroom.  As the year has gone on, however, I have found certain things lacking.  Namely the cohesiveness of the walls, boards, turn-in, pick-up and supply bins.  They are just a mess and it drives me bonkers!  I have tried different ways to overcome this mess including sticker labels, folders and other random methods.  But for me, since it is handwritten, it still looks sloppy.  

As a result, I turned to my favorite teacher store first - Lakeshore Learning - to see if they had anything that would meet me labeling needs!  I found some great little plaques/name tags that I could laminate and write on with dry erase markers.  They are really nice and cohesive looking...but after getting them home and trying them out, I realized that they still didn't look...well professional enough for a high school classroom.  

Vintage Digital
So I did what I have done for a while now - I made them myself!  I downloaded some fantastic retro and vintage digital papers from Stacey Lloyd on TeachersPayTeachers and got to work!  I used the papers as a background in PowerPoint, added some frames, did some other coloring, manipulating and modifying and had a template.  I then started thinking about everything I needed to label in my room and created professional looking labels for everything in my room!  I even created labels for my group numbers so I don't need to recreate them every I put students in groups. To make them functional and long lasting I am going to print them on card stock and laminate them.  

After a couple of days of staring at them (since I made them over winter break when I was still over a week from getting back in my classroom) I decided that if they would benefit me, then maybe they would benefit other secondary math teachers too!  So I made four more sets with different backgrounds and posted them in my TeachersPayTeachers Store.  I also included a powerpoint file so that teachers can make their own labels and change the phrasing if something that I labeled isn't what they call it!  The labels come in Starburst, Circles, Diamonds (a black and white design for those without color printers), Stripes and Circles and Stars (this prints really well in gray scale if you are color ink challenged!). 

What is your favorite way to get  organized?

***Thank you to Stacey Lloyd for the fantastic background for my blog cover slide***

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