The Goza Way

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Month: August 2016

Goals for My Classes in 2016 (Algebra 2 & PreCalc Edition)

One of the reasons I haven’t kept up with blogging is because I always want to wait until I have the final, perfect draft before I post to my blog. But the thing is, I never have final perfect drafts of anything. So I have to get over that. What I do have is a lot of decent ideas and thoughts in the Notes App in my iPhone. Yesterday, as I pushed my five-month-old around the neighborhood, I wrote out 4 goals for this school year in my Note as she slept.  Now mind you, this is a draft. But the beauty of sharing it before it’s finalized is that I can get feedback from all the (zero) folks reading my blog.

So what I have here are my goals and shorter “titles” for the goals.  Neither is an expanded version of the goal, but if I wait until I write the expanded versions this post will never get published.  So there may be a later blog where I expand on the goals and there may not.  I guess it depends on whether I get any feedback and/or how long my daughter naps this afternoon.



Create a culture that encourages positive and meaningful relationships between all members of the classroom community and helps everyone achieve success based on their own ideas/measures of what success looks like in a high school math class.


Increase students’ abilities to think, learn, reason, sense-make, and develop logically sound conclusions both independently and collaboratively.


Expose students to my vision of mathematics:  Math is not about problems and answer getting but rather about questioning, exploring, discovering and adventuring.


Prepare students for future endeavors in mathematics, and education in general, most importantly the ones they will experience in the next 1-3 years of high school. (Most notably PreCalc and Calculus and/or Statistics).

I think those are some pretty solid goals.  I’m not sure if they are well organized.  I don’t want ten goals.  I also don’t want one.  I want my students to know this class is as much about them as it is about Mathematics.  Any feedback would be awesome.

How I’m Structuring Homework in 2016-17

In order to better understand the way I’m collecting and checking Homework it’s important to know how I’m structuring groups. Check out this post and come back (you don’t have to click the link, you can just scroll down – it’s the previous post).  I was inspired by this blog post from Julie Reulbach to come up with a better plan for collecting, checking, and returning homework.  This is what I decided on for this year:

I will have a set of 10 folders for each class numbered 1 – 10 to match each group number. Every class will have a different color so they don’t get mixed up.  At the beginning of class there will be one folder at the corresponding group of desks.

The first HW of each Cycle is due on on Day 2 (there wont be HW on the day between Cycles as we transition to new groups).

When students come to class on Day 2 they will have 2 minutes (1? 90 sec?) to put their HW in the group folder and put the folder in a box on the center table (mine) or it’s late (-2 points /5). Students who come to class late with no pass take the -2.  (Don’t be late.)

HW will be graded and returned to the folders which are returned to group tables before the next class.

When students come to class the next day they take out returned and checked HW, then put their new HW in the folder. They look over their returned assignments for lingering questions.

I will take questions after opening activity (in front of the whole class) or whenever students want (on the side). If there are problems that most of the class had trouble with I will address those as well.

As mentioned earlier there will be no HW assigned on the last day of a Cycle. On that day students have taken a summative group assessment. I don’t have a problem giving them the night off after that, and it avoids me the problem of having group folders with student work that won’t match up with the groups of students the next time we meet.

Positives of this plan include:

  • Takes no class time. Except for questions after papers are returned. In the past I have tried circulating and checking HW at the beginning of class. This would take time and wouldn’t allow me to be present in helping get the class started off right.   With this plan all I have to do is grab the HW box after 2 minutes and address groups or individuals who didn’t get the work in on time. Once they see I’m serious I don’t think this will be an issue either.
  • Makes it super easy to collect and return work as papers never leave the folders. I won’t have to pass out any individual papers.
  • Allows me more time to closely examine homework and give feedback. Occasionally I would do that last year and I liked it. It was a very low stakes way to assess and provide commentary and help. I could give a kid a 5/5 and still point out mistakes and give appropriate hints or help so they could fix them. Obviously this can’t be done if your checking HW during class time.
  • Encourages students to get to class on time and get their stuff out quickly which helps get them focused and ready right away.
  • Adds another element of structure and routine to the class. Students know what they are supposed to do first and from there they can transition to what’s next.
  • Doesn’t give students time to copy HW at the beginning of class. In the past if I circulated and checked HW during class students who saw I wasn’t coming to them right away would try to pull this off. What a terrible way for their valuable class time to start!
  • Holds me accountable for grading the HW in a timely manner. Those papers are not leaving the folders and the folders aren’t leaving my classroom. If I don’t get around to grading them the folders will still go back on the desks and everyone in the class gets a 5/5. Obviously I don’t want to give undeserved credit so I’ll be motivated to stay on top of it, but it safeguards me from ever having stacks of ungraded and unorganized HW. This happened two years ago when I tried having every student, regardless of class, turn their homework in outside my door before school started at 8:00. That works for one of my colleagues but it didn’t work for me.

What about the negatives?

  • The most glaring, and really, only significant negative I can think of is that we don’t go over the homework or address questions on the day of, when the issues are most pressing for the students.  However:
    1. There isn’t a hard and fast rule against asking questions on the most current HW. Students who have a pressing question will be encouraged to write it down or take a picture before class and ask it anyway.
    2. A lot of folks love lagging homework. I agree that it’s a cool idea, but it doesn’t work particularly well with my style of curriculum/instruction. Passing back and going over the HW a day behind does add a bit of the lagging element. There’s a good chance that some of the questions that might have been asked about the HW will be addressed in the lesson in between. (In fact, the way our curriculum is set up I assume that will often be the case.) When students get HW back the next day it’s likely that they can self assess and self correct. So yeah, lagging HW review. I like it!
  • The other negative that comes to mind is the fact that I won’t be giving HW every other Monday, basically just to make my life easier. This doesn’t bother me one bit. Also, I have Quizzes to grade that day/night. Who knows, maybe I’ll do no HW every Monday!

That’s it.  That’s the plan. I’d love to hear feedback especially if you can think of more positives or more negatives for my list.

How I’m Structuring Groups in 2016-17

First off, it’s important that I share my school’s bell schedule so this all makes sense.  We are blocked. Monday we meet every class for 1 hour. The rest of the week we alternate periods 1, 3, 5 and 2, 4, 6 and classes last 2 hours each. So on a given week I see Period 4, for example, 1 hour on Monday, and 2 hours on Tuesday and Thursday.

This year I’m planning on a “2 Week Cycle” for my groups. This means groups will change every two weeks.

I have tables of 4, but I plan to make groups of 3 students. The other table will be used for HW folders (see my upcoming HW post), materials, etc. I’m crossing my fingers and hoping for enough desks and < 30 students per class to make this work.

I have 9 (hope to make it 10) Vertical Non-Permanent Surfaces (VNPSs) in my room so I will have 9-10 groups (depending on how many students I have). I use a deck of UNO cards to create Visibly Random Groups by handing out the cards at the door at the beginning of each cycle.

Cycles will start on the first 2 hour day of the week (Tuesday or Wednesday depending on the Period) and then follow a fairly specific routine.

Note: More instructional routines is my #1TMCthing this year. I saw this graphic


from David Wees at #TMC16 and it made a lot of sense to me. I realize that my class needs more structure this year. The two week cycle is in part a result of this need.  I also want to note that last year we did one week cycles with some of the same structures in place so this is not a 100% change for me but closer to the 10% that Dylan Kane and others have talked about.

Anyway here’s generally how the Cycle will go:

Each Cycle will have 6 days (3 per week in accordance with the block schedule) barring holidays, testing, etc. Each cycle will end on a Monday (1 hr) and on that day we will have some type of summative assessment – for simplicity I’ll call this assessment a “Group Quiz.”

Day 1 (Tues/Wed – 2 hrs):

New Groups. We will start with something to help students introduce themselves. Most likely this will come in the form of a Notice & Wonder, WOBD, or some sort of short enjoyable problem related to the current topic. Then we will continue with the general curriculum program. I will make sure that there is some element that requires the students to get up and work on their VNPSs with their new group mates on Day 1. This should help them get to know each other and start working together.

Day 2 ( Thurs/Fri – 2 hrs):

I will pass back the Group Quizzes (from Monday) with scores but usually without comments. Now that groups have been switched I will ask students to compare answers within their new group and work together to complete “Corrections” for Group Quiz. I haven’t decided exactly how I want the corrections to be done but I’ll get there. The rest of the class period will be used to continue with the curriculum.

Day 3 (Monday – 1 hr):

Students will break apart their groups for an Individual Assessment. This will be short and summative.

Day 4 & 5 (2 hrs each):

During the second week the groups should be comfortable and we will continue with the curriculum. Should be good stuff going on in Week 2. Two things will definitely happen:

  1. Students will get back their Individual Quizzes and do corrections with their group mates. Lingering questions can obviously be addressed with me.
  2. The groups will do a Presentation. In my class “Presentation” has a broad definition but basically it’s an answer to a prompt that requires a lot of explanation and students have to present their explanation in some organized format (usually on their VNPSs).

Day 6 – Last Day (Monday – 1 hr):

As mentioned before students will complete a Group Quiz and bid their group mates farewell. So ends the Cycle.

There will be some nuances and exceptions. Now and then I like to let students choose their own groups for specific tasks, and I will probably continue to do that. Holidays will throw the cycles off at times and we might skip a Quiz as a result, but in general I think this should last throughout the year.

I’m determined to stick to it and see how it goes at least through the first semester.  Please, please, please give me feedback or suggestions now if you have any. I’m putting this in place in 2 weeks and after that there’s no turning back!

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