Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Day 131: Idris Elba Is Not White

Another day of direct instruction for the Math 8 students.  They seem to be doing MUCH better with this setup than previous arrangements.  I wonder how much of it is educational preference and how much is simply conditioning.

"I am facing forward. This is the direction I face when I do work.  I will do work."

If that's the case, then I'm a bit saddened.  I've been trying this year to show them that learning can happen in situations other than lecture and note-taking, but I don't think I've broken through.  Regardless, for now, I'm teaching again.  Even if it isn't the method of instruction that I prefer and know is effective, I'm teaching.

Of all of the technology that I have access to, a Promethean board, Apple TV, Internet, etc. and what my students found the most fascinating was my holding a whiteboard in front of the projector, drawing a triangle and rotating it.

Anyone who claims that you need technology to have an engaging lesson is missing the point of engagement.

One of my favorite moments of the lesson was watching my students fold their worksheets over the line of reflection to see if their answers were right.

In geometry, I had planned to start the next chapter with a discussion of the geometric mean and a proof of an altitude from the right angle of a triangle.

Instead, we discussed this image:



As I may have said before, that group of students is particularly conscious of race and gender issues.  We had a fascinating discussion that led into Roger Moore's recent comments about how Idris Elba wouldn't make a good James Bond because he isn't "English enough."

Since the actors who have played Bond over the years have been English, Welsh, Irish, Scottish and Australian and, in Skyfall, it was revealed very clearly that Bond himself is Scottish, it's very difficult to interpret Moore's statement about Elba (who was born in London) as anything other than about race.

It's not so much that he's not "English enough" as much as he's not "white enough" for Roger Moore.
Seriously. How could you NOT want this to happen??
I have no shame in admitting that I swoon over Elba just as much as my female students do.

The man is GORGEOUS!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Day 130: Fresh Air

I went to EdCamp South Jersey this weekend.  It was a 350 mile drive to attend a voluntary professional development conference and it was worth every mile.

I met some amazing people, had incredible discussions and came away with some very productive ideas.

More importantly, it helped me to find my energy again.  There is nothing more energizing than speaking people who share your passions.

I came in this morning ready to be a teacher again.

In Math 8, we continued our discussion of transformations.  The front facing desks seem to still be working well and were appropriate for the activity today.  I want them thinking more about visualization of shapes and their transformations so I pitted the classes against each other in a competition that they didn't know about until afterwards.

On the front board, I called up a game from Math Playground.  For 18 levels, the students were give 2 congruent shapes on the coordinate plane and had to determine what transformations were needed to make them coincide.  The majority of the class was highly engaged and were excited to see how the other class would do.

We finished game just before the first period ended.  When they came back from break, we opened up the notebooks and looked at the connections between the game and the notation.  We talked changing phrases like "move to the right 2 spaces and down 5 spaces" to (x, y) -> (x+2, y-5).

With very few exceptions, the group was receptive and, while the class felt more traditional than I've been using lately, it was a success.  I'll take that any day of the week.

The second class took longer and earned a lower score, but they demonstrated perseverance to complete the task and I gave them high praise for it.


In Geometry, we had a chat.  I reminded them again that brains alone wouldn't carry them through life even though the school system has pretended that they would.  The tests that they took on Friday were...disappointing.

I know that they know the material, but there were dozens of excuses ranging from "I just forgot what that meant" to "I didn't have a calculator."

So I handed the tests back and had them recycle them.  They could redo each question on a separate sheet of paper.

"I know that you know this stuff, but knowing isn't enough.  I need you to show me."

I asked if they had questions and I asked if they felt it was fair.  They agreed that it was.  Then they got to work.

They are a great group of kids, but sometimes it seems as though no one has ever asked them to work hard before.  I know they will flourish and I hope that I'm able to help along that road.

They didn't finish it.  A 20 question test on material that we've been discussing for several weeks and now, with almost 2 hours in, they were unable to finish.  This group in particular is fairly bad at time management.  I'm not sure how to fix this.  We routinely have a large percentage of the class not finish their assessments no matter how much or little time I give them.

They were working hard, too.  I don't know what to do...

Friday, March 27, 2015

Day 129: The Layout of Disappointment

I was out yesterday to take care of my sick daughter.

I returned today to stories of chaos, destruction and discord.

I didn't yell, I didn't scream.  I changed my seating arrangement back to front-facing rows.  I quietly started taking down the decorations in my room.

I had thought about being angry, but that dissipated quickly.  It turned to sadness and disappointment.

I think my 1st period knew that they had made a mistake.  That may have been more about the seating change than about the heart-felt speech I gave them about my feelings and empathy.

I don't like my desks like this.  I hate that I am limiting collaboration as a form of punishment, so I'm not going to think about it that way.  I am going to think about it as "That particular form of collaboration didn't work with this group of kids.  Let's try a different one."

Google image searches for "Traditional Classroom Design" and "Collaborative Classroom Design" pull up the following pictures as the respective first results.



I know that not everything works for everyone, so I need to find something that works for enough kids that I can focus on the rest.

The new arrangement worked fairly well in 8th period.  Having them all face front made it much clearer what my expectations for attention were.  We ended up having an excellent discussion about codes and cryptography.

The geometry kids didn't like the new set-up, but it seemed to work for them too.  We had a nice and productive review session before the chapter test.  I'm using this class and this chapter for my State-Mandated Student Learning Objective aspect of my evaluation and I set a goal of 40% growth between pre-test and post-test.

I have full confidence that my students will exceed that goal.



I'm very much looking forward to spending the weekend in the Philadelphia area and heading to EdCamp South Jersey.  There are a ton of people there that I would like to see and learn from.  It should be a great time!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Day 127: Relationshipwright

I started today in a great mood.

My students were met with a smile this morning that scared a few. They spread a rumor that I would be testing today. In reality, I was just feeling good.

I had several interactions with students that I would describe as "relationship building." This was mostly me interacting with them in more of a mentoring capacity than a teaching one. This happens most frequently with the kids in geometry, but I cherish it whenever it happens

Last night before I left the building, three young women came into my class just to hang out and chat. I have two of them in class, but most of our interactions have been tense with me trying to redirect their behavior to productivity. It was really nice to be able to just hang out and talk to them as though they are people.

Because they are people.

After removing the young men from class yesterday and their conversation with the principal, they were AWESOME today! I made sure to tell them so. I don't think it's a permanent change, so I'm taking it one day at a time. I will praise them when they are productive and try to redirect them when they aren't.

One of my geometry students came up to ask me why I didn't recommend her for Honors next year. I was very impressed that she did because I know that she has difficulty approaching teachers with that kind of thing. I told her that I felt that she was capable of doing the work, but that I was worried about her stress level. I chose not to recommend her because I wanted to force the conversation. At the end of our talk, I changed my recommendation.

As I told several other students, I told her that I believed in her and would be in the high school next year to help her if she needed it. I know that very few of the teachers at the high school teach in the same fashion that I do. Many of them are traditionalists and some of my students have difficulty moving back to that style after a year with me. I want to be able to support them however I can.

It has been 4 years since I've been in the same building as my former students as I'm looking forward to that experience.

So far, none of my Math 8 students have questioned my recommendations or asked to be put into a higher class.

I wish I knew what I was going to be teaching...

Maybe I should ask the students. They always seem to know things before the teachers.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Day 126: Tangransformations

As I sat at my laptop this morning setting up the Do-Now for the day, a student wandered into my room, put down something on my desk and wandered out.  She never said anything, but when I turned around, I found 2 bags of hex blocks.

Just before homeroom started, another students walked in.

"Mr. Aion, I stopped at Target while I was out of school yesterday.  I got everything they had."

He got a HUGE hug that probably embarrassed him.


After yesterday's success with Tangrams, I started class with them today.  I told the Math 8 students that I was really pleased with how well they worked on the puzzles yesterday, but that by having them on the board made it hard for the kids to move at their own pace.  So today, I gave them a page with a ton of puzzles on it.

For the next 45 minutes, they sat happily at their desks putting puzzles together and checking them off the big sheets.  They worked, talked, laughed and actually enjoyed being in my class.  For the second half of class, I was able to spend some of that capital on a discussion about rotation, reflection and translation.  I set up a quick and dirty page on Geogebra to talk about reflection and ask them to predict what would happen to the reflected points when I moved the line of reflection.

We had a pretty good conversation with kids who are normally quiet getting involved.  I have high hopes for this section and hope that I don't lose their enthusiasm by focusing on the calculation aspects.

I need @MathInYourFeet to come and do a dancing lesson with them.  Anyone in the Pittsburgh area interested in having her come to your school? We could split the cost! :-)

With the end of the section in Geometry approaching quickly, I handed out the Open-Ended assessment for the chapter and asked them to get to work.  They could work together or alone and I loved watching kids collaborate and explore the problems.

Course selection for 9th grade is this week, so several students brought me their recommendation sheets to be signed.  Many of these seemed genuinely confused when I didn't recommend that they go on to Honors Algebra 2.  It's times like this when I'm reminded that in the lower grades, we often rank kids based on how capable they are versus what they show us.

A few students appeared quite shocked to learn that I had been paying attention to their lack of effort all year.  I expressed my agreement that they certainly were capable of doing the work, but that they had offered me no evidence that they were willing to do so.

The majority of the students agreed with my recommendations.  I suggested that one young man take honors because he has shown remarkable improvement this year and I feel as though that will continue.  He didn't want to take the course because he said he probably wouldn't want to do the work.  We had a very nice conversation about grades, capabilities, expectations and learning.  He's an incredible young man who started the year very apprehensive about my class, my teaching style and me.  Over the last 125 days, we have grown close and I am excited to see what the future will hold for him.

One MAJOR advantage to moving up to the high school next year is that I will be in the building and able to help my former students with their classes.  High school is a terrifying place and not having any adults to fall back on can make 9th grade incredibly hard.  I hope that I will have an opportunity to provide a place for them to come to me if they need help.

On my way home, I got the follow tweet and it warmed my heart.


And then 8th period came in.  For the first class, everything was fine.  The students could talk while they worked and they did.  I had to remove a student because he wouldn't move back from a female student and back to his seat, but everything else went well.

During 9th period, however, I attempted to have the same discussion that I did in 2nd.  The same group of young men would not allow me to do so by constantly being disruptive, laughing and talking.

I lost my temper.

I pulled them into the hallway with the principal and vice principal.  I begged them for help.  I told the admins that I didn't know what to do.  I've contacted home, I've written them up, I've talked with our behavior specialist.  I told them that I didn't want them to get in trouble.  I wanted, I need, a solution.  I needed to be able to teach them, to teach my class.

The principal talked with them and I went back in to finish my lesson.  There is a growing sense of frustration from the rest of the class who are also quite fed up with the behavior but powerless to stop it.

I seriously don't know what to do with these boys.

I suppose I'll just make more hex block patterns!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Day 125: Tangrams

I attempted to go over the Math 8 test from Wednesday.  Much like the test itself, it did not go well.  It was like pulling teeth to get students to tell me that slope and rate of change were the same thing in these problems.  When we had slope and y-intercept on the board, more teeth were pulled to get them to put those into equation form.

The person who can find a way to get students to read directions will make a trillion dollars and retire to their own private island.  This problem is universal.

When I got fed up with going over the test and finally admitted to myself that I was the only one who cared about the answers and methods, I changed topics.

The next section in Math 8 covers geometry.  We begin by talking about translation, rotation and reflection.  I thought the best way to cover these topics was to introduce the students to Tangrams.

They LOVED it!  They raced each other, they asked for harder ones, they yelled when people cheated!

It was such an incredible shock after the previous period of detachment that I had to pinch myself.  The next time I do this (tomorrow) I need to have shapes for them to make for each table or student.  Since I only had one picture up on the board, after two or three students solved it, many of the others gave up.

Tomorrow, I also plan to have them challenge each other by making shapes of their own.

Yo, dawg!
In geometry, it was expressed to me last week that we need to be covering more content, so today we focused on the notes.  I quizzed them on definitions of median, altitude, angle bisector, etc and found them lacking.  I will be incorporating verbal vocab quizzing into my class for a while now.  If they aren't familiar with the terms and what they mean, they won't think to look for altitudes and such when solving problems.

Another great problem from Go Geometry capped off the class.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Day 124: My Students Explore Math

Nothing quite like a test to make you wonder what you've been doing for the past month.

With multiple choice tests, the grading goes quickly, but the feedback you can give and receive is very limited.  With open-ended tests with well-worded questions, you get a much better sense for what the kids know in terms of both content and skills.  The vocabulary that they use helps your to understand how much of the material they have absorbed.

But man, do they take forever to grade...

Apparently the research says that after the second day, feedback that you give to the kids means next to nothing.  To be most effective, it has to be immediate and meaningful.  For most teachers, this means that it gets returned the next day.  I've been trying to get better at this, but I've found that if I do all open-ended, there is simply no way to get it back to them in a timely fashion.

So I mostly use a hybrid model.  There is a multiple choice section and an open-ended section.

My Math 8 students did not do well on the multiple choice section.  It's hard to tell if that's because they don't know the material, or they didn't read the questions, or made simple mistakes.  On the open-ended section, however it became more clear that while some students were having serious conceptual difficulties, the majority of the mistakes were made because of haste.  As usual, my students didn't take the time to check their answers or if they answered the questions.

This is endlessly frustrating to me because it makes it impossible to give feedback other than "Did you answer the question?"

There were several teachers out today so the first opportunity that I had to breathe today was lunch.  Half an hour to go to the bathroom, each my lunch, get set up for the afternoon, etc.

Then the geometry kids came in.

One young lady found the bag of hexagonal blocks and hid in the corner with them.  Suddenly, my classroom looked like a piranha feeding frenzy with hexagonal chum.

I was going to reign them back in, but instead, let them go.  For 90 minutes, they broke off into groups and created and built and designed and explored.

They created designed and patterns that I never would have thought of.  Most amazingly, they weren't constrained by 2 dimensions the way that I have been.  They built out, but also up, over and down!














Students don't get enough time to play.  Our students have no recess and for the 30 minutes they get for lunch, they are required to stay in their seats.  At the end of the double period, one student made the casual comment that we didn't do anything today.  We had a NICE chat about how play is learning and the various aspects of hexagons that she discovered.

It saddens me to think of how many students are laboring under the delusion that learning and teaching only happen when they are facing a lecturer and taking notes.


In 8th period, I had to remove 3 kids from the room because they were simply unable to stop laughing.  In my opinion, the worst thing that one student can do to another, the offense that we should be punishing the most harshly, is the disruption of the learning environment.

The first line in our student handbook is "No student has the right to deprive any other of education."

After they left, everyone else was on point.
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