Friday, January 13, 2017

Day 90: Outside Feedback

My co-teacher was out today.  The woman who was her substitute is a certified elementary teacher.  She was in my room for one section each of Math 7 and Pre-Algebra at the end of the day and was able to observe me teaching two VERY different groups.

After class, she commented on how I focused on question asking instead of question answering.  I was more concerned with getting the students to use the proper vocabulary and express their thinking that I was about them getting the correct answer.

She spoke about the rapport that I had built with the students and how they seemed to know what to expect from me.  While they were talkative and energetic, they were engaged and participating (sometimes a bit too much.)

After class, she expressed concerns as a mother and teacher about how many students are used to worksheets and not having to think critically.  She told me about the differences between her own children and how their needs are so amazingly different.

She also observed the interesting phenomenon that was my students having difficulty following a chain of questions.

**spend 20 minutes talking about indirect measurement to measure a flagpole**
Me: "How might we measure how high the school is?"
Them: "Take a tape measure up to the roof? Ask the principal? Look up the blueprints? Google it?"

It was incredibly fascinating to hear this perspective from someone coming in, knowing the community but not knowing me or my teaching.  She expressed her appreciation for my questions to my students and my lesson.

She said she thought I would be a good elementary school teacher.

I laughed.

In addition to her, one of my senior students spent her study hall in my Math 7 class.  She also spoke about how she loved how passionate I was about my content and about engaging my students.  She took a video and sent it to her cousin with the tag "Best teacher ever!"

She and I have been talking about pedagogy since she plans to become a teacher.

She left me a little note before she went back to class.

I started this blog because I wasn't getting external feedback on my teaching.  I think the nature of where I'm working now is starting to make the blog itself superfluous.

I'm not sad about that.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Day 89: Academic Diversity

Most of my day was spent grading skill assessments and reassessments.  I'm always amazed and baffled by a students choice to either reassess a skill or not.

Several students had 2 skills that weren't perfect scores and decided to reassess those, while others had multiple F's and decided that their scores were good enough.

Some picked a single skill to work on and improve while others grabbed a reassessment for every single one without even seeing what their previous scores were.

Some worked hard for the entire period while others stared into space for 30 minutes, then told me that they didn't get a chance to finish.

I have a group of students with extremely diverse needs.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Day 88: Almost Halftime

Tomorrow is the last day of the marking period.  Today, I showed the students my massive spreadsheet with all of their Standards-Based grades.  We will be doing reassessments on any skills they want, dating all the way back to the beginning of the year.

"Here's the deal for today. First, identify the skills that you want to reassess. Next, find which sections in the book correspond to those skills.  I've put a list on the board so if you look at the skill, you can find where the practice can be found.  If you have any questions or would like to go over anything, I'm here and happy to help."

I also told them that I thought they would be shocked to go back to stuff from the beginning of the year and see how easy it seems.  The bleeding edge of learning should always be difficult, but looking back, the path should be clear.

The majority of the students today took advantage of the time to look back over older sections and agreed that it looked super easy.  Hopefully, they will utilize the time well and be ready for tomorrow.

In unrelated news, one of the other teachers decorated the hallway in honor of the upcoming Steelers game.

She asked if I was a Steelers fan and when I said I wasn't into sports, she made me my own sign.

I love my coworkers.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Day 87: The Pacemakers

Last year, the math teachers in my department chose a new curriculum and text book series for the 7th and 8th grade math classes.  They picked the Big Ideas Math series and I heartily agree with the choice.
"In this version, all the word problems are about surfing and redwood trees."

Instead of a traditional workbook full of repetitive practice problems, the accompanying student workbook is filled with activities, probing questions and a small number of practice problems that allow students to apply the concepts.

Each section begins with an introductory activity that is frequently hands-on.  In the last section of Pre-Algebra, where we explored the internal angles of a triangle, the activity asked the students to draw a triangle, cut it out, tear of the angles, put them together and make an observation.

Now that we've moved on from internal to external angles, today, the students were asked to work with a partner to do something similar.

Draw a pentagon with extended sides
Label the external angles
Cut out the external angles
Put the external angles together and make and observation
Repeat with a hexagon and an octagon
The white pieces can pull off so I can put them together on the board!

It didn't go as I would have hoped.

After the activity (as much as we completed) we had  discussion about managing class and group time.

Many of the partner groups did excellent work and came close to finishing, while others had to be reminded multiple times to get back on task.  Even the groups who worked well had difficulty working at an acceptable pace.  I'm not sure how to attribute this issue with speed.  For some, it's simply a matter of not doing the tasks, but for others, they are so scared of doing it wrong and having to start over that they move extra slowly to prevent mistakes.

Interestingly, this only decreases the number of mistakes because fewer tasks have been accomplished on which to make those mistakes.  The percentage of mistakes remains unchanged.

The activities and problems are age/grade appropriate but are still taking too long.

So we talked.

I told them that I want them working in groups because they learn much better when they teach and learn from each other.  At the same time, they are much more attentive to the tasks when they are working individually or when I'm giving direct instruction.

I can't even count the number of times I've written that last paragraph.  I suspect that means it's a larger issue than just these kids in this class.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Day 86: New Beginnings

Today wasn't the best.  My patience has been wearing thin with what may be age-appropriate behavior.  I need to find a new way to deal with the students who are distracting everyone around them.

New seats will be assigned tomorrow.

Overall, I'm VERY pleased with how the classes have been responding to the lessons over the last week.  I've included more direct instruction and practice, but I'm tweaking my questions.  I'm not asking for answers as much as I'm asking for methods.

I'm making a conscious effort to point out when kids give good explanations and I'm trying to probe their reasoning to make sure their answers are coincidence.

While I enjoy using direct instruction because of the story-telling opportunities that it affords me, I do find it exhausting.  This is due, in no small part, to my deep desire to have the kids explore their learning rather than just listening to me.

But we do what needs must.

The integrated math class received their next project today.  I found a "Design a Business" project online and adapted it to my kids.  It's excellently broken down into smaller tasks, each with its own rubric.  I need to be very conscious of being on them for this project or, I fear, we will fall into the same trap that we did last time.

I was not as ready to return from this past weekend as I was from break.  My daughter had bad dreams last night so I didn't get to sleep as much as I would have liked.

I did, however, get a chance to do a little more turning.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Day 85: Crash and Burn

"It's not you, it's me.  I think you're great and you'll make some project very happy some day.  I wish you nothing but the best.  We did try to give it an honest shot and it could have been great, but it just wasn't our time."

I feel like I broke up with my 3rd period today.

They were to give progress presentations on the greenhouse project today.  Some of the groups did very well.  Some did very poorly and I couldn't actually tell what they had done between the last progress presentation and today.  Unfortunately, the groups who had the greatest difficulty were the ones that needed to be on point.

Some of the groups devolved into individuals working on disparate aspects and refusing to collaborate.  In a few cases, group members actively undid the work of each other.

When I asked the other teachers about what happened, nothing that I told them surprised them.

As a result, I have called off the final phase of the project.

Sadly, we won't be building a greenhouse this year.

Perhaps I set my sights too high and was simply unprepared to take on a project of this magnitude.  I made corrections from the first time I attempted it and tried to compartmentalize the assignments.  Unfortunately, it meant that some aspects were awesome while others were simply not done.

The work seemed too daunting for a small group to do, but with the large group working on it, it became unwieldy and not quite feasible.

All of the other classes, however, are going incredibly well!

The Math 7 kids are doing an amazing job with the algebra tiles and seem to enjoy using them.

The pre-algebra class is moving along nicely as well.  Thanks to my new amazing hoodie from my mom, I spent almost all day talking about the Fibonacci sequence and the places where it appears in nature.

"Mr. Aion, how do they get the pineapples to grow like that?"
"They don't! They just grow that way and we figured out the math behind it! Math is the language that we use to understand the universe."
"I thought that was science."

"...I suppose that too."

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Day 84: Persistence

For the last 84 days, and for all of the 2014-2015 school year, I've had my students recite the Pledge to Improved Mathematics to start class.  It's used to ground the class in the principals that drive instruction and learning and give students a better understanding of what I'm looking for in their work.
I often refer to these in class, asking a student to read a specific practice so that I can make a point about goals and purpose.

In Math 7 today, I put a series of problems up on the boards scattered around the room and had students complete them, either alone or with a partner.  They were to use algebra tiles to represent the numbers and variables, displaying them in  way that made their work clear to the rest of the class.  Students selected which problems they wanted to work on and went to it.

Some of them did an excellent job and some needed a bit of guidance, but all of them worked incredibly well.

When we began going over the problems as a group, there was one student who hadn't finished.  Indeed, that student had barely gotten started.

Except that wasn't exactly true.  During the work time, I watched as that student started the problem, then erased it and started over several times.  That student stood, looking at the work, counting tiles and thinking before trying again from the beginning.

By the time the rest of us were ready to go over the problems, this student had only just completed the diagram of the set-up.  When it was time for them to present, they said they hadn't finished and I praised them to roof.

"What I absolutely love is that even though you didn't finish the problem, you worked on it the entire time.  I watched you check your work and start over several times.  You may have been confused and frustrated, but you never gave up one it.  Read me Number 1, please."
"I can solve problems without giving up."
"Exactly! The 'solve problems' part is MUCH less important that the 'without giving up' problem.  Anyone can keep working if the work is going well, but it takes much more effort to keep working when it's going poorly.  I can't even express how proud I am of you!"

This is a student who is very distant in class and frequently expresses negative self-talk, using words like "stupid" and "dumb."  I address this talk whenever I hear it, but it's much more difficult to get inside a student head and make corrections there.  This praise was authentic and important.  I wanted to make it incredibly clear to this student, as well as everyone else in the class, that the first Standard of Mathematical Practice is, by far, the most important factor to success.

In Pre-Algebra, we continued our work on the angles associated with triangles, both interior and exterior.  Today's activity involved the students using a protractor to measure those angles.

I made a smart choice to give a brief tutorial in how to use a protractor and saved myself incredible frustration in teaching them individually.

I may actually be learning something about how to teach!
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