## Friday, November 15, 2013

### Day 55: Still Falling, Enjoying The Breeze

 I really should have switched Fall and Winter so I could have drawn a snowman!

I didn't even get to talk about what we did in geometry yesterday!  On Tuesday, I gave them 3 coordinates and their homework was to tell me everything they could about the triangle with those points as the vertices.  Kids came in with statements like "It's a right triangle" and "it's equilateral."

We spent 45 minutes exploring the triangle, their statements and whether or not they could be substantiated.  It was a great exploration and the kids gave me great questions.

At the end of class, I gave them their tests from Wednesday without scored, but with questions marked right or wrong and had them do corrections for homework.  Today, I was deeply disappointed by their lack of persistence.

I had lots of "I didn't know this, so I left it blank."  I explain that I had hoped they would try to figure out the answers, or at least give me some sort of work beyond a question mark with a heart for a bottom point.

So they worked on corrections in class.  For the most part, the major mistakes I noticed were simply not following directions or not answering the question that was being asked.

A universal stumbling point, however, was graphing.  So we talked about that as a class.  I saw several students who were getting flustered and upset, so I made sure to find them during the day and tell them how much I appreciated them working through their confusion.

We value correct answers, but we also need to value struggle and persistence through it.  That's often hard for math teachers to do, in my experience (MTBoS excluded, of course.  There, struggle is the coin of the realm.)

The warm-up for pre-algebra purposely contained questions from the next section that we hadn't gone over, but could be found with a little bit of thinking.  The students (my old one AND my new ones) worked VERY well and we talked about what to do when we encounter a problem you don't know how to solve (solve an easier one) and what to do when you don't understand the directions (break your pencil, yell "this is stupid" and pout).

The students were then given a chapter assessment and the unit-reflection and goal setting sheet that I gave to the geometry kids on Wednesday.  I had a quiet conversation with one group where, it appeared to me, two students were doing great work, one was putting in half an effort and the fourth was copying answers.  I explained that if that was happening, he would simply be wasting his time and wouldn't be getting any benefit from it.  I told him that I wasn't accusing him of anything and that if he wasn't copying, my advice was still the same.

He did VERY good work for the rest of the class.

As I checked their answers, they grabbed the iPads and continued their explorations.  As I did yesterday, I spend much the class with a semi-pained look on my face as I fought down the urge to yell "YOU'RE OFF TASK!! Put the iPads away! You've ruined it!"

I think my kids were concerned that I had indigestion.

After class, I was approached by one of the new-to-me students.  He and I have a history that is less than ideal.  I am nervous about having him in my class because I think that he has needs that I am not capable of satisfying.  I'm honestly not sure that we can provide him with what he needs in this building at all.  He's a very smart kid, but every teacher knows that the public school setting is not the best for all students.

When he stayed after the other kids had left, I'll admit that I steeled myself for a confrontation.

Him: "Mr. Aion, I honestly didn't think that I would enjoy your class, but I'm finding that I do."
Me: "...I'm so glad to hear that! This situation isn't ideal, but that's not your fault or mine, so there's no need to make people miserable.  My primary goal here is to make sure that kids are safe and learning."
Him: "I'm really glad to hear that.  I think we'll have a good year."
Me: **stunned and playing it cool** "Me too.  I hope you have a great weekend."

I have no idea how much math they are learning, or will learn, but I am happier coming to work and I think my students are happier coming to class.  The content will come.

I hope...

This weekend, I've set homework for myself.
1. Create "I Can" statements from 8th grade math standards
2. Finish the Genius Hour workbooks for each class with standards in the back for student reference
3. Consolidate student data on confidence and mistakes
4. Create graph from data
5. Plan some amazing activities for next week
6. SLEEP! FOR GOD'S SAKE! GET SOME SLEEEEEEEEEEEEEP!
7. Buy a cool hat to wear in class

 This is my "angry I have to give this hat back" face

 This is my "my students are working hard while I take a selfie" face

 I AM A PROFESSIONAL!!

1. I am so happy to have found your blog recently - I taught middle school science in a urban middle school for multiple years, and now teach HS science (still in the city). I understand a lot of your struggles, and admire how dedicated you are to trying out ideas and solutions to make your classroom a place for real learning. I cheer you on every day, and try to internalize some of your drive and push, since I can use some too!
~Meg ( @mhelmes )

1. I'm so glad to have you here! Thank you so much for reading and commenting!

I think a huge problem for me, and maybe other educators as well, is that I don't think I know what real learning looks like in my class. I think it has to do with creation and exploration, but for math, I'm not sure what that means. Maybe this will be the topic of next week's #MSMathChat

2. Take me with you!!!!!!

I am teaching five classes this year. One through four I have Geometry, Algebra, Algebra, Geometry. There are problems in each class, and the overall ... feel ... of the classes is not where I want it to be yet. I am still struggling with my own perceptions of incompetence, dislike, frustration, et cetera. But there are also successes in each of those first four classes--all the little victories that propel educational and personal progress. If my teacher-life ended after Fourth Period, life would be swell.

But then comes my prep, and then lunch, and then I am visited by 23 freshmen all of whom hate math and, I'm afraid, hate me. The vibe in my Sixth Period pre-algebra class has just gotten worse and worse. There has been occasional relief, but for the most part this is a class where there have been almost no little victories. This class is hurting, and we're getting a reputation. Today, just when it seemed we were hitting a new low in terms of stultifying depression in a classroom, my assistant principal stopped in for her first informal walk-through. I emotionally imploded. I don't think the kids noticed. She quietly took out one student whose head was down in the front row and had a talk with him outside. While they were outside I couldn't contain my panic. "See what's happening?!" I said to them. "This class is getting a reputation for not-learning!" I have a feeling I should--no, I know I should--be embarrassed by this situation; in fact, it was just this embarrassment I was feeling when I saw the assistant principal appear.

Which is my long preamble into saying that ... maybe my class needs to do what you're doing. There is no oversight of this class; we do whatever I feel like doing, and that often means re-teaching the same crap over and over because I'm constantly near-certain that they didn't get it ... And my lack of confidence holds me back from assessing them ... I often figure "why bother" since I KNOW they didn't get it. Not fair to them, I realize ... Wow!

So you see, getting iPads and letting them decide what to study seems ... not an impossible idea. I think maybe I'll e-mail your "Day 54" blog to my assistant principal and see what she thinks. I don't think she'll go for it (she's new, too) but you never know.

1. What you're describing has been my teaching experience for the past 4 years, with one exception. I don't care if the kids hate me or not. I do what I think is best for them in terms of education. I'm not there to be their friend and they don't have to like me.

It makes the job easier if they do, but I found if I TRY to make them like me, it always backfires. So I just try to be myself, be fair and hope it works out.

If there is no oversight of that class and you can teach whatever you want, then do it! Even if you don't use ipads, bring in construction paper and talk about tessellations. Forget about the math entirely and just talk to them. Ask them how their weekend was and what they did. Get them to know that you care about them beyond the academics. Teach whatever they are interested in.

It is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.

I'll help you however I can. I know how much you're wrestling with stuff this year, as am I.

3. Or maybe I'll just get the iPad cart and start doing that, period. Like I said, I've been working with little oversite up to this point. To ask for extra oversight might be to block the way to innovation. I have access to an iPad cart. It may be time to start using it.

1. YOU CAN DOOOO EEEEET!!