Friday, May 30, 2014

Day 169: Planting Seeds

We started school today with practice for tonight's 8th grade promotion ceremony.  Somehow, I was put in charge of creating order in an auditorium of 207 8th graders.  They offered to give me the microphone, but I declined.

With the entire 8th grade present, something interesting happened that made me think I have doing something right over the past few years.

They listened to my directives.  When I told them to be quiet, they did (mostly).  When I assumed authority of the room, the other teachers backed me up and the students acknowledged it.

I don't write this out of pride or arrogance, but out of genuine confusion.  With the level of behavior that I've been experiencing in my classes lately, I had suspected that I had lost complete control, but that's apparently not the case.

Or, perhaps the dynamics of a very large group of students are such that they defer to any adult who assumes control.  Either way, things went fairly smoothly, considering I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing.

The other interesting thing happened while I was calling names to have students sit in rows alphabetically.  When the talking got too loud, I stop calling names and the room would get quiet again quickly.  I through one kid out because he wouldn't stop talking.  He and his friends were actually shocked that I had held them accountable.  One of his friends (not my student) said something like "Man, Mr. Aion is an asshole!"

The reply from another student, one of mine and not a particularly well-behaved one, was "Nah, he's cool. Just do what he says."

I let the exchange roll past me without acknowledging it, but it stuck in my head.  I must be getting through to him somehow.  If I'm getting through to him, I must be getting through to others.

I wanted to grab him, shake him and scream in his face "IF YOU FEEL THAT WAY, WHY ARE YOU SUCH A JERK IN MY CLASS??? If you would defend me to your friends, why can't you make those same decisions in class??"

But then I remembered that teaching, in spite of all of the standardized testing that we do, in spite of the report cards every 9 weeks, in spite of the progress reports every 5 weeks, in all about the long-game.

We teach students long-term strategies to accomplish short-term goals and often don't see any progress.  If we are very lucky, we'll see the kind of growth we want by the end of the school year, but the growing season on students isn't as regular as it is for other crops.  Each seed needs its own time to grow.

We desperately need to get away from the notion that if it hasn't sprouted by the beginning of June, then it must be a defective seed.

I may have (and probably did) fail some of my students.

But maybe I planted something that will take longer to grow than 180 days.

That's enough feigned wisdom for one week.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Day 168: Ups and Downs

The playable versions of the geometry games are due tomorrow.  The groups spent most of today working VERY diligently on their rough products with one group actually starting to play.

I'm not sure how to tell them that I just found out about promotion ceremony practice during their class tomorrow.  I suppose if their games are playable for tomorrow, they will be playable on Monday as well.

I am so proud of them for their creativity and ingenuity.  They are taking the most basic of instructions and turning it into something diverse and deep.  I'm so excited for them to finish so that I can brag about how great they are while simultaneously taking no credit for their creation.

I'm merely the muse!
Not that Muse, but I'll take it! We will be vicTOOOOOOORious!

In pre-algebra, the kids asked about "that weird circle thing" and so I was able to introduce to them the concept of polar coordinates.  We even had a discussion about when you would and wouldn't use them in the real world.  They understand that they wouldn't be great for navigating a city, but would be perfect for open spaces, like the woods or the ocean.

We continued our work on reflections, symmetry and translation.  Period 4/5 worked well and I'm wondering where these kids were all year.  I also wonder if, with the impending end of the year, several have realized that they will not be moving on to 9th grade as a direct result of their lack of effort.

Several students have really stepped up their game, trying to make up for 34 weeks of not working.  Others have simply thrown in the towel, acknowledging that no amount of effort will lessen the gap.

In any event, that class has really fallen into line in terms of productivity, or at least not destruction.  As a result, I've been able to lighten up with them and we are having a genuine good time together.

Period 8/9, however, still has a long way to go.  I moved seats within the first 5 minutes when it because clear that half of the class had no interest in what I was trying to do.  My plan was to put the chatters off to one side and work with the kids who were interested in learning today.  That worked for about 10 minutes until the other side of the room started wrestling over pens.  I removed a few students and called a few parents.

I think this has happened consistently enough now that I have to admit to myself that I have lost complete control over this class.

I have no idea what to do with them.  I don't want to sit back and say "There are only 9 days left.  Let it ride."  I have students in there who want to learn, and have wanted to all year.

I fear that I have failed them.

But I honestly have no idea what else I can do, or could have done.

I was informed today that I can no longer put them in the hallway for time-out.

At least we got an air conditioner in the In-School Suspension room!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Day 167: A Not-Great Version of Me

My period 4/5 has found something that they can get excited about, or at least relatively excited.  The current chapter has a section on symmetry and another on reflection.  I suspect that because these sections are visual and have very little calculation involved, they are willing to put more effort into it.  The stigma of "doing math" is so strong that they will do more complex concepts, as long as there are no numbers involved.

At the same time, I am finding my patience at almost zero.  Students were asking me legitimate questions about their work, but I was perceiving them, rightly or wrongly, as being overly needy and I was snapping at them.

S: "Is this right?"
Me: "Almost.  Keep working and checking it.  We're going to go over it in a few minutes."
S: **two minutes later** "I made some changes. Is it right now?"
Me: "Check it and see if you get the same answer. We're going to go over it as a group in a few minutes."
S: **one minute later** "Is it right now?"
Me: "Get away from my desk please. I already told you that we will be going over it."

I hate how I reacted to him.  I should appreciate his desire to do his work correctly and well, but I'm finding myself more annoyed by the idea that he thinks I should answer every questions right when he wants an answer to it.

I called the student up after class and apologized to him.  He has always been a nice and respectful student and didn't deserve the curt treatment that I gave him.

I should have done more throughout the year to encourage confidence in student work.  I should have done more to help students understand that they are a part of a learning community and that I have a plan and a schedule.

I should have done more to not be such a jerk to him.

I gave the class an assignment to work on and, for the most part, they worked well on it.  As I watched them, however, I had zero desire to go over the page or even jump back into the class.  I actually looked at the clock to see if I could justify letting this assignment casually and slowly fall apart, petering out until the bell rang and the students stumbled out of my room.

It took an act of willpower to pull myself up, gather the class and get back on task.  How can I honestly expect quality work from my students when I can barely muster it from myself?

At the same time, they managed to surprise me!  I couldn't gather the energy or will to go over the practice problems, so I became a better teacher by accident.

I handed over the Promethean pen and the students took over the review.  Half of them were disengaged, but the other half were having good discussions about where the points should go and whether or not the shapes they drew were actually reflections.

I should have been more involved in the review, asking pointed questions, redirecting the off-task students back to the task at hand.

But I just kept staring into space, silently begging the period to end.  Wishing only for the silence that accompanies a vacant classroom.

I made several calls home today.  Most could not be reached.  One yelled at me for not having control over her child.

In addition to this, we received an e-mail today telling us that grades would be finalized and closed on June 5th.  The last student day is June 11th.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Day 166: Games of the Board, of the Heart

Today, the groups in geometry had to do a mini-pitch to me about their games.  They were required to have a rough sketch of their board (if they were using one), a list of their contents, the rough draft of the rules and directions and a brief summary about what math was involved in their games.

I am stunned, not only by the creativity of my students, but also the variety of games in terms of content, structure and target audience.

A few of the groups, I think, threw their ideas together with minimal thought and accidentally came up with fantastic ideas.  They seemed genuinely surprised to hear me say so.

My goal for today was to see what progress they had made and to help them continue moving forward.  I made suggestions with each group, doing my best to convey that they were, in fact, only suggestions and not requirements.  I suggested to a few groups that they scale their games up, seeing what elements they could add to increase the "fun" factor, while I suggested simplification for others.

One group has a game designed for ages 6-10 while another has a game that should probably be played by high school students and older.  Yet another group has a card game that I think is so versatile that it could be played by people of any age and has the potential for multiple difficulty levels.  This group gave off the impression that they weren't serious about their game.  "This seems like a good idea, I guess."

It's a brilliant idea!  I hope that my enthusiasm was able to help light a fire for them.

The styles of games also vary greatly, from a SET-like card game to a board game with rotating circular tiles to a lateral thinking and puzzle game to a game that uses a catapult!

Overall, I'm amazed at what they are producing and I can't wait to play the games next week!  They will continue working on them this week with the next due date being Friday.

On Friday, each group must have a working, playable model of their game.  They can have cards be on torn pieces of paper, but it must be playable.  During that time, they will play their own game, each person taking notes of what they like, what they don't and how to improve.  Next week, they will be making those corrections and coming up with a final copy.

Next Thursday and Friday will be game days.  The finished product will be due on Thursday and other groups will play the games, rating them on replayability, fun factor, ease of play, etc. and providing constructive feedback to the creating group.

The groups will then have the weekend to make whatever finishing touches they need to make with the VERY final copy (ready for distribution) due on Monday, June 9th.

This is an incredible project and I know I keep saying how amazed and stunned and shocked I am, but that's because it keeps happening.  I am so proud of the ownership that the students have taken over these games and I want to play ALL of them!

There is exactly zero chance that I won't be presenting these games during the Middle School session at TMC this year!

Period 4/5 did very well today.  My increased effort to remove students who are destructive to the learning environment seems to be yielding results.

In period 8/9, however, the same cannot be said.  I had to remove the same 4 students multiple times during the hour and a half, each time offering them the deal that as soon as they felt they could be in the room without being disruptive, they were welcome to come back in.  There seemed to be genuine confusion about why they kept being asked to leave.  "But HE was talking to ME!"

No amount of "I understand, but you are in charge of you and only get to decide how you react to others.  If they are talking to you, ignore them" seemed to penetrate into their heads.

I'm not sure what else I can do.  I feel as though I don't have the skill to adequately explain to them what they are doing wrong and how it is impacting the other students and the learning environment as a whole.

Not surprisingly, however, once they were removed from the room, the rest of the students really came out of their shells, volunteering answers and accepting that making mistakes was part of the process.

Funny thing about not fearing ridicule for risk-taking...

I hate the frequency that I've been throwing kids out of my room recently.  I console myself with the idea that I've given them ample opportunity to NOT be thrown out, but two thoughts keep occurring to me:

1) What ELSE could I be doing to prevent this? What other options do I have at this point in the year?

2) If I had done this earlier, could I have set the precedent that only productive (or at least non-destructive) behavior is allowed in my room?  Would there have been other repercussions that would make things worse?

I don't have answers to either of these thoughts.  I don't know if the answers even exists, but I do know I can't stop looking for them.

I am tired of having the same conversations over and over with the same students.  I don't have the interventions that are effective and I don't know how to work within the structure that I have.

I still have a ton to learn about interacting with middle school students.

I took my daughters to the park this weekend.  My older daughter is very friendly and social and has no trouble inviting other kids to play with her.  She found a new friend and they began playing Hide and Seek.  A boy, who couldn't have been older than 5 was also there.  My daughter invited him several times to play with them.  He refused each time.

While my daughter and her new friend played around the playground, the boy followed them around yelling out their hiding places to the other children playing.  They asked him again if he wanted to play and he again said no.  He did, however, continue to follow them around, sabotaging their game.  They eventually picked something else to play and the boy left with his parents, but I was struck by how similar that behavior is to what I see in my room.

As I near the end of the year and begin to reflect on the whole time and not just 1 day at a time, I'm coming to some very upsetting conclusions.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Day 165: Your 10 Closest Friends

A few days ago, I spoke with my geometry students about idea that a person is the average of their 10 closest friends and acquaintances.  I told them this in the context of students getting in trouble for things that their friends did..  We talked about the TV crime show concept of "known associates" and how if you hang out with "bad kids" you are more likely to be considered or become a "bad kid."

I wanted to illustrate this point further in terms of positive influences as well.  So I used myself as an example.

In the past year, I have drastically changed the people with whom I associate.  I haven't so much pushed people away (intentionally) as much as expanded my circle of influence to amazing teachers from around the world.  Since attending Twitter Math Camp last summer, my professional network has grown by leaps and bounds, helping to put me on the path to being the teacher who I want to be.

The sheer volume of people from TMC and Twitter who have helped me in my journey makes it impossible to name them all.  I was, however, able to show a few of them to my students.

I had my geometry class watch the Ignite Talks from Fawn Nguyen, Max Ray and Dan Meyer in an effort to help them understand about the conscious choice I have made in terms of the people with whom I interact.  Here are the talks from Fawn and Max, two people who are constantly helping me think beyond my lessons.

I am thinking of creating a line of bracelets and T-shirts that read "WWFD" and "WWMD."  I would market them to math teachers and make a bajillion dollars!

At some point, probably this summer, I'll write a re-cap post talking about my transformation this year because of all of the wonderful people I've met.

After the videos, the students went back to working on their games.  The rough sketches are due when we get back on Tuesday.  Walking around, I saw some interesting things!

In addition, yesterday, one of my students suggested that Mr. Stadel add a "random day" button to Estimation 180.  To help demonstrate the power of Twitter and my PLN, I tweeted this suggestion to Stadel, who thought it was great!  The "random day" button was added and all credit was given to my student for his idea!

This student will now be known as "Mr. Fingers"

Again, in pre-algebra, the same 5 students had to be removed, followed by productivity for the rest of the class.

We talked about symmetry and reflection.  The visual aspects of this seemed to really appeal to most of the students.  They had very good conversations about where a line of symmetry was appropriately placed.

I still, even 165 days in, struggle with getting students to understand that they are not alone in the classroom.  If they are yelling across the room at each other, there are more people effected that just the yeller and the yellee.

I know there is an inherent selfishness in being children, but this seems to go beyond that.  It's into the realm of "If they don't want to hear it, then they shouldn't listen."

I have no idea how to correct this, or even explain it in a way that doesn't get their defenses up right away.

I have so much to learn.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Day 164: Transition Day

I have no problem admitting that my picture today scared me slightly and I avoided looking at it.  It did, however, get a chance to read them "The Beast In The Cave" from the unabridged anthology of H.P. Lovecraft.  I keep being told by literature teachers that to become proficient readers, student need to not only read, but also head what proficient reading sounds like.

Well, now they know what proficient reading and unspeakable horror sound like...

Every year, the 8th graders get on busses and go to the high school for an orientation.  When we get there, they are sat in the auditorium where the guidance counselor gives them hope, the principal gives them guidelines and the school resource officer gives them fear.

They are then broken into groups with a student escort and are given tours of the building, observing classes, seeing the facilities and meeting various teachers and administrators.

I LOVE transition day.  Once we get to the high school, I take a back seat and let them take over.  They are VERY good at this and, so far, every transition day that I have attended has gone off without a hitch.  The seniors that the high school chooses as guides are fantastic kids and keep ours from getting lost.  The schedule for the day is set and there is no downtime for our kids to go crazy.

This transition day, I am taking a half day, which means I won't be riding on the bus with my geometry students.  I have made it clear, in no uncertain terms, that should I hear ANY negative reports from the teachers who ARE on the bus, they will have to answer to me.

I trust them.  Over this year, I have made my expectations of their behavior quite clear and they have met and exceeded them beautifully.

I've also been fighting a sinus infection and a hacking cough since Sunday night, so my activities in class have been subdued.  Many of my students are perceiving this as anger and lack of patience.  I am not dissuading them from this thought because it seems to be keeping many of them in line without me having to yell or scold.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Day 163: Russian History

The following is a non-exhaustive list of topics that I talked about in geometry before the students began working on their games:

Czarist Russia
The French Revolution
The scale-model guillotine that I built in 8th grade
The death of Hitler

I absolutely LOVE how interested these students are.  Not once since the beginning of the year has anyone in the class ever asked me "Mr. Aion, can we get back to math now?"

It seems like an odd thing to ask, but I hear it frequently from my pre-algebra students.

In pre-algebra, a student arrived to my class wrapped in a blanket and without shoes.  She seemed genuinely confused as to why she was being singled out as someone who was not allowed in the room.  Again, it comes back to my question from the other day about telling the difference between when a student is confused and when they are being purposely obtuse.

In the middle of a quiz, another student asked to go to the nurse, claiming it was an emergency.  At the same time that I noticed his sweater was tied around his waist, other students started making comments about a smell.

This is my life somehow.

The rest of the class was great! One of the homework problems (which 20% of the class attempted) dealt with boats and they asked about how boats were constructed.  I was willing to take the tangent because they were deeply interested and asking good questions.

Then they had a quiz.

It was an individual quiz, but they were whispering to each other and I noticed something.

If I give a group quiz or a partner quiz, their conversations are WAY off task.  They laugh and talk about their shoes and the weekend and they don't collaborate on the quiz.

If, however, I give an individual quiz and tell them not to talk, they quietly work VERY well together.  As was the case yesterday, after I threw out 2-3 key players at the start of class, the rest of the students worked very well and productively.

In addition, I received and email today notifying me that I would be getting a new student in my class at the end of the week.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Day 162: Students Have Dirty Minds

I was confused about the number of masturbation jokes that the students made in response to my drawing of the day.

"What brings math comfort?"
"His hand."
"Being alone with his hand."

I was hesitant to erase the last one because it was clever, but off the board it went.

Another day of game creation!  The geometry students have all presented their ideas and have started working on the physical structures.

We began class by talking about what should be due on Tuesday, our next deadline.  We talked about what all games should have and then what of that should be due.

Then they got to work.  I showed a few groups how to make a board that will fold to fit into a smaller box.  The conversations ranged from distracted to highly productive.  While working with one group, I overheard "Instead of making a board game, let's build an army to take over the world!"

When I went to investigate, I found a group that could not agree on their board design.

As if by magic, everyone was on time to pre-algebra today.  They were dragging, which translates to increased class participation.  We were able to go over several problems from the homework and had a good discussion about congruent shapes.

At the break, I let the class go to the bathroom with the statement "Do not be late returning!"

The 4 boys who are always late, were late.

They were escorted back by the principal (whom I adore).  She asked me to come outside where she told me that she found them coming out of the bathroom WAY after the bell.

"You were still in the bathroom when the late bell rang, messing around in there as a group, but it's MR. AION who is picking on you.  HE'S the one who is always getting smart."

Have I mentioned how much I love and respect my principal?  She's, by far, the best administrator that I have ever worked for.

Once they came back in, the excuse they tried to give me was that one of their friends (who is currently doing a stint of 3-4 in our 2 year school) was holding the bathroom stall door shut.  They were TRYING to get to class on time, but he wouldn't let them.

So we had a nice chat about decision making and how the phrase "known associates" is used in crime shows.  The gentlemen conceded the point and were all VERY productive during the remainder of the class.

In period 8/9, several students had to be removed several times, not understanding the concept of "please don't sing while I'm answering questions."  As usual, once they were gone, the rest of class was insanely productive, as though they were horribly thirsty, but had spent the year watching other students wade into the drinking water with dirty feet.

Side note: My friend and fellow educator, Tommy Gears, has written a post about giving up on students.  It's poignant and solid.  You should read it and share it with everyone you know.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Day 161: At A Loss

I don't know what to do.  I have three classes of students.  One of those classes is consistently respectful of my classroom and the learning environment.  They have days when they are energetic in age-appropriate ways and need to be reigned-in so that we can have a productive learning environment.  They understand what I'm trying to do and, for the most part, go with me.

In my other 2 classes, 25% of the students fall into that same category.  They are consistently respectful of my classroom and complete the tasks that I ask.

25% of the students are "popular" kids and control the dynamic of the class.  I know how taboo it is to admit that student control how the class runs, but every teacher knows that there are always a few students who will dictate the mood of the class, either intentionally or otherwise, by their actions and behavior. A dynamic and effective teacher can usually pull these kids over the side of education, giving them roles as leaders.  This year, no matter how hard I have tried, no matter which tactics I've used, I have failed to win these students to my side.  At least, I have not done so for any significant length of time.

The remaining 50% of the students are fence-sitters.  When the "popular" kids are not in the room, they are productive members of the class and help me to build a learning community.  When the "popular" kids ARE there, they are swept up in the middle school herd mentality.

I know that there are numerous valid reasons for the poor behavior and I don't blame them for being children.  At this point, however, I must admit that I don't know how to help them.  Worse, I don't know how to get them to NOT destroy my class when there are there.  With one exception, all of these students are VERY reasonable when I talk to them one-on-one, but as soon as they come into the room, that all goes out the window.

I don't know if I'm not getting through to them, or if I'm being played.

In addition, with only 16 days left, I'm having tremendous trouble resisting the urge to throw them out at the first sign of a spark.

With that said, Geometry went VERY well.  Today, 7 of the 8 groups gave their presentations on their game ideas.  Several groups had rough sketches of their boards to illustrate their concepts.  The rest of the class listened well and made good suggestions to help them improve.

As with last week, I was VERY impressed by the ideas that they came up with.  I think there are several legitimate game ideas, not just for math class, but for greater manufacture and distribution.  I plan to do everything I can to help make that happen.

I was worried about having this be the plan for the remainder of the year, but watching the enthusiasm that I see, I think this was a great idea.

Here are two of the presentations.  Please excuse the shaky camera and crappy sound...

In pre-algebra, I reverted back to my old tactics from previous years.  Students who were talking were immediately redirected.  Students who were standing or facing away from the board were immediately redirected.  The redirection was done without patience, humor or anger, but swift, matter of fact and polite.

"Turn around please, sir."

This is how I speak with students who need redirection during In-School Suspension.  After the first 15-20 minutes, the "popular" kids realized they were not going to be able to have conversations and gave up trying.

Then the rest of the class was able to learn, and did!

Questions were answered with patience and understanding, even to kids who had previously messing around.  I think it's VERY important to draw a distinction between the student and the behavior.  When a student makes the choice to re-join the learning environment, I try very hard to welcome him or her with open arms.

It's a difficult task, but I see success with it.  They seem to understand that what I'm stomping out is the disruptive behavior and not the student.  The few who don't realize that, continue to make the same mistakes.

"I came in 10 minutes late, didn't bring my materials, have been talking from the moment I got here, refused to sit in my assigned seat, interrupted the learning constantly and now he won't let me go get a drink?? Why is he against me??"

The same situation happened in period 8/9.  After several students were removed, the rest of the class worked and learned very well.  There were several cries of "this stuff is easy!"

It's encouraging to know that I can actually teach once those students are removed.

Now I need to figure out how to teach without removing them.

I think this is going to be a long process.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Day 159: Game Design, Day 2

After a quick warm-up, the geometry kids jumped back into designing their games with both feet!  Walking around the room, listening to the ideas that they are going to present on Monday, I was incredibly impressed with both the variety of games and depth of content.

One group is designing a game similar to "Life" but with a business and finance aspect.  The concept is that players are given a small business and try to build it up faster than the others.  When they asked me about how they might include a geometric aspect, we talked for a little bit and discussed the idea of logistics.  One of those students has an aunt who is a graphic designer and they want to print their game board on a poster to be laminated.

Another group is looking at the idea of a game board where you buy Tetris-like pieces to construct a house before other players.

A third is thinking about being trapped in a pyramid with rotating rooms from which players would have to escape.

I am amazed by what these kids are coming up with!

I am definitely going to hit up gaming companies with these ideas when they are done!  Some of these ideas should be making money for the kids.

In the first 5 minutes of pre-algebra, I put one kid in the hall and moved the seats of two others.  The rest of the class ROCKED the work I gave them.  They were jumping over themselves to volunteer answers.  Even when they weren't sure of the process, they were fine working it out verbally in front of the class.

I pulled several kids aside afterwards to let them know how proud I was of them and to thank them for being productive members of the class.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Day 158: Games and Blown Minds

At 4 am, I woke up with an idea.  I left my bed, got out a notebook and leaned on the stove, getting down my thoughts.  I presented them to the geometry kids this morning.

For the remainder of the school year, we will be designing games.

I began today by asking them what makes a game into a "good" game.  It took them a while to get away from specific content such as "there should be weapons!" and into attributes such as "it should be simple to learn how to play."

We worked together to develop a list of attributes of good games.

Then we talked about a timetable.  If I had had me as a teacher, I would have been eternally frustrated.  I was the kind of student who needed periodic due dates for projects.  Without something to turn in or complete each week or so, I always waited until the last minute and turned in terrible quality work.  You would think then, that as a teacher, I would be better at creating timetables for the projects that I assign.


I am TERRIBLE at it.

So I asked the students.  We discussed the various types of things that should be completed before the final project.  I drew a calendar on the dry erase board and I had them work in groups to develop a breakdown that would work for them.  Then we got back together and put it on the calendar.

As we were making it, I realized that we have another round of testing coming up next week, followed by the Transition Day where the 8th graders are introduced to the high school.

The first upcoming deadline is this Monday.  On Monday, the groups will present their ideas to the class, not for approval, but for suggestions.  We will have a talk before they get started about how to provide constructive feedback.

Then I unleashed them to talk about their ideas with their groups.  Several groups called me over to ask my opinions on their ideas.  There were some amazing ideas that I hope end up as finished products.  One group described one of their ideas "that we're really excited about" as sort of a mash-up between reverse Jenga and Tangrams.  They were worried about building the actual pieces, so we talked about nets and possibly getting pieces of wood from the shop or Styrofoam from Michael's.

I showed them the Kickstarter video for "Primo" as an example of a math-based game and we talked about how the primary consideration is that it should be fun.  If it's not fun, it doesn't matter how much content is packed into it because no one would want to play.

**cough cough Jeopardy test review cough cough**

I did not want it to be a quiz disguised as a game, but rather a game that involved math.

I have high hopes for this.  I also look forward to revising it over the next several years to make this assignment into something amazing.

In pre-algebra, we started talking about polygons and the sums of the interior angles.  I was able to use GeoGebra again, so I was pleased with that.  I started by drawing a triangle and asking the students to tell me everything they knew about it.  Eventually someone said "all of the angles add up to 180 degrees."

We used the GeoGebra angle tool to confirm that this was true.  Then I moved the points and we tried again with another triangle with the same result.  Then we tried a quadrilateral: 360 degrees.

I asked them to make a prediction about the number of degrees inside a pentagon.  Then we tested it: 540.

Me: "So what's happening here? What's the pattern here?"
Student: "We're adding 180 degrees for each new side we add."
Me: "Why do you think that is?"
Student: "Is it because you add a line?"
Me: "Why do you say that?"
Student: "Because a line is 180 degrees."
Me: "BWAAAAAAAAAA????"  **mind blown**

I was struck dumb! I had never thought about it in this way before, but it makes perfect sense!  I was taught to divide my polygons into triangles, which have an interior angle sum of 180 degrees.

I LOVE when students can show me something new!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Day 157: High Tech, Low Tech

After demonstrating quadrilaterals with GeoGebra yesterday, I wanted the geometry kids to play around with it a bit today.  The "class set" of laptops was going to inadequate, so the computer teacher was nice enough to let us use his room.

Good News:  All of the computers were equipped with GeoGebra.

Bad News: When students added a slider, half of the programs froze.

Good News: All of the computers were equipped with Vision software so I could take control from the teacher desk and demonstrate more effectively than using the overhead.

In the end, I demonstrated a few things and let them spend the rest of the time creating, exploring and finding things on GeoGebraTube.  With one exception, every student in the room was on task and exploring.  I heard several cries of "COOL!" and "Where did you find that? I want to do it too!"

I hope that I can figure out a way to get them on there more often. I'd like to find or create a set of tasks that would help direct students through the circle explorations.

In pre-algebra, we finished talking about complementary and supplementary angles.  Then I had them work on some questions that were more later thinking.

"How could you fill a 10 pint container if you only have a 9 pint container and a 4 pint container?"

Listening to the discussions, I was fascinated by the directions that the students went.  Several kids argued that they could just pour the 4 pint and the 9 pint together and let the extra 3 spill out.  A few others began arguing about how many cups are in a pint and tried to convert them to quarts.

I tried to move them back in the direction they needed to be by asking specific questions.

"What are we trying to find?  Do we need cups or quarts?"

They got back on track until I went to help another group, then looked up conversion tables again.

Even after 9 years of working in education, I still have trouble sometimes knowing when kids are being purposely obtuse or if they genuinely don't understand.  This extends beyond content.

I had a student arrive to my class late, then enter the room WAY too loud and disruptive.  When I told him to go back out and try again, he pitched a fit, claiming that he didn't understand why he was being singled out.  When I tried to explain it, he yelled over me and walked off.

It's too hot to be fighting with kids.  Especially kids who enter my 80 degree room wearing sweaters...

Talk about not understanding how students think...

Period 8/9 was completely out of control.  There were 4 students who refused to stop singing, talking, crying, moaning, whining.  Once I sent them out of the room, the other 20 kids were able to learn.  Every time I brought them back in, they became disruptive again.

It feels like giving up on them, and I know that it is, but I don't know what else to do.  They are not responding to my interventions.  Parent calls have yielded no results and the disruptions are constant.  I feel awful for the rest of the students in my class whose needs I can not meet as a result.

I don't know what to do.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Day 156: The Last Mile Sucks!

I've been running (mostly) regularly for almost 2 years now.  My runs can be broken down into the thoughts I have based on the percentage of my run that I've completed.  It has nothing to do with the distance that I plan to run.  It usually goes something like this:

1% Completed: "What a nice day! I know I'm only planning to do 3 miles today, but I may do 6! I feel great!"

10%: "Hmm... This doesn't feel awesome.  I was hoping to do more, but I may only do what I planned and run a little extra tomorrow."

25%: "My knee and ankle are a bit twingey.  I should be pacing myself a bit more."

33%: "Chirst! Do I have to do THAT two more times??"

50%: "If I just finish this lap, I should be good.  It wasn't as far as I was planning, but I don't want to hurt myself."


85%: "If I give up now, no one would know... No one would ever... Oh crap! I post my runs to Twitter and Facebook..."

95%: "Almost! Almost! One foot in front of the other! Sprint to the end to boost your pace just a bit!"

100%: "I can do one more! I'm behind in my #500in2014 anyway! What's one more mile?"

101%: "Nope."

Today makes 86% completion of this school year.  I am finding myself having exactly the same feelings and thoughts.

My room is hot, my kids are sweaty and loud, my energy is low.

I desperately want to phone it in.  I can feel myself asking easier questions than I would have 3 months ago.  I'm finding it easier to justify letting my kids off the hook more and more, although for very different reasons.

In geometry, I've been pushing them full-steam for months without letting up.  We've been doing activities and projects, having discussions and debates.  I am so proud of everything they've done.

As a result, I'm justifying my current lack of push by saying "They deserve a break."  This is true, but they'll get their break over the summer.  I hope they won't take it as a break.  I hope they use it to push themselves, discovering new things, playing with new software, asking new questions.

In pre-algebra, I've been pushing them full-steam for months without letting up.  I can't, however, see any progress or even evidence that I've been pushing.  I think they are better off than they were at the beginning of the year, but I don't think it's been a year's worth of growth and I certainly don't think the kids this year have grown as much as my students in previous years.  I find this VERY distressing since I believe fully in the power of what I've been doing this year.

The other analogy that comes to mind is that of Sisyphus.

In geometry, I had a VERY heavy boulder.  It took an insane amount of energy to get it rolling, but once it did, it rolled downhill under it own power.  I was there to keep it moving in the right direction and to give it a push when it got to a bump or a ditch.

In pre-algebra, the boulder feels much lighter, but it is going uphill.  There was slick patches on the hill where my feet keep slipping and I've lost my grip on the boulder several times.

I think there is a great value in both of these.  They both require a ton of energy and I wouldn't claim that one is better than the other, except to say that I think I'm better at the former than the latter.  Fixing that will take practice.

The analogy of Sisyphus falls apart in June when I pass my "boulder" to the next teacher and hope that I have given it enough guidance.

But knowing the end is near might actually make it harder.  It's so close.  How many teachers look at the clock and say "There's only about 5 minutes left.  Just hang out until the bell rings"?  If the school year were a 40-minute class, we would be in the last 5 minutes.

So today I started playing around with GeoGebra a bit more.  I found a very cool applet that deals with exploring quadrilaterals and the geometry class was able to talk about the properties of those shapes.  I had them make conjectures about lines of symmetry and various angles.

Our discussion led to an interesting question: What do we mean by the "center" of an object?

When we were dealing with triangles, we had incenters, circumcenters and orthocenters and they were almost never the same point.  What do we mean by center?

We left it open and I goofed around a bit more on GeoGebra, experimenting with different tools.

In pre-algebra, I used the program to introduce the concept of parallel lines and the various properties of the angles that are created by having those lines crossed by a transversal.  I was pleased with the lesson itself, starting with a single line and building up one angle or ray at a time, until we got to a parallelogram.

The students were less than impressed, and many passed out, but it may have been due to the fact that the room was 82 degrees.

Once I realized I had lost most of them, I started cruising around on GeoGebraTube to find something fun and stumbled on a pendulum wave motion applet.  The kids asked how it was done and I created a VERY simplistic version of it, illustrating simple harmonic motion of a point.  They were impressed.

I have reserved the laptop cart for tomorrow, so I'm hoping to get the kids onto GeoGebra to play around a bit themselves.

Now, I have to run and then, hopefully, go to sleep.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Day 155: "What Animal Am I?"

Today was Junior Achievement Day.  For the majority of the day, volunteers from Public Allies came to speak with our students.  The 7th grade students heard about personal finance and the 8th graders heard about personal branding.

The guy who spoke with my homeroom was excellent.  He talked to the kids as though they were actually people and they responded in kind.

Near the beginning of his presentation, he was asking them about the personal brands that certain celebrities have cultivated for themselves.  He asked about Beyonce, Jay-Z and Diddy and what the kids thought of when he said their names.

What struck me was how vehemently I had the thought "Those are the wrong examples for this crowd.  You should have gone with The Arcade Fire or David Tennant or Link."

I started thinking more deeply about how important it is for us to know our students.  We can't teach them if we don't build relationships and we can't build relationships if we don't know them.

Part of the exercise involved pair of students describing each other in positive ways.  They were also asked to write two positive words that a teacher or parents would use to describe them.  It was VERY difficult to come up with unique adjectives to describe my students, but I took it seriously and took the time to do it right.

The next question was harder.

"Mr. Aion, what animal best describes me?"

Teacher Tip: If you want to answer this question honestly and well, you sure as hell had better know not only your students, but a myriad of animals.

I spent several minutes staring at each kid, mentally categorizing what I knew about them and pairing it with traits of a specific animal.  I knew that whatever I answered was going to be analyzed, especially if the students didn't like that animal, so I wanted it to be right.

I REALLY didn't want to pick obvious animals like "you would be a cat because you are independent and slightly lazy."  Instead, I put serious effort into finding the right animal for each student.

"You would be a goose.  You surround yourself with people who have similar interests, but you're also self-reliant.  You are also fiercely territorial, looking friendly and cute until someone encroaches on your space."

"You are a beaver.  You are creative and industrious, constructing meaning from your surroundings. You're quiet when around those who are different, but very chatty with those who feel the same as you."

"You would be a bloodhound.  You are loyal and friendly with an investigative streak that doesn't let you give up until you've come to the end of your inquiry."

Some students were easy to identify.

"You would be a cartoon monkey scientist.  You're a bit twitchy and weird, often making people around you uncomfortable, but you're scary smart and often your intelligence takes you places that people don't expect."

I wasn't able to identify good animals for all of my students and that upsets me.  I don't know all of my students as well as I would like.

To how many of your students could you give a good answer to this question?

How well do you know them?

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Day 154: Explorations

Then pen that I use for my Promethean Board has been shorting out lately.  What this means is that certain parts of the board work just fine while on others, I have to push VERY hard to a response.  This essentially makes my board from an interactive whiteboard into a giant projection screen in the middle of my writing space.

In geometry, I wanted us to explore quadrilaterals but I wanted to do so on a grid to illustrate the points I wanted to make.  I don't have a dry erase grid and trying to create one by hand would have made a bigger issue.

So I improvised!

Why, yes! I DID tape a dry erase board to my Promethean board! And it was glorious!

It looked even cooler when the screensaver for my laptop came on.

It turned out that my geometry kids spent the day bullying our tech guy into getting me a new pen, which I now have and it works great!

I was very pleased with how this impromptu lesson went.  I started by asking them what they knew about rectangles and triangles.  After listing several attributes, we eventually got where I wanted: area.

At this point, I put a parallelogram on the board and asked how we might find the area of that.  We had a very interesting discussion about splitting it into two triangles and a rectangle, finding the areas of each of those and combining all of those.

They quickly discovered that, in a parallelogram, the two triangles that they created by drawing altitudes were congruent to each other.  We talked about what that meant and what we could do with it.  Eventually, someone suggested that we move one triangle to match up with the other and make a rectangle.

I used this as an opportunity to discuss why the formula for area of a triangle is related to the formula for the area of a rectangle.  I let them choose variable names for the lengths of the various sides, so it looked like a jumbled mess, but it was all part of the plan (sort of.)

Once we combined the areas of the triangles and the rectangle, messed around with the variables and made it pretty, they were able to see that the formula for the area of a parallelogram was the same as that for a rectangle.

"What about other quadrilaterals?"

I drew a trapezoid on the board, purposely drawing one that was not isosceles.  When we started looking at it, they tried the same tactic as before, but quickly found that since the triangles on the side weren't congruent, they needed to do something else.  We talked about it for a bit and looked at a few different ideas.

One student suggested that, since we can find the area of the rectangle in the middle, we pull that out and put the two side triangles together.  The base of that triangle would be the length of the bottom of the trapezoid minus the length of the top.

We did some algebraic manipulation and ended up with the standard formula for the the area of a trapezoid.  We also talked about how, since we couldn't move one triangle to the other side, we could cut each triangle in half vertically and flip the missing piece up to the top to make a rectangle.

My favorite part of this lesson, the part of which I am most proud, is when a student asked me "What are we looking for? Where are we trying to go?" and my reply was "I have no idea. We are just exploring!"

Formulas are great, but they are even better when the kids come up with them on their own.  If they can't create new ones, the next best thing is to have them discover why we use the existing ones.

One of my favorite activities to do in Algebra 2 is to use the method for completing the square to derive the quadratic formula.  I love seeing and having students see how math is interconnected.  Too often, we fail to create or illuminate those bridges and, as a result, students think that math is just random formulas with no real origins.

Any sufficiently advanced mathematics is indistinguishable from magic.  Part of the job of a math teacher is to pull back the curtain.

By the time the pre-algebra kids got to my room, the temperature had jumped to 82 degrees and everyone was pretty subdued.  They took a chapter test and worked on front-loading vocabulary for the next chapter.

By the time class ended, it was 85.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Day 153: Reviews and Proofs

I have a ton of grading that I have to do and I am reminded how much easier this job was when I was doing it poorly.  When I only used multiple choice tests and checked homework only for completion, grading was a snap!

This whole "wanting to be a better teacher" thing sure is exhausting.

We spent geometry going over the sheets that I gave them yesterday.  The students really struggled with the first page, on which they were given a quadrilateral with certain properties and asked to determine if it had to be a parallelogram.

I liked this page because it required a ton of lateral thinking and students needed to be able to justify their reasoning.

Almost everyone was able to come up with counterexamples when they existed, but the reasoning for the proofs was much more difficult.  I purposely did not work out the problems ahead of time because I think it's important for the students to see the way I think as a process rather than a finished product.

It was immediately obvious that this is a tactic that they are not used to.  I saw several eyes glaze over until I was done asking myself questions, pens poised to write the answers instead of the ideas that lead to it.

Most of them, however, seemed to really enjoy the puzzle that is a geometric proof.  I think that by emphasizing formal proof structure, we take away the fun that can exist in proofs.  They are, essentially, a puzzle with each piece leading to the next.  There is no set path that a student must take, but they do have to justify each step.

I think there is great freedom and beauty in it, but with very few exceptions, I may have been the only on the room to think so.  I've also found that when it's something they don't think they should know, they work MUCH harder to figure it out.  I can understand this as the simpler concepts should "just come" to us and if they don't, it's harder to motivate ourselves to work on them.  "It'll just come to me later."

In pre-algebra, we went over the practice test from yesterday in the hopes of getting them prepared for the actual test tomorrow.  I had students putting their work and answers up on the board to try to get them more active, but several refused and the ones who did, were rudely talked over or even heckled by their classmates.

I truly feel as though we've made much less progress this year than we have in previous year, and don't just mean about content.  At this point last year and the year before, my students were not nearly as rude to each other or to me.

One of the major problems with changing styles or routines in educations is that it's VERY hard to tell if it's the procedure that doesn't work, or the specific dynamic of the students in the room.

I try to make them understand what I'm attempting to do and why, but with this year's pre-algebra classes, I feel as though I have missed the mark by a mile.  I hate to think that they need Old-Teacher Justin while the geometry class needs New-Teacher Justin because it feels like giving up.

In period 8/9, there were three specific students out and it made all the difference.  The rest of the class, though boisterous, worked VERY well on the review, asking good questions and volunteering to show the class what they did.  I'm always amazed at how the addition or subtraction of one or two students can completely change a class dynamic.

I'm also quite tired of having to tamp down the urge to start each of these blog posts with "I'm so tired."  I'm starting to think that the recharge that I need isn't just emotional, but physical as well.  I've been going full-steam this year and haven't really given myself a chance to recover.

No matter how awesome and dynamic your lessons are for Monday and Tuesday, there is still a Wednesday.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Day 152: Forging Ahead

Warning: The final picture in this post contains profanity.

With only about a month left, we won't be able to hit all of the topics that I want to hit.  As a result of that, I came up with an idea last night and implemented it today.

Our text books (Glencoe) provide a ton of worksheets that range in difficulty for all manner of teacher-directed learning as well as student-directed.  I use the Study Guide, Practice and Word Problems to put together workbooks for the pre-algebra classes and we use for classwork and reference.  They are good for practice and reference, but not much else.

What they DO have in each section is an "Enrichment" page that takes the basic idea from the chapter and asks students to apply those concepts to something practical. The newest chapter in Geometry is about quadrilaterals and I figured with all of the work we've been doing with triangles and logical thought, this would be a good place to make them stretch their brains.

I selected four pages of Enrichment from a chapter that we haven't talked about.  They could do any three and use any reference they wanted, but I needed to see what they did.

The four tasks that they could choose from were:

  1. Test for Parallelograms: Students were asked to draw a quadrilateral with certain criteria and asked to determine if it was enough to claim that the shape was a parallelogram.
  2. Counting Squares and Rectangles: Students were given multiple shapes with intersecting lines and asked to find the total number of squares and/or rectangles.
  3. Quadrilaterals in Construction: Students were asked to identify different types of triangles and quadrilaterals in building rafters, find dimensions of windows and doors and the length of tape needed to seal a box.
  4. Coordinate Proofs: Students were given a diagram and asked to prove various things about the quadrilateral based on the arbitrary coordinates given.
 Instead of starting with practice and moving to the application, I started with the application to see what they can figure out.  I would MUCH rather have them figure out the complicated stuff than simply repeat the easy stuff back to me.

Also, I will provide remediation for those who aren't ready for the complex stuff.  This way, the advanced kids can keep moving and the ones who need help can get it.

We also finished the chapter in pre-algebra.  I have been giving them pre-tests the day or two before to help them assess what they know and what they need to study.  I'm not sure that it's achieving those goals.  It seems more than students are using it to find out what they will get on their tests the next day.

What I want to be happening: "Oh man! I got a 60% on the practice test. I'll make sure to study the ones I missed tonight!"

What IS happening: "Oh man! I got a 60% on the practice test. That's good enough."

I have a student (well, several who do this, but this one in particular) is always at the center of the problems in my class.  Most of the time it's because he was away from his seat, minding other people's business and not keeping his hands to himself.  As a direct result of his actions, other students are usually hitting him or yelling at him.

I can't seem to get him to understand that if he would just leave other people alone, he wouldn't be getting in trouble.  He constantly feels like the victim, as though he played no part in anything around him and trouble just finds him.

I expect this from a toddler, but I don't know how to address it in a young adult who refuses to engage in a conversation about it.

I found another piece of graffiti today that was directed at me.  I've decided now that I will be adding to the student graffiti rather than getting angry with them.  I rather enjoy the addition that I made today.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Day 151: Making Them Trust Each Other

This weekend, I was invited to spend the day with Jen Silverman and Jim Doherty learning how to use GeoGebra.  It was a fantastic experience and, to be honest, I did it less for the program knowledge and more to spend time with Jen and Jim, both of whom are amazing!
Mathematical duckface!

It was a bit of a hike for me, but worth it for three notable reasons.  First, I took my daughters to visit with my mom and her partner outside of Philadelphia.  Second, I got to spend time with Jen and Jim and learn a ton of information about how to utilize the amazing tech tool that is GeoGebra.

Third, during the VERY large number of hours I spent in the car, I was listening to NPR podcasts.  In one of them, RadioLab out of WNYC (which, if you are not listening to, you are making a HUGE mistake.)  This particular episode talked about a British game show called Golden Balls, where contestants, in the final round, engage in a sort of Prisoner's Dilemma for the prize money.

The basic premise is this:

The final two contestants are each given a choice.  They may choose to split the pot of prize money 50/50 or they can choose to steal from their opponent.  If they both pick to split it, they split it and everyone is happy.

If, however, one person picks to split and one to steal, the person who chose to steal gets everything while the other person gets nothing.

I spent a large part of the weekend thinking about how I could do this in my classes.  When I met an old friend of mine at a diner on Saturday night, we talked about it for almost an hour and ended up writing a lesson plan on diner napkins.

Because that's what teachers do.

We devised several versions of the game with varying degrees of information for the players.  I had them chose split or steal without knowing who they were playing against, knowing their opponent, and being able to talk to their opponent.  I had 1 students go into the hall while we picked their opponent from the class, creating imperfect information.

Then we did a tournament!

I gave every student 20 M&Ms and drew two student names from a jug.  They played the game and we kept track of the results on the white board.  Anyone who hadn't been eliminated at the end of round one could either cash out or play for more.

In Geometry, we were only able to play one tournament because we had deeper conversations about the critical thinking aspect of determining what someone else is going to do.

In period 4/5, we were able to do 2 tournaments.  In the first, there was only one group that successfully split the pot in the first round.  All of the others either stole from their opponent, or both chose steal and were both eliminated.

In the second tournament, the majority of the class made it to round 2 by successfully splitting the pot.  We had a brief talk about how cooperation, while it may seem worse for and not in your best interest, was the only way to get the optimal solution. In round 2, it became clear that almost everyone was splitting again and everyone cashed out at the end of the round.

In period 8/9, two kids simply refused to play at all, claiming that making the folded papers saying "split" and "steal" was too much work.  The class in general was also MUCH more chaotic.  They seemed more interested in throwing M&Ms at each other than eating them.

The conversations that happened while students were trying to figure out what they should pick were very interesting.  There was lots of "I PROMISE that I'll pick split" and "I don't think I can trust you to pick split."

One student came into the round saying "I don't care what you do. I'm picking steal.  I don't like chocolate and I don't like you. If I can't have some candy that I want, I don't want you to have some either."

General observations:

The geometry kids made deal based on logic and weren't angry when they cheated each other.

Period 4/5 made deals based on personality and friendship and if they got cheated, were more sad and disappointed.  One students did say to another "Look, we're both the same color. If we both pick steal, then this white guy is gonna take all of our stuff."

Period 8/9 made deals based on purely selfish reasons.  More students were eliminated by both trying to steal than anything else.  Even running the tournament for a 3rd time, kids continued to try to cheat each other and were eliminated.  When this happened, they got furious at each other, yelling about what a cheater the other person was when they had picked exactly the same thing.  Many students accused their opponent of ruining it for both of them, even though both students had made the same decisions.

In both pre-algebra classes, I will be surprised if I get the reflections back tomorrow from more than half a dozen students total.  As I've said before, I don't seem to have much problem engaging them in the lessons, but the follow-through is non-existent.
This was not enough...

My deepest thanks go out to Jedidiah Butler for making my data sheet look pretty!

I am incredibly disappointed that once again, I've tried something fun and interesting and my pre-algebra kids, not all, but many and the same ones, were indifferent.  It's getting harder and harder not to count the remaining days and say "Whatever. We have less than 30 days left. Give them worksheets and take it easy."

I am tired.  This was a great lesson for the geometry kids and half of the pre-algebra kids and I will bask in the glow of that.

But tomorrow, I have to write another blog post and draw another picture and find another way to engage my students for an hour and a half each.  It's exhausting.

Several people have asked me if I'm going to keep this blog up next year.  I would like to and, hopefully, after everything I do this summer, I'll have my energy back.  I don't know if it will be the same form, but I think writing has been very valuable for me.

The drawings, however, I think I'm done with, at least on a daily basis.  I'm finding myself more stressed about the pictures than about my lessons and that's REALLY backwards since the majority of my students don't care about them beyond a passing "huh."

Also, I found out that when I was out on Friday, there was a 20 minute span of time when my period 8/9 was left alone without a teacher.  This wasn't the fault of the covering teacher because no one told her she was supposed to be covering.

So this morning, in addition to many missing and scattered marker, about a dozen missing mini dry erase boards and my room in shambles, I found this:
I figured that if I brought this up at all to my class, I would end up screaming at them for using/losing my markers without permission and it would lead to a bad discussion.  So I erased it and pretended I never saw it.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Day 149: Arguing With Myself

70% of my geometry class went on a field trip today and, for some reason, many of my other students were missing as well.  With that many kids out, I didn't want to start anything new.  On top of that, I'd been hammering them all pretty hard recently in terms of content and critical thinking, so I thought I would give us all a break.

Before they left, I handed out the Chapter 7 test to Geometry.  They are now used to my assignments of "write a solution guide" but I asked for questions  and they had none.  With the remaining students, we talked briefly about how parallax and triangulation are used to determine the distances to far stars with measurements taken every 6 months.

I wish I had developed something for this part of the lesson, rather than just a side note at the end (an end note?) but I am not a good planner.  The first two parts of the lesson, however, were awesome!

In pre-algebra, We are nearing the end of the chapter and are now working with simple interest.  With so many kids missing, I took the opportunity to assign some practice work and was able to give attention to individual students in the class.

As frustrating as I find that class, there are a ton of a really great kids in it.  We don't do a good enough job of teaching them how to set long term goals and rise above peer pressure.  Individually, they are awesome kids.  As soon as you put them in a group, they have to perform, showing off and generally acting like the jerks that they aren't.

After yesterday's incident with the whiteboard, I was tempted to erase it before the kids came in for period 8/9.  I had a moment (several hours long) where I wrestled with what to do.  I had my own version of angel and devil sitting on my shoulders.  In this case, it was Old-Teacher Justin and New-Teacher Justin who were vying for my attention.

Old-Teacher Justin: "Those disrespectful miscreants! You work so hard to create new pictures and questions every day.  You try so hard to develop interesting and engaging lessons and they don't care!  They are lazy and rude and don't care how much effort you put into the class.  They are disrespectful to your property and think you should be spoon feeding them everything!  Erase it! Leaving it up will show them that it's ok to behave in the fashion the way they do."

New-Teacher Justin: "Don't be absurd! You KNOW that's just your frustration and annoyance coming through.  It wasn't a class effort that smudged your board, it was one individual.  Just because you don't know WHICH individual doesn't mean that you should punish the entire class.  In addition to that, it's a dry-erase board.  It is, by definition, impermanent.  A student smudging it just means it was going to get erased an hour or so earlier than it otherwise would have.  Being angry at the class is petty and unbecoming of a teacher.  You are striving to be better and letting this one go is a step in the right direction."

Old-Teacher Justin: "All of that may be true, but so what? If you punish the class, the message will be clear: treat other people's property respectfully!  A group punishment will encourage the kids to police each other."

New-Teacher Justin: "Their job is to be 13 and 14.  Not to 'police' each other.  Group punishments only show them that adults are unfair.  It further creates an 'us versus them' mentality.  They struggle with so many things, both academic and not, why would you want to add to it?"

Old-Teacher Justin: "I'm preparing them for the harsh realities of  ... reality."

New-Teacher Justin: "No. You aren't. You're showing them that they can't ever win or get ahead.  Worse than that, you're coming up with BS excuses to justify your own actions, which are happening out of anger rather than out of concern.  You're a bully masquerading as an educator."

It was this last sentence that decided the argument.  I can be stern.  I can be strict.  I can be harsh.

But I NEVER want to be a bully again.

I can be angry.  I can be frustrated.  I can be so annoyed that I want to scream and cry and tear my hair out.

But I never want to be a bully.

New-Teacher Justin won the argument today.  He won't always win, but this year he's been winning more often than not.
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