Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Day 131: Idris Elba Is Not White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instead, we discussed this image:

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

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

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

The man is GORGEOUS!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Day 130: Fresh Air

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 27, 2015

Day 129: The Layout of Disappointment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Day 127: Relationshipwright

I started today in a great mood.

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

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

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

Because they are people.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Day 126: Tangransformations

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

Just before homeroom started, another students walked in.

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

He got a HUGE hug that probably embarrassed him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I lost my temper.

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 23, 2015

Day 125: Tangrams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another great problem from Go Geometry capped off the class.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Day 124: My Students Explore Math

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then the geometry kids came in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After they left, everyone else was on point.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Day 123: Beauty and Cake

We are approaching the end of the unit on functions in Math 8.  Tomorrow will be the test so today, they were working on the review.

"The test tomorrow will cover all of the material from this unit.  The Review in the back of your packet has a great summary of the skills and content that you will need.  If you can answer those questions, you'll be ready for tomorrow.  This book is mine.  The answers to the review are in the back of it.  When you've finished yours, come check your answers against mine.  If you find yourself struggling with a concept, come ask me.  If you want clarification, come ask me.  If you need help, come ask me."

Then I sat at a desk and got to building.

Some feet for scale

We talked about quick ways to calculate the number of hexagons in the shape.  It was a good discussion

Students came over to ask questions, or just to watch me build, asking questions about the patterns.

In geometry, I talked about how I think a major short-coming of math education is that we focus so heavily on the bricks that we forget to show the students the cathedrals and mansions that they can build.  We are so focused on the ingredients that we never let them bake the cake.

When I was in school and took Home Economics, it was one of my least favorite classes.  I loved cooking and baking, but we spent so much time focusing on proper measurements (something I thought was easy) that we didn't get to bake as much as I wanted to.  We spent the first half of shop class learning about safety and theory before we got to build anything.

I'll write more about this later, but now, I'm tired.  Thursday, we have parent-conferences all day and Friday is an inservice.

I wonder how many Target stores I can hit before Monday...

Monday, March 16, 2015

Day 122: Math Art: Mart? Arth? Marth??

Surprisingly, despite my wildly distracted and creative weekend, I managed to remember my plan for my classes today!  We started with a brief discussion of patterns and hexagons simply because I wanted to show off what I created.  Then I put a picture and some information up on the board.

To take a taxi, it will cost you $3.00 to go a mile.  After 6 miles, it costs $5.25.

Then I handed out Post-It notes and had the kids write any questions that they could think of and put them up on the board.  We broke the questions into three categories: Questions we can answer, questions for which we need more information and questions we can't answer.

In the first class, the majority of the questions that the students asked were in the first 2 categories.  In 8th period, the majority fell into the second two.  Those students seemed to be overly concerned with which company the taxis worked for.

In 8th period, I had to stop multiple times because the same students kept interrupting me.  After I sent a few out, it stopped for a while, but I'm having tremendous difficulty dealing with the continued immature behavior in the class.

I know that it's a very small minority of students, but they are loud enough to make themselves seem like a majority.

In geometry, we talked about Seirpinski Triangles, Koch Snowflakes, Mandelbrot Sets and the beauty of mathematics.  We watched a few Vi Hart videos from YouTube.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Day 121: Meet The New Day, Same As The Old Day

As I did yesterday, the Math 8 classes spent the first period discussing the problem from the previous class.  They were much more attentive today and the repetition of routine and problem type gave them a better grasp of the types of questions they should be asking and how to relate the numbers and concepts.

The class discussion was good, but once we moved to independent work, things fell apart.  I'm sure that Angela Duckworth would tell me that it's because my students lack grit, but that's a discussion for another time.  What I do know is that if I'm not standing over them, they have difficulty focusing on a task.

But the discussion was excellent.  I directed the students on what aspects might be helpful to examine in what order, but they gave all of the answers and asked all of the questions.  Students who normally tune out were engaged and interested.  I think I'll spend some time this weekend working on developing some similar problems.

I'm picturing setting up a scenario like the ones I've given them, but not asking any questions.  Each student will be given 2-3 Post-It notes to write down questions that they wonder about.  I'll have them put those questions on the wall and we will sort them into questions we can solve with current information, questions we would need more information to solve and question we can't solve.

I wish I had started this earlier in the year so they would be in the habit, but I lost my time turner at the last Quidditch match.

The geometry class was split up into individual tasks again.  I put a problem from Go Geometry on the board and told them that it was within their scope, but was challenging.  They could work on that, their guided notes, practice problems, etc. 

Again, I got to it with a group of young ladies working on this problem and I had a great time!  They struggled, but didn't give up.  They complained about headaches and frustration, but didn't give up.  The key to this problem was in seeing it in a certain light and I guided them towards that image with the questions that I asked.  I was incredibly proud of them and I can sense a level of mathematical curiosity that I didn't sense before.
I was mean and I was coarse and unrefined...

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Day 120: I Drawed A Car!

I started class (Math 8) by going over the problem from yesterday.  We talked about how the order in which the questions are being asked may not be the best way to solve the problem.  I put a diagram on the board with the information that was given and asked the students what kinds of questions came to mind.

Almost all of them were variations of the three questions that I wanted to answer:
How much water was in the tub at the start?
How quickly is the water draining?
How long does it take to drain the tub?

As we discussed the problem, looking at the various aspects of the problem, we filled in the worksheet in seemingly random order.  We talked about what each represented in the real world in the context of the problem.  I only had to repeat "there should be no conversations happening right now" a few times.

After we finished the problem together, I gave the second problem in this set.  It asked the same questions, but with a different set up:
As you drive home from the football game, the number of kilometers you are away from your home depends on the number of minutes you have been driving.  When you are 11km from home, you've been driving for 10 minutes.  When you are 8km from home, you've been driving for 15 minutes.

With the previous example still fresh in their minds and (a few) notebooks, they got to work and seemed to have a much firmer grasp of the concepts.  They were less trapped by the formatting and more free to explore the problem.  With fewer kids asking me questions, I was able to draw some pictures!

In 8th period, I had to remove two students who would not be quiet and once they were gone, the class went VERY smoothly.

In geometry, I handed the Promethean pen to my students who wanted to go through the guided notes.  Another group snagged a bunch of practice problems.

One group of young ladies were huddled around a cell phone that was cleverly hidden under the table.  Our school has a "no cell phone" policy so they knew they weren't supposed to have it out.  When I looked at them, they looked ashamed and sorry for sneaking their phone.

Then they told me what they were doing.

They were looking up challenge problems on Go Geometry.

What terrible kids they are, inappropriately using their phones for the betterment of their learning.

The problem they chose was amazing.  I worked on it with them and, by the end of the period, we STILL didn't have an answer.
Some kids, when they get bored in class, space out, doodle, talk or nap.

Some look up math problems!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Day 119: Drain the Tub

"There should be no conversations going on right now."

This phrase was uttered more today than any phrase that I've ever uttered in my life.  There were giggles after the first few times, but when I repeated it with the same inflection, volume and intonation over and over and over until I received the results I wanted, my point become clear.

Again, I wasn't singling anyone out by using names or making eye contact.  I simply repeated the phrase until I got what I wanted.

"There should be no conversations going on right now."

Today's task for Math 8 was a single problem.  I know they need procedural practice, but without the concepts of WHY you would need this, nothing is going to stick.

"You pull the plug on your bath tub and the water begins to drain out.  At 40 seconds, there are 13 gallons left.  At 60 seconds, there are 10 gallons left."

There were a ton of great discussions around this problem dealing with rate of drainage, time to being empty, capacity of the tub, etc.  I was pleased with how the groups worked and, once I gave the initial directions, I let them have their conversations.

The geometry class worked practice with scale factors and ratios of similar figures.  They had to use compass and straight edge to scale various polygons up to 1.5, 2 and 3 times the size.  They were also given the side length ratios and perimeters of triangles and asked to find each side length.

It was a tough assignment, but they worked well and I was very pleased.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Day 118: Some Days...

...you just can't rid of a bomb.

And some days, you just don't feel like blogging.

I picked out 6 problems from my Math 8 kids to work on in groups.  They involved modeling and critical thinking.  The participation was minimal, but I was able to sit with several of the students who are behind and help them to catch up.

I had dry erase boards on the desks and by the end of class, 3 markers and a rag were missing.  When I tried to bring the groups back together to go over the problems, the talking was excessive.

During 8th period, each time I was interrupted, I said "There should be no conversations happening right now."  After repeating myself no less than 10 times, it finally got through to the talkers that "oh! He's talking to me!"

With my verbal repetition, a constant reminder of expectations, the class went MUCH more smoothly than it has in months.  The students who were on task were beyond annoyed with those who kept talking.  By not using any names, I didn't single anyone out so no one felt as though I was picking on them.  The talkers were called on when they put their hands up so they knew that I was calling out behavior rather than students.

Other things happened too, but none are coming to mind.

Some days, you just don't feel like blogging.

The high school will have a position open for a Dean of Students next year.  I'm considering applying for it.
"I'mma let you finish, but Dean Venture is the best Dean of all time.  ALL TIME!"

Monday, March 9, 2015

Day 117: "You Don't Teach Us"

The fight is gone and I'm not going to stress about it.  I can't MAKE them do the work and I need to be ok with that.

Today, I checked 7 pages that we have been working on for the last 2 weeks.  The average was 2 pages completed.

I didn't get angry, I didn't scold them.  I thanked them for the work that they completed and told them I was looking forward to seeing the rest as soon as they finished it.  I walked around the room with my whiteboard, answering question and encouraging kids to get back on task.  I sat with small groups and discussed functions, slope and initial values.

The major benefit to this approach is that I can clearly see who is working and who is lost.  A few students who I thought were completely lost remembered material and concepts from previous lessons and were simply working slowly.

With 27 students in the class, it's very hard to give everyone the personal attention that they need or want.  With whole group instruction, it's often too easy to get hung up on the distractions and forget the quiet students who are on task.

Working with individuals or small groups, I can take a closer look at their work, correct misconceptions, have discussions and get a MUCH better sense for their mastery of the material.

Are there students who are off task?  Yes.

But most of these students would be off task during whole group instruction anyway.

One of my students who has spent a large portion of my class with his head down, book closed and talking over me accused me today of "not having taught in a month."

I managed to get my rage under control and we had a discussion about it where every question I asked him was answered with "I don't know."

Me: "I'm sorry you feel that I haven't been teaching.  I'm here now. What would you like me to teach you?"
Student: "I don't know."
M: "Alright. Let's start at the beginning of the section. Read number 1 for me."
S: "Determine if the function is linear."
M: "Good. What does it mean for a function to be linear."
S: "I don't know."
M: "Alright. What do you THINK it means?  What does the word sound like?"
S: "I don't know."
M: "Take a moment to think about it."
S:  **maintains eye contact without focusing**
M: "What do you think?"
S: "I don't know."
M: "Alright.  Turn back to the previous page that say 'Linear and Non-Linear Functions' and read the first paragraph."
S: **flips back**
M: "What does it say?"
S: "I don't know."


If this was painful for you to read, imagine how painful it is to live, knowing that the student wants me to give up and go away so that he can continue to feel that I've given up on him.

I am really looking forward to spending my retirement fund replacing the hair that I'm tearing out.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Day 116: Come Learn With Me

After the warm-up in Math 8, I announced that I would be checking their workbooks on Monday and where they should have completed up to.  I told them that I didn't feel like talking and they had their assignments.

"I will be sitting here in the middle of the room.  If you have any questions or would like clarification on anything, come on over and I'll be happy to help."

In both period 1 and period 8, I had 4 kids come and sit with me.  We went over the material in depth and had a great discussion about slope and linear equations.

What does "initial value" mean in this context?
What does "rate of change" mean in this context?
How else could we re-word these questions so they are more clear?

The prime example of this was:

Eduardo is 6 years younger than his sister.  Write an equation to represent this situation.  What is the rate of change?  What is the initial value?

They struggled with understanding that in this case, "initial value" meant "How old was his sister when he was born"

This really underscored for me the difficulty that my students have with sense-making.  It's a skill that I think I have so it's often very difficult for me to understand why my students don't.

My major struggle as a math teacher is, and always has been, empathizing with my students' confusion over basic math concepts.  Math has always come very easily for me.  Numbers click into place and make sense.  Since it was so easy for me and since it makes perfect sense, I often have trouble wrapping my mind around the fact that it isn't the same for everyone.

Maybe the only subjects we should teach should be ones for which we don't have an affinity.  That way, we would be learning along with the students.  Our expertise would be in practice and strategy rather than content.

I think I'd make a pretty awful English teacher...

In totally unrelated and very sad news, one of the students that I taught in the alternate education program during my first year was found dead yesterday.  He was shot 6 times by another student from that program.

I remember the young man fondly and remember that he was quite bright and charming.  He was a natural leader and was always willing to listen to reason, even if he didn't always follow it.

I am not surprised by this news, but I am saddened by it.  I was going to post a picture of him, but I couldn't find one that wasn't a mug shot and I don't want to remember him that way.

We can't save everyone, but I'll be damned if I'm going to give up.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Day 115: Gourmet Math Teacher

My Math 8 kids did diagnostic testing all day today.  They do this twice each year to measure progress, not only through the curriculum, but against themselves.  It's the only test that I really like because it measures the kids against themselves rather than a national or state average.  It shows growth.  Or not.

The results, overall, were slightly upsetting, but not the least bit surprising.

The students who took an active role in their education through participation, task completion and asking questions showed improvement since the first time they took in September.

The students who did not take an active role, or showed inconsistent activity, including sleeping in class, not doing assignments, not reading feedback showed either stagnancy or decline.

Nothing about these findings are revolutionary or amazing.

What it does for me is underscore the need for me to up my game.  If responsibility and active engagement are what correlated highly to growth, then I need to figure out how to engage more of my students.

I've known this is true, but just like anything else, having the numbers in front of me makes it more concrete.

If they care about the work, they will do it.

I just struggle with getting them to care.

Sometimes, being a teacher feels as though I'm a gourmet chef trying to feed toddlers.  A beautifully prepared and presented meal may go to waste simply because it's not a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with the crust removed and cut into triangles (which my wife and children assure me makes the sandwich taste better.)  They may love the food, but without the willingness to try a bite, they will never know.
Reject that sandwich! More for me!

That's not to say that they don't have good reasons for rejecting my lessons.  They have been trained from birth to think that math is hard and boring.  I've been trying to break them of that thought, but at the same time, they are struggling with social, societal and home pressures.

School is simply not a priority for many of my students.

Almost 10 years into my career in education and I still don't know how to make it so.  I know the basics.  If I am able to build relationships and trust with them, they are much more likely to go with me on these adventures.  I've been able to build those with several students, but not nearly as many as I would like, or really need.

I wonder about the inherent differences between the Math 8 kids and the Geometry kids.  The latter group is, in general, much more trusting of my goals and methods.  It may be due to how much closer I am to them in terms of my background and interests.  I am more likely to butt heads with the Math 8 kids.

I wish this were not the case.  I'm working on it and being conscious of the difference SHOULD make that easier, but...

The students in the geometry class, particularly the young women, are very concerned about race and gender issues.  It's a frequent topic of discussion in the class.  Since I know their interests and we are currently talking about similar polygons and proportions, today was a perfect day for the Barbie Proportion lesson.

This awesome activity came from Kathryn and Fawn, via Julie.

When the kids showed up, they asked me what we were going to be doing today.

"We will be discussing the expectations that society places on women to maintain an unrealistic body."

Then I pulled out a Barbie doll and asked what they noticed.

Almost as if I had prompted her, one of my students said "I read somewhere that if she were life sized, her waist would be too small for her organs."

And with that, we were off and running!  In groups, students measured Barbie's various body parts and then scaled them up to make a life-sized drawing.

My favorite observations:
"Her legs are super long and her arms are super short!"
"Her feet are stupid small."

It was a pretty great activity and I may do it with the Math 8 kids if I can gather the courage and the trust.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Day 114: Go Home, February

One of the purposes of this blog is to show the struggles that I have, as well as the successes.  There is a ton of success-sharing in the online teacher community, but very little struggle-sharing.  I think this is because teachers are supposed to be seen as infallible educational experts.  In reality, we are people.

We have lessons that go well and others that don't.  We want our students to be ok with failure, to learn from it, but they won't unless we model that behavior.

I mention this because #MSMathChat last night was all about burn-out.  I've been thinking recently about changing careers.  This isn't because I don't love teaching anymore, but it's becoming harder and harder to not feel like a failure at this profession.  I'm not sure it's my students, my administration, my district, or just how I'm viewing my role and my goals.
Every time I express these sentiments, Megan Schmidt links me to blog posts where the author expresses similar difficulties.  This author teaches the same classes that I do with the same administration and population of students.

That author is me.  From last year.

Last night, during #MSMathChat, many of the participants expressed similar feelings of frustration, self-doubt and finally relief that they were not alone.  We also reminded each other of an incredible vital piece of information.

February sucks.  Like, a bunch.  March isn't much better.

I also need to remember that February and March suck for them too.

I calmly told my classes that I was done fighting with them.  I asked them if my expectations were unreasonable, or if they had changed since day one.  They said no on both counts.

So I spoke in low tones, patiently answering questions of the students who asked.  Kids who were overly disruptive were asked to go into the hall.

I didn't yell, I didn't scream.

I didn't insult anyone.  I didn't have snappy comebacks or sarcastic comments.

"Please stop talking.  You are making it difficult for others to learn."
**continues talking**
"Please step into the hallway please until you can choose to stop talking."

Once they realized that I wasn't going to be riled, but also was very serious about getting work done today, the remaining students settled down, moved closer to the board and we had a good discussion about functions and linear equations.

It was mostly material that we covered last month, but it's probably the most important thing that we do in Math 8, so I'm willing to take the time to cover it more thoroughly.

With all of that said, I was, again, unable to teach 8th period because of my inability to halt the disruptions of several of my students.  I am ashamed to admit that one of them pushed me WAY over the edge and I lost my cool.

I pulled him aside later and asked him what I need to do.

"We gotta fix this, man.  It's not working for you, it's not working for me.  What can we do?"
"I can talk less, pay attention more, man up to my actions."
"I think those are good starts, but I'm not putting this all on you.  This is an us thing.  What can I do for you?  What do you need ME to do?"
"Ok, that's fine.  Can you think about it?  I want you to be successful and I want to do what I can for you.  I can't do anything unless we work together."

It wasn't a solution,  but at least we didn't part as enemies.
A beautiful picture of the sky for the last month.

My year-end project for Geometry is going to be for them to create games, as I did last year.  This year, however, I am adding the extra piece that, if students want to, they will be able to put their games up on Kickstarter and see if they get funded.  I'm hoping this will add an element of motivation as well as a piece of algebra for determining how much money would be needed as a goal.  I'm pretty excited about this.  Now I just need to wait until that project...

Monday, March 2, 2015

Day 113: Popcorn

Fawn Nguyen and Julie Reulbach are two of the most amazing math teachers that I have ever met.  They are passionate, creative, funny, kind and clever.  They never fail to inspire and motivate me to develop better and more interesting lessons.

Mostly, that inspiration comes in the form of THEIR lessons which I shamelessly steal and modify for my classes.  Today's lesson in all of my classes was about problem solving and volume maximization.

When the kids showed up today, they were greeted by the smell of air-popped popcorn wafting down the hall.  On a desk in my room, I set up a 35-year-old air popper and started filling a 5 gallon popcorn tin.

After the daily warm-up, I threw this up on the screen:

I put index cards on the list because I was toying with the idea of having them do the same activity with a smaller container and filling it with M&Ms.  I even bought 6 lbs of the chocolatey deliciousness.  They sat on the counter, taunting the kids.

My first Math 8 class and the Geometry kids did REALLY well on this activity.  They were excited to find boxes that had slightly more volume than their friends.

About half of my afternoon Math 8 class also did a really great job, although their behavior leading up to the activity made it impossible for me to reward them with the snack of popcorn.

I was tempted to cancel the activity all together for them, but I absolutely hate punishing an entire class for the actions of a few students.  I then thought that I would have the rude kids work in their workbooks while the rest did this activity.  This activity, however, in addition to being fun, has some very solid problem solving and persistence skills involved.  Since those are the things that I value, I don't want to put a damper on that learning just because I'm annoyed at being talked over.

So instead, they did the activity and I gave popcorn to the students who earned it.

Then I spent an hour cleaning the room.

Tomorrow, we will talk about strategies that they used. 
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