Thursday, April 30, 2015

Day 152: Teach Like Seurat

More than half of my students came to class without materials.  I tried to teach a lesson but those without their materials thought that it was free time.

No matter what interventions I used, I couldn't seem to get them back on task and they seemed to take exception to my expecting them to be.

"Why do you keep asking me to stop talking to my friends, interrupting the class and generally being rude?" they seem to ask with their eyes.

My temper flared and I lost it.  I had them sit silently while I called them up one at a time to check their workbooks, answer questions and clarify concepts.

What I found was that almost none of the students were going back and correcting their work based on the feedback that I'd been giving them.  They wanted opportunities to bring up their grades, but then didn't take advantage.

The other thing I noticed was that out of the few who DID change their answers, they all had exactly the same wording for the problems.  I don't mind when students work together, but blatant copying and insisting that they didn't is insulting.

"You are telling me that you didn't copy?"
"No! I didn't copy anything!"
"Then tell me what this word means."
"...I don't know..."

And so on.

In 8th period, I checked to make sure they had their books before they entered my room.  They did an excellent job of coming prepared today and I thanks them for it.  Then several students had to be removed from the class for constant disruption.

I talked to the rest of the students about my frustration at my failure and inability to give them the best education that I can.

The hardest part of keeping this blog, aside from the constant writing, is that I have to acknowledge my role in the shortcomings of my classes.  I KNOW that I'm doing what I think is best, but more often than not, my anger and frustration at my students has become more self-directed.

They come in with whatever they come in with.  I can't control any of that.  All I can do is try to set tone and expectations for my classroom.  When my students don't respond the way that I want them to, it's very hard not to feel as though I've failed.

At the same time, I've been pushing for growth mindset with them and I need to practice what I preach.  Failure is not only acceptable, but necessary for improvement.

I also know that education is a long game.  My goal is to have my students improve from September to June, and that isn't always a linear process.

I need to work on pulling back.  I need to work on seeing the bigger picture and not focus on the small.

Georges Seurat was a pioneer of the painting technique known as Pointillism, where multiple dots of a single color blend together at a distance to create a masterpiece.  Seurat's famous painting that demonstrates this technique is A Sunday on La Grande Jatte and is well known to many.

Without the greater vision, I would imagine that Seurat would agonize over every point of color with a single misplaced drop of blue causing him to throw calculators around the room, making him question all of his abilities as a

Perhaps a better analogy, rather than Pointillism, would be a photomosaic.  A picture composed of snapshots rather than single dots of color seems more appropriate to this situation.  Either way, the conclusion remains the same.

I have a greater vision for my classes, for my students, but I am deeply struggling with keeping that vision in the forefront in my mind.

I need to take a step back and view the entire painting.

I need to keep my perspective.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Day 151: "Why is he failing?"

Today was the last day of testing.  The students were visibly burned out, many falling asleep halfway through, or finishing so quickly that it would have been impossible for them to even read all of the questions, let alone do their best.

Today was also, apparently, parental contact day.  In the past 24 hours, I was contacted by 7 parents with questions about grades and progress of their children.  For many of them, an explanation of how I'm grading this marking period clarified both concerns.

Since my students are not great at note-taking or notebook-carrying, I have been providing them with packets of our work for the past few years.  This saves tremendous amounts of trouble by being able to say "You need your blue book today" and having the kids already have all of the notes and assignments bound together.

This structure also allows students to work at their own pace with me setting grading dates for when I'll mark the work they've done.

Once I grade the material, I handed it back to the students with feedback and they have the opportunity to correct their errors and resubmit.

By this plan, there should be no reason why any student (who wants it) can't get 100% for their class assignments.

I'm trying to emphasize growth mindset and having them work towards improvement seems like a pretty great way to do this.  Students don't worry about getting it right the first time except to save themselves some effort.  In addition, they know that they are the only ones who will eventually know how many attempts they made to show mastery.

There are currently three interesting observations that I've found about this approach:

1) Students receive their books back and want to resubmit one problem at a time. "I fixed this one, can I have the credit now?"  They are having tremendous difficulty waiting until the next grade day.

2) The initial grades looks pretty terrible and I'm finding myself having to explain this process on a regular basis to keep them from panicking about the 10% they currently have.  There never seemed to be this much concern when I was using traditional grading methods...

3) It's MUCH harder for me to understand what's happening in my classroom.  When I give them time to work in class, the students split into groups and either work, or don't.  It's very odd knowing that not everyone is at the same place and that I could be answering questions from the entire section.

This third one has been a real eye-opener for me, mostly because of what I'm seeing in my 8th period.  I have allowed myself to be distracted by the more disruptive students and fallen into thinking that very little was happening in the rest of the class.  This has proven to be false.

It was also underscored today when a parent came in to observe the behavior that his child has been perpetrating in my class.  His presence meant the best behavior of everyone in the room and it became VERY clear who had been working and paying attention.  I was able to answer questions, facilitate discussion and ... teach.

It's always nice to have an extra set of eyes in the classroom.

Maybe I should add more googly eyes to my walls...

In other news, I was interviewed last month for the MathEd Out Podcast and it went live this morning! I got to talk with Adrian Pumphrey about blogging and math education.  Check it out!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Day 150: Teach Like Elsa

I worry.  I worry about all sorts of things both big and small.  I worry about whether I have a stain on my shirt.  I worry about whether my pants don't look right.  I worry about whether my kids will grow up happy and healthy.  I worry about having enough gas in my car.  I worry about getting enough sleep.  I worry about being a good friend, father, husband, teacher, colleague.

I worry about covering material too quickly and too slowly.  I worry about covering it with a satisfactory amount of breadth and depth.  I worry about comparing myself to other educators.  I worry that I am not preparing my students for tomorrow, next week, next month, next year, and so on.

One of my major goals for this year has been to figure out a way to separate the things over which I have control from those I don't.  Students are complicated, especially ones in middle school.  In addition to all of the academic achievement that we expect from them, this is the time when they start trying to figure out who they are, what sports they want to play, what instruments they like, what types of books, movies, friends, food, activities, humor, etc.

As if that isn't enough, they are going through puberty and their bodies are raging with chemicals that they can't control.

Middle level education is an insanely complicated prospect.  Even for those who us who have done it for years, there is more to adolescent children than we could ever hope to learn.

But I worry.

At no point will I claim to be perfect, or to know how everything should be.  I, like everyone else, have my ideas about how schools should be run and how to achieve those goals.  But that doesn't mean they are right.

When I was growing up, I would fight with my parents all the time.  Most of the time, I was the only one present for those fights.  They were in my head.

I would sit and argue with them (myself) for hours, working myself up anticipating their responses to my statements and my counter responses.  I had full on screaming fights with them of which they have no memory.

I like having a plan.  Even if it isn't a good plan, it's better than nothing.  I would have these arguments in the hopes of developing a plan for the REAL conversation.  Of course, it NEVER turned out the way I planned.  My parents would come up with arguments that I hadn't even considered and had not planned for.

I can't pretend to understand how the teenaged mind works, especially since each child is different.  What I do know is that no matter how much I worry, problems will arise that I can't anticipate.  Worrying will not make them go away or be easier to deal with.

Worrying only winds my springs tighter, making it more difficult to respond appropriately when I need to.

So I'm trying to be more like Elsa.  I'm trying to find a way to let it go.

It's a process.  I'm not anywhere near where I want or need to be, but I hope I'm moving in the right direction.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Day 147: A Cosmic Journey

I didn't sleep last night.  I came to work this morning and slept until the students showed up.  It didn't help.

After the last day of standardized math testing, I decided that today would be a movie day.

So we watched Cosmos.

The kids came up with great questions and we had a pretty excellent discussion.

As the day went on, the discussions decreased.  By the end of the day, they were talking and laughing over the show.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Day 146: I Don't Wanna Adult

I'm tired.

Testing went well this morning and the classes played games and created hexagonal art.  I assume tomorrow will be about the same.

I sat and played Sushi, Go! with a group of students and we talked about strategy and how it changes based on the number of players.

My OCD is killing me here...

During 8th period, it occurred to me again how difficult it is sometimes to be an adult.  There were several students grouped together playing a rather rowdy game Tsuro.  Among them were a few kids who are constantly disruptive to my class during lesson and activity time.

I was surprised and dismayed about how much effort it took to NOT jump in and interact negatively with them.  Not all of them, just the one or two who are constantly getting under my skin.

I didn't really want to join the conversation and cut them down, making fun of the things that they were saying.  The urge that was pulling at me was one to curb slightly disruptive behavior.  I wanted to tell them to lower their voices, to stop talking the way that they were.  But I only had to the urge to do this to a few, even though the volume was the same for everyone.

Sometimes, there is a sound or a voice that just cuts through the din and pierces your very soul.  No matter what is happening in class, you will always hear it as thought it happens right next to you.  I'm convinced that profanity falls into this category for teachers.  Teachers could hear a curse if it was whispered in the ear of someone on the far side of a crowded lunch room.

One of the students in this group has that kind of voice for me.  It's very difficult to tell if it's the behavior or the voice that gets under my skin, but I'm sure it's a combination of both.  When my own children go running through the house and I get the urge to tell them to stop, I try to take a moment to think if I really care.  Are they actually doing something that I want them to stop doing?  If the answer is no, I leave them be.

I made this same calculation with this student.  I asked myself "If this same behavior were being perpetrated by (student with persistent good behavior), would I say something to THEM?"

In this case, the answer was no.  I was annoyed by the student and not the behavior.  So I left that student alone.  I ended up moving to the other side of the room because I knew if I stayed over there, I would change my mind.  I would find a way to justify stepping in where I really had no business.

It's weird making myself be the grown-up.  I don't likes it...

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Day 145: A Matter of Trust

I have trust issues.

I don't trust several of my students.

I have tons of educational toys and games that I keep in my room and I rarely bring them out.  I love playing games and I love when my students do as well.

But I have trouble trusting them.  I am constantly worried that they are going to lose pieces.

I KNOW I need to get over this.  Pieces get lost, cards rip, things get broken.  I want them to play these games and I've specifically chosen ones that foster the skills and traits that I emphasize in the rest of my class.  They deal with logic, planning, patterns, numeracy, geometric properties, etc.

I KNOW the value of these games as learning tools and the value of play for educational growth.

I KNOW that there is a vital and important difference between trusting kids because they've earned it and providing them opportunity to earn that trust.

But for some reason, I have trouble doing it.

I also know that the students whom I don't trust are a very small minority.  Out of a class of 27, there are maybe 3 whom I would prefer never to tough anything that I own.

Much like many of my class-wide decisions, I chose my actions and policies based on the actions and behavior of a few.  I hate how often I say things like "That's it! Back to your seats! Your classmates have ruined it for everyone."

When it's 1 student being disruptive, that student is easy enough to isolate or ignore.  When it's 5, not so much.

But today, I tried it.

Today was the first day of the PSSA Math Section.  All of the kids in my testing group (all of whom are my Math 8 students) worked very well.  With the truncated and modified schedule, I decided to have today be a game day.  Students were able play one or more of the games that I keep in the room.  They were also allowed to play with the hexagon blocks from my 18 gallon tub.

I had no worries about my geometry students.  They have had a few game days so far, mostly when several of them are out on field trips.

The Math 8 students, however, posed a different issue.  I know that the majority of them would be great.  There are several students in each section however, who can't seem to have something in their hands without hurling it at someone else.

The only way to build trust is to give trust.

So I started each class out by telling them that all of the games had either been donated to the class, or were purchased with my own money and asking them very kindly to treat them well so that we could use them again.

My trust was rewarded.  They played very well with the exception of a game of Tsuro which almost came to blows.

These kids can get pumped up about EVERYTHING!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Day 144: The Solar System is Racist

This weekend I had the honor to present to students at St. Francis High School in St. Francis, Minnesota and educators at EdCamp Twin Cities in Minneapolis.  The topic of my presentation was White Privilege, a dicey subject at best.  It makes many people, particularly white people, VERY uncomfortable.

During the presentation, I talk about the projection of the map that we use as a way to show subtle bias in society.
Fun Fact: Greenland has 1/15 the landmass of Africa

Everything you know about the world is wrong...
I also make the point that by arbitrarily assigning the north orientation as "up" we give it greater importance.  After the presentation, a student came up and started the conversation by telling me that he objected to the phrase "white privilege" and that north is the top because that's easiest.

"It's only easy because that's how we've always done it."
"But the North Pole is the top of the globe."
"Because we hold it that way.  We could just as easily hold it another way. There's no valid reason why North is 'on top' except for convention.  Where is the top of a basketball?"
"That's different.  We revolve around the sun."
"And? We only view the disc of the solar system as horizontal because it's easy to do so by convention, but again, it's an arbitrary orientation."

And so on...

The conversation brought me back to a discussion that I have with my students at the beginning of the year.  It starts with a simple question:

Why do we use base 10?

I get VERY similar answers to the ones given by the student in Minnesota.
"Because it's easy."
"Because it makes sense."
"Because that's how we do it."

Yes, but WHY is it easy, WHY does it make sense, WHY do we do it that way?

It usually takes about 20 minutes of screaming frustration to get around the answer.

We have 10 fingers.

Much of what I try to do in my class is help students see numbers and mathematics through a different lens than that which they are used to viewing it.  All too often, students see math as a collection of formulae and disconnected concepts.  The responsibility for this lies partially in the curriculum that we choose, looking at ideas from Chapter 3 as divergent from those in Chapter 7.  Another part comes from how we teach math.

I wonder how things would be different if we taught math in the general order in which it was created/discovered.  If we looked at how mathematicians were able to calculate the distances between cities 3000 years ago as a basic foundation of the course rather than the culminating activity, how would things change?

Perhaps one options is through exploratory projects.  The teacher would give students a goal, such as "you have been contracted to build a bridge over this river" and nothing else.  Students would work in groups to develop a plan, research methods and structures, exploring the various things that they needed.  When they get stuck, the teacher would help them by providing guidance.  The final product would consist, not only of the bridge itself, but also all of the findings and notes made along the way as well as a written report for presentation.  Student evaluations would be a combination of rubrics and peer evaluation.

Shark Tank High School!

I'm not sure how to adequately design these tasks or how to make them age/developmentally appropriate.

I don't know the answer, but I do think that what we're doing now isn't working as well as it could be.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Day 141: Non-Movie Day

Another day of testing led students to enter my room asking if they could play with the hexagon blocks again.

Instead, I introduced them to flextangles, care of Babble Dabble Do, and hexaflexagons, care of Sarah Hagan and Vi Hart.  They jumped in and started creating.  I put on Vi Hart videos in the background.

I graded workbooks.  As much I hate doing it, it has to be done, especially if I want my students to learn from their mistakes.

I was ok with the arrangement and I was incredibly proud of what they made.

One of my students (who usually sleeps in class) kept stopping in throughout the day to have me check on his flextangle progress.

I'm incredibly frustrated with some of my Math 8 students, however.  They were incensed that I wanted them to do something.  Every other teacher was having them watch a movie, so why did they have to work in my class?

I want to teach a class for pre-service teachers called "What to do instead of a movie day."

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Day 140: PSSA Day 1

The testing has started!

I actively monitored the CRAP out of it!  I totally didn't browse Kickstarter for products and videos to show kids during the break.

After the test, I opened my bin of (now 5300+) hexagonal blocks and let them play and explore.

When geometry came in, I showed them my Hyper-Beads and a description of the hyperboloid shape lead us into a conversation about fields and ferrofluids.  We checked out a few cool things on Kickstarter and then they broke into the hexagonal blocks too.  The science teacher from across the hall joined us as well and we had a great conversation about engaging students.  I have a tendency to push content down in favor of building relationships with my students.

In 8th period, I graded workbooks while students worked, talked, hung out, all to the background sound of beads clicking away as they passed the Hyper-Beads around the room.

In 2 days, I will be boarding a plane to Minneapolis to observe several teachers in their element.  I will also be leading a discussion on race and gender issues with two groups of high school students and presenting on that same topic at EdCamp Twin Cities on Saturday.

I'm pretty excited for this week!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Day 139: Testing Days

This Saturday, I was lucky enough to be able to attend EdCamp PGH.  This is the 4th time that the conference has been held and the 3rd time that I was honored to be on the planning committee.  The conference went VERY well.  We received a ton of great feedback and I was able to have excellent conversations with teachers and students.

The discussions covered race, gender, providing a safe space for students, how we teach and being connected educators.  There were other session about augmented reality, gamification, badging and Maker Ed, but with limited time, I had to forgo some of the sessions.

As usual, I left Edcamp feeling lively and energized.  I met some fascinating people who challenged my way of thinking and helped me to clarify my own beliefs.  I was able to speak with people from diverse backgrounds, both personally and educationally, and hopefully helped them to grow as much as they helped me.

Now the trick will be to maintain that energy through the next 14 school days where students will spend almost 30 hours taking standardized tests.

I could rant and rave about my thoughts on these tests in general, or how they are administered, or how they are designed, or how the data is used, but it all comes down to one thing: We are required to go through with them by law.

No amount of teeth-gnashing and eye-rolling will change the situation.  So now I'm asking myself this:

What do I do on testing days?

The answer that I know I should give is "it is still an instructional day, albeit a modified one.  Why should it be different?"

But it is different.

The schedule is moved around to ensure that student don't miss their morning classes for all 9 testing days.  The classes that we DO have will be truncated to accommodate the lunches.  Since I have double period classes, there are a few days when I will have single period and a some where my students will leave me and come back a few period later. The entire routine is disrupted.

I don't feel right trying to continue my classes as normal, knowing how the adolescent brain works.  They will be burned out and exhausted, both physically and mentally.

So I think we will be playing educational games and exploring math more than trying to cover new content in the structured manner in which we have been working.

I think I finally have enough hexagons for a class set.

Today, the geometry class discussed the spider/fly problem from Friday.  I was disappointed at how few students had attempted the problem over the weekend, so it ended up being a discussion rather than a presentation from the students about their strategies.

The discussion however, was quite good.  The first question was fairly easy and involved use Pythagorean Theorem through the middle of the room.  It seemed as though everyone got that.

The second question, however, required students to have more visual and spacial understanding rather than calculation.  One of the students asked "What if that line went along the bottom and the back wall instead of through the room?  Wouldn't that be the shortest route?"

I had been waiting for this and wanted them to work on this independently to find the length, but it quickly became clear that they were having tremendous trouble visualizing where on the back wall they should go.  It looked like the midpoint, but was there a way to prove that?

It took almost the entire period to get the suggestion that we should break up the cube.  After some clarification of language we got to our version of this great image from Spiked Math.

Without this thought to unfold the cube, this problem is insanely complicated.  I want them to be thinking "outside the box."

I'm ashamed of that one...

Friday, April 10, 2015

Day 138: Cartographers For Social Equality

I am constantly amazed at how different my classes are.

In first period, we talked about the different types of projections of maps.  It lead into an interesting discussion of race issues and the subtle ways that maps communicate value and importance.

I made a list of random names on the board and asked students to vote for which person they thought was the most important, as predicted, the majority of students selected the name at the top of the list, giving their reasoning as "it was at the top of the list."

So we talked about how that relates to visualizations of the globe, which orients north towards the top.  I asked what they noticed about the majority of the countries in the north.

The natives of those lands are of a more pale persuasion than those in the south.  Was this intentional? That's up for debate, but the subtle implication is that those countries are more important.

I didn't feel like covering content and the students seemed to be highly engaged in the discussion, so I let it continue.  I tied in a considerable amount of math in terms of how the maps are created and how we visualize three-dimensional objects projected onto a two dimensional surface.

In geometry, we've begun our discussion of the Pythagorean Theorem and special right triangles.  This means I got to introduce one of my favorite problems!

Imagine a spider in the lower right hand corner of a wall.  A fly is caught in his web in the upper left corner.  What's the shortest distance to the fly?

THIS problem bores me.  What I like is where this problem can go.

In a room with a spider in one corner and a fly in the opposite corner, what's the shortest distance?

The spider can't fly, so there needs to be a path along the wall that minimizes the distance.

This problem isn't just calculation, but also trial and error, three-dimensional visualization, creativity and trial and error.

Also, I get to draw animals using the Promethean board.

And the 8th period came in.

Yes, it's Friday.

Yes, it's the end of the day.

It may also be the certain mix of kids.

I'm glad it's the weekend.

The teacher in the room next door is blasting the Braveheart soundtrack.

I can't WAIT for EdCampPGH tomorrow!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...