Friday, May 29, 2015

Day 172: Testing

Everyone was testing today.

The Math 8 kids were taking their Unit test and will begin a summative review on Monday.  The geometry kids were spending today testing their games.  They circulated through playing the games created by different groups and giving feedback.

I showed off my new toys to my classes and they were suitably impressed.

It was 86 degrees in my room today.  I was hot.

In 8th period, I had to remove 5 students because they were unable to remain quiet and respect the testing environment.  Over the year, these same students, with one or two others in rotation, have managed to elude my ability to manage the classroom.  I have never figured out how to reach them or get them to understand the damage that they were doing to themselves and the rest of the class.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Day 171: Student Voice

This morning, in preparation for the move to the Secondary Campus next year, the entire school was called down to the auditorium for a presentation about the available courses and expectations that will be in place.  Since I didn't have students at the time, I wandered into the back and watched for part of it.

While I was there, the presenter (who was dynamic, energetic and funny, as was the presentation itself) talked about dress code.  Two of the items in particular stuck with me.  The first was this image:
Who WOULDN'T want a muffin top! They are the best part of the muffin!

It was accompanied by the statement "if you have to lay down to zip your pants, leave them at home."

The second was an image with an accompanying statement of "just because they make it in your size, doesn't mean you should wear it."

There were, of course, rules for boys as well, but they were more about decorum and safety (no hats, no shower shoes, no shirts with drugs, etc.) but the rules for girls spoke solely about exposure of their bodies.

I made a  few mental notes on my thoughts and left.

After lunch, my geometry students came to class.  As I have written previously, the young women in this class are very conscious of race and gender issues within our culture.  I have tried over the course of this to make my room a safe space for them to discuss the topics that they find meaningful.

When they came into my class, they were visibly upset.  They had spent their lunch period discussion the presentation and how they felt as though they were being objectified and sexualized by the female-specific dress code.

One young woman told me that she received a message from a male student telling her that she needed to be more aware of her clothing.  Her told her that boys in the hall like to touch girls and she shouldn't be showing her boobs or wearing leggings.

In the 170 days that this young man has been in my class, I have never once had a concern for her clothing.

I have fairly strong feelings about the different rules that are handed down to young men and young women in terms of what is acceptable for them to wear in schools, but this was more about how my students felt.

As the students continued test-playing each others games, I heard of the young women yell at a young man that she couldn't learn because his clothing was too distracting.  It turned out that they were right.

His bra strap was showing, the strumpet!

I can only speak for myself and my discomfort about how this issue is addressed, but since I've been working to give my students a safe place, I think it's important they be able to speak up about these issues.  The following is a statement written by two of my students in response to the dress code and body-shaming:

Today we had the transition presentation, they brought up dress code. First they started off the presentation with talking about problems that some people may not be able to control, like muffin tops. Saying that if your pants don't fit, don't wear them. I'm sure that many other females in that room felt just as attacked as we did.
They continued to go on about not showing bra straps or wearing a colored bra with a white and/or see through shirt. Like god forbid a young girl with boobs were to wear a bra. Then continued about underwear lines. Every human being should wear underwear. Seeing underwear lines should not affect how you judge or think about someone. No one should be ashamed of wearing what they want to feel comfortable.
Some girls would not prefer or do not feel comfortable wearing a thong so that you don't see their underwear. The presenter then went on to show a few pictures of outfits she thinks would be appropriate, not everyone has the same taste in style and people express themselves differently. 
The school districts make it seem like all people should dress and act the same. They say school is not a club but a place to represent yourself. So if it is a place to represent yourself, why are we supposed to wear things to please other people. 
They ended the topic by saying "Just because it's in your size does not mean you should wear it." That made us personally feel so disrespected and insecure. A girl should not have to hide her body if shes proud of it just because it's not appealing to someone else. 
Young girls should grow up loving their body but instead they grow up being told you have to cover yourself up. There's always limits to how you should represent yourself but not to the extent that you have to hide yourself behind the dress code.

K. R. & H. S.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Day 170: "Pencil: A Play In One Act"

 Mr. Aion's classroom, an activity has just been given out to students.  Mr. Aion finds himself circulating through the class, clarifying instructions when he is approached by a student.

"Mr. Aion, I need a pencil."
**zoom into student's head**
Crap. I forgot my pencil again.  I was actually gonna try this assignment, but I can't without something to write with.

**zoom out of student's head**

Mr. Aion
 "There might be one on my desk. If not, I don't have one."

"There isn't one. How am I supposed to do my work without a pencil?"

Mr. Aion
"Then I don't have one for you. You really need to come prepared to class."

**zoom into Aion's head**

What day is it?? How have we made it 170 days into the school year and you still don't bring a pencil to class? What do you think we do here, sit and stare at each other?  I've given you pencils almost every day this year in the hopes that you would become responsible.  I reminded you daily that you needed something with which to write.

How do I teach you responsibility?  How do I teach you self-reliance?  How do I convey to you in a meaningful way that lack of preparation makes it so much harder for you to succeed?

**zoom out of Aion's head**

"Then I guess I can't do my work today."

Mr. Aion
"That's not an acceptable solution. Did you ask someone else if they had a pen or pencil for you to borrow?"

**zoom into student's head**

I don't understand why you're so annoyed.  It's not a big deal.  I just forgot my pencil and you're getting all bent out of shape.  All the other days that I've asked you for one, you've had one.  Why would I expect you to NOT have one for me today?

It's your job to provide me with an education.  How am I supposed to get my education if you won't give me a pencil?

**zoom out of student's head**

"Does anyone have a pencil for me?"

Mr. Aion
"Very well, here is my pen. I would like it back when you're done."

"Why would I want to keep your pen?"

**pen is returned chewed and bent**
**Mr. Aion throws pen in trash**



I'm trying to put myself in the mind of a 13-year old who needs me to give them a writing instrument every single day.  Part of me recognizes that at 13, it's hard to keep everything straight in terms of what they need to carry.  Our school does not allow students to carry backpacks, which makes it very difficult.  It's not an excuse because we have plenty of students who DO have pencils every day.

If a student comes to my class with willingness to learn and participate, I should be doing everything I can to help foster that.  If that means giving them a pencil every day, it seems like a small price to pay.

On the other hand...
"Why, yes! I DO think you're made of pencils."
I worry that I am fostering dependence.  If I am willing to provide a kid with a pencil every single day, what incentive do they have to bring one of their own?  More so than content, I want them to learn life skills, one of which is preparation.  It's not as though I am expecting them to bring a complicated or expensive apparatus each day.  It's not as though we only use pencils once or twice each month. 

I honestly don't know where I come down in this debate.  The reality is that when I have pencils, I have no problem lending them, letting the kids know that when they run out, they are gone.  Like typical children (and many adults), they never consider that the pencils will eventually run out and they should maybe start bringing their own..

It's endlessly frustrating.

Did you not realize you were coming to school today? Did you not think that you might need to write something?

The line between supporting and enabling is a very thin one.

This was a stressful post for me to write, so I'm going to end with a picture of me as an angry unicorn dictator.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Day 168: A Naked Room


We have 9 student days left and 12 staff days.  Since, regardless of my employment situation in the fall, I will not be working in my current building, EVERYTHING MUST GO!

 I've discovered that the items in my room fall into 1 of 3 categories.

"What is this scrap of paper with a random expression doing on my counter?"  TRASH!
"Why do I have 14 copies of the chapter 2 test from 4 years ago?" TRASH!
"Here's an unclaimed test for a student who was on my roster for 4 days." TRASH!

Anything graded, or shaded, or dusty.
Anything ragged, or shredded or rusty!

This is my favorite category.

2) Personal Items
These are the posters, supplies, activities that I paid for myself or were donated to me from good friends and colleagues.  I have BOXES of dry erase markers, manipulatives, toys and games.  I have stacks of dry erase board.  I'll have to make MANY trips to get all of this home.

3) School Items
I have 2 district issued laptops which, if I can revive the octogenarian hamsters inside, will go back to the district for summer storage.  My projector and Promethean board will remain with the room.  I'm supposed to pack all of our textbooks into boxes, but since I haven't used them at all this year, I'm not sure why.

I like sorting things, but my room is looking very bare...

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Day 167: Movie Bux

As we continued our foray into scatter plots with Math 8, I pulled out an awesome and timely activity from Yummy Math.  The students were given the opening weekend gross earning of 15 movies along with the lifetime theater earnings of those movies.  The students created a scatter and analyzed the data to determine if the opening weekend was a predictor of future income.  The ultimate goal was to, using the opening weekend gross, predict the future earnings of Avengers 2: Age of Ultron.

We had a good conversation about toys and clothes that they were SUPER excited to get, but quickly lost their novelty versus ones that stayed fun or cool for years. The discussion was excellent and they put forth several idea about where certain movies would fall.

Then they got started on the activity.

And things fell apart.

A large percentage of the students seemed to have forgotten how to graph.  It may have been because of the scale of the numbers but there was terrible confusion.  When I did the lesson the second time with 8th period, I spent more effort examining the scale and how to graph specific points.  The second group did much better with it and, interestingly, were MUCH more interested in talking about the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

I should develop an entirely comic book-based math course.

"How much does Mjolnir weigh?"
"What would happen if Superman punched you as hard as he could?"
"Could Superman fly against the rotation of the Earth and turn back time?"

You know, the important questions!

Most of these can be found online in the form of videos or article from smart nerds, but it would be pretty amazing to turn them into a course the covered robust and interesting mathematical concepts.

We touched a bit upon this in geometry today when, in talking about tangent lines, I got to discuss roller coasters, the Gravitron and using a stop watch to determine the radius of the Earth.  The majority of the class was enthralled and it reminded me that I've been doing things wrong.

This is the kind of stuff that should be the norm in my class, not the exception.

Well, I'm not quitting teaching yet, so there's still time to get better!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Day 166: Storm Clouds

"When it rains, it pours."

It's not raining yet, but I see dark clouds on the horizon.  There are some interesting opportunities that may be presenting themselves in the next few weeks and I'm very excited about them.  I'm not, however, taking out a second mortgage on my house to buy flood insurance.

I made a deal with my Math 8 students today.  If they paid SUPER close attention to the lesson on scatter plots, we could go to the computer lab for the second period.  They did a great job and I held up my end.

Normally when we go to the computer lab, they "work" on the mathematical remediation software that the school has purchased.  It's not bad, but can get tedious.  Instead I introduced them to the puzzles on Solve Me.  They seemed to really enjoy working on them and I overheard several helping each other to solve particularly complicated puzzle.

There were even a few who made their own and challenged me.

The geometry class has a week left until the playable versions of their games are due.  I took most of them into the computer lab and helped them navigate Word and Publisher so they could start creating boards and cards.  The school network only crashed and erased their progress twice during the class, so I consider that a win.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Day 165: Distracting Myself

My throat hurts, I'm slightly light-headed and I'm still exhausted.

Last night, I took an hour long nap from 8 to 9, went to sleep at 10:15 and hit my snooze this morning.  When I got to work and prepped for the day, I dozed off for another 30 minutes.  None of that helped.

One of the things that I've always found fascinating is that when I'm feeling generally under the weather, my students' behavior drastically improves.  They seem to understand illness much more than annoyance.

As a result, I was able to do a fairly uninterrupted lesson on scatter plots.

I find it slightly distressing and confusing that when I am subdued, the students do what I expect of them, but when I'm energetic and passionate, they are disruptive or just tune me out.  I wonder how I can reverse these trends, or, better yet, maintain their passion and energy all the time.

A few weeks ago, a good friend asked me if there were days when I hated writing this blog.  I told her that no, I don't ever hate writing it.  There are, however, days when I don't want to write.  These days usually fall into 2 categories:

1) I don't think I did anything worth writing about.

This usually means we spent the day doing notes, taking tests or otherwise playing school.  I don't like writing posts that only read "we did notes."  This leads me to try to avoid notes as much as possible.  Knowing that I'm going to writing about my day has changed how and what I teach because I'm almost constantly thinking "I'm going to write about this later. Do I really want to do/say this?"

It's like constantly having someone observe my teaching.  There are benefits and drawbacks, but I think this is a major one.

2) I'm angry or frustrated by external things.

I want this blog to be about me.  This is partially true because I'm a narcissist.  It's mostly true because I can't improve my teaching by complaining about things over which I have no control.  When administration makes decisions that I don't like, or student behavior is horrible, I could go on for pages and pages.  I could fill the internet with the things that annoy or infuriate me, but are outside of my control.

Those would be rants.  Ranting isn't the goal or purpose of this blog.  Do I talk about the things that annoy me? Absolutely.  But that isn't the centerpiece of my writing (I hope.)

I write here to reflect on my teaching in the hopes of being a better teacher. When students fail to live up to my expectations, I try to look at what I could do differently to change that, rather than falling back on the old stand-by of "these kids are lazy."

Sadly, and probably understandably, I have days when I'm not able to make that distinction.  I have days where all I can think to write is "these kids are lazy" or some variation.  Those days are hard days to write.

I would imagine that English teachers sometimes feel the same when they are grading essays.  I imagine that a well constructed argument with solid points can be derailed by poor grammar and spelling.  How difficult would it be to NOT correct every capital letter, misplaced comma, dangling participle or sentence fragment?

Generally, on days that fall into either of these categories, I write more abstractly, focusing on philosophy or long-term goals.

If you couldn't tell by now, today was one of those days.  The district mailed out our building assignments for the 2015-2016 school year.  Whatever complaints I may have are overshadowed by the fact that I'm just glad to be employed when so many others are not.

Dwelling on my concerns and complaints will not help me to be a better teacher.  Instead, I need to start focusing on what I can do next year to provide my students with the best education that I can.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Day 164: Exhausted

Over this past weekend, I, as well as 5 other chaperones and 39 8th graders, walked almost 30 miles around Washington D.C.  We saw some amazing sights and I had a great time bonding with the students.

But now, I'm exhausted and possibly dehydrated.  It doesn't help that my classroom is 85 degrees.  One of my geometry students found herself as the proud recipient of a heat-induced bloody nose.

In any event, with low energy, high body temperature and a sore throat, I tried to take it a bit easy today.

In geometry, the students presented the drawings of their games as the next step in the process.  Next week, playable versions will be ready for testing.  There are several that have me very excited and I'm looking forward to seeing how they turn out.

We spent the rest of that period casually working on practice problems about circles.  I suppose that many of the students who went on the trip felt the same way that I did as my attendance was sparse today.

In Math 8, we're starting a section on statistics, beginning with scatter plots.  We talked about different types of variable that may or may not be related and what those associations mean.  I really want to do a data collection activity with them, but I don't think I can trust them.  I'll have to play it by ear.

I'm going to pick my kids up from day care and then take a nap.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Day 162: Prepping for DC

Today was a day of wrapping up topics before I head to DC tomorrow morning with the 8th grade field trip.

For 3 days, I will walk around our nation's capitol with 30 8th graders, showing them historical and cultural landmarks, telling stories about history, war, peace, science, math and government.  We will visit museums, the capitol building, the white house, the Kennedy center, Arlington Cemetery, Old Alexandia, and at least one McDonald's.

This is the fourth year that I've gone on this trip and, as usual, I will be the only non-history teacher to go.  The first year, I was invited as the heavy, the leg-breaker, the threat to keep kids in line.

"If you step out of line, you will spend your entire trip attached to Mr. Aion's hip."

This has happened at least once on every trip, for varying lengths of time, from an hour up to an entire afternoon.  Inevitably, the punished student starts by sulking.  They are upset that they have to hang out with me instead of, say, setting fire to the Lincoln Memorial or running up the down escalator in the Air and Space Museum.

However, after the initial sullenness has worn off, they realize that I'm a pretty awesome tour guide, especially in DC, a city that I love to visit.  I know all sorts of random facts that kids love and, as long as they stay within the designated radius, I don't remind them that they are in trouble.  I treat them as though I am their personal guide rather than their probation officer/escort.

All of the students that I have escorted on the various trips have said later that they learned more with me than the rest of the trip together.

The warm fuzzies add to the feeling of warm that comes along with wandering around DC in May.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Day 161: Play Myst-y For Me

We had a nice, productive day of note-taking!  The Math 8 kids are taking a unit test tomorrow so we spent the class going over the unit review and answering questions that they had about anything.  Several students broke off into small groups and worked through some practice problems to prepare.

In Geometry, we started the guided notes on circles.

I LOVE me some circles.
"I like turtles." "I know you do, kid. It's not a contest!"

I think high school level geometry can be completely boiled down to the relationships of  triangles and circles with all properties stemming from them.

I also like the video game series Metroid.  The game play in this series is non-linear.  You move along a certain path, exploring the map as much as you can.  You find doors and pathways that you can't open yet because you don't possess the correct weapon or gear.  As you gain upgrades, previously locked pathways open up, allowing for further exploration.
Also, a great action series with a female lead? Yes, please!

The same principle plays out in the Myst video game series (as well as 7th Guest and others) except that instead of weapons, you need to find puzzle clues to open new areas.
This stupid dome...

I love when an idea clicks into place, unlocking a puzzle with which I've been struggling.  I imagine that this is the feeling that detectives get when the clues start falling into place.

I was able to see this today when we started talking about chords of circles.  Since we had already discussed right triangles and their properties, my students started using those to talk about arc length and chords.

I think that, too often, the curriculum sequence is unconnected and doesn't allow students to fit the pieces together.  Often, it is left up to the teacher to make those connections for them, saying things like "remember when we talked about this? Well, this is why you needed to learn it."

It's much more satisfying to hear students say "we can use the right triangle stuff that we talked about" without teacher prompting.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Day 160: Music and Models

The school firewall has finally (re)blocked Pandora.  So, like any well-adjusted person who has lived with internet for most of their life, I pulled up YouTube to see what playlists I could find for good music.  I stumbled on the Top Alternative Rock Tracks list with 50+ from the early '90's to the mid '00's.

After some Red Hot Chili Peppers and 4 Non Blondes, I was feeling ok about the fact that my room was in the 80's at 6:30am.

Perhaps that's been my problem this year.  Perhaps I haven't been starting my days with the right music.  As a result, I cry sometimes when I'm lying in bed, just to get it all out, what's in my head.

The Math 8 kids turned in their Day Care Projects today (or didn't) and the Geometry kids either turned in their Pythagorean Theorem models or took the unit test.  I think the kids who took the test are regretting not making a model.

The test was hard.  Several of the students didn't finish, which doesn't really surprise me.  More than previous groups, this group of students seems to have difficulty completed tasks in an appropriate amount of time.  It's hard to tell if it has to do with lack of understanding, lack of time management skills, or lack of confidence in their answers.  Either way, it translates to them taking an extraordinary amount of time to complete basic tasks.

As poor as the results of the test are, the results of the 3D Pythagorean Theorem problems are pretty great.  The problems themselves were fairly basic, but that's fine.  The models were VERY cool and it was obvious that some of these kids put a ton of work into them.

It seems as though several students in my 8th period are intentionally trying to get under my skin.  I've been doing a fairly good job of not letting them, but they came close today.  I ended up having to call a few parents when the defiance and obstinate behavior became too much for me to deal with.

As the year ends and I look back on the progress that they have made, or that I have made with them, there are clear successes and clear failures.  There will always be both of these.  The trick is to learn from the failures and celebrate the successes.

I'm working on that.

As if to underscore this point, my day ended with a former student coming to visit me.  It made my day and reminded me that I am making a difference, even if I don't always realize it.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Day 159: Prepping for a Move

Today started with all of the students being called down to the auditorium and being read the riot act.


There was what approached a riot on Friday and the vice principal was VERY displeased.  I don't know all the details of the incident, but the result is that we are now supposed to confiscate any phone we see.

Within 10 minutes of being back in the class, one of my students was on her phone.  When I went to confiscate it, as I was instructed, she started yelling about how she was texting her mom, etc. etc.

I am tired.  I'm tired of having to remind students that the rules are NOT just for other people.  I don't care about her phone, but she heard the directive.  I'm tired of having students wearing hoodies complaining about how hot my room is.  I'm tired of sweating through my clothes on a regular basis.

I started cleaning out my room today.  At the end of this school year, the 7th and 8th grades will be relocated to the high school, which is being renamed the "secondary campus."  This means that anything I would have left in my room over the summer, such as whiteboards, posters, workbooks, etc., have to all be packed up.

I have very mixed feelings about this move.  I like the idea of being a part of a larger educational community in the district.  My building often feels very separate from everyone else.  It will be much easier to set up vertical integration of the curriculum with department meetings involving the entire 7-12 faculty.

At the same time, I LIKE the small feel of my school.  I know most of the kids and all of the faculty.  It's more of a family feel than a corporate one.  I know that if I'm having an issue with a student, I can go to their other teachers and we will be able to work on a solution.  I know that my opinions carry weight.

I'm not sure that will be the case next year.

As of this moment, I have no idea hat I'll be teaching or if I'll even have a classroom.  From the sheer volume of students versus physical rooms, there are bound to be several teachers who will be traveling between rooms.  I worry that I will be one of them.

We were told that every teacher who wanted a Promethean Board will get one.  That declaration from administration was immediately followed by one from the IT department telling us that, in fact, no, that will not be the case.

This only makes me slightly nervous.  Yes, every lesson I've created over the past four years has been Promethean Board-based, but I don't need it.  I can use a chalk board or, now that I have a ton, white boards.  What makes me more nervous about being a transient teacher is my inability to create the learning environment.

I'll have to rely on my charming personality.
"Where's your homework??"
As I'm boxing up my things, I'm realizing how much stuff I have and how many things I keep around my room just in case I need them for when I'm hit with a moment of inspiration.

"I have a MUCH better way to explain this concept.  I need my tape, string, Styrofoam ball and yardstick!"

It will be like moving from a mansion to a mobile home.  There's nothing inherently wrong with the move, but it will require some SERIOUS planning and prioritizing.
Where am I going to keep my collection of vintage steamer trunks??

Friday, May 8, 2015

Day 158: Paranoia

During my In-School Suspension duty today, I had a confrontation with a student that resulted in his having to be removed from the room.

The rules of our In-School Suspension are very clear:
  • Sit silently at your desk
  • Do not communicate with other students
  • Raise your hand if you need something

I had to ask this young man to stop talking no less than 15 times.  The interaction consisted of me asking him to stop talking and his replying that it was ok for him to talk because he was talking to me.

"I'm just asking you a question!"
"I understand, but In-School is not the appropriate time for that conversation.  Please stop talking."
"I'm not having a conversation, I'm asking a question."
"Please stop talking."

He then demanded that I take his finished work to his teacher and when I refused, he began yelling.  I asked him again to please stop talking and he complained that he was talking to me.

At this point, I had already moved his seat and saw that previous teachers had addressed his talking.

When security took him back to the principal, he yelled at me that all he wanted was for me to turn in his work.

I'm writing about this because I was thinking about how incredibly exhausting it must be to constantly feel as though the world is against you; how frustrating it would be to constantly be in trouble and honestly have no idea why.  I don't think that this young man was purposely trying to push my buttons, or maliciously needing to get in the last word.

I honestly feel that he thinks he was in the right.  At no point did he stop and think "I was asked to do something simple.  I refused to do it. Of COURSE I'm going to get reprimanded."

He's not alone in this.  The majority of the students who are written up for "defiance" fall into this same category.  At no point, however, do we ask them to stop and examine their situation.  There is a culture shift that needs to happen on the part of educators before it can happen on the part of students.

We need to have a form of time-out that allows students to cool down away from their peers and the situation.  I will often have my students wait in the hall until I can talk to them rather than sending them to the office.

What I don't do, however, and really need to, is ask the students to think about why I had to remove them in the first place.

"Why did I have to remove you from the class?  What can we do differently to avoid this situation next time?"

Having students take ownership for their negative behavior is the first step to changing it.  If a student is only yelled at to stop, they often don't understand why the behavior was inappropriate for that time and place.  I am guilty of skipping over this as anyone else and need to make a change.

It's something that I REALLY want to focus on for next year. (And the remainder of this one.)

As the day progressed and emails came out from the various teachers covering the In-School room, it became clear that this young man had the same confrontation with every single teacher.  Clearly this is not an intervention that is going to work for him.

On top of this, by the end of the day, my room was 88 degrees.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Day 157: Elevator

It's in the 80's outside meaning that it's in the upper 80's in my room.  I spent most of the day finding excuses to stand in front of my fan.

Luckily for me, all of my classes are working on independent work and required very little of me, aside from some minor redirection.

The Math 8 kids continued working on their blueprints and, being notified of a unit test next week, also worked on their notes.  A major advantage to my room being this hot is that most of the students are pretty subdued.  They don't have the energy to run around, so instead they work productively.

Tomorrow, the geometry students are presenting elevator speeches for their games.  I gave a quick rundown of the purpose and length, giving a few examples and non-examples.  I also told them that they will be giving suggestions and asking questions of the other teams, providing feedback in the hopes of refining the ideas.
"Excuse me, sir. Do you have a moment to talk about the Dark Side of the Force? Yes, I can see that you're manacled."

The class jumped in full force and began writing.  I was very impressed with what I saw and I'm looking forward to being an observer tomorrow.  Several of the groups actually practiced and timed themselves.

While they were working, a student pulled me outside to talk about some things that are happening.  I offered the advice that I could and was very touched that it was felt I could be trusted to give sound advice.  It's often very hard for teenagers to open up their lives to others and especially to adults.

I hope that I have earned the trust of my students by providing a safe place for them. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Day 156: My Mom Is Wise

The enthusiasm for the Math 8 projects has waned.  Out of every group to show excitement and interest in them yesterday, about half of those did so today.

But that's cool, bro!

The groups who were working, were doing a great job, asking great questions and having conversations about the practical sizes for classrooms and hallways.  I brought a tape measure and we looked at exactly how big certain rooms would be.

FYI: My classroom is approximately 700 square feet.

In between answering student questions and helping to make size estimates, I began organizing the kinds of projects that I would like to do next year.  There are some amazing resources out there and I'm kicking myself for not utilizing them earlier.

On Twitter this morning, a fellow math teacher was bemoaning the fact that now, near the end of the year, she feels as though she didn't accomplish any of the goals that she set for herself.  These goals were things like changing how the class is run, the kinds of activities, grading systems, etc.

I, too, have a VERY long list of things that I wanted to do this year and simply didn't.  These include moving over to Standards Based Grading, using interactive notebooks, becoming MUCH more project based, and so on.

I could be angry at myself for this failure, but it does help me to solidify what I want to do over the summer.  I'm starting to make a To-Do list in my head and will be moving it to paper very shortly.

What I told the educator on Twitter was that it's almost impossible to work on your form when you're struggling to keep from drowning.
I have had years when I felt as though I was constantly drowning.  This year hasn't really been one of those, but it hasn't been easy either.  I don't feel as though the water is over my head, but it's certainly at my face.

Sometimes, you have to focus your energy on not drowning and that's alright.  A conversation that I had with my mother a few months ago keeps resurfacing in my mind.  She told me that when you are unable to achieve your goals, when you can't succeed, sometimes you have to redefine what success looks like.

For some people, being successful might mean being able to buy a second Gulfstream to take them to their third home in the Bahamas.

For others, being able to put food on the table this week is a great accomplishment.

At the start of this year, my vision of success included students throwing off the fetters of an educational system that forces them into specific molds.  When test time came, they would link arms in front of the school wearing signs that said "I am more than my score!"

Math anxiety would be at zero and they would come to my class, eager to explore mathematics that pushes their boundaries.

Also, I would get to ride to school on a unicorn that farts rainbows and poops cotton candy.
It's science! You can't argue with science.

All of those goals (with the exception of the last) are attainable, but it will take MUCH more time and effort on my part.  I don't want my students to expect instant results and it's unrealistic for me to expect the same.  The shift that I'm making in my teaching is nothing short of monumental.  There are going to be backslides and stagnancy.

So I redefine what success looks like.

Success looks like students who are more confident in math today than they were yesterday.  Success looks like students who feel comfortable and safe in my room.

It looks like me being a better teacher this year than I was last year.

No, this year hasn't been me doing my impersonation of Michael Phelps.  But neither have I drowned.

And I'm not getting out of the pool.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Day 155: Projects

After school yesterday, I decided that I wanted to take the kids outside.  Luckily I dropped the ball.

I say luckily because it rained all day.

Instead, I thought more about the freedom that I have for the rest of the year and decided to take advantage.  In scouring the internet for interesting projects and activities involving Pythagorean Theorem, I found that there are very few.  A Google search for Pythagorean Theorem Activities turns up mostly results involving leaning ladders against walls.

So I bailed on that noise and am having my students design a Day Care center.  They were given certain guideline (total area, number of exits, required elements) and were told to be creative.  They broke into groups and started working.

And man, were they working!

Once things got underway, I made sure to stay mobile, helping to answer questions and keep them on task, but they didn't need much redirection.  They were discussing layouts and scale factors while I helped to clarify anything they needed.

Normally, I want them to push through the discovery of important concepts, but here I found that they were doing more, and better, work if I helped them through the simple things and let them focus on the big picture.

This project is going to take a week.  I gave them the choice of two different project assignments, but everyone chose to design a day care.

The geometry kids started working on their games yesterday.  Today, we laid out the timeline of due dates until the end of year.  I also gave them another project.

"Can I take a picture so I know when stuff is due?"

Or, to be fair, the option of a project.

They are to develop a word problem that demonstrates a "real" application of the Pythagorean Theorem and create a 3-dimensional model showing their understanding of the concept.  The full project and specs are from the incredible and creative @Anderson02B, a teacher that I deeply respect and admire.

He and I have had many conversations about student engagement, so I hope that I'm able to do him proud with this.

The students were given the option of doing this project, or taking a chapter test.  "The project needs to be creative and nice looking and the test will be hard!" I encouraged.

I refrained from telling them that if they chose to take the test instead, then their hair would probably turn green and fall out while choosing the project would provide them with good fortune, long life and a happy family.

I also handed out the next chapter of the guided notes and with that, we are set until the end of the year.

Now I can focus on coming up with more projects and activities for Math 8.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Day 154: Bedfallows

Testing is over and there are less than 25 days of school left.  I have a confession to make.

I am starting to feel the futility of the next few weeks.

I don't count down the days in my classes because I don't want to indicate to the kids that the rest of the year is "something to get through."

I would rather take an approach of "Let's do everything we can before the clock runs out!"

So I'm trying to do projects and activities for the next 5 weeks.

I should feel free! I should feel that I can now teach whatever I want and however I want to teach it.

Instead, I'm feeling the crush of all of the material that I didn't cover, the activities that I didn't get to.

Last week, when I gave my Math 8 classes time to work in class, one student had his head down.  I asked him to please get to work and his response was upsetting.

"There's no point. I've already failed for the year. No matter how much work I do now, I won't be able to pass."

I began to argue with him about setting up good habits for next year, getting a jump on that material so when he DID have to do it again, he would have a better understanding.  I almost lied to him to tell him that he totally could pass if he got to work now.

I have failed this kid, as well as dozens of others in the same situation.  I wasn't able to engage him in his own education throughout the year, or even provide him with a reason why he should engage himself.  The system that we have set up has a tendency to creates points like this one where it's no longer truly possible to boost your grade to acceptable levels.

In terms of grading, I've been thinking about games like Angry Birds, which is a great way to explain Standards-Based Grading.  Players complete levels to a basic proficiency point (1 Star) before they can move on.  Once they do, they can always go back and improve their scores on previous levels if they wish to do so.

In some instances, you need to earn a certain rating overall before you can proceed. "Unlock this world with 30 stars!"

But no matter what game you're playing, no matter how the achievements are set up, there are no games that reset if you don't beat a certain level at a certain time.

And yet, that's what we do in education.

I suppose it could be argued that each grade is a separate level and lack of proficiency on that level causes you to have to start over.  However, even in the most difficult and unforgiving games, starting a level over doesn't take 9 months and there are plenty of opportunities to catch up.

As a result of this set-up, teachers are under incredible amounts of pressure to "not fail" students who may not be ready to move on.

"He's not great at adding, but is that really a reason to hold them back a whole grade?"

I don't know what the solution is.

I do know that it's VERY hard to motivate a kid who knows he's going to have to take the class again next year.

So I'm trying to find a way to let go.  I want to let go of the feeling that I haven't covered enough material.  I'm resisting the urge to buckle down and do notes every day for the next 5 weeks.

I should have been doing this from day 1.  I should have been doing projects and activities MUCH more than I have been.

The pressure from this group of students is VERY different from previous groups and I have to admit to myself that I haven't handled it as well as I should have.

But the year isn't over yet!  There is still time to teach, time to learn, time to grow!

If there isn't time to plant spinach, you plant something else!

But you don't let the field lie fallow.

Content doesn't really matter.  Thinking matters.  Keep them thinking, keep them moving forward...

Friday, May 1, 2015

Day 153: Newsies

After yesterday, I went home and did a ton of soul searching.  I thought about feelings of powerlessness and claustrophobia.

I thought about my own reactions.  I considered how I have a tendency to wallow in my own self-pity.  Frequent readers of this blog know that I've been having a difficult few weeks.  Conversations with colleagues have left me feeling as though my only options are to bow my head and weather the storm or let the winds cast me aside.

That doesn't work for me.

So I went to see Avengers: Age of Ultron last night with some of my favorite people.  In talking to them about how I was feeling, I got some much needed relief.  I decided to try the "mind over matter" thing.

This was how I started my day.

One of my student interactions was asking a group of boys outside of my room to please move to homeroom, to which they replied "Nope. You're not my dad.  Leave me alone."

I accepted the powerlessness of my situation, asked them politely again and then went to get referrals.  Instead of getting furious and screaming, I let it slip from my mind and went about my business.

I also gave assigned seats to my classes.  They were not happy, but I reminded that the seats they had chosen had proven to be poor educational choices.  The grumbling stopped within a few minutes and we got underway.

I answered questions, had excellent participation and gave a quiz.  The students who participated in class (the majority today) did VERY well.  Almost 50% of them earned a perfect score.  I told them how proud I was and, at the end of class, they asked me if they had had a good day.

I turned the question back on them and they said they felt they did.  I agreed and thanked them.

I think there is a fine line between "Fake It Til You Make It"


I honestly don't know which side I'm on but I suspect it changes daily.

Today, I found myself on the former side and I'm happy with that.  I will hang on to this feeling for as long as I can.

Every day is an opportunity to improve, stand still or drive off the precipice.

Today was a good day.  Thank you, Christian Bale of 1992.
'No problem! Any scabs try to mess and we'll soak 'em!"

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