Friday, January 30, 2015

Day 96: Chicken Is Not A Function

2 hour delay!!  As I talked about two weeks ago, a delay means that many students stay home, making my class a more manageable size.

At #MSMathChat on Monday, (Join us every Monday at 9pm EST for the best chat around!) it was mentioned that vending machines were a pretty great to talk about what is and is not a function.  A quick Google search brought up an entire lesson from Springboard Math that started with a vending machine and used directed conversation and questioning to talk about the difference between functions and non-functions.  It also introduces students to the concept of mapping and function graphing.

I love solid pre-made lessons because I'm not great at re-inventing the wheel.  I am, however, AWESOME at adding spinners, under-lighting and lift kits.
Screenshot from Pimp My Math Class starring f(X)-hibit

The discussion went very well until I asked them to come up with examples and non-examples from outside the class.  After a bit of clarification, we came up a with a few good ones.

Student: "Chicken is not a function."
Me: "...oooook? Why not?"
S: "Your input is chicken, but your output could be cooked, baked, fried, roasted, whatever!"


We ended up having fairly good discussions in both classes about what made something behave like a function.  We discovered that it depended very highly on what you defined as input and output.  The example was talked about was Dairy Queen.

If your input is money ("Here's $10. Give me food") then it doesn't behave like a function because your output (the food) would be different each time.

If, however, your input was your order ("1 dilly bar, please!") then it WOULD behave like a function because they would give you the thing that you ordered.

It was a very interesting discussion and engaged most of the students.  When someone came up with an example that was CLEARLY about another student, it was time to move on.

Before 8th period started, I pulled aside the group of boys who are constantly causing disruptions.  I talked to them about my concerns for their academic achievement as well as what their disruptions are doing to the learning environment.  I made very sure that I wasn't accusing or attacking any of them and I framed it as a partnership that I needed in order to run class.  They seemed amenable and the class went VERY smoothly afterwards.

I thanked them during and after class and I'm going to make a point to do so again on Monday.

I've been getting concerned lately that the geometry students are using the freedom of my class to NOT do what I'm asking of them.  After our construction activity yesterday, I was worried that they were having difficulty remembering the terms that we were using.

So I gave a pop quiz.

Since that class is prone to pre-test hysterics, I decided that I wasn't going to grade it.  I told them that it was for them and, if they were up to speed, they should easily get 100%.  They took it, we went over it together.

I think it helped them to realize that my class is only fun and games if they keep up their end of the bargain. I anticipate that several students will be working on things this weekend.

I'm glad the week is over.  It started very poorly, went up hill pretty quickly and leveled off acceptably.

But I'm glad it's Friday.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Day 95: Points For Some, Snide Comments For Others

Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed is a great way to start the day.

Since I couldn't do that, I just started it with positive attitude and went from there.

After the warm-up, I selected random students to remind us what we had talked about yesterday.  I used a timer to switch activities and focus every 10-15 minutes.  I chose random students to answer questions asked by others.

I sat down at a desk next to a few students who were a bit behind and handed my pen to the students who wanted to put their work on the board.

I gave them 10 minutes to work on word problems and we came back together to discuss them.

I put emphasis on the academic language.  With the introduction to functions, the students already know how to do the work so the trick now is to use that knowledge and confidence to push them further and have them speak like mathematicians.  It's working so far.

With my phone, I'm able to give points for teamwork and participation even when I'm across the room working with other kids.

It was another very good day in first period.

8th period didn't go as well.  I had to remove several students who were simply unable to control their behavior.  There is an interesting dynamic forming where the majority of the students (mostly girls) are becoming tired of the nonsense around them (mostly boys.)\

As I become more reasonable and patient, they are losing patience with their peers.  I hope that eventually, they will start policing each other since I don't have the ability.

I had to give out several negative points in that class and I was displeased.

The geometry students are also getting a bit more rambunctious than I would like.  I attribute this to them enjoying the freedom that I've been giving them in the class, but I can start to see lack of mastery on some vital topics.  We may have a pop quiz tomorrow on orthocenter, circumcenter, incenter and centroid.

Only the kids who read my blog will know.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Day 94: Class Dojo Again

I'm not going to hold my breath.  I'm not going to look this gift horse in the mouth.  I'm going to be mindful and take success as it comes.

Period 1 was GREAT!!

As the students came in, I reminded them to complete the Do-Now before the announcements finished.  I took attendance and updated Class Dojo, checking their Do-Nows as I walked around.

After I put the points in, I ran through a quick reminder of what we had discussed yesterday and how the behaviors had been agreed upon by the class.  We did our Estimation 180 activity and I used the "Random Student" function to ask students to explain their reasoning, which they did.  Good or bad reasoning, they got a point for participation.

I reminded them of our discussion of patterns from yesterday and introduced the idea of functions.  My favorite way to think about functions is as a factory: something goes in, something comes out.

I made a specific point to call attention every time a student said "we've done this before, this is easy."  I wanted them to see that this was something they know and the only thing different is the language.

I drew factories on the board and used the random student button to have students fill in what they could.

After the 2nd or 3rd time using it, students quickly realized that I wasn't faking it and it was actually picking random kids.  They also realized that it could be them.  I took all answers and gave points for the effort, rather than for the correctness.  One student asked if functions followed the same rules as regular equations and I gave him a point for asking a good question.

I was so impressed with the notes that one girl took, that needed to capture a picture of them.

I made liberal use of the random student button for any question that I wanted to ask the class.  When kids asked questions, I used it to pick other kids to answer it.

It's time to start thinking about rewards!  The first one is easy.  When a student gets to 20 points, which should take about a week, they will get access to their Class Dojo student account.  This will let them change their avatar and customize their profile.  I will be organizing the students into teams this week so soon, teams will be able to change their names as well.

I need to come up with others as well.  Chris Aviles, the gamification guru, says that physical rewards should be at the bottom of the list.  Rewards should follow the following hierarchy:


Since I don't have money to BUY any stuff, this works out pretty well.

Period 8 went very much like period 1, but with a bit more talking and a bit more redirection needed.  I can chalk this up to it being the end of the day and a slightly different mix of students.

All in all, I was VERY pleased.

The geometry class spent the whole class experimenting with compass and straight edge, creating perpendicular bisectors, angle bisectors, finding midpoints and so on.  I'm excited for this unit because I LOVE constructions.

Several students who have been checked out seemed to really enjoy it as well.

Things are looking up!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Day 93: The Gift Horse

I have had a bad week or so.  My classes have been difficult, I haven't been sleeping well and I don't feel as though I've been an effective educator.

Over the weekend, I added my students into ClassDojo.  Today, during their Estimation 180 warm-up, I used my phone to mark who completed the task.  After we went over it, I pulled up the screen on the computer and showed them what I was doing.

The display showed which students were absent and which ones completed the warm-up.  I walked them through the basics and showed them the default point system.

I explained that I wanted to give them a say in what they felt made a good educational environment.  I gave them their first task:

"In the groups where you are sitting right now, come up with three behaviors for which points should be awarded and three for which they should be taken away."

I told them that I wanted them to think about behaviors that contribute to or detract from creating a positive learning environment.  I gave them 5-10 minutes while I walked around and listened.  Then I brought them back together, asked each group for one from each category and listed them on the board in the front.

We had a discussion and combined a few of the items that seemed redundant.

Then I asked them to discuss the list in their groups and pick the three items that they thought were most important.

As they were doing this, I assigned points for teamwork.

After the tally, the behaviors that we decided on were:

Pd 1/2:
  • Positive
    • Do Now Completed
    • Asking a Good Question
    • Participation
    • Persistence
    • Teamwork
  • Negative
    • Being Distracting
    • Minding Someone Else's Business (this was unanimous) 
Pd 8/9:
  • Positive
    • Do Now Completed
    • Asking a Good Question
    • Participation
    • Persistence 
    • Teamwork
  • Negative 
    • Disrespect
    • Distuption
    • Stealing

With this new point system in place, we spent the second class talking about patterns.  I used selected objects from Visual Patterns to lead into the idea of determining a general form.  The discussion was very good!  Students were able to explain their thinking, restate what others had said and acknowledge that multiple approaches were valid.

With 5 minutes left, I put the point sheet up on the screen so students could see how much they had earned for the day.  I used the "Random Student" function to call on kids for exit ticket questions.

"Tell me one thing you learned today."
"Tell me something we discussed today."
"What is your homework tonight?"
"How do you pronounce the kind of sequence we're talking about?"

I didn't assign any negative points in 1st period and only 1 in 8th (a student refused to stop yelling out the answers).  I would rather build up rather than tear down.

I was surprised and pleased about how well it went.  It wasn't perfect by any means, but it was the best class we've had in a long time.  I was able to heap authentic praise on the entire class and I got participation from students who normally sit silently.

I also found it VERY interesting to look at the similarities and differences in chosen behaviors in the two classes.  When I asked about it in 8th period, one of the kids said "We don't do the good things we picked and we do a lot of the bad things we picked."

Now I'm off to Office Depot to pick up some compasses for my geometry students...

Monday, January 26, 2015

Day 92: Teach to the Few

Educon was excellent!  I got to meet amazing people and participate in wonderful conversations.  I left there with many valuable resources, both academic and personal.
Justin (Lanier) and Justin (Aion) know that it's good to be a Justin

Sarah Da Teechur was THRILLED to be flanked by me and Art la Flamme

Kristen Swanson and the EdCamp movement have changed my professional life.

Rafranz Davis and David Wees were trying to take a nice picture and I photobombed from the front...

Now I need to put those ideas into place.

With the conference and the drive, I wasn't quite ready today.

After my day on Thursday and my absence on Friday, my Math 8 students had spread the rumor that I had retired.  As I was in my room, hanging up student work, I heard multiple conversations in the hallway claiming that I had snapped and walked out.  They said I was never coming back.  One kid actually said that I was in jail.

When they came to class, I went over the worksheets that I left for them.  They talked over me.  In 8th period, a small group of students moved up and began asking questions and we had an excellent discussion about how to generalize from sequences.

By the time class ended, there was chaos all around this tiny bubble of academic work and discussion.

Tomorrow, I'm going to start using ClassDojo again.  After a discussion with teachers at #EduCon and on Twitter, I decided that I need to work with the students to see what they think is important for a smoothly running classroom.

I don't want to have a leaderboard that would allow individual students to be listed as last, so I'm going to do it as groups.  Individual students will get points or lose points for their behavior, or for whatever we decide on as a class, but the results will be listed as groups.

I want to gamify my classroom, and I spoke with Chris Aviles at length this weekend to help me get started.

This is going to take time to get it where I want, but ClassDojo is a great place to start and I've already entered my students names into the program...

I'm going to unplug for a while, shovel my driveway, hit the gym and enjoy my kids.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Day 90: Checked Out

I gave a test yesterday to all of my students.  My math 8 students failed it.

Every single one.

They could use their notes, the ones they took as well as the ones I provided for them, and they had plenty of time.

And they failed it.

None of the interventions that I've tried seem to be working.

In addition to this, last night, our school board approved a reorganization plan for the district.  Among other things, it means that next year, the 7th and 8th grade will be moving up the high school with 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th grades.  While this is a step in the direction that I think my district needs to go, there is a real possibility that I will lose my job as a result.

There is an even more real possibility that I will not be teaching geometry any more as more senior faculty members are likely to get it on their schedules.

All of this was more than I was able to handle today.

I printed the work for my math 8 class and set it on a desk.  I sat next to it and worked on a crossword puzzle.

When I didn't give directions, my first period took upon themselves to read the Pledge to Improved Mathematics and do the Estimation 180 exercise of the day.  Then, without my asking them to, they picked up the worksheets that were next to me and began to work.

When they had questions, they asked me.  I patiently answered them or guided them in the proper direction.

I find it fascinating that when I left them alone completely, they did what I wanted, but as soon as I ask them to, the defiance comes out and they refuse.

I am hoping that EduCon this weekend will rejuvenate me, remind me of my purpose and goal and help me to find my center again.

The majority of the geometry class was on a field trip.  The few who remained played Prime Climb.  They enjoyed it.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Day 89: On Parenting

I had two meetings with parents today.  Both students are bright and capable, but have a tendency to make bad choices, specifically in terms of behavior.

With all of my classes taking tests today, it left me with lots of time to think about what kind of parent I will be when my kids get into school, which will be next year for my oldest.

I don't want to be a helicopter parent.
"Do you have your lunch?" "Mom, I'm 35..."
I want my kids to develop independence.  I want them to explore and take on responsibility.  I want them to take risks and not constantly be seeking my approval.  Honestly, I don't worry too much about my children being independent.  That brings me to my other concern.

I don't want to be a detached parent.
"We feel it's important for Billy to express himself."
I want my children to know that I DO care what they do and who they are hanging out with.  I never want to be the parent who is learning my kids' teachers names for the first time at a conference halfway through the year.  I don't want to be blind-sided by failing grades.

How do you stay on top of your kids without smothering them?  How do stay involved while letting them have independence?

Then I think about the two sets of parents that I know the best: my own, and my wife's.

My parents were not helicopter parents by any stretch.  They allowed me independence and they trusted me to make good choices.  When I didn't, they reigned me back in a bit until I earned the trust again.  I started walking to school with friends in 4th grade.  It was 1.2 miles each way.  In 5th and 6th grade, I started riding my bike the 1.2 miles to the middle school.  In junior high, I wasn't allowed to walk but that was because the only way to the building was on a busy highway with no sidewalks.

Until senior year of high school when I got a car, I walked every day that the weather permitted.  That trip was 2.7 miles each way.  While they weren't helicopter parents, they almost always knew where I was.  Any time I went out, I needed to let them know where I would be and when I would be back.  If I was going to be late, I needed to call and let them know.  I like to think that I earned their trust.

My wife's parents went in a different direction.  They made family the center of almost everything.  They spent time with uncles, aunts, cousins and grandparents.  They took family camping vacations frequently to the middle of nowhere and spent large amounts of quality time together.  My wife once told me that she considers her mother one of her best friends.

This wasn't helicopter parenting as much as it was forging a strong family bond.

Raising my children now, I can clearly see both of these strategies in how my wife and I interact with our children.  I am much more hands-off in terms of activities and direction.  I encourage my kids to play and draw and explore while keeping my eye on them from a little ways off.  I love playing with them, but I also love watching them play together, or by themselves.  I enjoy their independence and I love watching them explore and create.

My wife loves all of these things too, but she prefers to be do doing it alongside them.  When they draw, she lays down on the floor with them and draws.  When we go to the playground, she runs up the ladders and down the slides with them.  She is involved without being overbearing.  She is kind and generous and goofy and fun and I hope that wears off on them.

In discussions with other teachers about the kinds of parents we want to be, we often worry about being "that parent."  The point that is often brought up is that if you're worried about it now, it most likely won't happen later.

I don't think that's entirely true.  I think kids lose direction for all sorts of reasons.  Some of these are parental, but others are outside of anyone's control.

I think that I have been unfair to many parents by judging their parenting based on the behavior of their children.  Kids are complicated.

I don't know how much of it is parenting or other factors, but I noticed a remarkable difference in the way that my students prepared for the tests that they had today.  The math 8 students were allowed to use their notes.  Many thought that meant they didn't have to study, but neglected to remember that they didn't take all that many notes.

The geometry students were allowed to use a notecard.  I loved what they put on their cards and, for the most part, the fact that they didn't use them.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Day 88: I Am Boring

I read to my children.  We have a ton of books in my house and I try to read to them as often as I can.  There are books that I enjoy reading to them and others that I despise.  Generally, the ones I don't like either have lessons of which I don't approve.

We have a book where a rabbit and a bear both have gardens.  The bear works his butt off and the rabbit loafs.  The bear has a great harvest and the rabbit has none.  The bear shares his bounty and they are happy together in the winter.  The message that I take from this is that it's ok to be lazy because someone will bail you out.

In another book (The Rainbow Fish), a beautiful fish makes friends by giving away his shiny scales.  The message I take from this is that you can buy your friends.  Maybe the real message is that beautiful people can only be friends with ugly people if the beautiful people make themselves ugly.  Or something about Communism...

One of the books that I enjoy reading to my kids is Listen Buddy by Helen Lester.

This is the story of a rabbit who doesn't listen and it ends up causing him lots of problems.  What I like about it, other than the fact that I get to read in silly voices, is that Buddy doesn't ignore the people talking to him.  He only half-listens.  Instead of fetching a basket of squash, he fetches a basket of wash.  Instead of getting 15 tomatoes, he gets 50 potatoes.  So close.

I sometimes feel as though I have a classroom full of Buddy's.  Many of my students know the words that I'm using and can repeat them.  What they have trouble doing is applying those words and concepts in appropriate ways.

This morning, a student asked me about how to graph a line.  We had a brief discussion where I reminded her about the slope and intercept of a line.  I asked her to tell me what those terms were and she was able to do so.  When I asked her to identify the slope and intercept in the equation, she was able to do so.

When I asked her to graph the intercept, she took 3 attempts to find where it was.  Even though she had just told me what it was in her own terms and what the value was, she wasn't able to connect those into the application.

In 8th period, I may have gone a bit off the rails.  I'm beginning to think that my lectures are more for my own sanity rather than to modify behavior.  I expound to them about the various tactics that I'm taking and they pretend to be shamed while they patiently wait for me to stop interrupting their conversations.

We've been going through solving systems of equations using visual representations instead of just the equations.  I think that doing it this way gives them a better understanding of how elimination and substitution work and they agree.  To illustrate the point, I did a problem using the elimination method without pictures.  I asked them which they thought made more sense and they unanimously agreed that it was the one with pictures.

As soon as we started a new problem, the conversations started up again.

So I sat down.

I reminded them that they have a chapter test tomorrow and I would be available to answer any questions they had.

More involved lessons take greater amounts of attention.  I don't know how to get them to invest that attention to notice that the lessons are involved and practical.

Maybe the lessons are still too boring.  I have no idea how to make them less so.  At some point, they will need to invest some energy in their own learning.

It can't all be on me.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Day 87: TACOS!!!

First thing this morning, I printed out report cards for all of my students.  I handed them out and I think having it in front of them lit a fire.  I gave them 5 practical word problems and told them my grade book was open.  I called the kids up one at a time and checked in anything that they had completed.

We are covering systems of equations and, since the first question on the sheet dealt with tacos, I got to draw tacos!

They worked!

They worked together, and turned in work.  They asked insightful questions.  Our building math coach joined us for the class and he was able to walk around and help the students with their inquiries while I worked with others.

After class, he and I had a discussion about which things went well and which could have gone better.  I found myself diverting success for the class onto the lack of attendance of two specific students.  I kept saying that it wouldn't have been such a good class if they had been there because they have a tendency to set off other students around them.

8th period was the same way.  There were 2 highly disruptive students who were not in class and, either as a result or as a coincidence, class ran VERY smoothly.

I find it interesting how I have a tendency to shift responsibility  for successes.  When lessons go poorly, it could be because the students weren't engaged and I should have done something more or differently.  It could be due to poor preparation of the lesson on my part or my inability to connect to the students' interests and prior knowledge.

When the lessons go well, however, it's because of something that the students did.  They chose to be engaged.  They chose to be on task.

If I'm going to take their failures on myself, I need to find a way to take some of the success as well.

The geometry kids are gearing up for their midterm and I need to figure out what to do with the three days that I'll be in school next week.  The marking period ends in the middle of the week, we have no school on Monday and I'll be out on Friday to attend EduCon 2015.  I'm incredibly excited to meet up with educators from around the country and learn from them!

I hope there is a taco night...

Now I want tacos...

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Day 86: Head In My Hands

I came in this morning in fairly good mood.  I'm not sure what to attribute this to, except that I had a good workout and my kids were extra loving last night.

In any event I started today feeling pretty good.  I've been thinking about assigning less homework and doing more of the practice problems and projects in class.
I REALLY want to do a Venn Diagram of their respective problems.

There is chaos brewing on the district level and it would be easy to let it creep into my class.  I could sit and worry about where/if I'll be teaching next year in terms of classes, grades or buildings.  I could stress over what resources will be taken away or moved around.  But none of that will be productive.

I've made a conscious effort in this blog to not talk about my coworkers, my administration, or my district, unless it directly relates to how I can improve my instruction.

With all of that said, it did manage to creep in a bit.  I also joked around a bit with my students and had tremendous trouble getting them back afterwards.  We had a brief talk about how they complain about boring school is.  I told them that when I try to make it interesting, I feel as though they take that as a cue to goof off, making me more reluctant to do those activities.

So I went back to a bit of direct instruction.  I'm giving them highly structured notes, but being more aware of the questions that I'm asking.  If I have to lecture and go over examples, then I need to supplement the instruction with higher order questions.

I had to remove a student from my 8th period.  He brought no materials and was combative when I asked him to please stop talking.  It escalated because he wanted it to and I allowed it.  I do think, however, that the majority of my students are also getting sick of his antics as, once I removed him, class ran VERY smoothly.

I have yet to figure out a way to de-escalate with some of my students.  I need to keep my temper, but too many things built up today, including an insanely rude student in Geometry, a class that is generally supposed to be low-stress for me.

A stressful faculty meeting about a stressful board meeting sapped my attention from adequately reflecting on my classes.

Suffice to say, I wasn't overly pleased with my lessons, but I think I'm continuing to build relationships with several students.

And possibly destroying others.  I know I can't win over every kid, but I'd like to win them over enough to convince them not to destroy my classroom.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Day 85: ALL THE F'S!!!

This morning when I got to school, I printed out my grade book.  Much to my dismay, I discovered that of the 54 students registered for my Math 8 class, about 80% have D's or F's.

I spent some time hitting my head against the wall telling myself that this is entirely because these students don't do work outside of my class.  As I said earlier this week, I gave an assignment over the weekend and, of the 48 students who were present and received it, 2 had turned it in.

Homework is important to solidify topics and keep students from forgetting the material from one day to the next.  I specifically design my assignments not to take a long time, but to keep them engaged.  This is the same for notes.  Notes shouldn't exist to force students to write, but to help them organize their thoughts into a reference that they can use later when they need it.

A few weeks ago, I started a new note-taking system.  It went back to a more traditional model of instruction where I would essentially lecture and write notes on the board while the kids wrote them down.  It was very structured.

It worked for quite a while, at least in terms of engagement.  I don't think it was meaningful engagement, but I could tell everyone to flip back in their notes to a certain spot and they could and they could answer my questions.

After a few weeks, I backed off on the structure, handing over more responsibility to the students.

As soon as I did, everything dropped off.  Work stopped getting done, papers stopped coming in.

We had talks about responsibility and motivation.  They seemed to understand and, for that day, they did well.  Today, while discussing systems of equations, there appeared to be minimal retention or even recollection that we had covered slope-intercept form less than 5 days ago.

So the conclusion that I have come to is that, at least for now, I need to move back to a VERY structured learning environment.  I don't want to do this.  I know that kids learn better when they explore and discover.

But if Indiana Jones had stayed at home, it doesn't matter WHAT secrets had been out there.  They would have stayed secrets.

On the other side of things, I've been conferencing with the geometry students for their Chapter 4 tests.  It has been a great experience and I love getting to meet with them one-on-one.  We go through the test and I ask them to clarify their wording and explain their reasons.

"How do you know that?" is a VERY typical question.  At the end of each conference, I ask them what they think they've earned.  We have a brief discussion and agree on a score before I thank them and call up the next kid.

Me: "What do you think you earned on this?"
Student: "I don't know. Maybe a low B?"
Me: "Why a low B?"
S: "I knew most of the material, but I made a few mistakes."
Me: "Were your mistakes ones about the concepts, or were they careless errors?"
S: "Mostly careless errors."
Me: "So maybe a little higher than a low B?"
S: "I think so. Probably a high B or a low A."
Me: "I agree."

I like having these discussions with my students and I would like to do it more with the Math 8 kids.  The problem is that I haven't found a way to keep the rest of the class occupied while I speak with one student at a time.
"Do you hear it, Clarice? Do you hear the learning?"

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Day 84: Comeuppance

After 5 days of 2-hour delays, we got back to a normal schedule today.  Suddenly, my classes are SO LONG!!

Also, to make up for all of the prep time I've had over the past 5 days, my preps today were filled with coverages.  I can't really complain about it, but I totally will.

After the success yesterday in math 8 with the movie ticket problem, I took it a step further today.  I went onto the Verizon website and pulled up the data for a single line plan.

I know they aren't paying for their own phone plans yet, but they do spend a ton of time on them and which  cell plan to buy is a good way to look at systems of equations.

 This ended up with a fairly good discussion about data use and the importance of having enough information when you buy a product.  I actually got one of the students to say that when they went in to buy a plan, they would need to know about how much data they use each month.

We talked about finding the equations of the lines from the data and from the graph.  The next step will be to collect more data and see what we can do with it.  My 8th period asked about cars, so I think I'm going to look into price and mileage for a few cars.

The geometry class continued working on their midterm reviews while I met with students individually to discuss their chapter 4 tests.  I only got through a few kids, but the conferences went very well.  I wish I had the time to do it more often.

I slipped up today.  I got overly familiar with a student and ended up hurting her feelings.  I didn't realize that I had done so since we were all joking around, but I found out later that she was very upset.  A few other students came to tell me and I immediately pulled the girl out of class to apologize.  I think she's a remarkable young woman and I was careless with my words.

I apologized to her in person and will do so again, but I also want this to serve as a public apology in the event that she reads it.  I am so sorry and I promise to be more aware of my words in the future.
I never want to be that teacher who ruins something for a student.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Day 83: Spiralling Back

I assigned a take-home quiz to my students this weekend..  I had assigned it in class on Friday, but I realized quickly how unprepared they were to take it in a timely fashion, so I sent it home.

My 1st period has 27 students on the roster.  Of those 27, 3 were absent on Friday.  Of the 24 who received the paper, I had 2 turn it in.

Instead of yelling, I told them again about how education is not a spectator sport.

"Who in this room got better at football by watching the game last night?"

I can't go back.  I can't spend any more time on concepts that I've covered repeatedly.  I understand that if they didn't learn it, it means I didn't teach it, I didn't reach them, but I worry that by going back, it only solidifies that they don't need to put the effort in because I'll just do it again.

So I'm moving on.  I'm making a concerted effort to spiral back on concepts and  incorporate them into the new material.

I'm also going to try to work on spoon-feeding them less.  Today, they came in to this:

We've been talking about this problem, or this scenario, for a month or so.  Each time we have a new topic, I go back to this example and add something new.  Instead of asking them a content question, I put this information up on the board and asked them what questions THEY could come up with.

The majority of their questions were about the rules of the discount. Could they bring a friend? How many movies could they see? If they bought the card near the end of the month, would they get it cheaper?

Eventually, we got around the question that I wanted: How many movies do I have to see to be worth buying the discount?

I asked them to speculate, write it down and think about how they would figure it out.  Then we talked.

We started with a chart and when we had explored their thoughts and questions, moved on to the graph.  I wanted them to see why it made more sense to buy the card after a certain point and what that looked like.  We talked about the implications and what the lines meant as well as the what the intersection meant.

It was a good discussion and the students were more engaged than they have been.  It was hard to tell if that was because of the material, or because of what I had told them, but I'll take it.

The geometry class is starting their midterm review.  It's a 71 question packet that the high school developed.  I'm giving them a few days to work on it.  We discussed that one of my main goals is to make them into independent learners and so they needed to check with three other sources before they asked me any questions.

They broke off into groups and did a great job being on task for the whole time.  There were great discussions that I heard and I was very proud of them.

In the chaos and frustration of last week, this was a welcome breath of fresh air.  I'm not quite feeling better about what's going on here, but I'm feeling better about feeling better.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Day 82: Cheese With My Whine

Yesterday I talked about control.  I was (and still am) thinking about how to determine which things are in my control and how to divorce myself from the stress of things that are not.

Today, in math 8, I lost my control.

Instead of giving a typical quiz, I gave a group quiz.  Students could use their notes, their books and work with friends to complete problems that were more complicated than the ones we have done in class.

It did not go well.

First, the majority of the students didn't get to work right away...or at all.  It took multiple promptings before many of them even picked up a pencil.  Once they did get started, it took less than 20 seconds for students to approach me to say they had no idea how to do the problems.

I referred them to their notes, in which should be examples of similar, though simpler, problems.

Students: "I didn't understand it when we went over it."
Me: "Alright, then you need to be asking me questions at the time.  Bring me your notebook and we'll see what we can do."
S: "I didn't write down the problems."
Me: "So, if you didn't write anything down and didn't ask any questions, how did you think you were going to learn it?"
S: **shrug**

This is a VERY typical interaction with many of my students.  No matter how many times I explain that learning is an active process, they are conditioned to think that just showing up to class will be enough.

It's very frustrating to me that certain students expect me to reteach a topic to them when they made the conscious choice to work on history homework when I covered it the first time.

It puts me in mind of my own children on long car trips.  We purposely make bathroom stops along the way and ask them to try to go.  There are always those times, however, when the following conversation happens:

Me: "Do you need to pee?"
Kids: "No."
Me: "Are you sure? I think you should try."
Kids: "No. I don't have to go."
Me: "I understand, but you should try because we won't be stopping for a while."
Kids: "No."
**30 seconds after getting back on the highway**
Kids: "DAD!! I HAVE TO PEE!!!"

At that point, if I don't, or can't, stop, I'm the villain.

Sometimes, it feels as though my classroom is this situation, except instead of a bathroom break, it's knowledge and critical thinking, and instead of 2 children, it's 75.

So, what to do?

I stopped the class.  I pulled their attention back up to me and I put a VERY complicated problem up on the board.  I told them to all take out their notebooks and copy what I'm about to write.

Then we went through the problem.

We went through it slowly and thoroughly.  We did it using the scale and the equation, providing students with both mathematical and visual methods for solving.  At each step, I asked for questions and I called on random students to explain what we had just done and why.

Then they got back to work.  Honestly, I don't think it will turn out well.  I think I'm going to have to spend a significant amount of time next week reviewing these topics.  We may have to go back to specific guided notes because moving away from them is not a method that has worked.

And then I went to In-School Suspension duty.  One of my students was there, had been all day, because she skipped an assigned detention yesterday.

She had skipped it because her mom had to work and there was no one to care for her little brother after school.

And suddenly, my concerns about trying to get students to solve multi-step equations seem very petty.

I'm glad the weekend is here. I have lots of things I need to think about.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Day 81: Control

I've been thinking quite a bit recently about control.  This is a major theme of educational philosophy and it has an incredible number of facets.  Educators discuss how to get students to take control of their own education.  We discuss how (and whether) to give up our control of the classroom for the benefit of those students.  We complain about administration making us do things that we don't want to do and how it feels to be controlled in that way.

We talk about the factors of a student's life that are beyond our control, such as home/community environment, aptitudes and knowledge when they enter our rooms, social issues, poverty, racism, etc.  We have a modicum of control over these things when they come to our room, but that accounts for a VERY small portion of their lives.

So I've been thinking about control.  Specifically, one of my major goals for this year (life) is to do a better job of categorizing the things that I can control and the things that I can't.  Once I have those categories, I want to be able to let go of the latter.

This idea has infused many of my interactions with my students (and my children) this year.  A typical conversation goes something like:

Me: "Don't hit her. It's not nice to hit people."
Her: "She hit me first!"
Me: "That may be true, but you only have control over your own actions.  You are in charge of you and your actions, not her."

I'll leave it up to you to decide if this was a conversation with my 8th graders or my 5 year old.

I'm much better at dispensing sage advice than I am at following it.

In spite of what is told to us by educational policy makers, even something like students engagement is only partially in our control.  No matter how engaging you make a lesson, if a students is worrying about a sick parent or where their next meal is coming from, it's going to be much more difficult to get them involved in learning.

At the age of 12, 13 and 14, long term concerns almost always take a back seat to short term ones.  Even though I'm not a teenager, this is still true for me much of the time.

So the question that I've been asking myself is how much of my surroundings can I actually control. Some things are very clear.

Things outside of my control:

  • Student home-life
  • District mandates
  • Class size
  • Snow days/delay days

Things inside of my control:

  • My attitude towards my class and teaching
  • How I interact with my students
  • How I interact with my coworkers

Other things are not so clear.  These are things that I clearly have SOME influence on, but I honestly don't know how much:

  • How engaged my students are
  • How well my lessons do
  • How much work my students actually do

With these three categories in mind, what I want is to be able to know what goes where and then how to deal with it.

If something is outside of my control, I want to be able to dismiss it, or at least not stress about it.  This, I think, has been the purpose of my blog from the beginning.  I have tried very hard to not write about things that are outside of my control because it doesn't serve any useful purpose.  I want to be reflecting on my own abilities, my own interactions and my own thoughts and relationships.

Also, knowing that I have a tendency to complain, this blog has been a place where I don't allow myself that indulgence.

The real goal is to move that outwards to the rest of my life.

I know it takes practice and this blog has been the first step.

I'm worried, however, that because of the sheer volume that I write here, I'm allowing myself to say "I'm doing enough."

I'm not doing enough.  I need to focus more on the things that are within my control and letting go of the things that aren't.

If I were religious, I'm sure there would be some sort of a ...prayer...that would help me to reach ...serenity...

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Day 80: 2-Hour Delay, Day 2


Another 2-hour delay.  These are really a double-edged sword for me.  As a morning person, I much prefer to just get up and get right to what I need to do.  My alarm goes off and I'm in the shower, dressed and out the door in 15-20 minutes.  I get to school early to prep and get ready before the students show up.

My ideal schedule is morning loaded, getting the majority of my classes out of the way before I run out of steam around lunch.

Once I get going, I need to keep going.  Momentum is my friend.
"Watch out, learning! Here I come!"

A 2-hour delay kills much of that momentum.

I can't really sleep in because I still need to be at school at the normal time.  Then I'm ready to start my day with another 90 minutes to wait before the students get there.

In addition to this, many of the students seem to think that a 2-hour delay means a day off when they just happen to be in the building.  Reigning them back in from this misconception takes a bit of effort.  Students crave routine.  There is safety and comfort in predictability.  A disruption to that routine is hard for everyone.

The benefits, however, FAR outweigh these inconveniences.

First, classes are shorter.  Since my classes are all double period, this means on a normal day, I see my students for 90 minutes.  90 minutes every day.  Every day for 180 days.

90 minutes is REALLY hard for middle school students.  60 minutes, however, is perfect!  It allows me to do enough activities that I feel we've covered enough material while still changing things up enough to keep them interested.

Second, starting later in the day means that the kids are more alert when I ask them to perform complex tasks.  The number of times I have to say "pick your head up, please" drops dramatically when I'm not saying it at 7:45 am.

Also, my classes are generally smaller on 2-hour delay days.  It isn't particular students who stay home, but I imagine that as the parent of a kid who doesn't want to go to school, it's much easier to extend a delay than to skip let them skip a normal day.  As a result of cold temperatures, parents giving latitude, or just the inability to add 2 hours to the normal time you would leave your house, my classes are 30%-50% smaller.  Regardless of who the students are, a class of 15-20 is much more manageable than a class of 25-30.

Snow days are nice, especially when I don't have to go anywhere, but I'll take a 2-hour delay over a snow day 9 times out of 10.

They've already called one for tomorrow!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Day 79: The Visuals

Way back in September, I wrote about teaching positive and negative numbers in terms of digging and filling holes.  Since then, I've been trying to incorporate as many visual representations into my lessons as possible.

Today, we had a 2-hour delay and, again, half of the buses were either late or never showed up.  The chaos was a bit too much for me, so I kicked two kids out of homeroom to restore order.  I reiterated my expectations of classroom behavior and procedures and got back to my lesson.  After a quick group review of the topic we covered yesterday, (solving equations with addition and subtraction) I handed out sheets with balance scales and asked them to do visual representations for 4 problems of their choosing.

Several learned VERY quickly that it was better to pick something like x + 4 = -7 instead of x - 45 = -62.  It gets cumbersome to draw 62 blocks.

After I set the students up with their assignments, I sat at a desk in the middle and worked with anyone who wished to join me.  I was very impressed with the results.

In geometry, I talked about my desires to have them demonstrate their knowledge however they can.  Ideally, I'd like to give them total freedom by having the assignment be "Prove that you know the material, however you can."

But that type of assignment would make me apoplectic as a student.

Instead, I chose 2 different chapter assessments and gave them the choice.  Both will be due at the start of class tomorrow and they can use whatever resources they want.  Several students wanted to go over the guided notes, so I sat with them and helped them.  After working a proof or two, I realized that they may have been wanting a little more structure, so I dug through my treasure trove of resources and pulled out a set of Proof Blocks!

We did another proof using these and I think the students liked them.  I had them printed on card stock last year, but we didn't use them, so I had a few sets sitting around.

I forget that I don't always need a class set of every resource.  Differentiation is key to student achievement.

Some students would find the proof blocks confusing while others could really benefit from them.  Maybe at some point, I'll get my act together and organize my resources in a way that would give me easy access to them when needed.

That won't be today, but some day...

Today, I have a Global Math Department presentation to get ready and a Dresden Files book to read!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Day 78: Back To It

Over the last two weeks of break, I slept very well.  Last night I did not.

When my alarm went off this morning, my bed was the most comfortable it has ever been.

When I took my shower this morning, the hot water was as comfortable and soothing as it has ever been.

Both my bed and my shower begged me to return to them, beckoning me with promises of ever-lasting love and peace.

Then I went to work.

I got my room ready for the influx of students, got a cup of coffee and filled out a survey I've been putting off for a few weeks.

My first interaction with a student in 16 days was the following:

Me: "Good morning. Welcome back."
S: "Aw man! I was hoping you would be out today!"
Me: "Happy New Year. It's nice to see you."

My second interaction made up for it.  Two students from geometry hunted me down to give me a box of cookies.
"You said it's important to remember teachers during the holidays!"
I was deeply grateful and told them so.

I think these two events, happening no less than 60 seconds apart perfectly illustrate what it is to be a teacher.

My homeroom was small.  Several of the buses were late picking up students and one never showed at all.  In addition to being the first day back from 16 days out of routine, my class had the extra disruption of someone joining us every 5-10 minutes.  There was a fight in the hallway between first and second period.  I covered a class third period.

Today was a very difficult balance between getting kids back into the habit of learning and remembering that they are out of practice.  I spent much of the break talking with other teachers and thinking about my practice, but they have not.

It would be unrealistic for me to expect them to hit the ground running at 7:40 today.

I expected it anyway, but allowed for leeway and lack of focus.  I tried to be patient when redirecting them back to task and understanding about them not being back in school mode yet.

As the day went one, however, they clearly remembered where they were.  My 8th period was ready to learn by the time they got to me.  In general, that group seems much more ready, willing and able to take notes when given a specific format.

During my prep, I walked in on a conversation between some of my students and another teacher about white privilege.  They were already heated when I got there so I tried to calm everything by being the voice of reason.  It became quickly apparent that no one was actually listening to anyone else, so I pulled a few students aside to make them feel heard and calm them down.  I suggested that they take a break and revisit the conversation later.

I'm not sure they heeded my advice, but it was important to me that they felt heard and I accomplished that.  Many of my students are VERY passionate about social justice issues and often let that passion push them faster than they can handle.  I consider it an extension of what we are doing in class, in terms of problem solving and critical thinking, to help them channel that energy into productive ways.
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