## Thursday, May 25, 2017

### Day 177: Final Assessment

The 4th marking period is one of almost constant disruption.  A large portion of my schedule and that of my students is used to take standardized tests.  The 8th graders take the PSSA and I proctor the Keystones.  Students are shuffled around the school and normal classes become infrequent.  In addition, there are tons of end-of-the-year assemblies, trips, meetings and performances.

This means that my classes have only had 2 assessments.  We've been covering material, but the opportunity to formally assess those skills hasn't really been in the cards.

In looking over the assessments from today, I'm coming to some conclusions and asking myself some questions.

I think we need to be doing more guided practice.

I know that many of my students struggle with synthesis.  When given A and B, they often have difficulty coming up with C unless explicitly shown how.  Even then, it's often difficult.  When problems don't look exactly like examples, there is deep struggle.

I've also come to the conclusion that I need to be helping them to build the habit of using the resources they have available, specifically sample problems and notes.  Next year, I'm going to be much more deliberate about note-taking.  Instead of asking the students to bring their workbooks each day, I'm going to have them bring a 3-ring binder where we can put the pages from the workbook, collected into chapters.  This will make it much easier to keep sections together and to insert notes and examples between sections of the workbook.

I think with many of my kids, vocal repetition may be helpful.

We have spent 2 weeks working on properties of exponents, but I'm seeing lots of mistakes, and not ones that are similar or consistent.  In many cases, they are applying "rules" that we didn't ever talk about or use in class.

At the same time, I pulled half of the test questions from the review sheet and they were treated as unfamiliar.

There are other issues as well, such as the ability to determine whether an answer makes any sense.

"A store buys a ring for \$120. If they mark it up by 150%, how much should they charge for it?"
"\$18."

I know where this answer comes from.  They converting 150% into a decimal, but put that decimal in the wrong place, making it .15 instead of 1.50.  My issue is more that no thought was put into thinking "this makes no sense."

Does this come from lack of understanding, or rushing and not checking?

## Wednesday, May 24, 2017

### Day 176: Turning The Wipers Back On

I have made a huge mistake.

I stopped writing.  Since the start of the 2013-2014 school year, I wrote a reflective blog post every day that I was with students.  In that time, I only missed 2 days.  I know myself well enough to know that if I had taken a day off, I wouldn't start again.

The same thing happened with my running schedule.  I was consistently running 4-5 days a week.  I took a week off after my half marathon and didn't start again.

About a month and a half ago, I was tired and I took a break from blogging.  There were no excuses for doing so and no real reason, although several people told me I was allowed.  I should not have stopped.

Blogging has been a grounding force for me.  It has required me to think about my entire day, rather than just the pieces that stick out.  It has forced me to examine my teaching holistically, identifying strengths and weaknesses.  It shone a light on the ways I taught that needed to be improved and the ways in which I was succeeding.

Without blogging, I slowly fell into the teaching trap which is too common.  I forgot about my successes and focused too heavily on my failures and frustrations.

Robert was completely right. Blogging had been helping to keep me balanced.  I was writing about the bad, but also the good.  Without it, I was focusing only on the things that I was finding challenging and frustrating.  I was spending all of my energy on the students who haven't shown the kind of growth I was looking for.

I had forgotten those who HAD grown.  I had forgotten the relationships that I had built.  I had overlooked the students who come to me when they have things they need to talk about, those who will cry in front of me and no one else, those who see my room as a place where they can be safe.

Changing school districts this year has been nothing short of a tectonic shift.  The strategies and tactics that I used in my previous district have been of minimal use to me here.  I changed communities, curriculum, students, colleagues, administrators and assessment strategies.  I started woodturning.  I freely admit that I did WAY too much and when something had to give, it was blogging.

It shouldn't have been.

In a torrential thunderstorm, I turned on my wipers because I found the motion distracting.  I veered off the road.  I don't think I hit anything major, but I've had several near misses.  I have many changes that I need to make for next year, but I think blogging needs to stay.

I don't think I realized how much it was helping me.

## Tuesday, March 28, 2017

### Day 137: Critique Day 1

Falling solidly into the philosophy of "Go Big or Go Home," I've constructed another design project for the Integrated Math class.  This time, they are redesigning our school from the ground up.

The majority of my large projects have failed in the past due to my own shortcomings as a project designer.  I want to be able to say "here's the idea, now go!"

It NEVER works out that way.

It's also a super-jerky thing to do since, as a student, I HATED that level of open-endedness.

This time, I was a bit more deliberate.  I split the project into three distinct phases, with specific assignments and deadlines for each.

Phase 1: Research
In this phase, students began basic research and started compiling lists.  They were to think about the various rooms and facilities that would be in a K-12 school.  They were also to do research into laws around school facilities, including number of bathrooms, width of hallways, number of staircases, etc.

Phase 2: Design
Here, the students start with rough sketches of their school and, over the course of multiple revisions, refine them into a finished blueprint.  During this phase, they will be giving their designs to the other groups to critique while they do the same for others.

Phase 3: Cost
This is where the teams will determine the expected cost of their designs

I walked around the class today, helping them to formulate their critiques, but in truth, I needed to do very little.  They did an excellent job of organizing and formulating their idea.  In several cases, I also noticed groups making notes for their own designs based on what they say in other diagrams.

They will have the rest of this week to trade diagrams with other groups and will spend Friday writing reports to give to their classmates before revising and refining their designs based on feedback next week.  This process will happen 3 times before the final blueprints are due.

The idea here is not only to get them as much feedback as possible, but also to help them develop their own ability to provide meaningful feedback to others.

This was a great first day of that and I'm very proud of the work they started.

## Friday, March 24, 2017

### Day 136: Guest Post

Yesterday, I had a couple of upperclassmen observe my Pre-Algebra class.  Following a discussion about their experience, I asked one of them to write up her thoughts for me.

The following is what she wrote without any edits by me.

Before I begin, I’d like to first and foremost state that I love learning. I truly do. There’s something valuable in everything, and no information is useless. There’s always something to learn, to improve upon, to be better at. Everything has a lesson. Even if the information is familiar, something new can be still be learned. There’s no reason not to listen, especially to a teacher. They deal with teenagers all day. The least I can do is listen to them and respect them. They have a lot to say and a lot to teach, and once again, all information is valuable. However, I think I underestimated just how much I’d learn within two days of observing Mr. Aion’s class.

I was grateful he’d even let me sit in his class while he was teaching to begin with. I really just wanted somewhere somewhat quiet to sit during my lunch period to read on my phone or just catch up on my homework. I’d had some good, thought provoking discussions during my study hall with him, so I was looking forward to the experience subtly. To be fair, though, I was on my phone, even if Mr. Aion was teaching. However, I still listened into the class discussion. Watching someone teach is a much different experience than being a student. It’s fascinating to see the students work through something and figure it out. I really enjoyed the questions Mr. Aion asked. When you’re not concentrating on figuring the concept out, it’s much easier to see where the questions are headed and why they’re being asked.  Although, I’m already very familiar with the material, so that definitely aided in knowing where the class was going. Even so, I couldn’t help but answer the questions he was asking mentally. They were probing, asking them to figure things out step by step. I personally quite like that approach to learning. People tend to understand better if you let them figure it out themselves, and that’s what the questions were doing. They were all building up to understanding the concept at hand.

## Thursday, March 23, 2017

### Day 135: Student Visitors

I have several students throughout the day who spend their free periods in my room.  They keep their stuff on a table in the corner, stop by between classes to store and retrieve books, or put in headphones and sit in the back doing work.  A few kids have open invitations to come in whenever they have a study hall, lunch period or permission from their teachers of record, but there will always be one or two others who stop by to ask if they can stay.

I almost always say yes.

I welcome them to my class for a variety of reasons.

1) These students are all juniors and seniors who come to sit in on 7th and 8th grade classes.  I like them to be there working as a conspicuous example of responsible students, setting a precedent for what will be expected of the younger kids as they get older.

2) In a similar vein, I like the upperclassmen to be reminded of what it was like to be 7th and 8th graders, struggling with academic concepts and organization.  I want the older kids to see how far they've come since they were in those seats and to appreciate the struggle that they had.

3) I also like for the upperclassmen to see what it's like to be a teacher.  Observing a class is a vastly different experience to be a member of it.  On numerous occasions, I've noticed a change in the mannerism of the visiting students in response to the behavior (or lack thereof) of the students in the class.  There is an element of "he deals with this all day, I'm going to be nicer."

4) It humanizes teachers for the visiting students and helps the class members to remember that we aren't trying to "sneak" anything.  I know teachers who are different when there are visitors in the room and I think it lends some credibility to my teaching-style that I remain the same, regardless of who is watching.

5) I LOVE, after covering a concept, being able to point to a senior in the back of the room and ask "in your calculus class, do you still use this thing that we're covering in 7th grade?"  Since I know my business, I of course only ask this when I know the answer and can make a solid point about the lasting uses of mathematics

There are a ton of other reasons, but my absolute favorite is "The Epiphany."

I love watching the expressions of upperclassmen who, while watching a 7th grade class, suddenly understand a topic that they previously didn't.

Today's topic for epiphany: The Distance Formula

I don't love the distance formula.  I think it takes a fairly basic concept and abstracts it into difficulty for students who are still struggling to understand the basics of algebraic concepts.  As a result of this thinking, I've been framing it in a different way.  We started by discussing the Pythagorean Theorem, then talking about applications of it.  We used it to derive the distance formula, all the while continuing to discuss the segment between two points as the hypotenuse of a right triangle.

Rather than asking them immediately identify the multiple values of x and y, I asked some simple questions.

"How far apart are the x-coordinates? How far apart are the y-coordinates? Could we see those as the legs of a right triangle?"

I didn't think this was a particularly revolutionary idea.

When I looked around the room, I noticed something strange: the two upperclassmen who had been hanging out in the back, listening to music and checking their phones had suddenly perked up.  They had moved their desks together, taken out paper and were talking animatedly, but quietly.

I had an inkling of what they were discussing, but asked them to elaborate.  They felt bad, thinking they had interrupted and starting apologizing for being disruptive.

"Not at all! I want you to tell the class what you're talking about."

The students (one in Pre-Calc and one in Algebra 2) had never thought about the distance formula in these terms before.  This concept, which they had been using for years, finally clicked in a way that worked for them.

After class, they both came up to me, excited to have learned something new.  One asked if she could keep coming to my class during her lunch.  When I asked her what she found so valuable about it, her list was shockingly similar to the one I wrote above.

I asked her if she would write up her thoughts on observing my class and, if she decides to, I will include it in a future post.

When we talk about spiral review, clearly we need to include topics from years before, revisited and examined in light of new information.  We should also be incorporating more connections between older and younger students, having them share strategies and advice.

Other highlights:

In Math 7, we had a deep discussion about what it means for something to be "steep."  This is a strangely difficult term to define without using technical terms.  We approached it by talking about speed, another quality that only exists as the relationship between other units.  They were VERY engaged.

Numerous students told me today that I was one of their favorite teachers and that I was one of the nicer ones they've had.

A student who slacked off for the entire marking period and earned himself a 26% spent the last week working insanely hard to make up his work. We had a long conversation after school about choices and the lessons that he learned from the experience of choosing his friends as group mate rather than people with whom he can work productively.

My 8th period ended up in a deep discussion of social justice issues, including homelessness and women's right issues.  The group, normally distracted and a bit goofy, were highly engaged and incredibly insightful in their contributions.  They can be very empathetic and insightful.  I was immensely proud of them.

It was a great day.

## Thursday, March 9, 2017

### Day 126: #GoodCallsHome

Today was rockin'!

Not me. I rarely rock it.  The kids were rockin' it!

Last night, I spent over an hour calling parents, grandparents and guardians.  The conversations went something like:

Me: "Hi, this is Mr. Aion from the school.  I'm your child's (grandchild's) math teacher. How are you?"
Them: "...Fiiiiiiine. How are you?"
Me: "I'm doing well, thank you.  I just wanted to give you a quick call to let you know that (student) has really been doing an excellent job in class lately.  The work has been getting harder and can tell (student) is getting frustrated, but has been sticking with.  They've been helping other students in the class and are genuinely a pleasure to have there."
Them: "...but?"
Me: "But nothing.  I don't think we do a good enough job with calling home when students are doing well.  We only ever call when something is wrong and I think that's a problem.  Nothing is wrong.  Your child is doing well and working hard and I wanted to let you know."

At this point, they either expressed deep thanks and shock at being told this, or they said "ok. Thanks. Have a nice day" and hung up in confusion.

I've done this before, gone down my roster and called as many families as I could to give a good note.  I often have high-minded ideals that I'll call everyone on my list, but I forget how long each call takes.  Last night, I stopped because it got to late to call.  I managed to get through two of my larger classes.  Since I knew I wouldn't get to everyone, I started at the end of my roster, the end of my day.  Those two are my more challenging classes so I thought it was more important to start there.

I wanted to remind myself, as well as them, about the good things that they are doing.  I made a conscious effort make sure I had a good comment for the kids who are most challenging for me.

Today, the halls were abuzz with kids talking about how I called their houses.  The kids whose homes I called were awesome! They paid attention, took notes, volunteered to put problems on the board and helped explain concepts to each other.

The kids whose homes I didn't call, even more so.  Maybe they wanted a good call for themselves, or maybe they didn't want the other kids to know that they didn't get one.

Students stayed after school today to work on homework and several came to my room throughout the day to ask questions.

I need to make good calls home more often...

## Wednesday, March 8, 2017

### Day 125: Ups and Downs

I was on fire today.  This may or may not have been a good thing, but it was true.  I was in full-on high-energy "let's bang out this content" mode.

We went through examples quickly and I wrote a ton of notes on the board. We didn't have much downtime and, it appeared, that this was beneficial for the kids.

Without the opportunity to lose focus, they did an excellent job of answering my questions and making connections with prior content.

The level of participation was also excellent.  Kids who usually chat were too busy taking notes and the kids who are usually bored with the pace were pleased and involved.

Several kids said "can we have class like this every day?"

I was very pleased with this!  And then I received and angry email from a parent and my head went spiraling down.

I thought back to the kids who loved the way class went today and it sort of broke my heart a bit.

I've been struggling to move my classroom out of the box, away from the traditional model of "here are some problems. Let's do a few together, then you do some."

I know there is resistance to change and that's normal.  Perhaps my problem is that I tried to change too much too quickly?

125 days into the year with this new district and I feel as though I'm starting to get a handle on what the kids need.  I'm just not sure yet how to get them there.

Yesterday, a student told my colleague that I never teach.  Last Thursday a student said I was the best teacher she'd ever had.  Monday, a student said that he likes my class because it helps him to feel smart.  Last year, I had two students in the same class tell me that I never teach and I teach everything.

One parent has demanded to see my qualifications to teach their child, while another sent me an email thanking me for the amazing impact that I had on their child.

I'm trying.  I'm trying so hard to be the teacher that my students need.  So often, however, the teacher they need isn't the teacher they want.  I know I won't be able to make everyone happy.  There will always be students and parents who disagree with my methods and ideology.

I will never stop trying.  I'm not perfect today, but I hope I'm better today than I was yesterday.

Tomorrow, I'll be even better!

## Friday, March 3, 2017

### Day 122: Loose Lips

I've been slacking.  I've skipped more blog posts in the past three weeks than in the last three years combined.  I have no excuses save laziness.

When I was in 7th or 8th grade, I cried a lot.  I cried when I was younger too, but I have many visceral memories of my Middle School and the specific places where I shed tears.  I cried at school dances when I couldn't gather the courage to ask my crush to dance.  I cried on the field when I was last one to finish my mile in gym.  I cried on the floor outside of classrooms when I was embarrassed for acting out.

I cried in the gifted office when my grades started to slip because I wasn't doing my assignments.  I didn't care much about my grades any more than other kids did.  I cared about not getting in trouble for my grades.

I was worried about facing my parents and so, in true middle school fashion, I wound myself up to a fever pitch and found myself sitting in the gifted office, crying.

This incident sticks out in my mind because of what I said.  I told the teacher in the room that if I told my mom about my grades, I wouldn't be able to sit down for a week.

I'm going to take the time now to say that my mother has never hit me.  I wasn't spanked growing up and came from a family who truly believed that violence wasn't the answer to problems.  My parents were not abusive in any sense of the word.  They were, however, fierce and I didn't want to feel their wrath.  I feared what My Little Pony fans know as "The Stare."

As soon as I said this, the mood in the room changed.  I had made a huge mistake and even as a stupid middle school student, I knew something was different.  It was palpable.

"Are you saying that your mother hits you?"

I began backpedaling fast enough to challenge Lance Armstrong.  I didn't fully understand the implications. but I knew that I wasn't abused and that my saying I was, or even implying it, was going to blow up MUCH bigger than I could handle.

I wasn't trying to cover anything up, other than my own insecurities.  In trying to deflect attention from my grades, I had created a much bigger problem.

I managed somehow to convince the teacher that I wasn't in fear of physical harm from my parents, and I have no idea if they even knew about this exchange, but it stayed with me in vivid detail.  I couldn't probably identify posters on the walls during that meeting.

Children don't always understand the implications of their words.  When interacting with each other, they can say and do things with minimal lasting effect, but when interacting with adults, especially adults who are specifically tasked with their safety, the rules change.

As a mandated reporter, if a student came to me with these same claims now, I would be required by law to report the incident to Child Services.  It wouldn't matter whether this child had a history of lying, or if I knew for a fact that the event had no happened.  The law requires me to report it.

Failure to do so would put my job and career in jeopardy.

If I had not changed my statement to something truthful, I could have severely impacted many different lives, including my own.  I do not believe that most students are aware of the grave implications that come with casual accusations.

We need kids to be safe.

We need kids to be believed when they speak up about abuse.

But this means that we need to be having conversations with them about the implications of their statements.  They need to understand that their words have consequences.

## Monday, February 27, 2017

### Day 118: Presentations

For the last few weeks, my Integrated Math Class has been working on a business development project.  There were several mileposts that they needed to hit, such as creating letterhead, writing job descriptions and creating a business plan.

Today began Shark Tank style presentations.  One group at a time will present their work to the class as though speaking to investors.  Presentation order is chosen randomly each day so everyone had to be ready to present today.

The students in the audience were told to ask questions the investors would ask and the presenters needed to be ready to answer legitimate questions.

The first group did an incredible job on their presentation but fell a bit short on the Q&A afterwards.  I thanked them for being willing to be the first ones to present and said that if they wanted, they could use the critique that I gave them and the feedback from the other students, revise their presentation and go again at the end of the week.

I pointed out to the rest of the students the great aspects of the presentation, as well as areas for improvement and told them to keep them in mind when doing their own presentations.

We had an interesting discussion about the types of questions they would need to be able to answer to possible investors.
 "Sure, your ROI looks promising, but do I get free tattoos for my investment?"

It was also eye-opening to see how teenagers viewed the salary requirements for their potential employees.

"We require a college degree" was often followed by "minimum wage."  I reminded them that they should be calling around to comparable businesses for market research.

I haven't been feeling well for the past week or so.  When I'm under the weather, my patience with my students seems to increase exponentially.  It could be that my quiet tone inspires students to try a little harder, leaving me less frustrated and creating a positive feedback loop.

It could also be that I don't have the energy to fight.

Either way, I've been teaching quietly for the last week and more questions are being asked and more content is being covered.

I'm going to chug a bottle of Nyquil and go to bed...

## Thursday, February 23, 2017

### Day 116: Math Team

Yesterday, I took a group of juniors and seniors to the regional Math League competition.  It was an interesting experience and it was nice to be able to spend time with a group of kids with whom I don't normally interact.

When I returned to my own classes near the end of the day, I presented a few of the problems to my 8th graders.

"There are 78 kids in a class.  41 take French, 22 take German, 9 take both.  How many kids don't take a language?"

"Starting at Point A, how many different paths are there through points B and C, returning to A?  You can only use each path once and go through each point once."

They ate it up.

**working hard**
"Is it 6??"
"No."
**goes back to working hard**

Two kids were so into it, that they came to school early today to work on it.

One kid asked for the answer and the rest nearly killed him.  They wanted to figure it out on their own.

"What's the difference between this and the stuff we do normally?"
"The normal stuff is boring."

## Tuesday, February 21, 2017

### Day 114: Tone

Not all of my students understand my humor.  This has always been true and, I think, it could easily be argued that I'm not funny.

Since I began teaching in 2004, my humor and tone have occasionally put me in hot water to greater or lesser degrees.  I started my career with the idea that if they didn't get my humor, that's on them.  If they were upset by the things that I said, that was their problem.  I knew what I meant and I never intended to upset any students.  They shouldn't be so sensitive.  Give me a break!

Over the years, however, and over the course of many conversations with other educators, I no longer feel this way.

Yes, I still believe that some students can be overly sensitive and can often read way too much into the actions and words of other people.

The difference now is that I realize it doesn't matter.  Intentions are important, but not nearly as much as so impact.  If a student is upset by the things that I may say or do, I need to examine what I'm saying and doing.

That may involve having conversations with them to determine WHY they felt the way that they did, allowing each of us to explain our feelings.

It is never my intent to make students uncomfortable, but I do try to push them out of their comfort zones.

I think there is a VERY strange and difficult balance to be struck between safety and comfort.

No one learns to be a great swimmer by staying in the shallow end.

I don't want to be a drill sergeant, but I also don't want to coddle.

Communication must be the bridge.

Now, to figured out how to take my default tone setting off of "Sarcastic"...

## Tuesday, February 14, 2017

### Day 111: In Defense of Speed

Add another entry to the Book of  Regrettable Sentences:

"I don't care how quickly you solve the problem as long as you understand what's going on and can explain it."

So much of my educational career has been spent swinging back and forth between sides of pedagogical theory that you'd think I would be used to it by now.

"Homework in vital in mathematics because it provides necessary practice" became "homework is awful because the kids don't do it and it only furthers their dislike of mathematics" before moving towards "homework should be limited to extensions of class material" and currently residing somewhere around "I don't usually assign homework because it doesn't fit into my grading scheme."

I think there is something valuable about speed in mathematics.  Being able to do calculations quickly provides a certain level of confidence in students, especially those who have trouble distinguishing between mathematics and calculation.  All too often, speed is equated to ease.  I think the reality is that speed is much more correlated with familiarity, which breeds comfort.  I want my students to be comfortable with the mathematics that we're doing in class.

Growing up, my mother frequently told me that if I had spent half as much effort working on something as I did trying to get out of it, I would be able to accomplish great things.  I didn't fully believe this until I became a teacher and had children of my own.

"If you would take more than one toy at a time, you would have been done by now and on to something else."

Today's class was a practice day.  There were 7 single-step inequalities for students to solve and graph and I let them use the whiteboards.

I was stunned by the amount of time that they spent copying the problem, erasing, recopying, changing marker colors, erasing again, perfecting the spacing of their number lines, modifying the arrows on the ends and recopying the problem, all before they even began to work on the task.

This was consistent throughout the classes, with very few exceptions.

I was concerned that this stemmed from lack of understanding about the problem, so I pulled the class back together, and had a student tell me what to write.  I offered no insights and only asked clarifying questions.  The student did an excellent job on the problem and the class followed it well and was able to explain what she was doing.

When I sent them back to the boards, however, they once again drifted off into the nether.  They know how to do the work and, when they focus, they do it well.

So here's the problem:

Letting them work at their own pace isn't working.  Their testudinal movement has the effect making them think that the problems and tasks are MUCH more complicated than they are.

"That one problem took us 5 minutes to do and we're supposed to do 10 of them! I'll never get done. I might as well not try."

When I set time limits, I frequently get students who don't even glance at the task, but instead wait patiently for someone else to do it.  Again, I see this not as lack of understanding, but lack of confidence.

"It's going to take me longer to get started than he's giving us to work on it."

A few years ago, I worked with a teacher who used 3rd and 4th grade speed math sheets as his warm-ups in 9th grade.  Students came into class, left them face down on their desks until he said go.  They then had to complete the page as quickly as possible.

I worried about this at the time, being concerned that kids who finished last would think they couldn't do it.  Now, I'm thinking that having these be low level problems, such as single digit multiplication, addition or subtraction, may help students practice fluency.

It's something I'll have to mull over.

## Monday, February 13, 2017

### Day 110: Back

I have missed a few days of writing.  I just haven't felt up to it.  Between the political nonsense that has become public discourse and the stress of trying sell our home while trying to find a new one, I've been a bit distracted.

I'm getting back into it!

The Pre-Algebra students took an assessment on Friday about graphing linear equations.  The questions looked like:

Here's an equation. Graph it.

Is this proportional? How do you know?

What values of x make this statement true?

Some of the students did very well, while others did not.

What struck me as particularly frustrating was how several answers were either on the board or on the test itself and still came in as incorrect.

Today, I handed back the quizzes as well as blank copies for everyone.  We went over each problem together while I talked about common mistakes that I saw and how they could be avoided in the future.

I also made it clear to them that if they wanted to reassess, they would need to complete the practice pages that we've worked on together, but that many students have neglected to complete.

In discussions with other teachers about what exactly happened, I've come to conclusion that we are WAY too compartmentalized.

We've been talking very heavily about Skills X, Y and Z.  When I ask them about Skill T, they forget everything that we've discussed about that one and try to apply the process/vocabulary from Skills X, Y and Z.  For example, on previous assessments, when discussing triangles, they often brought up parallel lines unbidden.  Now, in dealing with graphing linear equations, several mentioned similar triangles.

The curriculum that we're using has a tendency (which I love) to go back and build new concepts on older ones.  There is much less traditional practice and many more cognitive tasks.  The kids are REALLY not used to this, even after all of this time.

I anticipate that there will be a HUGE rush for reassessments from September when we get closer to June.

## Tuesday, February 7, 2017

### Day 106: Despair?

I want my students to succeed.

I want them to discover what makes them happy and to follow that happiness.  I truly believe that education, whether formal or informal, opens doors to the world.

A common complaint that I have heard from numerous students is that they don't feel as though education is important because they aren't going to be able to escape the small town where they live.

If you believe you are destined to be a manager at the local supermarket, it's very difficult to justify putting full effort into your chemistry class.  I don't blame them at all.  There are those who "escaped" but there are many who stay, either by choice or for lack of options.  A large percentage of the teachers are either alumni or have lived in the town for decades.  While it's not universal, it's very obvious to see why so many students think so.

How do I tell my students, many of whom are low-income, that if they work hard and set their minds to a task, they can accomplish their goals?  How do I tell that they won't be out-maneuvered for a job they want by someone who is unqualified just because they person is rich or knows the right people?

How I continue to believe that we are meritocracy?

I continue to hope.

I continue to push them to be better tomorrow than they are today.

I continue to help them improve because I don't just want a better tomorrow for them, I want a better tomorrow.

I continue to question and to seek.

I remind myself that I know in my heart that this is what I'm supposed to be doing.

I don't have millions of dollars to give to political campaigns, but I have a classroom.  I have a doorway to the future and I help the children under my care to walk through it.

Some will go on to college and some won't.

Some will have jobs they love and some won't.

Some will be happy.

Some will move away.

Some will plant roots right where they are.

I will not despair, I will not give up and I will not give in.

Over the course of my teaching career, I will have 4000 students who will go into the world, both near and far and will pay forward the lessons that I teach them.  Every one of their lives will be different because I am in it.  Every life they touch in turn will be changed as well.

My power is exponential.

I am a Teacher and I shape the future.

## Friday, February 3, 2017

### Day 104: ReCoop

Yesterday was a bad day.  It was the worst I've had in a while.  I extracted myself from people, did 7.5 miles on the elliptical, got a salad, read a book and went to bed by 8:30.

Today was MUCH better.  My lessons went well and the kids were much more on the ball.

In addition to all of this, I (and the other teachers) have noticed a HUGE positive difference with the student for whom I made the Progress Monitoring Sheet this week.  The student has been proudly showing the positive notes that have been left on the sheet and I'm doing everything I can to positively reinforce the behavioral change.

I'm very ready for the weekend.

I'm going to be a good liberal by getting bottles on wine and writing letters to my legislators.

## Thursday, February 2, 2017

### Day 103: Step Back

I'm not a fan of February.

I need to take a few steps back from my classes.  I'm finding myself snapping at them  and getting frustrated about lack of progress.  My frustration is not solidifying in a productive way.

Here are some things that I'm finding frustrating and concerning and am unable to figure out how to fix:

1) After 103 days of reading the Pledge to Improved Mathematics daily, the number of students who have them memorized is in the single digits.  This doesn't particularly annoy me, but I find it frustrating because I think it's an indicator of deeper issues.  Repeating something verbatim for 4 months should produce  memorization.

2) I ask Question A and several of the students answer Question D.  "Tell me what you notice about the angles of the intersection" received a reply of "the line go off the side of the graph."  While this is accurate, it's not what I asked about.  I have been putting considerable work into my questioning technique and feel as though I've made drastic improvements.  My questions are designed to foster synthesis of ideas and push student thinking is certain directions.  I attempt to lead down a certain path, nudging students towards the information that I want them to discover without actually presenting it.

What I'm finding is that their distraction means that they either don't notice the things that I'm asking them to notice or they are unable to understand the meaning of what they've noticed.

"Tell what you notice about the angles at the intersection."
"The lines go off the side."
"They meet at the same point."
"Yes, that's what an intersection is. What about the angles?"
"One line goes up and the other goes down."
"That's true, so what do you notice about where they intersect?"
"The one goes off the edge of the graph and the other stays near the bottom."

I'm trying very hard not to scream in frustration and I'm failing more often than I care to admit.

When I asked a student to read something off of the board today, they looked at the board and read a series of words that were not there.  This student can read, does so frequently and well.  However, immediately after my rant about how they don't read the directions, I asked someone to read the directions and they didn't.

3) I seem to be completely unable to get them to understand how Point 1 and Point 2 can be used to discover Point 3.  I also can't seem to get them to understand that when they are confused about Question 4, to look back at Question 1.

I'm sure I have a more eloquent way to put this, but I'm exhausted, partially from this situation and partially from the various issues that have come from the White House.

Roller skating tonight. I'm going to take headphones to drown out the tweeny-bopper pop music crap and maybe I'll feel better.

## Tuesday, January 31, 2017

### Day 101: Progress Monitoring

We had a 2-hour delay, so all of the classes were shortened to about 30 minutes.  The sense of urgency, interestingly, made everyone more relaxed and productive.

I had a prolonged conversation with the parent of a student about how their child is struggling greatly with completing assignments, being productive in class and is frequently distracting to other students.  The parent was just as much at a loss as I was, so I made a suggestion.  I was concerned that the pressure coming from the parent was WAY too long term for the child to truly understand.

"I keep telling (child) that (he/she) isn't going to get into college with (her/his) grades as they are."

This kid is in 7th grade.  I suggested that we focus on something a little more immediate.

In my previous district, there were several students who used daily progress monitoring sheets.  These sheets were quick checklists that needed to be filled out in each period and turned in to the parent at the end of the day.

The parent in this case seemed to think that this was a good thing for us to try.

I quickly composed a sheet and spoke with the other teachers about what they felt should be included.  I printed it out and handed copies to the student's homeroom teacher to hand out each morning.  I contacted the rest of the teachers on this students roster and told them to keep an eye out for the paper until the student gets used to using it.

Rather than punishing a student, rather than yelling, screaming or humiliating them, if I can find a way to help them succeed, I have to try it.

## Monday, January 30, 2017

### Day 100: Like Sounds Through The Hourglass

I don't think I'm cut out for teaching afternoon classes.  By the time my 7th period comes in, I'm ready to go home.  I hate what a disservice this does to those kids, many of whom have special needs and would greatly benefit from extra attention.

Their need, my exhaustion all grouped together with the fact that I still am not sure how to deal with the maturity level of 7th graders means that I'm not the teacher that I should be.  I find myself getting annoyed VERY easily by things at which I would laugh earlier in the day.

I need to have some conversations with my colleagues about how to combat this.  Perhaps we need to devise different activities for the afternoon group.

Maybe I should just ask them to come in earlier...
 "Yes, Trevor, but if you could answer a little more quietly, that would be sublime."

## Friday, January 27, 2017

### Day 99: Graph Theory

Yesterday, the Pre-Algebra students did some practice problems dealing with the graphing of linear equations.  We went over how to pick values, plug them in, find coordinates and graph the line.  I tossed the equations into Desmos for them to check.

Today, I put up two equations at a time and asked them to make observations.

All 3 sections pretty quickly noticed that the equations all ended in numbers and the lines intersected the y-axis at that number.

"Do you think this is a coincidence, or do you think it will work for all of them?  According to your theory, where will this one hit?"

Through the power of Desmos, I was able to hide and show various equations to test their theory.

"What else do you notice? How could we describe how these lines look?"

We had a lengthy discussion about positive and negative slope and what that means.  We talked about the implications of the number in front of the x in the equation and what happens to the line as that number changes.

There were some EXCELLENT questions that I wasn't quite ready to answer that involved the nature of vertical and horizontal lines.

"If the slope gets higher as the number gets bigger, would a vertical line be one where that number is infinity?"

Heck yes, kid!

I didn't ask them to produce anything but their thoughts and they came through amazingly well.

## Wednesday, January 25, 2017

### Day 97: A Passing

At the end of the day yesterday, the music teacher in our district collapsed.  By dinner, we had been notified that he had passed away.

The mood at school today was somber.  Personally, I didn't know the man.  I knew who he was to say hi, but we had never had a conversation.

I did what I could to make a space for my students to experience and express their emotions as they saw fit.

"You are allowed to be sad.  You are allowed to be angry.  You are allowed to not be either of those.  He was a member of this community and a part of your lives to varying degrees for many years.  I'm going to have some assignments available today not because I'm glossing over this tragedy, but because some people will require normalcy.  If you don't feel up to doing it, I completely understand."

A student came in this morning to express guilt that she felt because she hadn't wished him a good morning in the hall and now she never could.

Another was going to stay home, but wanted to come in because she knew I would worry about her.  She was right.

Another was in the room when he collapsed and stayed with him while other students went to get help.  Her guilt is about not having been able to do more.

"I thought I had saved him."

For many of these students, this was the first person who died that they knew personally.  It was real to them in ways that movies and the news can be.

I tried to make today as easy for them as possible, while still remembering that we must always be moving forward.

## Tuesday, January 24, 2017

### Day 96: Talking

One pre-algebra student did their homework.

In three sections of pre-algebra, a single student did their homework.

One.

Uno.

Ninety-nine fewer than one hundred.

One.

I didn't yell and I didn't scream.

I expressed disappointment at the lack of effort.  I received several "I wasn't here" and "I didn't know what to do."

I did the homework.  I did all of it.  I did all five problems that were on the homework.

I did them in painstaking detail, verbally explaining my thinking and reasoning for every step that I took.  I went through the process of what I do when I don't know how to solve a problem.  I flipped back through my book to the previous exercise where we had gone over just this material.  I drew diagrams for the fractions and used the scale balance to solve equations.  I skipped no steps and even explored some methods that didn't work.

I modeled the behavior that I wanted to see from them.  I modeled the tactics and strategies that I wanted to see.

Most of them watched and wrote down what I was doing.  A few asked clarifying questions, which I happily answered, but I made it clear that I wasn't looking for input from them on process or procedure.  This is what working out a problem looks like.

Their process may be different, but it must exist.

At the end of class, they gathered their things, said goodbye and left.

Perhaps we will have to have a few days of "just watch."

Doing work shouldn't be a punishment, but maybe having to watch me do work should be.

## Monday, January 23, 2017

### Day 95: Non-Post

I've skipped writing twice in the past week and almost skipped today.  I'm not feeling very motivated to write and not feeling as though there is much to say.

I'm finding myself more and more accepted by the students and faculty in the small community that has become my professional home.  I truly enjoy the company of my coworkers and find that several idea that I have are taking hold.

I expect that Standards Based Grading will be much more common in the next year or so and the growing pains of my teaching style and questioning tactics will wear off.

I have a post brewing in me dealing with organization and another about politics and "alternative facts", but they haven't formed yet.

More later.

## Thursday, January 19, 2017

### Day 93: The Boardroom

Every once in a while, everything falls into place.  I've been struggling lately with getting kids to work together in a productive way.  I have tried groups, pairs and individual work.  I have given them seat work, board work, handouts and manipulatives.

Some of these work some of the time.  Sometimes, the method that worked yesterday won't work tomorrow.

Sometimes the method that worked in 2nd period won't work in 5th.

It's part of the nature of education.  It's not good enough to have a good lesson.  It's not enough to have a GREAT lesson.  Great lessons can flop if the sky is slightly cloudy or the new Jay-Z album dropped the night before.

At the same time, a crap lesson that's been thrown together at the last second can go amazingly well for no reason at all.

Today, I thought I had possibly a crap lesson.  My plan was to have today be a practice day as transition from one section to another.

"I'd like you to work on page 51 in your workbook.  I'll be walking around if you have any questions!"

I told them they could use the whiteboards around the room or write on the desks if they wanted.

And a miracle happened!

They worked.

Not just some of them.

Every.
Single.
Kid.
In.
Every.
Single.
Class!

 It's true, award winning actor Tommy Lee Jones!
Well, 95%, but I'm not splitting hairs!

I'm going to try this more often.  The next time that it fails, someone remind me of today.

## Wednesday, January 18, 2017

### Day 92: Roles

Is the role of the teacher to do what is best for students, or to do will of the parents and community they serve?

Ideally, these should be the same and you will never find a group that says "I don't care about truth! Make my child into a servant."

Everyone wants what is best for kids, but there are often disagreements on what that means.

Parents entrust us with the safety, security and education of their children.  We, in turn, utilize that trust to do what we think is best.

When parents and teachers disagree on what is best for students and what should or should not be taught in the classroom, whose thoughts and ideas take priority?

I struggle with this both as a teacher (because I know what's best for my students) and as a parent (because I know what's best for my children.)

There have been many times when my children have come home from school and tell me about activities that I don't think are necessarily appropriate for a public secular school.  There haven't been any hills yet on which I've been willing to die, but I'm sure there will be.

Good advice from my own mother about these issues boiled down to "you don't want to be THAT parent" and "the school system never forgets the kids with the parents who are a pain in the ass."

I know that both of these things are true and they have certainly swayed my thinking multiple times when I have considered contacting the teacher.

In the 272 days that my children have been enrolled in public school, I have not once called to complain, or even express concern, about things that have irked me.

Go me!
 "Thanks! I'll add this my wall of medals!"

The opposing philosophy is that "the squeaky wheel gets the grease."  If you see something going wrong and say nothing, you are culpable in that problem.

The education of children needs to be a partnership between the students, the parents and the teachers.  All three groups have to work together to determine the needs of each student and how best to meet them.

However, as I have thought previously, we don't ever seem to have the discussion about school in general, why we send kids there and what it means to be successful.

This was never more in the forefront of my mind that last night, while watching a woman with no experience in public education claim that she would be the best at running public education.

When disagreements arise between all of the interested parties, whose voice is supposed to come out on top?

Surely not the student because kids don't know what's good for them.
Surely not the parent because parents don't understand the nuances of pedagogy.
Surely not the teacher because 40 minutes a day in a class of 30 isn't enough to know what someone truly needs.

All I know is that I will continue to do what I think is best for my students in both the short term and the long term.  I know that I'm going to make mistakes and I look forward to learning from them to be better in the future.  I will continue to try to make myself available to any students, teachers, parents, administrators who wish to have a discussion about my methods and goals.

I am willing and eager to learn.

I want to hear all voices.

But, maybe not all at once...
Also, there's no need to shout. I'm right here.

## Friday, January 13, 2017

### Day 90: Outside Feedback

My co-teacher was out today.  The woman who was her substitute is a certified elementary teacher.  She was in my room for one section each of Math 7 and Pre-Algebra at the end of the day and was able to observe me teaching two VERY different groups.

After class, she commented on how I focused on question asking instead of question answering.  I was more concerned with getting the students to use the proper vocabulary and express their thinking that I was about them getting the correct answer.

She spoke about the rapport that I had built with the students and how they seemed to know what to expect from me.  While they were talkative and energetic, they were engaged and participating (sometimes a bit too much.)

After class, she expressed concerns as a mother and teacher about how many students are used to worksheets and not having to think critically.  She told me about the differences between her own children and how their needs are so amazingly different.

She also observed the interesting phenomenon that was my students having difficulty following a chain of questions.

**spend 20 minutes talking about indirect measurement to measure a flagpole**
Me: "How might we measure how high the school is?"
Them: "Take a tape measure up to the roof? Ask the principal? Look up the blueprints? Google it?"

It was incredibly fascinating to hear this perspective from someone coming in, knowing the community but not knowing me or my teaching.  She expressed her appreciation for my questions to my students and my lesson.

She said she thought I would be a good elementary school teacher.

I laughed.

In addition to her, one of my senior students spent her study hall in my Math 7 class.  She also spoke about how she loved how passionate I was about my content and about engaging my students.  She took a video and sent it to her cousin with the tag "Best teacher ever!"

She and I have been talking about pedagogy since she plans to become a teacher.

She left me a little note before she went back to class.

I started this blog because I wasn't getting external feedback on my teaching.  I think the nature of where I'm working now is starting to make the blog itself superfluous.

## Thursday, January 12, 2017

Most of my day was spent grading skill assessments and reassessments.  I'm always amazed and baffled by a students choice to either reassess a skill or not.

Several students had 2 skills that weren't perfect scores and decided to reassess those, while others had multiple F's and decided that their scores were good enough.

Some picked a single skill to work on and improve while others grabbed a reassessment for every single one without even seeing what their previous scores were.

Some worked hard for the entire period while others stared into space for 30 minutes, then told me that they didn't get a chance to finish.

I have a group of students with extremely diverse needs.

## Wednesday, January 11, 2017

### Day 88: Almost Halftime

Tomorrow is the last day of the marking period.  Today, I showed the students my massive spreadsheet with all of their Standards-Based grades.  We will be doing reassessments on any skills they want, dating all the way back to the beginning of the year.

"Here's the deal for today. First, identify the skills that you want to reassess. Next, find which sections in the book correspond to those skills.  I've put a list on the board so if you look at the skill, you can find where the practice can be found.  If you have any questions or would like to go over anything, I'm here and happy to help."

I also told them that I thought they would be shocked to go back to stuff from the beginning of the year and see how easy it seems.  The bleeding edge of learning should always be difficult, but looking back, the path should be clear.

The majority of the students today took advantage of the time to look back over older sections and agreed that it looked super easy.  Hopefully, they will utilize the time well and be ready for tomorrow.

In unrelated news, one of the other teachers decorated the hallway in honor of the upcoming Steelers game.

She asked if I was a Steelers fan and when I said I wasn't into sports, she made me my own sign.

I love my coworkers.

## Tuesday, January 10, 2017

### Day 87: The Pacemakers

Last year, the math teachers in my department chose a new curriculum and text book series for the 7th and 8th grade math classes.  They picked the Big Ideas Math series and I heartily agree with the choice.
 "In this version, all the word problems are about surfing and redwood trees."

Instead of a traditional workbook full of repetitive practice problems, the accompanying student workbook is filled with activities, probing questions and a small number of practice problems that allow students to apply the concepts.

Each section begins with an introductory activity that is frequently hands-on.  In the last section of Pre-Algebra, where we explored the internal angles of a triangle, the activity asked the students to draw a triangle, cut it out, tear of the angles, put them together and make an observation.

Now that we've moved on from internal to external angles, today, the students were asked to work with a partner to do something similar.

Draw a pentagon with extended sides
Label the external angles
Cut out the external angles
Put the external angles together and make and observation
Repeat with a hexagon and an octagon
 The white pieces can pull off so I can put them together on the board!

It didn't go as I would have hoped.

After the activity (as much as we completed) we had  discussion about managing class and group time.

Many of the partner groups did excellent work and came close to finishing, while others had to be reminded multiple times to get back on task.  Even the groups who worked well had difficulty working at an acceptable pace.  I'm not sure how to attribute this issue with speed.  For some, it's simply a matter of not doing the tasks, but for others, they are so scared of doing it wrong and having to start over that they move extra slowly to prevent mistakes.

Interestingly, this only decreases the number of mistakes because fewer tasks have been accomplished on which to make those mistakes.  The percentage of mistakes remains unchanged.

The activities and problems are age/grade appropriate but are still taking too long.

So we talked.

I told them that I want them working in groups because they learn much better when they teach and learn from each other.  At the same time, they are much more attentive to the tasks when they are working individually or when I'm giving direct instruction.

I can't even count the number of times I've written that last paragraph.  I suspect that means it's a larger issue than just these kids in this class.

## Monday, January 9, 2017

### Day 86: New Beginnings

Today wasn't the best.  My patience has been wearing thin with what may be age-appropriate behavior.  I need to find a new way to deal with the students who are distracting everyone around them.

New seats will be assigned tomorrow.

Overall, I'm VERY pleased with how the classes have been responding to the lessons over the last week.  I've included more direct instruction and practice, but I'm tweaking my questions.  I'm not asking for answers as much as I'm asking for methods.

I'm making a conscious effort to point out when kids give good explanations and I'm trying to probe their reasoning to make sure their answers are coincidence.

While I enjoy using direct instruction because of the story-telling opportunities that it affords me, I do find it exhausting.  This is due, in no small part, to my deep desire to have the kids explore their learning rather than just listening to me.

But we do what needs must.

The integrated math class received their next project today.  I found a "Design a Business" project online and adapted it to my kids.  It's excellently broken down into smaller tasks, each with its own rubric.  I need to be very conscious of being on them for this project or, I fear, we will fall into the same trap that we did last time.

I was not as ready to return from this past weekend as I was from break.  My daughter had bad dreams last night so I didn't get to sleep as much as I would have liked.

I did, however, get a chance to do a little more turning.

## Friday, January 6, 2017

### Day 85: Crash and Burn

"It's not you, it's me.  I think you're great and you'll make some project very happy some day.  I wish you nothing but the best.  We did try to give it an honest shot and it could have been great, but it just wasn't our time."

I feel like I broke up with my 3rd period today.

They were to give progress presentations on the greenhouse project today.  Some of the groups did very well.  Some did very poorly and I couldn't actually tell what they had done between the last progress presentation and today.  Unfortunately, the groups who had the greatest difficulty were the ones that needed to be on point.

Some of the groups devolved into individuals working on disparate aspects and refusing to collaborate.  In a few cases, group members actively undid the work of each other.

When I asked the other teachers about what happened, nothing that I told them surprised them.

As a result, I have called off the final phase of the project.

Sadly, we won't be building a greenhouse this year.

Perhaps I set my sights too high and was simply unprepared to take on a project of this magnitude.  I made corrections from the first time I attempted it and tried to compartmentalize the assignments.  Unfortunately, it meant that some aspects were awesome while others were simply not done.

The work seemed too daunting for a small group to do, but with the large group working on it, it became unwieldy and not quite feasible.

All of the other classes, however, are going incredibly well!

The Math 7 kids are doing an amazing job with the algebra tiles and seem to enjoy using them.

The pre-algebra class is moving along nicely as well.  Thanks to my new amazing hoodie from my mom, I spent almost all day talking about the Fibonacci sequence and the places where it appears in nature.

"Mr. Aion, how do they get the pineapples to grow like that?"
"They don't! They just grow that way and we figured out the math behind it! Math is the language that we use to understand the universe."
"I thought that was science."

"...I suppose that too."

## Thursday, January 5, 2017

### Day 84: Persistence

For the last 84 days, and for all of the 2014-2015 school year, I've had my students recite the Pledge to Improved Mathematics to start class.  It's used to ground the class in the principals that drive instruction and learning and give students a better understanding of what I'm looking for in their work.
I often refer to these in class, asking a student to read a specific practice so that I can make a point about goals and purpose.

In Math 7 today, I put a series of problems up on the boards scattered around the room and had students complete them, either alone or with a partner.  They were to use algebra tiles to represent the numbers and variables, displaying them in  way that made their work clear to the rest of the class.  Students selected which problems they wanted to work on and went to it.

Some of them did an excellent job and some needed a bit of guidance, but all of them worked incredibly well.

When we began going over the problems as a group, there was one student who hadn't finished.  Indeed, that student had barely gotten started.

Except that wasn't exactly true.  During the work time, I watched as that student started the problem, then erased it and started over several times.  That student stood, looking at the work, counting tiles and thinking before trying again from the beginning.

By the time the rest of us were ready to go over the problems, this student had only just completed the diagram of the set-up.  When it was time for them to present, they said they hadn't finished and I praised them to roof.

"What I absolutely love is that even though you didn't finish the problem, you worked on it the entire time.  I watched you check your work and start over several times.  You may have been confused and frustrated, but you never gave up one it.  Read me Number 1, please."
"I can solve problems without giving up."
"Exactly! The 'solve problems' part is MUCH less important that the 'without giving up' problem.  Anyone can keep working if the work is going well, but it takes much more effort to keep working when it's going poorly.  I can't even express how proud I am of you!"

This is a student who is very distant in class and frequently expresses negative self-talk, using words like "stupid" and "dumb."  I address this talk whenever I hear it, but it's much more difficult to get inside a student head and make corrections there.  This praise was authentic and important.  I wanted to make it incredibly clear to this student, as well as everyone else in the class, that the first Standard of Mathematical Practice is, by far, the most important factor to success.

In Pre-Algebra, we continued our work on the angles associated with triangles, both interior and exterior.  Today's activity involved the students using a protractor to measure those angles.

I made a smart choice to give a brief tutorial in how to use a protractor and saved myself incredible frustration in teaching them individually.

I may actually be learning something about how to teach!