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.



Ninety-nine fewer than one hundred.


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.


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.

I'm not sad about that.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Day 89: Academic Diversity

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!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Day 83: Spooning

I should probably change the title for today but I don't want to.

My co-teacher has commented that my activities in Math 7 for the last 2 days have been productive.  She says that she can see the gears working and the kids understanding the concepts.

This is spectacular!

Except that for the last few days, I've been been spoon-feeding them information and asking them to spit it back to me.  This isn't sound pedagogy and doesn't lead to long-term learning.

It is, however, a success to which I can point and say "Look how well you did on this! Let's do something a little harder."

As always, I struggle with that balance.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Day 82: Back To It

I did not dread coming to work this morning.  I didn't stay up late last night stressing about my lessons.

I didn't spend yesterday sad because break was ending.

No, I didn't WANT to get up at 4:45 this morning and sure, I would have been happy to have another day, but I was ready to start back.

I attribute this feeling to two causes:

1) I spent every moment of break doing something fun or interesting.  I spent lots of time with friends, hanging out or playing games.  I spent lots of time with my family, doing crafts or activities.  I even spent a morning with a colleague working on curriculum development so she can attempt Standards-Based Grading during this coming marking period.

I stayed up late and slept in.  I went to the gym and ate good food.

I wasn't idle.  I milked every minute of my break.

2) I don't hate my job.

I can't express how amazing this is.  I don't hate my job.  I don't feel as though my presence is superfluous.  I like my coworkers, my students, my administrators, my classes and my opportunities.

It's not perfect.  No job is perfect, but I'm happy here.

I am happy here and I am acknowledging it.

Now...to start stressing about what I'm teaching tomorrow...
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