What’s Working/What’s Not

I need to know her secret!

I need to know her secret!

I started this post last Sunday, and haven’t finished it yet.  Last night I asked Justin Aion how he manages to write so prolifically and so frequently – he told me he keeps his post open all day long and writes a bit at a time.  So it’s 7 am, it’s the last day of the fall term, and I am re-opening this post, determining to post it by the day’s end.

From Sunday: It’s 4 days from the end of the term.  I’ve been informally reflecting in my mind since we returned to school on January 5.  I am trying to be constructive with myself, and to silence those demons that Mattie B wrote about earlier in the week at Pythagoras Was a Nerd (although Vi Hart says Pythagoras was actually a crazy cult leader in this epic video) – the demons that continually point out everything that is going wrong in my classes or lacking in my practice.   Mattie says his kids are lazy, selfish and possibly stupid – well, mine are ungrateful, inattentive and rude.  And, for the most part, eminently lovable. (Last aside: recommended reading on this topic – Matt Vaudrey’s post on Stupidity and Adolescence – one of my all time faves.)

So I started a page in my planner called “What’s Not Working/How to Fix It”, with a positive section entitled “What’s Going Well/Modifications” – because nothing is ever going well ENOUGH.  I want to write some of this publicly; it will help me process, and hopefully garner a few suggestions from the Math InterBlag.

Here’s a picture of my list so far:IMG_4583 It’s not much, yet.  But it’s a start at hitting the reset button for the Spring term.

My students, particularly in my Geometry classes, lack independence.  I provide as many cues for them as I can to help them execute their jobs as students each day.  We do have a routine (Daily Quiz, notes, practice or Daily Quiz, exploration/group work/tiered practice), but for a reason which mystifies me, beyond that Daily Quiz opener, my students do not avail themselves of the tools at their disposal, i.e. agendas on the tables, directions on the board, spoken word by teacher.  I know they are checked out [until they are ready to check in], and I want to engage them more quickly, having motivated them to participate in the learning that is going on in the classroom.  (As I typed the word ‘engage’, an image of Dan Meyer popped into my head, exhorting me to PERPLEX THEM, BE LESS HELPFUL – stop boring them! [last bit was mine, not Dan’s]).  Concomitant with the mental absence from class, naturally, is the lack of deep understanding of the content.  So while I am closing out the term today, I am trying to glean some insight into my students’ perception of what’s going on, and hopefully get some constructive feedback from them.

Yesterday was a fairly terrible day – I discovered a plethora of methods students were using to copy work on a final packet – from plain old copying from the original to sharing photos of a completed packet by text, and actually transferring the information during in class in front of me.  This incensed me on so many levels, particularly in light of my school administration’s utter lack of an electronics policy.



But mostly it made me sad – very sad – because I haven’t managed to create the culture I want in my classroom, a culture in which students take pride in what they have learned, and are willing to exert some effort to practice with this newly acquired knowledge and demonstrate their geometric understanding. (Sorry – it’s been a long week – maybe geometric prowess is going a bit far.)  I can – and will – reflect on whether the assignment was appropriate for this purpose, and what its place in the course is, but the dishonesty is on the part of the children, and I saw enough of it in more than one class to know that it’s not just a couple of kids.



I’m finishing out the day and term by grading some notebooks.  I’ve got a monstrous stack of papers to go through this weekend, and I am having an internal debate on how to grade the work that I know was completed dishonestly by some percentage of the students.  At the same time, I am working on (a) ways to prevent this while still maintaining a workload that I can handle (110 individual assignments is just not feasible) and (b) assigning meaningful work (online homework is useful for some purposes, but not all).  Meanwhile, I am looking forward to reading some of their comments on the end of term course evaluation as further fuel for reflection.

Who says triangle shortcuts can't be pretty?

Who says triangle shortcuts can’t be pretty?

{I would like to note here that my participation in the#ElemMathChat and #LGBTeach chats last night, two chats in which the power of the online education community to share and support its members was fully demonstrated, restored me and my faith in why I teach.}


Ruby and her Sun Lamp

Ruby and her Sun Lamp


  1. mrdardy

    So frustrating to hear about this. You touched on something important that I am going to write about soon. The independence issue is really troubling. Several of my students in Geometry complained about a question that had multiple approaches. I told them that I was giving them some freedom and their response was that they do not want freedom, they want to just be told how to do the problems. I wonder if something similar might be driving your students to make questionable decisions. I may be being too charitable here about your students, but it does seem that it might be a conversation worth having with some of your kiddos.

    • Wendy Menard

      I know that this is the case for many of them, especially in Algebra 2, when I work with them to derive and discover formulas. What I really want to do (in the next 9 days before the the spring term begins) is to come up with some activities/routines/strategies that not only surface this issue early in the term, but also create a classroom culture in which this is the norm. Truth be told, I don’t think I became an active learner until I was in my 30’s; I wonder what other things I might have accomplished when I was a student if I had been taught that way. But when I went to school, talk and chalk was de rigueur. ‘

      Thanks for reading – I’d love to hear/read your thoughts on this topic. -WM

  2. Cleargrace

    A teacher, an administrator, and i were talking about the epic cheating, copying, sharing going on, usually right in front of us – not just at our school, but all over. Kids don’t see it as wrong. They get info all the time – internet, other students, that doesn’t seem to “belong” to anybody. They copy, appropriate, forward, share, everything can be passed forward – why not homework, test answers? Children don’t see any value in learning to do the work, so copy it because there is no need to remember it. They just want to get a passing grade. This attitude needs to be understood, so that it can be addressed. Some of it is bad, but not ALL of it. To address it in context of learning, we must first accept the reality and then use it to inform (and possibly change) the way we teach and the expectations of our students. My kids love to be good at things, to know things. They really don’t like sitting there, feeling stupid. It means i cannot stand and lecture, that i have to really listen to my students’ feedback, comments; i have to see the world, school, teachers, the way they see those things. Then my teaching can impact them. More and more, i see teaching as mentoring. As tending a garden…

  3. Wendy Menard

    I agree with you that there may be disconnect regarding the ‘copying’ of material found on line; I myself have copied images into SmartBoard files that may be under copyright protection. But copying another student’s written work is undeniably cheating. There is sharing and learning, and then there is copying without understanding, done for the purposes of turning in required work. I agree that we need to mentor students regarding integrity and honesty, and the value of the learning that comes from working through material and at this very moment, am looking for a lesson/activity/routine that can help set this tone in my classroom for the spring term. Thanks for your thoughtful input.

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