It’s hard to feel that joyous at 6:10 AM, waiting for the bus in the dark. This is the first full five day week in three weeks, so I’m a little tired. I am looking forward to the weekend, but I am attending a full day restorative justice training tomorrow (Saturday), so I won’t be sleeping in for another day or two. I’m also feeling the hint of a scratchy throat and post nasal drip, and hoping that the extra vitamins and Airborne I downed this morning keep the threatening cold at bay; hopefully the momentum and energy of the day will push me past it.
The nice thing about commuting this early in the morning is that it’s quiet and quick. (I’m actually the only one on the bus for the first few stops.)I see the same group of 4 women taking their daily walk around the park at 6:15 AM; I’ve seen them every day for the last 5 years, and know the bus is right behind them. I sort of envy their ritual and imagine how much of each other’s lives they’ve shared in this early morning trek. Then again, they’re getting up before 6 am when they don’t have to, so maybe envy isn’t the right feeling. 😜
I’m always amazed at how much is already happening at school when I arrive at 6:45. I eat breakfast at my desk and open up my lesson for algebra two. I’m introducing quadratic inequalities today, and I am nervous. My department tends to teach this topic in a completely procedural manner, and I am determined to get the children some conceptual understanding before we go into procedure. I’m borrowing an idea from Sam Shah, but I don’t really have the time to go through his entire excellent exploration. I decide to use a demonstration on Desmos; the students can open the calculator on their phones, and do the exploration along with me. First we have to review compound linear inequalities, and I know from experience, that even though they have seen these in middle school and Algebra 1, for many children, it will be as if this is a brand new topic this morning. Knowing that they need to understand linear any qualities before we even approach quadratic inequalities makes me nervous; given our departmental pacing calendar, I don’t have time to spend a whole period on this introduction. I also know, that if I don’t make sure everyone is familiar with linear inequalities, that I will lose one third of the class when we move onto quadratics. This push-pull between the pacing calendar and the realities of my students’ proficiency informs most of my instruction. It’s 30 minutes to showtime, so I’m off to set up my classroom.
My first 2 classes were back-to-back sections of Algebra 2, ‘gifted’ track; I was spontaneously observed during the first class, which of course meant that the SmartBoard wasn’t working properly. The display was functional, however, so all was not lost. We began with this warm-up, and things went as I predicted. Most of the students were comfortable with the first two problems, many were not with the second pair. As they worked and conferred with one another, I asked students to put some correct and incorrect work on the board (I thanked the students who were putting incorrect work on the board, and told them that they were giving the class the opportunity to look at a common error). We did a lot of noticing and wondering, and then moved on to some purely algebraic examples, which served to surface further questions, such as ‘Does the variable always need to be on the left?’ and ‘Do we read the inequality from left to right or right to left?’. All great questions which reflect conceptual misunderstandings that should be corrected before we go further.
By the time we worked through the Do Now and the three examples above, and reviewed how to express the solutions in Interval and Set Builder Notation, there was barely time for independent practice, and quadratics? Hopefully on Monday. I spoke to my AP during the observation; she also teaches a section of Algebra 2 and agreed that the pacing needed to be adjusted to make sure the students were recalling all that prior knowledge we were assuming they had.
I have a break after these two classes which is supposed to be my lunch period (it’s from 9:45 to 10:30); I have a student monitor during that time who is great at sorting through paperwork, checking in homework, and running errands that would eat up the free period. Two Algebra 2 students from different sections stopped by for help with the previous night’s homework. I am always very glad to see kids with questions, and wish there were more who had the time or inclination to come ask. Quite frequently this makes the difference between moving forward with the class or getting left further behind.
After ‘lunch’ comes my daily challenge – three classes in a row: another section of Algebra 2 sandwiched in between two sections of Discrete Math. The character of the two Discrete Math sections is very different. In the first section, the attendance is healthy, as is the percentage of work submitted by students, and participation. We are in the middle of a unit on probability, and after a week of spinners and dice, we have moved on to Expected Value. It’s the first time I’ve taught this topic, and I’m enjoying it, as are the students who are allowing themselves to stay involved. Yesterday we spent the period flipping quarters and manipulating game score structures to change the expected value for each player. Today, I proposed a marble game to the students (they would pick a marble from a bag, and I would pay them a certain amount of money depending on the color), and asked the kids how much they would pay to play. (By the way, my students are very wary and kind of cheap! No gamblers here.) The kids are intrigued because the math is accessible, the topic is not hugely remote, and in fact, entertaining. Next week, we are moving on to Money Duck, which will be followed by students will be designing their own money animals. The final assessment for the unit will be a group (optional) project in which the kids design carnival games. This is not my project, and I’m not sure who created it – a quick Google search reveals the same pdf file on several websites. Here’s the version I am using (many thanks to its originator):
I am really looking forward to seeing these games.
The afternoon Algebra 2 class ran similarly to the morning sections, and my teaching day finished with my second, and more challenging, Discrete Math class. This class has lower and varying attendance; I have a group of boys who come to class intermittently, and sometimes all together. The class has five current or former English Language Learners, six students with IEPs, and many of the students (ELL/IEP or not) are not on track for graduation. There are twenty seven students on the roster, but I rarely have more than sixteen in class (except for the day I was observed, natch – how do the kids know??). Although I’m not dealing with the type of hostility I encountered last fall, there is a smarmy and somewhat sexist lack of respect coming from some of the young men which I have not yet found an effective way to counter. The content is engaging (games of chance, logic puzzles, tossing dice, flipping coins and collecting data). I’ve tried private conversations, reaching out to guidance counselors, and some phone calls home. I am avoiding involving the Dean’s office unless absolutely necessary. I realize that the problematic students are outnumbered by those who are working and engaged, but the off-task behavior seems to control the class. I’m frustrated; it’s the end of the first marking period, and we’ve got a long way to go this term. I’m contemplating individual goal-setting and contracts to start the second marking period, but have a feeling that this may not be the best strategy with 17 year olds who have not found anything worthwhile in a math classroom in quite a while. If you’ve got any ideas, I’d love to hear them.
Today is the end of the first marking period, so there was a flurry of late work submitted to my inbox. I allowed corrections on DeltaMath for the last Algebra 2 quiz; many, MANY students took advantage of this opportunity, and I have decided to give back 50% of the points. When students do corrections by retaking assessments in my presence, I usually return 100% of the points. But after a lot of thought, I decided that working through examples on a website was great practice and progress toward mastery, but not necessarily evidence of independent proficiency. It’s tricky, and not something I have done before. We don’t do standards based grading at my school, but I am a firm believer in allowing students the opportunity to take the time they need to learn. I don’t, however, have a complete structure in place, and occasionally worry that my foray into allowing corrections will backfire – it only takes one angry and vocal parent to create a problem.
It’s 3:46 P.M. – I’ve been at school for NINE HOURS. I have a pile of grading which needs to get done in time for marking period grades to be submitted early next week, and I’m still fighting my body’s urge to succumb to the cold. If I go home, get in bed, and rest for a day, I might avoid it. But the restorative justice training tomorrow beckons….
I could continue this post for the rest of my day, but I can predict what the next six hours will look like: me in pajamas, fending off kittens while I try to grade papers and sip tea. Eventually I will crash with a crossword puzzle (and I predict that the training will have to happen another time; the thought of getting sick right now NOT ALLOWED).
1) Teachers make a lot of decisions throughout the day. Sometimes we make so many it feels overwhelming. When you think about today, what is a decision/teacher move you made that you are proud of? What is one you are worried wasn’t ideal?
I think my decision to stay focused on linear inequalities and surface misconceptions was a good one; if I pushed ahead to quadratics, not only would I have lost some students content-wise, but their frustration might have farther reaching consequences beyond this lesson. And when kids come to talk to me about their homework, I know that they trust me, and care enough about the class to make sure they are keeping up.
Not ideal – I can’t seem to strike the right note with the boys that are giving me some trouble in my last class. I can feel my temperature rising with some of their rudeness, and have wished that I could say what I am thinking…not a good sign.
2) Every person’s life is full of highs and lows. Share with us some of what that is like for a teacher. What are you looking forward to? What has been a challenge for you lately?
As we shift to the Common Core standards in Algebra 2, I am committed to moving beyond procedural teaching and investing the time in looking at bigger ideas; I know I have made some concrete steps in this direction in a number of lessons, and I’m looking forward to continuing with that work. As far as challenges, I think I’ve described them pretty well in this post. It’s ongoing.
3) We are reminded constantly of how relational teaching is. As teachers we work to build relationships with our coworkers and students. Describe a relational moment you had with someone recently.
A student came up to me the day before yesterday and asked me if he could still retake the first quiz. Before I answered, he apologized for being out of it (which I hadn’t noticed; he had been participating in class), and said he had a lot going on at home. I asked him if he was okay, and he told me that his parents were splitting up. He choked up and had tears in his eyes. I felt so badly, and we talked for a few minutes. I think it’s hard for boys to be emotional like this in high school, and I’m glad he trusted me enough to reach out for help. He’s been out for the last two days, and I am concerned.
4) Teachers are always working on improving, and often have specific goals for things to work on throughout a year. What have you been doing to work toward your goal? How do you feel you are doing?
I continually try to connect with the students as the term goes on. My response to the students in my Discrete Math classes that are challenging me is more open and conciliatory than it has been in the past, despite my frustration with some of their behavior. The conversation with Damon (previous question) shows me that there ‘s so much going on with our kids that we can’t see, especially in a math classroom.
5) What else happened this month that you would like to share?
Next week the Racially Relevant Pedagogy PLT I am facilitating with Jose Vilson meets for the first time – I am nervous and excited. We had a great planning meeting last week, and I think we’re pretty good collaborators. I was also proud to have my blog post in the Math for America Teacher Voices blog a week or so ago.