Tagged: #MTBoS

Ms. Menard and the Very Blustery Day: #DITL November 21, 2016

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This post comes to you at 6:22 AM on the first very cold and blustery day of the season.  It’s the start of the short pre- Thanksgiving week, and I am looking forward to the 4 day weekend probably as much as my students.  The harsh chill wind feels appropriate after the morning news; stories which contrast some Jewish support for Donald Trump with his anti-Muslim rhetoric and views are particularly upsetting this morning.  After a lifetime of holding up the Holocaust and saying, “never forget, never again,” it appears that some of my cultural compatriots are doing exactly that.  The fear my Muslim students expressed to me on November 9 stays with me, and I am wondering how I can make them feel safe, at least in my classroom.  I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about privilege the last few weeks, and I can thank the upset in the election for this – perhaps the only benefit I can see right now.

On the agenda today: In my three sections of Algebra 2, the students will be working in groups on tomorrow’s exam.  This is the first time I have tried this strategy, but, bolstered by input from Jonathan Claydon, Amy Hogan and my office mate, I’m hoping the communal efforts will boost student understanding of the content, and their independent demonstrations of mastery.  My concerns include making sure no exams (or photos of them) leave the classroom, and students not making good use of their time together.  In Discrete Math, we will beginning our unit on Problem Solving strategies, which is a distillation of the course I taught last fall.  I will still be using problem sets from Crossing the River with Dogs, but I’ve come up with several different versions of each set to use for assessment.  The summative project in this unit will involve the students creating problem sets of their own; again, I am trying to counter any inclination to over-collaborate (how’s that for a euphemism?).

It’s not even 7:30 AM and I volunteered to go on the spring trip to Quebec with the foreign language department. I don’t speak any French, but I’d love to visit Canada, and maybe screen-shot-2016-11-21-at-3-56-38-pmthey need a math teacher!? The sound of the wind is a howl in my office, which is located on a corner of the school building on the top floor.  Here we go, Monday morning.

9:51 am
Two sections of Algebra 2 worked on the ‘practice exam’; many students commented that they found it a helpful exercise.  From my view, the group review surfaced the topics that need the most study, and I was able to reiterate these areas to the entire class.  For me, it was an opportunity to observe, deflect questions and refer the students back to one another for support. At the end of each class, the students were puzzled that there would be no answer key provided for this review, and that they needed to leave the papers with me.  But I provided a review and practice sheet for them last week, complete with an answer key, as well as an assignment on deltamath.com with many practice questions.  I think it may have dawned on some of the students that they were looking at the actual exam, and this will be the only time I can use this element of surprise.  Hopefully, I will see better results and more work that evidences understanding tomorrow.

1:27 PM
My teaching day is over, although I’ve got two meetings left to go, and a private student.  My Discrete Math classes both went well (yay!!); the introduction to problem-solving was met with both interest and cooperation, some of which is a vestige of last week’s Parent Teacher Conferences.
Our first problem-solving strategy is Draw a Diagram, and we began with Virtual Basketball League:

 A new basketball league was formed in which each of the teams will play three games against each of the other teams. There are seven teams: the Antelopes, the Bears, the basketballCubs, the Dusters, the Eagles, the Foxes, and the Goats. How many games will be played in all? 

The range of approaches was impressive, although very few students attempted to draw a picture for a solution.  I saw charts, lists, tree diagrams, and on some papers, a simple but erroneous 7 x 3 = 21.  Many students who realized that the Antelopes needed to play 18 games assumed that each of the other 6 teams would play 18 different games as well. But in each class, there was at least one student who understood that the number of games each team would play when calculated this way was double the actual amount.  It was a clear learning moment for those students who had made the error – I hope. (Come to think of it, the student work on this problem would make good fodder for mathmistakes.org!) I drew a network sketch on the board to show how I calculated the answer, but it looked complicated to many of the students – I’m not sure I disagreed.

We moved on to Model Train Set:

Inline image 1

This simple problem got them all drawing pictures – those students that resisted struggled a bit.  Many drew circles, but there was at least one solution that resulted in a triangle inside a circle, and then my personal favorite: Inline image 2
Of course – six poles – the vertices of a hexagon!  Brilliant, Itrain-track-clipart-clipart-panda-free-clipart-images-mfqqqk-clipartthought – this solution appealed to the geometer in me.
In both sections, particularly the troublesome 7th period, the unit launch went well.  I’m looking forward to more of the students’ work as we proceed through the different strategies.  The big lesson I learned from teaching this last year was the need to have problems with multiple solutions.  I  haven’t gotten to that yet, but I have created several versions of the problem sets I want the students to complete for each problem-solving strategy, and the unit project will provide differentiation in its open-ended nature.
The third section of Algebra 2 went as well as the morning sections, although, perhaps predictably, the student need was more evident – predictably because the quiz and exam results of this class have been markedly lower than the other two, much to my mystification.  While working on the practice exam, entire tables would become stumped by a question.  My first usual response to questions – “Have you asked your tablemates?” was as often as not met with “yes, and none of us know how to do it.”  I gave hints and tried to point them in a direction without giving a direct answer.  I began a list on the board entitled “What I Am Noticing”, to which I added items like “You need to practice f-d-a980615eb303ee117b66698aaabc2cc0696220683ce883a23ab7311eimageimagesolving quadratic inequalities,” or “Everyone should review Focus Directrix form of the equation of a parabola”.  I hope they take my suggestion to heart.  I’ve got 4 girls in my office at the moment, practicing those two topics (and others) until this afternoons basket ball game, and I’m hoping that their efforts are indicative of those of their fellow classmates.  I’d really love to see some improvement in the exam scores.  I can’t wait to see their faces, and hear their comments, when they realize they had been working on the exam all along.  Will they be happy? Peeved that I dissembled today?  Will I see work that truly evidences understanding rather than mere recall from the practice?
2:45
My first meeting was a bust – we have bi-monthly professional development at the end of the day on Monday; we are supposed to be engaged in one of two inquiry cycles to be completed during the school year.  We’ve been given little direction from our facilitators, but fortunately I am pairing with a teacher who understand the process, as do I.  She lives with the consequences of students not fully understanding how to manipulate and simplify rational expressions, a topic that I will be teaching in January, so we’ve come up with the strategy of having students look at incorrectly solved problems in order to hone their skills.  Today, however, our meeting never took shape.  The facilitators did not appear, nor did the other department we are working with on this assignment (science).  Calls to our assistant principal’s and principal’s office did nothing to enlighten the situation. The attending teachers, thus, spent the time reviewing [sort of] the inquiry cycle, among other professional (ahem) issues.  I’m not normally one to ignore an assignment, but this inquiry effort, launched by our administration with little framing and preparation for the staff, feels, if not misguided, then perhaps mismanaged, and just plain missed as an opportunity.  Tomorrow, the Instructional Cabinet (another committee I sit on) will be discussing just this issue at an open meeting tomorrow afternoon.  Hopefully some progress will be made towards a more constructive use of our professional development time.
I’m off to Manhattan for a meeting at Math for America to pre-plan for a summer conference, spearheaded by Matt Baker and Brian Palacios!  The wind is still howling outside, so talking about a summer conference sounds very nice indeed.
9:21 PM
Home at last – and almost time for bed.  The meeting at Math for America was great, and I was sorry that I couldn’t stay for the whole thing – the opportunity to be involved at the very beginning of the planning process is envigorating, even as my teacher energy is hitting that dip before winter holiday build-up begins (does that even make sense?).  I’m looking forward to continued participation in that effort.
I left early to meet with a private student – a girl I have been working with since she was in 7th grade; we no longer meet regularly (she is in high school), but she is insecure prior to exams and always wants a tutoring ‘booster’.  And anyone who knows me at all knows Picture 019that I never turn down an opportunity to talk geometry.  I turned her on to my favorite compass – always fun to see how excited someone becomes when they realize there is an alternative to the typical pointy hard-to-control tools.  I love having these long term relationships with students – watching them grow, and helping them learn to appreciate math – even if it means an extra-long Monday.
Finally at home, I get a snuggle from Ollie, and have a quick FaceTime conversation with Izzy, my friend’s daughter.  I’ve known this child since she was five; she’s now a freshmanphoto-on-11-21-16-at-9-17-pm at one of New York’s specialized high schools.  She texted me earlier this evening while studying for a geometry exam (seems to be going around tonight..), and not only am I sucker for geometry, but I’m a sucker for this kid as well.  It was my pleasure to discuss negation, triangle centers, and congruence shortcuts with her.
I’ve got two days to go to Thanksgiving break.  In those two days, I’ve got an exam to give, projects to grade, a meeting of my Professional Learning Team on Racially Relevant Pedagogy and a medical appointment.  Thursday’s lazy morning beckons tantalizingly.  But I’ve got to go to bed tonight before I can begin to get there.

Reflection

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 was very proud of my deflecting all student questions during the exam review today.  I redirected the children back to each other, and answered their questions with more questions.  And I think I managed to keep them from being furious with me while I was doing it.

Conversely, I think I could have pushed my Discrete Math students with some questioning a little more during the problem solving activity.  I’m going to work on that in the lessons to come.

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?

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.

I am feeling more confident in the relationships I am developing with people at Math for America.  I’ve come a long way to get there, but that’s another story for another post (maybe).

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 had four students come see me for extra help today in preparation for tomorrow’s exam – they came bustling in with their snacks in between classes and the school basketball game.  They asked questions, helped each other, and worked away.  I love when the kids are that comfortable in my office, and it lets me know I am creating safe spaces for them in which to be themselves.

5) What else happened this month that you would like to share?

Saturday night was Nerd Prom aka the Math for America Fall Function, complete with aerial entertainment, decagonal menus, and a mayoral speech.  I said in my last post that November 2016 has not been my favorite month ever, but Saturday evening helped.  Thanks, Math for America!

 

#DITL Day in the Life: Parent Teacher Conferences

treeautumnredandgrleaves900Today is the Autumnal Education Equinox – the longest day of the teacher’s year: Parent Teacher Conferences.  Arriving at school at 6:45 am, I will be leaving at 8:45 pm, and arrive back at school tomorrow at the same time for round two.  I don’t mind conferences at all, except for this intense two day period.  Tomorrow is a half-day; school is open to parents from 12:15 to 2:15, and the six class periods being held in the morning are shortened to 33 minutes each.  The classes meet earlier than their normal times because of this schedule, so absenteeism is high. I’m not happy to lose the day of instruction, especially with my Algebra 2 kids.

img_9684In Discrete Math, the kids have been working hard on their probability games, creating (among other things) some great artwork for the classroom.  I’ve gotten in touch with a number of parents in those classes in recent weeks (behavior issues, unfortunately), and I’m hoping some of them will come up to school.  Traditionally, however, my elective img_9682classes bring in fewer parent/guardians than my core classes.  In Algebra 2, I just returned an exam on which many students did poorly.  This is a ‘gifted’ track class, so I am expecting a big turnout.

Thursday Night

I was very busy the first night, which is good, and had a fair mix of visitors from both of my courses – Discrete Math and Algebra 2.  As predicted, there were a fair number of Algebra 2 parents who were concerned about their children’s last test grade, and I spelled out for each of them the steps I was taking to support the children in their preparation for the upcoming exam – detailed review sheet mirroring the exam with an answer key,gradecreating weekend study partnerships, and group review of the exam the day before it is to be given – and what their children could do to help themselves – review class notes and problems, ASK questions in class, seek extra help, work through the review. (I felt a little like a broken record, but the truth is that most students need to do all of these things.)  I love being able to share details about their children’s classroom aspect with parents; I remember how important that was when i was on the other side of the table (nothing worse than feeling like your child is not much more than a line in a teacher’s gradebook).

I also had several parents who I had contacted regarding lack of work or challenging behavior on the part of their children; I was very glad to be able to have those conversations face to face, particularly if the student was there.  Some meetings were difficult, however; a student who I cannot engage in one of my Discrete Math classes laughed at his parents as they tried to find out why he refused to participate in any way in my class.  At the very end of the evening, after parents were theoretically no longer to be in the building, I had the opportunity to speak with the mother of a student who has pushed my tolerance to the limit this term – taunting others, copying work, and when submitting work, drawing pornographic pictures on it (don’t ask). Denying his culpability to the last moment, this boy finally agreed to make up some missing work over the long Thanksgiving weekend.  We’ll see.

Friday Afternoon

The half day of classes went very quickly – when periods are a wee bit longer than a half hour, they fly by.  But most of my Algebra 2 kids were in attendance, and dove into screen-shot-2016-11-18-at-6-13-20-pmcorrecting the aforementioned exam. But when conferences began, the afternoon moved much more slowly – I had only 6 visitors.  In fact, I wrote most of the recap of Thursday night while I waiting for parents.  I had a meeting with one more mother of a student who chooses not to do work but rather to argue with and bait me in Discrete Math; this mother is relying on faith to help her son as her other strategies have failed.  She thanked me for my patience, but I wish we could have come up with a better plan.  I’ll keep trying in class.  And so another season’s Parent Teacher Conferences have ended.

 

Reflection

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 was proud of my launching of the ‘Weekend Study Buddies’ initiative in my Algebra 2 classes; enough students signed up in each class to indicate that it could be a worthwhile effort.  Maybe I can be even more structured about this in the future.

I had a few parents who weren’t satisfied with hearing that ‘many students didn’t do well on the last exam’ and I don’t blame them.  This doesn’t address their child’s specific needs, and I am certain that many of them say to their kids (as I said to mine), “I don’t care what other children do, I only care what YOU do”.  I wish I could have given them more specific information about their child’s performance on the exam, but honestly, with 102 students in Algebra 2, I just didn’t have the data.

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?

I am looking forward to my first attempt at a group exam process next week.  I hope it improves the results and the students’ level of preparation when it comes to working on their own. A challenge? The flip side of the previous sentence – trying to figure out how to promote deeper understanding of ideas that I think have been clearly presented, how to formatively assess more frequently and effectively so I am not blindsided by clear evidence that deep understanding has not been achieved.

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.

I had a lovely moment with some of the boys in an Algebra 2 class today.  Our school won the New York City PSAL Baseball Championship last year; apparently we have a number of young superstars, and the winning pitcher is in my 3rd period class.  These boys are already being recruited by colleges; some commit to an institution as early as their sophomore year, only to find out that ‘better’ schools might want them enough to provide full scholarships later on. We discussed the pros and cons of making an early decision, and they made me promise that ‘when’ they were in the Championship series again this year, I would attend the game (I sadly could not last June).

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?

The attainment of my goal of building better relationships with my students is progressing in many cases, but not all.  I am working towards seeking more educational opportunity for all of them, and looking honestly at myself and my behaviors that may or may not promote that.  As I faced the parents of my black and Muslim students, I thought about the racism and prejudice they face, and their fears in light of the presidential election result.  I want to be an ‘ally’ in the true sense of the word.  I am trying to use my empathy and privilege to create safe spaces.  I don’t know if I am succeeding, although I have made it clear that equity is a theme in my classroom.

5) What else happened this month that you would like to share?

November 2016 has not been my favorite month.  The world is changing in a way that I cannot predict.  I don’t want to live in fear, but rather channel my grief and outrage into action, as mentioned in the previous paragraph.  I’m hoping to find co-conspirators in this effort, and to hold myself accountable to that goal.

And I hope my Algebra 2 kids do better on the next exam…. ; )

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geosaurus.tumblr.com

 

Day in the Life: October 21, 2016

Friday, Friday!giphy

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.

LATER

My first 2 classes were back-to-back sections of Algebra 2, ‘gifted’ track; I was spontaneouslyuntitled 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, Iuntitled 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 140426_1themselves to stay involved.  Yesterday we spent the period flipping marbles2quarters 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):

https://www.scribd.com/document/328440959/Probability-Project-Design-a-Game

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….

img_9524I 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).

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Happy Halloween! from geobarnett.com

Reflection

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.

 

 

Day in the Life: 2 First Days

outsideWe have a soft opening at my school.  Due to the number of students on our rosters (4,100), it takes 1/3 of a day to distribute MetroCards, Lunch Forms and other school correspondence.  Student arrival times are staggered on this first day, alternating grade level assemblies with ‘homeroom’.  [‘Homeroom’ meets three times each year – at the start of each term, and at the very end of the year, for aforementioned document distribution and final reports cards.]  At 10020:00 AM (this is a third of the way through the normal school day, which starts at 7:10), shortened classes began  (but not all periods met) – 25 minutes to introduce myself, gather some preliminary information from kiddies, and begin to establish my classroom.  To add just another bit of chaos to this mix, the first period – 3rd – was 50 minutes long, which is 5 minutes longer than usual.  As an aside, only 1/3 of the classrooms are air conditioned, so this was great fun on a close to 90˚ day.  Things ran smoothly, although, as usual, I overestimated what could get done in 25
minutes (complete index cards, make name tents, play Ms. Menard in Numbers, and distribute contracts – was I kidding?).  The students in my 7th period Discrete Math class looked like I felt – hot and wrung out.  Tomorrow, Friday, is a full, regular day – our hard opening, as it were.
shoesMs. Menard in Numbers (document shared below) is always a hoot.  My students all think I wear a size 7 shoe (I think Iscreen-shot-2016-09-09-at-3-36-20-pm wore that in 6th grade!), and have 10 Twitter followers.  First ‘whoa!’ moment of the year!  In keeping with my goal of getting to know my students, I read through each index card they submitted, paying special attention to the answer to the question, “What one thing should I know about you as a teacher?”  I was able to address some of the patterns I observed in the studentsindex-cards‘ answers during the ‘hard opening’ day.  I think I am more in tune this year with taking care of my students as people; their comments evince a desire to be heard, to be helped, to be seen.  I also spent some time looking at the transcripts, report cards, and exam histories of each of my Discrete Math students.  They are placed in that class for a range of reasons – failed Geometry Regents but good course grades, failed the Algebra 2/Trig class last year, have way below grade level math credits – each student is different, and will thus need something different from this class.  I fought the feeling of drowning in a sea of data by remembering their faces, and that my goal is to move each student further to the right on this picture:untitled-copy

Hard Opening: Friday

I’m not going to talk about how disgustingly humid and warm my classroom was after this. But it was. Very.

One of my Algebra 2 classes didn’t meet yesterday, and I had to fight with myself to give them the same lesson as the others had, remembering that time spent creating classroom culture and norms reaps dividends all term long.  In the other two sections of Algebra 2, however, I borrowed Sara Vanderwerf’s Top 10 Things About Your Calculator lesson, my only regret being that I could have used another 30 minutes in the period to review both the TI-84 and Desmos portions of the worksheet.  We probably ran out of time because we began the period by talking about mindset and self-advocacy, but again, this was time well spent.  I won’t elaborate on all the misconceptions that this activity uncovered (and hopefully straightened out), or the high level of engagement and cooperation I witnessed.  I had that delicious sense of ‘boredom’ (not) that a teacher may get when their students are doing all the work, and helping each other, and all they have to do is eavesdrop.  We probably ran out of time because we began the period by talking about mindset and self-advocacy, but again, this was time well spent.  I have to reiterate my total gratitude and admiration of Sara’s generous sharing of her well-developed and on-target intentional planning.name-tent-desmos

100-kids-2In my Discrete Math classes, we made the name tents we didn’t have time for yesterday, and did the wonderful 100 Number activity.  The kids, who were wilting, brightened up
considerably during this activity, and were energized enough to begin to engage in our first Number Talk (and by our, I mean me!)number-talk  I was very anxious about introducing  a number talk with this class, but in the few minutes we had to begin (I ran out of time), the students began to share the different patterns they saw in the dot card I provided.  I can’t wait to try it again, with an appropriate amount of time.

I thought about why I wasn’t doing the Top Ten Calculator Things Activity with my Discrete Math classes, and I couldn’t come up with a reason other than the embarrassing knee-jerk reaction “they don’t need this.”  Then I realized all my students need these skills – and to be honest, I am relieved that I saw this, because I’m not sure I did before.  So we’ll be working on that on Tuesday.  And it will be 10˚ cooler.

https://www.scribd.com/document/323474229/Ms-Menard-Life-in-Numbers-2016

Reflection:

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?

The discussions about self-advocacy in the classroom and in life were uneven. I was pleased with how I facilitated the ones that went well, although I would be happier if the students had answered each other rather than me.  I could have modeled that better.  Still, in all five classes, the students were definitely listening during that portion of the lesson.  And I love the chuckles during the Stuck on the Escalator video.

 

 

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?

 

Truthfully, the most negative aspect of my day was no relief for me or my students during this humid heat wave.  I try not to dwell on the weather (and certainly don’t when I am teaching), but boy, it’s a challenge to motivate kids under these circumstances. That said, I was pleased with the engagement level in all of the activities during the day; my efforts to be ‘intentional’ paid off well today.

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.

Two former students of mine (Algebra 2 from last fall) were in my office yesterday and today as if no time had passed.  I love these kids – they are open, and hopeful, and helpful.  I am looking forward to spending the year with them – not as their teacher, but as a concerned adult in their lives.  And their willingness to step up whenever I ask is something I am always thankful for.

4) Teachers are always working on improving, and often have specific goals for things to work on throughout a year.  

I am working on getting to know my students better this year, and am investing a lot of time and effort toward that end – name tents, combing through their histories – working hard to see them.  My realization that the calculator activity was appropriate for all of my classes was a positive step in my growth as well – I uncovered a bias of my own, and am working to rectify it and provide more opportunity for all of my students, particularly those who have been marginalized by being programmed for a math elective rather than a core class.


5) What else happened this month that you would like to share?

I’m still getting my head in the game, but the positive results I have had in the soft/hard opening days this year are encouraging.  I don’t feel as overwhelmed as I did a week ago, and I’m ready to try more Number Talks and Contemplate then Calculate.

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Day in the Life: Professional Development?

Even without the students coming today, I was sleepless last night, wondering why I work in a job that fills me with so much anxiety.  Curriculum on which I have little input (despite appearances to the contrary), possible schedule from hell, a sinus headache from non-Tropical Storm Hermine – all these gnawed at my brain despite my efforts to visit my 160902013121-hermine-radar-2-large-169‘golden room’ in Vermont.  We received an email from our principal that the morning will be spent on team building activities with ‘colleagues we may not know,’ and a promise of a prize for the team completes some unspecified set of tasks.  Hmm- lesson in how to elicit appropriate motivation?

I got myself out of the house relatively on time, but managed to spill my oh-so-necessary Red Eye on the bus.  Yes, I was THAT person. img_9153-jpg But as I neared school, a pleasant sense of anticipation took hold of me (especially after I was able to replace the coffee at a Brooklyn College cafe) as I thought of all the people I was looking forward to seeing after the restful summer.  I stopped by the program office to say hi to former officemates who have become 40% administrators, checked in with my Assistant Principal, and made my way to the auditorium, ready to meet colleagues (in a school of 200 staff members, there are many people I don’t know well at all).

Although the morning passed pleasantly, our administration modeled how not to run an activity effectively, which was instructive.  I’m really not being as sarcastic as this sounds; let me describe what happened:

The faculty was divided into 17 groups, whose members were posted on 5 successive screens of a powerpoint being shown in the auditorium.  The groups were directed to stand in vague spots around the large room.  We were then directed to one of four locations (not by group number, but rather by pointing and waving by the principal.

The four activities were as follows: rotating volleyball matches, egg-balancing relay races (with pingpong balls), a school-wide scavenger hunt, and a Trivial Pursuit game.  And the announced prize for winning, by the way, was a Panera lunch, paid for out of the principal’s very own pocket (so he told us).

The success (or lack of failure) to this team-building exercise was due to the fact that the participants were teachers, and not students.  The goal of the activity was that we would get to know teachers from other departments, but there were no name tags or activities to facilitate this, and the rooms (particularly the gyms) were so noisy that conversation and downloadlearning names was difficult.  Still, it was a somewhat fun way to spend the morning, although I’m not sure what goal it accomplished.  And I did enjoy Trivial Pursuit, especially when I gleefully shared the answer to “What was the proper Laugh-In response to: “Say goodnight, Dick”?

We moved from school-wide bonding to departmental meetings, the major portion of which was spent (in my department, anyway) discussing the new universal grading policies.  The school is moving in a standards based grading direction, but the bulk of the language in the policies seems directed at allowing students to make up any work regardless of why it was missed.  I am conflicted here; I believe in giving students the chance to show me what they have learned, but I also deal with a lot of class cutters and punctuality-defiers.  Now, more than ever, I need to find ways to bring them into my classroom and keep them there.

We also covered the usual details: room assignments, technology (2 new Mac labs!!), reading IEPs, and observations.

The next hour was allocated to working on curriculum and alternative assessment tasks in subject teams, but the Algebra 2 team leader told us that she wasn’t going to work on anything today, and that she didn’t want to post her lesson plans in the department DropBox for fear of providing them to teachers who didn’t do any work.  She then told the Algebra 1 team leader that she would work with her later on the Algebra 2 pacing calendar.

And herein lies my frustration with my school.

I work in a large school with high standards (for half of their students) and a noteworthy history.  The school has a fairly efficient infrastructure which makes it easy for teachers to teach, and many teachers stay at the school through retirement.  A reasonable percentage of the teachers are alumni, and many attended Brooklyn College (across the street).  However, our top-heavy payroll results in large classes and few electives.  And there is definitely an in-group which runs things.

So a couple of points to sum up:

  • Despite my disappointment today, I know I have the respect of my Assistant Principal and many teachers in the department, and I have opportunity to push my teaching in the directions I think it needs to go.
  • Working in the public school system in New York City (or anywhere) is never perfect, and in fact, can be extremely difficult.  I’m lucky to work in the environment I do.
  • I’m glad I got the best professional development available this summer at Exeter and Twitter Math Camp, and continue to nourish myself through the online community and Math for America.

Reflection (This is part of the Day in the Life blogging project, and will appear in each post.)

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?

As this was a day of professional development, the moves I was making related to being a participant rather than teaching anyone.  I was energetic and enthusiastic during the team-building activities (except for volleyball, during which I took on supportive role), and worked to keep everyone engaged and involved during Trivial Pursuit.  I did my best to engage my content team leader despite her reluctance to work on our curriculum, asking questions and making suggestions.  My overall attitude returning to school was not ideal; rather than viewing the year as an opportunity to effect change for me, my students, and my school community, I walked in with a case of the ‘same old, same olds.’  I’m happy to say that this mood was dispelled by day’s end.

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?

I am looking forward to seeing former students – they grow so much over the summer!  And I am excited to try some new instructional routines, like Number Talks and Contemplate then Calculate.  I am already planning Desmos-based activities for two days next week.  These same activities present challenges for me – I am nervous about executing them well, and continuing with them despite the beginning bumps I will definitely encounter.  Also, filtering out some of the brilliance I encounter every time I go on line – it’s great to observe and read about it, but accepting that I can’t do it all – I have trouble with that.  I have to keep remembering: You do you.  Thanks, Annie.

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.

I reconnected with one of my favorite people at school this morning – Ms. R.  She is an English teacher, so we don’t interact professionally that often.  But we have a kindred spirit kind of relationship – when we met, we instantly recognized something in each other that felt comfortable and familiar.  As it happens, she is one of the Google Apps for Education Evangelists in our school (our principal just purchased a subscription), and in addition to post-summer catching up, we talked a lot of shop.  She will definitely be my go-to resource as I begin training. 

4) Teachers are always working on improving, and often have specific goals for things to work on throughout a year.  

I wrote all about my goals in my last post.  School begins tomorrow, but I am already planning specific steps for my first Contemplate then Calculate routine (#1TMCthing), and will incorporate a discussion of mindset and self-advocacy in my initial lessons.  And yesterday, I was recruiting participants for the Restorative Justice training.

fullsizerender5) What else happened this month that you would like to share?

Tomorrow the school year really begins, and then I’ll have more to share.  I’m hoping my new bullet journal keeps me well organized!

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geobarnett.com

 

Day in the Life – Jumping In

tumblr_oc2bxh8xDx1qlxdvro1_500This post is motivated by a number of things.  First and foremost, there are so many nuggets of brilliance that I’ve collected over the summer – at the Exeter conference, Twitter Math Camp and the concomitant recap blog posts – that I need to sift through and prioritize into concrete Goals for This Year, Hope I Can Try This Year, and Keep for Future Reference and Inspiration.  I will be meeting my fall term students in less than a week, and I’m struggling with bringing it all into sharp focus.  Writing will help [force] me to do that.

I’m also tremendously excited by the Day in The Life project being spearheaded by Tina Cardone.  The online community has nourished and supported me as a professional and as a person; our commonality and heterogeneity create a vibrant network of passionate educators I have yet to see duplicated elsewhere.

In my journal, I have underlined and starred this:

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How will I build relationships with students this year, and what norms of classroom culture and discourse do I want to see in my classroom?

  • I will begin the year with Name Tents as I have for the last three years.  I love them – they give me a chance to learn my students’ names and communicate individually with them right away.
  • I will let my students know a little bit about me through Ms. Menard in Numbers.
  • The students will begin to learn about cooperative work and discourse with and without words through the 100 Game and other activities (I’m thinking about Broken Circles, Personality Coordinates, and maybe even Math Human Bingo – I have 5 classes, so maybe I’ll try them all!).
  • The students will write mathographies and begin to express their own math identities.
  • Taking a cue from the amazing Sara Vanderwerf, we will go through the Top 10 Things Not to Ask Me About Your Calculator in my three sections of Algebra 2.  This activity will introduce the students to Desmos, familiarize them with some simple but critically important (and pain-saving) functions of the TI calculator, provide a model for note-taking model, and lay the groundwork for the independence and self-advocacy I expect.
  • Shamelessly borrowing from Sara yet again, I will use the open middle task How Great is Your Total? in my Discrete Math classes.  I love how this task has students challenging themselves and each other, and how it provides formative assessment on such a wide range of mathematical and social competencies.images
  • I will implement (as my #1TMCThing) the instructional routine Contemplate then Calculate which promotes collaborative problem-solving, and most important, growth mindset.

I want to fight the “I am Not A Math Person” mentality and promote equity in my classroom and school; much of my self-chosen professional development and reading focuses on this overarching goal.  I have a personal goal of breaking my silence in the face of racism I encounter at school (and elsewhere), asking questions, and reflecting honestly about my own biases.  I have a list of items to do/complete/achieve along these lines as well.

  • This fall, I will be co-facilitating a Professional Learning Team with Jose Vilson on Racially Relevant Pedagogy at Math for America.  Jose and I will also be co-facilitating a single session workshop to extend this conversation to the larger Math for America community.
  • I will be participating in Restorative Justice training through the NYC Department of Education.
  • I will advance my understanding of institutional racism and its historic roots in America by continuing to work my way through this reading list (did I mention the fabulous used book stores I visited daily while in Vermont last month?)

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After all of these very specific items, I still have the following items that I intend to appear in my classroom/teaching practice this year:

Most importantly, I want to hold on to the energy I gleaned from the myriad of inspiring teachers who spoke and shared at Twitter Math Camp this summer (pretty much everyone!).  Last year was a tough one personally, and I found myself counting days until I could rest and restore more than once. But the summer has been long and enriched, and this year, I want to count EVERY DAY as a day of development and learning for both my students and me.

Gotta go plan now…

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A Challenge to the #MTBoS: Populate expii!!!

Screen Shot 2015-11-03 at 1.27.34 PMI had the wonderful opportunity this Election Day to participate in a Math for America professional development workshop entitled “Fostering a Love of Mathematics”.  This workshop was run by Po-Shen Loh, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University and lead coach for the USA International Math Olympiad Team. Po defines the word dynamic; he led a roomful of teachers through a series of challenging math problems (some competition level, like MATHCOUNTS or the AMC, others interesting musings on combinatorics and Fibonacci numbers), encouraging suggestions (he called it ‘crowd-sourced problem-solving’) and mapping out solutions with simple clarity and great enthusiasm.   By the way, Po’s phone number [area code not incuded] is 314-1593.  I think I want that phone number as well.  But I digress….

After our problem-solving session, Po introduced us to the company he founded and runs as CEO, expii.com.  Crowd-sourcing is not only a favorite strategy in problem-solving; for Po, it is the key to revolutionizing interactive education. Expii is a dynamic user-created science and mathematics textbook.  Using a Wikipedia-type philosophy for creating content, expii allows users to create lessons (they are called ‘explanations’ on the website), write practice problems, comment on other lessons, or augment existing explanations.  Even though the model for contributing to expii is Wikipedia, the tone of the website is less formal (albeit still curated and edited when necessary).  Creating an account is easy (if you are over 13) and free, and an account is required for contributing content.

universePo’s vision is of a multi-layered digital interactive textbook, one to which both students and teachers contribute.  Under the curriculum direction of Michelle Newstadt (also a professor at University of Pittsburgh, expii has topic structures for a range of classes including Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Astronomy, Algebra I and II,Screen Shot 2015-11-03 at 2.04.57 PM Geometry, and Calculus.  Navigating from the main menu (see the Universe, left), one can easily drill down to specific topics of interest.   Navigating back out from a topic to larger ideas is simple as well; Po draws an analogy between the design of his website and Google Earth.

After introducing us to expii, Michelle spent over an hour answering questions and eliciting suggestions from us for improving its utility.  The team at expii wants the website to be widely used by teachers, and she explored specifically what improvements would make this a tool more likely to be used in a classroom.  Po and Michelle are equally interested in work authored by students and teachers.

Expii is a recently started venture, and as such, many of the topics are not fully populated with explanations and exercises.  When examining a particular topic, the extent to which it contains content is color-coded: green indicates a ‘healthy’ topic with at least two explanations; yellow, not quite so plump but with some content; and red – contributions still required.  Algebra I and II are recently added courses, and thus need a lot of attention.  Adding content to expii is relatively straightforward; the user can type their work directly into a window and simultaneously see its preview. A cheatsheet for using their easy editor (markup language) is available to guide the user through inserting practice questions, or embedding video, images, or plots.  I can easily envision creating lessons of my own as well assigning submissions as a review assignment to students, alone or in pairs.

As I mentioned, the folks at expii are keenly interested in the widespread use and usefulness of this tool, and it will be as useful as its users make it.  So I am encouraging, exhorting, and challenging you to go check out this website, and contribute some content.  Or ask your students to.  It’s free, it’s easy to use, and it is curated.  Why not, #MTBoS?