A Day in the Life: School during Vacation

Even though it’s vacation I’m headed into town on a rush hour train for 3 days of computer science training . I’m excited to learn something new, and the prospect of teaching something new.  And the bonus: I’ll be getting paid for these days (and given lunch!).  Giving up three days of this last break before a big solid chunk of spring term- you can’t buy time.  I thought a lot about that when I signed up.  Learning how to code has been a goal of mine for a long, LONG time, and despite the numerous freely available resources, I have yet to make any progress.  So this structured (and paid) training seems the best way to go.  And I’ll get to hang out with some colleagues from school.  I could use a little bonding time with my local math teachers.

untitledThe workshop is being held in a space called Breather (the wifi password is peaceandquiet).  We introduce ourselves on Padlet and with name tags (color-coded to reflect our level of expertise; I am beginner’s blue).  The participants are seated at two long tables. and it seems that there are less than 25 people here, surprisingly. For a city-
\wide initiative, I thought the class would be larger. The teachers come from almost every subject area – math, science, social studies, special education, and even a school librarian (who, by the way, is a killer Kahoot player!), and we have two administrators in our group.  A word about the special educator – she is an angel in disguise (although her name is Angelina, perhaps not so disguised); a brief conversation about her program this year (8th grade Algebra, 6th grade Math, self-contained general education (all core subjects) with students from 6th through 8th grade), and her focus on providing more tools for her students floored me.  I feel like I am pushing the edge of my capabilities when I have more than two preps.  I’ve always been a huge fan of special education teachers, and would like to pay some homage to another enormously generous human being.

A lot of the morning was spent orienting us to the course that we will be teaching, clarifying what computer science is, what coding is, and how computer science evidences itself in our lives now.  At the time, it felt a bit annoying to use two to three hours processing information that could have been presented in a fraction of the time, but with fullsizerender-1the vantage point of 24 hours past [as I write this], I realize that the facilitator was modeling the start of the course for our students.  There was a great deal of collegiality despite different levels of expertise among the students in the class.  We are all (I think) here to learn something new on our vacation, something designed to provide broader access to technology and computer science to all of our students.  So there is, I think, some common purpose.

After lunch, we finally had the opportunity to dig in to the lessons and begin learning Python.  I am thrilled by how straightforward it seems, although the exercises we did were, of course, elementary.  I find the logic and need for syntax familiar and clear, and I can see a path for myself for studying.  The course comes complete with lessons, quizzes, imgrespractices, and assessments, as well as moderated teacher and student forums for support.  I can easily see teaching the class with a modicum of modification – really,  the addition of enrichment resources, and a daily classroom structure.  I left the class eager to learn more.

I then headed over to the Math for America offices to meet with Jose Vilson.  We will be co-facilitating the Racially Relevant Pedagogy Professional Learning Team for one more semester, and needed to map out the agenda for the four sessions.  The opportunity to work with Jose has been wonderful, for all of the obvious reasons, but even more because I’ve grown through the experience.  Rising to the occasion of facilitating this PLT and tweetrunning the single session larger event forced me to push my own envelope – in a direction I have always wanted to go but couldn’t quite get to on my own. I’m thankful for his good humored patience with me, and for the ways in which our styles of working complement one another. I’m ready to continue the work beyond the PLT, and the clarity of my awareness has developed in large part as a result of our collaboration.

 

I finally got home at 6 pm and began doing some of the legwork for the first PLT meeting, which is next Tuesday. Part of that task was downloading a Key & Peele video, The Substitute, But a foray on to the Key & Peele YouTube channel resulted in me watching video after video, and laughing more than I have in weeks. I highly recommend you do the same. Here’s my personal fave:

 

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?

Since today wasn’t a teaching day, I didn’t really have any minute-to-minute decisions to make. In the workshop, I did my best to participate in a way that I would appreciate as a teacher, and to stay on task even when the direct instruction got a little looooong.

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?

Even though I would love a longer vacation, I am looking forward to digging in to the meat of the semester when we return. I was out sick the two days before the break, and was unhappy to break the momentum that had been building up in my classes this term.

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 attending this computer science workshop with two other math teachers from my school. My office is in a different part of the building than the main math office, it has been nice to spend some time with them. In particular, I have had the opportunity to reconnect a bit with a teacher (who has become the school programmer, a huge job in a school of 4,000 students) with whom I was quite close. Our paths have diverged, but we still enjoy each other’s company. That’s been a bonus of this week.

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

My goal has been to ‘see’ my students and develop better relationships with them. My work with Jose, and on my own, has been progressing; I am working with two other teachers to help form a social justice club at school, and continue to educate myself [and those around me] in undoing racism.

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

My proposal to run a morning session with Danielle Reycer and Jasmine Walker at Twitter Math Camp 2017 was accepted! Our planning has begun, and I am registered to go! Atlanta, here I come‼

#DITLife (sort of) – January 21, 2017

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My awesome sister, Holly

This post should have been written about my participation in the Women’s March in Washington on Saturday (the 21st), but a shoulder/neck injury which was with me for a week prevented me from attending the march, and indeed, any productive activity except watching  everyone else march interspersed with soothing episodes of Friday Night Lights. A visit to my doctor and a magic injection has relieved me of most of the pain, so I am writing today on a different ‘key day’ in the Day in the Life series: last day of the term.

I had content to deliver in my Algebra 2 classes, and so we went over how to rationalize all types of denominators – monomial, binomial and complex. I created a handwritten guided note sheet [love going very old school now and then], demonstrated several examples on the board, and let them practice and chat. The students were intrrationalizing-denominators-hand-notesoduced to rationalizing monomial denominators in Geometry, when they studied special right triangles, but the degree to which they (a) remembered and (b) mastered this topic varied widely.  I was pleased that the vast majority of students were working all period, and supporting each other as well.  When each class was over, I reminded them that once they were my student, they were always my student, and that my door was always open. It’s hard to say good-bye; by the end of the term, I feel like I have a good sense of each of them and what they need.  And then most of them move on to other teachers.
In my first Discrete Math class, I had reasonable attendance.  When we were working on the first few linear programming lessons and making Lego Furniture, I promised the students I would give them a ‘lego play day’ with my massive lego set.  And so I did.  I also brought out my bag-o-math-games – Blockus, SET, Blink! – and some Matrix Logic 51scimoqgbl-_sx425_puzzles.  With few exceptions, all of the kids picked up a math activity. Interestingly, a table of girls played with the legos, and all began creating [symmetric] tableaus involving gateways, furniture, people, and even vehicles.  A table full of boys, contrastingly, began stacking together as many legos as possible, building large blocks and walls.  Unfortunately, I didn’t take any pictures, but the contrast was striking.  I need to remember the soothing effect that manipulatives have on students – how can I incorporate something constant like this in my classroom –  frequently [always?] available, even when not directly connected to the lesson, and not too
distracting?
The second section of Discrete Math – towards the end of the day, and certainly after lunch for the kids – was pretty empty; the attendance totaled 6 students.  Three boys who hadn’t otherwise interacted in my room became immersed in a Blokus tournament; when the bell rang, they kept playing.  Again, I made (and am making) a BIG mental note to find ways to incorporate games and gentle, accessible competition in more activities.
The elephant in the room all day long was end of term grading.  The students knew the submission of final grades were due Monday morning, so there were few attempts to negotiate or plead.   I know there were students who were disappointed with their grades (as was I; I don’t think my students understand that I am as upset when their grades are not higher [or passing] as they are), but I also know that when priorities compete, as they inevitably do, math class does not come first for many children. And I am aware that there are myriad reasons why this is the case.  Every term I come up against my empathetic and sympathetic leanings battling my insistence on student accountability.

This term, there were a number of students in my Discrete Math classes who earned a passing grade by the slimmest of margins, and I know that my standard was not as high as I would like in some of those cases.  Luckily, in school, every term is a do-over, and a chance to improve.  Here’s hoping I do better with this next time.

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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 can’t point to one decision that I made that I am proud of on this day, but I am proud of the environment that I have created in my Algebra 2 classrooms.  As the students filed out when the bell rang at the end of the last class of the last day of the fall term, so many of them said good-bye with warm feeling.  Many of them were surprised that there was ‘work’ on the last day, when they knew grades had already been turned in, but they wholly participated in the lesson, cooperatively and collaboratively.

There were many decisions that I made in my Discrete Math classes, particularly around grading with which I am decidedly not happy – regarding students whose averages slid way down in the third marking period – I helped them make mad scrambles to complete enough work to bring their average within reach of a 65.  A lowering of my own standards and expectations that I vow never to make again (I’m sure I’ve made this vow before, but now that it’s out in the inter-ether, I’ll have to stick to it…)

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 teaching Geometry this spring, and possibly training to teach AP Statistics and Computer Science – I love learning new things!  The challenge I have been feeling is maintaining a positive attitude and high expectations for my Discrete Math students.  These are the students who have been, or are being, steered off track, either by their own poor academic performance, or the perception that this is the best they can do.  I start off teaching this course, every year, with enthusiasm and a determination to help every student see their own potential.  By the end of the term, for as many different reasons as there are students, my energy and positivity decline, and I am, as I said before, engaged in a mad scramble to help kids pass the class.

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 wonderful discussion with my Assistant Principal last week, in which we talked about my being part of a team to train to teach a new Computer Science course.  I also told her I would love to teach AP Statistics someday.  I had never mentioned this to her because (a) I need to be trained and (b) there is a teacher with much greater seniority than me who teaches it.  What I found out is that the number of sections of AP Statistics we offer is actually limited by the fact that there is only one teacher, and that she would be happy to have another AP Stats teacher in the house.  After the applications for AP Statistics are processed this spring, if there are enough eligible students to create more than three sections next fall, I will going to AP Stats Camp for Teachers this summer!

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

January has been a rough one.  The winter break felt too short; both students and staff returned to school tired.  The end of the term, particularly in my Discrete Math classes, felt like a let down – all my great intentions, or many of them, unrealized. January 20th did arrive, and the unthinkable (to this blogger) actually happened.  With my back out, I could not join in the historic march which severely disappointed me.  I know, however, that the work is just beginning.  And the spring term – a new beginning – is just a week away.

Following Lazy Ocho: #whereitallbegan

fullsizerenderI just read Brian Palacio’s post about his earliest days in school, and became inspired to think about mine.  I think it’s a great idea for us as teachers to recall our first impressions of school – what has stayed with us both as positives and negatives.  What do you think, #MTBoSBlogsplosion?

My earliest school days are quite some time ago – back in 1965.  I went to a half-day kindergarten at a neighborhood school — the Waltoffer Avenue School (if you think that name is a mouthful, the school was later renamed after a retired superintendent, John Dinkelmeyer).  I don’t remember anything about the activities in kindergarten, but I do remember my teacher with great fondness – Miss Barley.  She was tall, thin, freckled, and wore glasses, and was a non-ending fountain of warmth and fun.  When I remember her, she is wearing an outfit which I long associated with style and glamour – a white pleated skirt with a navy blouse with white polka dots.  I had the opportunity to work as a ‘kindergarten assistant’ when I was in fifth grade, and again, remember no specific details about what I did in Miss Barley’s classroom when I was ten years old.  But I was as proud of that job as anything as a young student, and I still have the  scrapbook she gave me as a thank you gift at the end of the year.

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And even though I have no memories of actual activities in kindergarten, my overall recollection was of happiness at being in school with my friends, engaging in playful learning activities for the morning.  After we left, we spent the afternoon playing in each other’s backyards.  A halcyon time.

10334301_10202607035430725_3167560942102483446_nIn first grade, the situation changed markedly.  My teacher, Mrs. Ferme, lived up to her name, even though I loved her as I loved almost all of my elementary school teachers.  I was still a happy student, but at some point during the year, my teacher and my parents deemed that I was too far ahead of the rest of the class, and that I would be prepared to skip second grade.  I thus attended a second grade reading group (I remember learning to spell the word ‘phoebe’ my very first day in this advanced group), and I remember having a stack of workbooks on my desk that I would work from while the rest of the class was doing first grade classwork.  Differentiation a la 1967.  I didn’t mind, because I was academically challenged, I suppose, and still in class with my friends. Sometime towards the end of the year, I moved into the second grade classroom.  And here I have my first math learning memory.  Despite my ‘advanced’ math preparation, I did not know how to subtract numbers over 100, and remember being completely puzzled (and a little freaked out that I was in completely over my head; my days at the top of the class were clearly over!).  A kind boy named Larry Brodsky showed me how to ‘carry.’  [Ironically, even though we were in school together through high school, this was the longest interaction we ever had.] I was able to do the remainder of the assignment, but to this day, subtracting multidigit numbers evokes a feeling of discomfort – my mental math Achilles’ heel.  And my understanding of this process was purely algorithmic for years.  When I am tutoring younger middle school students, and observe them elaborately ‘carrying’ powers of ten when subtracting, I wonder why this is still taught this way.

Thus, my earliest school days.  Socially, it was steadily downhill after first grade – the academic placement might have been appropriate, but the social dislocation was severe.  I was viewed as the nerdy baby of the class – and it was NOT hip to be square back then.  Even though I still lived around the corner from my crew, (my first BFFS, Laura and Carol), 10262177_10202607034870711_3263473189154578750_n grade-level friendships began to impede upon the strong bonds we created in our secret backyard club.  I know my parents and teachers thought what they were doing was in my 10150530_10202607034550703_6557099190945104834_nbest interest, and from the vantage point of 56 years, it was just an early leg on my life journey,  but there were some rough and lonely times.  And who’s to say I couldn’t have found academic challenge at my appropriate grade level?  It  wasn’t until I left Waltoffer Avenue for the junior high on the other side of the highway that I began to feel like I was in the ‘right grade’ again.  Middle school years can be torturous for some, but for me, they were a relief after the intense social unpleasantness and persistent bullying.  And I can say definitively that these early experiences are the basis for my lifelong distaste for Long Island – apologies to my dear friends Sue and Dorie (as well as Laura and Carol) who have made wonderful lives for themselves and their families there.

What are your earliest school experiences?

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The Longest Day of the Year – #DITL December 21, 2016

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6:18 a.m.  – On the Bus

img_9793Yikes- Day in the life on the longest darkest day of the year!  Despite a restless night with a kitten whose loud purring is adorable when you’re NOT trying to sleep, I’m full of energy (well, that may be somewhat of an exaggeration at 6:24 am) this morning.  Yesterday was a banner day- the piece about me in Chalkbeat (see previous post) and a meeting of the MfA Racially Relevant Pedagogy PLT with incredible flow and connection. Feeling blessed, lapsed Jew that I am.

Another good thing today: I didn’t forget my phone and materials for after-work commitments (like I did yesterday).  I am good to go.

And three days until break.  Not going anywhere, and not too many plans – just reading , quilting, restoring.  Can. Not. Wait.

But there’s three days of math to do as well. In Algebra 2, we’ll be looking at modeling with quadratic functions, and in my Discrete Math classes, art created with geometric transformations and modular arithmetic will take us through the end of the week.  As I  am typing this on the bus, I decide to look for a Desmos activity when I get to school to introduce the quadratic modeling topic, postponing the worksheet (exploratory though it is) until tomorrow. I received an email yesterday telling me that a two day topic previously included in our pacing calendar has been removed, buying me two days of breathing room and time to let the kiddies play math a little.  An early holiday gift.

6:55 a.m. – Arrival at school 

A search of Desmos yields two activities I’m going to use, with a third option in my back pocket.  I decide to start with Build A Bigger Field as an introduction to modeling, followed img_9794by a Modeling Card Sort to suggest the use of different models for different situations (not all students may finish both activities, but that’s okay).  And I think I will assign everyone’s fave, Will It Hit the Hoop? for homework.  Plenty of time for debrief andimg_9795 worksheet explorations tomorrow.  The students will be turning in their Illustrated Task Projects today; maybe I can post a few while observing their progress on the iPads.  I love lessons like this.  The kids are engaged, talking about math, and I can…watch. It’s a beautiful thing – thanks yet again, Desmos! The time is 7:28 am; and with 32 minutes to first bell, it’s time to set up.

9:57 4th Period Prep

The Algebra 2 classes during Periods 2 and 3 went fairly well; the students enjoyed working their way through the activities, although many of them struggled without success, particularly, in response to this question: screen-shot-2017-01-22-at-10-52-11-amto my surprise (I need to stop being surprised by stuff like this).  This is when the fabulous Pause button came in handy; I stopped the class and we discussed the relationship of area and perimeter, and how to express the dimensions of a rectangle if the perimeter is untitledknown.  The big idea that the vertex of the downward facing parabola will represent the maximum value of the function in a real world context was clear (or appeared to be) by the end of the class.  Tomorrow, the students will on some problems involving projectile motion; I’m hoping thatBuild A Bigger Field laid some solid groundwork.  I guess I’ll find out, won’t I?
During my prep, I was visited by one of my favorite students, Saidul.  He is a recent immigrant from Bangladesh, lightning sharp with an impish sense of humor.  When he transferred to our school a year and a half ago from another high school where he was not succeeding, our wonderful Assistant Principal of Foreign Language realized that he had a high school (through 10th grade) diploma from his home country , and that only his poor English skills (which rapidly improved under the tutelage of our excellent ESL teachers) were hindering his progress.  He was in my late afternoon Geometry class last spring, a rambunctious group, packed with ELLs and IEP students.  These kids must have loved myclass, because attendance was high throughout the term, as img_9802were their spirits, cameradarie, and high jinks.  Saidul earned highest marks – I did my best to keep him challenged – and helped his friends whose English skills were not so well developed with their Geometry.  He was a godsend in this sense; there were boys I could not help given the size and behavior of the class, and Saidul taught them.  This term he is in Algebra 2 with a teacher who takes many shortcuts in his lessons and is known for giving high grades.  But Saidul is a math nerd at heart, and wants to understand the big ideas behind what is learning.  So he visits me frequently, and we both enjoy our lessons immensely.  I’m always glad this high-spirited and intelligent student has crossed my path.
Today, he came in for some assistance with evaluating expressions with rational exponents – using a calculator.  His teacher has told the class that they will be having a quiz, and can ONLY use a calculator.  WHAT?? I taught him how to enter the expressions with the appropriate parentheses to insure the correct order of operations, shaking my head all the while. Despite his confusion with his teacher’s direction, he wants to do well.  So we worked, despite being mystified.

2:27 p.m. School day is over

In my Discrete Math classes, we began the clock art projects – perfect for the last three days before break.  I love this project because it involves math in an accessible and non-threatening way, and the products are so striking.  The students were busy working out how to reflect simple shapes without a coordinate grid, and then perfecting their designs.  In the middle of class, I received a visit from a student I didn’t recognize.  She handed me an envelope and said, “My sister wanted me to give you this.”img_9803
The young woman who wrote this, now a student studying math and adolescent education at Oswego State College, was my student seven years ago.  Teaching her was a bright spot during some extremely difficult days at my previous school; she learned everything quickly, always sought challenge work, and kept the most amazing notebook I have ever seen (she actually gave it to me!).  I don’t teach so that students will come back and thank me, but boy, when they do, well, it makes everything worthwhile.  I can’t wait to see Teresa in her own classroom.
The Desmos exploration in the third Algebra 2 class was less successful in than the other two classes; the students could not seem to grasp the relationship between the lengths of the sides and the area when graphed as a parabola, nor did they understand (most of them, anyway) that the square would yield the biggest area.  The class as a whole did not seem to take the activity very seriously, and I wonder how I can make them more accountable for digging a little deeper with their thinking without holding a grade over their heads.  This is a goal for me – how to insert myself into the process just enough to keep them focused on bigger ideas.

Many of the illustrated task projects are great; it is clear that a lot of students went the extra mile with graphic design, and my classroom is looking mathematically festive.  I was touched by the [very bad] math jokes students put on their mini-posters.

During 8th period, the Instructional Cabinet (of which I am a member) met.  This is a group of teachers and administrators charged with improving instruction school-wide through focused efforts; this fall, the entire school has been working through mini-inquiry cycles.  The principal attended this meeting, and greeted me with an acknowledgment of the interview in Chalkbeat, which started off like this: “When I first saw the headline Midwood Teacher…., I thought, ‘Oh sh*#!?#t, what did she say?'”.  My fearless leader – ‘nuf said.  I was asked to sit on this committee by my Assistant Principal, a woman who I admire and who always has my back, so I said yes.  But I’m not feeling like it’s a place where I can be effective, probably because of the traditional (and somewhat limited) vision of the school leadership.  Another reason I think the meetings feel frustrating to me is that there is a subtext among all the APs that I can’t translate.  It’s a learning experience, anyway.

Time to leave school – I’ve got 2 (actually 3 – a pair of twins!) private students this afternoon.

8:08 p.m. Home at Last

My private tutoring this afternoon was quite odd.  I have begun working with an eighth grader who, according to his mother, has a math phobia.  This is not what I have observed in the few weeks we have been meeting, but he does seem very disorganized and exhausted when we meet.  He has a fraternal twin brother who has worked with us for test preparation purposes, which was the ostensible purpose for today’s 90 minute session.  The boys have the same math teacher but are in different classes, but unfortunately, the twin (my not-regular student) had his exam today, while his brother has his exam tomorrow.  They arrived at the coffee bar where I  meet with students, purchased a snack, and came to sit down.  At first my student was moderately upbeat (he’s a low energy kid), and grinned as he wolfed down the two brownies he bought.  He then proceeded to crash, and working with him became painfully difficult.  His brother good-naturedly did the problems we were reviewing, and my student was hugely apologetic, but it was frustrating, to say the least.  I don’t like not earning my hourly fee.
Despite requests, I haven’t seen a textbook or organized notebook for this child, although I’ve asked the parent.  She has told me how forgetful he is.  But I know after today’s experience, that I need to have a discussion with her about whether this is the right fit.  I’m happy to work with this boy, but I am uncomfortable if I am not doing my job.
My final act of work for the day was a session with a ninth grader, a bright and extremely conscientious student I have been working with on and off for three years.  She is studying Geometry, and has a very rigorous teacher, which gives me the opportunity to talk at length about my first mathematical love.  We have a definite patter, this girl and I, and the hour flew by.  We even stayed an extra 5 minutes because I just HAD to talk to her about perpendicular bisectors and circumcenters.  My geometry folk will understand – those conversations just don’t happen frequently enough!  ; )
There isn’t too much of the evening left for me – with a 5:30 wake up time, my goal (usually not achieved) is to be in bed by 10 pm.  I’ve got to wrap this gift for my student monitor, custom-made by my daughter, and maybe I’ll go through a few homework papers.  But maybe I won’t – like my mother used to tell me about doing the laundry, they’ll still be there waiting for me in the morning.

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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 happy with my decision to go for a more student-centered exploratory activity in Algebra 2, although I think the decisions I made in the moments of class as far as directing or guiding student work could have been better, making the lesson more effective.

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 the Discrete Math projects; I know that many students will be able to relax their math performance anxiety and have fun with the assignment.

The challenge I am facing as a teacher at the moment is structuring the end of the term in Algebra 2.  I am concerned that there are holes in the content I have taught because of our choppy shift to the Common Core standards.  I won’t have the same kids in the spring for the most part, and I want to make sure I have sent them off to other teachers well prepared.

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.

As I described in the post, I had a wonderful meeting with Saidul today.  I love that he trusts me to teach him ‘the right way’, and that he seeks me out to deepen his understanding.  He’s so bright and interested, and I hope he keeps going with his education.  As a recent immigrant, he may have some rough times ahead.  I worry.

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 think my connections with students are strong, and the steps I am continually taking to see them, really see them, help.  There are still students who have pushed me to the edge of caring with their attitudes, even though I know some of the extreme behavior is a cry for attention and help.  But still, I think I am making progress towards my goal.

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

The article in Chalkbeat, and the reaction from colleagues and friends has been overwhelmingly wonderful and warming, and something I sorely needed this month.  There have been personal and medical trials, and the waves of love remind me of what is important.  I’m a lucky gal.

Why a teacher at Midwood High traded Lord & Taylor for algebra and geometry (cross-posted from chalkbeat.org)

On November 29, I was interviewed by Alex Zimmermanimg_0681-900x0-c-default of Chalkbeat.org.  Here’s the piece he wrote about me.  Thanks, Alex!

Until 11 years ago, Wendy Menard’s career focused on taking care of other people’s money.

The former finance manager, who once worked as a budget director for Lord & Taylor, decided that corporate work left her cold. As the mother of two New York City public school students, she had always enjoyed participating in the PTA and school leadership team. So when her kids aged out of school, she settled on a new career path.

“I wanted to do something more meaningful,” Menard said.

Now she’s a math teacher at Brooklyn’s Midwood High School with 11 years of teaching under her belt. But Menard has also developed an interest in helping other teachers think about how social justice issues can intersect with math and science education.

Menard blogs about education and has worked with Math for America — a nonprofit that offers fellowships to roughly 1,000 New York City educators designed to help them refine their craft. Chalkbeat caught up with her recently during an MfA workshop she helped facilitate called “Race, Equity, and STEM Education.”

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Current subject: Algebra 2, geometry, discrete math.

What’s a word or phrase you would use to describe your teaching style?

Hands-on. Conceptual. Interactive. Energetic. I never sit down. I try to teach them bigger ideas rather than teaching to a test, which is a challenge in a Regents-based high school.

What do you do if a student isn’t understanding something?

I try to explain things a different way. I try to redirect students to one another because very often they can explain things in a way that I can’t. And if a student’s really lost, my door is always open and I tell them that daily.

Tell me about how you became interested in talking about social justice.

The first school I was in for five years was in a very high-need neighborhood. And [the inequality] was just so clear to me, especially having kids in the public schools. Like my older daughter went to Stuyvesant and when I went to her choir concerts, I would cry because of the access she had while my students had nothing. And so it just became an issue for me.

So I engaged in the process of educating myself, reading books. I took a workshop with the Anti-racist Alliance on undoing racism. And when I became a member of Math for America last year, I applied to be a part of the racially relevant pedagogy [professional learning team].

What were the things you were seeing in your daughter’s education that you weren’t seeing in your own students’ education?

Resources. Arts — lots of money for arts and lots of choices for arts. And just materials, materials to do things in the school. The vibe was so different. You go into a school that’s a school of high achievement versus a school where everyone is struggling and it feels very different.

How in your teaching practice do you think about social justice?

It’s frustrating, it’s really frustrating. There’s a Regents curriculum and there’s a topic you have to teach every single day. I teach electives every term and the electives are usually for students who are not going on to Algebra 2 or precalculus. So I have a lot of room to teach whatever content I want, and I try to infuse social justice themes into those classes.

What are the main things you tell teachers who might not see the connection between math/science and social justice?

Math in particular is a huge gatekeeper in terms of college. If your students can’t pass a placement exam or an entrance exam, they end up in remedial math when they go to college. And for a lot of kids that becomes a stumbling block that they just don’t recover from.

They end up paying for a class that they’re not earning credit for, and they just fall further and further behind. So that’s the connection right there.

How does that tension manifest in your thinking about teaching?

I can’t know what their lives are like. I’ve lived a life of privilege. So when I look at a child who’s struggling and I’m really frustrated with them, I know that I can’t know what their life is like.

Some kids are open about it, some kids are willing to talk to you about it and they’ll just put it out there. And there are other kids who just come in and they won’t say a word. And I do my best.

Yeah, I’d like to remake the education system — but if I can’t, I’d like to help a few kids.

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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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