Who knew Systems in 3 Variables could be fun?

I’ve been tweeting about various highlights of the start of the school year – wonderful Beyond White Dudes signcomments on name tents, successful ‘stand and talks’, the launching of “Mathematicians Beyond White Dudes”, and the “What is Math?” lesson. The last two in this list, I am convinced, has won me some engagement for which I might have otherwise needed to fight, if indeed those students were willing to become involved at all in my math madness. And I owe debts to Rachel Rosales, Sara Vanderwerf, Annie Perkins, and Brian Palacios for sharing their hard work so that I might improve my practice, and the IMG_2376educational experience of my students, hereinafter occasionally referred to as “the kiddies,” with great affection. I have hesitated to blog about all this, because I am standing on a lot of shoulders, and don’t want to claim someone else’s genius as my own (that, and the fact that my body is screaming from the enforced transition from an 8 am wake-up time, to 5:15 am, or, as appropriately dubbed by my daughter, ass o’clock.

But today I had a success that I am pleased to own. This is a lesson that flopped dismally last year which I was able, with reflection, to fix. In our department, we have debated the value of teaching systems of equations in three variables; we don’t do 3D graphing, or cover the equation of a plane, and opportunities for context are thus lacking. But the Math Overlords in Albany (aka the Board of Regents) have included it in the standards, which by the way, have been recently revised and renamed the Next Generation Learning Standards- but I digress and will only inflict THAT rant on close family and friends.

Whether or not I feel content is appropriately placed in the curriculum, I owe it to my students to prepare them for the gatekeeping exam they will take at the end of my course, and it behooves me to find some way to make the topic intriguing without having the time to address graphing in three dimensions, providing adequate context and background. Last year I came up with the idea of having the kiddies make up number puzzles. I opened the lesson with Task Cards; when students entered the room, each table had a different set of requirements of their card. I made sure my instructions were clear and easy to follow (famous last words, right?). Total flop- the kids had no idea what to do, and looked at me like I was speaking a language that none of them knew. I guess I was. After a little flailing about on my part, we abandoned the activity, and I launched into the very dry task of demonstrating how to solve a system in 3 variables.

Fast forward to Fall 2017. One year more experience, one more year of sharing online, participating in the #DITL (Day in the Life) blogging challenge, and attending high quality professional development at Math for America and being a part of that community. Another attendance at wonderful, inspiring Twitter Math Camp – probably most important of all – surrounded by friends, progressive teaching, and a group of educators dedicated to continual growth for both themselves and their students. A booster shot for my teacher soul, which I was terribly afraid was burning out.

Today, the 6th full day of school, I introduced Visibly Random Groupings in this class.  I waited a week because this class is not in my regular classroom with its lovely tables, and we have to put the desks into groups when we enter.  I’m still trying to work out the logistics in my mind of moving in and out of a classroom for one period, moving the desks, giving out cards for seating…I know there’s a smooth solution that I just haven’t envisioned yet (feel free to make suggestions!).

UntitledI began the lesson with a number puzzle above – it involved three numbers, didn’t necessarily require a system with three variables to solve. The kiddies got busy as soon as they entered the room.  Several did write systems with three variables, and quickly substituted into them.  Jonathan, my super-eager, super bright 9th grader in Algebra 2, asked if  he ‘was allowed’ to solve it with just one variable.  Pretty quickly, students arrived at solutions, and wanted to share them.  We put some work on the board, discussed all the different strategies involved – guess and check, elimination, substitution – everything we had used when reviewing systems with 2 variables for the last two days.

Then I put this task on the board.  I read the directions to them, giving them Untitled2examples of what the result of each step might result be.  I learned last year that it was crucial to the success of this task to be explicit – despite my faith in my students’ abilities, they needed some translation of what I was looking for; this leg up and the experience of the warm-up gave them enough support to begin to play without me telling them exactly what to do.  The room was BUZZING.  The kids debated which numbers to choose.  They debated which variables to use.  IMG_2390They wrote the systems and then tested them. Twice.  And then I gave each group a small whiteboard on which to write their system.  The groups swapped boards, and tried to find solutions.  There were heads together, signaling across the room.  Not a phone in sight.  And I heard lots of great talk – students justifying to one another, arguing with each other.  No one needed my help, so I walked around eavesdropping, and grinning.  There was frustration and struggle, but the IMG_2386kiddies were so motivated to figure things out, that they took that frustration and used it to fuel another attempt.  They took pictures of the whiteboards so they could continue working on them later.  And I could see that the class NOW was truly primed for solving the more difficult systems that they will encounter on the state assessment.  As the end of the period drew near, I presented an example of the type of system we would be working on next week, just to get them thinking.  When the bell rang, several students stayed behind, continuing to work/argue/get excited about solving the systems they had traded with one another.

I’ve been working hard to incorporate engagement strategies and keep the kiddies talking about math to each other.  I’ve seen enough positive action thus far to keep moving forward.  I love the feeling of being so intentional and witnessing the results. Okay – I know the school year is only six full days old, but I’m on the right path.

A postscript that I’m trying not to dwell on: As of this fall, there are two tracks for Algebra 2 in my school: one for students who passed the Geometry Regents, and one for those who did not.  (Students who retake the Geometry Regents and pass it in January can move from one track to the other).  There are reasons for this that make sense and others with which I disagree.  But the issue at hand is that many students were erroneously programmed in Algebra 2, and this is allegedly going to be fixed early next week – which means A LOT of students are going to be reprogrammed.  I am currently teaching 2 sections of Regents Algebra 2 and 2 sections of non-Regents Algebra 2, and all this good work I’ve been doing of introducing my classroom culture and connecting with my students – well, we’re all in for some disruption. Wish me luck in weathering it all.

 

 

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Wendy’s Excellent Summer Adventure: Part II

I just finished my 11th year of teaching, and when I’m being honest with myself, I am experiencing some kind of burnout.  I’m still a true believer in public education, and the beauty of mathematics as far as I comprehend it, and in the last year I have felt a great shift in my understanding of my role as a teacher away from strict content delivery (as a ‘highly qualified’ math teacher, conveying mathematics to students is my primary function in some eyes), and towards providing greater access to educational opportunity. This actually resonates deeply with me, child of the undelivered promise of the 60’s – I’veburnout had work to do my whole life, and maybe now I’m finally getting around to doing it.  Thus, burnout: burnout regarding Regents preparation, burnout regarding credit recovery, burnout regarding the recently revised NYS mathematics standards after what can be described as a PAINFUL roll-out of the Common Core, burnout of whatever the buzzword of the year might be: differentiation, depth of knowledge, flexible groupings, performance assessment.

believerAnd yet, I am a true believer – I believe in the power of quality EQUITABLE education to provide opportunity and transform lives, and I believe that everyone CAN do mathematics given the appropriate environment, encouragement and support.  Thank goodness for summer and the professional development opportunities it provides while there is time and mental space to absorb, reflect and restore – the Anja Greer Conference at Exeter, Park City Math Institute, and Twitter Math Camp, to name just a few.  As I mentioned in my last post, I approached Twitter Math Camp this summer with anxiety – both professional and social.  But my fears proved to be ungrounded – I came away, as I have with every attendance, imbued with renewed enthusiasm for teaching math, and feeling enveloped by a warm and generously-spirited community.

The program at Twitter Math Camp includes as one of its staples My Favorites sessions, held both before morning workshops and after lunch.  These are brief presentations by attendees on favorite strategies, philosophies, or projects that they have used and would like to share.  I give enormous credit to people who present at My Favorites, for these are done in front of the entire plenary – 200 people. And each presentation is a nugget of gold  from a dedicated teacher’s toolkit – the best of the best.  They are ALL impressive, truly.  These are the Favorites that particularly stuck with this summer:

  • Tony Riehl’s Distraction Box – Students deposit phones, fidget spinners, or other tools of mass distraction in this box in an effort to keep the removal of the distraction even more distracting to even more students than the original distraction (follow that?).   It’s always good to remember that as teachers, we can inadvertently create drama in our (misguided?) efforts to maintain control in our classrooms.
  • Jennifer Fairbanks Class Scrapbook – I already ‘borrowed’ Jennifer’s review archive project in Google Slides, but her idea for creating a Class Scrapbook for students using Slides at the outset of the term immediately does the following:
    • establishes your interest in your students, and gives you some insight into them not otherwise available;
    • lets them know about you;
    • establishes the classroom community
    • gets everyone using some technology.
  • David Petro’s Engaging Math website, and his Dynamic Web Sketches!  What a treasure trove – just check them out!
  • Bob Lochel and the crazy web app how-old.net – This app predicts age from a photograph, and poses all kinds of interesting questions – statistical and otherwise.  You can use it to gather data in your classroom, and also use it as a jumping-off point for discussion.
  • Joey Kelly and Play with Your Math – Thanks for doing the work for us, Joey!  He has created beautiful posters with engaging, accessible yet deep math problems which can be used to create an atmosphere of inquiry in your classroom.
  • Glenn Waddell Words Matter – Just watch this video to understand why I love Glenn.  The idea that ‘words matter’ is so simple, yet Glenn illustrates how one person can effect change by thinking about the implicit messages in the language they use, and making sure that those messages are inclusive and positive.
  • Kat Glass on Differentiating – An important idea came out of this talk on working with students to set individual goals, that “failing grade” should not be a bad word; we need to stop using euphemisms when talking to students.

The afternoon My Favorites are followed by the keynote speakers – this year we had the privilege of hearing from Grace Chen, Graham Fletcher, and Carl Oliver.  Grace spoke to us about the Politics of Math Teaching: how we as teachers reinforce the authority of the stories about our students and their cultures we allow to be told.

These are just 2 of the 6 pages of notes I took during Grace’s talk; her messages were quiet, but so powerful: It’s complicated, and it’s political, and we are influenced but not wholly determined by our environment.  We can make our choices in our classrooms both conscious and communicable.  I was deeply moved by her talk.

Graham Fletcher, in his keynote “All I Really Need to Know I Learned from the MTBoS”, said something that has really stuck with me: it is good to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you are. He also pointed out that the collective brilliance of the community is greater than any one member – something I already knew, but in light of all the conversations about the community, was good to hear again.

Screen Shot 2017-08-09 at 4.55.07 PMCarl Oliver exhorted us all to #justpushsend in his talk, opening up the door into our classrooms, asking for feedback, and trusting that we are WHATEVER enough to actively participate in this community.  He also wowed us with his statistical analysis of tweets under the hashtag #MTBoS, and sent most of us scurrying to find ourselves in the hashtag’s history.  With the whole #MTBoSGate conversation going on as a backdrop to #TMC17, Carl’s keynote delivered a powerful message to me: this community is made up of people who have been chatting and sharing and putting themselves and their teaching out in public, on line for the last four plus years, and all you have to do is #justpushsend to participate.  Truly.

And there was still more!! Can you believe I wasn’t even there for the entire conference?

Participants at Twitter Math Camp select a morning session – a workshop which runs for 2 hours each of the three full mornings of the conference (although the Law of Two Feet prevails).  The themes of these sessions range from equity to instructional routines to specific curriculum to playing.  Yes, playing with math, and I had the privilege of running just such a session with Jasmine Walker. and Danielle Reycer (in absentia)  Our workshop, entitled Playing with Exeter Math, involved just that – math nerds teachers working through challenging problem sets with like minded nerds individuals.  Anyone who has worked with me knows that I am a serial over-planner, and the open-ended nature of our workshop contributed greatly to my anxiety about the conference.  But I was thrilled that our 12-15 participants wanted nothing more than to ‘play math’ with one another, whether that meant working alone, in pairs on the board, or in groups modeling a challenging problem with ping pong balls.

EVEN MORE!

An extensive menu of 30 and 60 minute single session workshops took place each afternoon. This post is already too long, but I need to summarize the workshops I attended, because they were each powerful in different and important ways to me as a teacher.  (And since this recap is coming a full week and a half after the conference, many bloggers have written about them already.)

FullSizeRender 11Henri Picciotto, “Reaching the Full Range” Pure delight are the words that come to my  mind in describing this session.  Henri is animated, wise, and innovative in his varied approaches to bringing math to his students.  Starting from the premise that every class, regardless of tracking, is heterogeneous, he presented homework techniques, manipulative strategies, calculator challenges, and other means for reaching as many students as possible.  His stances are both pragmatic and caring, and his suggestions are practical and creative:

  • Differentiation is a lot of extra work for the teacher and undermines the community of learners.
  • Class must be worthwhile for strong students; form alliances with them and provide support for the weakest students.
  • It’s not what you say, but what you do that promotes growth mindset iFullSizeRender 9n your classroom; students need to hear “you can learn if I give you TIME”.
  • Don’t ban calculators – would you tell a student with a broken leg that they couldn’t use crutches?
  • Include as many tools and provide as many representations of big ideas as you can – they create greater motivation, open up a lower entry threshold, and raise the ceiling of understanding.

Chris Shore, Clothesline Math I’ve been hearing about Clothesline Math for the last couple of years on line, but could never quite grasp exactly how it would work in a high school classroom until this workshop. Chris Shore, who I can only describe as magnetic Screen Shot 2017-08-09 at 7.44.31 PMin front of a class, had 30 teachers late in the afternoon, after a full day of intense workshopping and professional learning, oohing and aahing over the deep connections that can be made (and even deeper misunderstandings that can be revealed) with this easily assembled interactive tool.  One group in the classroom is working on the clothesline, but everyone else has whiteboards and has their eyes on the prize – 100%participation and engagement.  Of course, Chris is the Clothesline Master, with the patter to go with it, but after the hour (which flew by) in his workshop, I felt emboldened enough to make Clothesline Math my #1TMCThing (the takeaway from the conference which I am committing to use this year).

I attended two other wonderful workshops – Raid the Physics Lab run by Megan Hayes-Golding and Teachers as Advocates, facilitated by Max Ray-Rieck and Peg Cagle.  VeryScreen Shot 2017-08-09 at 7.56.15 PM different content (as the titles suggest), but both enriching, mind-expanding, and thought-provoking.  And both opportunities to learn from people who I admire greatly.

I would write more, especially about these last two sessions, but you are probably as tired of reading this (if indeed you are still reading) as I am of writing.  And I apologize for the length.  After reading everyone else’s recaps of Twitter Math Camp 2017, and being convinced I didn’t have much to add to the conversation, I see now that I came away from this joyous gathering burn-out free and ready to re-engage with my professional pedagogical self (after I finish my summer vacation, that is!).

And I can’t wait to visit Cleveland next summer, for #TMC18! rockhallnew

Wendy’s Excellent Summer Adventure #TMC17: Post 1

FROM THE VANTAGE POINT OF 5 DAYS AND READING A HOST OF #TMC17 RECAPS, I’M GOING TO SPLIT MINE INTO TWO POSTS – THE FEELS AND THE MATHS.  HERE ARE THE FEELS

I’m sitting in Union Station in Washington D.C., waiting for my sister to arrive on the train from New York. I can finally tear myself away from my twitter feed, having just found out that #TMC18 will be in Cleveland. It was hard leaving early, but reading the#TMC17 twitter feed (or rather, watching it fly by at lightning speed) kept the feeling of the conference with me as my train sped along – albeit delayed – from Atlanta to DC.

My head and heart were so full when I left the conference Saturday afternoon, that I was exhausted. I began to make a list of places/people/events/meals so I wouldn’t forget anything when I was ready to write my reflective post, but the list quickly overwhelmed me. So I’ll just do my best to remember.

The backdrop (fortunately or not) for this year’s Twitter Math Camp was an online debate about the hashtag #MTBoS, which is an organically evolved acronym for the Math Twitter Blogosphere. I’m not going to jump into the fray, although it’s been alternately entertaining, infuriating, and painful to watch, but I want to say this: out of what I will not exaggeratedly refer to as desperation for professional connection, I jumped into the fray in 2013. I blogged somewhat timidly, lurked frequently, and was blown away by my first participation in #geomchat – a weekend morning chat for Geometry teachers. My twitter feed (which I had learned to set up thanks to David Wees’s videos to which I can no longer find the link) flew by with comments and questions from like-minded teachers across the country, and most likely from Canada, the UK, and Australia as well. I was speechlessly joyful – I’d found gold.

I went to #TMC13 in Philadelphia not knowing a soul, and I was pretty terrified. What I found was this: a warm and welcoming community, one which I could join or withdraw from as I needed, and one which welcomed me when I returned, without reservation. Over the last five years, I have had weeks (months) where I have had to remove myself from the online chatter, and other times where I have reached out with questions about teaching, content, ethics, and equity, always to find someone willing to talk. I get out of this community what I put into it. And even though I didn’t wear one of Sam Shah’s wonderful “Adorably Shy” buttons at TMC17, I consider myself one of those folk (although not necessarily adorable). Every conference I attend, every talk in which I participate is something of a personal struggle. I learned a long time ago that I am responsible for me (or as Annie says, “You do you”). The #MTBoS in its many forms – chats, blogs, tweets, conference gatherings – is greater than the sum of its parts. I am grateful that it is there for me. But it doesn’t owe me anything.

[That was too long. And I guess I jumped in a wee bit. Couldn’t help myself, and don’t want to delete it.]

Back to #TMC17:

I arrived in Atlanta early on Tuesday, and after picking up my rental car, went in search of coffee (always). Trusty Google Maps sent me to Octane Coffee, which happened to be on the grounds of the Woodruff Arts Center, and even more fortuitously, across a sculpture-strewn garden path from the High Art Museum, currently featuring an exhibit of 250 Andy Warhol prints. The coffee was great, too.

After feasting myself on art, I checked into the lovely hotel, settled in, and met Mary, Sandra, Jennifer and Anna for an excursion to what can only be described as the best aquarium I have ever visited. (This is no small statement from someone from New York, where we are convinced that the best of anything is only a subway ride away.) Thanks to the enthusiastic efforts of Heather Kohn, a large group of tweeps were visiting the aquarium, and our ooh’s and aah’s were no less enthusiastic than the many children

visiting. We ate dinner at the surprisingly healthy cafe at the aquarium, and returned to the hotel to find #TMC17 participants filling up the multiple gathering spaces around the hotel lobby. The reunion began.

From that point on, #TMC17 became camp in the best sense of the word – the opportunity to be with friends, learning, playing, and dining.  Every different workshop, activity and meal found me in the midst of even more people I knew or wanted to get to know.  Reunions with people I hadn’t seen since Philadelphia, tweeps I had never met in person, and new colleagues/tweeps/friends.  Here’s a secret: I was seized by ambivalence the week before I left for Atlanta.  Traveling overnight by train, rooming with someoneturtle group new, running a workshop, maybe I just wasn’t ENTHUSIASTIC ENOUGH for the TMC lovefest.  But from the moment I connected with my aquarium buds in the lobby of the hotel until I dropped my final riders off on Saturday afternoon, I felt embraced and accepted – whoever or whatever I am – it’s ENOUGH.  And that seems to be the overriding message – one that I hear loud and clear even though sadly I was not able to stay for Lisa Henry’s closing remarks.

It strikes me that at this point in my life such insecurity is silly, and maybe even unbecoming.  Old habits and feelings die very hard – sometimes you are still THAT kid.  But my experience in Atlanta this summer is something I will treasure, because I rejoice in being found wrong.

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Unsettled #1

 

I’ve got two days of school to go, and elated as I can’t help but me with the long-awaited summer vacation, I am ending the year – my 11th as a teacher – feeling unsettled and unsure.  Here’s why:

Reason #1: Regents Exams

All 168 of my students took Regents exams this year (Geometry and Algebra 2), and I spent three days grading Geometry exams at a large grading site – three days grading the same 4 questions on papers from other schools (stultifyingly dull, by the way).

On Friday, June 16th, the day that both exams were administered, I took both exams, working carefully through all questions, particularly the extended responses.  I noticed a few things:

  • The exams took a long time to finish  – the second portion of the Geometry exam took me over 30 minutes to complete (I usually allow my students 5-8 times my own work time on an exam).  At 4:15 last Friday, there were many Algebra 2 students working when time was called.
  • The wording multiple choice on the Algebra 2 multiple choice questions was tricky – I worked on the exam with two other veteran Algebra 2 teachers, and we debated several of the questions extensively.
  • Several of the Geometry multiple choice questions also required a substantial amount of effort to clarify the intent of the question; the acceptable responses to two questions were eventually modified: one question had two correct answers, and on one question, ALL FOUR CHOICES were deemed correct.

As I graded exams, there were many papers which showed solid evidence of student reasoning and understanding, and wherever possible, points were awarded when this was the case.  But there were also many blank papers, and papers on which the work only showed evidence that the student was not prepared for the exam, or lacked sufficient understanding of the big ideas in the course to even be sitting for the exam.

Grading for the exams has been completed (at least for my school it is).  My Geometry results were predictably disappointing – I knew this going in to the test, and given the opportunity to teach the course again, I already have ideas in mind for how to better support my students throughout the term.  The Algebra 2 results were very good – 93% of images (1)my students passed, including several who had barely passed the course.  Given the low ‘cut scores’ (the raw score with which the passing scaled grade of 65 is earned), the Geometry debacle is embarrassing and the Algebra 2 success is no surprise.  I’m glad it’s all behind me for this year, and that I able to pass four Algebra 2 students based on their Regents grades.

I don’t know the figures, but I imagine it costs in the millions of dollars to develop and administer the Regents exams.  I imagine (I hope) that a lot of time and thought goes into how the questions are assessing the standards we have been told to teach in each course.

So, why, why, why are questions not vetted properly enough that not one, but TWO need to be thrown out after CLASSROOM TEACHERS have had a chance to look at them?  Why are questions not properly enough vetted that their intent is debatable among a group of teachers?

And what does it say about these exams (all three math Regents exams) that they can be passed by answering only 55-70% of the multiple choice questions correctly? (To this teacher, it says that students can be ‘trained’ to pass the exam based on the ways in which the Board of Regents constructs multiple choice questions.). What does this say about how New York State wants teachers to teach high school math?

And the biggest question in my mind that how an exam can be justified as assessing mastery of course content if a raw score of just over 30% is considered passing?  Does the Board of Regents think this is the best that students in New York state can do?  Or do they think this is the best teaching of which their teachers are capable?

Something is so seriously wrong with this picture that I wonder, as I reflect on my practice this past year as well as on my students’ performance, what modifications I should make for next year.  I love teaching math because its patterns and provable truths are beautiful, and that the perseverance and logical thinking required to master the content are skills which build intellect and broadly applicable critical thinking skills.  But my students live with Regents grades on their transcripts (and many of my students go on to apply to New York state and city schools, which look at these grades), and I live with them on my performance evaluation.  At this point in my career, I am not necessarily worried about this portion of my evaluation, but it behooves me (as I’ve said before in this blog, many times, I know) to provide my students with the best possible test preparation of which I am capable.

downloadBut there is something so seriously wrong with this picture that I don’t know how to proceed next year; I am unsettled and angry.  I believe(d?) in the Common Core standards , and the big ideas which governed their crafting, the progressions of major topics through the grade bands, and the ‘inch wide, mile deep’ philosophy.  I was a NYC Department of Education Common Core Fellow, and spent three years reviewing allegedly re-aligned textbooks, developing tasks, and creating professional development.  But  overall, the implementation and roll-out of the standards in the state and New York City has been rushed and ill-supported in terms of resources, and after all the professional development, and textbook review, and engageny.org lesson-writing, New York has7c8520213faf4d772afe299c50b20b05 decided to modify the high school content standards, opting out of the national Common Core Learning Standards.  And has created some exams that, in this teacher’s view, do not summatively assess the courses for which were designed.

So that’s Reason #1 I’m unsettled, and it’s taken an entire post.  So Reason #2 will follow in the next few days.  But here’s a preview:

Reason #2: Philando Castile

images

 

Year 11, Day 180 (or thereabouts)

IMG_0542

geobarnett.com

Time flies when you work like a maniac – have I actually been teaching for 11 years?

It feels fitting that this last day of classes is a hot June day.  Although the last day for three months on which my alarm will go off at 5:23 a.m. (a major cause for rejoicing, to be sure), I’m not feeling celebratory.  I spent a lot of the weekend grading final assessments, and the results were disappointing.  In all my classes – both Geometry and Algebra 2 – I created 4 different assessments.  10 questions, 10 points each.  Open notebook.  Cooperative.  The students took 2 class periods to finish them.  The topics were posted on the board in advance.  There was an overnight between the start and the finish (I said that already, right?).  The questions were Regents-style – things they have seen before.  To be honest, I was astounded that the results weren’t better, given the latitude I allowed the students in getting support.  As anyone who knows me can attest, I take these poor results very personally, and reflect as a matter of course on what I can do to help my kids.  But to be honest, I’m upset that my students’ desire for good grades (I know they care very much about this) did not evoke a correlating effort to do well.  I mean, they SAW all the questions, and had an evening to study/procure resources/get help in order to finish their assessments the second day.  But this is not what happened.

I’ve got to let it go for now.

7:20 am

Grading went late into the evening, and I’m still tweaking.  Late panicky emails.  Can’t you adjust my grade?  You are my favorite teacher, after all.  I know I don’t deserve it.

Sigh.  The biggest lesson I need to work on teaching?  Doing whatcha gotta do.  So these last-minute pleas are not necessary.

I remember that my class is way down on the list of priorities for almost every one of my students – just a fact.  We did a wonderful exercise when I was in the NYC Teaching Fellows training program – we folded a piece of paper into 4 rectangles, and in each rectangle wrote one importantly memorable thing about high school.  Guess what?

No one wrote about their math class.

I remember my high school math classes and teachers pretty clearly (I am Her Mathness, after all) – Mrs. Forbes and her exacting proof standards, Mr. Cohen and his bad jokes and comb-over, and procedural teaching of Calculus – and I remember that I enjoyed math and was very good at it.  (I credit my becoming a math teacher to my junior high downloadschool Algebra teacher – tough loving Mrs. Adams, who awed all us south shore of Long Island white students with her Black Power watch.) But when I think ‘high school’  –  the good and bad things it meant to me – those are not the images that rise up.  And I’m a math teacher.  I need to remember that in the teenage brain, math class (for the very vast majority) occupies a very small corner.

1:30 p.m.

I spent the day going over the final assessments with my classes, and answering their specific questions.  The temperature rose throughout the day, and despite the tower fan I brought in from home, the room became barely tolerable, with an occasional hot breeze blowing across from the room across the hall.  The kids, predictably, became quieter and less energetic throughout the day, and I realized at the end of my 5th class that I had been talking for HOURS.  I have a brief respite, and then teach for four hours more – 2 hours of an afterschool Regents prep class, and two private students.

Luckily, this second part of the day is spent in air conditioning.  And because the interactions are in much smaller groups (I have six students in the afterschool class), my teaching has a better chance of being efficacious.

7:30 p.m.

Home at last.  I go through more messages, review the last few work submissions (delayed by absences due to illness and personal circumstances), and make final grade corrections.  I make sure ‘comment codes’ are added to as many grades as possible, and, even though it would be LOT of extra work, I regret not being able to write my own comments; I’d like to be able to express something personally to each student and family – to let them know that I saw every single one of them in the classroom, even if I was not always able to meet everyone’s academic needs.  But (a) this is not school policy, and (b) 168 personal comments?  Yikes!

10:30 p.m.

Finally finished, and tweet out my joy.  I’ve got 2+ weeks still to work, but teaching classes and grading (and seeing the results of my teaching) are finished for the 2016-17 school year.  I have many regrets, and a laundry list of things I wish I had done, and I’m setting new goals as I am closing the book on this school year.  But that sense of liberation – aaaah.Untitled 4.tiff copy

And the lovely, unfailing #MTBoS universe immediately responds: Untitled 5 copy

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 want to give the students as many chances as I can to complete work and demonstrate mastery, but at the end of the term, this turns into work being done at the last minute and students scrambling for credit and points.  This summer, I want to come up with some tools – some specific artifacts (individual tracking sheets?) and other more diffuse classroom cultural norms – to help students take a longer view of the term (and the entire year, for that matter).  That said, there are several students who made significant efforts in the last 3-4 weeks of the term to turn the tide, and were successful.  I’m happy that my systems and encouragement worked for those children.

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?

Some days it was difficult to not be angry at the advantage I perceived my students as taking.  I needed to remind myself repeatedly that they are teenagers, and that even though high expectations are always a priority for me, these expectations may need to be modified for their maturity level.

What am I looking forward to? The next two and a half months!!!

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 began discussing plans with some colleagues to run professional development next fall using modules from Teaching Tolerance.  I will be working with two science teachers – we committed last spring to raising awareness around racism and diversity issues in our school, and thus far have seen the formation of the Midwood High School Social Justice Club.  We’ve got the kids moving in the right direction – next year, our fellow teachers.  I’m pleased how my relationship with these two women has grown.

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 did a better job this year of SEEING my students.  Next year, I want to improve further, and think about how my pedagogy can be more culturally responsive.  I’m not clear on how that will manifest itself in my classroom – this is the work for me to do.

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

My latest scan revealed that things are stable medically – my new medications are working in the right direction.  I continue to feel good, and am deeply thankful for that.  I try to use my health issues as a reminder to live well in the present.  And the present is that vacation is almost here!

Sunday in May: A Day in the Life (May 21, 2017 #DITL)

ollie on jojoToday is Sunday and I am up at 9; I tried to get up earlier, but it’s oh-so-delicious to sleep.  It is a lovely quiet late May Sunday morning.  The cats have been fed — for once I am not the first one awake – and are wrestling one another while I make my weekend breakfast. The kittens (10 months old) actually get into their play-fighting a bit too much and need to be separated, which results in mournful yodeling by Ollie, my wiry little aggressor.  The furor finally subsides, and I settle down to my crossword puzzle and food.

We’ve got 14 instructional days left until Regents exams begin, and this upcoming week is the last 5 day week of the year.  I feel the end of the term beckoning, and am struggling to keep up my planning with enthusiasm for a couple of reasons.  First of all, I suspect I am burnt out from a very intense year – lots of work at Math for America, new curriculum in Algebra 2, trying to shepherd one of my twenty-somethings towards independence while living at home (while worrying about the other twenty-something NOT at home).  I know I need to do some serious restoration work on my teaching soul over the summer.  But back to the new curriculum in Algebra 2 – the second reason for my planning apathy – the last unit of the year, Statistics, is proving to be a bear.  On some levels the content goes deep into new topics – sampling, population proportions, confidence intervals, margin of error – deeper than my content comfort level.  My department (we have been planning ‘cooperatively’ this year, which means each of us has taken a unit to plan; my assignment was the probability unit) has not planned this unit in advance, and the lessons are being sent out piecemeal, without a unit plan.  So I am feeling like (a) I don’t fully understand the topics, (b) the unit is not cohesive, and (c) from an expediency point of view, necessitated by the 14 remaining days, the students do not need to get into a lot of the nitty gritty detail suggested by some of the lessons.
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Expediency – not a word I would ever want to use to describe my teaching or planning.  But here’s the reality – and I’m sure I’ve written about this before – my students will live with the Regents grade on their transcripts.  I too will live with this grade as part of my evaluation, although that bothers me far less (if at all, at this point in my life and career) than the impact this exam has on their record, their egos, their future options and motivation.  It behooves me, thus, to prepare them for the test to the best of my ability.  And I feel myself making a judgement call here – that I can teach the kiddies these very big ideas overriding these very specific topics WELL ENOUGH so that they have an understanding of the underlying logic of a confidence interval of 95%, and what a quantifiable margin of error signifies, and can answer the superficial questions that will most likely be asked of them on June 16.
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Just thinking this way depresses me, and saps my energy – because instead of thinking about how to make my classroom a place of life and learning and excitement, I’m thinking about expediency.  I keep thinking about Megan Schmidt’s 12 Steps for Teachers, and know they are in my very near future.  But I’ve got to let myself off the hook for now and get through the end of the year, readying all 168 of my students for an exam in either Algebra 2 or Geometry.
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The other elephant in the room, or at my school, is a very sad one.  On April 26, one of our students – a sophomore – suffered a cerebral hemorrhage at school.  The school went into lockdown mode so that the EMTs could attend to her, and sadly, she died three days later.   Children are not supposed to die, and certainly not supposed to suffer mortal illnesses in school.  The entire school has been in mourning, and since the bulk of my Algebra 2 students are sophomores, I’ve felt the effect in my classroom quite directly.  We’ve talked as whole classes, and I’ve opened my door to the kids, as well as made resources for support.  There are two girls in particular who were close friends with the girl who died, and one of them hasn’t been back to class yet (she’s been working at home and down in the guidance office, but can’t seem to make it up to the classroom). The other girl has been coming to class, but is frequently late and distracted.  My heart goes out to these children.
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I have a private student this morning – he goes to Stuyvesant High School, and is bright and thoughtful.  His math teacher favors long exams which require quick calculation and answers, but M. is a ponderous kind of mathematician, and his grade, thus, occasionally suffers.  Our work together is always pleasant – he likes to discuss alternative strategies and sense-making. I wish his teacher would lighten up a little on the speed requirement.  He is preparing for an exam on the statistics unit this week, and our session helps me clarify my own planning as well as helps him review and sharpen his understanding.  M. is such a nice kid that I don’t mind giving up an hour on a Sunday morning for him.
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The afternoon is spent planning for my geometry class – we are beginning (better late than never) the Circles unit, and expediency rears its ugly head again.  I have so little time left, and I need to get the most bang for my buck so to speak.  I analyze the Common Core Regents exams thus far in Geometry (there have been five of them) for the frequency of topics related to this unit and use this to guide my planning.  I’m fairly certain I can keep the class together through inscribed angles, but I know that when we get to finding segment lengths of chords and secants, I will most likely lose many of those students with less than solid geometric understanding.  Despite my relief at the end of the year approaching, I wish I had a couple more weeks to work through these ideas with my classes.  Next year….

 

When I finish planning, it’s back to grading and the eternal late Sunday task, folding laundry.  My child Geo finishes their Sunday afternoon shift at the local diner, and we take a lovely evening walk along the park.  I know Geo needs to become independent and move out of the house, but I love our talks.  They are a truly creative thinker – intelligent, snarky and innocent all at once.

We get home, and I make my final preparations for the week to come – back up my computer, update my flash drive, upload my lessons to Google Classroom and PupilPath.  And I try to get to bed before 11 – the alarm goes off at 5:23 a.m.  I’m moderately successful – but I am reading The Hate U Give, and that keeps me up past my bedtime.  Well worth it – an engrossing and important read.
And I’m ready for the next week to begin.

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? 

As I have written in this post, I am not happy with the decisions I am making about how to teach for the remaining few weeks of the school year.  I love to teach for deep understanding, and not for expediency and test preparation.  I am, however, comfortable with the decision I have made because I think the students want to do well on the Regents, and it behooves me to help them do so to the best of my ability.

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?

My new favorite hashtag is #notiredliketeachertired.  I get to this point in the year where getting up before 6 am is only possible because I can count the number of times I have to do it until vacation.  I am feeling like I need to restore my teaching enthusiasm this summer; I have spent the year focusing on how to best teach my students for simultaneous engagement and performance on the high-stakes summative [debatable, actually] Regents exam, and have gotten away from infusing my classroom with delight and discovery.

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 have done my best to reach out to the students that are grieving.  One of these students sent me a pain-filled email about the pointlessness of high school life – the continual striving for good grades only to be randomly struck down at 15.  I wrote back to her, and acknowledged her pain, and without being falsely cheerful, tried to share just a little life wisdom about living while we are alive.  I also forwarded her email to guidance; although her words were within the ‘normal’ range of grief, I did not want to err on the side of complacency about how desperate this child was.  Her family, grateful for the information, has gotten her into some short-term counseling to get her through this difficult period.

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? 

As the year draws to a close, I am pleased with the relationships I have built with my students, and am committed to doing even more next year to know them and provide space for their voices in the classroom.  I am working on this goal by continually examining my reactions to my students – trying to make the tacit more explicit, so to speak.  What unconscious biases and emotions are influencing my behavior with them? It’s a never-ending, and occasionally exhausting, process.

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

It’s my birthday today! (I’m posting on May 27.)  Birthdays are celebrations, every year, and I treasure them.  I’m celebrating by having brunch with a dear friend who moved to California, and dinner with Geo and one of their good buddies.  You would think the universe would let me win the Hamilton ticket lottery today…

 

#DITL April 21, 2017: A little late, a little rushed

Better late than never…

rainy-days-555x345It’s a rainy Friday.  I drive to work because I have my monthly appointment with my oncologist on Long Island. Amazingly I got a parking spot, which relieves me of the parking meter dance – just one of the small details that makes life a little easier.

I arrive at school 6:55 am and go through the applications students have submitted for AP Statistics and Computer Science; I need to make my notes on them (students inflating their current averages by over 10 points – seriously? – student who has made it to class on time less than 50% of the term thus far, etc.) and submit them to my assistant principalimagestoday.  I also need to submit the applications for Introduction to Python from my Geometry students, and sadly, there are only a few
of those.  I go to work creating answer keys for the exam reviews for both Algebra 2 and Geometry; I am testing in all of my classes on Tuesday.  The Friday following is the end of the second marking period, and I
have created a huge workload for myself grading.  But it has to be, unfortunately.  I check the school calendar on the wall; the end of the term is unbelievably close, and I feel those June 16 Regents exams looming.

My actual teaching begins at 8:00 am with three periods of Algebra 2 – we are finding points on and off the unit circle.  Some students understand this topic intuitively (we have been working on the unit circle and trig for over two weeks), others struggle but finish.  Only one or two students seem completely at sea, and I do my best to spend some one-on-one time with them, even if only for a minute.  I distribute three different 663c762f88e05e394a06c9518e4af145worksheets for my students to use for practice and review for the upcoming exam, wondering whether it’s too much.  (Two of the worksheets are ‘puzzles’, and one is a practice exam based closely on the exam they will take next week.  After several years of complaints that my exam questions were unlike the questions students had seen before, I decided to create a review sheet that modeled the exam.) The summative assessments in this class are supposed to be both preparation for the Regents exams, and indicators of future performance.  This is not a practice I necessarily agree with, but it is the direction of my department.   Given some of the comments and questions I am hearing during today’s classwork, I am somewhat worried about the upcoming exam.

During my prep period, I make sure my paperwork for the week is complete, and read an inspiring blog post by Jose Vilson:

“Actual living means taking into account all that keeps us from our fullest humanity and tapping into it. Yes, it leaves us vulnerable. No, it is not easy. Yes, it is more internal work. Yes, it is still worth it. What’s more, living for living’s sake allows us, especially those of us who are educators, to take this work as it comes. We get so exhausted thinking years down the future that we lose out on the moments that lift us. We need to draw ourselves closer to the joy that actually gives us purpose, not wait for purpose to bring us joy…If we’re willing to live, we never worry about dying. We can be risen.”

It’s a good read for this time in the school year (and for this time of day!) – sleep-FullSizeRender 2deprived, worrying about things I can’t control.  I need to think about the joy in my classrooms, the joy of the students, filled with possibility, every day.

Today in Geometry, we learn about the Midpoint Formula, a straightforward topic.  I am doing my best in these classes to keep up the intrigue (writing equations of lines has proved challenging), and, as mentioned before, my eye is on the clock with midnight happening on June 16.  This short three day week back from spring break has been rough – everyone is tired. Luckily, midpoint is pretty intuitive.

I clean up my paperwork (attendance, etc.) during my last period of the day while eating my lunch, rushing to get out for the afternoon drive.  I drop off the AP applications, pack up a massive pile of grading and I’m off.

The drive to Long Island goes smoothly today, and I meet with the doctor with whom I spend more time and see more regularly  than most (nay all) of my friends.  The conversations that have become normalized for me would have been previously unthinkable (and probably are to many of you, hopefully) – genetic testing, cancer markers, monitoring medication side effects, and always, a conversation about politics and how are children are doing.  I am tremendously blessed to have this man as my physician, and while I know I am ‘only’ a patient, there is mutual respect and affection between us, which is why I make this drive every 4 weeks.  The round trip also my private car radio time – when I can sing my head off to Hamilton, inane Top 40 songs, or listen to podcasts.  Today, I am highly entertained by a new favorite – 2 Dope Queens.  Laughing out loud, which makes the rush hour traffic disappear.

I get home at 7, and my older daughter drops in for an overnight visit on her way back from a Historical Costuming Conference in NJ – yet another treat.  We talk about friends, fabric, school, work – and she tells me Philadelphia may be her next city of residence.  I try to contain my delight.  I love visiting her in Plymouth (she points out Massachusetts is the bluest state), but Philadelphia! A great city, and even closer (she spent a year and change in Williamsburg, Virginia, and the long trip made this momma sad).  And not far at all from my long time BFF in North Wales.  Like I said, I’ve got fingers crossed – for her success and happiness, and proximity.

UntitledWe talk until I have to kick her out of my room – I’m attending the Decolonizing Education Conference tomorrow and have to be up at 6:30 (which is an hour later than normal, but still…).  It will be a long day, but filled with many inspiring ideas and interesting folk. I just wish more of this good feeling was related to my teaching.  There’s always next week.

 

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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 am really not happy with my concern over the upcoming Regents exams; this is not who I am as a teacher, and I find that I have to eliminate the exploratory activities that lead to deeper appreciation of the joy of math with deadlines approaching.  But I know that (a) my students will live with these grades on their transcripts and (b) this is a priority of my school.  I feel that it behooves me to do the best I can to prepare them, even if it means we need to be more test-prep-driven in the classroom. I am, however, proud of the way I can infuse teaching the Unit Circle (pretty much one of my favorite things; I’d even consider getting a tattoo of it!) with a lot of passion.  Even if my excitement isn’t contagious to all students, it’s pretty engaging.

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?

You would think that a three day week would be easy.  But everyone – myself included – came back from spring break exhausted.  I’m so tired – this happens at the end of the year.  I just can’t get myself to bed early enough.  So I am looking forward to NOT GETTING UP AT 5:23 AM FOR THREE MONTHS.

 

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.

Unfortunately I am writing this reflection several weeks after I drafted the post.  I’ve had a lot of relational moments recently.  We had a tragedy at school – a sophomore had a brain aneurysm which ruptured while she was at school.  Sadly, she died several dies later.  Many of my students were friends with her, and I have been talking to many of them, hugging when I can, and reminding them of the supports available in school.  There are no good answers in this terrible scenario, but I try to be a supportive and welcoming presence.

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 am doing my best to be there in a personal way for my students, which has been my goal all year long, and I am certain I have grown in this direction. I am seeking out those students who I know are personally struggling and making sure they are getting help.  That said, there are always more students who I can’t reach, don’t have time for – there are only so many hours in a [teaching] day, and I have only so much energy.  But I’m always cognizant of the fact that these children are in my care, not only for math education, but for direction and motivation, and emotional support.

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

IMG_0326Spring break was lovely!  I had my first Passover seder in three years, spurred on by my kids. I really felt restored by the break.  I’m just looking for some professional restoration at the moment.