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

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Year 11, Day 180 (or thereabouts)

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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.

 

#DITL 3/21/17: March is raging like a lion for me

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Slow start this morning due to spring allergies, right on time with the early warm weather.  But by time I’m at school, my homeostasis seems to return.  I take the exam I am about to administer to my Algebra 2 classes one more time, making sure that answers are reasonable, and that all the big ideas included have been thoroughly covered and reviewed.  I look for and find a lovely extra-credit question which really gets at the structure of logarithms. Untitled 3 It took me a couple of tries to puzzle out the solution to this problem; I would love it if a few of my students figured it out.

 

10:43 A.M.

Three periods of testing; I managed to look at the multiple choice questions from two of the classes, and haven’t come across a paper yet with all 10 correct, which gives me pause.  Was there something I missed in either teaching or reviewing?  After I am done grading, I’ll have to go back and look at where most of the errors occurred.  Parent-Teacher conferences are on Thursday evening and Friday (it’s Tuesday now), and it would be optimal to have the exams graded by then.  A bit of a Herculean effort, but I’m going to go for it.  But right now, I have to do a little prep for Geometry this afternoon – print Agendas for the tables, and review the lesson for questioning strategies.

11:35 A.M.

No working printers to be found, so the agenda is put on the board.  I am really enjoying my geometry classes this term; I am channeling my inner ‘pirate’ and exuding enthusiasm for triangles like nobody’s business (not a stretch for me, in truth – just ask my fellow quilters about the ad hoc lesson on special right triangles I gave at our mini-retreat last

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ALL triangles are special!

weekend.  I convinced them all that the 30˚-60˚-90˚ triangle was, in fact, a Platonic Ideal.)  The students, for the most part, respond with equal enthusiasm, if not 100% comprehension.  The engagement, however, is wonderful – I’ve even gotten the oh-so-cool-math-is-for-losers Abdullah to put away his cell phone to complete the Daily Quiz (a formative assessment currently dubbed by the students “The Biggie Triggie”).  I spend a lot of time backtracking while observing student difficulties during this activity.  What I have noticed is that each new idea they learn gets folded into what they learned the previous day – which is good, except when the distinctions between which ideas apply to which problems is blurred.  For example, we began by identifying trigonometric ratios on all types of right triangles and using them to find missing sides before I introduced special right triangles.  (I love telling the kids that sin 30˚ = 1/2 is the most important thing they will learn all year.  Their Algebra 2 and Pre-Calculus teachers will thank me.)  But when we go back to solving problems with non-special right triangles (if such things even exist – aren’t ALL right triangles special?!?), many children are labeling sides with the 1-√3 -2 ratios.  As this type of misunderstanding surfaces, I jump into mini-mini lessons in which I attempt to clarify the previously taught ideas in a different way – hopefully one which will illuminate that which I failed to convey the first time taught.

 

Today we are working on word problems solved with trigonometry, after unplanned but clearly necessary The Biggie Triggie mini-lesson.  If the students understand how the trigonometric ratios work, however, the word problems shouldn’t present much of a problem (at least the starter problems) – the triangles in these problems (ladders against walls, kite strings, hills being climbed) are pretty easy to spot and sketch.  Despite student antipathy for word problems, I manage to convince these two lovely classes that these are the word problems that will end their fear, because they can and will SUCCEED.  It works.  Amazing.  I’m so lucky to have these kids this term, and at the end of the day.  I always finish happily – extolling the virtues of the mighty triangle.

1:45 P.M.

My paperwork for the day is done, and I go through tomorrow’s lessons to make sure that I have everything ready – my day starts at 7:10 A.M., and surprises at that hour can be very unpleasant.  Tomorrow’s lesson in Algebra 2 – Introduction to Summation – is not my favorite one; it’s highly procedural.  But after several weeks of exponential functions and logarithms, the routine problems will provide a respite (and confidence booster) for many of the students.  In Geometry, we’ll be working on problems involving angles of elevation and depression.  I’ve got a nice introduction to this topic (and if you are the source of this introduction, thank you – but I don’t remember where I found this resource), one which gets the kids up and looking around.  More geometry fun!

FullSizeRender 4I’m ready to leave (the upside to arriving before 7 A.M.!) school.  On my way out, I stop in the restroom, and run into the Video Production teacher.  We’re both at the end of our day, and fairly relaxed, so we begin chatting – the first social chat I can recall having with her.  She is mentoring two former students of mine who have been making short films (I was recently interviewed by them for their latest effort on the results and repercussions of 2016 election), who apparently have told her we need to be friends.  Great!  I need allies at school!  She makes me a gift of a button she is marketing, and our friendship is started.

4:30 P.M.

I have two private students this afternoon, an 8th grader taking Algebra 1, and a 9th grade Geometry student.  My tutoring schedule becomes heavy in the spring – with state tests and Regents beginning to loom – extending the work day 2-3 hours several times each week.  Besides the financial reward, I really enjoy working one-on-one with students.  It gives me the opportunity to provide the specific customized help that I aspire to in the classroom, without the 34 student/45 minutes constraint. And I also get deeper insight into where misconceptions happen, something I can definitely use in school.  And I can see what other teachers are doing – it’s always eye-opening to see how different classrooms and schools can approach the same courses and standards.

7 P.M.

Finally – home, dinner, and a little mindless television to grade exams by.  I manage to get through about half of the tests this evening, and the results, while not stellar, are better than I expected on what is usually one of the more difficult topics in the course.  I am encouraged; maybe I’m getting good at this…(famous last words…)

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 completing this post several days after it was due, so I have some information that I did not have at the end of this day – namely that in the 3rd class that took the Algebra 2 exam, I discovered evidence of cheating by several students.  So clearly my proctoring was not vigilant enough, and the consequences of this I am still dealing with 5 days later.  On a positive note, my efforts to rejuvenate the Geometry classes are successful thus far, and I am committed to maintaining the highly charged (positively) atmosphere in the classroom.

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 learning Python – I am preparing (and being trained) to teach an Introductory Computer Science course next year.  The pilot course is only being offered to students in our ‘non-gifted’ track, which is wonderful – it is high time for those students to be offered a new opportunity.  And I may be teaching some of my Geometry students, who I am growing more fond of every day.

Big challenges.  I lost my first cousin this month after a brief and ravaging illness, and I am terribly sad.  I’ve had trouble dipping into the online community since the Untitledinauguration, and this has shut me down a little more.  There’s a time for everything, and this is a time for me to be with my thoughts.  But motivation is hard some days.  Thank goodness for the kids – they always distract me.

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.

It’s kind of funny to think of a friendship beginning in a public school bathroom, but it was nice to connect with someone new and quite different from me (ostensibly, anyway).  Ms. B – the video production teacher – has always struck me as an artiste, dresses very bohemian, and always seems to be floating around happily.  But our few minutes of chatting made her much more real to me, and it turns out that we have more in common than I had suspected.  I’m looking forward to learning more about her.

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 continue to work on better relationships with my students, on seeing them more clearly, and trying to think the best of them first and always.  Without any specifics to offer, I think that I am doing a good job of this and feel a lot of good will in my classroom.  And progress has been made in the name of equity and awareness in my school, although I can’t take all the credit – our newly formed Social Justice Club will be holding its first meeting next week.

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

Let me tell you about my wonderful cousin, Amy Pollack.  She was a middle school ESL teacher who was completely devoted to her students and school community – she retired two years ago and continued to work two days/week at her school.  The outpouring of love and gratitude from students on her FaceBook page after her death reminded me of the same sentiments expressed by my mother’s students.  Amy also gave back to her local community by working at the Putnam Valley Food Pantry, very often acting as translator for families in need.  She loved to dance (famous for leading the Electric Slide at every family event), and to laugh, and we spent every Passover together for as long as I can remember.  I will miss her.10509525_935067653173905_7530723527773813431_n

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.