This post comes to you at 6:22 AM on the first very cold and blustery day of the season. It’s the start of the short pre- Thanksgiving week, and I am looking forward to the 4 day weekend probably as much as my students. The harsh chill wind feels appropriate after the morning news; stories which contrast some Jewish support for Donald Trump with his anti-Muslim rhetoric and views are particularly upsetting this morning. After a lifetime of holding up the Holocaust and saying, “never forget, never again,” it appears that some of my cultural compatriots are doing exactly that. The fear my Muslim students expressed to me on November 9 stays with me, and I am wondering how I can make them feel safe, at least in my classroom. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about privilege the last few weeks, and I can thank the upset in the election for this – perhaps the only benefit I can see right now.
On the agenda today: In my three sections of Algebra 2, the students will be working in groups on tomorrow’s exam. This is the first time I have tried this strategy, but, bolstered by input from Jonathan Claydon, Amy Hogan and my office mate, I’m hoping the communal efforts will boost student understanding of the content, and their independent demonstrations of mastery. My concerns include making sure no exams (or photos of them) leave the classroom, and students not making good use of their time together. In Discrete Math, we will beginning our unit on Problem Solving strategies, which is a distillation of the course I taught last fall. I will still be using problem sets from Crossing the River with Dogs, but I’ve come up with several different versions of each set to use for assessment. The summative project in this unit will involve the students creating problem sets of their own; again, I am trying to counter any inclination to over-collaborate (how’s that for a euphemism?).
It’s not even 7:30 AM and I volunteered to go on the spring trip to Quebec with the foreign language department. I don’t speak any French, but I’d love to visit Canada, and maybe they need a math teacher!? The sound of the wind is a howl in my office, which is located on a corner of the school building on the top floor. Here we go, Monday morning.
Two sections of Algebra 2 worked on the ‘practice exam’; many students commented that they found it a helpful exercise. From my view, the group review surfaced the topics that need the most study, and I was able to reiterate these areas to the entire class. For me, it was an opportunity to observe, deflect questions and refer the students back to one another for support. At the end of each class, the students were puzzled that there would be no answer key provided for this review, and that they needed to leave the papers with me. But I provided a review and practice sheet for them last week, complete with an answer key, as well as an assignment on deltamath.com with many practice questions. I think it may have dawned on some of the students that they were looking at the actual exam, and this will be the only time I can use this element of surprise. Hopefully, I will see better results and more work that evidences understanding tomorrow.
A new basketball league was formed in which each of the teams will play three games against each of the other teams. There are seven teams: the Antelopes, the Bears, the Cubs, the Dusters, the Eagles, the Foxes, and the Goats. How many games will be played in all?
The range of approaches was impressive, although very few students attempted to draw a picture for a solution. I saw charts, lists, tree diagrams, and on some papers, a simple but erroneous 7 x 3 = 21. Many students who realized that the Antelopes needed to play 18 games assumed that each of the other 6 teams would play 18 different games as well. But in each class, there was at least one student who understood that the number of games each team would play when calculated this way was double the actual amount. It was a clear learning moment for those students who had made the error – I hope. (Come to think of it, the student work on this problem would make good fodder for mathmistakes.org!) I drew a network sketch on the board to show how I calculated the answer, but it looked complicated to many of the students – I’m not sure I disagreed.
We moved on to Model Train Set:
1) Teachers make a lot of decisions throughout the day. Sometimes we make so many it feels overwhelming. When you think about today, what is a decision/teacher move you made that you are proud of? What is one you are worried wasn’t ideal?
I was very proud of my deflecting all student questions during the exam review today. I redirected the children back to each other, and answered their questions with more questions. And I think I managed to keep them from being furious with me while I was doing it.
Conversely, I think I could have pushed my Discrete Math students with some questioning a little more during the problem solving activity. I’m going to work on that in the lessons to come.
2) Every person’s life is full of highs and lows. Share with us some of what that is like for a teacher. What are you looking forward to? What has been a challenge for you lately?
3) We are reminded constantly of how relational teaching is. As teachers we work to build relationships with our coworkers and students. Describe a relational moment you had with someone recently.
I am feeling more confident in the relationships I am developing with people at Math for America. I’ve come a long way to get there, but that’s another story for another post (maybe).
4) Teachers are always working on improving, and often have specific goals for things to work on throughout a year. What have you been doing to work toward your goal? How do you feel you are doing?
I had four students come see me for extra help today in preparation for tomorrow’s exam – they came bustling in with their snacks in between classes and the school basketball game. They asked questions, helped each other, and worked away. I love when the kids are that comfortable in my office, and it lets me know I am creating safe spaces for them in which to be themselves.
5) What else happened this month that you would like to share?
Saturday night was Nerd Prom aka the Math for America Fall Function, complete with aerial entertainment, decagonal menus, and a mayoral speech. I said in my last post that November 2016 has not been my favorite month ever, but Saturday evening helped. Thanks, Math for America!