Category: Uncategorized

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.

w

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!

#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.

 

tumblr_op3jdcTWtO1qlxdvro1_1280

geobarnett.com

REFLECTION

1) Teachers make a lot of decisions throughout the day.  Sometimes we make so many it feels overwhelming.  When you think about today, what is a decision/teacher move you made that you are proud of?  What is one you are worried wasn’t ideal? 

I 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

tumblr_on6rc0ytb11qlxdvro1_1280

geobarnett.com

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

2000px-Euler_diagram_of_triangle_types.svg

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‼