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

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.  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

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!

I’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 inauguration, 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.

# 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.

The 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 the 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, practices, 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 running 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‼

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

geobarnett.com

## 6:18 a.m.  – On the Bus

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

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

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

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

## 6:55 a.m. – Arrival at school

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

## 9:57 4th Period Prep

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

## 2:27 p.m. School day is over

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

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

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

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

## 8:08 p.m. Home at Last

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

## Reflection

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

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

2) Every person’s life is full of highs and lows.  Share with us some of what that is like for a teacher.  What are you looking forward to?  What has been a challenge for you lately?

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

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

3) We are reminded constantly of how relational teaching is.  As teachers we work to build relationships with our coworkers and students.  Describe a relational moment you had with someone recently.

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

4) Teachers are always working on improving, and often have specific goals for things to work on throughout a year.  What have you been doing to work toward your goal?  How do you feel you are doing?

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

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

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

# ﻿Ms. Menard and the Very Blustery Day: #DITL November 21, 2016

geobarnett.com

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.

9:51 am
Two sections of Algebra 2 worked on the ‘practice exam’; many students commented that they found it a helpful exercise.  From my view, the group review surfaced the topics that need the most study, and I was able to reiterate these areas to the entire class.  For me, it was an opportunity to observe, deflect questions and refer the students back to one another for support. At the end of each class, the students were puzzled that there would be no answer key provided for this review, and that they needed to leave the papers with me.  But I provided a review and practice sheet for them last week, complete with an answer key, as well as an assignment on deltamath.com with many practice questions.  I think it may have dawned on some of the students that they were looking at the actual exam, and this will be the only time I can use this element of surprise.  Hopefully, I will see better results and more work that evidences understanding tomorrow.

1:27 PM
My teaching day is over, although I’ve got two meetings left to go, and a private student.  My Discrete Math classes both went well (yay!!); the introduction to problem-solving was met with both interest and cooperation, some of which is a vestige of last week’s Parent Teacher Conferences.
Our first problem-solving strategy is Draw a Diagram, and we began with Virtual Basketball League:

A new basketball league was formed in which each of the teams will play three games against each of the other teams. There are seven teams: the Antelopes, the Bears, the 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:

This simple problem got them all drawing pictures – those students that resisted struggled a bit.  Many drew circles, but there was at least one solution that resulted in a triangle inside a circle, and then my personal favorite:
Of course – six poles – the vertices of a hexagon!  Brilliant, Ithought – this solution appealed to the geometer in me.
In both sections, particularly the troublesome 7th period, the unit launch went well.  I’m looking forward to more of the students’ work as we proceed through the different strategies.  The big lesson I learned from teaching this last year was the need to have problems with multiple solutions.  I  haven’t gotten to that yet, but I have created several versions of the problem sets I want the students to complete for each problem-solving strategy, and the unit project will provide differentiation in its open-ended nature.
The third section of Algebra 2 went as well as the morning sections, although, perhaps predictably, the student need was more evident – predictably because the quiz and exam results of this class have been markedly lower than the other two, much to my mystification.  While working on the practice exam, entire tables would become stumped by a question.  My first usual response to questions – “Have you asked your tablemates?” was as often as not met with “yes, and none of us know how to do it.”  I gave hints and tried to point them in a direction without giving a direct answer.  I began a list on the board entitled “What I Am Noticing”, to which I added items like “You need to practice solving quadratic inequalities,” or “Everyone should review Focus Directrix form of the equation of a parabola”.  I hope they take my suggestion to heart.  I’ve got 4 girls in my office at the moment, practicing those two topics (and others) until this afternoons basket ball game, and I’m hoping that their efforts are indicative of those of their fellow classmates.  I’d really love to see some improvement in the exam scores.  I can’t wait to see their faces, and hear their comments, when they realize they had been working on the exam all along.  Will they be happy? Peeved that I dissembled today?  Will I see work that truly evidences understanding rather than mere recall from the practice?
2:45
My first meeting was a bust – we have bi-monthly professional development at the end of the day on Monday; we are supposed to be engaged in one of two inquiry cycles to be completed during the school year.  We’ve been given little direction from our facilitators, but fortunately I am pairing with a teacher who understand the process, as do I.  She lives with the consequences of students not fully understanding how to manipulate and simplify rational expressions, a topic that I will be teaching in January, so we’ve come up with the strategy of having students look at incorrectly solved problems in order to hone their skills.  Today, however, our meeting never took shape.  The facilitators did not appear, nor did the other department we are working with on this assignment (science).  Calls to our assistant principal’s and principal’s office did nothing to enlighten the situation. The attending teachers, thus, spent the time reviewing [sort of] the inquiry cycle, among other professional (ahem) issues.  I’m not normally one to ignore an assignment, but this inquiry effort, launched by our administration with little framing and preparation for the staff, feels, if not misguided, then perhaps mismanaged, and just plain missed as an opportunity.  Tomorrow, the Instructional Cabinet (another committee I sit on) will be discussing just this issue at an open meeting tomorrow afternoon.  Hopefully some progress will be made towards a more constructive use of our professional development time.
I’m off to Manhattan for a meeting at Math for America to pre-plan for a summer conference, spearheaded by Matt Baker and Brian Palacios!  The wind is still howling outside, so talking about a summer conference sounds very nice indeed.
9:21 PM
Home at last – and almost time for bed.  The meeting at Math for America was great, and I was sorry that I couldn’t stay for the whole thing – the opportunity to be involved at the very beginning of the planning process is envigorating, even as my teacher energy is hitting that dip before winter holiday build-up begins (does that even make sense?).  I’m looking forward to continued participation in that effort.
I left early to meet with a private student – a girl I have been working with since she was in 7th grade; we no longer meet regularly (she is in high school), but she is insecure prior to exams and always wants a tutoring ‘booster’.  And anyone who knows me at all knows that I never turn down an opportunity to talk geometry.  I turned her on to my favorite compass – always fun to see how excited someone becomes when they realize there is an alternative to the typical pointy hard-to-control tools.  I love having these long term relationships with students – watching them grow, and helping them learn to appreciate math – even if it means an extra-long Monday.
Finally at home, I get a snuggle from Ollie, and have a quick FaceTime conversation with Izzy, my friend’s daughter.  I’ve known this child since she was five; she’s now a freshman at one of New York’s specialized high schools.  She texted me earlier this evening while studying for a geometry exam (seems to be going around tonight..), and not only am I sucker for geometry, but I’m a sucker for this kid as well.  It was my pleasure to discuss negation, triangle centers, and congruence shortcuts with her.
I’ve got two days to go to Thanksgiving break.  In those two days, I’ve got an exam to give, projects to grade, a meeting of my Professional Learning Team on Racially Relevant Pedagogy and a medical appointment.  Thursday’s lazy morning beckons tantalizingly.  But I’ve got to go to bed tonight before I can begin to get there.

Reflection

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

I was very proud of my deflecting all student questions during the exam review today.  I redirected the children back to each other, and answered their questions with more questions.  And I think I managed to keep them from being furious with me while I was doing it.

Conversely, I think I could have pushed my Discrete Math students with some questioning a little more during the problem solving activity.  I’m going to work on that in the lessons to come.

2) Every person’s life is full of highs and lows.  Share with us some of what that is like for a teacher.  What are you looking forward to?  What has been a challenge for you lately?

3) We are reminded constantly of how relational teaching is.  As teachers we work to build relationships with our coworkers and students.  Describe a relational moment you had with someone recently.

I am feeling more confident in the relationships I am developing with people at Math for America.  I’ve come a long way to get there, but that’s another story for another post (maybe).

4) Teachers are always working on improving, and often have specific goals for things to work on throughout a year.  What have you been doing to work toward your goal?  How do you feel you are doing?

I had four students come see me for extra help today in preparation for tomorrow’s exam – they came bustling in with their snacks in between classes and the school basketball game.  They asked questions, helped each other, and worked away.  I love when the kids are that comfortable in my office, and it lets me know I am creating safe spaces for them in which to be themselves.

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

Saturday night was Nerd Prom aka the Math for America Fall Function, complete with aerial entertainment, decagonal menus, and a mayoral speech.  I said in my last post that November 2016 has not been my favorite month ever, but Saturday evening helped.  Thanks, Math for America!

# #DITL Day in the Life: Parent Teacher Conferences

Today is the Autumnal Education Equinox – the longest day of the teacher’s year: Parent Teacher Conferences.  Arriving at school at 6:45 am, I will be leaving at 8:45 pm, and arrive back at school tomorrow at the same time for round two.  I don’t mind conferences at all, except for this intense two day period.  Tomorrow is a half-day; school is open to parents from 12:15 to 2:15, and the six class periods being held in the morning are shortened to 33 minutes each.  The classes meet earlier than their normal times because of this schedule, so absenteeism is high. I’m not happy to lose the day of instruction, especially with my Algebra 2 kids.

In Discrete Math, the kids have been working hard on their probability games, creating (among other things) some great artwork for the classroom.  I’ve gotten in touch with a number of parents in those classes in recent weeks (behavior issues, unfortunately), and I’m hoping some of them will come up to school.  Traditionally, however, my elective classes bring in fewer parent/guardians than my core classes.  In Algebra 2, I just returned an exam on which many students did poorly.  This is a ‘gifted’ track class, so I am expecting a big turnout.

Thursday Night

I was very busy the first night, which is good, and had a fair mix of visitors from both of my courses – Discrete Math and Algebra 2.  As predicted, there were a fair number of Algebra 2 parents who were concerned about their children’s last test grade, and I spelled out for each of them the steps I was taking to support the children in their preparation for the upcoming exam – detailed review sheet mirroring the exam with an answer key,creating weekend study partnerships, and group review of the exam the day before it is to be given – and what their children could do to help themselves – review class notes and problems, ASK questions in class, seek extra help, work through the review. (I felt a little like a broken record, but the truth is that most students need to do all of these things.)  I love being able to share details about their children’s classroom aspect with parents; I remember how important that was when i was on the other side of the table (nothing worse than feeling like your child is not much more than a line in a teacher’s gradebook).

I also had several parents who I had contacted regarding lack of work or challenging behavior on the part of their children; I was very glad to be able to have those conversations face to face, particularly if the student was there.  Some meetings were difficult, however; a student who I cannot engage in one of my Discrete Math classes laughed at his parents as they tried to find out why he refused to participate in any way in my class.  At the very end of the evening, after parents were theoretically no longer to be in the building, I had the opportunity to speak with the mother of a student who has pushed my tolerance to the limit this term – taunting others, copying work, and when submitting work, drawing pornographic pictures on it (don’t ask). Denying his culpability to the last moment, this boy finally agreed to make up some missing work over the long Thanksgiving weekend.  We’ll see.

Friday Afternoon

The half day of classes went very quickly – when periods are a wee bit longer than a half hour, they fly by.  But most of my Algebra 2 kids were in attendance, and dove into correcting the aforementioned exam. But when conferences began, the afternoon moved much more slowly – I had only 6 visitors.  In fact, I wrote most of the recap of Thursday night while I waiting for parents.  I had a meeting with one more mother of a student who chooses not to do work but rather to argue with and bait me in Discrete Math; this mother is relying on faith to help her son as her other strategies have failed.  She thanked me for my patience, but I wish we could have come up with a better plan.  I’ll keep trying in class.  And so another season’s Parent Teacher Conferences have ended.

Reflection

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

I was proud of my launching of the ‘Weekend Study Buddies’ initiative in my Algebra 2 classes; enough students signed up in each class to indicate that it could be a worthwhile effort.  Maybe I can be even more structured about this in the future.

I had a few parents who weren’t satisfied with hearing that ‘many students didn’t do well on the last exam’ and I don’t blame them.  This doesn’t address their child’s specific needs, and I am certain that many of them say to their kids (as I said to mine), “I don’t care what other children do, I only care what YOU do”.  I wish I could have given them more specific information about their child’s performance on the exam, but honestly, with 102 students in Algebra 2, I just didn’t have the data.

2) Every person’s life is full of highs and lows.  Share with us some of what that is like for a teacher.  What are you looking forward to?  What has been a challenge for you lately?

I am looking forward to my first attempt at a group exam process next week.  I hope it improves the results and the students’ level of preparation when it comes to working on their own. A challenge? The flip side of the previous sentence – trying to figure out how to promote deeper understanding of ideas that I think have been clearly presented, how to formatively assess more frequently and effectively so I am not blindsided by clear evidence that deep understanding has not been achieved.

3) We are reminded constantly of how relational teaching is.  As teachers we work to build relationships with our coworkers and students.  Describe a relational moment you had with someone recently.

I had a lovely moment with some of the boys in an Algebra 2 class today.  Our school won the New York City PSAL Baseball Championship last year; apparently we have a number of young superstars, and the winning pitcher is in my 3rd period class.  These boys are already being recruited by colleges; some commit to an institution as early as their sophomore year, only to find out that ‘better’ schools might want them enough to provide full scholarships later on. We discussed the pros and cons of making an early decision, and they made me promise that ‘when’ they were in the Championship series again this year, I would attend the game (I sadly could not last June).

4) Teachers are always working on improving, and often have specific goals for things to work on throughout a year.  What have you been doing to work toward your goal?  How do you feel you are doing?

The attainment of my goal of building better relationships with my students is progressing in many cases, but not all.  I am working towards seeking more educational opportunity for all of them, and looking honestly at myself and my behaviors that may or may not promote that.  As I faced the parents of my black and Muslim students, I thought about the racism and prejudice they face, and their fears in light of the presidential election result.  I want to be an ‘ally’ in the true sense of the word.  I am trying to use my empathy and privilege to create safe spaces.  I don’t know if I am succeeding, although I have made it clear that equity is a theme in my classroom.

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

November 2016 has not been my favorite month.  The world is changing in a way that I cannot predict.  I don’t want to live in fear, but rather channel my grief and outrage into action, as mentioned in the previous paragraph.  I’m hoping to find co-conspirators in this effort, and to hold myself accountable to that goal.

And I hope my Algebra 2 kids do better on the next exam…. ; )

geosaurus.tumblr.com

# Day in the Life: October 21, 2016

Friday, Friday!

It’s hard to feel that joyous at 6:10 AM, waiting for the bus in the dark. This is the first full five day week in three weeks, so I’m a little tired. I am looking forward to the weekend, but I am attending a full day restorative justice training tomorrow (Saturday), so I  won’t be sleeping in for another day or two.  I’m also feeling the hint of a scratchy throat and post nasal drip, and hoping that the extra vitamins and Airborne I downed this morning keep the threatening cold at bay; hopefully the momentum and energy of the day will push me past it.

The nice thing about commuting this early in the morning is that it’s quiet and quick. (I’m actually the only one on the bus for the first few stops.)I see the same group of 4 women taking their daily walk around the park at 6:15 AM; I’ve seen them every day for the last 5 years, and know the bus is right behind them.  I sort of envy their ritual and imagine how much of each other’s lives they’ve shared in this early morning trek.  Then again, they’re getting up before 6 am when they don’t have to, so maybe envy isn’t the right feeling. 😜

I’m always amazed at how much is already happening at school when I arrive at 6:45.  I eat breakfast at my desk and open up my lesson for algebra two. I’m introducing quadratic inequalities today, and I am nervous. My department tends to teach this topic in a completely procedural manner, and I am determined to get the children some conceptual understanding before we go into procedure. I’m borrowing an idea from Sam Shah, but I don’t really have the time to go through his entire excellent exploration. I decide to use a demonstration on Desmos; the students can open the calculator on their phones, and do the exploration along with me. First we have to review compound linear inequalities, and I know from experience, that even though they have seen these in middle school and Algebra 1, for many children, it will be as if this is a brand new topic this morning. Knowing that they need to understand linear any qualities before we even approach quadratic inequalities makes me nervous; given our departmental pacing calendar, I don’t have time to spend a whole period on this introduction. I also know, that if I don’t make sure everyone is familiar with linear inequalities, that I will lose one third of the class when we move onto quadratics. This push-pull between the pacing calendar and the realities of my students’ proficiency informs most of my instruction. It’s 30 minutes to showtime, so I’m off to set up my classroom.

LATER

My first 2 classes were back-to-back sections of Algebra 2, ‘gifted’ track; I was spontaneously observed during the first class, which of course meant that the SmartBoard wasn’t working properly.  The display was functional, however, so all was not lost.  We began with this warm-up, and things went as I predicted.  Most of the students were comfortable with the first two problems, many were not with the second pair.  As they worked and conferred with one another, I asked students to put some correct and incorrect work on the board (I thanked the students who were putting incorrect work on the board, and told them that they were giving the class the opportunity to look at a common error).  We did a lot of noticing and wondering, and then moved on to some purely algebraic examples, which served to surface further questions, such as ‘Does the variable always need to be on the left?’ and ‘Do we read the inequality from left to right or right to left?’.  All great questions which reflect conceptual misunderstandings that should be corrected before we go further.

By the time we worked through the Do Now and the three examples above, and reviewed how to express the solutions in Interval and Set Builder Notation, there was barely time for independent practice, and quadratics?  Hopefully on Monday.  I spoke to my AP during the observation; she also teaches a section of Algebra 2 and agreed that the pacing needed to be adjusted to make sure the students were recalling all that prior knowledge we were assuming they had.

I have a break after these two classes which is supposed to be my lunch period (it’s from 9:45 to 10:30); I have a student monitor during that time who is great at sorting through paperwork, checking in homework, and running errands that would eat up the free period. Two Algebra 2 students from different sections stopped by for help with the previous night’s homework.  I am always very glad to see kids with questions, and wish there were more who had the time or inclination to come ask.  Quite frequently this makes the difference between moving forward with the class or getting left further behind.

After ‘lunch’ comes my daily challenge – three classes in a row: another section of Algebra 2 sandwiched in between two sections of Discrete Math.  The character of the two Discrete Math sections is very different.  In the first section, the attendance is healthy, as is the percentage of work submitted by students, and participation.  We are in the middle of a unit on probability, and after a week of spinners and dice, we have moved on to Expected Value.  It’s the first time I’ve taught this topic, and I’m enjoying it, as are the students who are allowing themselves to stay involved.  Yesterday we spent the period flipping quarters and manipulating game score structures to change the expected value for each player.  Today, I proposed a marble game to the students (they would pick a marble from a bag, and I would pay them a certain amount of money depending on the color), and asked the kids how much they would pay to play.  (By the way, my students are very wary and kind of cheap! No gamblers here.) The kids are intrigued because the math is accessible, the topic is not hugely remote, and in fact, entertaining.  Next week, we are moving on to Money Duck, which will be followed by students will be designing their own money animals.  The final assessment for the unit will be a group (optional) project in which the kids design carnival games.  This is not my project, and I’m not sure who created it – a quick Google search reveals the same pdf file on several websites.  Here’s the version I am using (many thanks to its originator):

https://www.scribd.com/document/328440959/Probability-Project-Design-a-Game

I am really looking forward to seeing these games.

The afternoon Algebra 2 class ran similarly to the morning sections, and my teaching day finished with my second, and more challenging, Discrete Math class.   This class has lower and varying attendance; I have a group of boys who come to class intermittently, and sometimes all together. The class has five current or former English Language Learners, six students with IEPs, and many of the students (ELL/IEP or not) are not on track for graduation.  There are twenty seven students on the roster, but I rarely have more than sixteen in class (except for the day I was observed, natch – how do the kids know??).  Although I’m not dealing with the type of hostility I encountered last fall, there is a smarmy and somewhat sexist lack of respect coming from some of the young men which I have not yet found an effective way to counter.  The content is engaging (games of chance, logic puzzles, tossing dice, flipping coins and collecting data).  I’ve tried private conversations, reaching out to guidance counselors, and some phone calls home.  I am avoiding involving the Dean’s office unless absolutely necessary.  I realize that the problematic students are outnumbered by those who are working and engaged, but the off-task behavior seems to control the class.  I’m frustrated; it’s the end of the first marking period, and we’ve got a long way to go this term.  I’m contemplating individual goal-setting and contracts to start the second marking period, but have a feeling that this may not be the best strategy with 17 year olds who have not found anything worthwhile in a math classroom in quite a while.  If you’ve got any ideas, I’d love to hear them.

Today is the end of the first marking period, so there was a flurry of late work submitted to my inbox.  I allowed corrections on DeltaMath for the last Algebra 2 quiz; many, MANY students took advantage of this opportunity, and I have decided to give back 50% of the points.  When students do corrections by retaking assessments in my presence, I usually return 100% of the points.  But after a lot of thought, I decided that working through examples on a website was great practice and progress toward mastery, but not necessarily evidence of independent proficiency.  It’s tricky, and not something I have done before.  We don’t do standards based grading at my school, but I am a firm believer in allowing students the opportunity to take the time they need to learn.  I don’t, however, have a complete structure in place, and occasionally worry that my foray into allowing corrections will backfire – it only takes one angry and vocal parent to create a problem.

It’s 3:46 P.M. – I’ve been at school for NINE HOURS.  I have a pile of grading which needs to get done in time for marking period grades to be submitted early next week, and I’m still fighting my body’s urge to succumb to the cold.  If I go home, get in bed, and rest for a day, I might avoid it.  But the restorative justice training tomorrow beckons….

I could continue this post for the rest of my day, but I can predict what the next six hours will look like:  me in pajamas, fending off kittens while I try to grade papers and sip tea.  Eventually I will crash with a crossword puzzle (and I predict that the training will have to happen another time; the thought of getting sick right now NOT ALLOWED).

Happy Halloween! from 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 think my decision to stay focused on linear inequalities and surface misconceptions was a good one; if I pushed ahead to quadratics, not only would I have lost some students content-wise, but their frustration might have farther reaching consequences beyond this lesson.  And when kids come to talk to me about their homework, I know that they trust me, and care enough about the class to make sure they are keeping up.

Not ideal – I can’t seem to strike the right note with the boys that are giving me some trouble in my last class.  I can feel my temperature rising with some of their rudeness, and have wished that I could say what I am thinking…not a good sign.

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?

As we shift to the Common Core standards in Algebra 2, I am committed to moving beyond procedural teaching and investing the time in looking at bigger ideas; I know I have made some concrete steps in this direction in a number of lessons, and I’m looking forward to continuing with that work.  As far as challenges, I think I’ve described them pretty well in this post.  It’s ongoing.

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.

A student came up to me the day before yesterday and asked me if he could still retake the first quiz.  Before I answered, he apologized for being out of it (which I hadn’t noticed; he had been participating in class), and said he had a lot going on at home.  I asked him if he was okay, and he told me that his parents were splitting up.  He choked up and had tears in his eyes.  I felt so badly, and we talked for a few minutes.  I think it’s hard for boys to be emotional like this in high school, and I’m glad he trusted me enough to reach out for help.  He’s been out for the last two days, and I am concerned.

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 continually try to connect with the students as the term goes on.  My response to the students in my Discrete Math classes that are challenging me is more open and conciliatory than it has been in the past, despite my frustration with some of their behavior.  The conversation with Damon (previous question) shows me that there ‘s so much going on with our kids that we can’t see, especially in a math classroom.
5) What else happened this month that you would like to share?

Next week the Racially Relevant Pedagogy PLT I am facilitating with Jose Vilson meets for the first time – I am nervous and excited.  We had a great planning meeting last week, and I think we’re pretty good collaborators.  I was also proud to have my blog post in the Math for America Teacher Voices blog a week or so ago.

# Day in the Life: 2 First Days

We have a soft opening at my school.  Due to the number of students on our rosters (4,100), it takes 1/3 of a day to distribute MetroCards, Lunch Forms and other school correspondence.  Student arrival times are staggered on this first day, alternating grade level assemblies with ‘homeroom’.  [‘Homeroom’ meets three times each year – at the start of each term, and at the very end of the year, for aforementioned document distribution and final reports cards.]  At 10:00 AM (this is a third of the way through the normal school day, which starts at 7:10), shortened classes began  (but not all periods met) – 25 minutes to introduce myself, gather some preliminary information from kiddies, and begin to establish my classroom.  To add just another bit of chaos to this mix, the first period – 3rd – was 50 minutes long, which is 5 minutes longer than usual.  As an aside, only 1/3 of the classrooms are air conditioned, so this was great fun on a close to 90˚ day.  Things ran smoothly, although, as usual, I overestimated what could get done in 25
minutes (complete index cards, make name tents, play Ms. Menard in Numbers, and distribute contracts – was I kidding?).  The students in my 7th period Discrete Math class looked like I felt – hot and wrung out.  Tomorrow, Friday, is a full, regular day – our hard opening, as it were.
Ms. Menard in Numbers (document shared below) is always a hoot.  My students all think I wear a size 7 shoe (I think I wore that in 6th grade!), and have 10 Twitter followers.  First ‘whoa!’ moment of the year!  In keeping with my goal of getting to know my students, I read through each index card they submitted, paying special attention to the answer to the question, “What one thing should I know about you as a teacher?”  I was able to address some of the patterns I observed in the students‘ answers during the ‘hard opening’ day.  I think I am more in tune this year with taking care of my students as people; their comments evince a desire to be heard, to be helped, to be seen.  I also spent some time looking at the transcripts, report cards, and exam histories of each of my Discrete Math students.  They are placed in that class for a range of reasons – failed Geometry Regents but good course grades, failed the Algebra 2/Trig class last year, have way below grade level math credits – each student is different, and will thus need something different from this class.  I fought the feeling of drowning in a sea of data by remembering their faces, and that my goal is to move each student further to the right on this picture:

Hard Opening: Friday

I’m not going to talk about how disgustingly humid and warm my classroom was after this. But it was. Very.

One of my Algebra 2 classes didn’t meet yesterday, and I had to fight with myself to give them the same lesson as the others had, remembering that time spent creating classroom culture and norms reaps dividends all term long.  In the other two sections of Algebra 2, however, I borrowed Sara Vanderwerf’s Top 10 Things About Your Calculator lesson, my only regret being that I could have used another 30 minutes in the period to review both the TI-84 and Desmos portions of the worksheet.  We probably ran out of time because we began the period by talking about mindset and self-advocacy, but again, this was time well spent.  I won’t elaborate on all the misconceptions that this activity uncovered (and hopefully straightened out), or the high level of engagement and cooperation I witnessed.  I had that delicious sense of ‘boredom’ (not) that a teacher may get when their students are doing all the work, and helping each other, and all they have to do is eavesdrop.  We probably ran out of time because we began the period by talking about mindset and self-advocacy, but again, this was time well spent.  I have to reiterate my total gratitude and admiration of Sara’s generous sharing of her well-developed and on-target intentional planning.

In my Discrete Math classes, we made the name tents we didn’t have time for yesterday, and did the wonderful 100 Number activity.  The kids, who were wilting, brightened up
considerably during this activity, and were energized enough to begin to engage in our first Number Talk (and by our, I mean me!)  I was very anxious about introducing  a number talk with this class, but in the few minutes we had to begin (I ran out of time), the students began to share the different patterns they saw in the dot card I provided.  I can’t wait to try it again, with an appropriate amount of time.

I thought about why I wasn’t doing the Top Ten Calculator Things Activity with my Discrete Math classes, and I couldn’t come up with a reason other than the embarrassing knee-jerk reaction “they don’t need this.”  Then I realized all my students need these skills – and to be honest, I am relieved that I saw this, because I’m not sure I did before.  So we’ll be working on that on Tuesday.  And it will be 10˚ cooler.

https://www.scribd.com/document/323474229/Ms-Menard-Life-in-Numbers-2016

#### 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?

The discussions about self-advocacy in the classroom and in life were uneven. I was pleased with how I facilitated the ones that went well, although I would be happier if the students had answered each other rather than me.  I could have modeled that better.  Still, in all five classes, the students were definitely listening during that portion of the lesson.  And I love the chuckles during the Stuck on the Escalator video.

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?

Truthfully, the most negative aspect of my day was no relief for me or my students during this humid heat wave.  I try not to dwell on the weather (and certainly don’t when I am teaching), but boy, it’s a challenge to motivate kids under these circumstances. That said, I was pleased with the engagement level in all of the activities during the day; my efforts to be ‘intentional’ paid off well today.

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.

Two former students of mine (Algebra 2 from last fall) were in my office yesterday and today as if no time had passed.  I love these kids – they are open, and hopeful, and helpful.  I am looking forward to spending the year with them – not as their teacher, but as a concerned adult in their lives.  And their willingness to step up whenever I ask is something I am always thankful for.

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

I am working on getting to know my students better this year, and am investing a lot of time and effort toward that end – name tents, combing through their histories – working hard to see them.  My realization that the calculator activity was appropriate for all of my classes was a positive step in my growth as well – I uncovered a bias of my own, and am working to rectify it and provide more opportunity for all of my students, particularly those who have been marginalized by being programmed for a math elective rather than a core class.

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

I’m still getting my head in the game, but the positive results I have had in the soft/hard opening days this year are encouraging.  I don’t feel as overwhelmed as I did a week ago, and I’m ready to try more Number Talks and Contemplate then Calculate.

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