Friday, December 19, 2014

Day 77: Half Classes

There was a field trip today to take a large portion of the 8th grade to see a documentary about the Holocaust.  As a result, the majority of my students were gone.

The ones who stayed seemed to think that, since the other half was gone and it was the day before break, there was no need to bring anything to class or participate.

I had intended to help them clarify any questions they had. Instead, when they ignored me, I did programming.

I was deeply annoyed until I remembered that half the class was gone and it was the day before break and I had a splitting headache.

I don't have to be PowerTeacher every day.

I had 4 kids in geometry.  One of them told me that she reads my blog every day (Hi, student whom I didn't ask permission to name! I hope you have a great break!).  She said she sets her alarm so that at 5 pm, she goes on and reads my latest post.  I asked her which post was her favorite.

She chose this one.

What I found fascinating about her choice was that it was an incident that involved her and her group of friends that inspired me to write that post in the first place.

I have some pretty amazing students.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Day 76: Reflections of Reflections

I've been thinking lately about the kinds of impact that I make.  I don't just mean with my students, but also with my coworkers, my administrators, the parents and other teachers throughout the world.

Megan Schmidt has been trying for months to get me to realize that I'm doing good for the teacher community as a whole, but I have mixed feelings about how true that is.

And then yesterday happened.  It wasn't a good day for me.  My energy and willingness to teach were very low.  I spent some time casually browsing non-teaching job postings on the internet.  I got home and sat quietly on the couch for a while.

Then I got a tweet from Dylan Kane posted a link to his blog.  Dylan is doing incredible things and thinks about wildly deep and important ideas.

And he wrote about me.

So I made a decision.  I created a folder of links to the various blogs that have mentioned me or this blog.  Even as I type this sentence I realize how obnoxious and arrogant it sounds.  I reworded it several times and couldn't come up with a different way to say it.

I will keep these links the way I keep tweets, letters and emails from students; as something to look at when I'm questioning myself.  It will remind me that I'm working towards something and that the transparency of my journey is helping others as well.

I've been toying with the idea of skipping a day or two on the days when I'm feeling bad.  I've been told that skipping a day wouldn't be a problem.  It's my blog. I can skip a day if I want.

Dylan's post reminded why I don't skip days, especially when I'm feeling bad.  Part of my journey is talking about what I feel, whether it's good or bad.  He points out that the majority of teaching blogs are about lessons that were great or interactions that made teachers feel good.  I think there's an incredible amount of value in that.  There are so many factors trying to drag down teaching and our profession that it's amazing and refreshing to see teachers doing well and loving what they do.

The purpose of my blog isn't that.  It is, and always has been, a chronicle of my journey to become a better teacher.  On any journey, there are pitfalls and perils.

Imagine if Tolkien had written "On the way, they met some folks, escaped from some orcs and got hurt a bunch."

The struggle is the story.

In geometry, I gave a problem from GoGeometry that looked like it was level appropriate.

I thought it would be a great opportunity to have the students struggle while I did as well.  I told them I would be working on it too and one of my students asked if he could watch my process.
After a while, I got stuck (as I was trying to do the problem without trigonometry) and so did the group of students on the other side of the room.  We got together and started talking some things out.

It turned out to be more complicated than I was originally hoping for, but it pulled a ton of kids in and they got to see my actual struggle rather than a contrived one.

When we finally came up with an answer, I looked it up to see if we were right.  The two comments on this post had solutions, one obtained through trig and another through complex numbers.

Both had the same answer that we developed through algebra.

It was very cool.  This was a good day.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Day 75: Beneficial Detachment

As break approaches, other teachers are having End-Of-Unit projects and any time I give my kids to work on my assignments are spent finishing up work for others.  I sympathize with them attempting to meet their deadlines, but I also find it confusing.

Are students doing work for my class in history or English?

I'm also confused by their reactions to poor assessment results.  They seem baffled when they don't know what's happening in class and don't understand why my tests aren't asking about the Holocaust or the Treaty of Versailles.

The fight has gone out of me.

The advantage is that my new-found indifference seems to be a boon to my patience.  I am willing to sit and work more carefully and more attentively with students who wish it.  Instead of feeling as though I need to spread my attention to 9 different places in the room, I am finding that I am eminently present with small groups or individuals, providing them with what they need.  I am reminded again about how much more effective this class would be with half as many students.

I decided to utilize the computer lab for the geometry class today and set them up on  Before we went over, we talked about how programming is related to mathematics in general and the skills I'm emphasizing in my class in particular.  I related them back to the 8 Standards of Mathematical Practice and talked about logical progress of commands in relation to geometric proof.

They LOVED it!  By the end of class, kids had worked through a large part of LightBot or Code Combat.  They were designing their own flappy bird games and making Anna and Elsa skate around in snowflake patterns.  For 80 minutes, they programmed and created and laughed and enjoyed learning and exploration.

I wish I taught computer programming...

In 8th period, I got tired of being talked over, so I sat in the corner.  I told them that I would be teaching and anyone who would like to join me may do so.  A group of students came over and we had an excellent discussion about slope-intercept form.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Day 74: Not Just A House

I seem to have come detached from my teaching experience.  I feel as though for the last week or so that I'm really just going through the motions and it upsets me.  I'm hoping that the two week break for the holiday will give me some time to get my head back on straight.

My classroom no longer feels like my own for various reasons.  I feel as though I'm having difficulty maintaining the educational environment that I've been trying to build.  My mother wisely pointed out to me that it's not the physical environment, but the emotional and mental one, that is what the kids are looking for.

This is the difference between a house and a home.

I don't want my classroom to be just a house. I want it to be a home.

I'm the only one who can bring it back to that.

I'm pushing my students outside of their comfort zones and many are seeing the value in that.  There are still several, however, who resist me as much as possible.  I don't think that I'm being sympathetic enough to their discomfort and struggle the way I am with the rest.

They push back with frustration and fear and I'm not giving them the encouragement that I should be.  I will not turn my class back into lecture because I know it's not the best mode of education, but I need to respect that some students think that's what learning looks like.

Rather than just saying "No it's not and we're not doing it" I need to be working with them to show them WHY I'm doing what I am.

I picture the opening of a Coming-Of-Age movie where the parents have uprooted the family to move to a new town.  The parents and 2-3 of the kids are excited about the move and the possibility of new experiences and friends and adventures.  There is, however, always one child who is angry and feels betrayed.  They loved the life and the friends they had back in the city.  They were comfortable and knew where they fit in.  In this new place, they don't know anyone and all their skills mean very little.
El Diablo cares not for that novel you're trying to write.
"Don't worry, sport! You'll love this place in no time!" say the parents, hoping to be reassuring.  The child never believes this and it only makes them feel more alienated.  They have to discover their purpose on their own and while it usually starts with the parent saying "just go play outside" it's not the parent who leads them to that purpose.
You won't find Terabithia until you're ready to

I worry that I have been doing the educational equivalent to "Look how great it is here.  LOOK!  IT'S AMAZING!!  ENJOY IT!!!!!" without giving proper respect to those students who aren't comfortable with the move.

I will never move them back to the city, but I can be more understanding of their discomfort.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Day 73: 4 Days Left Until Break

I had a nice and relaxing weekend, even with the grading and lesson plans that I had to write.  I felt good about the tests I graded because, even though the average was not as high as I would like, there was a clear delineation between the students who were participating and taking notes and those who were not.

I'm hoping that we will be able to have a serious conversation about the benefits where I can point to specific people who drastically improved as a result.

I offered for my Math 8 classes to be able to do a test recycle.  They can make corrections to their quizzes if they choose to do so.

The recycle has a specific format and I told them it was important to follow that format, but I'm thinking I'm going to ignore it as long as they have all of the aspects I want, including answer, work and reasons for mistakes.

If I can get my laptop to run Skype, we will doing a Mystery Number Skype with a 7th grade class in Georgia tomorrow.  At its most basic, the classes give each other word problems to solve.  I am hoping that this will be a good experience for my 8th period but I'm very nervous about how they will represent themselves, the school and me.

I Skyped with another class last year and the behavior of my students was so appalling that I called to apologize to the teacher afterwards and we never did it again.  I am hoping that with a little more prep and much clearer expectations, I can avoid that this time.

We spent the second half of class developing a few problems that we could ask them.  It went fairly well and we came up with some pretty good problems.

While all of this was going on, a few students were in the hallway making up the tests that they missed on Friday.  Another faculty member relayed to me later that one of these students was asking her questions to Siri.  She was reading them off of the test and directly into her phone.

Siri: "How can I help you?"
Student: "Juantay spent $8.58 for 3 notebooks last year. This year, he needs 5.  How much is he going to spend?"
Siri: "I don't understand the question."
Student: "How much will he spend this year?"
Siri: "I'm not sure I know what you mean?"
Student: "I need to know how much the notebooks cost."
Siri: "Let me look that up for you!"  **links to amazon**

I have said that if your questions can be looked up on the internet, you're asking the wrong questions.  Clearly, this tests that theory...

I'm having deep philosophical differences with a few of the students in geometry about the nature of education and the purpose of a teacher.  I could have handled the conversation better, but the feeling of insult that I perceived was very strong.

I was asked to go over the guided notes for the section, which I willingly did.  Instead of me boring them with the droning monotone of my voice, I handed off the pen to a student and took a seat in the back of the room.  For the rest of the period, she fielded questions and answers from the class as I watched and made sure wrong answers didn't stay up on the board too long.

When we finished and I gave a challenge problem, one of the students who disagrees with my methods asked if she could go to see another teacher "since we are done."

We were not done and, this far into the year, for her to think that since I wasn't lecturing that it meant we weren't learning was very insulting.  I know that I shouldn't take it personally, but it's hard to avoid.

I can see this interaction getting worse before it gets better and I'm not sure how to handle it.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Day 72: Student Appreciation

Today I find out if my emphasis on note-taking in the Math 8 class has been even remotely valuable.

In the first class (of the double period) I asked for clarifying questions from the notes, homework, worksheets and activities that we have discussed over the past two weeks.  We went over several examples and I asked them questions meant to push their thinking beyond what we had covered and into the realm of understanding instead of just remembering.

The test I designed had these things in mind.

I don't normally design my own tests and I consider that a major shortcoming of my assessment strategy.  I designed this one.  I picked questions that cover both mechanical and conceptual understanding.

I asked very few questions like ones in the book and many more practical application.  The test started with the questions "In your own words, what is slope?" and "What things do we need to know to find the slope of a line?"

Since I've been drilling them on proper language, the majority of the students used the phrases "vertical change" and "horizontal change."  A few even wrote "delta y" and "delta x."

I allowed them to use their notes and those who have been paying attention and taking good notes, did MARKEDLY better than those who haven't.  I'm hoping that I can use this as leverage to show them that note-taking can be very beneficial.

My geometry students missed me.  When class started today, several of them cornered me at the door and had a group hug.  I missed them as well.

During my professional development yesterday, I had several tweets from them about what was happening in my absence.

I could not have been more proud of them.

They asked for more challenging problems today and I am not one to deny them a challenge.

This was a fantastic end to a pretty awful week.  I am eternally grateful to my students, both current and previous, for reminding me why I teach.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Day 70: [This Space Intentionally Blank]

My mood is getting more gray as though it is directly tuned to the weather.

My students are not getting worse and my classes aren't getting harder.

I'm having trouble identifying why my enjoyment has been declining.

I needed a bit of a break to think about some things and I got it today.  Almost my entire geometry class went on a field trip, so I was left with 1 student.  We played board games and hung Zome Tool polyhedra from the ceiling.

I will be out tomorrow for professional development, so I've left some complex problems for the classes as well as basic practice.  I left instructions that students may choose what they work on, as long as they are working.

I think I need to talk to someone about how I'm feeling.
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