Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Down in the Dumps

It's amazing how fragile my self-worth is.  I got called into the principal's office about "an incident".  I made a joking comment to students I really like, which, out of context, sounded bad.  In context, it was a joke scolding a student purposely being obnoxious.  But this post isn't about the incident.

Since this meeting, all of the happiness from my previous post has been sucked out of my body.  I get home and feel exhausted.  I get to school and feel unprepared.  In class, I feel just a little off.  My patience is low, my morale is low, and I feel mentally exhausted.

I wish that my hard work preparing good lessons, my knowledge of math and my ability to make it accessible, and the good feelings my students have toward me were what I was known for as a teacher.  Instead, it feels like I am being defined by the "naughty" letter in my HR file.  It makes it hard to bring work home.  I haven't been a pleasant mom or wife the last few days.  I'm pouty, tired, and distracted.

I'm angry that the outcome of my comment (that is, no outcome - the students knew it was a ridiculous joke) couldn't have been taken into consideration and the issue dropped.  The principal followed protocol, which I don't blame her for.  But I do wish that the protocol would take into account the effect this has had on my teaching and enthusiasm for teaching.

My hope is that by venting my frustration, I can move past this and see it for what it is.  My big mouth and the circumstances afterward becoming an issue that is probably much bigger in my mind than it is in anyone else's mind.  Who thinks about it the least?  The students who were there.  Next?  HR  Next?  The principal.  The most?  Me.

And why do I teach?  For the kids and because it makes me feel good.  So if I can somehow put the rest of this out of my head, I hope I can get back to happy Mrs. B - the one who smiled at every kid in the hall the first weeks of school. 

Friday, September 10, 2010

I am a Teacher

I just wanted to post about a major event in my life.  For the past 3 years, I really haven't enjoyed my job.  There were moments of success, but on a day-to-day basis, I wasn't excited to go to work.  I envied teachers that would rather have a teaching day than a workshop day.  I knew I used to have that spark.  I used to enjoy teaching.

The great-amazing-fantastic news I have to share is that I love teaching again!!!!  I have fun every day with my students.  I'm excited about my work.  It is again more fun to implement than to plan.  What changed?  I managed to break out of the bubble where sophomore Geometry was my advanced class of the day.  I gained two sections of Precalc that have revitalized me.  I use a graphing calculator again.  I use interval notation again.  I say f(x) and they know what I'm talking about.  They like math and they're good at it.

Yeah, I still teach Geometry and it's evil twin Informal Geometry.  (I had a group last year that soured me on the course... trying to recover.)  I think I go in with a different attitude each day, though.  Stress is lifted because I have taught two of my three preps before.  I have a smile on my face every day.  I'm not drained from being a disciplinarian on a block schedule - my two most challenging classes last year were on block.  I saw them as 1.5 hour torture sessions with the greatest reward being the bell at the end of class.

No, the job isn't all rainbows and Hershey Kisses.  I still put in many hours (contrary to the students who recently estimated I worked 26 hours a week).  I still have challenging students.  The copy machine, printer, my laptop, and Activboard cannot all work on the same day.  I battle the system to get the information I need to teach effectively.  But being in the classroom is once again the sunny side of the job.

I was so afraid I had lost it.  Lost my enthusiasm for teaching.  Lost my love of math.  Lost my love of kids.  What a relief that it was just hiding behind unfortunate circumstances.  I hope my story can inspire the ones that are trodding through overwhelming times.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Homework Solved?

Well, I must say that my new plan for homework is the best I've done so far!  A recap:

On Monday (ok, technical difficulties this week, but in theory...) they receive a cover sheet.
Each day, they score their own homework on completion.
The reverse side of the cover sheet is used for warm-up problems.
On Friday, the assignments for the week are stapled with the cover sheet and snapped into a binder for each class.

What I love:
How easy it is to enter scores - students have been honest so far.
I don't feel like I'm shuffling papers constantly!  Lowers my stress level.
Not as much keep-up with late work.  Some over the Friday-Monday transition, but during the week, it takes care of itself.
Students are getting into the routine fairly quickly.

Not so great:
If a student will be gone Friday, when should they turn in their packet?  If Thursday, they'll leave out the assignment assigned that day.  If Monday, it doesn't go in the Friday binder.  Not a big deal, just reality.
So many kids are missing already for sports and such, so I need to go over the procedure daily to catch the clueless ones.
I have to have weekly binders ready on Fridays!

Haven't implemented highlighting selected problems yet.  I figure I'm throwing enough procedure at them right now and I can start that later.  Overall, I'm really happy with the system.  Only a couple of complaints that students have to keep track of their homework until Friday, but more so because of the change in habit.  BRAINwork is to come once I can get my own routine in order.  I'm still excited about the preview concept.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Status Update

From my big idea accountability list... after 3 days:

Teach Integrity - a big task, but I'd like to make it an overarching theme. I hope to make them want to have integrity but to be able to take ownership when they stumble. Lofty. One of my parenting goals too. Heck, they're all my kids anyway.
I really don't know how to get through to them.  They know right from wrong in most cases.  It's hard to teach them to want integrity for themselves.

Integrate previewing upcoming lessons. Like I've said, it will make instruction so much clearer for everyone.
I did this with precalc.  Once.  Need to get into the swing of things.

Homework handling - turning in end-of-week packets, self-scored for completion, teacher checks a selection for correctness/method.
Tomorrow's Friday - we'll see!

Modify interesting book problems to be less formula driven (example) and put together a sheet of 4-8 unconventional but doable problems to let students loose with... i.e. not give hints, direction, etc. Make them do their own thinking
Not many interesting applications yet - still getting the basics down.

Use graphing videos in Precalculus (weekly?) Sweeney and Meyer
Oh yeah!  Love my blog... I would have forgotten about these.  Maybe I'll get it ready for Monday.  If I put it on my lesson plan template, I'll always remember.  :)

Keeping up with my reflection blog
Not bad!  And helpful!

Communicating learning objectives clearly
I have the objectives typed up for each class for the first chapter.  Traveling to 4 different rooms makes it hard to get a habit/system started, but I've done okay.

Greeting students at the door, asking about their lives - will begin to actually care. :) Meyer and others
I'll try to start this once things settle down!

Use the Rule of 4 - representing topics verbally, algebraically, numerically, and graphically
Will keep in mind.  Still doing pretty basic stuff.

Use "clock partners" - each student has a clock with 12 possible partners - I tell them what hour for quick pairing
Would be great for Informal Geometry.  I'll try to fit it in.

Keep reading blogs for inspiration and motivation
Has died down significantly.  Maybe weekends...

Have a chapter outline ready at the beginning of each chapter for each class
Done!  The kids take notes on them.  :)

Including questions from previous tests on new tests
Must remember this one!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Back to School Update

So I did the cup exploration the first day of school with my Geometries and Precalcs.  I didn't do the theatric hangman intro that I had dreamed up.  It didn't seem like me

Pros:
Kids wrote down great "I wonder" statements.
-I wonder why the cup rolls in a circle.
-I wonder how the shape of the cup affects the way it rolls.
-I wonder if bigger cups roll in bigger circles.
Some kids thought of cones and cylinders (extreme cases) right away.
One kid came up with the idea of his cup being a truncated cone.
Kids worked together.
Kids had good intuition about how oddly shaped cups would roll.
Kids thought about what was important to measure at the end when I was about to collect the cups.
Kids came up with ideas of slant affecting the roll and the difference/ratio of the size of the top circle to the bottom circle.
Kids wanted to "do this all year".  (Maybe because it's low-pressure?)

Cons:
Even after I explained why we were doing a "pointless" exploration (foster curiosity, researching theories, growing the creative part of our brain) some kids complained.
Some kids were off task unless I was with them asking probing questions.
Toward the end of the day, I responded to apathy with entirely too much help and prodding.  Not sure how to avoid this - most of my questions got bored looks in response.

Improvements:
I wish I had a greater variety of cups.  I found some bowls which really promoted some ideas.  More variety might make kids more curious too.

Happy Dance:
-A girl brought in some plastic martini/wine glass style cups the second day.  The kids predicted which would roll a bigger circle.  And they were right!  And it made the biggest circle of any cup I had - they even knew why.  :)
-I got pretty excited when I started to wonder what the square bottom/circle top cups I left at Walmart would do.  I wonder if they'd roll a polygon.  If so, I wonder if I could figure out what type.

I'm glad I was given permission from the online community to end class without having a nice tidy answer to all of our wonderings.  I'll bring it back with similar triangles when the time comes in geometry.  With precalc, who knows.  I tried to drive home the point with the kids that it's the thinking process, not necessarily the solution, that is valuable.

Letting them work freely and cooperatively gave me a quick look at which classes would benefit from a seating chart.  Day 2 went pretty darn smoothly because of this!

Friday, August 27, 2010

A gift from Dan

Dan (my hero) has shared a rubric for writing an engaging application problem.  Putting it here for inspiration and so I don't forget about it.
Rubric for Great Application Problems

I realized today that it may take some time to get my endurance back.  For the last two days of workshops, I've been completely exhausted by the end of the day.  It makes me worry that I'm not cut out for this... I think I'm just expecting too many amazing things from myself immediately.  It's okay if I gradually implement new ideas.  One thing I learned today is that I need to take care of my own well-being first or I won't be at my best.  That probably means scaling back my daydreams a bit.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Table of Contents

Thanks to my IRL inspiring teacher, Fiona Brendemuhl, I've created my own list of "Grand Ideas for the School Year".  Gathered from Fiona and my blog readings of this summer, I thought it would be beneficial to get them listed on my blog - it somehow feels like I'm held accountable for implementing them!

  • Teach Integrity - a big task, but I'd like to make it an overarching theme.  I hope to make them want to have integrity but to be able to take ownership when they stumble.  Lofty.  One of my parenting goals too.  Heck, they're all my kids anyway.
  • Integrate previewing upcoming lessons.  Like I've said, it will make instruction so much clearer for everyone.
  • Homework handling - turning in end-of-week packets, self-scored for completion, teacher checks a selection for correctness/method.
  • Modify interesting book problems to be less formula driven (example) and put together a sheet of 4-8 unconventional but doable problems to let students loose with... i.e. not give hints, direction, etc.  Make them do their own thinking
  • Use graphing videos in Precalculus (weekly?) Sweeney and Meyer
  • Keeping up with my reflection blog
  • Communicating learning objectives clearly
  • Greeting students at the door, asking about their lives - will begin to actually care.  :)  Meyer and others
  • Use the Rule of 4 - representing topics verbally, algebraically, numerically, and graphically
  • Use "clock partners" - each student has a clock with 12 possible partners - I tell them what hour for quick pairing
  • Keep reading blogs for inspiration and motivation
  • Have a chapter outline ready at the beginning of each chapter for each class
  • Including questions from previous tests on new tests
So much to remember - it'll have to be phased in.  We'd all be overwhelmed if I did all of this right away!

Back to School

Woke up early this morning and daydreamed about school starting and our new house (we move in October 29th).  I wanted to get thos brilliant sleepy thoughts down before they disappear like the contents of a dream.  Here's how it goes in my head...

First Day:
I write on the board, Wheel of Fortune style:  __    __ __ __ __ __ __
There's a part of your brain that I'm afraid doesn't get enough use, so I'd like to spend this year working on that.  No, it's not the geometry part, it's not the algebra part, don't worry.
__    __ __ N __ __ __
It's the part of your brain that requires extended thought.  It's the part that's responsible for figuring things out.  Not like, "How many letters are in the capitol of South Dakota" figuring things out.  That's too quick and there's really only one way to get the answer.
__   __ __ N __ E __
More like the part of your brain that could tell me whether states with a lot of letters tend to have capitols with fewer letters.  (I may work on these questions...)
__   __ O N __ E __

And my 2-year-old just woke up so this post is put on hold... oh, the suspense!!  This is my life!!
After the ups and downs of the first day of workshop, I'm trying to regain my enthusiasm.  Here goes!

Again, I'd really like to help you grow the part of your brain that figures stuff out when you're unsure.
__    __ O N __ E R
Even if you don't remember the formula for finding the slope between two points, with your new and improved brain, you won't feel stuck.
I    __ O N __ E R
The problems you work on don't have to be math problems, they don't have to have a point, and you wouldn't even have to have a final answer to make the process valuable.
I    __ O N D E R
I've often said that I don't care if my son turns out to be a math genius or a straight A student.
I   W O N D E R
I just want him to have curiosity and an interest in figuring things out.

Now that I type all of this out, I wonder if I will bore the children with all of the teacher-talk.  But, it is the first day and most teachers are probably reading them a syllabus or something.

Oh, did I mention that there is a cup sitting on each of their desks?  :)  We'll enter right into the cup rolling exploration courtesy of Dan Meyer.  dy/dan Glassware

At first, I was only going to do this with Geometry, but I bet my Precalculus kids are also in need of an unconventional problem without an obvious solution technique.  The best part is that I'm not giving them hints!  Again, my inspiration comes from Dan and many others' blogs that helped get me enthused for this year.  I want them to wonder, hypothesize, test, and if we get to it, come to a conclusion.  If not, I love the idea of just moving on.  Do we need an answer?  Couldn't we let it mull around longer?  It's the thinking process, not the answer that's important.

Getting to be a long post.  It almost sounds like I'm ready for Day 1.  Deceiving, huh?  :)

Friday, July 9, 2010

Saturday, July 3, 2010

A Plan for Homework

What I want:
To spend my time designing instruction and providing feedback rather than planning and dealing with homework.
Students to choose to do problems that will build their brains and prepare them for assessment.
What I don't care about:
Deadlines.  I just want students to learn - however they accomplish it.
Homework grades.  I'd make homework completely optional if students had the maturity to make good choices.
What I don't want:
Students cheating or taking other easy routes.
An unmanageable system and stacks of papers that I tote around.

The catchy acronym.  Cuz every sound educational practice has one.
BRAINwork instead of homework.

B is for basic practice.  A set of problems that every student does and can check themselves for correctness.
R is for reinforce.  A set of similar problems for students who need more practice on basic skills.
A/I is for apply and investigate.  A smaller set of deeper thinking questions for students who have the basics down.
N is for next up.  A brief preview exercise of upcoming material.

I definitely got the idea for student-chosen problem sets from another teacher's blog*.  I've always been a believer in previewing new material before the big show.  Now, it's just a matter of finding out (a) if can I sustain this model all year in all three of my courses and (b) if will students buy into the BRAINwork concept of investing time in their own brains.

*Thank you to all you bloggers who helped me gather ideas to form this system.  As I run across the specific influences, I'll link to your posts.  We'll negotiate royalties once I hit my first million dollar deal.
Riled Up: Stop Grading Homework, Please
Binder Checks and Binder Checks, Redux
The Homework Paradigm and Pardigm Part II

Friday, July 2, 2010

Blogging as a Professional Goal

As a newcomer to the math teacher blog community, I have too many big ideas to try this coming school year.  I say too many because I know myself too well to think that I'll follow through on all of the potentially valuable strategies I've collected from the blogging superstars.

So, like most any district, I have to determine a goal at the beginning of the year, implement and document the heck out of it, and show amazing results at the end.  You know, the one where regardless of whether it was a successful strategy, you have to scramble to put together some concrete "evidence" that it promoted student learning.  I'd say most of us very subjectively determine the successes and failures of our strategies - I always have great intentions of recording student input and personal reflections, but again with the follow-through... 

I really want to use my reflection blog as my professional growth plan.  In my mind, it's awesome because the teaching strategies can be fluid and varied and I'll be forced to document in my blog.  Beautiful.  Where I need help is:
How do I document student achievement as it relates to my blogging goal?

Hmmm...

Monday, June 28, 2010

Quote of the Day

Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.

-Plato

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Our Best Advice...

...that students ignore:
1. Here's a trick. Before class, just quickly look over what we're going to learn. A couple of minutes of preview will make everything so much easier to understand!

2. Check the odd problems as you go so you don't find out later you did all of the problems incorrectly.

3. You say you can't study for math. Make a cheat sheet. [Can we use it on the test?] No, just make it, look at it, and throw it away before the test.

Any more? Even better - and ideas on how to make them act on our nuggets of wisdom??

I'm a blogger!

Over the past few weeks, I've found so much inspiration from the community of math teachers online. I'm starting this blog without any hope of offering that same inspiration. Rather, I think I need a place to consistently reflect on my teaching. I also hope to get feedback and ideas from the many talented teachers our there!

I'll be going into my 9th year of teaching this fall. How time flies! My career began at my Catholic school alma mater. I enjoyed 5 years of teaching advanced math courses, uniformed students, and low pay (but higher than I'd ever had before). Because I wanted to buy a house and start a family, I transferred to the lucrative public school system. The 35% pay raise resulted in a decrease in financial worries. The fact that I was teaching 8th graders put me into mental duress. I learned to foresee disaster, to repeat directions 7 times, and to hold adolescent attention for 85 minutes at a time. Okay, I didn't quite master the last one.

Finally, while humming the Jeffersons' "Movin' on Up", I secured a transfer to the district's high school. My first year was rough - I think all new preps will do that to a teacher/mom/wife. I have a lot of hope for this coming year. More information on how I think is to come in case anyone decides to read this some day. :)