Archive for the ‘MTBoS’ Category

When I was in college, the end of the semester always dragged.  I couldn’t wait for it to just be over so I could start the new semester, take the new classes, and just move forward.  I hated the wrapping up of the current semester: turning in the last papers, taking the last exam, and realizing I only used a quarter of the spiral notebook for a class.  Before the semester actually ended, I was already thinking about the new classes.  I would pour over my new schedule and happily shop for new notebooks and supplies.

Apparently I still have this character flaw.  I just want to be done with this year.  I hate the end of year wrap up, but I do get excited about next year.  I want to start planning now!

Today we got our (hopefully final) master schedule, so we know what we will be teaching. Mine doesn’t have any surprises, but I do have some new classes.  Next year I will be teaching Marine Pathways Algebra 1 and Marine Pathways Basic Math.  The level of math is not new, but the marine focus is.  The classes are also supposed to be project based as much as possible.  I can’t wait to throw out the textbook (so to speak) and find ways to make the classes both marine and student centered.

My other new class is 7th grade math.  Although I am not excited about traveling to the elementary school (half mile) every day, I think it will be interesting to work in a different environment.   Our elementary school is leaping into proficiency based and project based learning, and combined grade levels, all at once.  I think the teachers will be a little stressed out as they work out the kinks in their new systems.  My 7th graders will be the ones who are struggling with math, so again it will need to be hands on and project based.  Since I am not as familiar with the 7th grade standards, I will have to do a lot of work this summer to get ready.

I have already started to make lists of things I need to do.  One of the big ideas I need to reflect on is how skills, fluency, and process need to be balanced in a math class.  That one is going to take some time, research, and deep thought.  I also want to reconsider classroom routines; mine could certainly use some reflection and updating.  I hope to get as many summative assessments as possible done this summer which means being very clear on what students need to know.  And I need to develop ideas for projects and tasks, including identifying the standards they meet and the standards that can’t be met that way.

Of course, there’s always homework.  This is the end of my 5th year and I still haven’t found a good way to manage homework, especially for students who struggle with getting it done.  I really need to dig in to what I want homework to accomplish.  Is it practice, a chance to extend learning, review, preview, or just spiraling work?  I think once I pin down what I want to accomplish it will be easier to decide how.

I also need to start thinking about how to interface with the elementary school.  How many of their meetings should I attend?  Who will be my go to person there?  What supplies will I have access to?  Can I get a copy of their textbook (even though I probably won’t use it)?

I can really feel next year tugging me forward and the end of this year anchoring me in place.  Meh.  Only 13 days until I can pull the anchor and go.


Read Full Post »

Day in the life

“Woke up, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head… ”  The Beatles.


I woke up before the 5:55 alarm and debated getting up 10 minutes early.  The debate ended with the alarm.  My husband and I do our usual dance as we both try to get ready for the day in our small kitchen.  He’s making lunch and I’m getting coffee, then he’s brushing his teeth at the sink and I’m reaching around him into the medicine cupboard.  I’m taking up space to do my daily injection and he’s trying to get behind me to the frig.  Finally, he’s off and I have the space to myself.

I start prepping a pizza muffin recipe that turned up on my Facebook feed.  Today is extended advisory after second period and I am testing a recipe on my advisory.  I might also have another advisory joining us, since their teacher has to attend a senior exhibition.  I think he has 9 students, so I need enough for 18 people.  The recipe calls for 26 oz of dough and I only have 16 oz.  How did I not notice that when I was buying the dough? Reminding myself that I teach math so I should be able to manage this, I do a rough adjustment of ingredient amounts.  Finally, I have the dough in the pan and covered.  I even remember to make a post-it with the temperature and time for cooking.

I listen to the weather while I make my lunch.  A big messy storm is coming tomorrow morning, which means I’ll have to visit my daughter tonight.  I make a mental list of things to do before school starts while I pack my bags.  I need to print work and attendance lists for the sub to give to students, make sure I have my charging cords, ask the art teacher about the roll of red paper she gave me, check in with another math teacher about the final for Basic Math/Pre-Algebra, talk to a student about a show we both auditioned at.  I hope I haven’t forgotten anything.

Two trips to the car later (because of the pizza muffins), I am finally off to school at 7:10.  I am about 10 minutes later than normal and worry that I won’t have time to get everything done before homeroom starts.  Instead of being 2nd or 3rd to arrive, I am about 6th.  I manage to get everything into my classroom in one trip, muttering that it really is time to get a cart.  I put my purse in the locking cabinet, hang my coat, and turn up the heat.  The pizza muffins sit forgotten on a student desk while I start my MacBook and start sending documents to the printer.  I take a few minutes to put plates, cups, tea, and dipping sauce on the long bookcase, then head for the mailroom to get my printouts.  I grab them then hunt down the art teacher to ask what the big roll of red paper is for.

“I thought you might make something with it,” she tells me, “because you are always folding paper.”  Well, I might make something with it; I even have an idea of what I want to try.  But I don’t have time to pursue that thought, yet.  I go back to my room and put all the papers in order for the sub, then remember I don’t know who the sub is.  Back I go to the office to ask.   “Sub? You need a sub?  I don’t have your form!”  Gah, I know I filled out the form and put it in the inbox, but now I second guess myself.  “I don’t need one for first period,” I tell the secretary.  It’s ok, she can call someone.  She’s really nice about the missing paperwork.   But I’m still positive I turned it in.  Maybe.  Sub issue resolved, I go back to my room.

My homeroom kids are starting to filter in.  EN is there with his girlfriend, as always.  RG sees the pizza muffins and asks who they are for, so I remember I need to put them in the frig in the staff room.  When I get back, SB keeps trying to talk to me while I am checking my emails; I finally explain that I really can’t multi-task.

The bell rings at 7:50 and the day begins officially.  I remind my advisory there will be a sub, then we listen to the Pledge of Allegiance and announcements.  Five minutes later, they are off to their classes.  Standing in the doorway, I see the resource room teacher and we try to remember where we are meeting for the day.  Then I see the teacher whose advisory may need to come to my room. He isn’t sure yet if they need to come, so I tell him to let my sub know.

The resource room teacher comes back and tells me where the meeting is, so I get my laptop, cord, coffee, and a notebook and head to the meeting.  The Great Schools Partnership guy (facilitator) is there, and the rest of us filter in.  The life skills teacher comes in.  Then the resource room teacher comes in and explains he is going to be in and out because he is working on rescheduling the basketball games to avoid tomorrow’s storm; he leaves.  The principal pops in and says he will be a little late due to a discipline issue that came up;  he explains what the plan is, then he leaves. The rest of us make small talk about ear worms, then I start setting up a document with one standard from each content area, the indicators for each standard, and four freshman who have different needs, but are clearly below grade level.

We are meeting to talk about what proficiency based grading looks like for students in special education.  The state has been quite clear in its guidance that IEP goals must be standards based, that there must be a goal for every standard where a student is working below grade level, and that standards cannot be modified.  Now we are trying to figure out what that means in practice for a student who is working significantly below grade level.  We blocked out the whole day, 8:00 to 1:30 for this.

Finally, everyone is there and we start by reviewing the state’s guidance document.  We agree to a flow chart based on the document, then start looking at the standards.  Beginning with a math standard, we narrow our focus to an indicator:  The student interprets, represents, and creates expressions in the context of Algebra 1.  We talk about what that  means at a 9th grade level and what means at a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th grade level.  The discussion is not linear, but we do keep cycling back to our original question.  How do we write IEP goals that are both appropriate for students and based on our graduation standards, and how does that impact the curriculum for the student.

Suddenly I realize I forgot to put the muffins in the oven before extended advisory started.  I excuse myself and walk fast (no running) to my classroom at the other end of the school.  The closer I get, the more I can smell pizza.  Someone must have put them in the oven for me!  I walk in my room and there are lots of kids eating pizza muffins, hooray!  I suspect RG has put them in for me and ask her.  She says yes, she cooked them.  I tell her several times she is awesome and I am very thankful.  Then I scoot back to the meeting.  Phew, she pulled that one off for me; I owe her a favor.  Maybe some type of recognition on Tuesday when we hand out first semester awards.

The meeting continues, then we break for lunch at 12:00.  I have started taking my lunch to the cafeteria.  Our ed techs rotate monitoring duty, so teachers don’t normally eat there.  But at a recent event, our whole student body and staff sat down to lunch together and it was pretty awesome.  Even the students thought so.  So I’m going to start eating lunch in the cafeteria.  I sit off by myself to give the students some teacher-free space and think about special ed.  Some students talk to me as the go by and I see one student throw something across the room.  With a sigh, I put my trash away, then give his name to the principal.

The meeting continues after lunch.  We don’t get as far as we hoped, and make plans for continuing the discussion.  However, I am pretty happy with how much we did get done; it was more than I expected.  When I get back to my room, it is a disaster.  I find a giant tape ball, someone broke my points of congruence Christmas trees, there are papers left on the desks, and my Sierpenski Triangle printouts are missing.  Meh.  I hate having a sub; it’s always more work.  I have suspects for the damages, but the sub didn’t leave any messages.  I pick up the mess, then grab my computer and head for the staff room.

It’s time for Friday PLC’s.  We spent most of the beginning of the year trying to revise our leadership model.  We finally came to some agreement and can start using PLC time for other things.  Today we are supposed to map the rest of the year in terms of content and groupings.  16 1/2 staff members is not too large to stay as one group, but we may have smaller groups break off depending on topics.  The planning gets off to a slow start, but we finally get something down for at least the next month of PLC’s.  The plan includes monthly video/webinar learning experiences, monthly common scoring of assessments, and an open monthly slot for topics generated by the leadership team.  Finally, it’s 3:00.

I stop by my room to collect my things, then head out.  I still need to stop at home, get groceries, and visit my daughter (50 miles away).  After checking in at home, I head for the SuperWalmart, getting groceries for me, some cleaning supplies for my daughter, and a mystery character for my grandson.  I deliver the supplies to my daughter and we chat for a while about her failed housing inspection. Finally, I head home and discover that I talked a little too long; every single Dunkin’ Donuts I come to is closed.

It’s after nine when I get back from visiting my daughter and there’s a message from the director of the show I auditioned for, but it’s too late to call her back.  I spend some time online checking the news, Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon.  Then I’m off to bed around 10 pm.




Read Full Post »

I confess.  I am addicted to twitter.  And a few blogs.

This morning I was reading Dan Meyer’s blog about developing questions that will engage students with problems.  I would like to be able to ask better questions; as a new teacher I am only beginning to develop that skill.  Although it isn’t a skill that was addressed in any of my methodology classes, I have come to believe it is a critical skill to have.  

Dan’s post doesn’t provide any context for posing questions.  He doesn’t say whether the questions are asked in a ‘traditional’ class or an inquiry based class.  Certainly students must solve problems in both types of classes and teachers must ask questions about those problems in both types of classes.  What he focuses on is how question are developedThis is an important consideration for someone who wants to get better at asking questions and I appreciate the way Dan is focusing our attention on this matter.

But then I got sidetracked in the comments.  One of the commenters wrote, “I have taught in an environment of “The (standardized test) is our business, and our students’ scores are our product”and it was horrid. When I went off-script to do real-life math labs, like measuring, sectioning, and spec-ing out a new playground, the class was engaged and happy. When I was forced to go back on script by administration, they became restless and disruptive.”

At first I was, like, yeah, that is a horrible way to focus teaching, it’s good you went off script.  But then the comment started to settle.  Wait.  You were essentially forced to teach in a way that was abhorrent to you.  And your students responded with restlessness and disruption.  

Somehow that resonated with an experience I had last year where I was not happy in a classroom.  My students felt that and fed it back to me and soon we were in a feedback loop that created a downward spiral.  It was not a great semester.  So now I wonder if the commenter on Dan’s blog had spectacularly different results in student engagement because of his level of engagement.  

I have often heard how the passion of a teacher for their subject can infect students in a positive way; but the flip side is also important to remember.  

Read Full Post »

Screen Shot 2014-07-24 at 9.31.59 PM

This graphic of a Koch Snowflake (thanks wikipedia) in some ways describes what has happened to me at Twitter Math Camp (#TMC14).  I started out with just a few questions, but then those questions multiplied, and the new questions multiplied, and so on, until they all started to blur together.  Similarly, Koch’s Snowflake starts simple, but then each replication makes the image more complex, until it finally brings you to that snowflakey image that everyone recognizes.

In my questions, unfortunately, it isn’t that simple.  I wonder, do I need to let them replicate more, before I find that big question toward which they are building?  I think I at least have a feel for where they are going.  I started with questions about how to help struggling students, how to reach disengaged students, how to teach multiple levels in one class, how to use project based learning to get there, how to use standards based grading to report on that learning; unh, I’m out of breath.  But in my mind I can almost see the convergence point, the place where all these questions merge into one big question.  I can’t quite see the shape of it, but I know it’s there.

It is something to do with teaching multiple levels in essentially the same lesson.  So that kids in basic math, pre-algebra, algebra I and algebra 2 are all interacting with the same lesson at the same time, but from a perspective that fits with their level of learning.  The concept of multiple entry points resonate with this question, as do the multitude of rich problem based resources from the digital math community.  So for now, it seems my snowflake is this: how do I make this structure happen?

Read Full Post »

Most of the students I teach hate math and school, thinking both are a waste of their time. They also are pretty certain they have limited ability to be successful, especially in math.  (No wonder they hate school)  Fighting their negative outlook is a frustrating, uphill battle.

Today, I was on twitter looking for ideas (procrastinating) and I saw this post by @trianglemandcsd:


I followed his link to an article about UT Austin’s efforts to increase completion rates for disadvantaged students.  It was an interesting read suggesting success with limited time psychosocial interventions, with David Yeager brought in for implementation. Now I am always interested in new weapons in my arsenal for fighting to change my students’ outlook, so I pursued the article a little further. That lead me to this, http://rer.sagepub.com/content/81/2/267, which I put in my reply to Christopher. It is David Yeager’s and Greg Walton’s description and defense of the use of limited psychosocial interventions.

It sounded like something worth trying with my students at the beginning of next year. My brain shifted into planning mode, thinking about ways I could modify and implement, how I could document the process, and curiosity about its efficacy.

Then I saw this post from @tchmathculture, whose opinion I generally respect. Of course I had to follow her link.

@tchmathculture tweet

It led me to The Eduoptimists Blog (theeduoptimist.com) , who rightly pointed out that this one small intervention cannot possible ameliorate the difficulties faced by students with low socio-economic status (SES). She pointed out that low SES students often face costs way above and beyond the typical room, board, tuition, and books. I can attest to this myself. When I started college I had 4 children at home and we were receiving food stamps.  In addition to the typical costs, I had to borrow to cover childcare.  And I had it easy compared to most low SES students since my husband had some income.

However, while I agreed with The Eduoptimists that the psychosocial intervention was not an adequate response to the problem, I don’t think it should be discarded completely.  Even if all the financial issues were addressed, the students still have the mindset problem to overcome. So don’t throw away a tool that seems to be helpful just because it doesn’t solve the whole problem.

Read Full Post »


I have been thinking about how I use Twitter and how other people use Twitter (or could use it).  I usually go on every night, generally after dinner.  My husband starts watching his favorite television shows and I start “watching” Twitter.  While he is watching southerners catch alligators or Alaskans catch crabs, I watch the #Mtbos, the MathTwitterBlogoSphere.  Thanks to several especially entertaining people, my Twittervision is usually better than his television.  And if it is a slow night, I can always go blog surfing.

When I first started lurking on Twitter, it was a little more purposeful.  I was on the hunt for information about SBG (standards based grading).  I found it in spades.  I read so many blogs that they all started to run together.  Some of them stand out.

I started with Dan Meyer’s dy-dan.  After my first year of teaching, I had taken a class with him during an exciting week of summer PD at the Maine School of Science & Mathematics.  For me, it was a case of hang on and try to keep up.  But once I hit his blog, I found my way to other resources on SBG by reading the comments.  Thank god for comments on blogs; they’re the web that holds it all together.  Thanks, Dan for serving as a locus.

Following the web, I found Shawn Cornally’s Think, Thank, Thunk; this is a goldmine of information on SBG with links to other people who know SBG.  And Kate Nowak’s f(t), which didn’t have SBG, but sure is an interesting read.  Then it was on to Bowman Dickson’s whiteboards, and then Cheesemonkeysf (who could resist that handle?).  And Michael Pershan’s Rational Expressions.  I can’t list them all, but very stop had comments from interesting people and links to interesting blogs.

I felt like a drowning woman who has reached the oasis.  I could not. stop. drinking.  School started and I still could not stop.  Papers did not get graded.  Lessons were not well planned.  I read about Twitter Math Camp (TMC) and wished I could have gone.  I started following the whole #Mtbos gang.  I read people’s blog rolls to see who else had blog’s worth reading.  I spent my summer trying to figure a way to work in TMC13 (with no success).  I started tweeting and had some responses, but most nights I was content to watch.

Now I have to find a way to break the addiction.  I want, no I need the twitterverse to be more than twittervision.  I need to make it a purposeful part of my PD, not a spectator activity.  And I know the way to do that is to start sharing.  The catch (22) is that I have been so caught by Twitter, I haven’t been paying enough attention to my classes.  I have to cut waaayy back, set limits, stop.  And that won’t be easy.

Read Full Post »

For our first mission in exploring the MTBoS, @samjshah has asked us to respond to one of two prompts.  I am excited to be a part of this great adventure and to see what other people have posted.

I am a pretty new teacher; this is only my third year.  My first year, I had a small group of high school students in a pre-algebra class.  As you can imagine, they were not excited to be taking a remedial math course.  But they sure were having fun baiting the new teacher.  I don’t remember how many times I cried after that period; I was so frustrated.

I did notice there was a common thread that was underneath their total disengagement.  They didn’t think math had any relevance to their lives and interests.  One day, one kid said for the umpteenth time, “This is stupid; I’ll never use this.”  And I blew up.


On the spur of the moment, I assigned the whole class a project, The Passion Project.  Their assignment was to choose something they loved and then show their classmates and me where the math could be found in that thing.  The moans were impressive.  I had a strong feeling of “There, take that!”

Then a funny thing happened.  As I started explaining the project, I started to calm down.  It began to seem like a good project, even if it did have its birth in anger.  Making it up as I went, I outlined the parameters.  It must be something you love, you had to find a way to present it to the class [Yes, everyone, even people who don’t like to get in front of the room.  There’s ways around that.], it would only count as much as a quiz, and there would be no class time.  No, none.  At first, I called the Second Quarter Project, but then it morphed into the Passion Project.

Some kids knew right away what they wanted to do, but weren’t sure how to find the math.  Some of the easy ones included basketball and dance.  However, some kids really struggled with just finding a topic.  So we had a discussion.

What do you like to do when you’re not at school?  Nuthin’.  Well, describe what you do when you get home.  Nuthin’. Ok, so you get home, you walk in the door, and then what?  Watch TV, maybe.  Uh huh, do you watch TV all weekend, too? No, I go muddin’, sometimes.  Ah, on a 4 wheeler or in a truck?  Neither, dirt bike.

So, finally, a topic, something the student is interested in.  Whew!  I only had a couple that were like that, thank goodness.

Then it was just a matter of making sure they knew what to do.  A couple of students were really distressed about finding math in their passion.  I had to make it clear that it didn’t have to complicated math.  It could be as simple as how many miles to the gallon or the dimensions of the basketball court.  But some of the students really jumped in and looked for math.

The best part was hearing and seeing what they all loved to do.  And they all started to see that there really is math everywhere.  Success!  It was such a fun project, that I did it again the next year.  I’m not sure about this year; my classes are a little different, but I hope to find a way to include it.

Read Full Post »