Archive for the ‘perseverance’ Category

        So there’s this other crazy teacher (MA) at my school and together we took a leap into the unknown this week.  With little planning time, uncertain supplies, and a crazy schedule we did something unthinkable.  We offered 25 students the chance to free up their Fall second period by taking a week long, intensive version of the class.  We were surprised by the overwhelming response: 18 students showed up Monday morning, two weeks before regular school starts.  I’ll say it again: 18 students were willing to give up a week of the last part of their summer. Whew! We were amazed.

       What is this class they were so willing to jump into? We called it Summer Pathways 101 to distinguish it from regular school year Pathways 101.  The content of the course is all about process. We have two standards: Students will be collaborative and quality workers and Students will be self-directed and life-long learners.  How hard could that be to teach, right?  No math standards, no writing standards; seems like that should be a breeze! 

     Um, no.  

     Think about a conference you may have attended that lasted three or four days all day long. Think about how intense that was and how you were both wiped out and energized at the end (if it was a good conference).  Now multiply that by 17 students who are also both energized and wiped out.  By the third day of five. 

     We started the first day by jumping right into a group challenge.  We split them into four groups, gave them each 2 sheets of 4×8 cardboard, 50 yards of colored duct tape, a utility knife, a meter stick, and markers.  With these materials they had to build an object that would float long enough for one team member to navigate a straight course.  We loaded kids and materials into a bus and traveled to a local beach where they designed and built cardboard boats.

     Did I mention that about half of the kids were interested in the Arts Pathway and about half of them were interested in the Marine Studies Pathway?  And that these two groups were pretty distinct within our school?  And that about half were freshman?  The real challenge for them was how to work with people they would not normally be grouped with.  It was great fun to see them get frustrated and then work through it.

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     We only had three goals and it was so hard to achieve them.  We wanted students to complete a group project, an individual project, and a draft personalized learning plan.  We were asking them to learn how to work in groups to solve problems, to work individually to plan and execute a project with limited resources and time constraints, and to understand this new-fangled personalized learning plan.


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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.

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Friday was closing day for progress report grades and I should be working on my gradebook.  And I have a thousand other things to do. Well, maybe not a thousand, but that is how it feels.  That is how this year has felt every day so far.  With a new problem based course co-taught with a teacher new to the school and the area, my learning curve is pretty high this year.   But I love this class.  Even though we both feel like we are only one step ahead of the kids, it is still fun.

For our opening unit/project, we had students build a cardboard boat.  The boat had to carry one member of a two member team and be strong enough to paddle out to a buoy about 10 feet from shore and then back again.  We asked the students to predict their waterline, but didn’t give them any instruction before the first build.  They were restricted to 3 sheets of 4×8 cardboard and one roll of duct tape. Launch day was awesome.

IMG_0422            IMG_0302           IMG_0262           IMG_0268         IMG_0432           We used two pickups to get the boats to the shore and one of them was damaged pretty badly in transport.  That team pulled it together, borrowed some extra tape and regrouped with what they had.  Even though the resulting boat wasn’t that successful; we feel that the students were successful.  They had a challenge and didn’t let it stop them from moving forward.  There was some great problem solving going on.

The next few days were spent on the science and math behind predicting waterlines.  We looked at net forces and did a lab on buoyancy using coke and diet coke.  And we worked through the calculations for their waterline.  Most of them had a hard time visualizing one cubic foot spread out over the bottom of the boat  Even though the calculations weren’t that complicated, changing from cubic feet to depth in their boat was a huge leap.  But they all kept at it, because the relevance was clear to them.

After the direct instruction, we had them build again to see if they could better predict their waterlines the second time through.  This time, they only got two sheets of cardboard and they had to use all of it, even the little scraps.  Oddly enough, most of them used the same boat design as their first run.  They just built a little more carefully. Again, launch day was great fun.

Next week they will be writing about their successes and failures; I can’t wait to see what they say.  But first, we start the week with a field day to collect data on invasive green crabs, followed by a day of testing (NWEA’s).  Coming soon, we will dig up seed clams that were planted last spring and analyze the survivors.  There’s no time to catch my breath; before we finish one project we’re on to the next, and planning the one after that.

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Is it Friday yet?

Ok, so it’s not so much devotion that I question, but more, um, ability.   Nor is it a tough day, but rather a tough student.

Last year I had a student who made me really question what I was doing trying to be a teacher when most people are looking forward to retirement.   He started the year kind of Hemingwayesque, very literal and repetitive, but by the half way mark, he was starting to be more Kafkaesque.  And I started getting worried.  About his grasp on reality.  About my decision to change careers.  On the days he really pushed my frustration buttons, I really questioned whether I was the right person to teach a class in which he was enrolled.  And of course that made me question whether I should be teaching at all.  He really brought out all my first year doubts.
Was it vainglorious of me to think that I, who failed both Calculus II and Statistics the first time I took them (almost 25 years ago), knew enough math to teach it?  Who was am was I fooling?  See, he still makes me question my ability to teach math.  Why math, why didn’t I just go with language arts?  I never failed one of those classes.  Or try for elementary level, where at least I know the math?  Sigh, the doubts are still there and not helped by the inferiority complex I get after reading in the MathBloggerTwittersphere about all the great things math teachers are doing.
Fortunately, my mentor often behaved like an avuncular aunt and offered gentle encouragement while mentioning specific things that I do well.  Hey, there are things I do well.  Thank god!  My principal jumped in on the act and offered excellent feedback while at the same time stroking my ego.  He has a deft touch and I always walk away from his feedback with a clear idea of what I need to work on, some possible directions for improving, and what I have been doing well and should continue doing.  So when I’m really down about my teaching, I talk to my mentor or review the great feedback I have received, and then I move on.
I have to admit, though, I would rather eat okra and grits than have another student like this one.  I jumped for joy (mentally) when I got my rosters for this year and he was nowhere to be seen.

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