Friday, August 2, 2013

Back? Maybe!

I've never been a consistent blogger or writer in general. I love rummaging through my childhood bedroom, reading diary entries. Here's a fairly accurate, completely made-up example:

January 1 
 Dear Diary, 
 Everything I ever wrote in all previous diaries is embarrassing and the WORST. This time, I'm going to write really great things and I'm going to write every single day, instead of writing three days in a row and then stopping for six months. 
Love, me 

January 2 
 Dear Diary, 
Look at how consistent I am! I am the best. 
Love, me 

September 5 
 Dear Diary, 
OMG my life is soooo different nowwwww. I'm going to write here every single day. 
Love, me 

So, I'm not here to make any promises that I'm going to write every day, or every week, or every whatever. For me, I think it's hard to write a blog when I feel like I don't create that much original content. I also look back at previous blog posts and I cringe - at the superficial nature of it, at the lack of focus on teaching, the focus on student behavior and not on student understanding of mathematical concepts.

I backed off of Twitter and blogging for a long time - I was feeling disillusioned, fairly unhappy, and unenthusiastic about teaching in general. I didn't feel great, or enthused, or creative about what I was doing in the classroom. It occurs to me now that backing off of the mathtwitterblogosphere was the exact opposite of what I should have done, but, you know, hindsight.

Every once in a while I would dip my toes in - trying to work out getting to Twitter Math Camp in the midst of my honeymoon this summer (fail), participating in one Global Math Dept (amazing!), but then I'd kind of fall off again.

 HOWEVER

I'm starting at a new school this year, and teaching a new class for the first time since my second year of teaching, and returning to AP Statistics (!!!!!!!! YAY !!!!!!!!!) and all of a sudden, that enthusiasm that I lost? It's back with a vengeance. I also just got married, have a new last name - it all just feels like a wonderful fresh start. And I MISSED it. I really MISSED interacting with amazing and supportive teachers on twitter, I missed loving my job - because, I really do love teaching math, I missed my own enthusiasm and creativity. I think I just lost my spark for a bit.

I'm teaching four sections of Pre Calculus this coming fall and I'm looking for any and all direction. I'm returning to AP Stats after a two year hiatus and potentially switching textbooks. I'm starting at a new school, so there's learning all of those ins and outs. I've been doing some champion lurking and adopting of ideas, but I miss participating.

 The #MTBoS has changed A LOT in the last two years, I feel like I have some catching up to do - but it's kind of amazing to see how much BIGGER it is and how much VARIETY there is within it. I just finished going through all of the Made For Math posts ever. I'll probably never catch up with all of the things, but I'll try(ish). I can't say that I'll ever be a prolific blog writer or tweeter, or that I'll always be an active participant. But even just being a champion lurker for a while has helped bring back that enthusiasm and that spark - because I see it in so many teachers that I admire. I may not agree with what everyone is doing in their classrooms (because... that would be impossible?), but I 100% completely admire that enthusiasm - that verve, you know? And I have it back, thanks in part to the existence of this community.  I also took this summer off to do wedding stuff, go on a honeymoon, and just generally decompress and regroup, so I'm thinking that probably helped a bit too :)

Sam's post particularly about the way that we engage with the MTBoS really hit home for me. Previous to reading his post, I had actually felt guilty about my sporadic/lack of participation. I mean, I was raised Catholic, so I feel guilty about 90% of all of the things 90% of the time. Sam's post got me back down to my baseline guilt level of feeling bad that I'm not the greatest/most creative/coolest/funniest math teacher OF ALL TIME - a baseline that I can totally live with. I may or may not be back for the long haul, but I'd like to participate more because I'm feeling good, back to teaching my favorite subject, and excited to teach a new one.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Film Elective

Tomorrow I start teaching a Film elective that will meet for 1.5 hours each week. I'm super excited about it because I absolutely loved the film class that I took in college (taught by this guy, Nick Davis, who memorized pretty much all of our names before the 1st class by perusing our ID pictures - this was a big class of about 75 students, so super impressive). I'm selfishly using this elective as an opportunity to revisit what I learned in that intro class in college, and to continue to learn more about film.

So, I have 16 kids who signed up for the class. 13 boys and just 3 girls (which surprised me), and the majority of the students are 10th grade boys that I teach in Geometry. I think it will be cool to have a group of kids who chose to be in the elective - talk about instant intrinsic motivation just based on interest!

My plan of attack for the first day is a brief survey of what types of movies the kids consider to be "good," what their favorite genre of movie is, their favorite film, and their favorite director. Then, we'll watch A Trip to the Moon and a scene from Broken Blossoms, and begin discussing shot scale and introduce some vocab.

Finally, I'm going to put kids in groups of four to create two-minute long silent films.

I'm excited!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Video Scavenger Hunt

In addition to teaching math, I also have an advisory group (we call it POD) that meets for about 1.5 hours every day. Ideally, every advisory is with their advisor from 9th grade until they graduate, but I inherited a 10th grade POD from a teacher who moved on to full time graduate school.

To make a deliberate effort that our 9th and 10th graders are getting to know each other (which can be difficult, since they're taught on completely different floors), once a week, some of the 9th and 10th grade pods trade half of their kids so that we have mixed grade groups. And then we have SO MUCH FUN.

Two weeks ago we did a video scavenger hunt. For an hour, this group of 15 kids who don't know each other very well (and me, of course) ran around the school, ran outside, and generally giggled our heads off as we raced to complete (and catch on video) as many of the items on the scavenger hunt list as possible. I was worried that the kids would think that it was lame, but they threw themselves into it pretty immediately.

We finally screened all four groups' videos today, and it was hilarious to watch the kids' different takes on the Maury Show and Cops - because of course those were some of our first choices on the list. I also learned that I'm pretty much the worst videographer in the world.

My team won by a landslide. So that makes it even better.

Here's the video scavenger hunt list in case you're interested! It was mostly created by my amazing art teacher colleague. I think I contributed The Fresh Prince of Bel Air theme song idea and that's about it.

Video Scavenger Hunt

And don't forget to check out my fellow Bmore bloggers participating in NaBloPoMo

BMoreSchools

Maryland Math Madness

Epiphany in Baltimore

Surviving the System

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Confidence in Math

On the first day at my new school this year, I met 90 awesome kids. I did my introductory thing – rapped the McKennalicious rap, proselytized about the amazingness of math and how much great stuff we’ll do all year, and got to know the kids a bit too.

I ended the day feeling great and really positive about the year. And then I found myself cornered by two, very, very anxious students.

“We just want to let you know that we really love you and you seem really awesome so we’re so sorry that we’re really awful at math.”

“Hold on,” I said. “I’m sure you’re not terrible at math and…”

“YES WE ARE. WE ARE SO TERRIBLE AND WE’RE SORRY!”

And then they literally ran away.

It was really intense.

So, we’re two months in now, and those girls who cornered me? Not at all bad at math. In fact, they’re both pretty darn good.

So what is it about this super low confidence in math skills? Is confidence what separates successful students from lower performing students (in math specifically – but perhaps other subjects too?)

How much time do kids who think that they’re bad at math waste just freaking out
about how bad they are, instead of persevering with the confidence that even though they might not get a concept quite yet, they’ll get it in time?

I see this low confidence every day. When kids flat out tell me they’re bad, when I see full and CORRECT answers on assessments completely crossed out or erased because of some fear of being wrong. I have students who would rather leave a question completely blank than write down anything they’re not 100% sure of.

I have a few students who, when I ask why they aren’t taking notes or writing down the example problems we’re working out, answer “because I don’t get it.” Sometimes I think that’s just a cop out, but in the instances that’s true - students are completely putting a wall up to learning because they don’t immediately understand, which means that learning the topic must be completely impossible.

Am I a terrible teacher if students don’t immediately understand a somewhat complicated concept? Am I not breaking it down enough? Sometimes that is definitely the case. Sometimes though, I think my awesome days of instruction aren’t given a chance because of a wall that’s been built up over years. The foundation of that wall (uh oh, metaphor gone crazy alert) can often be found in students’ parents, who had terrible experiences with math. It’s so frustrating to hear parents say, often in front of their kids, that they “just aren’t good” at math, and neither is their kiddo.

I’m not at all blaming parents here – it’s just that there’s this messed up idea that seems to be so acceptable, that people are either good or bad at math and that that’s all there is to it.

I’m pretty sure I’m rambling here. I missed out on my coffee this morning, so I’ve been a bit off kilter all day. I almost didn’t do this first post of NaBloPoMo – but then I realized that giving up on day one was a bit pathetic. Get ready, Internet! You're in for a month of incoherence and exhaustion! (fact, it just took me 3 attempts to spell exhaustion correctly)

For something a little more coherent and worth while, please check out:

BMoreSchools

Maryland Math Madness

Epiphany in Baltimore

Surviving the System

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

I arrived at it independently!!

Pete Campbell - Mad Men: “You know what? I have good ideas. In fact, I used to carry around a notebook and a pen, just to keep track. Direct marketing? I thought of that. It turned out it already existed, but I arrived at it independently.”

About two years ago, though most of my classroom management was OK, I was having a lot of trouble getting kids to transition from being in the hallway to being in math class. I mean, they were physically in the classroom - but I couldn’t get them to engage in actual class stuff, i.e. the “warm up” (or Do Now, or Drill, or whatever the heck you want to call it) without a bunch of cajoling, and I found this to be extremely frustrating.

When I say extremely frustrating, what I really mean is that I felt like I was trying to herd evil cats. EVIL cats, not regular ones. Way worse.

So, I tried a bunch of things and none of them worked. Bribing children with candy (ugh - gross), collecting and grading warm ups (ugh - the SBGer in me wants to vom), threatening to kill children (not really! That’s ridiculous! Threats? Me!?)

And then, one day, I just started pointing out what kids were doing right.

“I see that Davonte has his notebook out and has started the Do Now.”

“I see that Chelsea is looking at yesterday’s notes to help her with the warm up.”

“Chris has his pencil in hand and has begun working.”

And that was it. Seriously. I was kind of freaked out. All of a sudden all of my usual hyperactive 10th graders were quietly working. Yes, there was that one kid who looked at me, dramatically pointing to his notebook and mouthing “Tavon is working” - but then he actually started the warm up in a timely fashion. For the first time all year.

Obviously I was convinced it was a fluke. Or that it would only work once. Turns out, not only did it work in all the rest of my classes - it worked almost EVERY DAY in ALL OF MY CLASSES for the REST OF THE YEAR. Yes, those caps were necessary.

On the third day I had my math teacher colleagues peaking into my room, frantically whispering

“how did you do this?”
“they’ve been like this for three days?”
“I don’t understand.”
“I’ve never seen that child do anything.”
“You deserve to be teacher of the year. For every year. Forever.”

I felt like a god. Like the student whisperer. Or something.

Perhaps it wasn’t so dramatic as this.

Well, it turns out this is just called behavior narration and I didn’t make it up at all. I mean I thought of it - it turned out that it already existed, but I arrived at it independently. (Thanks, Pete).

And what I love about it is that in addition to helping kids transition from being with their friends in the hall to being in math class and doing some math (yay!), it doesn’t make me feel like a crappy human being - like the yelling/cajoling/threatening (jk! I would never do that!) always did.

At the end of the day (or the beginning of class...) saying "I see that Ayanna is beginning right away" is just much better for my soul than FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, PLEASE SIT DOWN AND START DOING SOMETHING THAT JUST LOOKS LIKE YOU'RE DOING MATH. YOU DON'T EVEN HAVE TO ACTUALLY DO IT. JUST PRETEND.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Kobe vs. LeBron Boxplots

This semester I'm teaching an HSA Algebra/Data Analysis for the first time. It's also the first time that I've taught 9th graders, and so far, the girls are super mature and the boys are a mixture of wise beyond their years and super wiggly.

I overheard some of these wiggly boys talking smack to each other about the Miami Heat vs. the Celtics on Friday, so today their "Do Now" assignment was to create boxplots comparing LeBron James' and Paul Pierce's points per game for the last 10 games. As soon as the boys walked in they were excited, but they said they'd rather compare LeBron and Kobe. So, (thank you Internet!) I quickly hopped on ESPN's website and replaced all of Paul Pierce's data with Kobe's.

The kids were totally into it, my totally disinterested/too-cool-for-school boy actually changed seats from his usual spot in the back to a spot closer to the front (!!!)

After constructing their boxplots (each and every child, without prodding), the boys continued their trash talking. However, they were now overheard comparing the median PPG (!!!) and discussing how even though LeBron's median was higher, Kobe was more consistent (smaller IQR).

It was definitely one of those moments when I wanted to run out in the hall just to find someone else to witness the amazingness.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

AP Exam Results

I spent about an hour of my day today obsessively refreshing the CollegeBoard’s AP Score reporting site until I was lucky enough to slip through the overload of teachers, presumably doing the same thing as me (if my Twitter and Facebook friends are a representative sample).

I was excited because I was sure that my students had done well. I was sure that at least of few of my students would have passing scores and even crossed my fingers for a 4 (or even a 5!) from my most talented child. Finally I got through, so I paused the episode of Mad Men that I was watching to wait for my extremely slow Internet connection to load the page (I can’t complain – free internet via the computer store I live above).

And not one of my 13 students passed the exam.

Not one.

Of my 13 students, 11 earned 1’s and 2 earned 2’s.

There are, of course, a lot of factors that I can blame beside myself.

“These kids” have never been challenged before -- Honors classes were only implemented this year, and it is VERY difficult to successfully differentiate instruction with levels that range from I-don’t-understand-the-difference-between-a-rectangle-and-a-square! and Can-I-stay-in-your-room-at-lunch-and-do-extra-trig-identity-problems?

“These kids” don’t know how to study because they’ve literally never had to study before, breezing through classes that are not at all challenging.

“These kids” have never had to do more that 30 minutes of homework in a night.

“These kids” are under-prepared – who knows what they even learned in middle school? And we all know that the 9th grade HSA Algebra class is a joke (or at least it was two years ago)!

“These kids” have poor literacy skills, which are extremely important in AP Statistics – in fact, there is more reading and writing than computation!

But, the truth is that it’s my job to get “these kids” to understand AP Statistics and to be able to communicate that understanding. And I was not successful this year. I need to make some drastic changes, because my lack of success is absolutely not acceptable. My job is to take the kids from where they are to a passing score on the AP exam.

Standards based grading, though I was at first reluctant to use it in my AP class, may be a part of what I do to make sure that students understand the content. Quarterly projects where students must communicate their knowledge orally might be helpful. I clearly need to read some books about literacy and incorporate strategies in my classroom.

This is how I will spend the rest of my summer – preparing for a brand new year. The status quo isn’t sufficient.

Bright spot. Jaime Escalante did not get the results that we watch in Stand and Deliver in a year or two. He first had to become department head and create a pipeline in which students experienced rigorous math curriculum beginning in middle school. It took him 8 years to get all those students to pass.

Now, I'm not Escalante. But, I'm a good teacher. I can be a better teacher. I can guide "these kids" to become "those kids" who triumphed against the odds.