Sunday, November 17, 2013

I've been busy...

I've turned into the worst blogger ever. The last time I posted was the first day of school and tomorrow is the first day of second marking period.  At this rate it'll be another couple months till I'm back here.

Typically the "are you ok?" e-mails motivate me to post something, but even that hasn't been enough lately. This year is SO hectic.  I've never been so extremely busy before. 

This week's Exploring the MTBoS Mission seemed like a perfect way to document the craziness and offer an explanation for my absence. I haven't done any of the other ones yet, but that's ok.

This is last Thursday:

6:00 alarm goes off

6:10ish get up

6:10-6:40 get ready, make breakfast and coffee that I'll eat in the car

7:00 Arrive at work.  I am the first one there (this is normal). 8:30am is the time we actually have to be at school but the morning is my only peaceful time of the day.

7:00-8:00 Drink my coffee. Put on Pandora and get things ready for the day. Make copies for my classes.  Make copies for some club projects.  Realize I left a sheet of paper at home where I had brainstormed possible names for a new club I am started this year that is still nameless.   Do my best to remember the names and type out a ballot to vote.

8:07 Use Remind101 to send out a text that the club meeting will be in my room this morning.

8:15 Kids start drifting in and out waiting for the meeting to start. 

8:25ish Meeting starts. Actually have more kids that usual which is good because I have a lot to talk about. Discuss a Saturday open house, a charity 5k walk/run, conduct a poll for a new name, take volunteers to go around to homerooms tomorrow to make an announcement about the new school hoodies we are selling.  Around halfway through the meeting about 5 more kids came in so at the end I have to go over everything I said for them.

8:45 Meeting ends

8:48 Homeroom starts. The PA system isn't working so I have to tell kids to sit down because the bell didn't ring. I'm frustrated because even when the bell does ring I still have to ask them to take their seats every. single. day.

9:00-10:25 Algebra 1 block period.  We are working on systems of equations and solving them using a table.  During second period the office secretary comes in and tells me that I need to cover a class third period (my duty period). While continuing to teach figure out what I'm going to do because I already had 3 students that were planning to come for extra help 3rd period.

10:25 Duty period. Stand outside my door for a minute waiting for my students to come to me. Tell them to wait while I go get the class I'm covering. Instead of going to them, I'll just have them come to my room. Work includes books so we'll have to bring them down to my room too.

10:27-11:13 Work with my kids on various geometry things they need help on while the other kids work on the work their teacher left.

11:13 Class is over, grab one of my kids to help me bring back all the textbooks we brought from the other classroom. Leave my door open because next period is lunch and my juniors like to spend lunch in my room. If I'm not there when they get there they don't know what to do.

11:15-11:45 Lunch. Another teacher and anywhere from 3-8 kids usually spend lunch in my room.  The majority of the kids are my juniors who I had last year and have again this year.  Depending on the day lunch could consist of anything from doing work they need help with, talking about whatever is currently upsetting them, joking around, decorating my room, or other totally random things.

11:45 Lunch ends and geometry starts. The majority of my class is already there since they are the ones that eat lunch with me. A couple kids come in that didn't come for lunch today. 

11:48-12:30 Geometry. We are finishing up triangle congruence proofs and I'm thrilled because they are getting to the point where they can for the most part do them from scratch on their own.

12:33-2:00 Second Algebra 1 block period. We are also working on solving systems using a table, but this period takes a little bit longer to work on things and really get them. I'm actually very happy with how fast they catch on.

2:03-2:45 Prep period. Today is a meeting for a different club that I advise. Leave my room and go down to the classroom we're having the meeting in.  Pop my head in and tell the other advisor I'll be right back, running to the bathroom. This is ONLY two minutes I've been without students today. Discuss fundraisers and some important dates. At the start of the meeting a student comes in and tells me he really can't stay for the meeting because he needs to be in class, asks if he can just stay after school for a little bit instead to catch up what he missed.

2:48-3:30 Enrichment math. This is a sophomore level semester math class that has very little guidelines on what to cover so I have a lot of freedom. Take them to the library to begin a project on patterns.  Kids log on to computers and go to but of course it's blocked. I don't feel like taking them back to my room so I give them some sections on to work on instead.

3:40-4:15 Kid from earlier comes to catch up what he missed at the club meeting and also work on some skills that he wants to requiz on. Work on a number of different skills that I've been working with him all week on.

4:15 Sit at my desk and appreciate the peace and quiet. Remember that I asked my club kids this morning to hand out school sweatshirt order forms in homerooms tomorrow so I need to go copy more order forms.

4:15-5:00 Get some stuff ready for my classes tomorrow. Make copies of sweatshirt order forms. Come up with a plan of which kids will go to which homerooms and type up a guide of what they should say.

5:00 Leave school. I am one of the last ones to leave (this is normal). 

So this is where I've been. I feel like busy isn't even a strong enough word, but the part that may be strange is that I'm really having a great year. I like to stay busy. Coming from teaching 8th grade this is the first year that all my former students didn't graduate and leave. I love it. Sure I could easily give up all of the "extras" and be less stressed- the clubs, the extra help, allllllll the time spent talking with my students about what's bothering them (there's SO much of this)...but that just wouldn't be me. It is however why I haven't been here. When I actually get home the last thing I have energy for is to write about my day or what I taught.  We had the first week of November off and I needed it desperately to reenergize. Perhaps winter break will be enough time off to actually get me back to sharing things, but no guarantees. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

First Day

Today was the best first day of school EVER!

First of all, I waited until this morning to use my free Starbuck's birthday drink. Starting the day with a venti java chip frappuccino instantly puts me in a good mood.

In the past, I've taught 8th grade so once my kids left me, they went to high school and I only saw them if they came back to visit or I ran into them somewhere.  Last year I taught primarily freshman and sophomores so I was really excited that I'd get to see them all again this year.

My morning started with one of my juniors (that I had last year) coming to my room as soon as he arrived- like an hour before homeroom. He helped me get things set up, got some schedules that I was missing, fixed some posters that were falling and then greeted my freshman as I ran around trying to sort out some confusion that was going on.  A number of my kids from last year came straight to my room as soon as they got into school this morning which made me happy. One kid has the job of changing the date on my board every morning...largely because I just forget. So this morning he came in, and immediately changed the board from June 18th (which I never erased) to September 9th. A couple other kids them even went late to their homerooms because their bus was late and instead of going straight to homeroom they came to see me first. Love them.

Every year I think about whether or not I want to play 31derful. Part of me is a little sentimental because it's been my first day activity since my first year but part of me gets bored repeating activities and wants to try new things. So I think about it every year and every year I decide to play...and I'm never disappointed. And every year I remember how great of an activity this is.

This year was no different. I played today with 2 out of my 4 classes (it was a little too challenging for one period and another period played last year with me)

Some things that come to mind from today:

  • My first period that played did awesome. They were freshman that all came from different districts so it got them talking and working with people they didn't know, and they did really well. Out of 6 groups, 2 of them were able to get a solution (which I consider great).
  • Something new that I did this year was to have groups try to explain their strategy in writing once they completed the puzzle.
  • I always tell the groups that Aces are worth 11 and they can't be 1. This is mainly just because that was the way the game was played where I found it. For the past 7 years, I've held firm on this rule but in all honestly I'm not sure that mathematically it makes all that much of a difference. So during my last period, they told me that it would be sooo much easier if Aces could just be 1. I told them to go for it and see what happened. 
  • One kid told me that he was just going to google the answer. I felt pretty confident that he wasn't going to be able to so I let him try. I figured there was no harm, at least he's taking initiative into trying to find an answer. In less than 5 minutes his phone was back on his desk because he realized it wasn't going to work.
  • And a random fun fact: I don't call this game 31-derful with my kids. With high school kids that don't know me I feel a bit cheesy standing up on the first day and saying we're playing "31-derful" so instead it's become the "31-Game"

Perfect 10
Upon meeting one of my other periods I realized quickly that 31derful was going to be too challenging. Instead I switched it up with them and we played perfect 10. Each group deals out 5 random playing cards from 2-9. Their goal is to use as many/few numbers as they can to make problems that have 10 as an answer. Each problem they create gets a score based on how many numbers they used.

So for example let's say they dealt out these:
Some options might be:
  5 + 5 = 10  --> 2 pts
  9 + 5 - 4 = 10  --> 3 pts
  9 - 5 + 4 + 9 - 7 = 10  --> 5 pts
  (5*4)/(9-7) = 10  --> 4 pts

It's a nice game to get a quick idea of where they number sense skills are at. And for kids that hit a wall, I'll walk over and give them a nudge in the right direction. I may pull out the 9, 5, and 4 and tell them that I know for sure these will work and it makes the task a little easier, while still making them think.

Notice & Wonder
My two freshman classes today started first thing with noticing and wondering things about school. It was kinda funny because they looked at me like I was a little crazy when I told them to write down things they noticed. I told them that I knew this sounded like an odd request, but they were free to write down anything at all. They had a little bit of an easier time wondering, which I expected since they are brand new to the school and mostly don't know anyone at all. A number of them wrote down things they were wondering about school so I think tomorrow I'll take some time to talk about some of those things..maybe go over the school map briefly since "I wonder if I'll get lost" was the most frequent wondering. In general though I was happy with it, my goal was to get them going with the idea of Noticing and Wondering so by the time we get to try it with math stuff they'll at least be comfortable with the procedure.

Calendar Math
My geometry class is a group of kids that I had last year and absolutely love. I modified @heatherkohn's calendar math project and am using it with them as an algebra review. Since I had them all last year, I was able to choose problems specifically for them that I knew they could handle. My calendar is a mix of the ones posted by @heatherkohn and @chrisrime (here).

At the moment, I am planning to do this monthly as a year long algebra review. Every month I will hand out the calendar on the first of the month and it will be due at the end of the month.

So I gave this out at the end of the geometry period and gave them about 10 minutes to start working and they made me very happy. They all have their own personal tray in my room to keep stuff so most of them left it there at the end of the period. One kid was doing an awesome job in class so I went back later to peek at his and found all of the other stuff I gave him in there, but the calendar and his work gone. Which means that he voluntarily took it home to work on..on the first day of school. Love.

This is the version I ended up with for September:
I realized today that the pdf saved weird...26 should be -2(4-17) and 28 should have 4(x+30) on the top 
Download the pdf here. Unfortunately I do not have an editable one to share, but check out Heather and Chris's. I made mine using Chris's and just changed some of the problems.

Also during my geometry period I had them set up their ISNs.  I bought notebooks for them because I knew I wanted to get started immediately. So waiting in their tray was a composition notebook, a spiral notebook and a couple other things I was giving them. I loved that they were excited for the composition notebooks because they knew exactly what that meant. Setting them up was so easy. We did the table of contents, made the folder in the back, entered the first 10 pages into the TOC, entered page headings on pages 1-2 and taped in the course guide...all in a span of honestly like than 10 minutes.

And by far my favorite moment of the day was one of my kids telling me that he panicked yesterday trying to find his ISN from last year because he HAD to bring it to school. And he didn't even know yet that he had me again. He was so relieved when I reminded him that I had it because I collected them all last year to hold on to. However, as soon as he started working on his calendar math problems he asked me for his notebook and I had to admit that I had left them all at my apartment because I had too much to carry this morning. I have to make sure for sure that I bring them in tomorrow.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Roommate Problem

I'm teaching geometry for the first time this year and I must admit originally I wasn't all that enthused. I think this is mainly just because I've never taught it before and the geometry that I remember was memorization of endless theorems and two column proofs. I have an awesome group of kids though and I'm excited about that so it's giving me extra motivation to put time into planning things that are great.

This week I sat down to start planning and started to read through the standards. I came things that were exactly why I wasn't thrilled about geometry. Things like this:
From G.CO.9: "points on a perpendicular bisector of a line segment are exactly those equidistant from the segment's endpoint" 
Ouch. Such a terrible way to phrase an idea that's actually fairly intuitive. The last thing I want to do is have kids copy down a definition, then try to explain it to kids that are already turned off, and then give them a sheet of practice problems.

So this is my idea for a task that would address this idea, with a low entry point that establishes the need for the mathematics.

You and a friend have just gotten new jobs and have decided that you will live together.  You would like to find a place to live where you will be an equal distance from both of your jobs.  Use the map to decide where you could live.

these two points are completely random

The first place I'd expect them to go would be to find the midpoint.  In actually creating this task, I might try to make it so that there is a problem with the midpoint..maybe it's in the middle of a highway or lake or something so they would have to find other places that work.

My goal would be to get them to create a segment between the two jobs and then to create the perpendicular bisector, maybe by measuring or folding or whatever they decide.

To add more to the task, I may also put in a stipulation that says you only want to live at most some number of miles away so that they would have to construct circles as well. And ultimately I'd like to have them get on an actually google map, draw in their perpendicular bisector line and search for any apartment complexes that would be on their line. I think I'd try to design the map in a way so that there are a couple on the line to choose from too.

I also think that a great way to start this would be using Have students make predictions and then we could compare their estimates to the line.

I would wait until the end to add in the formal geometry of it. That:

  • the line they used to connect the jobs is a segment
  • the jobs themselves are the endpoints
  • the line of all the places they could live is perpendicular bisector (and why)
  • that all the points on the line are equidistant from both jobs

At this point, hopefully the ideas wouldn't be confusing because they would have informally have already thought about all these things on their own and developed their own meanings already. By discussing the formal language at the end, all it does is assign the vocabulary to things they already know.

At the moment I don't think it's an especially long task or one that's really all that challenging. I don't mind really that though. Unfortunately I don't have the time to draw every single topic out into a week long project so short tasks are ok with me. I think that it does a good job of giving the standard some context and making it relatable which I'm happy with.

So I'd like input on this. Is there anywhere else you could see it going? Any ideas to make it better or include more learning targets? I'm admittedly new to geometry, so apologies in advance for things that are less than's all a work in progress.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

New Rules

In the past I've written about a set of very detailed classroom expectations I've used.  As I wrote about in that post, I needed them then.  I don't need them anymore.  No I'm not a better teacher or anything like that, it's just that my classroom culture has changed.  I had bigger classes then with many big personalities.  Most of the classes I have now are small and for the most part very well behaved because (last year at least) we just had a really great mutual respect going on.  There were certainly issues with students but I just handled them on an individual basis and it worked fine.

So for this year I'm going simple with the rules.  They were inspired by something I saw on pinterest.

I think they'll be enough. I'm especially fond of #5 because now when they tell me they give up I can reply with a smile and tell them that unfortunately that's against the rules and point to the wall. I find that they start to have fun with stuff like that, like eventually one kid will say they give up and other kids will be the ones to tell them that's against the rules. Kinda like how they started to police each other with the curse jar.

Along with that I have two more new pet peeves that arose from last year.  These two will be hung up too.

This one became an issue last year. A kid would be asking me for help and another kid would pipe up with, "Come on, you're not done yet? This is so easy." Now the first kid is frustrated that they don't get it, angry with the other kid and has totally lost focus.  The kid doesn't want to bother trying anymore because they feel stupid and I'm frustrated that the other kid couldn't just keep their mouth shut.  It just ends up making kids feel bad and I want to stress that it's a really big deal. Instead of putting each other down they should be offering to help each other out.

It should also go without saying, but this goes doubly for teachers. We should never be telling kids that something is easy. If we say something is easy and then a kid doesn't get it at first, they're going to be extremely discouraged and start to think that the problem must be them.

This one is mainly because I'm tired of "I don't know" as a cop out.  Often it was always the first thing a kid would say. Then I'd press them further, urging them to take a guess..even something totally wrong..and I'd say 9 times out of 10 they would say something correct, even if it was just an idea of where to start.  I need them to go straight to the guesses on what to do. For times when they honestly don't know, we'll discuss better ways to say that. When I feel that they truly are unsure on something then conversation turns to where they can find how to do it. But I'm never going to let them off the hook with an "I don't know" so they should learn quickly to not even bother wasting the breath.

Monday, August 19, 2013

What does your room say about you?

So I had an idea this evening and this post is an attempt to think it through...

I went to school today to start setting stuff up in my room and work on a couple things.  Kids don't come until 3 weeks from today but if I start now I can work on things at a leisurely pace...a couple hours here, a couple hours there.  I have to lead some PD on the second teacher day too so I'd rather not have to worry about working on my room then.

So back to my idea...

One of the sessions I'm really bummed about missing at #TMC13 was Dan Goldner's on Problem Based Learning.  From talking to people though I got that they talked about the idea that all of the decisions we make reflect our values.  I like this idea a lot.  Then a couple days ago someone (I'm sorry-completely forget who) tweeted a picture of their classroom and asked what it said about them.

So I'm very curious to know what my classroom says about me to someone that doesn't know me.  My room doesn't really look like a typical high school classroom...or at least not like most classrooms in any of the schools that I've been in.

So my idea is to have students do a quick little activity immediately upon entering my room on the first day of school-before I say anything to them at all.  I will prompt them to just take a look around at things, take it all in and I want to ask the following:
  • What are some things you notice in the classroom/about this class?
  • What are some things you wonder about this class?
  • Tell me what you think this class is going to be like.
I think this could be an easy way to introduce noticing and wondering in a way that has an extremely low entry point.

I also think it will be funny because towards the middle of the year my kids always tell me that their first impressions of my class were completely wrong.  They frequently tell me that they they thought the room was too elementary and that it would be a really easy class.  They've said that they thought it was going to be a really annoying class because of all the procedures I have for doing things and stuff like that.  Within a couple months though they feel like my room is home. So I think that having them jot down some first impressions could be funny to look back at later.

Does anyone have any ideas about this? Ways to make it better perhaps? Or do you do anything similar? I'd love to hear.

On another note, I got an e-mail this week from a student that will be a junior that said in regards to school starting, "I'm excited, I'm sure you're excited about school." I laughed, but it made me think and I'm actually really glad that he thinks that about me.  I'm happy that I come across as someone that enjoys my job and isn't just counting down until the last day of school.  That's all.