September 12, 2017

New Classroom!

I got kicked out of the penthouse since I'm teaching mostly Algebra 2 this year (9th grade classes are on the third floor) and am back to my old wing of the school. I've now inhabited all three classrooms on my side of the hallway: 135, 134 and now 136. I've been at this school for seven years which is more than enough time to accumulate a lot of stuff. But also plenty of time to figure out how to use the standard furniture so moving was mostly a process of putting things back on their same shelf in the closet or bookcase. Here are the big decisions I made as I decided what should change or stay the same:

Student Desks
I've always done pairs in the past but I have almost all juniors and seniors this year. Plus my student teacher switched my pairs to groups last year and it worked well. So I set up (okay, Jordan set up) 7 groups of 4 for my classes of 15-25. I wanted to have groups of 3 with a seat available for me which will work for precalc (class of 15) but not for my biggest algebra 2 (class of 25). I labeled the groups with playing cards. Table 1 has desks with the ace of spades, clubs, hearts and diamonds. Last week I called on tables by number but I also look forward to asking all the hearts to share an idea or all the clubs to go get materials. I used the mini decks of cards I got from Delta (why do I have these?) so they tuck into the corner nicely.

Teacher Desk
We get a desk plus a computer table. The computer table has to be along a certain wall since that's where all the plugs are. Typically I've created a teacher corner with the two desks together either in an L or parallel with the chairs in the middle. This year my classroom is smaller and so I turned both desks to face the wall. I'm rarely sitting at my desk during class, and even when I do sit and grade while they take tests I often ended up at my big table of student desks anyway. Sadly I lost that too since this room is smaller and my classes are bigger but it is more important to me not to block the white boards than to have a teacher corner so I'll find somewhere to sit when I really need to face kids.

Bulletin Board
I loved my "extra copies" folders on the wall. I used to have algebra every day (I teach on an alternating day block but I had regular class one day and support the other day) so it took up my whole board. Now all my classes are alternating day so I can have extra copies for Algebra 2 and Precalc. After the two weeks are full I'll continue putting spare copies in an accordion folder. Fun feature - most stuff like that I labeled "Algebra" which still applies despite switching from Algebra 1 to Algebra 2. The other bulletin board is a random assortment of posters - nothing to be excited about but not blank and boring looking. I of course still have my standards of math practice up as well as my precalc graphing pictures projects.

I loved the idea as soon as I saw Joel's tweet. We have limited bulletin boards in the hall so I decided to take over a section of wall instead (don't tell the fire marshal). I learned this week that the sticky notes don't stay on the cinder block with that much traffic so I'm going to track down a roll of paper to cover the wall and try again. For the first round I made it part of my algebra 2 class (we studied the graphs first, they wrote the sticky in class and then went out into the hall to stick them up). I'm curious what will happen next.

September 10, 2017

Learning Skills

One of my classes is for students with significant learning disabilities. There are eight students, two in each grade level. They are beyond basic math but not yet ready for Algebra 1, which is a broad range! Only one has passed state test so it seems reasonable to let that guide my choice of topics (not to teach to the test, but given the entirety of mathematics to choose from I need something to help narrow my focus). The standards still span from 5th to 10th grade in four very broad categories. I'm certainly not going to teach a purely test prep class but I also can't be developing a complete curriculum. The last time I taught this course (several years ago) I pulled from a few sources but it was still quite haphazard. This year I want to pick one curriculum and follow it. Anything I use will still need careful modification to fit a class of eight with unique learning needs but I'd much rather have something to start with than to be constantly searching my files for new ideas. I liked Bridge to Algebra and Transition to Algebra but found both to be language heavy for students with disabilities and ELL's (a couple students fall in both categories).

We played four fours on the first day. Everyone has heard of the order of operations but relied on calculators to do computations. [Side note: I need to get a better set of calculators, I currently have the ones where you can't see what you typed as soon as you hit the next button, I'll ask around and see who I can trade with.] For a bit of continuity I plan to do some order of operations work tomorrow too and then see what happens if I offer some word problems with tape diagrams. If that handout goes okay I'm thinking about trying the 8th grade IM curriculum. I will check with my co-teacher, their IEP goals and the program head to see if 8th grade is a reasonable starting point.

We'll play How Many as our daily opener and find some other games for the end of class. This will allow us to focus on skills they need from before 8th grade and break up our 90 minute blocks.

I love when blogging helps me to make a plan. I feel much better about this class now. Of course, this all depends on a lot of factors working out, but at least I have a plan A to try! If you're using 8th grade IM with students with disabilities and it works out for us I'd love to find a way to share modifications.

September 9, 2017

Start of Year: Algebra 2

The last time I taught Algebra 2 was in 2010-2011. It was my first year at this school and I had a class of kids who were not excited about math - some had only managed to get credit for Algebra 1 by attending 3 weeks of summer school that everyone passes. I wrote at the end of my post on student reflections on the course: Thank goodness I'm not teaching Algebra 2 again! And I managed to avoid it for many years. The thing I hated about teaching Algebra 2 was it felt like Algebra 1 all over again, so when administration asked if I would move to Algebra 2 this year I said yes on one condition - that I could skip the review units. Because if kids have been learning about lines since 7th grade, why would I teach them yet another unit on lines? You say they don't get it? Who cares! There is so much math in the world, I would hate math too if all we ever did was repeat a mantra of y=mx+b, rise over run for five years in a row (linear review has infiltrated geometry too since kids take a state test on algebra and geometry that year). One, I don't particularly care if they can write the equation of a line from memory. Two, they're more likely to realize why lines are special if we do some stuff other than lines and then compare. But really, there's so much cool math we never get to, let's just move on! So I talked to a coworker who has taught Algebra 2 for the last several years and then my co-teacher (who also co-taught with that same coworker) and I sat down and made a plan together. We have a timeline for units that we will eventually add standards to as we get ready for the transition to standards based grading next year (this is the reason I got moved - they took two of us from the Algebra 1 SBG planning team and moved us onto other teams to repeat the process).

Aside from the essential content of Algebra 2 I have a few goals:

1) Expand students' idea of what math and mathematicians are by doing the Explore Math project. Instead of waiting until the end of the year I plan to have students complete one column per quarter which means frequent short presentations throughout the year.

2) Provide space for talking about big ideas, current events and equity issues. I'm not planning to do weekly homework the same way I did last year (I don't have lessons I like for this course, I can't be writing lessons and deep weekly assignments) but I hope to incorporate the same ideas in my class assignments. In fact, already started on day one! (below)

3) Push students to do more writing. I've always asked students to reflect at the end of class but with younger kids and a large number of them ELL or students with disabilities I asked for two sentences. I provided a third of a page per day this year, I'm curious if that will be enough or if I'll need to specify my expectations (and possibly modify for the smaller number of ELLs and students with disabilities). Inspired by Jonathan I'll be asking for longer explanations on assessments as well. Last year's weekly homework meant students regularly wrote persuasive paragraphs. This year I hope to continue to encourage debate while including some more expository writing.

4) Employ the strategies of visibly random grouping and vertical nonpermanent surfaces to improve students' confidence sharing their ideas with others. Marian recently tweeted about helping students find their inner rebel, that's definitely a factor in my goal of confidence boosting!

First lesson:

We are starting the year with piecewise functions (a tiny bit of linear review with a big focus on domain, range and fluency interpreting graphs). I told them the story of the weather caused by Hurricane Harvey in one location and asked them to graph stream elevation at that location. Then we talked about how data is more complex than the over simplification of our graphs - it could be raining at the same time the stream is draining and every time one of those rates changes the graph reflects it. Reality is way more bumpy than my grossly over simplified story. Next I showed them a graph of stream elevation at a different location and asked them to tell me the story of the weather there. Of course a verbal description isn't enough, so we also described numerically (domain/range) and with equations. After discussing two graphs in depth I projected them with two more, in a WODB format. Kids decided which one didn't belong, I emphasized the multiple right answers and they wrote their reasons on sticky notes to add to my display in the hallway. I was interested to find that some students asked for vocabulary "what's it called again when it goes over the red line?" to put their explanation in context. Throughout this conversation I shared stories (here's a timelapse my friend took, he didn't get flooded. See how this stream still wasn't drained on the 31st? The highways weren't drained until yesterday!) and invited questions. Yes, I picked this context on purpose, I want to talk about big things happening in the world in this class. We didn't specifically get into ideas of equity but I would like to think about how I could include something like this cost analysis soon (maybe it will fit in systems, that's our next unit). Slides here.

Since we had almost a full block on the very first day there was still some time left for students to get started on a problem set. I sent them to the boards to analyze other piecewise situations (for three problems I gave them the context and for one I gave them the graph).* You may notice I haven't mentioned the syllabus yet, I gave it out at the very end of class and told the kids to read it for homework but we would go over each aspect of class as it came up rather than me explaining it that day just for them to forget. And then I explained the journaling aspect of class and had them reflect on day one!

Second class plan:
Most students didn't finish their first problem of the problem set so we'll need to spend a bunch more time on that. Unsurprisingly they didn't all remember how to write the equation of a line so I'll do a very mini review of the various forms available to them and then send them back to their boards and groups to finish. I think I'll have them do Sara's 100 numbers activity to talk about how to be good group members first. If groups finish the problem set with time to spare then they can play on waterline. I'm saving function carnival for the next class - we'll complete it, do the follow up activity and then they'll have to write the piecewise equation for bumper cars and explain it for homework.

*Amazingly my evaluating administrator stopped by while one class was working on these problems. Teachers with tenure (like me) are supposed to be on a two year evaluation cycle but at the end of last year I got placed on a one year cycle. The concern was my classroom management and my evaluator asked why I didn't have my algebra 1 students up working at the boards the same way I used to with my geometry students. The reasons are complicated (as most aspects of teaching are!) but the point is that he wanted kids up at the boards at the end of last year and he saw my kids up at the boards the very first week this year. He was excited and I feel significantly less dread about the evaluation cycle this year!

August 16, 2017

What I Am Doing with NCTM

Here's an update on my current roles within NCTM and where I could use some help!

1) Publishing Committee
2) Portal
3) Booth

1) As a member of the publishing committee I help oversee the journals as well as the books published at NCTM. During my tenure on the committee the journals will be transitioning from 3 grade band journals to one preK-12 journal. The new journal will be published monthly (more than current), be longer than any of the current journals and provide the opportunities to make vertical connections as well as continue to publish grade specific content. I'm pretty excited about it and already hosted one impromptu conversation on what people would like to see from the new journal. I will continue to solicit feedback on the transition as well as make announcements as information becomes finalized. At this point the panel is forming so discussion of what features will remain or be added hasn't even begun.

Despite the lack of someone to submit it to, I have a proposal in to restart Dialogues. This will definitely be happening in some form because the proposal started before I joined and I'm so excited about it that I won't let it fall to the wayside even if it ends up only being an online feature. Dialogues was an occasional feature in the News Bulletin from 1998 - 2002 where researchers would present opposing sides of an issue such as standardized curriculum or calculators. Then people would respond to the research. Ralph kindly dug some examples out of his personal archives since they predate NCTM's digital archives. For the revival we are imagining a sequence of blog post by researchers, comments and tweets by practitioners, article and highlighted comments in the journal, continued conversation online and maybe even a letter to the editor or two. This whole process would take a few months so we would do four a year. Going back to topics like calculators and curriculum would be fascinating, as well as addressing other issues like homework and grading that we all debate constantly.

My final task on the committee is books. We reviewed older books in the catalog and considered what new books are coming up. It is a challenge to balance providing a variety of books with limiting ourselves to only what will sell. The book writing/editing/publishing process at NCTM is speeding up as we put new systems in place but it's still a multi-year process so we have to consider carefully what topics are best suited for books. If you feel like we have a significant gap in our catalog please let me know, hopefully we have a book coming up to fill it. If not, I can suggest a topic at our next meeting. We also review proposals as well as complete manuscripts by anyone that submits them, so that's an option if you want to be the author rather than the reader.

2) I'm really excited for the as of yet unnamed portal. A space to chat with NCTM members sounds nice but not so different from twitter. Topic focused forums would be better than twitter for some things. For example, I suggested that people turn their blog post or presentation into an article but you're not really sure what I meant by that. Instead of tweeting to your followers or to me (since I've never submitted an article either) wouldn't it be great if there was a forum for article ideas and advice where frequent authors checked in to mentor new authors?

What I'm most excited about is the chance to organize resources. If you do any yarn crafting you might be familiar with Ravelry. It's an awesome space where I can chat with other crafters (there's even a specific math forum!), share my projects, save patterns with searchable tags, bundle related patterns, make a queue of projects I plan to complete, read reviews and see examples of patterns made with different yarn, in different colors or in a different size. Can you imagine what that would be like if you replaced pattern/project with lesson? In order to convince NCTM to build all these features we have to use whatever we have in October so get ready to join me there!

3) Starting with the NCTM annual conference in Boston spring of 2015, the #MTBoS has had a booth at most regional and annual conferences. This fall we are looking for people in Orlando and Chicago, then Washington D.C. in the spring. All of the information about how to run a booth is written out and most of the work is done. The box will show up by magic (aka the math forum) so we need a couple people to be in charge (at least one needs to be there early to set up so being local would be best) and a group of volunteers. Let me know if you want to help! If you can't be there (or you can but want to do this too) it would be great if someone wanted to update some of the printouts. The ones we have work great but there are certainly newer things to highlight and changes in some of the older ones. Comment, tweet, email tina.cardone1 on gmail, smoke signal... contact me however if you want editing access on any of those files!

August 15, 2017

What You Can Do for NCTM

So I convinced you yesterday that NCTM is worth paying attention to. Now what? In order for NCTM to continue it needs members, active members. My first three suggestions support NCTM at a basic level and you get something out of those steps too. The next three ideas involve a bit more work but are still quite manageable with a full time job.

1) Join
2) Vote
3) Share
4) Review/Referee
5) Write
6) Volunteer

1) You'll need to be a member of NCTM to do almost all of these other things (except #5 and parts of #3). Right now you can save 20 dollars on membership by using the code "BTS20" before you pay. Membership to my affiliate only costs $20 so go ahead and spend the money you save to join your affiliate too! If your budget doesn't allow for you to join there are some options. First, ask your school. Share some of the reasons in my last post and promise to share with the rest of the department. If that doesn't work, tiered membership is coming in January which will be more affordable. You could also join just your affiliate for now. Bonus of joining your affiliate - they're asked to volunteer at regional and national conferences in that state.

2) Now that you're a member you get voting rights as well as all the other stuff. You have to be a member by August 31 to vote this year. Check out the candidate list and then start researching and campaigning to be sure NCTM is heading in the direction you want.

3) Make good use of all the resources you're paying for as well as the free ones. Remember all that stuff I shared? Go use it! Then, talk about it. Tell your colleagues about the good stuff. Ask questions (on twitter or eventually on the forums) about how to adapt something to fit your students. Discuss articles and books in twitter chats or webinars. The best advertising isn't the targeted advertising that creepily follows you to different websites (although NCTM got a non-profit grant from google which doubled their advertising budget so that's coming soon) but word of mouth. Talk about the resources and more people will want to join this cool organization! Also, you know how I said it was easier to google stuff than search on NCTM's website? They pay for every click on that ad above the results so skip down to the top result and click there instead to save them a few cents.

4) Part of what makes NCTM's journals great is that they are peer reviewed (we call these referees). You could be that peer! There are some clear guidelines and the editors I met were both great people who will help you out if you need it. Plus there's a multi-step process with multiple referees reporting to a panel member so you're definitely not on your own to make decisions. We are going to start choosing among the reliable journal referees to help with editing manuscripts on the book end of the publishing committee so if you get your reviews in on time you might get rewarded with the opportunity to do even more work! Seriously though, the opportunity to read articles and books as well as hone your writing skills is a valuable one if it interests you. Sign up!

5) What we need even more than referees is writers. At the publishing committee meeting the journal editors shared that they used to start their day by reviewing all of the submissions they received in the past twenty-four hours. Now they start their day by crossing their fingers they will find any submissions. Monday is their favorite day of the week since most people submit over the weekend. They are barely getting enough submissions to fill the reduced number of issues this year. A journal article isn't so very different from a blog post. Perhaps you could take one of your more popular old posts and refresh it with new ideas from this year (including getting high quality photos of student work if applicable). Or you could turn you most recent presentation into an article. You already did all the research and organization, why not give your work a broader audience? NCTM provides details on how to submit.

6) There are a few more opportunities to volunteer but if you've ever wondered how to get more involved with NCTM I'm going to be blunt - you have to know somebody. This is my biggest criticism of the organization and I will continue making it clear that this is not an acceptable method of running an organization. First of all, you won't get diversity of anything (thought, perspective, experience, ambition) if you only invite people in your circle to work with you. But also, people have a lot of responsibilities. If you ask your committee members to do their committee work and also review session proposals and seed the forums and edit materials and and and... I'm they're going to quit. There's a reason my new year's resolution was "just say no." When I declined to review proposals I did so with a pointed email saying there are tens of thousands of members, I'm sure someone would be thrilled to volunteer for such a task if only they were given the opportunity to volunteer. So when I showed up to NCTM headquarters Peg helped me corner David Barnes and we discussed that the current volunteer form is just for committees. But committees are a three year commitment so they really can't take in an entirely unknown entity for a major position. David said if we (this 'we' includes you, dear reader) can come up with more volunteer opportunities he would get the form changed to include other ideas. So, how could you imagine contributing? What would you like to do for or with NCTM? What should be added to the form?

p.s. NCTM has an Amazon Smile account. You can donate while you shop!