July 20, 2016

Thank You (A TMC post)

I wasn't going to write a blog post today. I was going to take a day to sleep, do laundry, sleep and reorient myself to being at home. But I was going through my emails I've ignored for the past week and was curious how many TMC emails I'd sent/received since TMC 15. And then I somehow ended up writing you all a love letter. Here it is:

In the past year I have:

  • Created, edited and re-edited 50 google docs
  • Sent/read 215 email conversations. (Longest conversation contained 54 emails!)
  • Written and responded to countless tweets
  • Had so many phone conversations; Lisa is by far the person I talk to the most on the phone other than my mother.

All leading up to a whirlwind weekend of amazingness. All weekend when people asked how I was, I answered "Fantabulous!" Even after this happened to my sleep schedule:

I did get a nap Monday afternoon, and slept on all the planes Tuesday!
Sometimes people in my life outside of this community look at me like I'm crazy when I tell them that I'm traveling to see my twitter colleagues, or that I put time into organizing this conference. And sure I whine when my inbox is full or I have to spend yet another hour reformatting some spreadsheet. But the whole time I am working, I am simultaneously remembering events of TMC's past and imagining how wonderful TMC future will be. I hardly took any photos this trip, (luckily the rest of you did so I can steal them!) and I think that it's because I was enjoying being in the moment too much to stop and take a photo. I did manage to capture this candid at lunch:


It's particularly appropriate because we talked about remembering: I got a growth mindset lecture from Sean on learning names. I may not be good at remembering names (yet!) but I do remember the experiences. And they carry me through the year.

As I sat with Rachel, Dave and Sean into the wee hours of Tuesday morning, working on the TMC anthem, there were two moments that stood out:
Jonathan walked into the room to hang out, and at that particular moment we were all silently staring at our screens. He looked around and commented something along the lines of, "You really are working on the song." (So I obviously welcomed him by putting him to work finding photos I still needed.) 
Rachel said that even though we weren't getting a chance to catch up on each others lives, she was glad we were spending time together.
Most of the time we weren't just staring at our own screens, we brainstormed and laughed and enjoyed reliving all the memories of the weekend. But even when we were each doing our own thing, we were sitting in the same room and working on something we knew our community would love. That time is a memory I will cherish.


All of this to say, it has been, and continues to be, an honor to work for and with this community. Every time someone said "Thank you" to me this weekend, I replied with a thank you of my own. Thank you for taking the moment to express appreciation (check out #TMCTY). Thank you for attending TMC. Thank you for being a part of this community. Thank you for being an educator who shares my passion for professional growth. Thank you for being not only my colleague, but also my friend.

July 11, 2016

Landmark Workshop: Organizing



An important theme at the Landmark Workshop was helping students stay organized. All students need to work on this but students with language based learning disabilities need some extra cues to help them with this process.

When students tried to complete their math practice portfolios and subsequently organize their binders each quarter I recognized that students struggled to complete these tasks. Some kids weren't sure which papers were important to keep - putting all quizzes on blue paper (or any color) would help them identify those papers as important, and also help them gather study materials when they prepared for a test. As students filled in their portfolio reflection sheets I noticed that some sheets just said "Activity" at the top and so students couldn't figure out what to put as the title. Most assignments I've typed myself have clear titles (though I do find myself referring to papers as 'that coloring activity' rather than the title which students can read off) but the ones we make with Kuta software have useless titles unless I remember to change them. Organizing binders more frequently than quarterly would be smart.

I use google drive to upload copies of my assignments and the daily notes (thank you smart board). Landmark uses google classroom and some participants were sharing how great it is when students can't claim they lost their work. It's so hard to type math though that I'm not sure how much more I can be using google drive. Perhaps setting up a folder where students could share desmos graphs would be useful at some point? Or for kids who really struggle with organization to scan their work? Possibilities. The presenter also takes photos of student work (at the board and on their papers) to share at conferences or to look back at while planning.

One teacher shared her INB and had an envelope taped in full of cards her students used to practice computation with fractions. Giving each kid a set of digits (a couple of each) and operations would allow us to do open middle problems without any prep. They'd probably get crumpled but at least the kid who has to use the crumpled ones is the kid who crumpled them!

We also worked on long term planning. When students have a multi-step project to work on the presenter has them write each step on a separate piece of paper and then tape them - using a single piece of tape at the top - to a calendar. This way students can lay out their plans, consider their schedules (I never do school work on Saturday) and, most importantly, adjust as needed. Something is bound to come up; that doesn't mean skipping that step or quitting on the whole project, it means reworking the calendar. The presenter only goes through this process with his students on paper once, then has students use other means. A google doc with a grid to copy and paste into? Events in whatever calendar the student uses? Reminders on their phone? Mini assignments in their agendas? Whatever the kids uses, integrate into that system. If the kid doesn't have a system try a few until they find one that works (which could be the cut and tape option we started with!).

Along with long term planning for kids, we also talked about long term planning for teachers. A shared calendar for all teachers of each grade would allow us to be aware of field trips coming up as well as making sure we're not all giving a test on the day before vacation. My 9th grade team of teachers is working on using google drive, a google calendar for the team would be great. It would also be a nice place for students to check to see what's coming up!

July 10, 2016

Pattern Interrupt

(It wasn't this one, this is just the first hit on google)
I'm sitting in my workshop, having a great discussion with my neighbor about engaging our students when the presenter says, "Look at this giant lemon!" He marvels at its size, tells us how his colleague grew it in their garden and then moves on to tell us about pattern interrupts. We'd just experienced one. All the participants were chatting and the teacher needed to regain our attention, so he did something novel. Seeing or hearing novel stimuli interrupts the flow in our brains and we're left in a moment of confusion. At that moment we're more suggestible than usual and so we're willing to engage in whatever the teacher offers next. In this case it was an explanation of what we'd just experienced, but in class it can be a seamless segue into whatever content you want to focus on. The presenter suggested using this to regain the class from off task behavior (keep something in your back pocket to use as needed) and it obviously also works as a transition from group work to a whole class discussion (plan it as part of your presentation).

For homework between the two days of the workshop we read three articles which provided a variety of strategies to use as pattern interrupts and wrote a response paper.

Article 1: 6 Ways to Get (and Keep) Students' Attention
Article 2: 29 Super Effective Ways to get Yyour Students' Attention Without Ever Raising Your Voice
Article 3: Brain-Based Learning Strategies: Hold Students' Attention With a Radish

My response:
This year I had my contained math class last block every day. They all had substantial disabilities and many had attentional challenges as well. The students would frequently arrive to my room riled up and already worn out from working so hard to focus in their other classes. We tried a variety of strategies to get them ready to transition into math. One method was to do some deep breathing while watching a video (not this one, but it has shapes so it’s apt https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u9Q8D6n-3qw although I might prefer a video with sound) This was a nice way to refocus the class that they were eager to engage in, some even lay down or closed their eyes. An exciting moment was when the class was really antsy and I was getting frustrated – one of the distracted students suggested watching the video. I love when students pick up on strategies that help them and advocate for themselves. It was a great break for me as well, I breathed out the frustration and breathed in the teacher win of having taught my students some life skills!              

The article suggests doing some yoga along with the deep breathing. I like the suggestion of doing the chair pose. For my class last year they were willing to lay down and settle, but I am sure that will not always be the case. For some students with ADHD the issue is refocusing, but for others having a good outlet for their energy (chair pose is a workout!) will be necessary. It would also be a fun challenge to see if we can all improve the length of time we can hold the pose over the semester.              
I like the suggestions to post random facts such as birthdays or quotes, this seems most like the giant lemon we saw today. I sometimes use this list of growth mindset quotes (http://cheesemonkeysf.blogspot.com/2014/06/growth-mindset-quote-of-week.html) to have students write a response as an exit ticket but they would also be good as pattern interrupters. Another great way to incorporate random facts would be to use something in the news that includes math! A statistic to interpret or even a quote about something growing exponentially. We could take a moment to wonder if it was truly exponential growth and then continue with the lesson. Also finding math mistakes – people who mark the price as .50 cents (meaning $0.50) will be aha moments as the students around the room figure out what is wrong.              

One article mentioned classcraft. I have heard of minecraft, I wonder if they are related. I would be interested in learning more about what classcraft is.              

Another article spoke about advertising. This is our administrator’s new initiative of the month. If it lasts through the summer he will want us to introduce each unit with a capstone task that the students will be working toward throughout the unit. In the history department students learn the topic of their final essay at the beginning of each unit, which is reasonable to share – the essay is the big question of the unit (What caused the war? Compare and contrast two countries.). However, for math class we are having a harder time figuring out how to hook/advertise the unit. We want students to discover a variety of aspects of the math so advertising can feel like a spoiler. For most units we have a performance task of some sort that we could show students at the beginning of the unit but I am not sure how well it will advertise. Perhaps we could design an advertisement, "We’ll be running a
lemonade stand once you learn how to write equations of lines!" that will pique interest without ruining the satisfaction of figuring out the mathematical content?            

I also want to learn about musical cues. Several articles suggest a call and response with the class but that does not fit with my style of teaching. One article suggests playing an instrument or a song. I have read about using musical cues in the classroom that are times clips of a specific length which are each for a different task. http://mrvaudrey.com/music-cues/ For the past several years I have wanted to start implementing this structure, and Matt has really broken it down so it should not be too hard to do, maybe this year will be the year! I do not have any new preps this coming school year so it is prime time to add some new strategies to my toolbox.


July 9, 2016

Landmark Workshop

Less than 30 minutes away from me is a spectacular school for students with language based learning disabilities called Landmark. We have worked with some of their staff before as they consult with our district from time to time. I wrote about one workshop before and also about working with their consultants (please read this one, I am posting about working with the same group in 2012, 2014 and now 2016. This is so huge in a school with a transient student population and high teacher turnover). Over the summer Landmark offers outreach courses which I highly recommend. My school paid to send me to one since we are building a language based program at our school next year. I will be the math teacher, my colleagues from the ninth grade team (science, english and history) will also be attending courses throughout the summer and we will have time to work together with a consultant (the same one as I did walkthroughs with in 2014!) throughout the year as we build this program. The course was called Creatively Engaging, Organizing, and Assessing Students in Math and the strategies apply for any student, not just ones with learning challenges.

I'm going to dump my notes and then write up a few strategies in more detail. Let me know which ones you are interested in learning about!


I appreciated how much time we were given to both try things and reflect on everything we'd heard so far. To learn about flappers and take some time to organize our learning we made our own set of flappers of ideas from the workshop. They're challenging to take photos of since they're (mostly) front and back. The top of each photo is the back of the card from the photo above.







July 5, 2016

Teaching Secondary Mathematics

I signed up for a grad course through Teacher Step (online courses at your own pace and you can get a free kindle!) and completed it over the past four days. The essays I wrote are about videos embedded in the course so those wouldn't be so interesting for you to read, but I also took some notes on the book Teaching Secondary Mathematics that I'd like to process, so you get to read them if you'd like to! The book is written for preservice teachers but it wasn't bad. I didn't yell at it and I snapchatted a couple references (teachers as professionals and a funny section about Gauss, I think, snapchats disappear which is both nice and annoying).

My first three notes say: plan, reflect, reflect more

Last year I did a nice job of making unit plans. I'd open a new document at the beginning of each unit and then make a list of topics and lesson ideas for the unit. As I progressed through the unit the ideas got sorted into numbered lessons. After I taught a lesson I sometimes wrote a note about a change to make the next time. These unit plans were quite lovely starting places this year. I wish that I had reflected (last year as well as this year) on lessons that went well in addition to noting changes to make. Question phrasing, timing, small things that are easy to remember from class to class over a few days but absolutely not within my ability to recall a year later.

"Direct instruction is defined as the teacher placing the highest priority on the assignment and completion of academic activities." (p. 7)

I thought that was a weird definition of direct instruction. There were others in the book but this one jumped out at me as a reminder - in education we don't have a clear, common language. When I say direct instruction and someone else thinks this is what I mean we're not even having the same conversation!

"Students should become aware of their own thinking process, strategies, and critical-thinking abilities." (p. 22)

Towards the end of the year I asked students to journal on "What do you know about how people learn?" and their responses were so uninspired I couldn't even share them. It made me realize that we don't spend enough time [in my district] talking to students about how they learn. I talk about strategies for learning particular things, but I would like to spend more time talking about learning in general. I think it would increase students' growth mindsets, increase their perception of math and help them learn. I did quarterly math practice portfolios last year, this year I'd like to include a survey on their attitudes about math (class) and a reflection on the quarter. It would be great to track growth throughout the year. (There's also a quote on p. 46 about journaling on attitudes toward math that contributed to this plan.)

Representatives from industry listed "mathematical expectations from the perspective of an employer and say employers want people who:

  • Are capable of setting problems up, not just following formulas. 
  • Know how to interpret the numbers or answers they get. 
  • Are aware of a variety of approaches for solving problems. 
  • Understand the mathematical features of a problem and can work in groups to reach solutions. 
  • Recognize commonalities of mathematics in different problems. 
  • Can deal with problems that are not in the format often presented in the learning environment. 
  • Value mathematics as a useful learning and work tool." (p. 25)

This list aligns with the practice standards but it might be interesting to share it with students as a slightly different perspective.

My evaluator told me that his goal for me this year is to find ways to explicitly teach group work skills. He suggested having my co-teacher and I model, but that's only going to get us so far. On pages 39-40 in this book they describe a protocol called "Scored Discussion."  It is similar to a participation quiz but only one group is working at a time. I found when I did participation quizzes students were not very engaged in the notes on the board (during or after the group work). But I don't love the idea of only one group working at a time. Here's my idea for a modified version: once a week we do a group worthy task and I tell one group ahead of time that they'll be presenting. However, I'm not interested in them presenting their solution, I want them to present their questions and conversation. Ideally I'd just sit near the group and take notes but in practice the group members will be responsible for doing that recording. Then, once everyone in the class has had some time to think (but ideally before they have all finished solving) I will have everyone pause to hear the progress the group of the week has made. We will list all their good student skills as well as their math skills. If they're stuck then other groups can chime in. Otherwise everyone can get back to work with a nice reminder of how to be a good group member and a few hints if other groups hadn't done the same thing. I know this isn't going to be something I'll love doing - I want students to jump into the math and be great collaborators - but I do think it would be something worth doing. And it doesn't sound so different from my usual flow that I'll drop it at the first sign of time crunch.

Kindle made this, including the page number, for me automatically every time I pasted a quote! Technology is so cool.
Rock, David; Brumbaugh, Douglas K.. Teaching Secondary Mathematics. Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.