October 2, 2017

Prepping System

This year I'm teaching three (substantially) different courses and my prep periods are consecutive* so at the beginning of the year I knew I'd have to find a good system for making sure I kept track of everything. It only took until the sixth day of school for me to have a close call:

Prepping has several stages. I usually complete them in this order:
1) decide what to teach
2) write/edit paper materials
3) make slides
4) copy paper materials

But when I have three different courses it's easy to get distracted with an idea for another class (or an email or a student showing up or...) and then forget what step I'm on. I had a detailed plan including handouts for precalc that day I had a close call, but nothing to project which would give students instructions and remind me of the plan!

Based on my #1TMCThing I'm using a google doc to plan. Here's the one for Algebra 2:

I am using this to keep track of steps one and two. Sometimes I get motivated to do some long term planning so I fill in the agenda with broad ideas of topics for each day. Then as I get to more detailed level planning I use the to do column to remind myself of what I need to find/edit/write. I have a paraprofessional in all three of my algebra 2 classes, which is awesome but new for me. I've had coteachers in the past and I know how to work with them since they also get prep periods and are expected to stay after school once a week. I'm still figuring out how to collaborate with someone when we don't have any time to chat except for 5 minutes between the two classes we teach in a row but we do take some teacher time outs in the middle of class to check in and game plan. Anyway, that column isn't getting much use yet but maybe eventually. The notes column I fill in after class in case I'm stuck teaching algebra 2 again next year (can you tell it's not my favorite course?)

There are still two more steps - slides and planning. My school computer is a Mac so I'm using the Stickies program for those steps. There are 3 notes: slides, copies and to do. At the beginning of my prep I bold the whole slides note. Then as I finish a set of slides I unbold the course name and update the filename and date. Once all three sets of slides are complete I update my agenda board (which I never look at and I'm pretty sure the students don't either, but it's ready for any admin who would like to know what I'm up to). As I complete handouts I add them to my copies sticky, once I make copies I delete them from the note. The final to do sticky is general stuff like randomizing seats (weekly) or updating my google calendar with the staff meeting schedule they sent out.

I'm still overwhelmed trying to get everything done. My contained class is following the IM curriculum so I need to read the lessons, figure them out for myself and then consider modifications for my students. My algebra 2 classes are sort of following a textbook but we are supplementing a lot, luckily the teacher next door taught it last year so she has some materials. My honors precalc class is back on solid ground after we added a bonus unit, I've been teaching this class since 2012. It still takes some effort to prep though because I have a small class of quick thinking students so I have to be sure to adjust previous plans for the pace of this group. But at least with a system in place I'm pretty sure I won't be forgetting about a class anytime soon!

*We run an alternating day schedule. I have prep last block one day and first block the other day. This means that I teach all my classes in a row with no break between. I would rather have to prep algebra 2 one day and precalc the other day, but with this schedule I prep all three classes during the last block and then do all my copying during the first block the next day. I thought I'd have time to grade during the first block too but so far that hasn't happened. Maybe after the first month insanity is over?

September 30, 2017

Using IM 8th Grade with Students with Disabilities

Side note about the title: I wish my class had a more recognizable name so I could title this post "Learning Skills, One Month In" but I forget that "Learning Skills" only means something to a handful of teachers at my school. It's what we used to call the level above Life Skills. This year my schedule just says "Math" as the course name, so helpful right?

A few weeks ago I wrote about how I was trying to figure out what to teach my contained special ed class. I decided to try some activities and then determine if the 8th grade IM curriculum would be a good fit. The class rocked my word problems with tape diagrams/bar models handout. I was impressed with their language skills; this activity is great for testing if students can make sense of problems and my group absolutely can! They needed counting objects for most problems but they were able to take the concrete representations and turn them into number sentences (no one used variable equations but that was just fine) and word sentences. Buoyed by this success we decided to move into the IM curriculum.

We've continued to play how many every day. It's interesting how some students are still resisting. They ask "Again??" when they walk in but even on days where I plan a short discussion they bring up interesting ideas and want to share all the things they notice once we get started! I'm enjoying having an organized folder of images. Right now we are working on arrays. Not every student is using multiplication as a strategy reliably but we write down a row x column = total equation each day. We are also working on one to one correspondence (I think? Remember, I'm a high school teacher by training so this is non-native vocab). We talk about how to figure out how many stems there are if we already counted the number of peppers (the same) or how many eyes there are if we already counted the number of stuffed animals (double - this was surprisingly challenging for them to grasp!).

The first lesson of 8th grade IM started with the same response. I think it stems from a feeling of "this seems like it should be easy but I don't feel confident." So I didn't get many kids to dance with me but we got enough practice that we built a list of transformation vocab that was sufficient to define terms the next class. We tried to do the card sort from lesson 2 as a desmos activity but that was too abstract for my concrete thinkers. So I opted to replace the next couple IM lessons which relied on geogebra with paper handouts from my days teaching geometry. We did a variety of transformation practice activities starting with moving (and tracing) physical shapes and graduating to using wax paper for reflections and rotations. Some students had a much easier time seeing the transformations than others, but all felt successful using the wax paper. After two great classes of following transformation instructions I posed the question "Does order matter?" and asked students to generate some transformations of their own to test the hypothesis. This was far too abstract and I stopped them, apologized mid class, thanked Desmos for their amazing timing and opened up transformation golf to demonstrate completing the same transformations in different orders. Then they were eager to play!

Last class we returned to the IM activities to do an info gap. It was excellent and the structured conversation was perfect for my students to practice vocabulary. Then I let them play transformation golf and was surprised to find they had a hard time understanding how to use the arrows (I automatically put the endpoint on the purple figure I was trying to transform, this wasn't intuitive for my students). Even though they struggled some with the interface they were successful at completing several tasks and were eager to have me play their various solutions so the class could see how many different ways there were to solve a problem!

So, where does that leave us? I've learned that concrete representations are going to be essential for this group. I'm not going to be able to use the IM curriculum as it stands with my students but hopefully I can use most of the ideas and activities just supplementing with physical models wherever possible. I think I'm going to need to spend some time soon looking at a year long calendar and the list of topics. Since I'm getting through one lesson per block and we only have class every other day I'm going to have to cut a lot. It would be good to have some idea of how that will work since the Pythagorean theorem is at the end and its definitely worth spending time on with this group. A task for tomorrow perhaps. It would be cool if the OUR site had a built in planning tool, especially because it could link to each lesson (4 clicks isn't hard, but it's still 3 more clicks than ideal).

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!