September 20, 2015

Team Teaching and a Clothesline

The Algebra 1 team this year is entirely made up of teachers who taught Algebra 1 last year. In a department with turnover like ours this is no small feat. We also had an opportunity to work together this summer to design our first unit. (It's so nice to have the basic outline of my lessons complete when I'm scrambling to keep up with all the other start of year paperwork!) These factors combined make us all a little more willing to try some new things this school year. One of those things is team teaching. We all have a support block for a subset of our students that meets on the opposite day of the full class. Guidance did an amazing job scheduling- all of the support blocks meet on red day! Since these classes are smaller we can merge two into one classroom and teach together when two classes meet at the same time.

One day we team taught was our introduction to types of numbers. We wanted to preview some of the ideas with our support kids before having the whole class complete a types of numbers diagram. So we just gave them the card sort (the diagram that would make an appearance the following day is also included here).

When we prepped over the summer we said we'd do a card sort. Everyone seemed clear on that (all four of us who were there over the summer had attended PD that included this structure together a few years back) so we didn't include specific instructions. The first block I did this with we were in my room and so used my slides. I instructed the students to work with their partner to group the cards however they wanted to and then come up with names for each of the categories. We circulated and then when students seemed done with that task the other teacher told one partner to stay at their desk to explain while the other partner circulated the room. When I do a gallery walk I have kids all walk around and the writing on the desk (in dry erase marker) is all the explanation they get, I liked this method!

I then had kids share one category they saw (why is one so hard for ninth graders?) until we'd exhausted all the options. Then I had kids hold up an example of each category and ask for clarification if they didn't know what the category meant. During this part of the lesson it was nice to have another teacher around to check the numbers because I made the font too small for this on the cards!

Next up was the clothesline. I read Andrew's post on clotheslines after our team planning time this summer so I threw the link into the unit map in case other people wanted to try it. Instead, I got to run it and the other teachers figured it out as we went. Again, it was great having other teachers around because they asked good questions and shared insights that didn't occur to me. If you study the card sort carefully you'll notice that there are a few equivalent values (such as 3 and 9/3) so we got to talk about how those go on the exact same spot on the number line (covering the previous one). We had some good conversations about fractions greater than and less than one. We ran out of time to dig into sqrt(1/5) being greater than 1/5. But we did have a great conversation about 0.7 vs. .75 - the leading zero only on one was purposeful and did bring out a misconception in some students, determining the distance between them and even which one was greater was also challenging. These were great conversations to be having in relative isolation before we ended up stuck on these concepts in the midst of a bigger problem. Of course I don't hold any grand ideations that I have cured my students of all misunderstandings related to fractions and decimals at this point, but it was a great start!

I have another support block in the afternoon. This time instead of team teaching we split the class and each ran a mini-lesson, then traded. Our first attempt at grouping kids didn't end well, but the idea was that smaller groups would be nice in the afternoon since we have quite a few who are bouncing off the walls by then. It also means that the other teacher (who is in his second year) only needs to prep for one mini-lesson and he gets to run it twice. We don't get the benefit of adding to each others lessons in real time, but we are discussing ahead of time what we want to make sure the other person focuses on with our students. It should be fun to see how things develop with these two methods of team teaching. I hypothesize that there will be some lessons that lend themselves more toward each. We may have lost our special education co-teachers during these blocks, but that doesn't mean we can't co-teach!

Notes on running this activity:

  • Color code your card sorts! The fan was on and apparently I didn't follow my own advice last year so when they flew onto the floor they got all mixed up. There was some frantic sorting while the next class started the do now.
  • The folded index cards were great for sliding along the clothesline but you do lose a little not being able to see the equivalent values by clipping them below each other. 
  • Write in marker, not in pen. Duh Tina.
  • The best spot we could find to hang the clothesline was toward one side of the room where there were pipes running up the wall on both sides. But the desks were too close to the line and kids were tempted to duck under the line to get to their spot. Possibly because I was standing behind the line. This resulted in cards flying off at least once per class. Move the desks away and model staying in front of the line (or at least enforce it - standing behind the line does make it significantly easier to point things out without blocking)

Notes on team teaching:

  • I learned the first day we team taught (before the one I just described) that meeting in my room makes the other teachers look toward me for supplies. Even when they had suggested the activity. The answer is now "no, we can't change my plan unless you're going to run it and have all the stuff" because running activities that aren't in my slides apparently causes me to stress. (This is not to say I don't deviate from my plans mid-class, but that I only deviate to things I know how to run and have all the stuff for; especially because running to the copier mid-class isn't an option when you teach solo).
  • If someone else is going to run things I need to be open to different ideas. 
  • We need to be comfortable enough with each other and with students seeing us discussing to take teacher time outs. This will take a bit of relationship building with one of my team members who I haven't had as many opportunities to work with.
  • This seems different from co-teaching because my co-teachers haven't been super confident with their math. There's also a bit of "my students" vs. "their students" which may have more to do with how many names I've learned so far, I'll be interested to see how that develops over time. I'm really excited for the opportunity to get to know more students (teaching double blocks seriously limits the number of kids I get to interact with).

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