Week 6

Picture it- my classroom. Monday morning, 7:30. I'm at my desk getting things together. A substitute teacher walks in and tells me she is my sub for today and tomorrow. Ummm...I know it's Monday but I am actually here. I tell her I'm not going anywhere and she leaves to go check with the office. At 7:45 I leave to go do gym duty. I come back at 8:00 and there is another substitute in my room. Another one. At this point I decide to go check with the office my self. When I get there, the secretaries inform me that they don't know what's going on either. There was a bus issue and so the principal has not arrived at school yet. Hmm. I go back to my room and begin teaching, like normal. About 8:30 the principal comes in to inform me that I have a training today and here is my sub. Another one. He tells me to give him my plans and be quick about it. Um hi, my plans were to teach. So I make up an assignment out of the book and leave. In the hallway, the principal then informs me that I am the trainer! Apparently I have a two-day training for next month and the principal had the dates mixed up. So since we had all these extra substitutes to pay utilize, he decided I could train the teachers who weren't currently using our online grade book program.

I didn't do anything with my other classes besides go over their tests from Friday and do our daily warm up. Lame I know, but we're allowed to have bad days. I'm glad that I didn't allow it to be a bad week.

I had planned to do fun functions things on Monday so I regrouped and started again on Tuesday. I intro'd functions by showing pictures of a vending machine and having a discussion on what goes in, what comes out, how many come out, and how each of those can change. I transitioned vending machine into function machine and played the function machine game which was hard to explain but easy to figure out once you started playing. It was fun to watch the students work through the struggle and figure out the answer. If you play it, my advice is to resist the urge to tell the answer too soon! As Dan Meyer would say, be less helpful!

Wednesday. A very very kind twitter-er gave me a link to a pacing guide that had lessons, warm ups, homework, exit tickets, worksheets, and everything! I used the functions lesson and it served its purpose better than what anything I could have created. I think. But the real gem of this lesson was using my whiteboards. I have enough for each student and in this case, they used them to write the function. I modeled function notation first and they then tried to write the function based on the patterns they saw in the input-output tables. Then I had them create their own input output tables where the rest of the class had to guess the functions. The students really got into this and wanted to play again and again. It didn't take long for students to create functions that were 4 and 5 steps long and almost impossible to guess. Another lesson in itself.

Thursday we used the whiteboards again to review. I alternated between giving them tables and they wrote the function or I gave the function and they created the tables. The whiteboards are fun for them and they instantly show me who is understanding and who isn't. I can just shake my head and they try again. Embarrassment eliminated. I love that factor. I also intro'd graphing by having them graph the input/output tables and I wanted to go on with the vertical test concept but didn't. Should have, might still do it, but didn't. We talked about each input having the same output in order for it to be function and I related that back to the vending machine theory. If I put in D2 I get a Milky Way every time, no surprises.

Friday was quiz day. I incorporated celebrity baby trivia into my warm up. I showed a baby picture of Miley Cyrus and had them guess who it was. It was definitely fun to hear students guess boy names but a lot of them got it on the first try. My quizzes seemed to go over pretty well. They all struggled with determining the functions from the given table. But I enjoyed talking them through it and watching them figure out the pattern. Reminds me of a favorite teacher quote: True teachers show you where to look but not what to see. After the quiz I normally have students do a journal assignment. This week I decided to spice it up. I had them draw their own function machine. Anything could go in and anything could go out but they had to give me four examples of each. Note to self: I think this should have come earlier in the unit. Probably after the discussion about the vending machine and before the function game.

In our after school tutoring program, I only have one or two students each time. On the one hand I have a seventh grader who is in pre-algebra and is dying to be in my eight grade algebra class next year. She insists that she only learns if she is with me but she comes to me knowing all her material. But we practice and she feels more confident, which is the goal. My other student is in Algebra II. I asked him what chapter they're on and what they're doing. He didn't know. He continued on to tell me that he passed geometry by cheating his way through and I quickly figured out he doesn't even have Algebra I skills. How does this happen?

For the most part, I only talk about my Algebra classes. This is because I feel most confident teaching algebra and because I have 4 algebra classes compared to the 2 geometry classes. So to talk about my geometry classes...I taught vertical angles and linear pairs. I didn't come up with anything exciting or interesting to teach about these so not to much to say on that. But, on the interesting side, I taught conditional statements using song lyrics. I gave them song lyrics that they then had to rewrite and identify the hypothesis and conclusion. Then we went to negations. I wrote out statements I knew they would feel strongly about such as "Lil Wayne is ugly" and other things about our school, town, etc. It was easy for them to then create the negation of that song. I liked it, they liked it, and even better, I think they remembered it.

The thing I am still struggling with is that my 'applied' classes aren't really applied. My bff teacher friend says that a good teacher makes every class applied. Ouch. I feel like I'm not doing them any favors by this either. I just don't know how to make it applied. Or rather I don't know how to differentiate between the two. It takes me forever to plan for two classes already.

I really want to try problem based learning in my classes but don't really know where to start. I'm thinking about trying some webquests just to do something different. I really want the students to take some ownership of their learning and really have to search for the answer to things because they need it, not because I tell them too. That may be the key to everything.


Teacher Salaries


I received an e-mail introducing this project.

The Teacher Salary Project is soon to be a full-length documentary highlighting the importance of education within US society. The project is based on the New York Times bestselling book "Teachers Have It Easy" by journalist and teacher Daniel Moulthrop, co-founder of the 826 National writing programs Nínive Calegari, and writer Dave Eggers. THE TEACHER SALARY PROJECT is produced by Eggers and Calegari, and directed by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Vanessa Roth.

When I checked out the site, I discovered they really want to let teachers know of this and collect stories from the field. It looks like a great way to expose what day-to-day life is like in the classroom.

Here's an excerpt:
We want to highlight more STORIES FROM THE FIELD. We are collecting materials made and submitted by YOU! Express your feelings creatively. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
  • Write a letter or poem
  • Photograph a school activity in action
  • Document a class with audio recordings
  • Create a musical composition
  • Dedicate a song and dance
  • Produce a music video
  • Build something with mixed media and photograph it
  • Write a short biography
  • Record some of your favorite sayings or activities
  • Use crayons, craypas, paint, pencil, chalk, or recycled materials to construct art
  • Create a magazine collage
  • Share something you use every day that your teacher or student taught you
  • Share a funny story
  • Put together a video journal
Check out some the clips already submitted as well.

There are a lot of intriguing and interesting reviews and it seems to be a ground breaking type of documentary.

I don't know the entire scope of the documentary but I do know I welcome any opportunity to expose the truth and authenticity of what teaching really is.


Week 5

This week, I started a new routine. Slow down, cut the sections in half, review, assess. I also used notes from the notetaking guide provided with our textbook resources instead of using my own. I still created my PowerPoint to teach from, but the notes were different.

My lessons are still boring. I present them in an interesting way and we do games and construction and hands on activities, but the content itself is not engaging.

I started out the week teaching the distributive property using area. The kids liked it and thought it was easy. We even worked backwards and introduced factoring! But by the time Friday came around and we were quizzing over it, everybody totally forgot what we were doing! We spent all of Thursday playing Review Basketball which was fun and seemed to go over well. We played the class against me, although I am reigning champion for 3rd hour and 7th hour! Go me! But the game worked well, students worked quickly and competitively. I also included Name That Celebrity trivia which was interesting. Friday before the quiz, I gave them an identical problem from each section on the quiz that we worked together in class. I even left them on the board so they could look back. Still, they did not perform anywhere near where I expected and the test seemed to be longer and harder than intended.

On the other hand, my geometry test seemed almost simple and students finished it quickly. I need balance!

Wednesday was a short day which really kind of screwed up my schedule. I had 1-3 hours only. We did problem solving games. WIth my 1st hour, I tried the game 24. It was interesting. My class split into 4 girls and 4 boys for teams. The girls did fine and were competitive. The boys...oh my the boys...they argued over who got the answer first, if the answer was right, who had more cards, etc.... I couldn't believe how crazy they got. Anyway, our short day was for a School Improvement meeting and one of the new teachers got to explain to everyone how to auto generate a test using our student tracking program. Guess who it was???? So obviously you guessed me because you don't know any other teachers at my school! lol I created a handout with step-by-step instructions and screen captures of every screen. I know no one is really listening or remembering so I figured I would just make it as easy as possible to do on their own time. I got a lot of compliments on my hand out and 'presentation' (me rambling and pointing for approximately 5 minutes) but I think they just liked me because I was the end. =)

This week I also started a notebook about my students. I jot down funny things they say or things that I observe about them. I also make notes on lessons and ideas and if they went well or not. In addition, I am documenting issues/conversations with students/parents for future reference. I meant for this blog to be that notebook, and it is, to an extent. But some things I don't want to share with the world about my students, and plus, it's just quicker for me to write them down and move on.

I feel like my curriculum in algebra is jumping around all over the place. I created my own content list over the summer but now it kind of doesn't make sense and there are new things I want to incorporate that I don't exactly know where to put. I CAN'T WAIT UNTIL NEXT YEAR. Then I will know a little bit more about what the heck I am doing.

I've also started after-school tutoring on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I was worried that I wouldn't be able to handle it. Currently, I am working every day at school until 5:00. My tutoring is 3-5:00 on Tuesdays and Thursdays which obviously cuts into my working time. So far though, I've only had 2 students show up for session 1 which is from 3:00- to 4:00. Luckily, I've used the things I've done in the classroom with them and it has worked out well, so no extra planning is necessary. How can I entice high school students to stay for help after school? I'd basically have to bribe them with money, food, toys, or better grades. Not sure how I feel about any of those at the moment. Some kids definitely need the help, but there is such a stigma around the whole after school thing. More on this later.

This week, I have to go to the board meeting and meet the board members since I am a new hire. I already know all of them but one so I'm not nervous.

We have our first after school Student Council meeting this week. We are having elections for officers, organizing our first fundraiser, and promoting our first service project. Exciting times. I really like the idea of after school meetings but for the record, it's very complicated. Everyone on the council is either a cheerleader/basketball or softball/baseball player where our meetings interfere with their practices. But we've decided to be a council who actually does things and there is just not enough time in the school day to make that happen. In case you were looking, we have a great fall fundraising idea! We are buying baby pumpkins (about $.20 each) and we are going to sell them! It's called "Pumpkin for Your Pumpkin". Cute, I know. (Alternative title: "Send a Baby to Your Boo" lololololololol) Students can order a baby p for $1.50 and we will decorate and send it to whoever they choose with a message. We'll have little cards to write a message on and tie them on the stem of the decorated pumpkin with curly ribbon. I can't wait! At Valentine's Day, we sell balloons and carnations for the same principle, so we thought this would be a great idea for a fall version. One of our teachers raises pumpkins so we are helping to support her as well. Everyone wins!

D-slips went out this week. I gave 6 out of 67 students. So 9% of my students are failing. I suppose it's not too bad considering a D is a 76!! What?!! When I was in school, that was a high C and now it's failing! Oh no, I'm getting old! (Cue ominous music...) I just started a sentence with "when I was in school". Ahhhhh! On the serious side though, my goal for my first year of teaching is to have NO STUDENT FAIL. I have already given them this speech and told them they have no excuse for failing because they now have me as a teacher. =)

I've just decided (and that literally means this idea just now popped [lol I typed pooped first] into my head ) to start a weekly reflection question for myself. Here's what I will be pondering during my SIXTH week of school (I can already tell this year will fly by):

How can I make learning rewarding? How can I show students that learning is the reward as well as the work? I love love LOVE to learn and share new knowledge with others, on any topic. How can I pass that on to them? How can I portray the passion I feel for learning?


Week 4

A week short on days, long on emotion.

I spent the Labor Weekend grading papers, organizing files, and trying to plan ahead. I planned for one day. Boo. But organizing makes my heart happy, so I did make progress.

Tuesday and Wednesday we spent covering new material. I also spent the time trying to prepare for my substitute teacher on Thursday, when I had STI training.

Considering I was a sub for 6 months, I was doing my best to leave a ton of detailed plans so she would know what to do. It took a lot of time, but thankfully another teacher gave me a template to work from. Thursdays are my quiz day so I planned a quiz as usual. (This is where I interject that my teacher friend strongly advised me not to do this and I proceeded to ignore her.) After that a math journal writing assignment and goal setting worksheet.

Thursday I had training all day. The training was very helpful- focusing on improving our ACT scores in math. Illinois uses the ACT as it's high stakes end of year test so we go by ACT standards even though all our material is aligned to Illinois Standards. Smart, I know. So, we talked about pacing guides, action plans, pre- and post- assessing, analyzing data, etc. All things that bring joy to this math teacher's logically anal mind.

Training ends. Talk to my sub. She caught two students cheating on the quiz. One student passes a note with the formula on it to the other student, sub takes the note and shows me. I had already threatened warned my students that they would receive an immediate write up for anything negative the teacher wrote down. So I had to keep my word. Referral. Assistant Principal says school policy is, give them a 0. Ouch.

Thursday night. Grade tests from every class. They all bombed. BOMBED??? How could this happen!?!? (More on this later.) We only covered two days worth of new material! The other questions were review from last week. Depression sets in. I hit the twitterverse. Thankfully, I have a wonderfully supportive, creative, encouraging PLN. Tons of great advice that I want to incorporate as we speak.

Friday. I have to confront the students about the cheating scenario. They still maintain it was not cheating. 'Cheating would have been giving the answer, not the formula'. They turned it on me. I went over it 'like once' and they couldn't remember. If I was there, I would have told them the formula anyway. My mistake here was in calling them both out into the hallway. One on one, I am more intimidating because I'm the one in authority. Two on one, they are on a team, setting out to conquer me. Bad idea. I explained to them the policy and that if they didn't understand, they could have written a note on the test. It was one question. I explained the 0 would stand but I would give them a replacement test to take. I still don't know if this was the best way to handle it. I don't know what the fair thing to do is. I just don't know. But this was the decision I made. Right after I decided to NEVER give a test/quiz/anything important when a sub is there again.

The rest of the day I spent talking to my students about their goals in life, college, ACT scores, how low ours are, how funding relates to the scores, and about ways to prepare. Some ideas we came up with are:
  • Taking timed tests. The ACT is a 60 minute test with 60 questions. We can practice this by doing a shorter version. The textbook provides a 10 question standardized test at the end of every chapter that I could easily give in 10 minutes.
  • Multiple choice tests. As a rule, my tests are open-ended. At first, I thought multiple choice tests would make it easier for them to guess. But, showing their work is still a requirement and we decided that working it out and having choices to choose from would help them catch their own mistakes.
  • Review. The students asked that I give a sample test that they could work on as homework and that we could go over in class to see what areas we are weak in. As we do this for each test, it becomes routine and another way to study for the ACT.
  • Formula Sheet. Students are allowed to use a formula sheet on day of testing which is the Work Keys test. Also, with a formula sheet, I can avoid the cheating scenario. It feels against my nature to give a formula sheet but if they don't know how to use the formula, giving it to them won't help anyway.
Some other ideas of my own are:
  • Language I need to phrase my test questions similarly to the ACT and to speak and write the vocabulary they need to do well on the test. Even if they understood everything perfectly, they can't answer questions they can't read or comprehend.
  • Posters There are some concepts that my students just need to see constantly reinforced. I think putting up some posters around the room could give them something to look at. Even though that's not allowed for the ACT, hopefully they will see it enough that it will be embossed in their mind's eye for future reference.
Hopefully by starting in early September and preparing until April, we can make a difference!

I feel like I should burst into song.

Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya...

For more encouragement and reflection check out these posts by my math gurus:


First Year Goals

The title of this post is a lie. These are not really first year goals. Even if I don't accomplish them this year, I will at some point. What these really are, are things I've noticed in the first few weeks that I want to change + really cool things that other teachers do that I want to copy. But that didn't fit in the Title box.

  1. Conferencing. Remember in your college English classes when you would have conference days? What that really meant is you didn't have class that day but showed up for a 15 minute meeting with your professor (who was always running late) and they proceeded to tell you everything wrong with your work. I want to do this exactly, but opposite. I want to be able to meet with every student in every class for at least 2-3 minutes and have them tell me everything I'm doing wrong with my work. I want to hear what they hate, what drives them crazy, what works, what they aren't understanding, and what they need from me. Here are my dilemmas: a. With 52 minutes of class and 17-19 students, this could take one whole period a week. Ouch. b. What are the other students doing while I am having this hypothetical conversation with a hypothetical student? c. Some students would say nothing. d. Some students would never stop talking. How can I teach students to analyze themselves and the world around them and effectively give feedback?

  2. Dan Meyer Assessment System I read this some months ago and it has puzzled/infuriated/gladdened/excited/intersted me ever since. Over the summer I created my concept list. Score a point for me! Dan has 34, I have 59. There goes my point. I started out the year explaining to my students that we would have weekly quizzes instead of monthly tests. Score one point for me. Last week was my first attempt. Dan gives 3 or 6 problems. I gave 20. lol There went my one point. Again. I explained that they could make up what they missed at any time. But I don't think they get it. I didn't give them a concept list and I didn't make each concept worth 4 points. I don't know how to assess weekly and assess every concept twice. I don't know how to explain the system to the students so that they know how to improve their scores as well understand that their grade now has meaning. But I'm starting. So there's that...

  3. My Class Website. I created one at moonfruit and then I actually won a free subscription to TeacherWeb for a year. I've used neither. Even as organized and color coded as I am, I still am too swamped with the life of a first year teacher to attempt putting this together. There's always Christmas...

  4. Class Blogging/ Twitter Although I myself am obsessed with blogging and surgically attached to Twitter, I don't think I will be incorporating into my class anytime soon. 1. Twitter is blocked now. Gr. 2. I tried the blogging thing in my summer freshman academy class and it utterly failed. I am implementing a weekly math journal assessment so maybe that could be transitioned into blog entries. I have 4 student computers in my classroom but they only work on days that don't end in y. Getting to the lab is possible but not probable as again, I am currently swamped with this whole teaching-is-actually-work thing.

  5. Creative Content. This is my hearts desire and what I consistently long for. But I just can't pull it off yet. My teaching consists of warm up, notes, homework, repeat four days in a row. Fifth day = review warm up, assessment, math journal assessment. Repeat next week. It's consuming all of my time already creating my lessons as a fill in the blank Powerpoint that is colorful and includes pictures, diagrams, and video. It's taking me at least 1.5 hours per class and I haven't found a way to shorten or improve this. I think it comes with time and experience which unfortunately I can't purchase. Anyway, I love Dan Meyer's What Can You Do With This? project and hopefully through the blogosphere, we can all create a fantastical curriculum. But I can't do it myself, at least not this year. So for now I am settling for mildly entertaining examples, useless trivia, and SMART board interaction to keep my students engaged.

  6. Silent Classroom I might try this one tomorrow. Every period, the entire class is silent, me included. I have whiteboards for every student and they have help signs so that's how they could communicate. I, of course, have the SMART board or the chalkboard to communicate with. I could have lights off and some easy listening music playing to really set the atmosphere. I think it would be intriguing to show students that learning can take place without ever speaking. If I went to the computer lab, I could also do this via Today's Meet. And then I could hold it over their heads that I knew how quiet it could be. lol Friday we played Algebra and Geometry Bingo and so it was crazy at first and then quiet as we played. I think it would be a nice way to start the week back. I may try it this week!
More to come.

Much more.


Problem Based Learning

I don't get problem based learning. My secret is out.

I understand why it works. It presents a question. We love to answer questions. It's 10 times more interesting. It's not lecture. It's more concrete. It's more relevant.

I get that.

What I don't get is how to create them. How do you develop a problem that includes those layers of math? How do they problem solve without knowing what to do?

If I don't know how to do something, I'll google it, twitter it, and ask people about it.

But what if they're wrong? Just because I have answers doesn't mean they're right. Even if students do find answers, how do they know the answers are right? What if they don't know where to find the answers from in the first place?

My biggest fear is that I won't know how to solve it or I'll help to reinforce the wrong way.

I guess I need to learn more or see this in action to really understand how it is developed and implemented.

Furthermore, do students who learn through problem based curriculums score well or better on standardized tests? How can the curriculum be developed to cover all necessary objectives without weird gaps or leaving things out?

It's obviously more practical because life doesn't come at you in the form of standardized tests but in the form of problems. And in life, problems don't come with instructions on how to solve and don't always end in a prim and proper way.

Life is complex and messy and consists of problem solving with trial and error. While I would love my math class to be described in the same way, I would have no idea how to start. How do you assess? How much help do you give the students? How much scaffolding and guidance do they need? Are problem based curriculums implemented individually, cooperatively, or a combination of both?

One of my students stated it simply, "Math is a beast."

And to me, problem based learning is the dragon.

Week 3

I'd like to share some wise advice that comes from my now three week long teaching career.

  1. Don't post homework early. I print off my PowerPoint as handouts for my students to take notes on. The last slide has their homework assignment on it. I soon realized that some people will ignore the lesson to do their work in class, even though I only assign 4 problems. I know Harry Wong and other education gods recommend posting your assignment in the same place every day so students know what to expect. I do warm up exercises at the beginning of every class and it's set up so that students see it on the Smart Board as soon as they come in to class. I think what I am going to do with homework is each day write what is due that day so students know what to look for. I'm still not going to put out the homework for that day until class is done.

  2. Don't spend all your money in the summer and have to wait on your first paycheck. It sucks.

  3. Don't spend your whole lunch period in the lounge. Make an appearance, enjoy your lunch, then make a quick exit. The longer you stay, the more negative it gets. And some people are just weird. Give yourself a few minutes alone to get some peace and reset your focus.

  4. Encourage other teachers at every opportunity. As a new teacher, I had one day where I was just doubting all of my abilities and feeling totally overwhelmed. It felt good to hear other teachers encourage me. (Even though I wanted direct instruction instead of a pat on the back.) And I think when there are new teachers, people tend to focus on them and forget about the not-so-new and the older teachers. Give as many authentic compliments and niceties as you can. Even a thank you, excuse me, nice shirt, or a yes sir can at least make people feel noticed.

  5. It takes courage to find what works best for you. You need courage to take risks and try something new. You need the courage to admit when those new things don't work out. You need courage to accept the advice of others. You need courage to not be manipulated into doing something that isn't best for your students. It takes courage to keep going day after day when you feel like you have no idea what you're doing. It takes courage to stand in front of people day after day and put your knowledge on display. It takes courage to be set apart, different. It takes courage to teach.
And my last piece of advice can be applied to any person with any job ever:

Dress professionally every day and strive to behave the same.