Purpose of School

Defining the purpose of school and what it should be was another one of my writing across the curriculum assignments. I thought it was very interesting that the smartest, 'popular' students all answered the same way. They said school was to prepare you for college so you could get a good job, make money, and have cool stuff. They also didn't think the purpose should be changed. But of course not, because they are successful in school.

On the other hand, the not-so-top-performing students had a little bit different perspective:

"Schools purpose is to torture us and fill our heads with junk. It also sends us to college. It also gives us opportunities."

"The purpose of school is to learn how to have fun with friends and how to survive in jail. =) The purpose should be to teach us how to survive in the real world."

"The purpose is to get smart. The purpose should be to have fun and be happy. It should also be to play games and ride dirt bikes."

"The purpose of school is to get an education. The purpose of school be to learn but enjoy yourself while doing it."

"The purpose of school is to learn and get education for the future. I feel that the purpose should be to have fun and still learn at the same time."

"The purpose of school is to get educated and to learn new stuff and to meet the people in your community and around you."

"The purpose of school should be to learn and make close friends. The purpose shouldn't change instead the way to achieve the purpose should change. I think tests and finals shouldn't wreck a good grade."

"The purpose of school should be for us to learn how to work and to also figure out how to work through some problems. And also it would help us to experience life and get ready for life and also our jobs in the future."

"The purpose of school here to me feels like a prison, but college is more free, so it wouldn't be to prepare for college because it's nothing like it. The purpose of school is also to make us follow rules and laws. It won't happen because children don't follow rules. We aren't even well-behaved enough to stand in line. The purpose of school should be of learning and to be able to remember it years from now. You shouldn't be forced to learn something!"

"The purpose of school is to keep you out of trouble and the purpose of school should be to teach you how to deal with life situations and show you new things."


Finals: Week 18

Oh, finals week. I never want to meet you again.

I think I ranted and raved enough on Twitter to get my point across that I have no idea what I'm doing when it comes to finals (and probably many other things too). But I would just like to pose one question to the universe: why is this not taught in college? Designing curriculum in general was not part of my education program. We talked about literacy and about out-of-date ways to use technology and diversity but we never learned how to design effective lessons, how to write your own assessments, how to use those assessments to improve instruction, or basically anything important. I did learn the useless format of a Madeline Hunter lesson plan, but that's the extent.

Anyway, things did not go well for finals week. We had evens on Thursday and odds on Friday. My plan was to review Monday-Wednesday, test on Thursday and Friday, week done. Not so easy. I had no idea how to create a final or how to write a review for said final. I am the only algebra and geometry teacher in my school so there is no such thing as a department final. So I did what I do best: stole it off the Internet. I then tried to modify it to more closely match what I've actually taught. This started out somewhat okay. Once I finished the Algebra Exam, I wrote out review questions that seemingly matched the test. Then, and here comes my mistake, I made the Geometry review based on our old tests. Sounds good, right? The thing is, the review was nothing like the test. Students were confident because the review was exactly what they had been doing all year but when it came to the test, they were nothing alike at all. I made the test multiple choice for all the wrong reasons. a. I thought it would be easier for them b. I knew it would be easier for me. c. That's what everyone else was doing. I have since learned my lesson.

My original thought was to make the test like all the past ones but have them show work on the test and write answers on a separate sheet. Then, I could easily grade the answers while simply glancing to make sure they showed their work. But alas, I succumbed to the many pressures.

I gave my first Geometry test on Thursday. It was a disaster. Apparently while I was doing my final edit the night before, I deleted a bunch of diagrams and drawings. I had to find the original tests I stole them from before I could then draw them on the chalkboard. The test was 50 questions and the students had 1 hour. Only one person even got close to being done. The rest didn't even make it to number 30. I didn't take into account how much work they would have to do to even be able to choose a, b, c, or d.

I edited the test for Friday. I cut out 13 questions completely and edited some of the remaining ones. That didn't work either. Students complained this test looked nothing like the ones we had been doing and they actually preferred working out the problems rather than multiple choice.

It went so badly that I was near tears and the students were the ones consoling me. They said, "It's alright Ms. Miller, it's only your first time." "We still like you." "It wasn't that bad." "We just needed more time." "Maybe we're just the slow kids."

Algebra exams went better. No real disasters or complaints. At least until I graded them. Why are grades so much lower? My usual students landed in the lower 80s and that trend seemed constant. I had to curve grades in every class and I did not like it. It felt very unfair and un-meaningful to try to pull their grades out of thin air. But as some of my twitter friends pointed out, it's more accurate to give a grade based on my professional judgement of their past grades than to assign a grade from one flawed test. I am just not happy with assessments in general.

How can we objectively measure something that isn't objective? I don't get assessed like this in real life. Sure, I get two formal evaluations a year. But most of my assessments come from results. Are my students test scores improving? How many students are failing my class? How many referrals have I written? How do I treat students? How much of a team player am I? Those are the things I am assessed on but what difference do those results make? I can be a bad teacher and get the same pay, just with different treatment from my colleagues. I can be an excellent teacher and get the same pay, and better treatment from (some) colleagues. Are these meaningful assessments of my abilities? What are meaningful assessments of my students abilities?

I always hear about you know you've learned something when you can teach it to others. I know that's true in myself, because I would never be able to create tests and lessons without truly knowing how to do the problems myself. The thought of having students create problems and such is very intriguing to me. What if my assessment was to give the students an answer and they had to create a problem that resulted in that answer? That prospect truly excites me. I know it has to jump at least 2 levels of Blooms compared to the questions I'm asking now. I love to create and design and it seems that's what the rest of us cell-phone-customizing-Youtube-watching-Myspace-layout-making-picture-editing-outfit-accessorizing people are about too. How can creative design become my assessment process? How do these assessments affect their lives or mine?



What if I taught every lesson wrong?

We start each lesson with a review to help scaffold for the new material we want to introduce. What if I taught it wrong until the point that students had no choice but to correct me? And as they start to explain why I'm wrong and they are right, I can begin to question. Their answers would help to reinforce the concepts in their minds and the questions would lead into the new material:

Will that always work? How do you know?
Can we predict when that won't work?
What do you do when that doesn't work?
How can we revise it so that it does work?
Where do we go from here?

What if the students taught?

What if I had every topic or lesson for that course in a hat? Each student draws topics until they are gone. The student is responsible for introducing that topic by explaining everything they currently know or don't know about said topic. Some students would do some extra work so they wouldn't look stupid in front of the class for not knowing anything. Some would do nothing because they always do nothing. Once the student has exhausted his/her knowledge, they could begin to question peers. When their knowledge as a whole is exhausted, I step in to contribute.

How can I make learning look more like real life?

I want to make homework into a real life assignment. Find an example of what we talked about today online, in a book, in the paper, in a magazine, at school, at home, in your family, etc. Could every concept be taught as word problems and messy situations that have to be interpreted? Could real life data, picture, video, proof be offered up for discussion and manipulation?

Could one first year teacher make this happen?

Nope. That's what the comment section is for. ;)


Week 17

I don't have much to say this week.

It was a confusing mixed up week with students grieving and services being held and things being canceled.

I should probably be saying some deep, meaningful things about life but I got nothing.

I tried one lesson with my geometry class about circumcenters but the whole thing failed. I couldn't even make a circumcenter on my own.

Algebra- still trying to wrap up graphing and finding slope and intercepts. I may be taking too long on this but I've decided if they don't learn anything else, they will learn linear functions. We've done the slope formula on every warm up for probably 4 weeks in a row now.

Then the week went downhill from there.

Today was our first home basketball game and so we had a pep rally/karaoke contest. It was super fun! The students weren't shy or timid and just sang their hearts out. Everyone needed a good laugh and it was just fun. At the end we sang Lean On Me and all the students stood up, leaning and singing, just like a movie. Then we did the Cupid Shuffle and it was like High School Musical 3.5 up in there. I gave up any semblance of sanity the rest of the afternoon and spent time karaoke-ing in my room, watching students have rap and dance battles, and the kids tried to teach me how to jerk.

Next week is finals. I'm a little nervous. I never took one in high school and so the idea of writing one is somewhat foreign. Other teachers do multiple choice in order to make it quick to grade. But I've been doing free response all year so it seems weird to change now. I'm thinking about doing some matching or multiple choice for vocab and then free response for actual problems. I will be spending the weekend creating that and a study guide. Another teacher said she gives a study guide with all the problems worked out by her. I think I will let the students work on the problems on their own and then give out the answers for final studying. How many questions do you put on your final? Do you pull problems straight off of earlier tests? Do you do any bonus/extra credit/anything different?


Where Are You?

Parents, what do you want to hear?

Do you want me to tell you that your child does drugs?
That he steals your beer and drinks while he's out hunting?
That she flirts with any boy who will give her attention?
That he acts out in class because nobody likes him?
That your son is a bully?

Parents, what do you see?

Do you see that your son has ADD?
Do you see that your daughter thinks she has to earn your love?
That she needs glasses but is too proud to admit it?
Do you see that your niece is just pushing the limits to see if they'll break?
Do you know why he goes to his room at 8:30 and stays there all night?

Parents, do you want to know?

Do you want to know what your child is really like?
Do you want to know that your child smells like a garbage dump?
Do you want to know what she really thinks about you?
Do you know she thinks her grandma was the only one to truly love her?
Do you want to know the words that come out of his mouth?

Parents, why do I know this?
Why do I know your child better than you?



Lost a student Monday night.

Not my student but in a school of 200, every student is 'my' student. My sister was close friends with the sister. Mom works in our middle school. Younger sister goes to our elementary school. Hard situation.

Students spent a lot of time confessing how mean they were and all the wrong things they did.

I cried more than a lot of teachers, and this wasn't even my student! I heard the sirens go by my house and the first thing I thought was, 'Dear God, don't let it be a studnet.' And then I didn't give it another thought. Couple hours later my mentor teacher texts me to call her asap. She answers the phone with 'I don't know know how to say this.' The thought that stuck with me all day was 'What if this was my student?' I honestly don't think I could handle it. I don't think I would have went to school. I am so attached to these kids. I would like them even if they weren't my students. They are just so darn likeable. I wanted to hug every one of them every time they entered and exited the room. Every time.

Some broke down just because this situation brought up other emotional memories.

Luckily, I had a few who did who have some funny memories and stories to share.

Others wanted to cry and some left because they didn't want to cry.

Students were given freedom to roam from teacher to teacher or to the gym to meet with counselors. At first we just sat around in awkward silence. Things got better as the day progressed. We decorated the room for Christmas, I printed out some Christmas coloring pages, we listened to music, and ended the day with a movie.

Visitation is tomorrow night and again Thursday morning. Funeral is also Thursday morning. What is the proper etiquette here? I told the principal I would go tomorrow night on my own. I don't feel like I should go to the funeral. We obviously have to get subs for the classes so I thought it would be more appropriate for me to stay and give the opportunity to those who actually taught the student.

Who really knows what to do in this situation.

Students held a candle light service tonight. A lot of them made signs they posted in the hallways and on his locker. We laid out paper in the gym so students can write memories but it mainly turned into a confessional.

Why couldn't we have said these things earlier?

I smiled at him in the lunch line if that means anything.

We just had a team of 9 girls go to a Lifesaves Training over the weekend on how to deal with situations just like this. And people made fun of it. Hopefully now they see that it's needed. Tonight they made ribbons to pass out too. I think the best comfort is in them being able to do somethign tangible, to contribute to a life.

My students suggested we use the money from our cussing jar and contrbitute to the family. I think that is a wonderful idea.

I'm just scared to think of how many students I let blend into the middle.

Who are you missing?



My first annual Edublog Awards Nomination Ballot:

And my nominees are:

Best individual blog:Dy/Dan

Best group blog: Sup Teach?

Best new blog: Sweeney Math

Best class blog: Collaboration Nation
Best resource sharing blog: I Love Math

Most influential blog post:
The Comprehensive Math Assessment Resource

Best teacher blog: f(t)

Best librarian / library blog: Educating Esme

Best educational use of a virtual world: EDTECH Retreat

Lifetime achievement: Paul Bogush

Step 1: Write a post on your blog linking to:

You can nominate for as many categories as you like, but only one nomination per category, and not yourself :) You can nominate a blog (or site) for more than one category)

Step 2: Email us the link to your nomination post

Use the form on the Edublog Awards page to contact them, please include a genuine email address (spam free, just to confirm identity) and the link to your nominations post.


Week 15/16

I was tempted to just skip week 15 but my love for order would not allow it. We only had school on Monday and Tuesday which was lovely.My geometry classes quizzed on Monday and I honestly have no idea what my Algebra students did. On Tuesday we watched a Thanksgiving video that I made myself. I just got on youtube and found funny Thanksgiving clips from commercials and clean tv shows like the Cosby Show, Friends, and even some from MadTV that weren't bad. I figured the students would make fun of me but I'm so over that at this point. They did seem to like it and they laughed and that was the point so yay. My mentor teacher always shows the Charlie Brown movie for every holiday which is a good idea. I'd steal the idea but we have the same students and that just wouldn't work out.

I planned to spend my Thanksgiving break catching up on things and starting to write my final exams. But alas, it was not meant to be. I attend an annual cookie swap at my church where we make cookies or candy and swap them with each other. We also make gifts to share too. Then we go and eat good food, play dirty Santa, bingo, price is right, and just have all kinds of fun. We win prizes for first people to arrive, who traveled the farthest, who commented the most on the Facebook page, who had the best tasting treat, best presentation, and so on. It is a ton of fun but a ton of work when you only give yourself a week to do it in. I made coasters out of curly ribbon and wow oh wow. The results are awesome but each one took 1 1/2 - 2 hours to create and I had to make 14. For my candy, I made red velvet truffles. I won best taste and I was super pumped! This is my fourth year participating in the swap and it was very stressful. But I won a lot of great prizes and it was worth it. I think. I know this has nothing to do with teaching but it was hard work and I want to show it off.

How could I incorporate this into math? Calculating the length of ribbon needed per coaster? Comparing the length of the ribbon to the circumference or area of the circular coaster? Symmetry? Rotations? There's got to be some thing.

So basically the whole week was planned on the fly. Which was....sort of refreshing. Results weren't what I wish they were but it felt kind of good. I did a lot of packets where students had to work together and that sort of thing. I like it but I don't know how well they do. I also am not sure how much they learn. I think I suck at assessments. I hate hate hate to put this out there but I try to be transparent and accept criticism. I tend to put things on assessments that we haven't actually done, but that I assume they should be able to do. It's like I know that's wrong but I don't know why. If I teach the 2 and 2, shouldn't they be able to put 2 and 2 together? Why doesn't that work? With each passing day, I see more and more the need for a concept-based assessment system. But I am afraid to see how many students wouldn't make it through. Also, I think @iMrsF (but I'm not sure) mentioned on Twitter the idea of students having the options of what items to complete in a unit and I think I love the idea. It would probably be a ton of work for me, I don't even know how I would go about developing that. But if students had a checklist of objectives for each unit, they could choose which activities to complete for each objective and still take the same assessment. Or different assessments too I suppose? If I could design that, I would design it in a way where students get immediate feedback and some type of creative outlet. They need to develop ownership and pride in their progress. I don't know a better way to do that than to have audience approval. Anyway the point of my story was that on Friday I gave a quiz that was the same type of questions as the packets we did in class and scores ranged from 97 down to 40. I blamed the multiple choice format but I'm sure the real culprit is not understanding the material with a dose of not having enough time to learn and apply it.

Geometry, eh I don't know what to say. My two top students recently got expelled and so now I am down to only 8 students who could care less and don't want to be there. As far as lessons go, I just don't know. I heard the comments that my quizzes are 'so easy' and I'm not sure how to take that. Is it a good thing because they match what we do in class? Or a bad thing because..well I don't know why. Material to learn should be challenging but if already learned then maybe assessment should be easy? Hmm.

I sort of got sick in the midst of this week but that was because I was getting very little sleep. So what probably was a simple sinus weather-changey thing turned into a 4-day-hoarse-voice-stopped-up-then-runny-nose-and-cough thingy. I survived with cute scarves and mint chocolate hot chocolate. ;) But this was just an exhausting week.

I remember so many teachers on twitter giving me the advice to get enough sleep and I didn't believe them. You're surprised I'm sure. But they were SO right! The week was stressful and exhausting. I've had less sleep then I've had since I graduated high school myself. It is such a relieft though that now school is my work instead of in addtion to my work. I would say at least I don't have homework but heck yes I work at home every night. And I'm pretty sure I've written more papers in the form of blog posts then in my entire college career. I wish I could do college over.