Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Fighting the Enemy of the Good

I cannot believe I've been teaching for 10 years. They say that if you can get over the 10 year mark, you're a life-er. Guess that's me then!

While I've been teaching for 10 years, my experience has ranged from pre-school to 12th grade. And here's the real kicker...This year, I'll be teaching the same classes for the 3rd year in a row - that's my personal record.

Last summer, I was going into year 2 and I was so excited to take what began as good and really fine-tune it into perfect. I read all the teaching books I could squeeze into one summer and my boss frequently had to tell me to go home because I was up at school working while my kids were with their grandma. It was an exhilarating planning time that led to a wonderful, but challenging school year. I began flipping my two Algebra 1 classes which was a tremendous undertaking and a fabulous adventure. I fine-tuned my Algebra 2 class so that my teaching was much more clear and concise and we were able to get much more content into the year (Successfully).

But...the year was far from perfect. I saw so many things that didn't go as I had planned. Areas where I knew I would have to improve. I was so overwhelmed by all of the not-awesome things in the year, that when summer hit this time, I was plum-wore-out. I didn't want to even THINK about school. I had worked so hard the summer before and look at how not-perfect the year had been. Why bother? It doesn't matter. It'll never be what I want it to be...

I even began to think that maybe I didn't want to be a teacher anymore. Maybe I couldn't hack it as a life-er. All of the changing landscapes in education, the fire-hydrant of ideas from which to drink each summer, standards based grading, flipping, the maker movement, 21st century skills, teaching like a pirate, creating a class that kids actually WANT to come's too much. I spent the first half of summer kinda dreading the return of school. I saw it as a black hole of mistakes and kinda-good-enough-ness that I simply didn't want to face.

Thankfully, today, I was reminded of a quote I heard so long ago that I don't even know where I heard it! It's derived from a similar phrase in Voltaire's writing and it states simply "don't let perfect be the enemy of good".

I tell my students all the time that if you're not making mistakes, you're not learning. Now, I like to think of myself as a learner first, teacher second, so by my own logic, I have to be comfortable with mistakes. I have to realize that the past two years brought unique mistakes from which I've learned. Next year will contain it's own mistakes from which I'll learn. I think that when I teach a year that is free of mistakes, I'll resign. Because you can't lead where you're not going and if I'm not making mistakes, I'm not learning and therefore, shouldn't be teaching. There, I said it.

Practice what you preach, Chieffe.

I'm tweaking things for next year. Shoring up those areas where I saw weakness. Making sure that those same areas won't crack in this upcoming year...or at least, hoping they won't. Quite possibly, my repairs this year will have their own flaws and I'll have to readjust next year. That's good - always room for improvement. But I'm not discouraged anymore by the constant need for adjustment. Next year doesn't have to be perfect. Which is good, because I already know it won't be! I want it to be good. Really, really, good. I'd love to change the course of a life next year by building strong relationships and cheering for the underdogs. I hope that along the way, I'll unlock some deeply buried Algebra secrets for an unsuspecting middle schooler. Maybe it'll happen...maybe it won't..but I'm making plans to set myself up for success. It's going to be an extraordinary year - even if it's not a perfect one!

I can't imagine I'm the only one who's ever felt this way. So, to you, fellow perfectionist, I say, hang in there. Be realistic about the really great things you accomplished last year. Be excited about the really great things you're going to accomplish next year! And don't let perfection be your enemy. Together, we'll make exceptional progress in our classrooms and the world will be better (though not perfect) for our having been teachers in it.

With much love,

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Intro to Parabolas with Algebra 1b

You know how sometimes, you have a BASIC idea for a lesson and when you teach it, it totally exceeds your expectations?!  Yeah, that was me today.  My students walked out of here knowing more about parabolas than I've seen students know after a week of drilling the facts.  The coolest part is, we haven't even TALKED about "quadratics"!  We've been working on "factoring trinomials" by grouping and honestly, they've struggled.  But that's a topic for another post...

I just think it is awesome that I hadn't even mentioned the word "quadratic" until today and they totally picked it up and ran with it, along with lots of other info.

So, here's what we did...

1) I asked the students to take out a piece of paper.  I told them that in the upcoming chapter, we'd be exploring parabolas and that we would begin by watching some carefully selected intro-videos about parabolas.  ( I chose these 4 out of a SEA of really boring, horrible videos so be careful what you show or this could derail really quickly)

2)  I asked them to watch the videos and write down 5 things that they learned or noticed about parabolas. I was a little nervous that 5 might be too many, but it totally wasn't and I think it kept them interested because they couldn't just get 3 and then zone out.

3) At the end of each video, I asked some questions that came into my mind as the video was playing - things I wanted them to notice.  If they hadn't noticed what I was asking about, my plan was to replay the video.  To my surprise, a student asked me to replay it before I even had a chance to tell them that's what we were going to do!!  Ha ha!  They were it.

Here are the videos I showed (in order):
Our BRIEF lesson
after a video on
what a focus is and
how it helps us

Great quirky intro with no talking - just music and images

Kinda slow, but good info.  Guy talking over images - ends with a video about a bridge that collapsed in the wind because of faulty engineering.  This showed that parabolas really are important...not JUST cool.  Also points out the idea of the focus point and the role it plays in engineering.

Mario Brothers - shows the stretch/shrink and y-intercept concepts

High school students' music video project - these are not my students, but I totally wish they were!  Great focus on open up vs. open down parabolas and the fact that parabolas are everywhere.  Students asked if they could do this project for a test grade.  I thought that was a bit much, but told them that if they did it by the end of the unit, it would be worth some serious extra credit on their test.  They were stoked about that.  (And again, students ASKING for work - that shows engagement, in my humble opinion)

4)  When we were done, I had each student share a fact that they had and they couldn't repeat someone else's fact.

5) I then drew a quick sketch of some basic parabolas and asked the students what the important features were.  They named every single part that I wanted them to see without any guidance from me!  They added these basic diagrams to their notes and I asked them to color code them (since I hadn't).

These things might not seem like much to you, but remember, these are "low-level" Algebra 1 students.  They've never seen this before, but they picked it right up.  It'll be so nice to move forward, teaching how to SOLVE a quadratic without having a 3-day existential conversation about zeros - what they are and why we care about them.  This group already knows what they are and they were the ones who told me they'd be important so at least half of my motivational speech is taken care of already!

I also like that we haven't talked about SOLVING a quadratic yet.  Honestly, it was because we ran out of time and needed to test before the end of the grading quarter so we just tested factoring only, but it is totally working out!  We'll do "solving" a quadratic within it's proper context now!  That'll be so much better than teaching how to solve and THEN explaining why...*sigh*

Today, life in Algebra 1b is good.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Question, question, who's got the question?

Professional's like eating broccoli, I think. It so good for me as an educator, but sometimes it's tough to chew and hard to swallow. As a reminder, my degree is in Elementary Ed, I'm certified in elementary grades, middle grades integrated curriculum, and math 9-12. I teach high school math. I love teaching and I love learning, but there are lots of times (like today) when I feel in over my head. Now this is a reflection post so please forgive me if I babble, but I desperately need to connect with you master teachers out there so please read and respond.

Today, we discussed the idea of using essential questions to direct our teaching. Like any normal human being, I googled essential questions for Alg 2 because it's the hardest course I teach. Here are some of the links I found helpful:

F(t): Essential Questions for Alg 2

Kingsley's Essential Questions

Saugus High School curriculum map for Alg 2 - extremely in depth, uses Holt curriculum

Incorporating EQs in math:

1) Focus on the strategy side of mathematics.

2) Look at the concept separately from the strategy. What are the big ideas in math? These are the grooming grounds for essential questions.

One of the challenges is that math is taught as a succession of skills. Students need to know these individual skills and there is more content than there is time. That is a reality. So how do I incorporate essential questions when I know that it means students may not memorize the algorithm for every skill and still ensure that they are ready for the next math class and the next set of skills? This is where vertical collaboration is so critical. I need to ask the next teacher what is critical for success in the next step.

The next level of consideration is that EQs can not simply be put on top of an algorithmic model of math. They are pointless in this setting and, I think, can be quite confusing and overwhelming for students. EQ discussions must occur within a setting of rich problem solving experiences. Maybe at the end of a unit, after I've taught the skills and quizzed along the way, we could have a class discussion of our EQs before the test. Could they be used to drive the review for a test?

I would also like to have at least one, if not two, EQs posted in the room, that I can refer back to, as it comes up, regularly. I will have to remember that Ss may not have the answer, that's ok. They might come up with more questions. That's great!

Now, if I do this in my classroom, I've got to think about what happens when students come to the wrong conclusion? My first response would be to give them an example to illustrate that their conclusion is incorrect. But then I wonder, do I need to know how to address every possible misconception? What do I do if I don't know how to address it? This is a scary thought process for me, but my principal, who is awesome, encouraged us with this quote on Columbus Day "You can never cross the ocean until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore."

Teaching is hard. Can I get an "Amen?"

What are your thoughts?


Sunday, September 7, 2014

Two Sides of this Shiny Coin...

I had a parent email tonight that was a bit discouraging. Her son is very disorganized and is just a typical middle school boy. I love the kid, but his student skills need work. So she was very frustrated that I was making them go online for homework. She gave me a piece of her mind about how difficult it was and told me that she fully expected me to give him time in class to watch the video and take his notes.

I responded that of course he would be able to use class time to do the homework, but I also took a few moments to correct her misunderstandings of what was expected. I also informed her that he would miss out on the extra practice that the rest of the class would get.

You see, the class before, he hadn't done his homework either. I let him a watch it in class, but the rest of the class played a practice game based on a popular tv show. He kept looking longingly at the groups as they were cheering each other on and clarifying simple mistakes that their teammates were making. And my heart hurt for him because THIS is the real learning that can take place with a flipped classroom. It's the practice above and beyond what I could have fit into the class period without flipping and the students teaching and learning from each other! And he wanted to take part, but had sabotaged himself...

I wish I could explain this to mom in a way that would help her see that this rough transition is worth the trouble. I know it's new and learning a new system can be frustrating, but the payoff would be that this boy would love his math class and would be excited to see what we do next and would be successful! *sigh*


In other news, I was encouraged as I was reading over the summary responses for my two flipped classes. Overall, they are understanding the concepts well and are getting better at articulating the concepts with their writing. There are a couple who are struggling and they know they are struggling. They asked great questions in their summary and tomorrow, I will pull them aside for a small group lesson to clarify a couple of things. I feel empowered to really meet my students where they are. Not just in lip service, but in actual responsive planning and teaching. It's just more evidence for myself of why I'm doing this and why I believe it's an amazing way to structure a math class.


So...whether you are encouraged or challenged, I'll say to you as I say to myself...keep calm and flip on.



Thursday, August 28, 2014

2014-15 Reflection #1: Flipping Out...

So...I'm a 2.5 weeks into the school year and my flipped classes are taking their first tests today while I reflect.  This year is my first foray into the world of flipping and I'm totally in love.  For those who aren't familiar with the flipped classroom, it's a method of teaching where the students watch a video lecture and take notes at home and the majority of their practice and application is done at school with the support of the teacher and their peers.  After doing tons of research over the summer, I asked Crystal Kirch if I could use her format and she graciously agreed.  You can find all of her info here.  I've loved the structure and foundation that it's provided me to get started since I'd never done anything like this before.  I'll be tweaking it to fit my personal style as I go and realize what works for me and what doesn't.

Things I'm crazy about:

- Quizlet.  The students LOVE racing each other and practice over and over and over.  It's been fun to watch them ENJOY their math practice.

- Having the MAP problems numbered continuously makes it easy to "grade" their homework for completion.  Ch 1a had 200 points - 1 for each problem (190) and then 2 pts per concept for notes.  They had to really leave a lot blank to lower their grade.  A couple of them did get a B or a C on this for their weekly homework grade, but I still felt that it was appropriate for them.  Most got As, even if their packet wasn't perfect.  I like that it's a grade for how much they practiced, which is exactly what a homework grade should be.

- Every. Single. Student. Passed the first test!  I'm so stoked about this.  I want them to be confident and really feel in their soul that they CAN do this stuff so starting out with such a great overall performance is exciting.  The class average grade for the first test was 79.9% which I think is really great.  WAY better than my tests from last year which were a bit all over the place.

- A couple of students had a hard time getting started with the homework.  Checking it each day (on a checklist, not for a grade) helped me to know who needed a phone call to home, but I didn't hold them accountable until test day.  I had a few students who really worked hard to get caught up after faltering initially.  I was very proud of them and I think they were quite proud of themselves which is even better.

- My tests last year took FOREVER.  This year, they were done with the test in 30-ish minutes!  This means I can either give them a test on a regular (non-block) day, or I can give them longer tests with more questions which means their grade will be even more accurate.  I love that I have options.

Things I'm not crazy about:

- I'm not really sure where to put their summary and HOT question grades in.  I'm thinking I can check these 2 things each day and then give them as a participation grade since that's largely what our work the next day in class is built around.  What are your thoughts?

-  Alg 1b seems to be struggling a bit more with the material than 1a.  I wonder if it's tough for them to change from what we did last year for Chapters 1-6.  They are much more consistent with the homework and are prepared and ready for class, but their discussions aren't as deep as 1a for some reason.  Maybe they're afraid of taking risks?  This is such a different way of thinking about math for them.  They are a great group and really want to do what I ask and make me proud so having open-ended conversations about concepts is throwing them for a loop a bit.  Hopefully this will improve over time.

- I wish that the starting out had been smoother.  We did a lot of WSQ-ing in class and then we gradually transitioned to where they were supposed to do it at home, but the number of students who'd done it was inconsistent so there were a few days where it was clunky in class trying to get everyone working in a way that was appropriate for what they'd done the night before.  I DID love that everyone was ALWAYS working - never any down time.  Some were WSQ-ing in class, some where discussing HOT questions, some were practicing with Quizlet.  I think this was just a result of me not knowing what to expect.  Next year, I'll have a poster or something where the students can see what they should be working on based on where they are in the process. 

Ideas for next year:

This will be a running list of things I want to remember as I go along...

- "What should I be doing?" poster for the first few weeks.  As students learn what to do with this method, there will be hurdles and excuses in the beginning.  No matter what happened the night before, I want them to feel confident coming in to class that they can begin working right away even if I can't hold their hand to get them started.

So there you have it.  There are more things rattling around in my brain...more reflections to come.  Please, whether you are an experienced flipper or not, let me know what your thoughts are.  Questions, comments, ideas are so totally welcomed.  

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Summer Lovin'

Yeah, ok. So I wasn't all consistent with updating my blog during the school year. Best of intentions and all that. Truthfully, I don't often feel that I have much interesting to report. At this stage, I know that one of my most faithful (non-family) readers is my husband's non-teacher friend who lives in Maryland and I'm pretty sure he's just being supportive. (Don't get me wrong, J. I appreciate it and please keep reading. I value your feedback.)

So here's a just-so-you-know-I'm-still-alive-and-in-love-with-teaching post...

Summer plans. First, lots of beach time with the kids. How have I lived here my whole life and not been totally obsessive about the peaceful, beautiful, totally recharging power of the beach?! Yeah, I have no idea, but let's just say that I am totally making up for lost time.

Secondly, I'll be doing lots of reading. I've already finished Flip Your Classroom by Jonathan Bergman and Aaron Sams and I'm half-way through Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess.

Seriously great reads. I'm planning to flip my Algebra 1a class next year if my Superintendent says it's ok. I need to prep some materials to do a formal pitch for her soon. I'll post that stuff here for the interweb's approval as soon as I get it done.

As far as teaching like a pirate This guy Burgess is really good at challenging you - like really getting in your a face and making you acknowledge some things - and then at the same time, inspiring you to believe in yourself and equipping you to reach for the next level. I hope to do some reflecting about the neat things happening in my brain with that book.

I'll also be prepping a curriculum for my Consumer Math class next year! Super exciting things happening there - my admin is letting me fly with the standards alone which is so fun because that means I get to flex my creative muscles and design a challenging and engaging learning experience on my own. While I'm VERY excited about this opportunity/challenge, I'm also more than a little bit frightened. Time to put on my big girl panties and see what I'm really made of. I wish I had some Ron Clark confidence. That guy has no fear and just makes amazing things happen. I want to be like him when I grow up.

Which brings me to my next point...I really wish that I had some math teacher friends that I could hang out with and brainstorm with in real life. I need some people who are idealistic like me, experienced enoug to know this job is super tough, but still naive (and brave) enough to really believe we can break the mold. Super-psyched-math-teacher, party of one, is getting a little annoying.

And finally, to anyone who thinks teachers have it easy because we get summers "off"....yeah, that idea is so rediculous I don't even have a clever response to it!! When you love teaching, there is no "off" switch. I eat, sleep, breathe teaching and learning and creating all year round. It's exhausting. And wonderful.

And you wish you were me.

That is all for tonight. Peace out!


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Reality check.

Sometimes, being a teacher is scary.  I was reminded today that the 1 year anniversary of the Newtown shooting is only 10 days away. 

I'd be a liar if I didn't confess that sometimes, the reality of what can and does happen in school leaves me literally shaking with fear.  As a a mom...

And fear is big.  Fear is a monster.  Fear is the devil.

Sitting at my desk this morning, with this massive monster sitting on my chest, making it hard to breath, I reach out to my Savior with the most powerful weapons in my life...prayer, and music.  I pour out my heart to Him, turn my thoughts to His word, and turn on some praise music with hopes that He will speak to me.  He does not disappoint.  He speaks straight to my heart through the tiny speaker on my lie, these are some of the lyrics of the songs that order...

"The Earth is Yours" by Gungor

Your voice it thunders
The oaks start twisting
The forest sounds with cedars breaking
The waters see You and start their writhing
From the depths a song is rising

Now it’s rising from the ground

Holy, Holy
Holy, Holy Lord the earth is Yours and singing
Holy, Holy
Holy, Holy Lord
The earth is Yours

"Your Hands" by JJ Heller

When my world is shaking, heaven stands
When my heart is breaking
I never leave your hands

When you walked upon the earth
You healed the broken, lost and hurt
I know you hate to see me cry
One day you will set all things right
Yeah, one day you will set all things right

"Your Great Name" by Natalie Grant

Every fear; has no place; at the sound of your great name
The enemy; he has to leave; at the sound of your great name

Jesus, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain for us, Son of God and Man
You are high and lifted up; that all the world will praise your great name

"Come on my Soul" by Rend Collective Experiment

Come on my soul
Come on my soul
Let down the walls
And sing my soul

Come on,
 It's time to look up

Sometimes, the world is scary.  I won't pretend that it isn't.  But...God speaks, y'all.  And the power in His voice is so great that it sounds like many waters and scripture says that it breaks the cedars of Lebanon.  That's big power.  But it's nothing compared to the power that is in His heart, beating for us.  The power in His voice is a gentle breeze compared to the full force of His overwhelming love.  And the Earth is His...and one day, He will set all things right...and at the name of Jesus, the enemy has to come on, my soul, my friends.  Let's sing.  It's time to look up.  Not because we're not afraid, but because of the incredible God who goes before, surrounds on every side, and covers us in every way with love that is stronger and more powerful than any fear.  Fear has no place.  His perfect love has cast it out.