Learning and Technology

I read an article about a man who became intensely involved in a video game over a six-month period. You can read about it here. I was astounded at how someone could become so involved in a virtual (non-real?) world, so much that it consumed him day and night, and figuring out how to keep it going while he was at work. It started me thinking about students, technology, and the virtual world.

Students become obsessed with games, technology, social networking, etc. to the point that it distracts them from school. It is difficult to get students off their I-phones, I-pods, I-pads, etc. even after the class has started and instruction has begun. I have wondered how they could come into a classroom and not notice that someone was speaking to them, there was a problem or note on the board, and that things need to be repeated 5-6 times, just to get a response. After reading this article, I think I am beginning to understand.

The things that distracted me as a teenager were books, music, books, notes from friends, and books. We didn’t have pocket electronics, microwave ovens, or home computers. Instant gratification was getting to go to a movie and having your parent drop you off in front of the theater and picking you up in the same place two hours later.  If we were out and about, we had to find a pay phone to check in at certain times, and plan walking to one in the effort to be on time with the call. The worst thing that could happen to me was to have my book taken from me. My parents often did this and told me to go outside and find something  to do. Often I would sit on the curb in front of our house for a while until I felt I had been outside long enough to satisfy them.

We are competing with much bigger distractions now, and the question seems to be how do we make school attractive enough for students to want to put down the distraction and focus on learning?  When I was a teenager, it wasn’t a question, school time was my job, chores at home came first, homework, etc. then, when I had finished my responsibilities, time became mine to do with as I pleased, until my parents felt I was isolating too much, then they took (some) charge.

Could part of the problem be that our youth are not being educated on what it means to be responsible vs. having privileges? Technology is a wonderful thing. I’ve been known to be on my computer for hours, calculating things on graphing calculators, struggling with geogebra or geometer’s sketchpad, or reading. (I prefer a book in hand still, but have resigned myself to reading on the computer also.) The difference for me, I guess, is that I know when I have to work, when I have to plan, and when I am free to enjoy myself.

How do we teach our students these valuable lessons?

Reflecting on Learning Objectives

Semester one is over. In many ways I am glad. This has been one of the toughest semesters I have walked through. I am finding myself  looking back and wondering where my 10 prior years of experience have gone and how I have ended up feeling like a novice again. I have a rough bunch of students this year, but have had them before. I am struggling to get many students engaged and focused this year, more so that in previous years, at least it feels that way.

Maybe part of my struggle is that I am wearing several different hats this year. Along with my full load of classes, 2 Algebra I and 3 Geometry, I am working with our assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction on implementing CCSS at the middle and high schools; writing course descriptions, working on a-g approval for new courses, creating a new Financial Algebra course with a team of teachers in PBL format, and searching for resources for teachers at the high schools for implementation of CCSS. In our geometry courses we have been working as a PLC to create units and redesign the course in the transformational focus that CCSS is directing. This was new for us, so it has been interesting, challenging, and fun to see the results.

I have begun to become active on twitter this year, which has lead me to blogging and becoming more active in reading the blogs of others. At first I felt overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information that came in, I follow 142 people right now and am amazed at the numbers that others follow. I can hardly keep up with what I’m doing now. I am becoming more comfortable sharing and joining in chats, although the speed of the conversations and language is sometimes still elusive. My daughters would say I’m old-fashioned and need to get with the times.

I am  very  happy with the things I am learning, am grateful for the extended opportunities to increase my PLN, and am in awe of the caliber of educators with which I am coming in contact. At my school site I have been unusual in my desire to collaborate on ideas and courses, loving the PLC initiative that was started, but frustrated that many of our teachers are “playing the game” but not really interested in participating. I have been disappointed that I am not getting any responses to my writing, but maybe that comes with time. I love reading and responding to other bloggers, and the interactions which occur on a professional level as we problem-solve our way through the questions that arise from our constant desire to improve. I do like being challenged, and am usually responsive to constructive criticism. I am a professional student, as well as an educator and know that as long as I am willing to look at what I am doing and question myself and the outcomes, I will continue to grow.

I have some changes to make for next semester, but think I will begin my break with some sleeping in and renewal.


I met with a group of teachers yesterday after school to talk about creating a new course for our district. We are creating a Financial Algebra course in the PBL format for a fourth year course option. It was wonderful and exciting to meet with a group of teachers so interested in creating a course which will be both beneficial to students and fun to learn. I am finding myself excited about the opportunity to participate in this collaboration.  I was asked to be a part of this group, and that in itself is an honor. I consider several of these teachers to be strong professional educators and I am excited to learn from them. I have made several attempts at PBL in my classes on my own, but feel they have fallen short in several ways. I am grateful for the opportunity to learn from teachers who have created PBL courses in the past and already feel like I have been given some insight into the creation of more effective learning.

We will be working on this course across the next semester, and will be working together on units, as well as in smaller groups. We will be presenting our units using the “critical friends” protocol to get feedback and work on improving the units together.  I believe I may be finding the beginning of my restoration!

Brian Page has been instrumental in providing information he has compiled in his teaching and PD offerings. I have utilized his expertise in my own classroom and have found his knowledge and information very valuable. My colleagues were happy to see the information he has compiled and will be looking it over during break in preparation for creating this course. It is so good to have other educators and learned persons to extend our own learning and creating. I feel like I have grown as an educator more in the past 6 months since becoming active on Twitter and interacting with several educators whom I have come to respect. They are causing me to look more deeply at my own teaching practice and question my teaching and learning in ways that are stretching me and causing me to grow. For this I am grateful. I have always considered myself a professional student, but feel like I have stagnated in the past couple of years. It is good to be challenged again.

I am looking forward to the break, planning to re-group and re-plot my courses. I am now looking forward to working with my colleagues to create a new course and to learn more about teaching in the process. I believe I may be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

Reflections and Questions

I’ve been thinking quite a bit this weekend, about the shooting at Arapahoe HS in CO, about my classes and students, about students in general, and about teaching. I have gone through a myriad of emotions, crying and laughing, although I doubt anyone would see any sanity in either one of these or what I was reacting to at the time. My heart hurts. I hurt for the students and teachers who had to experience the fear they went through on Friday; I hurt for my students and their lack of concern for themselves, their lives or their dreams; I hurt for the educators who work with students daily, struggling to find interesting and informative ways to teach things that are of no interest to the students; and I hurt for me and my struggles this year.

Maybe a lot of this is because I have just walked through one of the toughest years in my life (and I’m not young). I have lost two dogs, my mother, and my church family. I have had to start over in so many ways, and on so many levels. I have experienced the pain of doing a wonderful job teaching honors level students, causing a large increase in CST scores, and being given the hardest students the next year because my administration doesn’t like interacting with parents, and I caused that by challenging high level students to perform at high levels. They never even said anything about the increase in scores, yet, we are constantly being “harped” at about increasing scores.

I started teaching long ago. First with my own children, then as a nurse teaching patients how to care for themselves, and teaching other nurses how to become great nurses. When my immune system didn’t allow me to work face to face with patients anymore, I took to the phones, teaching patients by phone.  I went back to school and earned my math and graduate degrees so I could once again be face to face with students.

I love teaching. I’m really good at it. I love seeing the lights come on, a realization hit and seeing someone begin to understand something that alluded them. I love the struggle, and the determination to not allow something to better someone. I even love the teenagers and their attitudes, knowing that most of it comes from their struggles within themselves, and how I can support and be a role model for them.

For the first time in my life, I am hating getting up, and going to work. I am struggling to find value in anything I am doing. I am grateful for Michael Pershon’s post this morning. It reminded me why I started this, I hope that over the next three weeks, I can find my spiritual and emotion well-being to begin it again.

Where do I go From Here?

I’m finding myself extremely frustrated the past few days. While some good things have happened in my Algebra classes, and that is amazing and exciting, my geometry classes have continued to cause me to be fatigued and stressed. This is the first year I have found myself feeling like I’m just not connecting with the majority of these students.

Granted, it has been quite a year for geometry. This is our first year to change the curriculum to match the CCSS. We are a team of four teachers, three of us have taught geometry before, one has not. One of the teachers who has taught geometry has always gone his own way, and this year our school focus is PLC and, although they are not saying it, lockstep lessons. We are four very different teachers, and each of us has a different philosophy of teaching and how to engage and support students, and now we are attempting to write a geometry course based on transformational geometry without a text to support us. This is not a problem for me, I have always hated allowing a text to dictate my instruction, but two of the teachers count on a text, especially the one who hasn’t taught geometry.

I have been writing quite a bit of the curriculum, and I tend to favor inquiry based learning. The students this year have come from a PLC which spent the year creating flow sheets, note-takers, HW helpers, and step-by-step lessons which they continue to desire and seek. I, on the other hand, give very little up front information, and scaffold lessons to encourage inquiry and discovery. It has been a semester of power struggle, and for the most part, a large portion of these students have refused to buy in.

Now we are down to the wire, we have final exams next week before ending our semester and going on break. I have told the students that if they pass the final, they will pass the class, and we have spent the past week and a half reviewing the semester. I have encouraged students to re-write their notes, work together on problem solving and talking through topics, and even gave them a list of topics that could be on the final to direct their study, which is unusual for me. I am watching a large portion of these students waste time, refuse to spend the effort on anything related to geometry, and yet constantly asking me, “If I get a “C” on the final I get a “C” in the class?”, “Does this work for a “D” also?”

I am discouraged by how many students are spending their time working out how many problems they have to get right to get 54%, which is my low D-, I use a modified SBG at the moment, rather than at least trying to figure out how many they need to get right to get 68%, which is a C-. Or even just going through the topic list to see how much they really know or understand. I have asked, begged, pleaded, cajoled and been downright honest with them, and they continue to make the decision which I know will lead to failure.

One thing I am really tired of are the cell phones. I read this article “Frequent Cell Phone Use Linked to Anxiety, Lower Grades and Reduced Happiness in Students, Kent State Research Shows” and thought, DUH, I could have told you that. (BTW, this is the school both my parents attended, my father earned his BA in Physical Education and Master’s in Education here, my mother was Pre-Med, that was exciting). Our principal keeps saying how we are experiencing less issues with electronics and more excitement about learning and I’m wondering what classrooms his is visiting. He hasn’t been in mine all year, and my colleagues are reporting the same type of issues.

I guess, like Justin Aion, I’m struggling with what’s going on in my classes, how effective I am as a teacher this year, and the many many many changes that are occurring at our school site which are creating difficulties for me to focus on what needs to be done to engage my students, if that’s even possible this year, and to turn this thing around.

I really need a break. 😛

Reflections on Learning

I’ve had a couple of good days teaching last week, today was a little tough, but I have to remember that my students really don’t like getting up in the morning. 😛 We looked at some more graphs today, a linear graph and parabola, but I only gave them the positive portion of the parabola. A couple of students made some great conjectures about the graph and how it would continue, and once again we were able to get the equations for the graphs. The students are saying that looking at graphing this way, instead of having to graph equations in the plane is helping them to understand how the graphs work much better.

Tomorrow I had planned to use the activity I stole (?), took from Andrew Busch, Gender Gap,  however, I have to miss class tomorrow. I was really looking forward to it too, because I just received the copy of the final for Algebra I from the PLC, and it includes quite a bit of graphing and interpreting graphs. YEAH!!  I think my students may do very well on this.

On the other hand, we are experiencing a crisis at home. Our dog has become very ill and we are going to have to put him down tomorrow. This is especially distressful for us because in the past year and a half we have lost a dog, my mother, and now our second dog. Along with a difficult year at school this year, I’m really beginning to feel the strain.

Next week we give final exams, then have three weeks off for Christmas break. It is a welcome break, and I am hoping to find some time during it to refresh, regroup, and come back strong for the second semester. I will be starting geometry with my Algebra students, and am hoping to refocus my Geometry classes and make them more interesting and successful next semester.

Another Winner

Yummymath has been very helpful to me the past couple of weeks.  My students and I explored the Lego Fireman and before starting the activity I showed the video and asked for questions and wonders. We created a list, and as we went through the activity, went back and answered the questions we could. After finishing the activity, my students still had questions, so today in class we wrote an e-mail to the Lego Company and asked the questions that were remaining. During the process of writing, many more questions arose and we finished our letter with 17 questions!

1) How many people worked on it?

2) Who are the Master Builders?

3) When was it built?

4) What was the purpose for building a fireman?

5) Is there a model in every “Toys R Us” store?

6) Does each store have their own Master Builder?

7) What dates was this figure actually built?

8) How was it shipped and how long did it take to ship?

9) Which store is the figure in?

10) Which part is built first?

11) What is the age range of the Master Builders?

12) Is there a special type of glue that is used?

13) What is the largest model that has been built, and where is it?

14) Have any international landmarks been modeled with legos?

15) How much does a Master Builder make?

16) Does the building occur in one main place?

17) What are the requirements to be a Master Builder?

They are very excited about contacting the company and are anxiously awaiting the answers to their questions.  I believe a couple of them may be considering becoming a “Master Builder” themselves. I am surprised and pleased that they have found something that interested them enough to want to seek out more information.  They were very disappointed when we had to make some guestimates in figuring out how long it took for the fireman to be built, we weren’t entirely sure how many builders worked on the figure.

Two days in a row of good class work.

After writing the letter we worked on Sudoku puzzles. They were a little slow getting started, but when we worked on solving a couple of the spots together, they became willing to work at it.  I think a couple of young people have found a new activity to fill their “boring” hours.