Refresh, Reflect, and Reinvent

I’m on spring break this week and have spent quite a bit of time perusing web sites, looking at lesson ideas, and trying to be thoughtful about how I am going to proceed for the next two months. I have just been notified that I will have access to a cart of Chromebooks to be shared with another teacher. She would like to alternate days with them, giving each of us 1-1 time on alternating days. I have been thinking about this and have a concern with that. Because we are in our last eight weeks of the year, and my students have not had any access to technology to speak of this year, I am concerned that we will not have any time to do anything of value if we alternate. The other option is for each of us to have access to 18 computers every day. This would allow me 1-2 access in class, and with smart phones and a couple of ipads that students bring, I could be nearly 1-1. I have to be sure that students have gmail accounts, and that they have knowledge of how to use the computers and any programs we might want to use. It seems like alternating days might make this difficult.

On the other hand, I knew it would be a different ball game to plan lessons with technology in mind, but I am beginning to realize how different it is. I am feeling a bit overwhelmed looking for lessons, thinking about how to alter them for my classes, and how to focus the lesson so that all students feel they are able to access the material. I guess I won’t really know until I try, so I’m starting on Monday with a simple lesson that includes both pencil and paper, and a portion on-line to evaluate students ability to jump in and become comfortable with the technology part. I guess until I do that it will be difficult to know where to go next. I’ll try to have a couple of ideas ready for each day until I know.

I really wish we would have had access to these earlier in the year. Our district has four high schools, two are 1-1 computing schools and two are not. We are piloting the SB test this year with our sophomores, and the district has been frantically attempting to implement technology at the two sites which have not had the tech strength. It has been a furious implementation that has taxed the tech personnel as well as the teachers and administrators. I am grateful that our administration has given us the opportunity to try some things with the time we have left, it’s just been quite a year of change and I guess I’m a bit tired. We have had to switch our curriculum from traditional to integrated to prepare our students for full implementation of the integrated pathway next year, which has been challenging. We are still searching for books and resources also.

I guess I’m feeling a bit inadequate at the moment, and wondering if I can continue to have the strength to implement new ideas, try to incorporate the technology and finish teaching the students the topics they need to know to move on to Integrated III or Pre-Calculus next year. Somebody please tell me I can get through this somewhat gracefully. I am still not well versed in geogebra myself, how can I teach students to use it?

March Madness

It is indeed March. One day things are good, the next, well, you know. Kids are kids. We have spring break next week and I believe that everyone is quite ready. I know I am. I have just re-shuffled students in classes, and am seeing that slight revival in engagement in the classroom, but I know that it could very soon diminish.

My algebra students have just finished working with transformations and using them to show two figures congruent, naming the transformations which take a pre-image to an image, and feeling very confident about the whole deal. Their quizzes look pretty good. We started working with constructions today and they worked through three of them without missing a beat. We really have done these kids a disservice by keeping them in algebra for several years. They are excelling in the transformational geometry. I am planning a project for them soon. I’m going to have them create a drawing from constructions, allowing them to be creative and colorful. I am also hoping to have time after our last unit, and it looks like we will, so they can work with either tessellations or fractals and again be creative. They are enjoying themselves quite a bit, and I am enjoying the fact that they are having fun. I know math has not been fun for these students in the past.

The geometry students are definitely feeling the spring fever, and a break will be welcome with them. I hope we can get back on track after it. We have just started working with right triangles and will be going to circles, then area and volume. I am hoping to also have time with them for some kind of project to allow them some fun also. This has been a trying year for our geometry students, the first year we have focused the course in the transformational format as the CCSS have designed. It has been a real learning curve for us as teachers, and yet, I feel like I have accomplished quite a bit this year. Having found the MTBoS over the summer and utilizing their constant encouragement and focus on good teaching and student success, I feel like I have been able to create some really good lessons this year (also some flops but we can’t have everything) and my energy has been revived. I started as an energetic teacher 11 years ago. Trying to force collaboration at my site, along with four years of caring for my mother with alzheimer’s and the eventual loss of her last year really taxed my strength. I am glad to have found my new colleagues, and look forward to next month in New Orleans where I will meet a few of them, then again in Jenks, OK in July where I will meet more.

I feel like next year will be much better, and I am ready for the challenge.

Spring Relief is in Sight

I subbed for one of my colleagues a couple of days ago. This class is a supplemental math class for low achieving algebra students. We only do this in the 9th grade, to give them additional support for a year as they transition to high school and hopefully to help get them closer to grade level. These classes can be very helpful, or not. The one I subbed in, is not. From the moment I set foot in the room it was a nightmare. Two students were eating, throwing food and anything they could get their hands on, one was quietly walking around the room intimidating other students, three were very quiet, attempting to do the work that was left for them, and in my opinion, stay under the radar. I personally was in shock, just trying to keep students from hurting each other or getting completely out of control. There were other incidents, but these were the most thought provoking.

Spending 45 minutes with this group of students made me start thinking very closely about my algebra students. At the start of the year, they too were fairly out of control, trying to run the classroom, use quiet intimidation on me and other students, throw things, yell, run around the room, etc. I spent several months working on curtailing the behaviors, one at a time, with the help of our campus security officers and one of the APs who works with our hispanic youth and gangs. Things have changed quite a bit. I really had to look at what is going on now, and send up a prayer of gratitude.

My classes are not quiet, but the noise is a much better noise. There is arguing over math answers and opinions, students are competing to be the first to answer questions, they are working while in the classroom. They are completing assignments and passing tests, for the most part. There are still approximately 5 students out of my two classes who are failing. Yes, you heard that right, only 5 failing.

Today we were working on some algebra again, parallel and perpendicular lines, slope and distance formula. We need these because we are about to start proving figures congruent by transformations and they will be working in the coordinate plane. A few of the old behaviors started again, and I said, “Wait a minute, you have all been doing so well. You know how to transform figures, you are well versed in symmetry and identifying figures and corresponding parts, what’s going on?” It was the algebra. I reminded them they knew this stuff. We spent quite a bit of time in November and December doing linear modeling and indirect variation. We worked with tasks from Yummymath and Mathalicious and found fun ways to look at lines and graphs and what they were telling us. We were making predictions based on our graphs and creating new graphs from portions of the old. I told them to just take a deep breath, pull out their notebooks and remind themselves what we had done. They did.

I am sitting here writing this wanting to say so much more, but I am overwhelmed by what I have just written and what it means. They trust me. They believe me when I say they are smart and can do math. They feel successful because they have been doing geometry, which they never thought they would get to, they understand it and are getting A’s and B’s on tests. They are having math conversations and understanding what they are talking about and what other students are sharing. And I feel like a new mother who’s baby just started walking. Even the students who are failing are participating to the best of their ability, and laughing and enjoying themselves.

After I left my colleague’s room my thought was, “never again.” But as I reflect on what has happened in my classes it almost makes me feel like saying, “Give me a chance with those kids. They just need to know that someone really believes they can learn.” Almost. Maybe after a summer rest I could really say it and mean it. I’m kind of tired right now, but happy.

I have told my classes ever since subbing how proud I am of them and how great they are doing. I really mean it too.

Musing, and a Little Whining

I’ve been home sick for three days with a sinus infection that has caused me severe facial and head pain. Trying to monitor students from home is very difficult, as I’m sure you know. I have been trying to continue to provide good lessons for my students, even though I can’t be there, but I’m wondering how they are really doing with them and whether or not the sub knows what is going on or is giving them all the answers. I’ve actually had this problem in the past.  Today I decided to let them watch a movie because I really don’t know how they’re doing with the work and I don’t want to keep piling it on if they are lost.

I really hate when I can’t be there to interact with my students. I know they don’t always believe this, but I really do care about how they learn and understand things. I read this post about telling students we miss them when they aren’t there. I often wonder if my students feel the same way when I’m not there.

The one thing that has helped is having my twitter PLN. I have been able to interact with other educators and feel at least a little like I am part of what is happening in the world of learning. I recognized last night in a conversation I was having that I was definitely whining, and probably needed to get some rest, but for the most part it has been wonderful to at least know there is a place I can go to feel a part of. For a long time I didn’t really have a place like that, I’ve been quite a loner for a long time.

It’s so much better to work together. Not only does it create a sense of belonging, but I truly believe that as we work and create together we create a better product. I believe it enough that I tell my students this and require them to work together to learn. Even they say the learning is better together, no matter how much pulling of teeth I have to do to get them to work together. Although there are days that I really feel like I’d just like to not have to go back, for the most part I really miss my students and the learning environment when I can’t be there. And even if my students don’t tell me, I know they really do miss me when I’m not there. At least I can believe that, right?

Just One of Those Days

Well, today was a bit of a let down after the good things I have been seeing happening in my classes. Like Justin though, I realize that not everything can go well all the time. Today in my algebra classes we were working on composite transformations. They had been doing really well on transformations so I thought this would be review and smooth for them. All of a sudden everyone forgot everything and learned helplessness was rampant. I asked them to pull out their notebooks where they had recorded the steps and previous transformations to help them. No one could do this until I personally walked to each desk and asked them one by one, waited until they pulled it out, and turned to the page where the instructions were. This took a good part of the period, so as you can imagine, not much was accomplished. Maybe tomorrow will be a better day.

In my 3rd period geometry class the geometric mean exploration went very well. Students really dug in and were working hard at following the steps, making observations and working their way to the proportions. In the last two classes it was a completely different story. One girl became very upset and angry that I would not tell her the answers or the point of the exploration. She was quite rude to me and this caused a couple of other students to chime in. I stopped the class, explained that this is a discovery assignment and that there will be times in life when discovery will be an important skill. I actually told them to come to class tomorrow with better attitudes. How do you like that one Justin?

They are kids, and because of that there will be good days and bad. We all have to learn to adjust to exterior factors which can greatly affect our attitudes and willingness to interact with each other humanely. Even me.

Tomorrow is another day.

Another Day in the Life of Mrs. Ryan

Today in my Algebra and Geometry classes I gave quizzes. I’m calling everything quizzes these days because I want the students to be less stressed when they take them and I am trying to encourage them to look at them as a way to see how well they are doing and to try to improve their understanding and grades by trying again. The word quiz seems much more conducive to that frame of mind than test.

My algebra students seemed to do well. I haven’t graded them yet, but I did look them over and they looked pretty good at a first glance. They all finished before the period ended, which is new for them, and this is the second quiz that they have written quite a bit and not left most of the paper blank. There are still a couple of students who are doing that, but for the most part they are putting in effort and making an attempt at completing problems and writing explanations. I love seeing them do this and feeling so confident about what they are doing. They even went back and double-checked their work today when I suggested it while waiting for a couple of students to finish.

One of my algebra students who has really been struggling this year with personal issues as well as academic was very frustrated during the quiz. He kept trying to answer problems but would get stuck part way through. He came over to me and said he just didn’t know enough to do well. He looked close to tears and I tried to encourage him and direct him the best I could without giving him answers. He has missed quite a bit of school and didn’t have all the notes or completed the classwork. I asked him to come in at lunch to work with me. He looked at me like he was going to refuse. I put out my hand and said, “Do we have an appointment?” After a few seconds he smiled and shook my hand. He showed up at lunch, we went over a couple of the lessons he missed and he felt much better about the material. He said he would come back tomorrow so we could go over more of it. This is a real victory with this young man. He has transferred schools 3 times because of behavior and poor grades. I hope he will continue to work with me.

My geometry classes just finished a short unit in similarity and I am ahead of the other geometry teachers by a couple of days so I decided to do a discovery of the geometric mean. This is a nice to know for us this year, but I really like it and find it interesting, so I’m hoping my students do also. I’ve posted the discovery I wrote on the sidebar. I’d love any feedback or suggestions any of you might have. I value the wonderful work you are all doing and the way you have caused me to determine to be the teacher I set out to be 11 years ago.

Reflecting on Guided Instruction

A question has been posed by Lisa Henry today about when and how guided instruction is used. I began musing over the question as soon as I read this, thinking back to when I first began teaching. Fortunately, it’s not as long ago as it might seem. While I am also an “old dog”, I have been teaching for only 11 years. Before that I was an ED RN, but I digress.  When I first began teaching, I started with the idea that I wanted to create a room full of critical thinking and problem-solving. I really didn’t think this was so strange, seeing as I was a math major about to teach math. Isn’t that what math is? In my student teaching assignment I worked with teachers who had been trained at SLI at WestEd in bringing literacy into all subject area classrooms, and that was a natural fit for me. It was an extension of how I envisioned mathematics should be taught. I had not been taught that way, like so many of us I was lectured to, but I felt that there was a better way to engage and excite students about math. Part of it was I was so excited about math myself.

The reason for leading with all of that is to make clear why I feel the way I do about lecture, guided instruction, and inquiry. For the most part, I am an inquiry-based instructor. I push students to ask questions, and seek answers every day. I rarely lecture, and if I do, it is for short bursts, approximately 5 – 10 minutes at most. For the guided instruction part I am going to share a recent unit I covered with my geometry students.

We just finished a short unit on similarity and dilation of figures. I had really thought this out, starting with an activity to refresh them on proportion, moving to using proportion to compare two similar figures, then looking at perspective drawing to see how dilation works, and finally creating dilations themselves and being lead to look for patterns which would solidify the definition and allow them to extend their work to the general case.  Things were going really well, until the general case portion. When the students saw all the variables, (x, y), (a, b) and scale factor k, they freaked. “What do we do with these?” “How am I supposed to know what this is?”, and many other such questions were heard all over the room. Try as I might to lead them, push their thinking with questioning, encourage them to back up and look closely at the work they had done previous with specific cases, they were filled with too much anxiety. I had them put it away and told them we would come back to it the next day.  At this point I was very discouraged, they had clarified ratio, proportion, scale factor, dilation and comparing figures utilizing these ideas without much help at all, why were we suddenly experiencing high anxiety going from a specific case dilation to a general? Then it clicked, it was the algebra that was causing them anxiety. All year long I have had to scaffold and re-teach number sense and basic algebraic rules. It was time for another step back.

The next day I quickly walked through the initial steps of the activity, modeling the thought process I use to make sense of the material, giving them access to the algebra occurring in the specific cases that were leading to the general, then, I uncovered a problem on the board dilating a segment with coordinates that were all variables and a scale factor k, and began to walk them through the distance formula. Across the room, as I worked through it, asking for help at certain points along the way, stopping to “ponder” where I was, waiting for students to make suggestions and conjectures as I “thought” slowly they began to realize what was happening and became willing to become a part of the problem-solving process. Together we finished the general case, and relief swept through the room. “Is that all we were supposed to do?”

As I reflect on this lesson, and many others like it, I realize that to me, lecture and guided instruction are differentiating when the need arises. My listening to student discussions, monitoring their work and progress as they walked through these lessons and activities told me exactly when I needed to step in as a full leader, and just how much leading I needed to do.

I hope that answers Lisa’s questions. I’m sorry this is a long post, but I felt it was necessary to answer the questions that were posed, and for my own reflection and self-moderating.  I’d also love to hear answers to Lisa’s questions from others, and would greatly appreciate a tweet or note here letting me know your thoughts or where I can read them.  Keep pressing on, there are multiple rewards awaiting.