Jury Duty and Belonging

I’ve just spent three days sitting in a courtroom waiting to see if I would become a part of a jury. I did not make it to the jury box, but I did learn some things as I was waiting and watching. The case was a medical malpractice case, and having been an RN in my past life, I was very interested in it. I know that having prior knowledge in the medical field would have given me a different view of much of the evidence that would have been presented. I found that the prosecution was very careful in questioning anyone who had medical knowledge or close family or friends with medical knowledge. They managed to take everyone with a good bit of that knowledge off the jury. That started me wondering what the evidence was and why they were concerned about too much knowledge. Or was it that at all? It’s like a game, watching court proceedings. The judge, the lawyers, the litigants, even the potential jurors all dance a dance, vying for their power position.

I began to think about my students as I was sitting there watching the production. Do they feel like they are a part of the classroom dance? Is their voice being heard in the process of learning and inquiry? Do they have a power position in any of it? Do they even see any of the prior knowledge they bring to the game, and think about how to interact with the discussions, the questioning, the conjectures, the evidence being presented?

My classes this year have been a challenge. Usually by this time if I had to miss class for any length of time I wouldn’t worry too much about my students being able to pick up information or find a way to get any help they might need. Not this year. As I sat there, I began to worry about becoming a part of the jury. Not for any other reason than I’m realizing that my students are still way too dependent on me for their learning. I have failed this year in cutting the umbilical cord and setting my students free in their learning. It’s not that I haven’t tried, I just fell short in finding the right mix for this group of students. In a way, I think that might be good. I tend to become complacent when things are too easy, and will ease off and not always challenge myself as I should. I need challenge, to keep me striving for more, to be better than I was yesterday, and have a vision for who I’d like to be tomorrow. I desire to do this for my students also. To encourage them to be the best they can be, to be willing to challenge and push themselves for more. That’s why I feel I have failed. We are approximately 5 weeks from the end of the school year, and most of my students are still very needy and unable to figure out how to question, research, and problem-solve at a level that they will need for next year.

I am not happy about failing these students. I know I have worked hard this year to teach, encourage, and stretch my students. I just didn’t find the right process for them. I really need to reflect over the year and try to re-invent the areas that were weak. I really can’t let this go any more than the jurors on this case can sit back and relax while the evidence is being presented. It is vital to the well being of the students who pass through my classroom in the future, as it is to the people involved in the case.


Something Very Personal

It’s Easter morning. To some that is another Sunday, others with children possibly a day filled with Easter baskets, egg hunts and family meals. To me, it’s very personal. It’s a day that I realize something very big and very personal was done for me. It would have been done for me if I was the only person on earth, and because, obviously, I am not, it was done personally for each and every one of us. This means a lot to me. It makes me realize that I am important, loved, and worth something. I don’t always remember this. There are many times that I feel unloved and alone, unworthy of anything and hurting because of this. I know many others feel the same way. I also know that I have failed at reaching many of those who are feeling this way, often because of my own selfishness and my own pain. It is a statement of fact. It doesn’t make it right or wrong, it just is. It makes me sad to think of this.

I am currently sitting alone at home as I am writing this. There are many reasons for that also, and Sundays can be very difficult for this reason. This morning I turned on the TV as I was eating my breakfast and came upon an incredible program. In fact, I think it’s very appropriate that this program was playing this morning, because it is a program about a man who has done so much for so many people, very much like what I alluded to in the first paragraph. The program is, “Mr. Rogers and Me.”

I don’t know how many of you will remember Mr. Rogers. To me, he is a childhood friend and my children will also say the same thing. He filled many of my mornings as a child, and again as a young parent with love, and the incredible feeling of being important, safe, and someone who was worthy of these things. It’s the reason I filled the mornings of my children with this, and hope that the mornings of my grandchildren can also be filled with this. Mr. Rogers was the epitome of caring. I don’t know how to say that any better. Many of us remember things like the way he came in and changed from his suit jacket and shoes to his hand-knitted sweater (made by his mother I just found out) and his blue sneakers, how he spoke softly and slowly, showed us so many things and talked to us about difficult situations and how to handle them. He took us on field trips around the neighborhood and showed us how the post office, trains, and so many other things worked. He discussed difficult situations children may find them selves in such as bullies, divorce, death of a family member or friend, and so many things I can’t even remember. I just know that the time I spent in his presence was safe, secure, and loving.

As I watch this documentary, I am learning that this is exactly the person he was off the air also. I am hearing stories of how he showed up at birthday parties for children and created clocks out of paper plates and taught a young man how to tell time, or how he made a very special program with another women discussing divorce and how to talk with children about it, causing all the adults in the audience to stand up and share their experiences with this and how they felt. I am learning how at the end of his life, dying of cancer, he continued to support and encourage his own family even though he was in a lot of pain and experiencing depression. I am awed by this man and his life, as I was awed as a child at his presence.

I am also finding myself reflecting on my life, my career, and the many things I have experienced over the years and feeling like I have fallen short. I know we shouldn’t compare ourselves to others, and have often talked about this to my own children and grandchildren. I think it’s more than that though. I believe that my change of careers to teaching was a spiritual thing, a calling to ministry. I know I did this very well for years, believing that I was to be more than just a math teacher, but that I was to be a presence to these young people, a safe place, a role-model, someone they could trust. I am realizing these past two years that I lost track of that a bit. There are some good reasons for this, but hearing how Mr. Rogers stayed who he was even in the most difficult time of his life, makes me realize that I have fallen short. I have allowed life circumstances to creep in and change the person I was when I started this to a person who allowed painful, and hard experiences to change how I viewed my ministry.

I need to change that. I need to find my way back to the person I was when I started this journey, I need to grow from these experiences and become stronger, not allow them to make me bitter, angry or introverted. I need to find a way to share what I know to be true about life, love, and learning, and share this with my students to help them become strong people who can sustain whatever life is bringing their way.

I need to remember my Savior, who gave everything He had for me, and Mr. Rogers, who gave everything he was to all of us.


Tessellations and Love of Geometry

I had my geometry students work on a tessellation project while I was in New Orleans at NCTM. A colleague had done this with her students a year or two ago and said they really enjoyed it. I thought it would be good for them while I was gone, it would give them time to research and maybe really put some effort into it. I had them research about tessellations and art for extra credit on this, for the tessellation itself they had to create stencils to create the tessellation and then color it. I thought they would enjoy this, and I hoped to get some decent results. I had no idea. They loved this! I had some wonderful research and many of them included me in the section about contributions saying, “Mrs. Ryan has contributed to my understanding of tessellations and improving my understanding and appreciation of geometry.” I really loved hearing this.

I asked them to use two different shapes to tessellate and create their design. Most did this, some used three or more, and some created some pretty spectacular designs from one stencil. I have a very creative and talented group of students, some I would have never known. They don’t do much in the class, but for this they pulled out all the stops. The assignment I gave them is here. The grading sheet I used is here. And I will stop talking now and just let you see for yourselves what they created.


NCTM, Learning, and Me

I attended the NCTM annual conference in New Orleans last week. It was different for me this time than I have experienced in the past. I was sent there by my superintendent to talk with textbook venders and others to get more information about text books for next year. The first thing I did upon arrival was to attend an ignite talk with several of the MTBoS. It was wonderful and my first experience at meeting several of them face to face. I met Sadie, Justin, Max and Ilana there. I saw several others but it was a little busy and I figured I’d have time to meet them. I was glad to have made the effort to get to the talk.  I did meet several others, Jen, David, his wife Katherine, Christopher, Ashli, Kate, Fawn, Dan, Peg, Casey, throughout the conference, wow, I think there were a few others too which I’ll add as I remember.

Usually I spend a lot of time in sessions, and feel that brain tired when I’m done. This time I had to spend a lot of time in the exhibit hall, and really enjoyed myself talking with Annie and my colleague Danielle. We talked about teaching, curriculum, learning, and how important good books were, especially for teachers who may not be comfortable with teaching without a text. I learned quite a bit from these discussions and from a leadership workshop that Danielle and I attended on Friday. I wasn’t as tired, and didn’t get to as many sessions as I would have liked, but I still feel like I accomplished quite a bit. On the travel home and on Sunday I found myself in another conversation with several of these people, talking about speaking at the conference next year in Boston. Proposals have to be in by May 1, and they were all talking about what they were going to write and submit and getting them in. I felt encouraged and have submitted one of my own. This is the first time I have submitted a proposal to speak at a regional or national conference and I am feeling a bit nervous but excited. Even if my proposal is not accepted, I am glad that I did submit one, and I will continue to do so. I think it would be good for me to share myself and my passions with other teachers, I really enjoy learning from them and I would love to give something back to others. I may submit one to the NCSM conference also, if nothing else just to get the experience of submitting and getting better at determining what will be accepted.

Thanks everyone who attended and NCTM for a wonderful conference. Looking forward now to finishing the school year, meeting Matt and John on May 3, and traveling to Oklahoma in July for Twitter Math Camp. What a year!!

Technology as an Entry Point

Thursday my algebra students had an introduction to playing some math games on the computers and exploring Math Munch. They were having fun competing on the games and showing each other the games they had found. They also made their way over to Cool Math Games on a link from Math Munch. They were having quite a bit of fun and enjoying the competition which is very unusual for this group. They usually keep to themselves and and don’t let on about what they can and can’t do so they don’t loose their “cool.”

Friday we had the computers again, and while I didn’t want to suddenly tell them exactly what they were going to do, I did want some focus on the learning. I found some reflective worksheets here, on math munch and decided to use this and allow them to find something of interest and utilizing the worksheet, share their find with the rest of the class, or at least another student in the class. (They don’t always like to share out in the full group as described above). I needn’t have worried. They couldn’t wait to share what they were finding, and were awed at the things they were reading and learning from the site. Several students never made it back to the games, they were so busy reading, watching videos, and following links to further information. I’ve never seen these students so engaged in something. The room was fairly silent again for quite a while, but for very different reasons than usual. They were truly interested in what they were doing.

Several of the students would call me over, “Have you ever heard of this?”, “Do you know anything about this?”, “Where can I find more information about this?” They were slapping each other on the shoulders trying to get the student next to them to look at what they were looking at. I had so much fun watching them. Better yet, in the pictures of student work you will see what I mean. These are students who rarely write more than a word or two when describing mathematical processes or writing explanations. But, look for yourself.


Student Questioning

I annoy students terribly. I love teaching geometry and teach it the way I love it. To me, geometry is the foundation of questioning, exploring, extending thinking, inquiry. I think Algebra should be, but for our students it seems, at least at this point, geometry is where that begins. Until now, Algebra has been taught procedurally, like their previous math classes. Then comes geometry, with Mrs. Ryan. Oh no!

The first thing my students learn is that I never run out of “why?” I also rarely answer questions, but respond with a question. When they say they don’t understand a problem, I ask them what they do understand about it. I guide them to find an entry point, I push them to figure out what they know and what they need to know. I walk away when they shrug their shoulders at me and tell them to call me back when they figure out where they are. I make them explore, inquire, dig, re-read, look at examples and re-answer the same questions until they go, “OOOOOOHHHH.” I get calls from parents telling me their son or daughter has told them I don’t teach them anything. They accuse me of refusing to show students how to solve problems. I try to explain what I do, but they don’t get it. It doesn’t look like math has looked for their previous 10 years in school.

Some years my students begin to see and understand in the first semester. Usually this occurs about November. I’ve had a couple of years when this has occurred near the end of October. Some years it takes to the second semester, January or February. This year, it still is not occurring. I had a parent-teacher conference yesterday where I heard once again from the parent that her daughter says I refuse to answer her questions. When I responded that I always answer, I just tend to answer with a question, the daughter starting laughing hysterically. We all looked at her and she said, “that’s exactly what she does.”

After the conference, I had a geometry class. We were working on solving some trigonometric problems and students were asking questions about HW problems. I always ask them to tell me what they tried and where they got stuck. They have to have tried something, in fact that’s one of my chants, “try something.” We worked together on creating a visual model on the board, labeling values and making sure that we had a right triangle in the model to work with. I solved the problem the way they told me to solve it, then asked, “are there any problems with what we’ve done here?” They all looked at me like I had lost my mind. The problem started with a plane 10,000 feet off the ground, we were looking for the angle of elevation for the plane to get to 20,000 feet. They used 20,000 feet as the opposite leg of the triangle. When we finally figured that out, and changed the values, students began to solve again. One student asked, “can’t we just divide the angle measure by 2?” I said, “I don’t know, can we?” He responded, “I guess not.” I said, “why do you guess not?” He said, “because you just asked me if we could like I had asked a crazy question.” You’d think they’d be used to me by now! I said, “I asked you because I thought it was a worthwhile question and thought we should figure it out.” After a few more questions, a few more changes in values to test conjectures, determining what types of values we needed to test to determine if the conjecture worked, we came to a conclusion. And they understood the relationships between the ratios and the sides and angles of the triangles better. We didn’t get to what I had planned for the day, but I think we got a whole lot more mileage out of what we did do.

When will they learn?

First Computer Day

Today we had our first experience with computers. It happened at the last minute, so I wasn’t as prepared as I would have like to be, but it worked out really well. It took us a while to get kids signed on, connected, etc. and then I sent them to Math Munch. I told them to explore the site, play some games and puzzles, and become familiar with what was there.

The kids loved the site. They found loads of games and challenges and were laughing, competing, and sharing what they found with each other. I did not get a chance to play the TedX video for them today, but I will tomorrow. I’m just glad they had the chance to explore and see what was there. For a couple of them, this was a new experience and they were very excited when they saw the computer cart in the classroom!  Thanks Math Much and VHS administration for giving us the chance to explore and learn in a new way.