Getting Around

Sunday, July 3, 2016

One Unit Down...

Well, I got through one unit, "Accentuate the Negative," to be precise. Even though it's not the official first unit of the year as designed by the CMP3 folks, it's the one our district decided to start with for the course I'm teaching. Only 6 more to go! (We had to make cuts since our periods are too short to get through the whole thing.)

There's some really good stuff in here. Too much. We can't do it all, and choosing is hard.

There are also some sad moments where the curriculum falls into the trap of some of those terrible Common Core math problems you see on the internet. You know, the ones where a student could quickly use a standard algorithm but instead has to show three different, tedious ways to get to the answer. I'm all for celebrating different methods, but making kids do that for homework or on tests rubs me the wrong way. We all have the ways we like to solve things. We'll be doing some exploring in class, but I can't bring myself to assign that sort of thing for home practice.

Dash stinks. There, I've said it. Dash is the online version of everything, created by Pearson. It's slow, it's hard to navigate, and it doesn't accommodate students with no internet at home. I'm not grading things two different ways (a Pearson rep recommended that I make paper copies for students with no internet, but since who that is might change month to month it's impossible to know who needs paper), so it's downloads for all. I have spent a lot of time downloading things. We won't have physical textbooks, so I gotta do what I gotta do.

Designing a sensible flow for in-class work, where I think we all do better on paper, and at-home work, which will be digital, has been an interesting challenge for me. More on that after I've had some colleagues poke holes in my ideas.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

One Investigation Complete

I finished working all the problems and ACE questions for the first investigation in Accentuate the Negative in CMP3.


I complete understand why I need to work all the problems. I agree with that. But holy cow. I also need to download all the pages so that my students without internet access at home can still do the practice. I see my summer rapidly dwindling to days of downloading.

I have also been doing a lot of quick note-taking in Google Keep. I can't say it's my favorite note-taking tool (Evernote and OneNote are better), but I can't beat the quickness of it. Since there are no notebooks there's little organizing to do other than tagging. Let's hope I don't make it overwhelming for myself later. I have Evernote notebooks that are crazy full that I never look at.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Digital Notebooks for CMP3

CMP3 suggests that students keep a notebook. I think this is a great idea, and I use notebooks in science, but I have a few of problems with notebooks in math. They are:

  1. We do homework in math, so students need access to their notebooks in order to do homework
  2. If I let students take their notebooks home, many of the notebooks won't ever return
  3. We do our homework digitally on iPads, so using a paper notebook seems more work for me
On the other hand, I have a few issues with digital notebooks:
  1. Students learn better with paper and pencil
  2. Organizing without being able to flip pages is a pain
  3. How on earth would you grade that? We use Notability for our notebooks, so it's not something they can share with me
At the CMP3 training the instructor suggested having students work on large pieces of paper or big whiteboards. At the end of the lesson, students would write on a piece of notebook paper what they felt was the best method for them of solving the day's problem was and that became their notes for the day. She had them take that home and do the homework on the back. Then, once checked, the notes/homework paper went in the binder notebooks. She graded on whether everything was there and complete in addition to checking homework in every day.

Right now I'm thinking I will have students recopy into their digital notebook so that they have the information for homework. I would mostly be grading their notebooks on how much they did during class based on what they wrote in their notebooks. They could use the notebooks at the document camera during the summary part of the lesson to show work rather than poster paper, which I can't afford anyway.

I have no idea if this will work or if it's too cumbersome. Students sometimes kept a notebook in class in the past, but everyday I'd find notes on the floor because someone took them on paper (I required note-taking) and then left them because they didn't care.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Connected Math


Our school has recently adopted Connected Mathematics Project 3 (CMP3 from now on) for our new curriculum. I'm going to be spending a ton of time with it this summer, so it seems like a good time to start blogging again.

We had a too-quick training. It clocked in at 5 hours, but the instructor said most schools get 3 hours. What? Other teachers I've known who've taught CMP got as much as a week of training. Much of it was spent on the online tools rather than the process of teaching a lesson. There was so much to learn but very little time.

For those who don't know, CMP3 is taught through inquiry. So, you learn why you need the math tool before you abstract the formal math. I really like that part of it. What I don't like is that somehow we have to make it work in very short periods, some as short as 41 minutes. I piloted a couple of units this spring, and I'm finding that you really need to work out all the problems yourself in advance so you can see where it's all going. Unlike a traditional curriculum, you can't just show up one day and teach whatever the next thing is in the book. Without knowing the story arc, it becomes very muddled very quickly.

I have also just found out that I'm teaching science again after a year off. Science is a ton of work, but I'm teaching with an excellent colleague. We have new standards this year, but my excellent colleague found a document that says we actually have some time before we have to implement the new standards, so I'll be able to hit the ground running in the fall with stuff I already know. Our science department will do its own curriculum adoption this coming academic year, so it's nice not to have to change anything without the new curriculum.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Wow, it's been awhile

I've been busy doing all sorts of things in the last two years. Not sure what to add exactly, but here are some of the small changes in my life in no particular order:

  • I am still in a science classroom, but I teach math and business. I have to shuffle off to the computer lab for two periods for business, but it's a lot less work than teaching science.
  • I now have TABLES (yay!) in my room instead of desks.  The kids hate them. I love them. I don't use the back of the science room right now because I got tired of having to micro-manage behavior. I'll get back to it one of these days.
  • We are now using Instructure's Canvas for our LMS. I miss Schoology, but I like that everyone's using the same thing. No one's missing My Big Campus, which I dumped after a few tries.
  • 1-to-1 iPads. Crazy. We only got them just before Thanksgiving so it's still new. 
  • I have become the departmental data person, along with one of the new teachers. It's fun, but takes a lot of time. I do love me some good data though.
  • I am participating in a teacher study group at Local U about differentiating math instruction. I am trying new things and learning a lot from some very smart educators in the area.
  • A year and a half ago my state dumped Common Core. So much fun's been had since then.
Anyway, not sure how much I'll post, but I feel like it might be good for me to get out here again.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Exponents Padlet

We're starting a short unit on exponents. We encourage the students to use Khan Academy and other online resources to learn and practice whenever they can, but kids have trouble finding the right things to look at online. Now I've created a Padlet wall that has the KA links to the exponent topics we're studying this year. I wish I was better at making things look nice, but at least it's all in one place.

I've used LiveBinders to organize links before, but my lack of decorating ability made it super ugly. I'm hoping this Padlet business is at least a little nicer to look at. I've also tried linking from my website (no one looked but other teachers or if I made kids do it in class) and from various places in My Big Campus. MBC has been a huge disappointment to me both last year and this, so I'm abandoning it for now.

Friday, September 20, 2013

An Open Letter to the Trapezoid Kid

Dear 7th Grader With a Love of the Trapezoid Formula,

I love your work. Your mathematical mischief brings me joy each time you use the "wrong" shape formula to get the correct answer.

Oh, did you think I wouldn't get the joke?  Even if I didn't, the smiley faces and exclamation marks would have tipped me off. I keep looking at your papers to take the edge of grading all the other ones.

Yes, I am aware that the trapezoid formula can be used in a variety of situations to find shape area if you know what you're doing. That's why I love your work so much. It shows me that you have a deeper understanding of what you're doing than the average plug-and-chugger. Even if it didn't, the elaborate shape schematics would have told me so.

So now: How would you like to be challenged? Is it time to show you how to PROVE that what you're doing is mathematically legal? Do you just want to do some more complicated arithmetic tricks? Or are you interested in learning something completely different? You aren't quite ready to be moved into a more advanced math class, but I don't want you bored.

And how do I let you do that without making the rest of the class feel like a bunch of losers?

And one more thing, though I hate to even bring it up. Please save your playful spirit for class. Don't share it on the standardized test later in the year. I'm not sure a tired, underpaid, overworked test grader will view your cleverness in the same light I do. I can't believe I'm even worrying about this, but I don't want anyone, anywhere, to crush your spirit.

Off to make some composite shapes with hidden trapezoids, just for you...

Sunday, July 21, 2013

My Naked Classroom - HELP!

Hard to believe, but I'm two weeks away from the beginning of my school year.  I should be able to get back in the building sometime this week, so I've been thinking about my room.  I didn't get my room until after the school year started last year, so it spent most of the year being undecorated except with student work.  I am very, very bad at decorating, as anyone who has been to my house can attest.

I need help!

Here are some pictures of my classroom.  What would you do with it?  The only true restrictions are that the lab tables cannot be moved and my desk can only be rotated but not moved away from its area.  Oh, and nothing highly flammable near the lab tables, since I do teach science for part of the day.  Both bookcases can be moved, but I don't think the glass case by the cabinets can.

View from the back of the room. The cork board hangs behind where I sit when the students aren't there (who has time to sit when they ARE there?):

View of the entry.  The screen on that wall is unused, but it's unclear at this point if I'll be allowed to have it taken down:

View of the way back:

The wall of cabinets, mostly filled with previous teachers' stuff: 

The big, blank wall.  The eye wash station messes the spaciousness of it up a bit and the TV in the corner hasn't worked in years. I had been keeping turn-in folders and supplies on a desk along the wall so people weren't always walking over to the bookcase by my desk, but I'm not married to that:

I had been thinking I might get some cheap Asian-inspired screens to put between the two parts of the room to make it feel cozier when we're only in the front part, but I'm not sure if that's making more work for myself.

I am not into foofy decorations.  I like stuff to be useful or to show evidence of learning.  I'm hoping to use a lot of anchor charts this year since I scored a sticky easel pad from a friend over the summer (only ELA teachers get them at my school).

I had a wish that someone would make me a flannel coordinate plane that I could use like a giant feltboard on the large wall, but I haven't convinced anyone that I need it badly enough.


Thursday, July 18, 2013

How Do You Know That?

In math and science we try to get kids to use evidence to explain their thinking. We'll ask how they know something, what evidence they have to support their assertion, or we might provide a sentence starter of some kind. We seek to make this a habit, and now I have evidence that, for some people, it really is a habit.

I had the pleasure of taking a car trip with two friends who also happen to be professional astronomers. As we were discussing how the gravel road we were traveling on in a backwoods area was no longer going to be maintained by the county, I mentioned that the mapping software I used to make an alternate route to our destination suggested that a different road than the one we were on was a better choice for our trip anyway. But the map had no indication of what type of roads the other route used.

Have you ever traveled a gravel road for any length of time? Your brain starts vibrating after awhile. We were at that point.

Both of my friends were relatively new to the area, so I was surprised when the husband remarked that all the roads off the main road were gravel, so he couldn't see how a route that goes farther away from our destination and then returns could take less time. I was quietly wondering how someone new to the area knew this, since there's no reason to travel on this gravel road except to go to our destination, to which he had only been once before. But, since he's a smart guy and he was doing the driving, I kept that slightly challenging thought to myself.

And then his wife quietly asked, "How do you know that?"*

Aha! This particular habit of mind appears even in her personal life!

The question is, how to we make this a habit for our students? I have no answers, but now I know it's possible and I have a real-world observation with which to support my assertion.

* For those who are curious, it turns out that my friend is also an avid cyclist. Biking down the main road, he was frustrated to find that every turn was onto a gravel road. While we cannot assume that some of those roads don't turn into paved roads further in the forest, it does seem unlikely given what little is back there.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

It's Clear Math Teachers are Feeling Rested When...

they start blogging again.  Either that, or they all went to Twitter Math Camp and this is their homework.  Amazing how many posts have gone up in the last week or so.  It's nice to hear all the voices again.

I love it.  My mentor and I have already started setting out our plan for the next year.  It's so refreshing to work with someone who doesn't love a pacing guide.  We've got a mathematical theme (everything's going to be related to basic geometry), a progression that makes some sense, and a plan to try to create a mathematical community that spans across classrooms.  It feels good.

I go back to school in less than a month.  I realize some of you are still working off the end of your years, and I'm a little jealous.  But I'm also excited to be planning!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Pro-Solution, Not Anti-Reform

I'm not sure what did it, but something sent me in a rage this morning about the anti-reform movement in education. Before you flame me, hear me out.

People who know me personally know that I don't care to teach to the test. I am a firm believer in teaching what I'm supposed to teach in the most engaging manner I can that respects each student's learning needs. I'm not a huge fan of the standardized tests we have now, and I have little faith that the new ones coming with CCSS will be any better.

I tell my students that complaints will get them nowhere. They need to be looking for solutions, no matter how frustrating that is. I am tired of all the complaining in the anti-reform movement. It's time to come up with student-centered solutions.

Putting my money where my mouth is, here's my stab. Just a place to get the conversation going.


We need to give up on the "or" attitude. It's time to look for an "and" attitude. As in, "I know we need to allow children to construct their own meaning in their own time, AND I respect your need to make sure the children we send out in the world can actually read." We don't have to choose one, we need to find some moderation that helps children learn to function in this world.

Change is not always bad, people, and if we don't try we'll never know if there's a better way.


I have no problem with standards. In fact, they guide me in what students should learn. But we need to understand that writing MORE standards does not make them "rigorous."  It just makes them impossible. My own state has math standards a mile wide and an inch deep. Our state politicians are reconsidering the CCSS because our standards are more "rigorous." But numerous does not equal rigorous on the ground. What those politicians don't understand is that students cannot possibly learn all the standards in any given year because there are too many and they're too unconnected. Note that I didn't say I couldn't cover them. I can. But most of my students are not able to move that quickly. So whether I cover them or our district decides which ones are most important so I have some focus, my students are not learning them all. For me, CCSS is a step in a more sane direction. Not perfect, but an attempt to move toward better. They are better sequenced and deeper than our state standards, which aren't really that bad, just too many.


I respect the need of the people who send money to my school district to know that their money is producing an educated citizenry. So, I offer a few changes to testing:

Have teachers write the tests. 

That sounds crazy, but I'd be happy to contribute to a bank of questions based on the standards that some fancy-pants, highly-paid non-educator can then turn into tests. It means less centralized control but more input from the people who are actually teaching the stuff that's tested. We have the technology, we can build this. Heck, I used to write systems to do this kind of collaborate work for businesses, and I'm no genius.

Don't evaluate everyone every year. 

We have a cutoff for passing. I say, have a cutoff for skipping. If you get above some certain score on your multiple choice test (which should be much higher than the passing cutoff), you can skip testing for a year or two. I need to focus on the kids who need remediation. I know who those kids are and it's fair to evaluate how much farther they need to go on a regular basis. Testing everyone all the time doesn't tell me that and wastes resources. While everyone else is testing, these top kids should be working on an interdisciplinary problem that will provide their teachers with the QUALITATIVE data that current standardized testing can't. Don't whine to me about logistics on this. Where there's a will, there's a way, and you know it.

Use some task-based testing. 

Yes, this is hard to design and evaluate in a standardized fashion, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't attempt it. No one will EVER walk up to my students in the street, provide them with the dimensions of their garden, and ask how many tiles they should buy for the perimeter. But their grandmothers might ask for help with an actual garden and only an idea of what the end result should be. We can get all sorts of data from actual, real-world tasks (I am NOT talking about ridiculous, so-called, real-world word problems) beyond whether they've learned the standards that will help us help whole children learn.

Use tests in the manner for which they were designed. 

Standardized tests right now are not really designed to assess if teachers did a good job. I'd argue they also don't necessarily test whether students have mastered the standards, but that's a rant for another day. If we want to evaluate teachers based on tests that students take, someone smarter than I am will have to build a more appropriate test. I don't mind being evaluated by my students' performance, but I do mind being evaluated by an inappropriate tool for that job.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Summer PD

I'm sure everyone is planning or starting their summer PD.  Just for fun, here's my list:

1. PLC training.  This training is a local linkup of a training going on elsewhere.  Since I'm new to the district and I haven't had formal PLC training yet, I thought this would be good for me to do.  Several of my colleagues will be at this training with me, so I won't be alone.

2. Creative Computing Online Workshop.  This workshop is 6 weeks of creative computing activities run asynchronously with the organizers.  It is free, and I'm pretty sure you can join late even though it started yesterday.  They are using Scratch as the programming language, which is pretty easy to pick up.  I also like that I can do this on my own time, when I have time.

3. ARRL Teachers Institute on Wireless Technology.  This course covers several of our physics standards.  It's paid for by a grant, and while I will eat some of the cost because I have to travel more than halfway across the country, I think it will be fun and worth it.

In addition to all this, I need to finish my capstone project for my master's.  And clean the house.