Getting Around

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Is This a Bad Volume Problem?

As I was shoveling all the snow that fell where I live recently, I wondered exactly how much snow I was shoveling. As my 7th graders are struggling with volumes right now it came to me that after a little practice with regular shapes I could ask them exactly how much snow I was shoveling.

To the left, my humble abode. I have no clue what the scale is here (does anyone know how to get that information from Google/Bing/MapQuest?), but I can measure it if I have to. What is hard to see from the picture is that my driveway is actually a trapezoid. The kids don't have a neat formula for volume of a trapezoid, so it might be interesting to see what they do with it.

But is this even a good question? I mean, *I* care how much snow I shoveled because I was sore afterward. But would my students even care? They might like seeing my house, I suppose. But that doesn't make it a good math problem.

I have several students who struggle with the basic shapes and formulas. But those shapes are so abstract. Who really cares about the volume of a triangular prism? I don't unless it's filled with Toblerone. Then I might care. But then I wonder if throwing in an actual object from reality might be too much for those kids. My more advanced kids might think this is totally obvious and lame.

What I like about my driveway is that I can give them the picture and make up a scale if I can't find it. Then, they have to use what they supposedly know about scales to get measurements. Then, since we've talked about you never really need to memorize a formula for a right prism because you can always come up with the answer, they CAN find the volume of my driveway snow. They'll think they can't, but they can.

Is the scale thing too much/too hard? Should I just give them the measurements?  Is this a really bad attempt at bringing in relevance? I really want them to THINK about volumes, not just learn how to use the formula from the state test reference sheet. What would be a better problem? I could add on to it by making the problem about the number of calories I burned while shoveling all that snow, since I'm sure there's an estimate rate for that sort of thing somewhere. I have to admit, given how sore I was, I'm curious about the number of calories I burned. But would the kids care?

Heck, I'm not even sure I can devote a whole period or more to this, though I'd like to. I'm off the departmental pace as it is and I'm the new kid so I don't want to make too many waves.

Monday, December 24, 2012

All that Planning, For Nothing

I was ready for retakes and fun on Friday. But Friday was a snow day. Bummer. The principal is debating whether the last day of the semester can happen in January. I sure hope so, for the sake of the kids who wanted to demonstrate what they had mastered.

I had planned for bad weather by taking everything I could think of home on Thursday for the break. I don't have access to the building unless someone with a key is there. Sadly, I left a book I really wanted to read on my desk.

The worst part is that there wasn't really enough snow to play in. I spent the whole "snow day" indoors.

I hope your break is whatever you want it to be. I have cookies to eat now.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Today I Was the Best Teacher

copyright Mikereichold
Nutrition Cane or Energy Curve?
Today, I was the best teacher. Or so the kids told me.

In our science curriculum we have a lab where you simulate two different types of volcanic eruptions. It's a simple acid and baking soda reaction with slightly different acid solutions and with one of the types of magma colored so it looks cool. I've done this with preschoolers. It's not hard. The science curriculum gives you everything, including fake volcanoes that are easy to clean. But the reality is that it's so exciting that the lab is of dubious learning value (kids are too distracted by the fizzing and exploding that they don't remember what they were supposed to learn) and it can be really messy. Last year it was only offered as an enrichment activity.

I built it up days before we did it. I explained that my classes were the only classes in the whole school who would be doing this lab. I spent part of a period demo-ing the procedure so they would take it very seriously. They had to wear goggles. And clean up after themselves. And oh yeah, fill out a data table in between the fizzing and exploding.

They had a blast.

I took pictures. I took video. Some kids figured out that the ratio of baking soda to acid mattered. That sounds like a great add-on lab when it's time for us to blow off some steam again and the curriculum is boring us all to tears. I don't do frill classes, but if they might learn something, I'm all over it. And some kids really seemed to understand that there are different kinds of volcanic eruptions and different kids of rock that result depending on the amount of gas in the magma, so it wasn't a total learning loss.

I didn't even make them do the analysis questions at the end. My winter gift to them. They told me that I am the best teacher. 

But then, as it always does, the other shoe dropped. They asked me if we were having a party tomorrow, the last day of school before break. When I asked what all their other teachers were doing, they said they were having parties. And so, I explained that they just gave me the reason why we would NOT be having a party. We would be learning on the last day of school. Low-key, stress-less learning to be sure, but learning all the same.

I may not be the best teacher anymore. Maybe I should have told them that I was bringing in what another teacher calls "nutrition canes" to eat while they work tomorrow? Would that make me the best again?

(I might go with something like "energy curves" instead of "nutrition canes." Just to be different.)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

How SBG Has Changed Assignments for Me

Standards-based grading does a lot of things, including how you see the assignments you give. My mentor and I decided to give our students a project to practice finding simple shape areas and then areas of irregular shapes. Traditionally, this sort of thing requires a teacher to design a rubric for assigning points to the final product, which then goes toward a grade. A student gets points based on how well he or she followed the rubric given out with the project.

But wait, what if you don't want to give points to anything anymore? Make it count for a homework assignment or three (we have completion-grade-only homework)?

After talking about it, my mentor and I decided this was a great opportunity to get some mastery data for the two standards that are being practiced through the project. We've decided to use the project criteria for an acceptability judgment only. That is, if the student met the criteria, then the student may turn it in to be assessed. Then, we'll use the student's work to determine if they've mastered the standards contained in the project. There will be no points other than a scale score for each standard.

Deep breath.

I just know that some students are going to not do it if they figure out there aren't points involved. I've been switching to standards-based grading on the sly, so some of them haven't caught on yet. Others will do it, but not put in any creative energy because that creativity won't be graded. Others will want to know exactly how they can get an A on the project, even though most of them realize I don't give them letter grades any more on big stuff.

So, the kids who don't do the project will get dinged on their homework grade, which still is based on points because that's departmental policy. In the grade book I have to work the numbers a bit to reflect how many standards a kid has mastered, but that's doable.

Homework is a gray area for me because of our school policies, but I feel really good about using a project as an additional data point for standards mastery. Up until now, only quizzes and tests went into a mastery score. I'll be able to write comments all over their work and really know where some kids might be struggling.

I'm also happy that I can use a standard, general rubric for everything. Creating one for every project sort of sucked the joy out of it for me and possibly the students. Eventually we'll create some specific ones that address what mastery looks like for each standard. So far though, it's been fine to use a general one.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

I didn't forget...

I didn't forget that I mentioned I'd post pictures of last week's plan. It just didn't happen. I had intended to put numbered folders on foam board with different remediation exercises in them, but I didn't get time to put all the pieces together.

I did do the individualized remediation, and I saw a nice improvement in the level of mastery among the kids who had to retest. Instead of my fancy foam board creation, I put the numbered folders along the floor and let kids take from them. Instead of kids just taking one worksheet at a time, which was my intention, they collected all of them at once. This was not a good thing, because the skills built on each other. Many of the kids starting working on them out of order, which wasn't as helpful as it could have been. I'll have to fix that part of the process.

Overall, I was pleased. The kids liked working on only the stuff they needed to work on. They liked testing on only the stuff they needed. My kids who were already proficient did a mini lesson on perimeter that didn't go particularly well, but now I know that I either need to be more specific or find some other type of enrichment for them to do.

Ideally, I'd make this the way we do things on a normal basis. I did have too much talking on the second day, which was frustrating. They need to take responsibility for their work, but they also want to socialize while not getting work done. It didn't help that one of the class members was leaving the school the next day, so no one was focused.

Anyway, I'd say it was a mostly successful experiment that needs a little tweaking.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

#msSunFun Flipping the Math Classroom, a Beginning

I will never be able to completely flip my classroom in the touted way, mostly because a good third of my students have no technology at home. My attempts at using slow netbooks in the classroom haven't been super so far, though I haven't given up. I have, however, been working toward flipping my classroom in a low-tech way. This week, I'll be putting some of my planning to the test.

In any event, I prefer "blended learning" to "flipping," mostly because I want to move to a self-paced environment rather than me calling the shots just in the reverse order.

The Friday before Thanksgiving my students took a unit test (tests are collaboratively designed, so I have to call them that for now). I was on vacation last Monday and Tuesday, so the kids haven't seen their scores. Actually, they probably will never see their scores because I didn't put scores on them! Avoiding the whole points debate, I simply wrote comments and checked off whether each problem demonstrated proficiency. I did keep a secret score sheet for the class that matches the departmental key scoring, just in case I get in trouble. Many students struggled with some of the concepts. Since I used a proficiency rating scale, I know who needs help with what.

I am creating my own version of the "Wall of Remediation," which I think I'm going to call something like "Panels of Practice." Once I get it created, I'll post pictures so you can see why that's my working title. Each student will get a little checklist of the worksheets they are to work on and in what order. Students who aced the test will get two mystery challenges, culminating in a class presentation that will move us all into the next unit. I will have the answer keys out and available.  The worksheets aren't regular worksheets, they're backwards-faded worksheets. I'm not great at creating these and this is my first time using them with actual students. We'll see how it goes.

If everyone finishes all their worksheets (they have to turn them in, unlike regular homework which is just a completion grade), I'll let them do online practice in Acuity or on Khan Academy.

Against the departmental schedule (which says we are moving on to geometry tomorrow), we are going to do this for three periods. The last unit was equations and inequalities, and I can't see moving on until they really get it. Then, on Thursday, anyone who didn't master a particular standard will reassess on that standard only. We have a departmental "B" version of the test, which I'm chopping up so students don't retake the stuff they already know. This is more work for me, but I think the kids will appreciate it when they realize they don't have to remember everything.

As I said, I'll try to post pictures when it's all ready. Thoughts?

Ideally, this will morph into the way the classroom is run all the time. I'm not sure I'll get any support from other teachers (other than my mentor) or administrators moving into this way of doing things, so it's all about the baby steps.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Mental Shift in Planning

I will be out Monday and Tuesday of next week.  One of the other math teachers will be covering my math classes and a sub will cover my science classes.  The math teacher has young children, and you never know when someone will be sick, so I provided backup plans.

Usually, when we use technology, we have a backup plan in case the technology fails us.  In this case, the technology IS my backup plan.  Is that even sane?  Not sure.  It's definitely a shift for me.  I have an innate love of gadgety things and tools for students to use and I am ever-hopeful that things go off without a hitch.  I know they don't, so I plan for it.  Now, I'm doing it backwards.

There is a backup to the backup, but it's boring.  I hope the sub doesn't have to go there.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Election Day PD

Students get tomorrow off. We will spend the morning doing technology PD as a corporation and then we will spend the afternoon in our schools. At our school we're learning the new data protocols.

What's that, you say? Darned if I know. We were told to bring data. What kind? No clue.

It's always an adventure on PD days!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Writing Two-Step Equations

One of our standards is writing two-step equations, but we don't seem to have any of that in our textbooks. Why is that? Is it because our books are Common Core but we haven't fully switched yet? I checked the textbooks both two years behind and ahead of where my students are supposed to be, but no lesson on writing equations.

I found a long lesson online that had a good progression of equations in it, including writing them. There will be a constructed response question that requires equation writing on our state standardized test, so it's not something I can skip.

I found writing equations and inequalities to be really stressful when I was in middle school. I don't think I ever got over my disorganized thinking about it. Even simple equation writing has me making a bunch of stream-of-consciousness scribbles until I get something that looks right. Then I test it to be sure. I watch those videos of very smart people underlining something in the problem and then circling some other thing and then somehow making an equation out of it. I'm a frickin' math teacher, for heaven's sake, and *I* find writing equations confusing. How to show my middle school friends?

If you have a really fantastic resource for teaching kids how to write two-step equations, please drop me a comment. I'll be doing this probably on Friday. Thanks!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

I'm Better Than In-School Detention

Several of the kids were talking about their classes at the end of my day today. One girl told me she pretty much hates all her classes. Except my science class, which she says is slightly better than spending the day in ISD (In-School Detention).

Compliment? I can't tell.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Getting Crotchety in My Old Age?

I don't know why, but every time a student addresses me as "Miss" I get a little exasperated. It makes me think back to Mrs. Telesco...(insert wavy, flash-back video here)*
I am MRS. Telesco**!  Not "Miss" or anything else. I worked VERY HARD to become MRS. Telesco, so that's what you'd better call me!
(insert wavy, flash-forward video here)*

OK, maybe I didn't work very hard to "earn" my title, but I definitely prefer "Mrs." or "Ms." AND I HAVE NO CLUE WHY! Am I just being an old fart about this? "Mrs." appears on my name badge and on my door. I sometimes refer to myself in the third person with "Mrs." I made my preference clear during the first week of school. Are kids just lazy? Do they not understand the importance of calling people what they prefer? I make quite an effort to call kids what they like, even if they're just temporarily trying out a new nickname for themselves. I insist that we spell each other's names correctly.

On another note, while I probably won't be posting every day (it's that month where you're supposed to write a novel and blogging is the closest I'll ever get), you might get some weirdness from me this month. Just because.

* There's no budget for video. Use your imagination. I'm thinking something along the lines of "Wayne's World" would be appropriate.

** Mrs. Telesco was my Home Ec. teacher in middle school. What she lacked in physical stature she made up for in attitude. And I still don't know how to thread a sewing machine, despite her incredibly patient efforts to teach me.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Drinking the SBG Juice with Others Now

We PLC at my school district. This has come to mean a lot of things to a lot of different kinds of people, and it doesn't always work. But, it IS a work in progress and the leadership actually seems committed to sticking this one out. The math department (or, as I like to call us, the "mathies") got a talking-to the other day from an administrator telling us we needed to PLC the way we were taught and not the way we felt like it. This was very freeing for me, though I suspect other mathies were not so thrilled.

I found a colleague who's willing to try the "crazy" stuff with me. I'm sure you all know what a relief this is. I'm not the new kid also trying to rock the boat while I learn the ropes. Now I'm getting on board with what's supposed to be the program with someone in a position to do something about it.

The two of us recently started adding a chart to the back of our common assessments that lists the standards on the assessment as well as what the student's scale score was for that assessment (I think I've mentioned this before, but now we're several assessments in and it's starting to pay off). My fellow juice drinker added a comment area to this sheet which I think was exactly what I needed to focus my ideas for each kid. The other person who uses our common assessments is not drinking the juice, so he hasn't added the sheet to the back of his assessments.

After the most recent assessment, we exchanged email about "data," which is what we're supposed to be PLCing about. Non-juice-drinking guy sent something like this:
Class Average, 6th Period: Blah.Blah%, The biggest difficulties students had were with questions Blah (Blah% got it wrong) and Blah (Blah% got it wrong, but I think the wording may have tripped them up).  We need to review question Blah as well.
Now, how helpful is that? Meanwhile, my SBG-juice drinking colleague and I talked about what percentage of our students did well on each standard. I was able to remediate something that a good chunk of my class missed the very next day. I'll be reassessing just that standard tomorrow, which is a huge shift. Typically, reassessing means we have several versions of the WHOLE TEST, which then has to be graded. It's hard to show growth because the students might trip over something they got right the first time.

My ideal is self-pacing instruction and having kids assess when they're ready, but it's a long road. I'd love to assess one standard at a time and I'm working out how to do that while keeping with the common big tests. If we weren't PLCing, I would have done it already. That's the bad part. The good part is that with the PLC, I have a friend.

And I have data I can USE.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

#msSunFun iPad and Tech

Before I go on, if you have experience or ideas on how to integrate slow netbooks into a classroom, please comment on my previous post. I could use your help!

At my school all the teachers have iPads. The students will eventually get them, too. What I've been using mine most for is controlling my computer. We have the Splashtop whiteboard app on our iPads and the matching software on our PCs. This is so handy. I have classes who find it difficult to focus, and as soon as I turn off the lights (I have a very dim projector) they can't concentrate. I can walk around and still control my computer with the iPad so I can manage by proximity. In addition, it's just wicked cool to be able to access my PC from anywhere in the building, particularly during meetings. I also take attendance on the iPad with our student system because then I can use the projector, which is run by the computer, for bell work. We will eventually be using My Big Campus when students get their iPads, which I'm hoping to use to post and collect assignments in addition to having a forum/discussion area.

I also have a set of clickers, which I use for weekly, 5-question quizzes first thing on Fridays. These quizzes are worth very little grade-wise, but I get a lot of formative information out of them. The reports are pretty useful as long as I'm careful about how I structure the quizzes. The way I run the quizzes is that we do each question and then we can see how many of us got it right. I'll work the problem at the board right then and there before we move on to the next question if anyone got it wrong. Students tell me this helps them think about what they were supposed to do and it minimizes the overload you feel when you get several wrong and you don't know why. I'm hoping to find some new ways to use the clickers because the kids LOVE them. Some teachers in other buildings have students enter their homework answers on the clickers, but I'm not exactly clear how that works for complicated answers.

I recently offered to host a departmental netbook cart (see previous post) and am looking for ways to use the netbooks. I have all my math kids signed up for Khan Academy with me as one of their coaches, which I'm slowly introducing as a way to supplement the textbooks. Many of my kids have reading difficulties, and the videos are a good replay of the material we cover in class. The textbooks are of little use to over half my class since their reading levels aren't that high and they have huge math gaps. As time goes on I'd like to teach them to use KA more independently to fill gaps and review things they're having trouble remembering. I don't think KA could ever replace a teacher and I do find flaws with it, but the kids love anything to do with the computer. If it gets them to do extra practice, I'll take the flaws, any day. All kids in the school have school-sponsored Google accounts, which is what I have them use to login to KA.

Last but not least, I have a website. I post any homework that comes from the book as well as any handouts I gave kids that I have the rights to post. About a third of my math class doesn't have internet access at home, so I can't count on the website as a reliable communication tool. Several of my students check it regularly, but they are the exception. I use Google sites because that's what the school has provided for us. I like Weebly better, but I already used up my two free sites!

I can't wait to see how everyone else is using technology!


I just scored a used netbook cart*. Woot! So, now what? It takes FOREVER for the things to log anyone on, but it's probably no longer than getting everyone to the computer labs on the other side of the building and settled. I have tons of ideas, and I'm probably freer in my math classes than I am in my science classes to incorporate/abuse technology.

So, if a netbook cart fell into your classroom, what would you do with it? Where would you start?

The interwebs are full of advice articles on how to use technology, but I'd rather hear it from the people who have actually tried things.

*It's not really mine permanently. Technically, it belongs to the science department and so they can come use it any time without a reservation (though they'd ask first, because they are darned nice people). I am the newest teacher and therefore have the quirkiest room. One of its quirks is that, unlike all the other lab rooms, it only has one wall taken up by cabinets. That leaves me with wall space. I generously offered to store the netbook cart on behalf of the department since I haven't really seen anyone using it and I have more space. Voila! I can haz netbooks! Having access to the resources of two departments is the bomb, I must say.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Sub Seating Charts

In my classes the interpersonal dynamics are very fluid. I also get new students regularly and without warning. Because of this, I change the seating charts frequently.

And therein lies the making-more-work-for-myself problem.

We have to keep our sub plans, including seating charts, in the office in case something befalls us unexpectedly. I'm killing trees each time I change seats. And I have to remember to replace the old ones with new ones each time.

Here's my brainstorm: seats for sub days!

This last seating change we did is now the sub seating chart. I told the kids that if I have a sub, they are to go to these seats instead of whatever the current seating plan is. I'm going to post it on the wall so they have a reference after our next seating change. I can pencil in new students as soon as they show up.

I feel like a genius. Yeah, it doesn't take much!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

A Frustration of Collaboration

Before I begin with my frustration, let me just say that I love working with others. I can never do as well by myself as I can with a cohort. I believe this. I know this. I wouldn't have become a teacher if I hadn't seen how collaboration was the new hotness, because in my previous career you just can't function alone and I couldn't imagine doing so.

But. How can I put this?

Unlike in other collaborative circumstances, I feel hampered rather than empowered. I'm starting to feel that it's because teachers take the latest new "thing" they have to do and assign arbitrary ridiculousness so that it becomes clear to everyone around them that the new "thing" just won't work. It's self-defeating. We don't get to try any new "thing" through to its conclusion because the next new "thing" is just waiting for us to feel slightly competent in the last one before it pounces. This is a fair response to an unfair situation. But my background is as the change enforcer in business situations, and I see that unless we jump in and try something whole-hog, we'll never know if it's any good.

An example will perhaps clarify.

Points. I hate assigning points on quizzes and tests. I would like to quiz more frequently, based on standards. I would like to assign a scale score that reflects the level of mastery a student has. I feel that I can do this with our collaboratively-written assessments to help my students learn what they need to learn. My mentor, who also teaches my course, says this is fine and that we should start taking baby steps in that direction. While I'd like to start tomorrow, he says since we're dragging other people into it we should shoot for the last grading period of the year to be full-on scale scoring. I can live with that.


There is another math teacher who not only loves his points, but creates quiz and test keys with the possible errors on them along with a point assignment for each kind of error. He passes these out to the rest of us. We're all supposed to use them. When mentor and I question their usefulness, he shoots back that if we don't grade our assessments all the same way, we can't collaboratively use the data. I get that. He has the support of the principal, who says we need to assess the same way and then look at comparable sets of test data. In fairness to her, we haven't brought up the scale method of grading. I don't think she'd care as long as we all did it the same way.

Mentor and I can't get through to anyone because the other middle schools in the district use points. Everyone uses points. It's tried-and-true. No one wants to hear another way, because we're snowed in by PLCs, common assessments, and all sorts of things we're supposed to be doing. They don't see scale grading as the logical extension of what we're doing, even though the elementary schools are doing it for both math and language arts this year.

I feel trapped by points. I don't feel assigning points helps my students. I did insist that we add a checkbox next to each problem for us to indicate if a wrong answer was a content or a calculation issue, but that's all I've been able to get so far. I'm the newbie, so I do have to tread lightly.

I need baby step ideas. It's going to be a long road.

p.s. I just thought of an idea. Assuming I have to keep the assessments intact, what if I added a sheet to the back of mine that listed the standards, which questions apply, and whether the student achieved mastery? Is that too much unnecessary work? Will it help me? Will it help the students?

Sunday, October 7, 2012

#msSunFun Sub Plans

I will confess to still be working on this. I did some subbing before I got hired, and here were the things I wanted to know:

  • How do I take attendance and where the heck is your class list/seating chart?
  • Where's the nearest bathroom that I'm allowed to use?
  • What, EXACTLY, do you want me to do with difficult children (and no, telling me to use the "school standard policy" doesn't really help)?
  • Which children are helpful and which will try to pull one over on me?
  • What things in the room are fair game for students to use without asking?
  • What are your rules about going to the bathroom/getting a drink/going to the library/going to lockers during class?
  • What teacher(s) will be helpful if I'm in a jam?
  • What are the names of the nice people in the front office?
  • What's the bell schedule and how does your crazy lunch schedule work?
Since I subbed at all levels, the questions had different priorities depending on where I was. I only had one day where I had difficult children where I was at a loss, and that was at a place where there was a student teacher who was supposed to do everything. The kids walked all over her.

As for my own sub plans, I have generic plans with something to do in case I can't make sub plans, my seating charts, and hopefully plans specific to the day(s) I'm out. We are required to have a sub folder in the office at all times, ready to go in case of emergency. The seating chart thing is a pain because we switch seats pretty regularly in my classes. I'm considering coming up with a "sub seating chart" that I post on the wall and tell the kids about so that I don't have to keep killing trees printing out the seating chart to put in my sub folder.

My generic plans right now involve variations on the game War. I'm thinking of changing that to a special sub set (not subset) of "I Have, Who Has?" since the kids seem to like that and everyone at school knows how to play it. Since I teach both science and math I have to come up with things that all my classes can do. Ideally, anything the kids do with a sub should be practice of things they need to know how to do.

I was out for a half day a few weeks ago, but it was a test day for ALL my classes. That was ideal because the kids knew what was coming and I could give them all rules to follow for the sub. Since we assess collaboratively I don't really have total control over the test schedule, unfortunately. I'll be out again at least twice this month for various meetings and things, and I'm hoping everyone else who posts will have fabulous sub plan ideas!

Friday, October 5, 2012

A Little IN Love

This week I gave a quiz. We create our assessments collaboratively, and this time I insisted that after each question we put which section of the book the question relates to next to each problem.* Interactive notebooks (INs) are allowed during my quizzes.

During this quiz, a girl raised her hand in a panic. "Mrs. Walsh, I can't find where we did section 3.1! I didn't label it that way in my notebook! What do I do???" I showed her that she DID label section 3.2 in her table of contents and asked her if she thought she could take it from there. She could.

At the time, I didn't think anything of it. I later realized: SHE USED HER IN AS A REFERENCE TOOL! This is exactly what I wanted to happen. I'm hoping it spreads, kind of like that stomach thing that's going around school right now.

I cannot even begin to thank everyone who has been spreading the IN/ISN/INB love around the math interwebs, but shout-outs must go to at least Megan, Sarah, and Julie, as well as many others whose names I never noted because I didn't have the time. I wish I knew you in real life so I could hug you for the notebooks. Thank you!

Not sure how I'll convince that kid who questions me at least once a week on why we're taking notes this way, steps. And some sighing.

*Yes, it would have been preferable to use standard numbers, but this is one of those weird standards with a bunch of different skills all bundled together but not labeled separately. Using the standard number would have been meaningless in this case. And, I'm still trying to convince my coworkers that grading by standard is a good idea. Collaboration is a double-edged sword, as we all know.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Finally Got the Year's First Cold

I went to bed very early the last two nights because I was wiped. Now I'm up in the wee hours of the morning because I feel yucky and can't sleep. I sort of blame the parents of the poor kid who kept coming to school over the last week an a half even though he was too miserable to keep his head up for long stretches. I gave him hand sanitizer or sent him to the bathroom to wash his hands after each big, gross, nose-blowing episode, but it just wasn't enough. I even sent him to the nurse one day when he said his head hurt so much he couldn't see the board. He sits in front.  She kept him for most of the period, which is unusual.

I realize that we can't all stay home with our kids when they're sick, so I'm only kidding when I blame the parents. But now I'll probably get a bunch of other kids sick because I'm all over the building and I can't see taking time off.  I will be drugged to the max to get through the days until this cold passes, making me less than fabulous in my time with my students. This guy's poor parents are probably frustrated that they can't keep him home for whatever reason. I can't imagine anyone willingly sending such a pathetic creature to school, day after day.

So, if your kid is sick and you CAN stay home, DO. They aren't learning when they're that sick and passing illness around makes it harder on everyone to learn in the following weeks. While I believe my subjects are important, there is nothing so earth-shattering going on that we can't make up later.

To my little sick friend, take care. We can be miserable together on Monday. I'll bring the hot tea.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

#msSunFun War

When it comes to review, my go-to game is War. I doubt I'm alone in using this game as my backup for practice. This is that card game most kids learn in Kindergarten or so, at least in the US. One of these days I'll post some of the mats I made for some of the variants.

The basic game goes like this:

1) Each kid gets a roughly equal part of a deck of cards.

2) Everyone flips a card at the same time. The kid with the highest (or lowest) card collects everyone's cards.

3) If there's a tie between two or more kids, everyone leaves their cards down and the tied kids flip again until someone is the winner. The winner takes all the cards that are down.

4) Keep playing until time's up or someone has all the cards. Whoever has the most when you run out of time, wins.

This game is very versatile. So, you could have kids flip two cards each round and add them together, with the largest or smallest number as the winner. You can do this for pretty much any of the 4 basic arithmetic functions with any number of digits. You can have groups go head-to-head with a judge. You can also use it for place value (flip 3 or more cards, read the number out loud, largest/smallest wins), decimals, and fractions. For fractions I create paper mats with outlines for the cards and a fraction bar between them. You can start with fractions, have everyone calculate the decimal equivalent, and then largest/smallest wins. It goes on and on. For any "rote" practice activity you can probably come up with a War variant.

Another nice thing is that you don't have to keep your cards together in decks since it doesn't really matter what you start with. You can just keep them all in a basket or bin together and everyone pulls out a handful to play. No shuffling that way! If you remove the face cards and then later decide you want to use them to represent 10s or 11s or whatever, just keep them in a separate bin and everyone can grab a handful from each basket so they have some of everything.

I like to use the Joker as a zero. It seems fitting.

And yes, you can buy math cards that don't have face cards or you can buy special decks for rummy, but I just make do with the cheap stuff from the dollar bin. I tell the kids it's good to be flexible, imaginative, and creative. Plus, it's a memory workout to remember what's what!

Friday, September 7, 2012

My First Three Act Lesson

Today was the kind of day in science where we needed to do something a little different. We've been hitting the SI pretty hard the last few days. We're ahead of the other 7th grade classes on that by a smidge and I could feel brain saturation setting in. Nobody cared how cool it was that a liter of water was related to a weight measurement in the same system (I know, right?).

So, without too much preparation, I decided to throw one of Dan Meyer's thee act problems at them. We will be starting our force and motion unit in a week-ish. I told the kids it was a little advance teaser.  I showed them "The Slow Forty" since it's got some motion in it. I did not tell them what we were trying to find out. I led them in a discussion first about what they wondered about the video.

As you would expect from a hastily-planned lesson, the results were mixed.

The picture above is from 3rd period. It took them a little while to get warmed up, but as soon as they got going it was a joy to behold. One group wanted to time the runner, but not a single person had a watch so we had to download a stopwatch for my school iPad. They were floored that I was totally fine with doing that and that I handed the iPad off to the group who wanted to time. They asked interesting questions, figured out what they'd need to know, and attempted to get that information in order to answer the questions they generated. They didn't notice that it's "The Slow Forty" and NOT "The Slow Fifty," but for a first outing into doing their own thinking I was OK with this. You'll notice that even though we broke into groups based on what questions they were interested in asking they ended up divided mostly along gender lines, but again, I wasn't going to get uppity about that. 3rd period wanted more of these exercises and they wanted to be allowed to extend them and research them. I think I can honestly say #winning here.

5th period was the complete opposite. Even though I felt they set themselves up with arguably better questions than the other class, they had trouble staying on track. They didn't try to find information they didn't have despite nudging. One group changed their minds and decided to find out how far the guy ran. Since it was a self-selected group of my slowest learners, I thought I could let them try and then when they realized how easy it was to get that information I could push them to wonder about something more deeper. It was no go.  They shut down as soon as they (finally) noticed that there were yard lines visible. I did have one group notice that the stride count stopped at the 40-yard line, but once they got that far they lost track of their initial wonderings. Not a single group came up with any answers or any observations about what they needed to know. When I debriefed them, they said that this was "hard" and that they wanted me to tell them what to do. They did want to repeat the experience, but it seemed motivated more by the desire to chit chat than to dig into a problem.

Now that I've done this once in a very free-form sort of way, I have ideas for doing it again. I really liked it when it was working. I confess to being utterly exhausted before the day even started, and facilitating noisy, mobile learners requires more energy than regurgitating a lesson at a classroom of sitting students. So clearly I have to be at the top of my game to make this the best experience possible.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

#msSunFun Homework Policy

Here's my first #msSunFun post! Not sure how homework policies are fun, but they sure are interesting.

My homework policy is somewhat set by my school. In general, my school district is moving to a "no homework" policy for middle schools. You can debate that all you like, but the math department at my school said, "WHOA!" In exchange for being allowed to assign homework, we agreed that it would only be a completion grade, there would be no penalty for late assignments, and we would dial the amount way back.

Since my school requires bell work, I go around stamping kids' homework as they do the bell work. I wanted a fun stamp, but I got one from Staples that has the date and the usual business-type word choices. The kids think it's funny when I stamp them as "Backordered." Anyway, I write down the names who kids who didn't turn in their work and kids who show me late work so I can get it entered into the online gradebook quickly later in the day.

Even though there's little homework assigned, kids still seem to have trouble getting the work done during class. Any student missing two or more assignments has to go to something called "Lunch Crunch" on Tuesdays and Fridays. On those mornings, the first period teachers hand out slips with each student's missing assignments. If a kid has two or more, they pick up a sack lunch in the cafeteria and go work on homework in a special room. I'm told that last year they had a few weeks in the winter where there were so many kids they had to move to the auditorium. Kids who are chronically behind can also be assigned to stay after school on particular days, though I'm not clear on how that works since it's so early in the year.

We also have two mornings a week where the schedule is adjusted to allow for an extra period, where kids do intervention and enrichment. They can make up homework, labs, get help from particular teachers, or do fun learning activities if they're all caught up.

While I don't like being limited in what I can assign and how I can grade it, I do love that the school has built in all these ways to get kids to get their work done. In return, I'm very thoughtful about what I assign and I cherry-pick problems to have kids practice the things I see they need extra practice on.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Because Math Wasn't Enough

I got a call last Friday after school from my principal, asking if I'd be willing to add 2 sections of science to my schedule. As I am very part time right now, I told her I'd be thrilled to.

It started yesterday. All of a sudden, I'm clueless again.

I didn't have enough desks the first day, so I sat two kids at the demonstration bench for my largest class. My math class was confused, since we were moved to a science room. There was chaos yesterday, and a thin veneer of order today. I can honestly say that I was as ready as I could be on such short notice and with no after-hours access to the school building.

A huge bonus has been getting my own room. But since I didn't get it before school started, I didn't have anything set up. The previous teacher in the room had left all her stuff, so when I walked in I didn't even have anywhere to put the small number of items I have in the building. The fabulous custodial staff brought me the desk I had been using in my shared room and a chair with working wheels, but it did mean that for a day all my dirty laundry was spread all over the full desk for all to see. I did score a huge collected of shaped sticky notes from the previous teacher, so I can't really be mad at her for leaving me a mess.

I also don't have enough lab stools for everyone and it's unlikely that I'll ever get them. I told the kids that the only way they'd be allowed to sit on a lab stool for labs was if they had a doctor's note saying they had to sit or an x-ray showing me the damage to the lower extremity. I'm not really that mean. I think.

Anyway, it was a busy week. I have lots of thoughts I need to process but I haven't had the time to process them. My weekend will be devoted to reading through the teacher's manual for the science curriculum. A kid asked me today if we'd get to dissect anything, and I had to admit that I didn't know yet. I told her I'd get back to her on Monday. Don't want to break a promise, so off I go.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Divisibility War

The math department at my new gig decided to start the year off teaching divisibility rules. I teach the seventh grade "regular" students, and they usually need a lot of practice. Since they all seemed to know 2, 5, and 10, we zoomed through the rest of the rules and decided to play a game.

I tried to find a good game to practice divisibility, but all I could find was one involving rocks (why rocks???). So, I used my go-to backup, War.

I think every math teacher in the universe knows how to play War, so this is just a variation. All you need is a piece of paper and a pencil for each kid and a deck of cards for each group. I would like to think I invented this, but I can't imagine that someone, somewhere hasn't done it before and better.

Here's how it works (for 2 to 4ish players):

1. Divide the deck up roughly evenly, taking out the face cards and Jokers.

2. Everyone flips over two cards, putting them side-by-side.  Each card represents a digit, so a 4 and a 6 are 46.  If you get a 10, just use both digits, so a 10 and a 3 would be 103.

3. Using a chart on a piece of paper, write down your number and then make a check in the column for if it's divisible by 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, or 10.

4. Whoever has the most check marks wins the round and keeps everyone's cards.  Players can check each other's charts. If an error is found, the person finding the error wins. If there's a tie, the person with the smallest number wins. If there's still a tie, the winners divide the cards evenly.

5. When all the cards are played, the person holding the most collected cards wins the game. Shuffle and start again, because we all need more practice.

6. When doing it with two cards gets easy, switch the three cards/digits or more.

I never got to it because we ran out of time, but I would have let my enrichment kids change the order of the digits in order to maximize the number of factors.

The other math teachers decided not to cover the rules for 4 and 8, but I find them very handy for factoring. I told my students they were bonus rules that I taught them only because they were smarter than the other seventh graders.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

I'm Organized???

With all the hoopla about interactive notebooks going through the twitterblogosphere these days, I decided that I was going to do them with my 7th grade math class this year. Today was the big day where I walked them through my interactive notebook and we did a foldable, thanks to the stuff posted by other wonderful math teachers at

In addition to the notebooks, I also used this great communication idea for the first week:  Today, one student commented to me on his name card that this is the most organized math class ever.  Overlooking the fact that "organized" was badly butchered spelling-wise, I'm floored.  I'm fairly organized at work and some adults have the strange impression that I'm organized, but no child in his or her right mind has ever called anything I did organized.

I'm not sure I can live up to that expectation...

Monday, August 13, 2012

The First Day of School

I survived the first day of school!  Actually, it was a bit anticlimactic.  I handed the kids name cards (instructions were on the board), a student survey, a welcome letter, my grading policy, and a sign-off sheet they were to take home. I couldn't believe how many of them couldn't follow the direction, "Put your name on the name card." Lesson learned for the future.

Each period of the day was assigned to do some administrative task with the students so that it wouldn't fall to the first few periods to get it done. I think this was a good idea. I had to have them write their names on their student handbooks/planners and then go over the first few pages. That wasn't bad, but it took way longer than I thought it would.

After the kids were dismissed, several of them left papers around. I can see we'll need a procedure for that.

The other period I work as a floater, going to all the math classes to see who needs help. It only took a few minutes to introduce myself to each class, and then I stayed in the room I share to see how the other teacher did his first day. It was pretty much just like mine, only he got stuck with going over more pages in the handbook than I did.

I warned the kids I didn't plan on doing that much talking all year. They looked doubtful.

My biggest challenge right now is getting technology to work. The IT people are swamped, and I can't log in.  While I'm sure the secretaries don't love me for doing paper attendance, I think it's better than driving the IT folks crazy with repeated phone calls from random phones since I don't have a phone number yet where they can reach me when they have time.  One of the building's tech coordinators has a call in, but I told her not to make a big deal about it until some of the rush of the first few days of school is past. I'm not being a pushover here, just trying not to be someone's PITA teacher.

Everyone has been very helpful and supportive even though I'm only part time. I love my school so far.

We have pictures tomorrow.  Does anyone else do pictures that early in the year?

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Achievement Unlocked: Employment (Part-Timer)

So, I've managed to get a job offer, which I've taken. Beggars can't be choosers these days. I'll be teaching math for two periods at a local middle school. This will give me lots of time to really think about how to improve what I'm doing on a daily basis rather than trying to squeeze it in between mad prep/grading sessions. At least that's what I'm hoping.

The school involved has been great so far. While I have no clue about the district's pacing guide yet, I have a couple of welcome e-mails and an offer to go out and get acquainted over iced tea next week. As school starts in two weeks I'm hoping to start planning ASAP, but I'll take what I can get.

There's a small chance I'll get an extra period of remedial reading and I might get to work with the Science Olympiad team, but I'll have to wait a bit to find out about those. Here's hoping!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Job Applications and Interviews

The public school system here has an online job system. It's very handy in the sense that you only have to fill in all the information once and it's ready and waiting for you to submit to each job in which you have an interest. Unfortunately, it doesn't really make you stand out in any way.

So, several friends in the school system have recommended that I walk my resume around to all the schools in the area. That's my plan this week, since it's the week that principals are supposed to be back in their schools full time.

I've had a grand total of two interviews so far, with another one coming up on Monday. I'm trying very hard to take the attitude that the right thing will happen at the right time, but it's easy to feel impatient. The school year begins in 3 weeks, and if I am to have a job for this year I'd like to have at least a little summer prep time. I am also trying to remind myself to be grateful for these interview opportunities. After all, most applicants aren't getting any interviews at all.

I've got all my ducks in a row for subbing this year as well. The Subfinder system comes online in about a week and a half, so I'll have the jump on anyone who hasn't done their universal precautions refresher yet.

Well, back to prepping for Monday's interview. I'm nervous.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

End of Year/Beginning of Summer Crazy

Making "Fossils" in Third Grade Science
The end of the school year was a little crazy. I handed the third graders back to their regular teacher for the last two weeks of school. I missed them, but they really need their teacher back after what was, for them, a very difficult year of many changes.

I took the opportunity to get some personal things taken care of.  All those people in medical waiting rooms right after school lets out?  They're teachers, catching up on the necessary things in life.

I had a couple of job interviews that didn't go anywhere, but it was good to have the experience. I got a very nice note from one school to thank me for my application, but they got 141 of them and they couldn't contact each one of us individually. It was good of them to let me know about the competition. Now I don't feel like I'm banging my head against the wall so much as waiting for someone to pull my CV out of big pot of them. I continue to apply for everything that comes up for which I'm qualified.

Other than that, I'm reading. And doing more reading. At the beginning of summer I wallowed in books for fun and now I'm back to reading teaching books. I love living in a town with a fabulous public library and a university. It makes it easy to support my book addiction. Not to mention that I can now borrow library books on my Kindle!

I am also considering upgrading my math certification from middle school only to secondary. The test doesn't look any harder than the middle school test and actually seems to cover less material. I'm not sure how I'd do in high school (my student teaching was elementary and middle), but all the job postings ask for secondary licensing rather than only middle school. I'm not sure if that has any meaning, though. Thoughts on that?

Now that summer is in full swing I'm considering doing a bit of cleaning-out. I don't get to spend much time at home during the year. I'm noticing it needs a bit of freshening up. Sadly, I am not a decorator. Maybe just whittling down the piles of things a bit will be a big enough change.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Common Core Implementation in Indiana

CCSS is a big topic around here. Indiana has begun implementing CCSS in the lower grades. I'm down with that. If we're going to switch standards, let's just do it. Today I was cruising through the Indiana DOE website looking for the implementation schedule for upper grades. There's a roadmap that has a year of Indiana standards, a year of transition standards, and then to CCSS.

Why, I wondered, don't we go straight to CCSS, if that's what we intend to to? After all, as a teacher, I'd just like to teach to the same standards every year instead of changing them a bit for three years straight.

I guess I may be the slowest person out there, because the answer became obvious after wading through several .pdf files: ISTEP.  That's right, we can't just go to CCSS because our state standardized tests won't be ready for it. If we only teach CCSS, our students won't be ready for ISTEP.

This strikes me as a little, well, disingenuous. As teachers, we're told we shouldn't be teaching to the test. If we do a good job teaching the things we're supposed to be teaching, our students will do well on the standardized tests. Yet, if we just jump to the new, supposedly better, standards, our students will be unprepared. order for our students to be ready for the test, we have to teach specifically those standards which will appear on the ISTEP in the transitional year, which are a combination of both sets of standards. Some of the transitional standards may not appear in CCSS at all.

This isn't a huge deal in the grand scheme of things, but I find it annoying. As a taxpayer, I want to know why the testing companies didn't see this coming and write CCSS versions of their tests. We're spending oodles of money on testing. So, instead of making an entity that's earning tons of cash change their ways, every teacher in the state is being asked to pick up the slack. It's just one more thing to do in a long list.

p.s. If you decide to go to the DOE website, please excuse the typos. On the plus side, all the resource materials for implementing CCSS are now useful, which they didn't seem to be just a year ago.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Long-Term Sub Job

For the last month or so I've been working a long-term sub placement. It's been a learning experience. I was warned before I started that the class was tough. The first few days were lovely.

Then the brawls started. These are third graders. I had no idea.

Apparently, this teacher I'm subbing for is so good with the "difficult" kids that they've all been moved into her classroom over the course of the year. She has 27 students, while the other teachers in the grade have fewer than 23 each. At first I dealt with disturbances in the classroom, since I didn't feel that punishment would do any good (the kids know right from wrong, and punishment really only teaches that and nothing else). After week three, I would send kids who wouldn't stop fighting to the office to cool off so I could continue teaching, but not to have a talk with anyone from administration. The school's secretaries, who are wonderful, would send one or the other kid to the social worker if they couldn't cool off after awhile. Otherwise, they'd get sent back to class and all would be well for a bit.

I've had two different children tell me that the adults in their lives have told them that they must always punch other kids back, even if the only thing exchanged up to that point was words. Just as their regular teacher has done, I've enforced the notion that at school we don't hit back, no matter what. I've told them to come to me and we can solve the problem instead of fighting about it. They don't believe it's possible to solve things without fists or feet, which I know their regular teacher doesn't stand for.

The other students tell me that my two biggest problems are 1) I'm not very tall, and 2) I don't have a voice as loud as their regular teacher.  Great, two things I can't change. For the record, my voice isn't exactly quiet, but it's not as loud as they're used to.

Most of the kids are fabulous, but the 5 or 6 who are having difficulty take up all my energy and most of my attention. This is not some school in a blighted neighborhood. This is a school with a good reputation, loads of high-achieving students, and supportive administrators.

I have asked other people to come observe me to help me figure out what I'm doing to contribute to the problem. I have some ideas of how to do positive things with the kids who are struggling behaviorally, which I'll be trying next week (thank you, teacher across the hall, for all your super advice!  You rock!). The teacher whose sub I am has been in frequent communication with me. The class' student teacher from earlier in the semester has been in the building this whole time on another placement, so I've been able to get histories from her and her observations from a longer period of time.

I feel incompetent often throughout the day. I know I can handle two or even three challenging kids in a group as large as 30. But dealing with 5 or 6 of them in between all the pull-outs they get for various reasons is really making me question myself. Everyone I talk to tells me I'm handling it about as well as could be expected, but it's so hard to be a good teacher when you feel a little more like a jail warden.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Online Teaching Portfolio

It's finished! My online portfolio is finally complete. I sweated over the paper one (which is also finished, but hard to blog about) and then I sweated over the online one. What's exciting to me about the one online is that I can keep it up to date much more easily than I can the paper one.

What to see it? Drumroll, please......Patti's Teaching Portfolio!

I used Weebly to create the portfolio. It has its limitations, but it's got enough easy stuff to make a decent site. I did get a little frustrated toward the end with some of the restrictions of the template I chose, but I couldn't find another that I liked as well as mine. Let me know what you think.

Oh, and that weird picture is gak placed on top of a small sideways crate. Aren't you glad you wondered?

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Notebook Know-How: Strategies for the Writer's Notebook

Notebook Know-How: Strategies for the Writer's Notebook, by Aimee Buckner, is another book that I'll buy depending on what grade level I'm hired to teach. It gives solid advice about using notebooks and teaching students how to use them. There are plenty of sample lessons to get you started. I'm not completely sure about her assessment, but that's mostly from observing a classroom that did something similar and it didn't go well. But, if you're combining this with CAFE then I think you could come up with a way to figure out how to have more concrete assessment on the writing end (CAFE is for reading, but I think similar assessment principles apply).

I really do believe in the value of the writer's and reader's notebooks, but I'm still a little shaky on implementing them. Specifically, if a parent asks me how his or her student is doing in reading, I want to be able to give a coherent answer with concrete details. I think this book will help me move in the right direction.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

My Smartpen is Mostly Dead

I'm sad to say, my Livescribe Pulse pen has become hard to use. While the pen itself appears to be working, the screen is not. It's hard to tell if I'm recording or doing anything with it. The battery also doesn't seem to hold a long charge. I've had it for only a year and a half, though it did get quite a lot of use while it was working. After my student teaching semester was over the pen sat for a couple of months and now, when I need it, it's not working for me.

This is so sad. I really liked having the smartpen and I envisioned using it with my students when I get my own classroom.

Where's Miracle Max when you need him???

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Mastery Learning in the Science Classroom

 Master Learning in the Science Classroom: Success for Every Student, by Kelly Morgan, is a quick read. But that doesn't mean it's not worth reading. We hear a lot these days about standards-based grading and teaching to mastery, but there aren't very clear guidelines on how to do these things except what some brave teachers have blogged about. This short book gives a quick guide on the whys and hows of mastery learning.

What I liked the most about this book was the chapter that used research to back up the teacher's experience. I realize that such information is often dead boring, but when you're challenged by a colleague or a parent about the choices you've made, it's nice to be able to point to research outside your own records. I really feel that teachers should have easy access to research, and this book makes it very convenient to have that information right at your fingertips.

One of my cooperating teachers has decided to go with a mastery model for one of her classes this winter. She admits that it's a huge amount of work. But she now has students who used to be failing not only passing, but really understanding the material. She's also looking forward to next year when she won't have to do the same level of prep work because it's already done. She's chosen to try this on a small class during a time when she has resource teachers available. She's not sure if she'd try it with a larger class or not. When I stopped by the class this week, I was amazed at the transformation. Instead of a class full of clowns trying to derail the lesson, everyone was working hard at their own pace and getting the support they needed to be successful. If I get any more news about the teacher's thoughts, I'll pass that along.

My only concern about this is the current trend toward district-wide scope and sequence plans. With mastery learning, students go at their own pace. That pace might not meet the district pace. I agree with the notion that it's more important for students to understand what they've supposedly learned than for teachers to be able to say they've covered the material (whether the students actually learned it or not), but I'm not sure how that plays out with requirements for each semester or quarter. I also agree with a list of requirements for courses. I find that some pacing guides are useful and others are not. I suppose the building administration will make a difference in the level of mastery learning that can take place in a classroom.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Preschool is Good for the Soul

I spent most of my week subbing at the preschool where I used to work. It was very good (and important!) for me to be reminded to focus on the process rather than the product. Even though I don't have a classroom of my own just now, it's amazing how this NEED to have things learned and checked off really permeates one's thinking after being in elementary schools for awhile.

At preschool, I'm reminded to be present for the doing rather than the done. It's good for the kids and it's necessary for me.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


 Over the winter break I finished reading Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, by Daniel Pink. It was a quick read that was recommended by several people because it has educational implications. While it does, I am left wondering if Pink plans on doing any additional research into instructional motivation, which you'd think there'd be plenty of literature on already (but there isn't).

The really important stuff in this book is that people are more intrinsically motivated when they have control over what their task is, who they do it with, and when they do it. And while you can't give students complete freedom in any of these areas, you can give them options over tasks (hopefully those tasks address similar standards that the students have to learn), who their group partners are (or whether they work alone), and when during the day, week, month, or quarter they do the work. Clearly, some of that will be content-dependent, since some math topics have to go in a sequence, but many language arts topics can follow the needs of the student in a variety of sequences.

Another really interesting thing was the discussion of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. In teacher preparation programs across the country, pre-service teachers are told that intrinsic motivation is the goal and that extrinsic motivation is probably not a good thing. what do I do? Pink makes the interesting distinction that extrinsic motivation, such as points, stickers, trips to the prize box, or whatever, are useful for algorithmic tasks or tasks that have to be done but won't ever be the result of an intrinsically motivated class. On the other hand, heuristic tasks (and I'd say that real learning falls into this category) is actually HARMED by the use of extrinsic motivators. While you may get what you want, you might only get the minimum you requested instead a sky's-the-limit sort of thing. This is stuff worth thinking about.

With teachers increasingly told what to do and how to do it, it will be interesting to see how many teachers embrace this sort of thinking in a way we can all see it. I know that teachers often do things that Pink might applaud, but they do them quietly because they aren't really part of the mainstream of educational thinking.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Creating a Teaching Portfolio

Creating a professional portfolio is hard work. Not that I didn't think it would be, but it's taking me a long time. We had to create one for our program. I just filled that one with the list of stuff that was required and let it go. I did spend some time narrating my artifacts since I didn't think they demonstrated much all on their own, but the rest was fairly straightforward.

Now, after hearing about interviews from some of the other people in my program, it's come out how handy it is to have a portfolio with you during an interview. Rather than expecting administrators to look at your portfolio, it helps to have examples to prove what you're saying. Most of my teacher-y friends have portfolio binders that are brimming with colorful examples of student work as well as colorful dividers and a colorful cover. I'm a little more subdued in the decoration department (you should see my boring house), so the most important thing for me is to be able to find the thing I want to show at the moment I need it during an interview.

But how to do that? Organization seems to be key. I was scanning stuff and organizing it into folders on my computer and then periodically rearranging the folders when I thought to change the organization of my final portfolio. I decided to take a break and write down my teaching philosophy. This also took longer than I thought it would even though I had to write one for my school portfolio. Once I had a what I thought was a nice philosophy, it all seemed to make sense. If I carefully select artifacts that support what I wrote about myself in my philosophy, that would be a good start.

Of course I'll include all the boring documentation, like my CV and transcript, but now I have a way to weed out the extra stuff I won't need in an interview. I will probably still select things that demonstrate my effectiveness as a teacher even if it's not strictly in my philosophy, but now I have a way to be consistent in my portfolio narration.


And oh yeah, I was hoping to put the portfolio online somewhere...