Posts Tagged ‘the little things’

Hello Again!

I really did not want to think about teaching this summer at all as evidenced by my complete hiatus from blogging and twitter. Don’t hate me, let me back in to your circle! I swear I’ll read and comment on all of your latest blog posts… OK I’m begging now.

To get right down to it – I’ve begun working again. Okay, to be really honest I’ve been working for the past thirty minutes of this entire summer and I already need your help. Shocker. Next year I am teaching all seniors (YAY!). Semester PreCalculus like last year and new for me Statistics. As I am writing my Stats syllabus I am thinking about the most effective course supplies for my students. I struggled with this last year too.

Previously, I asked them to bring binders divided into three sections: Warm ups, Notes, Classwork. They had to complete out of class work outside of the binder (i.e. homework on loose leaf to be turned in). There were several problems with this system.

1. I always forgot to hole punch notes or hand outs for them so they got stuffed in the pockets and didn’t get organized in the system I created

2. The binders didn’t really fit on the desks

3. No spot for returned graded work and tests

4. The kids hated it

The only benefit was that warm ups were important. I am not certain this would be lost completely if they just completely everything in one notebook, but I did like that warm-ups had their own section. It provided for some helpful classroom management at the beginning of class.

Thoughts? What do you use in your classroom? What have you used in the past? What do you wish you could use? Do you think I should provide some structured freedom since they are 12th graders?


***Edit 8/16/12

What happens when you stop participating in twitter and blogs for 2 months? You attempt to read them and catch up in one day. I couldn’t sleep last night. I want to do IT ALL. The good news: I still love being a teacher. The great news: I want to be a fantastic awesome math teacher like YOU! (specifically calling out these posts – Infinite Sums, @crstn85 , @jruelbach @mgolding).

I am going to attempt to do some variation of this interactive notebook. Due to school rules on homework, grading policies, and projects I will have to make some modifications for my first attempt. The good news is I have semester courses so if I royally screw this up first semester I get a total redo in January. What I am thinking:

  •  Spiral Notebooks for ALL notes.
  • Table of Contents at the beginning, students number pages of their notebooks. Titles and dates on top of each (RHS?) page.
  • Students glue or tape in handouts into RHS. Anything I do is RHS (right?). Students glue in activities and complete textbook problems etc. on LHS (right?)
  • Up for debate – warm ups on LHS, sectioned off and above work done for the day.
  • Returned, graded homework in separate folder.

Projects and more involved projects will need to be done outside of the notebook due to grading policies. The notebooks will stand as a more interactive way to take notes and be involved in direct instruction and guided practices. It will also be a place to store hand outs and glue in interactive activities such as matching, puzzles, dominoes, etc.

Next on my agenda: A review board like @mathymcmatherso has with 5 problem review cards for students to do in down time or to focus on certain objectives.


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Yesterday we had a full day PD where Spence Rogers from PEAK came and did a workshop. This is not his first time at our school and many of our teachers have been flown to his week long conference out in Colorado. But it was all new to me. A post on all the great stuff I liked and other thoughts that made me ponder to come but I wanted to offer a quick reflection on “safety.”

PEAK has the “six keys” model and one of them is safety – you can provide, break or use the safety key in the classroom by doing certain things. I thought a lot about how true and accurate my formative assessments are or could be based on the safety my students feel in my classroom.

I tried the following today. We are studying trig identities (simplifying, factoring and verifying) and students are struggling but getting there. I used the following phrasing

Raise your hand if you see the next step. I will not call on you if you raise your hand.

Ok, hands down. Please raise your hand if you’d like to explain what you notice.

It worked really great. A lot of students felt safe to raise their hands and let me know they see something (depending on the phrasing sometimes I asked raise your hand if you’re thinking of something that MIGHT work, etc.) but are not ready to share it to the class.

I have also been using thumb signals to determine if we need more examples, ready for individual practice, or how to proceed within the lecture. Today I asked them to close their eyes (and to actually do so out of respect for their classmates) and show me their thumbs. I saw a lot more thumbs down today than I have yet.

I am really excited for the feedback my students are giving me and am thrilled that I am learning how to create an environment that protects their safety and allows them to tell me what they need in many different ways. I keep reading articles, blog posts and asking my coworkers how they communicate with the whole group and I’m eager to hear more ways.

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I was formally observed this week for the first time by administration. The principal decided not to tell me he would be visiting my class for an entire block and surprised me in the middle of my direct instruction and note taking portion of my lesson. We had just begun the unit on Exponential and Log Functions and were learning about the one to one property, reviewing a few exponent properties, and then working in groups on Kate Nowak‘s awesome awesome add em up activity. (On a side note, I will be using this activity again and again for many other concepts. It works GREAT!  I had students write their name in the box of the problem they chose to do – then only their handwriting was allowed in that box. This way if they were the one that got it wrong the students in the group couldn’t just fix it for them. Plus, the rest of my department loved the idea and they also have instituted it in their classroom, thanks for sharing!)

My principal had a lot of great feedback to share with me – all of the students were engaged, my DI examples were scaffolded nicely, my transitions were excellent, students stayed on task (i.e. my pyscho evil Ms. P management style is starting to pay off). The students worked well together and the activity was clever and creative (Thanks Kate!).

The one piece of feedback that I found most valuable was the feedback on what I need to work on – assessment. Mainly during my lecture and direct instruction time. He indicated the questions that I am asking during this time are not meaningful and don’t lead to valuable feedback from the students. I am not getting a true indicator at any given moment whether the students are following or not. He said there are lots of ways to determine if students are understanding the examples and if I need to do more, to do less or to move on. He made me a copy of Madeline Hunter’s chapter on signaling for understanding and the four useless questions teachers ask – “Do you understand this – Any questions?” (whoops).

And I think he’s totally right. I don’t know how to gauge the temperature of my classroom at any given time as a group. I need a meaningful way (or multiple ways) to determine if I can pick up the pace or need to slow down. How do I know if they’re ready to go off and do individual or group work? How do I know if they learned this last year? What meaningful questions should I be asking to help them tell me what I really want to know? How can I get more feedback from the class rather than just the same three students who want to tell me they’re lost or they’re following along?

He told me about “thumb signalling” and I tried it and it sort of worked – but how do I determine how many side ways thumbs are enough to do another example? Is that just something as a teacher I have to decide for myself? How do I help those two students who always have a sideways thumb and yet we continue to move on – how do I make them feel like their feedback is valuable even though it might look like I’m ignoring it!?

So basically – what are the questions, signals, or other ways you get feedback from your students during direct instruction that allow you to determine the level of understanding as a big group? How do you use this feedback to alter your instruction?

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I realize it’s an odd time to “catch up” with all my fellow bloggers and twitter friends out there but it’s 7:45 on a Sunday morning and I’d rather do this than the mountain of grading, weekly lesson planning, worksheet creating and respond to all those emails in my work inbox. So here I am. Running from all this great responsibility I dreamed of – and I have just one phrase to tell you all – I LOVE IT.

I am so happy to finally have my own classroom. It’s been a challenging 7 weeks but overall I believe I’ve had more success than failures.

The first four weeks were hell. As a mid year teacher I knew I would have a lot of push back from my students – mainly behaviorally and they did not disappoint. I was extremely strict and stern and adhered to the code of conduct in ways I didn’t believe were possible. I wrote so many detentions a day and students were always down in administration complaining about me. Is this a good thing? NO. I hated it. I was unable to build any personal relationships because the kids kept testing me. I tried to joke with them but every time I gave them a little leeway they would try to take back the classroom and not refocus. I realized I had to set up these boundaries and sacrifice the relationships for the time being. Maybe a veteran teacher would be better at this than I but in the end – I haven’t written a detention in 2 weeks and the students are acting appropriately and respectfully to myself and their peers. Do they like me? Hell no. Are they working well and doing better in my classroom? Yes. Trade off I suppose. What I’ve been focusing on the last two weeks is building relationships with students and my whole classes. It’s a slow process but hopefully we get there.

Why I am so happy at this school despite being the evil new teacher who just inhabited room 240:

  1. Administration backs teachers – all those complaints they never once (okay fine, once) asked me to pull a detention or took a students side. Because of this, students started to realize I had merit in my rules and eventually adhered to them. No one has been down to administration in two weeks (despite the girl with the attitude problem on Thursday who was told to talk to me after school and marched down to the Dean of Students).
  2. Collaboration and a spirit of support – The math department has been wonderful. Almost all the other teachers are around my age in their 4th-5th year of teaching and have a lot of support, materials, and advice to give. They’re fun and happy and not a lot of debbie downer talk over by the vending machines.
  3. I’m learning – PD every Friday isn’t a drag for this new teacher, I am learning new cool ways to teach materials in my classroom. I’ve adopted the idea of a “support station” in my classroom. This wall in the back of the room could range from being a solution station or a spot where students can check their work only on a multi step problem. This eliminates calling me over constantly and helps them feel in charge of their learning and lets them move at their own pace a little more than if I called back their attention to provide help to the class. I’ve also stolen the idea of “White Board” work from a few of the other teachers. By putting graph paper inside sheet protectors students have little white boards. I give them small expo markers and we do competitive group work review and just general class work on them for something different. New ideas from new colleagues.
  4. Resources – I have a smartboard, a classroom set of TI-84 plus calculators, and computer labs. May not seem like a lot but it’s a huge leap from the school I worked at before. In addition, the school is kept in immaculate condition.
  5. Mandatory Math Projects – We have to have a minimum of 3 performance based assessments per quarter. This means they encourage that discovery based learned and more in depth critical thinking rather just all summative procedure based learning.

A post on the struggles to come. Because I promise it won’t fit on here nicely.

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We did it!!!! Okay, now I am going to take a little more credit here and go ahead and say that I did it – and you all helped!! After 5 interviews at various schools in Chicago and Philly, I was offered a full-time position with a charter high school in northeast Philadelphia.

The school has block scheduling so at the semester point (January 23rd) students start new courses. This is a huge advantage for me as a new mid-year teacher because although I will be new to the school in January, I will be starting my classes from day one.

I have two blocks of track two 11th grade precalculus and two half blocks of 12th grade remediation/consumer math. I am extremely excited to have both of these courses because I get to have college bound students and most likely non-college bound students. I student taught a section of Business Math for the lowest track of seniors and had a lot of trouble and fun getting to know and work with these students. I also had a lot of disciplinary trouble – but hey, what’s the fun in working in an urban environment if the students won’t keep you on your toes? I am also pumped to work with precalculus students because I want to push myself at challenging students more often and making sure I am contributing to them becoming college successful.

So now, I enter my plea. What do I need to bring to my new classroom? I mean that both physically and emotionally/mentally. What types of things should be on the wall, on my desk? What should be around to keep me organized? What should be photocopied and what types of procedures and routines should we do everyday – at least consistently in the beginning to start (i.e. warm-up/bell work sheets, exit ticket sheets)? What do I say on the first day? Should I have an icebreaker – I saved this post from Kate Nowak a while ago and really enjoyed her idea. What type of paper gradebook system should I use (my friend prints an excel file for the week and uses a clipboard, I was using a floppy binder with a month of grades and filling in…)? Mathy McMatherson offered this link about getting organized with a lot of feedback on these questions as well.

What questions am I forgetting to ask?

And most importantly (obviously).. do I need to change the scope of my blog from a pre-service, cuz folks… I’m a teacher now!

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I survived my first week teaching all six classes by myself. Things did not go perfectly; students acted out, students were rude, lessons failed, lessons went great, students said they liked my class and all sorts of things. Students participated while others got angry, I made new student allies while definitely alienating and losing others. But the best news of it all is that I am not bitter, I am not angry, I feel great!

I feel so connected with the students, the school, and teaching. What is great about feeling well, so great, is that the week wasn’t perfect and I am okay. Even when the last period of the day gave me trouble I still went home with a smile on my face. I still walked the halls feeling good.  I am appreciative of my ability to reflect, be aware of circumstances/situations I am happy and unhappy about, talk to coworkers/tweeps, get advice, seek help, and then ultimately let it go.

On Thursday the honors students would not shut up. I had given them extra time to finish their projects and then wanted to rally back their attention. They are the one class that I have the most trouble getting silent – it could be that it is last period, that they fill the entire room, or that they are all best-friend-know-it-alls but either way it is what it is.

So it’s Thursday last period and I really don’t feel like yelling. Instead I just stand there and notice the clock – they have been talking now amongst themselves for about 3 minutes before one student shouted to a few others “Shut up – she’s waiting for us.” That took another minute and then finally it was silent. I said very quietly, “It took four minutes for you to settle down and pay attention after I had asked you several times so you will stay four minutes after the bell.” The uproar that ensued was intense but I just pulled up my arm and started counting on my watch, it took another minute before the students caught on, yelled to each other and shut up. “We will be staying five minutes.”

This had never occurred to me before, I’m not sure where the idea came from but students were furious. When the bell rang I shouted from them to sit down and 4 students shouted, “F this” and bolted – they got written up for demerits and the rest had to sit for 5 minutes.

I’m telling this story because I was worried about how the students would act, what would happen, would this backfire, does it matter? When 8th period began Friday they were the best behaved they have been yet. I couldn’t figure it out til I remembered, oh yea I held them after school yesterday. I had forgotten!!! I didn’t hold a grudge when they came in, I let them behave well, I had thanked them several times for it, and I had let it go.

Now some students were clearly angry – rolling eyes, not doing work, general misbehavior but the majority of the class was in line and telling those students to keep it in line so that they didn’t have to stay after school. I wanted accountability to one another and I got it. But most importantly I wasn’t still angry at those students who bolted early, who wouldn’t shut up, or anything else. I let it go.


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After some thought I’ve decided to do quiz corrections during 5th period tomorrow instead of teaching something new. Someone told me about setting up groups of same ability level instead of putting higher abilities with lower abilities. This will prevent that one student who is doing better than the others from dominating or getting bored. I was debating creating groups based on the questions they got wrong and student attitudes/participation.

I’m going to use the form below, adapted (but mostly stolen) from Tina C (the original can be found here).

Depending on how well that goes during 5th period I may do the same in 7th period also. However two students did receive A’s in 7th period, so hopefully I can use them to go around and help their peers (or should I put them in a group…?). Unfortunately, both of those students are extremely quiet and might not want to do that so we’ll just have to see.

During 8th period (honors) we will move on and quiz corrections will be an optional out of class assignment. I will start the “unit” on estimation. As I explained this is mainly teaching students how to handle standardized test questions that look like this: Estimate 824,123 x 124 = 800,00 x 100. As suggested I think I will research some population facts/number figures about Philadelphia, our school, iPhone/texting, sneakers, etc.  That will lead to basic estimation and then we will move onto operations with estimation.

One way I am going try to bring grades up for those failing students is a lot more practice. Since students tend to not do H.W. at my school I need to figure out a way to incorporate more practice into the classroom. I thought I was doing this but apparently not enough. I am also going to look into some puzzle/joke worksheets, although they are corny maybe students are more likely to do those then just a bunch of random problems and word problems. I found this which I prefer over something like this  and then Wednesday (or Thursday) we will do the Pi/Circumference Project which will lead us into our next “unit” of area/perimeter/circumference (yes, thank you test prep book for making that one little section – oy).

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