# #teach180: This year’s first classroom

It’s been too long and I didn’t do much worthy of a #teach180 tweet today so I’m doing a #teach180 blog post instead. Going to try to blog at least once a week during this school year, we’ll see how it goes. Be forewarned that there are a lot of pictures in this post!

I’m traveling between three classrooms and two offices this year. It’s a pain. Thankfully the classrooms, my students, and my co-teachers are generally awesome and so far it’s been worth it. The first classroom is really long! When you walk in, you’re in a small entryway. On one side of this entryway is a supply table which has calculators and anything students leave behind. Don’t freak out too much, the keys are mine.

Right past the supply table is the weekly schedule board and the teacher space. I didn’t take a picture of the board, but it’s broken down by day and each day has two parts to it:

• broad topic (this week’s is probability)
• daily question we’re working toward being able to answer (“what happens when events depend on each other?”, “what happens when probability changes based on given information?”, “how many different outcomes are possible for this experiment?”, etc.)

On the far left of the board I also have the weekly homework assignment posted. On the far right of the board I have my weekly paper holder. Our copiers are unreliable, so I try to only make copies once or twice a week for all of my classes. I also don’t take work home during the week and rarely on the weekends, so this helps me keep organized.

Currently students are in sets of two or three facing the front of the room. The teacher I’m sharing the room with and I have developed four seating patterns that we think we’ll be using regularly throughout the year:

• black, which is individual seats (for standard assessment days)
• green, which is the sets of two or three that they’re currently in (for notes or partner work)
• green, which is two teams facing each other with students in pairs (for debates and games)
• red, which is groups of four to five (for small group work)

In the front of the classroom there’s a cabinet in the corner, which is where we have supplies that students can always use. Right now it’s pretty empty and only contains scrap paper, scissors, pencils, colored pencils, and highlighters. There’s also my “student of the week” trophy and two dinosaurs that I occasionally give to students who need them.

Immediately to the right of that cabinet is our school rules bulletin board, which currently has the schedules, tardy policy, and electronic device policy. My classroom-sharing teacher is planning on changing the tree scene with each season.

On the far end of the classroom are two boards for student use. One has the 2016 Challenge thanks to Sarah Carter at mathequalslove, and the other has Sudoku thanks to Christie Bradshaw at Radical4Math. Students can use these during our study hall time or if they finish something early in class.

Finally, in one set of cabinets in the corner my students have personal boxes. This is where students can keep personal supplies, papers they don’t want to lose, etc. from day to day and it’s also where I put work when students are absent and where I pass back 98% of papers to. All of the cabinets are built into the wall and a lot of my stuff is in electronic form so this was a good way for me to utilize that space!

So that’s my current AFDA classroom. I’m in there for first block every day from now until the end of January, when my schedule changes and I’ll be moving again for the spring… sigh. Bonus pictures below of decorations on our math department office windows. A handful of quotes I’ve collected over the past few years that are school-appropriate and potentially teenage-worthy as well as a collection of photos from Sara Van Der Werf’s Math Wall of Shame.

# Tracking Student Achievement #MTBoSBlaugust

I blogged previously about how next year our math department has decided to move toward a department-wide grade replacement policy (see #MTBoS30 Day 9: Grade Replacement vs. Standards Based Grading) and I’ve been working on figuring out how I can still include students in the process. I enjoyed using Dan Meyer’s concept checklist over the last two years. Sometimes it was a hassle, but for the students that actually kept track of theirs they enjoyed knowing what their strengths and weaknesses were (and getting those stickers!)

Last spring semester I taught a new class called Algebra, Functions, and Data Analysis – this is a class that is not tested by the state but still has standards. I mostly used stuff from the other teacher who was teaching AFDA at the same time as me and only glanced through the standards before teaching the course… good job, past me. But, we live and learn. There were some days that seemed too easy and repetitive and others that seemed totally over my students’ heads, and the same was true about the quizzes and projects they completed as assessment. I didn’t really enjoy that, but I felt a little overwhelmed without a planning period so I kept pushing through. Well I’ve finally sat down and looked at the standards and boy did we do some interesting things. We taught multiple things that definitely are not required! Some of which I’ll be keeping, and some of which will probably get tossed.

ANYWHO, I digress… After reviewing our curriculum map and the state standards, and a little inspiration from someone on Twitter (I forget who) I made up slightly new Achievement Trackers. My plan is to have students keep these at the front of their assessment section of their binders so they’re easy to find.

Things I Like:

• students being cognizant of what grades they’re earning (and hopefully why!)
• helps me better plan lessons and assessments
• the students have less to keep track of compared to the old concept checklist

Things I’m Not Sure I Like:

• some of the wording isn’t necessarily the most student friendly/some boxes have a lot of text
• it will take up two pieces of paper front/back
• the homework section at the beginning of each unit

Let me know what you think and if you have any suggestions!

# Experiential Learning #MTBoSBlaugust

hated history class growing up. HATED. I’m pretty sure this probably broke my dad’s heart on more than one occasion; a long-time English teacher who had struggles in math and science, I know that my dad had (has!) a passion for history. By the time I got to high school it was pretty much the only subject he could help me out with, and I needed it a lot. But all I remember is learning about the explorers, the American Revolution, the Civil War, and more over and over and over again. Why, by the time I got to my junior year of high school, did I still need to be spending time in class learning about The Boston Tea Party??? To me it was so incredibly pointless. I spent a lot of time agonizing over readings from my textbook and complaining about all of the people and events in there.

Fast forward to now, and I still don’t like history class. But I do enjoy learning about history. I love living in “America’s Historic Triangle” and getting to touch and see and do things like the Native Americans, early settlers, and soldiers in the American Revolution did. Two years ago I spent part of spring break at Independence Hall in Philly and walking the Freedom Trail in Boston, and last year I did historic walking tours and visited plantations in both Charleston and Savannah. Sunday morning I did an audio tour of Alcatraz. All of those experiences were awesome.

Being able to interact with history through artifacts and storytellers is what makes me enjoy learning about it still to this day. Is it possible to bring some of these things in the school environment? Yes. Is it possible to do the same in a math classroom? I’m not sure.

There have been a lot of amazing #MTBoS teachers doing awesome things involving the history of math; I’ve seen mathematicians of the day, research papers, poster projects, and more. And there are even more teachers doing amazing work within the classroom to help make math accessible to students. But again, how much are those practices helping students connect with and experience the math? I’m not sure. I’m not sure what the best way is for students to experience math. I’m not even really sure what that means. It probably means something different for everyone and there are almost assuredly different ways to do it.

But this is one of my goals for the year: to have my students experience math in a way they haven’t before. I know that this will happen in the Physics by Design class I’m co-teaching (which I’m super excited about and will blog about later this month) so really the focus will be on Algebra, Functions, and Data Analysis. Last year we did exclusively alternative assessments for each unit’s summative assessment but I was unhappy with them as a whole. So here we go. Year 3. Time to pull out those old assessments and get to work.

P.S. I also learned a lot about water this summer through my awesome time in Sarasota with DukeTIP, way more than I ever thought I’d be interested in learning. I can boil it down to: nature is pretty awesomely resilient, but we’re working pretty hard to ruin that.

# End of Year Survey – Part 2

As my last set of students are working on their final, I’m ready to reflect on the rest of my end of year survey. This was the part where students were given a set of 30 statements and asked to rate me on them, with 1 being “strongly disagree” and 5 being “strongly agree”. I then inserted all of the data into Excel and sorted based on average (mean) rating. So without further ado, ten things to work on from highest rating to lowest rating:

• “My teacher gives the right amount of work.” I find this very surprising, but I’ll go more into this when we reach #10.

• “My teacher is interesting.” This one made me a little sad, but as a new, young, female teacher I feel as though I have to draw really hard boundaries when it comes to divulging information about my personal life. My students know I have a younger brother and younger sister, and they know I have a boyfriend in med school. That’s about it. Maybe it’s time for me to start letting them in a little more so they can see I’m actually a real life normal young adult? Any advice here would be helpful; how much is too much for students to know about you?

• “My teacher is patient.” Not surprised by this. It’s something I’m actively working on and I truly feel as though this year I was more patient than last, but it’s so much harder than I thought sometimes…

• “My teacher gives me enough time to finish.” This goes with the last statement – wait time is something else that I’m actively working on. It’s also hard to figure out when students aren’t writing because they’re done or because they never started without constantly being on the move. I think as I get more comfortable using my iPad as a casting device I’ll get better at this and honestly if I lose technology I’ll probably have to relearn it all over again.

• “My teacher plans fun activities.” I do more activities than the other teachers teaching the same subjects as me but the students still don’t see them as fun. While I’m going to continue finding new activities to incorporate this one doesn’t bother me a ton.

• “My teacher seems to enjoy her job.” Well at least I know that a good amount of my students are empathetic enough to pick up on how stressed I was this semester! I’m going to be even more stressed next semester but I’ll be doing mostly project-based learning so I think I’ll be enjoying the stress.

• “My teacher has a sense of humor.” I’m not a funny person, I’ve never considered myself to be funny, and I don’t have any drive to become funnier. Also my students quite probably have a different sense of humor than me. I’m not broken up about this one either, but it is something to keep in the back of my mind. I don’t want to be a stone-faced killer my whole career.

• “My teacher is enthusiastic about teaching.” This one goes along with the stress. I do enjoy my job, but that’s hard to portray sometimes when you’re working on 6 different things in your mind and 3 in front of you. And I’m a very organized and prepared person, I just know that as a new teacher there’s always stuff I could be doing better. I also got the lowest rating on this statement from my worst behaved/managed class, so that’s a factor.

• “My teacher has good classroom discipline.” SURPRISE. 2ND YEAR TEACHER STILL STRUGGLING TO MANAGE CO-TAUGHT CLASSROOM.

• “My teacher is challenging.” This one really surprised me. Really surprised me. My students complained all year about how they didn’t understand things, how we were doing too much work, how the other Algebra 1 classes didn’t have homework, how low their grades were, and yet in the end they didn’t think I was challenging enough. Why? I’m not sure. This is going to be one of the things I reflect on the most over the summer, because I really was starting to think that maybe the classes were too hard or that I was expecting them to do too much work. But maybe the voices of the many were drowned out by the voices of the few, and in reality most of my students were surviving and okay with simply passing the class regardless of the grades they received or what they actually learned. I really don’t know about this one. It’s going to require a lot of thought.

A lot of these relate to each other, and while some of them made me sad they were also reassuring. I knew I was struggling with most of these things, and hearing it from multiple students in multiple classes via this survey is reaffirming the fact that I’m not crazy and these are things I actually need to work on. I know that with some of these statements they are ever changing, and I’ll have to adapt to every group of students in every school that I’m at, but that doesn’t mean I should stop trying to be better at classroom management or connecting with my students.

I know that some students loved me and therefore agreed or strongly agreed with each statement, and some hated my class and the highest they gave me was a 3 (which was “unsure”)… but, such is life. I almost don’t want to get to a point in my career where all of my students love me. Having critics, whether they’re honest or biased, is a crucial part in helping me reflect and grow. I wouldn’t be forced to confront the issues otherwise.

I wasn’t offended by the low ratings of the statements above. The students told their truth and this is me listening and responding one final time this year. The most offensive thing on any survey was a student strongly disagreeing with the statement that I have nice handwriting. What a rude and wholly inaccurate thing to say.

# #MTBoS30 Day 27: End of Year Survey – Results, pt. 1

My survey this year was two parts. The first part was a paper with 30 statements. The students were supposed to evaluate me on those 30 statements based on how strongly they agreed or disagreed. I will blog about these results next week once the absent students complete them.

The second part was a paper titled “If I Were A Teacher…” I gave students 6 prompts, and encouraged them to think about what their classroom would look and sound like. I only got a couple of responses from these but here they are:

• What would your tardy policy be?
• tardy after the classroom door closes, 2 each marking period is acceptable, possible consequences include lunch detention, after school detention, or referral
• no tardies (not sure if this means no tardies are acceptable or they wouldn’t mark students tardy…)
• tardy one minute after bell rings
• you must have a slip or get a call home and only 3 unexcused tardies are acceptable
• tardy 5 seconds after bell rings, 6 allowed per semester, if 3 or more in a week they get assigned extra homework
• tardy 10 times they get a call home and go to ACS for the rest of the class period
• 3 unexcused tardies all year
• consequences would be reminder, warning, parent contact, lunch detention, suspension
• keep track of tardies in a book and 5 is the most allowed

• How would you arrange 30 desks?
• in 6 rows of 5
• 4 groups of 2, 4 groups of 4, and 2 groups of 3
• 5 groups of 6
• in a semi-circle facing the main whiteboard
• in pairs

• How would students take and keep track of notes?
• take all papers home
• students only taking notes 50% of the time
• in a binder and not an interactive notebook
• it’s on them to take notes
• keep depending on how important
• keep all papers they get in class
• the interactive notebook and they wouldn’t have to keep worksheets
• (sidenote: multiple students included the fact that notes help you remember and if you keep good notes you don’t have to ask the teacher as many questions)

• What would your electronic device policy be?
• they can be on them as long as they understand the work
• consequences would be reminder, warning, take until end of period, take until end of day, parent contact, and suspension
• 2 warnings, only music during solving time and not notes
• 2 warnings and then the phone goes to the office for parents to pick up
• no phone while the teacher is speaking
• 3 warnings, not allowed when teacher is talking, after 3 warnings extra homework
• no phones out during class and if you’re caught on it you will not get it back until the end of the school day
• it’s okay when the teacher isn’t talking
• use them whenever they want
• as long as they are taking notes, they could have one headphone in

• What would you do with students who fail a test or quiz?
• give them lots of extra credit
• call their parents
• try and help them to see why they failed
• see what is wrong and give them opportunities for extra credit
• come after school
• have to retake it and if they fail again they have to repeat the class
• talk with parent and give advice to parent for student or after school; if phone is distracting take it away
• tell them to do better next time and give them tutoring to help them improve
• teach them some more and then let them retake it

• Anything else?
• be on time
• no sleeping
• no snacks without permission
• no cursing
• be nice to the students and teachers
• don’t get up till 10 seconds left of class
• no talking when teaching
• important to know basics like how to raise your hand or turn in homework

Some of these cracked me up – the students must think teachers have an unlimited amount of power! I found it very interesting that multiple students suggested extra homework as consequences as well. I definitely agree with a good amount of what they said and it’s going to give me a lot to think about while planning for next year, especially as I’ll be jumping into project-based learning (another topic for another day).

What questions would you have added?

# #MTBoS30 Day 23: Why I Won’t Quit

There are days. Every teacher knows those days. The days where the students are dead silent, and seem incapable of even picking up a pencil. The days where students seem incapable of picking up a pencil, but this time because they can’t stay seated and focused on anything for more than 15 seconds. The days where you were up tossing and turning all night and are struggling just as much as your students to stay awake during 1st block. The days where you’re working and working and working and all of the sudden it’s dinnertime, or bedtime.

But then there are other days. Days where you saying “Alright one final problem for the day…” warrants a disappointed groan or an exclamation of how quickly class went by. Days where you catch a student smiling to themselves when they see how well they did on an assessment. Days when groups are actually talking math with each other and not just talking. DAYS WHEN EVERYONE IS PRESENT AND AWAKE AND NOT ON THEIR PHONES (I don’t know if this has ever actually happened but I’m holding out hope).

Friday’s 4th block was one of the good days. I projected problems (similar to #MTBoS30 Day 16: Easy Peasy Differentiation but with multi-step equations and inequalities) and students got to work on their desks. Their goal was to correctly complete at least 5 problems in 45 minutes, and every single student did. All 23. Even the students that are failing. Even the students who are absent at least one day a week. Even the students who are usually on their phones or talking to people across the classroom or trying to sleep. Even the student who came from another school less than a week ago and didn’t understand anything we did in the last week of review. Every single student got at least 5 problems right that day.

The pride in some students was palpable. Those struggling kids who normally try so hard to be disengaged couldn’t stop smiling every time I told them they got one right. And it was exhausting, to be zooming around my classroom checking answers for 3 blocks. And I felt bad that I didn’t have much time (if any) to stop and help students who were struggling (thank God for other students finishing early and not wanting to do more of their own problems…). But to see a girl who normally says “I can’t do this.” and resorts to doodling every day be so successful was worth it.

Days like that are worth it. Even if it’s not a whole day, blocks like that are worth it. And even if it’s not a whole block, moments like that are worth it. The success of my students will always be worth it, and that’s why I won’t quit.

# #MTBoS30 Day 16: Easy Peasy Differentiation

Julie Morgan posted as part of #MTBoS about Challenge Grids about a week ago and as a second year teacher currently teaching all collaborative classes I soaked the idea right up. It was crazy easy to create (I mean, all you do is take a worksheet with a bunch of “boring problems”) and it saved a lot of paper (which is something I’m really trying hard to stop wasting).

As a class we worked through one problem, solving by factoring and using the quadratic formula and checking the answer by graphing. Students were at their desks with dry erase markers and worked on these problems on their desks. I walked around and would answer questions they had and checked their answers. The student that received the most points will get a piece of pie tomorrow – I’m always talking about making food so most of them are interested in trying it.

Julie had mentioned having a better mix of problems in her original post, so I made sure that I had more medium problems than easy or difficult ones. The only other thing I would do next time is give students a minimum number of problems to complete or a minimum number of points they needed to earn because a couple of students were perfectly content completing the 4 easy problems and stopping there… this isn’t their first time seeing quadratics so I should be expecting them and encouraging them to push themselves into the problems that require more work. But I will definitely be using this idea again in the future!