Monday, November 21, 2011

Algebra Tiles

I love them!

I had my Algebra kids color and cut their own set one day.  It took a full day (90 minutes!) in the classroom, and then some more at home for some kids. (1)

But, even with the loss of that teaching time, I think the benefits of Algebra Tiles are so worth it!

I like having something concrete to refer to when dealing with the abstracted-ness of algebra.  I like having something to point to when handing out rules (2) like "5h and -4 can't be added" and "5h and -4 can be multiplied, and the answer has an h in it" and "a number with parentheses next to it means multiply that number by everything inside the parentheses"

Most kids don't need but one or two examples with the tiles, and then they're good to go with the "symbol version" as we call it.  But, I like having them out, and having the kids know how to use them, so a) I can refer back to them when a kid is struggling and b) kids have a way of checking the correctness of their answers without me.

I spent a long time with these algebra kids doing some basic stuff, like integer operations.  When we started working with variables, I was a little worried.  But, the truth is, they've done extremely well with it, and we're moving along faster than I anticipated.  I love it.

(1) Mostly, I think kids were milking it, and taking advantage of the non-math time!
(2) I don't actually "hand out" these rules!  We spend time making sense of them, Algebra Tiles or not.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Teacher Standards Focus

My principal gave me a list of ten teacher standards.  She said she wanted every teacher to focus on standard #7 this year, and she also wanted me to read through them and pick two others that I personally would like to focus in on this year.

This is part of my annual teacher evaluation, BTW.  I really like this approach to evaluations, I'll have to write a post about that soon....

For this post, though, here are the standards I'll be focusing on this year:

#3: Learning Environments.  The teacher works with others to create environments that support individual and collaborative learning, and that encourage positive social interaction, active engagement in learning, and self motivation.

#5: Application of Content.  The teacher understands how to connect concepts and use differing perspectives to engage learners in critical thinking, creativity, and collaborative problem solving related to authentic local and global issues.

#7: Planning for Instruction.  The teacher plans instruction that supports every student in meeting rigorous learning goals by drawing upon knowledge of content areas, curriculum, cross-disciplinary skills, and pedagogy, as well as knowledge of learners and the community context.

More to follow, including a self-reflection on where I am now, and how I plan to move forward in these areas this year.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


I asked a student to stay after class the other day so we could discuss her behavior in my class.  I ended up getting so frustrated that I yelled at her.

Stuck with me all day, and I just wanted to confess it.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Teach or Don't Teach?

If you ask me if I enjoy teaching, or if I'll stick with it for a while, the answer you'll get depends on the day (or sometimes the hour) you ask me.  It's that time of year when I'm tired and worn out, and I don't like my job some days.

I feel less competent as an educator.  My patience with kids is wearing thin.  I don't feel like putting in the extra work it takes to make my day successful.

I find myself asking "Do I really want to do this?" or, "Can I really do this?"

But, there are those moments and those interactions that make me remember why I ever became a teacher, anyway, and why I'm still doing it four years later.  They come.  Not often enough, recently.

How long until Christmas Break?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

On Parent Contact

I don't contact parents nearly enough.  I know by saying that I'm adding one more thing to my gargantuan to-do list, but I think I've minimized the importance and value of keeping in touch with parents.

 If I can't get a student to behave, or turn in work, parents need to know that so we can be battling the issue together.  If students are getting pressure from home as well as at school, that makes a difference.

Also, parents already know their kids.  They know what motivates them and what demotivates them.  They know their kids' habits, strengths, weaknesses, what's going on in their lives right now.  Parents have a wealth of information

One of my favorite phone calls to make is the positive one.  I like noticing something great a student did and being able to call home about it.  I like being sneaky and not telling the kid I'm planning on calling his mom.

I have a slight fear of calling home that I need to get over.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Crunch Time

End of the quarter.

I don't like the busy-ness that comes with this time of year, especially centered around grades.  I want to get rid of this end-of-the-quarter crunch the kids get themselves into and expect me to bail them out of.  I had so many kids swarm me asking for the assignments they are missing.  Then, I have to get all of those assignment put into the gradebook.  It just takes so much time, and I don't like it.

How can I be better at keeping on top of kids with missing assignments throughout the quarter?  How can I encourage more getting done on time and less waiting until now?  How can I do that while teaching kids to be responsible on their own?


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

In My Classroom...

Here is a random offering of some successful and not-so-successful activities I've done in my classes recently:

1. Algebra is studying the Fundamental Counting Principle - a.k.a Permutations, Combinations and Outcomes.  First, I introduced outcomes.  Then, I added Permutations.  I gave them 10 minutes to complete a practice set in class - it included both outcome and permutation problems, and I had them decide which type it was before solving each problem.  Somehow this 10-minute worksheet had kids thinking, talking, sharing ideas and getting it.  It was eye-opening for me. I want to do more of that - quick exercises in class to give kids time to practice.  Unintended consequence:  A bunch of papers with P-O-O-P written down the side. Awesome.  

2.  In Geometry, while studying sum of interior angles, I printed up a sheet with a variety of problems related to the topic that kids might come across.  For some kids, it worked really well.  They were able to use the knowledge they had and apply it in different ways.  Most kids, though, were stuck because they didn't have any example to follow.  While I don't want to have to teach kids how to solve any and every problem they come across, that's what I ended up doing.  My goal is to work on helping all my kids apply their knowledge in new ways.  This wasn't the way to do that.

3.  Today was one of my first attempts to through out a problem to the class, have them work in groups to come up with a solution method, and then share what they got and how. (I showed them a 4x4 grid, with the border shaded, and asked how many squares were shaded, without counting.  Then a 10x10, then an nxn).  I think this type of lesson can be super valuable, and I think I still have a lot to learn about how to make it so.  A more in-depth post on this coming soon.  I really want to reflect on today, and because I want those types of lessons to be central to my teaching.  (You know, the kind where I ask students to think, and talk about ideas, and listen to and think about other's ideas?)

4.  I gave students a sheet with a set of review problems.  They worked on slates, with their group if they choose, through each problem.  For some, I told them where around the room the answer was posted.  When they finished, they were to get up and see if they did the problem correctly.  For some problems, I told them to show me their work, instead.  I added those because I actually wanted to see how they were doing, and be able to clarify any misconceptions I saw.  Also,  I just don't trust all of my students to do anything about it if they got the answer wrong!  The day I did this went pretty smoothly.  Walking around the room, I saw all of my kids working on slates, and getting up and checking answers.  I would see students looking at the back side of the door, and say "Yes!" or turn back to their group and give a thumbs up.  I also noticed that many students, who later on I determined didn't know the material, would just use their group to get them through the worksheet, and not do much, if any, thinking on their own.  I haven't decided yet how much I can do about that.  I want each student to take their learning into their own hands, and stretch themselves, and try things out and ask for help (not answers) when they need it.  But I can't force them to do that.  What things can I do to encourage it?

5. One day, I gave my students an in class assignment, and then pulled about 3 kids at a time over to the side to do a "skills check."  I just gave them one problem to work on, on a slate, right in front of me.  It helped me immediately know who really got it, who needs prompting, or kinda got it, and who was totally lost.  That part I liked.  Not sure how worthwhile it was though.  For one, it takes a surprising amount of time to get through everyone.  Secondly, while I was working with a few kids, I got mixed results with the rest of the class.  The kids who generally work hard anyway, worked hard that day.  The kids who generally don't work, didn't work that day.  I didn't like that.    

Saturday, September 24, 2011

My feelings on the teaching profession

This blog won't serve it's purpose if I don't write anything.

It's not that I  haven't wanted to write. or that I don't know what to say.  It's just that teaching takes a lot.  A lot of time and effort and work.  And writing a post about it just seems so...bottom-of-the-list sometimes, you know?

I can tell you that in the past weeks I've been all over in regards to my feelings about teaching.  I've already had the thought, "When will the year be over, and can I find another job for next year?" I've gone days of loving my work, and the challenge it brings.  I've decided I enjoy working with high schoolers.  I've decided I don't like working with high schoolers.  I've been tired.  I've been motivated.  I've been struggling - in productive ways and defeating ways.

I keep thinking about how "some people are meant to be teachers and others aren't."  I wonder who I am.  Am I someone who is cut out for teaching?  Or have I found myself in a job that really isn't for me, and that's why I struggle with it so much?

I guess that's what this blog and this new job are intended to answer.  

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Every Friday, the students have an early-release day, and we spend the afternoon in Professional Development.  One of the things we do as a staff, (and also with our advisory class) is Connections.  We sit in a circle and once Connections is "Open," one person is allowed to speak at a time, and share whatever is on their mind, school-related or not.  There is no response.  Once they are done, someone else can then share whatever is on their mind.  After a few minutes, usually about 10, Connections is "Closed" and we continue on to whatever was planned for the day.

It can feel a bit awkward, especially when no one is talking, and we're all sitting in silence (you know how people are afraid of silence!)  It can also be rough when you want to respond to someone's thoughts, and even more when you want a response to what you've shared.

But I think it's a great activity.  The title is appropriate; I think it has a way of connecting us.  It provides each person an opportunity to share something they might not have otherwise shared.  It allows us as a group to value each person individually, and allows each person to feel a part of the group.

Some things that have been shared are:  "I'm getting married!"  "I made a poor choice during an interaction with a student today" "I had to miss the first week of school because of a family emergency, here's what happened..."

I really like Connections, because I like hearing what is happening in my co-worker's lives, as I get to know them, and build my relationships with them.  I also like it because I know it's going to challenge me to share.  Share what's in my classroom and my life.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

What I love about my new school

1.  The small, tight-knit staff.  Teaching staff:  about 12  Total staff:  about 25  It's small.  On the very first day of my job, when teachers report back but not students yet, I got to watch everyone filter into the school and see each other again after a long summer break.   It was the highlight of my week.   Lots of hugs, and heartfelt greetings, and genuine "Glad you see you" filled the room.  It made me feel excited about my job, even before I had really begun.  A few weeks into the year, I told my husband, "There isn't one person at my job that isn't welcoming and helpful.  There isn't one person I'm not glad to be working with."

2. The lack of unnecessary rules and regulations.  As a teacher, the less I have to worry myself about, the better.  I already have so much to do, and so much to think about, that I don't want to add even one more small thing.  I don't have to here.  I don't have to worry about checking to make sure that none of my kids are chewing gum.  Once I assign a kid detention, it's done.  I don't have to follow up and make sure he attended.  My lesson plans don't have to follow a given format.  I'm not required to make x number of parent phone calls a month.  I am trusted to do what I think is best, and there is such freedom in that.

3. Math support out my ears!  Wow.  This school understands the math crisis, and understands that math is a high-stakes subject that needs a little extra attention.  If a student is struggling, they have so many options to get help:  There is time set aside each morning that I am available for help, there is a before and after school math tutoring session, there are 2 math remediation electives.  I love that I don't have to carve out half an hour every time a student didn't understand something in class.  I love that that student will still get the help he needs.

Overall, I get the impression that my work as an educator is valued and supported.  What a great feeling that is.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Prove it.

Have you heard that quote about math teachers and chocolate milk?

"Talking to other math teachers is like chocolate milk.  Comforting, perfect, and we enjoy it thoroughly.  Talking to other teachers is like milk.  Plain, but filling.  Talking to non-teachers is like having no cow at all."

I read that one day, somewhere on the world wide web, and did it resonate with me.  I had been so frustrated in talking to friends about teaching, none of them seemed to know what I was talking about!

In my just-over-three years experience in teaching math, I've found that talking to people about teaching has been one of the best ways for me to improve.  Math teachers, generally, stand out as people to have a good conversation with, because there is just something different about teaching math and teaching social studies.

I discovered "Math Teacher Blogs" about a year and half ago, and what excitement it brought me!  Here were people who talking about their teaching every day, people who were good at it.  I could take their ideas, I could commiserate with them when things didn't go well, I could laugh at the funny things that happened in their classrooms.

I liked reading these blogs because it made me take some time and seriously think about what I was doing, and how I could do it better.

I also liked it because it was like sitting on the sidelines, listening to a conversation amongst brilliant individuals.  And it really was a conversation.  I soon figured out that all of these bloggers knew each other, at least in the blog world.  I ventured a comment now and then, but I never really became a part of the community.

And then, all of a sudden, here I am, joining the ranks. I have my own thoughts about my own classroom that I want to share.  I don't know if I'll ever get to know "the group," or if any other math teacher will even read my blog, but I'm convinced now that if I want to continue growing, I need to start talking about my teaching, instead of just listening to what others think about their teaching.

We'll have to see how this goes.  To be honest, any time an adult walks into my room to observe, I instantly have the thought that I must be doing it all wrong, and I don't deserve to be a teacher.  I don't like talking about my teaching practice, because I don't feel confident in my teaching ability.

But that is the point of this blog.  I am a good teacher, several people have told me so, and I am writing this blog to prove it.  To myself.  Here goes.