Category Archives: culture

Be a little softer.

I’m watching a Netflix show, Atypical, about a family with a son on the Autism spectrum, and it inspired me to write this down.

The compassion and kindness and softness within children who have siblings with disabilities is a beautiful thing.

I didn’t grow up close to anyone with a disability, so I have absolutely no idea what it’s like, but I have been able to work closely with a few kids who have siblings with a disability, and I am just astounded by what growing up in their family must be like. Q and J are the ones in my mind.

Again, I am really ignorant on the topic, I imagine it’s got to be fucking hard. And it might not seem beautiful to those involved. But those kids, the ones who take care of their sibling with a disability, those kids are beautiful.

I hope I’m not being insensitive. I’m not trying to romanticize the every day lives of these families. I am just truly touched by the kids I’ve worked with.

I’m sorry. I don’t know shit about this, but the thought of those siblings makes a lump form in my throat and I feel like crying. Out of gratitude and deep respect for people who take care of other people.

I hope we all, and myself in particular, can be more compassionate, more kind, and more soft, and take better care of each other.

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A Note on Equity

Yesterday one of the guidance counselors sent out an email asking for nominations of a sophomore student to send to a leadership conference. This student was supposed to demonstrate leadership and contribute positively to the school community.

I thought about who to nominate. A student who immediately jumped to the front of my mind was a black male who fits the criteria and is an awesome person in general. He’s kind of quiet though, so I wasn’t sure whether to nominate him or not. I ended up not nominating anyone and decided to let other teachers make the nominations.

Today the guidance counselor sent out the list of nominated students. The black male mentioned above was on the list. I immediately thought, oh, good , I’ll vote for him.

Then I saw another name on the list, a white male, who I have in class this year. I didn’t think of him yesterday, but he is a great leader, and I am so thankful to have his positive influence in my classroom.

So, of course, the typical internal debate ensued. Do I vote for the black kid or the white kid? Does the black kid “need” my vote more? Is this an opportunity that he might not get elsewhere?

I went back and forth for quite awhile, and then started scanning other names on the list. Suddenly it occurred to me that perhaps I was having the wrong debate. I was so stuck on racial equity, but what about gender equity? How come I immediately focused on two males for a leadership conference?

I am regularly in disbelief (and sometimes in shock) about the lack of women in leadership positions, yet here I was debating between two male students to send to a leadership conference. Although I immediately considered racial inequity, I almost didn’t even acknowledge gender inequity. Weird. This made me wonder if I am somehow influenced by societal norms about men assuming leadership positions.

Once I came to this realization, I completely changed tactics. I recognized many female students on the list and quickly settled on one who I think is, and will continue to be, a great leader and positive role model.

She happens to be white, but I’m completely satisfied with my choice.

 

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A quick anecdote on feedback

I passed back some Geometry tests the other day, and there was a problem on similar triangles in which students had to agree or disagree with a statement and explain why. While grading, I wrote “well said” or “nicely stated” next to any convincing explanations.

A student saw this comment, and asked me, “Is this supposed to be sarcastic or what?”

I was surprised. “No… I meant that. I thought it was a good explanation.”

The kid responded, “Oh, well it was in red so I thought it was bad.”

So that was interesting, and it has me thinking about different types of feedback. What does effective feedback look like? How do kids perceive feedback?

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A cold day, followed by a beautiful display of student initiative

Yesterday we had a cold day! It’s like a snow day, except it’s really cold out. With wind chill, temperatures around here were -35 F. The timing was good because somehow I ended up being really sick yesterday. So I didn’t particularly enjoy myself on my day off (in fact, I felt terrible), but thankfully I could nap by the fire, drink tea, and spend the day recuperating.

Anyway, I wanted to post about a proud moment from my FST class today. These kids are used to a lot of hand-holding and spoon-feeding, and many of them rarely do independent work (unless I really hound them). Most days, I’ll hear this from at least one FST student: “I’ll be honest, Ms. C, I’m not gonna do this.”

These kids are mostly seniors who’ve been placed in “lower track” math classes their whole life, so changing their mindset isn’t easy. But they did elect to take 4 years of math in high school, plus they’re all good kids, so I know it’s worth it to keep trying.

Today, I told them I would walk them through one example of each type of problem (unit circle stuff), but that was it. No more.

A few kids said, “Aw, can’t you keep going.”

“Nope. I said that was all I was going to do as a class.”

Here is where one kid said, “We can keep doing them as a class, I’ll just go up there.” And he did.

The awesome thing was this kid didn’t know how to solve the problems. But he was willing to go up there and try to figure it out. It probably helped that he’s in the drama club and is an anchor on the school announcements.

So he starts to play the role of the teacher. “Ok, so let’s do problem 2: 495 degrees. We need to find an equivalent rotation between 0 and 360 degrees. How do we do that?”

Miraculously, the rest of the kids played along.

“It’s 45 degrees.” “No, it’s 135 degrees.” “How’d you get that?”

The 135 degree kid explains his thinking, the kid at the board follows along, agrees, and writes down 135.

I quickly snap out of my state of shock and try to remember good techniques for facilitating student discussions.

So I ask, “S, could you please repeat how you got 135?”

So he does.

“Thank you. Can someone summarize or rephrase what S just said?”

Someone does.

And, oh man, it was beautiful. Students were participating without any prodding from me. I managed to remember to ask good questions (Who can rephrase that? Who did it differently?) and to occasionally ask for a collective pause to let something sink in for everyone before moving on. Most importantly, I remembered not to interrupt too much.

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Filed under classroom management, collaboration, culture, FST / Algebra 2

High and Lows (Mostly Highs!) of the First Two Weeks

I survived my first two weeks as a high school math teacher! So many things have been running through my mind, but right now I’m going to make a list of things that are going well and things that need improvement. I just want to get it all out. I hope to blog more regularly from now on!

Things that are going well

  • I love my school. It’s so, so, so good. My colleagues are incredibly supportive and amazingly talented. Our students care about their school and each other. I am very fortunate to be part of such a strong community.
  • There are some very effective school-wide policies in place that administrators, teachers, and students are all on the same page about. I feel like this really promotes school pride and diminishes behavior problems.
  • My Geometry and FST students are awesome kids. I am so impressed by them.
  • Creating a classroom that values mistake making. This is a work in progress, but I’ve got a decent start.
  • Establishing a classroom community where the kids feel comfortable talking to each other. Seniors are good with this (too good, actually), and I’m still working on Geometry kids.
  • I have established some classroom routines! Phew. Thank you Andrew Stadel for Estimation180. It’s been a great way to start class every day. Similarly, ending class with an exit ticket lets students know that we work until the bell, as well as provides me with some great feedback.
  • Using whiteboards (both big and small) has been an effective way to get students to share their thinking and to just get some students to write something down.
  • I’ve done some deep activities, problems, tasks, or whatever you wanna call ’em that have produced good results.
  • I am learning every day.
  • I am finding time to exercise and cook dinner. (Sleep is another matter. Looks like I might pick up drinking coffee again…)

Thank you to all the inspiring teachers who share their wonderful ideas and activities so that I can use them. I stand on the shoulders of giants.

Things to improve

  • Classroom management. Can you tell I’m a first year teacher?
  • Similar to the first point, I struggle with engaging every student when I’m talking to the whole class. Group work is my strength: students discussing with each other with me floating around from group to group asking questions and guiding them along. In contrast, I feel like I’m not strong enough at whole-class lecturing and encouraging note-taking. I think I just need to be more strict about it. No talking when I’m talking. Pick up a pencil and write something down.
  • Kids who are absent. And the kids who are just now switching into my class. How can I get them up to speed?
  • Checking homework and going over answers. What a big ol’ unproductive time sink.
  • Better hand-writing. I save my Smart Notebook documents and upload them to my class website for students to use as a reference. Neater hand-writing would be easier for kids to read and follow.

Have a lovely weekend, everyone! Here’s to a great year!

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My Automathography

I’m taking Justin Lanier’s smOOC called Math is Personal, and one of our first assignments is to write our “automathography”. So here’s mine. Enjoy!

Mary’s Automathography

I love math, but I didn’t fall in love with it until college. I was good at math in high school, but I was good at all my classes, so nothing stood out about math in particular. I definitely had a fear of getting the wrong answer in math class, and I was happy to just follow the procedures given to me by my teachers. At this point in my life, I don’t think I understood what mathematics actually was. I won the conference quiz bowl in math my senior year, and it was great to get that recognition, but I graduated high school thinking I would study chemistry in college.

I soon discovered that I did not enjoy working in the lab, but that I did enjoy my math courses, so I ended up majoring in math. I went to a huge university (40,000+ undergraduates), so my first two years of math classes consisted of lectures with 300 students. Despite this, I found myself completely inspired by the professors. I was enamored with how passionate and genuine they seemed. In other subjects, I felt like the professors and TAs were egotistical or arrogant. In contrast, everyone in the math department seemed friendly and easy going. I’ll always remember when one of my calculus professors introduced Euler’s identity. His voice wavered, and I thought he might even cry when he described how this one equation related the most important numbers in mathematics.

Even those first few years of college, I was still focused on answer-getting. This quickly changed when I started taking courses like Real Analysis and Modern Algebra. In these classes, I was finally challenged to think for myself. There were no recipes to follow, and it was completely up to me to decide how to prove or demonstrate something. It was both terrifying and liberating. Math became a creative endeavor for me, and I loved it. I truly came to understand and appreciate Georg Cantor’s quote: “The essence of mathematics is its freedom.”

Besides the creative aspect of math, I also thrived on its collaborative aspect. Getting to know the other students in my classes was so much fun, and struggling with them on math problems late into the night will always be one of my favorite college memories. I also always appreciated how there wasn’t a competitive atmosphere in math, compared with most of the science classes I took. Simply put, I learned so much from doing and talking math with my peers. I became more confident and began to embody the mathematical habits of mind.

In particular, I will never forget the group I worked with in Real Analysis. The professor assigned problems every class which were due the following class (this course required more of my time than any other), so the five of us would get together almost every day, sometimes for several hours, to struggle through them. We would meet in the student union in the evenings, staying later than everyone else and having conversations about math or maybe not about math. Before class, we would meet in the math library to share any last minute insights, often getting looks from others for being too loud. Naturally, a strong bond formed between the five of us. On weekends (or Thursdays, or whenever we could no longer stand to stare at our papers) we would go out and get drinks together.

The experiences I had in classes like Real Analysis really transformed my idea of math. I learned the value of productive struggle and collaboration. I learned how to be creative in math and make it my own. I really felt mathematically strong at the end of it all.

Fast forward to the present- five years after that Real Analysis class. I am now about to start my first-year teaching high school math. I hope I don’t suck.

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Exit Tickets and Group Work Norms

Ever experience kids packing up 5 minutes before the bell? I definitely did during student teaching, but half-way through, with support from my cooperating teacher and help from another math teacher, I decided to implement exit tickets. It definitely made a difference. Kids worked until the end of class when I handed out their exit ticket sheets and put the prompt up on the Smartboard. It was great. The other math teacher who did exit tickets used a weekly sheet with a space for each day’s answer, so dutifully followed her lead, but I didn’t really enjoy keeping track of the sheets for a whole week and it was a pain to pass them out at the end of each class. The kids complained that it took too long to get their sheets back so they didn’t have enough time to answer the question.

So anyway, this year I plan to just have a bunch of half-sheets of paper printed out for exit tickets. I am wasting more paper this way, which is a concern of mine, but it’ll have to do for now. On the back of the half-sheet there is a participation reflection. I’m  focusing on group work and creating healthy math culture in my classroom this year, so I want to remind the kids of our group work norms every day, and I want them to do some reflection on the day, hence the three questions on the back of the exit ticket.

I really like all of the norms I’ve decided to use, but unfortunately there are twelve of them, which is probably too many. I should try to shorten the list, but I don’t know which ones to give up. They’re all important to me!

Well, here’s the file with the exit ticket on the front and the reflection on the back. Nothing fancy, but check it out, and I’m interested in hearing your thoughts. Do you use exit tickets? How do you implement them, and what do you like about them? What classroom norms do you use? How do you get your students to think about your norms?

(I don’t have any word processing software on my computer, so I just use google docs for everything, but in the process of uploading my documents to scribd, the spacing gets a little weird, but you should still get the idea.)

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Filed under culture, formative assessment, group work