Tag Archives: math teacher

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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Formative Assessment Brain Dump

Today I enjoyed another get together with my FST (kind of like the 2nd half of an Algebra 2 class) co-worker. We had a good discussion on formative assessment and how to grade it, and many thoughts and ideas are still running through my mind, but here’s a brain dump of where I am so far.

School policy requires each class to grade 25% on “Effort” and 75% on “Knowledge and Skills”. Pretty much as a whole, the math department uses homework and quizlets (your typical formative assessment short quiz) to make up that 25% Effort grade.

Last year my co-worker graded homework for completion and quizlets for correctness, but he was having trouble reconciling the fact that something graded for correctness was going into the “Effort” grade. So he proposed that the kids take the quizlets like normal, he grades them like normal, but if the kids make corrections then they get 100%.

At first, I didn’t really like the idea, but now as I’m typing this I’m kind of warming up to it. Well, let me back up. First, I’ve done lots of reading on Standards-Based Grading and am intrigued by it, so I personally don’t really like the 25% Effort thing in general, but I have to accept it and move on. Likewise, I don’t really want to bother grading homework. I want great math to happen during class so that there’s no need to dole out the typical “page 155 #1-27 odd” homework assignments. If I feel like the kids need more practice (or if some individual students ask for it), then I can give some homework problems, but otherwise I’m not really interested in seeing a bunch of kids copy off each other every day just to get their completion grade.

But anyway, my co-worker and I want to basically have the same set up because our kids get shuffled at semester, so I’ll play along with grading homework for completion. No big deal.

Now, regarding the quizlets, like I said, at first I didn’t like the idea of kids blowing off their quizlets and then copying the correct answers for 100%. So I told my co-worker that although their effort grade will be higher from that easy 100%, I worry that their actual effort will go down because they won’t really care about being prepared for the quizlet if they know they can just correct it and get 100%. Basically, I want them to take the quizlets seriously, and I worry that they won’t if they know they can just correct it.

But, as I’m typing this, I am opening up to the idea. If I can create the expectation that they come prepared for the quizlet, and I continually emphasize it’s importance as an indicator of what they know and don’t know, then it’s very possible that they will take the quizlet seriously despite the “easy” grading of it. In fact, maybe the “easy” grading of it will take some pressure off of them and really encourage them to make corrections and learn from their mistakes. And that’s the most important thing about formative assessment, right? If they can identify their errors and learn from their mistakes then they’re doing exactly what I want, so why not give them 100%?

Grading is weird.

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Filed under formative assessment, FST / Algebra 2, grading