Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Seems to be a trend this year...

My 'Day in the Life' post for this month will be posted by this afternoon. Sorry for the delay - I know it was supposed to be yesterday, but I'll explain in my reflection why I'm a bit late. :)

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Day in the Life: February 2017 Edition

Monday, 6 February 2017
Sixth Monthly Reflection Post
Everything always gets better - even the darkest times do not last forever.

Monday, Monday.
Can't trust that day.
Monday, Monday.
Sometimes it just turns out that way.
~ The Mamas & The Papas

We began the Geometry unit last week. Absolutely LOVE teaching Geometry. So many hands-on activities and inquiry-based investigations to do. In the past, I have planned to do the activities but never actually got to do them because of time. This year - I am making a conscious effort to do as many as I can. And we do have the time - I'm about three weeks ahead of last year's lesson plans. I'm also on track to have at least a week left before end-of-year state standardized testing for a quick review of the major concepts. That would truly be a first for me.

1) Teachers make a lot of decisions throughout the day. Sometimes we make so many it feels overwhelming. When you think about today, what is a decision/teacher move you made that you are proud of? What is one you are worried wasn't ideal?

Lately, I'm most proud of the different activities I've been trying out in my classroom. We've done a Mock Twitter Chat (well, attempted it any ways but will be doing it again soon). Today, we began an Inquiry-based Investigation into the Angle Sum Theorem. I gave students two different cards - one with three angles that formed a triangle and one with three angles that did not form a triangle. Students also had 6 squares of freezer paper, rulers, protractors, and colored markers. I tried to keep the groups in threes, as this gave each student an angle to construct on the freezer paper. They only got through one card during the class period, but that was mainly due to the discussions each group was having about the angles they were given and if they did truly form a triangle. It was fantastic. For those that did have triangles, the next question was whether the triangle they constructed had only one set of side measures or if they could construct many different sizes triangles while keeping the same angles. Again it was interesting to see them thinking about it, moving the papers, extending the rays of their angles, and coming to the correct choice. Tomorrow, we explore side lengths and triangles (i.e., Triangle Inequality Theorem). I have the pipe cleaners and lab sheets all ready to go!

A decision I worried about today is one that is not in my control, but does effect me and several other teachers. In early January, I had been asked my the guidance counselor about two students (one in 6th grade and one in 7th grade) that had been retained from the previous year and if I felt they could be promoted mid-year to the next grade level. I stated I didn't like the idea of mid-year promotion because the students had missed the first half of the grade level which for 7th grade math is highly important since a lot of what we're doing now is building off those concepts. Additionally, in my opinion, the two students in question had not successfully worked at mastering their retained grade level concepts. I (and other teachers) were overruled and the students have been promoted to the next grade level. For my two new students, I've been told to just put them on a computer and let them catch up using a credit recovery program. Right. Like I said, this decision was made by our administration and I don't know any other schools in our district that are doing this mid-year promotion of students. Just one more thing that has been frustrating about this school this year.

2) Every person's life is full of highs and lows. Share with us some of what that is like for a teacher. What are you looking forward to? What has been a challenge for you lately?

Looking forward to: Using this lesson from Drawing on Math and also parts of this lesson from Designated Deriver on Wednesday and Thursday to help with exploring Special Quadrilaterals. I love the Instagram concept and have even created an account for my math classes (MMA Math 7). As with a lot of things, I have a few students that are not crazy about the idea and don't want to participate. That's okay - the majority of my students love showing off their skills and love the idea of the Instagram account.

Challenges: The same as it's always been. The discipline of behavior in one class period. It really depends on who is in class that day. I have it now where I have the most talkative/daily distruptive students in the back (I'm down to about three out the fifteen - I started with about six at one point). They hate it back there - can't see the board, not able to distract other students, no iPad privileges. So it had been working for about a week. Yesterday a student returned to the class after having been in out-of-school-suspension and that disrupted the class because he didn't want to sit in back and got argumentative when told to take a seat and be quiet. I removed him from class and sent him to guidance. After which, we had no further problems. They even earned back their iPad privileges for today.

3) We are reminded constantly of how relational teaching is. As teachers we work to build relationships with our coworkers and students. Describe a relational moment you had with someone recently.

Recently, one of the teachers on our floor decided to take up the task of turning our tiny mundane teacher workroom into a more inviting teacher lounge. He had students move in some furniture. Another teacher took up the task of creating inspirational posters and decorating a bulletin board to post family photos/announcements. A coffee pot and coffee was donated by other teachers. I have been dubbed the Coffee Lady since I am usually the first in each morning and have just begun making it as soon as I get in. It's the least I could do for my colleagues. :)

4) Teachers are always working on improving, and often have specific goals for things to work on throughout a year. What progress have you made in your goal?

Last time I stated the district would be having a professional development workshop on the Growth Mindset, specifically centered around math. It was well worth the afternoon. My recent push for finding inquiry-based activities was a result of that workshop. I'm thinking about the questions more critically. I'm asking students to think about questions they have on concepts - what do they want to know? what did they learn about in the inquiry lab that they didn't know before? How did prior knowledge of other concepts help with this one? It was definitely what I needed to hear to help me move forward with challenging my students.

5) What else happened this month that you would like to share?

Nothing at the moment. Will update my blog on specific areas later.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

SCCTM Leadership Fellow 2017 Selection

Got this email in my inbox yesterday:
Congratulations! You have been selected as a member of the 2017 SCCTM Leadership Fellows. As such, you will participate in a two-day leadership institute designed to allow you a chance to examine your leadership strengths, learn more about SCCTM and NCTM, enhance your role as an advocate for our profession, and discuss issues facing mathematics teachers in South Carolina. The hope is that you will be ready to serve as an ambassador for the organization, help others see its value, and increase your involvement in the SCCTM/NCTM.
It continues on with:
We will be assembling a terrific group of mathematics educators from across the Palmetto State. Along with the district-level educators from Beaufort, Berkeley, and Charleston Counties, twenty-four mathematics teachers representing 23 schools comprise this year's team, including: Robert Smalls International Academy in Beaufort County, Berkeley County’s Philip Simmons Middle School, Westview Middle School, and Cross Elementary; Charleston County’s James Island Middle School, Military Magnet Academy, and Northwoods Middle School; Horry County’s North Myrtle Beach High School, North Myrtle Beach Middle School, and Ocean Bay Middle; Carolina Springs Middle School and  Pleasant Hill Middle School in Lexington One, Richland One’s A.C. Flora High School, Alcorn Middle School, Hand Middle School and W. A Perry Middle School; Richland Two’s Blythewood Academy, Longleaf Middle, Ridge View High School, and Spring Valley; RP Dawkins Middle School in Spartanburg Six, Spartanburg High School in Spartanburg Seven, and Sumter’s Ebenezer Middle School.

I will be joining my district math curriculum coordinator as well. It is being held in Columbia, South Carolina for two day in late February. I am really looking forward to this event. A great networking and collaboration opportunity - now I just need to get approval to take the first day of the conference off since it's a Friday and I'll need a substitute.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Day in the Life: Expanded Version (December 2016 & January 2017)

Wednesday, 6 December 2016 & Friday, 6 January 2017
Fourth & Fifth Monthly Post/Reflection
Extended Version

I had started a post last month, saved it, and planned on completing it to post before the end of the month when I was on winter break. Unfortunately, I ended up taking the two weeks totally off from anything school related. Usually I try to grade some papers, update grades, and put together upcoming lesson plans. In the past, I can get at least two units together. In past years, I have even stayed late the day before the break to tidy up my room or catch up with other colleagues I don't see regularly who are also staying late.

This year, every one was ready to go the minute the last cadet departed the building. It was a rough couple of weeks. We didn't even have our usual Kick-off To Winter Break Pep Rally for cadets to unwind the last hour before they departed. Actually we have had no pep rallies of any kind this year and as far as I know none have been scheduled for this year. Unfortunately this is not fair to our high school cadets since I remember pep rallies being a fun part of my high school experience. Sadly, our administration feels that all events during the school day must include both the middle and high school sections.

For my two week down-time, I spent it doing the following activities:

  1. Turning off my alarm and sleeping in until 8am most days. Few days I did get up at 7am because I went to the gym or I needed to run an errand.
  2. Reading! I completed several books - “Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond” by Sonia Shah, “Death without Company: Walt Longmire Mystery #2″ and "Kindness Goes Unpunished: Walt Longmire Mystery #3" by Craig Johnson; and “The Adventure of the Six Napoleans” by Arthur Conan Doyle
  3. TV Binge watch: This is Us (ABC), Lethal Weapon (FOX), The OA (Netflix), How to Get Away With Murder (ABC), Miranda (BBC via Hulu), Shut Eye (Hulu), Chance (Hulu), and Top Chef: Charleston (which was filmed right here in town over the summer)(Bravo)
  4. Finally made it to the Gibbes Art Museum downtown to see the Guggenheim Exhibit. And it did not disappoint! It centered around Non-objective artwork from Kandinsky, Bauer, Picasso, Chagall, Seurat, Leger, Modigliani, and Delaunay. Also discovered the Gibbes has a fantastic permanent collection. Will be going back for more exhibits later this year. 
  5. Saw "Star Wars: Rogue One" opening night. I'm an old school Star Wars geek (being 46 and having seen the original trilogy first run and in its original format not with the later enhancements). It was amazing and had many call-backs to the original Star Wars movie. 
We came back to school on Monday, 2 January 2017. Over the past 5 days, we've had two different schedules. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday we were on our normal operating schedule; each class I had was 50 minutes plus a lunch period of 35 minutes and a 45 minute planning. 

The last two days we have had an Semester 1 Exam Schedule so the high school semester classes can have extended classes for exams. I had 1st, 2nd, 3rd periods for 50 minutes then 6th period came to me for a whooping 30 minutes followed by my 50 minute planning period and an extended 7th grade lunch period of 50 minutes then my final two class periods of the day (7th and 8th period) for 50 minutes. I asked the assistant principal if she could possibly take some time off of the lunch period so that 7th graders could have a 50 minute 6th period. The cadets only take about 10 minutes to eat and use the rest of the time to play on their phones or horseplay around the cafeteria. All the other middle school grades had 50 minutes per academic class. But I was informed that while I may feel my class period is important, she (the assistant principal) had to meet the needs of the whole school first and that it just was not going to be possible to fix. So my 6th period will lose 100 minutes of instruction. Thankfully they are an adaptable group and we've been able to cover the objective in an abbreviated lesson format. So needless to say, 2017 is continuing the chaos from 2016. 

1) Teachers make a lot of decisions throughout the day. Sometimes we make so many it feels overwhelming. When you think about today, what is a decision/teacher move you made that you are proud of? What is one you are worried wasn't ideal? 

December 2016: Whenever I need to try something out on the iPads, I use my second period all boys 7th grade class. They have a mix of ability levels and I can use their feedback to tweak the activity for other class periods. We've been using Kahoot a lot and I've been looking for something different to shake things up. It was suggested by one of my Digital Learning Instructors to try the Space Race option on the Socrative app (part of Mastery Connect). I put together the quiz this morning, mixing in homework problems and vocabulary. At first, they were disappointed that it wasn't Kahoot. Once they got started, it was a different story. They LOVED it! We discussed what they liked (competing against others/not knowing who was on your team) and what needed improvement (eliminate short answer questions/stick to multiple choice and true/false). They want to do another one tomorrow.

Today 2017: The whole day was not ideal. I spent most of the day dealing with behavior issues in every class period including those that are not normally an issue. And, yes, I did raise my voice more than normal. We even stopped class to review class rules and where to find them (on the front wall of the room) and what rewards/consequences for various actions. I even stated I'd move our test days next week from Wednesday/Thursday to Monday/Tuesday (for two periods this actually did succeed in calming them down enough to get through the material). I really do hate doing that and only use it as a last resort when all other persuasive measures fail.

2) Every person's life is full of highs and lows. Share with us some of what that is like for a teacher. What are you looking forward to? What has been a challenge for you lately?

December 2016: Based on how well cadets responded to the Socrative app, I incorporated that into unit assessment. They took a 10 multiple-choice response quiz on the iPads one day, then I gave them a paper test the next day. The paper test was a collection of nine word problems and several bonus problems. The cadets selected three word problems they felt they could complete the best for credit. The bonus problems were optional but highly encouraged. I also let them use their notebooks as a reference if they got stuck on anything. This method actually worked well for their assessment on Two-Step Equations. The cadets said they liked having a choice in what word problems to complete and that the iPad test provided them with an immediate final score. Depending on their overall scores we might use this method regularly.

Today 2017: We are going to use the above testing method next week for their Two-Step Inequae lity assessment. I did see an improvement in their test scores last time. I also saw an increase in their retention of the material from equations. It was nice to see. They were able to apply their understanding of the two-step process of equations to solve two-step inequalities. Of course, they struggled a bit with negative coefficients and reversing the inequality symbol for the solution. But most remembered how to graph inequality solution sets (when to use an open or closed circle and which way to draw the arrow from the circle on a number line). So I'm definitely looking forward to this assessment again.

3) We are reminded constantly of how relational teaching is. As teachers we work to build relationships with our coworkers and students. Describe a relational moment you had with someone recently.

December 2016: A few days before break one of our middle school teachers went in for minor out-patient surgery and left packets of work to be completed by his students in his absence. The teacher and I are close friends and live in the same neighborhood. He asked me to collect all the student work from the sub before I departed for break and he (or his wife) would come by my house to pick it up over break. He has done the same for me so it felt good to return the favor.

Today 2017: We have two new teachers on our team. Over the past few days I have enjoyed assisting them in a variety of ways - from assisting in technology setup to discussing behavior intervention strategies for individual cadets to sharing bits of personal/professional stories. Both are fantastic additions to our team and hope they will be with us for many years to come.

4) Teachers are always working on improving, and often have specific goals for things to work on throughout a year. What progress have you made in your goal?

Goal: Working towards a mathematical mindset. 
I feel like I am not making progress on this goal. However, that should change in a few weeks. On the 17th of January, we have a teacher workday for district professional development. I have signed up for a half day course on "Creating a Growth Mindset in Middle School Math Classrooms (7th Grade)." Next time I should have more to put here :)

5) What else happened this month that you would like to share?
Already shared in the opening paragraphs before my reflections.


Thursday, January 5, 2017

It's Been A While But I Am Still Here...

Sorry for being MIA. In the seven years I have been teaching, this has been the roughest year (and that's including my first year as a new teacher). There are many factors that are contributing to this issue. Some issues are on me; some are beyond my control. I'm going to be putting together my coherent thoughts on these items today along with a LONG over due expanded December/January reflection post.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Day in the Life: Third Month (November) Refection #DITLife

Sunday, 6 November 2016
Third Monthly Post/Reflection
Trudging through the trenches...

Woo-hoo! It's a weekend post. It was also Daylight Savings and we gained an hour of sleep. I had to manually adjust a couple clocks this morning. Today is a day to relax mostly since Saturday was pretty busy as was Friday.

Friday was our first Cadet Promotion & First Quarter Award Ceremony. There was no morning formation; cadets were sent directly from the cafeteria or gym to their homerooms. Classes are shorten by ten minutes so I finally saw my first period for its whole 40 minutes! Here's the parade schedule:
  • Homeroom (7th Grade Girls)
  • 1st Period - 6th Grade Honor (boys/girls)
  • 2nd Period - 7th Grade (all boys)
  • 3rd Period - 7th Grade (all boys)
  • Lunch
  • Planning
  • 6th Period - 7th Grade (boys/girls)
  • 7th Period - 6th Grade (all boys)
  • 8th Period - 7th Grade (all girls)
  • Parade (at conclusion of parade - students will be dismissed)
First period went over distance between points and reflecting points over the x- or y-axis on a coordinate plane. Students continued using their graphs from this post activity. We also reviewed how to order rational numbers on a number line. Second, third, and sixth periods (all seventh grade math classes) were uneventful as we continued a lesson that was started on Thursday talking about simplifying algebraic expressions. Their homework was to answer the focus question of the lesson to turn in on Monday. Seventh period was okay. A few students returned from being in ISS (In School Suspension) all week. The class dynamic was a bit off as the returning students had not done their assigned work I had sent to them and opted instead to try to take the class off task by not coming with their proper materials (mainly pencils and math journal).

The class was unexpectedly shortened by five minutes as the Commandant came on the PA to announce he needed all student leaders and JROTC command staff in the gym. Band students were also told to go to homeroom to get their belongings and report to the band room in preparation for the award ceremony. As students started filling the halls, another announcement was made for all students to return to homeroom. We all thought it was a mistake because we had our eighth period on our schedule and told the students to ignore the announcement. I started my eighth period and we had class for about 10 minutes. The Commandant was back on the PA to state that the high school needed to begin moving all homerooms to the gym and that the middle school should get ready to move next. I opened my door to see other teachers coming into the hall as well. I saw our tactical officer and asked her why we weren't following the schedule. She didn't know either as she had a class and was trying to get an administrator on a radio - with no luck. Since students were switching from other classes and running around the halls, we had to end eighth period. One student was irate. She loves my class and says it's the one class she looks forward to most. A couple other girls agreed with her and I said they needed to complain to the administration as they are the ones who put together the assembly schedules.

Normally we have the ceremony outside. The students form up behind the school by grade level than march around to a side entryway. Our marching band leads the way followed by middle school grades sixth through eighth then high school seniors down to freshman. Teachers march in behind our respective grade levels. We stand behind the groups and assist our military tactical officers.

Unfortunately the decision was made to hold the ceremony in the gym. The gym was not designed for the almost 600 students we have this year. Many middle school students had to sit on the floor. The sound system had not been checked so every speaker sounded muffled. Also there was only 100 chairs set out for parents and guests. We had about 130 or so people show up! Parents were justifiably upset. Not many middle school students were given rank for this quarter due in part to behavior issues and failing grades.

After school, our boys cross country team had a pasta party in prep for the next day's state meet. They also watched the movie, "The 4-Minute Mile." I left early because I had to pick my daughter up from college then make it to the 6:30 pm showing of "Marvel's Doctor Strange." Won't spoil anything - but I feel it's the best Marvel movie to date. Absolutely loved it!!!

On Saturday, I arrived at school at 9:50 am. Only two of our seven athletes were there. My other coach arrived a little after 10 am. We had wanted to leave by 10:15 am. It takes around an hour and a half to get up to Columbia. The students had been instructed to be at the school by 9:45 am. We wanted to be up there by noon. Our division didn't run until 2 pm but we wanted to give the athletes time to warm up and stretch properly. Unfortunately, we had one athlete that didn't get to school until close to 10:45 am - he is our fastest runner so we couldn't leave him behind. We arrived at the meet at 1pm. We set up our tent, picked up our information packet, went over last minute strategy with the athletes, and made sure they were all wearing the proper uniform items. It was our best showing at a state meet. This is my fifth year as a cross country coach along with my co-coach. Every year we get better. This year we finally had a runner place in the Top 15 for our division. He placed 7th overall with a time of 19:13. We were ranked 12th as a team last year; this year we ranked 7th as a team. The athletes all gave their best perform of the season. They were a bit disappointment that they didn't finish closer to the top but they were happy with their improved times. We treated them to a nice dinner on our way home. Many of the athletes will be running track and field too so they are eager to get started. However, my co-coach and I have deemed next week an off-week as we figure out how we're going to work the schedule for conditioning activities.

REFLECTION

1) Teachers make a lot of decisions throughout the day. Sometimes we make so many it feels overwhelming. When you think about Friday, what is a decision/teacher move you made that you are proud of? What is one you are worried wasn’t ideal?

I almost took a personal day on Friday. It was tempting. And I thought a parade schedule would be easy on a substitute since classes are shorten. But I'm glad I didn't. We have several long-term subs already on our floor and it would have been chaos! Well it was a little more chaotic than usual but nothing we couldn't handle. I'm glad I had my eighth period even for 10 minutes. They were able to get the homework at least.

A decision that wasn't ideal was putting off the test for the sixth graders I have seventh period. I've delayed their test twice now. It's not their fault - many of them are ready to test on ratios, rates, and unit rates. Our classroom printers are no longer serviced by the district so we can't get ink for them. I have requested ink be ordered from our department funds but it hasn't arrived yet. So I have to print the test off at home (well, remember to print it off that is) then run off copies at school. It's a pain.

2) Every person’s life is full of highs and lows. Share with us some of what that is like for a teacher. What are you looking forward to? What has been a challenge for you lately?

This sounds horrible: I'm looking forward to our week-long Thanksgiving Break (21 - 25 November). I'm counting down the days. I'm glad to have Tuesday off this week as well. It's not that I'm unprepared - I have my lesson plans done through the end of the month. I have lots of activities to do in the classroom; I can fill 45 to 50 minutes of class time. I want some time for me.

As prepared as I am, the challenge is fitting everything I want into my 45 to 50 minutes. Many times I prepare the Weekly Bell Work slides, but we never get to use them. I've been waiting for them to get themselves in order before they enter or they take too much time getting settled once they are in the room. My goal this week is to just bring them into the room, seat them quickly, and have them submit their Bell Work via an iPad app.

3) We are reminded constantly of how relational teaching is. As teachers we work to build relationships with our coworkers and students. Describe a relational moment you had with someone recently.

My cross country athletes. As described above, I've known many of these young men since they were sixth and seventh graders. They are now seniors and juniors in high school. It's been an amazing journey to watch. For three of them, it was their last cross country meet with our school. One is a senior and will be out for track and field (he's our star 400-meter hurdler - placing third at state last year). But for the other two, they'll be going to a different school next year. And I've contemplated not coming back next year as well, so this just might be my last time training with them.

4) Teachers are always working on improving, and often have specific goals for things to work on throughout a year. What is a goal you have for the year?

Working towards a mathematical mindset. I'm getting more work shown on assessments, during class work, and on homework assignments. Especially with the sixth grade honor students. I'm doing more visual modeling and challenging them to go above their grade level.

5) What else happened this month that you would like to share?

The seventh season of Walking Dead began a few weeks ago and answered the question everyone had wondered: Who was bludgeoned by Lucille? I read the graphic novel which the show doesn't always follow but is good source for most stories. I predicted that Glen would die (like in the comics) because it offers up the most drama for the other characters. Abraham was a close second as his character in the graphic novel had died long before Negan was even introduced. Now I never predicted them to kill both in the same show - that was bold!

Speaking of shows, I finished season two of Daredevil and almost done with Luke Cage both on Netflix (and both Marvel comic related). Both were well done and looking forward to seeing them team up in The Defenders series with Iron Fist and Jessica Jones.

On the home front, we survived Hurricane Matthew with minimal damage. We still lost most of our kitchen appliances and will be out of our townhouse for a couple months, but it was nowhere near the loss we had over a year ago. The flooding was only about 14 inches this time instead of well over 48 inches last year. We do have flood insurance so that's a good thing.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Graphing & Playing Cards - An experiment! #MTBoS

I've been trying since last week to get my sixth graders to understand what ordered pairs are and how to graph them. I've tried using Geogebra app which has worked for my Pre-Algebra students, but didn't really reach the students who were having problems. So yesterday we tried to play Kahoot to help students with the process. Didn't work too well - many focused too much on the points and what place they were and became discouraged.

After looking across the many math blogs, I decided to go with playing cards and a grid. Student will work in groups of three with 18 playing cards. They will take turns drawing two cards - the first card will be the x-coordinate, the second card will be the y-coordinate. They will write the numbers and the ordered pair on a chart than graph the point on a coordinate plane. Lastly they have to state which quadrant that point is in.

CONCLUSION: They LOVED the activity! The students, especially the girls, stated they enjoyed using the cards for an activity. I said we could use them to play a version of WAR using integer operations. They were excited! A couple of the boy groups had difficulty following directions due to talking while I was going over the procedures. Today we're going to further their knowledge by asking them to find the distance between two points on the graph. I've already discussed with some of the accelerated students about the distance formula (and Pythagorean Theorem) so it's going to be interesting to see what they do. We're also going to talk about reflection of points over the x- and y-axis. Can't wait!

Here's a few examples of their work: