Friday, April 7, 2017

Day in the Life: April 2017 Edition (A bit late)

Thursday, 6 April 2017
Seventh Monthly Reflection Post
Spring break is only 1 more day away!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I figure I better do this during my planning or it may not get done. We had severe thunderstorms move through the Charleston, South Carolina area yesterday so it forced our county-wide track and field meet to be consolidated on today (it was supposed to be yesterday and today). This will not leave time for me to complete this later on tonight as the meet will go until at least 10:00 pm.

I do have to post the last reflection piece as it was partially completed - just never posted. But that has been a trend this year - not enough time to do other pursuits - and the fact that I take on a lot of projects without really looking at how much time they will entail.

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?

A teacher move that I am proud of is bringing real-world sampling/polls into my Statistic unit - especially for my group of 2nd period 7th grade boys. They have done a phenomenal job at asking questions and challenging the data that they see in these polls. There are 16 of them - 8 Hispanic, 7 African-American, and 1 Caucasian student. The big topic since November has been the election. On Five-Thirty-Eight website, they have a poll about "How Popular/Unpopular is Donald Trump?." It is interactive and allows the user to switch between several different viewpoints: likely or registered voters, all adults, and both. Since the topic was sampling methods and statistical questions, the students asked how the data was collected and how many people where surveyed. When you scroll down the page, there is a list of all the different polling sites that contributed to the data (i.e., Gallup, Pew Research, CNN/Opinion, ABC News, CBS News), how many people were surveyed and the percentages from each poll that made up the line graph on top. We discussed if only 1500 people were surveyed via phone interview was that enough to reflect the feelings of everyone in the US population. This lead to how would we find out more about these polling sites and their methods. One student who normally sleeps through class actually stayed awake the entire class period as we discussed more about random and non-random sampling methods. He even had one of the most interesting questions - "Do we know what questions were asked in the phone interviews?" When I asked him to clarify, he said that he felt maybe the results could have been influenced one way or another by the tone of the questions. For a 7th grader, I found that pretty deep.

I bring the above up because today we again looked at how Gallup conducted a poll about Americans' feelings on the Affordable Care Act and what type of sampling was used. We again discussed how "random" was the method Gallup used - why did they use both cellphone and landline, why did they offer Spanish translation, where did they get their population from? The students were really good about answering the questions and connecting it to what we had learned in class. They also had a few questions of their own and one that sticks out was "if they are using cell phones/landlines, would that be unfair to people who are homeless?" A few went to the bottom of the page and highlighted the part where it stated "question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls." This brought the discussion full circle about how statistics can be misleading and even random sampling can still be biased. The students all stated that they enjoyed the discussions and it helped them to better understand the various sampling methods we needed to learn.

As far as not ideal, I can't think of one at this moment. It's too late in the year for me to try to second guess any decisions I make. All my classes will be done with the standards by this Friday when we go on Spring Break. Thus when we come back on the 15th, we can begin two weeks of solid review so they can be ready for the SC Ready Math Assessment on the 3rd of May.

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?

What I'm most looking forward to is Spring Break. And the best news we received today is that state standardized end-of-year testing will be pushed back a week! So instead of testing the week of 24 April, we will test the first week in May. This gives me at least 10 days to do review activities. It also allows more time for student reflection on their weaknesses and where they need to concentrate their review time on.
On the school side, we've been tasked to come up with a block schedule for the middle school next year. This has been something us middle school teachers have been wanting for several years and it looks like the administration has finally decided to allow it. It would be a modified schedule so that ELA and Math would see our classes every day. I would have only 3 preps and would more than likely be 6th grade Honors/Accelerated, 7th grade Pre-Algebra and 8th grade Algebra 1. The best part is that instead of having only 45 minutes per class (with 6 classes to teach) I would have 85 minutes! The students are not happy but I remind them that we could really dig into the material more if we had that time. We could integrate science, art, and social studies and explore how our math concepts cross over into those disciplines. Definitely something to look forward to next year (if they can work out a schedule that fits).
The challenge is going be keeping students on task this next month or so as we finish out the year. Many have already checked out as we started fourth quarter. I have over 15 students with a zero for a grade because they haven't done anything. Today we are going to try to get some of that to change as I give them some class time to complete any missing work. Not sure if it will work but I can at least say that I gave them the opportunity to make up the work during school.

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 colleagues choose me as Teacher of the Month - which is not something that has every happened. It was a pleasant surprise at our faculty meeting and it was nice to read several of the comments my colleagues wrote. I will post the picture of my door where the signs are posted later today.

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?

My goal was creating a mathematical mindset environment and I think I've done a better job at least with my 2nd period group of students. They are fantastic in asking questions that make me stop and think as well. I wish we had more time in class to explore many of the questions they pose.

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

I plan to catch up with this blog over Spring Break so I will be posting pictures of several activities we did in class that produced some pretty results.

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.