On the Eve of Year 9

As I await the beginning of my ninth year of teaching, I feel probably the fewest nerves that I ever have despite also feeling the least prepared as I ever have for the first day of school. To a certain extent, I’m sure that this is natural, though it also does feel a bit unsettling.

I anticipate this year being an exciting one. One big change within the teaching culture at my school is a shift away from the use of TI calculators to Desmos. We certainly have teachers who have used Desmos Activity Builder or who used the graphing capabilities in focused ways, but we are working toward a more continuous and comprehensive use of Desmos. I think that this transition would have happened eventually, but we are being propelled by changes in Virginia state testing. As I understand it, for the current school year, students will have the option of a handheld calculator or the onscreen Desmos calculator, but next school year, a Desmos onscreen calculator will be the only calculator option for state testing.

We did have a district staff development last week (thank you Nolan Doyle), which I think got many people excited about the possibilities; however, the reality of implementing things throughout the school year that are exciting in August is a whole other challenge. I had used Activity Builder in the past, but was excited to learn more about the possibilities for Geometry. Since I teach only Geometry, I will certainly be focused on ways to incorporate Desmos Geometry both as a teaching tool and a tool for student exploration.

In addition to the challenges of what does it mean to plan and incorporate new technology in genuine ways, I think that many teachers are wondering about logistical questions:

  • What if a student doesn’t bring their Chromebook to class? How can we provide supports for them without setting a precedent that we’ll always have extras?
  • What does it look like to give a test with students using Desmos? How can we use technology to help students demonstrate academic integrity?
  • How does using Desmos change classroom management practices? How can we encourage students to demonstrate appropriate use of technology?

I look forward to having these discussions with colleagues in my building as well as trying to engage with others on Twitter to see what resources might be of use to us. Desmos isn’t the only item on my radar for this upcoming year, but I think that’s probably a good enough start for the night before school.

 

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This post is part of a blogging challenge called Blaugust. Click here to check out the other blogs that are participating.

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Homework Policies

When I first began teaching, there was no question in my mind that I would assign homework. I was a firm believer that students needed practice outside of class in order to solidify their mathematical skills. I don’t really remember really even questioning this idea through college. So it was that through my first six years of teaching, I assigned homework on an almost nightly basis, though I was very cognizant of keeping assignments short. It always pained me to hear students and parents complaining about their schedules and struggling to balance everything. I was also teaching at a Christian school where I was strongly discouraged from giving homework on Wednesdays as many students had church that night. I didn’t tend to follow that recommendation because I felt that it would set my students behind.

In my transition period between two very different schools, I reflected a lot over my teaching procedures and routines. As I spent those first six years teaching, I had learned more about changing ideas and research about the value of homework. I also began to have some awareness of different socioeconomic realities and how homework norms can advantage or disadvantage. I wondered what would happen if I just threw homework out. What was the worst case scenario?

For the past two years in Geometry (I’ll get to Honors Geometry here in a moment), I have not really assigned homework. Occasionally, I will offer an “optional homework” where students can earn credit (not extra credit) for doing some extra practice, typically on a topic that students especially tend to struggle with. At the end of each unit, I had given students a work day to complete a study packet and then what was not completed was homework. I don’t have stats in front of me, but I would estimate about a 50% average turn-in rate for those packets. The study packet seemed to be the norm with my Geometry team, but after 2 years of not being happy with this system, I’m throwing it out! My most significant complaint is that those students who needed the practice the most weren’t getting it because they were also the students who tended to struggle with the self-regulation necessary to sit and work on a study packet. But that’s a topic for another post, I suppose. All that to say, I really only gave homework once a unit.

In Honors Geometry, I have been assigning homework in what I suppose is a pretty traditional way. At the beginning of each unit, I tell them which problems I would like them to do and when, but again being very conscious of homework length, especially because my textbook is very proof-heavy. Following the date when homework was supposed to be completed, I posted the answers on Google Classroom and took questions during the next class period. Then they took a homework quiz over this assignment, which I know means different things to different people, but for this iteration:

  1. I selected 1 – 2 problems from the assignment and either copied them exactly or modified slightly.
  2. Students could use their completed homework (or whatever they scrawled down while going over the homework).
  3. Graded typically out of 4 points based on accuracy and work shown. This is the only component of their homework that is graded and goes into a category that is 10% of their overall grade.

Pros: It allows students who understand the content to ignore the homework and be graded only on their homework quiz. Because the answers are posted on Google Classroom ahead of time, students also have a chance to look over their work or seek additional help outside of class if they realize that things really didn’t go well.

Cons: Sometimes students believe that I don’t grade homework and therefore it can be ignored or other students realize that they can game my system by copying off of Google Classroom. In both of these cases, students typically figure out after a few units that their grades aren’t where they want them.

My homework plans for this coming year are as follows:

  • Geometry: I plan on incorporating DeltaMath this year, which I have never used before, but am really excited to experiment with. One specific reason is the instant feedback. I am getting rid of the end of unit study packets and will be finding different ways to review.
  • Honors Geometry: As much as I don’t love my current system, the pros outweigh the cons for me and so I think that my policies will largely stay the same. I may also explore DeltaMath with this group as well.

Since beginning teaching, my views on homework have certainly become more flexible. I still believe that students benefit by extra practice outside of class time, but that providing prompt feedback and a looser structure may help me to make homework work in my classroom.

 

MTBOSBLaugust2018

This post is part of a blogging challenge called Blaugust. Click here to check out the other blogs that are participating.

What does it mean to be a teacher leader?

Just this morning I got around to watching Julie Reulbach’s keynote from TMC. I had seen on Twitter the #TeacherLeader posts and the stickers, but wanted to know what it was all about. I was especially intrigued because earlier in the summer I had read an article (which of course I cannot find now) revolving around the question: “Why do teacher leaders feel they need to leave the classroom?” As I remember it, the point was that there is no one better to lead teachers than teachers. I think that also ties into a common criticism that I hear of administrators that they forget what it feels like to be in the classroom.

While I am about to enter my ninth year of teaching, I decided pretty early on in my teaching career that I probably wouldn’t stay in the classroom until I retired. I didn’t know quite what that would look like, but I pursued a Master’s as a math specialist and have moved from a very small school to a much larger one all with this general career trajectory in mind. At my small school, I served on their “Academic Leadership Team” and learned how to find my voice and consider topics that affected the school at large. At my larger school, I was able to take part in a “Leadership Academy” for those wanting to explore leadership (mostly in traditional administrative roles). For this upcoming school year, I was hired to be a co-ITL (Instructional Team Lead) for our math department. While I am excited and energized by all of these things, at times there is a voice wondering “why me?” or “can I really do this?”

For those reasons Julie’s points about imposter syndrome really spoke to me, especially how social media can exacerbate the problem by promoting all of the fabulous lessons, ground-breaking books, exciting technology, etc. that everyone else is developing. I was also encouraged by her point that its not those official roles that we play outside of the classroom that make us teacher leaders, it is the ways that we support colleagues, whether in our schools or online, that shows that we are teacher leaders.

Throughout her keynote, Julie asks the audience to stop and tweet their answers to 3 prompts. I have included my responses here as well.

  1. I am a great teacher because I seek to improve my teaching practice and work to meet each student where they are at.
  2. I am a teacher leader because I love sharing resources with my colleagues and encouraging them to try something new.
  3. I want to grow as a teacher leader this year by encouraging those around me to find ways that they can step up and support the people around them. It is not just the responsibility of those in official leadership capacities to support teachers; we all have something to bring to the table.

Will I stay in the classroom until retirement? l don’t know (and that’s a long way away), but I can tell you that I do have a different perception of my influence on those working around me. I also hope to be able to infuse this model of teacher leadership throughout my department.

MTBOSBLaugust2018

This post is part of a blogging challenge called Blaugust. Click here to check out the other blogs that are participating.

First Day of School Idea?

At the NCTM National Conference back in April, there were a variety of speakers that challenged me to think about what it means for students to be mathematicians. Two in particular stand out to me as I look back. Christopher Emdin discussed how school mathematics denies students’ learned experiential mathematics, especially using the examples of “bars” (rapping) and learning to cook. Tracy Zager spoke about how to help students do math more like mathematicians. Her daughter’s ideas about what is means to do math were inspiring. These ideas have been spinning around my head over the past few months and when I saw a recent post on Twitter asking how we can set the tone on day one for the rest of the year, I got to brainstorming how I can make some of my typical beginning of the year routines fit more into this theme of helping students to think as mathematicians.

This idea is not completely developed, but I thought that the process of writing it out might help to solidify it as well as clarify my intents. Something that is important to me throughout the year is that students can identify patterns and consider what those patterns might mean. I want my students to have confidence going into the year that this is a skill that they already have experience with.

What I am considering is that rather than telling students about myself, they are going to look at some objects and pictures in order to draw conclusions about what they think is true about me. I could do this by having stations around the room or making up bags that get rotated around to table groups. A group of students will look at their objects in order to determine what they think is true about me. I might give them a simple sentence frame to help them make sure that they are backing up their statements – “We think that Ms. Stuckey ______________________________ because ______________________________.” For example, rather than telling students that I like hiking and that I traveled to Glacier National Park over the summer, I could set out my hiking shoes and backpack, my map from Glacier and maybe a few photos.

Is this mathematics in the strictest sense? No, but being able to look at “data,” find patterns in that data, and being able to justify an argument are all very mathematical skills and ones that I hope to be able to promote throughout the year. I don’t know whether I will end up actually doing this with my classes this year, but I would love to hear from others about how they are starting the year out setting the tone of encouraging students to be mathematicians (and to show that they already are).

June #MTBoSBlog18

Despite the fact that my last post declares that I am determined to keep up with #MTBoSBlog18, the end of the school year got the best of me and I skipped April and May. I am hoping that I will be able to use this blog as a reflection and brainstorming tool throughout the summer to help keep me motivated and thinking about next year.

For now I will start with one thing that I am proud of and one thing that needs some rethinking for next year, but both are connected to relationships.

I am proud of the relationships that I made with my students this year. My gut feeling is to hedge that statement or make it softer somehow, but I’m going to just leave it there. I am not a loud, gregarious teacher filled with stories and jokes, but I think that my connections this year with students have stemmed from little opportunities to make conversation and to see them as people who are far more multi-faceted than being a Geometry student. I know that when I started teaching I read a bunch of books that advised greeting your students in the hallway every day. I just wrote it off because I needed to get ready for the next class. The past year, at the very least, I have said “Hi,” “Good morning,” or “How are you doing today?” to every student, every day. Before my fourth block class, I also have some students who stand there with me. I mean, its not with me – with me, they want to see who else is walking by, but that is another time where I get to connect with them and there is no expectation of talking about Geometry at all. Some of them even ask me how my day is going. Has that little gesture made all the difference for all of my students? No, but I think that it has made a difference for me – to remember who they are outside my classroom (even though its just the hallway) and that there is so much more to each one of them than their score on a Geometry test could every tell me.  There are times where I wonder if I am too soft on my students and not enough of a “disciplinarian,” but I think that the ways that I show that I care about them as human beings outweigh that one extra Geometry problem that they could have solved if I had just told them to put away their cell phone and get down to work (which certainly does happen plenty of times as well). As I look forward to the 2018-2019 school year, I hope to continue to find ways to see my students for who they are in all the parts of their lives.

While I felt like my relationships with students was a strength of this past year, I felt that my classroom community overall needs some work for next year. While I am grateful that my students were not hostile or rude toward one another (to my knowledge anyway), in general it seemed that if they were not assigned to be working with their chosen person or persons, they just preferred to work alone. Some ideas that I have to address this dynamic are:

  • More intentional community building during week 1 – I’m not quite sure what this looks like yet
  • Changing seats more frequently (visibly random groups)visibly-random-groups-vrg
  • Possibly changing my seating arrangement from pairs into 3s (see above)
  • More stand and talks 

Any other suggestions for me?

I am grateful for the cyclical nature of teaching that allows for embedded times to reflect and respond. In many ways it feels critical because of the intense environment of the school year that at times can stifle the necessary work of considering what has gone well and what needs some work moving forward.

 

March #MTBoSBlog18

I am new enough to blogging that being inspired to write each week feels overwhelming. I was not able to keep up with the Sunday Funday challenges back in August and September, but I am determined to keep up with the once a month #MTBoSBlog18 challenge. I even have it in my Google calendar to help me to remember to brainstorm ahead of time. I was feeling a little bit uninspired about this month’s post, but nonetheless, I was able to come up a few highlights from my most recent Geometry unit on right triangles.

Our Geometry team had made the decision this year to not teach the distance formula, but only to teach it as an extension of the Pythagorean Theorem on the coordinate grid. We reviewed the Pythagorean Theorem within the first month of school, but as we entered our unit focusing on right triangles, I wanted an activity to practice on a graph once again. I love soccer and many of my students love soccer, so I was inspired by this tweet: Untitled

I  wasn’t able to recreate this in my classroom, but did the best I could on paper. I had fun incorporating current soccer players into my soccer story. I follow US women’s soccer more closely and my husband helped me out with some of the Premier League players. I used this with my Geometry Lab students and this was a great start to build up some confidence in a unit that can be very difficult.

The main component of our right triangle unit is introducting students to trigonometric ratios. Entering into planning for this topic this year, I was wondering if I typically make the jump too quickly from identifying the different ratios to solving for side lengths and angles. I wasn’t sure what else to do, but I ended up on this post from Pam Wilson. The post is from 2013, so I think I may have been in an #MTBoS rabbit hole. Thank you to whoever had linked me there. I had just recently cut out a whole bunch of little cards for another activity, so I decided to turn her work into a Desmos card sort. I was really pleased with how quickly my students were able to pick up on the differences between sin, cos, and tan.

The final challenge in our right triangle unit is setting up word problems with the angle of elevation and angle of depression. By this point, I was really pleased with how well my students were doing with solving problems with trig ratios, but I knew that setting up the pictures was going to be a challenge. To try to isolate the skills, I set up this 2 part worksheet. Before they started, they folded it on the vertical line so that they were only looking at part 1. In part 1, their goal was just to draw the picture and since there weren’t any numbers, they weren’t trying to jump ahead. We used 2 colors to identify the angle and side length that would be given in part 2. We marked with color on the blank and in the picture. Once we got to part 2, they used their color coding to quickly identify where the values belonged in their pictures and then went about solving the problem. Drawing the pictures was still a challenge for sure, but this did help to ease the difficulty a bit. I may try this structure again with other types of word problems as well.

February #MTBoSBlog18

My Honors Geometry textbook includes a significant number of always, sometimes, and never questions. I like these questions because I think that they inspire good discussion and deeper thinking into a variety of ideas, but by this point in the year, my students are starting to get tired of them. In thinking about ways to structure these discussions and change it up a little bit, I came up with this activity.

I have 3 corners of my classroom labeled with always, sometimes, and never. Rather than just having students go to the corner that represents their answer, I pass out playing cards before each round. If they have a face card, they are a “decoy” and they need to go to the corner that represents what they think is not the answer. If a student gets a number card, they just go to the corner with their answer. The purpose of the decoys is to alleviate the “Oh, Sarah is always right, so I’ll just go where she goes.”

Once students are in place, I give each corner the chance to give their argument. Any students who are persuaded by an argument can move. The other thing that is interesting about having the decoys is that they are forced to try to think about an argument that might make the wrong answer seem correct. After all arguments have been given, I ask the face cards to show themselves. Hopefully the decoys are the only ones remaining in the incorrect corners.

I did this activity this week with both regular and Honors level Geometry students using this set of quadrilateral questions from Lisa Bejarano (thank you!). If you would like to try always, sometimes, never questions, asnmath.blogspot.com is a great resource.