September #MTBoSBlog18

Well, I suppose today is the last possible day that I could blog and make an argument about it counting for my September MTBoSBlog18. This draft has been open since the 18th, but I felt lacking in direction. It has been a busy start to school, but that’s not a surprise. It always takes me some time to get into the rhythm of my different preps, but again, not a surprise. I also feel like I am still getting to know my students and how all of their personalities meld and merge to develop a class personality.

For all of the excuses that I could make for my lack of blogging (99% of which could probably apply to any teacher at the beginning of a school year), I do have a lot to be grateful for as well. Here in my ninth year of teaching, third at my current school, I am again struck by the joy that it gives me to build on something that I have done in the past and adapt it or tweak it to improve upon it. My current class schedule also gives me the opportunity to do this in overdrive. My first block Geometry class is only held on A days and will be with me until June, but my fourth block Geometry class is held every day just until the semester break in January.

Here’s one example of this tweaking in action. I have tended to prefer introducing angle relationships on parallel lines through some kind of discovery activity. For the past two years, I have used this activity reviewing our work with the equations of parallel lines and then having them use protractors to look at the angle relationships (this activity is modified from something that I saw at a local math conference a few years ago). I had been frustrated by my students’ difficulties using protractors, plus it can be difficult to use protractors accurately. It just felt like too much hand-waving to talk about those angles that are basically the same, rather than the angles that are definitely the same.

When I got to this point with my first semester class, I decided to have them use what they knew about linear pairs and vertical angles to fill in a diagram with lines crossed by a transversal. I gave half of each group a diagram with parallel lines and the other half nonparallel lines. I drew by hand enough diagrams so that everyone in the class had a different diagram. I wanted to make sure that everybody had to do the work, but the downside was that many students wanted me to personally check their work. We spent longer than I wanted making sure that everyone’s diagrams were filled in correctly, but overall their groups did have good conversations about what they noticed in the different diagrams.

A few weeks later when I got to this same point with my yearlong class, I knew that I wanted to have an activity that followed the same outlines, but provided more scaffolding for ensuring the correctness of their calculations. I decided to set up a jigsaw. Students first did their calculations individually, then moved into their groups where everyone had the same diagram to check their calculations, and finally moved into a group that had four different diagrams – two with parallel lines and two with nonparallel lines. I also had the diagrams color coded based on the parallel versus nonparallel, which I think that I would eliminate in the future because it could be too leading. We then used the diagrams to create class hypotheses for angle relationships on parallel lines. Next semester, I would consider having them do this in their groups perhaps with some sentence frames.

I do appreciate the opportunity that blogging gives me to take a step back and consider intentionally the decisions that I make every day that do not seem all that unusual at the time. This sequence of processing and adapting is of course just one example. I hope to hold myself to at least blogging once a month throughout this school year because of the intentional thinking that it helps me do. Thanks to Jennifer Fairbanks for instigating the #MTBoSBlog18 challenge that encourages me to at least try to get to that bare minimum of once a month.

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