It's one day before the little kidlets come back. I am excited to be teaching Algebra 1 again this year, and my teaching friend and I have come up with an in-class activity that reviews the coordinate plane, symmetry, reflecting, and has an eclipse theme. We are hoping that our pinhole glasses will show us which students' graphing skills are eclipsed by faulty memory. Hah! They will be doing this sheet while we are doing first-day administrative tasks, and we will collect at the end.
We saw that last year, some of the 9th graders were a wee bit shaky on their (x, y) knowledge (and fractions and integer operations and .....). Hoo boy! Hello scaffolding and reviewing.
I have had a great summer. It's been a mix of awesome PD (art in non art classrooms, LOGO CS training, BLEND training (a CANVAS-type LMS we are using this year)), lots of sleep (who knew you could look/feel so healthy and well rested from more than 6 hours of sleep a night), kickboxing (punching and kicking the sh*t out of bags AND with wraps and gloves!), breakfasts out, friends, fun, life. I am also eager to get back into the swing of teaching soon. Kids show up August 21st. This year I will be teaching Algebra 1, Digital Electronics, AP Calculus AB, and AP Computer Science A. Woot! Down to 4 preps.
My awesome teacher friend and I had a blast teaching Algebra 1 last year to 9th graders (I am still in that honeymoon stage of thinking they are precious and hilarious ... check in with me in June to see if I am at the 7-year-itch-divorce-stage yet) and are excited to go another round this year. I think we are going to do a mix of CPM-type stuff and Bootstrap Algebra. Should be a fun ride.
Though my PD was phenomenal, there was one presenter that rubbed me the wrong way sometimes. But I guess, as with all things, that comes from me experiencing life through my experiences and my lens. He was a college professor. He had this habit of assuming we did not know anything. For example, I overheard him trying to help another teacher out through a programming problem in Scratch (a programming tool). He basically proceeded to basically tell her how to teach and explain why he was helping her the way he was. "So you see, if you link things to what the students know from previous experience, it will stick better" ..... was one of his statements. Of course this is true, but him basically assuming we don't know how to teach ... unpalatable.
Anyway, this got me to thinking if I ever do this in some sense with my students. I feel that what you think inside about who you are talking to, shines through in how you talk to students (people), so even if you think your intentions are not known, they probably are, no matter what words you use or how discrete you think you are being. So that is one truth I want to continually remind myself of this year. Treat everyone as a genius and work from there. Assume nothing.
My next truth is that "tinkering is powerful/useful/necessary/fun". I have had the privilege of delving into engineering teaching and CS teaching. My M.O. for both have been to mostly say to the kids, "you will figure it out" or "play around with it and see what happens". I want them to not shy away from exploring just because they are passively waiting for someone else to give them the answers. That is not empowering. That is not a good life skill. Of course I guide them and check in on their path, but I do NOT want to be "that" teacher that says, "so here is how you do this". Then the poor little humans just think that they need some expert to always be there to show them the way. Not true. Even if they don't at first always solve their problems on their own, eventually, they have the gumption to at least try various things and not be afraid of failing or making mistakes (gasp! the horror!).
My last truth is that "they are not finished products". Just because they are a certain way today or this year or in high school, does not necessarily mean that they will always be that way. Also, "it takes a village", so any words of wisdom imparted to them may not at the time seem to help, but, mark my words, they could potentially think about them and use them and adapt in the future.
Here is how I know that is true. I was not always the best student. Sure, I got A's and B's, but I did the bare minimum to maintain that. I never went above and beyond. I was not the smartest kid in class in any of the schools I went to. I probably complained too much (reference to a remark a 10th grade teacher made to me that I still remember to this day). I may have cheated (making no claims here), I probably was a jerk to my friends. But here were the circumstances of me at that time. My parents, though they did the best with what they knew, also complained, also tried to bilk the system, also potentially did not act in the best human way possible. Am I blaming them? No, just indicating what I was around and what I knew.
I grew up. I moved away. I met other people and saw how they lived and what their values were. I became a better person. I even went on to get a PhD in Computational and Applied Math (still not the smartest person in my program .... but stubborn and determined). I worked for 2 years in industry, did not think I was contributing in a good way to society and did not want to spend my days that way, and decided I wanted to teach, and here I am, starting my 21st year and loving it. So I know from experience that the person I was in ES, MS, and HS is totally not the person I am today. I met wonderful people that showed me what it meant to be a good and compassionate and ethical human (not that I am this all the time, but I know what it looks like and I strive for it).
So I will try to keep these three truths in the forefront of my brain as I interact with the students this year.
I think my Algebra teacher/friend and I have worked out what we want as our first HW assignment. We were having breakfast out (yay! .... or was it nachos and drinks?), and we talked about how there were so many broken people walking around. They "seemed" normal, but maybe on the inside they were hurting in some sense and just needed more friend/human love. We thought of the care labels you see on clothes, and thought that humans should come with care labels. Thus THIS activity:
A while ago (2 years? 3?) I did a lantern volumes of revolution project after the AP Calculus AB exam. I liked it, but I wanted to do something different this year. I have come up with the following (rough draft!) project to do with my students. I will try it out after the exam this week. Good Luck to us all!
They will be creating a 1/2 revolved item and mounting it on a sheet. Then they will brainstorm about what it looks like: a ballgown? a bell? something else? Then they will be researching tidbits about that object to display, along with their volume calculations.
Here is a rough idea of my vision of the project:
Here is a link to the file. I've gone all high tech and included links to videos.
Note 1: There is some math content embedded at the bottom, so scroll through the beginning parts if that's what you are looking for.
Note 2: Someone dies, and there is no purpose, and it is not a learning opportunity, and there is no reason, so that is why I put the "learned" as it is.
My husband of 20+ years died suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 53 last school year, one week into school. These days, any time I think back to last school year, I don't know how I muddled through, or more accurately, I don't remember lots of things that happened. I guess I know how I muddled through, you just go through the motions each day, concentrating on keeping your mind occupied and making lists of things you need to do, and you just mindlessly do it. In fact that is how I muddled through: keeping my mind occupied with chores, so I wouldn't have to think of the horror that was my circumstances.
It seems obvious once I write the following, and it's still unreal to me, but the fact is that I am a different person now. I guess, how can you not be when something so traumatic happens in your life. I used to be a more bubbly and easily-cheerful person. I used to think that everything would always work out (since it seemed to for me). I took tons of things for granted because I was sure they would always be there. My first thought NEVER was (as it is now) that you could die soon, so you better soak up all the goodness that is in your situation. Also, what I spend my energy on these days has changed. Thus, why I blog way less.
And then all this seems like I am probably walking around moping and sad sack all the time and raining on others' parades. No. In fact, today for example, I had lunch with a friend, and my stomach hurt from all the laughing we did. This has happened many times in the last 20 months. I cherish these moments more now since I know that quite possibly later something could trigger an Andrew memory, and I will be a sobbing mess for a bit. In fact, the other day, I couldn't figure out why he was so suddenly on my mind that day as nothing in particular reminded me of our life together. Then it hit me. I was having one of THOSE weeks where I was so school/life stressed out, that I just needed him to hold me and pet my head and reassure me that things were going to be okay. I wanted not to be an adult for a bit and to be taken care of in that loving way.
So that is one thing I am more conscious of, being grateful for the many great moments in my life. Another thing is that you have to really listen to what people are saying to you, regardless of the words that are coming out of their mouths. 90% of the times when I mention I am a widow to someone in a conversation, it just goes on and the person glides over that fact, like I had just mentioned that I had a peanut butter sandwich for lunch. My tone is not crying and sad when I mention it, but it is a horrific thing, and it is not an every-day occurrence. I didn't realize how much it bugged me until one day I was in my favorite co-op grocery store near school and mentioned it to a worker as we were chatting. I was ready to continue the conversation, and then he stopped and said, "wait", and got up from where he was sitting stocking something and came over and hugged me. I almost started crying because of his generosity and humanity. That's the person I want to be. The one that processes things someone says no matter their tone, and makes sure to acknowledge their pain or their joy and celebrate or commiserate with them.
There are many other things I now know, but I think those are two life skills that everyone should embrace and practice regularly.
Now onto the math. I have 5 preps this year, and one things that is kicking my (time) butt is Algebra 1 for grade-level students. The awesome teacher who is teaching one of our 3 sections and I are constantly creating new worksheets and figuring out the right recipe to engage them and to make things stick in their heads. We most definitely don't always get it right, but I am proud at some of the things we have come up with.
I think we taught factoring and quadratics effectively. After we taught the multiplying of binomials, we explored and made connections:
Next, instead of just saying "here is how you factor", we made it into a challenge on that same sheet with some "skeleton notes" that had them figure out numbers that went in the slots. We seem to have less students complaining about not knowing how to factor, so there is that. HERE is a link to this file.
Then, of course, we taught solving by factoring. I liked the fact that we had them explore on the graphing calculator and make the immediate connection to x-intercepts and reinforced the fact that y = 0 at these solutions, and kept asking out loud, "what would you plug in to make y equal to zero". Since we are also on a time crunch for the state test (Thank you, Texas, for shoving more topics down to Algebra 1), we also tossed in some parabola terms on this sheet as we went over it (vertex, axis of symmetry). A side note, we got in the habit of putting "name" and "date" on our worksheets in different languages. So that's why that is in Navajo. HERE is a link to the packet. Ackh, also, we noticed a typo on all the "e" problems. That should be "y = ...."
Next year, sadly, I don't think I will be teaching Algebra 1. I have loved it, and the 9th graders are so fun to harass and talk with, even though they are squirrelly little puppies with non-developed study skills. And, rumor has it I will be down to 4 preps. Woot!
I am excited to be teaching Algebra 1 again this year. It's been about 6 years (more?). I have other classes, too, but this is the one that I haven't taught for a while, so I am a new person and hopefully I can bring all the new things I've learned in the last while to the little kidlets. I was at PCMI this summer, and one of the key take-aways I will be using in class is more and more frequent reflections on just about everything. The kids should be processing their information and recalling it frequently. I know this is nothing new, but I want to make a conscious effort this year for this.
Also, I love how my AP Calculus AB and APCS concept maps turned out to work in the last 2 years, so I will be handing out this concept map to my students in Algebra 1 this year:
I just finished a teacher training for Mindfulness at a great place in town, and I am eager to bring it back to each of my classes. In addition to actually practicing mindfulness with classes all week, we discussed the benefits of the practice and why it's so vital to bring it to our students. You can do a google search on benefits, but a few that stood out to me:
* Increases grey matter in your mind. * Increases compassion. * Eases stress and anxiety. * Boosts cognitive function. * Allows you to focus more.
We also watched a 14:27 minute TEDx talk called, "Why Aren't We Teaching You Mindfulness" with AnnMarie Rossi. I recommend it highly for her arguments as to why this practice is so useful in anyone's life.
I need to reflect on how I can consistently bring this practice into my classroom. I have a few ideas that I need to flesh out. If you do a search on how to bring mindfulness into your classroom, you can find way more than I know about. Here are some of my ideas:
First, I have just made my First Day Homework assignment. I can't spell school without homework. Here are the front and back pages of it, and HEREis a link to a download.
I also want to do something about test anxiety. I feel like before the first test, I can hand out a "fake" "challenging" test, and we can walk through a mindfulness exercise observing their feelings and body reactions and talk about strategies to focus.
I feel like I also want to incorporate small links or reminders in my homework calendar on certain days that will link the willing kids to various strategies and such regarding mindfulness.
My final idea so far is to some days stand by the door (or always have a "stress bucket") for the students to drop their stress into (the bucket or my cupped hand) when they leave my class for me to carry or hold for them, since I won't feel their stress like they do, and they can "unburden" themselves to get ready for the next part of their day.
Oy! As with every year, you wonder where the time has gone. This year has been quite different though because of Andrew dying at the start of the year, and then me muddling through the following 7 or so months, putting on my professional face, sometimes hitting the mark, sometimes phoning it in, most times somewhere in the middle.
I am so fortunate that at my school, the students roll with it and adjust and there aren't the extra added headaches of discipline and administration woes. I am also fortunate that I do enjoy my students. They are funny and caring and entertaining and a great distraction for when I need them to be.
I haven't had the energy or time to create many new activities. I have 6 preps and an over-addled mind, so I haven't been posting much. Yay Life!
But here are some things that I find successful this year.
Last summer, I went to many workshops, and in a few I was always so frustrated when I or someone else asked a question and then the presenter answered, but they didn't really answer the intended question. The situation also then went on that either the asker didn't pursue it or the presenter quickly went on to something else. This stuck with me, so that now, this year, every time a student asks a question, I answer it, and then I immediately follow up with, "did I answer your question?". I then gauge the situation. There are times when I didn't answer it as intended, so then that gives me a chance to try again.
The next thing I am loving is the increased use of peer editing/checking. I am using it in both CS classes and in DE and IED (the engineering classes). First of all, it lets students see how others are handling the problem. Second of all, it fixes the minor bugs so that when I grade something, it's more correct. My colleague and I did make an adjustment, though, with our freshmen IED class. We found that students were blindly signing off on something that may or may not have been correct. We added the extra incentive that if you sign off and it is not correct, 1% is taken of your grade. This seems to have an effect of more careful checking.
Third thing is that I am trying harder to actually talk non-math/school topics with the students more often than comes up when they initiate (which was my MO before). Now I will start a conversation with a student if they are sitting in my class hanging out or doing corrections or whatever. I have had some great talks with students just because of this initiative. I have learned some funny and sad and exciting things. It helps school feel more close knit to me.
I am curious what next year will bring and if my mind will be more in the game. I traveled solo to Barcelona this past spring break and it was all sorts of amazing and sad and exhilarating. I am going to PCMI this summer, so that should be exciting and recharging of my math brain. I have also bought a new smaller house and will be moving soon from the memory-laden house I lived in with my husband since June 2003. So this summer will be one for changes.