Sunday, November 12, 2017

Blogging Not Blogging

Well apparently I don't blog anymore. I've reflected on why this is, and I guess it's a mix of a ton of different things. I remember in the past I would come home from teaching and be all bustling to dissect my day and thoughts and school experiences on this blog. Now? Not so much. 

Reasons (in no particular order):

1. I am (still) grieving, and most of my non-school effort is about self-care. I go to kickboxing 3 nights a week when other things don't interfere. I am not staying late at school on any day and choose instead to tutor during the mornings and lunchtimes. I am trying to get to bed at 8:30 pm so that my 4:30 am wake up alarm to go running or stretching is not so jarring. It seems to take all my energy to not be a puddle of tears these days. I am one of those annoying people that if before my husband died I had heard about someone else grieving "still" after 2 years, I would think they would "just need to move on" or something else ridiculous. I would like to go kick myself in the younger, non-widowed ass. 

2. I am teaching 4 different subjects and most of my work time and more weekends than I would like are spent in prepping for them. I like the variety of challenges, but whew it's draining sometimes. Still trying to work out the APCS A bugs and getting my first-time-ever programming kids up to speed in a fun and effective way.

3. Too many people that know me in "real life" know about my blog, so it seems weirder now to just blather on than if it was just "strangers" reading this. The same thing happened with my Instagram "exercise" account. I really don't appreciate whoever programs those things for the fact that they probably scrub through all your data and friends and find links and then "suggest" you to people. Now I have former students looking at my exercise-clothed body and that is just too weird, so I have stopped posting there, too. 

4. Most of my "new" things I am trying in my classes this year have more to do with "the whole kid" as opposed to my subjects. I am trying more mindfulness things and more connecting with the kids things and more cheerleading them on to trying challenging problems things.

Anyway. All this to say that I now lift the guilt of not blogging off my shoulders. I still love learning from the MTBoS and twitter and other blogs, so I appreciate everyone else that steps up to the contributing plate and shares with us. 

Sunday, October 01, 2017

People Skills

Poof! Just like that, 1/6 of the school year is over. AND I am almost prepared for school to start (one day I will finish all the beginning of the year chores ... or not). 

What are my new things this year? I want my AP Calculus students to succeed in spite of themselves. Some of them get into the senior mode or life gets in their way or they drop the ball on putting in the needed effort to truly understand things. So I have implemented 3 new things in class.

First, I want their whole minds to be on math during class. It's probably unrealistic, but a teacher has to try. To this end, I want them to ideally rid their thoughts of all the other stress and junk that has built up during the day. So one day early on, we took 8 (?) pieces of colored paper and stapled them together, and folded them to make a "book". On the front we titled it, "Toxic Dump". Now every day at the start of class all of us do a silent timed writing (3 minutes) where we just empty out anything that is occupying our heads or stressing us out or making us angry or whatever. In this way, I hope to create more brain space for them to learn. Nobody sees their books but them, so they are free to vent.

I had one kid say (at the beginning), "are we going to do this every class?" I said yes, but then asked her why she was asking, since she then had a funny look on her face. She mentioned that she didn't think she would always be so stressed and frazzled. Hah! I said that I hoped not, and that on those days she could write about the great things that happened or doodle. And I have also had one student ask me at the start of every class, "are we going to Toxic Dump today?". When I asked why she was asking, she said, "I just didn't want you to forget." Finally, I have heard different students mutter, "whew! I have a lot to write about today." 

The second thing I am doing is daily (or frequent) warm ups that involve a deeper and active analysis of what they just learned or that involve writing or explaining ... basically thinking and processing. This takes about 5 or so minutes. I was caught unaware many times last year when I THOUGHT they got stuff if they never asked or came for tutoring, but then on the rare occasion (and usually too late) when I scratched the surface with a kid or two later, I found out that, nope, didn't understand some basics. I guess they get into the mode of "hiding" or "smiling and nodding" because everyone else seems to get it, or maybe they are just too overwhelmed and have too many other balls to juggle that they don't address their misunderstandings. I am sure that there are still those kids, but maybe with a more frequent revisiting of important things, they will do better. 

Now that I am writing this, I guess I don't know how I am assessing this daily. There never seems to be time to check in with each kid. I just go on the assumption that if they don't ask questions and don't come in to tutoring then .... I will have to think on this more.

The last thing I am doing is a frequent shout out during class of various forms:
"You're doing great"
"I hope you are impressed with the fact that you are doing challenging things"
"Be proud of yourselves for being willing to struggle"
I teach at an All-Girls Public School with a variety of skill levels. That and knowing that girls are more likely to be hard on themselves and maybe sabotage their own efforts because of self-doubt makes me try harder to boost them up. There is also a wide range of abilities in my class(es) and I think also the girls that don't feel the smartest, in comparison to the others who seem to get it faster, will also sabotage their pursuit of understanding.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Algebra 1 Eclipse Day 1 Activity

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. 

You can find the sheet HERE


Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Truths I Want to Remember This Year

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:


Sunday, May 07, 2017

Calculus Volume of Revolution Project May 2017

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.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Things I've "Learned" From Being a Widow

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!