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Goals for 2017-18

tl;dr version: My goals for this year are to improve my human connections with my students, differentiate with menus (or some other method), and collect enough pre- and post-test data to know if my differentiation techniques were successful to move every student forward from where they started the year.

I have so many goals floating around in my brain that I don’t know where to start.  I have a tab open with to refer to multiple times as I start the year.  I love Sara’s emphasis on making a human connection with each and every student.  I have to admit, that is an area where I would like to improve.  Sometimes I’m so excited about the math that I forget to be intentional about learning other things about my students.  The fact that by September they can recite how many dogs I have, how many sisters I have, and how many years I have been married should be a hint that they’re more interested in a personal connection than in the mechanics of fraction division.  (Is it weird that I get really excited about all the different ways to explain fraction division?)

My primary goal for this year is to be intentional about differentiation.  One of the things I’m most proud of accomplishing in the past two years is keeping my school using heterogeneous groupings in our math classes.  Now it is important that we demonstrate that we can meet everyone’s needs in those heterogeneous groupings.  To do that, several things are necessary.  One is a clear definition of what it means to meet their needs.  If we don’t have a method to measure our progress then we have to rely on the intuition of ourselves and our parent body, both of which may be less accurate than I would like.  My first thought is that as long as everyone knows more at the end of the year than they did at the beginning, then we are meeting everyone’s needs to start where they are and make progress from there.  Now I need to generate pre- and post-test data to determine if that is actually happening.

I’m interested in using menus to let kids pick from different tasks to explore ideas and practice them.  I definitely see how this applies to practicing a new concept.  I’m less clear on how it applies to developing the concept.  Just because someone can add fractions with unlike denominators, that doesn’t mean they understand the algorithm they’re using.  I need deep understanding to be present so when that student reaches Algebra in two years and needs to add rational expressions they will have a chance at success.  So, I can’t just ask them to add fractions to determine what they know.  I have to craft a pre-test that gets at their deeper understanding of the algorithm.  Perhaps it is there and they just don’t know how to express it.  Perhaps it isn’t there at all.  How do I know the difference between those two cases?  This makes me want to take every student through the concept development phase and only differentiate when we get to the practicing the algorithm phase.  I’ll have to think about that.

In the 2018-19 school year, I’m going to get a group of kids where about a dozen of them have been working one to two grade levels ahead since they were in elementary school.  Somehow I have to have a system in place that will ensure that they have the deep understanding I want to see of sixth-grade concepts and then allow them to work at the level they left off in fifth grade, which might be seventh or eighth-grade math.  Some of them might be ready for Algebra.  All I know is that I’m going to squeeze every drop of depth and application that I can out of the middle school curriculum before I let them rush ahead to Algebra 1.  I’ve seen too many students over the years who rush ahead and then have gaps in their understanding that stop them in their tracks later.  In fact, I was one of those students as well.  I thought I was doing fine until I got to college and realized all the things that I didn’t understand about all the math I had memorized along the way.  I don’t want that to happen to my students too.

Oh, and if that doesn’t keep me busy enough, I want to try my hand at interactive notebooks too.  You know, in my spare time.  =) . Ok, time to #PushSend.



Summer “Break”

June 15, 2017

Summer “Break”

This blog post is part of an ongoing series to capture a Day in the Life of a Teacher, a collective project started by Tina Cardone @crstn85.

I love summer because it is when I get time to do all the things that there is no time for during the school year.  In today’s case, it means doing the only thing that I love more than I love teaching – being a student.

My day starts off at 7:20 when I get out of bed to get ready for school.  This is an hour later than a teaching day, which is delightful in and of itself.  I’m ready and out the door by 7:45, which is a little late, but not too bad.  My tire pressure light is on, but I don’t have time to check the air in my tires right now because I’m giving a presentation at 8:30 and I don’t want to be late.  That light usually comes on pretty easily, so I’m sure it will be fine.

I get to school at 8:15. The campus where my summer professional development/graduate class is meeting is just around the corner from where I teach, so the commute is similar.  At 8:35 we have most of the students in the class and 3 of the 4 people in my book study group, so we begin our presentation.  Our fourth group member shows up shortly thereafter.  The presentation goes smoothly.  The book that we are studying is Cathy Seeley’s “Smarter Than We Think”, and we are talking about the difference between memorization and understanding, which is one of my favorite topics.  My specific presentation point is “using rich tasks”.  I include a number of links, including a “My favorite place to find rich tasks” list from the #MTBoS.

After the book study presentations, we spent an hour and a half going through stations with the teachers from the elementary group.  The activities cover the spectrum from early childhood through middle school.  I love getting the perspective of the lower grade teachers so that I can understand more about how children develop their math knowledge.

After the stations are done we eat lunch.  At lunch, a few of us decide to go for drinks at the end of the day, since it is the last day of our two-week course.  After lunch, we take a couple of surveys.  I finish one early and spend some time talking with my instructor about doctoral programs.  This course has really inspired me to spread the philosophies that they’re teaching like a virus to every math teacher in the world.  I’ve decided to start with a 5-course sequence that will allow me to become certified in Texas as a master mathematics teacher (MMT).  If I’m still having fun after that, I can apply those 5 courses and the 2 I’ve taken this summer and last summer toward a doctoral program.  I’ll be 1/3 of the way through my coursework at that point, which is enough of a start that I’d hopefully have the momentum to finish.  Then I can teach kids during the school year and teach adults during the summer.  While we watch some of the video interviews that people have created of “How I use math in the real world”, I register to take the GRE.  Again.  It’s my third time because my scores keep expiring between degrees.

At 2:00 we’re done and everyone goes their separate ways talking about how excited they are to be on summer break.  I reflect on the fact that I’m teaching summer school for three of the next four weeks and wonder if it was a good choice.  I’m tired and I would love to have a break.  However, I don’t do well with free time, so I think that the two weeks I’m getting off at the end of July will be enough of a break for me.  I just have to hang on until then.  Three of us go to a bar and have drinks.  We have a great time talking about our struggles and successes in teaching.  A friend observes that although we all teach in different environments, one in HISD, one in a charter school, and me in a private school, that challenges that we face are remarkably similar.  How do I connect with the students?  How do I teach them to be thoughtful and responsible?  And why is keeping your locker organized such a challenge?

After a while, we decide to head out.  I go across the street to my school to see if I can find out about our graduate school tuition support program.  it’s a new program and no one seems to have the details.  I run some errands and manage to get home around six.  I try to register for the test to become certified to teach math in Texas, but their system is so byzantine that I can’t figure it out.  They’re already closed for the day, so I’ll have to call them tomorrow.  Since I teach in private school, I’ve never needed to add a math certification to my science certification. However, the MMT program requires a current math certification, so if I want one, I’ll have to get the other.  Since they have an option for grades 4 – 8, it shouldn’t be a significant hurdle.  If I wanted to get the 7 – 12 version, I would definitely have to study my pre-calc and calculus.  Since I’m teaching 6th grade next year, the 4 – 8 option makes more sense for me.

Well, I’m going to call it a day.  I have a quilt class on Saturday and I need to get some fabric pressed and cut to be ready for that.  Tomorrow I can get my lessons ready for the first day of summer camp on Monday.  No rest for the weary.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Reflection questions:

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?

Since I was a student today, instead of a teacher, I made a lot fewer decisions than I would have normally.  I’m glad that I reached out to make a connection socially with a couple of the other teachers in my class.  The great thing about our profession is that it is a collaborative effort.

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?

I’m still trying to rebound from how tired I was at the end of the school year.  Last Sunday I sat at the breakfast table looking forward to going to church, as I do every week.  When it was time to get up and go, I couldn’t do it.  I wound up getting up and going back to bed instead.  I didn’t get up again until about seven in the evening.  After sleeping all day, I was still able to sleep all night.  Clearly, I was tired.  Still, this course is wonderful and I’m glad that I’m enrolled in it, even if I did miss a day of church from all the nights I was up past midnight last week studying.

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.

I had a peer make fun of me in class last week, and it hurt my feelings.  Two relational moments came out of that.  I made a point of getting to know her better since we needed to work together during the course of the class. And, when I wrote about that decision in a journal entry for my class, I had a relational moment with my instructors when they told me how much they appreciated my effort. They said that they were inspired by my response to the situation, which really made me feel good.

4) Teachers are always working on improving, and often have specific goals for things to work on throughout a year.

What have you been doing to work toward your goal?  How do you feel you are doing?

My goal for the summer is to catalog all the work that I did revising my lessons for sixth and seventh grade last school year.  I have all the paperwork, but it hasn’t made it into the designated binders yet.  I’d like to get that done before my vacation at the end of July so that all those resources are ready to use next year.

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

I met a lot of wonderful colleagues in my graduate class.  I had a great talk with a middle school teacher about privilege and how we can help students in underrepresented groups to achieve.  The next day she told me that our conversation had spurred her to finish her administrator’s certification so she could influence hiring and have a larger impact on education.  We agreed to keep in touch so that we could network and extend our influence.  I met another engineer turned teacher who has great ideas about helping me develop my engineering curriculum for next year. She told me about the technology courses that she took in the UK and how they got her hooked on engineering in middle school.  I just love talking with other educators who are passionate about their work.  Sometimes all the griping you hear in the course of a regular school day can bring you down.  Being with people who are excited about teaching is like a breath of fresh air.


The last day of school!

Friday, May 26, 2017

The last day of school

This blog post is part of an ongoing series to capture a Day in the Life of a Teacher, a collective project started by Tina Cardone @crstn85.

Yesterday was our last day of classes.  There were a lot of interruptions with Baccalaureate and locker clean out, so only two of my five classes actually met.  But today, there are no classes at all, just assemblies and a goodbye for the summer party.

7:15 – I arrive on campus.  Usually, there would be about half the faculty here, but today only a few cars are in the parking lot.  I guess no one comes in for early help when the last day of classes was yesterday.  I am met in the parking lot by a student I taught this year, who hands me a card.  What a nice way to start the day!

7:45 – I have my tech checkout meeting.  We go through the checklists that include every device I have in my room and if they need and repair or replacement.  Since I “only” have a laptop, iPad, and document camera, my checkout is considered an easy one and I have a 15-minute time slot.

7:55 – The tech coordinator is ready for me now, but I have to be in class at 8:00.  She lets me just drop everything off and go to class.  She can always ask me next week if there is anything I left off my checkout sheets.

8:00 – I take attendance and we go downstairs for our last assembly.  This one is “Fourth-grade Fly-Up” where the lower school head reads stories imagining what groups of fourth graders will be doing 20 years from now.  After the story, they get a feather from the middle school head, then run along high fiving the middle school faculty on their way to their new seats in the bleachers, where the fifth-graders sit for assemblies.  It’s really sweet and the kids and parents seem to like it a lot.

9:00 – We’re done with fly up and I talk to a few parents about my engineering course for next year.  They want to know how to get in and are excited when I let them know that it is required for all sixth and eighth graders.  I also ask two of the parents who work in engineering to come in and speak in class next year.  They are very willing.

I run around looking for the teacher who is supposed to be showing a movie to the sixth-grade students, and wind up passing her on my search, so she gets to the group before I do.  I bring my laptop and late papers to grade while the kids watch the movie.  While I’m getting my things together, one of last year’s students brings me a card.  I’m touched because I was his teacher last year, not this year.  But when I read the card, I am even more touched.  He said that he always liked math before, but being in my class ignited a passion for math that he hadn’t imagined before then.  It is definitely the best card I’ve gotten in many years.  When I see him around campus, I make sure to tell him that.

9:30 – I sit in the back of the room grading the late papers that were turned in the last couple of days while the kids watch the movie.  I think it’s funny that they talk continuously throughout the movie.  I wonder if this is generational or if it is just the way kids watch movies.  I remember going to the theater in high school and being a lot more interested in talking to my friends than watching the film, which I know annoyed some of the other moviegoers.  There are still a lot of things I have to learn about kids, despite the fact that next year will be my 20th year in the classroom.

10:15 – The late papers are graded and entered.  The only thing I need to do now is update the late homework that the kids did in IXL.  I’m not sure I can focus clearly on that in this environment, so I’ll save it for later.  I can do it after our 11:30 dismissal today.

10:40 – It’s time for our class party, so we turn off the end of the movie and move the kids into the small gym.  There are enough parents in there that I decide to go get some work done.  I bump into a student who has lost his fidget spinner and wind up spending time looking for that.  Before I know it, it is time for dismissal.

11:25 – I help move the kids to the front of the school, and work as a car hop connecting kids with cars until we’re down to one student who needs to go home.  It’s hard saying goodbye to a couple of my favorite students (not that I have favorites!) who are moving away.  Hopefully, they will visit.

12:05 – I go back upstairs to pack up.  The headmaster stops by to check in on the new teacher mentor program.  There are a couple of people who are fired up to do it, and he asks if I would mind stepping aside.  I assure him that I am happy to let someone else fill that role.  It was something I took on when another person left unexpectedly, but it’s not something I feel a particular passion for doing.  We chat about weekend plans, and I head out.  I grab my sandwich from the fridge and eat a quick lunch before I leave.

12:20 – Traffic is unexpectedly heavy.  I don’t expect a lot of people to be on the freeway at lunchtime, but here they are.  My sandwich wasn’t filling, so I stop in at Starbucks for a snack.

12:45 – I arrive at the quilt shop for my 1:00 class.  There are already several students there and working.  I wonder if I am late, but I am not.  They are just early.

2:00 – I’m enjoying the class a great deal, but I am so tired that I think I’m going to cry.  I make my apologies to my teacher and go home to take a nap.

4:00 – Although I’ve been home for an hour, I’m still fussing around taking care of chores.  I’ve scheduled three summer doctor’s appointments for checkups and took care of one last form related to my tech checkout that I did this morning.  Now I’m updating this post that I haven’t touched since 10:15 this morning.  I wonder if I still want to take a nap.  I’m supposed to be at a friend’s house in two hours for a surprise birthday party.  I don’t know if I am going to stay up and go, or give up and nap.  I was just telling my headmaster at noon that I’m getting better at knowing when I’ve reached my limit, rather than looking behind me and seeing that I’ve already passed it.  Now I wonder if I am so much better at it after all.  Tomorrow I need to run errands, drop off a cake at the church, get my eye exam, and I’m supposed to go to a meeting for better understanding at a mosque.  I would prefer to spend the day on the couch in my pajamas.  We’ll see what happens.

4:55 – I’ve finished updating my grade book with the rest of the late work that I received.  At carpool today, one brilliant, but disorganized, young lady told me that she had left some papers on my desk.  I’m so relieved to hear that because the zeros were bringing her average down a lot and given her abilities she really should be earning a high A.  Now she will.  I start to set up groups to track the students’ summer math work and then realize that I don’t have the class lists for the students I don’t teach.  I could look them up, but I’m tired.  I can do it tomorrow.  The only reason I need those lists is that I’m tracking summer work for all the middle school students.  There are two other teachers in the department, but one hasn’t been hired yet and the other won’t look at the students’ work over the break, so I offered to do all the students.  It isn’t that much more work than just tracking my own.  I think I’m going to try for that nap after all.

7:00 – Well, I was supposed to be at the party at 6:40 to rehearse our version of the Hallelujah chorus with joke happy birthday wording.  I guess I’m not going.  I get up and eat dinner.  We walk the dogs and run some errands.  I exchange emails with the tech director about how to get my classes set up to watch everyone’s summer math progress.  Because she has different privileges than I do, she can see information that I cannot.  I’m trying to make that clear to her so she will send me what I need to complete the setup.

10:15 – Well, there’s a lot more to do, but I have a three-day weekend to do it.  I can write comments and plan summer school and run more errands another day.  For now, I’m going to check in on the #MTBoS on Twitter.

11:00 – All is well in the world of math, and I downloaded a few freebies and a few paid items from Angela Watson on TpT.  Time to sleep.  Tomorrow’s another day.


Reflection questions:

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?

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?

Putting one foot in front of the other has been difficult this last week.  As I write this, a week later, I realize it is just because I was tired.  I have slept for 10 – 12 hours a night every day since school ended, plus taken a couple of naps.  Clearly, I didn’t take my own advice about treating school as a marathon, not a sprint.  I think I’ve been sprinting since about spring break and I’m exhausted.

I am really looking forward to my summer because I have tons of fun activities planned.  I am starting a 2-week graduate course at Rice on June 5th.  That’s also the day that Dr. Jo Boaler’s new MOOC starts, which should be excellent. Then I’m teaching three weeks of summer math camp through Rice, doing math with a STEM focus.  It’s ungraded enrichment, so we can just do all the fun things and play for 3 hours a day.  I’m going to theme each day, so we do one day on Art, one day on Flight (with a paper airplane contest!), one day on Space, maybe one day on Music?  I’ll have fun planning it and have fun teaching it.  After that ends, I get two weeks off, which will hopefully be spent with my husband goofing around.  I’m not much for rattling around the house by myself.

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.

The most relational moment I can think of is receiving the card that I got from my former student who graduated today.  It encourages me to know that I made a connection with him and that there will be more students in the future with whom I will connect.  Certainly, there will also be those that I don’t connect with, but that’s ok.  We just need each student to connect with someone on campus, it doesn’t need to be with everyone.  As long as I am that someone for some students, then I am happy.

4) Teachers are always working on improving, and often have specific goals for things to work on throughout a year.

What have you been doing to work toward your goal?  How do you feel you are doing?

I am very happy to have completed my curriculum re-write for including conceptual understanding activities with each lesson in grades 6 and 7.  My main priority for next year is going to be communication with students and parents to make sure that they are clear on what I am trying to accomplish and how I am providing support to each child so they can learn.  That was something that snuck up on me this year because instead of asking me questions, people went straight to complaining to my principal in several cases.  I’d like to be more proactive next year so there are fewer people upset because they don’t understand what I’m trying to do and how I’m doing it.

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

Our school had some students who made poor choices at the 11th hour and there were a number of faculty members that were unhappy with how things were handled.  The more I hear about the whole situation, the more I think they handled it very well.  I don’t know how to do their job and I don’t want to know, so I’m hesitant to criticize their work.  However, it’s natural for us to have opinions about how to interact with children because we all do that every day.  Still, I’ve come out of this year very happy to work at the school where I work and I’m looking forward to another year at this school.


Monday, May 15 – Lord help us all, it’s May

This blog post is part of an ongoing series to capture a Day in the Life of a Teacher, a collective project started by Tina Cardone @crstn85.

We have two weeks of school left.  Everyone is feeling the “spring fever” that comes with imminent summer break.  Many students are parents are also feeling the anxiety of trying to raise their grade to where they want it to be in the few days that we have left.  I don’t give end of year exams in my classes (6th and 7th grade math), so that is one stress that is relieved for all of us.

7:20 – I meant to get to school earlier today, but arrived at my regular time after all.  I stop in the lunch room to refill my water bottle and they remind me that we have a dance performance this morning.  I wonder if we will get to class on time after the performance.  Hopefully, we’ll have enough of second period for me to still teach a lesson.

7:25 – On my way to my room a colleague stops me to talk about some tutoring she is doing with one of my students.  They hand me a stack of work that he owes me.  Yay!

7:30 – A student is here to retake a quiz from last week that he wasn’t ready for at the time.  Another student drops in to hand in some late work.  Children filter in for first period.

8:05 – We go downstairs for the dance performance.

8:30 – The performance scheduled for 8:15 starts.  This doesn’t bode well for second period.

9:05 – We get out of the dance performance with half of second period left.  That is just long enough for my seventh graders to complete a card sort on measures of central tendency.

9:25 – I go over some grades with a student who has been trying to raise her average.  Then I get coffee and respond to emails.  We need to get our ducks in a row for the award ceremony on Thursday.  We had this all worked out several weeks ago, but then a couple of teachers decided to do things a different way and didn’t communicate that to the group.  Communication is an ongoing struggle in my department.  I ask the curriculum coordinator to sort it out, because it needs to be done today.

10:13 – We have a fire drill.  It is uneventful.

10:27 – We get back from the fire drill with 3 minutes left in snack.

10:35 – My second class of seventh graders comes in.  We discuss a quote from Derek Jeter about the importance of effort.  Then we do the same card sort that the other class completed on measures of central tendency.  The idea of skew is new to them, so most of their questions are about that.

11:20 – Class lets out.  I prepare and print the certificates for the kids who earned National level Honorable Mention in the Noetic Learning contest.  We didn’t have any last year, and this year there were 11 in my classes alone, which is a great improvement. Yay!

11:50 – I walk across the street to pick up some lunch.  On my way to Starbucks, I pass three other teachers coming back.  It’s clear that we all need a little TLC right now.

12:45 – My sixth-grade classes are coming in now.  I forgot that I was supposed to do a new seating chart, so I pull out a set of cards with integer operation problems.  The kids who have the same answer sit together, so it’s a warmup and a seating chart all in one.  Once they’re settled, we do a systems of equations warmup from Mash-up Math.  This one is really interesting because although there are five equations and five unknowns, there are still infinite solutions.  (Is that called degenerate?  I’m not sure, but that sounds impressive.)  We can find distinct values for three of the variables and the other two always sum to 13, but that’s all we know about them.  It is an interesting discussion.  We move on to the lesson, which is using proportions to solve word problems.

Although my students are proficient at solving proportions, when I ask them “what is a proportion?” no one can tell me.  They like to solve by inspection, so it is crucial for this lesson that they know what a proportion is and can write one to represent the story problems they’re being asked to solve.  This is just another example of the way that we train kids to care more about the answer than the process.  To their credit, when I ask them “Do I care about the answer?” someone says “You care about the process.”  (I do care a little about the answer, just not much.)  I am reminding them to label all their numbers with units and a student says “but you can just look in the problem to see what it represents.”  So I ask him how I’m supposed to know what it represents.  Under his breath, he tells me that I should look in the problem.  Ok, I guess I walked into that, but still, I don’t need sass from a 12-year-old right now.  I tell him that he could just show his work instead.

Seventh and eight periods are much like sixth, and then classes are over.  I have a student here to retake a quiz, so after I finish dismissal duty we study a bit and he retakes it.  This is a quiz on perimeter and area of composite figures.  As an experiment, I’ve given the final answers as a check.  When this student took the original quiz, he tried to use the answer as part of the given information to derive the sides he didn’t know.  Unfortunately, he didn’t do it correctly, and he also never used things like the Pythagorean theorem to find some parts of the shape.  I explain to him how the quiz should only use those answers as a check.  I also show him to run his finger along the outside of the shape to identify which pieces get added into the perimeter.  While he is taking the retake, he reports that this is a helpful strategy.  That’s good to hear because I never know which tips will work for different students.  He finishes his quiz around 4:45 and leaves.

I do some work and head out about 5:15.  I run one errand and get home around 6:30.  Unfortunately, I’ve spent the whole day having a tantrum on the inside because I really didn’t want to be at work today.  Last week was a huge emotional roller coaster with tons of feedback both good and bad.  I’m tired and anxious about what this week will be like.  My husband is distracted by all the end-of-year things he has on his plate.  Because of that, we are struggling to hold a conversation rather than talking past each other.

By dinner, I’m quiet and he knows something is wrong.  I declare that I’m going on strike for the rest of the night and won’t be doing the dishes.  He offers, but I am fine letting it wait until tomorrow.  Then I realize the housekeeper is coming tomorrow and we don’t like the way she does the dishes.  I put on a Rammstein album at volume 10 and start washing dishes.  My husband hears the music and takes the dog for a walk to escape my wrath.  It’s not directed at him, it’s the dishes and at the endless list of things I don’t want to do.  I just want a break.

As I’m finishing the dishes I get a call from a number I don’t recognize.  I answer, and it turns out to be from the Alley Theater trying to get me to buy tickets.  I’ve already decided to do opera tickets instead of ballet or theater this year, but I haven’t heard what the Alley has in their upcoming season, so I listen to her pitch.  She is so nice to talk to and they have Saturday matinees (which the opera does not) and they have a payment plan (which the opera does not) and so before I know it, I’ve bought a season subscription.  Well, it will be easier to find a friend to come with me to a play on Saturday afternoon than to an opera on Saturday night.  And I can still pick one or two operas to see, just not the whole season.

9:30 – That’s enough for one day, so I decide to get some sleep.

Reflection questions:

  • 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?

I had to find a way to get the math department on the same page with regard to giving awards at the end of the week.  It appears that I’m the only one concerned with consistency in that, but I know from experience that if we do it differently at each grade level, there will be confusion and hurt feelings.  I want to avoid that if possible and I think I did a good job communicating without stepping on toes.

I’m not as happy with the way I dealt with the student who sassed me under his breath.  I should have spoken to him privately instead of responding to him out loud.  However, sometimes that makes an even bigger deal out of the issue.  Also, since others heard him, I felt that it was important for others to hear my response.  This is something I’ve always struggled with handling well.

  • 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?

I am really looking forward to summer.  I have two weeks of classes as a student and three weeks of summer math camp as a teacher, then three weeks off.  The challenge is just to get there.  This is the last two weeks of my overloaded teaching schedule.  Honestly, right now I don’t feel like I have 9 days left in me.  A friend is home sick with a fever and I joked that I might have to come over and lick her spoon just so I could get a day off.  I don’t think it’s a good sign when being sick sounds better than being at work.

  • 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.

Last week both of my administrators helped me a lot with dealing with some push back that I was receiving from parents about my teaching techniques.  I really appreciated their willingness to meet me where I am, listen to my responses (both intellectual and emotional) and give me concrete suggestions on how to address the feedback while at work and then leave it at work when I went home at night.  This experience increased my trust in my administrators to work in my best interest and therefore increased my commitment to the school.

  • Teachers are always working on improving, and often have specific goals for things to work on throughout a year.

I have now completed my curriculum re-write for both classes for this year.  I am proud of having developed a fully textbook-independent set of lessons.  That means that whatever textbook I am assigned, I can use it as much or as little as I want.  It was a huge effort to complete and I am very proud of the results.  It will also help me for future years, because now I can plan lessons with minor changes to add more real-world problems, 3-act tasks, open middle, etc.

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

We talked in a faculty meeting about finishing strong for ourselves and for the students.  This is the first time I can remember in 19 years of teaching that I was tempted to coast through the end of the year.  I am so tired.  I would love to give the kids a worksheet and just sit at my desk.  However, if there is one thing I know, it is that I won’t be happy with their behavior if I do that.  Because talking is encouraged in my class, I have to make sure that we have something mathematical that is worth discussion, or the discussion will turn to social drama instead.  I’m sad that several teachers I know are surprised by my determination to keep teaching right to the end.  If we don’t keep working until the last day, how can we expect our students to do it?  I know they are tired, and I am tired too, but every instructional day is precious and we can’t waste them.


The middle of spring break

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

This blog post is part of an ongoing series to capture a Day in the Life of a Teacher, a collective project started by Tina Cardone @crstn85.

Ah, spring break.  A time to rest and catch up on projects for school and around the house.  I prefer not to travel on spring break, because this far into the school year, my to-do list has gotten out of control and I need a chance to catch up.

Unfortunately, I’ve been sick for the past 4 weeks, so I don’t think much is going to get done today.  I have bronchitis now and my plan is to sit around the house in my pajamas all day, which should make for a short blog entry.

9:00 – I wake up, catch up on email and twitter.

9:30 – For breakfast I eat some oatmeal and make a pot of tea to share with my husband when he gets up.  He is also on spring break, and usually gets up around 9:30 on holidays.

10:15 – I decide to take a nap, so I read a library book for half an hour and then sleep.

1:45 – I have some leftovers for lunch and then catch up on my last DITLife blog post.  I hadn’t had a chance to do the reflection questions until now.  I really like the reflection piece of this project.  I am a highly reflective teacher by nature, so these are the kinds of questions that I enjoy.  I also email a student who is (hopefully) doing some remedial work over the break with suggestions on things she can do.

2:45 – We watch the last half of a movie that we started last night.  It’s not unusual, even on break, for us to start a movie after dinner and then I get tired and go to bed halfway through, so we have to finish it the next day.

3:45 – After the movie, I have a snack and look at some resources for upcoming units.  I fall prey to the lure of TpT and wind up ordering some games for my classroom.  This is a seller that I’ve seen a sample product she listed for free and liked it a lot, so now I’ll have a complete set of her games so I can have one available for every unit for the kids to play.  I just need to round up 10 used Pringles cans to keep them in.  With that in mind, I ask my husband to buy Pringles when he goes to the store.

5:00 – I put on some Star Trek Next Generation and play with my new teacher planner that I bought from the same seller on TpT.  Right now I don’t have a good organization for things like sub plans and emergency information.  This will be a good way to keep track of things.  I would also like to start keeping attendance and grades separately.  Right now I keep them together and sometimes I don’t remember to take attendance every period.  (We’re only required to take attendance first period every day.  I always ask the kids where missing classmates are, but I don’t always remember to write it down.)

6:15 – It’s amazing how long you can spend playing with fonts and organizational tools.  As fun as that was, I’m going to see about making dinner and finding something else to do for the evening.  I think the day of rest was helpful, I’m feeling better than I was.

8:00 – While hanging about on Twitter, I stumbled into the NCTM chat for an article from MTMS.  It was on teaching for conceptual understanding before procedural fluency, which is something that I only explicitly learned about last year, but has been an idea near and dear to my heart for all of my teaching career.  The chat was great, and I came away with an Ignite talk from Annie Fetter that I was excited to hear.  Then I listened to two more Ignite talks of hers on YouTube.  I really see how Notice and Wonder connects with the idea of developing the headache before we give kids the aspirin.  Her premise that students can’t hear a solution to a question that they didn’t ask makes so much sense to me.  I’m going to keep looking for applications to the problems that I create and I’m going to start presenting situations with the question removed so the kids can just notice and wonder and ask questions themselves.  Then we can solve the questions that they ask and hopefully that will help with both their interest and their memory.

9:30 – I’m going to read my library book and go to bed.

Reflection questions:

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?

Well, I’m sure I shouldn’t have spent money on Teachers Pay Teachers.  I told myself that I wasn’t going to keep pumping money into my classroom after the outrageous amount that I spent last year.  But, I’m looking forward to the games I bought and to the new planner system.  Hopefully, it will keep me a little more organized.

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?

I’m really excited about the new courses that I’m teaching next year.  We haven’t ironed out exactly what I’m doing, but it’s going to be some combination of engineering and some math/coding based on a series of lessons that Khan Academy put up about how Pixar makes their movies.  I’ve mentioned a little bit to the kids so far and they are excited.  My only challenge lately has been not overcommitting on all the things that I’m excited to do next year, and this summer.  Right now I have two weeks of vacation this summer, and given the amount of work I usually do over the summer, that isn’t enough.  Still, I’ll make it work.

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.

The most relational moment I’ve had recently was with my husband.  Last week we celebrated our twentieth anniversary.  A long time ago my mentor teacher told me that it was good that I cared so much about my students and their one shot at my class, but when I said “My husband will always be there” she said “Don’t be so sure.  If you don’t take care of your marriage, he might not be.”  That was good advice.  Luckily, my husband really likes to work a lot too, so we muddle through.  He’s been a great role model to me of what a dedicated teacher looks like.  He’s teaching an extra class and coaching the robotics team next year, so we’re both going to have to continue to be mindful about carving out time together every week.

4) Teachers are always working on improving, and often have specific goals for things to work on throughout a year.  What have you been doing to work toward your goal?  How do you feel you are doing?

Well, I had originally planned to spend a lot of time this week digging through some NASA engineering curricula that I picked up at the LLI conference as well as planning that self-paced unit for the end of the year.  However, sometimes you have to take care of yourself before you can take care of anyone else, and that is where I find myself now.  All of that work will still be waiting for me next week, and I’m sure I will find a way to get it all done.

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

I had some good conversations with my principal and with the headmaster about the work that I am doing at the school.  They’re continuing to ask me to teach more classes and I’m having to push back to ask that they balance the teaching load more fairly between myself and my colleagues.  I love to teach and there is a part of me that wants to teach all the classes!  However, I also know that I can offer more to the program if I am not overloaded.  I never want to take on so many classes that I start teaching them poorly, and I think my administrators understand that.  I’m curious to see what they will work out for my teaching assignment for next year.


Friday, March 3, 2017

Spring Parent Conference Day

This blog post is part of an ongoing series to capture a Day in the Life of a Teacher, a collective project started by Tina Cardone @crstn85.

In our school, we have two days of parent conferences a year, one in the fall and one in the spring.  I have 10 boys in my advisory this year, so I will have 10 conferences.  In my case, four scheduled for first thing and four scheduled for lunchtime.  One is sick so we’ll do it next week, and one is MIA.  I’m sure they’ll call at some point today or next week to schedule a spot.

The conferences are student led.  We spent the week preparing a script of things to discuss, including what our trimester 2 goals were, what action plan we followed to achieve them, what we learned about ourselves in the process, and what our plans are for next trimester.  I also had the boys do a reflection on some fixed/mixed/growth mindset statements to see where they are in developing a growth mindset and if it had changed since trimester 1.  That should give them plenty of things to discuss.  My role is only to take notes and answer questions, so it is a relatively low-key day for me.

7:20 – Arrive at school.  Because my first conference starts at 7:40, I can have a friendly chat with the receptionist and a Spanish teacher that I see in the lobby.

7:40 – My first conference is here.  It goes smoothly and we identify some action items to continue progress in trimester 3.

8:00 – My second conference is very positive.  This student is new to the school and we agree that he is adjusting well both socially and academically.

8:20 – My third conference also goes well.  The family is very complimentary of the school as a whole and tells me that they are applying for their younger son to join us as well.

8:50 – I catch up with another teacher on some students that she advises and I teach.  We share notes on how to help them best prepare for Algebra 1 next year with her.

9:00 – My fourth conference is surprising.  The young man is a very strong student, but he cries when he talks about his struggles to stay focused when he is trying to do his homework.  I didn’t realize how much it upset him to want to achieve a goal and then be constantly distracted by other things.  I wonder briefly if he needs testing, but I think this is just normal pre-teen development, and he will learn (with my help) to schedule his time and stick to his schedule.

9:20 – I email my principal and headmaster to pass on the compliments from two of the families this morning saying how pleased they are with our whole school community and the way their boys are progressing at our school.  Yay team!

My next conference is at noon, so I’m going to clean my desk, plan lessons, and catch up with my principal on what his goals are for the engineering class he wants me to teach to the sixth graders next year.

9:35 – The dean of students stops by to reassure me about some negative feedback I received from a parent earlier in the week.  She wanted to let me know that the people above me at the school know the quality of my work and value what I am doing, and they are not going to change their minds because of one unhappy and vocal parent.  That is nice to hear.  I know that I am doing a good job, but sometimes criticism can produce doubt.

9:40 – I go to talk to my principal about that engineering class and the parent I just referred to is in his office.  I have no doubt what they are discussing.  I feel awkward talking to his secretary about his schedule for the day and when I can come back, because they can see me through his office window.  Oh well.

9:50 – To cheer myself up, I stop at the school library on the way back to my classroom and pick out a few books to read over spring break.  As I’m leaving, I see a student coming in for her conference who was absent all week.  We agree that she will stop by my room later to pick up what she missed from my class this week.

I schedule a doctor’s appointment because I’m still sick from the thing I caught 2 weeks ago.  The only appointment I can get that won’t involve missing classes is opposite the all-school faculty meeting, so I schedule it and then email the headmaster to see if I can be excused from the meeting.  I hate to ask for that, but what can I do?  I’m sure he will say yes unless there is something at the meeting that I just can’t do at any other time.

Another colleague stops by to debrief on conference issues.  We walk out to my car and bring in my trunk full of math materials that I got from a friend who decided to leave teaching. I’m sad for the loss, because she was a great teacher, but I’m happy for her that she is moving closer to her family and into a job that will be more satisfying for her.  She taught a lot of SPED and ESL kids and then her principal rated her teaching as “below average” because her students had standardized test scores that were below average.  Those are the types of things that I never understood about public school and that prompted me to switch to private school.

11:20 – I saw a parent yesterday whose son was in my advisory last year.  I jokingly asked if they would schedule a conference with me for today because their conferences are so fun and easy.  They stop by with their son and their daughter and we have a 5-minute recap of both children’s conferences.  They are outstanding students and I taught both kids last year and this year.  It is fun and we laugh a lot.

11:30 – Lunch is ready. The parent guild is treating us to box lunches from Jason’s Deli to thank us for our time on parent conference day. I still have so much planning to do that I decide to eat at my desk and keep working.

11:55 – I have enough done for next week for sixth grade, but I still don’t have a plan for seventh.  Also, I need to write a practice quiz answer key to post today for sixth grade and a test review to email out today for seventh grade.  But, my next four conferences start in 5 minutes, so that will have to wait.

12:00 – The next four conferences are a blur.  My students are great and they all go smoothly.

1:40 – We had a lot to talk about in the last conference, so we ran over significantly.  I’m going to forego meeting with my principal to talk about next year’s curriculum and finish getting ready for next week.  I need to be at Rice in just under an hour to take the final exam for my graduate course that I missed last week because I was sick.

2:10 – I’ve got things ready for Monday, so I head over to the university to finish my course work.

2:30 – I take an hour long exam on content and instructional methods.  It’s nice to think about something that is more simple than interpersonal relationships for a while.

3:30 – I’m done with the exam, and I spend some time chatting with the professors there about math methods.  I’ve been taking courses with them to continue to improve my teaching techniques and they have a lot of great suggestions.  We also talk about the curriculum for the summer camp that I will be teaching for them in June.

5:00 – It’s time for my friends to head home, so I leave and go to have dinner with my friend who is leaving teaching and moving to Phoenix next week.  She has a few more classroom supplies for me in her trunk.  It’s great to see her, but sad that she is leaving.  It’s been an emotional day.

7:30 – I head home so that I can get some sleep to get over this virus.  I have a lot of work to do, but it will have to wait for tomorrow.

Reflection questions:

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?

I’m really glad that I asked my student from last year to stop in and visit.  It was a joking request, but obviously it was received well because they actually stopped by, and I know that the few minutes we spent together deepened my relationship with both students and with their parents.

In the less than ideal category, during my afternoon conferences, I was distracted by worrying about the meeting that my principal had with the parents who are unhappy with me.  While that wasn’t a decision, per se, I wish I was better at putting things like that out of my mind so I could be 100% present when I’m in my classroom.

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?

I told my students this week that I currently embody the meme of the cat hanging from the branch that typically says something like “Friday’s coming!”  I find late February to spring break to be the armpit of the school year.  I’m tired, the kids are tired, but summer is too far away to feel like the light at the end of the tunnel.  When I used to work in engineering, there was less of this feeling because the daily and weekly demands were less.  We usually worked 45-50 hours a week routinely, and only went over 60 where there were unusual deadlines.  Now I work over 60 hours a week routinely.  I know young lawyers and doctors do a lot more than that, and honestly I can’t imagine how they do it.  But perhaps for them it isn’t a long term condition like it is for teachers?  I don’t know.  At any rate, I am very much looking forward to spring break and getting a breather.

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.

I had a very powerful and productive conversation in my last conference today.  The relationship I have with these parents and their son is wonderful and they are doing all the right things to raise him to be a good person.  I was able to speak to times when he inspires my to be my best self by his example.  I’m so grateful for this family and getting to work with them every day.

4) Teachers are always working on improving, and often have specific goals for things to work on throughout a year.  What have you been doing to work toward your goal?  How do you feel you are doing?

My goal for this year has morphed a bit from implementing a PBL curriculum to just implementing a rich and varied curriculum that is better than the one provided by my textbook.  This curriculum includes inquiry lessons, PBL, hands-on activities, and a lot of concept development that allows students to understand the math they are doing instead of just memorizing steps.  I have been successful in not teaching from the text all year, and we are close enough to the end that I am confident that I will be able to complete this.  I have a lot of ideas for how to include additional PBL lessons in the curriculum next year and it will be something that I continue to tweak for years to come as I see what my students need and as the #MTBoS continues to generate more PBL for me to use.

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

I went to an outstanding 2-day conference in Arlington called LLI Southwest at the Oakridge School.  It was a STEM focused conference and my main goal was to learn more about things I can teach in my new engineering elective next year.  I was also able to touch base with three people that I know from a previous school, which was wonderful, and I learned some new tips and tricks for my math classes.  One of my ongoing challenges in how to effectively differentiate instruction in a heterogeneous group.  I am firmly opposed to ability grouping, because I never want to limit a student by telling them how far they can go in math.  So, I need to look for lessons that use what Henri Piccolino calls “The Goldilocks Principle” where there is something that is basic, something that is just right, and something that is too hard for every student.  One of the presenters at LLI talked about a way to use a blended classroom set up to allow students to work through a unit with some required tasks, some optional tasks, some passion-based tasks, and checkpoints along the way.  I think this could be a really good fit for my situation.  I’m planning to give it a trial run with my statistics unit at the end of the year so I can see how to tweak it for next year where I can implement it with one unit per trimester, and more if it is working.

Last day before Christmas Break

December 16, 2016

This blog post is part of an ongoing series to capture a Day in the Life of a Teacher, a collective project started by Tina Cardone @crstn85.

7:20 – Ok, one more day.  I can do this!  I am welcomed to school by a Starbuck’s gift card in my mailbox.  How nice.

7:30 – I finalize some plans for today with a colleague and open my room.  I’m not expecting to see anyone for extra help today.  Surprisingly a student comes in and asks me if I can give her an extra assignment to do over the break on what we’re learning next.  I explain to her that she would have had to ask me for that earlier.  I am with students from now until dismissal today, and I have to prepare an assignment to give her, they aren’t just something that I can pull out of thin air.  The next 20 minutes are a flurry of students coming in and dropping off presents.  That’s one of the nice things about teaching younger grades.  Some of the cards are really sweet, telling me how much they appreciate my extra time before and after school to help them.

8:05 – Attendance is in and we’re off to the early childhood Christmas concert.

(Normally I write these blogs as the days goes on, a few sentences every hour or two.  This day was so busy that the next time I thought of this blog was when I went to bed that night.  I’m now finishing it up from memory several days later.)

As we’re waiting for the concert to start, I share with a college that my goal for today is not to do anything that will get me arrested.  He agrees, and we promise to bail each other out should anything go badly today.  I didn’t think I could be this tired and grumpy.  Hopefully, my self-control will last for four more hours.

8:45 – The concert ends a little early and we decide to go to advisory until the 9:00 activity rotation starts.

8:50 – The dean of students calls everyone to the small gym for announcements of who won the door decorating contest and the ugly sweater contest.  I’m thrilled to learn that the boys I advised last year have won the door decorating contest.  Last year we didn’t even decorate our door because they couldn’t decide on a theme.  Clearly, they’re growing up.


9:05 – Amazingly we are already done and headed to our rotation activities. On the way, a teacher tells me the schedule I posted for today is wrong.  I wonder aloud how it can be wrong when I copied it from the Google Doc we created the schedule in.  She says she has replaced it with the correct one.  (When I check later, I see that mine was correct.  This is not worth mentioning to her, despite how much I want to say it.)

I am responsible for having the kids make origami cards to give to support staff on campus.  Another teacher is having them decorate cookies to give with the cards.  The origami is confusing to the kids, and as I’m trying to explain it, the Spanish teacher comes in and takes over the lesson.  Another day that might irritate me, but today I’m relieved.  We get the cards done just in time to rotate to the next activity.

9:30 – The second group of card makers comes in.  This time the origami goes more smoothly and we finish with a few minutes to spare.

10:00 – My final group of card makers is here.  The athletic director has been helping out with this activity, and this time she gets up and teaches the lesson.  It’s nice to have a break and be able to just pass out supplies and help kids that are stuck.

10:20 – The kids are done, so we tell them to deliver their cards and cookies and then go to the party in the music room.

10:30 – The party is well organized and attended by some parents.  The kids seem to be having fun.  Since there are a half dozen adults in the room, I ask my colleagues if they would mind me taking a 15-minute break.  I’m such an introvert that it’s really hard for me to be with people so long without a break.  They’re gracious and let me go.  I bump into the headmaster and we have a good chat about the stresses of this week and how we’re looking forward to a break.  I also bump into the dean of students and we go through each other’s Christmas gifts and swap a few.  While we’re doing that the Spanish teacher brings me an Amazon gift card he got as an exchange for the bottle of wine I gave him earlier in the week.  (Don’t tell the kids we trade their gifts!)

11:00 – After about half an hour of snacks, the teachers take the kids out to the front playground for recess.  At 11:05 I finally get back out there to help supervise.  A mom comes up to talk to me about struggles her kid has been having. I struggle to be attentive to her and to the kids on the playground.

11:30 – Before I know it, it is time for dismissal.  We all go to the curb to wait for cars.  I have a few good conversations with parents as they pick up their kiddos.

11:50 – Only two kids are left, so we drop them at the reception desk and go upstairs.  I was going to get lunch and then work, but I decide to knock out my work and go home for lunch. When I get back to my desk, I discover that there is a present waiting for me.  In and of itself that isn’t surprising, but this is from a Mom whose child had already given me a gift.  I’ve never gotten two gifts from the same family before.  This Mom also said some lovely things to me at carpool today about what an impact I’ve had on her daughter.  I’m touched in a way I can’t adequately explain.

1:45 – I still haven’t finished the work I wanted to do.  I have cleaned my desk and my classroom.  I have not graded the projects hanging on the walls.  They are life-sized Barbie scale drawings we made from measuring the dolls.  I decide to roll them up and take them home so I can leave.

2:00 – I’m on my way to Christmas break.  I have a lengthy to-do list of things to grade and things to prepare for January, but those can wait for another day.  For now, I’m expecting a personal call at 2:30, so I head to Salata to grab a salad and take my call.  Then I’m home for the holidays!

Reflection Questions:

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?
I’m very pleased that I was able to keep my cool with my colleagues this week, for instance when my friend corrected my schedule and it was hers that was in error.  It didn’t matter, as long as we were all telling the kids the same thing.

I wish I had been able to keep my cool with students as well.  During 8th period on the 15th , I put kids in time-out for the first time in 20 years of teaching.  They were supposed to be playing a game (war comparing positive and negative fractions and decimals.)  Instead, they were wandering around the room.  When I got them reseated, they were still not participating.  I told them to put their heads down.  Was that really necessary?  Maybe I should have let it go.

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?
I am definitely looking forward to break.  Last week I had three days in the week that I had zero off periods.  That is part of why I am so tired and cranky right now.  As I said on Facebook, I can’t remember ever working this many late nights and still being so far behind on planning and grading.  I sent my principal a note saying “By the way, I’m not sure you realized how busy I am right now.  Honestly, I’m not sure I realized it either until this week.”  Something is going to have to change between now and May or I’m not going to make it.

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.
I gave my seventh graders a test on Tuesday, and based on the questions they asked and how long they took to finish, I got them impression that it hadn’t gone well.  Rather than grading the tests, we debriefed the next day, looked at some strategies, and spent time practicing.  The next day, I gave them back their tests with some loose leaf paper and had them correct anything that they wanted to correct.  They were very appreciative of the chance to review and improve their work.  It was interesting that a couple of them really wanted me to tell them which problems were right and wrong before they revisited the test.  I told them that I wanted them to make that decision, based on what we had reviewed.  I’m hoping that this decision showed them that what is important to me is that they learn the material, even if that means we need to take more than one attempt to do it.

4) Teachers are always working on improving, and often have specific goals for things to work on throughout a year. How is your goal progressing? 
I feel like I’ve started to lose track of my goal is all the daily flurries of teaching.  I just taught a whole unit on percent applications to my seventh graders, and it wasn’t until the end that I realized how much trouble they were having identifying what was happening in each story.  If they had been drawing bar diagrams (or similar representations) then maybe they would have been able to see what is the part, what is the whole, etc.  I need to stay focused on the importance of sense-making.  I need to continue to focus on one or two good problems each day, not five or ten rote problems.

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

Today (12/20) I had a fabulous phone conference with a friend I went to grad school with 15 years ago.  She is now a professor in the education department at Syracuse University, and she was giving me an introduction on how to do lesson study in a small school like mine, where the math department isn’t big enough to do it by ourselves.  We had a great conversation, and I have sent a message to the admin team asking for their blessing for me to start a lesson study group at our school.  I’ve already received a positive response from the headmaster. I have a few colleagues in mind that I really hope will join, but I’m going to invite the entire middle school faculty so that no one feels left out.  Although I can’t imagine adding one more thing to my plate, I’m so excited about the idea of having colleagues to collaborate with again (something I miss from my last school) that I’m willing to put in the extra work.  Let’s hope I’m not biting off more than I can chew.

Also, this trimester I have a new course that meets 2 days a week. It’s a sort of “Introduction to Debate” class.  It’s amazing how much a little thing like that adds to my schedule.  In addition to the 2 periods a week, it’s the prep time to teach something I don’t know much about. I’m hoping that the prep time will decrease once I get into a routine.  If it does not, I’m going to ask them to find someone else to take this class on for Trimester 3.  I need to keep my focus on the 5 math classes that I’m teaching.  Also, on a personal note, I’m hoping to audit a class at the local seminary this spring, so I need some room in my schedule.  The class meets 4 Saturdays in the spring, which seems doable.  But, since I have to put in at least half a day on Saturday to make my week work, it might not fit in my schedule.  We’ll see.  Spring semester always has more 3-day weekends than fall, so hopefully we are over the hump for this year.