Goals, The 2017-2018 Edition

So as I sit here at the kitchen table, listening to my husband read “The Going to Bed Book” to my little kiddo I have 9 more wake-ups until I greet my first students of the 2017-2018 school year. This year I’m teaching AFM (year 4 of this) and Geometry (first time teaching it) and I had a to-do list a mile long for the summer and I feel as though I only got through the first 200 yards. I’m freaking out a little. But when I start to freak out, I do what I think most teachers do, I make a plan.

So here’s my plan for my mental sanity as I venture in teaching a new course and re-vamping an older one:

  1. Go to bed early. To those of you who met me at Twitter Math Camp, I managed to Screen Shot 2017-08-05 at 6.26.47 PMstay up until 10:30 every night so that I could be social and meet the lovely internet people who have helped me along this teaching journey. But that’s WAY past my bed time. I’m the human embodiment of  “Grumpy Cat” when I don’t get my sleep. Don’t believe me? Well my daughter can make the “Grumpy Cat” face, she had to have learned it somewhere. I’m guessing it was from me. My goal is a 9:30 bedtime. Last year I made the misguided goal of having 30 minutes of device-free time before bed, that didn’t happen. And I’m okay with that. I like my Twitter time.
  2. Instructional Routines. Find the ones I like and stick with them. Okay, so I’m REALLY bad at being a little ADD with my teaching practices (and blog posts, bear with me). Last year I feel into some, in my personal philosophy of teaching, bad practices of teacher-centered routines. It was a lot of “I Do, You Do, We do.” I fell into that pattern because I was sleep deprived (see goal 1) and I had 3 preps. So I felt like 2 of them never got my full attention at any given time of the year. I could make excuses. But I’ll just say, I know I need to do better to be in my happy teaching place. Designing a new course from scratch I think is going to help keep me accountable for establishing these routines. So I have high hopes. Here are my chosen routines:
    • #VNPS, Vertical Non-Permanent Surfaces. Well, in my classroom, with all its windowed glory, the vertical part is not going to work. So I’ll be using #HNPS. Horizontal Non-Permanent Surface. I bought shower board this week and had them cut into 2×3 foot sections and will get to taping the edges next week when the “OMG ITS ALMOST THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL” stress hits me and I need a mindless task. The goal here is to make students mathematical thinking visible and a group effort.
      • A KEY subsection here is visibly random grouping. Students need to know that there is no rhyme or reason to their group assignments. I am going to do new groups on Mondays because I know I’ll never learn names if I can’t get students in the same seat for at least the first week of school.
    • Debate Structure. I went to Matt and Chris’s TMC morning session, “Talk Less, Smile More” which was on using debate structures as a method of increasing student talk and engagement in a task. I mean, have you met a teenager who doesn’t like to argue? Yeah. I didn’t think so. The cliffs notes version make a student pick a side (or give them a side) then have them provide their justification of the form “My Claim is______, and my warrant is _____.” I was pleasantly surprised how having that sentence structure made me feel less introvert-y and willing to participate in a room filled with strangers. I was sold.
    • Desmos Activity Builder. I’m holding myself accountable to making/using more of these. The students always love them. We have great conversations. I think I just get caught up in trying to make them look “Desmos Bank” worthy. This year I’ve vowed to get over that. Just make stuff that works for my class. I’ll make them fancy and pretty when I have time.
  3. Stay on top of my Web-Based Things. Yeah, okay that sounded vague. But I don’t know how else to describe making sure I make Delta Math and GoFormative homework well in advance so I don’t get stressed, and keeping my notes and note keys up to date on Canvas (our online learning management service). I was bad at this last year. So I have structured an hour into my lesson planning block–I have from 11:15-1:30, I know I’m lucky to have that time and I need to use it better.

And that’s it. I read somewhere you shouldn’t try to change more than 10% of your actions at any given time to ensure success. I’d venture to guess this is more like a 15% change. I’m keeping my guided notes problems from years past. I just plan to make them debatable instead of “here you do this.” If the problem doesn’t feel debatable, I’ll make it #HNPS. If I’m feeling super Desmos-y I’ll make them an Activity Builder. I’m not re-inventing the wheel, just giving it some new tread. Or maybe some new rims? If I’m feeling like an overachiever I’ll go for the spinner rims  upgrade and use that Desmos Computational Layer magic and “live dangerously.”

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Making the Leap: From Lurker to Participant

I just recently returned from Twitter Math Camp, a grassroots professional development run by members of the Math Twitter Blog-o-Sphere (#MTBoS). It was the most UNBELIEVABLE week of my life. I learned more than I could have hoped, and finally got to #InRealLife meet my internet friends and family. While I was at #TMC17, Dan Meyer posted about Retiring the #MTBoS Hashtag, and I had a lot of emotions. Most of them resembled feeling hurt. This is my internet family. I have always felt a part of the warm and loving mathematical community that he helped shape and mold. His posting was edited and amended over the course of the week, but I still felt…something resembling pain. I think I know what Dan was trying to start, a conversation about making the #MTBoS more user-friendly, but it stung a bit. I’m glad the conversation’s been put out there. And I see our community doing the work to increase our user-friendly-ness.

Before I continue, let me say:

I am a proud member of the #MTBoS. I found Dan Meyer’s blog in grad school, and the 3-act task structure he introduced me to changed my teaching for the better. While I found Dan in 2012 and #MTBoS in 2013, I was a (proud) lurker. I’d tell every math teacher I met about this WONDERFUL group of math teachers who put their classroom content and mathematical souls out on the inter-web for all to see.

In 2015 I boldly used the #MTBoS hashtag for the first time. I started to transition from lurker to participant. But even then, in the prime of my transitional-lurking days, I mostly re-tweeted, and liked, and asked questions offering up little to nothing in return. But that’s what I love about this community. I asked, and asked, and asked, and my #MTBoS family stepped up and gave all they had without critique or judgement.

I’m proud of my lurker days. Lurking was a necessary part of my development as a teacher. I wasn’t ready to put myself out on the internet in 2013, or 2014, or damn, even in 2015 really–I wasn’t ready for that level of vulnerability online.

To be clear: That feeling of not being ready to proactively join the #MTBoS conversation is not to be confused with feeling excluded or unwanted from the community.  Although I hear some people did/do feel that way, and to you all who felt/feel excluded I am deeply sorry for any part I may have played towards your feeling excluded from our mathematical family. This family thrives on new additions. New voices. New opinions. We need you in our family, our community, our conversations, and our classrooms.

Twitter is a scary medium to put yourself out there, and its even scarier when you don’t really know #InRealLife the people you’re talking to. But those same aspects that make Twitter scary–talking to those strangers on the internet–is what can make it the best professional development opportunity. Those strangers are online 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year to give you feedback if/when you ask for it.

Some things I learned as I moved from lurker to participant that might help people who are still proudly lurking. No rush. Move at your own pace. But here’s some things I discovered along the way that might help with the transition:

  • When in doubt. Comment on cute puppies, cats, tiny humans, or what ever else floats your boat. I remember this thread like it was yesterday, it was the first time Meg and I talked about dogs! Now, we chat about our fur babies at least once a week. Yes, there is a hashtag #DogsOfMTBoS!:Screen Shot 2017-08-01 at 7.56.50 PM  Screen Shot 2017-08-01 at 7.56.59 PM
  • Talk about something math-related that may have NOTHING to do with teaching. @cheesemonkeySF, @anniekperkins, and @veganmathbeagle  are always posting about really, REALLY awesome math art. I’m currently memorized by the Celtic knot designs they are doing right now. If I wasn’t so into my 10:30pm at the latest bedtime, I would have taken more time at #TMC17 to learn how to draw them. Maybe next year!
  • Just adding #MTBoS or #iTeachMath(s) on the end of a tweet isn’t (always) enough to get feedback. There is no #MTBoS high council who patrol the internet moderating comments. If you are looking for specific feedback, tag specific people. When I needed algebra 2 help, I looked to the #Alg2Chat and found Julie ( @jreulbach, and Meg (@mathymeg07) I tagged them when I had a specific question, and I heard back. Find those who teach your content and direct questions their way. You will hear back, and if you don’t, tweet me. I’ve taught everything from Algebra 1 to AP Calc. I’ll do my best to help.
    • Chats to look into:
      • #MTBos and #iTeachMaths, obviously.
      • #GeomChat
      • #Alg1Chat
      • #Alg2Chat
      • #PreCalChat
      • #msmathchat
  • Set goals and make them public. I told Meg I’d be at TMC17. And it happened!

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So with that, come on and tweet with us. Use what ever hashtag you like. I’m going to stick with #MTBoS because to me it means family of nerdy math people who happen to use the mediums of Twitter and Blogging to hold us over until we can meet up, once a year, for nerdy game nights and talking mathematics until WAY past our bedtimes.

New Year, New Routines

I teach at a residential high school for gifted young artists. They leave their homes, their former high schools, and their friends and travel to Winston-Salem NC where we have the pleasure of teaching some of the most talented young dancers, musicians, vocalists, drama performers, and visual artists from all around North Carolina and the United States. In addition to a full academic work load (the usual math, science, history, and English classes from any other high school) my students have the added responsibility of taking a rigorous college-level art classes alongside their peers from the University and Graduate programs here on campus. They have a lot on their plate.

This year I teach standard Algebra 2, Advanced Functions and Modeling (an alternative to PreCalculus for students not looking to go onto AP Calculus), and this year I have a PreCalculus (but won’t next year). Last year I only had Algebra 2 and AFM, and I noticed a hesitation among my students to put them selves out there mathematically. The classes I teach tend to have the more mathematically fearful students in them: the 11th and 12th graders in Algebra 2, students with lower math averages in previous classes, and a fair amount of mathematical baggage from their previous high schools. Every year I have them write a math bio. An account of what they remember liking/disliking in their math career, what they are amazing at, what scares them, what they are most concerned about with math this year. It gives me a lot of insight into the teenage minds:

“I have always been bad at math and have never felt like a teacher really cared enough to explain it to me.”

” Math has never made sense to me.”

So I have a lot of mathematical damage to repair. I have two goals for myself this year in my classes, in order:

  1. To increase students engagement in and willingness to try mathematical tasks.
  2. To teach the material in a way that students retain the information.

Goal 1: to increase student engagement in and willingness to try mathematical tasks.

So, to work towards this goal I introduced the “non math” warm up. Thanks to the #MTBoS tweeps I have stolen borrowed some great warm ups with a focus on critical thinking, math talk, and problem solving.

  • Every Friday we play Set.Today's Daily Set 9/11/15 A mathematical card game available online (I take a screen shot) in which you need to identify a set of 3 cards in which the characteristics of the shapes are either all the same or all different. Today the first two sets my first period AFM found were the grey set (all the same color, all different numbers, all the same shading, all the same shape) followed by the yellow set (all the same color and number, different shadings and shape). It took 4 weeks for them to 100% get the hang of it, but I love the culture it is forming in the room. Kids are talking to each other before putting their guesses out there for the whole class to critique. We are having constructive criticism of “wrong” sets and helping their peers adjust a set selection to then have a “correct” response. Its also a lot of fun to see them enjoying my favorite nerdy math game!
  • Which One Doesn’t Belong? WODB?I had the pleasure of meeting Mary Bourassa this summer at Anja S Greer Math Conference up in Exeter, New Hampshire. I fell in love with the simplicity of the task and the multiple entry points for students. We are starting off the year with the shapes and numbers categories and will move into the function options as we move through the year. My favorite WODB is to the right. In my lower level classes students found differences with the shapes of the letters, “K is the only pointy line segment one” or “P is the only one without a lower half.” Not ground breaking, but still awesome. Then my upper level PreCal students took the floor with “K is the only one that doesn’t end in a eee sound. Pee, Bee, Dee, Kay.” Oh man, now we’re getting deep. “B is the only even numbered letter. Like if you assign the letters numbers 1-26, K is 15, P is 23, B is 2, and D is 5.” I had a huge grin on my face for the rest of the period because I didn’t even go that deep with the warm up when I was playing along. I love it!
  • Because I teach a students with very strong passions and opinions (which I adore) they have the  most fun/arguing potential with Would You Rather… A picture prompt that has students building an argument (mathematical or not) for why they would prefer to do option A over option B. We have started the year out with allowing for non-math answers like “80 bars of soap would fit in my book bag but 30 towels totally would not.” But we will move into the more mathematically based opinions as we progress through the year.
  • Then I also pick a random problem from 1001 Problems to work on visual problem solving. Hole PunchOut favorite from the year has been the Hole Punch Problem. If you make the indicated blue folds, then use a one hole punch on the indicated black dot, what will the unfolded paper hole pattern look like. This was a great experience for my kids visualizing the number of layers in the paper underneath the hole punch. Some even got out scrap paper and were poking holes in it with their pencil.

Goal 2: To teach the material in a way that students retain the information.

I wish I could say I have found the silver bullet for this problem, but I’m typing this blog while one of my classes takes a test, and I can tell by facial expressions alone we’re not there yet. Either way–the things I have changed this year:

  • I will always, ALWAYS, post answers to HW assignments the night they are due on Blackboard with the understanding that students will check HW answers prior to arriving in class (I never give more than 5-10 problems) so that we can spend a few minutes post-warm-up to fix any issues/concerns they have. My hope is that this allows students to catch “silly” mistakes and we can spend time focusing on the real underlying issues/tricky problems from the night.
  • In Algebra 2 I am testing out a hybrid of Guided Notes, a system I have used for most of my teaching career as I find that it allows for more time to work example problems if the students aren’t writing so much, with Interactive Notes. I have been following Sarah Hagan‘s blog and twitter (@mathequalslove) for a few years and have been meaning to try her interactive notebook idea but never had the motivation until this year. The students so far seem to enjoy them, but we are still working on convincing students to use their notes as a primary resource for helping them through an in class assignment–rather than asking me first. It is a process, so I will keep you all updated. This is definitely my work in progress project for the year. Learning as I go.
  • Increase the number of labs/hands on activities that I do in each unit. I am making time for 2 labs per unit so that students can connect what we are learning with applications and trying to work in more manipulative activities.