Monday, August 29, 2016

First Day of Classes (#DITLife Post 3)

Setting the Tone for the Year

The cacophony of student chatter filled the air as students slowly ebbed into the auditorium.  The school year began with a "Chassembly" or combination Chapel and Assembly.  We began with a traditional welcome by our Upper School Director, Brian Kelly, and our Chaplain, Jennifer Nichols.  Then, many faculty and students shared their birthday wishes for the school. (This year is the celebration of our 275th anniversary!)

I was one of the speakers and my short birthday wish is here:

A few weeks ago, I went to the shore with my daughter Cassie and her friend Hannah.  Cassie had created an eclectic mix on Spotify, which included Bon Jovi, the Beatles, Abba, X Ambassadors, Walk the Moon and Idina Menzel.  On our drive we loudly sang along and at one point we were singing these lyrics from High School Musical. 
No, no, no 
Stick to the status quo 
If you wanna be cool 
Follow one simple rule 
Don't mess with the flow, no no 
Stick to the status quo
In our 275th birthday year, I offer the following wish for our school, our community, our students and my colleagues.  No, no, no. Don’t stick to the status quo.  Be true to who you really are.  Thoughtfully, not impulsively, let us stretch out of our comfort zones and reach beyond our status quo.

Period A - Probability and Statistics

Now for my first class of the day!  Probability and Statistics had 10 seniors in it and we began by watching the video Why You Need to Study Statistics which was found at  I wanted students to know that the class they are taking will be very valuable to them no matter what they do in college and beyond.

Then, I asked students where data comes from.  They crafted their answers in small groups for about a minute and then through class discussion we talked about terms they generated which included sample, census, experiment, categorical and quantitative. How exciting! We hadn't opened a book and already my students seemed to have a sense of some statistical ideas.

Next, we looked at how data can come from a simulation and how simulated results can be used to evaluate the validity of a claim.  The scenario we used came from The Practice of Statistics (4th edition).  Twenty-five pilots are trained (15 male and 10 female), but there are only 8 jobs to be filled with the new pilots.  When the names of the newly selected pilots are released, there are 5 females and 3 males that have been selected.  Is this likely to happen by chance alone?

Students reasoned it was not likely.  They said we should expect there to be more males than females, because there were more males than females in the original group of 25 pilots.  That sounded reasonable, but when we did the simulation with playing cards, getting 5 females by chance alone happened 20% of the time.  We also looked a Fathom simulation for the scenario. In the Fathom dotplot below, getting 5 females happened 41 out of 500 times or about 8%.

A screencast of this simulation using Fathom can be found on my YouTube channel.  Here is the link to the demo. 

Note: I was planning on discussing my other classes and the first day activities, but ran out of time.  The beginning of the school year can be tiring and stressful.  Teaching is a balancing act and I opted to not fully finish this blog entry. Teaching involves making choices and staying sane.  I am choosing sanity.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

First Day Back (#DITLife Post 2)

And so it begins! In-service day 1 of 2 at Moravian Academy. My day began at 7:15 AM with working on a bulletin board in the math hallway that I had begun to take down the previous day. Although today was the first in-service day, there is not enough time during the in-service days to get ready for the first day with students.  Many teachers at my school come in for a day or two prior to the first official in-service day.  As department chair, I have several items to take care of including administering and scoring placement exams, unpacking books and fixing up the bulletin board with math contest information.
The official schedule for the two in-service days can be seen below.  The times dedicated for teachers working in their classrooms were 3:30 until whenever for Day 1 and 3:00 until 6:00 for Day 2.  I ended up leaving school today at 5 PM and I will need to work for another hour or two tonight to prep for next Monday.  Based on past experience, the probability of me working on school items over the weekend is 100%.  I am guessing I will be working for at least 4 hours this weekend on school items.
Each year we begin our in-service days with a faculty and staff chapel that is designed to make us reflect on the coming school year.  The sense of community across all divisions permeates this yearly tradition.  With a few butterflies in my stomach, I rang A-flat and B-flat handbells as a part of a faculty bell choir this year.  I later learned we would be playing the piece again in front of the 720+ students and faculty at our opening chapel next week!

After chapel, faculty and staff were split groups of about 10 to do a hour long photo scavenger hunt.  The activity helped me to see parts of the lower school and middle school campus that were foreign to me.  Groups built a sense of camaraderie as they worked toward a common goal.

Our first official formal meeting began at 11 AM.  Rather than the multiple reports from various groups, we heard from our new Headmaster, Jeff Zemsky.  (Two hours prior, Jeff had sent faculty and staff the various reports in an email document for us to read on our own.) Jeff encouraged faculty to "employ the best methods to reach all students".  At two different points, he had faculty turn to a partner to share ideas related to pursuing an ambitious goal.  Ultimately, faculty and staff were encouraged to take risks in the coming school year, focusing on the process needed to achieve a goal.

After lunch, we split into divisional faculty groups for a two hour faculty meeting that ended at 3:30 PM.  We spent time in groups creating faculty goals.  One of the goals from my group was "Once a month each faculty member should seek to learn something about teaching from someone outside of his or her department."

One of my personal goals is to encourage faculty to visit my classroom and offer feedback.  Having an open door requires some risk-taking and it will be a bit scary.  However, I felt challenged to take on this goal after reading Robert Kaplinsky's blog and his #observeme challenge.  I have completed the template from his blog and I will be posting it on my classroom door tomorrow.  Stay tuned to future blogs to see what happens.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Reflection on 24 Years of Teaching (#DITLife Post 1)

Note: I will be attempting to post on the 25th of each month this year as part of a #DITLife project s which is being coordinated by Tina Cardone @crstn85. 

This first post for the #DITLife Project is a reflection on the first half of my career.  I began my teaching career twenty-four years ago as a substitute teacher in the fall of 1992 in Ames, Iowa.  Many new teachers may think that subbing is not real teaching, but by substituting in 4 different schools I learned how teachers can be organized (and disorganized) and I learned how to not give in to students.  Imagine the students saying, "But Mrs. Smith never has us do our work during the last 10 minutes of class. She lets us talk."  Probably not true and then again, I am not Mrs. Smith.

Then, I moved into teaching part time and eventually full time.  I thought at some point teaching would get easier and that I would be a master teacher.  I would know my content, walk to the front of the classroom and just teach.  I planned to get it all figured out.  Mr. Phil Johnson, a Geometry teacher at the first school I taught at in Ames, Iowa, had it figured out.  He would have all of his tests and papers from the entire year copied within the first month of school.  His students worked hard.  He had them working in groups every day and putting problems on the board. His classroom was covered from floor to ceiling in student projects.  Teaching only the Honors level classes, Mr. Johnson made teaching look easy.

 Math Practices Wordle
But the truth that I have learned from my own experiences over the past twenty-four years of teaching is that teaching is far from easy.  I may never have it all figured out.  There is always something new going on: new students, new administration, new state standards, new curriculum, new parents, new pedagogy, and new technology.  There is so much reflection to be done and so little time to do it!

Think Fast: Sometimes the reflection needs to happen quickly. Normally there is a two week honeymoon period to teaching each school year.  Students are still trying to figure out what they can get away with.  But during my ninth year of teaching, I could tell by the second day of class that this one class was going to test my classroom management skills.  I knew I was really in trouble when one observant student, Holly, raised her hand and asked without waiting to be acknowledged, "Mrs. Nataro, why is our class so disfunctional?"  I don't recall my exact response to her, but I think it was something like, "I really don't know."  From that moment forward, I had to treat that class differently.  I had to re-train them in classroom discussion conduct.  Questions were prefaced with, "If you think you know the answer, raise your hand and wait to be called upon."  Slow reflection on what to do would have led to chaos with that group of students.

Now Think More Slowly: Rarely is there time for deep reflection during the school year.  (I think you will see what I mean once I start writing more #DITLife posts.)  Deeper reflection for me happens on snow days and during the summer. Although a few of my summer days are spent relaxing in Maine, other days are spent coming up with new activities and thinking about what I will do differently in the coming year.  This summer I read a book called "The 5 Levels of Leadership" by John Maxwell in order to become a better leader with all of the teachers at my school.  In addition, I did a blog post reflecting on a golf lesson and how the lesson reminded me about some components of good teaching.

There was also time this summer for developing some ideas I will use in teaching AP Statistics.  Over several days, I created an activity related to sample size, called "How Big Must Your Sample Be for a Good Estimate".  Some students think that if the population size is larger that a larger sample size is necessary to get a good estimate.  This activity is designed to help them see the flaw in their thinking. The activity can be adopted for use with Fathom or StatKey and the video I posted to my YouTube channel called "How Big Must Your Sample Be" shows how this can be done. In addition, here is the link to this activity and a here is the link to the Fathom file for the activity.

My idea of what it means to be a master teacher has changed over the years.  It is not the teacher who has everything planned out from Day 1.  It is not the teacher who has taught the same thing in the same way for many, many years.  My idea of a master teacher is one who continues to grow and learn in order to best meet the needs of the students that are in front of him or her on any given day.  Although I enjoy the challenges encountered in the consulting work I have done and it is very satisfying to tutor individual students in math, the greatest joy in my career comes from being in the classroom with students.  So, where do I see myself twenty-four years from now?  I hope I will be continuing to create a culture of trust in a classroom full of students where multiple perspectives are valued.  I hope I will be continuing to help students grow in their understanding and appreciation of mathematics.