Friday, September 9, 2016

The Longest Day Ever (#DITLife Post 4)

The Longest Day Ever for a teacher is most likely "Back-to-School Night" or "Open House".  It is the day where parents follow their son's or daughter's schedule to meet the teachers.  It is also a time where teachers probably talk more than they should, modeling one of the worst ways to teach.  I did not talk to the parents about grading and homework policy and classroom minutiae.  To see what I did, skip to the end of my blog post at the End Detour Sign or read on about my school day.

The Morning:
My day began at 7:30 with a meeting with a student who had missed class the previous day due to being released early for a golf match.  Then, I quickly made some copies of quizzes that I would be giving later that day and the next day.

First period began at 8:00. (Or it would have under normal circumstances.) But today is far from a normal day, because not only is it "Back-to-School" night, it is Picture Day!!  This means math classes are interrupted by 10 minutes so students can get their school picture taken.  When my Probability and Statistics students return, they take a quiz on sampling methods and then they work in groups to discuss short news clips related to observational studies and experimental design.  In years past, we have had a whole class discussion that I led.  This year, I had students discuss the articles in small groups and let them lead the discussions.

I hoped to get the quizzes I just gave graded during my Period B class, but I had some emails to attend to, plus a student dropped in to review for a quiz.  In addition, I made copies for a meeting I was to have later that day with the Headmaster, spoke to our academic dean about a student and grabbed some coffee. Caffeine 1, Grading 0

(Note: As I am writing now, I am realizing English teachers would be cringing and for now, I am declaring consistency in verb tense to be optional.  Remember, it is "The Longest Day Ever".)

During period C, we make some discoveries about the discriminant as it relates to roots of a parabola.  This is based off a desmos activity builder lesson written by Shelley C called "Discriminants of Quadratics and Cubics".  Due to the choppy nature of class today ("It's picture day.  Say Cheese!"), I end up leading too much and not asking the necessary questions for students to discover what they are to discover.  Class ends with all of the students successfully completing a summary chart, but I vow to do better the next time with period D.

Lunchtime and The Afternoon:
Now it is period D.  Today this class is 35 minutes followed by lunch and then another 35 minutes of class.  During the first 35 minutes, there is a quiz.  Some students finish in 15 minutes and others finish in 30 minutes.  When we return from lunch, we work through the desmos discriminant activity.  Vowing to do better than I did in C period, I use the thumbnail and overlay features better.  As students do the first slide, I say things like "I can see Emilie has a negative discriminant.  Does anyone else have a negative discriminant? What quadrants is Emilie's graph in?  Does the graph need to be in those quadrants to have a negative discriminant?" 

By the end of this class, all students have successfully completed the summary chart and they have also successfully submitted answers to the following slides. (Note: I don't have these mathematicians as students, but desmos has a feature of changing student names to "Incognito" names.  It's pretty cool that these are names of mathematicians.)

Now it is period G, a.k.a. the fifth class of the day on a Thursday.  During this time I almost get both sets of quizzes graded.  However, I also meet briefly with Lia (a teacher who teaches Geometry Honors) and Marilyn (a teacher who teaches PreCalculus.)  Lia shares a unique way her students solved on of the homework problems.  Marilyn and I discuss how the desmos activity went and I shared with her how I modified the activity the second time I did it.

Finally, it is my last class of the day, Geometry Honors.  We are starting to develop a culture of trust as students share their answers.  As we review the one question, I use Lia's idea as an alternative solution after two other solutions are shared.  I tell students that even though I have taught this course for over 10 years at Moravian Academy students continue to surprise me with new ways to solve or approach problems.  I want them to surprise me and share their ideas!!!

It is now 2 PM and I have a meeting with our new Headmaster.  When I arrive, he is meeting with a colleague and I wait until 2:15 PM.  We share ideas on several topics and I leave the meeting feeling like my ideas have been heard, understood and valued.  However, I also leave feeling exhausted at the thought of returning to school for the evening.  I finally pull out of the parking lot at 3:15 PM.

The Evening: 
After eating dinner at home, I head back into school at 6:30. I meet with four different groups of parents for 10 minutes each.  I did not talk to the parents about grading and homework policies and classroom minutiae. Parents had received that information on a handout that they signed at the beginning of the school year. Instead I wanted to see parent perspectives on mathematics learning and I wanted to share my views on mathematics learning. I displayed a statement on the Smartboard and the parents would use plickers to share their responses.  I scanned their plicker cards with an app on my phone and then we looked at a summary of the results.

 For example, we looked at the question shown below.  After parents shared their answers, I told them that I did not agree with this statement.  All students are capable of learning math and some find some topics to be easier for them than others.  It was interesting that the parent responses were split almost equally between Agree, Disagree and Neutral. (Note: The Woordle comes from words my students put in a google form on the first day of class.  These words were what they used to describe math for themselves personally.  Challenging is the biggest word, because the students used that word the most.)

As parents left, I encouraged them to take the handout on "Glory in the Struggle".  (Excerpts and synopsis by Audrey Weeks from an article by Suzanne Sutton in “Bulletin” (Feb. 1997) – a periodical for the National Association of Secondary School Principals) Once students start doing courses near the end of their high school career, they can struggle even if they haven't struggled before.  We need to recognize that struggle isn't bad, but a part of learning something that is new and challenging.  There is value in learning something that takes time and this handout is designed to give parents ideas about how to support their child as they learn and sometimes struggle.

Finally, the longest day is over and I go home at 9 PM after finishing the grade entry of the quizzes.

#DITLife Blog 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?

On this particular day, I was proud of making the decision to approach the delivery of the desmos lesson differently and it worked better!  One decision that was not ideal was not taking enough time to get a student to communicate her answer to a Geometry problem.  I thought she was on the right track and asked for clarification once.  I still wasn't quite sure what she was saying.  As is often the case, I say something like "You seem to have the right idea."  But then, I don't work to get the student to fully communicate his or her idea.  This kind of interaction takes time and practice.  I can practice more, but the time crunch (40 minute classes) will always be a challenge.

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?

This year has begun with cautious hope and optimism due to some system-wide changes.  Students and faculty are saying "Thank you" and showing appreciation for each other.  I am especially looking forward to our math competition, Math Madness.  Students love trying to beat their previous best and beat whatever school we are going against. (If you aren't familiar with Math Madness, it is an online competition and students who enjoy challenges like the AMC contests will enjoy Math Madness.)  Right now my biggest challenge is balancing time and getting enough sleep! As I write this, I am so glad it is Friday.

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.Building relationships takes time.  Recently I was speaking with our theater director about the upcoming play for the spring, Arcadia.  As he spoke it was clear that the play was very rich and meaningful to him.  I can’t wait to see it to support him and our students. 4) Teachers are always working on improving, and often have specific goals for things to work on throughout a year. What is a goal you have for the year? One of my goals for this year is to be better at asking questions and teasing out answers from students.  Specifically, I would like to incorporate some of the ideas from a chapter from the NCTM publication "Promoting Purposeful Discourse". The article I have not had time to read just yet is called "Revoicing: The Good, the Bad and the Questions" by Jean Krusi from Ames Middle School in Ames, Iowa.  I'll be posting more on this in future blogs. 5) What else happened this month that you would like to share? I posted the following sign for the #observeme challenge and sent the following email to my colleagues. 

Many of us agree that we enjoy learning from our colleagues when we see them teach.  We also like it when colleagues visit our classes and give us informal feedback.  This type of collaboration doesn't happen nearly enough.  My status quo has been to stay in my room, getting papers graded and lessons planned.  I don't visit many classrooms and I don't have many visitors.   This year I am going to (in the words of what I said today at "Chassembly") say "No, No, No to the Status Quo".  This year I am formally extending an open invitation to all of you to visit my classroom.  I hope some of you will welcome me into yours.

Should you come to visit, attached is the welcome sign you will see hanging on my door.  I teach Probability/Statistics Period A, PreCalculus Periods C and D and Geometry Honors Period F.

Today is day 8 of school and there have been 22 teachers who have responded to the email with open door invitations to their own classrooms.  I have also had two faculty visit me and I have visited one faculty member.  Time will be the biggest challenge to seeing all 22 teachers who have sent me invitations.

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