Day in the Life: Algebra 2 Regents Exam (Post #12)

I’ve decided to chronicle this school year through my blog. It’s part of Tina Cardone’s Day in the Life book project. This is the twelfth and final post in the series.

5:15am | Up and adam. I brew some coffee and head outside to sit and read for half an hour. The birds sing to me, which makes for a relaxing start to the day. Right now I’m in the middle of Why Don’t Kids Like School by Daniel T. Willingham. It’s pretty good.

I head back inside and put together some breakfast. I shower, grab the bike and make my way in.

7:15am | 13 minutes later I’m locking up my bike in the parking lot. This is still a little weird for me because for years I brought my bike up to my classroom.

On my way up to my classroom, I chat with a few teachers. Everyone is chill because we all know that today, June 16, 2017, is the fourth day of Regents exams. These are New York State high school exams. There is no more instruction for the year. New York City robustly organizes the grading of these exams in a pretty unique way, I think. Selected teachers from every high school in the city report to “grading sites” to mark the exams of students from schools other than their own. The organizational power that this requires is remarkable. For the most part, it runs pretty seamlessly every year. Unless you’re out scoring, you hang back at school to proctor the exams. If you’re not proctoring and have no other responsibilities, the time is yours to spend however you like. As for me, this morning I have to monitor a few seniors who are serving the remainder of their detention before commencement tomorrow, but other than that, there’s nothing that I have on tap.

What’s interesting about today is that my algebra 2 students are sitting for their Regents exam this afternoon. In total, there are about 75 students that will measure their understanding of algebra 2 against New York State’s ever-changing expectations. It’s a very anticlimactic end to their algebra 2 experiences.

7:30am | I make it up to my room, draft this post, and get lost in the abyss that is the internet. I’m hooked on, so of course I tackle a few their problems. I also continue working on my end-of-the-school-year draft that I began yesterday. The department chair comes in and tells me about this financial literacy course. Next year we will plan to have an alternative to Regents-bound algebra 2 and this course is one of the possibilities. It looks promising and it’s chock full of meaningful projects, which I like. We’ll see. Worst case, I incorporate certain features of the course and not others.

It’s crazy how two hours seemingly pass in the blink of an eye.

9:30am | I head down to the auditorium where there a bunch of seniors serving the last hours of their detention. While I fully expected it to be boring, I was pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable it was. It helped that I had several of the kids this year in class. We talked about future plans and they reflected on their past four years. One kid asked me about my feeling towards video games. I also made a bet with another about whether someone falls while walking on stage at commencement tomorrow. I said no, he said yes. The winner gets a Hershey’s.

Despite the fact that they were serving detention, the vibe I got was a communal one. Although I know it’s not true, it’s almost like they wanted to be there.

10:45am | On my way back to my classroom, I find a class set of tangrams in a closet. I’m thinking that I may use them next year in my discrete mathematics elective next year. I do a quick check-in with a girl doing makeup work to help her earn credit for the class. After, I go bunker down in my classroom and eat lunch.

Browsing Twitter, I read this tweet from Sara VanDerWerf. , I immediately place a hold on Blind Spot at the New York Public Library. Looks like a powerful read. It’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about over the last year.

11:45am | My classroom is being used for this afternoon tests, so I need to find another classroom to call my home for the next few hours. I do so and find that some of my students are hanging outside the building waiting to be let in for the exam. I head out there to greet them and remind them that they don’t need luck.

12:30pm | I pop into the various classrooms and give the kids a smile before they begin. No words, just a humble wave to accompany my grin. Other teachers this week have been bringing in candy and even bottles of water for the students. There’s something about this that doesn’t sit well with me. Maybe I’m overthinking things.

Anyhow, good feelings abound after my brief visit, but inside I can’t help but be disappointed that all of the work we’ve done this year has led to this moment. I leave them to work.

1:00pm | I walk up to the deli to grab a coffee. A colleague joins me. We talk about the upcoming “Field Day” that she’s planning for the last day of school. It’s an odd day because all of the grades are in and the exams are complete, but students technically still need to be here. She’s planning an entire at a local park full of all sorts of fun, outdoor activities.

1:15pm | I sit and continue my lazy day. I swear I’ve taken less than 1000 steps today.

I type up more of this post. I think about my students taking their exam. They’re great kids. I hope they’re doing well. I hope that their work is convincing to whoever grades their stuff. I could probably do something more productive with my time, but I decide to dive into more problems.

3:00pm | I decide that before I leave for the weekend that I should probably have a look at the algebra 2 exam, which all of my students are sweating through at this very moment. I get a copy from the test coordinator.

Look, historically speaking, my Regents results have never been something to call home about…and I know that there many other factors at play here. Nonetheless, despite it being a big part of my job description, I will openly admit that I’m not the greatest at preparing kids for these high-stakes exams. Last year, like 50 percent of my kids passed the algebra 2/trigonometry exam — and that was my highest percentage ever. So while I always hope and prepare for the best but, sadly, I don’t really have high expectations.

So back to today’s exam. As I comb through it, I’m shocked to realize how well my instruction aligned with the exam this year. My kids should do alright. But with my track record, I doubt it.

Let me stop. I’ll stay optimistic until the results starting coming in next week. (Secretly, I’m also banking on the ridiculously low passing score that NYS required.)

3:50pm | I leave school. It’s a nice Friday evening with the family. We go out for dinner.

9:20pm | Seemingly all I did today was solve problems, but somehow I’m tired. Go figure. Good night.

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 made a conscious decision at detention this morning to help repair a relationship that turned sour this year. The student that I made the Hershey’s bet with…um, let’s just say we had a rough year. He hated disliked my class. He struggled and I failed to reach him. Yeah, it wasn’t a great experience for either one of us. But I was really glad we connected on something lighthearted and fun at detention today. I also promised myself to email him next week to follow up on a modeling opportunity that he told me about.

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?

As the year comes to a close, I’ve struggled with feeling rooted in my school. I hoped that by this time, I would feel some sort of genuine connection to my new home, but that hasn’t really happened.

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.

Inspired by other bloggers, this week I invited a colleague to write a guest post for this here blog. What he produced was wonderful. He’s someone that has been talking about writing more for a long time…and I figured this might be a great opportunity for him. He not only seized the moment, but during the last couple of days, he’s been putting together his own website. His writing is taking off. He’s even thinking of writing a book this summer!

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?

In preparation for the Regents exam, I needed to structure my tutoring in a way that met the needs of all my students and at the same time didn’t drive me crazy. What I ended up going with was assigning each student a minimum number of hours of tutoring that they needed to complete before the exam. The number of hours they were assigned was based on their performance during the school year. They had a tracking sheet that I stamped. Of course, every student didn’t complete all of their hours, but for the most part, it was successful.

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

Here’s something that I’ve never done before: I taught one of my classes how to solve a Rubik’s Cube. I use the word “taught” loosely. I borrowed 12 cubes (it’s a small class) from You Can Solve the Cube I attempted to show them the steps that I use to solve it. Not all of them ended learning how to solve it, but I think they enjoyed the change of pace. Next year I’m going to leave more time so we can get into mosaics.


Day in the Life: April 24, 2017 (Post #10)

I’ve decided to chronicle this school year through my blog. It’s part of Tina Cardone’s Day in the Life book project. This is the tenth post in the series.

5:30am | Rise and shine. It’s later than I would have liked, but I didn’t sleep well last night. I throw lunch together, a simple salad. Waffles for breakfast. No time to read.

6:30am | I’m out the door. The ride to school is brisk. The sun is out earlier these days and it reminds me that the end of the school year is close.

6:45am | I lock up the bike and walk into school. I make it up to my room and spend 15 minutes drilling holes in the large, 4-ft-by-4-ft whitebaords that recently picked up from Home Depot. I have these super magnets that I’ll be using to hold up the boards on the lockers in my room. It’s cheezy, but I’m so proud of this solution.

7:35am | I walk my large whiteboards down to my first period classroom. It’s painless, but pretty annoying. They’re awkward to hold for long periods of time, like down the hallway. We’ll be using the whiteboards for some VNPS and VRG action today on factoring.

I make it back to my desk and finish up plans for first period. I print out a few articles for a student who walks in. At 8:10am, I make my way down to first period.

9:00am | First period comes to an end. For what it’s worth, I consider it a win. I’ve learned so much from that class. More below. Whew.

I walk all of my crap back down to my room an decide that I need coffee. I head out to the bodega at the corner. As always, black, no sugar.

9:15am | I’m back at my desk and sit to map out a couple of other lessons for the day. Specifically, I put together the group speed dating activity for period 5. It’s a review of factoring and the conic form of a parabola.

10:05am | I run down the hallway to use the bathroom and I see one of my 7th period students wondering about. I ask her what’s up and she says tat she doesn’t want to go to lunch because her friends aren’t here today. I invite her to hang out with me in my room since it’s empty. We talk. She tells me that she’s looking for a job. I share my experiences working at Chick-fil-a. Good memories of good sandwiches ensue. She cuts up my problems for speed dating.

10:40am | Period 4 begins. Today we’re writing the conic form of the equation of a parabola. On Friday they used Desmos to explore how a parabola is the set of points equidistant from a line and a fixed point. I overview the two common forms, first vertex and then manipulating that to get standard form. I whip out the small whiteboards and pair up the kids. I post graphs of parabolas and have them practice writing the vertex and standard forms for it. They hold up their boards and we discuss. I’m always amazed at the high levels of assessment that whitebaording permits. The lesson is a keeper.

11:30am | I head across the hall for period 5, also algebra 2. This group is one day ahead of period 4. The group speed dating is going to sum up our quadratics unit. I quickly realize that the problems I included in the activity will need three days to be completely reviewed by every group. That said, I would consider the period is a success.

12:15pm | Lunch. There isn’t much planning I need to do for the remaining two periods that I teach so I manage to actually enjoy my feast, if a bare-bones salad and two oranges qualify as such.

One side note. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday there is an “Assimilation” elective that takes place in my room when I eat lunch. It basically th college advisor sharing all kinds of useful knowledge with the kids. I always stay in the room during lunch for his class. I find him to be incredibly cultured and knowledgeable on so many things. Today’s topic was real estate. It didn’t disappoint.

1:45pm | My period 7 class ends. More VNPS and VRG action. They eat it up. Pure and utter engagement for 30 minutes, easy.

My period 8 walk in. I love these kids. They’re my only ninth grade class and they keep me in touch with the younger side of high school. We’re shifting parabolas today. The lesson is rushed — we’ll need to take a closer look tomorrow.

2:35pm | On Monday, my school holds district-mandated PD for us. I head down to room 229, where the PD will take place. The focus today is curriculum maps. It’s the first of a series of four workshops on the matter. The idea is that as we close the school year, we adapt and improve the maps we currently have for next year.

The session was better than expected. I really like the teacher who ran it…and his approach was untraditional. Instead a dry, boring approach to curriculum maps, he encouraged us to look to and learn from our colleagues to help us envision the ideal student. We talked. He emphasized hard skills and soft skills as something we should gear towards. This, he argued, would help us build a curriculum map for the whole student that plays off what our colleagues believe in.

4:00pm | The faculty meeting finishes and I leave school in a haste to make it to Math for America for a interest group meeting. I’m helping plan the first-ever MfA summer conference and tonight the planning committee is getting together.

4:21pm | I get on the 6 train, doubtful that I’ll make the 5:30pm start time for the meeting.

5:05pm | Shockingly, I arrive at MfA. I grab some pizza and catch up with a few of the committee members. Our goals tonight include  improving the conference website, putting together a loose schedule of the sessions with the proposals we’ve received, and create a Google form for registration which starts tomorrow. I agree to help tackle the website with Carl Oliver.

6:35pm | Carl and I give the site a face lift. A part of the website is a blog. I write a brief post on the origins of the conference. Sometimes I still can’t believe this conference is actually happening…and that I’m helping to make it happen!

7:35pm | We wrap up a very productive meeting. Everyone heads out.

8:40pm | I arrive home after a long, yet productive, day. I wide down for a while before heading to bed at 9:30pm.

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?

Though I’ve really enjoyed teaching them, I know I’ve put my ninth grade class on the back burner of my teaching responsibilities this year. I’ve basically been teaching from a textbook with them. I’ve been improvising where I can with Desmos and other tools and strategies, but the engagement and rigor for that class is not even close where it should be. I’ve dedicated almost all of my energy to my Algebra 2 classes. I sort of regret it. One side note: they LOVE VNPS and VRG. It’s crazy.

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’ve had a couple visitors in my classroom this month, all of which from the Superintendent’s office. One was the superintendent himself, and another was in relation to the Big Apple Award that I was nominated for.

The observed lesson wasn’t ideal by any stretch. But maybe it’s fitting because that happens so often anyhow. (Thank you to 16th school trip of the season and random students from Denmark.) Nonetheless, the entire experience has been uplifting. Thank you to Mike for the humbling nomination that led to all this. Throughout everything, I couldn’t help but think of all the educators and leaders that have inspired me, like my former principal.

Regardless of the outcome, I hope that the passion, dedication, and thoughtfulness that I have for my students and school community was felt. I hope that the immense respect that I have for learning and the teaching profession also this came through.

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.

All of I can think of in response to this prompt is my first period class. Our relationship this year has been a roller coaster, but for the last couple of weeks I think we’ve really connected. I realized this month that for a good part of the year I didn’t enjoy teaching them. I wouldn’t say I was merely going through the process, but I definitely wasn’t all in. I would rarely smile. I wouldn’t listen to them.

I was too frustrated with what I thought was their lack of motivation and ability. But that was just me teaching above them. I was focusing on curriculum and standards. I was ignoring who they were. I wasn’t teaching to their strengths.

Things still aren’t perfect now. But they’re far better than they were earlier this year.

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?

Although I didn’t explicitly state them in my goals for the year, I’ve discovered a place for VNPS and VRG in classroom this past month. My recent experiences have changed my classroom forever. It’s ironic that no matter how hard you try, sometimes you simply can’t plan for the best things that happen to you. They just do. Mostly out of necessity. It was sort of like that with VNPS and VRG.

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

My National Board submission is kicking my butt. Thanks Michael for all of your help with complex numbers.