Close of the 2015-16 school year

CLassroom 2015-16

-1. It’s that time of year again. The last day of school. Time to get decompress, reflect, and wonder where the hell the year went.

0. Last year proved to be eventful, but this year actually doubled up on that. Whew. Another change in administration. Another roller coaster ride.

1. Probably my biggest takeaway from this year was what I learned about leadership. A huge part of this was my participation in the Learning Partners program and my role as a Model teacher. Visiting other schools and spearheading change in my school made me realize where I am in my career and expectations that I should have for those around me.

2. I loved my classroom set up this year, especially the U-shaped group structure. It allowed me to efficiently assess student understanding. Also, the desks could easily be pushed together for a more intimate group setting. Next year: systematically establishing interdependency by making group work the norm. This will be huge.

3. Game changer: the video-based professional development that I facilitated this year. I experienced so much growth related to this. A more detailed post coming soon.

4. Over the years my parental outreach has been dismal. This year I was proud that I began  sending out a monthly “newsletter” via email that contained upcoming events, class announcements, etc. But about three months in, I fell off. Next year, I want to use MailChimp or a similar service to help with this. This is a must do!

5. I promoted far more inquiry in my lessons this year. I had students doing more – more sense making, more investigating relationships – not just paying attention to procedures. I have a long way to go, but I made significant progress.

6. My homework policy this year drifted into nothingness. I started the year strong and slowly, over time, stopped checking it. It was disappointing. I love the idea of lagging it, but I want to greatly simplify the homework experience. Possibly include a reflection (which I want to heavily promote next year) question followed by 2-5 mathematical problems, 1-2 of which are lagged. I may also go with one weekly homework assignment where concepts aren’t indicated for each problem – similar to an exam.

7. As a means of promoting introspection, I chose to compose one deeply reflective tweet per day during the #MTBoS30 challenge in May. I forced myself, every day, to think earnestly about an aspect of my teaching in a concerted manner. I was pushed out of my comfort zone and it was awesome.

8. Lagging my unit exams was a great experience. I just need to ensure that I don’t fall too far behind, which happened this year. I also liked the audits as a means of keeping student knowledge, and records of their knowledge, current. I’m definitely going to stick with both of these assessment structures moving forward.

9. This year I officially began the process of becoming National Board Certified. It will no doubt be a long, arduous process, but a welcomed one.

10. My interest in robotics declined this year. Instead, I’ve rediscovered and rekindled my long-lasting love for mathematics. Although I’ve taught mathematics my entire career – my wholehearted dedication towards perfecting how I teach the content hasn’t always been there. Things are different now.

11. After a couple of years planning, I kickstarted an after-school bicycle club. Moving on two wheels has long been a passion of mine, so sharing this love with students was special.

12. Reflecting on the goals I set for the year, what didn’t I accomplish? Conferencing with students didn’t happen…like, at all. A complete waste of an awesome table I set up in my room. Earning highly effective. Eh. Thankfully, I’ve moved beyond the whole rating thing this year. The retakes culture in my classroom improved this year, but I still need to do better at promoting/mandating this growth mindset structure. There were many after-school sessions where every student was working on a different concept. It was beautiful. I’ve also raised my expectations for students, but I’m still not where I need to be. I did seek student feedback, but more so at the end of the year. I tried, but still couldn’t manage to have my students effectively answer “why am I doing this?” during lessons.

13. My end-of-year algebra 2/trigonometry state exam results were much better this year. I’m proud (read: disappointed) that I’m getting better at teaching my students how to be better test takers of mathematics.

14. Starting in October, every Friday I sent a Reflections email to my colleagues in the mathematics department. It was always an impromptu collection of highlights and interesting happenings from the week we experienced. It was a way of digesting the week in a positive, motivating way. It allowed me to connect with my department on a personal level and they seemed to enjoy it. I’m so proud of this.

15. My standards-based grading was more focused and worthwhile this year. I am thinking of a shift that puts more emphasis on depth of understanding within the domains of mathematics (and not assess concepts in isolation). I was able to use the performance data to drive instruction and remediation strategies, like tutoring. I also began emailing progress reports to students and parents on a weekly basis, which was a big step forward. Although, the layout of the email could be improved.

16. The Token. I just love this. It created a warm atmosphere that went beyond mathematics and injected a good dose of humanity into us all. There were multiple Fridays when I forgot to initiate the passing, which I’m not happy about. That said, the kids took upon themselves to pass it without me many times. Next year, I want a small, simple poster that displays the current holder of the token.

17. I created a class calendar in my room using whiteboard paper. This was simple, but meaningful. I will make it larger next year. I need to post student birthdays!

18. I got far fewer Friday letters this year. Maybe I should get into the habit of placing the box near the front of the room on Fridays so that we all can be reminded? At the same time, I wrote my students a lot this year – especially while they took exams.

19. I have been highly critical of those making excuses this year, including myself. If something doesn’t happen, it’s because that thing wasn’t a priority. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Discover what matters and pour everything you have into it. Don’t look back.

20. This year was a crossroads for me. The 2016-17 school year will bring dramatic changes to my career and school family. I’ve never been more ready for the sunrise that I’ll witness in September 2016. Here’s to writing the next chapter.

 

bp

Summation notation, but way more

I’ve been rethinking all of my lessons this year. My hope has been to get my students to reason more. To think independently. To not be sponges. I’d like to think it’s been working. Here’s a recent lesson on summation notation that showcases this shift.

To open things up, I gave them this.

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Super accessible and relevant to summation notation. In the past, I would have chosen a bell ringer that was closely connected to a prior lesson (i.e. review) than the current one. I wanted to provide remediation. I’ve learned this year that a relevant bell ringer is pivotal to any lesson.

Here’s what came next.
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Again, very accessible. Last year Jennifer Preissel mentioned the “Stop & Jot” idea as a simple way of getting kids to write and reflect more during a lesson. Here, I gave them five minutes to express, on their own, what they wondered and noticed about the expression. After, they shared with their groups and we discussed as a class. By including “left side” and “right side,” I wanted to focus student responses. There were comments like “the +2 happens in every parenthesis” and “the number next to the +2 is going up by one.” Their observations led us to the brink of directly relating sigma notation to its expanded sum. In the past, I would jump right into defining sigma, the upper and lower limits, argument, etc. There would have been no exploring or thinking on their own.

Next, I ask them to move on to another example with the hope of finding a relationship.

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It worked like magic. They see the same pattern from the Stop & Jot and they start to generalize. They have no idea what the “E thing” is, but it’s beginning to settle in how the left and right sides relate to one another. They discuss all of this in their groups. I float around. Observing. Listening. In the past, I would show them how to find this sum and answer their questions. Again, no self-exploration and making meaning of what they see.

Now they are to dissect and interpret.

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This lacks clarity. Some students knew to write their interpretation next to the arrows, but many did not. As a checkpoint, we came back together and discussed.

Next: remove the right side.

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Things are flowing now. The scaffolds are working. They know the relationship and successfully express the sum. In the past: The students would probably be completing this problem, but instead of using their own insight to drive the work, they’d be following what I said was the correct procedure.

Finish it off.

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We come back together one more time to debrief and to address any questions the groups haven’t already. To bring things full circle, I mention the task from the bell ringer. “Ohhh!”

Lastly, on the next page, the proper names are reveled.

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We then have just enough time for an exit slip.

This lesson is heavy on notation and I didn’t want to bog them down with symbols. The goal was to find meaning first, then discuss representation. It succeeded. What I miss out on is working in reverse. Namely, using sigma notation to represent a given sum.

What I love most about this lesson has little to do with summation notation. It’s much bigger. It stems from the approach. Bottom up. Using their own insights to help them find meaning. Doing less and allowing them to put the pieces of the puzzle together. This lesson is a microcosm of how I try to teach nowadays, which is much different than in the past. It symbolizes my growth as a teacher, as a learner.

Here is the handout.

 

bp

Summer 2015: An Immersive Research Experience…The After Party

Earlier this summer I wrote about a research experience that I was taking part in: SMARTER, an RET instituted by NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering. The experience was profound. Here’s a recap of my takeaways.

Composite material

  • Firstly, a learned a good deal about composite materials. Going into the program, I had the slightest idea what a composite material even was. During orientation my curiosity was stoked by Nikhil Gupta, my research mentor, about his area of expertise (primarily because he mentioned that his research impacts the U.S. military). But other than that spark, I had no real foundation for where to start the research. Naturally, this equates to an information overload and, in the end, a substantial amount of learning on my end. Part of me wished my research tied in closer to what I teach everyday, but the other part of me understands that being forced into foreign territory was exactly what I needed.

Research Results Chart

  • My partner and I decided to make repurposing waste materials the centerpiece of the research. Specifically, we were interested in the impact that fly ash, human hair, and glass microspheres have when integrated with cement. What did we learn? The results were somewhat inconclusive, but we did discover an ideal proportion of fly ash to glass microspheres that would optimize the peak stress (i.e. the point at which the material begins to break down) of the composition. We expected that the human hair would have a greater impact on the overall strength of all the composites, but the results were fairly mixed.
  • A facet of the experience that surprised me was the collaboration that it involved. When you work with a perfect stranger for an extended period of time, things can get rocky. I didn’t learn to appreciate my partner’s perspective until later in the research; she taught me a ton about seeing things with a starkly different outlook and how this is necessary for the team to succeed. It also pushed me to open my mind and connect with ideas that I initially found hard to accept. I was reminded that everyone has strengths that are both unique and amazing…and that productivity sometimes hinges on the ability to focus on those strengths.
  •  The most significant impact of the experience was the uplifting inspiration it provided me. Before SMARTER, I had a deep-rooted desire to grow as a professional, but I had no ambition to further my education or seek a higher level of certification. But after a brief conversation with a Ph.D candidate who was aiding in our analysis, I left with an unexpected desire to push myself further than I ever thought I would. It was his laudable attitude coupled with the overall atmosphere at the university that left me wanting much more than just to complete my research and get back to teaching.
  • What does this mean? It means that one day I will 1) earn National Board Certification and 2) obtain a doctorate in mathematics education. Yup. I am now eagerly awaiting these immense challenges in the years to come. Thanks Eduardo.

This is my evolution thanks to SMARTER. My students, school community and myself are all much better because of it.

 

bp