End of the 2014-15 school year

Classroom Spring 2015

-1. Several weeks ago I began thinking about the end of the school year. I suddenly realized the startlingly amount of reflection that awaited me. Today is the last day of school and the only way for me to systematically get it all out is in a list. Here goes.

0. Leading up to this year, my school had a solid four-year stretch of low-turnover and highly stable school atmosphere. 2014-15 not only broke that streak…it was shattered and thrown it under a bus. Things were quite eventful.

1. With any change in leadership, one should expect adjustment in the day-to-day happenings. I found that I had grown too comfortable under previous leadership. Things and people change and I need to evolve with these changes so my productivity doesn’t stagger.

2. During and after vast transformations this year, my optimism was put to the test several times and, in some cases, folded. After scarring disappointments early on, it took a good amount of time to rededicate myself to the school’s mission. I let my frustration get the best of me at times – which I don’t regret. Live and learn.

3. What kept me going? What kept me from completely disconnecting from my school community?

4. The incredibly inspirational people around me. My students. My colleagues (in and out of my school). People I’ve never met. My family.

5. Teachers at my school are an awesome bunch. Despite the disarray abound, somehow they found a way to use their collective strength to keep us moving forward.

6. This was also my first school year blogging, which had a great deal to do with my naturally reflective nature this year. It framed my teaching like nothing I’ve ever experienced. I gained serious perspective by reflecting on my own practices via my blog.

7. I implemented standards-based grading. In terms of assessment, it’s one of the best moves I’ve ever made. I committed to it mid-year, which was tough, but it worked pretty much as planned. I had students assess their own retake exams, which was great, but I need to make a stronger push for retakes next year.

8. I helped plan weekly district-mandated professional development sessions for colleagues at my school. I found it both more engaging and challenging than I imagined before the year began. Professionally, this was an area of growth I didn’t expect. Thanks to MfA, I’ll be taking that a step further next year with my video club.

9. I absolutely struggled with four preps in the fall. The quality of my teaching was stretched thin and my students were shortchanged immensely.

10. I was entitled department chair in the spring. The math department had a tough year and we have a long journey ahead. I hope I am able to provide whatever leadership we need. That said, I passionately hate titles and the connotation that often comes along with them. They are hollow and irrelevant. I just want my work to be meaningful, collaborate, and help all of us reach another level.

11. Our robotics team made progress this year. We performed noticeably better than during the last two years of the program. Next year I hope to use class time (versus after-school) for competition preparation. This should afford the kids more time to build and tweak the robot. My robotics class expanded to include introductory arduinos along with the usual Lego Mindstorms.

12. My students did rather poorly on state exams. This is very disappointing given the amount of work both the students and myself have put in this year. So much so that I began questioning myself. How can I adjust to improve this result?

13. A woman leading a PD once told me “When my students don’t succeed, I look in the mirror and ask What could I have done differently?” This has stuck with me all year. It’s not about all the issues, setbacks, and lack of prerequisite skills that students bring into the classroom that hinders their learning. Instead, all that matters is what I do to meet their needs and get them to succeed. It’s a hard pill to swallow. But this perspective is key for me in my hopes of one day becoming a great teacher.

14. I could have been a better mentor. Despite many shortcomings, I have experience and insight that is conducive to the growth of colleagues new to this profession. I did a poor job this year mentoring a new teacher. She is wonderful and would never tell me so, but inside I know I could have had a much better impact on her.

15. I tried many new approaches this year to teach my kids. Just as importantly, I also implemented new ways to reach them. Whether it was friday letterspersonal notestwo stage exams, plickers, speed dating, problem-based learning, exit slips, or others, I can say that I have definitely made an effort to improve the happenings in my classroom.

16. Following up on a new year’s resolutionintervisitations played a significant role in my development this year. I discovered the need to not only get outside my classroom, but outside of my building, and explore the work of others. It helped motivate a colleague and me to apply for the 2015-16 NYCDOE Learning Partners program, which we were accepted. More to come!

17. I relearned how to be patient with my students. Big ups to my AP for pushing me to slow down the pace of the class and remind me to provide more scaffolding.

18. Goal for 2015-16: highly effective. Focus for 2015-16: to be better than I was in 2014-15.

20. Every school year seems to fly by when you’re at the end of it. This one was no different. It was a bumpy flight, but it was over before I knew it. Another one in the books.

Until June 2016.

 

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The Quotient ~ 2.9.15

0. The only true wisdom is in knowing that you know nothing. ~Socrates

1. That is probably my favorite quote of all time. It resonates with me so deeply because I’ve realized that every thing I read, write, watch, speak, do, and listen to is but a mere spec on the number line of infinity.

2. Despite confidence in myself and in my abilities in whatever the task at hand is, whether it be teaching complex numbers or overhauling a bottom bracket, inside I always understand that I can be better. There’s always someone or something with knowledge that I don’t have.

3. I have finally begun using exit tickets as they should be used. In other words, I understand their assessment value.

4. I once heard someone say that true innovators and learners engage with people and things that go beyond their area of expertise.

5. Real learners can take a seemingly meaningless or unrelated moment and relate it directly to something that is meaningful to them.

6. Quality over quantity. Always.

7. Being open and willing to accept criticism has taught me that I can be always be better.

8. I’m very excited to begin my (voluntary) intervisitations. I sense an immense amount of growth on the way.

9. Math teachers are always asked to incorporate more reading and writing into their classes. Why aren’t ELA teachers asked to include more mathematics in theirs?

10. If I pray for rain, I better be prepared to deal with the mud too.

11. I need to walk around with small slips of paper (or Post-its) and provide random instant feedback to my students.

12. Video in my classroom. Transparency. Vulnerability. Growth.

13. My standards-based grading has opened up areas of assessment that were simply not available to me before.

14. You have a dream, a goal. Each day, lay down a single brick. Work towards that goal. One at a time, work on perfecting how you lay them. Get better. Eventually you’ll have a great wall. Your goal will be achieved.

15. The wind howls, but the mountain remains still. Stop talking so much. Observe. Listen.

16. Don’t eat the marshmallow.

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My Year in Review & 2015 Resolutions

 

Colored pencils

2014 was an awesome year for my growth as a teacher. Here’s an abbreviated recap of my past year.

Experiences

This spring, I had the opportunity to chaperon a school trip to Europe. Myself, two colleagues, and six young people ventured to London, Paris and Rome over spring break. For the students, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and it was truly an honor to help it become a reality.

This was my first year NOT teaching summer school. Before the summer, I wanted it be an incubation period for my own personal growth. I wanted time off to relax and recharge, of course, but I also wanted time to reflect and become a better teacher for my students. It didn’t disappoint. I will never forget the summer of 2014.

Education

In August, I took a two-week class at United Bicycle Institute on bicycle mechanics. I’ve been enthused about bicycles for a long, long time and this was a chance to follow my passion and earn a technical certification. I expected to learn a good deal about bicycles, but I what I didn’t expect was for it to change my perspective on teaching. Forever.

Professional Development

Building on my goal of becoming a better teacher this summer, I attended Twitter Math Camp in July for the first time. This was by far one of the best professional development experiences I’ve ever had. The teachers were incredible. Their work and passion were both humbling and inspiring. After TMC, I started lazyocho.com, which has transformed how I view reflection and collaboration. I used to think I would never have time to write about my teaching. I’ve learned that not only do I have the time, but also that writing and reflecting is just as necessary to my teaching as writing lessons plans.

This was also year 2 of my Math for America Master Teacher fellowship. My focus this year was on 3-act math activities, robotics, and arduinos. Shaun Errichiello spearheaded the 3-act team, I helped lead the robotics group with Rick Lee, and Mike Zitolo introduced me and many others to the vast world of arduinos. Math for America was absolutely critical in my growth this year. I made it a point to give back to the MfA community by leading workshops and speaking at Information Sessions. I also attended the MT^2 event again, which was both enlightening and motivating.

Following up on the bicycle mechanics certification I got this summer, I brought this knowledge back to my students by starting a bicycle club at my school. In preparation, in the fall I attended a six-week teacher-mechanic course provided by Karen Overton and Recycle-a-Bicycle. I then began teaching my students mechanics and will be doing some after-school groups rides in 2015.

I joined the 2014-15 professional development committee at my school. Myself and five other teachers plan weekly professional development sessions for our colleagues. I felt responsible to give back to our learning community and help harness the strengths of our teachers. The work is promising and I thoroughly enjoy it.

2015 Resolutions

I have a couple resolutions for my teaching in 2015. One is to implement standard-based grading in my classroom. I want to shift the mindset of my students away from grades. Our focus in the classroom should be on learning and mastering content, not rewards or labels that mask what you truly know (or don’t know).

Thanks to my discussions with Mike Zitolo, who also shares this resolution, I want to make an extra effort to visit other teacher’s classrooms in 2015, both in my school and out. Watching and listening are incredibly underrated skills. Hopefully this resolution not only strengthens my ability to teach math, but also furthers my connections with teachers from other disciplines.

Here’s to 2014. I’ve probably never grown more than I have this year. But this was by no means a journey of one. There are so many people and organizations that helped me in varying ways. Thanks to everyone I collaborated with and all who provided me opportunities to grow in 2014.

I hope 2015 holds even more growth.

 

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For a long time

For a long time, I taught my students in a way that I thought was effective.

During the last couple of years, I’ve now discovered that I was all wrong. I actually made this revelation two years ago while “flipping” my classroom.

Student learning is best when it comes from complex, indefinite situations and then, after contemplation, taken to broader ideas and concrete generalizations. When learning begins, students should be confused and perplexed, or at least unsure about what is going to happen during a lesson. The problem comes first and the solution/generalization later. I think this really stems from how we, as humans, learn on an everyday basis.

Let’s say I’m confronted with a problem, like back pain. When my back starts to hurt, I immediately begin thinking about why. I’ll probably ask myself many questions and if I injured myself during that dunk I had over Lebron James. Or was it Carmelo? Either way, I’ll try various solutions like adjusting my sleep patterns, changing my exercise routine (no dunks), and using my knees more instead of my back – all to try and alleviate the pain. Let’s say that I struggle for a while and nothing seems to work.

Over time, I begin to realize a pattern. I notice that every day I wear my old, worn out sneakers, my back hurts at the end of the day. And on days when I don’t wear them, I feel fine. So I conclude that my sneakers are the problem (and not my dunking). They seemed to have caused my joints misalign causing a chain reaction to my back. I toss them and get a new pair and my back pain goes away. Also, I learned that moving forward I should replace my sneakers more than once every 7 years.

That was a weird example, but whatever. It still sort of frames how “normal” learning happens.

When confronted with a problem we use our inherit problem solving abilities to find solutions. It’s natural to be perplexed initially and to later understand. In no way is someone going to come along and immediately present a solution for my back pain. Similarly, neither should I, as a teacher, initially provide clear theorems or concepts to students as solutions to problems I will soon give them on an exam. In a math class, we should have them identifying problems and use problem solving abilities to find solutions and generalize ideas. This doesn’t necessary mean real-world problems, just critical thinking situations overall.

I didn’t approach teaching and learning in my classroom like this for a long time. Sometimes now, even though I value the approach, it’s still hard to for a bunch of reasons. But now I try to do everything I can to teach discovery-based, problem-based lessons.

Oh, and I DID dunk on Lebron. Once. Then I woke up.

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