Archive for November, 2014

14861_PtA_cover-125x179While at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Regional Conference in Houston, TX, I picked up a copy of Principles to Actions: Ensuring Mathematics Success for All. I’ve had some time to sit and read a little over this 5 day Thanksgiving weekend. There is a lot to reflect on in this book, and I look to share some of those thoughts as I read.

However, I made it to page 7 before I had to stop, reread, think, and reread. The following is from the book:

The teaching of mathematics is complex. It requires teachers to have a deep understanding of the mathematical knowledge that they are expected to teach and a clear view of how student learning of that mathematics develops and progresses across grades. It also requires teachers to be skilled at teaching in ways that are effective in developing mathematics learning for all students. (Principles to Actions, NCTM 2014)

Let that sink in for a moment. In fact, reread that if you need.

I have been teaching middle school math off and on for 5 years. I have also taught at the elementary level. As I read the paragraph above, I think about all the middle school and high school math teachers I have worked, current and past, beside. Most of the teachers at the secondary level have this understanding and knowledge, as well as a love, of mathematics. Many difficulties is the change in how to teach mathematics for a better understanding instead of just teaching algorithms.

However, I don’t want to talk about secondary teachers. I want to talk about elementary teachers.

When I read the paragraph above, I can’t help but think about many elementary teachers. Many love the younger age of students and enjoy teaching. However, when it comes to teaching math, there are several who wish they didn’t have to teach it. They don’t have that understanding of math for students to grow the understanding.

I think we need to start from the bottom and really teach the elementary teachers how to teach mathematics for understanding and not just drill and kill. We need to help elementary teachers understand and have the knowledge of math.

How do we do this though? Should we have specialized math instructors at the elementary level? You know, classes go to music class, art class and physical education class (well many still do). Should students also go to another teacher for math? One who will help students understand the content and not just regurgitate information?

I think that having students really understand mathematics will help students when they get to middle school to start to really think about the content.

One of my biggest struggles as a 6th grade math teacher is that when I ask students to just think and try things on their own, they stop. Many see that there isn’t a simple answer and just quit. They wait for me to talk so they can be given the answer.

What can I do to help change the mindset of students that there is one answer and one way to get there? What can I do to help encourage students to have a love of math? What can I do to change math at the elementary level?


School Social Cliques

Posted: November 28, 2014 in Uncategorized

I’ve been stewing on this post for a couple of weeks now. I’m still not sure how to write this without hurting anyone’s feelings or doubting the school system. However, I feel that by me sharing my thoughts it will get others to think as well.

A few weeks ago the United Kingdom Daily Mail reported about how researchers have found a way to end “mean girls” in schools. You know, the kids who are mean to those not in their clique.

Is there a pecking order in our schools? How did those get created?

The main reason that researchers say we have cliques is because of the offering of classes and choices for students. In a way, I have to agree.

For instance, students who are in music classes (band, choir, orchestra) in high school normally have one hour to take that class. If the student is not able to take the class that one hour, then they have to make a decision.

Many schools offer Advanced Placement (AP) classes. Most generally, there is only one hour for each subject that the AP class is offered. Again, if you want to take it, that’s when you take it. Now let me talk about the AP classes for a moment.

If you’re a high achieving student who wants to do well and decide to take all AP classes, then you’re probably with the same people all day. If someone steps in for a class period because they want to challenged themselves in one subject and not all, then that student could instantly be an outcast. I know many teachers try not to allow that, but it can happen.

Many high schools also offer the remedial classes for students who struggle. Again, if you struggle in all subjects, then you’re instantly in a clique. If you try to step out of those cliques . . . . well, people already know who you are.

What are we doing in schools to help take the cliques away? Have we decided that cliques are going to happen no matter what?

If you read further in the article, they state that the schools who offer fewer choices for classes do not see cliques.

Elementary schools have students in one classroom all day. They get to know their fellow students and go to music classes and other places together. That’s not offering many things, yet I have to say that I have seen cliques form there as well.

Will we ever stop cliques? What are you doing to help get all students involved in class?

Over the past couple of months I’ve been watching and reading about everyone’s views about the Common Core Math Standards (which I am 100% for but live in a state where they have been removed). Yes, I know we have all seen the uprising of those who don’t “get the new math”. Guess what. There is NOTHING new!Screen Shot 2014-11-25 at 7.14.15 PM

I recently was in a conversation with an educator and I was asked about the multiplication method to the right (73 x 36) and if I had seen it. They also asked me why it would be taught instead of the “normal” way. Well, I asked them why the “normal” algorithm works. I also shared that when students solve the problem using the algorithm they are multiplying 6 by 3, 6 by 7, 3 by 3 and 3 by 7. Then they get confused about adding a zero and why you add a zero and then you’re back to square one.

Why does the square method work? Well, students understand how to multiply 30 by 70, 6 by 70, 30 by 3, and 6 by 3. Then when you have the numbers of 2100, 420, 90, and 18 you can add them together for the answer of 2,628.

The “new” way of math is just helping students understand numbers and how they work BEFORE teaching the algorithms. Ask yourself. Why are you good at math? Is it because you understand numbers or is it because you learned the algorithms and it makes sense? Which is better for students?

I hope mechanics understand my car and how it works a little better than me. I know that if I turn the key it comes on. I know it’s a little more complex than that, but I just don’t understand it.

My hope is to help students understand numbers a little more and not just know it works.

If you want to read some other views about algorithms, read Jonathan So’s post.

Another great view of multiple strategies by Matt Coaty.

You can even check out the Chinese method to multiply.

I know that this is only day 10 of the 25 Days of School in the Christmas Season, but these posts are written on school days. If there is a post over Thanksgiving Break, then it will not be a part of the series.

I had the opportunity to go through the Capturing Kids’ Hearts training by The Flippen Group. The training is unbelievable and really helps you focus on the students in your classroom. There is a lot to the training, but I just want to talk about one thing that I have been using in my classroom this year.

I have an Affirmation Box at the back of the classroom with affirmation slips next to the box. I talked with the students about what should go on the slips of paper. These are not a place to write “you’re cool” or “you’re funny”. These slips of paper are thanking students for the great things they do in class or for other students.

Well, our school also has Student of the Month for each grade level. One boy and one girl are chosen for each grade level and are celebrated for being the Student of the Month.

Since we are doing the affirmations in our classroom, I went to the other teachers and asked what they thought about students nominating those who they feel should be rewarded and why, then teachers would vote from the nominations. It was a hit.

Now I’m amazed at what students write for each other. This is a great way to really see what students feel is important to them. It also allows me to see how great they can be to recognize their classmates for great things they are doing.

I love having the honor of reading these affirmations and nominations. Then after reviewing them (to make sure there are no inappropriate remarks) I get to hand them out to the students. It’s great to see their faces light up when they get one of these. They show it off to their friends and teachers.

Students do care for one another.

Yes, there have even been a few that have caused tears. When students see how others are treated and then write them notes of hope and love, it is amazing. It’s their way of showing those students that someone does care for them and to continue to be strong.

I need to start out this post with an apology. This post was to be written on Friday, since that was day 8 of the 25 days of Christmas. However, due to dinner with friends and traveling home, I wasn’t able to write until now.

This past week I travelled to Houston, TX for the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Regional Conference. This was the first time that I have been to an NCTM event. I was excited to be going and having the chance to learn from great mathematic leaders.

This conference was also the first time that I was going to a conference in many years that I didn’t know anyone who was going to be there. I was able to start following some new people on Twitter and was also followed by others, but I never really got to know anyone. However, it allowed me to sit and listen to learn from others and not just give my input on things.

There were some frustrations that I had encountered. I feel that when you attend a conference, there should be good WIFI that you do not have to pay for. This past week President Obama vowed to get students better connected in schools. Why is internet such a thing now that it has to be expensive? I’m sure there are ways to allow everyone to be better connected without the high price tag. Even in my hotel it was $15/day to be connected. WHY?!?!?

The main things that I took out of this conference is:

  1. Not everything needs to have a grade. We need to have more feedback on student work.
  2. Drill and kill of 20+ problems is not needed if we are giving more feedback and less grades.
  3. We need to talk with companies about how they incorporate math and formulas to better improve their jobs. This would be helpful in sharing with students what is in the “real world”.
  4. I have some great resources to share with teachers in my school/district.
  5. I have some reading to do over the next few breaks.

What are some great things that you learned at a recent conference that you have attended?

So here I am in Houston, Texas, at a conference. I’ve been kind of quiet and just listening. I’m absorbing the conversations and just listening to what others have to say. Some of you are not wondering what’s wrong. I’m not a normal one to just sit and listen. However, it’s been great.

It was interesting to hear the different speakers today. Some being professionals who speak to adults all the time and those who are a little nervous in front of adults. Yes, it is obvious. But why?

Why do we get so nervous in front of our peers? I’ve been one that way. Heck, depending on the scene, I’m still that way.

Today, I had the opportunity to listen to Dan Meyer speak. First, I have heard about him and read about him so many times that I just love what he has to share. Well, my first thought today was watching everyone who had to have a photo with him and his reactions. He’s famous. He may not be like a movie star, but with math geeks his is VERY famous. Second. . .. How tall is he?

That aside. . . ..

Why is Dan so great and famous? He is confident.

When you are wanting a speaker, you want someone who is confident when they speak. Ginger Lewman and Kevin Honeycutt are two others who when in front of crowd just know how to speak and do it well. They are not nervous.

What makes a teacher so great? One who can just stand in front of their students and just speak. They don’t need “a lesson plan”. They just know where they want to go and they just do it. A great teacher is one who is not afraid of who is in front of them. They just speak and it works.

That’s what I learned today from Dan. Just speak and be confident.

Today was the second school day that I have missed this school year. As a math teacher, it’s tough to be gone because it’s not easy for many to step into a math classroom and be able to successfully teach the content. That’s why I always do what I can to find a good substitute and treat them well!

First, I contact the substitute in advance if possible. By doing this I can allow the substitute to prepare their mindset for what they will be teaching. The year that I was a substitute, I would always try to find out ahead of time what I would be doing so that I could be confident that day.

I also make sure that I leave my number in case they have questions. Which I get things like today.

The substitute sent me a text stating that my first hour was having difficulty understanding a couple of answers that I gave on the key. She sent me a picture and I noticed that I had made a mistake on one of them. It also allowed me to call her back and discuss why the answer is the answer on the other problem.

I hope that the next two days go great while I enjoy the 2 days of the conference down here in Houston.

So I’ve been busy tonight. . . . .ok, I fell asleep. I did get everything set up ready for my substitute the next three days, but now I need to pack.

So what are these 25 Days Of School that I’m writing about? Well, I realized a little over a week ago that starting on November 12 there are 25 school days until Christmas. It can be a hectic time and I just wanted to write about my days.

Well, today was day 5, there are three days left this week (that I’ll be at a conference), two days next week before Thanksgiving Break and then three 5-day weeks.

Well, everyone enjoy your evening!

So this week is an exciting one for me. I will be attending the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) Regional Conference in Houston, TX. I’m excited because I’ve never been to an NCTM event before. I am going to be nerding out big time with fellow mathematicians!

Not only will I finally get to hear Dan Meyer speak, but I’m hoping to reconnect with Krissy Venosdale, someone I’ve enjoyed visiting with at Edcamps and online. I’m also hoping to finally meet Todd Nesloney, a great Tweep and awesome principal!

Going to conferences and learning is one of the best things that I get to enjoy! Yes, I am a learner myself and I love sharing that with my students.

However, it comes with a price.

I wish I could tell my students not to come to school and we would make up the days at a later time. However, that can’t be done. So I have to write sub plans.

Yes, being gone is not easy because there is so much work that a teacher has to do in order to be absent. I hear from those outside of education that when they are gone they have to make up their work before and after and they think it’s tough. However, when they are gone, their desk sits empty. That’s all.

As a teacher, your desk isn’t empty while you’re absent. Someone else comes in and takes over for you. This time I’m gone for THREE days in a row. I’ve never been gone for that long before. I’m nervous and a little lost on how to plan for that! How will I know how much students will get completed in a class period? How can I make sure that they are still learning and not just having busy work?

Well, I have planned the three days. (Yes, a day ahead of time!) Each day has 4 pages of plans. Luckily, since I teach 2 classes over 6 periods, then I can just say “this class does the same as hour 1”, which cuts down a lot of typing. How did teachers write plans on paper and not type them back in the day?

Is this too much information?

My belief is that my plans should be so great that ANYONE could walk in and pick up where I left off. Students shouldn’t even know that I’m gone and just continue through class. I hope that happens. I hope that when I get back that students are ready to continue moving forward in their learning.

Well, off to make copies and organize my desk for the substitute!

This school year I won an iPad Mini at our beginning of school year technology conference. I decided to make this iPad my class mascot Gus the Emporia State Gorilla’s iPad. It would be used by students and have them share what is going on throughout their school day.

Gus has a Twitter account and an Instagram account.

Students are given Gus’s iPad to carry around throughout the day. At the beginning of the day I have the student read over the agreement for the use of the iPad to remind them about why they were given the iPad for the day.

After they read and sign, then they are given the iPad Mini to carry around for the school day. This allows students to share what they are doing in their classes. I really enjoy seeing what is going on from the view of the students. I’m not sure how may parents see these, but students enjoy being the person to be sharing.

I want to thank the wonderful staff at Longfellow Middle School who allow students to take pictures and to share what is going on. We should be helping teach students how to share appropriately on social media, and what better way then to allow them to share with a classroom account.

Below are some of the things that have been shared this school year.

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