Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Glows and Grows

Here we are in the middle of October, and it sure feels like it.  I wanted to take some time to reflect on my own glows and grows of this school year so far...

  • For the most part I have been keeping up with #teach180 on Twitter, where teacher's post daily pictures about what's going on in their classrooms 
  • I started incorporating WWDB puzzles into both grades, as warm ups.  I don't do them every day, but I have done a few with each class, and they are fun ways to get students talking.  I also done a couple of Visual Patterns as warm ups and hope to also include some Estimation 180 eventually too.
  • I've also kept up with the POM and done a 3 Act Task w/ 8th grade and hope to do one with my 7th graders soon.  A template for 3 Act Tasks hat I got from a PL this summer seemed to really help students stay organized.
  • Every Friday, students have either answer a Regents or state test question Warm Up or had a quiz w/ several Regents/ state test questions, as a way to include test prep without it really being test prep.
  • My 8th graders are currently doing their Lunar Rover Proposal & my 7th graders started their Stock Market Game Challenge this week, so both grades are on final unit projects, are they have been coming out pretty good so far.  My 8th graders also completed their Wheel of Theodorus projects and they were really creative.  I am also planning out a potential trip with my 7th grade class to the MoAF, and am waiting for approval from the principal.  I've never been before, but it looks like it would be a good experience.
  • This year I have taken on the role of the NJHS advisor.  Our chapter has been approved, and our faculty team met for the first time this week.  I really think that this will be a positive addition to our school culture.  Right now, it looks like our induction ceremony will be in the late winter/ early spring.
  • MfA has been good so far.  I am participating in a math & social justice PLC and hope to bring at least one project into all three of my classes this year.
  • My Memory Makers (Yearbook & Scrapbook) elective is adorable.  The members are really into it and I love that it gives me an excuse to go to Michaels every week. Our October project are squash books!
  • Since getting our new online grading system, Skedula, up and running only last week, I am still behind in grading (but getting better!) but I did send out my first weekly parent math newsletter email this week, with updates about what's going on in math class, and I am proud of myself and hope I can keep it up.

I know these are probably more important to reflect on, but I am running late to my weekly meditation group, so I am going to just post these on here for now and hold myself accountable to writing about them more in depth soon...
  • Still behind in grading (but getting better especially this week!)
  • Timing of lessons still needs to be tweeked... 40 minutes is not enough time
  • I want to do a better job of using data to make decisions
  • Being that the math team is just me and another teacher, and that we have co-planning time three periods a week, I want to formally set up our math PLC 

Friday, September 22, 2017

First Week Activities, #Teach180, MfA, A4A, Electives, Challenges & Australia!

Happy first day of Fall!  Yes, in just about three hours summer 2017 will officially be over and fall 2017 will begin.  Of course, as a teacher, summer really ends the day we go back to work after Labor Day, so it has unofficially been fall for a few weeks now.  I've been meaning to get on here sooner, but have just been so busy with back to school things, that I am only getting around to it now.  Oh well, better late than never.  So here it goes, my back-to-school post 2017:

First Week Activities & Beginning Our First Units
This year I have it a little easier than last year.  I am only teaching one 7th grade class and two 8th grade Algebra 1 classes (as well as advisory three days a week and the Memory Makers elective once a week).  Two of the three classes I teach this year are the ICT classes.  Since I taught all grades last year, I am looping with my students, so I already knew all the students in my classes on day one, and I am literally teaching half the number of students as I had last year.  After my Algebra for All professional learning over the summer, I really want my focus this year to be on problem solving and positive math norms.  This year, in order to make that happen, I wanted to structure my first week activities to promote both of those things.

Day 1 all three classes did a couple of Build It Get it Together group tasks, which is always one of my favorite ways to start to year, emphasizing group work, problem solving, and communication skills, plus my students got to use the brand new unifix cubes that I got over the summer!  Day 2 consisted of the 100 Numbers Task (again group work & engagement) and our first Problem of the Month (which I got introduced to this summer at Algebra for All) on Touchdown Totals.  Instead of have an optional problem of the week for students, this year I am going for deeper problems that all students will get started on in class, and then have the option to keep working on for the rest of the month and then turn in for extra credit.  My reason for going in this direction was to promote deeper, scaffolded problems, and remind students that mathematicians can work on problems for days, weeks, months, and even years, and emphasize that depth is more important that speed.

On day 3 (aka the beginning of week 2) I formally gave out my syllabus in my classes and I introduced my students to our Positive Classroom Norms from Jo Boaler.  I printed them out and posted them in my room and have been emphasizing them as often as I can.  On Day 4, we warmed up with our first Visual Pattern chat and then worked on the Noah's Ark problem, to again promote problem solving, and creativity and sense-making.  Plus, it was a great assessment to see how different students approached the problem, from using the manipulatives to guessing and checking, to writing full on system of equations.  Day 5 was probably the most boring of the days, since that was the day my students took their baseline assessment, although, I will say, thanks to the new math teacher at our school who introduced me to Zip Grade, before the end of the day, all 64 of my baselines we graded, and I was able to look at the item analysis.  Yes, I think Zip Grade is going to make my test grading this year much easier.

The last five days we began formally working on our first CMP3 units of the year.  7th grade started with Accentuate the Negative (integers and rational numbers), as usual, and 8th grade started with Looking for Pythagoras (the Pythagorean Theorem), since I did Thinking with Mathematical Models with them at the end of last school year.  Even though we are using the CMP3 units, I have been supplementing with other resources, for example, this week my 8th graders did this Illuminations task on irrational numbers and then explored some Illustrative tasks on rational and irrational numbers.  My plan is not to spend too much time on this unit with them (since it isn't a major regents topic) so that we can get to Growing, Growing, Growing and exponential functions.  As for 7th grade, I do want to take this unit slowly since working with integers and rational numbers is a big topic, and I want to make sure that the foundation for these topics is solid.  As for bigger projects, I am excited for the 8th graders to make their Wheel of Theodorus spirals and for my 7th graders to play the stock market.  Lastly, I also started introducing Regents Warm Up questions to all of my classes, so every Friday their Warm up is from an old Algebra 1 regents exam, as a way to get them familiar with the structure and types of questions on the exam.

Another one of my goals this year is to be more accountable on here and participate in #Teach180, and post a picture from my classroom each day in order to inspire and learn from others, and I am happy to say that 10 days in, I have kept up with in on Twitter so far.  Not only have I posted, but I have also gotten some great ideas from other math teachers!  I would encourage any teacher looking for ideas to try it.

Math for America, Math Chats & Algebra for All
Obviously one of the things I was most looking forward to this year (and for the next four years) is being a Math for America Master Teacher.  Not only is this something that I wanted and had to work hard for, but I *know* that it is going to make me a a better math teacher.  We had our orientation a couple of weeks ago, and I had my first PLT meeting this week, and it is already giving me so many inspiring ideas!  My PLT is on Math and Social Justice, and not only do I have some new ways to incorporate social justice into all of my classes, but I am just humbled to be around all of these amazing STEM professionals.  I also started reading For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood, since a fellow MfA teacher in my PLT recommended it, as good read to get into the social justice mindset.

Speaking of MfA, the former Living Environment teacher at my school, and fellow MfA Master Teacher, shared with me something she is doing with her classes this year, and is something I am thinking of brining to my classes.  This year, she will be doing Science Fridays with her students, structured similarly to the presentations that we had to give as part of our MfA interviews, where we present for 10 minutes on a topic that we have researched on our own and found interesting.  Her students will obviously be doing science topics, and I think I am going to have at least my 8th grade Algebra 1 students present on math topics.  She even shared her outline and rubric with me.  I love the idea because it promotes students researching something that they really might be interested in.  I think, for now, it will be optional, since it can be hard to present to your peers in middle school and in math (I don't think I would have been able to do it when I was in middle school), but I think it could really great both for students presenting and the audience.  Not to steal her thunder, instead of Math Fridays, I am thinking of calling them Math Chats and letting students sign up for dates.  I will model for them my own MfA presentation on nonEuclidean geometry and even give them class time to research their ideas.  I think this is going to be great!  

I also signed up for my five Algebra for All professional learning dates this upcoming year.  I really got a lot from the summer sessions, and hope that the sessions during the year are just as great!

Memory Makers & NJHS 
So instead of doing the Math Counts Club this year, I am going with something new and my elective will be Memory Makers, which will mainly be about producing the middle school yearbook, as well as scrapbooking and photography.  I am excited about it because I have always wanted to have a scrapbooking club, but it would be my first time putting a yearbook together, so I have lots to learn.  When students signed up for their electives, Memory Makers was the third most popular choice, which was also kinda neat.  I think it'll be fun.

Also new this year, I will be the advisory for the National Junior Honor Society, which is new to our school this year, so again, lots to learn, but I think it will really add to our school community.    

Challenges this School Year
No school year is ever without challenges.  We lost a lot of great teachers last year, which means we have a lot of new faces this year, including a new assistant principal.  We are still adjusting to being a growing school, in two different co-located buildings.  We graduated our first class last year, who were very successful, but this year we have almost twice as many students graduating.  Our online grading system is still not up and running and most of us got new Promethean Boards in our classrooms, without any training on them.  And, most importantly, we have our students who come to us and deserve engaging lessons, our support, and with the typical challenges of navigating middle school.  We definitely have our work cut out for us this year, but I am confident that we will make it though, and maybe even have some fun doing it.

Last but not least, I couldn't end this post without sharing what an amazing time I had this summer in Australia.  My husband and I went there for two weeks, and what a fun, beautiful, exciting country.  We climbed the Sydney Harbor Bridge, we caught a show at the Sydney Opera House, we snorkeled in the Great Barrier Reef, we saw kangaroos, koalas, and echidnas, we explored the rainforest, we flew in a hot air balloon, explored some amazing cities, and met some even more amazing people.  Even though it was sad to leave, it was a lovely trip, and a great way to end our summer, and come back to work, even more inspired than ever.

I think this school year is going to be pretty fantastic!

Monday, August 7, 2017

A4ANYC, MfA, MTBoS Goals & First Day Plans, Google Certification, 100 Problems, Swimming, & Teach180

A fellow teacher friend of mine posted this on Facebook earlier today:

"Oh Pinterest... its that time of year again... time to get my creative juices going!"

Yes, indeed she is right.  Don't get me wrong, I am loving this summer break, but with many teachers in other parts of the country setting up their classrooms and starting up the new school year, it's hard to resist that spark of excitement that comes with a new school year (especially when technically it is still a month away and there is still lots of time for fun summer non-work-related adventures!)  I have been tweeting a lot more this summer, and I have done a lot of work-related things, but there has definitely been a balance between work and life, which is always the goal (now if only I can make that last all year and not just July & August...)

Algebra for All & Math for America
Last week I finished up the Algebra for All Summer Institute, and next week I have one day of professional learning at the Japan Society.  Overall, the 12 sessions at Algebra for All were really good.  We also have five sessions throughout the school year and then we come back together again next summer.  The sessions were a good balance of content and pedagogy, which was a nice split between between being a math student and being a math teacher.  It made me really excited that I will also be starting my first year as a MfA Master Teacher Fellow (I officially signed my Fellowship agreement last week) and I will continue to grow as a math teacher and learner between the five A4A sessions and the 7+ MfA sessions.  Part of the last week of A4A was planning for the first day, week, and month of school.  September has 15 school days, and as of right now I have half of them outlined.  Since we are going away the last two weeks of August, I have this week and next week to get as much planning for September in before we go back after Labor Day.

MTBoS #SundayFunday #PushSend Goals & First Day Plans
Speaking of the first day, the MTBoS is bringing back #SundayFunday.  I did one of their blogging challenges back in January and found it to be very helpful to "force me" to take a step back and write on here each week.  Last week a lot of MTBoS teachers posed about their goals for the 2017 - 18 school year, so here is mine: problem solving.  I want the focus of this upcoming school year to be all about problem solving.  Going into this year, I will (probably) only be teaching 7th & 8th grade Algebra 1, and I feel good about it - I mean last year I somehow managed to juggle teaching 6th grade, 7th grade, 8th grade Algebra 1, Math Club/ Photography Club, and 6th grade Advisory and all my 8th graders passed the Algebra 1 Regents, so I felt good.  I was inspired by a lot of things at A4A including SVMI's Problem of the Month, the new Illustrative math curriculum, YouCubed's positive math norms, math routines, math talks, and using the mathematical modeling process to explore problems and at the heart of it all is problem solving.  To help support my goal, currently my first seven days of school include: Get it Together problems, intro to our first POM, reviewing the syllabus and positive class norms or Algebraic Habits of Mind, our first math talk,  possibly a three act task, a Week of iMath problem or two, and lastly our formal baseline assessment.  Last year, my students took their baseline on day 4, and this year I moved it back to day 7, especially after reading this article, The Math-Class Paradox.  We won't even look at textbooks until day 8 and I am proud of that.  The nice thing about looping with students is that you already know them and they know you, and since I was their teacher last year, I know what was covered and what wasn't.  My new 8th graders are a full unit ahead of where my 8th graders were last year, and I plan to use that wiggle room that I built in for myself last year as problem solving time this year, so I am excited for the things to come.  I do want to be mindful that saying and doing are two different things, but I am fairly confident going into this year that I can make problem solving in my classes a real priority.

Google Certified Educator Level 2
Last year I decided I wanted to finally be a Google Certified Educator.  I started the Level 1 modules last summer and never got around to finishing them until two weeks ago.  I took the Level 1 certification test and passed.  Then, another teacher in a Facebook group that I am a part of posted about how she dad taken Level 1 and Level 2 back to back and passed, so I decided why not go for Level 2?  As a teacher who has used G Suite for Education for the past six years or so, Level 1 made sense.  Level 2 though introduced me to so many new features that I had never even heard about!  I learned so much, like Google Arts & Culture and Google My Maps, so Friday I went through the modules, and took the certification test and will be going into next year as a Level 2 Google Certified Educator!

#100Problems in 100 Days 
Still loving's 100 Day Summer Challenge!  I appreciate being a math learner.  Something I have noticed about myself is that sometimes (very much like my students) I know how to get an answer, but I don't know how to "show my work" or justify my solution.  I will be working through a problem, come up with a solution, but not necessarily be able to explain that solution or show my process in a way that would make sense to another person - I mean, it makes sense to me, but I doubt it would be fully clear to someone else.  The math teacher in me says to "show my work and make it clear", but the student in me (sometimes) says "if it makes sense to me, and I know it's right, why do I have to?"  It has made me mindful when working with my students that doing math takes work, not just in content, but in practice.  Learning something new has been a pretty powerful experience.

Learning to Swim
Speaking of learning something new, earlier this summer, when I made my Summer 2017 Goals, one of them was to learn how to swim.  Yes, I really didn't know, and decided that this would be the summer to change that.  So I signed up for four one-on-one classes at my local pool, and could definitely could see progress, but I still wasn't fully there, so I signed up for a month-long membership at my local pool, and have been going on my own as often as I can.  I am definitely not ready for the Olympics, but I can happily (and proudly) say now that I can do several laps on my own, even in the deep end.  Like the 100 Problems in 100 Days, this whole experience has really made me aware of what it takes to learn something new, specifically that I needed the support, encouragement, and feedback of a teacher and time to actually practice on my own.  I had to take an active role in the learning process.  I needed the guidance of a teacher who supported me and then I needed to get in the pool on my own and practice, practice, practice.  Also, I was actually in the pool, with my teacher for each of our sessions together.  Learning math, like learning to swim requires supportive, encouraging teachers who can give useful feedback while you are actually doing math.  I would not have made as much progress as I have if I had a teacher who demonstrated for me how to swim and then expected me copy her.  I also would not have made as much progress if I hadn't actually continued to practice swimming on my own.  There are just so many parallels between learning math and learning how to swim and I am grateful that this experience has put me in the learner seat.  If you had asked me two months ago, if I enjoyed swimming, I would have said "not really" because I didn't know how and there was no way I was going into the deep end of the pool, but turns out, I really do enjoy it.  I enjoy seeing how far I have come, building on my skills, and having something to work towards.  My goal is to be mindful of this experience of learning something new all school year and allow my classroom to be the "pool" - where we are *doing* meaningful problem solving, and I am supporting my students, each at their own level, encouraging them, giving them the feedback they need to push their own learning, and at the end of the day, having fun.

Lastly, one of my favorite math bloggers, does something called #Teach180 which is a challenge to post one picture from your classroom each day in order to inspire and learn from others.  It is a no pressure challenge, but I like the accountability, since blogging everyday is unlikely, but tweeting is doable.  I am excited to see where this goes and to see what others are doing.  Making my twitter account professional and public last year really was one of the best forms of professional learning I have done.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Algebra for All, Google Certification, 100 Day Challenge & MfA

Here we are, in the thick of summer break (even though the past two days have felt more like Fall).  As we approach the half way point of summer break, I wanted to take some time to reflect on Algebra for All, and my own mathematical learning, so here it goes...

Algebra for All
Last week we wrapped up week 1 of Algebra for All.  Some of my big takeaways were how can I be strategic during the summarize part of my lessons, using the 5 Practices for Orchestrating Mathematical Discussions.  I am confident in my ability to anticipate, monitor, and connect student work, but need to be more strategic in the selecting and sequencing.  Although I have gotten better and selecting which student work I want my classes to share and discuss, there are still times I simply open up my summary to any student that wants to share.  So a goal of mine next year is to be more mindful of that.  I also want to incorporate more Three Act Tasks into my classes.  

This week we started our first round of electives.  Yesterday and today I had Routines for Building an Algebraic Learning Culture for Struggling Learners with Metamorphisis TLC, and tomorrow and Thursday I have Conceptual Approaches to Algebra in Secondary Mathematics with Bill Jacob.  Next week I have my last two electives, Problem Solving with SVMI and Developing the Habits of Algebraic Thinking and Problem Solving with CUNY Collaborative.  My big takeaways from my first elective is how can I promote mathematical habits of mind and the CCSS MP through math thinking routines?  I already use a notice/wonder routine with my students, so I would like to continue to use that.  I love the "What could the question be?" routine, where you present students with an image or scenario without a question, and they have to come up with what the question could be.  I love this idea and cannot wait to bring this routine into my classes next year.  We also explored the "Which one doesn't belong?" routine, which I enjoyed and think I may even use it on day one in September.  All of these made me think of how can I support my students in making their thinking visible and how can I support their understanding of mathematical structure?  Overall I reflected on the constructivist-transmissionist spectrum and where do I fall, and more importantly, do my actions in my classroom, align with my beliefs?

Google Certification
Finally finished all the units in the Google Educator Level 1 training and signed up to take the certification exam within the next seven days.  After wanting to get certified for the last year, I hope I will finally be able to cross this off my to-do list.

100 Day Challenge
I am finally all caught up in's 100 Day Summer Challenge and I am still loving it!

Lastly, it is kind of important for me to be able to post this this week.  One year ago tomorrow, I found out I didn't get into Math for America and I was super bummed about it.  Looking back, it really put a damper on my whole summer.  I think it's important to recognize that (temporary) failure.  It's nice to be able to look back at that experience and see how far I've come, getting into MfA this year and growing both as a math teacher and math student.  Man, does it feel good.     

Monday, July 17, 2017

Algebra for All, 100 Problems in 100 Days and Edgy Summer Reading

Algebra for All
Today was the first day of the Algebra for All Summer Professional Learning.  I am excited to be a part of the second cohort of math teachers in NYC who are committed to improving math instruction.  The goal of this institute is to have every student complete algebra no later than then end of 9th grade and to provide every 8th grade student access to an algebra 1 class.  As a middle school math teacher, who teaches 8th grade Algebra 1, this is a core part of my teaching life.  The institute consists of twelve days during the summer, five days during the next school year, and five days next summer, and focuses not just on pedagogy, but our own content knowledge.

Today we explored the Handshake Problem and Border Problem, both of which I have used with my students this past year.  Part of this first week will also involve a book study of 5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematics Discussions, which I've been wanting to read, and goes nicely with the other book I am reading this summer, Fostering Algebraic Thinking.  In fact, we even discussed Driscoll's Algebraic Habits of Mind.  Jo Boaler's work on the importance of visual mathematics also came up today.

100 Problems in 100 Days
This summer I am also doing's 100 Day Challenge.  I started last week, and am up to day 35.  I am really enjoying spending some time to work through these problems.  I especially enjoyed working through day 3, day 28day 32 and day 34.  Exploring these problems is allowing me to challenge my own mathematical thinking, and be comfortable with my own disequilibrium.  Some of them have been fun, and some have gotten me frustrated, but I am grateful for the opportunity to do math as a practitioner, and not just the teacher.  Exploring these problems has also made me think of the importance of doing math problems, just for fun.  When I am choosing problems for my students to explore, it is always with a content goal in mind, for example, we would explore the handshake problem during our unit on quadratics because it can be represented by a quadratic function.  There is a specific goal I have in mind... a specific place I want my students to get to.  But does it have to be that way?  Why can't we just explore a problem because it's fun and interesting and not a traditional problem from on exam?  Don't get me wrong, as teachers we have limited time and resources and we must be purposeful with what we bring into our classes, but exploring problems like these just for the sake of stretching our mathematical brains and problem solving and thinking logically and having fun (dare I say it... without a specific, content-driven learning objective on the board) has a tremendous value.  A part of me of me is both terrified and beyond thrilled to try this next year.  How awesome would that be?

The Rebellious Teacher's Edgy Summer Reading List for 2017
Speaking of being rebellious, a colleague of mine posted this list a couple of weeks ago, and since I am always looking for a good book to read (and ways to incorporate social justice into my curriculum), I decided to check it out.  Turns out I had just finished Homegoing, so I decided to read The Hate U Give.  I loved both, and both hit on some petty big, and important issues about race and identity.  I think my next summer read will be lighter, but will try to also squeeze in The Handmaid's Tale before the end of the summer.