Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Logo Transformation Project, Fundamental Counting Principle, Coke Project, 3 Act Tasks, & Einstein's Puzzle

Just have time for a quick update before I head over to a Paint Nite event with some friends, as I work to maintain a balanced work & social life. Teaching five classes across three grades this year has me in a constant state of being behind (especially when it comes to grading) but I must say, I have been pushing myself out of my comfort zone and trying lots of new projects and activities with my classes this year, that I am proud of myself.

8th Grade/ Algebra 1 Geometry
Today my 8th graders started their end of unit assessment performance task on geometric transformations.  I was inspired by this Transformation Summative Assessment Project from Equation Freak and this logo transformation mini-project.  They were really into it during our double period today.  Later on this week we will start Say it With Symbols, and this Friday I will do my first 3 Act Task with them, Coin Counting!  I am nervous since it will be my first, but I've been wanting to do one for a while.

7th Grade Probability 
My 7th graders will be exploring the Fundamental Counting Principle this week with Pair-Analysis (and this TED Talk on the Paradox of Choice... hmm maybe there's a Socratic Seminar in there somewhere?) and VA-NITY PL88, both from Mathalicious, and then on Friday I want to try the Yellow Starburst 3 Act Task with them.  Look at me trying two different 3 Act Tasks in the same week ;)  I read through Confessions of a MS Math Teacher's blog post on it here, which led me to their post on their first attempt at a 3 Act Task using The Price is Right, which would fit in nicely with our unit on probability, since we've analyzed Wheel of Fortune twice so far this unit (both again through Mathalicious).  Next week, hopefully we will explore the probability of bottle flipping (which every MS teacher is probably familiar with this year).

6th Grade Geometry
My 6th graders started their Coke Engineering Design project this week, which, ironically, has a connection to 3 Act Tasks, that I just learned about this week, even though I did the project last year.  I do think that I am going to push back their presentations until after mid-winter recess in two weeks, instead of rushing them to be done next week.

Math Club
This week in math club we took a crack at Einstein's Puzzle (which probably wasn't made by him) and other logic puzzles, which they all enjoyed.  Engagement was really high, and I was really proud of the students who hadn't solved it yet, and didn't listen or watch when we played the rest of the TED Ed video with the solution because they wanted to keep working on it.

So I am excited for the next two weeks and then get to breathe a bit and enjoy mid-winter break.  Work hard, play hard, right? ;)

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

G & T, Hidden Figures, The Game of Set, and the 2017 Challenge

I just finished reading what was my only post last February, which is important to do every once in a while I think because it helps to remind me where I was, where I want to be, and how far I've come.  Just have time for a quick update today, so here's what's been going on in my teacher life this week...

Chancellor's Conference on Designing Instruction to Challenge Students
Yesterday I shared and learned at the Chancellor's Conference on Designing Instruction to Challenge Students.  I presented with our 2nd grade teacher, on using project-based learning in the classroom.  She shared her 2nd grade architecture study, and I shared about some of the PBLs I have done, including the Coke Project, Fraction Cookbook (6th grade), Stock Market Game, Road Trip Project, (7th grade) and Lunar Rover Proposal (8th grade/ Algebra 1).  It felt good to share with others, but I would have also liked to be able to visit some of the other tables of schools that were sharing to learn from them as well.  Plus the keynote speaker was Sally Reis, who was truly inspiring, and we sat two rows behind Joe Renzulli, which was the G & T teacher in me, was super excited about.  She mostly talked about the SEM, which brought me back to my Hunter days, last summer.  Overall, I am really glad I went, because even though sadly, the math breakout session in the afternoon wasn't very informative, the morning session really inspired me and reminded me why I enjoy what I do.

Hidden Figures
Thanks to a wonderful DOE promotion, I will be taking my 7th & 8th graders to see Hidden Figures this Friday for free!  I saw it on my own a few weeks ago, and left feeling just so proud to be a math teacher and a woman.  I've been wanting to do more about mathematicians this year, and this was a great opportunity to begin.  Tomorrow, all three classes will be researching Katherine Johnson and Christine Darden in preparation for Friday's trip.  The science teacher and literature teacher will be coming with us, and I found some other possible ways we could incorporate the movie into our classes: A Hidden Figures Lesson Plan, Let's Start a Movement for Hidden Figures, and Hidden Figures and the Journey to Celebrate NASA's Black Female Pioneers.  I can't wait to share this movie with them!

The Game of Set
After reading Math = Love's post on the game of Set (which I have never played) I was inspired to learn how to play myself and loved the challenge so much,  I introduced it to Math Club this week.  They enjoyed it too, and I would love to do more with it, so I will be looking into that.

2017 Challenge
Lastly, also inspired by Math = Love (she really is inspiring), I introduced all my classes to the 2017 Challenge, even though I was a few weeks late, and boy did they take it and run!  I should have known better than to make it a competition between my five classes.  In fact I got so many responses the first day that I had to revise the challenge to be that the numbers 2, 0, 1, and 7 must be used in that order (although they could be combined to form larger numbers, like 2 and 0 could be 20, but they must come before the 1 and 7).  I will say more about that later (and maybe even post some photos of my bulletin board), but my kids loved it! Thanks for the great idea, Sarah!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

My Failures as a Math Student

So of course after I posted my week 4 post for the MTBoS Blogsplosion blogging initiative, I thought of some more failures of mine, only this time not as a math teacher, but as a math student.

Failing One of My HS Math Regents Exams
Growing up, I was a fairly good student.  My parents always emphasized the importance of getting a good education and I got good grades pretty easily.  It was right around 8th grade, when all of a sudden, these good grades I was getting started to slip, particularly in math.  That was also the year that I wasn't just taking 8th grade math, but also 9th grade (Sequential 1) math after school.  For the first time in my life, math wasn't coming easily to me anymore.  But I get through it, and did well on the Sequential 1 Regents that June, which meant that in high school, I would be taking all freshman classes, except for math, where I would be a year ahead.

My failure came in my second year of high school, when I was taking Sequential 3 (again a sophomore taking a Junior year math class) and I got lazy.  I wouldn't say my behavior wasn't typical.  I was a sophomore in high school whose priorities wasn't really school.  Also, by now, I had gotten used to math just not really making sense, so why put in the extra effort for something I just wasn't going to ever understand (or need)?  And that June, I failed the only Regents I would ever fail... Sequential 3.  And it broke my heart.  That was definitely a wake up call.  All my friends would more on to pre-calculus the following year, but I might not.  Luckily, I was able to get into pre-calc with the expectation that I would take the Sequential 3 Regents the following January.  And boy did I put in work for it.  I don't remember what I got on it, but I passed and I had learned my lesson.

Failing the Math Content Praxis
I continued to struggle with math in high school and college, which just always meant that I had to put more work into it than other subjects.  Even in college, being a psychology and sociology major, I ended up taking math and science classes all four years in college because I wanted a Bachelor of Science, not a Bachelor of Arts.  I even took classes that were part of the math major sequence.  But I got through it.  The irony of all of this is that at the end of college I would be accepted into the NYC Teaching Fellows, as... you guessed it, a math teacher.  I was able to pass all my certification exams (including math) easily and I became a certified 7th - 12th grade math teacher.

Last year, I was introduced and fell in love with Math for America.  From the moment I went to their first open house, I knew I wanted to be a part of their organization.  So, I applied.  Being a middle school math teacher and being certified 7th - 12th grade, that meant I had to take the Math Content Praxis Exam, which I hadn't ever taken, since NYC uses another exam for teacher certification.  Every free moment last Spring was spent studying number and quantity, algebra, functions, calculus, geometry, probability, statistics, and discrete mathematics.  I even got in touch with my old math tutor from college to work with me for a few sessions.  And I failed.  My heart was once again broken because I wanted to get in so badly, and wasn't going to be able to because of a math test.  I was a failure.  Luckily, I still had a small window to take he test again before the application was due.  So, again I went back to immersing myself in all of it, and went in, still feeling shaky, but knowing that I was giving it my best shot.

The day of the test, I felt more confident with my answers.  I paced myself better, and when I didn't get a preliminary score at the end (it's a computerized test) felt good that at least I hadn't already failed.  Sure enough, a few weeks later I got my score, and I had passed.  And damn, it felt good.

Both of these experiences stay with me because they are both living proof that I am a tough cookie when it comes to mathematics.  They also make me sensitive to the students who may be sitting in my classroom who feel like failures themselves sometimes, or simply have a hard time passing a test.  I wanted to share these experiences because the best math teachers are also math learners, and sometimes that comes with failure.  But that's OK.  I am always mindful that if I had let my early failures in math shut me down, I would, quite literally, not be where I am today.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

"Take Chances. Make Mistakes. Get Messy."

This week's MTBoS Blogsplosion theme is all about reflecting on and proudly sharing a mistake/error/failure we made.  I'm not going to lie, I was not super thrilled when I first read about it.  It's not easy to admit when we are wrong.  But the more I thought about it, I tell my students every day to "be brave" and "give it a try" and that "it's OK to not know something... yet," so here I am.  Now, I could very well blog about my whole first year teaching ten years ago because I am pretty sure that most of that year,  I felt like a failure.  But I survived.  It wasn't easy or pretty, but here I am ten years later, still teaching middle school mathematics, and still enjoying it (most of the time).

When I think back to a specific time I felt like a failure as a math teacher, a couple different things come up.  Once, in what had to be my fourth or fifth year teaching, I was going over interest with my 7th (?) graders, and of course, was being observed by my Bank Street advisor at the time, and I confidently taught my students that interest = principle times rate times time (I even had it written on my slide) and even emphasized to them that it's principle not principal, which, of course, is wrong, and was the first thing my advisor pointed out in our debrief.  I felt mortified.

Integer Chips
Another time, also around the same time, is when I was trying to move from direct teaching of integer operations to conceptual teaching, using red and black integer chips to model addition and subtraction number sentences.  Growing up, I was taught the algorithms for these, and knew that when subtracting integers, you simply just "keep, change, change" or keep the sign of the first integer, change the subtraction operation to addition, and change the sign sign of the second integer.  All of a sudden I was supposed to use these red and black chips, to model subtraction.  Not wanting to introduce them to the tool before fully understanding it myself, I spent many a lunch period trying to make sense of the chips until one day, it all came together.  Zero pairs!  Yes, I can put in as many zero pairs as I need without changing the value of the number sentence, and then, once I have enough chips to subtract, I can then follow through with the subtraction.  It was so clear!  And it was kind of nice to see the algorithm in a whole new way.  I think what stuck with me the most however, was an important reminder that sometimes, understanding something in math just takes time, and that is OK.

This Year
Although there are many more examples of mistakes/errors/failures I could mention throughout my teaching career, I would be lying if I said that they are all a thing of the past.  I still make them, and will still make new ones in the future.  Luckily, I can say will fair confidence that I solidly have middle school math down, and so not much surprises me in terms of content, but every once in a while, I will come across something I said, that mathematically turns out to be untrue.  The nice part about that is then, I can proudly admit to my 6th, 7th, and 8th graders that I was wrong (if they haven't already caught me) and that mistakes happen and they are OK.

As for feeling like a failure, I can't think of one great teacher, who, doesn't think of themselves as a failure sometimes.  How can we not?  Even the best of us (I'm talking way better than me) still have bad lessons and bad days.  I feel like a failure when I have tried everything I know to help a student make sense of something, and they still don't.  I feel like a failure when it takes me more than a week to grade an assignment, because teaching five classes across three grades is a lot of prep and grading work.  I feel like a failure when I know I wasn't able to give a lesson 100% because I didn't have the time to plan better.

But mistakes don't mean the end of something.  Mistakes give us the opportunity to change our thinking.  After all, if we all thought the same way and always got everything right, we might not be creative.  We might not see different perspectives.  We might not be afraid to try new things, out of fear of failure.  To borrow a phrase from my favorite cartoon teacher & hero, Ms. Frizzle, mistakes give us the freedom to "take chances... and get messy" ;)

Mistakes are messy.  Math is messy sometimes.  And that's OK.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Reading & Sharing in the #MTBoSBlogsplosion

Round #3 of the #MTBoSBlogsplosion is all about reading & sharing, which really, is what the MTBoS is all about; collaborating with and ultimately learning from other math educators.  Since going public with my twitter account over a year ago and got introduced to the MTBoS, I have connected with so many other amazing math teachers all over the world, and have brought things into my own middle school math classroom, that I never would have thought of on my own.  So here are some of the specific blogs and posts that have helped me become a better math teacher:

Math = Love is one of my favorite go-to math blogs.  I even used this Broken Circles task that Sarah posted about last July for my first day of school activities for my 7th & 8th graders this past year!  I also was inspired to bring the game of Set into my math club after reading this post. I cannot wait!

Crazy Math Teacher Lady is another one of my favorites.  I was really inspired by this post from this past November on what is good teaching.  I find that I can relate to so much of what she says, especially about trying real hard to be awesome, just ask any of my students.

I was introduced to Vi Hart  just this year.  I shared her videos on doodling in math for my Fibonacci Day celebration with my 6th, 7th, and 8th graders this year.  I will also be sharing her videos on hexaflexagons with my 8th graders in our current unit on geometric transformations.

Math with Bad Drawings is a new blog that I started following because of this post earlier this month on Why Mathematicians Are So Bad at Math? which was a very interesting read.

I love Math Easy as Pi because she is a fellow middle school math teacher, with really great classroom ideas.  I am also really interested in her Books Worth the Read list.

Communicating Mathematically and I Speak Math are two other inspiring middle school math blogs that I love to check out.  Ironically both have referenced Desmos activities lately, which makes sense because Desmos is great and a tool I am using more and more in my classes this year (my 7th & 8th graders use it pretty regularly, and it is my goal to introduce it to my 6th graders before the end of the year).

Another great middle school math blog to check out is Middle School Math Rules especially when I need organizational tips.

Last but definitly not least is Roots of the Equation.  This is the blog of one of my friends, and current high school math teacher.  He is an amazing math teacher, who has helped tutor me in math in college, and this past Spring when I was studying for my Math Content Praxis.  I would have loved to have been a student in one of his classes.