Tuesday, December 8, 2015

11 days away from Winter Break...

...not that things have been bad, but come on, who can resist 11 whole days off from work!  On a serious note though, sometimes I really can't believe that work can feel like this.  Yes, it's work, but its different.  I really am enjoying my job this year.

Arts Elective
Last Friday was our Arts Elective presentation.  The 6th grade class that took Drama, but on some awesome, thought-provoking skits, the 7th graders made an amazingly funny music video, and my young artists showcased their work in the hall and in a slideshow that I put together.  It was really great!  This Friday I get my new group of artists, my 7th graders, and I am looking forward to working with them.  I have a better idea about how I want to structure the 10 weeks, and I think it will work out well.  The first difference is that I am going to have them create sketchbooks  the first day (so that they don't have to go out and by them) and we can use them throughout the class to sketch and take notes.  I am looking forward to Visual Art 2.0!

Informal Feedback
The day we got back from Thanksgiving Break, my principal did an informal walkthrough with one of my 6th grade classes.  Here was my feedback:

Student-to-Student Discussion
Students provided clarification for one another. The majority of students used accountable talk techniques (agree/disagree, paraphrasing other speakers). The majority of students tracked speakers. You paraphrased when necessary and stayed out of the discussion (only intervened when necessary). Continue to encourage these discussions with your class. It was great to see them talking their was through these ideas.

Mathematics Vocabulary
Students used appropriate vocabulary. They used this vocabulary such as absolute value, negative number line, denominators to talk through their understanding of the hierarchy and patterns inherent in fractions. It is evident that using appropriate contextual vocabulary is the norm in your class. Keep this up!

Student Participation
Eight students contributed to the discussion. While rich, we encourage you to cold call students who have not contributed to share their perspectives or questions. You can allow them to pass if they do not think they can contribute with the expectation that they will participate next time.

So I will work on encouraging more discussion from the quieter students, maybe giving them time to tall at their table first before the whole group.  I was proud that I didn't intervene much and that my students were really taking ownership of the discussion, since that is something I wanted to work on since my last informal.

Curriculum Updates
My 6th graders are finishing up Comparing Bits & Pieces (unit 2) and will begin "Let's Be Rational" (unit 3) next week.  My 7th graders finished up "Comparing & Scaling" (unit 2) last week and began "Moving Straight Ahead" (unit 3) this week.  I am a little worried about my pacing with my 6th graders, especially since 6th grade is new to me.  I have this month all planned out, but I plan on reevaluating and revising my pacing calendar over the Winter Break.

This is probably what I am most excited about!  This week, at the recommendation of the science teacher who taught math last year, I signed up for a Mathalicious account and I love the lessons they have on there!  In fact this week, my 6th graders will be learning about the jen ratio and explore how the media affects our happiness.  This will also be the bulletin board piece at the end of the month, which is cool.  I highly recommend this resource for any middle or high school math teacher.  I can't wait to see what other lessons we do!

Students vs Teachers Volleyball Game
Our students have been studying volleyball in PE the past couple of weeks and yesterday we decided to do a Student-Teacher Volleyball game on the Tuesday before Winter Break!  I love doing things like that and I think it'll be fun.

Lastly, last week I started restructuring advisory differently.  We started sitting in circles and literally using a microphone for the "one mic rule."  I do see some improvements.  We've been discussing our service project and so far it's been good.  During yesterday's weekend check-in a lot of them shared, which was nice, so I think the circle helped.  I hope to keep building on this momentum.  I also want to use some ideas from The Advisory Book.  I am confident we will get there!

Math Club
My math club has been working on designing their own board games the past couple of weeks.  The Thursday before Winter Break, they will be presenting their board games to each other, Shark-Tank style.  Their games are looking pretty awesome.  Plus today, the science teacher asked me if I wanted to do some rocket launcher STEM projects with the math club in January (which of course I said yes to) so I am super excited for January, since we'll have that and the Math Counts gold-level project to work on.  I go back and forth between if I want to continue Math Club in the Spring or come up with another elective (maybe photography or mindful yoga) - we'll see.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Fibonacci Day, Zero Socratic Seminar, SLCs, Genius Hour, Coke Project and Thanksgiving Break!

Well I made it to Thanksgiving week!  I'm still amazed at how fast it is all going!

Fibonacci Day aka 1, 1, 2, 3...
Today was good day.  On a whim last night, I decided to do an inquiry lesson on the Fibonacci numbers today (it being Fibonacci Day and all), which meant scrapping my lessons plans last minute, but it was totally worth it.  For my 6th graders I showed this TED Talk and this FoxTrot comic from the NCTM, and for my 7th graders, I did this activity from Teaching Channel.  It took some additional planning, but my 7th graders were really engaged and asked to do similar activities in the future, which was awesome, and inquiry totally ties into one of our schools core values, which was great.

Zero Socratic Seminar
Tomorrow is our "What is Zero?" Socratic Seminar with one of my 6th grade classes (since we have a double period) and Wednesday I am doing it with my other 6th grade class and my 7th graders.  I'll be recording all of them, for inter-visitations, and I cannot wait to have them discuss!

SLCs, Genius Hour, and Coke Project
We debriefed SLCs as a staff during our PL time after school today and the feedback was really positive. Our next steps will probably be to incorporate more student reflection on their work during advisory time (maybe once a month or so).  We also discussed doing Learning Celebration Conferences later on in the year.  Something really interesting that came up after debriefing with students (and that I hope to blog more about at a later time) are that with SLCs, students are already discussing their work with their parents and don't really see the difference in a 10 minute SLC at school vs what they do at home.  It just made me think about the differences I'm learning about teaching G&T students.

Another thing that I was reminded about during today's PL time is how I still want to try to incorporate a Genius Hour soon.  This would tie into my goals of doing more learning centers and self-directed learning.  Even though I do have differentiated work, my students are all starting at A, for example, then some of them work through B, C, D, and E, while some only get to B, which is fine, but I would love to give them more freedom to study mathematics, in class, that they are truly interested in (I say in class because I do have some students who are teaching themselves trigonometry outside of class).  I need to do some more research and make a plan to make Genius Hour happen.

I also paired up with the Science teacher about planning out parent engagement visits (she's doing one next month and I will follow up when my 6th graders do their Coke project in February or so).  I'm very grateful to have her a resource.  Random side note, I am also learning how similar the 6th and 7th grade CMP3 curriculum really is, and I'm happy (since I am the only math teacher) that all the middle school students at my school will go through this curriculum.    

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

SLCs, CMP3, Schedules, Socratic Seminar (round 2), and I survived teaching Art!

I cannot believe that we are more than a quarter of the way done with the school year!  Last night was  Student-Led Conferences (aka Parent-Teacher Night), Thanksgiving Break is within site, and then the glorious Holiday Break!

SLCs and CMP3
Last night was our first round of Student-Led Conferences.  It was a long night, but they went well.  My advisees did great.  We are going to de-brief as a staff during our Professional Learning time after school on Monday.  There are definitely some changes we can make (in terms of scheduling the conferences, and having the students actually do a task with their parent rather than just presenting on their work).  I even got some really great complements from parents (my favorite was from a parent who said that they had gone to a private school open house with their son a few weeks ago and it turns out they were also using CMP3.  Not only was the teacher they spoke to impressed that we were also using this curriculum, but she was so impressed with how her son was able to talk about the math we have been doing (specifically the Locker Problem.)  She didn't have to stop in and tell me that, but the fact that she took the time out of her night to share that with me and thank me, was just another reminder why I (and all teachers do what we do.)  It also reminded me why I am so happy I am teaching with CMP3 again.  It is by far my favorite math curriculum (another student even said she loved how it wasn't just worksheets and practice, but actually fun).  Definitely no regrets there!  

New Schedules
We started new schedules this week, and at first I was not happy with it.  The reason for the new schedules was so that every class could have at least one double period a week (our periods are only 42 minutes long, which is just not enough time).  I guess I am getting used to them, but when my administration suggested changing the schedule, I would have preferred longer periods overall (like 60 minutes or so), not one day of 84 minutes and three days of 42 minutes.  I also don't like that it wasn't really a collaborative effort by all of us.  I'll give it some time.

Socratic Seminar, Round 2
I am going to be doing another Socratic Seminar next Wednesday!  After some very passionate discussions among my 6th graders about whether zero has an opposite or not, I decided that it would be awesome to do this as a Socratic Seminar!  Not only will this be what I used for my video inter-visitation in two weeks, but I asked my AP if it could be my next informal.  I am so excited!  I found these resources: Socratic Seminar Plan for Full Definition of Zero and Thoughtful Dialogs and Socratic Seminars, which I will be modifying.  I will even be doing it with my 7th graders, because it is such a rich mathematical idea.  I cannot wait! 

My first trimester as an art teacher is coming to an end. This week is our last session together and then the week after Thanksgiving, we will be going to a Music and Drama (the other two art electives) presentation and my visual art students will hang up their three major pieces from the past ten weeks.  For our last session together, we will be studying Keith Haring, and they will be creating a Haring-esq Social Issue poster.  I am looking forward to it.  I am also looking forward to modifying my "curriculum" for the next trimester of visual art, with my 7th graders. Being that this was my first time teaching art (and I had no clue what I was doing) I want to make my curriculum flow better and change some things.  Overall I am really proud with how I did.  It wasn't perfect, but I tried my best, learned a lot, and am optimistic about the future.  Last week was also my first time leading a field trip at my new school.  We went to see the Canstruction Exhibit in Manhattan.  It was tiring, but I think everyone had a good time.  I am glad I got to go back again this year.  

So next week at this time, we will officially be on Thanksgiving Break!  I still cannot believe how fast this year is going.  It seems like just yesterday I was going to an info session about job openings at this school.  I remember how nervous I felt submitting my resume, while at a Starbucks (probably on a Wednesday night) and getting a call back for a demo lesson.  I was so nervous then - was I doing the right thing? Was I being crazy for taking a risk?  But here I am, loving what I do (even though it is not always easy) and happy with the choices I have made that have led me down this path.  I am a math (and art) teacher <3 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

November Updates

There comes a point in the school year where everything is due at once.  November is that month.  Grades are due.  Informal observations may be happening.  Bulletin boards must be updated.  And oh yeah, you still need to keep planning and grading as usual.  Last week for the first time, I have felt a little stressed.  I am feeling better after last Wednesday (I had my first official informal observation by my AP) but I still have some grading to finish up.

Superintendent Visit:
On October 30th (yes, the day before Halloween) we had our first visit from the Superintendent.  He visited one of my 6th grade classes with my Principal.  I was a little stressed out the night before because I wasn't sure which class he'd visit (math club, 6th grade, or art) but it went well.  Here was my feedback:
  • Glow
    • Your classroom procedures and expectations are firmly in place. There was no time wasted and your expectation of getting started on time is firm. Your knowledge of content and academic vocabulary were evident in your responses and your student's responses. Continue to implement efficient time management. In addition, continue to ensure that academic vocabulary is modeled by you and used by your students.
  • Grow
    • During the share outs, students did not respond to one another. You paraphrased responses and/or asked for more ideas. For future lessons, challenge the students to directly respond to one another using evidence to support their claims. You can even ask students to paraphrase each others' comments.
Moving forward, I would like to build on that, and do less talking.  This was the beginning of the lesson, so I must be mindful of that, but I know it's something I can work on.

Getting Mail:
It took two months, but I am finally getting mail delivered to my new school.  I had ordered shelves for all my lovely math manipulatives and they finally came (after being delivered to the wrong school) and my National Math Club Box finally came (after being sent back twice).  Also my Scholastic Math Magazines are coming in now.  So yay!

7th Grade Unit 2 & Interim Assessments:
After much thought, I decided to skip my next 7th grade unit (Stretching & Shrinking) and go right into Comparing & Scaling (my kids did one of my favorite problems from there today - The Orange Juice Problem).  Most of my 7th graders did really well on the unit 1 assessment, and I don't think all of Stretching & Shrinking is necessary, so I decided to skip it for time.  I may pull out one or two problems from there, but so far I am happy with my decision.  I am loving both of my current units (Comparing Bits & Pieces (6th grade) and Comparing & Scaling (7th grade).  Comparing & Scaling definitely has some of my favorite CMP problems.  (I might even give some to my 6th graders)

Both grades will be taking their first interim assessment (IA) (which I created) later on this week, so that will give me a better idea of where they stand in terms of overall standard mastery.  Both IA's have about 20 questions (all released state test questions)  It's meant to be done in one class period, and they will have some time with calculators.  I'm also going to try to use Flubaroo to help with the data analysis, since we don't have a scantron machine.

Student-Led Conferences (SLCs)
Last Tuesday I gave my colleagues a PD on student-led conferences, and today we started preparing our students for them in advisory.  I felt really good about how things went.  I was happy to share my knowledge and experience with my team and then to work together to make SLCs our own.  We're all even using You Can Book Me to schedule them.  I've been preparing the slides everyone is using during advisory and our kids have been working hard.  Even though conferences are always a long day, I am looking forward to them next week.

Video Intervisitations:
We also started video intervisitations last week.  I had shared the template that we used to use at my old school, and we watched a video of our science teacher and used the template to give her warm and cool feedback.  I volunteered to go next, so I will be videotaped sometime in the next couple of weeks and then we will watch the video and my colleagues will give me feedback.  Based off my informal feedback, I might record one of my Socratic Seminars with my 6th graders.

Speaking of informal observations, I had my first one with my AP last week.  I was happy with how it went.  I got Effective in all categories except 3c (Engaging Students in Learning) and 3d (Using Assessment in Instruction), where I got Developing.  Here were my Glows and Grows:

  • Instructional materials and resources - Experienced teachers provide students with meaningful instructional materials and resources and provide opportunities for students to make good choices about the materials they use. In this lesson, students were able to decide whether or not the use of a calculator or ruler would help them be more efficient in completing the task at hand. Anna should continue to allow students to make smart choices about the materials and resources they use to make meaning from their work.
  • Teacher interactions with students, both words and actions - Strong instruction requires supportive interactions between teachers and students. During the lesson, Anna created an environment of respect and rapport through the use of a respectful tone, countdowns, and her interactions. When a student corrected her about the date, Anna thanked them for their observation. When a student said, “But you’re the teacher, shouldn’t you know the answer?” Anna demonstrated patience and humor by responding, “But it’s no fun if I know the answer” and proceeded to continue the lesson. Anna should continue to engage in supportive interactions like these in order to help her students be successful.

Grow (Next Step)
  • Discussion techniques & student participation - At the beginning of the lesson, students engaged in whole-group discussion where Anna posed questions and students responded. In highly effective classrooms, students pose questions to one another and respond using accountable talk to extend their thinking. In this lesson, "A" used accountable talk when he said, “I want to add on to "C" .” Anna should build on this practice by encouraging students to call on one another and paraphrase each other’s thinking with limited teacher support. For example, students can use some of the Socratic Seminar techniques to deepen their questioning and discussion during more traditional lessons such as this one. Additionally, Anna can begin encouraging student to student discussion by asking students to paraphrase each other’s thinking (“Can someone tell us what "A" just said?”) and asking them to call on one another. Practicing these skills explicitly will teach the students to call on one another without teacher support in future lessons.

My AP's Grow feedback was really helpful and I was able to implement it the next day.  During the Launch and Summarize, instead of having individual students answer my questions (ping-pong style) I have been having whoever answers, call on another student to add on to the discussion.  So it is slowly becoming their discussion, and not necessarily going through me. I want to keep developing this practice and my goal is to speak as little as possible and let my students really own their discussion.  Something that has been helping with that is the my Document Camera is finally working, so I am finally having students put their work under the cam and have them explain their thinking.  My 6th graders are much better at showing their work than my 7th graders (who just write down their final answer).

On a slightly unrelated note, one of my 6th graders, who had never participated in a class discussion before, rose his hand this week to share and my co-teacher and I were so proud of him!  (I feel like only a teacher or parent would appreciate this).  I was so proud of him - definitely a highlight of my week!

Math Club & Art:
I am very happy to report that my Friday morning math club is now Silver Level Math Counts Club! So the next step is to work on a gold-level project and we can become a gold-level club.  I am so proud of them.  This Friday is also our Canstruction trip and the first trip that I am organizing.  I think it's going to be great!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Unit Tests, Performance Tasks, Field Trips, BBs & Halloween... oh my!

Before I even start this entry, there is something I must say...

I am all caught up on my (paper-based) grading!  

I know that only fellow teachers can actually appreciate those few, ever-so-brief, few-and-far-between moments where you are actually all caught up on your grading <3  So yeah, I am doing my happy dance.   Here are some of the goings on in my math & art teacher life...

Unit Assessments:
Work has been busy, but good busy.  Not the overwhelming kind, the happily productive kind.  My 6th graders took their Prime Time unit assessment last week and they did OK.  Not great, but OK.  I made my first review video of the year, and I am letting them do test corrections.  I think moving forward, I would like to include at least one quiz before the next unit assessment, to gauge formal understanding more.  The problem with that is our periods are so short (42 minutes only) and I hate taking away from our already limited class time.  My AP has mentioned that we might be changing the schedule to have longer periods (it is a school-wide concern), which would be fantastic, but for now I have to make do with what we have.

My 7th graders are taking their unit assessment tomorrow, so we'll see how they do.  The next suggested unit is supposed to be Stretching & Shrinking, but I may just skip that one and go right into Comparing & Scaling, with maybe some Stretching & Shrinking problems thrown in.  I am going just based on prior experience, but I need to go back to the standards and baseline and make my final decision.

Performance Tasks:
Something I did last year was use released state-test constructed response questions as standard performance tasks.  I held onto these pieces for student portfolios and used them as formal pieces of student work.  I used to think of these pieces as "meeting the standard" but this year my thinking is more that these are the bare minimum to demonstrate mastery of the CCLS.  I have all the 6th, 7th, and 7th grade released state test questions organized by standard, but not Algebra 1 yet, so I think my next step is to find some high school-level performance tasks and incorporate them into my rotation.

Field Trips:
I scheduled my first field trip!  I am super excited to be taking my 6th grade art class to the Canstruction Exhibit in Manhattan next month!  It ties in really well with my Pop Art unit and it's for a great cause.  Typically my school doesn't do Friday field trips, but since art is on a Friday, I was able to make it happen.  I feel really organized and my kids were excited when I told them about it last week.  On a personal note, it's just nice being excited about things like field trips again because last year, I just wasn't.

Ahh yes, one of my least favorite parts about teaching - having to update the BB, which is weird, because I love scrapbooking and stuff like that.  Our first official BBs are due by the end of day tomorrow and I am looking forward to putting up my 7th graders Dealing Down reports (our BB theme this time around is "inquiry").

So even though we don't have school on Halloween, I have found some cute Halloween-themed explorations for my math club on Friday (Halloween Logic Puzzle, Witches Potion, Halloween Algebra Puzzles, and of course problems from Math Counts) and a great Pop Art Halloween themed activity for my art class, in addition to finishing up their Pop Art Candy Wrapper piece.  When one of my 7th graders saw the candy corn catapults that my math club made last week, he even said he wished he had signed up for math club instead, which was pretty cool.  I am grateful that I get to teach these two electives because they give me such freedom to try out different things and they allow me the time to explore different projects with my kids.  

I love celebrating random holidays with my advisory every day.  I highly recommend National Day Calendar, because it's both fun and educational.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

It's not perfect, but it's pretty darn good...

I finally feel like I am getting into the groove of things.

Routines are feeling more natural and I really feel like I am finally owning the school year.  I find myself leaving work (most days) feeling successful, accomplished, and looking forward to what the next day will bring.  This doesn't mean that every day is perfect.  In fact a few weeks ago, I left work feeling dejected because I had not one, but two 6th graders cry during math class.  This also doesn't mean that I am 100% on top of all the things things that teachers must do (parent emails, grading, etc...) but still, I leave work knowing I accomplished a lot, and proud of my hard work.  I mean, after all, if you're a teacher, there is *always* more work to do.  As happy as I am with all my new challenges pushing my thinking and practice, I think I big part of it, is simply I have more time.  My official school day  is 30 minutes less than my old school, and not commuting for an hour on the subway in the AM and PM, is amazing.

Last Friday was amazing!  My math club did their first engineering design project, my 6th graders (and I) did our first Socratic Seminar, and in art, my 6th graders discussed Warhol's Campbell's Soup Cans.  Next week my 6th graders will finish their first CMP3 unit and I'll get to go on my first school trip.

Something I think is going well is using discussions in Google Classroom for my students math reflections.  In previous years, I have used Schoology, but the science teacher taught me how to do discussions via my Google Classroom page and it's been working out well.  Keeping up with grading has been hard, but I am able to give my students individual feedback on their math writing and they are able to comment on each other's thinking, so I am proud.

I am also feeling closer to my Advisory.  We did a bag project where they decorated paper bags on the outside with things that represented their outside personality, and then inside they put things that represented who they are on the inside.  I have learned so much about them, and am glad we did it.  I feel like we are slowly getting there.

A couple of things that have come up that I don't have time to go into too much detail now:

  • I want to incorporate social justice into my math curriculum.  I bought this book a few years ago and would love to actually incorporate some stuff.  I might start with freerice.com.
  • I have an iLearn account!  My amazing social studies teacher, who uses iLearn, is going to give us a PD on it next Monday, and I think it might have potential.  I watched my class today for a few minutes, and I was just so inspired, not only by by physical classroom space, but what the 7th graders were working on!  I have so much I can learn from her!
  • I'm gonna be bring student-led conferences to my school!  I sat down with my AP and school social worker yesterday afternoon, and they are on board.  I am going to give a PD for the whole middle school staff on Election day and we are gonna make it happen for our first round of Parent-Teacher Conferences next month.  I am so excited to bring this great practice from my old school to my new one!
  • I was introduced to Genius Hour this weekend and I think it has potential (maybe during study hall?) - I need to look more into it.
  • I also want to look into Makerspace -  one of my 7th graders shared that he attended the NY Maker Faire a few weeks ago, and he was excited about it - another thing I need to look more into.  I also have these resources: MakerCamp, and Maker Space at NYSCI.
  • I still want to teach my kids mindfulness and yoga.
  • I found this NY Times article about the importance of recreational math, which is just beautiful.
So many things coming up with work that I am looking forward to.  I am really grateful that I was mindful enough last spring to know that I needed to push my thinking professionally, and then actually brave enough to make a change.  After all, "sometimes change can be scary, but life without no change at all is terrifying."  

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

I survived the first full week of school, and I got a cold to prove it!

It wasn't a bad cold, more annoying than anything, but yes, the school year is *now* officially official.  A couple things to share about this past week:

* I painted with my art class for the first time last Friday.  It was messy, but I survived.  It was a two-week project, so we will be finishing it up this Friday (luckily only a couple of them need to actually finish painting).  They are coming out so good.  I really am so impressed.  Even more than the actual works, we had a great discussion before we started painting, using the elements of art.  This week they'll also be doing a formal pop art critique, so I am pretty excited with how are is going.  After this week, there are only six more sessions before we switch classes.  I am really enjoying teaching art.

* Speaking of electives, my Math Club this week will be exploring an engineering project on building towers, which I am super excited about!

* This week we finally got our grading system, Jupiter Ed, up and running, and I have at least two pieces of graded work in for all of my classes!  (yay me!)  I have never used this system before, but after a short PD on it from our literacy teacher (who is all about blended learning) and I am really impressed with it, specially with the potential for standards-based grading and parent communication aspect.   

* This week I had my first informal baseline observation.  My principal and AP came into my last period ICT class yesterday, and it went well.  My students were exploring when finding the common factors of numbers might be useful.  I was happy with how the lesson went, and the feedback I got today from my principal was positive and helpful.  Moving forward, I am going to work more on class discourse and discussions, which lead me to my next topic...

* I am trying my first socratic seminar ever this Friday!  I have always wanted to do a socratic seminar in math, especially since my social studies colleague last year was amazing at it, so after talking it over with my co-teacher today, and seeing how this Friday's lesson was kinda bland, we decided to try it this week.  The 6th graders have been doing them in their literature class, so they are familiar with the expectations, and I am excited about it.  My big concern (besides having never done one before) is that the questions my 6th graders will be discussing aren't really big, philosophical, open ended questions, but rather they will be exploring different approaches to finding the least common multiple and greatest common factors.  I am really excited to try something new that I have never tried before and always wanted to.  I will be sure to share the outcome next time.  

* Something that has been on my mind, especially this past week as we continue to move through the first unit on integers and rational numbers, is challenging my 7th graders.  Our first unit is on working with integers and rational numbers, which most of them already know how to do, being G&T.  They will do any work I assign in class, but the investigations we have been working on are all about understanding conceptually how integers work, and I am finding that, again most of them, already know this.  Today I even suggested playing the Stock Market Game, and about 10 of them said they had already done it in 5th grade.  So moving forward, finding challenging and meaningful math for them to explore will be a much bigger focus of mine, because CMP3 might be too easy for them.  
*Lastly, and this is a silly update, yesterday my boyfriend found this article on how much it would cost to build the Death Star, so of course the first person I thought of was my advisee who is obsessed with Star Wars, and I couldn't wait to share it with him this morning.  He was so excited, it might have been my favorite moment of the day.

So that's where I am.  Learning, trying new things, and nerd-ing it out, as usual.  I am pretty lucky to get to do what I do for a living <3

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Joy of Work

Here we are, the last day of September!  One month down, nine more to go.  The irony is that technically, this is only our first full week of school.  I am sitting in a local coffee shop, as I usually do on Wednesday afternoons, before my meditation class, and as I reflect on the first month of school, I can't help but look back and think about this quote by Nick Offerman, from his comedy show, American Ham:
I first watched his show and heard this quote earlier this year, and man did it force me out of my comfort zone.  A few months later, I would make the decision to look for another teaching job because I was losing my joy and passion at my current job.  My old job wasn't bad, but it was time for a change.  So as the sun sets on September, here are some things I have reflected on about my life as a math (and art) teacher...

I know for a fact that I am doing more work.  How do I know this?  I am teaching/ lesson planning/ grading/ two grades, as well as two electives.  Yet somehow,I haven't fallen behind yet.  I have time to do this (yes, I know technically we're not even done with our first full week yet) but it's been work.  And yet, I find myself grateful for the fact that I am teaching new material (6th grade), and confident about what I do know (7th grade).  Routines are finally feeling more natural and I am enjoying learning new things about my students. 

Every Friday, I also get to end my work week with my Math Club and doing art!  I was terrified of being the art teacher at first, but I am having a blast (and learning quite a lot about Pop Art, I might add).  

I even enjoy lunch duty.  It gives me a chance to observe my students in a much different environment than the classroom.  For example, I have a student who would completely shut down in math class, but I noticed how she was at lunch and saw that she seemed to be good friends with another girl in the class, so the next day I moved her to a group with the her other friend, and she was much more open in class, still not 100% but much more than I had gotten before, and this is something I might not had ever known had I not observed her during lunch.

Lastly, this morning I got an email from one of my former students and it made my day!  She is doing so well and I am so proud of her, and it warmed my heart to realize that she thought of me <3

I am one lucky teacher, and I am really lucky that (at least for now) I have found "something that I can tolerate or love." 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Baselines, Lesson Timing, & Electives

I wanted to be good and squeeze in a quick post tonight...

The new school year has been going well.  I finished grading my student's baseline assessments today.  I'm gonna look over the data formally on Monday with my AP, but the data is definitely interesting.  I created the baselines using old state test questions, and assessed my 6th graders on 6th grade standards, and my 7th graders assessed on 7th grade standards.  I predicted that my students would do OK (I teach at a city-wide G&T) and most of them did.  I even had one student get everything right, in other words, they would have already passed the state test for this year!  That's not the case with everyone, but this is definitely a new challenge for me.  From what I've observed these first few weeks of school, most of my students will do anything I ask them, in terms of work, but I need to always have extra work.  A challenge I've had is finding that balance between really challenging their thinking, while making sure everyone is mastering the material.

Lesson Timing & Resources:
Another challenge I've encountered is changing from a 55 minute period to a 42 minute period, as well as not having the same kind of technology as my old school.  We also haven't had a full week of school yet, so that has made getting into a rhythm not easy (my brain is still on semi-summer mode) but that will change next week.

Math Club & Teaching Visual Arts:
Something that I have gotten more excited about as this year has been unfolding is having a Math Club elective and teaching Visual Arts.  It's been fun because on Fridays we teach our electives, and starting up my Math Club again is always something I look forward to.  I love my group of mathletes!  Also, the more research (aka mostly Pinterest) I do, the more excited I get about teaching art.  I even took a free painting class and free drawing class at my local Michael's earlier this week and got some good ideas!  I am learning a lot and am feeling much more confident about teaching art!

Friday, September 11, 2015

The First Six Weeks of School, Electives, & Advisory

Week 1 of the new school year is in the books, and what a year it is shaping up to be!  I know we are still in the honeymoon phase, but if the next 39 weeks are half as stress-free and fun as this, then I will be a very happy teacher come June.

Our kids found out their advisory classes today and this afternoon we had our individual first advisory periods, and I am proud to say that after three days of school, I knew all my advisee's names, which checks off the first goal from my "The First Six Weeks of School" list.  I am happy about that, and next week when we formally start to have classes, I hope to fully accomplish the other six goals.  September is so broken up this year, we only had three days this week, and the next two weeks.  Believe me, I am not complaining, but it does make planning and pacing a little challenging.

I am also happy to report that I have decided on my Visual Art elective!  At my colleagues suggestion, I have decided to go with Pop Art as my unit, partly because it's something I want to learn more about and I think it'll be fun.  (FYI my other Friday elective is Math Club, which I am super excited about).

As for Advisory today, I had my kids start working on their coat of arms (an activity that I brought over from my old school) and it was really great to see it coming together.  Earlier in the day, before we split up into advisories, my co-teacher and I had them create their own individual coat-of-arms and I was just so impressed with what they were coming up with.  It's going to be a great year!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The most important of all the "firsts"...

This post will be short because after all tomorrow is the most important of the all the "firsts" - the first day of school.  The halls and rooms and desks will all be full and I will meet my new kids.  It's been a long day, and I am definitely physically tired, but I can't help but be mindful of how relaxed I am.  It's a far cry from the day before my first day of school at my old school, where I almost had a mental breakdown at Staples) and definitely a far cry from my first day of school ever, nine years ago.  I was stressing out a bit last week, but decided to do a short meditation instead, and it really helped - I'm so glad that I will be doing Mindful Schools and Yoga Ed with my kids this year.

I had a thought as I was leaving my classroom this afternoon.  I was reminded of this scene from The Office, as I turned around and took in my empty classroom that will be filled with my new kids tomorrow and who knows what sort of adventures over the next ten months, I thought "This is *my* classroom.  And we're gonna be great." <3

 To all my fellow educators, may you have a wonderfully inspiring new school year with your new students!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

First Day Back

I had started writing another post here yesterday about my first day back, but I thought that that would be more appropriate on my personal livejournal, so I put it there.  It's basically about my first two days at my new school.  Not only did I change schools, but my school moved buildings, so the last two days have been spent unpacking boxes mostly.  Unpacking has been OK because our rooms and hallways are supposed be be painted before school officially starts next week, but as of this afternoon it still hasn't happened yet, so I can't really hang things up or set up my classroom, so it's mostly been organizing than decorating the past two days.  I'll probably go in at least one other day this week to get some more stuff done.

One of the things we talked about during yesterday's PD were our school's values, inclusion, inquiry, and responsibility, and specifically focused on inquiry-based teaching.  That talk seemed to solidify my decision to go with CMP3 as my main curriculum this school year.  I had been debating it a lot this summer (and last school year), but the truth is, I really to believe that it is the best way to learn mathematics.  I had a lot of fun when I taught it two years ago, and my scholars really became mathematicians.  It's still going to be a learning process for me, and of course no curriculum is perfect, but I am happy with my decision, because in my teacher gut (at least for right now) I know that it is the right one.  I think I'm gonna pilot using JumpRope for standards-based grading, mostly because it's free and I have some exposure using it already.

I also decided to steal a page from my 6th grade colleague last year and make my baseline assessment (IA #0) and end-of-year assessment the same.  In other words, I will test my 6th graders on 6th grade standards, and my 7th graders on 7th grade standards.  My reason for this will be to give me the pre-assessment data that I need for each unit right away, so that I can see which standards I need to focus on (based off student mastery) and what standards, if any, I can hold back on.  I'm also going to use Khan Academy again for skill practice, which will hopefully complement the inquiry-based classwork.

Well that's it for now.  I'm sure I'll have more to update as the week goes on.  Hopefully I can keep this up as the school year goes on.

PS It's been two days, and I still cannot believe that I can actually walk to work now (no more hour plus long commute each way for me)... that alone is already making this year pretty darn sweet ;)  

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

CMP3 Institute Day 3, Quotes, & Brain Brakes

Day 3 of the CMP3 Institute kind of dragged but I must admit it is much better than the one I went to a few summers ago.  We got both student and teachers editions of the first three 6th grade units, a CMP3 guide, and a packet with some interesting articles, plus, like I said before, the fact that the facilitators are actual CMP3 teachers makes such a difference (the last thing I would need is someone trying to sell me something from Pearson, with little to no actual classroom experience wasting my time).  The more we do the investigations, the more I want to just use CMP3 with my students this year.  The explorations are just so full of rich mathematics!  And that should be enough, right?!  But I still don't fully trust them when it comes to the standards.

I even brought this up to the facilitators during a break today, and asked them what they suggest doing when they see that their kids need more support on a topic that CMP3 only had one problem on.  (They have been pretty clear on not digressing too much from the curriculum)  They suggested using the ACE problems as class problems, Illustrative Mathematics and Dan Meyer's Three Acts (both of which I have heard of, but never used too deeply).  I think the key is really going to be that assessment piece and being very precise with what the standard means.  Either way, I think going back to CMP3 will be where I start with both my 6th and 7th graders.  At least for the 7th graders, they are coming from a (mostly) CMP3 6th grade classroom this past year (and 96% of them passed the state test) and after having done most of the investigations from the first two 6th grade units these past few days, I like the environment they set up and the math that they get into.  My goal next week is to have my assessments and unit plans fully done for my first (and maybe second) unit.  We also talked about dot talks which are more of an elementary school thing, but I thought might have it's place in the middle school classroom.

I also did get some great ideas for math quotes for my room thanks to someone at the PD who was working on quote posters and Calvin and Hobbes cartoon posters on their laptop today.  Some of my favorites from today include:

  • "There is a difference between not knowing and not knowing yet." - Shelia Tobias
  • "Mathematics is not a careful march down a well-cleared highway, but a journey into a strange wilderness, where the explorers often get lost." - W. S. Anglin
  • "I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career.  I've lost almost 300 games.  26 times I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed.  I've failed over and over and over again in my life.  And that is why I succeed." - Michael Jordan
  • "To make a great dream come true, the first requirement is a great capacity to dream; the second is persistence." - Cesar Chavez

OK, well I'm off to listen to a webinar on Brain Breaks by Yoga ed.  Between that and my Mindful Schools curriculum training, which I am almost done with (two more weeks to go) I am very excited to bring them both into my classroom this year.

Yeah, it's going to be a good year. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Curriculum, curriculum, curriculum (part 2)

Every time I think I feel confident about which curriculum I am going to use next year, I end up with more questions than answers.  Ugh, it is very frustrating.

Today was day two of the CMP3 Institute and we did some more Investigations from the 6th grade unit, Prime Time, and I got some more good ideas about how to use CMP3 again in my classroom, and I left feeling pretty confident, that at least for 6th grade, CMP3 is the way to go.  Then, of course, during lunch I go back to researching and comparing CMP3 vs Engage (aka Eureka) and I have major doubts about the alignment.  All I know for sure is that I love the explorations in CMP3 (they fit my teaching style perfectly and teach mathematics deeply) but the focus & coherence of CMP3 is just not as good as Engage (see this post).

Not to add more pressure, but this little tidbit about my new school was also released yesterday, Astoria School Scores 100 Percent Passing Rate on State Math Exam: Data.  96% of my new seventh graders passed their 6th grade math exam.  Teaching G&T is going to be a whole new world for me, and as excited as I am, I feel even more pressure not to mess up.

Ugh, so much to think about in the next three weeks.  Double ugh, in exactly three weeks, tomorrow will be the first day of school.  Super excited to meet my new kids, but definitely feeling the pressure of the new year.

Monday, August 17, 2015

CMP3 Institute, 30 Day Blogging Challenge Day 3, and Summer Reading

Today was the first day of a week-long Getting to Know CMP3 Institute for Grade 6.  My new principal asked me a few weeks ago if I would be interested in attending, and although I have attended similar PDs before (and haven't always found them to be the most helpful), since 6th grade is new for me this year, I figured why not.

It was kind of slow-paced, but we went through the first four problems in Prime Time, and our presenters were actual current CMP3 teachers (not from NY, mind you, but I appreciate the fact that they are current teachers and not outsiders trying to sell me on Pearson).

Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love the freedom of summer vacation, but I did kind of, sort of get excited about the new school year.  Not that I don't get excited every year, but its different this year, since I'll be in a new district and school.  Lot's of good possibilities!

I also figured today was a good day for day 3 of the 30 day blogging challenge:

Day 3:
Discuss one *observation* area that you would like to improve on for your teacher evaluation.

Especially after getting back into "work mode" today, the two Danielson areas that I most want to improve on this year are 1E: Designing Coherent Instruction and 3D: Using Assessment in Instruction.  I still feel that there is a disconnect between how I want to teach my students and how I am assessing them.  It's that balance between good mathematical teaching and mastering all of the material for the state test.  I've already updated my test question bank with the released state test questions, but I still struggle with curriculum.  I want to go back to using CMP3, but like I learned in last week's blog post from EdReports, there are better curriculums aligned to the Common Core, like EngageNY.  I have lots to think about over the next three weeks.  

On a side note, I also downloaded this book a few weeks ago, and I want to read it before the school year starts back up, but I am in the middle of one of my book club books that I am really enjoying (A Man Called Ove) and don't want to put down just yet.  #summergoals 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Curriculum, curriculum, curriculum

So, my original today was supposed to be about first day of school resources on Pinterest and Engage NY releasing the 2015 state test questions, but then I came across this article on TheDailyBeast, The Great Common Core Textbook Swindle.  The article from last month is about the majority of math "Common Core aligned textbooks" that really aren't that well aligned - something I think all math teachers these past few years can relate to, including myself.

The article references the nonprofit, EdReports, that set about to review elementary and middle school math textbooks, and found that "of the more than 80 textbooks it reviewed, just 11 met expectations for alignment with the Common Core."  Even more interesting, "nine of those books were from a single series, "Eureka Math" by publisher Great Minds, whose materials aligned with Common Core from kindergarten through eighth grade."  My interest was definitely peeked.

After registering and doing some research of my own on the Eureka Math website, I learned that the curriculum materials Eureka Math were (mostly) the same as Engage NY, at least for the middle school.  What made this a big deal for me is that in 2012-13, and 2013-14, I used Connected Math as my primary curriculum.  I loved the investigations and the design of the lessons, but I felt is was still lacking in terms of Common Core (even though CMP3 was "Common Core aligned"), and this year decided to use Engage NY as my primary curriculum.  I thought the flow of the units in Engage was much better, but the resources themselves were not easy to navigate.  Ultimately, I wasn't 100% happy with either resource.

Why did finding this article and learning about Eureka Math make me so happy?

Well, as I begin to plan out this year, and am once again faced with decisions of what resources to use, I am happy to learn that there is something good about Engage NY's/Eureka Math's curriculum maps and unit plans (even though I learned this on my own last year, it's nice to have it backed up with research).  I also know that the problems in Connected Math are engaging and are a sound basis for developing meaningful mathematical understanding.  So moving forward, blending the two is going to be my goal.  Now, this was my goal last year too, but Engage NY was new to me then, and I feel I have a much better idea (at least for the 7th grade) about how to navigate moving forward.  I also feel better prepared knowing where Engage NY comes from.

Between signing up and exploring Eureka Math, and organizing the released 2015 state test questions, I'd say that today was a pretty productive summer "work" day, that is hopefully laying the foundation for a productive 2015-16 school year.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Rubik's Cube: A question, waiting to be answered

One of the great things about summer, besides the luxuries of being blissfully unaware of the date and being able to go to the bathroom any time I want, is coming across things that have to do with work.  It's nice being able to read and appreciate articles and videos about teaching and education, when it's not something I am being forced to read or watch.  Yesterday I came across this video that was shared on one of the teacher groups I belong to on Facebook, and I appreciated it, and thought I would share it on here, hopefully as a reminder to myself about what's really important about my job... not state tests, not teacher ratings, but asking questions and making my students fall in love with problem solving...  

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Massive Numbers Talk & Blogging Challenge Day 2

I blog today from the Starbucks that has brought about so much change to my work life.  It was here that sent my resume to who would eventually become my new principal, after finally deciding to go for it.  I have also come here to grade and generally get work done, when I need to leave my apartment.

I just got back from a Math Encounters talk at the Math Museum by Po-Shen Loh, and was thusly inspired and think I found a great first problem for my math team this year.  He was definitely my Math Encounters presenter I've seen.  His excitement is so pure and his "teaching style" motivating.  You can read more about a similar talk he gave here.  I left loving that the beauty of math is that there is always something more to explore.  Hopefully if I actually do keep up with this blog this school year, I can share some student work.

The other thing I wanted to post about today is day 2 of the blogging challenge:    

Day 2: Write about one piece of technology that you would like to try this year, and why.  You might also write about what you're hoping to see out of this edtech integration.

I am gonna cheat and share two pieces of technology that I would like to try out this year.  Both have to do with grading.  Since I am changing schools, I am losing access to the grading program we used last year, Mastery Connect.  Mastery Connect was nice because we could scan assessments easily and get data fast.  One of the pieces of technology that we might use to replace it is Zip Grade.  Another piece of technology is Jumpro.pe, to explore standards-based grading.  One of the first things shared with me about my new school was the assessment calendar, which has been helpful with planning and creating the assessments that I will be using next year.  Jumpro.pe especially will be my pet project because I have bee wanting to move to standards-based grading for a few years now, but haven't been able to fully make the jump. I hope that this year changes that.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Well, here I am again...

I started this blog last summer as a way for me to reflect on my school year and to (hopefully) become a better teacher.  Well, considering my last post is from November 2014, obviously I wasn't that successful with keeping with it.  But, the nice thing about teaching is that every year, we get a glorious and much deserved summer break, and then start fresh in September.  And this September will be even more of a fresh start because I will be working in a different school and district.  I'll be starting year nine next month, which I am still a little in shock of.

After five years at my last school, I decided, towards the end of last school year, that I needed a change.  I liked the people I was working with, but my teaching spark was dimming.  I was in a slump and I wasn't excited about what I was doing.  Looking back at some of my posts last summer, it seems like maybe this was something that started even before the first day in September.  So I applied to some other schools, just to see what would happen, and in June accepted a job for a local elementary school in my neighborhood, that was growing each year.  I was forcing myself into some new challenges: a new grade, new co-workers, a new building, and a new population of learners to explore math with.  It wasn't an easy decision to make, but looking back, I have no regrets, and I am excited for the year to come.

I found this blog post the other day, about a 30-day blogging challenge for teachers, which inspired me to give this whole blogging thing another shot.  So even though I am a few days behind, here it goes:

Day 1:
Write your goals for the school year.  Be as specific or abstract as you'd like to be!

Well, goal #1 would be to be able to look back at this school year in June, and feel that I have been successful.  What would that look & feel like?  My students have learned everything that they were supposed to this year, and perhaps a little bit more.  My classroom is a community where students aren't afraid to try new things and work together.  We had fun exploring the big ideas mathematics.  We students ask questions and want to learn more.  I want to look back on this year and see how much I've grown.

Goal #2 would be to continue to work on my work/life balance.  This may be hard considering I am teaching two grades next year (and have never taught 6th before), and because I will be in a new environment, resources may be limited, but nevertheless I think that this is something that I can continue to work toward.  I like my job, but I also value a life outside my job.  

I think that that is it for now, although I may add more as month goes on.  I really hope to keep this going this time...