Wednesday, August 24, 2016

CMP3 Summer Institute, My Goals, and the Planning for the First Day of School

Two weeks from now, I will have my 10th first day of school as a teacher.  It's kinda crazy when I think about it.  It's a mixture of excitement from getting a fresh start, to nerves about about what they year will bring, to pure exhaustion from setting up your classroom and setting the stage for the year ahead.

Last week I finished my G & T classes at Hunter, which, for the most part, I found helpful.  My next step is to take the certification test, which I plan on doing in the next few weeks.  My main takeaway from my classes was that if we are to be truly equitable, my G & T students deserve as much of my time as my IEP and general ed students, which was a challenge for me last year.  As a teacher, I know which of my students are gonna struggle the most and our natural instinct is to go and support them because we believe G & T students will "get there on their own" and that is just not equitable.  Speaking of Hunter, I literally have like eight Post-its of things I want to blog about on here - so any things would come up in our classes that I'd make a note to reflect on it when I had more time.  There'd be no way I could meaningfully write about all of it at once, but I hope to cover a lot of it as the school year goes on.

This week I have been attending the same CMP3 Summer Institute that I attended last year, only this time level two for 8th grade.  Next year I will be teaching 6th, 7th, and 8th grade, and even though I am excited about it, I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't stressed out about the amount of work that comes from teaching three different grades.  Overall, the PD has been OK.  I am definitely looking forward to teaching new content like irrational numbers, laws of exponents, exponential growth/decay, transformations, and quadratic functions.  I haven't taught 8th grade in a few years, and am looking forward to the new content. Here are my personal notes/takeaways/things to remember from the last three days:

  • It's OK if not every student has gotten through every part of the problem every single day, but I must make sure that I am giving them enough time to "muck around" with it.
  • The problems in Investigation 1 of each unit are all about setting the stage for the rest of the unit and I shouldn't let the misconceptions in Investigation 1 derail my plans.  In other words, I don't need to fix every misconception that shows up in the first few days of a new unit, but rather take note of those misconceptions and make sure that they are addressed as we move through the unit.  This made me think a lot about the practice that I used to have where we would always spend the last 5 minutes of class "taking notes" generated by the students.   For some reason (maybe the shorter class periods last year) I stopped doing this, and it is something I would like to bring back this year.  This also includes introducing new vocabulary during the summarize, after the students have, again, had a chance to "muck around" with the math.
  • I need to change up the way I do my written reflections in order to keep my students engaged.  Typically, I post the reflection questions after most Investigations on Google Classroom and my students choose one and post a response to it, but that can get boring after a while, so I would like to find other ways to incorporate those written reflections so that they are more engaging.
  • In the Teacher's Guide in each unit, there is a section on the mathematical (content) background and I need to start reading these.  I usually skip these pages because I feel pretty confident in my content knowledge, but there might be something in there that I hadn't thought of or perhaps didn't even know.  I think reading these will also be a way to support my own growth as a mathematician, which is another personal goal of mine this year.  Speaking of professional growth, the CMP3 website has videos of lessons, which I should probably look into, again in order to perhaps get new ideas to bring into my classroom.
  • I need to stop having my students read directly from the textbook during the launch part of the lesson.  It can be boring and I am sure that I lose some kids when I do it.  My main reason for doing it so often is that I am afraid that I will miss something key in the launch, but facilitators this week warn against it, so it is something I will work on.  My goal is 5 minute launches so that within 10 minutes of class starting, students are exploring... yes, I will make this happen!
  • We had a guest speaker yesterday talking about ELLs and my big take away from him is the idea that in order for something to be a "quantity" it must have three things: a sign, a number, and units.  I love this because it emphasizes two big mathematical ideas that students tend to forget - sign and units, so from day one I will be drilling this into my kiddies, because it is an important part of thinking like a mathematician.
  • The CMP3 facilitators also suggest not cutting out any whole Investigations, which is something I struggle with, mostly due to timing - we physically don't have enough days before the state test to do it all (especially since I will probably only being seeing my classes four days a week for 40 minute periods).  I need to come back to this as I plan out my units this year.

Some other ideas that have crossed my mind over the past few days:
  • Get rid of unit tests or rather, give out unit tests for homework as a test grade.  To give a formal unit test at the end of every unit can waste precious time that again, we don't have.  I would still keep my interim assessment (IA) (made from old state test/Regents questions) every marking period, but the more I think about it, the more I like the idea of no unit tests.  I think this would also help with the standards-based grading because my IAs are already aligned to standards.  Again, I did something similar a few years ago, and think I want to bring this practice back.  Although I would be curious what students would say if I asked them if they wanted more or less formal tests - I don't think the answer is as obvious as we would think.
  • I must incorporate more problem-based learning (PBL) and social justice issues into my classes.  Some of my favorite resources I want to include more of are: BIE, Radical Math, 2030 Schools,  Three Act Tasks, NRich, and Rethinking Mathematics.  

And lastly, I've been thinking a lot about the first day of school, and though I like how I've structured it in the past, with reviewing the 5 Ps & SLANT, and a Getting to Know You survey (followed by the syllabus and a Get it Together puzzle on day 2 and baseline on day 3), this year I think I might try Broken Squares (variation 1, variation 2) on day 1 (which would also tie into our school's core value of inquiry) and then maybe some kind of station work on day 2 to cover the syllabus/survey.  I want to be able to get right into work at least with my 7th & 8th graders since I had them last year.

So here's what's on my back-to-school to-do list:
  • Print out student photos from some of the activities from last year - to make my classroom more personalized this year.
  • Create the 8th grade/Algebra 1 baseline assessment and update 6th & 7th grade baselines
  • Outline curriculum maps with PBLs & social justice issues to incorporate
  • Plan out which standards I am going to track as I try to incorporate standards-based grading.  I've decided that I am only going to track a few big ones from each grade because it would be impossible for me to track all standards for all grades right away - this way I am starting off small.
  • PTA Family Welcome Picnic this Sunday, followed by two optional days to come in offered by the principal next week