Sunday, April 23, 2017

Circles, Systems of Equations, & PL opportunities

I've been meaning to write on here for a few weeks now, so rather than let another day go by, here are some things going on in my classroom recently...

Area & Circumference of Circles
Last week my 7th graders explored circles.  It's kind of a random geometry standard in the 7th grade CCLS, and I wanted them to go beyond simply calculating area and circumference, so we explored these three tasks from Illustrative: Eight Circles, Designs, and Stained Glass.  We also explored the Penny Farthing from the MAP.  They all led to some interesting conversations about perimeter and representing units with pi, and a number of students used ratios as opposed to straight conversions, which I didn't even think to use (I love it when they do that).  Definitely going to do more with circles next year.

Systems of Linear Equations: Standard vs General Form
My 8th graders began their second to last unit of the year before the Regents exam, It's in the System, and I am really enjoying it so far (it might be one of my favorite 8th grade units).  We had an interesting discussion last week about the difference between the standard form and general form of a linear equation.  The standard form being, Ax + By = C and the general form bring Ax + By + C = 0.  From what we have gathered, there are benefits to using one over the other, but why is the standard form more common than the general?  Why make the distinction?  Definitely a conversation to be continued.  I also found this Linear Systems bundle from Desmos, which I had used before, so I am excited to have them explore it this week.

Spring 2017 NYC Teaching Lab Demonstration Cycle
Earlier this week, a former colleague of mine, sent me a message on LinkedIn about this free Math Demo from Teaching Lab in June, because it was going to use content from Mathalicious, which I love, so I signed up.  It is two days of Math PL, including an inquiry cycle of trying out the material with my students, and then analyzing the student work.  I am excited, but the only potential downfall is that my 7th graders already explored the problem they are using, Coupon Clipping, earlier this year and it doesn't fit into what my 6th or 8th graders will be doing in June.  When I signed up, someone from Teaching Lab reached out to me and suggested pairing me up with another teacher in Queens, so see them teach it and then analyze their student work, which is a possibility.  Hopefully all goes well and I am able to attend this PL.

The NYC Math Lab
Speaking of teaching labs, I also applied for the NYC Math Lab in July.  I have never gone before but it looks like a good opportunity to connect with other math teachers in the city and analyze our practice.

The Teachers Guild Fellowship
My AP sent me a link to the Teacher's Guild Fellowship, which I had also never heard of before but sounds exciting.  According to their website, "Throughout the one year Fellowship, you’ll design an innovative solution, share it across your school or district, and be a part of a cohort of 10 exceptional educators from across the U.S. who believe in the power of teacher ideas to transform education from the ground up."  I felt really supported that she thought of me, and I think I am going to apply because I would love to do something to support strong math education.  Applications are due next month.    

Math for America
So, once again, I have submitted my application for MfA.  This year, the whole application process will occur before the end of the school year.  I am nervous, especially because it was rough when I didn't get in last year, but I am glad that I decided to try again.  Now we play the waiting game to see if I get an interview again or not.  Part of my reapplying, involves me continuing to explore something I am excited by and continue to learn about in math, so I am currently reading Taming the Infinite: The Story of Mathematics From the First Numbers to Chaos Theory, by Ian Stewart.  I wish I had time to read more at a time, but with work and life, I can only read so much at a time.  There is just so much math out there!  Some of the topics in the book have been beyond my understanding, but it has introduced me to other ideas, such as spherical geometry, which totally goes against the idea that a triangle's angles add up to 180 degrees.  Again, another conversation to be continued.

Test Prep & Photography Club
Next week we go round two of state testing, so my 6th and 7th graders will be doing test prep this week.  I usually do a combination of station and math lab work to keep it interesting.  At least it's only week of test prep, then three days of testing, then we go back to our regularly scheduled programming.  It's crazy how fast this year is going.  Tomorrow is my first Photography Club meeting, and I am excited to do something different.  As much as I love Math Club, it's always good to change outlets everyone once in a while, and I am excited to share my creative hobby with my students.  So far 24 students have signed up.  Our electives meet on Mondays, so this cycle is only seven weeks long (although don't get me wrong, it's kind of nice knowing that there are only seven Mondays left in the school year) ;)

Saturday, April 1, 2017

April, Roller Coasters, Ian Stewart, Photography Elective, and G & T Math Curriculum

It's refreshing to finally be in April.  Yes, teachers, we made it though March, and indeed we can begin to see the glimmer of summer on the horizon.  Before I left my classroom yesterday, I did a bit of Spring cleaning and cleaned out my classroom closet, and very happily went home with nothing to grade, since I was all caught up on all my grading for all five of my classes (I know, it's a teacher miracle!)  Here are some things that have been on my mind (and in my classroom lately)...

Roller Coasters
Anyone who knows me, knows I am not a fan of roller coasters, but being a middle school teacher, I know that they can be a great hook for students.  This year, I've actually been able to bring them into both my 7th and 8th grade Algebra 1 classes.  With my 7th graders last month, they analyzed data & statistics on steel & wood roller coasters and created a mathematical argument for which was faster, using measures of center and spread.  This week my 8th graders did this lesson from Illuminations where they determined the time it takes a roller coaster to reach the bottom of it's tallest drop, used tables and graphs to analyze the falls of different roller coasters, and created their own roller coasters and provided an analysis of it's fall.  Not a bad way to do some math during the first round of state testing.  We also learned about the Physics of Roller Coasters, and of course watched some first-person roller coaster videos.  One of my 8th graders even asked if he could bring in his Google Cardboard one day this week to watch some virtual reality roller coaster videos, and of course I said yes, because I was curious.  Both of these activities led to great engagement and discussions.  Sarah at Math=Love posted this last week about Marble Roller Coasters, which looks fantastic.  Both of these were new additions to my curriculums this year and I am looking forward to adding to them in the future.

Ian Stewart 
Looking to deepen my own mathematical knowledge, over Spring Break, I want to read one of Ian Stewart's books.  Not sure which one I want to read yet, so any suggestions are welcome.  

Photography Elective
Next week is the last week of Math Club for the year.  The students are finishing up their gold-level projects and we will have a small celebration.  When we get back from Spring Break, I will run my first Photography elective.  Students haven't signed up yet, so I don't know who'll be in it, but many students have expressed an interest and I am looking forward to facilitating it.  My goal is to have gallery show in June showing off all their work.  I am looking forward to this creative outlet.

Gifted & Talented Math Curriculum
In beginning to think about next year, my principal suggested looking into Project M3, which comes from the Renzulli Center at UConn.  I was not familiar with it, but would love to visit a school that has experience with it, or chat with a teacher who has used it.  I must do more research into it.  I am currently using CMP3 as my main curriculum, and supplement with other resources from Mathalicous, Illuminations, and MAP.  Like I said, I must do more research.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Some of the discussions happening in my class this week...

Here are some of the discussions happening in my math classroom this week:

7th grade: "How should cities address excessive force by police?"  (Good Cop, Bad Cop) and "How much should states spend on schools and police?" (Police, Academy

8th grade/ Algebra 1: "Do social networks make us more connected?" (Connected)

All three of these address high school level Common Core math standards, and will result in either a Socratic Seminar or some sort of debate where students will have to defend their argument using evidence from their work, as well as outside resources.  Yeah, I am pretty excited to see where they go with it.  Mathalicious is definitely one of my favorite and most used resources of the past two years!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

March Updates

So here we are in March, and ask any teacher, March is rough.  No days off.  Spring Break is still weeks away.  The weather hasn't decided whether its still winter or spring (here in NY this week we has a gorgeous, warm, sunny Thursday, followed by snow yesterday).  Oh yeah, and throw in the marking period ending, grades being due, bulletin board needing to be updated, parent-teacher conferences, state tests coming up and losing a hour of our precious weekend time (thanks Daylight Savings, NOT), March is pretty miserable.  I didn't want too much time to go by without reflecting on here, so here goes...

6th grade
My 6th graders finished up their Engineering Design Coke Projects this week.  It went much smoother than last year's and I am happy with how everything turned out.  We are doing a super short mini unit this week on decimals and percents, and starting our last unit before the state test on algebra, Variables & Patterns.  After the state test, we'll work on our last 6th grade unit, Data About Us and they'll do their Data to Make a Difference project, which I enjoyed last year.  I'll probably combine it with what I am currently doing with the 7th graders now, Samples and Populations, since it is a lot of the same work.

7th grade
Like I said, my 7th graders are currently wrapping up Samples & Populations, which is kind of fun.  I always used to skip this unit, but it's a short one, and has led to some interesting lessons, including comparing steel & wooden roller coasters, and Counting Trees, which was supposed to be a homework, but they were so into it, I decided to go with it and gave them class time to explore it.  Our next unit will be Thinking With Mathematical Models, which is typically the first 8th grade unit.  As stressful as it is, it's nice teaching all three grades because I have all the freedom to teach whatever I want, and teaching all three grades at once has given me a lot of insight into what skills/ topics I can bring down into the lower grades.

8th grade/ Algebra 1
Finally my 8th graders, which got their high school acceptance letters this week, and I am proud to say 68% got into Specialized High Schools, are working on Say it With Symbols, which has been a nice review.  I am feeling pretty confident about the Algebra 1 regents in June, and this week we got a class set of TI 84 graphing calculators!  I have my formal observation with them this Wednesday, and we'll be exploring whether social networks make us more connected from Mathalicious, and I am looking forward to it.  I'm turning it into a mini-project also, because I think after doing the math behind it, they will have a lot to debate about.  Since they are not taking the 8th grade math state test in May, the science teacher and I decided to give them a mock Algebra 1 regents one day and a mock Living Environment regents the other day.  Speaking of regents, I've been giving the 7th graders performance tasks from constructed response Algebra 1 questions, and most of them have appreciated the challenge, so I am happy about that.

Math Club & Photography Electives
We have four more meetings of the Math Club elective.  The students are currently working on their gold level project, which we should be able to wrap up in time.   We will be switching electives in April after Spring Break, and instead of continuing with a new group for Math Club or doing another round of the Harry Potter Elective like I did last year, I've decided to do a Photography Elective, which I am looking forward to.  The spring elective cycle is only seven weeks long, so it is much shorter than the first cycle.  I can't wait to share my passion with them and see what they come up with.  A lot of students have already said that they were interested, plus it will be nice to go out when the weather is nice and take photos.

March Math Madness & Pi Day
Since Ten Marks is not doing a Math Madness this year, I decided to do my own using masting Khan Academy skills as my tracker.  I'm doing it with all five of my classes, and as expected one of my 6th grade classes blew the other classes out of the water.  Week Two ends tonight, so we'll see how it ultimately shapes up.  Pi Day is also coming up this week, although I haven't decided what to do yet.  I can use last year's activities with my 6th grade classes, but would need something new for 7th & 8th grade.  Any ideas?

Project-Based Learning, Standards-Based Grading, & Math for America
Three of my professional goals moving forward are to do at least more round of PBL with all of my classes.  I've done some great projects this year, including the Stock Market Game & Road Trip Project with my 7th graders, the Coke Project with my 6th graders, and the Lunar Rover Challenge with my 8th graders.  I'd love to plan out at least one more for each grade.

We started a new marking period this week, and another goal of mine is to tag every assignment to a standard and track in on our school grading website.  So far, I've been good with it, and I hope to keep it up.

Lastly, I am applying to Math for America Master Teacher Fellowship again.  Applications are due at the end of April.  I was hesitant at applying again, but I decided to give it another shot.  Lots of work to do for the application, but it's all worth it if I can get in.  I reached out to my three letters of recommendation this week, and think I will use the lesson I will be doing with my 8th graders as my lesson design task.  I know it's far away, but I am already thinking about what I could do for my ten-minute presentation on my own math exploration, should I get an interview.  Any ideas/suggestions would be great.

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).

I=prt
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.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Soft Skills of Teaching Middle School Mathematics

This week's theme in the MTBoS Blogsplosion blogging initiative challenges us to reflect on the soft skills of teaching math.  As a middle school teacher, this is something I think about often.  What makes a great math teacher?

#1 I think is content knowledge.  A great math teacher is first and foremost, a math learner themselves.  Now, I know, strong content knowledge doesn't really fall under "soft skills", but they have to be willing to put themselves in the (sometimes uncomfortable and messy role) of learning.  I think this is true of any good teacher really, but it is especially important for math teachers.  Being a life-long learner, not being afraid or ashamed to ask questions, and wanting to make sense of problems and persevere in solving them (as the first Common Core math practice states) are all soft skills.  A passion for learning is truly a beautiful thing.

A question I ask myself often is "how am I deepening my own content knowledge?"  I've been teaching middle school math for ten years now.  I have taken advanced math classes in high school, and college, and I have passed several math content teacher certification tests, including the Math Content Knowledge Praxis Exam last year in order to apply for a Master Teacher Fellowship at Math for America.  I know what I need my students to know, but, I am sad to admit that rarely do I make the time to explore mathematics outside my classroom.  Don't get me wrong, I love exploring things with my students.  Ask any one of my current or former students, and I truly believe that they would say that I enjoy exploring math with them (which is another essential soft skill of a great math teacher, I believe), but rarely do I venture outside exploring something mathematical not related to my job.  I'd like to say that this is because of lack of time and the demands of balancing work and life, but what it comes down to, is that sometimes it is just not a high enough priority of mine.  And that is something I want to consciously change over the course of the next few months.  I want to push my own mathematical thinking and learning.  Great math teachers are always learning, not only in their craft, but in their own depth of content knowledge.

Some of the other soft skills that I think are essential to great math teaching, especially in middle school, are the ability to balance that fine line between teaching children and teaching young adults.  My students are different people every single day, and that can be challenging.  Middle school teachers have one of the highest teacher turnover rates, and almost every time I tell someone new that I teach middle school math, the response is usually one of pity (or insanity), but I genuinely love what I do, and I know that what I do is important.  Teaching (and enjoying teaching) middle school math requires a very unique set of soft skills, including communication, again, balancing being able to talk about the (often) silly things that entertain teenagers that and then the beauty of linear or quadratic equations.  We need to be mentally strong, and stable, because being a teenager is not.  We need to be forgiving, but also not shy away from consequences.  We need to be genuine listeners, because a middle schooler will do almost anything for you, if they realize that you do indeed care about them as individuals.  And lastly, we need to be (appropriately) human in front of them, which means admitting when we don't know something, disappointed in them when they are not being their best selves, and their biggest cheerleader when they deserve it.

Teaching middle school math is hard.  But man is it worth it ;)

Saturday, January 7, 2017

MTBoS 2017 Blogging Initiative: My Favorites

As a math teacher, and fellow member of the MTBoS, this week they posted about the MTBoS 2017 Blogging Initiative.  This week's theme is "My Favorites," so here are some of my favorite go-to resources that I have used so far this year:
  • Mathalicious - Great real-world, engaging middle & high school math lessons.  My $10/month subscription is totally worth it.  I have used it in all three grades that I teach this year.  A great resource!
  • Illuminations - How could anything by the NCTM not be great?  Great tasks and lessons I have, again, used in my 6th, 7th, and 8th grade Algebra 1 classes!
  • Illustrative Mathematics - Great tasks, broken down by Common Core Standard.
  • NRICH - I have used the tasks on here both with math club and just yesterday, with my 8th grade Algebra 1 class and with one of my 6th grade classes.  Very engaging, especially for differentiating up.
  • Mathematics Assessment Project - I have used some of these as homework problems this year.  Tasks are broken down by standard and come with rubrics.
  • Inside Mathematics - Great grade-level performance tasks, also with rubrics.
  • TED-Ed Mathematics -   Interesting videos on a variety of topics.  I mostly use the math or science ones, usually as a launch for lessons or to make connections.
  • Desmos Classroom Activities - I've used Desmos with both my 7th and 8th grade Algebra 1 students so far this year, and hope to introduce my 6th graders to it by the end of the year. Perfect for graphing linear and non-linear functions!
  • My favorite project so far this year, besides the Stock Market Game, has been the Road Trip Project that came from Carl's Teaching Blog.  My 7th graders definitely have had the best projects this year - this one was perfect for out linear relationships unit.  So much fun! My 6th graders also made their own Fraction Cookbooks, which they really enjoyed.
  • Lastly, a resource that I haven't used yet, but am very much looking forward to using this year are Dan Meyer's Three Act Tasks (hopefully to blog about in the very near future).  

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

December/January Projects & Tasks

So, in keeping with my goal to get back into blogging on here, here I am.  I want to first reflect on December, which is usually a crazy month for us teachers, but I must say, this was probably my smoothest (and most fun) December yet.

6th Grade
My 6th graders finished up Let's Be Rational and I modified this Operations with Fractions Cookbook Project for their unit project and they came out awesome.  They really went above and beyond, which was adorable.  This week we started Covering & Surrounding, which will end with their biggest project of the year, The Coke Package Design Project.  I switched this unit with Decimal Ops, to follow CMP3s suggested pacing order this year, so we'll see how that goes.  The Coke Project will take us right up to Mid-Winter Recess next month.

7th Grade
My 7th graders finished up Moving Straight Ahead and and then I extended the Desmos Marbleslides to include all the Desmos Linear activities, which both they & I loved.  Last year, I didn't introduce my 7th graders to Desmos until the end of the year, and I am glad I moved it up and fit it into this unit this year.  I also modified this amazing Road Trip Project as their unit project.  One of my classes finished it before Winter Break, and my other class is working on it this week.  I wish I knew about this project last year because it is super fun and a great real-world connection to linear relationships.  Our next unit is What Do You Expect? on probability and expected value, which has so many fun experiments, and I found this unfinished 3 Act Task on bottle flipping (it's big in 7th grade right now) from Dan Meyer and want to look into how I can bring it into my classroom (more to come).

8th grade Algebra 1
Last but not least, my 8th graders finished up Looking for Pythagoras last month and we learned how crazy the Pythagoreans and their cult of numbers really were.  Two of my favorite tasks included having them create their own Wheel's of Theodorus (which became by December bulletin board) and this awesome task from NASA (yes, the NASA) where they had to analyze different routes for the Lunar Rover and create a proposal with their recommendations.  This week we started Butterflies, Pinwheels, and Wallpaper.

All three grades had some really great Mathalicious tasks, that fit nicely into our December units.  Next week all three grades will be taking their second interim assessment of the year, so I will get some testing data to look at.  I also got picked to score the Algebra 1 Regents at the end of the month, which I am grateful for, since this is my first year teaching algebra 1 in a while.  Last month myself and the Living Environment teacher attended one day of NY Ed Tech Week and in two weeks I signed up for the Google Teacher's Lounge, which I am curious about, and of course, I have been keeping up with the MTBoS on Twitter.

In a few weeks, we will be at the halfway point of another school year.  Even though teaching five classes across three grades is a lot (I am forever behind on grading) I really do enjoy what I do, and I am very lucky about that.  Hopefully I can keep this up an continue to grow and get better at what I do.  Here's to an inspiring start to the new year!

Monday, January 2, 2017

New Year, New Blogging Inspiration

After more than a month of not having the time to blog on here (or rather, not making it a priority) here we are in the new year and, after ten beautiful, work-free days (including my birthday), I want to get back into it.  December went really smoothly at work.  All of my classes ended their current units, and will be starting new units tomorrow, and I really enjoyed the projects and investigations my students did (which I hope to reflect more fully about in a later post).

I came across this post by Dan Meyer on his winter break in recreational mathematics and then by AJ Juliani on his 30 Day Blogging Challenge, so I wan inspired to write on here.  Coming off last year's MfA experiences, like Dan Meyer, on of my professional goals includes doing more math, which means doing more recreational mathematics, which I must admit, I have slacked on since last summer.  Hopefully I can use this space to change that.  As for the 30 Day Blogging Challenge, my goal is to write 100 words a day for 30 days (yes, I know it's small, but I want to stay realistic), and to publish one post per week.  So here we go, day 1.  As we enter into the cold, dark school month of January, it may be rough, but it also the half-way point of the school year, which reminds me that even though there's work to do, it goes by really fast, and I want to make my time with my students count.

Here's to an inspiring, reflective, thoughtful 2017!