Friday, September 22, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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