Oct 222015
 

As I was observing my students teaching I stood in an elementary school hallway and saw this display.

2015-09-28 12.56.29

This was on both sides of the hallway, 15 on one wall, 15 on the other. So you don’t have to blow it up to see, I will explain it. Each page says, “Who am I” and below that says, “My favorite: book, subject, pet, food, hobby, tv show, I’m Good at, When I grow up, I would like to be” on the left with blanks to fill in.

Here is the thing that really made me smile, and then get angry. Between the two boards, over half of the students  said “My Favorite Subject is Math” or “I’m good at Math.”

No joke. This is a Title 1 elementary school, and in the sample of these two classrooms, these learners said they enjoy or they were good at math.

I was so happy.

Then I thought about high school math and I got angry.

Where does this joy go?

At what point in the education trajectory of learners does the joy disappear to be replaced by frustration, anger and dislike?

And then the bigger question of Why? What changed? The learners didn’t change? They progress through the classes, learning, enjoying, and being good at math.

My conclusion was that WE, teachers, the adults, change how we approach the math. I can only speak to high school, but I know I would have many discussions about math in PLC’s, and trying to steer the conversation to the learners is tough with some teachers. Why was this hard? It should be the standard.

It is not about content, it is about learners; people, human beings with needs and desires. Are we showing them through interesting problems they need the math? Why not?

Dan Meyer has been asking frequently, if xxxx is the headache, how is yyyyyy the aspirin? This is the right question we, as upper level K-12 teachers, need to be asking. Over and over. How are we fulfilling the needs of our learners? It isn’t with “it is on the test.”

I don’t have any answers to questions in this post. I really needed to share the picture. A picture of a group of learners who truly enjoyed math, and the emotional response I had to it. It shook me to the core to realize that as a math teacher, I was and am part of the problem.

I will be part of the solution too.

Just to end on a happy note, one of my learners from last year tweeted me and made me smile. People. I teach people. Not content.

Oct 142015
 

Okay, it was yesterday, but I was crazy busy and didn’t post it.

Yesterday, out of the blue, one of the learners I had three years ago tweeted this:

 


This is one of the times that makes me proud to be a teacher. It also makes me proud to know that I have had a positive impact on other learners who didn’t tell me this, but who are experiencing it daily.

Rock on, Cassidy. You make me smile. Thank you!

Aug 312015
 

I have to be honest, I started, stopped, deleted, restarted, deleted and started this post again repeatedly over the last few weeks. Why? Well one reason is my computer died in the middle of a post, and it sat for a week while I was getting it repaired. Whatever. Lame excuse.

Another reason is that I was not sure what to say, or how I felt about the change from high school teacher to college instructor. I think I am still not sure, but I am wrapping my head around it more and feeling better about myself and my thinking on that topic. This post will be a bit rambling, and more than a little stream of consciousness, but bear with it.

So, here it goes; good and bad. I am going to just get it all out and see where it leads.

do not follow leave a trail

First, the bad: I felt very guilty about leaving my school. Seriously. The process of getting this position took all summer. The interview was a 7 hour long day in the middle of July, and it was a week after that before I knew if I got the job or not. Teachers reported back to school on the 5th of August. I was not able to give my school or my department much time to hire a new math teacher to replace me. I hate that. That I left my high school without giving them a long time to search and find a replacement makes me feel like I let the people who I had a strong attachment and bond with down.

The good: This new program at the University of Nevada, Reno is amazing. Seriously. Why is not every university in the US using this model of teacher development for math and science? I mean, really. We all recognize there is difficulty in getting math and science teachers. The UTeach model out of Austin, TX is a great model to fight the shortage. It is actually doing good recruitment and instruction to bring better math and science teachers to the classroom. Let me tell you the sales pitch (and it is a sales pitch that I have given to several freshmen classes.)

The Step 1 and Step 2 classes are free through a tuition rebate (after you successfully pass the classes, you get your money back.)

In these classes, you will observe twice, and teach three times in upper elementary (Step 1) and middle school (Step 2) classrooms.

At the end of the year, you will have two free credits, AND you will KNOW if you have an interest in teaching. If you don’t, because whatever, you walk away and you have two credits, no money spent, and you have lost nothing but a little time.

BUT, if you think that teaching may be something you are interested in, you finish the major you are in (right now Chemistry, Biology, Physics and Mathematics, but that will expand) AND you take the NevadaTeach program classes and you will graduate in 4 years with two degrees. Your science / math degree AND the coursework necessary for a teaching license.

Yes, free credits. Two degrees, two career paths, and no extra time or money spent to earn either one.

This program sells itself. We were expected to have 30 students in the program this semester. My partner Master Teacher and I recruited 45. We are 150% over the goal for enrollment. That is exciting, motivating and all around wonderful.

Then, we actually met our students.

OMG WOW.

On the first day of class (heck the ONLY day of class so far) we asked them to write why they took the Step 1 class. Here are a few, representative samples of why they enrolled:

I want a second choice if I can’t get into med school  (this came up several times.)

It seems like a fun program to be in, very excited about going into classrooms to teach an be like hands on.  (again, several of this type.)

I want to have my double major through this program and I think it will offer lots of opportunity in the future.  (wow, just wow.)

I want to explore teaching as an option.  (no fewer than 5 people said this.)

I’m taking step 1 because I want to have the best choice that allows me to have the best option to succeed in my future career.  (yes, this is the same as the last one, options, but notice the addition of choice. )

These are our students’ words. No editing. Just my comments in parenthesis. We have a motivated group of students who think teaching may be an interesting career. It is up to Megan and I to show them that it can be.

How do we do that?

One major element of our classroom and the program is that it centers around the 5E model of instruction. As we teach science or math lessons to our learners to teach to the ES or MS students, they are all 5E, inquiry based lessons. The math teachers who graduate from this program are going to have a strong basis for creating inquiry  based lessons for their classrooms. This is truly exciting. I am fully committing to dispatching an illusion of learning.

illusionoflecture1

What else is exciting is that this program did not exist last semester. I am part of the first year of creating the program from the ground up. If it fails, I will be a large part of why it fails. If it succeeds then I will be a part of why it succeeds (well not really, it can’t help but succeed.) But it is a risk to leave the safety of teaching, being department chair, teaching the courses I love, interacting with amazing learners and stop all of that for the complete uncertainty of a program that does not exist, in a completely different environment, and a radically different culture.

great achievements involve great risk

So, do I step up and leave everything I was comfortable with behind and bet it all on a new, untested, untried program to create and build new, more and better math and science teachers? Clearly the answer I chose was yes, but it was a tough decision. I miss the teachers I interacted with daily, but I know that I am doing something that will benefit more students in the future than I could just as a high school teacher.

As far as the massive culture shock, I have overcome it. Mostly. I have had a couple of “Am I on candid camera” moments. Being told “good job” for submitting $20,000 technology requests that were detailed and approved. Being told “ask for it, we don’t short change instruction, if you need it to teach, ask” by directors of the program. Coming from K-12 where we were starved for resources and now have the resources is odd.

Having to navigate the minefield of tenured professors walled gardens has been a shock. As a high school teacher, I just did things. I always could justify it because it was in the best interest of my learners, so there was never any blowback, just an “okay, that works, thank you.” Now, however, that is not always the case. And, what is in the best interest of my students is NOT the best interest of the departments students, the colleges’ students, or the University’s students. That is absolutely true. So having to think bigger picture and take a step back is new for me. Not hard. Just new.

The last thing that really is different for me is that I always sought out teachers to inspire me, to motivate me. As a high school teacher I lived by this quote daily.

Teachers inspire other teachers

My list was easy. Go on Twitter. Search for #MTBoS. Follow them. All of them. I have found so many teachers who pushed me to be better through their ideas, motivation, and inspiration that I never felt alone the last 4 years.

I am feeling alone now. I have a beautiful office. (seriously, it is the best office on campus, look at the view from my office window).

2015-07-27 17.56.52

 

I have a fellow Master Teacher, Megan, who is amazing. I have directors in my program who are supportive, helpful and all around great people. The faculty and staff here are supportive and helpful.

And yet, I feel alone. The college culture is different than K-12. There are no faculty plays. No “Friday happy hours.” No fabulous twitter chats of supportive higher ed professors. At this level it is about what you produce, not how you feel. K12 is different. I am working over that, around that, and through that, but it is true. I think this is the largest culture shock to deal with now. I can still drop into the Friday happy hour, but I am not part of that group. Will they still have me? And what am I producing now for my new position?

🙂

Yes, I just smiled. I realized what I have to make sure I produce.

Teachers inspire other teachers I need to be that teacher who uplifts, inspires, and drives others.

More so now than ever.

Aug 152015
 

At #TMC15 I shared my favorite of the “High 5”. Richard Villanueva is awesome enough to record them all and post, so I will just share the video of what I said. It is short and sweet:

There is the video. I want to stress a few points.

  1. Giving high fives to my learners absolutely changed me. I got 150 high fives every day. How can you NOT be in a great mood getting 35 high fives several times a day, every day.
  2. I am serious. I didn’t teach math. I taught people the subject of math. The high fives was just one step that demonstrated this philosophy.
  3. This was an evolution of my approach that on the first day of class scared me to death. I was freaked out and thinking that it was going to be a massive failure.
  4. I was wrong.
  5. It was the single thing I did all year long that had the greatest impact on my classroom environment, my relationship with my learners, and my own personal attitude.

I wrote about it last year as it occurred:

Before school started: August 10th: School started on the 11th.

After 1 week of school: August 20th

After 1 month of school: August 27th

I finally EARNED a high five from my one holdout: September 10th  : This is the one high five I am most proud of.

That was last year. Then #TMC happened. After #TMC15, several teachers told me they were going to try it. We had several Twitter conversations about it at different times with different teachers. A sample is below. And this is ONLY a small sample of the more relevant tweets.

 

   

 

 

 

And here are some captured images from @misscalcul8. Elissastartpic2Elissa2 elissa3  Elissa1 And finally: pic1Elissa    

Let’s pause and reflect a moment.    What effort did it take me to give a high five? Very little. I had to get over my introvertedness. I had to fight my impulse to just stand there and say hi, and I had to make the effort to actually acknowledge each learner one at a time with the motion. I had to grab some hand sanitizer afterwards as I was walking into class. …. 

Yea, that is really what it cost me. That’s it.

Not to diminish the fright / frustration / and uncomfortableness that the introversion creates, but getting over it did not damage me in any way.  

What did I gain? My learners received the one on one acknowledgement from me every day. They walked into my classroom looking forward to the personal contact that went beyond the subject and touched them personally. Learners who were just standing in the hallway saw it and started asking for a high five every day. They recognized that it was something to get and feel good about themselves.

It changed my outlook on the class period. Every period be came a 1st period of the day. Every period was a “good morning” because every period started with 30 to 35 high fives. How could every period NOT be a fresh start, a clean slate, and a new beginning. It changed the class outlook towards me. I wasn’t just that weird math teacher (and I was) who wore strange socks everyday (because I did). I was also the math teacher who treated them like human beings. I also was the math teacher who acknowledged they were weird learners (because they were) who struggled with the ideas (because they did) and who needed the reassurance that if they kept trying they would get it (because they absolutely DID.)  

The cost / benefit analysis there is pretty clear. What it cost me was very little. What I gained was huge. What my learners gained was even greater.  

—————-  

I am not teaching high school anymore. I am teaching college and the standards are different, the expectations are different, and the stakes are different. Guess what I am NOT going to give up. I think these outcomes are too valuable. It will definitely be a radical departure for the college setting. It is worth it.  

————————  

Edit: Some research to back up why it works: http://www.teachers.net/wong/OCT13   More teachers on board! Yay!    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These next three go together. Wow, the power in these three tweets.

 

 


—————

Amy posted on her blog the following paragraph.

High fives at the door. Glenn’s “my favorite” has been popular for good reason. It is simple, but we have already discovered it is powerful. My colleagues and I decided to make it a department thing, and also roped in the two non-math teachers in our hallway. So the 200 hallway is officially the “high-five hallway” at our school. I am surprised by how something so small has already helped me feel more connected to my students, and how the classroom atmosphere gets an immediate boost. You just can’t be too grumpy after a high-five.

Chris Shore said:

High 5’sGlenn Waddell (@gwaddellnvhs): Glenn was right. Offering the High 5’s at the door does more for my mood and mental preparation for the class than it did for the kids.

Bob, on his blog, said:

GREETING STUDENTS WITH HIGH FIVES – Intertwined with all of the mathy goodness of Twitter Math Camp this past July was a simple and powerful device for student engagement from my friend Glenn Waddell – the High Five.

Each day last year, Glenn met his students at the door to give them a high five – a simple, caring gesture to establish a positive tone for class. I often meet students at the door before class or linger in the hallway for informal chat, but I love the tradition and rapport Glenn establishes here and hope to emulate it.

Lisa, on her blog, was even more positive about the effects:

After five days of being at the door and high fiving students, students are positioning their books to be ready to give me a high five as they approach my class. I have had students high five me in the hall when I am not at my door and walking in the hallway (when I don’t have a class). It makes me smile.

This is only one paragraph of a much longer post by Lisa, but you get the sense right there something amazing is happening.

Stephanie Bower tried it too. Her post says so much about it.

Most of the time, the high-fives give me a chance to gauge the moods of each student in a split-second. (Glenn pointed this out too.) I can tell by the tone of their high-five, the way they return my verbal greeting, and their body language if something is “off” that day.

————————-

[And yes, that graphic is golden, and will be stolen and reused. Forever.]

highfiveclub Thank you @conniehamilton.

Oct 222014
 

I just sent this email to my department today. The subject was “If you still assign drill and kill problems”.

I am posting the text of the email without comment. It was spurred by a conversation on Twitter with @DDmeyer and @JStevens009.

Text is below:

Good morning all,

Hate to be the bearer of unwelcome news this morning, but if you are not keeping up with the world of math technology, it is reaching a tipping point of changing what we do. Check out the site: https://photomath.net/ and think about what it means to our profession and our classrooms.

Only around 30% of all kids have iOS devices, but in 2015 when it hits Android and the entire market is open, nearly 100% of our learners will have access to this. For free.

Kuta worksheets? Textbook problems? This type of software will render this type of homework obsolete. Desmos and TI-calculators have nearly done so already.

We have talked about the purpose and need to rethink what homework is for, and the tipping point is rapidly approaching where we really need to make some changes to what and how we handle it.

We need to think deeply about how we can create an environment of learning both in and outside the classroom, because the technology is making outside the classroom a moot point unless we make some changes long term.

Aug 272014
 

Some of my AP Stats learners figured out why I have been high fiving them every time they enter my room. I showed some videos about the placebo effect today, and a couple at the end of class commented on the fact that the high five is kind of like a placebo, because high fives are given for great things, and I do it on entering so it changes their mindset.

They got me. I hope they don’t spread that around, it would start ruining all my tricks.

Nothing spectacular today in class, just finishing some notes on experimental design, blocking, placebo effect and lurking variables. In Alg 2, I gave them a quiz that had them really thinking. They had to graph the 8 parent functions, and then also tell me which ones had all positive y values. Which ones were always increasing, or had a vertex at (0,0).

Some had only one answer, some had 6 or 7 answers, so they had to really think about the words and connect the meanings with the big picture of each parent function.

Great thinking type of quiz. I am excited to grade them.

——

Finally, you know all those AP learners in Stats who ask, “Well, what if it is not normal?” or “why are we assuming that, couldn’t it be wrong?” Yea, I love the too. I learned the answer today in my Non-Parametric Statistics class. You handle them by doing non-parametric tests on them instead of parametric tests (t test, z test, etc).

DOH! Of course. I am excited by this class. Lots of great extension to the Stats content while not being too much work. Unlike the Qualitative Statistics course. That is going to be a ton of work. Oh well, I signed up for it knowing it would not be all fun and games. No reason to complain now.

Aug 222014
 

Wow, it was a GREAT way to end the week. I bought a new framed art piece last night at Ross.

2014-08-22 07.13.23

This corner is absolutely becoming a favorite of mine. I had several learners today tell me they really like it. I can honestly say that eight years ago when  I started teaching I would have never even thought of hanging something like this in my room. Never.

Today, I look at it and realize that without those types of rules, especially the ones like “Say You’re Sorry & Accept Apologies,” “Remember to Laugh” and “Love Each Other” you can’t achieve things like “Try New Things”, “Do Your Best” or, most importantly, “Never Give Up.” The first few years of my teaching were solely about the content, but now I have gotten it through my thick skull that what makes the content actually work, stick, or learnable is the humor, friendliness, and personality that goes into teaching it.

I think I am a better teacher than I was 8 years ago when I started, but most importantly, I think I am a better person because of the realization of how to be a better teacher.

AP Stats:

Today was a little tough. We needed to get through vocab on defining what experiments are. It was tough, and I stopped 1/2 way through. This morning was Senior Sunrise, so my seniors were checked out. They were tired and not focusing.

So, I did some vocab, got through some concepts, and handed out flashcards for Sampling methods and did a quiz-quiz trade and told them there was a quiz on it next class.

No sense brutalizing them with vocab when they had limited sleep. Make it up next week.

Algebra 2:

Still working on parent functions. I think I am also going to give them a Desmos assignment of making their name with equations and domain and range restrictions. The struggle with domain and range is hard, but a half hour playing with Desmos usually solves that.

Thank goodness!

We ended the week with a School Wide Ice Bucket Challenge! Yup, probably 3/4 of the staff on the football field with learners dumping ice water on the teachers, admins, counselors, and custodians. It was pretty cool. We raised a ton of money. The count is not in, but it was school wide, so very well worth it. We also had someone in the school family diagnosed with ALS this year. It was personal. I will link to that video later when we get it posted.

Apr 162014
 

This post is a quick one, to simply thank Kate Nowak for saying something publicly that I have said privately for a couple of years now. In her post on the NCTM Technology strand, (which everyone should read first. It is okay, I will wait. …. Still here, still waiting, it is okay, really, go read it if you haven’t)  she said this:

Dear Teacher: if the professional development offered by your school or district is not helping you improve your practice in clear, consistent, measurable ways, then it’s up to you to take responsibility for your professional growth.

Kate also has the following graphic as well:

research

The citation for the article leads me to the following link:   http://learningforward.org/docs/pdf/nsdcstudy2009.pdf

 

I have said something similar to teachers in my district for the last couple of years. I have said it to admins, and told teachers that if the PD being offered is not the quality they expect or not meeting their needs then they should leave. I have received blowback on it. I have been told that is rude, arrogant, and that we should just sit through it because someone decided it was important. I call <cough>b.s.

I have said that to the rooms that I have been leading. If this is not meeting your needs, please find a room that is. I do not want to waste your time. I mean it. Leave. Now. Get up, walk out.

If the professional development is ineffective, then we have to start acting on our professional beliefs. The old saw about teachers make the worst learners is absolutely false. We are permanent, professional learners. We make bad learners in bad learning situations!

Kate’s comment struck a chord with me, obviously. I have spent a couple of hours today writing lessons for Desmos for preservice teachers at my local university. It is professional development. It is something I will use to teach other teachers. If it does not engage them; if it does not create questions that are interesting, then I expect to be told.

Thank you Kate. I truly appreciate your words and suggestions.

Aug 262013
 

Oh what a difference a class period makes.

So earlier today on my prep I posted about the steps I was making in changing / modifying the culture of my classroom. And let’s be honest, I was proud of the conscious efforts I was making in changing the hearts and minds of the learners.

And then the last period of the day hit and I was crushed. The class is working on spreadsheets and financial mathematics and is being introduced to compounding interest through the calculations the “hard way” before we do the formula.

These can be tricky, and if one cell is off by a little bit, the spreadsheet numbers go all wonky and you KNOW something is wrong.

So after working in pairs (it was a group assignment) all period, and I was circulating over and over again giving prompts and suggestions (but never fixing) about the thinking behind the sheets, one female learner asks to stay after class and work.

No problem. I would love to help her I say.. This Senior Female (let’s call her S.F.) says to me after everyone leaves, “I try to remain quiet in class because I feel like I don’t know this stuff as well as others and I just like to think. I don’t want to bother you that much in class.”

That shattering sound you hear is my heart breaking.

So S.F. doesn’t like to speak up in class because she feels like she doesn’t have as good of knowledge as others, and S.F. doesn’t like to “bother me”. Did I tell you that S.F. is female? Did I tell you she is African American?

Heart breaking.

Oh, and what was she doing wrong? Nothing. She had one small error in a spreadsheet covering 40 rows of compounding annually.

That “Status” thing that Ilana Horn was talking about at TMC13? There it is.

I can do all I want to change the culture of my classroom, but S.F. is bringing in a status of “not good enough” and “bothers teacher” and she has learned this over 12 years of classroom time.

What chance do I have to undo 12 years of learned status?

That shattering sound you hear is my heart breaking, again.

I think Ilana’s book is rising to the top of my must read pile. As well as her articles (if I can get my hands on them). This is too important to leave it alone.

—————–

picture via flickr

Aug 262013
 

At TMC13  I attended Ilana Horn‘s (@tchmathculture on Twitter) presentation on Culture in the Classroom. I didn’t write much down during the talk because I ended up thinking so much about the things she was saying and it is hard to describe the video we watched in words.

But, there are some pretty serious take-aways from the presentation that I have acted on and implemented. First, the serious topic of how much culture is created by you (the teacher), how much culture is brought to you by the learners (from prior teachers) and how much culture is created by the learners independently is very eye opening.

Think about that for a second. There really are three independent sources of the current classroom culture in our classrooms. I have certain expectations; the learners have learned how to “play school” in other classrooms; and finally the way they interact with each other independently of what my expectations and other teacher’s expectations are all mash together into creating the current “Classroom Culture” of what happens in my room.

I had never really looked at it in this three part way, and definitely not considered that my expectations are only 1/3 (maybe!) of what is going to occur in my room.

Eyes opened. Jaw dropped. Now what do I do?

….

Enter some serious thinking and changes to how I opened the year. I wanted to open the year in a totally different way, so that that culture could be more of my own expectations and less of what other teachers wanted them to do in prior years.

Some other things I am aware of and have done.

Seating charts – I used a totally random way to construct them. I handed out cards at the beginning of the year with A – 8 on them. Each number was a table number, and that is where they sat. Seating was completely random, they recognized it, and they commented on it.

Next, no syllabus until middle of week 2. I didn’t talk at them. They worked. They worked bell to bell on interesting and engaging lessons. They noticed and commented on that too!

So far, in all of my classes the homework turn in rate is around 95%. That is exceedingly high for my school (very high FRL rate). I think it is because the homework makes sense to them. I have been asking them to create their OWN problems and solve, not do mine out of a book.

Finally, and most importantly, I have been overly encouraging of questions, noticing, wondering, and thinking. Everyone has gotten involved. Each table must come up with a solution or a question or a noticing, so they need to discuss at the table level and class level.

I am hoping this encourages all learners to take more possession of their own learning. Only time will tell at this point. I will say thinking about this has made me add a tag to my writing. Culture. I think it does need to stand on its own.