Labor Of Love

We’ve got kind of a thing for Labor Day around here. Pretty much everybody I knew growing up had family either at one of the Indiana Harbor mills, or at Standard Oil in Whiting. Northwest Indiana steel helped build the Mackinac Bridge, amongst other great structures.

Indiana is the United States’ leading producer of steel and has been for 35 years running. If it were a country, Indiana would rank 10th in the world in steel production. Half the blast furnaces in the country are in Lake and Porter counties:

“The Hoosier state has more than 20,000 steelworkers and nearly a quarter of all the steelmaking capacity in the United States. Half the blast furnaces in the country are located in Lake and Porter counties, which boast a wealth of steelmaking assets.

The Region is home to the nation’s largest steel mill, Gary Works, North America’s largest integrated steelmaking complex; ArcelorMittal Indiana Harbor in East Chicago; and the newest integrated steel mill in the country, ArcelorMittal Burns Harbor.”

The Times of Northwest Indiana, March 2, 2018.

Moving to Vegas was a rude awakening for me. Everything was “style over substance” there. Here, what you see is what you get. Pick up your hard hat and lunchbucket and go to work. I stood out like a sore thumb out there. I was told my first year of teaching that I was a bit of a workaholic, and all these years later I still won’t leave the building on Friday until I’m set up for Monday. That’s what was modeled for me as a kid. We didn’t call it that, but that blue-collar work ethic was just the culture growing up, and old habits die hard.


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As adults, we have an opportunity (and an obligation) to build the culture in our schools, and our organizations. In particular, those of us who work in schools need to help our kids develop the habits that will serve them well as adults.

My youngest son is playing freshman football this year. He played Pop Warner as a 5-year-old but soon outgrew the height/weight matrix, so it’s his first time back in pads in 9 years. Meanwhile some of his teammates have been playing virtually their whole lives. It’s tough for a rookie to crack a lineup of experienced athletes.

He understands his role on the team, and has been working hard to improve. To me, the biggest benefit has been two-fold: he’s learned how to be part of a team, and he understands the commitment that is required to play a school sport. In for a penny, in for a pound.

Our new varsity head coach addressed the parents at an informational meeting last May. Among other things, he told us he had instituted a players’ leadership council, a group that would have input into the program, with those players being selected by their teammates.

Now it’s one thing to say “my players are going to lead”, and completely another for them to embrace that role.

So, here’s a thing I wrote this week:

Proud To Be A Viking

That’s not nothing. If you want to build a program, you have to keep the pipeline filled. You can treat them like crap, not care if they quit, or, you can show them what it means to be a varsity athlete, wearing the uniform of a school that opened 16 years after the end of the Civil War. That guy has nothing to gain from how he treats the freshmen players. It’s not like they’re gonna take his starting job. Which makes it genuine.

And pretty damn important. The qualities and beliefs and actions we want passed down, we have to be intentional about. They have to infuse our world. Pick up your rosary, go to church, hit your knees. Take care of your business. Love your wife and kids. Pick up your hard hat and go to work.

It’s not gonna happen by waving a magic wand. If we want our kids to do it, we have to live it. Period.

And it’s hard work. It’s a labor of love.

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Matching Their Pace

 

We anticipated having to make pacing changes when we detracked Algebra 2 this year. Planned for it as a team all throughout last year, in fact.

But knowing it’s coming, and adjusting pace to match my students is two different things. My track 2 friends are grating at having to slow down and re-teach more often than they are used to. Meanwhile, I’ve been able to hit the throttle and open up the engines already, coming from a track 3 background.

Everyone on my team is veteran though. We’re staying on our toes, ready to call an audible in class based on our students’ needs.

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Source

This week we wrapped up our foundations module with a day of solving word problems with algebra. I use the flipped class model, and as we reviewed notes at the start of class,  my students let me know right from the jump they did not feel real confident in their abilities: “How did you do that? Like, I don’t even know where to start!”

So we took a minute. Walked through an example from the notes, decoding the text, marking important information. But what my students really wanted to know was, how do you write an equation from all that mess?

My online PLN pretty much lives in my head these days. Now it’s time to lean on my people, in class, on the fly. I brought a little Jon Corippo (and his nachos analogy) with me as we talked making dinner. The Protein – Veggie – Starch framework that we all follow when plating up dinner. Could we look for a model that fits the information in the word problem?

confused will smith GIF

So lets break it down. I showed how we went from concrete to abstract with a verbal model template and an algebraic model over the top.

Then I offered a choice – we could do some pencil/paper math (I had a short practice set ready to go), or we could try… something different. I had tipped them to three-act math in the video notes for the section. What if we did that for real, in class, right now?

Let’s roll. Let’s do Social Math.

So on to the Taco Cart.

Taco Cart Snip

I knew we were on to something when they called out pythagorean theorem unprompted to calculate Ben’s walking distance. And then started doing the math. We compared methods as students determined walking time (some were very formal, writing out d = rt, showing work, doing dimensional analysis (!) and canceling units. Others were a little more back-of-the-envelope, insisting they could just divide (Why?).

We had math fights and we had people working together and we had people laying math on top of their common sense and we had a big reveal.

‘Cuz, you know, students cheer while watching a video in class, like, every day, right?

And: we had students leaving my classroom that day feeling like they were pretty good at math.

So that was cool.


In my first five years of teaching, I’d have never done that. I wouldn’t have known enough to change gears completely. I didn’t have the tools, or the experience. We’d have done more stand & deliver examples (Including me asking them afterwards “Does that make sense?”, and them nodding back at me, lying), more review pages, more me talking.

I’m glad somewhere along the line I learned a better way. The experience to recognize my students need and to recognize the right tool at the right time, its just priceless. They did all the work to figure out if Ben or Dan would get tacos first. I just sat back and watched the magic happen. OK, I asked a question or two along the way, but you know what I’m saying.

We talked recognizing patterns today during the notes review. I told them once you crack the code, algebra is pretty much all angel choirs singing and duckies and bunnies and rainbows and unicorns.

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OK, maybe not really.

But It’s pretty damn sweet when you get to watch students realize they can do things they didn’t think they could do.


 

Three years ago I followed through on a commitment to begin blogging as a way to reflect on my practice. I’m not really even sure that blogs are a thing anymore, but I’ve got a handful that I read on the regular (Blogroll is over there to the right).

My online PLN is blogging their way thru August in the #MTBoS Blaugust2018 challenge. Check out the complete list here. While you are there, sign up to join in the fun. I’m waiting to read, learn, and grow with my Teacher Twitter people.

MTBoS Blaugust2018

You’d Be Surprised

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Every teacher I know has this drawer. And one filled with fun size candy bars.

I feel sometimes like I keep the Halls people in business.

First Week  of School, every year. First day my voice is gone by the end of the day because I read the syllabus out loud 6 times. It’s predictable, and it’s not good.

Maybe there’s a better way? Like, maybe I could pre-heat the grill a little?

I’m taking my cues from the EduProtocol Field Guide this year – taking time at the outset for building culture and workflow. I want my students to summarize, and collaborate, and create, and communicate. I also want them to know how class is gonna work and what we can expect of each other. That way when I build all those skills into math, I’m not asking them to do something they’ve never done before. It’s not a new idea, obviously, just me trying to get better every year.

Plus: open house is early this year. Day Three, in fact.

Taken as a whole, this seemed like a good opportunity to use the Iron Chef model to dive into the syllabus. The first day homeroom session featured a 30-minute recorded presentation of the student handbook. I for sure didn’t want to use my 30 minutes with my algebra kids reading them the same rules they heard from all the rest of their teachers that day. Not that the rules and procedures aren’t important, just: maybe there’s a better way.

So I had them take 5 minutes to read it in groups. We crowdsourced the big ideas and wrote them on the side board. Then I revealed a starter slide deck with a rudimentary title slide (which they could customize) and had a team lead for each group do a file – make a copy and share the copy with me and with their other group members. (Snuck in a quick refresher on Canvas and GSuite there, too!)

I introduced the group roles, students selected a job and away we go.

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Day Two – I intro’d the “secret ingredient”, kids finished their presos, and then they presented their slide deck. Students got to show off their work and polish their presentation skills. And we were able to do some quality control for spelling and grammar. We caught a doozy of a misspelling, BTW. Like, the “a” and the “u” aren’t even close to each other on the keyboard, right?

I steered students away from the cookie-cutter PowerPoints they are used to making. The secret ingredient was a word limit of 40 per slide (still too many but it’s a start, right?). And they rose to the occasion. My second hour in particular absolutely crushed it. Like, I’m not sure I would done a better job making the slide deck myself.

And as you might have guessed, the parents were suitably impressed by the work of their kids when I ran the slides by them at the Open House. Not just the presentation, but their kids’ ability to take a document and boil it down to its essence, and especially in thinking, “OK, what in this page are my parents gonna want to know about?” They nailed it.

So we got them working together, creating things, thinking about communicating to an authentic audience, and they dug deep into the course expectations. Not a bad couple days’ work. So in case you were wondering if your students will rise to the occasion, well, you’d be surprised.

In a good way.


 

Three years ago I followed through on a commitment to begin blogging as a way to reflect on my practice. I’m not really even sure that blogs are a thing anymore, but I’ve got a handful that I read on the regular (Blogroll is over there to the right).

My online PLN is blogging their way thru August in the #MTBoS Blaugust2018 challenge. Check out the complete list here. While you are there, sign up to join in the fun. I’m waiting to read, learn, and grow with my Teacher Twitter people.

MTBoS Blaugust2018

Happy New Year!

My last full day of summer broke humid, rainy, and with a to-do list as long as my arm.

To Do

Our ongoing construction work kept us out of the building all summer, but here in modern-day times, let’s face it, wouldn’t you rather do curriculum mapping and lesson planning from the outdoor office? Plus, that gave our IT guys time to upgrade the furniture and electronics in BL122:

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I’ll have students sitting at those workstations in 90 hours or so.

Fortunately I’ve been doing my prep in bits and pieces the last few weeks, so it’s mostly just (literal) housekeeping stuff, and pushing the ball a few more yards down the field in regards to matching activities to my Algebra Lab (freshman support) class.

But my First Week is planned out.

Looking back on my Day One plans from last year, the goal is the same, just with the activities stretched out over a week. Gonna build the culture, meet some people, and (oh yeah) sneak a little math in there too.

We’re in our second year of a 1:1 environment in my building. And for the first time in a while I’m teaching freshmen. I want to establish some classroom norms right from the jump: collaboration and discovery.

The activities are sourced from The EduProtocol Field Guide and my online PLN. Fifteen years ago this would have taken all summer. Here in the future, well, let’s just say it’s good to have people, you guys.

The first half of EduProtocol is devoted to what the authors, Marlena Hebern and Jon Corippo, call Smart Start activities. They are designed to establish culture and get students hands-on with the tools they will be using throughout the school year. Honestly, it is The First Days of School for the 21st century.

So, here we go:

In Algebra 1 Lab 

  • Frayer a Friend (Hebern & Corippo)
    • As long as we’re playing “Getting To Know You”, let’s get to know everybody.
  • Iron Chef-style Student-Built Open House Slide Deck (Hebern & Corippo)
    • I feel like this is a way better use of our time than me reading the syllabus to them. Plus, the parents will probably dig that their kids made the Open House preso instead of me.
  • 100 Numbers task (via Sara Van Der Werf)
    • “Modeling Group Work” & “Getting Students Talking”. That’s my plan.
  • Mullet Ratio (Via Matt Vaudrey)
    • If I do this right, I’ll have students talking about math before they do any actual math. Wish me luck.

The Algebra Lab course is designed to be hands-on, activity-based, a support for our struggling freshmen. But you know what? My juniors can use the same support. They are going to get the same opportunities as the 9th graders the first week in my class.

The big thing here is, I don’t want to give lip service to collaboration and the activities we do in a 1:1 environment and then be (as Corippo calls it) a worksheet machine.

Worse, I don’t want to drop some of this stuff on them three weeks into the year, and expect them to be experts at navigating online (or offline, for that matter) experiences without guidance and practice. I found last year that taking a few minutes to walk thru finding buttons and functions on Desmos or any of the GSuite tools was a wise investment of class time. And the whole point of EduProtocols is that the activities are just a shell that can hold any content for any grade level. They are designed to be repeated. So let’s start now, huh?

This plan for week one should get them collaborating and working with the tools we’ll use all year. Most of our teachers are relative newbies to a 1:1 environment. We’ve got a year under our belt, and I imagine we’ll be learning throughout this year, trading tips with each other and getting better.

So here I am: about to start Year 16, and still learning. It’s a good place to be. And as ugly and frustrating as Twitter can be many days, I’m thankful for my online PLN that has pointed me towards tools and resources I can use to craft learning experiences for my students. I’m working on that (imaginary) Classroom Chef certification, still. Or at least trying to figure out how to put together a decent platter of nachos.


Royko One More Time
The epigraph from One More Time, a collection of Mike Royko columns.

It’s a little odd… I don’t have the usual melancholy end of summer feel right now. It’s a little more like New Year’s Eve. Planning a meal, reflecting on the year gone by, and anticipating what is to come. A little nervous, as always, but: it’s a good nervous.

So, to my teacher friends: Happy New Year!

 


 

Three years ago I followed through on a commitment to begin blogging as a way to reflect on my practice. I’m not really even sure that blogs are a thing anymore, but I’ve got a handful that I read on the regular (Blogroll is over there to the right).

My online PLN is blogging their way thru August in the #MTBoS Blaugust2018 challenge. Check out the complete list here. While you are there, sign up to join in the fun. I’m waiting to read, learn, and grow with my Teacher Twitter people.

MTBoS Blaugust2018

I Hope So, Kid

I’ve been fortunate to have really strong leadership throughout my teaching career. If you are keeping tabs, 7 principals in 3 buildings across 15 years of teaching. Each had unique strengths suited to the particular school setting, and all had a commitment that kids are the reason we get out of bed in the morning.

Gavit Aftershow
Hammond sunset.

My previous assignment, in an urban district just outside Chicago, we had two guiding principles:

  • We do what’s good for kids, not what is easy or convenient for adults
  • Would what you’re doing be “good enough” for your kids at their school? If not, why are you doing it?

That’s a tough standard. I know we say we love all our students like our own kids, but let’s be honest. Blood is thicker than everything else.


The second half of summer I’ve been preparing myself for back to school, not only in the Xs & Os of planning and setting up Canvas and such, but in learning from teacher leaders online through a couple of pop-up digital summits. First was the CUE Craft #DitchSummit, hosted by Matt Miller. Next: #HiveSummit, in which Michael Matera picks the brains of some brilliant folks. (Conference closes on August 14, and all the materials go dark).

Things got a little meta last night when Miller was Matera’s guesttalking tech & pedagogy. Miller is a highly-sought-after presenter, a veteran teacher, and author of two books, Ditch That Textbook and Ditch That Homework. As of late he is focusing on helping teachers pivot from the “wow factor” of tech toys to a stronger focus on how they fit within good pedagogy. His books have always emphasized that tech use in school should exist to serve learning goals, but pedagogy was the theme of the #DitchSummit.

In a bit of a switch, my freshman-to-be son was watching over my shoulder. He heard Miller expound on all the ways teachers can use, say, Google Slides in class beyond their value as a presentation tool. Then, the nuclear weapon dropped:

Mystery Skype.

If you know Miller’s background, he was the World Language department at his rural Indiana school. One guy. Which is both frightening and thrilling. It forced him to seek new ways to engage his kids. His #DitchBook stuff isn’t theory. It was his reality. He was an early adopter of Skype in the classroom, matching his emerging Spanish learners in Indiana with English learners in Spain. They’d Skype and speak the language to each other. So cool.

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Image via giphy.

And that’s just the beginning of tech’s ability to serve kids and break down barriers. Miller related a story of doing a mystery Skype with a class in Belgium where kids in both countries starting Flossing on camera.

 

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You know the dance. Via mlb.com.

While it was intended as a cautionary tale, my son was hooked by the concept of a classroom without worksheets, where teachers crafted engaging lessons using the tools we ask our kids to lug around in their backpack: 

“Are my Valpo teachers gonna do stuff like that?”

Record Scratch Freeze Frame. 

I hope so, kid. I really do. That crinkly sound you hear is my heart breaking in a million pieces. He didn’t have a great middle school experience. For all his teachers’ efforts, they were never really able to hook him in. He wants school to mean something, it just… hasn’t yet.


Now, keep in mind: It’s one kid in one town. Generalize at your own risk.

But still. He is not your traditional student. “Sit still” and “take notes” and “do this worksheet” is not his thing.

He needs teachers to teach different to teach him. And: There are teachers out there doing just that.

Matt Miller calls them “Maverick Teachers” – teachers who are willing to take risks to engage their students.

And now that my son knows those teachers exist, he’s not going to settle for anything less.

How many more Sams are out there? How many are on my roster this year?

How about my teacher friends rosters?

And what happens when we ignore their needs and teach them the same old traditional way?


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Guess what: Now that we know they’re out there, we don’t have any excuse for not doing what we need to do to reach them.

Sam was born in 2004. For our incoming freshmen, there aren’t “21st Century Skills”. There’s just “Skills”. By the end of next school year, the 21st century will be 20% over. As my bishop Donald Hying told the St. Paul confirmandi last year, their class will live long enough to ring in the 22nd century, in all likelihood.

Here’s the good news though: With my online PLN (#MTBoS) and at #sselearn and #eVillageNWI and Canvas Camp, I was surrounded by teachers putting in the time over the summer to work on their craft, to stretch themselves and learn new tools and tactics. They know they need to take risks to engage their kids, on the daily. The same-old, same-old, is not going to do it. I hope my kid ends up in their class this year.

I really hope so.


 

Three years ago I followed through on a commitment to begin blogging as a way to reflect on my practice. I’m not really even sure that blogs are a thing anymore, but I’ve got a handful that I read on the regular (Blogroll is over there to the right).

My online PLN is blogging their way thru August in the #MTBoS Blaugust2018 challenge. Check out the complete list here. While you are there, sign up to join in the fun. I’m waiting to read, learn, and grow with my Teacher Twitter people.

MTBoS Blaugust2018

One-Man Book Club: The EduProtocol Field Guide

I hang around online with a group of runners who call themselves the Sub-30 Club. It’s a group started by University of Florida professor and Runner’s World writer Ted Spiker. Every now and then he’ll throw out a new challenge to himself and invite group members to join in. A couple of years ago it was the 100-day Burpee Challenge. Insanity.

I completed it, by the way.

Sub 30 Burpee props

So the other day, looking to make a breakthrough in his training, Ted was curious about a set number of burpees for time. Like, say, 25. And the race was on.

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My baseline. For comparison, one of my local Sub-30 runner friends knocked his out in like 70 seconds, and he’s trying to get under a minute.

Ugh. I’m not good. How did that happen? I mean, I know how that happened, but, damn.

Numbers Never Lie.

It’s good to get a check on yourself from time to time. But then, what do you do with that? I know where I want to go. How do I get there?

Let’s make a plan.


 

Sixteen years. You’d think I’d have this “Start of the School Year” thing nailed by now. But every year I want to get better.

Just like going sub-3:00 for 25 burpees, “Wanting to get better” and “the concrete steps to getting better” are two different things.

That’s where EduProtocols come in.

I first heard the term when Jon Corippo guested with Matt Miller on the 2017 Ditch That Textbook Virtual summit. He was talking “The Fast and the Curious” and “Iron Chef” and definitely got my attention.

I got the gist of it. It sounded like a routine, or a habit of quality lesson design. Eventually, after hearing Corippo again and reading a variety of stuff and checking out some slide decks inspired by his work, I got the implementation piece: “EduProtocols” is how Corippo and Marlena Hebern refer to the idea of a “shell” activity that is student-centered and can hold any content.

It sounds right up my alley. So I stuck the book in my Amazon cart, waited for payday to hit, and pushed “buy”. (Full disclosure: I don’t have any affiliate links. When I link a book on here it goes to Goodreads. I’m not trying to sell anything and I don’t make a cent. Just sharing my thoughts on stuff I read. So click away.)

EduProtocols
The EduProtocol Field Guide by Marlena Hebern and Jon Corippo.

The authors are up-front right from the jump: It’s not a “read cover-to-cover” kind of book. Unless you want it to be. Then you do you. Otherwise, take what you need now, come back for more later. Good strategy. But I had like two weeks till the start of school when the book hit my mailbox and I definitely wanted to wedge some of my plans into the EduProtocol shell.

The book starts with about a dozen “Smart Start” protocols that are designed as ways to start the year (or a new semester). Some are familiar such as the Frayer framework, or a paper airplane design challenge. All are designed to create a culture in your class, and offer tweaks for younger grades. As far as I’m concerned, it’s “The First Days Of School” for the 21st century.

(The interview embedded above is part of the CUE Craft Ditch Summit and goes away after August 10. Sorry.)

The following chapters outline EduProtocols that have a familiar design such as the Great American Race or Cyber Sandwich. My math people who are familiar with the Three-Act Task will find a chapter contributed by John Stevens, co-author of The Classroom Chef. The common thread in all of them is the 4 Cs and the use of technology in service of learning. Many of the ideas themselves are not new (go google “Iron Chef” and “jigsaw”) but in particular for teachers in a 1:1 classroom who are trying to get more student-centered, these protocols will bring about that “lightbulb” moment when pondering your lesson designs.

4Cs Throwdown
Hey, adults can have that “ah-hah” moment too. Corippo and Hebern drop the 4 Cs on a group of principals in the book. Hilarity ensues.

As an added guide, each section includes a list of Academic Goals and Teacher Big Ideas to help match up activities with learning outcomes. And Marlena Hebern has helpfully loaded some templates onto her website. It’s a gold mine. Your kids can be Iron Chef-ing or Cyber Sandwich-ing tomorrow.

I know for me, it always helps to have a planning partner, a sherpa who has been up the mountain to help me find my pathway to accomplish the goals I have for a class or a year.

Over the summer, one of my go-to members of my PLN tweeted at me that the book was definitely worth the money. She wasn’t lying. These EduProtocols will be part of my lesson design toolbox for a long time.


Three years ago I followed through on a commitment to begin blogging as a way to reflect on my practice. I’m not really even sure that blogs are a thing anymore, but I’ve got a handful that I read on the regular (Blogroll is over there to the right).

My online PLN is blogging their way thru August in the #MTBoS Blaugust2018 challenge. Check out the complete list here. While you are there, sign up to join in the fun. I’m waiting to read, learn, and grow with my Teacher Twitter people.

MTBoS Blaugust2018

Better Than Me

My summer reads have been a nice mix of “Teacher Reads” and “Free Reads”:

 

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The latest is Frantic 7 which tells the story of American air support of the Warsaw Rising in 1944. Hundreds of B-17s loaded with supplies took off from Britain, dropped thousands of crates over the city and Kampinos Forest, landed in the Soviet Union to refuel, then returned.

Despite a muscular escort of P51 Mustangs, several of the bombers suffered severe damage.

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I read quite a bit of this stuff, and the grace under pressure and heroism of these times never fails to stun me. Those guys are heroes, in the strictest sense of the word. I’m not. And never will be. I’d have been like, “damn, guess we’re all gonna die” and making an Act of Contrition, and here’s a guy dangling over a hole in a plane 1000 meters in the air and rigging up a repair so the crew could land safely. Woah.

Yeah, all men are created equal. And then…

Ordinary guys doing extraordinary things. But we hold these men and women up as examples for a reason: that maybe we’ll be able to follow in their path when it’s Go Time. In the aftermath of one of the school shootings last year, my wife confided to me that she worries every time the news of a tragedy hits her phone because she thinks I would be that teacher that bars the door while his students escape.

I’m glad she thinks so. I hope I would. But let’s be honest. Self-preservation is a powerful force. It takes a special kind of person. They don’t call it “uncommon valor” for nothing.


Dan Army Selfie.PNG

My oldest son is at Army basic training as we speak. He’s your standard-issue 22-year-old. Jokingly, we said if he comes home having learned how to make his bed and put his dishes away, we’ll be thrilled. I was curious if there is an Army equivalent of “ship shape” (Navy) or “squared away” (Marines). I did a little googling around and found out that “squared away” is pretty universal. What caught me by surprise is how many slang terms exist for “substandard soldier”.

At the swearing-in, the officer addressed the recruits, congratulating them on making it as far as Chicago MEPS. She told them only 1 person in 20 who enters a recruiting office ever takes the oath. She congratulated them on their mental, emotional, physical, and moral fitness for the job. One in twenty. Five percent! So these recruits are already the cream of the crop, and still, some of them are gonna suck at being a soldier.


 

My online PLN gathers together once a summer for Twitter Math Camp. All the people I’ve been following, and borrowing from, for the last like 10 years, all in one place. One of the most tweeted-about events of #TMC18 was the keynote address from Julie Reulbach:

While the presentation was live, my TL was filled with tweets stating “I am a great teacher because…”

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Watching from a distance (#tmcjealousycamp), reading the words of many of my math teacher role models,  I couldn’t pull the trigger on that tweet. At all.

Writing about why I’m a great teacher? Can’t do it. ‘Cuz I’m not. Just check my latest eval.

It turns out that some of us are better than others. That’s just reality of life as human beings. We rank everything. Everybody turns in the uniform for the last time, plays their last recital, passes the torch.

So, what do we do with that?

  • Resent everybody else?
  • Pull back into a shell?
  • Or, maybe, aspire to get just a little bit better.

The first two are pretty miserable options. I’ll take Door Number 3: Seek out people who can help me get better. That’s kind of what Teacher Twitter is for, right? And the South Shore and eVillageNWI conferences. And virtual summits like the CUE Craft Ditch Summit and Hive Summit and the Global Math Department. And my state twitter chats (#INeLearn and #NVEdChat). And the veteran teachers and brilliant new teachers in my department who share and ask questions every day.

From the Reulbach keynote (paraphrased): “Just being here makes you a leader. Compare it to the folks who are not here, not sharing, not learning.”


My youngest started football practice today. I pulled into the lot at 7:15 to find about a million cars there. True, that’s construction guys, and athletes and coaches from every fall sport on the first day of practice across the state today, and administrators and office staff who work year-round, and more than a few teachers I bet. But still. Way more cars than I’ve seen there in the last eight weeks or so.

And it hit me. That buzz that signals the start of a new school year. A unique-to-us combination of excitement  (“We are gonna do so much cool stuff this year!”) and rampant panic (“OMG there is so much left to do before the year starts you guys!”).

I don’t know what kind of football player my son is gonna be. He was always too big for the Pop Warner age/weight matrix and his middle school didn’t offer football so he’s starting from scratch. But he put in his time on the practice field and in the weight room over the summer, and he’s kept his enthusiasm. He’s learning every day, paying attention to his coaches and older, more experienced teammates. He’s probably got a pretty good idea who’s better than him, and he’s sticking his hat in there every day anyway.

Sounds like a pretty good role model to me.

Go-Tos

34472463_10214614742295136_8145649259207720960_n
Chicago sunset, from the beach at Ogden Dunes. Photo cred: me.

I pulled into the downtown parking lot of a church that offers a community dinner one night a month. Our parish rotates thru making and serving the dinner twice a year. The lot features a pair of high-quality basketball hoops at either end (Indiana, right?). Another parishioner looked at the hoops, and then at my son and I walking across the lot and said, “I wish I had a basketball in my trunk.”

I mentioned that I remembered reading once (maybe in this book) that one of Indiana’s most renowned players, a prep, college, and NBA star, used to keep a ball and a pair of basketball shoes in his trunk. That way, if he ever happened upon a good pickup game while he was out and about, he could suit up and play.

Apparently that’s not as unusual as it sounds, at least according to Chris Ballard of Sports Illustrated:

I began playing pickup ball when I was in grade school and continued throughout high school and college. When I got a car, I kept a basketball and hightops in the trunk so I’d always be prepared if I happened upon a game.

— Chris Ballard, “Pickup-Basketball Artist“, Experience Life, April 2014.

My friend and fellow parishioner admitted he actually keeps a fishing pole in his car all the time.

Me, it’s a beach bag 24/7:

 

That way, I’m ready at the drop of a hat. Usually the payoff is an incredible sunset, but sometimes it’s the spring break afternoon with a chair, a drink, and a good book. Or, treating visiting family to an impromptu day with water and sand and sun and a few thousand of our closest friends.


All this inspired a late-summer-vacation thought: What are my go-tos in the classroom? What’s in my “go bag“?

Honestly, it’s all stolen. Go here if you’re looking for incredible math ideas. I wrote a few years ago about how Themed Bellringers (another, uh, “borrowed” idea) was finally paying dividends halfway thru the year.

But all this stuff has to come from somewhere. And, it needs to be planned for intentionally. My beach bag has a blanket, sunscreen, bug spray, a soccer ball, a football, and I keep 3-4 beach chairs in the trunk. The essentials. Same thing the year I was a travelling teacher, pushing a cart from room to room every day all year. I dug a plastic bin out of the garage, and used it to keep my daily needs – whiteboard & Vis-a-vis markers, pen/pencil, hall passes, paper clips, page protectors containing my roster/seating chart, handouts for the day, post-its, a couple of other things, all in one place.

So what’s the story this year? There are a couple of things floating around in my head. First, the Algebra Lab class I’ll be teaching. It’s an extra block of support for our struggling freshmen.

Speaking of support, one of my online teacher friends had a laundry list of awesome suggestions for ways to keep that class from turning into an unofficial (and unhelpful) study hall:

All of those activities/concepts are designed to get students thinking about math and talking about math and reasoning their way thru problems. That’s going to be the focus of the year, and I want to establish that culture starting on Day One. My job is to match up the activities with the Algebra 1 curriculum map, so that each week we take a deeper dive into the topic they’re working on with their Algebra 1 teacher.

And: the occasional opportunity to play.

Second, EduProtocols have been bouncing around my TL for the last 8 months or so. The book is sitting in my cart at Amazon waiting for a payday. The authors, Marlena Hebern and Jon Corippo, are generous with sharing their tools and I think this might be the next step in my evolution as a teacher in a 1:1 classroom:

(Oh, BTW, that’s “Fast and the Curious”. Sometimes my brain and fingers struggle to get synched up).

That tweet was me processing a video convo between Jon Corippo, Cate Tolnai, and Matt Miller from the CUECraft Ditch Summit. It’s a pop-up summer PD program running the week of July 25-29.

The guests definitely got my attention when they started talking about ways to engage students in a 1:1 classroom and cut down on the piles of (let’s be honest, kinda worthless, meaningless) papers to grade/provide feedback. Another Miller collaborator, Alice Keeler, is fond of saying anything that can be graded by a computer, should be. I know what she means. There is definitely a need for students to get in some reps with the skills we teach, but there is also (here in the 21st Century) plenty of ways to provide engaging opportunities for students to learn, collaborate, create, present, and get feedback, all in one class period, all without their teacher popping a vein.

That sounds like a class I’d go to.

So, I’ll order the book. It will be my last “teacher read” of the summer. Anything I can use, I will. Then I’ll pack my teacher Go Bag. Intentionally.

 

Lifetime Achievement

I stumbled across a release from the UNLV College of Education the other day, reflecting on the career of the school’s Math Learning Center Director Bill Speer, who just happened to be my Secondary Methods professor when I was working towards my teaching degree. He was president of the Nevada Mathematics Council at the time, and got me to my first (and to date, only) NCTM National Convention.

I recall at least an anecdote, if not a bit more, about each of my college math instructors. For Dr. Speer, it was a tale he shared with us of  “The Epiphany”. Five years into his teaching career, he had a student who was struggling with figuring square roots by hand. Dr. Speer walked him through the algorithm time and again, but the student eventually came back with a piercing question:

Why?

Dr. Speer recalls that question caught him a bit off guard. Until then, nobody ever really cared about why you did the steps. He sat down with the student and they figured out The Why together. He told us that moment changed the way he taught, forever.

That change culminated this year in the NCTM’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

The UNLV release included a quote from the Dean of  the College of Education, Kim Metcalf:

“And there are tens of thousands of people who now teach a certain way, and hundreds of thousands of students who have learned or are learning math in a way that is the direct result of the work and research of Bill Speer.”

Woah.

I’m one of them. So if my students ever wonder why I “teach weird”, now they know who to blame. And I hope I always remember to take time to answer every time they ask “why?”


 

Meanwhile, in Indiana:

Damon.

He’s one of those people who is known by a single name. At least in this state. Bob Knight made a recruiting visit to watch him play in eighth grade (before recruiting middle schoolers was a thing). He’s Indiana’s all-time leading scorer amongst boys players, and he led his high school team to a state championship in front of 41,000 fans in the Hoosier Dome in 1990. He went on to become an All-American at Indiana University, leading the Hoosiers to the 1992 Final Four.

His son is a junior now, playing at the same high school and wearing his dad’s familiar number 22. So, you know, no pressure, right?

“I love basketball, and it’s a challenge,” he says. “I know people expect me to be like my dad, and I’m not my dad, I’m my own person. I think it’s a good challenge, and I like challenges. A last-second shot, I’m the one that wants to take it.”

Pretty level-headed 17-year-old, all things considered.

Meanwhile, here’s Damon on the whole thing:

“For us, we’ve just tried to teach them the right way to handle it,” Damon says. “There’s going to be a lot of good and a lot of bad that comes out of it. For every person that thinks you’re great, there’s going to be 10 people that think you’re not very good. That’s part of it, so just try to have fun playing the game. Basketball’s going to end for all of us at some point. It’s what you learn through the game that’s important.”

In front of us, Brayton is driving and finishing on the left side, using the rim to ward off 6-5 David Ejah of Fort Wayne Carroll.

“I’ve always told my kids: However good I was, and that can be debated, I don’t want them to be as good as me, I don’t want them to play like me,” Damon says. “I want Brayton to be the best player he can be, whatever that is. Whether you shoot it as well as anyone else, are as athletic, as big, I want you to go out and compete as hard as you can, and whatever happens, I’m going to be pretty happy as a parent.”

Damon The Middle Aged Dad
No big deal. Just the greatest scorer in state history sitting in the stands drinking coffee and watching his boy play ball. As one does. Photo via Jenna Watson of the Indy Star.

Isn’t that kind of what we all want, whether we are teachers or parents? Teach them right, sit back, and let the chips fall?

I doubt seriously any of my students will remember me 10 years from now. I keep connected with quite a few of them on social media, and I love watching them become adults handling their business. Whether it involves math or not.

I don’t have a learning tree like Bill Speer does. I’m halfway through my teaching career, getting ready to start Year 16 in a month or so. I’m closer to 70 than I am to 30. (Not by much, but still). I’ve probably taught a bit less than 2000 kids in that time. My influence? Minimal. But all my kids have gone on to do life the best they can. I can live with that. It’s a “small L” legacy, which is cool by me.

They aren’t their mom, or their dad, or their math teacher, or anybody else. They are themselves. Which is hard work, but also, pretty damn rewarding.

One day Brayton won’t be “Damon Bailey’s son”, he’ll just be whatever he turns out to be.

And that’s the real lifetime achievement.

 

One-Man Book Club: Room 24

I kinda stumbled across my latest summer read. Because sometimes the driver don’t pick the car, the car pick the driver.

Mrs. Dull facilitates the middle school youth ministry at our parish. Last weekend I was riffling thru a stack of EDGE curriculum boxes, looking for something else, and there it was.

Room 24
Image via Goodreads.

I was not familiar with the book at all, but I am familiar with the author, Katie Prejean McGrady. I follow her on twitter and think pretty highly of her (which makes me a member of a not-so-exclusive club):

Room 24 Number 4

So in a split-second decision, I added it to my summer reading list. Helps that it’s a quick read at 138 pages. She’s pretty up-front that it’s not a “teacher book” but as the saying goes, when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And when you are a teacher, every book is a Teacher Book.

Prejean is that teacher who absolutely loves her subject area. Now before you click away because she’s a theology teacher, her travails apply equally if you teach Algebra or World History or Literature. We fall in love with our subject and then wonder why our kids think we’re weird. And this book hit home because I’m human, not because I’m Catholic.

She relates the story of deciding on a major during a study-abroad semester in Rome (with the help of a trusted advisor)

Room 24 Number 1

She found that doesn’t always mean that her students will instantly love her content. In fact, many times the opposite was true. On the positive, she works hard (with some stumbles along the way) to build a relationship with her students, and she does it by being her authentic self. Teaching at her alma mater (and using the same textbook from her student days), she took a Ditch That Textbook approach to theology class. That allows for some flexibility when her 14-year-olds come to class with a stack of questions – thus the genesis of the days known as “Stump Miss Prejean”.

Room 24 Number 3

That Musical Cue is right up my alley, BTW. And “Stump Miss Prejean” is a brilliant way to honor student voice and curiosity while staying true to the curriculum and schedule.


 

Litany of Humility, in musical form, via Matt Maher:

Prejean is confident, and quick on her feet, but not every moment in class works out as well as “Stump Miss Prejean”. She relates a moment when she learned a harsh lesson in humility, driving her to resurrect a prayer devotion, the Litany of Humility:

Litany-of-Humility-
Image via His Mercy Is New

 

Earlier in her career, in her pride, she drove a student not only out of her class but out of the school altogether. That tale hit me like a ton of bricks. I had a student transfer out of my class after three quarters this year. Her style and my style just didn’t mesh. I felt bad that she wasn’t getting what she needed from me in my class, but privately I thought to myself, “Oh well, her loss. Let her go photomath all her homework in some other teacher’s class, and fail the final.”

Nice, huh? What a condescending, passive-aggressive jerk I am sometimes. She used to like math, get pretty good grades (as her mom told me) for most of her school career, and I probably poisoned math for her for life. When I read this from Room 24, I saw myself:

 

Room 24 Number 2

Yikes. Like Sully watching himself scare on video.


 

I’m constantly torn between “My Way Is Best” and “What Could I Have Done Different For Her?

Or is it best that she found a teacher that fit her better? I know intuitively that giving students a chance to discover is the best way for them to learn, and that in the world they will walk into they need critical thinking skills more than ever. I’ve picked up so much awesomeness from the #MTBoS that I can’t imagine teaching any other way.

So how do I stand my ground, doing what I know is best, without being a jerk about it?

I mean, true, we are the content area experts, and the pedagogy experts in the room. That’s why they pay us the big bucks, right?

Two of my classes this school year are Algebra I Lab, a second block of algebra for our struggling freshmen. (My people, by the way). When the class was pitched to me, it was with the expectation that I would break out everything I’ve learned about creating a student-centered classroom, with Desmos Activities and WODB and Three-Act Math and everything.

I’m looking forward to it. But I’m reminded in Room 24 that my students come stamped with an invisible “Handle With Care” instruction. And that going into the year a healthy dose of humility for myself might be a good starting point.

From the desire of being preferred to others, Deliver Me Jesus….