Cards Are On The Table

Put Up Or Shut Up
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I long ago bought into “teaching different”. And letting my kids get a glimpse of “the real me”. I know in my bones it’s the best way to do this job.

But how do I measure that? Letter grades? ISTEP scores? I’m not sure I meet standard if that is the benchmark.

But every now and then I get a little reminder that I’m on the right track. Last time in this space I wrote a little bit about building culture. That kids will be willing to do some pretty incredible things once the proper supports are in place, supports from me and from their classmates.

Today that got put to the test. I could tell yesterday morning that my vocal cords were getting a little frayed.

Okay, maybe a lot frayed. Woke up this morning to a full-on situation:

Culture of collaboration, huh? Let’s see what you got. I missed three days last week for my oldest son’s Army graduation, and we’ve got four school days until Thanksgiving break. I’m planning on a review Monday and quiz Tuesday, so I really don’t have a day to give away. And I love all our district subs, but I pondered the risk/reward last night at bedtime. And 65% of me is better than 100% of anyone else who walks into my class for one day.

If that sounds arrogant, so be it.

So I packed in some DayQuil, a couple of oranges, my water bottle, and an 80-pack of Halls, loaded the neighborhood kids into my son’s car and battled an early-season snowstorm to get to school in the morning.

I greeted my kids with this slide:

Spongebob Meme

Their reaction was priceless.

“We got you today.” My kids, you guys. <insert heart emoji>

So that’s one day. But it told me everything I needed to know about this group of kids and where we are together so far in the school year.

I’ve got a little playlist I run during passing time in late December, to fit the mood of the season. Today seemed like a good day to break it out. Some of my classes even harmonized along with Mariah.

I don’t have much of a poker face. The WSOP is not for me. But to paraphrase what an #eVillageNWI bud tweeted at me recently, “do we have the best job in the world or what?”

Yeah. Yeah we do.

 

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The Torch Is Passed

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Graduation Day. Photo cred: My freshman and his mad selfie skills

I spent the week in the foothills of the Missouri Ozarks for my oldest son’s OSUT graduation at Ft. Leonard Wood. He completed 19 weeks of basic training and AIT for the 701st Military Police Battalion.

As you might expect, 4 1/2 months of army training brings about changes, both physical and mental. His training cadre returned him to us (for a couple of days anyway) as a new man.

My AARP card came in the mail for my birthday last year, so I’m under no delusions that I’m still a young man. And I’ve been feeling my age as of late. But this week I definitely knew that the torch had been passed. It’s not that long ago that the only contact between parent and recruit would be the US Mail. In modern day times the highlights of training were beamed directly to my phone via his unit’s Facebook page, with weekly live streams of maneuvers and ceremonies. So we had a decent idea of some of the physical challenges our son met. But getting a chance to spend two days with him was striking. I noticed his eyes first. Sure, he looked sharp in his dress blues, it was obvious he is more confident after successfully completing his training. And addressing wait staff and store employees as “ma’am” or “sir” took a little getting used to.

But his eyes… they are the eyes of a grownup. To be honest, I felt small standing next to him. Small, and kind of weak. Like an old man. Which is fine. Circle of Life, and all. But still. It’s a little jarring when things sneak up on you that you weren’t quite ready for.

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Image via the Military Police Regimental Association

Before we left the installation after graduation we walked the Military Police Memorial Grove. He read over the numerous plaques, several featuring a snippet of the St. Crispin’s Day speech (“For he today that sheds his blood with me/Shall be my brother”) from Henry V. His demeanor at that moment told me everything I needed to know: He knows what he signed up for.

Dan has his sights set on becoming a Ranger. He told us over dinner the night of graduation that he is hoping for a deployment within the next couple of years. That sounds like the bravado of a freshly-scrubbed private, but what he meant was, he has trained to do a job, to defend and protect this country and the Constitution, and when the time comes to do the job he has trained for, he’ll be ready.

 


High school is not the US Army. Not even close. One of the reasons I think my son (a very average HS student) had the experience he did at FLW is:

You get what you earn. And he earned it. You want to qualify as a Marksman? Hit the target this many times. Pass your PT test? Run two miles in under this time. And so forth. Your buddies can cheer you on, but in the end, you are accountable for your own performance, and you are assessed on that. Not everybody makes it. Probably 15% of the recruits who started with him did not complete training, either due to injury or to “Failure To Adapt”.

He found the thing he is good at, and he did it.

He definitely bought into the culture-building aspects of training. He had a gleam in his eye as he told me how the guys in his bay brought out the floor buffer to clean the latrine. Like, sparkling. They were on a mission to have the cleanest toilet fixtures in the state of Missouri.

Who does that? A bunch of guys who are used to pushing themselves and working as a team, that’s who.

Even so, they’re kids and they slip. The night of Family Day, as they were waiting on their accountability formation, one member of the unit was on his phone when a drill sergeant walked out the door. They’re supposed to assume parade rest when that happens, and he didn’t.

Rut roh. So at 12:42 am the morning of graduation his unit was out in the dark and cold doing pushups.


 

School culture is a different thing but just as important. Soldiers volunteer for the army while our students don’t have a choice but to be there. So there’s no way we are doing pushups on the classroom floor but when we build a culture of collaboration some pretty incredible things happen. Students are willing to push themselves to do math they’ve never seen before and aren’t real happy about seeing now. Just this week I’ve seen tears in my classroom and I’ve seen students bend over backwards to help a classmate. We’ve got a ways to go but that tells me we are headed in the right direction.

Eventually they are going to move on to a senior math class, and then to college. I hope they’ll hold on to at least a little of what they’ve learned in my class. When I send them on to the next teacher, I want it to at least look like we did something productive with our 180 days together. The next math is not easy you guys, at least according to what I’ve heard from some of my past students I keep in touch with.

But eventually I want them to be able to do the things they want to do, on their own, without me hovering over their shoulder. That’s another way I’ll know the torch has been passed.

From Falling Hands We Pass The Torch
Posted in the Montreal Canadiens dressing room at the Forum: “to you from failing hands we throw the torch be yours to hold it high,” John McCrae, “In Flanders Fields”

Playing My Role

On Halloween night in Minnesota, it wasn’t quite a ghost returning from the dead, but the next closest thing. From a hoops standpoint anyway.

Former Bull Derrick Rose is the Chicago kid who went from Englewood to MVP, but now he’s a grizzled veteran whose best days are behind him. Injuries robbed him of his prime years. Then:

That’s not the kid that all my female students swooned over back in the early 2010s. He’s got a different role to play now. He knows it too:

“A lot of young guys on this team, my job is to be the veteran, to lead by example.”

Probably not the words he expected to say during a tearful post-game interview at this point in his career, but there it is.


It’s pre-service teacher season in my building. I’m hosting a Valparaiso University student, who comes from an education family and actually graduated from my high school alma mater. So we had quite a lot to talk about when we first met. He’s pretty well versed in the current issues around education, both from a “teaching and learning” standpoint, and also from those regarding how the business of school is regulated.

But on the handful of days that he’s in my classroom, we’re there to get him some observation time and some reps teaching actual classes to actual students. We kicked things off with Mr. L leading the end of class “check for understanding” after the work time on our practice set in a flipped classroom.

That went well, so we moved on to running a full class bell-to-bell. It so happened that the lesson was built around a Desmos activity. We’d already talked philosophy and teaching styles, and he’s seen my twitter, so Mr. L was pretty familiar with the tools I use in class. Now it was his turn to take AB out for a spin.

I sent him the link to the activity I had planned for the day so he could look it over and see what my students would see. He gave them a quick tutorial on graphing and transforming radical functions and then let it fly.

It went well:

Really well, actually:

I have no idea if he’ll jump on the Desmos bandwagon as a student teacher and beyond. I hope so. I do know that he got a chance to see first-hand how a well put-together Desmos activity makes student thinking & learning visible, and how it lets students engage with math in ways that were impossible when I started teaching. But he’s got to decide that for himself.

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My one student teacher from back 6 or 7 years ago is my colleague at my current school now. She’s her own teacher, which is right.  I had to smile at a planning meeting early this year when the department was talking a shift towards standards-based grading for Algebra 1, and she was able to jump right into the conversation because we had done SBG together during her student teaching year. Our department chair was suitably impressed. The best part though was that Mrs. S was able to take what she learned as a student teacher, and all her experience as a licensed teacher in a variety of school settings, and make herself into the outstanding math teacher she is right now.


 

I’ve shared out what I’ve learned so far at a couple of local conferences (part of the IDOE’s Summer of e-Learning series) the last two years, but I’m under no delusions of grandeur. I’m never gonna write a teacher book. I’ll never be “internet famous”. I won’t ever be the teacher that my principal sends other teachers to watch. Which, at this point in my career, and in my life, is fine. I’ve got a role to play. Pretty much my job is to teach kids, and when given the opportunity, to help a new teacher along the way.

I’m fine with being a nameless, faceless cog in the wheel. Doing my part for teachers and students down the line who will never know my name, or care even if they did. “Flying under the radar” so to speak.

And who knows. Maybe I still have a 50-point game in me still.

Everything Crumbles

Homer and Entropy
From Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam Jr.

“No matter how perfect the thing, from the moment it’s created it begins to be destroyed.”

It reminds me of a line my sainted mother was famous for repeating: “From the moment we are born, we begin to die”.

Or maybe the admonition of the ages: memento mori.

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But that second definition speaks to me as a teacher: “gradual decline into disorder”.

Maybe it’s the time of the year, but in my building there’s definitely a lot of folks on edge. The weekly online threats of school violence probably have something to do with it. It also doesn’t help that due to ongoing construction we still have 1000 cars trying to get into the parking lot thru the one remaining entrance every morning, but still: I know I definitely feel less like I’ve got things locked down this year compared to years past.

A presenter (maybe an administrator of some type? Not sure…) once told the staff at one of my schools “what gets monitored gets done”. I don’t really remember if she was speaking of staff or students, but it applies to all of us for sure. Why do you think we all slow down when we see a cop parked on the side of the road?

Our teacher evaluation tool is set up with this concept in mind. Two-thirds of the points come from evidence of ongoing planning, consistent parent contact, and collaboration with colleagues, they type of things we are expected to do all year. Only a tiny sliver is made up of actual classroom teaching. As one of my math teacher colleagues likes to say: “even the worst teacher can pull it together and look reasonably competent for two days out of the year.” There is an incentive to do the foundational work that goes into effective teaching. “What gets monitored gets done.”


Part of the low-level anxiety I’m feeling is due to parenting a freshman in my building. I have a throw-away line I use for some of my kids: “obsessive Skyward checkers” – that student that is in the online gradebook daily, making sure everything turned in is posted, and checking on the hour over the weekend to see if a quiz grade is entered in yet.

Yeah, I am now officially That Dad. If Skyward charged me an access fee I’d be broke. But I’ve got a first-year student trying to find his way at a very competitive school, who maybe is not the most organized 14-year-old on the planet. It’s pretty much my job to help him stay on top of things. Skyward and Canvas are the go-tos.

I’m not sure my extreme oversight is working. It would probably help if I was more consistent with it. He survived the first nine weeks by the hair of his chinny chin chin. I’ve extracted a promise that we won’t do that again. Plus, the spectre of athletic ineligibility is a powerful motivator.

I mean, he’s still got to learn the words to the school song, right?

I’m pulling out all the stops as I try to reteach him algebra while he does his geometry work. If it works for my students, it’ll probably work for my son. That’s my theory anyway. And that’s what Desmos is for.

 

It’s just one of those things – we’re going to have to sit together every night to keep his geometry experience from spinning into chaos. Nobody likes to feel that they are being micromanaged, but sometimes that’s part of teaching or coaching – checking in and benchmarking every single day. It’s easy to get complacent. He buckled down on a geometry daily quiz retake and the flipped notes tonight. He really didn’t want to do the notes, but he did them anyway. Probably because I was sitting next to him and encouraged him.

But that fleeting success was pretty rare. I’m not a drill sergeant. I can’t make anyone do anything. Never have been able to. My kids, or anyone else’s. And I’m sure that’s where part of the current stress is coming from. I know for a fact I’ve got some classroom things I’ve got to tighten up. Kids do their thing. We try to get them to do our thing. With varying levels of success. But if we don’t try, they won’t try.

And that’s a recipe for disaster. Or at least a gradual decline into disorder.

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Adventures In Desmos: The Quiz

Desmos Systems example

My kids were working on solving systems by graphing last week. Desmos has been making some inroads in my building the last couple years but it’s still not widespread, partially because we fancy ourselves as a school that prepares students for college – meaning that TI rules in our upper grade math courses. I had my students checking their hand-drawn work in Desmos, which led to some interesting reactions. For many, the ability to enter an equation and instantly see the graph made them more confident in their work. Eventually, one student asked me,  “Mr. Dull, why can’t we have a quiz like this?”

Yeah, why not?

I’m not in love with my current quiz for solving systems. Even with the built-in support, it’s still… not me. It’s basically a dressed-up Kuta worksheet.

It sounds like my students are at max cap with pencil/paper systems quizzes too.

What if the quiz reflected the kinds of things we value in class? I know, novel concept, right? But in one of my many internal conflicts, I know my students need to do skills practice and individual written work, and I also want them to dive in to the discovery and collaborative stuff that Desmos does best. How do I marry the two? I’ve already done performance-based assessments (such as the Desmos art project) for conics. What would a Desmos quiz for systems of equations look like?

So I stumbled across a Twitter convo recently that led me to a circles quiz in Desmos Activity Builder written by one of the co-authors of Classroom Chef. (At least I think I saw this conversation on Twitter . I think even put a “❤️” on it but now I can’t find it. But it happened. Swear.) Anyway: OK, good, now I have a template for making my own quiz. Because if it’s good enough for the #MTBoS people, it’s good enough for me.

Then, time to go to work. For my first time, I’ll take it. I wanted to leverage the power of Desmos, recognizing that the collaborative piece is kind of by design going to be missing if it’s a quiz. We used the graphing tool, the sketch tool, the text boxes and the multiple choice option.

Plenty of explaining their thinking:

Explain Elimination

I wanted to be able to see their math work too, so for several problems I had them do the work on paper, and enter their answer in a text box on the Desmos screen.

And, because Children Must Play: Draw a dinosaur.

 

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I definitely didn’t do myself any favors by setting up the quiz this way. I traded the self-grading ability of a Canvas quiz for the power of Desmos to support my students in their efforts to show their understanding of the math. That means I’m grading their pencil/paper work as well as their entries into Desmos. I had visions of me spending untold hours over a period of days trying to grade 90 quizzes.

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So, a spreadsheet. Turned out to be the quickest I’ve turned around a stack of quizzes in quite some time. I made a column for each screen in the activity, then went screen-by-screen with the Desmos activity open in one window and the spreadsheet in another, recording the points by screen for each student. I set up a column at the end for their poster points, another to sum each row, and one to double the points so I could make the 15-question quiz worth 30 points in my gradebook.

Desmos quiz spreadsheet
Pow. Done. Now to dump the scores into Skyward…

Automating at least part of the grading cut my overall task time by half, if not more. My kids were stunned when I reported back on Monday that I was nearly done grading.


So how about student feedback on this project? Mixed. Many students appreciated not having to graph lines by hand. Others were stressed by having to switch back and forth between pencil/paper and a chromebook screen.

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A couple were pretty blunt:

  • I feel that the quiz could be taken on paper
  • Please just put the quizzes/tests on paper.

And their answer to the question “How closely does this statement reflect your feelings: “I feel we should use Desmos (including its ability to graph, sketch, and submit answers) for some quizzes in the future.”” averaged 3.2 on a 1 to 5 scale. Right down the middle.

As for my reflections, I’ve got a couple of thoughts:

  • I’m definitely interested in integrating a Desmos into assessments in a way that matches how we use it in class.
  • I’m not sure I did a great job of that with this quiz.
  • Honestly in looking back, there’s nothing about this quiz that was so Desmos-dependent that it couldn’t have been done on paper.
  • So from a SAMR standpoint, this was substitution-level.
  • Desmos activities are extra-awesome as formative assessment tools.
  • Does that translate to Desmos quizzes as summative tools?
  • I still think that a good Desmos quiz is out there for me.

There’s a lot of firepower from the neck up out there in my online PLN. I’m gonna keep searching for some examples of existing Desmos quizzes to use as models. Plus, my department chair offered some useful feedback on my first try, things I was able to integrate into the quiz before I rolled it out to my students. I feel like my colleagues in the department can help me match the tool to the task as well.

Might be a good topic for an informal PD-brainstorming sesh after school someday.

If that happens, I’ll write about it here too.

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One-Man Book Club: One Beautiful Dream

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There’s a lot of brain cells being rubbed together in my world right now around the idea of Work-Life Balance. I can’t open up social media without seeing the term “self-care”.

There’s even a whole “40-hour teacher workweek” program out there (for a fee). Believe me, as a guy who just finished grading a stack of 90 Algebra II quizzes and is running the wash machine at 11 pm while setting the coffeemaker for the morning, I get it. It only took me like a week to finish grading that stack. My Monday, Thursday, and Friday are very overscheduled.

I don’t feel real good about myself when I stand in front of my kids and have to say, “Yeah, you know that quiz I gave you last week? Still not graded. I had football, and did Pack-a-Thon Saturday, and it was my birthday this weekend, and, and, and, and….”

I’ve said for years that when I’m elected POTUS, there will be a whole 12 hours inserted into every week in between Sunday night and Monday morning.

If only I had more time…

Here’s the thing tho. There’s never enough time. There’s never enough money. The house is never clean enough. Meanwhile, there’s perfection (so-called) all around. Social media doesn’t help. I don’t even need to get Instagram shamed. Honestly, even the real-life teachers in my building are all better than me.

All this sounds like a recipe to be perpetually miserable.


I’m that guy that has a lot of unformed ideas floating around in my head. Things I know I should be doing, but I need someone to show me the way. Then I get it.

Enter One Beautiful Dream.

One Beautiful Dream
Yeah, I read Catholic Mommy Bloggers. Sue me. Image via Goodreads.

The book is the latest from Jennifer Fulwiler and it details how one woman, her husband, her six kids, and a support cast of thousands made a dream come true.

I’ve been reading Jennifer’s blog for years. She’s brilliant and funny. Her first book is a must-read conversion story.

But wait. I thought you just said she has six kids. When did she have time to write a book? Much less two?

It turns out that life is messy, your house and mine aren’t gonna show up in Sunset magazine or on an HGTV show anytime soon. And God laughs at your plans. So maybe, just do your thing.

The Fulwilers gave up a glamorous power-couple ATX life to move to a house in the suburbs and raise a family. The family got bigger, the house stayed the same size, and Jennifer received an offer from a literary agent to rep her for a book. Hilarity ensues as she attempts to pound out thousands of words a day during her childrens’ nap time while the neighborhood middle-school-girl clique targets her house for Ding-Dong-Ditch and her judgemental hired babysitter recoils in shock at the kids jumping on the couch.

Fortunately her best friend and fellow faithful-Catholic-mom, along with her Texas-tough mother-in-law help her (somehow) survive some of her most challenging moments.

She and her husband plan for how to replace their aging vehicles and keep a roof over the heads of their ever-expanding family, while he pursues a less-pressure-filled career to be active in his role as husband and father.

Hyper-focused, Jen powers down the tracks trying to complete a re-write of her manuscript under deadline pressure when a life-altering health condition forces her hand.

Let it go

Watching the dream… the thing she had wanted since she was nine years old… evaporate in an instant. It was intense for me as a reader. I felt like I was watching Ray Kinsella try to convince Moonlight Graham to come to Iowa.


Maybe you read this and say, “Wow, that’s easy for Joe to say. It wasn’t his dream he was giving up”. Except…

A Yale-educated lawyer who once could have written his own ticket, he already had made the decision about his career and its proper place in his life, and in his family’s life:

There goes the dream

That sounds a lot like the convos I see on my TL regarding teachers with Pinterest-perfect classrooms or who spend 18 hours in a weekend planning a unit. What’s the cost? This year’s #eVillageNWI Day Two keynoter Kim Strobel likes to talk about the “Minimum Effective Dose” – boiling water at 265º isn’t any better than heating it at 212ºF. We all want to give our best, and do our best for our kids. That’s normal. I don’t trust anyone who’s in the teaching game for a paycheck. But: Maybe it’s worth pondering when enough is “enough”. Mrs. Dull is in a sales/recruiting job that routinely has her working 12-hours days. So it’s not just teachers who are looking for balance. It’s literally everybody.


What if?

Turns out Jen Fulwiler offers a decent template: Let it go. Lots of outside the box thinking. Unorthodox problem solving. Faith.

What does that look like for me?

What if “good enough” was good enough? What if once a week I met with some guys at my parish at 6:00 am to have coffee and talk and figure out how to fully live our vocation as husbands, fathers, grandfathers? What if it was OK to carpool with some guys from the neighborhood and get to school at 7:10 instead of 7:00? What if I could leave to carpool back at 3:30? (Unpopular Opinion Alert: Yeah, I know, no good teacher leaves at 3:30. Most days I take stuff home. Turn me in to the EduTwitter police). But it’s forced me to make some hard decisions about how I spend my time.

After conversations with her closest friends and family about her role in this season of life, Fulwiler ruminates over the tension between duty and passion:

“Now I wondered: What if all desires to create – both with children and with work -are, in fact, all pointed in the same direction? What if both are different but complementary ways of getting in touch with the same ultimate Source of creativity? What if following your God-given passion is not just okay to do during the baby years, but actually something that has the potential to enhance your whole family’s life?”

That sounds like balance, rightly ordered, to me.

I’m still working on it. I work at a pretty hard-driving school, with parents who expect a Four-Star education for their children, and a department filled with outstanding, relentless teachers. My life for the foreseeable future will be filled with take-home work and weekends and summers built around my job.

Feeding a family is important. But we’ve also got a solid commitment in this house to not miss the things that build a family. So that at the end, I can look up and look back at a life that truly was one beautiful dream.

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.

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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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.

Image result for angel choirs singing gif

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

IMG_0626
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