One-Man Book Club: This Is Not A Test

I went off-budget on the morning of Teacher Work Day, putting in an online order for a book that’s been on my to-read list for a while. (Don’t underestimate the commitment that was – 13 bucks is kind of a big deal right now).

In my never-ending quest to read books five years after everyone else, I picked up This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative On Race, Class, and Education by José Luis Vilson.

I’ve been reading his blog for a while, recognizing that my thinking needed to be pushed in the classroom. His thoughts were as critical to my classroom survival in regards to my relationships with my students as my #MTBoS friends’ thoughts were to my evolution as a math teacher.

It was a hard read. I saw my struggles as a new (and not-so-new) teacher in his story. I mourned with him the death of a former student. I felt the knots in my stomach that developed this year as I read about him getting dinged on his evaluation for a sloppy bulletin board (the hell?). I’ll be pretty honest: I didn’t really know that part of the story. Kids get the best of all of us sometimes. I’m glad my failures are mostly private affairs. No one but my students see when a lesson bombs.

But that’s all selfishness on my part: “Here’s this awesome, brilliant teacher who stands up for his students and has forgotten more about classroom management than I’ll ever know, and look, he was bad sometimes too.”  It was a hard read because it showed me how far I have to go, still. I teach kids who struggle with math in a very traditional, results-oriented, suburban “college-prep” type school. Classroom-management-wise, I kind of got my ass handed to me this year. I thought I was better at it than that.

I feel like I’m pretty good at recognizing and encouraging my students’ interests and talents outside of math. I probably could get a lot better at finding ways to encourage them to have their maximum level of success in my class too.

I want to low-key let them know I support them. In every sense of that term.


The timing on this read was interesting. Just last week I attended a two-day conference in which I sat in on a keynote & breakout session by Ken Shelton. He talked about how he had only one male teacher of color in his entire K-16 school experience, and how he was often the only student of color in his classes. And how his teachers often did not understand his lived experiences, and made no effort to tailor their instruction with those experiences in mind. That sounds super-familiar in my current assignment. I’m fortunate enough to follow some folks on social media who help me to see why this is important, and I’ve taken their words to heart. Now I know better. But still, I can do better. My first 13 years I taught in city schools, so the importance of culturally responsive teaching is not a new thing for me. And I brought that with me to the Vale. But it’s a daily process of recognizing my shortcomings and committing to improvement.

For all of my marginalized students. We do an awesome job of supporting our elite students.  But I’ve felt for a long time we can do better for the 85% who aren’t 4.0 kids. That kid that doesn’t want to go to college, or does not have an Ivy League or Big Ten school as a goal. How do we support them? It’s one thing to recognize the problem. It’s another thing to call out the problem. And we do. At the district level our stated goal for the math department is to ensure all students are prepared for success in a livable-wage job or for their first college-level math class. But there’s more that is required.

Vilson relates the process of writing his 2012 TED Talk on Teacher Voice.

He felt that “teacher voice” comes down to four questions:

Four Questions

That last piece is huge. “Do you see yourself as part of the change?” What am I willing to do to bring about change for my kids, even if it’s just my kids? No district-wide mandate or program is gonna fix it. If I want my kids to be “college and career ready”, it’s gotta bubble up from the classroom level.

And actually our Secondary Curriculum and Instruction Director is on that. He led an effort with the English department to rebuild the curriculum from the ground up, starting with the question, “why do we teach English?”. It sounds like a similar effort is coming for math. I’m curious. And optimistic. Especially since he’s a Math Guy.


Also: added bonus value if you make the read interactive (mildly NSFW).

Went and put Eric B. & Rakim on the Google thing while I was reading and grilling yesterday. It was just about perfect.


My last takeaway was actually one of the first things that caught my eye: a comment by Vilson’s wife, a school principal, in a conversation about his middle school days. “You’ve been trying to create that Nativity experience ever since you started.”

It made me close the book for a second, lean back in my chair with the sun on my face and ponder what kind of school I’ve been trying to create.

I found myself nodding along to this section from the chapter, “Why Teach?”:

WhyTeach

“If a kid shows a creative side, teachers ought to push them to develop it and relate it to what they are doing in class.”

In preparation for a presentation at two Summer of E-Learning conferences I briefly toyed with joining the cool kids who have stickers made to hand out.

I pitched the idea to one of my artistically gifted students for the image, and one of my clever (smart-aleck?) students for the slogan. I unfortunately started the ball rolling too late and we never did manage to put a mock-up together, but I think they both were kind of honored that I asked them.

I’m down with relationship-building. I just need to be more consistent with it. And I’ll have José Luis Vilson’s closing words in my head as I do:

Go Hard Or Go Home

This year had me questioning my future in this profession. After a summer to recover, I’ll be ready to go in August. But not halfway. “If you plan to do, then do this. Go hard or go home.”

A Homecoming, Sort Of

South Shore E-Learning Logo

At the closing session of the South Shore E-Learning Conference in Hammond I bumped into one of my tech coaches from my current school. She led a contingent from our building, but I never had a chance to say hi until the last 20 minutes of the second day of the conference. I told her, “I’m not ignoring you. But these are the days every summer when I get to hang with my Hammond friends.”

Sometimes, you need to be around your people. It’s good for the soul.


It’s Year Four of the conference, part of the Indiana Department of Education’s Summer of E-Learning series. (Prior year reflections: 2016, 2017, 2018)

And after this trash fire of a year, I needed this one like a starving man needs a cheeseburger. Honestly I was hoping we might be able to lift each other up. It’s been a rough year in the HMD. Three closings and attrition due to retirement didn’t come close to accounting for all of the 150 teaching positions that needed to be cut. RIF decisions were made based on evaluation scores. To the cynic, every single teacher in the district was at the mercy of their administrator. I overheard one teacher say “I hope National Board Certification counts for something”.

I mean, Jesus. Literally heartbreaking.

But here they were, giving up two days of their summer to learn and improve. Admittedly, there are enticements. The lunches are awesome. The organizing committee keeps outdoing itself for the social. And for the fourth straight year the keynotes were top-shelf. Plus, this:

The team couldn’t set up the venue until after the Morton High School graduation ceremony had been completed. So there they were, starting at 10 pm (a mere 9 hours before breakfast would be served) getting everything ready to go.

My dad worked 40 years at Inland Steel. I can dig that level of work ethic.


I took a different approach to documenting my learning this time around. I can’t remember which of my people suggested it first, but somebody pointed out that instead of tweeting our thoughts from each session (limited reach, 280-character max), maybe we would all get more benefit if we could find a way to share our session notes with each other. We bounced around ideas like a shared Google Doc, then Chevin Stone suggested making a Google Form that we could share far and wide so all of our group could submit notes to one central source. Perfect!

Like 36 seconds later she had the form put together and we started to dish out the link. I’m super-excited to see what everyone learned. I still tweeted a bit from each session but I took notes like I was taking notes for friends and I think that is going to pay off in the long run.

So, about those sessions: there are always decisions to make. Good sessions going head-to-head. But in the end I pulled the trigger on a couple that I think are going to benefit my students in the long run: Ken Shelton‘s Culturally Responsive and Relevant Pedagogy, and former Hammond High student Angelica Rodriguez returning to her hometown to speak on Being A Latina In Tech.

I’ll always remember that session for the way three of the attendees started networking and sharing resources for their students to support what Ms. Rodriguez had described as ways to open up pathways for current students. I wish I would have written some of them down in my notes, but I was too busy just listening. That’s always what I’ve appreciated about the South Shore Conference. It’s an opportunity for teachers to share and be heard. The big-name keynotes are awesome and inspiring, but I love when classroom-teacher firepower is on full display.


I’ll be pretty honest. Most years the “theme” for my reflection on #SSeLearn develops organically. I know what I’m going to write before I pull out of the parking lot in Hessville. This year tho (totally on-brand for 2018-2019) the ideas were just floating around unformed in my head. All the way down the Borman I was trying to get a grip on what I had learned. This post has mostly been stream-of-consciousness until I figured it out.

What tipped me off was waking up this morning with an inordinately large number of Twitter notifications on my phone. When I see that I always briefly think “Oh crap, what did I do?” (I’ll always be that kid who gets nervous when he gets called to the principal’s office).

So I took a look. And most of those notifications were my Hammond friends giving each other props for their presentations and wishing each other well for the summer. And my purpose for being at the conference this year became crystal clear. I was meant to learn about and see other people’s struggles, and how they battled to overcome obstacles. And supported each other.

Students who were told by college professors they would “never become engineers”. Students who were told by guidance counselors that the advanced courses they were trying to enroll in “weren’t for students like you”. Students who were told their meticulously researched paper including multiple primary sources did not align with the assignment because it didn’t match what was in the textbook. Men who would wear the uniform of the armed forces of the United States of America in battle, who could never rise above a certain rank because of the color of their skin, who would come back home to face discrimination and racism.  Teachers who knew their school was going to close at the end of the year or knew they were out of a job on June 4 and still went to work every day kicking ass and taking names for their students, right up until the very last bell.

And still, here they are.

That tweet up there with my goals? Check and check. It was good to be home. I saw some old friends.

And I learned.

 

 

 

One-Man Book Club: Every Tool’s A Hammer

“Making” is the flavor of the month. And if you follow folks like Josh Stumpenhorst you know it’s seeping into schools far beyond STEM spaces into creative spaces. In really, really cool ways.

The famous saying goes “When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” My corollary is: Every book is a teacher book. I guess in a less flippant way, I’m always open to learning something about what I do, regardless of the source.

No really, I mean it.

But I read a lot. Probably too much. Some of it ends up impacting my practice, some not. I long ago left behind the section-by-section, textbook driven method of teaching for a more engaging, student-centered model championed by my online PLN. That kind of makes me a “maker” I guess, whether I’d use that term for myself or not.

I’ve never considered myself a Creative Teacher™ although that term is subjective too.

But now, a day short of finishing my 16th year, it’s what I do. I wouldn’t go back. It’s a tough sell in a very traditional building, but I’m down for life.


I found kind of a kindred spirit last week when I swung by the library and picked up Every Tool’s A Hammer: Life Is What You Make It by Adam Savage. Of course I knew him from Mythbusters. I didn’t know a lot of his background as a creative person tho.

So when he busted out a Matrix – inspired outfit for a shoot near where some of the movie scenes took place, it was the culmination of a life – long interest and a comfortable fit. The knowing nods from the crew confirmed it.Savage Matrix

Tracing his journey, Savage notes that there are places that will feed your soul, and places that will drag you down. Sometimes you just have to learn what you can in a place, and move on to a less toxic environment.

But he did some of best work when surrounded by like-minded people.


So what does any of this look like in a classroom? Do you have to be 3D printing your own custom-designed mobile device stand? You can, of course, but maker mentality sometimes has more to do with designing (lessons, classroom layout, Canvas pages) than with crafting a tangible “thing”. I mean, what does a standing ladder rack have to do with teaching?

Ladder Rack

Savage has a term for it: First-Order Retrievability. He built this rack so he could see all of his hand tools at a glance, instead of having to dig through a drawer to find just the right tool. The classroom equivalent is assessing what tools I need on the daily, and making sure they are accessible with a minimum of search. Dry-erase markers, Ladibug doc cam, pen, pencil, handouts, passes? I knew a teacher in my first year who wore an actual toolbelt in class, with markers and calculator and eraser and passes all stowed neatly away.

My other takeaways:

 

  • Lists

Oh my goodness did we connect here.  Actually Mrs. Dull is the Queen of Lists, so it’s not a new concept for me. We both make lists to help us organize our work, but for slightly different reasons. I’m old enough to worry about being forgetful, so my list-making started on the last day of a school term – a list of everything that needed to be done to post grades, and everything that needed to be done to set myself up for the start of the next term. I didn’t want to walk out the door only to remember something vitally important in the midst of the evening rush on the Borman.

Next up was tackling the flow of Thanksgiving dinner. A list of everything I planned to serve, in the order I needed to start it, so that everything could go on the table at once.

Then Adam Savage introduced me to checkboxes.

And yeah, I’m kinda hooked.

 

  • Loose Tolerance

“Every maker needs to give themselves the space to screw up in the pursuit of perfecting a new skill or in learning something they’ve never tried before.” That sounds a little bit like the Teach Like A Pirate mantra, or maybe a quote from Julie Reulbach’s “You Are Enough” address to a group of math teachers. And that’s definitely part of it. Savage talks about how book learning and hands-on learning are both necessary – “Doing puts the kind of knowledge in your body that can only be gained by an iterative process”.

To Savage, this means giving yourself cushion with material. If the dress you are trying to make calls for four yards of fabric, buy eight or twelve. If you are making dinner for 20, buy enough to make 25. There’s room for screw-ups that way. In the classroom, maybe that means piloting some new tech on a low-key Friday with your students before you invite your admin to come watch you roll it out live.

Or being willing to be bad at Three-Act Math enough times to get good at it.

 

  • Use Cardboard

If you’ve got any familiarity at all with Adam Savage, you have probably guessed that he was that kid who saw a spaceship or a racecar or a knight in shining armor when he happened across a cardboard refrigerator box out on the curb. As a professional maker now he swears by cardboard as his “material of choice” for any kind of mock-up.  The concept goes hand-in-hand with loose tolerance. Pixar’s Andrew Stanton says the laptop is his “cardboard”. It gives him room to mess up. He went from animating & storyboarding to writing for Pixar. And that’s a little intimidating. But Joss Whedon gave him some advice: translate the movie you see in your head onto the page:

Cardboard

“I can be messy” seems like a pretty good teacher motto, since the best lessons rarely are on point from the first iteration. Class Motto since I learned to teach different: Be messy. Tweak it and try it again. Keep what works and throw out the rest.

 

  • Super-secret special tools

To Adam Savage, there is a class of tool you cannot buy – it can only be gifted to you by someone more experienced than you. As he says, “you must be lifted up to it by your maker community, by your collaborators and coworkers and clients.” A good idea, tool, or technique spreads through a shop with lightning speed. He tells how he crafted a dozen mini radar dishes for a set in Space Cowboys in a fraction of the time it would take to glue plastic strips together – it involved a acrylic and a laser cutter and a wooden bowl and a heat lamp.

mindblown

He said: “By the end of the day most of my coworkers made it past my desk to take a look at this new technique and figure out how they could incorporate it into their repertoire.”

I’m on a mini-crusade these days to find a way for the learning that happens at summer conferences to come back to my building in August. I’ve been pushing for a way for the teachers who present or attend to share what they’ve taught or learned with their colleagues. And on a wider scale, I can learn something from every teacher in my department, and probably from every teacher in all the rest of the departments. How do we carve out time to make that happen? I don’t know. But I bet you it would set the world on fire.

 

  • And, Oh, yeah, Sweep up your shop every day

Or as I like to say, I’m not leaving on Friday until I’m set up for Monday.


So what does “the maker mentality” look like for a teacher? Well, specifically for me as a teacher? I’ll cede the floor again to Adam Savage:

“…the deeper I got into the writing, the more wary I became of speaking from a position of authority because my talent lies not in my mastery of individual skills, at which I’m almost universally mediocre, rather in the combination of those skills into a toolbox of problem-solving that serves me in every area of my life.”

I’m not sure I’d sit on a chair that I built, but I put together a pretty wicked pot of gumbo for when we invited the bishop of the Diocese of Gary for dinner last Mardi Gras day. And I think I’ve gathered enough tools and techniques to create some learning opportunities in my classroom. Some of them were even kind of memorable. I got an email over the weekend from a student who found something she wanted to share with me, and with my classes next year:

And yeah, I’m definitely in favor of letting my kids help me fill my toolkit. They know me better than I know myself sometimes.

Electric Slides

“Hey, Mr. Dull, What’s with all the slides lately?”

Electric Slide GIF
Yeah, not that kind of slide. (Source)

I think I might have mentioned recently that my Algebra II kids are perceptive, but it’s been kind of hard to miss these days. It started with the investigation they did into the math behind their NCAA brackets, then we did a one-day dig into the Monty Hall Problem. There was an Iron Chef day in there somewhere, and this week we rolled out a stats project that was set up in a slide deck.

So yeah, I apparently have a shiny new toy. Sue me.


It’s been a long time coming, actually. The great Katie Bradford first introduced me to hyperdocs at her session at the South Shore e-Learning Conference in Hammond three years ago. Chevin Stone presented blended learning ideas at the same conference.  I knew at the time that this was an ideal lesson design tool that eventually would work its way into my repertoire.

Later I (virtually) met the Hyperdocs Girls through Matt Miller‘s Ditch That Textbook Digital Summit. There’s a book (of course), and a hashtag, and plenty of folks sharing what they do, and an online exchange called “Teachers Give Teachers“. So when I needed templates and ideas, well, no shortage of resources out there.

I’m not as advanced as far as digital design as some other folks. I’m mostly focused on the lesson design aspect right now, making sure I’m asking the right questions, pointing my students to the right resources, and giving them an opportunity to discover, and then to show what they’ve learned. It’s a work in progress, but so far so good.

I’ve been pretty amped about the stats project, so let’s check in for an update:

And the first day was off to a flying start. My kids had a wide range of GSuite readiness, but with proper support from me and each other, they were able to create a Form to ask their survey question, connect it to a Sheet to hold the responses, and add a link to their form to a shared Doc (“The Big List Of Questions”). We spent the remainder of class answering each other’s questions so everyone had data in place for Day Two.

Straight. Fire.

I can’t tell you how psyched they were to open up their spreadsheet and find they had 30, 40, 50 responses to their question. Very few had any experience with Excel, so I gave them a quick walk-through on inserting formulas into a cell so they could display the measures of central tendency and the standard deviation of the data.

I had to be careful to not oversell the next piece. Desmos rolled out a suite of statistics tools this year, including the ability to create a box-and-whisker plot and a histogram. Super-easy and beautiful. I told them it was gonna blow their minds when they saw it.

It was a calculated gamble. More than anything this unit (even more than standard deviation) my students were dreading doing the math and drawing that accompanies making a box-and-whisker plot by hand. I knew that if we let the tech handle the drudge work we could free up brain power to do critical thinking and sense-making. Judging by the looks on their faces when I modeled how to make a list (copy/paste from a spreadsheet!) and then in like 3 clicks have a boxplot ready to be analyzed, I guessed right.

So Day Three is given over to analysis. I’ve got a series of questions set up in a Form, basically the quiz they didn’t think they were going to get. (My DC supports my semi-regular need to try whatever crazy thing shows up in my TL, while serving a check on my students’ need to get concrete practice on skills). I’m holding my breath there. Day Three is a Friday. Their routine has been all kinds of scrambled by SAT Day and state testing the last two weeks. Spring Fever has definitely set in. My students may be disinclined to do Actual Math.

Or they may dazzle me. I’m actually kind of counting on it. That’s the powder keg waiting to blow in a 1:1 environment. We can use their devices as $250 pencils, keep giving them electronic worksheets, or we can use the tools that are out there to help them discover concepts, analyze, and make sense of what they see.


I’ve been sharing some of the baby hyperdocs I’ve made with my tech/instructional coaches, with my Alg II team, and with others in my department who might be receptive. Don’t know if the concept will catch on in my building, but like a lot of things, I’m willing to scatter some seeds and see what happens. Maybe one or two folks ask around. Then, it’s on.

I’ll teach you, teach you, teach you

 

Adventures in #EduProtocols – Iron Chef

drinking from the hose
Source

The benefit of being a connected teacher is that awesome stuff shows up in my TL daily. The downside of being a connected teacher is that awesome stuff shows up in my TL daily. Like, almost too much to use. My big challenge over the last eight years or so is to sort out what works for my classes and what doesn’t, even if it’s really, really cool.

There’s plenty of things I keep on the shelf for future reference. This week it was time  to walk our talk on an EduProtocol I’ve been dying to try. Took the dive into Iron Chef.

I’ll cede the floor to the authors of The EduProtocol Field Guide here and here for the details on implementing Iron Chef in the classroom.

EduProtocols
The EduProtocol Field Guide by Marlena Hebern & Jon Corippo

I’ve been using The Fast And The Curious with my freshman Algebra Lab Class for the last month or so. We do the same Quizizz Monday through Thursday, see how far we can push the class accuracy number. Then Friday is activity day, where I build in a Desmos activity or Three-Act Math or something else. They’ve been factoring polynomials of different types in their regular Algebra I class. I wanted a way for them to collect and share their learning.

This sounds like a job for Iron Chef.

I’ll be the first to admit I fall in love with awesome ideas a little too quickly. I’ll also admit that I can’t always picture the implementation in my head. Sometimes I need to see it. That was the case with Iron Chef. Did a little digging. Found a template. Let’s go.

I had them use their existing notes for each type of polynomial, but the beauty of the Iron Chef template is teachers can insert links to resources to guide students who may struggle to find appropriate/helpful sources or who might be less motivated to search.

Then I asked them to include a set of steps on the slide for factoring that type of polynomial, and a photo or video of them working out a sample problem.

1st Hour – wow! They were so awesome I really didn’t want class to be over. I wanted to just sit in the moment. One of my teacher friends read my mind. Like, I was wondering if maybe she was there in the classroom, hiding somewhere, watching.

6th Hour, that’s a strong-willed class. They really don’t share my enthusiasm for a lot of the things we do. But still they did good work.

The hook to Iron Chef (just like the TV show) is a “secret ingredient” that is announced during the work time and that all students must incorporate into their slide. I was tempted to go with “basketball” since we were in the middle of March Madness, but I opted for “music” since that’s a little more universal, and I hoped it might hook some of my more reluctant students into participating. Hey, it’s their work, not mine, right?

The class period ends with each group presenting its slide deck so students get a look at multiple examples of each type of factoring, and each student gets to present his own work to an audience of his peers.


The beautiful thing about eduprotocols is that they are a shell. Like Jon Corippo likes to say, it’s like making nachos. You have a framework, add what you need, serve it up. In class it looks like: Introduce the format, insert your content, students do awesome stuff, rinse, repeat. I get students collaborating and creating, doing a “brain dump” as Matt Miller calls it, presenting, learning. It’s a win-win.

We can do Iron Chef as often as we need to. Definitely putting this one into the rotation.

 

Ready For Launch

“You know Mr. Dull, my mom finds it ironic that my math teacher’s name is ‘Dull’

— a very observant 4th period student

It’s Testing Season by me. English yesterday, Math today for juniors. Which meant my classes would be sparsely populated for most of the day. Like in: 7 kids in my 2nd Hour class. Way too few to do a traditional lesson that I’d have to repeat for tomorrow, or else leave my absent retesters to fend for themselves on Direct & Indirect Variation. Time for an on-the-the fly executive decision.

Yep. WCYDWT.  What is this, 2008? I’m gonna do a ripped-from-the-internet thing and then blog about it? Damn right I am.

So kids, I’ve got a little piece of video I’d like to share with you:

We keep the Silver Beach Web Cam up on my screen when we’re mathing most days, so my kids are pretty familiar with frozen lakes. I showed them this story on the current state of Lake Superior ice coverage. Currently 75% covered, above average for this time of year but not quite the 100% coverage in 1996.

Many of my kids have been to Mackinac Island, so we talked frozen Straits of Mackinac – in the winter snowmobilers can ride across the straits. Also, at this time of year there is a huge Outdoor Pond Hockey Tournament in St. Ignace. I told them I guess they shovel out the rectangles for the rinks, because what are you gonna do, drive a Zamboni out there?

*pause*

But, could we Zamboni a whole lake? (“Oh God Mr. Dull, you’re gonna make us math this aren’t you?)

I mean, how long would that take? Give me a guess that’s too high. How about a guess that’s too low. Now a Game Show Guess….

WCYDWT Zamboni

They were totally into it. How do I know? The story has gone viral and it’s pretty hard to miss, and none of my kids (in the first two hours anyway) even googled for the answer. Later on when they did, I just said “I’ll come back to you on that” and by that time we were far enough along that I could say “let’s check this guy’s math”. Because juniors love proving somebody wrong.

So we went with “Jo’s Plan” (as it came to be known) – if we can find out how big the lake is, and how big a rink is, we can divide to figure out how many rinks it would take to cover the lake. Then all we need to know is how long to resurface a rink. ( One kid in 3rd Hour said “I’m gonna text my friend and ask. He drives the Zamboni at the rink downtown.” They are very resourceful.)

Let’s go.

We did all kinds of math. Converting square miles to square feet, minutes to hours to days to years, estimating time to resurface a rink (they googled that later too, which was cool).

And we were off by a factor of 10. Came up with 9884 hours or something ridiculous. That “1700 square feet” up there? That’s a problem. Especially since I gave it to them. Dammit.

But the biggest benefit of building a culture of curiosity is you get curious kids.

“Let’s find the error”. Woah.

Keanu Woah
Ted Theodore Logan says woah. (Source)

They didn’t but my next period class did. Which was so cool. The only other tweak was we guessed 10 minutes to do a rink, based on 15 minutes between periods of a Blackhawks game. Turns out it’s more like 7.

“Are three minutes gonna make that much difference you guys?” Times 52 million rinks they are, yeah.

We adjusted the time to do one rink and hit the number almost exactly on the head.

On the button
On the button, baby

So, a couple of things from today. It’s 2019. It’s hard to get their attention, let alone keep it. I hate being the Cell Phone Police, but I’ve had some long talks with my Lunch Bunch lately about the subject. It’s pervasive. They are close to changing my mind. In the midst of “too high/too low” in one class, my most cynical, blase student shouted out “almost 700 years“, tapped the google app closed and went back to scrolling her snapchat. I could almost see her huffing her bangs out of her eyes in an act of supreme boredom as she said it.

But 95 % of my kids were hooked. They were helping each other, checking each others’ calculations, and shouting out intermediate steps. I was just sitting back and watching the magic happen. It was awesome.

I capped the day with two things:

We talked about how an astronaut once addressed a group of middle school kids in NW Indiana and challenged them to solve the big problems they’ll face as adults. She talked about manned space flight to Mars and the challenges of keeping humans alive in a tin can at 17,000 mph for six months. Think water and bodily waste. Yep, she went there. They’re middle school kids. They ate it up.

And when I brought up space in class today, one of my kids’ eyes lit up. She told how she had written a paper recently about our current and future plans for space exploration. I totally ceded the floor to her – her enthusiasm lit up my entire room and did more to make the point than I ever could.

A google search isn’t gonna solve those problems. Thinking deeply about solving insanely crazy problems will.

And, then, a tweet back:

The guy who originally did this math and put it out there for the world to see was scared that his math was wrong. Just like high school kids everywhere.

But he did it anyway.

And then:

Three-Act Math continues to be awesome, and the Internet continues to deliver a steady stream of it right to us. WCYDWT is seemingly alive and well, too. Plus the added bonus of the owner of the UP Supply Company replying to your tweet is kind of cool.

“This kind of thing makes me happy.” A collective “Awwwww!”

And then:

“Mr Dull, can we solve crazy insane problems and make people happy every Thurdsay?”

Can’t promise anything kid, but it’s tempting.

 

 

Apollo SHDH

 

observe-me-snip

So #ObserveMe has finally arrived at my school. I’m pretty psyched. Even got my first drop-in a couple of weeks ago, after having my sign up outside my classroom door since late 2016. That was exhilarating. Our tech coaches and department chairs all have their signs up now too. There’s even a GSheet we can add the class periods we are available to host visitors. Our department chair invited us all to join in at our meeting last week.

I should be on Cloud Nine right now.

Nope.

I took my sign down as I left school last Wednesday. It sat on my desk for the rest of the week, through the weekend. At that point I was really wondering whether I actually want random people dropping in on my class anymore. Unrelated to #ObserveMe, I’m finding out I’m not exactly a teaching role model I guess. So down came the sign. Leave me alone and let me be miserable in peace.

Kemil In Winter
Mental Floss, Region Style. Winter at Kemil Road, shelf ice included.

(Important reminder: the purpose of #ObserveMe is not to set myself out there as some kind of teaching role model for the wannabes to come watch and wonder and adore. It’s so other folks can come in, see what’s going on in my class (good and bad), and give me feedback on how I can improve. And: I need improvement. I’m such a self-centered jerk sometimes I can’t stand it.)


“Conversion is the task of a moment; sanctification is the work of a lifetime.”

— St. Josemaria Escriva

One of my favorite Polish saints is Maximillian Kolbe, a Franciscan friar who was martyred at Auschwitz when he volunteered to take the place of a husband and father who was part of a group sentenced to die of starvation in retaliation for a prisoner’s escape. Kolbe led his fellow doomed men in prayer and hymns, and died with a smile on his face when the Nazi guard injected him with carbolic acid to kill him after two weeks in a starvation bunker.

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Photo taken at the National Shrine of St. Maximillian Kolbe, Libertyvile, IL.

That’s a dude who knows what he signed up for. Who was who he was until the end, knowing the cost. Sanctified the world in death. He’s kind of the patron of our family. We even named our youngest son after him.

So, it’s gonna kill me, and hurt the whole time I’m dying. But I’m putting that stupid sign back up. It was a childish, impulsive thing to take it down. Prideful too. Like, I can’t get better at what I do.

So bring it on. Let Adrian wince. Mickey can yell “stay down!” all he wants. Make Apollo shake his damn head (2:05 mark) at how resilient I am. Rip open the wounds. Bleed it out. Heal me. Make me better at teaching.

Adventures in EduProtocols: The Fast And The Curious

At my building we’re in Year Two of a 1:1 environment. There are a lot of things you can do with a device for every student. Some of those things are even better than pencil and paper tasks.

Some aren’t.

Not everything is gonna make fireworks explode.

Caesars Fireworks
Source

Tasks like My Math Lab and Canvas quizzes leverage the technology for self-grading practice or assessment, and that’s cool. It’s got its place. Kids get plenty of reps and instant feedback. Saves teachers a ton of time grading so they can get down to the business of using what they learned from those formative assessments to adjust instruction. I’m not sure I want 25 kids staring at screens all day every day tho. I need some interaction, and in math, some pencil/paper practice as well.

I launched a flipped instruction model at semester last year to carve out more time in class for students to work together on problem sets and to get help from me when needed. That part has paid dividends. That classtime is pretty valuable real estate. Could I get even more out of it for my students? I mean, I see all of them every day, even if it’s only a quick two-minute check-in. The piece I could get better at is holding them accountable for taking the notes, and being more formal about checking for understanding.

EduProtocols

There are a lot of ways to do that too. I’ve been enchanted by the prospect of introducing eduprotocols to my classes this year. We’ve done an Iron Chef-inspired student-created slide deck for the open house, and we’ve used Cyber Sandwich to great effect in Algebra Lab. Launched Worst Preso Ever in Lab last week and my kids had a blast.

But where Jon Corippo hooked me was The Fast And The Curious. I first saw him on Matt Miller’s Ditch That Textbook Virtual Summit. Jon’s a pretty good interview if you get the chance to catch him. (Quickie tutorial on TFATC from Matt Miller here). The game app Quizizz is what makes the whole thing run. It still takes time to create, probably about the same amount of time as a Canvas quiz, but has the added benefit of cutthroat competition. That leader board had them cheering and agonizing all through the first 15 minutes of class. Plus Quizizz offers a ton of data including overall class accuracy, student accuracy, and percent correct for each question.

That’s the real benefit. After the quiz is done, we look for areas where we can give some instant feedback and remediate problem areas. Then we take the quiz again. There is pretty much guaranteed to be improvement, and for my Algebra Lab students that is huge. They feel (accurately) that they’ve learned something and that they are now primed to work on their regular Algebra teacher’s daily assignment.

That sounds like a win to me. Wait til tomorrow when we do it all again and push their accuracy rate through the roof. I told them we were shooting for 95% at the end of the week. From their response at the beginning of class, I might as well have told them we were gonna fly to the moon.

By the end of class tho… I think they believe they can do it.

Come Fly With Me
Yeah, totally had the COB playing while they mathed this morning. So chill.

Getting Gruntled

Gruntle Definition
OK, so there’s a little more to it than that.

If it’s possible to be disgruntled, you should be able to get yourself “gruntled” again, right? (Turns out, originally, no, but….)

I was at an event this week when one of my students’ moms leaned across the table and asked me, “So, are you ready for the school year to be over?”

Kind of an odd question, considering it was mid-February. Although, ’tis the season. My backyard neighbor (a junior at my school) pointed out Thursday we have about 14 weeks of school left. So there’s definitely counting going on. I answered the question in the spirit in which it was intended, but in the back of my mind I was thinking:

Actually, yes. Yes I am.

It was pretty much the day before yesterday, sitting on the back porch in shirtsleeves on a January Saturday afternoon, when we were wondering if winter was gonna skip us altogether.

Not so fast my friend

The first two weeks back from Christmas break went off without a hitch. After that tho? Since mid-January: MLK Day -> early release due to Ice Storm -> Ice Day -> two days of school -> Snow Day – Three Days of Polar Vortex -> then 7 whole days of school in a row before another Ice Storm Day. I mean, that’s winter in the Region. Should be used to it by now. But still.

I’ll be pretty honest. The last three weeks of weather, combined with some other things, have kind of broke me. I feel a little bit like a hockey referee after a brawl near the end of a period. I just want to send both teams to their locker rooms and tack the additional time onto the next period.

Clearly it’s time to Find Your Happy Place. Saturday we scooted up to St. Joseph, Michigan for a late Valentine’s Day celebration. We ended up at Schu’s (with the other 30 humans within a 50 mile radius who weren’t at Silver Beach Pizza) where we had a fantastic Valentine’s weekend dinner.

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At one point I kinda caught myself staring out the window at the shelf ice and the twinkling of the North Pier Lighthouse beacon and realized I was sitting there smiling like a fool. The company, the atmosphere, the Round Barn Kolsch, all of it: perfect.

Tuesday morning seemed very far away.


It Will Hurt the Whole Time
It feels like this sometimes, doesn’t it? (Source)

Not every year can be duckies and bunnies and unicorns and rainbows. Some are definitely better than others. This might be one of those years I just suck it up and put on my teacher face and give myself a pep talk every morning and keep showing up. Even if it kills me a little bit every single day.

As my freshman son wisely pointed out Saturday night, “three months from now we’ll be sitting in this same spot at the same time of night watching a sunset.” I needed to hear that. The Mid-Winter Blues have taken hold. It’s a passing thing, I’m sure. Unless it’s not.

But really, teaching is what I do. Especially if these are the options.

Time to find my happy place. Even if it’s a beach in winter. Maybe especially if it’s a beach in winter. I mean, if “gruntled” and “disgruntled” can mean the same thing except by matter of degree, then by all means, get me by the water. That’s not any weirder. Especially if it keeps my head in the game for three more months.

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Hehehe. “Keep Off”.  Such rebels. A mild winter day, 2017. Weko Beach, Bridgman, MI. Photo cred: me.

Adventures in E-Learning: Polar Vortex Edition

We’ve had plenty of false alarms (Mrs. Dull refers to them as “fake news™”) regarding winter weather this year. But the meteorologists nailed an onslaught of Hoth-level cold right on the button. Polar Vortex arrived, just as predicted.

For real. Like, it’s so cold we postponed basketball tournament games. In Indiana.

Coupled with an overnight/early morning snow on Monday it meant we faced the prospect of 4 days off of school this week. Been there. It wasn’t super-fun. Did I tell you about the year my old district expanded the school day by an hour a day for a month to avoid extra make-up days, and my current district had to create a Saturday make-up day (which happened to be my son’s 18th birthday)?

i survived
We did get a cool travel mug out of the deal tho, which is nice.

We’ve exhausted all our built-in snow makeups. Adding days at the end of the year is a no-go due to the start date for summer school.

That can only mean one thing:

E-Learning Days. Right here, right now, ahead of schedule.

My district is a bit of a late adopter of this trend, but in keeping with our approach to many things, we take our time, research, go to school on other districts’ experiences, then roll out a new initiative.

The plan was to pilot eDays this year with a scheduled trial on Election Day, then make up our snow days on the scheduled makeup days as eDays, then roll them out live next school year.

We make plans, God laughs. You know how that goes. So facing a no-win on adding more make-up days, we jumped right in this week.

Our administrators gave us a heads-up early in the week so no one would be caught scrambling to make eDay plans. Not to worry tho: a quick survey revealed that teachers felt well-prepared to roll out plans for two days this week.

we ready
High school teachers on the ball, y’all.

I split the difference on my two assignments, giving the in-class practice set that I had planned to assign on Monday for Day One, then taking inspiration from the world around me, making a Polar Vortex-themed Desmos activity for Day Two. Set them up in Canvas, scheduled reminder announcements thru Canvas for 7:30 am both days, double-checked my posts, and went to bed.

Dawn broke (pretty much literally; it was -20F and we kept hearing these weird cracking sounds coming from outside the house) with me ready to go.

But according to a source familiar with the sleep patterns of high-school-aged boys on a snow day, I should not have expected my students to jump right out of bed and start working.

waiting for responses
10:55 am. They’ll get around to expanding and condensing logs eventually.

Which is fine. The best feedback I got from students on our pilot eDay back in November was “I love that I could do my work in whatever order I wanted, at whatever time of day I wanted. I wasn’t locked into a schedule”. They’ll get there. I’m confident.

So meanwhile I’ve got my coffee and I’ve got sun streaming thru my frontroom window and I’ve got twitter open on a tab and a summertime playlist running on Spotify.

I’m passing the time making an answer key for my assignment and enjoying videos of folks conducting science experiments.

I’m good.  I’ve been preparing for this day for over a year. But I’ll be pretty honest – I’ll be happy to be back in my classroom and see my kids face to face on Friday.

E-Learning Days are kind of tiring.