Hello, 2018!

I love it here in the future. I’ll never go back. And this morning I woke up one year farther into the 21st century.

Hello, 2018.

New Year's fireworks are seen along the Strip from the top of the Trump International, Monday, Jan. 1, 2018. (Richard Brian/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Image via Las Vegas Review-Journal

One of the benefits of modern life is the support that comes from connectedness. When you scratch out that list of resolutions, you don’t have to look far for resources to help you along. You might still stumble and fall along the way, but you know someone’s got your back.

A few years ago the great Jen Fulwiler put together a Saint Name generator for folks who are looking to jump-start the search for a patron or intercessor. This year I got St. Francis de Sales (patron of writers and journalists).  He spent three years of his life going door-to-door throughout the French countryside trying to teach the faith. No one would listen. He had door after door slammed in his face.

I can relate. As Dan Meyer famously said, “I teach high school math. I sell a product that people don’t want, but are forced by law to buy.” At least in St. Francis I’ll have someone to commiserate with.

As an added bonus for 2017, Jen built a word generator. Perfect for those “One Word” or “word of the year” people who are everywhere today.

Of course, because Children Must Play™, some of Jen’s online connects mashed up their saint and word. Hilarity ensued:

I’m not that cool.

I’m Francis Presence. No editor or producer would take that character name seriously.

But, “presence.” Hmmm. Hold that thought….


spring break party GIF
Image via Giphy

A few weeks back I stumbled across a blog post by Allyson Apsey suggesting folks make a playlist for the new year, rather than making resolutions. I have the usual resolutions, yeah, but I also have a #2018Playlist. As I wrote when I first encountered Allyson’s post, I wanted a playlist in chunks that could be selected to fit a mood.

We’re at a place in the school year and just life in general where everything is a grind. Fitting that mood perfectly is a song I borrowed from one of my oldest son’s playlists, “Hurricane” by Band of Heathens (covering a Levon Helm tune)

Back that up with “All These Things I’ve Done” from the Killers, and a pair from Tenth Avenue North: “You Are More” and “Losing”, and we’re off to a low-key start to power through day-to-day frustrations.

The mid-section is designed to provide a power boost, or at least an upbeat accompaniment to housework or grading, anchored by Jet’s rave-up “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” (which is also my go-to running song when I need to dig deep):

Queens Of The Stone Age and Greta Van Fleet both deal in an updated 70s sound, providing a bridge from past to present before the Church and Lord Huron bring the thing in for a landing.


 

So, I’m self-aware enough to build a playlist that is in tune with my needs. What about when we turn the tables? Can I shift gears to meet my students’ needs? Can I be “present” for them? It should be part of the package, like a basketball coach adjusting his playbook to match his players’ talents.

The turn of calendar brings soul-searching and goal-setting in many areas; the classroom is no different. And  this year, my tribe has some backup in the form of Indiana Connected Educators. ICE Indiana is offering teachers here a chance to jump-start their 2018 with an “I will” sharing challenge:

I responded:

We’re at the point of the Algebra II curriculum where everything is new and challenging, and more theoretical. My track 3 students are not likely to move on to Pre-Calculus as seniors, almost all will take either probability & statistics or a college readiness bridge course that hits the power standards of Algebra I, Algebra II, and Geometry. They need more time in class to work through practice problems and get help. Looking back to last year, the opposite happened. We would spend almost the entire period on warm-up, homework questions (numerous, because they didn’t get enough time to practice and ask questions in class), and new notes. By April we were all miserable.

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Image via Tenor

So what am I going to try in order to fix this issue?

I am already embedding a video of me working through my notes into the Canvas page for each lesson. My hope is that students who are absent or want to work ahead or need to see the examples worked again can refer back to the video, as often as they need.

What if…. I followed the lead of several teachers in my department who are flipping their instruction? Students watch the video on their own, take notes, and write a brief summary (picked that up from Pooja Agarwal‘s Ditch That Textbook Summit session with Matt Miller). Then the bellringer is a quick formative assessment to gauge their understanding and engage prior knowledge, and the bulk of class is spent on working through the practice set. As Matt Miller and Alice Keeler point out in their book Ditch That Homework, this gives them access to a trained professional teacher when they need help.

OK, so now we’re building in work time in class, but what about my kids who need extra help? There’s still one of me and 30 of them.

Divide and Conquer, baby. Divide and conquer.

I picked up a strategy about 10 years ago at a workshop. Two downstate Indiana teachers who paired up to share their two classes developed a differentiated instruction method they called “Island – Peninsula – Land”. Based on a quick formative assessment (walking around and peeking over shoulders, even), the teacher quickly sorts his students into three groups:

  • The Island group is completely self-sufficient. These are the “just give me the assignment so I can get it over with” students. They don’t need my help, so they can go off and do their thing.
  • The Peninsula group can mostly do the work, but might need a boost from time to time. They can send an envoy to the Island group to ask for help with a specific question.
  • The Land group does not know how or where to start. They need the most help, so I sit with that group for the session.

It’s been awhile since I’ve used this tactic. The last few years my classes were all “Land” – I really didn’t have anybody who could work through a set of problems on their own, so I shelved I-P-L. This seems like as good a time as any to resurrect it.

Image via Women In Product

Gonna run this by my department chair and get ready to roll on 1/8/18.

And don’t be bashful. Jump on the #ICEindiana hashtag on Mondays and Try, and Share, and Encourage, and Remember, and Learn.

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One-Man Book Club: Ditch That Textbook – The Hook

(Retroactively VHS Math Book Clubbing my way through “Ditch That Textbook”. Intro here. Part 2 here.)

You know what happens next. Pew-pew-pew, stormtroopers vs. Alliance soldiers. Dust settles, bulkhead door swipes open, and we meet Vader for the first time. You don’t need to be any kind of genius to know he is A Bad Guy. And just like that, the scene is set. You’re hooked….


There’s a lot of good work being done out there in the area of lesson design. Dan Meyer maps out the Three-Act Math Task here. I’ve taken my cues from him, as well as from the Undisputed Master Of The Presentation:

The common thread is “The Hook” – how teachers pull their students into a lesson, how a sales pro gets face time with a prospect.

In Matt Miller’s “Ditch That Textbook”, the hook to the next 219 pages is a Nightmare In Real Life, or as close as most teachers get.

Students running out the door. Not because of a fire alarm, a swarm of bees, or a fight. Nope. Running out the door, at the bell. Just restless kids, sprung from a mind-numbing 48 minutes of lecture and practice exercises from a worksheet. The kind of class that even bores the teacher.

Oh No.

I can imagine. Although I don’t have to imagine it. Because I’ve been there. I’ve been The Invisible Man to a group of kids who would rather do anything else and be anywhere else. So has just about every other teacher ever. It sucks. Miller says he knew there had to be a better way to teach. He eventually developed a model for deciding what and how to teach: Different, Innovative, Tech-Laden, Creative, Hands-On. (“DITCH”. Get it?).

I’m hooked.

Actually, truth be told, I had already bought in.  Miller doesn’t need to sell me on The Why. And even though I’ve implemented these concepts into my teaching, I’m always open to some help on The How.


Interestingly enough, Miller doesn’t start with a list of “14 Apps You Should Be Using In Your Classroom Right Now”. He first suggests ditching the mindset of 19th-Century Industrial Model education. The middle section of the book begins with reminders to make it personal, add fun and magic, to build relationships, and to win over students. Only then does he start talking tech.

And even then: Not everything has to be techy. Surprised by this admonition from a guy who is best known for using tech to figuratively knock down the walls of his rural west-central Indiana high school? Don’t be. Miller is a teacher, with the scars to prove it.

Is pencil-paper best? As Miller points out, that 45 minutes (or however long your class period lasts) is sacred. If you take a half-hour to get computers issued, booted up, kids logged on and then a quick formative assessment done, well, you were better off with mini-whiteboards or notebook paper. The ROI for the tech was way too low. Miller calls it “choosing task over tool” (Chapter 13).

I had this displayed for me vividly the year I had a student teacher. I wanted to seamlessly integrate some tech, to model some of my “go-to”s for her. Except I hadn’t “gone-to” in a while. I set up a quick poll using Poll Everywhere, but had forgotten to have it display real-time results. So after the kids took out their phones, made their votes, probably started checking their FB feeds, we sat their and stared at a screen full of… no results.

cookie_monster_waiting
Via http://www.reactiongifs.us/cookie-monster-waiting/

Instead, I got to model how to gracefully dump out of a plan that wasn’t working. We did a poll by show of hands instead, tallied the results on the chalkboard, and moved on.


My other big takeaway came in Chapter 15: Choose To Cheat. We live in a world where cheaters really do win, where it seems like the ends always justify the means, and what’s legal is really defined by “what I can I do and not get caught”. But for teachers, “cheating” is a dirty word. So again, Miller uses words to grab the reader’s attention. He means “cheating” in the sense that there are only 30 hours in a day. Something is gonna have to be left undone. The teacher’s job is to figure out what things go above the “done” line and what falls below. And how to maximize the impact.

I’ve read plenty of TFA stuff. I’ve seen the movies. The Super-Teacher shames the rest of us. In real-life tho… I’m just a man. As I tell my students, “Hey, stress me out, I’m gonna go home and have a drink. Make me mad, I’m gonna holler at you. Cut me, I’ll bleed.” I got the same 24 hours everybody else gets today. And I have the same options for spending those hours that everybody else does too. One of the greatest benefits of getting old is knowing that not only can I not “do everything”, but also that I don’t have to do everything. My most trusted advisor will usually let me know when I’ve stretched myself too thin. As Miller says, it’s important to make sure we’re not cheating the people closest to us.

My next One-Man Book Club read is Classroom Chef by Matt Vaudrey and John Stevens. Both those guys tweeted this week that they would be skipping Twitter Math Camp (a huge #MTBoS love-fest) where they would be Rock Stars among rock stars. Both gave the same reason: their kids. That’s what Miller is talking about. Then extending that mindset to the classroom.

It’s really just setting priorities: what’s most important right now? Grading every single question on every activity? Or finding ways throughout the week to assess (formally or informally) what students know and can do?

How can I use this? Let’s cede the floor to Miller (pg. 89):

Ditching & Differentiating

So I use themed bellringers throughout the week. There’s math in there, there’s common sense in there, there’s opportunities to justify your thinking in there (SMP #2, 3, and 4 everyday!). My review day before a quiz might be a practice quiz, it might be speed dating, it might be a Kahoot! game. Eventually, everybody gets what they need. Tech or no tech. The bigger question is: am I using all the weapons I have at my disposal in the service of teaching and learning?

I’m getting there.

Part 2 coming soon, in which Miller lays out the Xs and Os of powering up the classroom: A Home For Your Stuff, Creating Content, Going Global, Jump In And Try.