We Belong

You don’t belong.

Sports teams use it as motivation. (“Nobody believed in us!”)

It’s been fodder for a million Hollywood movies, from Karate Kid (“Love your car, Mrs. LaRusso!”) to Kung Fu Panda.

If you’ve been around the teaching game for a while, you’ve been told: our kids crave connections. They need relationships. No learning can happen until you connect with your kids. They need to know they belong.

I can relate.


 

Image result for Da Region 219 nwi tattoos
Image via nwi.com (source)

Up here in the Region, we’ve got a little bit of a chip on our shoulder. To the point where we fight over which parts of this area qualify to carry the title “Region”.

We’re not Chicago, even though we border the City of Chicago, in the County of Cook, in the State of Illinois.

And we’re definitely not “Indiana“. Best way to prove you’re not “Region” is to wear a “Colts” anything.

So, we don’t belong.

(We wear that like a badge of honor, by the way.)


Indiana Summer of eLearning

For the last 6 years the Indiana Department of Education has put on a series of conferences during June and July known as the “Summer of e-Learning“. My former district, the largest district in Northwest Indiana, and the 11th largest in the state, started thinking it should be able to host one of the 22 conferences last year.

The state had a plan. I’ll paraphrase: You guys are a pretty big district (13,860 students in 2016). Host a conference just for your district. Get your feet wet. Find your keynoters and presenters. Get a facility. Then check back with us. Let us know.

So they did.

After 370 attendees, nationally-recognized speakers, presenters from within the SCH and beyond descended upon Hammond the Monday after school let out, well, what could the IDOE say?

Fast-forward to the Summer of 2017: We’re in the Big Leagues. (And yeah, I know… “we”? I work in a different district now. Teaching in Hammond is the family business. Old habits are hard to break. Sue me.)

Buddy Berry & Christine Pinto keynoted. Almost 600 teachers and administrators registered.

Everybody got something they can use RIGHTNOW.

Alisha Foor and her team put on a whale of a show. Crushed it behind the scenes during 12 months of planning, and knocked it out of the park during two days of awesome learning and sharing experiences.

Yeah. We belong.


 

When I taught in Vegas, my Midwestern-ness stuck out like, well, a flashing neon sign. (“Mr. Dull, why do you wear a sweatshirt and shorts?”) When I taught in the HMD, maybe I was “from there”, but I lived out with the cows and the corn. Now in an exurban district, where everybody’s “from here”, even though I live in the city, I’m still kind of an outsider. I found that out when people here weren’t heartbroken over the Stracks bankruptcy. (Seriously, like I had a tear in my eye when I lined up for lunch today and saw a big tray of Stracks chicken on the table.)

So maybe I don’t belong either.


 

I’ve been stalking hanging out online with a group of math teachers that call themselves the MTBoS (Math-Twitter-Blog-o-sphere). I steal all their best teaching ideas, follow them on twitter and at their blogs, and just in general fanboy a tiny bit too much.

But what can I say, they changed my outlook and strategy on teaching, and probably saved my career.

(No really, that was my presentation title at South Shore e-Learn).

But really, they’ve got superior firepower from the neck up. Way out of my league. I can use their stuff, but I could never make their stuff.

I don’t belong.

But this morning, with a donut balanced on my travel mug/water bottle, and my laptop, well, on my lap, settling for in for the keynote, I open twitter and see this in my mentions:

Shah MTBoS Tweet

(I had posted this in a twitter chat I occasionally hang out in, in response to a question. The #MTBoS hashtag gave it a signal boost).

And, squee.

Here’s the blog page, with about a million other presos linked there. But for reals, for about 20 seconds there, Sam Shah made me feel like a million bucks. Like…

I belonged.


 

If you’ve never seen Christine Pinto, she looks like she’s about 12. Weighs 80 pounds soaking wet. She doesn’t have a commanding stage presence. But she is a lowkey powerhouse. If you listen… oh boy. You’ll learn. One of her main points in her preso is:

And guys, that’s the takeaway from today. We belong. Our kids belong. And it’s our job to give them an opportunity to prove it. In Hammond, they walk their talk. Two of the most powerful sessions I attended were led by students. Buddy Berry’s freshman daughter knocked ’em dead with “A Techy Teens Tools For Teachers”.

But my last session of the conference… oh man:

A 3rd-grader taught about 30 of us how to use Animoto to make book trailers. Had a Google Classroom and a slide deck and everything. Yeah.

She belongs.

I belong.

All of us, on a Tuesday and Wednesday of summer break, when we should have all been laying on a beach somewhere, instead, the Island Of Misfit Toys, we’re all inside an urban high school, learning, together, getting better, for our kids. Kids we won’t see, probably, for like 8 more weeks. Doesn’t matter.

We belong.

20 for 20

547878_10200638431656105_1843551518_n
My youngest and I in Charity Village after the 2012 Chicago Marathon. Go OE.

Folks running a marathon to raise money for charity is kind of a cliche these days. Cool, yeah, but not that unusual. Roll back the clock 18 years though, and it was a bit of a novelty. In that environment the OE Runners were born. The group trained for and ran the Chicago Marathon to raise money for Opportunity Enterprises, an organization that serves individuals with disabilities in the Northwest Indiana area.

In that first year, 1999, the team started with 72 runners who collectively raised $37,000 for OE. The runners in their orange moisture-wicking shirts became a fixture on the streets and trails around here, and took Chicago by storm, becoming an official charity partner. The team membership topped out at 511 runners and a reached a high-water mark fundraising of $286,000.

That is a lot of miles and a huge amount of money for any non-profit agency.

The Great Recession took a bite out of our fundraising totals in the mid-2000s, and then (although we didn’t know it at the time), the marathon organizers dealt OE Runners a death blow. With demand for entries far outstripping supply (capped at 45,000 runners), the marathon instituted a lottery system a few years ago, and bumped up the fundraising minimum for charity runners. For a lot of us, it was way out of our league. In my 6 years with OE Runners, I came close to the new minimum one time. Mrs. Dull is a professional fundraiser; I’m not.

Last year: 70 of us raised about $45,000. Net out the training costs, and it was barely worth it for the organization. Thus the decision was made to close down the team. OE sent us off with a bang though: a few Saturdays ago the organization put on a fun run & farewell breakfast for all the team members through the years, giving us an opportunity to share some stories and to look at photos and team shirts from past seasons.

And: a thank you from the CEO. Pretty cool.

She laid out the numbers for us: in 18 years, OE Runners raised $3.2 million. That amount funds services to 20 families for 20 years. Which is awesome.

Except.

There’s a lot more families and a lot more years. Take a look at the Opportunity Enterprises Annual Report. Those services don’t come cheap. The money the OE Runners raised is pretty much a drop in the bucket. Hard to replace, but a sliver of the total operating budget. Who’s gonna pick up the tab?


I’m thinking a lot about sustainable funding these days. Whether most folks recognize it or not, the gravy train has left the station. We’re just used to thinking, “Oh, Washington will pay for that” or “Indianapolis will pay for that”, when the reality is, anything we want over and above the minimum, we’re going to have to find a way to pay for ourselves.

Enter the School Referendum.

ValpoGary. East Chicago. Munster. Lake Central. Hebron. And more.

My district passed twin referenda 2 years ago, to pay for a renovation and expansion of the physical plant, and to pay for salaries. Not every district can, or is willing to, raise its own taxes to pay the bills at the school. There’s a serious throwdown on social media over the EC vote this week.

Folks in my Tribal Homeland are pretty wound up about a potential tax increase for school funding.

Opponents of the referendum are circulating a flyer with salaries and recent raises for the highest paid central office administrators. Nothing dirty, all public records. But it’s having the desired effect. Man, it’s hard to ask people in one of the poorest communities in the Region to raise taxes on themselves.

Image via nwitimes.com. Story link

And it’s more than just schools.

Indiana is looking at a bill coming due for long-overdue infrastructure improvements. They don’t call this place “The Crossroads of America” for nothing. I think at one time Indiana had more miles of Interstate per square mile of area than any other state in the union. The statehouse just passed a tax increase on gas and vehicle registration, which led to predictable cries from political opponents. Why not tap a 2 billion dollar rainy-day fund, they say? Because that’s a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of what needs done. Literally 10% of the total bill. And when it’s gone, it’s gone. With a business cycle that seems primed to turn down again.

I’m a conservative. I don’t want my taxes to go up one penny. And (not “but”) I also know that there is no free ride. Those roads and bridges aren’t gonna repair themselves. I voted yes on the Valpo schools referenda (and raised my own taxes) when I was only a resident & homeowner, not a district employee. Because the schools here (and in East Chicago, and Gary, and Hebron, and everywhere) are that important.

Somebody’s gonna pay the tab for taking care of our most vulnerable citizens, and to repair our roads and bridges, and to keep our schools up-to-date and safe for our students. Who’s it gonna be though?

Our kids. And grandkids, probably.

There are issues you just can’t run away from.

Savage Math

(h/t) Kara Wilkins.

A live look-in to my class as I try to teach solving absolute value equations:

Any resemblance between Axel Foley and my students is purely coincidental. But there are days when this is what it feels like to be me.

The hook to solving absolute value equations is: there are two cases. Two numbers (say 5 and -5) both have the same absolute value , because they are both the same distance from zero on a number line. So students need to consider both cases when solving the equation. Which means writing and solving Two Equations. To solve One Problem. Ugh.

They refuse.

And I might as well be talking to the wall.

Image result for talking to the wall gif

 

Here’s the smart way to do it, courtesy the great Kate Nowak.  I’ll try it that way again sometime.

But for one day, just for One Shining Moment, they were writing and solving two equations. Making sure their table partners did too.

What’s the secret? Grudgeball.

Who knew? All it took was a little cutthroat competition to get a handle on this skill.


Anything gets old if you do it too often. Kahoot!, Speed Dating, all of it. My students even grumbled about 3-Act Math last week. (I think I bought myself a reprieve when they nailed the “girl scout cookies in the trunk” edition.) So: My Never-ending Quest for new review ideas. (As an aside: it’s OK if they are other people’s ideas. That’s what the #MTBoS is for).

Enter: Grudgeball

Image result for bautista staredown gif
Image via bluejayhunter.com.

PPT file here: alg-ii-3-4-4-4-6-grudgeball-review

Shorter version, if you didn’t click the link: Teams of students work on a math problem. Each team starts with 10 Xs on the scoreboard. Each team that works out the problem correctly can erase two Xs from the total of the other teams. And thus alliances are formed and strategies are planned:

“Take out the smart people.”

As one of my little cherubs remarked after class (with a wry smile on her face): “There’s so much love in this classroom, I swear.”

Of course the best strategy is only as good as your three-point game. I mean, you all are from Indiana, right?

indiana-fall
I’m such a sucker for this “Hoosier Autumn” stuff. Photo credit: me.

Teams can earn the right to erase 4 or 5 Xs by making a basket from about 10-15 feet out. Paper ball in a wastebasket, or nerf ball into a nerf hoop, as classroom equipment dictates. My 2nd hour class? Clang. Brick. Oooooo

fail basketball

My 5th period are ballers tho.

And the 7th period? Savages. By far the most cutthroat. By. Far. They turn on each other like soap opera villans.


The Indiana-based teacher and author Matt Miller (Ditch That Textbook) wrote about how infusing principles of video gaming into his classroom changed the way his students looked at (and engaged with) something as basic as a unit review.

They call it “Gamification”. Based on what I saw in my classroom for 50 minutes in each of three sections of Algebra II, I call it Fun and Learning.

grudgeball2

grudgeball1

grudgeball3

Seriously, one of the girls pictured above asked me if we could keep playing Grudgeball even after we finished the quiz today. Who does that?

Engaged students, that’s who does that.

My go-to catchphrase leading up to a quiz, or any moment where I’m checking for understanding, is: “Show me something incredible, will ya?”

What they showed me this week…. man. “Incredible” is an understatement.