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.

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Matching Their Pace

 

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

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

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

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Source

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s roll. Let’s do Social Math.

So on to the Taco Cart.

Taco Cart Snip

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

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

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

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

So that was cool.


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

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

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

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OK, maybe not really.

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


 

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

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

MTBoS Blaugust2018

You’d Be Surprised

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In a good way.


 

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

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

MTBoS Blaugust2018

Happy New Year!

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

To Do

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

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

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

But my First Week is planned out.

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

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

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

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

So, here we go:

In Algebra 1 Lab 

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

So, to my teacher friends: Happy New Year!

 


 

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

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

MTBoS Blaugust2018

Better Than Me

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

 

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

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

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

Yeah, all men are created equal. And then…

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

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


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

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


 

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

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

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

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

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

So, what do we do with that?

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

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

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


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

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

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

Sounds like a pretty good role model to me.

Go-Tos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me, it’s a beach bag 24/7:

 

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

And: the occasional opportunity to play.

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

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

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

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

That sounds like a class I’d go to.

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

 

One-Man Book Club: Room 24

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

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

Room 24
Image via Goodreads.

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

Room 24 Number 4

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

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

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

Room 24 Number 1

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

Room 24 Number 3

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


 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Room 24 Number 2

Yikes. Like Sully watching himself scare on video.


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

One-Man Book Club: Teach Like A Pirate

“Are we ready to start full speed?” Dave Burgess keynoting Day One of the South Shore e-Learning conference in Hammond, IN, June 6, 2018.

Yeah, I know. 2012 was a long time ago. Doing a One-Man Book Club post on Teach Like A Pirate is like live-tweeting an episode of The Office I’m watching on Netflix. But it’s what I’m reading right now and the thoughts are spilling out of my head onto my screen, and for many of my colleagues at the South Shore e-Learning Conference it was their first exposure to this loud, crazy SoCal guy. I wanted to watch the show through their prism, and the experience stirred up some memories.

Dave Burgess keynoted a conference I presented at last week. Leading up to the two-day event I went to the library and got his book. Even though I’d seen him outline his TLAP philosophy with Matt Miller on the 2016 Virtual Summit, I was pretty psyched to get the In-Person experience. I still wanted to read the words in black and white.

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Image via Goodreads.

(Burgess runs at like 7000 rpm. My laid-back Vegas kids used to tell me I talked too fast. If they were in a room trying to listen to the Teach Like A Pirate keynote their heads would have exploded. Having read the book was like having built-in subtitles for the presentation. 10/10 would recommend.)


 

I just finished my 15th year of teaching. I was a pretty by-the-book guy at the beginning. Things have changed since those early years, thanks in part to a lot of reading, a lot of connecting, a lot of trial-and-error. And error. And error. Let’s just say I’ve been trying to get better for a while. Reading Teach Like A Pirate, my mind snapped. I recalled a long-ago online conversation I had with Matt Vaudrey, co-author of Classroom Chef.

If you’ve read the book or seen the TLAP preso, you know what started my reverie. The Six Words.

TLAP 2

“It’s Easy For You. You’re Creative.”

TLAP 3

I remember struggling with classes that weren’t buying what I was selling. I remember spending prep time and after-school time searching for activities and lessons that would get my students’ attention. I remember being amazed at what my fellow math teachers were rolling out to their students. Everything I found online was brilliant and clever and creative. I remember thinking, “there’s no way I could come up with stuff like that on my own.” I remember falling flat on my face many a time.

But I remember having success just often enough to keep trying. Which is good, because as one of my favorite UNLV professors used to say, teaching is like being a performer. And you have to nail 900 shows a year.

All these years down the line I should point out, she never told us how tough the audience would be for those 900 shows. Or that they’d be able to tune us out with a tiny little computer they’d all carry in their pockets.

As Burgess says: “Would your kids be there if they didn’t have to be? Do you have any lessons you could sell tickets to?” I felt like I had to work harder than anyone else because before I could teach my kids anything, I needed to make them want to show up for my class. I used to tell them, “someday I’ll be that old, bitter teacher who hands out a worksheet then goes to read the paper with my feet up on my desk. But today ain’t gonna be that day.”


 

 

 

I’m not a pirate. Not a good one, anyway. But I’m down with Lesson Design. Which, it turns out, once you get past the bandanna and earring, and the grilling analogies, is what “Teaching Like A Pirate” is all about. Intentional lesson design, every time.

I’ve got a certificate on my classroom wall from ETS. It’s a Certificate of Excellence for my score on the Math Praxis exam. Me and a couple of my UNLV classmates studied hard for that test. The semester of student teaching we met three times a week after school at a coffeeshop/bookstore near where we all taught in Vegas to work through problems from the study guide. But the State of Nevada also requires a passing score on the Pedagogy test for licensing. Ugh. That one is not as easy. My idea of lesson planning as a pre-service teacher was limited to:

  1. Check the section in the textbook
  2. Select example problems
  3. Select guided practice problems
  4. Select homework problems
  5. Rinse, repeat

That’s all. And on the Praxis or in the classroom, it wasn’t good enough.

I eventually stumbled across Dan Meyer and the greater MTBoS and started to get an idea of teaching with the end in mind. It’s a concept that Bill Hanlon of the Southern Nevada RPDP introduced to us. It was a unit design tactic he called BAM, but it applied equally to lesson design. Later on I was exposed to Desmos, and then Hyperdocs. All tools for designing lessons from the ground up, thinking deeply about what questions to ask, what I wanted my students to ponder, what tools and resources they would need.

I’ve claimed as a class motto for years, “You want better answers? Ask better questions.” Turns out I have common ground with Burgess there too.

TLAP 4

Then Burgess goes on to include a section with literally hundreds of questions a teacher can ask when planning a lesson, questions that can spark creativity and create hooks to student engagement. Pretty much everyone I know can take two or three or six of these questions and create something incredible in their classroom. Without a single trip to Goodwill.


 

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It turns out that once you get past the pirate persona there is a seriously good teacher who is passionate about not just punching a clock, but in creating learning experiences for his students. And Teach Like A Pirate makes clear that there is no secret sauce, except for a willingness to take chances, to accept failure as part of learning, and to recognize that nothing great comes easy.

TLAP 1

I don’t know about greatness. I’m still trying, still learning. I doubt I’ll ever have a “guest speaker”. But we sing and dance a lot in my classes, get up and move around. Use visual hooks. Stick crazy memes and GIFs in my slide deck. Try new things. Shift on the fly when it’s called for.

Maybe I’m not such a bad pirate after all.

Leyahs Card

 

Don’t Look Back

There’s pretty much two kinds of people in this world:

Bravado vs. sadness. Learning opportunities, or more evidence that the world is unfair. You pick.

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“OMG, look at us! We were babies!” Yeah. Yeah we were. Hell, I had hair. Photo cred: Roger C. Ott.

This week we celebrated 25 years of marriage. I wouldn’t trade a minute of it for anything on the planet. But, would I change some things if I could?

Honestly, I’ve messed up plenty of times. And learned something from the pain every time. I’d rather not hurt. Or have the people I love hurt. But I’m thankful for the chance to learn, and grow as a person, and grow closer to my loved ones. So: “My Way”? Or “A Lot Of Things Different”?


We’re at the time of year when buyers remorse is setting in for some of my Algebra II students. They are recognizing that they’ve blown off the last math course they need to graduate, and (170 days in) it’s too late to fix.

The options are summer school, credit recovery, or alternative school.

It’s not fun. When everyone is counting days to summer vacation and you are looking ahead to a 6:30 wakeup call and a bus ride across town and a teacher going on and on and on and on about math.

Image result for eye roll gif

And it’s not a fair trade. 180 hours of social time, versus doing the work that needs to get done to move the ball forward, and get a step closer to walking across a stage with a diploma in hand. I think, given the chance, they’d have made some different choices.

I can tell they are feeling pain, because their frustration is directed at me these days. What I know after doing this for a while: 17-year-olds are great at “IDGNF” bravado, but they suck at hiding true feelings.


Which all has me thinking: What “Teacher Habits” do I have that I would change? I make a list for myself at the end of every school year, as I’m making copies and filing grade printouts and filling up my recycling bin: what worked and what didn’t? What could I do different next year? After 15 years there are some areas that I’m pretty set in my ways. But the greatest benefit of being a connected teacher is: there’s always someone with a different way (and maybe, a better way) out there. Is this the year to flip the script?

I’ve got a change coming next year. I have a straight schedule of math. No PLTW. Which is a little odd, since my district’s efforts to re-launch PLTW is pretty much how I ended up here, but hey, Teaching Motto since Day One is: “Roll With It”. They tell me what to teach, and who to teach, and where, and I take care of the rest.

Two of my sections will be an Algebra Lab for incoming freshmen who hate math and hate school and probably will hate me. (I know, they haven’t met me, but give them time). My department chair approached me with the proposal: a supplemental class to shore up their Algebra I class. No homework. All project-based. DOK 3. Grade is based on in-class participation.

She knows me so well. It took about two seconds to say yes.

I’ve been training for this my whole life. And I know where to turn for ideas:

*cough* #MTBoS *coughcough*

It’s gonna be a year to do a lot of things different. And to do it my way.

Satchel Paige said “Don’t look back. You never know who might be gaining on you.” But honestly, sometimes a look back is the best thing you can do to put yourself on the right pathway in the future.

Plus, every now and then, the view is fantastic.

Dont Look Back
Sunset over the old Ivy Tech building in Valpo. Now an artist colony and micro-business incubator.

 

 

Desmos Art 2.0

One of the hallmarks of the MTBoS is constant refinement and reflection – taking something of your own or someone else’s and making it better.

The conics unit has come and gone in my Algebra II classes, and like last year I want to do a performance assessment. Back in the day this assessment was Amy Gruen’s piecewise functions picture. With the advent of Desmos it’s now a digital version of the same project. (I wrote about last year’s here). Then in early summer I saw the tweet that let me know how much better my project could be for my students.

Dropping the image into Desmos first, then creating the equations to match the image? Brilliant! That led to a pretty productive online conversation, and to me making some slight changes to my plan for this year. My big takeaways from last year were:

  1. my students selected some very cool but also very challenging pictures to duplicate
  2. they needed massive amounts of support writing equations to match lines and curves
  3. probably not everybody did their own work

Providing massive amounts of support is what Desmos does best. That scaffolding probably means less frustration, and less cheating. At least that’s what I’m telling myself.

Fingers crossed
Via Tenor

Started before break with a functions review (Alg II (3) Functions one-pager), not only of conics but of all the functions we’ve learned this year. The day back from spring break we learned how to match equations with lines or shapes in a picture with this Desmos activity.

Then I introduced the project, and offered a carrot (it’s a quiz grade, you guys!). And away they went, seeking pictures.

 

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They found standard-issue high-school-kid stuff: lots of cartoon characters, superhero or sports team logos, palm trees and flowers. I had them make a (rough) sketch of the image on grid paper, then try to identify equations of four functions that would be included in the final product. I wanted them to get used to the idea of seeing small sections of the larger whole, and finding ways to describe that section in math symbols. We also walked through the process of setting up an account in Desmos, opening a new graph and bringing in the image, and saving the graph so they could access it again.

Double Double
Making ’em hungry before lunch. Double Double, coming up.

By Day Two, we were ready to start getting serious about making some math art.


 

They were pretty excited about this project when they were googling around for images, finding their favorite characters or sports teams. They were less excited about this project when it came time to start writing equations.

A couple wanted to straight-up quit. I’m gonna use all my powers of persuasion to try to convince them otherwise. That, plus walking through the process, step by-step, of writing a general equation, then adding sliders and tweaking values until the curve matched up. I’m not sure it helped.

I did notice that very few of my students actually completed the reference sheet. And (in a related story) almost none had any recall of any function equations except y = mx + b. That is definitely part of the issue – a huge disconnect between a shape on a screen and the math symbols that represent it. And truth be told, that’s part of what I wanted this assignment to do – to cement that relationship.

Best-laid plans, right? I’ve got some work to do.

showtime


 

The morning of Day Three, the putative due date, one of my struggling students came in for extra help on the project. She left with a smile on her face, having made serious progress. Plus she agreed to act as a “resident expert” in class, helping out her tablemates when they got stuck. We made some halting progress as a class, but no one is close to done. Several of my students did say that they understood how to write an equation for a line or curve, and restrict the domain, just that it was going to take a long time and a lot of tedious work. So, similar to last year, with about 10 minutes left in class I offered a reprieve, shifting the due date to Monday. Then I’ll accept whatever they have and go from there. I set up the grading rubric in such a way that the points are weighted toward planning and less on the finished product, so the kids who laid down a foundation can still get a reasonable grade even if their final product is…. incomplete.

But I also want to be able to show them what their project could look like, with a little bit of persistence:

 

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Just a little something I threw together over the weekend. 44 equations later…


 

The breakthrough for many came when they started to use vertex or intercept form for their parabolas. The ones who completed the functions reference sheet caught that first. I showed everyone on Monday, which of course was too late for many folks. Next year I’ll highlight that option earlier.

So, they begrudgingly turned in their paper/pencil planning work, along with a link to their Desmos creation, on Monday. Just like last year, some bit off way more than they could chew. Some got frustrated and quit. Some gave me a half-finished product. But the ones who stuck with it were able to turn in some pretty cool stuff:

 

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Oh, yeah, and this from a student as she turned in the assignment thru Canvas:

Desmos Student Comment
Yeah….

My big takeaways:

  1. I need to steer them towards reasonable images to duplicate. Avoid frustration and shutdown right from the jump.
  2. I need to encourage my students to use the vertex form of quadratics. Anything that makes the movement of the curve more intuitive is good. I think eventually that will help cement translation of functions.
  3. I need to enforce the preparation steps that I built in: the reference sheet, the paper sketch, and the four function equations by hand. I need to help them draw the connection between curves on a screen and the associated math symbols.

The assignment is is a keeper. But I bet you it won’t look exactly the same three years from now as it did this week. In fact, I’m counting on it.