#MTBoSBlaugust: Good Things from Week 2

Our second full week of school has left me still fighting a cold and completely exhausted, but plenty of good things happened!

  1. We started and finished NWEA testing (except for one student who has been absent) and the scores weren’t terrible. I’m anxious to see their growth over the course of the year. And one of my students got a 276, which is the highest score I have ever seen, so that was pretty exciting.
  2. My AP Calculus class had their first mock-AP quiz over limits and it went better than expected! We have had a string of good days in class, which I hope means we are starting to understand that challenging ourselves is a good thing and that complaining won’t change the expectations.
  3. My PreCalculus class is hilarious and wonderful. Probably the funniest moment this week was when one of my students got a wrong number call and crowd-sourced his responses from the rest of the class.
  4. I saw a lot of former students again this week. An unexpected surprise Friday morning from one of my Calculus kids from two years ago, a planned visit from two of my Calculus kids from last year, and got to watch a former student perform with her new marching band.
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#MTBoSBlaugust: My Classroom 2018-2019

So this is my 5th full year of teaching. LIKE HOW DID THAT EVEN HAPPEN?!?! And I simultaneously feel like I’m figuring out a lot about what works for me and my kids and also realizing how much more I have to learn. I love that teaching gives me daily chances to try things, adjust, learn, and grow. In that spirit, this post is about my current iteration of classroom setup.

Full disclosure: I’m a scatter-brained mess. This post won’t contain any fancy organizational tips or ground-breaking ideas, but it is what works for me for now.

Panoramic View of Classroom

Panoramic View of My Classroom from the Door

 

One side of my classroom has these awesome cabinets that are fantastic for storing all of my stuff. A couple of years ago, I bought some shower board from Lowes and hung them up with command strips for more whiteboard space, and I love them! It allows me to use VNPS when I want AND gives students who want to stand a place to work. The cabinet with all the math puns (these posters from TPT) has buckets for students to store their notebooks if they wish. I also use that as the place they turn them in at the end of the semester. My desks are currently in groups (5 groups of 4 and one group of 3 along the back wall). This changes several times throughout the year. Sometimes we do pairs, sometimes groups of 3 or 4 in lines, crazily spread out during finals, and rows during standardized testing. The supply cart in the back of the room contains paper, writing utensils, dry-erase supplies, glue, scissors, clipboards, and dry-erase sleeves. The wheels allow me to move it around as needed and the kids know they can grab whatever they need at any point during class.

 

The front corner of my room is full of astrobrights cardstock and encouragement. The welcome sign on the door is from Sarah at MathEqualsLove, the clock sign is a free download on TPT, and the math person sign on the door is from Scaffolded Math and Science.  I have two bulletin boards at the front, one on each side of the whiteboard. The left one is full of growth mindset posters, my SBG scale (designed by me and printed at Staples), and information on where to get help. Turn-in drawers for each class, a stapler, and the pencil sharpener are on the table below this board. The other side of the big whiteboard is my “command center” during class. My document camera and projector hook-up are over here and I use my cart to store my notebook for each class and all of my notetaking supplies. The pocket chart under the board will eventually be a phone charging station and the bulletin board will eventually be “The Fridge” for students to hang up things they are proud of.

 

I LOVE this corner. Mostly because it contains my picture wall, which is my absolute favorite part of my room (other than my students <3). I randomly started doing this two years ago and the kids love it just as much as I do. They stare at it all the time, love when their picture makes it on the wall, and look forward to seeing the new layout when I replace it over winter break and summer. I love pictures anyway and it is an easy way to show them they matter to me, bring in some pictures of my personal life, and remember students who have graduated. On the other side of this corner, I have the half-finished “Calculus Wall of Fame.” Last year was the first year in the history of our school that students have scored above a 1 on the AP exam AND one of them even got a 5! To honor the challenge that comes with taking an AP math course, I ordered plaques for each of the two classes I’ve had so far and an individual one for the student that got a 5.

 

My desk has a couple of new additions this year. Most notably, my little IKEA frame that I painted and filled with my mottos for this school year (“You don’t need permission from other people to make your school a better place.” and Julie’s sticker from TMC18), the contact paper and “Chaos Coordinator” sign, and my desk baskets (also from IKEA). I have always been notoriously bad at keeping my desk clean. Like so bad that the kids could always tell if they were having a sub the next day because it was the only time they could see the top of it. I’m hoping that having the baskets for all the things I need to file but don’t have time for will help keep some of that clutter away, even if the baskets themselves are a mess. The area behind my desk is full of inspirational quotes and gifts from students. My planbook, which I create, print, and have bound at Staples every year, has my teacher catchphrase on it. I say “It’s Fine” so much that it was mentioned in graduation speeches the past two years and everyone around me has it as a permanent part of their vocabulary. 🙂

 

As I said earlier, I am terrible at staying organized. I see all of these beautiful, color-coded classrooms with bins for everything and I wish I could be like that. But it just isn’t going to happen. Because I am so scatter-brained, my organizational system has to be pretty minimal and has to be something I can keep up with even when things get hectic. For me, those vertical pocket charts that will fit file folders are the answer. I have two of these, one at the front of the room near my document camera and one by my desk. The chart at the front of the room serves two purposes. The top half is reserved for copies of stuff we are about to do. I use these project pockets to keep each set of papers together and have a separate pocket for each class I teach. I love that this allows me to make copies in advance and then find them quickly when I need them (without having to dig through all the piles on my desk). The bottom half of this chart holds papers that need to be returned for each class. I am SO BAD at passing back papers because I get so into whatever we are doing in class. Having them in a visible location reminds me to get that done. I also have this fancy silver file thing that I bought at Goodwill next to my front pocket chart. I use this to store extra copies of handouts and the empty project pockets. The pocket chart at the back is used to store master copies of stuff. I reserve a pocket for general stuff and then one for each subject, which takes up the top half. The bottom half is currently holding random stuff, but will eventually be used to store retakes. I color-coded all the pockets with binder clips based on subject. This system is about the only thing that I have found that works for me. It is just simple enough that I can keep up with it, but I also know where everything is (even if I have to look through a stack of papers). Then, at the end of the semester, I go through all of them and get rid of what I don’t need. Extra copies get recycled and masters are scanned (unless I already have a digital copy) and recycled.

Overall, I’m happy with the setup this year. The few in-progress things will probably be in-progress for months but I’m okay with that. 🙂

 

SBG Poster: Inspired by these posters from Sarah at Everybody is a Genius, PDF version here, and a Publisher version here if you want to edit. The small text on the poster prints a bit blurry just as a warning.

#MTBoSBlaugust: Good Things from the First 7 Days

MTBOSBLaugust2018School has started for me and this year, for a multitude of reasons I won’t get into here, promises to be rough. In the interest of keeping my sanity, I plan to post weekly about the good things that happen. Because good things can come out of even the most stressful of situations and I’m definitely going to need to be reminded of that. So here are my good things from the first seven days of school!

Good Thing #1: Watching Students Teach Each Other

Thursday of last week was one of those days where the same awesome thing kept happening over and over. Three times over the course of the day, I got to watch as students jumped in to help a classmate before I could even get a word in. It is amazing to watch a student get super excited about explaining something to a classmate. Two of these moments happened during an activity about special solution types in Algebra 1. I didn’t think either one of them was listening to the directions, but later I found them both assisting other students. The third moment was during the KenKen puzzle bellringer in my PreCalculus class. I had forgotten that 12 out of the 13 students had never done one before and was expecting a mess. But when I walked into the classroom, the one student that did know how they worked was explaining it to the rest of the class. He then explained it again to a few who still didn’t get it, finished his puzzle before everyone else, and proceeded to walk around the room and check that his classmates were getting it. It is so fun to watch them explain things in several ways and use questions to check for understanding.

Good Thing #2: Visits from Former Students

Last year I had to say goodbye to “that class.” You know the one that you are extra-super-duper-attached to and is definitely your favorite (even though you would never say that out loud). These kids were a dream to teach and I got the honor of spending three years with them. And now they head off to college in mere days. I’m so thankful that I got to spend two nights this week catching up, laughing, hugging, and aggressively encouraging them before they leave.  And if that wasn’t already enough, I also got a visit from a student that transferred to another school this year. She is awesome and hilarious and I miss her a lot. But she has already invited me to her first marching band performance and I am definitely going to continue to encourage and support her from afar.

Good Thing #3: So. Much. Laughing. Turns out I missed these people a lot.

Summer can be a really isolating time for me. My anxiety, because I don’t have a routine and am not forced into human contact every day, is usually at an all-time high. And I just feel like I lack a sense of purpose.  Returning to school means returning to normalcy. Because my school is so small, I already know most of my students really well. This means we get to slide past the awkwardness and jump right into joking, laughing, checking in, and genuinely enjoying each others company. And it is wonderful. Plus, my school friends are the best support team ever and are always ready to do the work to make our school better. I am continually astounded that I get to spend my days with these awesome humans.

As a whole, the first seven days of school were better than I expected and I have seen a lot of promising things!

#SundayFunday: Classroom Management

mtbos-sunfun-logoI have been avoiding writing this blog post all week. Classroom management is the thing I feel least confident about and is always a major work-in-progress for me. This post is not going to be full of great ideas or grand revelations, but more of a reflection on where I’ve been, where I am, and what I want to try next.

Where I’ve Been

Before my first year of teaching, I read all the books suggested to new teachers.  I went to school with carefully crafted rules and procedures and things immediately went downhill. There were too many things to keep track of, I had no idea how to teach these rules and procedures to my students, and I didn’t know enough about my teaching style to know which would come naturally and which wouldn’t. I muddled through those first couple of years, trying to combine what I had learned about classroom management with what comes naturally to me. I was overly worried about what other people thought and was trying to make my classroom match some magical ideal (usually whatever I thought my current administration would want to see).  I am a laid-back, scatter-brained mess most of them time and was struggling with complicated systems that required me to keep track of too many things at once, as well as police things that I didn’t actually care about.

Where I Am

After many overly-optimistic attempts, I have finally realized that any classroom management plan is going to have to work with my personality. Anything that requires too much structure or documentation or keeping track of tiny details is not going to work for me.  I can keep it up for a week or two, but then it falls apart and I end up feeling defeated.  I went to a training last year about designing personalized professional development (because I’m also a Digital Coach) where they talked about how it is important to hold really tight to the end result but it is okay to let go of some of the process.  Although not totally transferable, it did encourage me to pick those few non-negotiables in my classroom and let go of the rest.  So here are my non-negotiables for this year:

  1. RELATIONSHIPS ARE THE KEY. To everything. Building strong relationships in the beginning, and continuing to foster them as the year goes on, is the most fundamental component of my classroom management plan.  I am a young, short, female teacher who laughs at everything and has zero intimidation capabilities, so I rely heavily on my relationships with students for leverage.  I start the year with getting to know you questionnaires, learn their names as quickly as possible, and seize every opportunity to talk to them about non-math things. When they talk to me, I give them my full attention and make sure they know I care about what they have to say. I go to as many events outside of school as humanly possible. I laugh with them, celebrate with them, sympathize and empathize with them.  I show them that I am a human who makes mistakes. I make sure that they know I believe in them. One of my students last year described me as aggressively encouraging. I love my job and I love getting to spend my days with my amazing students and I want them to know that.
  2. Respecting diversity. My students come from a small, rural community with very little diversity. This means their ideas of others often come from stereotypes or media. I spend a lot of time shutting down inappropriate jokes, conversations, and comments. Most of the time they don’t even understand why what they said was offensive and when pressed, have never interacted with anyone from the group they are making comments about. This has led to some good conversations and students have at least started policing their comments around me. So I guess that is progress.
  3. Don’t be a distraction. After my first few years, I realized that all the little things I was making rules for and trying to keep track of didn’t actually matter to me. I don’t care if a student wants to sit on the floor and take notes or listen to music while they work on an individual assignment or use a whiteboard as long as they aren’t distracting themselves or others.  This is the main area where I am trying to hold tight to the result and let go of the process. It has actually been really refreshing for both me and the students. I’m amazed by how many of them choose to work on the floor or standing up or in some other non-traditional manner.

Future Plans

This list is always changing, but here are the two big things I want to improve in my classroom management:

  1. I’m still really terrible at teaching procedures. I always skip the practicing and modeling part because it feels so cheesy and weird. The procedures break down and then I’m frustrated. I’m waiting on some new whiteboards before we start VNPS, so I think I’m going to try procedure practice with those and see how it goes.
  2. I also want to expand the respect part of my non-negotiables. My students struggle, like most teenagers, with respecting themselves and their fellow students. Too many of them think it is okay to joke about harming another student or to say derogatory things about themselves. In general, they don’t think about the words they say. I’m thinking about starting Elissa’s Two Nice Things, but I’m worried about being able to be consistent.

While classroom management is still a struggle for me, I can see improvement from when I first started teaching. And that is enough for now.

#SundayFunday: First Days of School

mtbos-sunfun-logoBecause Indiana starts school ridiculously early, I just finished up my second week of school. I survived the first seven days and celebrated last night by driving 30 min to get Qdoba and going to bed at 10:30 pm #wildfridaynight. These first days have been amazing and wonderful and exhausting and surprising. This year, our first day with students was a Wednesday, so I chose to spend the first week focusing on discovering and discussing good group work.

Some context for these plans: The plans outlined below are what I followed for my Algebra 1 students because this is (with the exception of my repeaters) the first time I have had them in class. My PreCalculus class, which is rather large this year but mostly full of students I’ve taught before, did the first two days of activities. My AP Calculus class went through the activities on the first day to give me a worst-case scenario of time needed, but we jumped into content on day 2. They are a unique group because there are only 7 of them, they are all really good friends, and they are the same 7 students I had in my PreCalculus class last year.

DAY 1

I have a major love/hate relationship with the first day of school. By the time August ends, I’m begging for some kind of structure in my life because I have usually become nocturnal at that point. I start really missing my students and coworkers and am anxious to see them again. But I hate teaching students I don’t know. So much of my classroom workings depend on strong relationships, which don’t exist in the first days of school for most of my classes. I hate that awkward time where I don’t really know their personalities and they are still trying to decide if I’m crazy or awesome or unhinged.

Because school started immediately after I returned from TMC, I relied heavily on things that I had learned there or had tried in the past. As much as I would love to not spend the first day on the syllabus, I’m not quite there yet. So we spent less time, which I’m ok with for now.

MiniGolfDay1

Mini Golf Marbleslides on Day 1

After being greeted at the door (in an annoyingly enthusiastic way), students found their seats on the seating chart and began filling out an “About Me” info sheet. I use a seating chart so I can learn their names as quickly as possible. During the year, we switch seats about every other week. Desks are in groups of four. The info sheet is the same one I use every year. Because our school is so small, I have many of our students for multiple years. I keep all of their beginning and end of the year surveys and give them back to them at graduation. Here is the survey I use. I stole a lot of the structure and questions from this free survey on TPT.  The questions about accomplishments, goals, and “most important thing to know” are the ones that end up being the most eye-opening and useful. After the survey, I went quickly through the highlights of the syllabus, mainly focusing on the grading system and supplies needed. We paused to sign up for Google Classroom, Remind, and to bookmark the class website. Then, they worked in pairs on this Mini Golf Marbleslides.

Reflection: Overall, day 1 went really well. I lucked out that none of the class meetings disrupted any of my classes, so I was able to get through my plans in all of my classes. I love reading their About Me surveys and then re-reading them several times throughout the first semester. The Marbleslides was a huge hit. They were super engaged and didn’t even realize they were thinking about slope and plotting coordinates.

DAY 2

After getting all the first-day craziness out of the way, I was super excited to get to Days 2 and 3. For the warmup, students filled out a math identity survey that asked them how they view math, view their math ability, and think others view their math ability. I plan to have them take it again later in the year to see if any of those things have changed.

Then, the magic happened. We did the 100s Activity from Sara VanDerWerf. I didn’t follow the directions completely. I required them to all use the same type of writing utensil for the first two rounds and then had them use different colors for the last round. I only gave them two minutes and did groups of 3 and 4.  We kept track of their “score” on the board, which added some extra competitiveness. They were so into the activity and asked to keep playing at the end. And their lists of what good group work looks like were very impressive.

After making a list of things that characterize good group work, we applied that to working on the Noah’s Ark problem from Fawn Nguyen. They had to decide, as a group, how many seals and be able to defend their answer. At the end of class, I had them (in writing) defend their answer or, if they didn’t get to an answer, explain what they had tried. They aren’t used to problems like this in math class, so there was a lot of mumbling and groaning at first, but once they got into the problem they were ok. The biggest issue was helping them past the places where they got stuck. Their gut reaction is to give up and call themselves stupid, so providing encouragement was a bit part of this activity. I love watching them work together and argue about math. It was extra funny to hear them yelling about seals and elephants and zebras.

Reflection: Both of these activities were awesome, and I look forward to using them in the future.  The students got very frustrated that there wasn’t an easy answer to Noah’s Ark and struggled with putting their thinking on paper. They don’t care how they got there (even if it involves cheating) as long as they get the answer, and I care way more about how they got there. This has been an issue at our school for some time, across the board, even with our honors students. Not sure of the solution, but recognizing it is the first step I guess. It definitely challenges me when I’m planning to build in more opportunities for growth in this area.

DAY 3

By Day 3, a lot of that awkward-beginning-of-the-year-ness had lessened. And, although the kids are still trying to figure me out, they are starting to open up a bit. For the warmup on Day 3, we did a KenKen puzzle.  I LOVE KenKens. We started doing them every Friday during the second semester of last year (mostly because my new smartboard made clicking the numbers super fun!).  Once they understand how to solve them, the students love them too. I don’t plan to do them as often this year, but we will still probably see them every other week. I gave the students time to solve on their own or with their group, and then we had a whole group discussion about solving strategies.

We spent the rest of the class period playing Rainbow Logic from Sarah Carter.  I tried this last year, but it did not go as well as I had hoped for various reasons. I decided to try it again this year, but as a follow-up to our group norms discussion.  It was way more successful this year. The students were not strategizing as much as I had hoped, but they did a good job of following our norms and communicating well. I think next year, I will probably let them play a round or two and then pull them back for a strategy discussion before setting them loose to play again.

Reflection: Next year, discuss in the middle of the Rainbow Logic activity to increase strategizing. Maybe do a round where I’m the grid master and the class is the team? I’m glad I decided to try this activity again because I LOVE it. Even without strategizing as much as I would like, they had great discussions and were super engaged.

So this post turned out way longer than I had anticipated. In summary, the first three days were awesome and I am super, duper excited for the rest of the year!

Goals for the Year that Started This Week

mtbos-sunfun-logoThis past week has been a whirlwind of craziness. I got back from Twitter Math Camp late Sunday night, did some last minute back-to-school shopping on Monday, and started my fourth year of teaching Tuesday with our one teacher day before students returned on Wednesday. Even though this week left me exhausted, I found myself with a full heart and head spinning with ideas. Many of my wishes for this year center around two big ideas, both of which have been swimming around my head for a long while and were brought into focus at TMC.

Goal #1: Be more involved in my Educator Communities. 

For me, this has two distinct parts. TMC inspired me to become more involved in the online Math Teacher Twitter community. Because of this I decided to start this blog (FIRST BLOG POST. YAY!!!) and have been participating in #Teach180. I had been lurking in the MTBoS (Math Twitter Blogosphere) for a long time, but not participating because I didn’t feel like I had anything to contribute. Carl Oliver’s keynote at TMC made me realize that, even if nobody ever reads this, it is still a great reflection tool for me. And that everyone feels uneasy about sharing, even the people that I think have it all together.

The second part of this involves my school community. This year, over half of our teaching staff is new to the school. Not only am I the most senior member in my department (even though I am the youngest and have the least teaching experience), I’m in the very elite club of teachers who have been at our school longer than one year.  This has led to more responsibility within my school. Even at my school, where I know I have support, I struggle with feeling like I have something to contribute. I’m really great at being involved with the students, but getting involved with the adults is way out of my comfort zone.  I’m not 100% sure what this looks like yet, but I’m working on it.

I guess the subtitle of this goal is “become more confident in my teaching experience and believe I have something to contribute.”

Goal #2:  Talk less. Lots of discussion. Let students discover the math.

These three things seem like a lot, but they all fall under the same umbrella of lesson design in my head. This is something I have wanted to do for awhile, but I didn’t know how to make it work. During my teacher education program, we wrote all of our lessons in the Launch-Explore-Summary model. Although it was difficult and strange, it really made me think about designing lessons for learning. When I got my own classroom, these ideas went out the window.  My first year teaching was horrendous. I had no support, developed severe anxiety, and almost quit teaching. I changed schools, spent my second year recovering from my first, and spent my third year rethinking grades and trying out standards based grading. I finally feel like I’m in a place to revamp this aspect of my classroom. I am armed with a lot of great strategies that I have stolen/borrowed/learned from the MTBoS. In particular, I want to try clothesline math, which one doesn’t belong, algebra tiles, open middle, and notice/wonder. During one of my graduate classes this summer, I had to plan a differentiated unit and was surprised at how easily I was able to incorporate these ideas into what I would normally do.  I arranged my student desks into groups of four and spent the first week discussing group norms. We start content on Monday and I’m excited to try out these ideas!