My budding love of teaching, stemming from my larger love of math and learning

Friday, July 30, 2010

I have...Who has...

One of my favorite games for the classroom is "I have...Who has..." It is an entire class game and it keeps the kids attention because they never know who has the answer. I used it a lot in World History by making my own for the Egypt, Rome, and China units. It was a lot of work to make them. I wanted to get to a point where I would make them in math, but never got around to it and put in on my "list of things to do this summer". Well that list hasn't really gotten any smaller this summer.

But while perusing math blogs this afternoon I found several versions of the game on Mathwire. And I remembered my "list of things to do"...why recreate the wheel. I love it when teachers share things and don't expect any payment. Teachers are poor...we are here for the betterment of the students, and why recreate the wheel?

I have gotten some awesome games from this site. I usually get pretty overwhelmed because there is SOOOO much on this site, so I tried to only go to it when I am looking for something specific. But I stumbled upon it today while reading a new blog Let's Play Math.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


If there was one thing I learned last year it was "set you expectations" not just in how you expect your classroom to operate but also in what you expect the students' work to look like. I expected my 7th graders to have some sort of knowledge of what work should look like before they turned it in. You know what I am talking about: Name clearly written, assignment written on the page, problems labeled with the appropriate problem number, space between each problem. OH BOY WAS I WRONG!

I received work that didn't have the assignment written on the paper, which would be O.K. if students didn't turn it in late. I ended up having to find the problem in the book and then match it to the assignment given, which would have worked if the student wrote the problem, but that usually didn't happen either (they just wrote an answer...not any work shown either). Always a lot more work for me.

What else: usually not stapled, fringy garbage from sprial note books (pet peeve!), no name, 15 problems done on 10 lines of college-ruled paper, no numbers or letters of problems, answer not clear, pen (green, purple, florescent pink), scribbled out work in both pen and pencil, and the list could go on and on and on.

So this year I am not taking any chances. Yes my students will be in High School, but I can't assume anything. So I am including in my syllabus a Criteria-for-Credit. This is a suggestion in a book that I got from a Spence Rogers conference I attended my first year teaching, and I am finally starting to consult the book. The book is Teaching for Excellence, I think there is a newer version out.

Criteria-for-Credit are standards that must be met in order for the work to be accepted as done. These standards are the SAME for all students (with maybe some differentiation for some lower level students). Student work not meeting the criteria-for-credit must be adjusted to meet the criteria before it will be accepted.

So here is what will be posted on the wall of my classroom:

In order for my work to be accepted by Ms. S it must meet the following standards:
  • Neat (clean, unwrinkled paper with smooth edges, you can use one-sided recycled paper)
  • Properly Labeled (Name, Date, Class Period, Assignment in upper right-hand corner of the paper)
  • Problems Copied
  • All Steps Shown
  • Work Down
  • Answers Labeled Appropriately
  • Blanks Left Between Problems
  • Answers Boxed or Circled
  • Done in Pencil (Erase, Do Not Scribble out)
  • Follow Assignment Directions
What am I missing?????
I would like my students to ID appropriate examples of Criteria-for-Credit, so I am thinking about trying to make a game out of it for one of the first days of school. Something funny and but making it be totally obvious what the answer is. I think I am going to have a white board in my classroom, so I am hoping to make something we can use the clickers with.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

I see myself as a student striving for great knowledge and a better understanding of both my particular role in life and life in general. -- Kay Toliver

Audrey F. is a great teacher. She works as a kindergarten & mentor teacher at a dual language elementary school. The district that Audrey works in always has a great professional development line up for the first couple in-service days of the school year. (I had the privileged of attending my first year teaching because that was the district I worked in, and if I weren’t already going to be in school this year, I would probably sneak into the workshops this year).

Last fall I received a phone call from Audrey after she had attended these beginning of the year workshops. She said “ER, I just had the best workshop. Kay Toliver is AMAZING. I am not even a math teacher and I want to teach math now because I had this workshop. I am sending you a copy of this DVD and you HAVE to watch it”.

And she did. Then for the 4 months every time I talked with Audrey she would say, “ER have you watched those DVDs yet? No, why not?!?! They will change your life!” She would post on my Facebook page, “ER, have you watched those DVDs?”

Well, finally on xmas break while sitting in the Buffalo, NY airport, I finally popped in the DVD. WOW…why had a waited sooooooo long to watch these videos? Let me tell you, the way that Kay Toliver teaches is how I have envisioned that I would teach since I decided that I was going to be BORN AGAIN. Ms. Toliver describes her style of teaching as “teaching and learning through listening, speaking and writing.” Isn’t this how all teaching should be?

I realized that I wasn’t teaching this way. I was feeling so much pressure to get through content that I wasn’t able to full embrace what Kay was doing. I wasn’t teaching problem solving, I was teaching content and I was teaching content in a way that I was shoving it down their throats…NOT the type of teacher that I want to be.

The past couple of days I have been reading whatever I can find about Ms. Toliver. There isn’t much out there that is FREE. Although she was once an inner city classroom teacher, I believe that she now makes her living in professional development for teachers. Here is a link to one of her videos about Triangles in Architecture.

One the best statements that I have read is the one that I used at the beginning of this post. Ms. Toliver has also written, “I believe that every student can succeed in math, even if they have never been successful before.” And I guess this is my mantra for this upcoming school year. And I am going to keep telling myself that, I am going to tell colleagues that, and I am going to tell parents that if I have a chance.

From the videos that I have (about 16), I am going to write up lesson plans for my classes. Each video is only about 10-12 minutes long, but I think that I can write up a pretty decent lesson from what is shown. I am going to implement most of them in my Pre-Algebra class. It is the class that I have a little more freedom in. This class will consist of those students that have never truly been successful in math before, but it is going to be my goal this year to help them achieve this success. I am really excited about the flexibility that I am going to have in this class.

My geometry classes I don’t have as much freedom in. These are mostly college bound kids, and the amount of content that I have to get through is A LOT!! But I am hoping to implement little bits into those classes, and hopefully after a few years (will cross my fingers every day that I will be at this job for a second year) that those classes too will evolve, or you could say be born again.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

End of the Year Student Feedback

This past year I taught 7th grade, wow-o-wow. Were we like that in 7th grade? Honestly though, I have to say I loved it. I had a great team that I was a part of and learned so much from them all. It was a challenging year, not only because I taught 7th graders math (which I am more than qualified to do), but also because I taught 7th graders World History…yes you can laugh now. But I had an amazing AP World History Teacher in high school (thanks Mr. Carver!), a great mentor at 7th grade WH, and a life-long-learning passion, so I was able to pull it together.

One of my favorite blogs to consult with over the year was I Want to Teach Forever by Tom Derosa. The end of the year Tom posted “student feedback questions”. Because my life was sooooooo crazy the last month of school (52+ job applications, 2500 miles driven, 8 job interviews, 1 PLACE exam, only 1 job offer), I didn’t get to give these questions to my students until the last couple days of school (after I was offered a job and accepted).

I wish I had given them to my students in early May, because many of their answers would have helped me out during my interviews. They are still great to reflect back on, to make changes in my teaching for this year and to use if I am ever in an interviewing situation again…I hope this doesn’t happen for a few years.

This is modified from one that Tom posted. Half of the questions were for the students to rate themselves (not included), the other half to give feedback on my teaching. I am going to share some of those answers with you. I have included positive and negative. Everything can be used for improvement.

If you found out your friend/family member was going to be in Ms. S’s class next year, what would you tell him/her?
…don’t be a jerk to Ms. S b/c she is pretty awesome
…she’s really nice but don’t piss her off
…she has her day
…she will push you to get better grades
…stay on task
…a little tiny bit strict about showing your work

What did Ms. S do well this year? What should she keep the same when planning for her classes next year?
…not giving too many assignments from book – boring!
…have a sense of humor
…when you do something wrong she lets us give it another try
…taught in fun ways
…learning easier steps to hard problems

What did Ms. S NOT do well this year? What should she change when planning her classes for next year?
…yelled a lot
…more group projects would have been more fun
…she should have told us to do all the problems
…when she was stressed she would take her anger out on us, but I know she was just trying to get through the year and help us out
…pushing me to turn in my homework
…she should have more games
…nothing she was GREAT!

What 3 words would you use to describe Ms. S?
…funny, cool
…awesome, fun, nice
…organized teaching, not organized desk (more than 3 words, but true)
…mysterious, funny, joyful
…humorous, sensitive, awesome
…snazzy, smart, fantabulous
…fun, crazy, helpful
…laughable, smart, creative

What is one thing you will remember most about this class?
…your laugh and smile
…the fun
…always do you homework or life sucks
…having Ms. S tell me I did well
…she cared about the NCAA basketball tourney.
…always show your work
…when you move the decimal over two places it looks like a butt cheek
…how she makes me laugh

Anything else you would like to tell me?
...thank you 4 teaching me
…you are an awesome teacher and I will miss you
…you were wonderful
…I learned a lot, thanks for everything
…probably one of my favorite teachers (even though you were a little pissy sometimes)
…you will do amazing at your next job
…very nice, considerate teacher
…have fun
…keep going the way your going
…way to go!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Starting Over...AGAIN!

Each time we steal a student's struggle, we steal the opportunity for them to build self-confidence.
They must do hard things to feel good about themselves.
-Dr. Sylvia Rim

As another school year approaches I am getting ready to move into my third school in as many years and there is so much that is bouncing around in my head. By this time in most teachers’ careers, they are starting to dial in their curriculum, their classroom management/expectations are pretty well set (always having minor adjustments), and they feel comfortable with their colleges and student population. But as I mentioned, 3 school in 3 years, and none of those things describe my teaching career.

I have chosen the name “Born Again…Teacher”, not in reference to being a Christian (in all actuality I lead a very secular life), but because I have had a born again life into being a teacher. Now for those of you that don’t know me, I went to college to be an engineer and actually continued after undergrad into graduate school where I earned not only had the privilege of being a co-founding member of GCUF (Graduate Club for Undergraduate Fun), but of also earning my M.S. in Environmental Engineering. After a brief stint at being a ski bum and a homeless raft guide, I worked as an engineer. THEN I SAW THE LIGHT!!! (Hence the name of this blog)

This blog is an attempt to organize my thoughts. Not so much for other people but for myself (although I hope somewhere along the way I hope I help you out too!). It is also an attempt to share the great things that I have found on others’ blogs (there are some GREAT ones out there, and will list my favorite soon). I have a tendency to gather from others but then make it my own. I will try to link both original and my version, although if I only add mine, I will be sure to reference the original.

I welcome your comments, suggestions, or shared resources. I am not a writer, never claimed to be, and this is NOT my attempt at being one, so please keep this in mind as you read.

Now back to my first paragraph…HEAD IS SWARMING!!!!!!!!!!!!! I don’t know where to start. I will be teaching three classes this year, only one that I have taught before:

· Geometry (4 sections)

· Pre-Algebra (I have taught 7th grade, so hoping that I can use resources I already have)

· Basic Geometry/Consumer Math (Two 1/2–year classes)

So my first decision, do I focus on 1) My lesson plans, or 2) How my class is going to be run, my expectations and how I am going to reach out to my students in the first couple of days of school. I am leaning towards the option number 2. Although I have taught before, each time has been in very different schools, with different populations of students, and different motivations for those students. So in a sense I am able to be a BORN AGAIN TEACHER…again!