Thursday, September 22, 2016

Sharing My Story

Recently (read as at least a week ago), I read Sam Shah's blog about his Notes on the Beginning of the School Year.  I loved the idea of getting to know my advisees better by first sharing some information about myself and then making individual appointments with each student. I framed it as telling them "My Story." least parts of my story, because...I can't tell them my story in 8 minutes.

I talked about growing up in Michigan, my parents getting divorced when I was in second grade, living with my grandparents through high school, and working really hard to make sure I went to college. I told them about teaching at my first school and how I realized my last year there that I really wanted to leave Michigan. I told them the story of how I came to end up at my current school. And how when I left everyone I ever knew and all the preconceived notions of who I was supposed to be, that I was able to be my most authentic self. I was able to come out as gay when I moved to Colorado. I found my wife, I embraced who I am.

I would like to think it was a pretty powerful 8 minutes. I have set up meetings with them over the next two weeks and I'm really looking forward to hearing their stories!

Just because. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Developing Understanding with Desmos

It's hard to believe it's already the fifth week of school! As one teacher put it at lunch the other day, "the shininess has worn off."

Although, I don't feel like that's true for me! I honestly feel like I'm having an amazing year. It's not perfect (could someone PLEASE help me spice up Pre-Calculus? The kids wouldn't even buy into the "What is a sandwich?" activity! It's dreadful! How do I get them to loosen up and interact?! Anyway, that's another blog post!)

I am teaching Algebra 2 Honors for the first time this year. Though it is incredibly time consuming to have a new prep, I'm trying to be thoughtful with how I do things instead of flying through it to save time. I've been spending many of my 4am-5am's (while I wake up slowly and drink coffee) exploring Desmos activities.

In our first unit, I asked students a few time to draw a plausible graph for a situation. I was trying to get at how they do with taking a word situation and/or picture and being able to convert it into a plausible graph. It's not something I directly taught in that unit, but I wanted to see how they would do. It was a mixed bag! So, enter the desmos activity "Function Carnival." Students drew possible graphs for situations then they were able to "play" them and then adjust if their graph was wrong.

As I walked around, I noticed students drawing things that weren't functions. When they would "play" the graph, all of a sudden there would be two cars on the screen. Without me having to tell students, they were able to figure it out (sometimes their neighbor helped them too!)

Fast forward to this week, when introducing functions for the first time. We did "Function Carnival part Deux." It introduced the notation of functions and the general concept of function/non-function. I loved having a situation/context that I could refer back to - and will continue to refer back to!

In class, after the Desmos activity, we did an "Intro to Functions Handout." can you go wrong when it's "edited with love?"

Friday, September 16, 2016


For the past two years, I have been lucky enough to have only 2 preps (Geometry Honors and Pre-Calculus). This year, I have a new prep (Algebra 2 Honors) on top of the other two. Now, it's not the first time I've had 3 preps. But it's the first time I've had three preps while married, and while trying to make sure i have a great work-life balance. When I first moved to Denver and was single, it felt easier to spend all my waking hours preparing things for my three classes. Now, I feel like I'm taking away valuable time from my family (and I don't even have children...I don't know how you folks do it!)

This is the second year that I'm teaching a PrBL Geometry class, and I still do each problem before students do them. I could probably "get away" with not doing that, but they go a lot faster this year and I think I'm reminded of past approaches as I walk through a problem. I don't want to give that up. In Algebra 2 Honors, it's a new prep. I can't get away from creating things! I have a lot of material to work with, since a teacher who taught the class for many years shared all her stuff with me (and she is totally the type of teacher to take and make things better year after I didn't simply inherit materials that have been static for years! Woohoo!) I still have to work a lot to make those materials "my own." Thankfully, another teacher is teaching it too - so we can split up some of the work.

Then, there's Pre-Calc. The class I've been teaching every year since I started. And I feel like this one (in terms of prep) is always last on my list because I have so many of my old resources to use. And I feel like it's getting an unfair backseat. I recognized this week how much different this class FEELS than my others. Is it a culture thing? Do I treat them differently because they're older? The class is SO quiet. It's sometimes hard to get them to interact. I have to figure out a way to change this....

I have a test planned for Monday (I already don't like giving tests Monday) and I'm thinking of postponing it. We could spend a day finishing our "Me by the Numbers" presentations, doing a class-building activity (thinking about one I recently read about having students argue their favorite numbers using research), and a Desmos activity to practice fitting quadratics (since that's part of what we're studying this unit). Okay. Writing that paragraph made me realize that I really need to do that. AND IT SHALL BE DONE.

And moving forward, I need to put a little more effort into this class. No more backseat for Pre-Calc. Three can sit in the front seat....right?

Happy Friday ya'll!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Selected journal responses...

I had my freshmen write a journal response last week and here are a few highlighted pieces:

"So far, I've been absolutely rekd by a couple math problems, but I know that I can ask my dad for help. It has SUCKED to have so few classes with my friends and (insert name of person here). But I've channeled my inner-early-career Beyonce ('I'm a survivor, I'm not gon' give up.') I've learned that I can do more math than I thought, and that I can think on my own more than I thought in math terms"

Early-career Bey

"The challenges I faced [this week] were correlated to my successes. I had to push myself to try and find clues that would help. This mostly took time, and was a good thinking struggle."

"I just love the new style, plain and simple." (talking about PBL)

"It was very shocking to find out that there is no such thing as a natural math student. Since Kindergarten even, it seemed like some students were able to grasp concepts easier, however I was surprised to find that we just need more information to learn more."

"In the past, I've struggled with participation and now, I feel super comfortable with my class and sharing my ideas."

Do yourself a favor and grade that stack of journals at school if you can!

Grading journals is incredibly time consuming, but I think it's one of many things I have done in the first few weeks to build a classroom community that I'm convinced will help us learn math together. I got to laugh a bit, and I learned a ton about my students! I hope to blog tomorrow or sometime this weekend about the other things that we have spent a good chunk of class time doing (apart from the math) that have been worth every minute!

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Back to School Night Success

This year, I had wanted to try an Ignite for BTSN, but I kept putting it off and putting it off. And I didn't think it would be smart to create it the night before or the night of the event. I hear these things should be well rehearsed...not that I've ever done one. I settled for keeping a lot of the same material and really pushing myself to show parents/families how passionate I am about teaching their kids. And I seriously think it was a home run!

I began with doing my "Me by the Numbers," which I edited slightly - changed one slide to talking about how I've known I wanted to teach math since I was in the 10th grade (seriously!)

Then I showed the following slide:

In early August, my colleague and I sent a letter to families of students in our Geometry Honors classes. We teach the class using a PrBL approach and we thought it might help if parents really understood what that meant BEFORE starting the class. I will say that is probably one of the BEST things I have ever done. I that letter, we included a link to a google form that asked parents to think back on their own high school math experience and type in 3 words or short phrases that described it. 

So, I reminded parents of this survey as this slide was shown. I said something like, "Imagine my surprise and delight when I started reading responses like these! I mean, 'great, great, great?' That person's math experience was SO good that they used an exclamation point! And if you're thinking that maybe you forgot to hit submit, because you certainly don't see any of your words on the screen right might be because they belonged on the next slide."

A few adults laughed. I heard a few of them reading them aloud and it felt like the vast majority of them could relate to one or more of these. Then I told them, "These hurt my soul as a math teacher! I mean, 'girls don't need to learn math?' I recently read that girls get the message that boys are better at math by the age of 5! Girls are STILL getting this message. These are words that I hope your students NEVER use to describe math class. Will it be stressful sometimes? Maybe? But I hope the words they choose in 20 years are that it was worth it. Challenging, but worth it. Or maybe they remember how much they grew, or how it helped them to become a better problem-solver. Your students are in this school building for the vast majority of their waking hours every day. You trust us to be with them, to teach them, and to treat them as a valued member of our community. I think what we say to students is so important and how we build a community within our classrooms is important."

Then I went on to talk about growth mindsets, and how we'll be working through the "How to Learn Math" curriculum. I talked about the community building things we did within the first week and a half: name tents (and even gave credit to Sara!), our "Me by the Numbers" presentations (because I had kids create and share those too!), and classroom norms (that I had posted and could refer to in the class).

I think it was an awesome way to use what the parents/guardians had shared with me (anonymously) to talk about what I value! I'm super pumped this year - it's going to be AWESOME!