Beginning-of-Year Custom

Each summer I find myself signed up for professional development sessions. I am totally psyched about them in March, but come mid-June, I just want to sleep and sew and crawl into my personal quiet space where I can heal. Teaching is hard on the mind, body and soul. Luckily, having the attention span of a gnat, it doesn’t take long before I emerge and start reading and writing and reflecting and of course, attending professional development sessions. Through this cycle, I eventually come away with an area of focus for the next school year. For example, 2015’s focus was on student thinking. I worked on strengthening meaningful mathematical discourse among learners as my students built and rebuilt mathematics conceptually. The many algorithms installed by well-meaning parents and past teachers were eventually understood. In 2016, all of my professional development had the common thread of intentionality. Instinct and reaction were insufficient. Every assignment, activity, question and comment is to be crafted with intension. The theme heard loud and clear in 2017 was about  being vulnerable as teachers.  Just as I want my students to take risks as they explore and problem solve, I too must stretch outside my comfort zones and take risks in my teaching-practice. Also, both in and out of the classroom, be brave and talk openly about race, gender and inequities. None of my themes are ever perfected, but significant progress is made and now these themes are part of who I am.

I sensed early that this year’s theme is going to be about self-care. I got hints as I saw my friends on strike in West Virginia and Oklahoma as they advocated for themselves, their students and others. The Me Too movement is about self-care and advocacy. Students organize and march for stricter gun laws, advocating for themselves and safe schools. These were all early clues.

Then Julie Reulbachspokeat Twitter Math Camp 2018 (#TMC18) about being teacher-leaders, and, oh, so much more. The theme was sealed. Self-care it is. A big part of self-care is liking and respecting myself. I am good at some things and I work hard to improve what I am not yet good at. I am reliable, honest, caring and confident and it is not bragging to say so. I love my students and I love my job and it is time to love myself. I am enough. Everyday!

selfcareisnotselfindulgence

 

Realizing a theme for each year first came about by accident. I happened to notice ideas recurring over certain periods of time and I started making connections among what I was reading and hearing and noticing. Now, I actively look for the coming year’s theme without forcing it. Having a central focus helps me when I find myself flailing in the middle of October and when panic sets-in in March. These themes make me who I am: a work-in-process making progress. Discovering my new theme is how I prepare mentally for a new school year. I still have to set my room up, plan my first couple of weeks, rewrite my syllabi, and finish making my first-day-of-school outfit, but I have observed my custom.

Have a great school-year everybody!!

Teacher-Dress–Just this Gal’s Opinion

I listened to an old podcast (September 2017) the other day on the topic of appropriate teacher dress. (Hack Learning episode 101) I was happy to see this topic being addressed, as it is important for teachers to dress professionally.

This topic stirs up ire among some educators, but I’m not talking about suits, ties, stockings and pumps verses polos, jeans, bare legs and deck-shoes. I am talking about my self-imposed rules on teacher-dress. It includes items that never make it to any official policy. The majority of these rules evolved over time, though my daughter, Kari, imposes a couple rules. She was in the eighth grade when I began teaching so she had more experience than I observing teacher dress. I listen to her because she is observant and reasonable. Besides, as a princess, her rules are nonnegotiable.

My rules:

  • Shoes: polished and no flip-flops ever. Sandals are ok if you feel safe in them, but not recommended. It is far better to have only one quality (probably expensive) pair of shoes that you wear everyday than it is to have several pairs of cheep shoes that hurt your feet.
  • Pants, skirts, dresses and shirts: cleaned and ironed with no missing buttons and hemmed to the appropriate length. It is just as bad for something to be too long as it is for it to be too short. It is perfectly fine to wear black pants every single day. That way, you can wear the same pair two days in a row and nobody notices. That is a pro-tip from a former guidance counselor.
  • Avoid clothing with advertising or political statements or Santa or pumpkins or flags.
  • Choose clothing that fits you well, in which you feel confident. If you have a single doubt about an article of clothing as you get dressed, obey that doubt. Wear it and it will bother you all day.

Now for Kari’s rules:

  • Undergarments—ladies, wear padded-bras; gentlemen, wear undershirts. We all need a bit of smoothing from time to time. Also, visible panty lines (vpl) are to be avoided. And nobody wants to see your thong or panties peeking out over your waistband. Ever.
  • Absolutely NO sweater sets. I think this rule stems from a bad experience with a chronic sweater-set wearer, but I honor it.

nosweaterset

That’s it. Hope this is helpful or at least made you laugh and think.

If you know me personally, you know I like to wear clothing made with printed fabrics with math designs. I know this is super-tacky, but it’s part of my signature. And, I don’t dress like that every day, unless I am at a math conference! I am certain my choice of attire is against somebody else’s list of rules. I’m ok with that.

Why All the Excitement?

I was shocked by the responses from the good people at Open Up Resources (OUR), Illustrative Mathematics and my comrades in twitterdom regarding my reflection blog which boldly sang the praises of OUR. I tried to understand what motivated this excitement and was told teachers just don’t normally cheerlead for curriculum resources. I explained to my husband why I was so zealous about OUR and I thought, perhaps, I should be explicit in my explanation to you as well. I am confident my experience is similar to many teachers’ experiences across the country.

I just finished my 12thyear of teaching 8thgraders mathematics in North Carolina. I had at least one standard math 8 class (in addition to algebras 1 & 2 and geometry) for each of the last 11 years. Each year, I was given a one-page summary of state standards to be covered, written in code on a calendar type matrix, directing me what to teach and when. I looked for textbooks at my school, but only found about twelve for 8th grade math and no teacher’s edition. The books were not very rigorous anyway, so I just used problems and worksheets offered up by colleagues as well as smelly, dusty binders left behind by former teachers. Even back then, I didn’t give homework in math 8 so I got along fine without textbooks and my students learned well as measured by those pesky end-of-year state assessments.sample matrix for blog

A few years into teaching math 8, along came Common Core. Halleluiah! I love Common Core. It makes so much sense and kids are able to make connections that never occurred to me which serves to confirm CCs awesomeness. The actual standards got more explicit with CC, but I still received only the one page summary of references to state standards. No curriculum resources were provided. The state provided no funding for curriculum even though all of the standards were updated and changed. Like teachers all over the country, I was left to find, recycle, invent, design, write, steal, borrow and beg for rigorous resources so I had something to use with my students. (Purely anecdotal, but the rest of the teachers in the country must have been in the same boat because, I think, MTBoS was born, in part, in response to the curriculum dessert in which we all found ourselves.) The quality of peer-shared and harvested resources was high, but they were exhausting to vet because there were so many!

Couple this quest for resources with the aspiration to provide quality instruction complete with high engagement, real-life application, improved mathematical discourse, deeper levels of learner understanding, all the while making daily learning experiential and sticky, left me defeated some days and tired every day. I tried to do my very best each day for ten years and failed on hundreds of occasions. Then a miracle happened. Open Up Resources was developed and available to teachers. Finally something an ever-shrinking budget could get behind. It checks nearly every box. It is high quality curriculum that is full of rich tasks. It is deeply rooted in conceptual understanding. Concepts are continuously reviewed, previewed and connected. Instructional routines designed to increase student participation and understanding, which I already use, such as, Which One Doesn’t Belong and Number Talks, are already part of the lessons.

It is finally possible to devote appropriate time to understanding and supporting student learning because I am not overwhelmed preparing my own curriculum each and every day. I can now focus on students because the curriculum piece is solved. This is why I am so excited and grateful.IMG_2778

For educators trying to convince colleagues, supervisors and the district-level decision makers that OUR is the solution to the curriculum problem they face, the following points may help.

  • One-to-one was a solution looking for a problem. OUR is a solution to a problem that already exists.
  • OUR makes instructional-consistency a reality across classrooms throughout the school and within the district.
  • Teacher expertise is required to lead, coach, interpret, monitor, sequence, direct, and challenge learners. Teachers are the professionals in the classrooms. This curriculum frees teachers to better support student learning.
  • OUR incorporates best-practices at each and every turn. Units as well as lessons are designed with low floors and high ceilings. Struggling learners as well as high-flyers deserve quality curriculum and instruction. OUR makes that possible for all learners, creating equity that has been lacking in our classrooms.
  • The professional expertise of educators in the classroom is essential for delivery of the OUR curriculum. The teacher’s role in the classroom is elevated, not diminished, through the use of OUR.
  • Making connections is essential to the learning process. With OUR, mathematics is connected daily to real life, addressing that question, “when are we going to use this?”
  • Learners are connected to one another through the use of instructional routines that promote collaborative problem solving and communication skills.
  • Learners are challenged through the rigorous tasks in OUR.
  • Conceptual understanding is essential for success in higher mathematics. OUR is rooted in conceptual understanding. Learners know why mathematical algorithms work before they are formalized and learners have the freedom to decide how to go about solving problems.
  • Creativity and varied approaches are expected and celebrated. Learning mathematics through OUR is fun for students and teachers alike.

These are just a few points that occurred to me. Pick and choose what suites your audience. If you have additional reasons you have used to persuade your colleagues to pursue OUR, please add them to the comments!

Reflecting on My First Year Experience with Open Up Resources

Please let me disclose up front that I am a user/fan/evangelist of Open Up Resources (OUR) and have absolutely no affiliation with them whatsoever. I do, however, have enormous respect and gratitude. Statements here are opinions and reflections on my experiences. Your mileage may vary.

2017/2018 was the best school year in a long time. I learned a lot; I was organized; I felt prepared; I tried several new things; and most importantly, I left school June 14thexcited to return eight weeks later to build on the year’s successes and improve any mediocrity and shortcomings.

My school dove into OUR headfirst and didn’t come up for air until at least Christmas. My district provided training all along, but given my course load, I was not able to attend the large majority of training as desired. I wrote about my initial experiences here. I finally got into a groove and became much more efficient in preparing for my Open Up classes. Rather than preparing daily as I had done September through January, in February I started batching my lesson preps. By April, I built my PowerPoint for an entire week in one file. At the close of each day, I deleted the slides covered and saved the rest of the file for the next day. Because I used Variable Random Grouping each day, I needed a new seating chart slide anyway. I finally began importing the pre-made slides provided by Open Up. I imported the slides I wanted and just edited my student sheets using textboxes for more efficient printing rather than duplicating them into my homemade ppt. Send me a message and I am happy to grant you access to my files. Samples may also Files may be accessed through the PowerPoint I am preparing prepared and edited for TMC18.

Here is a simple graphic of the way I think OUR looks. Move clockwise, beginning with the Warm-up.

OURgraphic

The job of synthesis is to connect every aspect of the portion within the lesson as well as to connect new learning to prior learning. If there is ever any ambiguity about connections throughout the lesson, they are hammered home during the final synthesis. If the final synthesis is skipped, there is an obvious hole in the lesson. Each portion of the lesson is also synthesized as one lesson phase transitions to the next. The relative sizes of the circles in my graphic are indicative of the amount of time allocated to each portion of the lesson. Lessons follow this consistent pattern throughout the course.

I like how the Cool-down bleeds into the Warm-up in the graphic. Fairly early on through the year, I began reviewing the Cool-down at the beginning of the next class. This allowed learners to review my feedback on the Cool-downs as well as to access newly acquired knowledge for the prior day’s learning experiences. That is a example of how I made OUR my own.

Another example of making OUR our own at my school is a sixth grade math teacher came up with the idea to have learners place completed Cool-downs in green, yellow or red folders depending on their individual confidence levels. The information gleaned from the placements was telling in a couple ways. It was easy to spot false confidence. It was also helpful to see at a glance how students were evaluating their own learning. We still sorted and wrote meaningful feedback on the Cool-downs each day.

Here are errors that I made this year that I want to spare anyone else from making.

  • Notice the graphic. Without the synthesis, the lesson has a big hole in it. Don’t shortcut that, rush it or heaven forbid, skip it. Be explicit as you make connections. What we as teachers think is obvious, may not be to learners and frequently, they just need that small nudge forward to make the desired connections.
  • Give at least 5 minutes for the Cool-down. Some kids can demonstrate understanding with more time. If they don’t nail it, you need to figure out what you missed along the way. This is valuable information and not a step that you can afford to skip.
  • Keep the pace up from the very beginning. Trust the curriculum. Concepts will come around multiple times from multiple angles. It works well. The authors are geniuses. Respect and trust it.
  • Focus on student work and having students share their perspectives on your cue. Sequencing student responses is an art that I am far from mastering, but it is valuable to student learning.
  • Allow enough time for assessments. Learners are actually excited about showing what they have mastered.
  • Score assessments with an open mind and an open heart. Learning is a process and you are looking for progress toward mastery. This material is challenging in a whole new way. Don’t defeat learners before they get a fair chance. Fairly recognize progress.
  • Stay organized. The curriculum makes that easy. Follow the OUR sequence even if your district thinks they know better. They don’t.

I am most excited about the improvements I plan to make this coming school year.

  • My district is getting student workbooks, so I will not have nearly as much copying to do. I will still copy the Cool-downs, but I have those all set.
  • I am going to take my own advice and focus on sequencing student responses more deliberately and improve my process here.
  • I am also going to improve my syntheses. I really didn’t help my students make the connections and recap the concepts the way I should have last year.
  • I am going to keep my pace up in the beginning so I do not have to condense and shortchange my learners at the end.
  • I am going to use VNPS (Vertical Non-permanent Surfaces) every chance I get. Learners did far too much sitting last year.
  • I want to adapt some student tasks to Desmos so students have the opportunity to dialogue with other learners and critique their work. Desmos is well suited for this.
  • I have to work calculator use into the lessons. No calculators for learners at first for sure, but after my students have conceptual understanding, I need to teach them to use the tools at their disposal. I totally dropped the ball on that one and need to figure it out.

I could write for days about how jazzed I was each day as we learned math in an entirely different way this year. I could tell you how I learned something new each and everyday, not only about student learning, but also about math. You need to experience that for yourself though. Please be smart enough to do that the week or at least day before your students do. It will make you so much more efficient and effective than I was. I eventually got ahead of them, but not far. I am excited for next year for sure!

OUR made me love, adore, and treasure teaching Math 8 for the first time ever. It was fun. It was meaningful. It was amazing. I cannot thank OUR enough for bringing joy into my classes through quality curriculum. I would have never thought that possible, but I lived it.

After finishing the year, I am incredibly in love with OUR. I hate myself a bit, but that is true every year. No matter what I do, I feel like I could have, should have done more. However, OUR helped me give my learners more conceptual understanding than they have ever had. The stage is set for explosive learning in high school. This is both my prediction and prayer.