Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Bathroom/Nurse Pass Procedures - Trial and Error

I went through about 20 different ways of dealing with bathroom passes, so I wanted to sumamrize for myself (and anyone else fascinated by such things) all the things that worked and didn't work.

I seriously thought about using Fred Jones advice at the beginning of the year, which can be summarized as "If a 7-year-old can go the night without wetting himself, a high school teenager can wait 50 minutes. Don't let them go without a doctor's note." I agree that they CAN wait, but I feel weird about controlling people's bodily functions to that level. It doesn't seem right, and after all there ARE emergencies. I don't think a young adult should have to beg for a simple bathroom visit - it seems so condescending. So I tried many other things:

1) Decided to give each kid 3 bathroom passes, but didn't hand them out at the beginning of the year. Instead I would write them out on the school hall passes and then collect them back.

Benefits: Didn't require any organization beforehand.

Drawbacks: I would lose them. The kids would lose them. The kids would throw them away on the way back so I couldn't collect them. I collected a huge pile before buying an index card box to put them in. I then proceeded to stuff more in the index card box and never organized them. After kids got their 12th pass in 5 weeks, some of them (why not all????) caught on to the fact that I wasn't keeping track of them. Writing them out wasted time during class and annoyed me. The lack of organization drove me insane and I allowed myself to stress over it.

2) I borrowed a pyramid model from another class (copying something I had seen in another classroom) and taped a green pass inside it. I told the kids that if the outline of my PPT was green, they could quietly take it and leave, but if it was red, they had to stay in their seats.

Benefits: I stopped all my paperwork. The kids did REALLY good at not asking me when the board was red, in general.

Drawbacks: The kids still insisted on asking me when the board was green, so I was still monitoring who got to go in what order. Then some kid broke the corners off my pyramid pass. Then another kid stole it (probably threw it away). Also, if I didn't prepare my PPT ahead of time I didn't have red or green boards up, and that confused them.

3) That annoyed me so I stopped letting them go to the bathroom for the next week (an immature response, I admit).

Over Fall Break I thought a lot about my procedures, and wrote a very late Plan for Success (syllabus):

4) I told them at the beginning of the second quarter that if they had an emergency that was worth leaving the classroom, it was worth coming in for 15 minutes of tutoring. I also told them, to make them think before they asked, that if they asked I would automatically put the 15 minutes up on the board.

Benefits: They asked less.

Drawbacks: They asked all the time, including in the middle of mini-lectures or notes. They had no incentive to come back quickly. I also suspect that they tried to "get their 15 minutes worth" by wandering more than usual (this may not be true). They also quickly forgot that asking=tutoring, so they would ask, then go when it wasn't an emergency.

5) Without telling them I started asking "Are you sure? You know its 15 minutes of tutoring if you leave." every time they asked. I'd also say "After you start working" and "in a few minutes" and "No! Ask during groupwork, not while we're taking notes."

Benefits: Bathroom visits went down.

Drawbacks: I'm sick of nagging.

*) Side issue #1: Our lunch is staggered because we have a closed campus, so my fifth period algebra class is at the same time as fifth lunch. That means that the kids like to ditch and take a double lunch with their friends - or, to "go to the bathroom" and come back half an hour later. We were told at the beginning of the year not to let 5th hour go to the bathroom at all because they just had lunch, but I didn't feel like saying that so I gave them the same rules. It was a disaster! The same four kids asked to go every day, and I distracted them as much as possible but it didn't seem to make a difference. At the end of the semester I lost my temper and said "Too many people are ditching. No going without a doctor or parent note." This stopped the ditching, but caused quite a lot of bad will with that class. On my end-of-seemster evaluation form, a lot of them said "We can't go to the bathroom" as one of their main grievances. And like I said earlier, I just don't feel right being that controlling.

*) Side issue #2: A girl in one of my classes told me that she has a medical problem that requires frequent visits. I believed her (and still believe her) so I've been letting her go more often, and I told her that she wouldn't need to come in for the mandatory tutoring. Result: she took advantage of that and "went to the bathroom" all the time. Its during my 5th period, so I started hearing reports that she was walking around the lunch area with her friends. When I changed to the "no visits without a parent/doctor note" I told her that applied to her as well, and the note never appeared and the need-for-bathroom-visits stopped.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

So I've been weighing the following suggestions and problems:

1) They go too often, just to get out of class or move around.
2) They go for too long - it ends up being a ditch and they wander around campus or the cafeteria with their friends.
3) They get mad when I don't let them go - and frankly I sympathize with them.
4) They ask for bathroom passes as rewards.
5) I'm worried they'll copy the passes and then use them every day with the "But you said we could..." line.
6) I'm worried they'll steal the passes from each other.
7) I don't want to be over controlling.
8) I don't want them missing important information and then falling behind when they wander back into class.
9) I don't want them interrupting notes or mini-lecture to ask, such as when I ask "Questions about that problem?" and they raise their hands and ask to leave.
10) I'm tired of paperwork, tired of nagging, tired of having to repeat myself because they stayed out for 30 minutes, and tired of wasting time and energy and class time dealing with this issue.
11) Keeping track of who did their mandatory detention is a pain in the butt.

So here's the policy I'm going to try next semester:


1) At the beginning of each quarter you get two bathroom passes. (I will sometimes give out bathroom passes as rewards for winning review games or good behavior.) Write your name IN INK on them right away and keep them in your folder or backpack:

2) You may use them during groupwork only. Get your pass out and have it ready when you ask and I'll take it and tear it up. Then quietly take the pass hanging on the wall and go. I will keep track of how long you take so be quick.

3) If you've run out of passes, you must put your name on the board for 15 minutes tutoring if you need to go again - so save them and use. If you bring a parent/doctor/nurse note you don't need to do this. For fifth hour, after you use your two passes you MUST get a parent/doctor/nurse note to go again.

To enforce this I'm doing the following:

a) I'm copying the passes on bright neon paper I got from our VP, so they'll be harder to lose. They have my turtle so they know its for my class, and in the box on the bottom right-hand corner I'm going to initial each copy in red ink so they can't be photocopied (these kids usually don't cheat on that level, but I'd rather head off possible problems)

b) I'm going to redo my seating chart I carry around on my clipboard so I have space to note down the time they leave and come back, and if I see a pattern of long visits I will deal with it on an individual basis.

c) I would prefer something easier to recognize than "during groupwork" but I'm just not organized enough yet. I often change things in the middle of class so I can't rely on my pre-prepared PPT with red and green backgrounds, and often I'm just too tired to make a good PPT lately. I also tried music to signal grouptime but I'm not organized enough yet. Its been a big struggle to admit that I CAN'T do everything this first year, so I'm going to force myself to admit that I can't, and tell them "during groupwork."

d) I'm going to redo my detention/mandatory tutoring bookkeeping, because I've been letting them slip A LOT, so that the ones that get filled only happen because they are mature kids that come in on their own. Right now I'm just losing their respect (and my own!) for having policies I don't enforce.

e) I'm going to try and schedule times to get up and stretch so they have other ways to get our their wriggles. (Right now I've gone to a don't-get-up policy which isn't reasonable)

f) I bought a bathroom plastic logo from OfficeMax, and I'm going to tape a green school hall pass to the back and hang it by my desk in the front of my room, instead of the back (so it won't be as easily stolen). Its also not as expensive to replace if/when it gets lost, stolen, or broken.

g) In fifth hour, if they really have an emergency after using the two passes, I'll discuss it with them in the hall and then let them go in exchange for 15 minutes tutoring.

We'll see in a couple of months how this goes...

Last Teaching Week of Semester

This has been a very mixed-bag semester.

Bad: Haven't blogged nearly as much as I'd planned to
Good: I'm still alive.

Bad: Spent the second quarter doing much less modeling and conceptual work with the kids
Good: Spent the first quarter doing it

Bad: I was too hard on myself
Good: I have next semester
Bad: I'll be too hard on myself then too.

Bad: I often forgot to take attendance.
Good: I only got yelled at about it once.

There are a million things I want to fix, change, do better next year, etc. so I'm going to do a brain-dump in this post.

1) Fix my timer. I've made an animation that lets a small timer tick off in the corner of a PPT but its got a bug. I've got someone in mind to help me program a better one.

2) Make a list of teacher procedures so I don't keep forgetting things LIKE ATTENDANCE!

3) Make a better seating chart

4) Redo bellwork procedure

5) BUILD A BALANCE SCALE. My kids do not understand equations, and I regret not having a balance scale ready to model that for them.

There are so many things about organization that I just feel overwhelmed. Honestly, at this point I have pretty much stopped caring about this semester. The kids who aren't working are failing and the kids who are working are passing, so I'm focusing less on "Start working! Start working!" and walking around to help those who are trying.

We're all burned out, but I have no way of motivating these kids who suddenly stopped working.

I feel like the walking dead.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Stress Balls for ADHD Kids

One of the things I enjoy about this job is how much the kids teach you about teaching. I don't mean learning from experience; I mean when they come right out and tell you solutions that other teachers have used. One bouncy kid actually asked me to make him a behavior contract to sign, saying "It helps me behave."

At the beginning of the year many of my ADHD and/or extrabouncy kids told me that stress balls really help, so I went around looking for them (lately I haven't been thinking far enough ahead to order things online as I should). First I bought some squashy balls from Walgreens, but I'm on my second set now. If you want to do this in your classroom here are some things to consider.

1) Stress balls are something you'll see in stores occasionally, but its really hard to go looking for them. Order online, or look at Party City, where I found these balls (note to self: PC by JoAnn's, 5th aisle, halfway down on LHS):

2) Get unpopular styles. My Walgreen balls were Disney themed - Cars, Toy Story, and Winnie-the-Pooh. They disappeared very quickly, with Cars going first, then Toy Story, and Winnie-the-Pooh balls getting stolen when I had a substitute. Party City had squashy sports balls but I've learned my lesson now.

3) Make sure they don't do any of the following things: bounce, make noise when squashed, make noise when rubbed against a smooth surface like a desk, come apart easily, or seem interesting in any way. I nearly bought some squashy balls before I realized they were the "inside-out" balls that can be turned inside out and stretched over the head, with gel spikes sticking out everywhere. Huge catastrophe averted!

4) Don't let them take them home. It seems obvious, but when a kid says "If this is only for me can I keep it in my backpack?" and you're in a hurry, don't say yes!

5) Either clean them every day or buy one per student. I will be labeling mine A-L and listing which kid can use each one.

6) Keep them in the front of the room. Even though its more disruptive, make the kids come up to the front to get them and put them away. Anything not tied down is fun to steal for those 1-2 immature kids per class.

Overall the kids are very grateful that you went out of the way to get stress balls for them, though at the beginning everyone will ask for one. I suggest making them come after school to ask for one, which is what I am going to do. That cuts down on kids that just want to waste class time.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Seating Chart Template

I've been having problems deciding what information to keep on my clipboard and what to keep elsewhere. I've already gone through several permutations:

1) Keep attendance only

2) Keep attendance and write everything else down randomly near their names

3) Keep attendance and behavior

4) Keep attendance on clipboard, behavior on board (This worked very well once I listened to the other teachers and did this. During my student teaching I was at a school with such bad discipline problems that the students would walk up to the board and wipe their names off, so I was reluctant to try it here. But, as I am continuously reminded, this is NOT Student Teaching High School. Putting their names up has freed up my clipboard space, held them accountable, and helped me not lose detentions!

5) Keep attendance and write HW and Class Participation points randomly near their names

And now I am on Seating Chart Method 6.0. I needed the following things:

1) Desks with enough space to write their names
2) Desks with spaces for attendance, tardies, MP (hw) points, and Classwork points
3) Desks that would be identifiably rectangular and not square so they looked like my class (OCD)
4) Desks big enough to write on
5) Desks small enough to fit 34 on my 8.5"x11" paper in the right configuration

After spending way too much time playing with Microsoft Paint (yes, the free app that comes next to the calculator) I came up with the following possibilities for desks:

I chose one of the diagonal ones as the best for my purposes, and wasted more time (hey, its my fall break; if this is the most fun I have...) making a diagonal version. My problem is that I like the simple and clean bitmap format for things like this, but Paint has so few tools - for instance, it can only rotate 90 degrees. After spending a lot of time measuring with my fingers on the screen I hit myself on the forehead and remembered what I had realized last semester - I'm a math teacher!


In other words, if you want to make a diagonal of a certain length, you can make a circle with that radius and use any line from the center to the circumference. Again, I could have done it faster by relearning Fireworks or buying Paint Shop Pro, but I'm a geek like that. Math in action!

I then created my seating chart - 8 groups, 4 students per group, with two additional individual seats for students that want/need to be by themselves until a group activity begins (at that time they will have to pull their chairs to the nearest group if they want participation points for the day).

Finally, to make transportation and sharing easier, I inserted the above pic into a Word document and added my turtle crawling onto the page from the bottom left corner.

The top boxes are for attendance every day of the week. If they are absent I mark a slash from the top right to bottom left corners of the rectangle. If they show up late you modify it by adding a line from the middle of the rectangle to the bottom right corner (so it looks like a sideways skewed "T" for tardy).

The two diagonal areas are for classwork and homework points. During bellwork I go around and check More Practice (my term for hw) and give them 1, 2, or 3 points and write that numeral in the first triangular section. During classwork I use the second triangle to deduct 1, 2, or 3 points if they are off-task. At the end of the day I can (theoretically - let's see how this works out!) quickly input these grades into Easy Grade Pro.

2 examples (1 absent student, 1 tardy student):

All these pics, and the Word document, can be found at the Sines of Learning Document Page. They are licensed under a Creative Commons non-Commercial license.


Starting Over

Well, my first nine weeks were - okay, I guess. I spent the first 6 beating myself over the head and the last 3 shrugging it off - maybe a little too much. I've learned a lot over these 9 weeks, and I have decided to view this next quarter as a way for me to start over. Even if its too late to train some of the kids to behave, I can start over. For myself.

Its fall break now, and I was planning to spend it in the following way:

Friday-Sunday: enjoy myself in Tucson
Monday-Friday: work at school without a school day looming over my head

Instead, an hour after the kids left I started feeling a tickle in my throat, and my week started like this:

Friday-Saturday: trail after friends in Tucson, hacking and coughing, with a roll of toilet paper for tissue
Sunday-Monday: Sleep 18 hours a day at home. Also drink South Asian remedy which is so disgusting that I usually choose to be sick instead

Its Tuesday now, and I'm back in my classroom listening to the radio and making a To Do list on the board. So far, it looks like this:

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Kinesthetic Number Line

Friday (end of 6th week) went badly. A week ago I had decided to create a number line in masking tape on my floor. It was going to be for students who still struggle with negative numbers so that we could incorporate "kinesthetic learniing". Then I started thinking that I could use my number line for a whole-class activity. I have been thinking continuously about my model number line and about how I wanted to use the visual image of rotating about zero to represent finding the opposite. I decided that if I could get the students to stand on the number line, I might be able to find some way to discover that 'rotation' visually. I decided to make it a day's activity but as usual, I did not plan enough. I went home and made the following notes:

34 students max
1) Get in order on the number line
2) Add 3 to your number
3) Get back in order on the number line
4) Add -2 to your number
5) Find someone with the opposite number (unorganized)
6) Find someone where your sum is ___9____A
7) Find someone where your difference is ____7__B___ - stand in order
8) Find someone that has the same absolute value as you
9) Find someone where the absolute value of your difference is ___11_C______
10) Find two other people so the absolute value of your sum is ___14______D
11) Get back in order on the number line
12) Find your opposite (while touching elbows on the number line) – end of activity
Unfortunately, then I decided to sleep and finish it in the morning. I ended up getting to the school with nothing more than those notes. On the way to school, I decided to split the class into two groups- one with a maximum of 16 students and the other with a maximum of 18. (Digression- in each period, the 16 students at the front of the room behaved better and had a better attitude despite the projector shining in their eyes. I'm not sure if that's because they were a smaller group or perhaps because of the psychosocial associations with the front of the classroom.) I ended up making index cards frantically as the students entered the room. I couldn't find the masking tape, so one of the groups had only an imaginary line (no pun intended) and the postive and negative signs on the ends were made of duct tape (which had the added feature of being well-nigh invisible against the carpeting).

This lesson was pretty much a failure in every class. First hour started late because I was finishing the index cards and typing the prompts frantically from the laptop to PowerPoint. I realized that if I wanted each student to have an opposite (for the final activity), then they could not also be asked to "add up" to arbitrary (non-zero) numbers.

1st hr:
didn't have cards ready
no ppt
forgot ppt shines on front kids
touching elbows bettter than linking
students not used to moving around
refused to find partners without help
make sure students don't leave with your cards

2nd hr
class started late bc I was remaking missing cards
don'tbe in bad mood (makes moving punishment instead of pseudo-fun)
don't give students only option of linking elbows (they hate)
if lights go out 1/2 way and stay out, don't expect to finish
if you want to keep some students after class to write down names for nonparticipation. They crowd toward you threateningly
if going to piss students off, make sure they don't take your cards, tear them into little pieces, and strew them down the hallway down the building.

3rd hr
class started lte bc was remaking stolen/torn/strewn cards
lights still off (don't do activity in dark)
make sure students do not lean against post-9/11 'panic button'
DO choose a random 100 problem assignment, telling students option between weekend hw and this in-class activity wo homework

left too late to get lunch, so went to cafeyuckiya to get cheese pizza (only veggietarian item on menu)
it turns out no Pizza Hut today, only 'pizza boats' made from french bread
took that and onion rings back to teacher's lounge, where I discovered pepperoni (of the insidious Darth Cube style in pizza (communist plot!), so gave to other (unsuspecting) teacher.
resorted to lunch of giant kit-kat and pepsi to different teacher's room to cry and commiserate on the human... err... teacher condition

5th circle:
class started late (shamefully, I didn't spend my lunch hour re-making cards that the students had taken
used same ploy of 'options' with added bribe of '25 minutes free time at end of class' for students - worked amazingly well, should do EVERY day!

6th circle prep
called district math specialist, told her (incomplete) list of problems: ie, students hate me, not that am behind...
wandered around school, dreading 7th hour

7th circle
tried to remake cards, so (once again) class did not start on time, kids wouldn't listen, 10 mins free timea t end

good stuff: kid have me half of his flaming chee-toes

after school:
went to older teacher's room and cried
she told me to bring in my flash drive so whe could five me docs and progs to help
power in bldg fails three times this hour, twice in middle of transfer of files to flash drive...

went home, had epiphany (to go to bed, but humbly)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

One Way to Calm Down

On the Sunday before school started R and I went to the Meeting (the Quaker equivalent of a church) that I have been regularly attending for 8 years, though I’ve let it slide when I’m stressed out (and, therefore, need it the most). The Meeting I attend is “unprogrammed” which means that it follows the original Quaker practice of having silent worship where everyone sits quietly in contemplative worship and people stand to give witness if they feel moved to. Quakers, or the Religious Society of Friends, is now a diverse group and some have moved to more “church-y” worship services and continued evangelical theology, but my Meeting is on the other end – a very liberal, open meeting with no minister, no sermons, and complete equality and responsibility on the part of every member.

So at the end of Meeting, it is a tradition (oops, Quakers aren’t supposed to have traditions) for us to go around the room (the chairs are set up in a double rectangle around the room facing inward) and say our names as well as any other announcements. Halfway through worship R nudged me and made me exchange seats with him, and I didn’t understand why until the announcements reached him. He was now first, so he first told everyone how nervous I was about beginning school and how I needed a lot of encouragement and support. He then said “Also, with apologies to Louis Armstrong…” and began proposing to me! Even though I had been calling him my fiance to people at school with his permission (because I felt “boyfriend” sounded too young to say to my students) we were not yet technically engaged, though we talked about getting married all the time. I had told him I wanted a memorable proposal, and it was! He sang my favorite song, “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong, and changed some of the words to reflect our own private little jokes, ending with “Will you marry me?” I said yes, everyone clapped, and the rest of the day we spent celebrating instead of hyperventilating! So if someone you love is worrying about starting a new career, here’s my suggestion: propose. With song.

The Prep Week

Well the first day of school came and all my good intentions to blog about this experience went out the window. Its not the same thing, but I want to take the time to write down what I can remember of these past five weeks, not for others as much as for myself when I read this at the beginning of next year.

After 3 days of teacher induction, we had Monday off and then Tuesday-Thursday was teacher prep week. Lots of meetings, some worthwhile, lots of speeches, lots of awards, lots of “Let’s make this the best year ever!!!!!!!!!!!!” Is it sad that I kind of enjoy these pep rallies? I cringe at pep rallies for a specific person or cause because I see emotion being manipulated for a certain goal, but there’s really no downside to “the best year ever!!!!!” It’s both positive enough and vague enough to be harmless.

Being slightly OCD, I spent my teacher prep week cleaning my room instead of preparing materials. To be fair, the room was pretty dirty – layers of dust that were thick enough to reach the furry stage when they look like they could be petted. I cleaned off every surface on both desks, the computer, the main cabinet, and the filing cabinet – inside and outside. I also had some fun “discovering” the supplies left behind by the previous teacher that I could hoard, squirrel-like, for when my yearly alloted supply ran out – whiteboards, markers, filing supplies, etc. And, I pushed the desks and computer around back and forth several times before deciding where to put everything, which was quite a bit of exercse.

I also got 3 posters made for my room: A Class Rules poster, a poster describing what all work should look like, and a poster with a saying I came up with this summer that I still haven’t put up :-/ I’ll upload pics soon. I took them to the librarian and asked for them to come back soon, and she was very nice about it.

Oh yes – and this week was also interrupted by car troubles. My parents had just helped me to find and buy a new (used) car. It tore my heart to give up my 1994 Toyota Corolla [with 120,000 miles, broken door handles, broken power locks, broken power windows, leaking power steering fluid, no roof covering other than foam which drifted down if you touched the ceiling, a broken taillight, a plastic right-hand side view mirror, and a missing headlights switch – such character!] but it wasn’t reliable enough for the 54 mile round-trip commute. So Gunther was parked and put on sale and we bought Gunter 2.0, a 2000 Toyota Corolla. Promptly after we paid the cost, the dealership packed up and disappeared without transferring the title, so I had to skip Friday morning meetings to sit at the MVD and file a title complaint. The next day the dealer called promising to work everything out but now he’s disappeared again, so my car is still not legally mine and under a temporary license only, as of September 7th. When I returned to school on Saturday I found that the instructional specialist had talked to the principal about letting teachers into their classes Saturday and he had, after asking the teachers, agreed to let us in until 2pm. So I also spent Saturday at the school, cleaning and putting up what few posters I had, until 2:30 when maintenance frog-marched me out.

My the end of this week was also complicated by the fact that R (my fiance) and I were house-sitting for a couple we regularly do this for, taking care of two cats and one very needy dog. Usually I love having a house to ourselves but this week was very stressful knowing I couldn’t have easy access to all my “stuff” at home. I didn’t want to stay at home alone since the rest of my family including the dog was vacationing at Rocky Point and I knew going home after my first few days to an empty house was NOT a good idea. So after throwing, frankly, a temper tantrum about R double-booking his time again, I calmed down and we moved a large part of my belongings into the house. It is actually less than half the distance to my school than my house so that helped my nerves about being perpetually late.

So that was my teacher prep week – lots of cleaning, lots of moving, and lots of MVD sitting.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Fears I Had Before Starting School

1) I will not be on time. I am chronically late to everything, including student teaching (and I got into a lot of trouble for it).

2) I’ll develop anxiety and become totally frozen and unable to work. My senior year of college I became “frozen” and unable to stand the thought of touching my Advanced Lab II lab manuals to write two lab reports. ALL the data was taken and the reports would be only 10-15 pages including graphs, but I took an Incomplete and put it off for so long that I started thinking about this class as “the one thing that is standing between me and my physics degree” which only churned up more anxiety. It took many hours with a counselor to realize that my old coping mechanism (Wait Till the Last Minute and then Use the Adrenaline of Panic to Finish Everything in an All-Nighter) was no longer useful – it had broken down. I slowly learned how to deal with responsibility without an adrenaline high, but it took a long time and an incredibly patient Advanced Lab professor. I still sometimes try to resort to that broken method when I am stressed and forget it doesn't work anymore.

3) I will not be on time. I will wake up after school has begun and my kids will be standing out in the hallway and I will be called into the principal’s office and fired. Fired fired fired.

4) My kids will hate me. I wasn’t able to relate well to high school kids the first time around, when I was a high school kid, so how presumptuous is it of me to assume I can this time around when we are in different generations? I don’t dress carefully, I don’t do my hair carefully, I don’t like sports, I don’t listen to the right music, and I’m a book-reading math-doing M*A*S*H-watching oldies-listening nerd. I know from my education classes and reading, the good ones and the almost-useless ones, that “building relationships is key to getting students involved.” It certainly can be done without that, but its easier when they feel a connection to you. Which means it sucks to be me.

5) I will not be on time. Fired fired fired. Fired.

6) I will fall behind on my grading – just like in student teaching. I will get “frozen” and get in trouble with parents and administrators and let down my students and be a bad role model for responsibility.

7) I will fall behind on taking attendance – just like in student teaching. And get in trouble with parents and administrators.

8) The kids will instinctively know that I’ve never done this before and I have no idea what I’m doing. They’ll have no respect for my authority and will show me their lack of respect and confidence by lying down on the floor and refusing to get up (I’ve heard a couple of horror stories about that. The first was on Blog of a Math Teacher, soon before he got fired. The other was from my mother, whose colleague at her community college came back after lasting only one week as a junior high school teacher.)

9) I will be a horrible teacher. By not preparing, I will resort to boring repetitive worksheets and drill-and-kill with no attempt to incorporate conceptual learning or critical thinking skills, and my kids will be worse off for my supposedly idealistic decision to become an inner-city school teacher.

10) I will get late and be fired.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

More things to know

Other ideas about things for a first-day survey that I got from a book called [will fill in]

What do you prefer to be called (nickname, etc.)?

Your home phone number:

Your parent(s)/guardian(s) first and last names and work numbers:

Does your family have Internet access at home?

Does your family have a DVD player?

What grade do you expect to get in this class?

What do you expect to learn in this class?

What do you think makes a good teacher?

What do you think makes a good student?

Do you have any medical problems or anything else I should be aware of?

How do you see yourself using math in the future and in your life?

Are you more comfortable speaking & writing another language besides English?

New Teacher Induction

This week all teachers that were new to the district participated in 3 days of New Teacher Induction; the first day was on my birthday, which I'm hoping is a good omen!

Overall I enjoyed it. There were definitely some boring speeches, but I learning a lot about my campus and the district and am [marginally] more relaxed now about starting school.

The first day was at my campus, where we were loaded up with new teacher documents and enough school and district paraphernalia (pom-poms, mugs, buttons, etc.) to last us until retirement. By far the best part was a neighborhood tour - they loaded us in vans and showed us the areas where our students lived! It was wonderful, not because I learned so much, but because it told me that the school really wanted to help us get to know our students and their circumstances. We ended the drive with a stop at a local Hispanic market (our students are 90% Hispanic) and were given time to wander around and look at it.

The next two days were at the district, and the first day's morning was taken up by fairly boring talking heads talking about the district, the union, benefits, special ed, etc. - important stuff, but brain frying. But for the rest of our time we were with our content specialists. My district's content specialist had actually taught part of my math methods class in my teacher certification program, so I already knew she was great. There are education teachers that teach by explaining one edulingo term after another, and there are ed teachers that teach...y'know, material, how to apply education research, useful tips, silly stuff like that. ;-) I enjoyed my time there and especially enjoyed the little things they did to help us feel more at home, like providing tables for all new teachers from one campus to sit together.

I also joined the local teacher's union, which is part of the Arizona Education Association (AEA) and the National Education Association (NEA). I was of two minds about it because of my neutral attitude towards NEA and the cost, but I really believe in unions (gathering together to change a situation by the power of combined economic interest - how pinko commie!) and the local union came highly recommended. So don't mess with me - yer talkin' to a union member!

Open Source and Creative Commons License

My fiancee is very invested into and passionate about the open source movement, and he's sucked me into it. I'm now using open source software, etc.

One thing I just did was license this blog, Sines of Learning, and its companion webpage the Sines of Learning Document Page under a related license:

the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

Creative Commons is a non-profit that provides the necessary legal language to license your creative works (writings, art, etc). They help you pick the right license based on what you want. In my case, the only thing I wanted was that neither my work nor anything built on it be used for commercial purposes. After all, if I give it away free, everyone else should too! So I used the following language (generated by the Choose a License feature) on both:

"Sines of Learning is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

Based on a work at

Some rights reserved. No attribution necessary."

I added the "No attribution necessary." because the license specifies that attribution must be given according to the originator's instructions. I'm not worried about getting credit for it. I just want to know that if I ever create something that is some use to some one, somewhere, they can use it for free.

Please consider copyrighting your own blog and materials under a Creative Common license too!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Good Math & Education Blogs - Ongoing

I'm going to use this post to keep track of the many blogs I've read and enjoyed. It'll be continuously updated and I'll link to it in a later post whenever I do.

I'm dividing the blogs I read into 3 categories: dead blogs (blogs no longer active) that are worth reading, live blogs, and great blogs. I'll be adding the third category to the sidebar on this page but keeping the first two categories here.

If I put a blog on here I'll add if I have not read through the entire archives. I find going through the archives really valuable for learning about the writer and his/her style. And who says the only useful things are posted the same day I found the blog?

Dead Blogs

Blog of a Math Teacher: Great insight into struggles of new math teachers. Be warned, his career in secondary school ends unhappily and can be depressing. Fortunately, he moved to community college and seemed, as of May 2006, to be happy there.

Live Blogs

Coffee & Graph Paper: This blog is unfortunately slow, because the author writes about conceptual problems her students have, as well as concrete things she does in her classroom that can insipire you.

Continuous Everywhere but Differentiable Nowhere: Another slow but good blog, from a new teacher in a private school. One of the best things about it is that his sister is his major reader and commenter.

Math Notes: A new teacher who writes a lot about her personal experiences in the classroom. A nice read.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

My Teaching Philosophy: DTA

A couple of weeks ago when I told someone (at a campus ministry I still attend) that I was going to start teaching, she asked me what my teaching philosophy was. My answer: "Um...uh...what do you mean, exactly?"

Since then, I've come across the word "automaticity" (which, yes, I had not heard before *hangs head*) in an education article, and I liked it because it helped me to verbalize my answer to the math wars.

People vehemently against constructivism point out examples of students taught with a discovery-based curriculum that still can't do things like basic multiplication facts (7x4) as fast as those taught with direct instruction. But what is the point in memorizing 7x4=28 in these days of calculators?

Don't get me wrong - I am NOT saying that basic arithmetic facts don't need to be learned. I constantly get frustrated with high school and college students that can't do basic arithmetic, because it hampers the teaching of higher-order thinking skills when we have to break stride to cover fractions or negatives.

No, I think that being fluent in arithmetic is very important. But I also believe that in a calculator-filled world, there is no fundamental difference between someone who doesn't know 7x4, and someone who has memorized 7x4=28 because they copied it repeatedly on 500 worksheets.

Memorization has been made obsolete, but automaticity is more important than ever. Wikipedia's article on automaticity describes it as the point where a skill is learned so well that the lower level thinking is no longer needed - it has become automatic like driving or riding a bike. I no longer spell out C-A-T when I see cat, and I no longer add 7+7+7+7 to get 7x4, but I do understand how to start over from the beginning to explain my thinking to myself or others if I need to. And that is what gives me deep fluency in both English and math.

If my algebra kids know 7x4=28 but don't know why, it doesn't help us when we get to factoring, or finding common denominators, or finding areas and volumes, or any of that. Memorized facts can only be used in a few narrow ways.

But the DI people are right about one thing. A student that can explain 7x4 as 7+7+7+7, and 4+4+4+4+4+4+4, and the number of squares in a rectangle 7 units long and 4 units across....but still has to punch it into the calculator, is almost as (if not equally) hampered as the one who memorized the phrase "Sayvun thymes foe-rr ees tventi aight."

Discovery by itself isn't enough. Memorization by itself isn't...well, anything, unless you're Amish. But a teaching philosophy that promotes going from discovery to automaticity can prepare students for the world.

There's my teaching philosophy: DTA. Discovery To Automaticity. Let's see how long it lasts!

Who I Am (First Day Survey)

Even though I haven't posted in several days, I've still been working on several ideas for my Algebra 1 classroom (except for the past two days, when I've been enjoying myself in Sedona). I'll try to catch this blog up to my work in the next few days. The following idea is stolen 95% from Dan Meyers at dy/dan.

He made up a first-day survey that was made up of all kinds of geometric shapes and it looked like so much fun compared to my previous list-surveys, I had to use it. But, I wanted to change the questions and his download was only in PDF form.

So, being the I-wanna-do-it-myself kind (which I have to watch out for, I know) I made my own. Its similar but not exactly the same as Dan's, and I centered it around the themes of past, present, and future:

The only questions about math are "What did your previous math teachers do that you liked/disliked?"

Right now, my plan is to use this as my bellwork on the first day, with my answers up on the document camera (doc cam) as an example. Then going over some basic rules and procedues, having everyone share from the survey, and ending with a mini-quiz that doesn't factor into their grades but helps me find out where they are in math.

I'm also considering taking the surveys and printing a second half on the back for day 2, with more math-centered questions. Then when I get them back a second time I'll have lots of info for each child on one sheet. On the other hand, if I scan them, it won't matter where the second page is. Still thinking on this one.

You can download Word and PDF copies of the Who I Am survey at the Sines of Learning Document Page. If you want to change the shapes or questions, open the Word file. The shapes are made using Word Insert>Picture>Autoshapes, and the questions are put in using Insert>Text Boxes. I made some of the text boxes go "sideways" by going to Format>Text Direction.

Have fun! And let me know what you think!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

This Blog's Reading Level

Considering that my 9th graders will have the English skills of middle school (if I'm lucky), can I spin this into a good thing? ;-)

blog readability test

TV Reviews

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Class Logo - Turtle

When I find a new blog I really like I often go back to the beginning of its archives and read all the way through; by the end its like reading a rough draft of a book (and if its a good blog, of a good book!)

Right now I'm working my way through the archives of dy/dan, an overachiever math teacher with great tips on design, useful assessment, and education in general. He writes like he takes himself too seriously, which is tiring sometimes, but his blog is full of information and I've learned more than I can say - and I'm only as far as September 2007.

Anyway, on either his blog or a blog he linked to, I read about a teacher that each year painstakingly develops a "class logo" for his math class. The idea struck me, and I decided to do the same.

I've recently realized how much I love graphic design and art, though I have no training. I love to build web pages and actually, when I excitedly told my SO about my turtle, he suggested that he subcontract out the design part of his webpage-building work to me! So now I've got another thing to do this year ;-)

Anyway, for my computer art my main tool is......Microsoft Paint. :-/ Yup, that flimsy little app that comes along free with any version of Windows. I also use Microsoft Fireworks, but so far I draw things so infrequently that I keep forgetting what I've learned about Fireworks. So in the end I work mostly in Paint, moving to Microsoft Word or Fireworks for a couple of tools that Paint doesn't have.

So. With only Paint (and Fireworks to tilt and shrink it) as well as some Webdings fonts to get pi, the approximately equals sign, the multiplication star, and a capital J to outline, we have: my class turtle!

Okay, its not much...but I made it in Paint! And its CUTE! I plan to use it all over my class, since I'm going to have a kind of "turtle theme" (just some turtle-y stuff popping up here and there, when its not expected)

Also, the tail is the outline of the letter "J", which is in my name.

Please note, I would like it if you would not use, share, and/or change my turtle. You are welcome to absolutely anything else on this blog, but my turtle's kinda personal.

Anyway, I plan to put my tiny turtle in different places on all handouts and PPT presentations, just to give a kind of unifying theme to my class.

Yes, its totally amateurish compared to the giants of dy/dan and the School 2.0 proponents he loves to hate, but its a beginning! And, it's cute. I like it. For my first year, at least, "That'll do, Pig. That'll do."

Monday, July 7, 2008

Bellwork and Closure

One of the things that worked really well for me during student teaching was to have separate papers for Bellwork and Closure. I was considering only having a separate paper for Closure, since that's what I want to look at closely every day, but I think the kids may ignore bellwork if I only look at it every few weeks during notebook checks.

So here are my forms:

You can see my Bellwork form in Word or PDF form on the Sines of Learning Document Page.

Here's the top:

The double line and HW questions are copied lower down for Tuesday, and for W Th and F on the back of the paper.

I'm hoping that this will encourage reflection on the students' part. I want them not just to do their homework, but to ask themselves the question "What does this tell me? How well did I understand how to do this?" Hopefully this will encourage them to contemplate their grasp of the material before the test.

However, the Closure paper is much more important to me than the Bellwork one.

You can see my Closure form in Word or PDF form on the Sines of Learning Document Page as well.

Here's the top:

If there is one thing I look at at the end of the day, I want the Closure paper to be it. First, I want the kids to reflect on how well they grasped the P.O. - Performance Objective. Also, the questions on the Closure will be less problems and more writing questions, with "Why?" and "How?" questions. I will also tell the kids that the Closure is the way to communicate with me if they don't want to share something out loud in class. They can give their feedback on the class, what confused them, and what interested them. I'm then going to ask them to paperclip their group's Closures together and put them in a basket on the way out. Every night I'll skim through them, or at least some of them, and since they are written responses instead of math problems, it'll be easier and more interesting for me... at least, that's my hope!

[ETA: I asked my mother for her feedback, and she pointed out that my original P.O. ratings (identical to the HW ones) were somewhat vague. So we changed them to what you see in the screen shot above.

Then, at least for the first few weeks, I'll write out the complete sentences so the kids know what I mean.

For example, if my Performance Objective on the board is: Today I will be able to find the equation of a line from its graph.

On my Closure PPT slide I'll have

1 - I don't know how to start finding the equation of a line from its graph
2 - I can start but can't finish finding the equation of a line from its graph
3 - I can sometimes finish finding the equation of a line from its graph
4 - I'm ready to show I can find the equation of a line from its graph

I've updated the Closure_Paper.pdf and Closure_Paper.doc on the Sines of Learning Document Page.

ETAA (edited to add again): I figured out how to do screen shots and put up the pretty pictures :-)

Well, take a look. As always, any feedback is much appreciated!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Choosing Class Rules Part I

One of my tasks over the summer is to choose my class rules. I've been reading both Tools for Teaching, and The First Days of School by Harry Wong, and the latter suggests distinguishing class rules from class procedures, the former being general codes of conduct and the latter being precise sets of directions. This makes a lot of sense to me, so I'm trying to come up with mine so I can get my poster made as soon as I have access to my school campus.

Last semester during student teaching these were the class rules my mentor teacher used:

1. Come to class prepared with all materials.
2. When the bell rings, be in your assigned seat quietly starting bellwork.
3. No personal grooming, electronics, food or drinks (except water) during class time.
4. When I call for attention, give me your raised hand, eyes, & silence immediately.
5. Be silent & pay attention when teacher is talking.

I later modified them and put up my own poster, as she encouraged me to take ownership of our classroom as much as possible, but I can't remember all our changes.

Still, here are the things I'm considering for my class rules this year:

* Come to class prepared with all materials & positive attitude.
* When the bell rings be in your seat and start the bellwork.
* No personal grooming, electronics, food or drinks (except water) in class.
* Do not talk when the teacher is talking.
* Discuss grades or class expectations after class.
* Follow all school and district rules.
* Be attentive, productive, and creative!
* Be respectful towards the teacher and your classmates.
* Do not interfere with the learning process of another.

I'm probably going to drop the one about the bell ringing as I think it fits more under "procedure" than "rule." Before I finish this post, I'm going to reread First Days of School (FDOS) and look at their suggestions...

I don't look on FDOS as the wonderful book that many other people have told me it is; I think its far too vague and full of edu-speak, but there are still many useful things in it especially for a first-year teacher.

What I got out of my latest reading was: 1) What are the basic things that, if my kids did them, I would be delighted? and 2) Rules are about behavior, not academic achievement.

Yes, yes, nothing brilliant or new, but it helped anyway. When I look at my list I'm now asking "What were the 5 most fruatrating behaviors in student teaching that wore me out mentally and emotionally?" FDOS also suggests more specific rules for new or struggling teachers, so I've cut my list down to this:

* Discuss grades or class expectations after class.
Huge, huge, huge problem for me. If I have this up, any time a kid tries to complain about my activities, assignments, rules or procedures, I can silently point to my class rules poster.
* Follow all school and district rules.
I constantly got "but its not on the list, why can't I?" when it came to enforcing school and district policies. Part of it is that I was at a campus with HORRIBLE inconsistencies in enforcing rules, but I'd like to cut that on off at the knees.
* Pay attention and don't talk while the teacher is talking.
Single biggest problem, of course.

At this point I'm running out of room, but I really wanted to end it with the positive note "Be attentive, productive, and creative!" Still, after trying it out, the poster was just too crowded. I've decided to make a separate poster saying "Be attentive, productive, and creative" and my final set of classroom rules (as of today, at least) is this:

If you want to download my poster to use, share, and/or change, you can download it here: Class_Rules_Poster.pdf or Class_Rules_Poster.ppt, on the Sines of Learning Document Page.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Tools For Teaching Part I

One of the most useful resources I've come across was Fred Jones's works. Even though the teacher certification program I went through was great in many respects, we had -no- training in classroom management (big surprise, right?). Once I asked the best teacher we had, our math methods teacher who had been a classroom teacher herself, and her response was "The best discipline plan is a good lesson plan." Riiiiiight. There's tons of truth to that, but every trainee in the classroom knew we needed more than that!

During my student teaching last semester, I was quickly approaching burn-out when I went to a local public library and browsed through their catalogue for books on classroom management (my mentor teacher had already given by Wong's First Days of School, which is great, but I needed something more). I came across a set of books by Fred Jones called Positive Classroom Discipline and Positive Classroom Instruction. "Hey, sounds good" I thought, and checked out both. What I found blew my mind away, and I quickly bought the first edition of Tools for Teaching off of I also eventually paid for myself to go to his 3-day conference in Phoenix, AZ, and there got a free copy of the second edition with the accompanying DVD. The following is my review of the latest Tools for Teaching book.

Tools for Teaching, Second Edition, by Fred Jones is the best book that I have come across on classroom management so far. He divides up his system for managing a class into 3 fundamental parts: classroom structure, limit setting, and motivation using Preferred Activity Time (PAT).

Anyone can read the book, so I'll keep my summary short. He brings all his advice together in Chapter 25: Exploiting the Management System, as a ladder of responsibility. Everything is first built on 1) Classroom Structure, which includes Discipline (room arrangement, carefully teaching routines, and constantly moving among the students) and Instruction (replacing a passive teach-teach-teach-teach-practice format with an active learn-use-learn-use-learn-use one, giving instruction visually instead of audibly, and getting helpless handraisers to independence). Anything that cannot be controlled with Classroom Structure is controlled with 2) Limit Setting, which is the section where Dr. Jones won my respect: he studied the body language of effective classroom teachers and broke it down into individual body movements that are described and can be practiced and learned (we did this in the workshop too). Basically, he took the mysterious "meaning business" that good teachers instinctively know how to do and broke it down so the rest of us can learn it. Finally, any behavior that can not be controlled by limit setting is controlled by giving Preferred Activity Time (PAT), which uses the idea of Preferred Activities such as games to motivate kids who currently have no instrinsic motivation for learning the material.

Here's my one-sentence overview of the book: Tools for Teaching brings a thousand should-be-obvious "Duh!"s to the front of your mind.

What I got out of this book was no ground-breaking thoughts that expanded my mind, or new insights that made me go "Wow! I would never have believed it!" Instead, my reading and re-reading of the book is constantly accompanied by this mental train of thought: "Ow!....Ouch....Zing! So true! But what can I....oh. Oh, duh. Wow, this is obvious - why didn't I think of this?.......Hmm, I'm not sure about this...oh. Yeah, I guess so. Doh....Ouch! I say that all the time! But what else can....oh. Huh. Doh."

I've just changed the format of this post to the first of many, because I really can't do justice to the book in one sitting. But for right now, here are my reservations and the adjustments I plan to try in the coming year:

1) FJ seems, from his writing and workshop, to believe that groupwork is overused and preferred individual or pair work. I'm not sure, but it seems that way. I definitely believe in groupwork (and I'm also *required* to use groups by my school!) which means that I can't use part of his Responsibility Training. FJ suggests motivating students towards diligence (hard work) and excellence (good work) (p.104). To do this he suggests using Preferred Activity Time (PAT) in two ways: first, PAT the entire class accumulates to use on fun activities, and second, PAT activities individual students can switch to when they have demonstrated mastery of the day's objectives. In group learning we depend on peer teaching to help all the students so I am not planning on using the individual PAT activities that any student can get to every day. Hopefully this will not cause the whole system to collapse; I'll keep this blog updated on whether this is possible.

2) FJ doesn't seem to like discovery work very much (again, just my impression), preferring direct instruction from the clear-cut directions he gives as examples of good lessons. However, in my student teaching I did not find that his suggestions interfered with my abiity to run discovery activities. Indeed, his suggestions point out ways to avoid the BAD "discovery learning" that people can fall into, without clear directions and expectations.

3) FJ's examples focus on procedure, not concepts. Indeed, he uses math for most of his examples and then quotes humanities teachers that say "But Dr. Jones, my subject isn't like math, its about concepts!" AAAAAAAAAAAURGH! It hurts every time I read that. Math is NOT about procedures, it is about concepts, and math is as much (or sometimes more) conceptual than any other subject. Still, I found that I was able to work around this. His examples focused heavily on teaching procedures, like the long division algorithm, but I don't find it very hard to take his underlying philosophy and apply it to teaching concepts. The basics are still useful: be clear in what you want. Use visual aids instead of spoken instructions which are quickly forgotten. Give students a change to use new information immediately, not at the end of a long and boring lecture. Give plenty of practice with the teacher (Guided Practice) before releasing the kids to work on their own (Independent Practice).

4) FJ promotes a more authoritarian view of the teacher than I would like, but once again, I can adjust it to my teaching philosophy. And I have come significantly closer to his POV after student teaching and losing my naive "let's all be nice to each other" hope. My hope is to teach my students that I cannot and will not tell them what to think and believe, but that in my classroom, I can and will set up choices for them about behavior: correct behavior or appropriate consequences.

5) FJ suggests that the time-honored goal of teachers to motivate with content has failed enough to be put aside in favor of other motivators (like PAT). I'm not quite ready to give that up and I hope to God I never will be - when I cease to hope for instrintic motivation, I hope I'll leave the classroom. Still, what eventually won me over was the fact that I don't have to choose. I will run both "motivation systems" side by side - institute PAT time to get reluctant students on board, and then use their attention to try and capture as many of their minds and hearts with math as possible.

Well, this is too long already. But my basic recommendation is this: Read the book, over and over. Take what you can from it, and what is antithetical to your teaching philosophy can be adjusted or discarded. But for any struggling teacher, especially new ones, READ IT. Its NOT a dry read either - FJ has a great dry sense of humor and you find yourself laughing out loud (at yourself, goodnaturedly) constantly. His son's cartoons are also right on the dot. Its funny, eye-opening, doh!-inspiring, and useful. I couldn't use all his suggestion during my student teaching, but what I did use made my job much, much more enjoyable. Hope it does the same for you!

(In my next post I will also include a review of

[ETA: added pretty screen shot]

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Desk and Group Labels

Right now I'm focusing on how to set up my classroom. I have to use the department's quizzes/tests, homework assignments, and syllabus, and teach the state standards of course, but as far as I can tell those are my only limitations.

A few weeks ago I got excited at an idea that finally came together. I plan to use the idea of Preferred Activity Time (PAT) Fred Jones describes in his book "Tools for Teaching", and I'm toying with the idea of dividing up the classroom into two teams for the entire semester. Then every Friday as we play math football, or math volleyball, or math Jeopardy, etc., they will always be playing for the same team. The advantage of making the teams semi-permanent, as far as I can see, are:

1) All students in the same group (desks in groups of 4, or maybe 5) will be on the same team, so I'm going to use competition to give them an extra incentive to help their groupmates.
2) Alternate groups are going to be from opposite teams, so if I choose to do so I can have them exchange hw, etc., and give them an incentive NOT to give the other student free points.

The downside is that its really important the teams be about equal in strength, or one team will always win and that will take the incentive away completely. I'm going to be giving mini-assessments the first week to see where they are, and I'll try to balance it as much as I can. I think that what I’ll end up doing is assigning semi-permanent teams, but warning the kids that I might have to shuffle people around once in a while.

So. Here’s my great idea (its not really great unless you think of it at 1am!) I needed a way to label students that would give them a seat label and a group label, but also a “complimentary group” that they might be asked to switch papers with, etc. I finally resolved this by getting the idea of using shapes for one of the labels. I hate making things more than once so I typed up my ideas, and you can access it by downloading the file Desk_Labels in Word or PDF form on the Sines of Learning Document Page.

Instructions for Desk (and Group Station) Labels

Desks are set up in groups of 4, going in circle around room to form 8 sets. Students above 32 are added to existing groups.

The 8 groups are red, blue, red, blue, red, blue, red, and blue.
The first two groups are circles, the second pair squares, the third pair triangles, and the fourth pair diamonds.

I know it sounds confusing, so that’s why I’m going to print out 2 copies of Desk_Labels.doc page 2:

The first page I’ll color the shapes red, the second page I’ll color blue (leaving the circular space around the number white). These will be taped to either the students’ desks or on their seat backs (where Fred Jones suggests they are least likely to get peeled away) so that at all times students know their team (red or blue), their group (Red Circle, Blue Diamond, etc.) and their seat number (1-5).

Pages 3-6 contain labels for whiteboards or anywhere else you want to place stations so that one student per group can be selected out. I'll print out 2 copies of each, color one of each shape red and the other blue, and hang them to designate group stations:

I plan to cut these out, paste them on black construction paper, and use them to designate 8 spaces along my whiteboards so I can say, for instance “All number 3s to the board!” while the other students work at their seats. These can also be used to identify any other group materials, like group manipulative sets or group TI-Navigator hubs.

It sounds a little complex, but it’s complex for me, not the students – they’ve got everything they need to know taped to their desk, and don’t need any explanation other than the Red vs. Blue teams.

Any comments? Suggestions? I would appreciate any and all feedback.

[ETA: pretty screen shots instead of rambling descriptions]

Friday, June 20, 2008

My First Goal for This Year

Not to burn out.

I really do have more goals than that, but it’s really become a primary goal of mine. During my student teaching I burned out at the end - after only one semester with the support of a really great mentor teacher! My whole focus was on the students and I stopped my social life, stopped sleeping, and eventually stopped smiling.

I can't do that again. And not just for me - for the students too. I really think I can become a great teacher, not because of my abilities but because I'm passionate about teaching and willing to learn from research and others. I want this to be my career for at least a couple of decades, and I can't do that if I'm not enjoying myself.

So. My first goal is to not burn out: to leave the second school is over every Friday, to continue to see my friends and enjoy my hobbies, to continue going to my house of worship on Sunday even though I'll want to sleep in, to sleep regularly, to eat and not skip meals, to keep going to the gym, and to enlist other people's help BEFORE I get desperate. Sounds easy...

Among other things I've decided to hire a grader for this first year to correct homework and classwork. I'm still trying to put together my homework policy, but I'm almost certain I'm going to check for completeness, so it’s not a difficult job. It’s just that 170x5 papers every week makes me tired and stressed out just looking at it. I still need to find someone to do it, but if they can give points for effort on homework, bellwork, closure activities, and class exercises, I think it will make a huge difference in my energy level. And my SO (significant other) won't have to help me grade because I look at my box of work and burst into tears!

I've also gotten a lot of support already from my administration with just one granted request: one prep. To me lesson plans are where I want to spend my time. I usually alternate between a document camera for examples and a PowerPoint presentation, with a written lesson plan and frequently typed graphical organizers for the kids, and these all take a LOT of time to prepare. Most teachers like to teach two sections at a time so they don't get bored, but when I got my assignment I asked if it could be changed and they did it! I have 5 sections of Algebra 1 all day. I can see how it will be boring, but I also remember during an internship that by the time I taught the same lesson 4 times, I had learned what worked and what didn't. Hopefully this will not only give me twice as much time to focus on quality lesson plans, but also help me learn faster.

Finally, I'm spending a lot of time this summer preparing. I've got my mother, a wonderful physics professor at a nearby college, and my SO, who is also passionate about education, supporting me. I'm currently trying to come up with my classroom management plans, and organizing all the "stuff" I have from ed classes and my student teaching (I taught two sections of Algebra 1 so I've got a head start on that). My SO told me during my student teaching to write down all my thoughts and observations, but I was too tired, and as a result 6 months later I've forgotten a lot of what I learned the hard way. I'm hoping to use this blog to keep track of my ideas and their success rates.

I'm also interested in blogging to connect to the other education and math ed bloggers I've been reading. Some of them are wonderfully inspirational and I'm looking forward to linking and talking to them.

So. That's my number one goal - don't burn out and drop out of teaching. It'll probably be the hardest goal to accomplish this year, but I really feel like I can avoid or lessen the biggest stumbling blocks I encountered in student teaching, by starting to plan NOW. I'll start organizing what I'm doing this summer in my next post.