Nice Things

Well, I keep coming back to this. Perhaps Hedge may be on to something. Let’s not tell her though, ok? If anyone ever does read this, I’m sorry in advance that I’m not linking and tagging and all that. Frankly, I just don’t feel like figuring out how.

I’m in an irritated mood, but I want to remember a comment or two from today.

Oh- the day after BTSN a parent of a 6th grader called me over as I was calling names during afternoon pickup. I didn’t teach her son last year so I don’t know the family well. She said to me, “you have so many wonderful things to say, you shouldn’t be so nervous all the time.” (read – i’ve talked to them like 3 times publicly and I spazzed all 3). It was really nice of her to say and I appreciated it.

Today we finally split the 8th grade kiddos into their two groups. I mostly kept the same group that I’ve been working with for the past 3 years. I love them and am excited for our year together. When they came in they told me they hated the desks and wanted them back in rows (they are in groups of 4 or 5). Tough. But, can you imagine? They are so bizarre! They were super quiet as I talked to them about the year – for about 10 minutes. Then we started into Sarah-land. I usurped 3 of her foldables and we worked with those. We wrote paper tweets to Justin about the Math Munch stuff they had done over summer, took a growth mindset quiz (which looked pretty darn good!) and then I assigned the Math Biography for hw. Seems silly since I know them so well, but I hope they will take the reflection seriously and that it will be a good start to their notebooks (and the year, obvi).

In my epically large 5th grade I had gotten some free back to school task cards. I think they were from Teaching with a Mountain View, but I don’t really remember. I wanted to try that out, so we went over how I wanted their papers set up and then I gave each group 3 cards to start with and then we worked on passing them around. Yesterday we spent the whole day writing expressions equal to 12 which then led to talking about order of operations. I didn’t mean for it to take so long, but I was happy to get right away to the idea that there can be lots of different routes to a solution. That was a set-up for this task card event. The 5th homeroom teacher comes in with them and he said that he heard one of the kids say how fun it was and that he couldn’t believe time was almost up because it was flying by. That was nice to hear. I have realized I’m someone who needs the nice feedback to keep going.

In 7th grade we weren’t ready to split classes yet, so we (i) made the gametime decision to work on Fawn’s Noah’s Ark problem. It was great. I loved watching them struggle and then strategize. I told them that some were going to have hw and others weren’t. Then I told all the kiddos whose siblings I have taught that they had to give the problem to their bro or sis as a gift from me 🙂 I hope some of them will actually do it!

At the end of the day one of the 8th grade kiddos came in to do end of day prayer. He has been my most serious/ quiet kid in that class since he came in 6th grade. I thought he wasn’t into the crazy that goes on with that group (the most awesome, wonderful kind!). So I asked him how was the day. He said ok. So I said, just ok? He said, (paraphrasing) Well we got to come to you, but then the rest of the day was just sitting around and boring. So I said, wait – I’m the fun one? yay! I know being the “fun” teacher is not important, but knowing the kids enjoy being with me and feel that my class is of value to them sure is. I know I’m going to have a great year with those 8th graders 🙂

 

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Back to School Night

I hate talking in front of people. It scares me to death. This is ironic since I’m obviously a teacher, but also because I danced and did theater when I was growing up. Usually at BTSN our middle school lead does all the talking. We have a meeting for all the ms parents in the library before the regular BTSN starts. We are just supposed to take a minute to say a quick something about our subject. Well… I had a lot to say. I kept waking up at 4:00 am thinking about the messages I wanted to send to the parents. My partner teacher said she didn’t mind me taking over. Finally, after school on the day of BTSN I sat down to brainstorm what had been running around in my brain for many days. When the time came, I just read it. I mean, I know you are supposed to use bullet points as a reference and everything, but no. Just read the whole thing. Barely looked up. Afterwards people clapped. That was kind of awkward, but nice. The Sci and LA teachers said they hoped they didn’t have to follow me. Sorry ladies! At the end of the meeting a few of my friend-rents came and said that I did a great job and that I shouldn’t always be so nervous. HA! After the general parent meeting I typically go to 5th grade to meet those parents. When the 5th teacher introduced me I proceeded to completely ramble through most of what I said to the ms parents. Oy!

anyway… here was what I said:

As you know, we started implementing the CCSS 2 school years ago. The thing that I love most about the Common Core are the Standards for Mathematical Practices. These standards are consistent across the grades from K-12. The standards tell us the “what” of your children’s learning, but the SMPs tell us “how.” If your students got in the car today or yesterday and asked to go to in-n-out, it may have been because we were using an in-n-out cheeseburger as a tool to work on SMP 6: Attend to precision. Today we brainstormed questions and took it further and tried to use a menu to work to find the cost of a 100×100 cheeseburger. Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them (SMP 1). CC tells us to move away from just here’s a problem and now I will show you how to solve it. CC asks us to put greater responsibility in the hands of our students and to have them start by questioning, thinking of approaches, discuss their approaches, and ultimately come to a solution. They may come to their solution in 36 different ways, and we celebrate that! I think it’s an amazingly exciting time to be teaching math and I’m so lucky I get to!

 

When I was at Math Camp (yes, that’s a thing – imagine being in a room with 150 super passionate math teachers and all your math heroes. And yes. I have them) this summer having a wonderful time, Steve Leinwand gave a talk. He is a well known speaker, researcher, and author. Most recently he was co-author of the NCTM’s new guiding document – Principles to Action. He wrapped up his talk by saying the 9 most important words in the cc are “construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.” When a student is solving a problem, we should be constantly asking “why” and telling that student – “convince me.” It’s not enough anymore to simply find that solution. I tried doing this last year. I thought it went pretty well. At the end of the year one of the 5th now 6th graders raised his hand and said, Ms. M – may I go to the board and defend my reasoning? Wow. I was so excited!! You can help your kiddos at home with this – why is an easy question to ask! And this leads me to the next thing I want to say….

 

Mrs. P and I have talked about this a lot over the last year and we have a very important request. Please PLEASE try really hard not to say things in front of your children like, I was never good in math or I don’t like math. It is socially accepted to say this, and to us, that’s unacceptable! I get it. You’re in a situation where you have to do some thinking but it’s easier just to say – I can’t do it. I was at office max and the manager was trying to find the difference between 2 prices and told me that. I was at lowes the other day and I had that thought – yes me – because I was on the spot and nervous. So I asked for a piece of paper to get the calculation right. It’s ok. Think about it – when would anybody ever say I can’t read and then laugh about it. It should be the same with math. I’ve tried very hard over the years when students have told me that their parents can’t do the math to assure them that you parents know the math, but it’s been a long time since you’ve had to use those skills so they’ve been forgotten and that it’s ok that you may not be able to help them with their homework. Your kids look up to you and will take your lead. By this grade, they understand genetics enough to know they get hair, eye color, etc. from you. If you say you’re bad at math, they will assume that they are always going to be bad at math as well. They won’t understand that you had a bad teacher. And in some cases, they may start to do poorly in math because they don’t you to feel bad if they are good at it. We would encourage you, if this is the case, to start by having your child explain what they can do and ask those why questions. Sometimes just talking out loud can get your brain back on the right track. But please – stop telling the kids that you can’t do math and accidentally sending them the message that that’s ok! We also encourage you to allow them the room to struggle with a problem, and for you to model that is awesome. I’m not sure how many of the kids took advantage of the how to learn math class that was listed in the summer hw. I took the teacher version last year and found it fascinating. What I loved learning about the most, was that when you struggle with something – your brain actually grows. I mean really… how cool is that? Another way to help with this whole idea is to work on praising process not product. I know this is something we feel we both need to work on too. The difference between saying wow – you’re really smart vs. wow you really worked hard on that contributes to developing a growth mindset. And that’s a whole different discussion for a different day!

 

Finally – with the cc and the smp I just want to point out that we may teach a little or much differently than you learned. Please be careful when helping your kiddos. We are working together to really focus on concepts. Most of the tricks that we all learned and that I’ve taught with really get in the way of conceptual learning. There is a website called nix the tricks if you want to read more about it. But here’s an example. 5th grade – multiplying decimals. How did we all learn? Just count the decimal places, right? But why do we do that? Instead, last year I decided to say ok – well if 42 x 38 = 1,596, what would 4.2 x 3.8 be? Let’s estimate. What would 4×3 be? Ok 12, so where would be the logical place to put the decimal in 1596? Eventually the kids will find the shortcuts, but when they do, at least they will know why.

 

Sorry for the rambling – I hope you can tell I’m just super passionate and that I’m not crazy. I’m looking forward to another great year J

‘Twas the Night Be-Fourteenth

So tomorrow I start my 14th year – 6th as a math specialist. This is officially the longest I’ve been in one school- my third (3 years, 5 years, and now starting my 6th) and the longest I’ve done one job (3 years, hot mess of new position each year for 4 out of 5 years, 6th year). I think that this would be scary had I not stumbled into the land of the MTBoS. I get bored easily. Doing the same thing for 6 years would be super lame. But due to the awesomeness of all my math friends, teaching math is super fun and exciting. It does, however, make my brain spin on overdrive a little bit! Getting through the hum-drum of Back to School – not quite as exciting.

Today I was talking with the other math teacher to get ready to start tomorrow. We had to discuss assessments, summer homework, syllabus, Back to School Night, etc. It was necessary and we had good conversations about what we needed to do. I’m sort of bossy and I told her exactly what I wanted to say at BTS Night and how I wanted certain things changed. She was good with it, or at least she told me she was! I sat with a somewhat heavy heart as we talked about the assessments to split the classes in 2 (I know, I know… totes not supposed to. I’m sorry). I didn’t want my kiddos coming back and handing them a test on day 1. That would be lame. Having left my Back-to-School folder at home, I couldn’t remember what we had started off with last year or what else was in that folder from previous years. I told my partner that I would try to come up with something because I really didn’t want to do tests day one. She said she was good with whatever I came up with. In our duo we have decided that I’m all about the big ideas but I have zero follow through, and she has no ideas but will make mine happen! Hey – at least we know our strengths. So I went to grab a bite (I had the most delicious sandwich, in case you’re wondering) and came back to see what I could come up with. Well…

I went to the site which shall not be named to see if I had purchased any super fun things for BTS. I printed out a few things and my ideas started to build. I texted Hedge and asked her about the best choice of a list of things I was thinking about given a shorter amount of time. She mentioned Robert Kaplinsky’s In-N-Out lesson which I had read about on her blog. I knew I wanted to do it this year, but I wasn’t sure we had time. Armed with a bunch of choices I went down the hall to chat with partner teacher. She decided she didn’t care if it took multiple days and I got so excited. I showed her Robert’s site and Hedge’s blog post and told her her hw was to read over them. From that point on, excitement for the year finally kicked in! I’ve been giddy all night just thinking about doing such a fun lesson tomorrow!

I should point out that our BTS is very different than most because we know all our kiddos. I have had them since 5th grade and my partner was there last year. I taught all the 7th and 8th graders when they were in 5th and then I’ve taught half of them in the other years. I only have taught half of the 6th graders because they were able to be split last year. I still know most of them though. So there’s not so much need for the procedures and getting to know you type activities. I finally looked at my partner and just flat out told her I wanted to do math. I think the kiddos will appreciate it! It’s a nice feeling to be super excited for the first day (despite my room not being finished… oh well). I hope that this lesson will be a great kick-off for a wonderful year!

My TMC 2 Cents

As I said in my first blog post, I’m not sure that I will keep this up. But in case I do, and just for the memories, I feel like I need to add my thoughts about what started it – Twitter Math Camp. (Btw – this is long and rambling… sorry)

There were somewhere around 150 people there, and that means there are probably at least 80 re-caps out there doing a much better job than I will summarizing and expressing the learning that occurred. I’ve purposely stayed away from them because I felt I should write my own thoughts first, but I’m very anxious to start clearing out my feedly and learning more from my new friends!

When I was a junior at BC, I went on a retreat called Kairos. My brother had been on the retreat in HS and I was excited to go. There was a love/hate relationship with the retreat on campus because people likened it to a cult. You would go away from campus for the weekend and return with a new necklace with a cross resembling a waffle (or, properly, the Jerusalem cross). Your friends would ask about it and you would say it was amazing and life changing, but not really give details except to those who had also been. It wasn’t an exclusivity thing, it was just… words couldn’t really capture the experience. Also, there were certain surprises that you didn’t want to ruin for people who would potentially go on the retreat at a later date. There was a significant bond with the people from your retreat. For all these reasons, I’ve taken to thinking about TMC as Math Kairos. (I wouldn’t really say that to people because I’m sure only a handful or less may know what I’m talking about!)

My TMC began in the airport in Denver. After watching Justin, Justin, and Jasmine’s road trip scavenger hunt, I took on the airport version. I had about as much fun in the airport as I ever have. I met up with Christopher at our gate, and off to OK we flew. Upon arrival I met up with Jenn and Heather and we headed to the hotel. It was late-ish and I knew Hedge was somewhere doing trivia. As much as I wanted to go find her, Jenn, Heather, and Pam invited me along to grab a bite, and so I did. I thought, hey – maybe this whole meeting new people thing won’t be as hard as I thought (but it sort of was).

The next morning I was filled with anxiety as I headed downstairs for breakfast. Where would I sit? Fortunately Heather and Rachel were in the elevator and I invited myself to sit with them. Phew. (Even though it all worked out, I still avoided breakfast the rest of the week. Despite the kindness I would encounter, the anxiety of walking solo into the room was something I couldn’t overcome. It was easier to start the day with a Sonic diet coke and settle into the day in the crowded meeting room). I headed to Jenks High School a little while later and the magic began. I won’t give a play-by-play because if you are reading this you were probably with me for the most part and those other 80+ posts have probably summarized the keynotes and sessions way better than I would!

The rest of the weekend was spent in interesting conversations, learning new things from awesome people, and going out and having more fun than I have in a long time. At one point I tweeted or facebooked something about what a great time I was having and how the smallest piece was the actual math. Don’t get me wrong – I had fun playing math games in the mornings and did about 50/50 with my afternoon choices. Just as I never pick the right lane at Costco, I can never seem to pick the “best” sessions be it NCTM, TMC, or CMC. What I always try to remind myself, though, is that there’s probably not really any “bad” learning (at least in that context). Maybe I’m not at the awesome one everyone’s talking about, but that has to be ok. I have severe fear-of-missing-out disorder though, so there’s that.

One of the fears that I had throughout the weekend was one that was echoed first by Mo and then by pretty much everyone (but I wouldn’t know because I haven’t read their posts, remember!?). That fear is the fear of being uncovered as a fraud. Frankly I didn’t need the awesomeness of TMC to make me feel that way, as I have felt that way since I first started specializing in math. I was always decent in math,  but was never the brainiac like my brother. In college I did study math education. However, I always try to make it clear to people that it was an education math major, not a true math major. I’m a teacher who is good in, committed to, and likes math, not a mathematician who teaches. My deep dark secret is this: I have never taken calculus. Because of that, I always think of myself as not smart enough. Parents always send me openings at the HS when their kids move on (flattering), but I can never move up to HS because I can’t teach past Algebra 1. Frankly, I’m even a little worried about Common Core Algebra 1, but I will re-learn it and be ok. I didn’t sign up for the Alg 1 morning session because I was afraid that I would be exposed and not know how to do something that they were discussing. That’s why I stuck to the Middle School session. I am still overwhelmed by discussions that are continuing on twitter because they are so over my head. Or, at least they are over my head as far as things that are natural to me. I was supposed to teach elementary school and I am so happy that I have found my way into MS Math. I think the feeling of inadequacy will just remain my cross to bear. It could certainly be worse.

Many have been expressing their fears of not living up to the amazing teachers at TMC. I don’t disagree with their thoughts. I know the same is true for me. TMC affords the opportunity to be in the same room with your math heroes (and math crushes… ahem) and it’s hard feeling like you don’t measure up. Having attended NCTM and having had Hedge adopt me, I had gotten to meet people like Julie and Fawn and Jessica and realize that they are on a quest to learn from everyone else just as much as I am (ok, maybe not quite as much as I am!). Seeing that helped me to not be paralyzed in a state of awe by all who I met. I know that I do a pretty good job. I’m not going to be the best teacher some of my kiddos have, but I’m trying to be the best one I can be. I try to continue to learn. I am entering my 14th year next week. I have probably spent more time in the last year learning to be better and really loving the job and re-thinking my opinions than I ever have in the past. Some parents hate me, many kids love me, and the rest are probably pretty ambivalent – they know I’m going to be their teacher for 4 years, so they better get used to me. I know I have weaknesses, the major one being I suck at planning! I like doing new things and trying things like Desmos, Mathalicious, and all things Dan Meyer. I intended to spend summer reading great math books and outlining which lessons to use when. Ya, that didn’t happen. Reading the tweets from all who are already back is stressing me out, but what can I do? I will plug along and try to do the best I can with what I have and with where I am. This year’s theme for me, “just keep swimming… just keep swimming…” Hopefully I can keep my head above water! My twitter friends equally inspire me and stress me out. In one of the examples that Steve Leinwand gave in his keynote, he talked about estimating to place a decimal in multiplying decimals as opposed to counting spaces. I was like, “score – I so did that.” And in that teeny tiny moment I felt enough validation to keep trying new approaches. I feel as though I’m on an island most of the time, and this “pat on the back” about one teeny change I made that was so simple reinforced for me that I’m moving in the right direction on that little island. And so I shall continue those little changes to the best of my ability. It won’t be in every class on every day, and I’m sure most days will still be pretty lame. But I’ll try.

The thing that impacted me the most at TMC was the social side. I do not talk to strangers. I do not talk in big groups. These are just my realities. I have no problem doing things alone (I have lots of practice!). I go out and sit in bars to watch football every week of the season by myself. It doesn’t bother me. But I knew it would bother me at TMC. I was so lucky to have met Hedge and Julie and Terri and some others in April because it made me feel like I at least had some friendly faces to look for. Yet when the first lunchtime came around, I still felt so anxious as I texted Hedge begging her to let me come with her for lunch. I did and got to meet Summer and Nik. Thus was the (strange) beginning to a wonderful friendship! I felt a little awkward during that first lunch because I felt as if I was imposing on their friendship. I didn’t know the same people and didn’t have the shared history. But I was just grateful to be part of a group. By the end of the next 4 days I had someone who I hope will be a friend forever!

Over the many meals of TMC I stuck with that main core of people, though I met others at each meal. I wanted to branch out and meet others, but at the same time I was just having so much fun with them and I felt like I belonged. That’s not a feeling I have all the time, so it mattered big time. I did try to branch out by going to the Melting Pot event. What I found there was another group of wonderful people who I felt so fortunate to be able to interact with. I did tend to be the quiet one when there was a big group and that tends to makes me come off like a bitch. Ever since HS people have told me I come across as a bitch, but then they just realize that I’m shy. When I got called out on it on Friday night at Los Cabos, I knew I deserved it! Some people I related to better than others, but that’s always the case, isn’t it? I formed some relationships that I’m sure will be fleeting, and some that I know I will always look to for support. I learned to be a big girl and embrace the phrases, “I’m not sure we’ve actually met. I’m Casey” and “do you mind if I sit here?” As simple as that is – it was terrifying. I’m not (or at least wasn’t) very active on twitter, so it’s not as if I expected people to know me that way as I did them (not to mention that when I did/do tweet it’s more likely something snarky or bachelor or patriots or BC related, rather than mathy). What amazed me, though I’m not sure why, was that every single person was so kind and so welcoming. I felt grateful for my familiar faces, but I watched people who were all alone being welcomed into one group or another time after time. I knew people would be nice, but really, the amount of love and friendship on display was mind-boggling (in much the same way as my Kairos experience). The only sadness I had was that it took me a long time to start to warm up to people and that there were so many who I didn’t get to meet. On the last morning, I looked around the room – thankful for all who I had met and so very sad for those whose paths did not cross mine. There were certain people who I came to camp hoping to meet, and I had met many of them. But many others were about to leave the room without me getting to say hello, and that was terribly sad to me. Armed with some new-found courage, I went up to Elizabeth and said that I hadn’t gotten to meet her and that I just really wanted to because I love following her twitter and blog. In that moment she embraced me like she’d been waiting all weekend to do so.

In short, I finally felt like I had found my people.

My Favorite: Post-it Debates

(AKA: I was bullied y’all)

Well the famous TMC has come and gone. There’s lots to say, but at the same time, there just aren’t words that will do it justice. For me. At least for right now. But in honor of the “My favorites” presentations, and because I’ve been bullied into it, I present, my favorite.

Post-it Debates

IMG_2102Let me first say – this is by no means an original idea. I would credit whomever I stole or adapted from, but I honestly haven’t a clue.

During MS Math Chat (6pm pacific, Monday nights. #msmathchat), I mentioned these and a couple people told me to blog about it. Only one of those people knew I had maybe started a possible secret blog, so I blame her. Anyway – this is something I did somewhat often this year and I loved it.

I teach 5th-8th grade and this idea worked better with some classes than others. My 5th graders LOVED it. We did it all the time. The first time I did it it sort of came about organically and by the end of the class the kiddos were saying things like, “can we do this every day?” and, “this was the best math class EVER.” The photo above was from 8th grade. They didn’t have the same reaction as the 5th graders, but it was still effective. We got the one hold-out to agree to answer B but he refused to move the post it. He wanted to be difficult. Eighth graders… what are you gonna do?

So it’s a very simple process that actual probably needs very little explanation. Honestly, I’m a terrible planner. More often than not these arise out of the kiddos’ questions or when they are dragging and I need to get more feedback. It’s a great formative assessment and I think it’s a pretty “safe” thing for the kiddos. Basically a question is posed and kids are asked to think about possible answers to the question. A great discussion came out of asking about multiplying decimals, for instance. I take all the answers the kids can think of and write them on the board. Nobody really explains where the answers came from, but to the teacher it’s obvious who is making which mistake. When all the answers they can think of are on the board, I pass out post-its. Each student has to explain with which answer they agree. I circulate and collect the post-its, paying attention to who says what (while also trying to provide anonymity to the students who are more shy about their contribution). By this point I’ve also spaced out the answers and I start posting the post-its under the appropriate answer. Typically some of the answers get no post-its – not even from the original person, so we get rid of those. After everyone’s answer has been posted, I tend to take a seat in the back, because this is when it gets fun.

At this point I ask for a volunteer to go to the front and basically convince others to “jump ship.” One person leads the discussion for each answer, but of course there is room for others to contribute as well. We go through each answer and then students are allowed to switch their post-it if they choose to (frankly some don’t even wait that long). If there are some who are still stuck (get it…post its…) on their original answer after the majority have seen the light, we have someone who switched their answer re-explain. They may explain the mistake that they had made and why it was incorrect. From there we move on to practicing whatever skill or further discussion, depending on the situation.

I like this because it’s a great way to measure thinking. Everyone has to write, everyone has to participate, and there is a focus on the “why.” The more comfortable can go to the board, but no one has to do that.

I knew this was a success (especially in that 5th grade) when, near the end of the year, John raised his hand (we weren’t doing post-its at the time) and said very seriously, “may I go to the board and defend my thinking?”

Yes, John, you most certainly may.