G is for…{MTBoSBlaugust)

This is by far my most favorite post of this silly little alphabet challenge! Debbie and I were driving down to the Bay Area 2 weeks ago to meet with Kathy and Diana (4 teachers, 4 schools, collaboration and fun -palooza!) and we were brainstorming all the letters I could write about. I told her of my desire to have her write G is for guest and she gave me a very hard… maybe. But you know what, that was progress! I’ve asked her in the past and she wouldn’t even consider it. Before you read her post, you should know a few things. Debbie gives me 1000% more credit for anything than I deserve. She has a hard time considering herself as part of the MTBoS, which is totally ridiculous. She saves my butt all the time. Most importantly, before I switched schools she was basically my therapist. We would meet for book club and before the other people would arrive, I would sit and dump on her and cry my little eyes out. All. The. Time. Nobody in this world cheers me on like she does. She drives my butt around on any random adventures in math I can come up with, and she does it with a smile on her face and an offer of Starbucks to boot. She listened to me bitch about textbooks every single week over lunch this summer. She will never take any credit for all the ways she has impacted my life. She’s extraordinary and keeps me sane. Her post is filled with all kinds of ridiculous flattery of me. It’s nice to read – you know I’m a narcissist by this point – but none of it is deserved. But it’s her post, so I’m not touching it. Thanks Deb – you are so much more than I deserve!

G is for…. GUEST!!!

Hi! My name is Debbie and I’m a middle school math teacher. Casey asked me to write a guest post for her alphabet series. So I’m laying claim to the letter “G” for guest although by the end of this post you might think it’s for gush.
I’m not a writer; that’s Casey’s gift. I write like I talk – very colloquial and rambling. When I write emails I crank out a Google doc draft and then try to delete at least half of it. I’m just wordy. (FYI – I just read through my first draft of this and deleted half.) This is waaaaaay out of my comfort zone but stretching is good for us all. Maybe I can check that box now for 2016 – 2017. ☺

But I owe Casey a ton (you’ll see why if you keep reading) and this post is part of my birthday present to her. HAPPY BIRTHDAY CASEY!

Now that I’ve created sufficiently low standards… what to write about.
Casey helped me brainstorm. We came up with our place in our district (we are, after all, #partnersincrime), how our school runs all of our the math meetings digitally because we can’t meet physically but we still need to learn and grow or how MTBoS has changed my classroom. I choose MTBoS!

Casey and I met when a fellow teacher introduced me to her long-time friend who just happened to also teach math. We don’t have a lot in common but I felt we clicked right away. I find Casey to be selfless, thoughtful and passionate. I can truly say I have never met anyone like her. The world can only handle so many Tom Brady fans. ☺

We teach in a large private school system but in different schools. Our ‘district’ has big time benefits and some pretty significant drawbacks. One of the most profound disadvantages for me is the quality and focus of in-district PD. After a decade of frustration I had a conversation with our assistant superintendent. I took a deep breath and just laid it out for him. After a frank conversation on both sides he eventually made a very simple statement that changed my professional life. “You know you are in charge of your own PD.”
Well of course I am but I had never looked at it so bluntly before. Coincidentally Casey and I started hanging out together a little more around this time (she’s so funny and fun!) and chatting about math. I had a Twitter account but didn’t really know what to do with it. Then Casey asked me if I’d be interested in driving two hours on a Saturday morning to go to a math workshop. Sure! That day she introduced me to the Classroom Chefs, John and Matt. Spend an hour with these two and it will change your classroom and your thinking; I got to spend an entire day with them. I almost died when Matt asked me during the middle of their workshop to ‘tell me more about that’ after I made an admittedly pretty lazy math comment (remember – colloquial and rambling) about an activity we were doing. I hadn’t put much thought into the comment and had to quickly wrack my brain. What DID I mean by that comment? How could I share more about my thinking or cover up my lack of thinking? If I had a dollar for every time I’ve asked a kid that very question in the last 3 years I would retire. Seriously that much. It makes my day now when I hear the kids say it to each other during class.

I ran back to my classroom with mullets and Barbies and new questioning skills and musical cues; my kids clamored for more. Which in turn whet my appetite to see what else was out there. Since now I was in charge…

I asked Casey what else she had. My personal concierge introduced me to MTBoS (cue glitter). She warned me it was literally like trying to drink out of a fire hose and she was right.

I readily call myself a MTBoS stalker since I don’t contribute to the community other than tweeting with the occasional MTBoS or teach180 or NoticeWonder hashtags. I have no desire to start a blog but love the personalized PD time the MTBoS blogs and tweets provide. I read them almost daily sometimes for hours at a time and make a point to give just about every applicable idea, lesson, or activity a try. It’s amazing what sticks with the kids and how quickly the variety of resources changes the atmosphere in my classroom. Kids tell me they can’t wait to come to class. I can’t imagine teaching without Mr. Meyer Mondays and Desmos and Estimation 180 and Visual Patterns and the Train Game and so much more. I can’t imagine trying to put together new math info for my team without rereading a few Sara Van Der Werf blogs or sending the famous Annie Fetter notice and wonder ignite video to everyone. I am putting together this year’s Back to School night presentation and am rewatching Matt Larson’s presentation on supporting common rigorous standards. And don’t even get me started on Twitter Math Camp which I was fortunate to attend last summer in Claremont, CA. I just started with one new warm up activity. A week or so later I added a video. Slowly but surely the culture in my classroom changed and my expectations changed. And I just kept going.

I am a completely different teacher than I was 3 or 4 years ago. I am more reflective and more interested in student conversations than my instruction (does that make sense?). I actively and intentionally seek out different ways to ‘see’ their thinking. My professional goal last year was to talk as little as possible in my classroom. Never say anything a student could say. It has been impactful. I largely credit #mtbos for that.

If for some reason you are reading this and you haven’t checked out the MTBoS hashtag or the search engine or read the blogs I urge you to find some time to drop down into the rabbit hole. You and your teaching will never be the same. They are very open and honest; I am not the only one falling flat on my face every once in a while or occasionally for a few days in a row. And some days I totally rock it just like they do. I have received a reply to every.single.question I’ve asked on Twitter. I have had entire files and presentations sent to me literally within minutes of a request. I stopped by the MTBoS booth at NCTM in April and was warmly greeted even though I’m sure they had no idea who I was. Why would they – I don’t contribute and it didn’t matter. They even gave me a MTBoS ribbon for my nametag (which I proudly hung in my classroom). We are in our third year of a MTBoS book club locally; only one of us blogs (guess which one ☺). Lately I have been able to meet and collaborate with a few contributors (one being the hostess of this blog ☺) and fellow MTBoS stalkers. I feel connected and supported and a little bit braver than I did before. And the learning in my room is better for it. I should mention all of this has cost me about $100 total and that was for a Dan Meyer presentation (worth every penny – create the headache, let the kids create the math aspirin). Even the 4 day Twitter Math Camp conference itself was free.
I AM in charge of my own professional development! MTBoS has allowed me to take that challenge and run with it. Casey – how can I ever thank you?

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F is for…{MTBoSBlaugust}

F is for…

Well this one is easy. Due to my stellar procrastination abilities, I end up with F on the First Day of School!

I’m sure that there are tons of teachers out there who end up teaching a student in more than one class/ year/ grade – however you want to say it. In my case, I teach the same kids (basically) for 4 years straight. This is one of my favorite things about my job. I love the relationships that build from when they are adorable, enthusiastic 5th graders until they are adorable, snarky 8th graders. However, it also presents a different challenge for starting the year.

Last year I started with Robert’s In N Out lesson with a focus on the Standards for Mathematical Practice as discussed by Hedge. It was the perfect way to start the year! I was the new teacher, but the other teacher and I kept all the kids in one room and taught them together (ok, I did the teaching…). It was so fun. It was a great way for the kids to get to know me as a teacher and kick off the year with fun and excitement. So when getting ready for this year, I wanted to do the same thing. But wait… these are the exact same kids! The kids also have been together (for the most part) since Kindergarten, so the need for ice breaker-y things is just not there. Sure there may be a new kid or two, but in their homeroom class they can do all that stuff. We do split the kids in 2 groups, so any norm setting really can wait until then. So I had a hard time getting ready for day 1. I felt like my bag of tricks was all used up!

Anyway, it ended up being an easy day. That was a blessing because I had (as usual) a terrible night’s sleep, and a bonus headache. I arrived at school around 7, hoping to print and make copies of a variety of things I found thanks to Jami’s blog about her first few days. She’s a goddess and a lifesaver! I was going to use some of her stuff in combination with some stuff from youcubed.org.

I went down to the Kindergarten room. One of my dearest friends from my previous school was hired to be our new Kinder teacher. It’s so fun having her there. I’ve been down to the other end of the school so much more in the past week than I did all of last year 🙂 So I checked in with her, then went back to my room and was trying to get stuff done while texting a conversation w/ Kathy.

We began the day outside for announcements, introductions, prayer, and flag. By the time that was over, there was only about 15 minutes before 8th grade came. They came and crowded in my room – there are 36 of them, but my room is really only equipped for 24 comfortably. They won’t all be together for the year, so it’s fine. I talked to them a bit about splitting into groups – they are used to it, but I wanted to stress the high school angle of things (one group will do 8th CC and mine Alg 1). Mostly I just tried to stress repeatedly that the important thing was for them to be at a level where they would be successful.

I told them that they should all know me well enough to know that we were going to jump right in and do some fun mathy things. One of the kids, said, “oh, are we doing Mathalicious?” Loved that comment because I associate that with fun, too! But alas… We did a dot card talk and I thought it went pretty well. I was happy with all the representations that they saw. Then I gave them a handout from the book Well Played. It was actually from the 3-5 version and was something I had printed for tutoring over the summer. I didn’t want to give them anything crazy hard, and stressed that while the math wasn’t necessarily difficult, I really wanted them to think about the process. I had written 2 questions on the board – What does it mean to be a mathematician? and What behaviors are necessary for us to learn? I told them that whatever we were doing the first few days, I wanted them to keep those 2 questions in mind. Most of them completed the activity pretty easily, but I told them that their reflection on the process was the important thing. Some had to finish for homework. Yep, turns out I’m *that* teacher. Oh well.

After that 6th grade didn’t come to class because the other math teacher (who is the 6th homeroom teacher) wanted to do homeroom-y type things instead. Then it was recess and then the whole school went to mass (today was the feast day of our school’s patron, Our Lady of the Assumption). Then it was dismissal.

So basically, it was a super easy day, and all the stress I had yesterday was for nothing. As usual. It was fun to see the kiddos. I didn’t feel great, so that interfered a bit. Hopefully I will get a great sleep tonight (the 2 hour nap may not have been advisable), will get rid of my headache, and will get to enjoy seeing everyone in all the grades tomorrow 🙂

16th First Day is officially in the books!

D is for…{MTBoSBlaugust}

D is for…

Desmos? Like everyone, I super love Desmos, but I’m such a rookie. Plenty of other people have posts proclaiming its greatness!

Debbie? My favorite collaboration partner and partner in crime? You’ll hear from her soon…

Day 1? Tomorrow. But no. Just no.

Diligence? uh… something I have none of.

Dreams? I’ve basically made the same wish on my birthday cake for the same dream to come true for probably at least 15 years. Hasn’t come true yet. Dreams for my classroom might be interesting. I’ll file that one away in case I need it for W is for wishes 🙂

Dude? Because, dude. Where did the summer even go?

Decisions? Because I cannot make one to save my life and a major one plagued my summer with distress.

Delusional? yep….

I chose D is for daunting. No matter who you are or what you teach, teaching is a daunting job. No question about it. The google definition of daunting is, “seeming difficult to deal with in anticipation; intimidating.” Anticipating difficulty and intimidation are feelings I know very well. If you follow me on twitter (why?), you probably have seen me whine all summer about all my sleepless nights. This goes hand in hand with this feeling of the daunting road ahead.

When I started at my school last year, I didn’t really know what the climate of the school was. I had a great friend who had been around there forever and a co-worker who was leaving the same school as me and headed to the same new school. There was also a teacher whose children I had gone to school with growing up. So it was a pretty easy transition. The year went pretty well by all accounts. Teachers and the principal respect me, parents (I think) are happy with me, and well, the majority of the kids love me (thank goodness for 5th graders who are still open to share that love on a daily basis!). So then what is feeling intimidating, or daunting, to me as the new year begins?

I am the math leader of my school. The entire staff refers to me as the token math nerd. I’ve embraced the label. I know it’s given with love. What I didn’t know when I began, was that unlike the rest of the “district,” they had not yet begun to transition to Common Core. I was shocked by this. I had been in the process for I think 4 years by this point. The k-5 teachers, myself included, were given a 1 day PD on EnVisions about 2 or 3 days before school started. It was lame. The school was transitioning away from Saxon. Not only were they going to CCSS, they were also transitioning from a spiral curriculum that they loved, to a linear one for which they were ill prepared. Talk about daunting.

I’m not a coach. I guess I am officially the math “department head,” whatever that even means in a k-8 school. I often wonder what I should be or could be doing to help the other teachers. Does it make me a jerk to assume that they need or want help? I don’t know. I had a small win when the 5th grade teacher asked for some help after a lesson didn’t go well. I had another small win when the 2nd grade teacher said something to the effect of, “well we’re all holding on for dear life, but someday we’ll be like Casey and be able to only use the textbook as a guide.” I appreciated that they noticed that. I’ve had to make one of my mantras, “you don’t hate Common Core, you hate EnVisions. That’s ok, so do I.”

So why is this something that feels so daunting? Because I want to build a very strong math program throughout the school and I feel like it’s solely in my hands. I don’t want it to be – I want it to be a team effort. But how do I make that happen? When I share my enthusiasm, they tease me and (lovingly) call me a nerd. When I was freaking out about my love of fractions last year, and I asked, “how can I make you this excited about teaching math,” and the response was, “it’s not going to happen,” where do I go from there?

After spending my entire summer worrying about textbooks, and then finally realizing that I just need to make like Elsa and let it go, I recently have spent a good amount of time in my principal’s office. Basically, I try to keep to myself at school and like a little kid, the thought of going to the principal’s office terrifies me. But there I was repeatedly over the summer. We had  a lot of good talks about math and CCSS in general. As principals, they were given very little training in CCSS, and he comes from having been an English teacher. Math isn’t his thing. It’s very daunting to have to explain the way the standards were written, what the different pathways mean, etc. In one of the last meetings we had, I ended up sitting there and showing him some different methods of multiplying and why it was so important for the kiddos to see and understand these representations. He was really fascinated and thought it was so cool. I think he’s seeing my desire to want to work with the other teachers. I think he appreciates it. But again, it all feels very daunting to me to turn that desire into reality.

The other thing that feels so daunting is the high expectations everyone has put in front of me. Trust me, I’m SO flattered when parents tell me that they’ve heard I’m so great or whatever. I’m afraid I talk a big game, but I’m not sure that I live up to it. This is something I worry about basically every day. Lots of people have documented their experience with imposter syndrome – hey, maybe that will be my “I” entry 😉 – and I’m no different. It’s scary to know what people expect of me and to not be sure if I can or ever will live up to those expectations.

The last thing that is feeling daunting and feeding my constant anxiety is the dual pathways that we have to teach at my school. We are expected to get my group of kiddos through Algebra 1 in 8th grade. Last year at Back to School Night (the 3rd or 4th day of school), one of the parents introduced herself and immediately asked, “are the kids going to get into geometry?” That was the only concern. It’s frustrating. This is a whole different topic for a different day. I know that in reality, it’s not the greatest idea to smush 4 years of learning into 3. I’ve had that discussion with my principal and he’s going to make me have a parent meeting (YIKES) to explain it all. We have sort of fudged our way through both at my previous school and current school for the last few years. The expectations of the 5+ schools we feed to don’t seem to be in line with my expectations, so we’ve been getting by. But now with the new textbooks we’ve purchased, the pathways are going to be much more clear and much more accountable. I’m not sure I’ve ever gotten through a year’s worth of standards in one year, much less having to combine the 7th and 8th standards into 1 year. Sheesh. Wish me luck on that one… daunting as heck!!!

Sorry – this became super rambling and anxiety filled. But if you have any advice about the accelerated pathway (I’ll never forget at TMC14 when I went up to Kate, shaking with nerves, and asked her something about this. Her response was basically, just don’t do it.), talking CC to parents, coaching when you aren’t a coach, etc, send them along and I’ll be your bff.

C is for…{MTBoSBlaugust}

C is for…

Crush? Nope – nobody needs to read that post.

Curiosity? Although I’ve enjoyed embracing curiosity as a guidepost for myself, I’m not sure that’s the post for now

Well, I’ve enjoyed reading other people write their lists of 20 things about themselves. So for today, C is for CASEY! 🙂

  1. My favorite place in the world is Santorini, Greece. It was always my dream to go there, so after losing both my maternal grandparents within 10 months of each other, and my mom having a major emergency medical crisis (that all turned out ok, thankfully), my mom and I went on a cruise for my 30th birthday. We’ve gone another time since then. It’s remarkable there and I want to go back and be able to enjoy the magical sunsets it’s known for (we were on cruises both times, so missed that).
  2. I am planning a trip to Bora Bora for my 40th birthday. You’re all invited.
  3. I grew up in CA and have lived in the same general area my whole life, minus 8 years living in Boston. Because of my sports allegiances people assume I am from the east coast, but nope.
  4. I was always much more into reading and my brother was always much more into math. I was never going to leave CA for school and my brother was supposed to go to a big name east coast school. So I was the math and elementary ed major at Boston College and he was the American Lit major at UCLA. Totally makes sense.
  5. I once read 100 books in a year just to see if I could.
  6. I became a vegetarian in 7th grade because I was procrastinating while writing my report on Babylonia and read the next page in the encyclopedia – bacon.
  7. I have only ever attended and worked in Catholic schools. I spent one semester doing my clinical for my Master’s degree and 2 semesters of undergrad 1 day a week student teaching in public schools, but that’s it. I consider it, but don’t have math certification so am afraid I wouldn’t be able to teach only math if I switched.
  8. I never planned on becoming a math teacher. I was planning to teach upper elementary school, and my Master’s is in Literacy. When I applied for my last job there was a 5th grade position and a MS math position. I had previously taught 5th, so I thought it was a good omen that those were the 2 things I figured I could do well.
  9. I feel like a fraud in Math-land because I’ve never taken Calculus and I don’t really know what it is!
  10. I love musical theater. The first show I ever saw was Les Mis when I was a freshman in HS. I left the theater having no idea what the show was about. I’ve seen it bunches of times since and it’s my all time favorite. During my 8 years in Boston, my mom and I went to NY at least once a year to see multiple shows.
  11. I have a very deep rooted fear of fire that can be traced back to the show “Webster,” when he was playing with his chemistry set in his closet and burned down his apartment.
  12. My favorite movies are Ocean’s 11, You’ve Got Mail, Center Stage, and 10 Things I Hate About You. I can pretty much recite each of them. On a flight home from Europe I watched Ocean’s 11 3 times in a row.
  13. My Kindergarten teacher named me the bag lady because I would bring bags of dolls to school every day to be sure everyone in my class had something to play with. I also would lead “lessons” at my brother’s baseball games. I guess it was natural that I’d become a teacher.I’m still the bag lady because purses and tote bags are by far my favorite thing to buy for myself!
  14. If I had to choose only one thing to eat it would probably be a grilled cheese w/ avocado, tomato, and honey mustard on sourdough bread with a side of tater tots. Or, you know, something that doesn’t make me sound like I’m 5.
  15. I always hoped to go back and become the Admissions Director at the high school I attended. Unfortunately my HS closed about 7 years ago. It makes me terribly sad because I loved my HS so much!
  16. I always want to go to the beach, but I don’t actually like sitting in the sand or going in the water. I just want to see the ocean as often as possible.
  17. I don’t like dogs because I used to have a recurring nightmare about them when I was little. We once had a cat that hated me and my brother. We had a bunny named Lucky. It died after 3 days. In HS my friends decided I finally needed to have a pet, so they gave me a fish named Mac (some, in HS, called me Casey Mac). Needless to say, pets aren’t my jam.
  18. I tried probably every sport as a kid, but none of them stuck. I was always a dancer and dreamed of growing up to perform on Broadway (LOL). I still miss tap dancing. My mom claims I was a great soccer player because I would distract the players on the other team by chatting with them and picking daisies.
  19. I think I’ve been to 29 states. I’ve driven cross country twice, so sometimes it’s hard to decide which ones to count. Same with driving up and down the East Coast. I’ve been to 19 countries in Europe. Italy is by far my favorite.
  20. The year that the Patriots SHOULD have been undefeated, I got to go to both the first game of the season (against the Jets in NJ) and the last game – the Super Bowl in AZ. When they lost it was basically the saddest thing ever. I cried walking out of the stadium.

B is for…{MTBoSBlaugust}

B is for…

Brady? Because we all know I love some Tommy AND it was his birthday this week

Birthday? Because mine is this week (even though I’m writing this about 6 days late)

Boys? Ugh. Just. No… 😛

Books? Because they’ve kept me up every freaking night of the summer and we STILL don’t have any. School starts a week from tomorrow. UGH.

Bingeing? Gilmore GIrls, Alias, Las Vegas, Veronica Mars. No post needed.

A little while ago I wrote about who I am as a PART of the amazing collective known as the MTBoS. But now I want to think about who I am BECAUSE of the MTBoS. To me, these are entirely different things. Ok, maybe not entirely. You may not see the same distinction that I do, but bear with me. So today, B is for Because…

In the post I wrote after TMC, and basically every other post I’ve written, I’ve talked about how I prefer to be in the background, that I have trouble valuing my own voice, etc. This is not untrue. The irony, though, is that the person I feel like I am because of the MTBoS is very different.

Because of the MTBoS, I am happier. The people fill my heart and I carry them with me each day. I know that I project much more happiness because of all those people.

Because of the MTBoS, I have a sense of belonging to something.

Because of the MTBoS, I know that I am never alone. No matter what I’m thinking or feeling, if I put it out there on the Twitters, someone will always give me the assurance that they are feeling or have felt the same thing.

Because of the MTBoS, I feel empowered.

Because of the MTBoS, I feel valued.

Because of the MTBoS, I feel much more confident than I have in a very long time.

Because of the MTBoS, I can approach strangers and engage in conversation. This used to be unthinkable.

Because of the MTBoS, I am much more positive and open to new perspectives.

Because of the MTBoS, I am much less afraid of a challenge.

Because of the MTBoS, I have realized that being somewhat introverted is ok 🙂

Because of the MTBoS, I am a better person and I am filled with gratitude to all you who have made it so!

A is for…{MTBoSBlaugust}

Readers of this here little blog will remember the impact that my alphabet book had on me at TMC. In the time leading up to the beginning of the Blaugust challenge, Pam made a comment about how I should write a weekly alphabet themed post. Well, I misremembered what I read and I had in my head that I should take on Blaugust in alphabet form. I mean… why the heck not. So, Pam… even though it’s not exactly what you actually said, challenge accepted (or should I say, “a is for accepted, challenge!”).

A is for… hmm….

Awesome? Lots of things could fall under the heading of awesome

Angst and Anxiety? These are things I’ve been feeling a lot this summer for a variety of reasons – some that have to do with school, and some that don’t. But who wants to read about that?

Amazing? Could be my ode to the Bachelorette since not an episode goes by without overuse of that word.

Anticipation? Could write about the lead up to the first day of school

Austin? An ode to my favorite math company’s home town?

Awareness? This is something I want to work on this year…

Adventure? that would be a good word for tomorrow, as I’ll be on yet another adventure with my buddy and partner in crime as we head to meet other fab math teachers in the Bay Area

I settled on the simple A is for August because I’m nearly out of time, and maybe I should actually talk about this challenge I referenced above. So even though “Blaugust” starts with B, not A, it is a challenge for blogging throughout August. If you want details about the challenge or to sign up yourself, go here. I tried doing this challenge last year – the intent is to blog every day of the month (ahem, ya right). Last year I think I had 12 posts, but people told me that was a success because it was way more than I had ever blogged in a month. You may notice that I’m already intending to cheat, since by taking an alphabet focus I really only have to commit to 26 days, not 31. Genius, right? I hope to spend time this month being supportive of the community, as well, by commenting on blogs and reading ones that are new to me. Of course part of the challenge is that August is a super crazy month – back to school and birthday month!

So cheers to August. May your month ahead be filled with Adventures with family and friends, Appreciation by your new students, Applause of new visitors to your blog, and Amigos with whom to share your days.