Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Best TMC Ever!

I think twitter math camps are like children or students . . . you're not supposed to have a favorite. But if I HAD to pick a favorite, it would be TMC16. The reason is largely because there was so much usefulness in the sessions I attended. I came home excited for the upcoming new year and ready to implement what I've learned. 

Here are a few things I hope you will hear more about this year . . . 

1. Debate and Discussion in math class! My HOPE for this year . . . my #1TMCthing . . . is to put structure to the discussions that happen in my math class. I've had my students seated in groups of four for years. Years! And yet I've never felt like the conversations they are having have reached the productive level that I desire. Chris and Mattie did a great job of showing us how to structure discussion so that it focuses on answers AND reasons. There is always a "because". If you would like more detail, I recommend you read this post by Sam (specifically "Talk in the Math Classroom" near the end). He did a beautiful job summarizing our morning sessions.

2. Make it Stick! Unlike every other session, this one stressed me out. It exposed some weaknesses in the way that I teach that I really want to address. The problem is that the correction involves more of a fundamental shift than just a little tweak here or there. And I'm really ready for a year when "change everything" is not on my to-do list. So I decided to commit to making two baby steps: First of all, I'm reading the book and participating in the chat on twitter. This one is already underway. Yay me! Secondly, I'm going to begin spiraling practice of content through warm-ups. It's a start. 

That's it. That's my 10%. Well, that and a few other takeaways . . . 

*Getting Triggy: Kristen shared a great collection of trig activities. I heart trig, and I'm excited to add her goodies to my toolbox . . . and to make some of my old favorites BETTER.

*Box Method: My math department has just decided to begin using the box for all things polynomial, so I was excited to see how Anna presents these to her students. I love how the box pulls together multiplication, factoring, and division in a way that will hopefully lead to better conceptual understanding.

*New Desmos Stuff: Sadly, I did not get to attend the Desmos pre-conference. But card sorts and marble slides oh my! I'm as excited as everyone else to bring the latest in Des-awesome to my classroom.

*Warm-ups: I've decided to go the spiraled-practice route for my warm-ups this year, but thank you to Jessica and Lisa for a really nice list of resources for great problems that can really be used for more than the beginning of class. When it's time for trig, I want to try a counting circle and clothesline for counting/ordering in radians!

*The Fun Math Game with The Lame Name

*Regrets: This is almost verbatim from last year's TMC post . . . I was lucky enough to travel to TMC with my entire math department (all four of us) for the third year in a row. I love sharing this experience with them, and coming home with some shared vision for our school. I get how rare it is to have that kind of collaboration at home. But once again I really missed out on connecting with the other attendees. 

*Lunch: Following the Make it Stick session, I asked a few others if they would like to have lunch and continue our conversation. It was a GREAT time talking with some people who I really admire, and I learned so much it was like a whole other session. It took some stepping out of my comfort zone to make this happen, but I'm so glad I did. If I'm lucky enough to attend TMC again next year, more of this is on my list of goals FOR SURE. I don't want to come home from another TMC regretting that I didn't seize the opportunity to speak in person with those I admire and learn from throughout the year.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Post Before THE POST

I just got back from TMC16. It was amazing, but I couldn't bring myself to write a recap without writing this post first. This year has been hard, and my personal story was so intense that it changed the lens through which I see all other things…

Disclaimer: This post is long and it's not about math. I'd love for you to read but it's okay if you don't. I wrote it for me. 

Last fall I posted about the birth of our son and his unexpected diagnosis of cleft lip and palate, but the challenges didn't stop there. 

When Silas was five days old, a routine eye exam showed that there was a structural problem on the inside of his eyes called a coloboma. Doctors told us it was too soon to know how severely it would affect his vision, but they made sure we understood that there was no surgery to correct it. My husband and I were heartbroken as we thought about what his future would be like without sight. 

There were other challenges, too. Silas cried. A lot. He struggled with eating and was eventually hospitalized with severe reflux. He needed a feeding tube to help him eat without pain. He had two surgeries to repair his cleft lip, get ear tubes, and repair a hernia. He had countless doctor appointments and tests, four ER visits, and another hospitalization. I spent every day terrified of what the future held for him. 

When he was two months old I went back to my classroom, but I went through so many days on autopilot. I was numb. And weary. And I wasn't sure that I should even be there at all. 

It has been the hardest year of my life. And it has changed me.

This year I learned to wake up every day knowing that, even when the unknown is way more than I can handle, I always have what I need to get through this day. 

I learned that fears and worries are only good for one thing … robbing us of the beautiful thing that is happening at the same time. 

I learned to rejoice, not because of our circumstances, but in spite of them. There is always something to be thankful for. 

One day this song came on the radio: Tell your heart to beat again . . . every word applies to me, but I'll just share the chorus here:

Tell your heart to beat again
Close your eyes and breathe it in
Let the shadows fall away
Step into the light of grace
Yesterday's a closing door
You don't live there anymore
Say goodbye to where you've been
And tell your heart to beat again
Your heart to beat again
Beat again

And so I made an effort to jump start the pieces of my heart that had stopped beating. I reconnected with friends . . . I put on my running shoes and trained up for a half marathon . . . I even wrote a blog post about something that was happening in my classroom. It felt foreign, but good.

Along the way I also made peace with Silas's differences. I realized that I spent so much time worrying if he was going to be okay, when there was never any question that he was going to be okay. Silas is okay because his life is a gift from God and because he will always, ALWAYS, be deeply loved. No diagnosis will ever change that.

Meanwhile, my husband landed his dream job as a building principal in our home town. His new schedule would allow him to be home with our kids during twitter math camp. Could I go this year? SHOULD I go this year? He said that I should. I think he knew that reconnecting with my teacher self would be another small step towards my healing.

I'm so glad I did. 

This week my teacher heart started to beat again. 

P.S. I can't close without letting you know that there is so much good news for this happy boy! He is almost 11 months old and he amazes us every day! We conquered reflux and he now eats entirely on his own. He healed beautifully from lip repair surgery. We have learned that he does have low vision in his left eye, but with both eyes together his visual acuity is in the typical range for his age. His ophthalmologist says he will definitely be a visual learner! We are so thankful for the good news and for how far he has come.

Friday, February 26, 2016

It's Not About the Points

While many math teachers have stopped giving points for practice/homework, I confess that I'm over here still giving points. This semester, I decided to at least challenge my own attachment to points . . . particularly the thought that students will not do an assignment if there are not points attached to it.

So I set a lofty goal: 100% of students completing 100% of assignments. Whenever I had time to walk around the classroom, I carried a clip board and asked students to show me their completed assignment(s). Not done? No problem. What questions do you have? What can I do to help you finish up?** I did some repeated asking and follow-up and asking again. Over time, it got easier as students realized that not completing the assignment was not an option.

I also discovered that, more frequently than I expected, lack of completion was really due to lack of understanding. Many times it came disguised as laziness, disinterest, and the like . . . but really the student just didn't know how to do the math.

When an assignment was complete (and correct!), I recorded the points on my clip board. I used circles to indicate assignments that were late and highlights for assignments that took more than two weeks to collect. I ended up with a sheet for each class that looked like this:

Notice fewer circles/highlights during the second half of the quarter?!

Since everyone ended up with all of the points for all of the assignments, it really brings one big question to mind . . . What's the point of the points?!

I'm finally believing that students don't complete assignments because of points. Students complete assignments because of accountability. I would argue that there are forms of accountability that are more affective than points. I never had 100% completion when I was only assigning points.

Another unexpected outcome (which shouldn't have been surprising), is that assessment scores were higher as a result of "Operation 100%". In the past, I spent a lot of time orchestrating/scheduling remediation and re-assessments. Since students ended up understanding the content better on the front side of assessments, I spent significantly less time on that type of thing this semester.

**My school has some structures in place that helped tremendously with follow-up here. I assigned many students to our school's tutoring room. It is held during the school day and staffed by a few teachers and lots of National Honor Society students. For students who understand the content but were just dragging their feet on completion, I had the option to assign them to academic lunch.

Friday, February 5, 2016

A Way to Make Their Day

One of my nephews is in my Algebra 2 class this year. Today is his birthday, and I gave him an assessment. Happy Birthday, Kale.

I wanted to make the day special for him, so I wrote some notes and drew some pictures on the inside of his assessment. Then I did a little magic as I was passing them out to make sure the "special" assessment landed on his desk.

He volunteers as a junior firefighter and carries a pager to alert him when help is needed. He's not supposed to leave school for fires, but oh how he would love to!

Kitty inspired by this post from Jonathan.


I loved the grin on his face as he worked his way through the assessment. That's when I realized that I have lots of other students who celebrate birthdays on assessment day, or who just need a little extra encouragement . . . This is going to have to be my new thing.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Expecting Turned Unexpected

I wrote my last post here on August 19, shortly after the first day of school. I was excited about learning all my students' names and looking forward to a great year. I had no idea that, just seven days later, life would change in so many unexpected ways.

On August 26, a routine doctor's appointment showed some significant concerns with my pregnancy. Instead of sleeping in my own bed that night, I was admitted to the hospital to deliver our baby four weeks early. Even though I had planned ahead and we had a great substitute teacher lined up, I had hoped to be a little more organized before beginning my maternity leave. The timing was unexpected.

Baby didn't tolerate labor very well, so at 8pm the following evening he came into the world via emergency c-section. After hearing our little boy cry, I heard someone say the words "cleft lip and palate". We had no idea. He always had a little hand covering his face during sonograms. 

Little Silas was having some trouble breathing, so the decision was made to transport him to a children's hospital in the big city three hours away. I got to see him for a few minutes before they took him away. There was no holding my newborn until the next day when, fueled by pain medicine and a lot of motivation, my husband and I made the journey to see him.

Baby's breathing stabilized quickly, but we were in the NICU for three and a half weeks as he learned to master the art of eating. We met lots of doctors and specialists, including the plastic surgeon who will later repair his lip and palate. Silas will have three surgeries during his first year of life . . . more when he gets older and as he grows. It is not a journey we would have chosen for our son, but he's a tough little guy. He's going to be okay.

What we did expect is how much we would love him. 

P.S. I don't suppose I will be blogging much this year, but I hope you will be patient with me. I plan to pop up in your reader again some day.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Day One: ALL the Names (and High Fives!)

Learning the names of students has never been a strength of mine. I've been known to take a week (or two) to get them all right. This year I decided to make it a priority, so I challenged myself to learn all the names on day one.

Day one, 35 minute class periods:

1. Students get a high five and a copy of "Mrs. Gruen's Life in Numbers" as they walk in the room. I borrowed this idea from Heather Kohn, as recommended at Global Math Department.

2. A seating chart is projected via the document camera and students find their seats. The seating chart is key. I could not have done this without it.

3. I introduce myself, then call out names from the roster while students are working at matching numbers from the answer bank to ten facts about me. I make note of preferred nicknames and pronunciations and such.

4. I show a brief slide show to reveal the answers to the quiz. I share an adorable pic of me with my family last Halloween . . .

And one of my dog Sophie, in big trouble after snitching a few almost-ripe tomatoes from my daughter's tomato plant.

5. I ask them to write 3-5 number facts about themselves. Share with your group members. Ask each other questions like "Which four countries have you lived in?" or "What's it like to have six toes on one foot?". I collect the papers when they're done.

6. Noah's ark problem from Fawn. Also recommended by Heather via Global Math.

7. As I watch students work and listen to their conversations, I have a good ten minutes to silently study the seating chart while looking at their faces. I practice covering the chart and saying their names in my head. We didn't finish the Noah's ark problem today, but that's okay.

8. As students leave the room, I say goodbye to each one individually. Bye Tate, bye Robert, bye Kyanna, bye . . . I overhear someone say "Holy cow, she knows our names already!"

Day two, before students arrive:

9. I go through the stack of number facts. I try to picture each face as I read what they've shared.

And then the final test:

10. As students enter the room on day 2, they get a high five and a "Hello Tate, Hi Robert, Good morning Kyanna . . . ". I only got two names wrong on day 2, and I think that is pretty good.

I also realized that learning names quickly has added another dimension to my daily high-fives. Every student gets to hear me say their name, along with their high five, every day. I definitely feel more connected to my students than I normally would be this early in the year. And the look on their faces when I welcomed them by name on day two? Priceless.

This is going to be a great year!

Sunday, August 16, 2015


My long overdue TMC15 reflection. . .

First of all, I am determined to not re-invent my teaching/curriculum/procedures this year. I went to TMC looking for smaller nuggets of inspiration that would improve my classroom, sans any dramatically huge changes.

Here are a few things that spoke to me:

Desmos activities. I consider myself to be a pretty proficient Desmos user, but I learned that there is so much I do not know yet. Among the features I learned about is the Desmos activity builder. I have already written a bunch of worksheets with Desmos instructions for students to follow. On these days, I spend the class period running around looking at screens when students reach particular checkpoints. No more. Now I can put the same exact set of instructions into the activity builder, have students enter the activity via a code, and watch all the action from my computer screen. Nice. I feel inspired to convert my current activities, and to build more.

Taming the firehose of resources. I enjoyed Bree's session on planning units using the MTBoS. I realized that my problem is not so much the planning stage . . . it is saving the resources I've found so that I can access them later at the time that I actually would use them. When I read something interesting, I generally bookmark it in feedly. And then I never see or hear from it again. I decided that it is okay for me to be more discerning in what I choose to save. When something is worthy of saving, I need to put a little more effort into saving it so it can be found later. "It is okay to appreciate something you've read and not save it", Bree said. I've been thinking about this a lot, as I am guessing 3/4 (or more) of my bookmarks are blog posts that I simply enjoyed reading but don't directly apply to my classroom. I am going to focus on those things that I intend to implement later on, and do a better job saving them with searchable tags and such (Evernote, perhaps?).

High fives at the door. Glenn's "my favorite" has been popular for good reason. It is simple, but we have already discovered it is powerful. My colleagues and I decided to make it a department thing, and also roped in the two non-math teachers in our hallway. So the 200 hallway is officially the "high-five hallway" at our school. I am surprised by how something so small has already helped me feel more connected to my students, and how the classroom atmosphere gets an immediate boost. You just can't be too grumpy after a high-five.

Music transitions. Playing music snippets to speed up transitions is something I've wanted to do for a while, but I was not sure how to execute. Or maybe I just didn't take the time. I don't know. Anyway, I am pumped to scan Vaudrey's resources and implement some tunes for all those routines that suck more class time than they should.

Do what you love. My colleagues and I just want to have fun teaching math. We are thinking of finding activities that share a common theme to implement on the same day/week. Barbie day, for example, could involve Barbie bungee in one classroom, Barbie zip line in another, and Barbie _____ elsewhere . . . We don't have the details worked out, but we do know there will be costumes.

Regrets. I was lucky enough to travel to TMC with my entire math department (all four of us) for the second year in a row. I love what this experience does for us. We have fun together, and we get excited about the same things. We come home and we implement our plans as a group. I get how blessed I am to have a work environment like that. But I really missed out on connecting with the other attendees. There are so many people who I follow and admire and learn from on a regular basis . . . I feel sad that I didn't sit down and have a chat with many of them.