Thursday, April 14, 2016

Keep on Knocking!

This week has been an emotional week for me. I have a former softball player who is battling drug addiction to the point that she failed a drug test IN REHAB. She called me this past Tuesday and I tried to encourage her but I felt very ineffective. There are times that I feel like an ineffective teacher too. And I don't mean just trying to get them to learn the math! I mean getting them to be serious about setting goals and working to reach them. I mean getting them to be concerned about being people of character who can go out into our community and can encourage and have an impact. I mean motivating them to take pride in our school and most importantly themselves!!

I told one of my classes this week that I HAVE to believe that my words of encouragement (sometimes it may seem more like admonishment than encouragement to them!) will make a difference...but to be honest I really wasn't feeling very positive about my ability to make a difference. I spent 4 years with my former player encouraging and even pleading with her to break the cycle of addiction in her family by making wise choices. She even reminded me of a time that I printed her off some information about how heredity effects the likelihood of a person being an addict and literally begged her to completely abstain from alcohol and drugs. She told me that she thought I was CRAZY because she would never go that far. So...if I couldn't stop her how will I effect change in the attitudes and minds of the students I only have for 1 year. How can I get them to take their academic and social lives seriously and make wise choices that line up with the goals they have (or should have!!)?

I am thankful that God sent Siran Stacy to our school to speak on Wednesday. In part of his speech he shared with us how he literally kept knocking on the door of his coach's office and asked him over and over again to give him another chance to play football. Then he encouraged us all to keep knocking. I know that I can not effect change but I KNOW A MAN WHO CAN. I hope that God allows me to be a small part of planting seeds of hope and encouragement in the hearts and minds of my students. I pray He sends others to water and further grow and develop those seeds to move these students into a bright and promising future. I will not be discouraged. I will keep on knocking. As Siran Stacy put it: The best of me is the rest of me!


Wednesday, April 6, 2016

What not to do in algebra class...read if you want to laugh!

I think that I decided to write this blog post because I feel that the last 2 days I am a shining example of what NOT to do when you are teaching a problem-based curriculum. I think that everyone should have the ability to laugh at yourself so here I go...

So...I was in the middle of a discussion with my algebra class about the unit problem for IMP Fireworks which involves a celebration where a rocket is shot off of a building and the fireworks need to be set on a timer that allows the fireworks to "go off" when the rocket is at it's highest height. The problem is GREAT because some smart student (who obviously was an ace at physics) has already determined the equation for the height of the rocket with respect to time. My students have to find the answers to the following questions:

  • How long will the rocket be in the air?
  • When will it reach it's highest point?
  • What is the height of the rocket when it is at its highest point?
  • ...there are a few more but these are the ones we were mainly discussing...
So...I am supposed to be letting them determine how they might use the equation to answer these questions and I was getting this from my students:
  • How are we supposed to know, Mrs. Owens?
  • But...we don't know how high the rocket goes...
  • So...why don't they just shoot the fireworks off the top of the building instead?
  • I plugged in 3 seconds and got _____ for my answer. So, that's the highest point.
  • ***I can't even remember what all this one student kept asking me...he was so bothered by the situation and the way they were doing it. He was also bothered by the fact that "quad" means 4 but for an equation to be quadratic the variable has a power of 2. I had another student to help me out and say that the power of 2 means that it is squared and a square has 4 sides.
So...my response was finally something like this:
O. My. Goodness!!!!!!  Just do the math!! You have the equation so the hard part is already done for you. JUST SUBSTITUTE TIMES IN FOR T AND MAKE A TABLE!! Quit getting so bogged down in the context that you forget how to be a math student!!!! You can use the table to estimate the highest height and the time that the rocket hits the ground!! Just be quiet and DO IT!! Use your algebra skills!!

I am laughing as I write this. I had one student to say, "No Mrs. Owens. We are learning how to apply this math in the real world!"  It is funny to reflect back on this because I was so frustrated trying to move them forward. We had worked on introducing the unit for way longer than we were supposed to and I was just trying to motivate the need to find the exact values...which we will learn how to do as we study the unit. I did have a good conversation with them about how the ACT and other standardized tests have portions (especially science reasoning on the ACT) where you are sometimes given a formula and even told what each variable stands for and all you have to do is plug in the values and simplify!! OR that they are given charts and graphs where the information is right in front of them and they have to just interpret what it means. You can sometimes get too bogged down into trying to "figure something out" when you can just read the chart/graph and find the answer!!


Thursday, February 4, 2016

Math Classroom Conversations - IMP Making Friends with Standard Deviation

Math classroom conversations

#mathtalk


"Why is the mean so high this time?"
"What?!?!"
"The mean for Set C is...."
"I disagree."
"I agree."
"Is this what you got?"
"Andrew shut up!" - I had to include this one just to "keep it real."
"It says explain why your pattern..."
"No pattern occurred." to which I did a loud "AHEM" and they said "Are we supposed to get a pattern?" 
So...my students had this group investigative task and I helped them to get started. BUT...in this case I made them read the directions out loud and then I asked another student to repeat the directions in their own words AND we did an example with a data set on the board. (This sentence might make more sense if you read this post entitled "Read and Follow Directions!") Then I told them that I was going to sit down and if their group had a question the ENTIRE GROUP had to come to my desk. I usually roam around the room but I believe that I sometimes have students ask me questions that they should really be asking their group members (just because I am close).  I did have a couple of groups come to me to settle an argument...isn't it awesome that they were arguing over math concepts!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Read and Follow Directions!! #justdoit


Today I had a realization that I way too often take away my students' opportunities to read and interpret directions. In most cases I have them read the directions for a problem or an activity and then I restate them in a step by step order so that they will "do it right." (Please don't judge me! I teach algebra from a problem-based curriculum and my intention is just to get them going in the right direction...) 
So...today we were doing an activity where we had 4 sets of data that all had a mean of 20. They were given 3 different ways to measure the amount that the data spread from the mean. (The activity talks about 3 different students and their ideas about how to measure the spread of the data...range, adding the differences from the mean, or one other method where they just needed to follow steps!) The 2nd and 3rd methods totally threw them for a loop (even though there was an example to go by). So...I gave them about 5 minutes to get started and noticed as I walked around that most of the papers were COMPLETELY BLANK. They kept saying..."Mrs. Owens I need help." "Mrs. Owens will you come show me how to do it?" "I don't know what to do!" Today I replied to all of this with, "I'm not helping you! Follow the directions!" Then they asked me why I was yelling at them to which I answered that they have to quit sitting there during their "work time" waiting on me to go over the problems with the class. They should make an effort. Read and follow the directions!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Try it first!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 
Ok...sorry about all the ranting. I can not fully explain this to you without telling the directions they were supposed to follow. They were supposed to take off the lowest and the highest data items and then fine the ONE data ITEM that was the farthest from the mean and assign that number (difference from the mean) as the spread. The directions were very specific. Almost every student did fine taking out the lowest and the highest but they were doing some crazy stuff with what was left. Some were averaging the data items that were left, some were adding together their differences from the mean, yada yada yada... They were getting so frustrated that I wouldn't TELL them what to do. I would just ask questions like, "Does it tell you to find the mean?" To which they would say, "I don't know." And I would say, "Read the directions!!" So...I finally had a couple of students start to figure it out and when they did they were all mad saying stuff like, "We did all that math and working it out and we didn't have to?!?!" And I said..."All you had to do was FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS!"
I take full responsibility for my students' dependence on me to "reread" and "reword" directions. I will do better!
(I may have the opportunity to write a blog about a lesson in particular but just in case I thought I would count this one toward the MTBoS Blogging Initiative...this is certainly an example of a "recovery plan" for what I did today when I realized my students depend on me way too much!)


Friday, January 29, 2016

MTBoS Blogging Initiative - Better Questions

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Boy...when I look at the prompt for this blog post my mind goes in so many different directions. I wrote this post in which I discussed trying to use "quality questioning" in my classroom. I was not really talking about questions to put on an assignment, quiz, or test. I was thinking about questions used to do the following:

  • guide students to think deeper during discussions
  • guide a struggling student toward understanding a concept 
  • scaffold and access prior knowledge
  • defend and/or explain answers or reasoning
The prompt seemed to be more along the lines of writing questions for assignments or quizzes. I happened to attend a PD today on Webb's Depth of Knowledge (DOK) in which we discussed asking more level 2 and 3 questions when we assess our students. Of the 4 levels of questioning we were told that the ACT and the ASPIRE assessments have very few questions that are level 1 (basic recall or computation) and the majority of questions are levels 2-3 (harder stuff...HAHA!). Anyway, the majority of textbooks are filled with level 1 questions but not many that are levels 2 and 3. 

For those of you who want to know here is a VERY brief description of Webb's DOK:

Level 1 - Recall and Reproduction - "Right there" questions where you can look it up in a book or follow steps from an example
Level 2 - Skills and Concepts - "think and search" questions where you have to put information together or categorize - these may be open to using different approaches and explanations are often required
Level 3 - Strategic Thinking and Reasoning - More than one way to approach and more than one possible answer - non-routine problems are often used here - often asked to state and support with evidence
Level 4 - Extended Thinking - Extended thinking that takes more time - possible products would be films, plays, research reports (with multiple sources), video games, documentaries, newspaper articles, etc...
(source: A Guide for Using Webb's Depth of Knowledge with Common Core Standards by Karin Hess, E.D - copyright 2013 Common Core Institute)

We were given some strategies on things to do in order to use our textbooks and resources that we have and take the questioning up a notch. One example of moving into the Level 2 questioning is to ask for "non-examples." We often ask our students to give an example of a _________ but they can demonstrate an even greater understanding of concepts if they can also give a non-example.

I had the pleasure of using two non-routine tasks with my algebra classes this week. Both of the tasks seemed impossible at first but when we continued to work toward the solutions we found that there were ways to arrive at a solution.

The first task was the Shuttling Around Problem of the Week #13 in my IMP Meaningful Math Algebra book. It is actually a puzzle where you really have to get out manipulatives to work through it. On the day we introduced the problem only one student found a solution. It took him a while but he finally videoed it so that he could email it to me as part of his POW write-up. The funny thing is that even though I stood there and watched in order to verify that he had a valid solution...I could not do it myself. So, today I allowed another class some time to work on the task and I was going to sit down and figure it out myself so they would see that it was possible...but I couldn't. I called down to the classroom where the guy who found the solution was and he came to my class and showed us the solution again. After watching him do it I had several students go back and work to figure it out themselves...he and I went around the room trying to help and I FINALLY got to where I could do it. The task asks them to investigate other problems too so we weren't taking away all of their fun. It was a great way to end the week! The coolest part of this is that the student who really excelled is not an A/B student. He is rarely ever one who aces a quiz or test. He has an incredible work ethic and tries to do every thing that I ask of him. It was so rewarding for him to have an opportunity to shine!!

The other task was A Mini-POW About Mini-Camel again from our text. One of the great things about our text is the "key questions" in the teacher resources which helps you have ways to guide the students. In this one all I had to say was, "Who says you have to go straight there?" and I had students to begin to find possible solutions. I even had multiple students to go to the board to try to prove to everyone else that their answer was correct. (Here is a link to my Instagram where I posted a video of them.)

I had one student ask me why we had to do these types of problems and I told him that it is important for him to realize that just because something seems impossible at first glance it does not mean that a solution can not be found. I even told them that I may be helping to save their future marriages (haha!) because they may think one day that the only solution is to give up but remember that one time in algebra class they kept on trying and working at a task that seemed impossible only to find that there was a solution!! I know that is goofy but I got some giggles and I do hope that these problem solving skills stick with them after they leave my class.

I love that I have these tasks included in our textbooks! I wrote my last MTBoS blog about how my textbooks are my favorite tool that I use in my classroom here.


Tuesday, January 19, 2016

My Favorite Thing...my textbook (surprise!!)

Displaying MyFav

I was thinking about the prompt for this week's MTBoS's Blogging Initiative during my first block class today. I was also watching them draw sketches for the unit problem in The Pit and the Pendulum unit of our Algebra text. I went down to Mrs. New's room after class and was talking to her about how much fun it is to have these days where my students get to do something that is "outside the box" of what usually happens in algebra class.

I am great at research and can find some cool activities by Googling or asking the "all-knowing" #MTBoS on Twitter but that takes a lot of time and although I enjoy it there are moments during the school year that I just can't dedicate time to finding the "perfect" activity. This is why I LOVE our IMP Meaningful Math Algebra books. The units are so creative. The students have opportunities to draw sketches, write, perform experiments, and apply the majority of algebra to a context that helps them to wrap their mind around the topics. We still solve algebra problems in class, of course, but if you teach from this text you will already have creative lessons and ways to make connections to history, English, and science within the units.

I know that there is a movement out there to "ditch the textbook" and I get it. However, I am blessed to be in my 2nd year of teaching from a textbook that I can feel good about teaching from cover to cover. I love days like today where my "non-mathy" students come in and realize they will have the opportunity to show off their art skills. I am a math/English certified teacher so I love that 2 of our units use literature contexts to make them more interesting (the other is Alice in Wonderland).

I heard NCTM's president, Diane Briars, speak this past Fall. I remember her talking about how some teachers are trying to piece together resources from here or there in order to teach. I am paraphrasing here and I hope that I don't misrepresent what she was saying that day - but I feel like her intention was to remind us that a teacher's job is not to write curriculum. This made me realize that it is okay that I do not come up with original ideas and activities to use in my classroom! Sometimes I feel guilty about not having that "gift." However, she talked about how we should be careful during the textbook adoption process to find texts that are well written. I had never been shown how to analyze topics in a textbook. That seems silly I guess but until I started teaching from the IMP books I never cared what textbooks we used because I was of the opinion that they were all the same. Definitions, examples, and problems sets... I had never heard of research-based curriculum that had been developed with the "approval" of the NSF (National Science Foundation). After teaching from these books I understand the difference!

So...one of my favorite things that I use in my classroom is our "new-to-me" textbooks!

Friday, January 15, 2016

Which Side of the Tracks? - MTBoS One Good Thing
















This week I have been constantly reminded of this devotion by Rick Warren. I remember reading it several years ago and it was one of those times that it made such an impression on me I can remember where I was sitting when I read it. In summary, it discusses how in life the good and the bad run parallel to each other  - just like a set of train tracks. We often seem to think of our lives as a series of highs and lows (mountain tops and valleys if you will) but if we choose to look closer no matter what is going on in your life you can find the good...or the bad...around you. Truthfully you often find exactly what you are looking for. He was discussing this particular year in his life when his wife had cancer but he also described it as the greatest year of his life. Here is a quote from the article:
No matter how good things are in your life, there is always something bad that needs to be worked on. And no matter how bad things are in your life, there is always something good you can thank God for.

So...I think that part of the reason this has been on my mind this week is the "One Good Thing" blogging prompt from the MTBoS blogging initiative. I have honestly had a crappy week. Now...please let me be honest...I know that compared to many people who have probably had real trials and tragedies to occur in their lives this week my week has been "peachy." However, as a teacher this has been one of those "I feel like I'm in a rut" weeks which makes you question all aspects of your teaching life. HOWEVER...I just had a student to totally make my week. He was in my room to receive some extra help on solving systems of equations because my class was taking a quiz during the next block. He is an extremely bright young man that does not always apply himself; I was very happy that he sought after the additional help! After helping him we were talking and somehow the conversation moved along to where he told me that he watches Eric Thomas videos at home. Eric Thomas has several seasons of what he calls TGIM - Thank God It's Monday and I have played a few for his class. I asked him what he has learned from some of the recent videos he has watched and he was telling me some powerful "nuggets of wisdom" that he had internalized. (I am grinning from ear to ear as I write this!) This was so encouraging to me! I had NO idea that he even liked the TGIM videos or even considered their messages valuable.

So...here is my question to you. Which side of the tracks do you spend the most of your time on? Do you stick on the "positive" side trying to balance only on that rail. Or...do you stay only on the "negative" side? When walking the "railroad tracks" of life I think we could walk easier if we recognize the middle ground between the tracks where you stay aware of both the positive and the negative. Of course, when the trains of adversity come barreling down the tracks you have to jump all the way to one side or the other. I hope my choice is more often on the positive side but at the very least I hope that I can find the middle ground quickly - or at least keep both sides of the track in my view.