Monday, January 2, 2017

Self-Induced Sabbatical Begins….

Day in the Life Post:  12-26-2016

I cannot timeline this post because today I seem to have no concept of time.  Not only is it winter break, but it is the first day after Christmas; we were in school until December 22nd.   The 23rd was spent decorating and shopping, and then holiday festivities with the family for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day over the weekend.  This is truly the first day of winter break for my district, but it is more than just a break for me.  I will not be returning next semester to teach, so it is the first day of what I am going to call my self-induced teaching/classroom sabbatical.   I will still be working from home tutoring students, but I have chosen this time to step away from the classroom to physically get well (chronic illness) and refresh and rejuvenate my teaching soul.

I think I got up somewhere around 9am, and I have not done much of anything this day, nor did I plan to.  It allowed me to spend some time with my son early afternoon, which was nice just the two of us visiting.  He asked me if I was excited to be out of the classroom, and I told him it was a complete mixture of emotions.  Furthermore, I still have had zero time to even decompress from a long and challenging semester.  I know I am not going back to school in a couple of weeks, but that idea is a statement to me right now rather that a fact that has resonated with me enough to feel the excitement of a new challenge.

I have been in the classroom 12 years, so it is very strange to think of myself without a classroom of students to teach for an indefinite amount of time.  I know I will miss my daily interactions with kids and will face a new challenge in finding a schedule/routine to stick to outside of one that is provided for me.   I will still tutor students in mathematics, but it is much different providing follow-up instruction versus original delivery of content.  Given this, I know myself well enough to realize that I will find a way to still  make the mathematics more authentic to them even if it is not the first time they have exposed to the topic. 

I do not really know what my long term plans are, or rather I am trying my best not push myself into decisions about that when I am so worn out.   I am most certain I will teach again, but I do know that I must be very thorough in picking a school that is a good fit for me.   I do not know if public education is a good fit for me anymore, but I could feel differently about that months from now.  What I do know is that I need to take some of this time to learn and explore the world of teaching again just as I did when I was in pre-service teacher training.  There are so many things I have felt behind on in the past couple of years in the classroom that I would definitely like to learn about and gain knowledge in before I ever go back.  Some of that is technology based, some of that is looking deeper at current pedagogical methods, and also taking the opportunity to visit the classrooms of practicing teachers again just as I did during teacher training. 

My decision to leave the classroom was prompted by my body telling me physically to pull back and rest, but the desire to re-train myself is a goal I am pursuing to help me get back in touch with my passions for teaching.   I believe that re-connecting with my career passions will help re-store my physical health by replacing ongoing stress with the excitement of learning; endorphins and such.  Becoming more current on new ideas and best practices can also help when I go back to teaching.  A sizeable portion of my teaching stress was from feeling like I was never able to get a good grip on the change I wanted to make.  I am lucky that I have the resources to take this break and fulfill my goal to re-train, but I wish that all public school teachers had this opportunity.  College professors are afforded the opportunity to apply for sabbatical, spend a year researching and focusing on new ideas for their careers while still maintaining their seniority, tenure, and benefits.  I believe it is critical for K-12 teachers to be given the same opportunity.   Our world is fast-paced, challenging and constantly changing.  Educating children to function and thrive in our world is so much more complex than it was even 5 years ago let alone when I went through pre-service teacher training.   Given the in-flux of constant evolution of new ideas in best instruction and learning practices, I think it makes sense that every K-12 teacher have the chance to take a step back and focus on learning more and enhancing the experience they have already gained.   I know this would pose a tremendous financial undertaking for school systems, but there are districts that have found funding for this through private charitable donations.  I hope it is something that more school districts explore through stipends, continuation of benefits, or at the very least the retention of seniority and job placement upon completing a year of sabbatical leave. 

Educating our future means educating those who teach and nurturing the passions and talents they possess.  It is an investment worth making to preserve the presence of solid teaching and learning in classrooms as well as potential to counteract the problems with teacher retention.   I talked to Tina Cardone a month ago inquiring about still being able to write “A Day in the Life” blogs if I was going out of the classroom.  She was very supportive and said that she was totally open to it if I could find a way to make it work.  I think now I realize the direction I want to take in my “Day in the Life” posts is to share my “self-induced sabbatical” journey.   As I propose that more school districts consider this for their teachers, I would like to demonstrate an example of what this may look like by writing about what I learn, observe, and resulting reflections as I step away from role of teacher to teacher learner again for a period of time.

After Thanksgiving the Year is Over Right?

A Day in the Life Post:  November 26, 2016

6:00am:  We arrive at the Wichita Airport and catch our flight back home to Atlanta.  We have spent the week with my husband’s family for Thanksgiving.  We opted to go this week instead of Christmas because I was going to have a shortened Christmas break; well, that was when I booked the tickets and before I resigned from teaching.  Still, even though it was a shortened trip, we enjoyed seeing the family, and I always love spoiling my little nieces!  It is actually pretty relaxing at my in-law’s house or rather, I make it so.  I did get two books read this week after all.

9:00am:  We land in Atlanta.  I am exhausted still even though I slept most of the flight home.  These early morning flights kill me – it is hard enough to be up by 6am for school let alone on an airplane.  Hartsfield-Jackson airport is dead, and we somehow make it from landing gate to our driveway up in the north suburbs by 10:10am.  Anyone reading who lives in Atlanta knows that is a miracle within itself. 

10:30am:  I am at home and just made a cup of coffee.  I am trying to relax and catch up on some fun reading and social media before getting back to the grind on Sunday (tutoring lined up for students testing the first couple of days back from Thanksgiving break).  I am dreading going back to school on Monday because I am still so exhausted from the pre-thanksgiving push in the classroom as well as traveling.  One of my colleagues from my former school once said:  “once you make it to Thanksgiving the year is over.”  Why don’t I feel this way?  Especially when my year is truly over at the winter break?  There are 4 weeks left (finals included) before winter break, and I literally do not know how I will get through them.   I decide to take a nap; I am still so tired.

3:00pm:  Wake up from nap on couch – apparently I was snoring…  I cannot believe I have slept most of this day away already.  I spend the rest of the evening in my chair with my i-pad, scanning twitter, facebook, and then streaming Netflix.  I completely went into vegetation mode.  The one good thing I did for myself the Friday before break was stay at school until 7pm to get materials ready for both classes for the first week back.  I knew that would relieve stress the weekend before returning, and that certainly became a fact today.  I am so glad I am ready to go for Monday in my classes and can spend my 1st hour planning period to mentally get back in the game.

8-10pm:  I am wide awake and will not get to sleep early tonight for sure.  I decide to pick and print my tutoring materials for the next day.  Big Pre-Cal, AP Calculus, and Honors Algebra 2 tests coming up at the local schools I tutor for this week as well as continued prep for some students for the Geometry EOC coming up before winter break.

12:00am:  I go to bed and hope to fall asleep soon as my working world begins again in just over 12 hours.  I realize I have not completely shut it off this week, but I am not sure a teacher ever does.   I think Thanksgiving break is about pulling back for a few days and resting enough to have energy for the final push to winter break.

Reflection Questions

1) Teacher make a lot of decisions throughout the day.  Sometimes we make so many it feels overwhelming.   When you think about today, what is a decision/teacher mover you made that you are proud of?  What is one you are worried about?

I have not made any daily decisions regarding teaching in over a week, and that actually feels great!  I feel like this will give me the energy to face the daily decisions again coming up again in a couple of days.  One decision I am worried about is that I chose to tutor tomorrow instead of enjoying the last day of my break.  The kids need it though, and this is the work that will sustain me when I am out of the classroom in a month.  It is hard for me to say no to my students whether they are in my classroom or my tutoring students.  This is what wears me and so many teachers out.  Caring about their progress, their needs and what is best for them when they don’t realize it themselves.  It is both grueling and rewarding –double edged sword sort of thing.

2)  Every person’s life is full of highs and lows.  Share with us some of what that is like as a teacher.  What are you looking forward to?   What has been a challenge for you lately?
It has been challenging to keep Algebra 1 students on track in this long push to Thanksgiving break.  Our Unit 2 lasted through 6 assessments, and starting our 3rd unit on Exponential Expressions and Equations has been hard to do so late in the semester.   I am looking forward to the graphing portion of this unit because I am going to use my transformations activity together with Desmos to push exploration of the asymptote and transformations of exponential graphs.  This is just the spice we need after Thanksgiving break to keep it interesting in these last weeks until winter break.

3)  We are reminded constantly of how relational teaching is.  As teachers we work to build relationships with teachers and students.  Describe a relational moment you had with someone lately.  

It is really about a relational past few weeks with a group of students.  I had mentioned in an earlier blog about my 3rd period Accelerated Algebra class being the toughest group of honors I have worked with.  In past weeks they have stepped out ahead in their pursuit of learning and understanding in our current quadratics unit, which has been the hardest unit so far this semester.  A few weeks ago, they were so reticent in experimenting and struggling with concepts.  They have pulled back on that resistance while also working with a more involved type of function in our toughest unit so far this year.  I feel we have brought our communication and teacher-student interactions into a rhythm that works better for all.   It may have been easier to do because they are a smaller class, but seeing them work hard and subsequently find more success is so rewarding. 

4) Teachers are always working on improving, and are often have specific goals for things to work on
     Throughout the year.  What have you been doing to work on your goal?  How are you doing?

     I feel like I am working well with spiraling homework within a given unit, but not as good with
     spiraling homework for the semester; the time factor beat me on that.  I am still pushing as much
     as possible to keep integrating Desmos and exploration of concepts in every chance I get, and that
     part is a win; especially given that it is on the front-loading part of instruction.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Out on the Sea….

A Day in the Life:  Wednesday, October 26, 2016

It is the time of year where I feel like I am floating along in an open sea with no land behind me and no land in the horizon.  This long pull to Thanksgiving often feels to me like the longest time of the year.

6:15am:  Up earlier than usual in order to get to school for a parent meeting in the morning.

I am as ready as I am going to be, and I am staggering to pack my lunch and get out the door.  I decide to wrap up my breakfast sandwich and banana and eat it on the road.  I slam it down in stop and go traffic.

I arrive to school, drop my stuff off in my room and then go to my department chair’s room for the meeting.  The meeeting goes well.  Student is making progress through a tough transition to high school, which is great!   Student is in my support math enrichment course twice a week in addition to regular math class with one of my colleagues.  The two together have really helped!

1st period planning.  Time to put my classroom back together from testing rows.  The pair’s  desks work so much better for peer collaboration.  It is tough when one set of classes tests,and then the others sit in rows.  This year I have really gotten used to having students sit together, work together, and talk about math together a majority of the time.  I finish working  through the INB notes for today and then grade the test review assignments turned in from the last two days. 

2nd Period Algebra 1.  We are working through the last segment in Unit 2.  Unit 2 has included Linear equations and inequalities in all different ways in one and two variable, graphing, writing, analyzing, and now in this last portion  as systems of two equations or inequalities.  We have been in this unit for many weeks with many different assessments, but the scaffolding allows a pacing that helps students to process information more thoroughly.  I love that the end of the unit is culminating in combining all graphing and algebraic skills to study the meaning of 2 lines as a system.  The application problems are, I feel like, one of the best tie-ins to life activities around them.  We started systems today by estimating intersection points
when graphing 2 lines.

2nd and 3rd period Accelerated Algebra.  We have started Unit 4 with Polynomials, which will lead to an emphasis focus on Quadratic Functions.  This is one of my favorite units in algebra  to teach!    We started with new vocab and concepts with polynomials, and then started operating on polynomials under addition and subtraction.  I cannot wait for the next couple of days with multiplication and area models.   They are a little wary of the classifying  of 1, 2, and 3 term polynomials and naming under early degrees, but they will tackle it.


Lunch and Accelerated Algebra PLC meeting.   Our department chair was the to collaborate with us on planning a pre-assessment and post-assessment for data collection for state testing.  In our course, we finish the algebra in March, and then our students study 4 units of Geometry for the remainder of the year.  This will give  us more time to prepare our students for the state exam.  We discussed and planned                          strategies for reviewing, and utilization of resources our principal has agreed to fund us with.  She has been generous in purchasing a great online system for EOC review.  We are also about to embark on teaching students factoring for the first time in their  math lives (formally at least).  We know this can be a big undertaking for Algebra 1 students even at an advanced level at the onset, so we discussed possible formative assessment strategies for them along the way to check for understanding.  Probably                          the best PLC meeting for Accel Algebra this year!

1:30 – 2:27pm: 
5th Period Accel Algebra again with polynomials.  This time I heard a total “Oooohhhh” when I worked them into the reason a constant polynomial had degree zero.  Weaning them off of the idea that a number is not always “just a number’.  That lightbulb energized me for the rest of the work day.

2:32 – 3:30pm: 
6th period Algebra 1.  I just acquired this class along with my 5th period Accel Algebra as new classes within the month.  Yes, 2 new classes, 8 weeks into the school year, and hard on the kids and myself.   What I will say is that this stress was the last straw for my health and led to the decision I made to resign after 1st semester.  Anyway, my 6th period class was split from a class of 40 students my colleague had.                    They are a good group of kids, and they have made so many strides with their progress as a smaller group,  so it is a greatway to end each day

One of my Accel Algebra 1 colleagues stopped ask for advice on pacing of content leading up to our quiz on Monday.   Being in a new unit in which students have not seen the content before requires more “mini-PLC” conversations, but I like it.  I had missed having  those mini-meets as my former colleagues and I talked all the time about instruction; to be fair, the layout of classrooms and teachers at my old school was more conducive for this.

Working  at school to tie-up loose ends, send needed emails, and work copy assignments for tomorrow.

4:50-5:20pm:  North Fulton traffic – 4.5 miles, 30 minute drive home; sigh.

5:30pm:  Dinner with my family – I love when the three of us get to have dinner together; it is not often!


Grading tests taken by all students this week both Algebra 1 and Accel Algebra 2.  I am absolutely exhausted, and do not want that to affect the grading process, so I put them away for now.

Finish writing DITL blog for today.   In re-reading this, I realize that my biggest break today was for dinner:  30 minutes with family.  I am worn out with 2 more action packed days ahead of me this week.   I realize quickly that this post will have to go out tomorrow because I need to get to bed and get some rest.  As it is, I am
sleeping copious on the weekends due to my health condition, and I am growing exhausted earlier and earlier each week.

Reflection Questions
1) Teacher make a lot of decisions throughout the day.  Sometimes we make so many it feels overwhelming.   When you think about today, what is a decision/teacher move you made that you are proud of?  What is one you are worried about?
I am proud of the fact that I stopped the work horse in myself with grading the tests when I was too exhausted to give them the concentration they need.  I did not get all tests graded by far, but some of them, and I can approach the other when I am fresh enough to do so.
I actually had no concerning decision today.  Every once in a while it is great to have a day where you feel good about the work that was done.   I am going to take it!

2)  Every person’s life is full of highs and lows.  Share with us  some of what that is  like as a teacher.  What  are you looking forward to?   What has been a challenge for you lately?
My challenge lately is been keeping my stress under control as much as I can to keep my health at a place where I can finish the semester with my students.  My new school has a much bigger workload than my previous school, and it is a load that my health will not handle at this point in my life having Crohn’s disease.  What keeps me positive about my decision to go out of teaching is the opportunity to rest and get well and take time to refresh my teaching spirit.  I would like to think of this time period as a “self-induced sabbatical”.
Once I am well, and when I am well, I have plenty of technology avenues I want to explore, teaching strategies I want to research and plan for, and classrooms and teachers I would like to visit locally and nationally.  This was probably one of the hardest decisions in my teaching career, but I know it is time to take care of myself, which will have its long-term benefits; I just have to be patient with the time it takes to see the benefits.   I hope to achieve remission once again and be rested enough to teach again someday.  I know I will miss being in the classroom terribly.

3)  We are reminded constantly of how relational teaching is.  As teachers we work to build relationships with teachers and students.  Describe a relational moment you had with someone lately.
     I really enjoyed the mini-PLC with my Accel Algebra 1 colleague today.  I really felt like we 
     shared great ideas and worked together well to plan for the next few days leading into the next 
     quiz.  We are both work horses by nature, and our rooms are not close together, so we tend to get 
     caught up in our work a lot and not share as much as we could.  I am glad today was different – he
     is a great teacher, and even though we have a similar amount of teaching experience, I have still 
     learned so much from him this year.

4) Teachers are always working on improving, and are often have specific goals for things to work on
     Throughout the year.  What have you been doing to work on your goal?  How are you doing?

     Unfortunately, because I am not well, my goals have not accelerated as much this month as last. 
     I am still planning and executing instruction and activities, but not as often as I would like. 
     To compromise, I have worked on increasing student talking and questioning more so into 
     instructional delivery, since the time to plan peer activities has given way to other tasks I must 
     prioritize with the time my health affords right now.   I am still going to push to do more in the 
     next month with groups, and I hope I can accomplish a little bit more.

5)  What else happened this month that you want to share?

   One of my former leagues and I are planning  to attend the Southern MTBOS Tweet-Up in 
   Chattanooga, TN  November 5th.  We are both very excited to meet other math peeps from around 
   our region.  It is a day trip only, but should provide a great amount of resources to help with 
   planning activities when time is so limited now for me.  There are a few of us meeting from the 
   southeast region, and I know I will learn a lot  from them.  I am glad that there are teacher work 
   daysthe following Monday and Tuesday that will afford me the chance to still do this and not lose 
   the rest I need.

Monday, September 26, 2016

A Day in the Life:  9/26/16

6:15am:   Husband woke me out of a dead sleep – I had no idea what planet I was on.  Apparently I had slept through my alarm; great way to start Monday.

7:30am:  Arrived at school already late for morning duty.  Sent an email to my PLC that we would not be meeting at lunch today because 3 of us are going through class changes again after 7 weeks of school.  Yes, that’s right, classes not balanced yet.   We have a big test coming up this Friday, so I instructed the team to work on lesson that can really help to review and reinforce content for the students.

7:45am:  Went to morning hall duty all way across the school and roamed up and down stairs and 2 floors of the 2000 building.  I was checked up on 3 times before I was done at 8:15am.  Ship is tight here folks! 

8:20 -9:20am:    Started my planning period by running off interactive notebook pages for Accelerated Algebra 1.  Even and Odd Functions abstract proof – definitely not a favorite, but planning for visual tie-ins as much as possible.  Scrambled the rest of the hour to start putting together activities and homework for both classes as they are all testing on Friday.   Emailed for a quick meeting with my principal this week to talk to her about going out in December.   Meeting scheduled for Wednesday at 8:30am, and I can say with all honesty I am not looking forward to it at all.

9:30-10:25am:  2nd period Algebra 1 and compound inequalities.  I started by making reference to compound sentences and coordinating conjunctions in language arts and explaining that they would now take the same idea with only 2 coordinating conjunctions to connect inequalities/math sentences.  The classwork/homework I gave on Friday had them graphing compound inequalities from interval notation and graphs, so that part was waiting for them to assign a meaning to.  The lesson went really well, and they worked in pairs with their assignment for the remainder of the period with me there for help.

10:30-11:30am:  As much as 2nd period was a success today, 3rd period was an epic fail, or at least in my book.  3rd period is my “scared to wonder/explore” class, and I have not been able to crack through their shell completely.  Because of that, they retreat right back into the shell when things are tough.  Abstract proof of even and odd functions, even with a graphical lead-in, was not received well at all.  I attempted to tie the symmetry to the geometric transformations they learned last year with y-axis symmetry and 180 rotations.  They just could not make the connections today, which I am fine with, but they are a group that lets anger and discomfort impede their attempt and progress.  They might be the toughest group of accelerated students I have encountered.  I assured them that practice will help, that we will go pattern exploring tomorrow with their findings, and I now am planning on bringing DESMOS to the rescue.

11:35am-12:35pm:  4th period – my wonderers and active questioners!   They did not love the even and odd topic, but they were willing to approach it and bring it down to their own words.  They pushed my thinking and helped me to verbalize the proof of odd functions better.  It is crazy how different one class is to the next.  I somehow have to push 3rd period to be more comfortable with the uncomfortable.

12:40-1:24pm:  Lunch.  My Algebra 1 colleague Ben came up to my room to talk about the next quiz we are writing and to vent about the state of our 6th period.  A little explanation:  due to over-enrollment, we have had to staff another math teacher, which took a while to find.  We found and on-boarded the math teacher, but they have yet to completely dissolve my 6th period support class and split his class of 41 students, which was the plan.  They were supposed to do this at the latest last Friday, and we have not word of when this will happen.  Meanwhile, we are trying to prepare students for a test on Friday with as little disruption as possible and greatly concerned about it.  Hopefully the situation is resolved tomorrow, but it is frustrating to say the least; especially for him.  I am just looking forward to meeting new kiddos!

1:30-2:25pm:  5th period Algebra 1 and the compound inequalities again.  They were equally as receptive to the lesson and applied the preparatory work from Friday to extended inequalities.  They are still a little wary about when the inequality symbol switches direction, but they kept at it at a good pace.  Some of them were not happy with the shared grade on their partner’s quizzes from last week, but they learned that partner’s quiz means helping each other rather than dividing the problems.  I told them they would have another stab at that this week.

2:30-3:30pm:  6th period, which is currently not a 6th period.  Some of my support students still have not been moved to their new elective courses, so the 5 that remain worked on their math homework for today, and I answered questions.  I am hoping that my new class is in place tomorrow, so we can wrap up inequalities and start preparing for Friday’s exam.

3:40pm:  I have a student in my room waiting for his mother, and we will have a parent-teacher conference.  My department chair arrives to inform me that he has no idea when the schedules for the new math classes will be changed and to try and hang in there.  It is hard for me to do this because it is affecting the students.  The overloaded class of 41 needs to be downsized to 2 of us, so they can better receive instruction in a smaller environment and subsequently more support.

4:00pm:  Parent-teacher conference for one of my Algebra 1 students struggling with the transition to high school math.  He is good about keeping up with classwork and homework, but needs to work on seeking extra help and reviewing a little each night to keep the concepts alive rather than waiting until the test.  The parent is asking for extra resources at home too, which is awesome.  The meeting was light-hearted as much as serious; when parents are open to collaborating, it is always better for all involved.

5:00pm:  Just arrived home and started the blog – hard to believe I kept track of everything.  Ate a quick dinner and chatted with my husband.  We have tutoring tonight.

6:00-8:00pm:  Tutoring appointments for AB Calculus and Geometry.   From limits and derivatives to classifying triangles, the math continues into the night!

8:15pm:  I am now finishing up this blog with a dish of smores ice cream – nice, sweet end to a long day.

9:00pm:  I am going to watch the presidential debates – just cannot bring myself to miss it no matter how tired I am.

Reflection Questions
1) Teacher make a lot of decisions throughout the day.  Sometimes we make so many it feels 
     overwhelming.   When you think about today, what is a decision/teacher movr you made that 
     you are proud of?  What is one you are worried about?
     Today I am glad that I canceled our PLC meeting for lunch to give us all a chance to breath
     and plan. As an Algebra 1 team, we have come a long way in recent weeks and are rolling along 
     nicely.  We have fallen into roles that reflect our strengths, and we get that chance to breathe, 
     we can start enriching our meetings with more sharing of teaching and strategies.

     I am concerned about the decision I need to talk with my principal with on Wednesday.  I do not
     want to elaborate today much as it was a long and tough decision.  More on this in future blogs.

2)  Every person’s life is full of highs and lows.  Share with us  some of what that is  like as a 
     teacher.  What  are you looking forward to?   What has been a challenge for you lately?
     Today the highs and lows came in different periods back to back.  From the push to explore even
     and odd functions in 3rd period to the willingness to explore and redefine in 4th period.  Two 
     different  classes, same course, two different ball games.  People may assume the same course 
     does not change from period to period, but any teacher knows it does.  This might be a more 
     extreme case than what I am used to, but it has been my challenge lately, and I tend to make 
     challenges my mission.  I am hoping to get my 3rd period class to a point where they will not 
     fight  back tooth and nail at being uncomfortable in the learning process.

3)  We are reminded constantly of how relational teaching is.  As teachers we work to build 
      relationships with teachers and students.  Describe a relational moment you had with someone 
      lately.  In the beginning of the school year, my Algebra 1 colleague and I were at odds on the 
      PLC.  Lately, we have taken a step back, started learning how to work with each other, and now
      we are able to lean on each other in the wake of all the stress with our class changes.  They say 
      that relationships that take more work tend to be the most worth it in the end, and that is turning 
      out to be true for us.  We are both experienced teachers from different schools coming in this 
      year.  We both are passionate about teaching and had to find a way to make a big enough arena
      for all of our ideas, and in this time of stress, I think we stick together to draw on our shared 
      passion of teaching and working with kids  to get us through. 

4) Teachers are always working on improving, and are often have specific goals for things to work on
     Throughout the year.  What have you been doing to work on your goal?  How are you doing?

     I pushed on both of my teams to push the next test back a day or two, so I could incorporate some
     Meaningful activities into our review.  Lately I have felt like the passenger on an non-stop over-
     Informative highway with no room to breathe on any one concept.  I know if I feel this way, the 
     kids are probably going crazy.  I am happy to say my teams agreed, and I have some fun and 
     reinforcing things planned for Wednesday and Thursday.

     Per my goal of spiral review, I have really been working that into my Accelerated Algebra 1 class 
     and will hit the mark on every assignment with it this week.  They are working with topics that are
     pretty tough for them at this level, and I know I am over-preparing them, but I want them to be 
     able to sustain for future honors math courses.  Because I have taught and tutored every level and 
     course except AP Statistics, I know the concepts they are headed for.  It will be a delayed 
     gratification for them, but I know they will be glad when they are able to use what they have 
     learned later.
5)  What else happened this month that you want to share?

       I got to have dinner with two of my colleagues from my former high school just last Friday night.
       They are teaching the Algebra 1 support block class that I taught last year and doing the 
       interactive notebooks   They told me that I had totally changed the support class for them by 
       teaching them to do this, and that they loved teaching the course and watching how much the
       students used the notebooks as a resource in class and were such hard and confident workers in 
       math.  They said they had never seen that before.  My heart melted.  I know how much I loved 
       doing the notebooks with that class, so I know the joy they are experiencing, and I am glad that 
       I was able to influence that.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Hanging in There by Creating Resources the Old-School Way…

For those of us that start in early August, it is a tough pull through the fall months.  A lot of us joke that if you make it to Thanksgiving, the year is over.   I am feeling the pull right now as we are ending the first 6 weeks, and progress reports with all the surprises and additional tasks that can go along with that.   Last week was parent/curriculum night, so that always makes for one long day and somehow a longer week. 

So last week was pretty blah with instruction.  Not my intention, but lost the time to do as much with activities as in previous weeks.  Still, I got a surge of need to put something in that was going to push student thinking.  We are working on functions in Accelerated Algebra 1, which is one of my favorite things to teach, and I was missing the chance to do cool activities while strapped for time going into a quiz.  About an hour before curriculum night began, a synapse fired, and an idea I wanted to embrace.  I did not want to lose it, so I opened up my graph notebook and started drawing graphs…
I wanted to do an activity solely on whether or not to connect the points on a graph that are generated by a function in a real-world situation.  In the past and still this year, I always incorporate this concept within task-orientated problems.   This is still a great portion of a task, but I really was feeling like it needed sole attention.  The title of the activity was “To Connect or Not Connect”, and I drew out 8 graphs with points and labeled the x and y axes with situations.  I then prompted the students to circle yes or no, and then in the spirit of Sara Van Der Werf, I told them to “convince me”.   I then drew two  empty graphs for problems 9 and 10 and asked the students to create one situation that would result in a connected graph and one graph that would not be connected.

I scanned the paper and loaded it into their OneNote assignments for the next day.  I had the students work in pairs during class to make the “connect or not” decisions.  There was great discussion and debate among the students – kids realizing that there could be more than one argument for many graphs, and kids realizing that sometimes more than one explanation could work if they argued their ideas on an assessment.  It was nice to hear my class come alive again in a time of the year when the lessons tend to fall flat due to lack of time and increased exhaustion.

It was a last minute thought, and I went old-school with constructing the activity because I did not want lose the idea in the wake of lack of time.  It is handwritten by yours truly who does not have great handwriting, and it looks like something that came off of a mimeograph copier, but it worked just as easily to generate great conversations and dig deeper into concept development.  The file for this beauty is attached below

To Connect or Not Connect Activity

My takeaway from this is to not let those great ideas get away from you if you don’t have the time to type, generate, format, edit, repeat.    Our hands can relay meaning in content just as well when we are in a pinch, and I almost felt freer to organize my thoughts.   This was a critical concept in this unit, and I believe this activity helped them to think about what part of the input/output scenario drives the decision to include connectivity into things like domain and range, whether both domain and range should be considered, and what are some of the things around us that do not exist in life as partial quantities.

It was a great activity, and I am glad I allowed myself to free-write a document rather than declare the “no time to electronically generate or search” and keep them from an engaging activity.
Now for this week.  My favorite activity of all times:  Transformations of Functions Discovery Activity.  I developed this 2 schools ago, and have taught it at all levels.  It is fascinating to see them search for all the patterns that come together to create different types of transformation.  More on this later with pictures and explanation.  This activity alone makes me so excited for this coming week.  For the first time, I have multiple days to use and keep the activity and discussion going over several days.

Until next week – I will look forward to sharing it.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Zen Places

As teachers, we are very busy people and our jobs can be just as stressful as they are awesome.  This past week was the end of week 4 of a very hectic school year.  I left school last Thursday tired and with many frustrations.  I was having a hard time seeing past the day, but luckily it was a long weekend with a trip planned to one of my favorite places.   I call these places my Zen places.  These are places where I can calm down, completely relax and let go, and inevitably end up in a positive place of reflection.  I have 3 of these places, and I visit them all at least once a year. 

1. St. Simon’s Island, GA

I am a lover of beaches in general, but this beach/beach town is definitely my favorite.  It is a small little town lined with Mangrove trees and such a laid back way of life.  There are lots of unique little shops and eateries with fresh seafood and local flair.  We always stay at a relaxing resort in a pool-side suite (totally spoil ourselves once a year).  The patio in the pool and lounge area overlooks the ocean and beach.  I love the incredible sunrises and sunsets there, and I ended up taking a lot of Oceanside snoozes on the veranda this year.  So peaceful, so calming, and I was totally able to re-energize.

2.  My Best Friend’s Condo in Minneapolis

I lived in Minneapolis for 16 years after high school, and I love this city!  I still go back at least once a year.  Although I was not able to be in Minneapolis in July for TMC16 because of surgery, I was able to make it up for Sara VDW’s professional development during an annual visit in June.  I am also planning a trip for November again.   Because I ended up as a suburbanite in Atlanta, I miss all the biking and cool eclectic shops, dining, lakes, and theaters that are so accessible in Minneapolis.  Every time I am there, I stay at my best friend’s condo in Uptown, which always calms me the minute I walk through the door.  She is the most artistic and creative I have ever known, and her condo is a reflection of her in every corner- from the colors on the walls, the cool pieces of furniture, to the many plants and wind chimes lining her balcony.   A picture of that balcony is shown below.  Notice the wooden bird wind chime – she bought that while she was staying with me last year in Atlanta.  We had taken a weekend trip to Helen, GA- a German-themed tourist town in the mountains of North Georgia.  I love that she has that one up there because it is perfect for a balcony in Uptown Minneapolis, and an icon of a memorable weekend!

3.  Battery Park Book Exchange:  Asheville, North Carolina

Asheville, NC is an awesome mixture of Uptown Minneapolis and Southern Culture for me.  It is like having an uptown in the middle of the Appalachian Mountains.  The views are gorgeous, the streets are full of life, cool little shops, often live music, and street chess.   My favorite place here, and maybe in the whole world, is the Battery Park Book Exchange.  This place is a combination of used books for sale, coffee bar, and wine bar.  I mean, who could ask for anything else???  It is two stories with room after room and nook after nook of books and comfy couches to sit and read the books and drink coffee. The ambiance of beautiful dark woods and warm painted walls is so relaxing.   I can and do spend hours and way too much money here, but the level of happiness I reach in the 4 walls of this place is hard to beat.  Pictures below are of the inside of the Battery Park Book Exchange I pulled from the internet.

I left school 4 days ago with an electronic grade book that I am locked out of after only being cleared to put in grades during week 4 of school, a frustrating co-teaching situation, and many other loose ends untied.  I am now back from a weekend in Zen Place #1, and I am ready to go back and try new things again this week and see the kids again.  I was able to re-connect back to some of my favorite things I learned over the summer and use in my classroom that I had put into a collage to wear on the back of  a school name tag that I made for my lanyard.  Both of these I made weeks ago, but lost track of waiting for a new laminater and being swept away the first weeks of school.  Tonight I made it a point to crop, print, and laminate them so they are close by to keep me going during times of stress without a Zen place to be in.

One last reflection I made this weekend was that getting last Friday off for my Zen place was not easy to do, but I fought for it because I knew I would need it.  In reflection of this over the weekend, I remembered my former principal at my last school.  He was a leader who believed in balance for students and for teachers.  He never questioned time we requested off if we had the appropriate amount of time allotted for it.  He treated us like the hard-working professionals that we were and knew that we put the time we were asking for off and so much more back into our jobs.  I never realized just how valuable that was until this year.  I mean, I never thought he didn’t care or appreciate us, but I did not understand how much.  I wish I would have thanked him for this, but I am sure I will see him again at some point and do just that!

Teacher friends, never forget to re-visit your Zen places, particularly during the school year if you can, so you can take advantage of the energy it can give you back.  We give so much of our lives to our students and our families and stretch ourselves so thin that it is hard to remember our happiness counts to0 and must be nourished and revitalized from time to time.  Take your time off when you need it – fight for it tooth and nail if you have to –it is so worth it.  Get to your Zen place and let it revive you!!!

Step one:  Stop and identify your Zen places!!!

Step two:  Blog about them and post pictures - so fun!!!

I would love to hear other people’s favorite places to rejuvenate – what are yours?  

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Finally a Week Full of Fun Activities!!!

This past week was our 3rd week with the kiddos.  My Accelerated Algebra 1 class was taking their 2nd quiz of the unit this week, and my Algebra 1 On-level classes were heading for their first unit test.  I was able to take advantage of a few review days this week to do some engaging activities for assessment preparation.

On Tuesday, I used an activity from the team batch for the inequalities quiz.   This activity gave compound inequality problems along with 3 different representations of the solution that had to be matched up with each problem:  interval notation, inequality w/union or intersection notation, and the visual graph.   Because I had just got my laminator delivered, I was able to laminate the game cards, so I was really excited.  On the bottom of each card was a letter, so when they put the solutions together, it spelled a word – great way to check their answers, and they did not catch on to that at all, which was something I anticipated.   The activity was really engaging and reinforced their understanding of the representing solutions rather than just finding them.  In grading their quizzes later in the week, it was clear that this activity helped!   The 2nd activity I created and was intended to strengthen understanding of indicators of inequality symbols in word problems.  This activity gave the students 6 inequality problem sets, and for each one the students were asked to write a number sentence representing the inequality, and then create a real-world situation to represent the inequality.  Because of time constraints, I had them pick 4 out of the 6 inequalities.  There answers were really creative and fun on the real –world side of it, and they rocked the number sentence portion; also, great discussions! What they did not hesitate to say is that it was much harder to come up with the problem than solve it; mission accomplished!  I told them that meant they were learning for the long termJ   Activities in action and link for game are below.

Wednesday in Algebra 1 after wrapping up radical expressions, I gave a spiral review activity for Order of Operations.  I would not realize until later in the week while browsing Twitter and MTBoS that I had done a version of “Commit and Capture”.  I was excited to know that my thinking and lesson creating is on track with awesome teachers in the MTBoS community – it gave me a lot of energy.  Along with the commit and capture idea, I had them roll dice for numbers to insert into the blanks, and they had to make every other number negative.   The last two problems on this activity included division in the order of operations, so I asked them if their number was an integer or rational to reinforce the number types subsets.  If their number was rational because of the division, I asked them to explore the original problem and see what numbers could be changed to make the result an integer under the division involved.   That was an awesome piece – I thought I may have pushed too far for on-level this early, but that was the part they focused on the most!    I am glad “Commit and Capture” for this activity is already out there as I will continue to spiral it through.  Below is the link to the activity I made.

On Thursday in Algebra 1 we had day 2 of review activities.  I used the “I Have Who Has” Structure of Expressions activity from my team bank last year.  I also was able to laminate and cut cards this year, so the activity will keep better.  I had students deal out the cards and take turns telling their group members what expression they had, and what term, factor, coefficient, or constant they needed.  They were to take turns until everyone had found the elements they needed from their hand.  I believe there were 2-3 leftover elements that no card had, and when they found those, I knew they had the activity completed.  The awesome part of this activity was hearing all the vocabulary for expressions flying around in the room.  As evidenced from the tests I have graded so far, this activity brought the reinforcement of this concept to their understanding that had been missing when they took the quiz.  Pictures of the activity and the link for it are below.

Also on Thursday was another attempt, although I now know not the last, to help students classify number types.  I developed a “Number Type Coloring Lab” for students to create subset boxes for each number and represent the type the number is a member of by certain colors.  At the end of the activity, I wanted the students to look at certain color schemes for patterns.  I asked them what patterns they noticed.  They still struggled with it originally and referred to their notebooks (which of course I want them to be able to do – that is why were keep themJ), but many are still struggling with this concept after the test.   My search for activities for this topic will continue and of course include the MTBoSJ  Pictures of the activity and link are below.

The last activity I gave for Algebra 1 was a writing expressions activity.  The problems I created had the students gathering information from clippings I got off the internet and pasted.  Some of it was hard to read, so I encouraged them to use their Surface Pros to look up normal pricing for similar things involved in the problems to determine a certain price or amount.  The Jet’s pizza problem was the most challenging, and I let them know they may want to save that one for last.  Most groups required some interaction from me with further prompts, but the enthusiasm to get through that problem was definitely there, which made me happy.  Of course, Jet’s is some damn good pizza in our area, so that probably helped!  Even after the test, a lot of students still struggle with the ideas of tax as a percentage off the price, but the process is getting better.  I honestly think their age and lack of experience paying for retail things has a lot to do with it.   On parent night, it will give me something to talk about with their kids when shopping.  Link for this activity below.

One last great thing from the planning side of things is that I left Friday afternoon feeling like I could actually breathe and was somewhat caught up.  I had all of my stuff crossed off the list, and things ready for Monday.  I am not someone who likes making lists because they overwhelm me at times, but my friend got me a list pad that is a super fun way to make lists and want to cross off items.  It is called a “crap pad”, and at the bottom of the pad when I am done I can check off “All crapped out”, which is so silly, but I love getting there and getting to say “yes!  I am all crapped out”.   Below is a list from this week complete with some adding at the bottom from when I was trying to determine point value totals for our Algebra 1 test this week.

All of these activities made the week so exciting from the teaching aspect.  I am at it again this week for regular instruction this time pulling ideas from the CMP curriculum for area and perimeter.  I also have a cool dimensional analysis activity my friend Deb gave me to help the Accel Algebra students get ready for their test.  This week is a short one for us as our school has a professional day Friday, and then the Labor Day weekend.  It is hard to believe that the end of this week already marks a month of school!