Saturday, January 1, 2022

#MTBoSYuleBlog - One Word Challenge for 2022


One Word Challenge for 2022

Winter Break is coming to an end and like so many years before now, I will not have met my goal of 12 posts, but that's okay!  If you've been reading along, I appreciate you!  This blog is meant as a reflection tool and journal of my teaching journey.

Today is the first day of 2022.  The end of 2021 brought some sadness as we said goodbye to our last Golden Girl - Betty White.  The Omicron variant has us all wondering what Winter 2022 will bring, but in the midst of the unknown and the sorrow comes a new beginning.  In my devotion today was this quote:

"Every single day of our lives we get a new set of twenty-four hours to be the people that God calls us to be."

I think that sometimes we forget that new beginnings don't just happen when the calendar turns over, but they can happen every single day.  Don't get me wrong - there's something magical about a new calendar / planner page - a new time of possibilities and choices, but that is also true each day as we start anew.

For the past several years, I've joined the One Word Challenge, where you choose one word to guide your year.  In 2021, my "calendar year" word was Joy and my "school year" word is Lego.

For 2022, my word is...

2021 took me to new places - in 2022, I want to explore those new places, create new opportunities for learning and growing, and just enjoy the ride.  The past two years have taught us that the future is unpredictable and that each day is precious.  

(Source:  Google Images)

Thursday, December 30, 2021

#MTBoSYuleBlog - Start... Stop... Continue... in 2022


Start... Stop... Continue... in 2022

This prompt has been one of my favorites for years.  What are 3 things you want to start doing, stop doing, and continue doing in the new year?

In 2022, I want to START:
  • Building a Love for Mathematics - As you've seen in the previous posts, I really want to start thinking about those weird and wacky math things that made me enjoy math beyond the "must-teach standards" and dry procedures.  
  • Getting out into the community -  As an introvert, this one is going to be REALLY difficult for me, but now that I live a short distance from my school, I want to do more to be involved in evening activities.
  • Focusing on healthy habits -  I got into some bad habits with my eating and exercising during the pandemic and that needs to change.  I know what to do, but stress and other issues kept me from caring enough to do it.  Now that I'm mentally and emotionally in a better place, it's time for me to focus more on my physical health.  

In 2022, I want to STOP:
  • The Teaching Rut -  I'll be the first to admit that my classroom has reverted back to the "sit and take notes" classroom of my earlier years.  There's a variety of reasons for this, but I need a shot in the arm to get out of the habit.  I've signed up for some PD in January that will hopefully help, plus much of my reading this break has been with this eye toward breaking out of my rut.
  • Focusing on what I cannot change -  This one will be tough for me, but sometimes I need to learn to redirect my focus to the 99 things that are going well and stop stressing about the 1 thing that isn't.  In the classroom, it's really hard to accept that I can't reach every student.  That won't stop me from trying, but I need to learn that it's not all on me either.

In 2022, I want to CONTINUE:
  • Celebrating Birthdays -  This has been one of those small pleasures this year that both the kids and I look forward to!  It's a little thing, but it helps show that I care about them as a person.
  • #EduRead -   This year, I've spent a LOT of time with my Kindle, but in the New Year, I want to get back to reading some professional books on how to better reach my students.  Feel free to share any recommendation!  (Same with podcasts)
  • Connecting with others -  From our monthly #MathTeachCollab meet-ups to a mini-vacay with friends, one thing we've learned in the pandemic is about how important those connections are.  It helps to know you aren't alone and there are others that can provide some great advice and a sympathetic ear.

What do you want to Start / Stop / Continue in 2022?

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

#MTBoSYuleBlog - Challenges of Teaching in 2021


Challenges of Teaching in 2021

Talk to any teacher right now and you'll hear variations on the same story - teaching is difficult right now.  Every day, there are articles about teachers quitting midyear or about schools shifting to remote learning for a day or two because of the substitute or bus driver shortage.  I know that I am luckier than most as my school as yet to shift to remote learning this year and I've only had to give up my planning period once this year due to a sub shortage.  

Some of these challenges we anticipated - record numbers of teachers quit after the 2020-2021 school year, so many districts went into the year at a deficit.  We knew from last year that it was difficult to find subs and bus drivers as those populations tend to be at a higher risk of COVID due to age or other health issues.  We knew there would be learning gaps from the disruptions of the past 18 months.  But, I think it was the unanticipated issues that really got us...

  • Classroom Management
    This one is a biggie!  I've never had huge issues with classroom management - I've always believed that most classroom management issues were related to lack of organization and routine, a lack of knowing expectations, and a lack of a solid instructional plan.  This year proved me wrong.  Now granted, I've never had an entire day of freshman and sophomores, but one thing I realized this year is how important it is to learn how to be with other people.  I've never had to say things like "keep your hands and feet to yourself" or "don't throw things across the room" to high school students.  While I know some of these issues come from students trying to cover up academic gaps, most of it is just from the toll of 18 months of limited social interaction.  

  • Technology
    In 2020-2021, we all recognized the importance of technology.  Believe me, I was so grateful for Desmos, Loom, and other tech tools to help me make it from day to day.  But in 2021, I wasn't prepared for the level of (for lack of a better word) addiction to technology.  The students are almost conditioned to open up their Chromebook each day, even if we aren't using it and anytime there's even a pause, they grab their cell phones.  Don't get me wrong - I know plenty of adults who do that too (even me at times), but I didn't anticipate the need for the constant redirection of when technology use is appropriate.  However, on the flip side, I over-assumed (is that a word?) that students would be proficient at looking at our LMS to see what they missed.  This is something that I need to do a better job of in the future - teaching them HOW to use the LMS and stay caught up when they are absent.

  • Re-learning how to Teach and Learn
    I anticipated SOME of this issue, but not to the extent that actually has occurred.  When setting up my room last summer, I was so excited to have kids back in groups, to be able to move around the room.  But I went into it with the idea of jumping back to 2019 without adequate preparation on my part.  It was like getting my "sea legs" again - how could I prepare lessons that would capture their (very short) attention?  In thinking about the 2021 school year, I hadn't prepared enough for teaching students how to take notes again, transitioning between activities, or keeping them on task.  

One of the things I've loved about the monthly #MathTeachCollab meetings is knowing that I'm not alone.  I know these issues are not isolated to me or my classroom - they are issues that every teacher across the nation is facing, regardless of location, regardless of grade level, regardless of years of experience.  I'm very grateful that I'm not an entry year teacher trying to navigate these challenges and I'm also grateful that I have an amazing and supportive administration that helps any way they can.  

But on January 3, when we head back to our classrooms, we have another opportunity to start semi-fresh.  Our students will have had 2 weeks off and it will be on us to re-train them regarding our classroom expectations and structures.  One thing I love about teaching is that we get these chances to start fresh each year and partially each semester.  If something didn't work 1st hour, then retool it for 2nd hour.  Don't like how that flow went?  Great - make a note and change it next year!  We have a similar chance in January as we re-acclimate to the classroom.

Make it a great day or not.... the choice is YOURS!

Sunday, December 26, 2021

#MTBoSYuleBlog - Building a Love for Mathematics


Building a Love for Mathematics

Technically, I think this topic still falls under "Something I want to Try in 2022", but it also ties back to my Math Bookshelf post, plus it's just a Sunday rambling, so take it as a combo of all of those! 

As I've mentioned before, one of my favorite places to shop is at a used bookstore.  I never know what gem I might find and it's just that "thrill of the hunt" that keeps me going!  During our Winter Break, while we were out finishing up some shopping, I talked hubby into stopping at one of our local Goodwill stores that tends to have a pretty good book / teacher section.  

One of the books I walked away with for my Math Bookshelf, was "50 Mathematical Ideas" for $1.50.  I mean - who could turn that down??

Yesterday was Christmas Day, so we loaded up the car with gifts for my in-laws and set off for their house, which is about a 30 minute drive away.  I never go anywhere without a book, so I took this book along for the ride.  I didn't make it very far though, because the Introduction caught me and I just had to share an excerpt with hubby (and now with you!).  Those few sentences took over the rest of our drive and again sparked something that I've been wanting to try.

Here's the excerpt:
"... Of course, school mathematics is a different thing, often taught with an eye to examinations.  The time pressure of school does not help either, for mathematics is a subject where there is no merit in being fast.  People need time to allow the ideas to sink in.  Some of the greatest mathematicians have been painfully slow as they strove to understand the deep concepts of their subject."

This started us on a conversation about speed in mathematical computation, but then led us to some of the topics in the book - things that aren't traditionally taught in school mathematics such as fractals and the four-color problem.  Ideas that truly show the grace and beauty of mathematics versus the dry standards that make up "school mathematics".  Now, don't get me wrong - I understand that a solid foundation is necessary for many of these ideas, but how often are we able to just let our minds wander, to be creative with mathematics, and explore what it means to be a mathematician?  Instead, we ask our students to solve a problem written by someone else that has a right answer and then we repeat that for 180 days.

I've been looking back and trying to think - when did I first learn about Pascal's Triangle?  Or the Mobius Strip?  When did I start to see math as more than a collection of procedures?  I know from previous conversations with hubby that his struggle with school math was this lack of connection.  He believed that each chapter / topic / course was this separate thing to be learned and never figured out how they related to each other.  He's a computer programmer, but he'll be the first to tell you that school math didn't make sense to him, even though he uses math and logic every day in programming.

One of the things I want to try in 2022 is to develop some way to showcase some of these non-traditional math topics.  I don't quite know how to fit it all in - do I take a day every month to do something a-typical?  Can I start an after school "math club"?  What topics should be covered?  Will this idea totally flop?  Will I have the stamina to keep it up when classroom responsibilities seem heavy?  Does something like this already exist?

Ultimately the question comes down to this... what can I do to spark mathematical curiosity in my students beyond procedures and algorithms?   How can I help them see past "school math" and into the beauty that truly is the study of mathematics?  


Friday, December 24, 2021

#MTBoSYuleBlog - Something I Still Want to Try...


Something I Still Want to Try This Year...

This year has been a huge time of change for me.  Beyond just changing schools, I also went from teaching juniors and seniors to teaching freshman and sophomores.  To be honest, this is the first year in my career that I've ever taught freshman!  I also changed from teaching elective classes to teaching Geometry all day, which brings its own set of challenges!

Like most of the #MTBoS, one of the books I read this past spring / summer was Building Thinking Classrooms.  I had first been introduced to Peter Liljedahl's work with Vertical Non-Permanent Surfaces (VNPS) and Visible Random Grouping (VRG) back at TMC14, so when his book came out this past year, it was definitely on my must-read list.  

If you are looking for a professional read, this is definitely one I recommend!  The book is very readable and walks you through the research that Peter did around the 14 strategies in the book.  When I first read the book in the spring, I was enthralled with the idea of the Thinking Classroom and having my students up on the boards.  I had used whiteboards regularly until COVID protocols prevented us from shared supplies and I was so eager to get back to using them regularly!  I listed to podcasts, participated in book chats and Zoom meetings, and joined the Facebook group.  I was researching curricular and non-curricular tasks.  I read the book a second time and took detailed notes.

I won a set of Wipebook flipcharts on a giveaway and excitedly mounted them to my classroom walls.  I was ready - bring on the new school year!!

Then, reality hit.  Here I am, in a new school, teaching underclassmen, teaching Geometry all day, learning a new system, and I just couldn't do it (YET).  

The toll of the 2020-2021 school year hit me like a ton of bricks.  Issues I didn't anticipate prevented me from having the courage and energy to try the BTC model.  I knew I was at a disadvantage as the "new teacher" because I had lost the luxury of having a reputation with my admin and the community.  But what I didn't realize was that learning how to teach in-person again would be such a challenge.  I was dealing with classroom management issues unlike any I'd dealt with before.  There were gaps of knowledge from the disrupted learning of the past 1.5 years that at times felt unsurmountable. 

So I decided to put my BTC goals on the backburner for a while and focus on building the relationship and trust that I needed with my students.  While I'm not proud of it, I had to promote some "mimicking" behaviors to help students re-learn how to be students again.  For many of them, they felt "on their own" last year and I needed to get them to trust me that I would always have their best interests at heart.  I also needed this time to learn the ropes of a new system, to realign my expectations to my reality, to re-learn how to teach and engage students.  

At the beginning of the year, I felt like I was running around the room constantly as kiddos screamed my name for help / attention.  But as our classroom community grew, the kiddos were better about turning to each other rather than straight to me.  They got better about pulling out their whiteboards to do their work rather than trying to do it all in their heads.  As our relationships have developed and students are used to being in a classroom again, some of the management issues have decreased (thankfully!)

BTC is still something I want to try, although I'll be honest that I'm still not sure what it would look like in a Geometry class.  I'm still not 100% positive how to "thin-slice" the curriculum in a way that makes sense and promotes thinking.  I still have some kiddos that just have personalities that cannot be together.  I don't know how well my own personality will do with the chaos of having kids around the classroom all hour.  But like everything, it's about baby steps, so I want to try to get the kiddos up on the boards at least once or twice in January and we'll go from there.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

#MTBoSYuleBlog - A book I read in 2021


A Book I Read in 2021...

If you know anything about me, you know I LOVE to read.  When we travelled as a kid, my suitcase usually had more books than clothes.  Even now, when going on a roadtrip, I usually take a book or two in my bag.  My tablet is used almost exclusively for the Kindle app and used bookstores are one of my favorite places to go.

I'm definitely a fan of "beach reads" - those novels that keep your interest but don't require much thinking, but I do enjoy reading professional books and nonfiction as well.  I've been on the lookout for books that I could use for my "Math Bookshelf" but would also provide some interesting stories for class...

Earlier this year, when I ran across Humble Pi by Matt Parker on Kindle for only $1.99, I snapped it up.  Sadly, it's no longer at that price, but I would still recommend the book for anyone looking for interesting math mistakes and I plan to add it to my used bookstore shopping list to get a physical copy.

I liked that I could read a chapter or two, then step away from the book without losing continuity.  More times than not, I found myself reading excerpts to hubby, especially ones that dealt with computer programming or video games, since those are his interests.  

One of the stories in the book is one that I had learned about this past summer while researching fun facts for my classroom about the USS Yorktown shutting down after a dividing by zero error.  Mathematically, I know you can't divide by zero and that it would give an error, but what I didn't know is what is going on at that time in the computer's brain.  Humble Pi explained about the idea of division as repeated subtraction and the continually subtracting zero would create this never ending loop and eventually an overflow error which shut down the system - How cool is that!

But honestly, it was the end of the book that really got me and I had to screenshot a paragraph to share...

As a math teacher, we often hear about how our brain grows when we make mistakes, but what we don't do well is really talk about those mistakes - we shove them under the rug and hope no one notices.  In Humble Pi, Mr. Parker talks about some of the big mistakes - bridges that collapsed, the O-ring failure with the Challenger, errors in unit conversion - but we all make mistakes and we can all learn FROM mistakes.  

In the quote above, there are a couple of posters that I want to make for my classroom.  I want to help my students see the beauty of math, the challenge, that with perseverance, they can achieve great things.  I want them to question and explore the "what if" questions.  I want to move beyond the state standards that say they have to learn the Triangle Congruence theorems and move into the big ideas of WHY we need a solid foundation in mathematics.

One of the things I enjoyed about this book was the look at how important math is to our world and how a slight change can alter the mathematics significantly.  Humble Pi is definitely a book that I will refer back to on a regular basis with its story-telling nature and compelling mathematics.  

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

#MTBoSYuleBlog - Spreading the Joy of Reading


Something New I Tried - Math Bookshelf

Sometimes I have these ideas that work out super well in my head, but maybe not so much in real-life.  Earlier this summer, I shared about the Puzzle and Play Corner and overall, that is working REALLY well!

It took a while, but overall, I like how this corner turned out.  I have one young man who makes it his mission each week to figure out the puzzle of the week, even getting his work done early so he can work on the puzzle.  Other kiddos beeline over on Mondays to read that week's joke.  Others are quick to pick up a marker and add to the Mental Math board, including some kiddos last week that I don't even have in class!

But the windowsill is still a work in progress.

Right now, it's decorated for the holidays and I love how the "fireplace" turned out, but I know soon it will be time to turn it back over to the math bookshelf and I'm not quite sure how to make my vision work better.

I love to read.  Last year, a friend of mine was working on a math elective class for her school using books and literature related to math to spark math discussions.  I loved this idea and tried to figure out how I could use it in my classroom.

I decided that I could display various math books in the windowsill, hoping that my student readers might be drawn to them.  I know I had never really thought of math related books / novels, so why not?

I started out with some books I had gathered along the way, mostly statistics books, like The Lady Tasting Tea and some children's books, like Sir Cumference and Math Curse, then started scouring used bookstores and eBay looking for other titles that sounded interesting.  I've gotten books such as Math Curse and the Number Devil as well as various puzzle books.  I would eventually like to have enough that I can rotate them out regularly but I don't really know how to market them in a way to spark curiosity in my students.  

Do you have any great book recommendations for my collection?  
Any ideas on how to get students to be interested in the books?