Monday, September 7, 2009

Reflections on teaching

This blog was started as a way for me to reflect on my teaching, which was mainly statistics at the time. However, I've taught stat for 10 years and this year my new AVID prep takes way more time than I ever guessed. I'm wondering if I should do a new blog for my AVID ideas or not.

This week is kind of easy on me AVID wise. We have tutorials on Tues and Thurs, so I will call each kid up individually to my desk to discuss their grades and have them start a weekly chart of their grades. Friday, we have a guest speaker from the Cyber Crimes division to talk about internet safety, police work, etc. I'm excited about it, although I will lose my planning period.

The lone day that I am teaching this week for AVID is Wednesday. We will be reading the article "Life Coach" from the Reader's Digest about a football coach that tries to instill good life lessons in his players. The kiddos will take notes, write a summary, write 3 questions, and find their 4 weekly vocab words from the article. The reason for this is because I've noticed that they aren't doing a very good job of using their vocab in a sentence, so I think I need to clarify the expectations further. After we read the article, we will discuss our tutorials and how they are going, how to decide which question to ask, how to ask good questions (especially in math! they want to write Level 1 questions), and how to write a good summary of the tutorial.

I think this will definitely become more of a reflective place for me than I've used it for in the past year or so... teaching AVID is a lot of fun, but it's definitely outside of my comfort zone, so I need a place to reflect, vent, write, etc.

In the words of one of our quotes from last week... Failure teachs success!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Post with no name...

I don't know what to call it... it's partly a vent, partly a "yay kids"..

With AVID, I've tried very hard to do things right - to be a cop and a cheerleader at the same time, to find interesting ideas for lessons, to get them to work hard and do well in their classes and it's flat out exhausting!!

The kids have been together now for a year, with another teacher, so they know each other and very comfortable with each other (read: chatty). The lack of focus at the beginning of the hour was driving me insane, so I started this week giving them quotes to write down and write how it applies to their life. Great idea, but I don't know how to make it work as well in class as it does in my head. I don't know how to get the kids away from restating the quote and into its deeper meaning and how it applies to their life.

Also, I started doing vocab - trying to get them to increase their vocabulary. They have to write the definition, the synonyms, use it in a sentence, and make some mental connections with a diagram or word association. Again, it worked great in my head, but most are not taking it nearly as seriously as I want them to. The ultimate goal is so they don't end up where I was in college - not having a very good vocabulary and feeling stupid more times than not.

One last frustration is how to teach them to write good summaries. I want them to summarize something without it being "today we did" or "this is notes we took over"... but I don't know how to *teach* that skill :( My math teacher training is not helping me much with this class and that's a HUGE frustration.

On the positive side, they wrote GREAT notes to their teachers this week, did a great job of writing good quality questions, and overall worked pretty hard for me.

*sigh* I hope I get the hang of this someday...

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Treading Water

We've now completed two weeks of school (7 days with kids) and this week, uni is set to start. I am barely making it... Last night, while running some errands, hubby turned to me and said "Hun, I'm really worried about you - you can't keep this pace all year". My response: "I know - I'm worried too"

What's different about this year? Two new preps is a lot of it. Also, my 3rd prep (AP), which I've taught for 10 years, is always an ongoing project to me. I refine and revise every year. The hardest part for me this year is that I feel like I'm doing a very poor job on the new preps. I don't like doing a bad job at anything I do, so doing 2 bad jobs is about to kill me.

So, keep me in your thoughts - if you don't see me surface for a while, send the Coast Guard... my legs may get very tired of treading water :)

Friday, July 31, 2009

It has been too many days since my last confession

I have been feeling guilty about not updating my blog, but was able to put it off - that is, until I read f(t) yesterday and found myself totally agreeing with her.

As a kid, I never kept a diary (I tried many times though!). In fact, I still have the first (and only) diary that I got when I was 7... it's only about a 1/3 filled and that includes through age 20! I didn't really expect much out of a blog either, nor did I ever expect to have readers or commenters. However, what I've found in the blogosphere is that this is an amazing place for reflection, collaboration, and the occasional vent.

By looking at my blogroll at the right, you can see that I follow mainly math teachers, with an occasional elementary teacher (love Mrs. Mimi!) or other subject matter teacher thrown in for their quirky sense of humor, writing style, etc. I enjoy reading the ups and downs of other classroom teachers, LOVE the WCYDWT feature on dy/dan, getting to peek anonymously into other classrooms :)

This summer I have also discovered Twitter, another tool that has been amazing for online collaboration. I follow a lot of the same people that I follow in blogs, but the feedback is what truly makes Twitter a useful tool. By posting a comment or question in 140 characters or less, you can open the lines of communication with other teachers and get almost instant responses about their policies, procedures, lesson ideas, etc. I don't think I would use Twitter much for my personal life, it has great applications professionally.

For me, this blog fills a huge gap in my teaching career. By forcing myself to descibe a situation clearly so that the reader can understand, I end up with a clearer understanding myself. This reflective nature of the blog is one of its greatest attributes.

Happy blogging!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Online book study?

I've had a "d'oh" moment...

Let me preface this post with a bit of background...

I am an avid reader of fiction and comprehend fiction quite well, but struggle a lot with comprehension of difficult texts. I've known this for quite a while... in high school, I was in the single digit page numbers of Beowulf until the day we tested on it.. and in college, I was *so* eternally grateful for Monarch notes because they paraphrased the text into contempory language.

Last week, at our AVID summer institute, one of our assignments was to read an article about college readiness vs college preparedness. After struggling quite a while to read the edu-speak, the article became crystal clear during our group discussion of the material. This cycle repeated itself later on in the week when I had to read an editoral about 9/11 and we discussed it in a Socratic Seminar. These two examples really illustrated the power of discussion for deeper understanding.

Fast forward to this week... I was reading on AtoZTeacherForums and read a great post on "must-reads" for teachers. I started looking at my own professional library, and realized that I have many of the must-haves, but I haven't read them all and the few I have read were a while back. Coupled with my "a-ha" moment of last week, I decided to search out an online book study group, only to find that they really don't exist :(

So... the question at hand is...
1) Do you know of somewhere I should look? OR
2) Would any of you be interested in doing a book study?

Have a happy 4th!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Braindump of ideas...

I just needed to get these out on "paper" in order to process them... and to make sure I don't forget them!! :)

* I really do like the idea of a wiki or blog for the kids to post daily or weekly or chapter summaries... Not sure how to implement this though, nor how to grade it. I don't want to change around my entire class website either, so I need to figure out how to implement it within that structure... Some grading ideas can be found here

* Another teacher I know has the kids create a study guide throughout the year with the thought of the AP exam in May. She has them take their chapter examples and a summary sheet of each chpater and compile them into a notebook. I like this idea - to build a study guide throughout the year. However I'm wondering what else should be included. Should it have some basic notes/instructions?? Some questions from the textbook? Vocab? If so, would this all be bundled as a "packet" handed out at the beginning of the chapter? Would kids regard this as busy work?

* Just ran across another interesting idea regarding partner quizzes. If the kids have their homework completed on time, they can earn the priviledge of taking a partner quiz. Of course, homework isn't required in my class, but I still thought it was an interesting idea to have the kids earn it.

* Second semester this year, I let the kids do test corrections for 1 week after the test was graded. They had to earn the opportunity by showing evidence of having done the homework or review. They had to explain why they messed up and then rework the problem correctly. I really liked this and plan to continue it. It had built-in remediation because the kids had to do their homework (if they hadn't already), plus they had to self-assess their errors.

* Speaking of HW, I was nervous about not requiring HW at the beginning. However, most kids really matured over the year! I still had some kids that wouldn't do it and their grades were low (I've never had this rate of D/F grades), BUT, I also had kids that went from minimial homework and C grades to almost every problem and high Bs because they had more control of their grade. By doing the homework, they did better on the quizzes (since the quizzes were from the HW). Overall, I think by giving the kids more control, they benefited more than if I had required it. While I hate that I had kids that did poorly and never learned that lesson, I would rather them learn it in HS than when it costs them a lot of money in college.

* I plan to give up more control this year and be more of a faciliator than a lecturer. I tried this 2nd semester and started most topics out with an activity that walked the kids through the gist of the topic. They had to read, discuss, write, and be more active in their learning overall. One kid summed it up when he said "I like doing the activities first before you teach the material - it gives my brain something to attach the lecture to!" Wow - what a profound statment! Making connections really helps material stick in their heads rather than just "renting" the material til the quiz/test.

* This year I had study groups for the kids to work with. This year, I think I want to modify that, either by assigning them to new seating charts (and new partners/triplets) every 9 weeks or something. The groups did not work out how I wanted them to. I had hoped they would get together outside of class, and some did in partners, but not as a group overall.

* Back to the online issue... I would really like to incorporate more online learning. I did online review quizzes on a weekly basis and I did like that more than doing them in-class. With the online feature, they could call up their buddy, talk through a problem, use their book/notes and the instant feedback was great for the kids. Some kids really preferred to do them in class, but I hated the time constraint that imposed and online gave them the freedom to really understand what hte question was asking and reach out for help. I would like to increase the online component using webquests, stat software, etc.

* Just found this website... Interesting review games, PPT timers... check it out :)

I'm sure I'll add more later...

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Class Blogs and Other stuff

Yesterday was my official last day of school - woot! After an uneventful Friday (which was wonderful after Thursday's fiasco!), I spent the weekend cleaning the backyard, going to a retirement party, etc. Yesterday I was pretty sore from the yard work, so packing up my room was a SLOW process :)

I leave for the reading on Thursday, so today I ran errands... bought a new suitcase, a few new clothes, and assorted other random items. Speaking of random... does anyone know where to buy "Key Lime Pie Mints" - they are the green and white swirled mints. I love those and wanted to have some in my purse for the trip.

While catching up on my blog reader this evening, I ran across this comment:

"I taught English, so we’re talking two different beasts here, but something I tried that went over with moderate success was having kids post class notes to our class wiki on a weekly, not daily, basis. Each semester I’d ask the kids to pair up and I’d assign each pair a week of the semester – you’re Sept 9, you’re Sept 16, etc. – for which they were responsible for keeping detailed records of class discussion, lecture, activities, etc. By the following Tuesday, they had to post the class notes to the course wiki."

Does anyone else do this? I'm loving the idea of having a pair of kids post a weekly summary for the class! Any ideas on format, how to grade, etc?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Can I Rewind?!?!

Tomorrow is the last day of school with kiddos, so today we took final exams in the odd hours.

First hour goes by smoothly, I'm on plan so not much to do there... renew my teaching certificate online (only took 1 phone call to the state department to figure it out!), run a test over to in-house, visit with our district director for AVID, make copies, etc. All the makings of a good day :)

Third hour comes and I get the kiddos started on their test, all is fine. After their test, they say it's pretty easy. Repeat this for fifth hour.

After school, the "sh*t hits the fan" so to speak :) I go to the scantron machine to grade my finals around 3:15ish and there's a kid using the copy machine. I tell her she's not supposed to be using it, only teachers. Because I got sidetracked, I go off and leave the answer keys to the final on the scantron machine. I don't notice this until about 30 minutes later - OMG, adrenline starts pumping, I'm freaking out. I run over to the teacher workroom, they aren't there.. holy crap! I am going to have to go home and write new finals for geometry and go to Kinkos to make copies for all of the other Geometry teachers (common finals) - total freakout!

I go to the principal's office, afraid to tell many people what I've done. I'm a veteran teacher, pretty respected most days, and for me to lose a final is not the norm at all. I can't find the secretary, but instead I find our department curriculm coach (who is retiring) and her replacement. I sit down with them and about to burst into tears - this is SO unlike me to lose anything! The new curriculum person (a teacher I've known for years), goes with me to find the girl that was using the copier and she had already gone, but the teacher she was helping was still there, so we were able to get her phone number. The girl remembered a male teacher going in there and described his clothing. I went back to the office and asked the asst principal to show me the security tapes so I could figure out who it was. After about 30 minutes, we figured it out and the secretary let me into the teacher's room and thankfully he had picked them up and put them in a drawer.

My heart is STILL pounding!!! What a day!!! I want to show all of the helpers a token of appreciation, so I'm grabbing a small giftcard from a popular drink spot to tell then "Thanks for saving my rear today!!"

*Sigh* Calgon - Take me Away!!!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

GRRR - Vent :)

I hate when you have something to say but can't! I have a huge frustration that I would love to write about here, but although I have never said where I teach, etc, this blog just isn't anonymous enough for me to feel comfortable saying what I want to say. DH doesn't truly understand, although he is fully willing to listen, and most of my friends are busy since its a holiday weekend.


Sunday, May 17, 2009

Mad Minutes

I am currently grading an Algebra Review quiz that I gave my Geometry students. It floors me how many students miss problems due to integer arthimetic errors. So I've decided to do "mad minutes" in Alg 2 next year. I don't know how many of you remember Mad Minutes from gradeschool, but I'm bringing them back heheh... Here's a link to an Excel document that creates these... Mr. Beach's Spreadsheet

However, how do I grade them? I guess I need to reach out to some elementary buddies and ask them :) I'm thinking maybe some kind of team competition where the prizes are based on most improved team and highest scoring team per quarter.

Ideas welcome!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Finding time for your family

I struggle sometimes with balance. Sometimes I focus so much on my students and school that I don't focus enough on my friends and family and this has been an ongoing argument for years. We have another couple that we try to go out with at least once a month and this past week, the guys set up a dinner date for us. We went out to eat and then to the new Star Trek film. OMG - what an amazing movie!! In fact, it was so awesome that we are taking MIL and FIL to the movies tonight to see it again for Mother's Day.

It's been such a crazy weekend... twice to the movies, seeing our moms, going to a real "biker" wedding (college roomie got married and her hubby is a biker - talk about a cultural experience!)

On a different note, hubby paid me a high compliment yesterday at my mom's. For the mothers, I made gift baskets of a variety of soaps I made. Hubby had gone to the restroom and later on, he made the comment to my mom about putting the soap in the bathrooms because he's gotten used to using my soap and it was weird to not have it there :) I am still basking in that praise! I assumed he used my soap simply to be nice, not because he really liked it. heheh

Happy Mother's Day to all!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The APs are coming!!

In just a few short days, the 2009 AP exams will begin. I've done all that I can to help them do well... it's now 100% up to the kiddos.

With that in mind, I've started thinking about what I want to change for next year. As always, it seems like I'm changing more than I'm keeping - I just hope I can find the time over the next few months to get a bunch of changes in place. One goal that I really would like to accomplish is to use more news articles and real data sets in class, so I've spent some time setting up a google reader for stat stuff :)

What changes do you plan to make?

Monday, April 13, 2009

More cool stuff :)

I am just loving this free stuff :) I have been trying to figure out how to incorporate stat software into my classes, but now I have multiple options!!! Here's another free software program for students and teachers:

Mystat 12

Also, if any of you did not check out Dan's (dy/dan) blog today, he was helping another math teacher with their smartboard lesson. It just happened to be a stat lesson and I know I got some great ideas out of it and I thought some of you may find it useful as well. Go check it out at dy/dan!!!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

A weekend ramble

My school is a suburban school that has fairly high expectations...

However, due to its good reputation for academics, our demographics are changing as people move in to take advantage of our educational system. Our "lifers" (kids who go here from K-12) are used to the high expectations because they've had them all the way up. The kids that move-in to our district sometimes have a rough time adjusting, and this group is growing daily

With the idea of the changing of the student body, I'm trying to find the right balance... I want to keep high expectations (of course), yet make AP accessible to all kids that are willing to work. I have been batting around the idea of guided notes, where they are fill in the blank, but I'm worried that is a crutch... I want the kids to be prepared for college level coursework, but sometimes I feel like I am leaving kids behind that just don't have the skills needed because this is their first AP course....

I know this is a small group of kids right now, but I'd rather be proactive than reactive... I've seen this group continue to grow throughout the years and I don't know what to do

Thursday, April 9, 2009


Who doesn't like a great pricetag like that?? :)

On the AP listserv this week, an entirely free statistical software was posted. I just played with it for a while and it is a neat package. Take a few minutes and play :)

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Next Year's Schedule

It's that time of the year again... kiddos have done their enrollment cards, their course selections have been entered, and we've been asked what we would like to teach. As it stands right now, there's a pretty good chance that I will be teaching Algebra 2, so I've been spending my day looking online to see what I can find...

Here's some of my best finds of the day :)
Savvy Minds Notecards - printable and free!

Algebra Activities - Love the Hexagonal games!

Factoring Trinomials - kind of cool!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

March...out like a Lion, not a Lamb!

Here it is, the last weekend in March and instead of wearing sandals like normal, we are under a winter storm warning. Last week we were in the mid 80s, today we're expecting 2-4 inches of snow... go figure!

It's been a long time since I've posted and there's been a lot that's happened...

- I have a student teacher... she's doing a great job and I've been very pleased with her progress. It's hard to release control of your class though! :)

- April is our crazy month in school... state testing is coming up in just a few weeks and we still have material to cover - EEKKK! The AP exam is 26 school days away and I'm not ready for that either! :)

- With the student teacher teaching my geometry classes, I've had lots of time to think about changes for next year in AP. One change that I have been thinking of is using packets for the chapter material, but I'm worried about the kids not being as prepared for college notes, etc if I do that. For organization purposes it would be easier since most of the handouts would be in packet format, but I'm just not sure about it..

Hope this month has been good for all of you!

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Weekend Ramblings...

What a week! I was asleep last night by 8:30 due to sheer exhaustion. It wasn't a bad week, just crazy busy! I'm getting a student teacher this next week, so getting ready for that has taken some time, plus it's enrollment time, etc etc etc :) This post is just a random smattering of ideas that I wanted to share, so please excuse the "brain dump" :)

Do any of you use "webquests" in the classroom? I have been trying to brainstorm ways to get my kiddos more involved in class by using more active-learning techniques. So far, it seems to be working, but I would like to push it further for next year. I ran across some stat webquests and they look like an interesting idea. Next year, I am planning on redoing my classroom website to be more of an online classroom. I've looked at Moodle and some of the other e-learning platforms and hoping to find the right one for me. Any suggestions on programs to look at?

I also figured out how to do "retakes" yesterday on my morning commute. I have a few students that just aren't getting it because they aren't doing the homework. So, I decided that in order for the student to *earn* the opportunity to retake, they had to show me evidence that they had done the homework. I think this will be manageable for me and has the added benefit of built in self-remediation.

I am also excited about the response from my collaboration post. By sharing the workload, I think life will be happier overall. I love the idea of active learning, but I was so afraid of feeling overwhelmed by creating all of those lessons. This way, I have other people to read, share, comment, critique, etc and life is much happier overall :)

Sunday, February 22, 2009


As I posted the other day, I am interested in revamping my entire curriculum in order to make my students work more and me less. The goal would be to create small group activities where my students have to read and write more and be more active in their learning while I circle the room. After they've worked through the activity, I will bring them back to a whole-class setting to discuss what they've learned and officially define vocab, etc. I've tried it for a few activities recently and the students have had positive response. The most important part for me is that they are having to *read* and understand what they've read rather than me *telling* them what's important info. I'm hoping this will lead to a stronger conceptual understanding of the material overall.

I would like to find some like-minded people that would be interested in collaborating on this project, to share some of the work and to act as a sounding board for each other. If interested, let me know :)

Interesting Article

I don't know how many of you read the NY Times, but today there was an article posted on an education site that I visit. (Here is the article)

Anyway, the gist of the article is that many college professors are seeing students who believe they are entitled to good grades due to effort rather than meeting the standards. I see this in my K12 classes too. I have a girl in one of my geometry classes that came to me last week and asked why she was failing. I pointed to the 30 she made on a test and suggested that may be part of it. Her response was "But I've done all the work!". I agree, she has done all of the work, not a missing paper in sight - however, the quality of the work is not at a passing level.

I don't know how to fix this, but I do foresee it getting worse before it gets better.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The *A-Ha* moment :)

I have taught for 11 years, stat for 9 of those and this weekend I had an "A-Ha" moment! I went to a 2-day workshop and both of the presenters mentioned that they like to do "discovery" lessons. Now, I've always considered myself part of that movement, but mostly with my Geometry classes. During the presentations and the days following, I've decided that I am doing too much work and the kids aren't doing enough.

Now what does this mean for me? It means this summer is going to be a MASSIVE undertaking of revamping my materials to be more reading/writing for the kids, more workshop-style activities. I'm a bit overwhelmed thinking about it :) I've always been hands-on, but typically it's been a review type activity, not an "active-learning" style activity. I tried it today with hypothesis tests. I created a handout that walked them through the thought process behind an HT with lots of notes and questions and then I let them work all hour rather than me working all hour. Tomorrow I will find out if it worked :) BUT - kids that typically stare at me seemed a lot more engaged than normal so I'm kind of excited about it.

I have decided that I need to create a index notebook with a piece of paper labeled for every chapter that I can jot ideas in and reference workshops/handouts/etc. After 9 years of teaching this, I have more *stuff* than I can keep track of in my mind, so I need a paper "brain" to help me keep organized :)

I would love to hear your ideas on this!

Friday, January 9, 2009

An Unscientific Poll :)

I've already posted about my new hobby... Well, I've been thinking about possibly going to a local festival or two to try my hand at selling them. This is a ways off of course, but I'm also a planner - I like to have my ducks in a row!

With that said, I knew I wanted something with ladybugs (I collect ladybug stuff), so a friend of sis's suggested Spots and Dots. Hubby worked up a couple of logos and the only difference is the O in dots - I would love your opinions!! What do you think of the name, the logo, or do you have any other suggestions?

Oh - and pardon the poor quality - cell phone pics in a dark room hehehh
Thanks :)