Sunday, March 17, 2013

Student for a Day

I had the opportunity this past Thursday to spend the day observing other classes. I was told that I could observe any classes that I wanted to. The district even payed for a sub to come in and teach my classes for the day. It was a pretty sweet deal.

I could have observed a bunch of math classes but instead I chose to go through a typical day as a sophomore student at my high school. Let me tell you, it was a good choice. As a teacher, I had completely lost sight of who these people (my students) were. I see them in my class and assume that if they're disinterested in my class, they must be disinterested in general. As I went from class to class, however, it dawned on me that all of my students are just normal people (DUH!) and some of them just don't enjoy geometry or its challenges. I should say that these are things that I knew academically before but things that I now have an intuitive grasp on. Let me walk you through my day:

I started the day with a lit test. It was dull and took the entire period. Then I had geometry. We had a quiz at the end of the period there and some review before that. Then it was biology, in which we were taking the OAKS test (Oregon state science test). Some of us were finished with the test, though (we'll pretend that I was one of those students), so we went back to the classroom from the computer lab and did a little review of GATTACA. We had to think about whether we'd actually want to live in the GATTACA universe. It was nice to have the opportunity to think openly and critically about something. I mean, it was nice to be able to openly express my opinion about something. Then I had social studies. We were watching a movie called Walk Out. It's about a bunch of Latino students in LA who staged a walk out in the MLK/Viet Nam era of activism in order to procure a better education for themselves. Movies are so nice. Then lunch and then my day ended with French II. French was clearly the best class of the day. It was fun, a little crazy, and kept me on my toes. We made French haikus. 

One thing that really stuck with me is how much I don't like these short periods. I didn't feel like I actually had a complete lesson in any of my classes. Admittedly, I was testing in most of them. Still, even in the social studies and French classes, the lessons were a clear beginning. I think we may have gotten into the middle? But we certainly did not get to the ending. It was frustrating as a student. It was going to a class, starting a thought and then, before being able to complete that thought, going to another class to start another thought. 

How will this experience change how I will teach my class, you ask? I doubt it will have much real impact, actually. Some would say that that would make it a waste of a day, a waste of the substitute's time, and a waste of the taxpayers' money. I don't think it's a waste at all. I spent a day getting to better know the world of my students. That gives me the capacity to be more appropriately compassionate, understanding, & reliable to them. That's not a waste at all. 

Monday, March 4, 2013


Yeah, that's a general post title. At the time of this writing, I'm at a dance workshop. The workshop leader is a young woman who is clearly a very good dancer. Problem is, she's not a great teacher.

She's teaching about shifting momentum from the lead to the follow. Watching her teach has renewed my respect for my profession. There have been several occasions during which I have thought of something I want to interject that could help her instruct her students. She keeps mentioning that the follow needs to use the lead's momentum. She never explains what that means though. I suppose it's supposed to be common knowledge. But it is clear that not everyone does.

Some of the dancers are not following some of her basic instructions. She's explaining what they ought to be doing but not providing specific enough feedback for her students to realize what they're doing wrong. I should say that I'm not a dancer and I would not be able to do what these dancers are trying to do. But I can see that some of the dancers are not doing what she was doing exactly.

This is happening in part due to not adequately assessing the dancers' performance.

I just wanted to share this because its pointing out to me how much better learning is if we do our jobs well: adequately assess, provide specific feedback.

That said, the dancers are getting the moves. They're getting it through practice, specific conversations about the moves, and determination to get it right. That said, the dancers who are better listeners and observers are getting better at the moves more quickly than those who are not. 

That is all. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A night off?!?

Night off

This is the first evening all year when I haven't had grading or other work to do. On top of that, my room mate is away for a job interview in Wisconsin (good luck Melissa!). So I'm home alone with pretty much nothing to do but blog about how glorious this night is. So glorious. 

Quiz tomorrow

Tomorrow we're giving our first assessment for the quadrilaterals unit. I'm not totally in love with the assessment but it'll get the job done. I think some of my students will even do reasonably well on it. Actually, given data from past years (last year I witnessed it and the other geometry teachers have seen it year after year), this will probably be the lowest performance on any assessment we have given or will give this year. The unit, Properties of Quadrilaterals, requires students to memorize a lot of information about quadrilaterals. They just aren't interested in memorizing information. I have been telling them to study from their notes. I've given them pointers on how to study and what, specifically to study. You know what I haven't done, though? I haven't ever had them actually study in class. As I think about it, I bet nearly none of my students actually know how to study. And this would have been an awesome unit to teach then those skills. Maybe next time? 

Maybe tomorrow. The quizzes take about half the period. The curriculum that we're using says we're supposed to finish a matching activity in which students match properties of quadrilaterals with their names, shapes, and area formulae (I'd share the whole activity here except I didn't create it and I think it would be inappropriate to post on the internet someone else's work without their permission). But maybe I'll spend the first half of the period leading the students in a study session. What do you think? 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Follow up on quick 1st period student & Summative evaluation

It's President's Day. Days off are so great. I have a couple updates. 

The first is about my quick 1st period students. I've decided to get him some open ended things to work on in his spare time. I'm not going to grade it. It won't even really help him improve his performance on the quizzes we use in the class. It will, however, help develop his analytical thinking skills in ways that our curriculum doesn't come close to doing. I've pasted in a copy of the assignment below. I'm hoping to give him a series of them through the semester and I think I'll call them "Character Builders".

The second update I have is that I had my summative administrative evaluation on Friday. It's annoying being a new guy and having my summative assessment mid-year. I feel like I'm just getting things under control. First semester was very rough for me. I had a handful of very difficult students in each class. Now my classes are a little more controlled and I'm doing a much better job of keeping them focused. We're two weeks in and things haven't completely fallen apart. Still, my evaluation reads pretty poor. My admin focused, in his comments, on my failures more than on my growth. I put a comment on it describing what my admin and I have talked about and the progress I've made. Anyway, the whole thing doesn't matter too much because I was hired as a 1-year temp position on a grant that runs dry this year. My admin told me, truthfully, I'm sure, that he does not know if there will be a position for me here next year. So I'm going to start looking for new positions. Man's gotta do what a man's gotta do.... Anyway, if any of you know of any openings for math teachers in Oregon, leave a comment. 

Character Building Work: Properties of Quadrilaterals
Name: ___________________                  Date: _______________         Per:___

1) Make a list of your hobbies (anything you do for fun):
(e.g. biking, video games, hiking, dinner parties)


2) Pick one hobbie from your list: ______________________ (e.g. biking)

3) What items/objects/artifacts are required for you to do this hobbie?
(e.g. bike, helmet, bike light)

4) Look in your notebook (Quadrilaterals section page 5) at the quadrilaterals we have discussed. Which of these quadrilaterals can be found within your list of artifacts? Draw pictures, make a list:
(e.g. the basic frame of a bike follows the shape of a trapezoid)

5) How would this hobbie change if a different quadrilateral was used for each of the artifacts you listed in 4)? Be descriptive. Use the vocabulary words found on pages 2 and 3 in your notebook for the quadrilateral section. Consider whether you would still enjoy this hobbie. Consider whether it would change how expensive this hobbie is. Consider EVERYTHING! Be creative!
(e.g. One of the nice things about using the basic shape of a trapezoid for a bike frame is that it allows for the forks and seat stays to be non-congruent lengths. This allows for a wide variety of bike frame shapes to be made. Keeping the top tube parallel to the wheel brackets keeps the biker balanced on the bike. If the frame were made into a kite, say, the seat post would almost have to be on top of the handlebars. That would be very uncomfortable to ride. It could make for a more interesting challenge though….)

6) Return this page (w/ any addition pages used) to Mr. Laxton as soon as it is completed. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Two New Thoughts

It occurred to me the other day, during my 1st period class, that one of my students moves much more quickly than the others through the material. I'm trying to think about what I ought to do about that. It hasn't been too bad thus far because I've had enough put together that I can just give him the next thing to work on. I can always have him work on the homework but I'm worried that he'll finish that too quickly. I need to get something put together for students like this. Maybe I should get some geometry puzzles. Did I mention that I'm only teaching geometry this semester (I'm not counting the Academic Support course that I teach 7th period because it has always gone pretty smoothly)? Well, I am. Puzzles are good for developing 3D perspective, which will help my students when we get into volume & surface area. 

The second thought that I've had is that I need to get a better sub binder put together. I should try to do that today at some point. This came to my attention because I needed to get a sub to come in for me today as I'm here at the hospital with my dad. I'm not going to go into the details here because that's not what I want the focus of this blog to be. Suffice to say, I'm out of my classroom today and it seems that it might be nice for my sub if I have a good folder with stuff in it. I'm thinking this is what ought to be in there:

  1. Class seating charts
  2. Notes for each class on what to watch out for with specific students
  3. Notes about the lesson plan for the day
    1. step-by-step guide for what needs to be done
    2. what I expect the students to get out of the class
    3. what formative assessments I would like done
  4. Notes about my classroom rules & expectations
  5. Who to call if things are confusing
  6. Who to call if things go wrong
What I have right now is a letter written out with the lesson plan and some random notes on it about things that may or may not be useful. I've been thinking that I need a good sub plan more recently thanks to my friend's substitute blog, "Substitution Please". His posts are enlightening, I think. Anyway, substitutes. I need to be better to them. That's what I'm sayin'. 

Nothing to Report

I didn't post anything Thursday or Friday last week because there really wasn't anything to say. The behavior in my classroom has been very good. That's been my main concern this past week. I'm going to continue to worry about this next week but I'm happy that this good behavior will give me the opportunity to start focusing more on curriculum. So look for that some next week. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Discipline working: So Far, So Victory

I had my first classroom expectations/behavior test today. Two students in one of my classes were not following my only rule: Learning Comes First. One of them was asleep and the other was drawing. I did just what I told them I would do when I set up my classroom expectations on day one. I gave them a warning. I went on with the lesson. Other directions were given, group work was to be done. Still sleeping, still drawing, still not putting forth any effort toward the lesson. I did as I told them I would do, I gave them a second warning. No change. I did, again, what I told them I would do. I asked them to step outside. At this point there were only a few minutes left in class. But I held my ground. I wrote both of them up for not complying with my requests on multiple occasions. They watched me write them up. I explained to them calmly and matter of factly why I was disappointed in their behavior and what I expect from them in the future. 

I'm really liking this 2-warning thing. It gives students the opportunity to comply without my having to get into any sort of argument with them. It's very simple, it takes very little class time from me. I really like it.