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updates for 02.22.2012

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New York State Tests: 5th Grade Math 2010

As I've looked through the state tests for questions that I considered 'bad,' I should mention that there are other things I object to besides 'bad' problems that are included on the test.  What I've noticed is a lack of 'good' problems too.  If you want to see all the full tests, I found them all on the state website.  I've also seen way too much emphasis on certain topics at the exclusion of others. Though there are plenty of questions involving rulers and protractors on this test, I found just one question on perhaps the most important fifth grade topic of all:  percentages.  I think all 5th graders should know that 50% is the same as half and that 90% is almost all and 10% is just a few of something.  I'd like to see them be able to calculate that 16 out of 20 is 80%.  I could even imagine a very good multiple choice question that would enable students to estimate.  Something like:  15% of 40 is A) 1 B) 6 C) 20 D) 30.  Of all the potentially 'good' questions about percents, they chose to include just one question.  This question, ironically, doesn't really test a knowledge of percents at all. The answers, .71 and 29/100 can be gotten right by someone who merely memorized a few manipulation rules and could be gotten wrong by someone who has a good feel for the concept of percents. One problem I have with this question is that they say 'The pencils are divided evenly among 9 classrooms' which is not possible since 9 does not go into 935 evenly, unless you break some pencils up and give 8/9 of a pencil to each class.  And, yes, I do know what they are getting at in this question, but will the kids? The amazing thing about this question is that on the 3rd grade and 4th grade tests they had to demonstrate the ability to recognize congruent (though rotated) figures without a ruler or protractor, but in 5th grade they are told to use a ruler and protractor.  To do this question with those tools would take quite some time as they would have to measure all 3 sides and 3 angles of the original triangle and then do the same with the others until they verify an exact match. The problem is that there are 21 angles in this picture.  And it is not clear if the 4 actual right angles 'count' since they also look like they are just the coordinate axes. They had to recognize similar figures on the 4th grade test, and now they are supposed to use a ruler and protractor.  Of course they should be able to pick out the best choice without any of those tools, but if a student wants to take the directions literally, and thinks she has to use those tools, this question would take some time. Knowing the geometric definition of 'corresponding' just doesn't seem to be worth a question on this 34 question test. This is a type of question I've noticed on a lot of these tests and also in modern textbooks.  Locating someone's error and being able to correct it is a skill that is probably worth developing.  But this one is so contrived.  Cal got it wrong because his answer is not right.  Not much more to analyze.  "Cal got this wrong because if you add 65 and 45, you get 110, and if you subtract that from 180, you get 70 degrees for the third angle, not 60."  Finding the missing angle of a triangle is a fine 'recall' question, but when you turn it into a little writing assignment, I think that it is overkill.    


For the love of money...

Dear Milwaukee, Or the state of Wisconsin.  Part of me applauds you for your dedication to ensuring highly qualified teachers are in classrooms.  The $170 I just spent on the Praxis I (in other states, acceptable ACT scores suffice), and the idea that I may have to take out student loans for the first time to pay for Marquette University, however, is upsetting.  While you weren't my first choice of a region, I will accept you.  I will love you. Just please, don't let me get too envious of those who have almost $0 ongoing certification costs. Sincerely, Waiting tables part time isn't going to pay for this....


for the overwhelming good of my children

I NEED IT TO BE SPRING BREAK NOW. If you get a puppy and it chews something up, and then looks at you with sad eyes and puts its tail between its legs, for how long do you yell before you hug it and tell it you love it? If you don't discipline it, does it do it again? If you discipline it to harshly, does it...still do it? Does it eventually stop chewing things when it grows up and realizes it's being childish? My students are like puppies in that they need consistent guidance in terms of how to be good human beings (or puppies). They are unlike puppies in that they do not seem to grow out of some of this destructive behavior. So if you're anything like my father, who counts furniture as members of his family, pretty soon your patience with furniture-wrecking puppies (and kids doing heartless things to each other and myself) runs THE HELL OUT. I had a greeting card on my desk today that I got for one of my students who was in a drama performance on Friday. A day which, by the way, was awesome. So was the day before that. And the day before that. AWESOME. Focusing on the positive. Loving on my kids like crazy. SPIRIT FINGERS. CULTURE-BUILDING MADNESS. TEAM & FAMILY. And then today I had this card on my desk clearly marked JONATHAN. I also had a beautiful sign that I taped to my desk yesterday that said this: PLEASE RESPECT MS. Y'S SPACE BY NOT TOUCHING ANYTHING ON THIS DESK WITHOUT HER PERMISSION. THANKS, MS. Y. Please keep in mind that this phrase was surrounded by hearts. After fifth period today I happened to glance over at my desk and see that my card to Jonathan had been opened. SOMEONE HAD SHREDDED OPEN MY ENVELOPE. Sometimes puppies AREN'T CUTE ANYMORE. Like WHEN THEY DESTROY SOMETHING AND IT PUTS YOU OVER THE EDGE.   I just about lost it. No more mister nice Y (see what I did there? but seriously). I was just...so....hurt...by...this...act...of...malice.   WHO THE HELL OPENS A CARD THAT HAS SOMEONE ELSE'S NAME ON IT????????????????? We are fourteen- and fifteen-year-old members of society contributing in a positive way by 1.) obtaining an 80% on the 10th grade End of Instruction English exam and 2.) proving the haters who thought we were remedial wrong. WE DO NOT DOOOOOOO THINGSSSSSSSS LIKEEEEEEEEE THISSSSSSSSSSSS. You know, I could stop here and reflect on the fact that I am slowly but DEFINITELY surely losing my mind. I could sit back and think...Hmm...WHY AM I SO FLUSTERED OVER AN OPEN ENVELOPE????? Chill out, Jess. He (I have my suspicions) didn't mean it. He probably has never gotten a greeting card in his life. I could talk about how I'm an emotional wreck, how when I saw D take out his lazer pointer AFTER I HAD ASKED HIM TO PUT IT AWAY I almost cried, how when A pushed her paper aside and said "I CAN'T DO THIS" I choked, I flailed, I flopped harder than the entire Duke starting 5 put together, I sighed, I behaved like a general menace to society because I was so frustrated. I could note how unprofessional or unnecessary my behavior was, I could think about what I could do better tomorrow, I could consider how much they struggle at home, I could splinter apart and analyze every minute aspect of their behavior, link it back to hunger, anger, exhaustion, loneliness, how they can't sleep at night, how the breakfast the school gives them isn't enough, how they've been screwed by society so they still don't know that C makes a hard sound, I could plan a restorative conference for tomorrow where I tell them how much OPENING A STUPID ENVELOPE HURT MY ALREADY FRAGILE, HANGING-ON-THE-EDGE FEELINGS--   BUT I DON'T FEEL LIKE IT. I'm tired. I am so, so, so, so tired. I'm tired of making excuses for them. I'm tired of mindless misbehavior. I'm tired of them saying "That's not a team and family thing to say," to each other when one calls the other something horrible BUT THEN NOT INTERNALIZING WHAT A TEAM AND FAMILY IS. I'm tired of not being able to bring in boxes of tissues, hand sanitizer, dry erase markers, bags of pencils, I-Pod speakers, Clorox, or any other random thing you can think of that I buy with my own money without it being completely depleted within the hour. I'm tired of my desk being rummaged through, my floor being spit on, stray hairs in the cabinets (I hate hair), random sweatshirts in the corner, A COMB FLOATING IN MY WATER CUP (this happened), activity clothespins dismantled and chewed on, SUNFLOWER SEEDS SHELLS IN THE DESKS, SUNFLOWER SEED SHELLS IN MY BOARD TRAY, SUNFLOWER SEED SHELLS IN GENERAL, I am SO TIREDDDDDDD.   Okay, was that dramatic? Because now I want you to think about this: If my day had been slightly less horrific, I could have definitely laughed at the fact that one of my kids ran into my room this morning with a tribal hat on, insisted we refer to him as "Adrian X" (a la Malcolm), and started preaching about the Devil. Because...well, it was funny. It was actually really funny. Later, the math teachers and I had him do slam poetry on camera. His poem was called "Don't Touch My Stuff," and mentioned sweet potato pie. These glimmers of genius (I prefer "genius" over psychosis") keep me coming back every day. BUT GOOD GOD TODAY SUCKED.        


Awesome Parents Rule.

I adore my student’s dad. Not in a creepy inappropriate way, but in a I-want-you-to-tell-me-stories way. Today was parent-teacher conferences, which still make me vaguely surprised that I am the teacher in this scenario (not that I expected to be the parent, but still), and he came in wearing his typical jeans, boots, and cowboy hat. His son is in my class, his daughter is in 5th grade and is on my basketball team, and his other daughter is in 7th grade and comes to practice with us sometimes. I spent all weekend at a basketball tournament (as per usual) and he was there too, but his daughter had a really hard time. Let me tell you about this girl. She is quiet, polite, and incredibly kind to everyone. She is a hard worker in both school and sports. She will do anything you ask her to do, and do it well. Oh yeah, and she rocks at basketball. The only thing holding her back is that she doesn’t want to play aggressively because she doesn’t want to be mean. We joke that she needs to bring her mean alter ego to games with her. But sweet as she is, two weekends ago she set a screen, a perfectly non-moving, non-fouling screen, and the little girl she was screening didn’t see it. Long story short, girl hits the ground, throws a whole dramatic scene, crying and slapping the floor, her mom yelling at all my girls but especially at Abigail, who is pretty much stunned and traumatized. Of course, she did nothing wrong, but she didn’t believe that. When we played that team again this weekend she was a wreck. She was crying at halftime and wouldn’t tell me why, and then when we lost (by 1 point on a foul shot with 0:01 left) she was sobbing. Turns out she didn’t want to have to guard that girl again because she was still so upset about the last time. Anyway, her dad told me what was up, and both he and I tried to talk to her this weekend but she was doing the whole “Yes, I’ll nod and agree, but no, I don’t believe you for a second” thing. So I asked him today how she was doing. And as he started telling me about all the life lessons he was trying to teach her, all I could think was, please teach me life lessons too! This guy is amazing. He went to boarding school when he was little, which at the time was some seriously bad news experiences. He hated school, not surprisingly, but in 3rd grade he realized how bad his grades were and decided to change that. So he did. He taught himself times tables and improved his reading. Now he reads every book his kids are reading so that he can quiz them to make sure they understand. He taught his kids their math facts and concepts young, checks their math homework every night, and gives them extra work to stretch them. He’s pretty much a horse guy. He trains horses, shoes them, and used to ride and rope and steer wrestle in rodeos when he was young. About 5 years ago, he was training a horse and had this massive accident. He told me the whole story, and I won’t try to retell it here because I can’t do justice to the way he told it. (Side note: Navajo storytelling is very circular, less beginning-middle-end and more details and events told in a spiral with repeats and side details and looping back to another story. It’s totally interesting and, I think, easy to understand the whole gist and flow of the story. But when you go to retell it, if you’re a biligana who doesn’t tell stories that way, it’s hard to explain.) Basically, he was training a horse and it bucked him like crazy and fell on top of him twice, breaking his neck in two places and some of his ribs too. It took him a long time to recover, and then he got back on a horse. He was nervous, but he got back on. So when Abigail was saying she doesn’t want to play against this team and she doesn’t want to play anymore, he tells her, “You know, you have to keep trying again.” And she asks, “Is it like when you broke your neck?” Abigail was really upset when he broke his neck. He said she couldn’t even look at him lying there in the hospital. And he said, “Abigail, it’s your daddy talking. Turn around, talk to me.” And she said, “I thought you were tough. You told me you were tough.” He is like that, he says, always telling his kids to be tough and cowboy up and push through things. And there’s his little girl, asking him, “Why are you hurt? You’re supposed to be tough.” “I am tough,” he says. “I am tough, but I’m human too. I break. We all break. That’s part of it.” He had to spend this time undoing all that toughness talk, he said. Yes, you should be tough, but sometimes you get broken and that’s part of life too. It’s ups and downs, and you have to keep going through it. That’s how when he broke his neck really is like when Abigail set that screen. “That’s what happened to you, you got broken a little bit. But you also kept going through it, and you’ll keep going from here.” I wish all my kids had a man like this for their dad.


Lundi gras remnants.

The morning is an anxiety identical to that experienced almost every day last year: the impossible gut feeling that something is wrong, the absolute uncertainty that you have any control over any part of your environment or day, the pressing ache of wanting to fix it and not knowing how, the disorientation. Arriving at school is a trouble-maker asking you if you're on duty for no real reason. This seems minor but means something else: when a student asks a question with a simple answer s/he already knows, it's because they want an excuse to talk to you. They just want to say hi. They want some personal connection and it is well beyond flattering, has become for me a way to ease any wrong, any ache, any anxiety. This morning I arrived basically delusional: that old worry that I am incompetent, that I don't want to be there. But with 30 solid minutes to myself during my prep (such a rarity!) I forced my "luxury weekend" mentality out and focused on my kids. It was actually pretty amazing to be so disoriented when I arrived, because it helped me empathize with the kids. If I feel this messed up, they've got to feel it and have way less of an idea of how to take care of it. So how'd I take care of it? Detachment, in the personal offense sense. I refused to let my students' actions get to me; guarenteed consequences for their offenses, and used the office much more than usual. I typically have one write-up every week or two. Today I had four in a day-- and my attitude wasn't thrown. And I wasn't just preying on kids. I've been working on Economy of Language (haaaay, Teach Like a Champion), and I think it might be kicking in. By far the hardest technique for me to use, today I pretty consistently responded to student behavior with silence, but honestly felt like they understood what I meant. My M,TLD was in the room for thirty minutes of gold. It was the class with the highest homework average last week (93%) and when I showed them the tracking they flipped in the most respectful way possible. They navigated through the Do Now, and when we got to writing our rough drafts (this actually happened in every class) every single kid wrote. This is insane. Last year, I don't think I ever had a day where all students wrote for the entire amount of time expected of them. Today, in every class, students were on a mission. I'm not saying the writing will be excellent, but I do believe the vast majority of students have two to three solid body paragraphs for their essays. And, the biggest indicator and biggest change from last year to this, is there are so few questions. Students might ask how to spell "phase" like Ayda did today, but students know what to do. Better: They're doing it. (Well, mostly. There are still those four write-ups who will unfortunately spend tomorrow in In School Suspension.) (Real life recap: the disorientation was the result of a weekend spent like this: Friday night in Little Rock then sleeping in Conway, Saturday morning arriving 20 minutes late to the eight hour grad class seminar then leaving an hour early to drive nine hours to New Orleans, Sunday morning and afternoon meeting a whole slew of strangers through NOLA and staying out until 4am lundi gras, yesterday driving six hours back to Dumas and making the excellent executive decision to go to bed at 10 and ignore all work until this morning.)


the dust has settled

Well, if I hadn't already, I've officially gotten used to teaching.  Or maybe I'm just burned out.  I'm not sure.  The year is almost 3/4 over and it's like I've run out of stress to put towards teaching.  I simply don't have the capacity to be too stressed out about my job any more.

What's been interesting is that since the metaphorical dust has settled, I've looked around at my surroundings and said to myself "I live WHERE?!".  Now that I have actual free time (I had forgotten it really existed), I don't know what to do with myself.  Now that I'm not thinking about school 24/7, I realize that I have no social life to think of.  I didn't work at all this weekend (I KNOW!), and I literally sat on my couch thinking to myself What did I do for fun before I was a teacher?  What were my hobbies?.  I had to actually make a list of things that I liked to do to fill my weekend up.

I'm very unhappy with my lack of social life.  That's something I'll have to work on.  I bought a bird, so that should help with the crippling loneliness.  I also got my tax return, so I was able to make a dent in one of my credit card payments! 

I got my hair cut yesterday (layers, slightly above shoulder length), and the following conversation ensued in my 3rd block class:

"You look like Amelia Earhart!"

"Was she white?"

"Did she fly around that Bernuda-Berm-Berm-Bermuda Rectangle? I mean Triangle?"

"Didn't she have orange hair?"

"Orange with the fire of a thousand suns?!"

"Why didn't she just take the train?"

"She's dead, right?"

I love how relentlessly distractible my kids are.  Sometimes it's really hard to keep a straight face :).

Starting this week, I'm commencing Project Personal Life, or PPL, if you will.  I'm going to re-discover my hobbies and interests, one school night at  a time.


Praxis reflections

I have finally gotten my score reports for both the Middle School Math (0069) and Elementary Education: Instructional Practice and Applications (5015). For Math, I passed with flying colors for both NJ and NC (which is significantly lower than Jersey). I wasn't worried about that one at all, because I've been a math tutor on and off since I was 17, and have tutored the lower level math courses at my college for the last 2 years. The Elementary Education praxis, though...I think I had nightmares about this one. First of all, it's a fairly new test. North Carolina switched to 5015 from 0011/0012 literally days before we were accepted. It was so soon that when we received our first email with instructions for what test to register for, our regional directors were still under the impression we had to take 0011/0012. Not only is it new, but only a handful of states use it. In addition to NC, it's South Carolina, Maryland, Nevada, and Washington DC. It was hard to find a review book for it, and the one I did find was a miserable excuse for a practice book. I went into the test feeling horribly under prepared, and was so stressed and upset after I took it I had to stop at Wendy's for a frosty and a burger (mind you, this was at 11am and I almost NEVER eat fast food -- I was stressed). I definitely thought I failed it, and was basically waiting for the scores to come out to confirm my beliefs so I could sign up to retake it. And then I passed. And not just barely-scraped-by-passed-by-one-point passing. I passed by 14 points on a (technically) 100 point scale. I scored 175 out of 200, with a passing score being 161. My raw score was 78/103, or about 75%. I only got 75% of the test right, but I passed by 14 points. As happy as I am that I don't have to retake it...what?! How is that possible? I could I go into that test knowing LESS than the bare minimum, guessing at questions and BSing the open endeds, and still pass by so much? Yes, I could just be a good test taker, I could have been more prepared than I gave myself credit for...trust me, I've thought about those, too. They're plausible explanations. But something just still doesn't seem right. Especially after reading this post about the Praxis exams. Is it possible that the state standards for passing the Praxis are just too low? To be completely honest, I don't feel prepared to teach an elementary school class in a few months. I have a lot more reading and research to do before I get there. But somehow, some way, the state of North Carolina thinks I am.


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