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updates for 05.03.2012

6 new posts today

oh my sunshine....

Funniest quote of the day…
A student asked my co-teacher, “Where does the Sun go in the winter?”
If this was a kindergarten class, I would think the question was really cute. Since the student is 15, not 5, and was present for the month long unit which we discussed outer space, including an activity on seasons, I’m not as amused. Still when I heard it, I just turned away and silently burst into laughter. You can’t survive in this profession without being able to just laugh once in awhile.

The power of One Direction

Today's Do Now to start math class:  

Last night Ms. S. saw a post on Facebook that made her laugh:

'83% of girls would not care if Niall dropped out of One Direction. Re-post if you're one of the 27% of girls who would fall on the floor crying!'

What is wrong with this statement?  (Hint:  think about math!)

  True story, and this was actually perfect timing because we need to review percents a bit more before the last standardized math test.  I even had "What Makes You Beautiful" playing when they walked in the room from the buses.   My kids are already aware of my obsession with "Call Me Maybe," so they weren't all that surprised by the song.  However, when they saw that the Do Now mentioned One Direction, most of the girls were freaking out.  The first volunteer to answer the question confidently stated that it was wrong because "Niall wouldn't really drop out of One Direction!"  I think the girls were then overly distracted by the question of whether this Niall guy actually would drop out of their favorite band, but a few of my boys figured out the correct answer pretty quickly.

General frustrations

If you're hoping for entertaining kiddo stories, sorry in advance.  This post has two purposes:  a healthy vent, and some curiosity about how these things work in other TFA regions (specifically numbers 1 & 2).   #1:  I already used up my one allowed Professional Saturday skip in December, in order to catch up on grad work and school work.  I unexpectedly had to miss this month's ProSat for a family member's funeral.  TFA initially told me I wouldn't be penalized, but now they've changed their mind and said the only excused absences are for school commitments and religious holidays.  Crappy, yeah, but I'll suck it up and do the required 4 make-up hours of professional development before June 2nd (somewhere in all my free time), because I want my Americorps grant and TFA knows it.  It's just the principle of the thing.  Anyone have a similar experience in another region?  My region is still relatively new, and I feel like they make up a lot of policies on the fly.   #2:  I've just about had it with TFA's school partner for licensure in Minnesota.  90% of the program is busywork, and the thought of spending 2 nights per week in grad classes for another full year (5:30- 9pm!) absolutely kills me.  Not to mention the countless hours I'll never get back spent on "reading summaries" and "personal reflections."  I'm trying everything possible to get ahead on coursework during the summer, but the school only offers regular master's program classes instead of the special TFA ones, and they're twice as many credits/twice as expensive.  Sucky.  I'm tempted to take the easy route and only complete the minimum amount of courses required to get through my 2nd year with a provisional license.  But then I'll be done with TFA without even a teacher's license to my name.  (I'm still not sure if I'll want to continue teaching beyond the 2 years).  Plus, I won't be able to take full advantage of the Americorps education award that TFA has me jumping through hoops for.  Thoughts/advice, anyone?   #3:  After spending 2 days with one of my most behavior-challenged kids during standardized testing, a superior at my school has up and decided that he is beyond out of control and needs major interventions, NOW.  Well cool, thanks, I only wrote him up for serious behavior incidents about 23423423 times during first semester before I realized that it was utterly pointless and I would never get any help.  Funny thing is, I've more recently come to some sort of weird understanding with him where he seems to reserve his most sinister behaviors for other adults in the building who really piss him off (i.e., when he's forced to test in another room away from his friends as punishment).

The [Second] Final Stretch...

"Ms. H., that test was easy." Music to my ears, this was what several of my best students told after the state algebra 1 test yesterday. I hope that this confidence is not misplaced. Scores should be back to us in the next two weeks, and I am eager to see how my students performed. I've felt a lot of personal pressure to do better than I did last year, but there are many different ways to measure "better." If this year's students average a lower score than last year's, but their growth is higher, that could be "better." If this year's students average higher, with a higher baseline, that could still be considered "better." It's probably unfair to make these kinds of comparisons because last year, I had 35 students (in two classes) for twice the amount of time I have my 21 students this year. This year's sample size, just one class, is certainly too small to draw any grand conclusions, but there is a wide range of achievement in this one class, so at least growth measures might be useful. For the rest of year, we will be doing ACT Science preparation. I hope there's not a lot of pushback over doing work even though the test is over. It will definitely come down to investment. Doesn't it always?

Interviews and sample lessons and placement, oh my!

When I applied to TFA, I basically thought that once you get in, you're in; you would magically be certified and placed in a school with no need for further interviewing. Oops.. maybe I should have researched this a bit more beforehand. But, I made it through the difficult interviewing and placement phase... and I officially (well the district papers aren't signed yet, so I guess not *officially*) HAVE BEEN PLACED! I have a school to call my own for the next two years! What a weight off of my shoulders. I am so excited. I'll be at a high school in Boston teaching either all-boys or all-girls 9th grade physics and 10th grade biology.. I think. The exact positions are not too well-defined yet, but I'll be teaching high school science of some type to a single gender. Currently, the school is set up with one grade per floor, but next year, they are breaking up the floors and classes by gender (so 9/10 girls on one floor, 9/10 boys on another). It sounds like an interesting new system, so we'll see what happens. Now let's take a look back on my journey to placement. April 6: I received an email from my TFA Greater Boston contact person (who I have been harassing with WAY too many questions up until now) informing me that the school would like to interview me. Score! I sent my availabilities and waited to hear back. April 9: I heard back from TFA telling me the interview will be the next day. Eek! Time to cram in all the onboarding information TFA has given me. I also learned that the position might entail special education or ESL. Um, what? I have no experience with this and I don't even speak a second language. Nervousness sets in. April 10: Interview time! I love dressing up. As a grad student, I wear jeans and sneakers everyday, so I feel important wearing a suit and heels. I met with the science program director and a couple teachers (one who is a current TFA corps member). I loved the vibe I got from everyone. I thought the interview went great, and the science director wanted me to meet with the principal, who was unavailable. She asked if I could come back in the next day. Sure, why not?! Experiments can wait. The plan was to come in the next day and observe classes and meet with the principal when he was free (I get the impression he's a very busy guy!). At this point, I was feeling very confident and excited to see more of the school. April 11: Can't wear the same suit 2 days in a row! Luckily, I had a backup. (Yes, my outfit choice was one of the first things I worried about!) I drove to the school during morning rush hour, and it only took around 20 minutes to get there. I'm pretty excited about that commute. The science director gave me a list of teachers and the class schedule, and I was sent on my way. Observing different classrooms at the school was a really great experience, and I saw everything from AP chemistry to special ed physics. I learned a ton about the student population and different teaching styles.  One teacher had complete control over the classroom. You could tell that the students really respected her. I loved the way she interacted with the students, not allowing them to say "I don't know" or start a sentence with "because." Another teacher had a wonderful connection with her students; she was soft-spoken and patient, and the students really responded to this. I only hope I can command a classroom and make student connections like these teachers could! After a morning of observations, I was finally ready to meet the principal. This was probably the most difficult interview I have ever had in my life. He was tough! He asked me all the hard questions and really probed me to dig deeper and think about how I would be able to motivate students who come from a completely different background than me. I wasn't feeling too confident at the end of the interview, but the assistant principal asked if I would be willing to come back and teach a sample lesson after spring break. Okay, so I'm still in the game! The science director gave me a bunch of lesson planning materials and advice, and I was on my way. April 16-20: Spring break in Boston. More waiting... and a phone interview and an invitation for an interview fair the next weekend. April 26: Sample lesson day! I was lucky to get a lot of details from the bio teacher whose class I would be covering. I was also lucky that I was not teaching plant biology or ecology, but rather Mendelian genetics and Punnett squares. This required no brushing up on background, so that helped save me some time. Lesson planning is hard work! I ended up making a powerpoint presentation, a worksheet we would do together to show the steps of Punnett squares, and then an activity called "Dragon Genetics" where the students would get bags of alleles and "mate" their dragons to make a baby dragon, all while practicing their genetic crosses. I felt pretty good going into the sample lesson. First hiccup: no projector for my presentation. After we found one, I got started.. 10 minutes late. The students were not too happy that I was there distracting them from doing a packet their teacher had left. The biggest issue I had was classroom management and getting everyone involved. I wasn't prepared for someone to tell me to "stop hovering over her because she doesn't do work when people watch her." Or when I asked a student to move her seat and she replied, "No - you're not my teacher so you can't tell me what to do." But overall, I think the lesson went well. I got great feedback from the science director and another teacher. Even the negative feedback was extremely helpful and made me aware of things I never would have noticed or thought of myself. The principal or assistant principal couldn't come watch the sample lesson, but the science director said she would call the principal right away and let him know how the lesson went. Now more waiting.. April 27: I got a call from  the TFA office telling me I had been placed! So excited! Phew. That seems like a long journey from the possibility of an interview to actual placement. Now I just need to pass my MTELs and officially apply for the position (once they figure out what the position will be). I just went back to the school today to meet with the science director because I will be coming in 4x a week to help tutor 9th graders for the physics MCAS in early June. I also met a current physics teacher who gave me tons of great advice and insight on the school. I'm excited to get my feet wet and start interacting with these students, some of whom I might be teaching next year! So I'm placed. What's left to do before I can start teaching? Pass the Chemistry MTEL (May 12), write my PhD dissertation (due June 1), orally defend my thesis (June 15th), deal with paper revisions so my work can be published before I graduate, do all the pre-institute work, Greater Boston Induction (June 19-23), Institute in Philadelphia (June 24-July 28), then more TFA training in Boston (August 6-15). Oh yeah, and plan my October 6th wedding. Keep checking back to watch me barrel through this list and/or go crazy in the process!

DWW Problem Solving (NCTM Takeaway 4)

By popular demand (and because I need somewhere to organize this for myself), I’m going to put up a series of posts about what I learned at the NCTM conference. If you’re a math teacher, I hope this is as valuable for you as it is for me! (If you’re not a math teacher, I promise I’ll include “NCTM Takeaway” in all the titles so you’re warned in advance. These are posts you definitely don’t have to be reading. I also promise I’ll return to regular posts soon enough.)   Did you know the US Department of Education has a website dedicated to research-based best education practices? Me neither. It's at dww.ed.gov and my initial reaction is to be impressed. (I'll admit I haven't dug through it too thoroughly yet.) The fact that someone has been researching best practices and compiling them somewhere shouldn't be surprising, but I've never thought to look for this before. They have plenty of reports, and they also have professional development resources including teacher interviews, sample materials, and guides for administrators/coaches. Here's a sample, on connecting concrete with abstract in math class. It looks worth checking out.   I'm sure you can tell that my focus at the NCTM conference was problem solving. Here are my notes from the Doing What Works problem solving session. Some of it will seem obvious, but I found a couple of details to be very helpful. I should preface by saying that right at the beginning, they made a little jab at the typical four or five step Problem Solving Process. That's always been the Holy Grail of any PD I've received on this before, so I was automatically surprised and intrigued when they started talking.   Definition of Problem Solving - any problem that has more than one solution (meaning "way of solving" and not to be confused with "answer") and requires thought.   Key Components of Teaching 1) Prepare problems and use them in whole-class instruction. Problems should sometimes be routine and sometimes non-routine for your kids, allowing them the chance to be successful before they are really pushed outside of their comfort zones. It's okay to go out of your way to ensure that students understand the problem, meaning you can address issues with context, language, or cultural differences. You might need to rephrase or completely re-contextualize to make a problem work for your kids. Make sure you've considered existing mathematical knowledge when you plan a problem. Mathinaz note - does this mean it's okay when my kids are struggling and instead of reading aloud, I tell them the problem like it's a story and add in lots of detail until it comes alive for them? It's always helpful but feels a little like a cop-out for their understanding of word problems. Are these people saying I can do that?   2) Assist students in monitoring and reflecting on their own Problem Solving Process. Model your own thinking process and self-monitoring for them. You might need to explicitly teach them to do things that seem natural to you, like how to get themselves out and start over if they find that their first strategy doesn't work. It could help to provide a list of prompts to help them monitor and reflect. (What's the story about? What's the problem asking? What do I know? How can it help? What is relevant? Is this similar to anything I've done before? What are some strategies I could try? Is my approach working? If I'm stuck, can I find another way? Does the solution make sense? How can I verify? Did my steps work, or not? What would I do differently if I tried this problem again?) Mathinaz note - when I was working on those problems I posted yesterday, I realized that I naturally evaluate my work as I go, and I found myself thinking things like, "Why did I waste so much time doing that? If I see a problem like this again, it would be way faster if I'd just done this instead." It's so important in my own process, but I never considered teaching my kids to do it too! 3) Teach kids how to use visual representations. Heavily model what you would do, and use lots of think-alouds and discussions to teach kids how to visually represent situations. Diagrams are great for everyone, but they are especially powerful for ELL students. Don't forget how to teach them how to convert back from visual to mathematical notation as well.   4) Expose kids to multiple strategies. You do need to explicitly teach different strategies, like Draw A Picture or Make An Organized List, and give them relevant problems so they can practice those strategies. Students should eventually be able to generate and share multiple strategies on their own, but that won't happen at the beginning. To start, you can have students look at eachother's work after they finish and try to re-do the problem using someone else's strategy. Teachers can also create worked-out examples for different strategies on the same problem, and have kids compare and contrast the strategies you used. Mathinaz note - I've never thought of that last sentence, and I think it's brilliant. I have taught lessons on various strategies, but never thought about how I could teach a lesson on comparing and choosing between strategies. Letting them see the details of more than one solution and discuss the merits of each is something I'm definitely going to try.   5) Help kids recognize and articulate mathematical concepts and notation. Describe relevant concepts from the problem and how they relate to the activity. Ask kids to explain each step used in a worked-out example and why it was important. Help kids to make sense of algebraic notation. Mathinaz note - you can tell I was getting tired by the end of this session, because I can tell those sentences are three different thoughts but can't really elaborate on any of them now....      

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