Monday, November 24, 2014

Students' racial identities

Let's start this by laying out some groundwork.  I'm white, grew up in a predominately white community (at least 80%), attended a predominately white college, currently live in a predominately white community, and teach in a predominately white school.  That is to say that there have been few times in my life when I've been in a situation in which my race made me a minority.  Having friends who aren't white may give me some insights into what being a minority can be like, but it doesn't truly inform me.

My French class has been writing introductory letters to penpals in France. They know very few themes of vocabulary so far, and I've been encouraging them to use what they know instead of question me for endless lists of words.  In any case, I've entertained some requests and I was surprised to find out how many students wanted to specify their race or ethnic heritage in their letters.  None of the initial letters we received provided this information.  My French class is the most diverse class I teach and probably one of the most diverse in the entire school given our demographics.  Of the 23 students, 8 are white, 8 are African American, 1 is Native American, 5 are Hispanic or Latino, and 1 is "mixed" (her word, not mine- the school says "two or more races").  For comparison sake, my Algebra classes are 17 or 18 students of which at most 3 are not white. 

I remarked at this trend in vocabulary queries today because I realized no white students had asked me how to say, "I'm white" but I'd answered that question for every other race or ethnicity at some point over the past few days.  I'm not sure I've ever had to point out my race, except to fill out demographic info on surveys and the like, so it was interesting to me how many students felt compelled to include it. 

One of the African American students said he wondered if his pen pal was black.  I told him I knew the area where our pen pals live wasn't very diverse (I'd lived nearby a few years ago) and I doubted it; the odds aren't in his favor.  He seemed disappointed. 

I'm not entirely sure what to make of this observation, but I felt like it was worth recording.  If I have some new insights, I'll add to this post later.  I'm not explaining this eloquently, nor do I have a lot of depth to offer on the subject.

What role does race play in your classroom?

Mathematically (and linguistically) yours,
Miss B    


Sunday, November 16, 2014

It's official...

... the year of hard work paid off and I'm a National Board Certified Teacher in Early Adolescence Mathematics!  Looking back to January to May of this year, I can honestly say that there was not a single week in which I didn't spend several hours working on my portfolio entries.  Some weeks, I put in 20+ hours.  It was grueling.  Many co-workers who had gone through the process said it was the best PD they'd ever had.  I still think Twitter Math Camp beat out the NBCT process for me as my favorite PD ever, but TMC did have the structure of summer camp going for it. 

Both the NBCT process and the #MTBoS have a common thread of teachers who are continually striving to be better.  I attribute my success in the process, at least in part, to my blogging over the past 2+ years as well as my more recent Twitter exchanges with colleagues around the world.  I've been becoming more comfortable at putting myself out there where I could receive criticism from colleagues (though it comes more rarely than it's due) and I think that made it that much easier for me to critique my practice in an honest way.    

It was interesting to read the feedback with my scores; much of the feedback pointed out the same weaknesses I'd identified prior to submission but I had no way of correcting at the time.  One I've since corrected; I know I do too little to involve parents and this year I've started sending post cards to each student with a positive message.  I'm a bit behind, but the initiative is at least underway!  My biggest regret for NBCT was that I waited so long to film lessons that I was stuck with a particular video that wasn't great quality.  The lesson was good, I know the students' conversations were richer than the audio picked up, but the video just didn't showcase those aspects in the best possible way.  As a result, I had less material to write about than I should have.  My advice, therefore, to anyone currently working on NBCT is to video right away.  Tomorrow, even.  Whether or not you use the video, it's good to get in the habit of having the camera rolling so your students act naturally and you'll have perhaps a few extra videos to choose from when it comes time to write your heart out. 

Submission Night (Only at around 8pm or so, not that I look exhausted or anything!)

Submission Night cookie made by the wonderful Amy of Clough'D 9 Cookies.
Mathematically yours,
Miss B

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Algebraic Properties Lesson

I'm sorry to realize that I haven't blogged in 6 weeks.  It's been busy and I guess nothing's seemed fabulous.  (Yes, we should blog the mundane, but there's no time for that at the moment.)

Today's Algebra lesson was actually one that I really liked, so I thought I would blog it so I could remember it in the future. 

It started Monday during a short class period.  I had my students (who had some prior experience with Associative, Commutative, and Distributive properties from 7th grade) arrange themselves in lines of about 4 students standing side by side.  I then asked them to form two groups without changing the order of the line to demonstrate Associative Property.  I asked them to reorder to show Commutative Property.  We did several examples, including some where I asked them to show Commutative Property within a single group.  They had fun and we got some wiggles out before an assembly.

This seems like a good time to mention that my school district has adopted EngageNY modules, so this lesson takes some inspiration and notation from Module 1, Lesson 6.  Students were off school yesterday (teacher inservice!) so I picked up today with a "flow diagram."  I gave the class an expression to write in the center of their papers.  I think I used 3x + 18y + 12z.  I asked for a property.  In both classes, they selected Distributive Property first.  I branched off with a double-sided arrow and labeled the arrow with "D."  I asked the class to generate an equivalent expression using Distributive Property.  The volunteer wrote it down.  We continued with new properties and new expressions, adding about 5 more to our papers.  Then, in table groups each team wrote three new expressions using a colored pencil to show what was different from the class diagram.  The groups then jigsawed, shared their expressions, and got feedback.  The entire thing took about 20 minutes (10 for whole-group, 5 for small group, and 5 for jigsaw).

Then, students completed a set of stations.  I took poster paper and wrote a series of 7 equivalent expressions on each.  Students had to determine the property used with their group.  They recorded their answers.  When they reached the last station and completed it, they used post-its to display their answers.  Then, we jigsawed again to have students put checks or Xs to show if they agreed or disagreed with the answers suggested.  I used the checks and Xs as a check for understanding and to see where I need to reinforce things.  I found the difference between Distributive Property and Associative Property to be our largest area of confusion.  (I did 5 stations for 3-4 minutes each, 2 minutes to Post-it answers, and 3 minutes to check those answers for 25 minutes in stations.  My summary based on their feedback on Post-its took another 5-10). 

Why I liked this lesson: students spent lots of time debating and discussing.  The difficulty level of the problems was about right for my students, as they were able to be successful about 80% of the time based on my observations. 

For homework, I gave students a new expression and asked them to make 5 equivalencies.   I hope to be able to share some of these in the future! 

How do you make properties a bit more challenging than 3•5 = 5•3?

Mathematically yours,
Miss B