Sunday, September 27, 2015

My First EdCamp

A little more than a year ago, I first heard about EdCamp.  EdCamp is an "unconference" where sessions are discussions about topics determined the day of the camp.  No one comes with a slide show ready to go or a product to sell. The "rule of two feet" applies which means you're encouraged to find a new session if the one you're in isn't helping you grow or if you're not contributing. 

I missed out on the last #edcampbmore (Baltimore) due to a prior engagement, so when I saw yesterday's announced in the summer, I registered and put the word out to my colleagues.  I'm proud to say that 10 teachers from my old school (two of us have since moved to other schools) attended together. As I'm not in the classroom, some sessions weren't going to be that applicable to me.  In fact, my friend who is an ELA specialist chose the same sessions I did.  However, there was a sufficient range of interesting topics- "Strategies for Boys," "GAFE in the middle school," and "Homework or Not?" piqued my interest, though I chose to attend others. 

Session 1- Formative Assessment
I was hoping to get into a conversation with people from other schools who had completed the Formative Assessment for Maryland Educators (FAME) course that I did last year.  Unfortunately, the other attendees hadn't completed the course; two were enrolled and the others were interested in knowing more.  My colleague and I discussed how it worked for us and our successes.  I didn't learn anything about FA from this session but I felt like I made a good contribution, so it was worthwhile.   My personal takeaway is that an assessment literacy cohort is forming under MSDE leadership and I need to ask about getting into it.

Session 2- Instructional Coaching
I was surprised how many people attended this session.  We filled up all 24 desks!  Most everyone in the room was some kind of coach; a handful were administrators.  I went in thinking, "I'm new at this so other people are going to have things all figured out and I'm going to get some great ideas."  I left thinking, "Huh.  I am in a pretty good spot because after a month I'm either doing or have plans to do just about everything that was mentioned."  My colleague agreed with me.  That's not to say that I'm amazing at my job, but it was comforting to see that there wasn't a silver bullet I was missing!  The most often recommended strategies were peer coaching/peer observation and video recording lessons for teachers to watch.  I appreciated Jen's suggestion of scheduling all stages of a coaching cycle (pre-conference or pre-observation, time in the classroom, debrief) at once so teachers know what they're signing on for. 

Session 3- Standards Based Grades
I've read blog posts about SBG for at least 2 or 3 years and I've been intrigued.  Two things have always held me back from jumping in- figuring out the learning targets/how to assess them and the logistics of continually offering retests in a fair way.  I appreciated listening to Nicole's (@solvingforx) advice and expertise.  It was interesting to hear that her entire school uses SBG, not just the math department.  She talked about how she has 6 or 7 learning targets to assess per marking term.  She gives two weeks at the end of the term where she doesn't assess new learning targets to count for that term so students still have an opportunity to retake.  I anticipate my school system will be reevaluating its grading policies in the near future due to our formative assessment initiative and for many reasons I think we should look at SBG.

Three "small-world" moments for the day:
1. In my first session I got to talking to Jen, a BCPS STAT teacher.  Jen used to work with one of my college friends, who recently left public education to work at a private school.  The funnier coincidence- it turns out that Jen and I went to high school together (she graduated a year before me) but we didn't ever remember meeting back then.
2. That friend who used to work with Jen?  She texted me while I was at the conference to say she only lives a few miles away and did I want to bring my whole group to her apartment afterwards?  I thought showing up with 10 people was a bit much, even if she was once a long term sub at our school and knew a couple of them.  We had decided to try to get home quickly afterwards, so I declined.
3. We pulled in to Annapolis for a quick sandwich on the way back and it turns out I was spotted by my college roommate's mom.  I never saw her, but I got a text from my roommate later asking if her mom had seen correctly.

One #MTBoS moment for the day:
During the "Find someone who" networking game, Nicole (@solvingforx) came right over to find me and said she wanted to convince me to go to #TMC16.  I already have that on my calendar.  Maybe we will get to fly out together; that would be lots of fun!

Thank you to the organizers and donors who made this day possible.  Friends School of Baltimore let us use their beautiful campus and several companies donated product for raffles and funds for breakfast.  I even won a prize for recommending people to come to EdCamp.

Now, I'm really excited for February 15th- there will be 4 EdCamps in Maryland that day.  If you're nearby (PA, VA, DC, DE) and you have off on Presidents' Day, think about joining us!  I'll be attending the Eastern Shore location.

Have you ever been to an EdCamp?  What topic would you put on the board if you go to an EdCamp in the future? 

Mathematically yours,
Miss B

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Rotations Card Sort

If you have read my blog for some time, you may know that I love a good card sort.  Here's one I did on multiple representations of linear functions last year.  One on piecewise functions from two years ago led to a journaling opportunity.

So last week, when a teacher mentioned needing something engaging for rotations, I got to work building a card sort.  The rotations card sort is available here, along with a notes sheet and exit ticket.  There is also a version for reflections.  I'll be working on a translation version and dilation version as time allows and I'll add them to the same folder.    

The teacher who originally asked for it used it.  Two other geometry teachers were intrigued and I co-taught/modeled the lesson for them.  The lesson is designed to be an introduction to the rules and notation associated with rotations.  Students should have a foundational understanding of a rotation as a turn and some understanding of multiples of 90 degrees. 

The lesson basically goes like this:
1. Have students sort the cards into any number of piles they want as long as they can explain the reason for the grouping.  (2 min)
2. Have students share out their sorting strategy.  ALL strategies are valid.  We're basically getting comfortable with the information that is on the cards and maybe refining the vocabulary students use to describe the different representations of the transformations. (3 min)
3. Say, "For you to meet today's learning target of correctly representing rotations, you will need to sort the cards into exactly 3 group."  (If you do reflections, it's 4 groups)  You can decide at this point whether or not you are ready to tell students that the groups must be equal in size.  I'd definitely give that hint if you want to give extra support or if any groups originally had 3 groups.
4. Walk around, question groups, and coach as needed.  (Figure perhaps as little as 15 minutes for a class with lots of background knowledge to as much as 45 minutes for a class that is fresh into this.)  I find that handing out a small stack of 1.5x2" post-its or some scratch paper will help because students can note coordinates or try out rules without juggling so many numbers in their heads. 
5. Inevitably there are some groups that put 90 degrees clockwise and 90 degrees counterclockwise in the same group.  Take a moment to do a kinesthetic intervention with them- "Stand up and face the front of the room.  This is your preimage.  Rotate your body 90 degrees clockwise.  What are you facing?  Right, the door.  This direction is your image.  Now turn back to your preimage.  Please turn 90 degrees counterclockwise.  What are you facing?  Right, the teacher's desk.  This is the image.  What do you notice about the two images?"  The students will say the images are different.  "So what does that tell you about the cards?"  The two 90s can't go together, they soon realize.  "Last time we turned, we ended up facing the teacher's desk.  Can you return to your preimage and come up with a different way we could rotate to face the teacher's desk?  270 clockwise?  Show me.  Great!"
6. When students have sorted the cards and you've spot checked them for accuracy, give them the notes sheet to record their findings on.  It's important that they still have the cards at this point so they can record from what they put together.  You will also most likely need to tell them that counterclockwise is the default direction for rotations unless the directions specify differently. 
7. Go over any trouble spots on the notes.  I like to use the large box to record multiples of 90 (when talking about how many quadrants the figure would move) and a diagram of the 4 quadrants numbered for students who may have forgotten.       
8.  Use the exit ticket.  It shows 4 "cards" and asks students if they belong together or if not to correct the mistakes. 

The first class, where I co-taught, was OK.  Most students were engaged, but I think groups of 3 would have been better than groups of 4; it was easy to find one student trying to take it easy with a group of 4.  I found the students less willing to say what they were thinking, which meant that the whole process felt a bit slow.  Overall, it was still a solid lesson.

The second class, where I modeled the lesson, went better. (I don't think it's because I led; I think it's a class dynamic issue.) I only saw one student who I felt was trying to check out.  The discussions were more open, which meant it was easier for students to make progress because they knew what their teammates were thinking.  A quick spot check of the exit passes revealed that most students were able to identify the card with the mistake (though not all of them were able to correct the mistake).  The classroom teacher was so pleased with this lesson that she had the kids give me a round of applause.  It was just an average lesson to me, but I'm glad it energized her.  She's eager to try more lessons like this one, so if you have any great geometry lessons on triangles or triangle congruence, please leave me a note; they'll be starting triangles soon. 

What's your favorite interactive lesson?

Mathematically yours,
Miss B

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

What's your change comfort level?

I've been reflecting recently on what percentage of lessons/activities/procedures a teacher changes within a year has on success. 

Thinking back to my teaching career and mostly inventing these numbers:
1st year- 95% new (a few things borrowed from student teaching, but otherwise starting from scratch)
2nd year- 10% new (having survived year one, finally feeling like I can be reflective)
3rd year- 33% new (new activities, new strategies- this was fueled by only having one prep for the only time in my career and being able to focus on it)
4th year- 40% new (new course to teach- Algebra II in 8th grade!)
5th year- 30% new (implemented strategies from grad classes and MTBOS)
6th year- 60% new (started INBs, did NBCT process, started teaching French)
7th year- 20% new (full implementation of Common Core complete)

My best years (in my estimation) were 3 and 6.  Year 3 was great in part because I had awesome kids and small classes.  But the reason I really loved it was that I was familiar enough with the curriculum after 3 years that I was able to adapt to my students' needs and use so many more engaging activities than I had at the beginning.  Year 6 was great in part because I had awesome kids and I'd gotten to teach French which had been a goal 5 years in the making.  It was also great because I was viewing my lessons through the new lens of Interactive Notebooks and that coupled with doing my NBCT portfolio made me reflective about all.the.things. 

In my estimation, my best years came when I decided to implement change.  The key words there?  "I decided."  The years that had lots of change that weren't in my control weren't necessarily as good.  And the years with little change?  They weren't that memorable. 

I've been reflecting on this because my job is to be an agent of positive change with the math teachers in my building.  Today and over the next several days I'll be meeting with teachers to set goals that we can work on together over the next few months.  I wanted to keep in mind my own feelings about change so they inform my process as I meet with teachers.  I can't wait to tell you how it goes. 

What's your change comfort level?

Mathematically yours,
Miss B

Sunday, September 13, 2015

What makes a good teacher?

I've been replaying a conversation from Friday over and over in my head this weekend.  After each run down, I'm left with the same question, "What makes a good teacher?"

I spoke with a staff member on Friday who was counseling an upperclassman who is not doing well on quizzes in math this year.  In this conversation, the student said I was her best math teacher from previous years.  The staff member went to look at her previous grades and she actually had the lowest grade in my math class of any she'd taken since 7th grade.  The staff member was puzzled and maybe a bit amused.  Can an A student earn a C in a class and still think that teacher is good?  I think so, but it would take considerable maturity on the part of the student, particularly if the student gets As and Bs in other classes.  

So, I'm trying to dissect what went well.  Looking back on the class in question, I had a pretty great mix of students in this student's class period.  There was one who liked to be foolish, but the rest were definitely with the program.  I took my first grad class that fall and started to incorporate Kagan structures in the spring with gusto, even doing a complete redesign of my room's layout and swapping furniture to make it happen.  I used random grouping on a regular basis; I would post names on a pocket chart and they'd regroup without whining.  In fact, they adjusted to all the changes with almost no issues.  That was also the school year when I really dove into the #MTBoS by reading blogs and I started blogging myself.    

I really want to ask the student what stood out about my class so I can help other teachers incorporate those ideas however I don't think the student expected her comment to be shared. 

What do you think?  Can an A student earn a C in a class and still think that teacher is good?

Mathematically yours,
Miss B

Friday, September 4, 2015

Week 2 is underway #winning

Last week, I spent 4/5 days dealing with the drudgery of sitting in a conference room all day writing benchmark tests and entering them into Unify, my district's choice of online testing platform.  Sitting in an office chair all day and staring at my laptop isn't my #1 choice for a good time at work.

This week, however, I've been back at school.  It's felt like the first week of school since I largely missed being at school for the first week.  I've been in to see every math teacher at some point and met with about half of them to follow up on how things are going in their classrooms.  I've helped students with their questions as I spent time in classrooms.  I got the first three classes through the first benchmark we're giving on Unify.  Overall, it's been a good week.  There were two challenges that kept cropping up: 1) personally I find adult emotions are harder to deal with than those of children and 2) I need better shoes- I'm walking miles a day in this school.

Mathematically yours,
Miss B