Monday, January 30, 2017

7.RP.1, or Why the Math We Teach Might Actually Matter

Earlier today I read an article from the Atlantic about the financial insecurity of the US population.  (OK, I read three-quarters of an article before I was distracted by dinner preparation!)  I started to think about my friends, my coworkers, and eventually my students.  How many of them are living with virtually no financial safety net?

Because I work in a relatively poor area, my suspicion is that the 47% quoted in the article is actually an underestimate for my community.  And while that worries me for my generation, I think about what we need to do differently for young people so they can find themselves in a better situation a decade or so from now when they are established adults.

Recently, Maryland instituted a new graduation requirement: a course in financial literacy.  It's a good first step, though there are certainly growing pains with the new course.  I'm encouraged to hear that students learn about credit scores and responsible use of credit in the class.  I hope that they take to heart the lessons and consider how each decision they make can impact their future.

I was blessed to grow up in a household where we were comfortable and yet also one in which my parents didn't lavish me with things or encourage wasteful spending.  I've always had a thrifty way of approaching most expenditures, but not everyone has that kind of training.  I've gotten into money-saving apps and coupons in the past year or two (though I'm not an extreme coupon lady by any means) and I'm learning to stretch my dollar even further because it can actually be fun! 

Yesterday, I was standing in the paper towel aisle in Walmart surveying my choices.  I hate buying paper towels.  I simply don't find it possible to mentally price compare in the store and I end up just buying a huge pack of Bounty, my favorite anyway, knowing that I'm probably getting a crummy deal but that because I bought a huge pack I won't have to deal with the problem again for months.  Nevertheless, that extra little bit of wasted money irritates me.  A lot.

Here's what I'm talking about.  These screen shots are from various sites but have the same quality paper towel in packs for about $16.

Bounty at Target. 12 "mega" rolls.  Regularly $19.79, on sale for $15.99.  Buy two, get a $5 gift card. 

Bounty at Amazon. 12 "giant" rolls. $16.60 plus shipping.

Bounty at Menards. 6 "huge" rolls. $15.67

These three packs cost within a dollar of each other (ignoring for the moment shipping or incentives).  So, which should the consumer choose? 

The Amazon pack has the most rolls (12), and conventional wisdom says it's cheaper to buy in bulk. 
The Target pack has the equivalent of 20 regular rolls, which is the most of any pack.  The gift card inventive is also intriguing.
The Menards pack has the largest rolls with the most paper towels each.  That seems like a good deal, plus it means less paper towel tube waste and less need to change rolls. 

OK, I'm not really thinking too much about those things when I'm buying paper towels.  I'm trying to compare which rolls and which brands will give me the most for my money.  But even comparing among this one brand is tricky. 

I've been in stores where the shelf price tags that give a unit price are equally obtuse.  Some brands will have cost listed by sheet where others will have it listed by roll.  Even sheet-size is different; some brands have full size sheets and others have half-size sheets.  That's not easy to compare. 

Back to just Bounty, assuming this "regular roll" to be a standard unit of measurement, it looks like a regular roll at each store would cost:
Target: $15.99/20 =  $0.80 (or 26.98/40 = $0.67 if you factor in the gift card)
Amazon: $16.60/18 = $0.92 (before shipping)
Menards: $15.67/15 = $1.04

Standing in Walmart last night, I was armed with a $1.00 off coupon for a multipack of 6 or more rolls and a $2 ibotta rebate (sign up here to join ibotta and earn cash back on groceries- it's great).  I chose this pack of 6 super rolls for $8.98. 

Net cost after coupon and rebate was $5.98.  Price per roll $5.98/11 = $0.54.  (Even without coupons, at $0.81 per roll, this was a good buy in comparison to the field.)

Walmart's webpage started to make clear why this is such an exercise in proportional reasoning (or throwing your hands up in the air) with this helpful chart.  It turns out that a regular roll is a standard unit of measure for Bounty.  They make not just 3 or 4 but 10 different sizes of rolls! 

So, now I feel vindicated and like I won the game that is paper towel shopping.  Next time your students want to know when they'll ever use 7.RP.1 in real life, you can tell them about how much fun it is to shop for paper towels.  Or just take them on a field trip to the big box store and ask them to get the best price! 

Small comparison shopping tasks like this one, repeated over time, can help us become more financially secure.  Throwing up our hands and taking the path of least resistance means that we're using our resources for something we might not prioritize.  If we can help our students learn these lessons early, perhaps they will be better off than our generation and our parents' generation. 

Mathematically yours,
Miss B

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

First Day #9

Today marks the beginning of my ninth year teaching.  I've enjoyed my career thus far and the inevitable changes keep it interesting!

Here's a peek into what my first day was like:

7:30- arrive at school; swing through the math hallway to greet teachers
7:40- help students navigate to their homerooms
7:50- homeroom has started; check e-mail
8:25- homeroom ends; help students navigate the halls
8:30- track down testing headphones in the media center; help the computer lab facilitator and media specialist with Google calendar issues
9:15- check in regarding log-in information for online diagnostic test
9:25- drop off headphones and let teacher know we're still waiting on log-ins for the last two students
9:50- log ins are OK, so we start testing
10:30- return to office; call a parent to address a scheduling concern
11:00- find a teacher who wanted Google contacts help
11:30- more e-mail; talk with principal about furniture needs
12:00- conference with teacher regarding curriculum and resources
12:30- remember that I've missed my lunch period and eat lunch at my desk instead of with colleagues
1:00- return to pre-algebra class for more diagnostic testing
1:30- visit our school within a school for students with behavioral needs to check in and provide log-ins
2:00- get called to the library to discuss scheduling with a student
2:30- get a list of students with calculator accommodations and begin preparing materials for their teachers to use in daily instruction
5:00- discuss the first day with two teachers who popped in on their way home
5:15- leave school, make dinner, and start working on FAME
7:30- finish working on FAME website/correspondence from home

How was your first day?

Mathematically yours,
Miss B

Friday, August 19, 2016

Why the dishes are still in the sink

You know how the first week back to school after summer break hits you like a truck?  I started thinking about everything I've done since work officially began on Tuesday and I started to understand why washing the stack of dishes in the kitchen sink sounds like an impossibly hard task at this hour on a Friday night.

Tuesday: All day county-wide kick off meeting at the other high school in the district
- Listen to speeches for about 2 hours
- Present a 40-minute high-energy session on brain breaks three times in a row
- Try to simultaneously help 6 teachers with varying computer requests (Can you find my data from last year's testing?  Where did those Google files disappear to? Can I get my data now?)
- Research aforementioned Google problem, discover the culprit, email the file owner with a request to restore last year's work 
- Fix the toilet at my house after securing the right part (yay, me, doing home repair all by myself)
- Work on paper for grad school

- Arrive at school to find that my new office is finally being emptied from the previous program's belongings.
- Check in with each teacher
- Work on compiling data
- Attend faculty meeting
- Attend discipline and discipline data meeting
- Attend classroom procedures meeting
- Attend school rules meeting
- Answer guidance counselor questions.
- Create 90% of the bulletin board in my new office.
- Attend training for FAME facilitators at the middle school.
- Attend Mass at my church for the consecration of our new altar.
- Continue to work on paper for grad school. 

Thursday: Agile Mind PD
- Attend an 8-3 training that summarized the 2.5 day training I had in the summer.
- Answer what felt like 50 questions/requests about curriculum, technology, materials, etc.
- Draft newsletter to FAME cohort participants.
- Return to school for a faculty dinner at 4:30
- Compile testing data for teachers
- Back to School Night after school
- Write agenda for department meeting

- Attend full staff faculty meeting
- Run department meeting
- Answer questions about programs, curriculum, lesson planning, vocabulary instruction
- Clean my new office (dust is always everywhere anyway, and my room had some student cubicles in place previously that were probably never cleaned behind because of how they were positioned so I gave everything a nice once-over before bringing in my things)
- Move everything from my old office into the new one (down a flight of stairs) except my desk and filing cabinet which the custodians will have to do.
- Track down the custodian to ensure my desk and filing cabinet will be moved on Monday.
- Long-term plan Advanced Algebra I with that teacher
- Help the special ed co-teacher become familiar with the Google drive and pacing guide for the courses she'll be co-teaching
- Track down textbooks for a course
- Answer guidance questions
- Lend a listening ear to a colleague who was hurt by a decision from higher up
- Finish my bulletin board
- Begin making the space beneath my windows into display space (to cover the horrible tape residue left behind)
- Make a mental note that I need a phone, trashcan, and somehow a table and chairs in my office.

I feel like I'm going in so many directions.  There wasn't a clear priority in place for me this week other than to get everything started.  I need to spend some time reflecting this weekend on the relative priorities of what I need to do next week.  Time to bring back my daily task log from early last year to aid in that process!  

How do you prioritize the first week back?  

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Teachers' First Day 2016

Welcome back for another great year, everyone!

The school year officially kicked off this morning with the first of 5 professional development days in a row.  I consider myself very lucky to work in a school system small enough that our entire instructional staff can fit in one high school's auditorium, with seats to spare.  We gather at the beginning of each year to reflect on what lies ahead, celebrate our past accomplishments, recognize our teacher of the year, welcome new faces, and thank those who retired over the summer. 

New this year, we had a professional development conference organized over lunchtime.  I have to give massive kudos to the person or people who organized the physical materials, schedule, and sessions.  There was a wide variety of content available and things moved like clockwork.  They even managed to group the sessions so that secondary and elementary teachers were separated.  This made differentiating the sessions much easier. 

The assistant superintendent reached out a couple of weeks ago to ask if I could present a session on brain breaks.  I agreed.  I presented a session on brain breaks ideas and a little on implementation, taken heavily from the Kinesthetic Classroom course I took last summer.  I enjoyed leading the session; 40 minutes wasn't enough to share all of the things I wanted to share with these teachers. The turn out was great: 27 and 18 elementary teachers in their sessions and 32 teachers in the secondary session.  That's 77 people who can make a positive impact on student learning.  I'm always pleased to see a good turn out.  Leading professional learning is fun for me and I feel like it can make a large impact on student learning because of the ripple effect.

The results from the exit questions aren't all in yet, but I think good things are brewing in my county based on these responses.  



If you want to try some brain breaks in your classroom, check out the presentation I gave for some ideas.  You can also download more resources from this Google folder, such as mailing labels to make these brain break Popsicle sticks a quick addition to your classroom. 

Our superintendent left us with 6 questions to consider for the year.  To me, this is too many (because if I need more than three things on a grocery store, I need to either write them down or be guaranteed to forget the most essential one).  I'm considering making these into posters for my room; a bit of a focus wall, I suppose. 

What does the first day in your district look like?

Mathematically yours,
Miss B

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Twitter Math Camp 2016

Twitter Math Camp 2016, held at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, wrapped up 8 days ago.  Normally, I would have blogged right away after such a rich experience, but some extenuating circumstances led me to step back and think about the conference in a different way.  You see, normally I would have written a detailed summary of each session I attended and explained how I planned to use what I'd learned in my own school.  But not this time. 

My flight home from #TMC16 landed at BWI around 9pm last Tuesday.  I planned to stay with my parents that evening because they live much closer to the airport than I do.  My parents picked me up from the airport and I texted my fiancĂ© to let him know that I'd landed safely.  He replied that he needed to attend a viewing in New Jersey the next day and asked if I would be able to go with him.  When I called to find out the details, I was heartbroken to hear about the loss.  His friend's 17-year-old brother Jeffrey, a rising senior in high school, had died on Saturday in a fishing accident. 

By all accounts, Jeffrey was a vibrant young man.  He volunteered to teach younger children and those with special needs how to play hockey.  He loved to fish but often came off the boat with more than he needed, so he would share the bounty with anyone on the dock who wasn't as fortunate.  He had an infectious sense of humor.  Over 1500 people attended the viewing; it lasted 6 hours.  The funeral the next morning was standing room only in the large church.  Though I never met Jeffrey, it is clear that his passing will leave a void in his family and his community at large. 

Following the viewing and funeral, I was reflecting on what had been shared about Jeffrey.  I realized one thing that seemed important: no one mentioned anything about his academics aside from a passing reference to "looking for colleges."  Whether he was an exceptional student, a mediocre student, or a struggling student didn't and doesn't matter.  Those grades don't make a person.  What matters is the character that Jeffrey showed in his life because his loved ones will remember their joyful shared interactions much longer than his report card grades. 

What I noticed this year at TMC16 was a new focus on social justice and how the climate we establish in our classrooms and schools can spill out into the greater world.  Less emphasis was placed on content than at TMC14 (the only other TMC I've attended); in fact there were only a few sessions that were targeted at one specific course.  I can't speak to why this shift has occurred but I am proud to be a part of the conversation about improving school for our students.  After all, a good education is comprised of far more than letter grades on a report card.

How can you send the message to your students that their education is about more than grades this back to school season and beyond?  

Mathematically yours,
Miss B

Friday, April 22, 2016

As the year draws to a close

We're just 5 weeks from graduation and 7 weeks from the end of the year.  As such, I find myself reflecting on the progress I've made in my new role this year and the work that lies ahead of me.

Last week, @timsmccaffrey and I decided to challenge each other to write about a challenge that faces us as the school year ends.  My challenge is to lay the groundwork for next year.  I feel like I've been doing lots of things this year, but there hasn't been a clear overarching goal for my position that's specific enough to really guide my workday.  "Improve student achievement" is absolutely my goal but what are the important sub-goals that support that goal? 

Here are some of the things I've been doing this year:
- visiting classrooms
- co-teaching/model teaching
- planning with teachers
- writing sample lessons or activities
- supporting students by pushing into classes
- working in small groups with students in my office
- writing and implementing common benchmark testing for Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II
- writing Bridge Projects for the state of Maryland (an alternate path for students who are unsuccessful on PARCC)
- administering PARCC (I'm at 34 sessions so far this year and counting)
- reviewing curriculum resources for potential purchase
- leading Universal Design for Learning PD for the whole staff with two other teachers
- participating in an Assessment Literacy Collaborative sponsored by the state of MD
- planning schedules for next year
- reviewing data and planning next steps
- studying formative assessment practice

So, my goal for next year is to hone this list to spend more time on the most effective things (and find ways to minimize the time-suck of the not-so-effective but still necessary things).  And my goal for the next month and a half is to prioritize these items and craft a mock schedule of how I should be spending time next year.  Streamling time! 

What's YOUR goal for the rest of the year?

Mathematically yours,
Miss B

Monday, January 11, 2016

#MTBoS Blogging Challenge #1

Hello!  It's time for the Math Twitter Blogosphere Blogging Initiative!  What's this challenge all about?  It's just about gently getting you into the habit (or back into the habit) of blogging.  This week we have two options:

Option 1: We rarely take the time to stop and smell the roses. Even on the most disastrous of days, good things happen. And these good things, when you’re on the lookout for them, pop up. All. The. Time. So for one day (heck, do it for many days), keep a lookout for the small good moments during your day and blog about them. We bet that by keeping an eye out for the good, your whole day will be even better!

Option 2: A few years ago, some people in the #MTBoS wanted to share what their teaching lives were like. Partly because we all work in different schools, and so we wanted to get a glimpse of our friends-in-action. At the same time, we also wanted to battle against the idea that teaching is easy. We wanted to share what it is like to be a teacher with non-teachers! So we all blogged about a single day of teaching — from start to finish. So for the first week of the blogging initiative, we thought you blogging about a day in your lives would be a great way to start getting to know each other!

Since I've blogged about positive moments more recently than I've done a day in the life, I'm choosing option 2.  

5:30: Alarm 1 goes off.  I make friends with the snooze button a few times.
6:14: I coax myself out of bed, hastily grab an outfit from the closet, and hop in the shower.
7:15: Having finished breakfast and packed my lunch, I'm out the door.
7:16: I back out of the driveway and see a light I left on.  
7:17: I park the car, turn off the light, and head to school.
7:24: I pull into the parking lot and head into the building.
7:33: I sign in at the front office and check my mailbox.  No news is good news.
7:40: I walk down the math hall and say hello to the teachers on hall duty.  One teacher asks if I'll be able to come to her Algebra II class and I say I think I will provided I'm not pulled to test.  
7:45: I send my weekly memo via email to math teachers.
7:50: I go to the Algebra II class and assist students who are struggling with their review questions for the final exam. This teacher has students write work on the board daily.  They're allowed to take a buddy along for support/guidance if they're stuck.  Two students ask me to be their buddies, and I oblige.
8:40: I return to my office and start reviewing material for the Bridge Projects I'll be writing next month.  (In Maryland, Bridge Projects are an alternate way students can earn credit after they've failed a standardized final test in a course like Algebra I at least twice.) 
9:03: I get a call from our testing coordinator asking what I'm doing second period.  Could I please test a make up PARCC session?  I go back to looking at the Bridge Project information until it's time to test. 
9:23: I head to the media center for the make up session.  It's 11th grade English.  It takes some time to get the majority of the students there, most likely because we're also running final exams this week and our state-mandated tests (HSAs) in Government and Biology.   
9:53: I finally say, "You may begin."
10:46: All the students have finished, so I end the session.
10:52: I finish cleaning up the room and return the materials to the AP.  
10:54: I heat up my lunch, left over PF Chang's Beef with Broccoli from my dinner out with college friends on Saturday.  I will need to drink several liters of water this afternoon to combat the insane amount of sodium they include in their meals.  I basically haven't stopped drinking water since Saturday evening.  There were over 3,000mg of sodium in that meal.  Eek!
11:10: I check my personal e-mail while eating lunch and decide to start writing this blog post.  Usually, I eat with the math teachers at 12:05, but I have meetings this afternoon, so I'm eating in my office alone instead. 
11:32: I pause writing here to return to work.  I start gathering materials and thoughts for my 12:00 meeting.
11:44: I go to the office to sign out.
11:49: I'm in my car driving to the Board of Education.
12:00: I start meeting with my supervisor and the other specialist from the other high school in the district.  We discuss the meeting we're having with teachers in the afternoon, textbook adoption, benchmark testing, data analysis and more.  
1:30: Our supervisor leaves for a different meeting, so the other specialist and I continue our previous conversation and update each other on how things are going in our schools.       
3:00: We start meeting with teachers from the two high schools to discuss course sequencing, course offerings, master schedules, and sort of the overall pathway that students would take in high school.  
4:30: We end the meeting and I discuss more with one of the teachers from my school as we walk out. 
4:40: I arrive at the grocery store so I can make brownies for tomorrow's potluck at "C" lunch.  I only have two eggs left and brownies require three.  I'd better get milk too.  
4:50: I get home from the grocery store.   
4:55: I preheat the oven and notice that brownies take, in fact, just one egg so my grocery store run was pointless.  Hmm.  It must be some cakes that need 3.  
5:30: I start making dinner.
5:50: I eat dinner.   
5:55: The brownies come out of the oven to cool.  
5:59: I resume typing this summary of my day.  
6:10: I start playing with the master schedule a bit pursuant to my discussion this afternoon with teachers.  We batted around the idea of requiring freshman to enroll in Algebra I first semester if they haven't completed it in middle school but we're not sure how that will change the rest of the schedule.  
Master schedule tinkering

6:32: Schedule analysis complete.  I tried to change as little as possible.  Of the nine teachers, 4 could keep their exact schedules, three could teach the same courses but alter the number of sections of those courses, and only two would have to teach different courses.  Those two teachers would each add one new prep (but they would still have at most two preps per semester).  
6:37: I answer an e-mail from a teacher who is requesting help with a course that's coming up next semester.  
6:40: Back to tying this summary.  

I'm going to publish this now because my work day is essentially over.  I'll do the dishes, maybe throw in a load of laundry to catch up from what I didn't do over the weekend, write a thank you card to a family from youth group who brought me a Christmas present last night, and carve out some time to keep in touch with loved ones via phone.  

To all the classroom teachers out there, I'm sorry.  I still carry tremendous guilt about the fact that with my new job I've been able to carve out personal time in the evenings and not grade papers or plan lessons all the way until bedtime.  I stay busy, but it's a different kind of busy than I had for the previous seven years and I'm not quite settled into this new routine yet.  Not having Sunday evening anxiety is strange.    

Which prompt option will you choose to blog about this week?

Mathematically yours, 
Miss B