Best Pi Day EVER

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If you are reading this, there is a good chance you were aware of the level of intensity this year’s pi day brought.  On Saturday, 3/14/15 at 9:26 nerds around the world celebrated and reflected on the beauty that comes from dividing any circle’s circumference by its diameter.  It makes sense, then, that I began 8th hour on Friday asking my students “So are you guys excited for tomorrow?!”  Little did I know, that question would help transform the next 45 minutes of class into one of the best lessons I have ever been a part of.

Let me start by mentioning this 8th hour class is a smaller class filled with students that have struggled with math for one reason or another.  I’ve got freshman, sophomores, juniors, and seniors coming from Algebra 1, Geometry, and Algebra 2.  They are not used to having quality conversations about math. In fact, just the opposite – I actually planned on them continuing their online course work silently.


 Here’s what happened when I winged a class period

 

Part One – The Set Up

Teacher: Are you excited about tomorrow?!

Student 1: You mean Pi Day?

T: Yeah! Pi Day because 3/14/15 (I write it out).  At 9:26 it’s gonna be the bomb!

Student 2: How many digits of pi do you know?

T: Let me show you something! (I walk over to my computer)

Student 3: Can we not do anything today?

T: Just one thing – then we can do whatever. (Bring up my email to show them this banter between some staff members)

email pi day

At this point the students laugh, call me a geek – whatever.  Then one student goes – isn’t it 3.141…and has like 13 digits memorized!  A student I normally have to bargain with to get any work done knows 13 digits!  How cool!

 

Part Two – Intro to Pi

T: Okay, let’s watch this quick video on pi, then I’ll stop with the nerdy stuff.  (I show them this awesome Jo Boaler material)

T: Okay, so C = d* pi right?  Does anyone remember the formula for area of a circle?

S1: Isn’t it  pi*r^2?

T: Yes! It is.  How do you know that?

S1: I don’t know… it’s what we learned.r squared

T: Okay, well how can we show it? (I draw the picture to the right)

S2: That’s a nice circle.

T: So in the circle the radius is always the same length all the way around.  We’ve got r and r so that makes this box the area of…

S1: r squared.

T: Nice! How do you know that?

S1: Because it’s r times r.

T: Okay, so how does r squared relate to A = (pi * r^2)?  Why does that make sense as a formula?

Silence

T: Okay.  How many of these boxes do you think fit in the circle? (pointing to the r squared box)

S1: 3.14. You know it’s going to be less than 4.  You have to cut the edges off.

T: Good.  So you have 3.14 of them right? pi *r^2?  Alright, bare with me ellipse(as I draw the ellipse to the right). Just one more thing. (20 mins of class left at this point). What is this shape?

S2: An oval.

T: Yeah, as you get higher in math we call it an ellipse.  That’s not important.  What I want you to see is that here we have this “a” and this “b”.  What do you think the formula is for the area of an ellipse?

Blank stares

Part Three – Setting Up The Conversation

At this point I take time to lecture students on the process of turning on their brains.  They have never been asked to think and participate in a discussion where the formula hadn’t already been given to them.  “It’s okay to be wrong!  We know our brains grow more when we make mistakes, but you have to try!”

S3: But when I raise my hand and get the answer wrong people will laugh at how wrong I am.

T: Exactly!  That’s terrible, but realize that’s not you; it’s the environment your teacher has allowed.  I doubt they even realize it, so it’s on all of you to be comfortable being wrong.  Let me ask you…how many students tend to answer questions in class?

S4: 2 or 3.

T: That’s a problem.  A teacher often needs to go off of their gut feeling.  If you only let those 2 or 3 people answer the teacher will believe that everyone is good!  You need to be okay with being wrong. Now I want you all to really think!

S1: Would it be pi * (a*b)?

T: Why?

S1: Because its pi * r * r.  Why not make it pi * a * b?

T: What would that look like in a picture?  How could we use area to explain your idea?ellipse2

S1: Draw a box.

T: Okay what’s the area of this box? (students start with their thoughts)

ab^2
a^2*b^2     <= these were the three options that were thrown out by students
ab

I then ask each student to explain their explanation.

S4: (a^2 * b^2) Well I know there are two a’s and two b’s and I know it’s multiplying because of the r squared thing.

S3: (ab^2) That’s what I said for my formula two.

T: Are they the same thing then?

S5: They need to have parentheses so the exponent goes to both.

T: (I draw in parentheses with arrows showing the exponent effecting both the a and the b) Do we understand the difference? (They do!)

S5: (ab). So I just figured before we only had an r and an r so we would only need an a and b, not two of each.

S4: No way! Can’t you see my answer is right.  Mr. Ulrich even just showed the thing with the two!

S5: But the r square would be r and r on the opposite sides and we didn’t use two of them.

The argument went on for about a minute – a few other students chimed in and soon enough we voted.  After all arguments were given the class landed on the formula a^2 * b^2.

So what’s the answer?! – They ask.

T: Well…you’re all wrong. (groans)  But, you were thinking and debating and that’s what is important in learning.  You made a mistake, yes, but you learned and used your brains!

With only about six minutes of class left I tied our findings to pi, recapping that there is 3.14 of those rectangles in an ellipse and… boom – an amazing lesson with two minutes left to spare.


Let’s recap what was covered

  • how many digits of pi are there?
  • what does pi represent?
  • formula for circumference of a circle
  • formula for area of a circle and ellipse
  • why mistakes are important to make

Math practices used

  • Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them
  • Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others

 

How do you keep teachers?

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What is the reason that teachers stay?

Seriously.  I am curious.  Is it the summers?  Is it the feeling we find when a light bulb goes off for a student?  Is it the “maybe next year it’ll work” mentality?

I don’t know if it is the case in other professions, but teachers complain. A LOT.  We complain about the number of hours we work, we complain about the salaries we deserve, we complain about lazy students not doing their job, we complain about administration not being there for us, and we complain about the whole education system going to hell in a hand basket.

Many, if not all, are totally justified, but …then what?  Where do we go from there?

People on the outside see this complaining and have plenty of other things to say about teachers; administration could look at it and make arguments about the budget or bring in professional development to “help” manage time and teach new strategies.  These too are also well founded and have their importance.

 

What I Enjoy About Teaching

1) Teaching is creative

If I was stuck in a cubicle all day doing the same thing each and every day I would die.  The chaos of teaching, I think, is also one of its greatest strengths.  There is no “one way” to teach a child or share an idea.  Instead we struggle each and every day to find a new, creative way to get little Johnny to class on time, Sarah to share her thoughts on the civil rights movement, and Shauna to argue her reasoning about a mathematical formula.

2) Teaching is collaborative

…or at least it should be.  In my job I collaborate with other teachers all of the time.  We compare results, we develop curriculum, and we share assessments.  The most important aspect of our collaboration is our professional growth.  Collaborative conversations force us to be reflective and we stretch our thinking by combining the thoughts of two to four minds that all see a situation through a different lens.

3) There is room to grow and pave new paths

Any teacher can tell you that you they are always learning – about content, ways to teach content, methods to deal with behavior, or even ways to communicate with peers.  The real exciting part, though, is that 21st century learning is basically untamed and WE are the ones that will shape what the next 50 to 100 years of teaching and learning will look like.  This is what motivates me each day and excites me as I fall asleep at night.

 

So that brings me to the question…how do we keep teachers?  There are definitely some awesome things taking place in education, but at a certain point the stress outways the perceived benefits.

 

Reasons I Can’t Make Teaching A Life-Long Career

1) I think I can make a bigger difference doing something else (administration, research, non-profits, private sector)

As a teacher I affect 150 or so kids that are in my classroom throughout the year.  Add that up and over a career of over 30 years that means I will have had 4500 or so kids that crossed paths with me and I was able to affect hopefully for the better.  Tally in extracurriculars and other staff, maybe somewhere around 6000 people.  The thought always bounces around in my head, how can you do more?  A principal affects an entire school and hundreds of teachers during their tenure.  Researchers and new ideas can radically change the course of education, and outside groups often have more money and freedom to work on projects devoted to any passion ready to be pursued.

2) Which direction is up? – Money

I do nearly the same job as other teachers in the school and just because I have been teaching less years I get paid thousands of dollars less?  I totally understand paying teachers for experience and the wisdom/ leadership they bring to the school, but as a young teacher “trapped” in some pay scale based on years teaching and possibly if I received a masters (which is a whole different blog), I have no reason to be motivated and no stars to shoot for.  Luckily, money is not the reason most people get into teaching.

3) Which direction is up? –  Leadership

There is a ceiling in teaching when it comes to leadership.  As a young teacher, I try to be like a sponge, absorbing as much information and many good practices as I can from experienced educators in my building and through blogs/ twitter.  Eventually I can be more of a leader, possibly a mentor some day, and even end up as a curriculum/ department chair if I play my cards right somewhere down the line.

What doesn’t sit well with me is that all of these jobs are really the same thing!  The next 30 years of my life and career would be devoted to…the same thing with a few things added here and there – all of which are added on top of the regularly expected hours of teaching.

 

So then, why do teachers stay?  Or even better, how to we get more teachers to stay, while at the same time attracting more teachers to the profession?  I will offer my thoughts and encourage you to do the same by commenting or sharing your thoughts via twitter.

Educators do not equal teachers.

My thought is simple to write and tough to do.

When I am hired and employed by a school district, I am expected to teach children.  I am expected to make sure that kids take tests and that they pass.  There is a lot that goes into it including caring about kids, conversations about them and with them, evaluations of our own, and forms to fill out for the state.

Almost never, though, do people expect teachers to receive a paycheck for learning or for sharing their work with others.  Stay in your classrooms, society says, and teach our children.  That is what we pay you to do.

If ambitious teachers are expected to stay in education it is absolutely necessary that they have the room to grow.  I’m not talking about slow change, the kind that takes 30 years; I am talking about the kind of “I have a dream to change the realm of education” growth.  We need to be given the tools to be able to test out our ideas, fail, and learn, all the while knowing that we are supported.  When we have ideas that work we need time to share them with people – I mean actually share them at a deep level and have time to meaningfully see the ideas through.

  • pay teachers to watch other teachers teach (within and outside of the district)
  • pay teachers to research best practices (twitter, blogs, provide them with research & guidance)
  • pay teachers to help other teachers learn
  • make time for teachers to share their ideas to other staff members
  • make time for teachers to share ideas to other districts

Some of this districts do, but it is usually on top of a regular work day.  I teach six classes and I’m not about to be taking on more.  Instead, we need to count research/ learning/ sharing as part of the work day.  If you want good teachers to be good you need to give them time to learn, practice, and most importantly share what they do.

These are just a few of my thoughts.  I would love to have a conversation with anyone about these ideas.  Let’s figure this out.  What does it take to keep a teacher?