Rewiring the Teacher Brain for Growth Mindset

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Teaching growth mindset is not as much “showing students how” as it is a “changing the way we talk about what we already do”.  If we are able to talk about learning differently, it becomes embedded in daily routines.  Here are a few subtle changes I made to my syllabus this year.

Old syllabus

EXTRA HELP:

Get it when you need it!!   After school!  Before school!  During class work time!  From your friends!  From me!  From other teachers!  From parents!  From older siblings!  From a tutor!  From the internet! From Khan Academy! The possibilities are endless – YOU just need to make the effort.  Just like life, math doesn’t come easy for most of us – you have to work at it!

New syllabus

GROWTH MINDSET:

Work hard and ask for help when you need it. After school or before school! During class work time! Browse the internet! The possibilities are endless – YOU just need to make the effort. Just like life, math doesn’t come easy for most of us – math is not about speed, it is about the struggle!

As you can notice, very little changed.  Instead of implying getting help is an extra part of learning (making kids feel dumb if they need to get help), I express that hard work is part of the learning process and that asking for help is the norm.  I like how the original paragraph emphasizes effort, but I tried to take it further by emphasizing that struggling is okay.  If students are content with solving problems quickly we are robbing them of real learning.

I challenge you to choose your words carefully when creating documents and especially as you are talking with students.  It is not easy at first, but soon enough it becomes a normal way to talk about learning.

Building Grit – Being Proactive

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It is the start of another school year and that means in a month the calm of the first few weeks will be overshadowed by the insanity of contacting parents, getting kids caught up/ back on track, and never-ending lesson planning.  Last year I chose to be proactive in hopes that I could at least help kids from falling behind early in the school year.
Here’s what I did.

1.) Ask around to see if it was possible to receive an organized list of my students’ math grade from the previous year.

  • This is important because otherwise I would have had to individually look up each and every student one by one; always find the easiest way

2.) Find all students that ended the previous course with a D or failed the course and are repeating

  • Last year I chose to find students with and C, D, or F.  This year’s students are coming in with more D’s, so I’m not worrying about the C’s to keep the process manageable.  Choose what works best for you.

3.) Email parents asking them to meet the first week of school to get to know their student’s strengths, weakness, and to set goals.

  • Below is the message that I sent to parents:

 

“Hi there!

My name is Casey Ulrich and I will be your daughter/ son’s math teacher this year for Algebra 2. I am excited to start the new year and know that it will be a great one!

I am reaching out to you because looking at last year’s math grades your daughter/ son seemed to struggle with Geometry. Algebra 2 builds on many of the concepts that are presented in geometry and I want to make sure this school year gets kicked off with a positive start.

I would love to set up a meeting with you and your student to get to know some of the strategies that help them learn best and to set a goal for the semester. I am available any day after school this week Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday as well as most days the following week. Please let me know if you would like to set up a conference and what times would work for you!

I look forward to the chance to meet you and learn all about your awesome kid.”

 

It turned out to be super effective in helping to understand incoming students.  Knowing a little bit more about them at the start of the year as well as establishing communication with parents led to great relationships and a positive learning atmosphere.  What I saw in these students was an increased level of grit.  They were less afraid to ask questions and often times were the students I spent the most time helping after school.  It allowed them to see that struggles are a part of learning and developing strategies to improve led to more learning. (what a novel idea)

No data to prove that this was a direct success, but I can vouch that it passes the gut check (certainly feels like it helped).  Not all parents responded and not all students that showed up changed their learning habits drastically, but it was conversation that laid out the fact that I believed that they could learn.  Hearing that from the teacher the first week can go a long way.

What else do you do to foster grit at the start of the year?

Creating a District Culture of Sharing

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Teachers are awesome people.

They care about kids.  They force students to challenge themselves.  They make learners question the world around them, and when needed, they listen.  Yes, I am a teacher, but the stories from other educators are what inspire me.

There is one weakness of teachers that I would like to point out but hope to improve: sharing.  For all of the awesome things that teachers do in the classroom we are afraid to have someone else look at our work as if somehow the miracles we perform on a daily basis aren’t up to someone else’s standards.

Here are three ways I plan on trying to start building a culture of sharing.


1. Make time to watch other teachers teach.

How?

I’ve been saying that I want to this for years now, but this year I’m going to make it happen.  It is easy to make excuses.

-I’m a young teacher; I don’t have time for it.
-My curriculum changed; I don’t have time for it.
-I’ve got parents to contact and I’m behind in grades; I don’t have time for it.
-…you get the picture.

We make so many excuses that we don’t have time…and I get it, I make those same excuses.  So here’s what I’m going to do (hopefully blogging this will help hold me accountable):

Make a list of people that I would like to see teach.  Ask them if I could come watch them teach. Schedule a specific day and time to watch them teach and add it to my calendar.  Things come up, yes, but reschedule and make it happen.  Think of it as a meeting, but this meeting you will actually grow as an educator.

Why?

I will get a better understanding of what my students go through in an average school day.  I will be able to see how other teachers question students, encourage students, and hold them accountable for their learning.  To think that I know all there is about teaching or that my way is the best is simply foolish.  How can I grow unless I am introduced to what else is out there?

I can create a better relationship with my peers.  If they are comfortable with talking about it, I can ask them their rationale behind decisions.  Did you notice you did this?  Why did you make that decision?  It creates an opportunity for educators to be reflective while having a meaningful conversation about improving learning for students.


2. Create a hashtag your district can use to collaborate and share resources or ideas.

twitter

George Couros is a boss educator, and I had the pleasure of listening to him speak at ISTE 2015. One of the many moving quotes was simple:

“Isolation is now a choice educators make”

Often we as teachers hide away in classrooms, overwhelmed with the tasks that lay before us, but twitter presents a new form of learning, connecting, and growing as professional educators.

How?

I plan on writing a more detailed layout of how this has worked in my district, but here’s the general roll out of what I have done in regards to creating a district hashtag.

1. Find a hashtag that is short and not already used by others.

2. Find other innovators and tell them about your idea.  Keep this group very small for the first few weeks to generate content and help determine what type of content will be shared.

3. After three to four weeks try to expand your group to other early innovators.

4. Try to get administration on board – show them or, even better, have them try it!

5. Ask to share the idea with the rest of the staff.  Take time during the next staff meeting to share your thoughts.

6. See if you can lead training sessions for interested staff members.

Why?

In this day and age we have access to all of the info in the world, but more importantly, we have access to one another (another Couros quote).  In the crazy routine of teaching there are days we do not have a moment to eat lunch or even go to the bathroom.  Getting out of our room to have a conversation seems daunting, but taking a minute to tweet one awesome thing that happened each day allows us as educators to connect, have conversations, and share learning at pace that matches our lifestyle.



3. Create a Tagboard to share experiences in the classroom, at sporting events, and in the community.

vision

Districts are made up of much more than teachers.  To fully create a culture of sharing, students, parents, administrators, coaches, and community members also need to be a part of the process. Many of these members are already producing content whether it is on facebook, twitter, or instagram. Tagboard allows all of these mediums to be collected and shared in one place.

                                                How It Works

Anytime someone uses a hashtag on facebook, twitter, or instagram it is displayed on a tagboard devoted to that tag.  For example, check out the tagboard for #badgers.  As you scroll, you can see that most of the content came from twitter and instagram, but there are occasional facebook posts that appear as well.  All that is needed is a simple tag you can use for your community and spread the word to start sharing.

                                   Why?

Taken from https://ggulibrary.wordpress.com/2014/04/18/featured-database-statista/

Facebook, twitter, and instagram all tend to be favored by different demographics.  From my experience, many parents have and use facebook.  They love to post pictures of their daughter/ son’s sporting events or club outings.  Some parents, teachers, and students prefer to use twitter to share experiences.  For me, it is the preferred method to share content.  Lastly, the preferred form of social media among students is instagram.  They already throw a million hashtags on their pictures; why not add one more that will share a classroom experience/ basketball game/ musical/ band performance/you-name-it with others excited to be part of the community?  Could you imagine a district where student learning and success was displayed openly and everyone was welcome to be part of that community?


I plan on writing more about my experiences as the next school year begins, but I challenge you to find ways to expand your comfort zone and push others around you to share more of what you do on a daily basis.  Teachers are awesome people – its time to show off.  Own your greatness; everyone loves learning.

What Is The Point Of All This Data?

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http://spotfire.tibco.com/blog/?p=10941

“The greatest value of a picture is when it forces us to notice what we never expected to see” – – John W. Tukey. Exploratory Data Analysis. 1977.

 

Data is everywhere.  Data is used in sales, marketing, politics, and now more than ever education.  Information helps to inform businesses and mobile apps, and helps to shape the world around you.  The card you scan or number you enter at the grocery store gives the store a snapshot of your spending habits.  Those things you “like” on facebook dictate the ads that you see when scrolling through your news feed.  There is plenty of data floating around in the world, but only the best organizations understand how to interpret it into something meaningful.

21st education understands that data collection is important, but I believe that interpreting is still in its infancy.  School districts cannot afford statisticians and often we are left with spreadsheets of data that tie only numbers to students. Ugh, spreadsheets.  What – a – headache.  Way too much time is spent figuring out what number goes with what student or whether that number means growth, mean score, percentile, or whatever.  Either way you put it, interpreting the data is HARD.

What is the point of data in schools?

1. Large amounts of collected data should help see pockets of strengths and weakness in a building to make celebrations and next steps more clear.

When a company finds that some employees are thriving and others are struggling two questions arise.  What makes the thriving members so great, and what support do the struggling members need?  Without proper visual displays of data, it becomes difficult to determine the thriving members as well as those in need of support.  This is a problem and impedes potential progress for schools.

2. Smaller, more individualized data, should help paint a detailed picture of each student.

Between the MAP, ACT, and ASPIRE kids are absolutely tested out.  Throw in literacy assessments, math tests, and every other academic grade students receive I sometimes wonder the actual ratio of learning to assessing.  Every student deserves their information to be collected and visually organized in a matter that can help them and others make meaningful connections about their learning.

Possible SolutionsMAP

While attending ISTE 2015 I sat in on a session led by Sujoy Chaudhuri and Shabbi Luthra.  Their approach to data was interesting.  Instead of looking at MAP scores through a spreadsheet, they created visual displays that broke the scores into smaller strands and organized students visually depending on their strength or weakness within a set of skills.

FullSizeRender(1)
Instead of deciding which teaching standards needed to be emphasized and hoping it would work out, they tracked and compared artifacts as they related to ISTE standards, state teaching standards, and Marzano’s effective teaching strategies.  They were able to visually see areas of weakness, emphasize the work, and within a year a visual improvement was noticed.  It is amazing stuff when the data is presented so clearly.

Things to Consider

Regardless of the data collected it is up to you to determine what patterns are important.  As said by Blaise Pascal, “We are more easily persuaded by the reasons we ourselves discover than by those which are given to us by others.” We were left with these guidelines when interpreting data:

Wonderings – What do you find yourself wondering about as you look through the data? Wonder, discuss, uncover but don’t jump to conclusions

Observations – Look for patterns. What are you seeing? What are the outliers? What are the surprises?

Connections – Start to connect the data with your background experiences with a student, a class, a grade level, a school, a curriculum, other variables and other data

Questions – What are the questions you find you need to think about, talk about, act upon?


Whether you are a teacher or administrator it is important to find ways to produce and interpret visual representations of data rather than spreadsheets and lists.  Too often we find what want to see in spreadsheets and use data to justify our own rationale.  We now educate in the day and age where data rules.  It is time we find an effective way to use it and help propel us forward.  If we don’t, I’m afraid we will continue to spin our gears and not find meaningful progress.

If your school or district uses data in an interesting and meaningful way will you please share?

 

Where is our advertising?

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The other day I was watching TV (which is a rarity these days) and this commercial came on: I Knew One Day. Watching it gives you a sense of pride, a sense of being part of something special and bigger than yourself.  You can have your opinions about politics and the military, but at that moment I was a little let down that I didn’t make the choice to be part of the amazing Air Force team.  Whoever’s job it was to make that pitch sold me.  Well done.

A few days after watching that commercial I was having a conversation with a student and, being a high school teacher, the inevitable question “what’s your plan for after high school?” came up.  She smiled and said, “Well, I was thinking about being a teacher, but my mom told me that it would be a bad idea”.  Dagger – to – my – heart.

I can make the argument that the mom is right.  Going into teaching is a bad idea.

  •  If you are someone who wants to teach the same way it has always been taught, teaching is not for you
  • If you are someone who thinks teaching is a simple way to work with kids and get paid, teaching is not for you
  • If you are someone who enjoys working 40 hour weeks, teaching is not for you
  • If you are someone who thinks teaching would be great because you get summers off, teaching is not for you
  • If you are someone who thinks working most jobs is too taxing and you were always good at school so why not, teaching is not for you.

I can also make the argument that mom is wrong. Going into teaching is an amazing idea.

  • If you are creative, teaching is for you.
  • If you are passionate about – quite literally – changing the world, teaching is for you.
  • If you are someone that loves chasing dreams with endless potential, teaching is for you.
  • If you are someone that embraces failure and the growth that comes from it, teaching is for you.
  • If you are someone that loves to learn from others, be challenged by others, be stressed by others, all for the sake of becoming a better human being, teaching is for you.
  • If you are someone who loves ever changing technology, teaching is for you.
  • If you are a leader, teaching is for you.

Thinking about the Air Force commercial, I am upset that education doesn’t have an advertising department – no budget to spread the word.  I can envision a similar commercial where we talk about education and all the different parts that make it up.  Teaching is just a sliver of the slow moving mammoth that is education.

-Teaching       – Psychology      – Social Work      – Technology      – Architecture     – Programming        -Advertising    – Business Management           -Administration       – Advocating      -Policy Making
– Custodians   – Cooks              – Media               – Coaching          – Students          -Innovators

My dream is for young people to be excited about joining education.  If we turn off all the best and brightest we will only be left with those that have no where else to go.  Let’s work together to get the top young minds to work in education or at least see it as the important building block to society that it is.  The question that needs answering is, how do we communicate this message to others and shift the growing paradigm that going into teaching is a “bad idea” to one that is “an amazing idea”?

Your thoughts and comments are appreciated.

What A Teacher Doesn’t Teach – Guest Blog by Paul Franzowiak

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The conversation that I have had over the past several days with students has been nothing short of amazing.  The Every 15 Minutes program that was presented and done mostly by students, for students, showed me just what amazing talent and people MFHS has to offer. Many students talents were show cased the in the video shot, produced, edited, and practically done all by students, but also with the conversations that I’ve had recently.

As some of you may know, I truly enjoy math, teaching, and learning. However, I don’t always love learning about math. One thing that truly fires me up about being at the high school is the development of being overall quality individuals. I’ve been able to sit down with several individuals and share my thoughts and feelings with them, only for them to do the same with me. They trust me enough to tell me things that I’m sure most students wouldn’t tell their mom or dad. I feel so grateful that students are willing to do this for me and see that I actually don’t just care about math and their grades, but care about them as HUMANS, YES HUMAN BEINGS, who have grown up and shown me that I am doing something right other than teaching math. The comments and statements that some of them have made to me just gets me fired up and want to learn more about them as those weird things we all are… HUMANS.

I will honestly admit that I have never been more excited to be at school and wanting to go to a school function more than the Prom Grand March that I attended this last weekend. So many of my students were there, dressed to impress, and they ALL did. I was absolutely AMAZED, seriously AMAZED, by how well some of my students looked all dressed up. Seeing students who I could never imagine in a suit or dress or heels came and amazed me with what a little time, effort, and hair gel can do!

Thank you to all of those who have shared something personal with me. I know it’s not easy trusting a stranger who you have only known a few months, but these conversations (not their grades) are what I will remember most about these amazing humans.

Paul Franzowiak is a math teacher at Menomonee Falls High School committed to helping students being successful in school and in life.  Follow him @MathwithFranzo or check out more of his posts at http://mrfranzowiak.blogspot.com/.

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?

Using Blogs and Snapchat in Math Class

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One of the things that are most difficult as a math teacher is breaking the mold of the same old same old.  I want desperately to be the type of teacher that uses innovative methods to help propel students to higher levels of success.  Still, I find myself teaching in quite the traditional manner.

Therefore, I want to share a day that I was able to break the mold.  I gave students a protractor, ruler, and asked them to measure the height of our school.  The results were pretty awesome.  This is one student who shared her thoughts: Student Blog

The coolest part of that blog is the fact that she used Snapchat to take a picture and measure the angle.  If it wasn’t clear in the student’s blog they took a picture of a student standing a certain distance away, drew a line connecting the student’s feet to the top of the building, then laid a protractor on top to measure the angle.

Teachers spend so much time searching for apps that will make lessons better, but we seldom think about the things we have right in front of us.  Snapchat, Twitter, Vine, Instagram, 2048, and the many others that students use every day.  The challenge I have for myself is to find more uses of these in the classroom. It will save the time needed to teach students how to use the app and as an added benefit most of these are social apps and it is easy to share work.

2015, the year of snapchat in the classroom?

A Stressful Moment

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Today was stressful.

It wasn’t really any more stressful than an average day of teaching, but somehow the culmination of a bad unit and reaching the point cluelessness in a new curriculum put me over the edge.  All of the stars of negativity aligned and I left school defeated and thinking about all of the other things I could be doing with my life.

Teaching does not equal learning.

In my Algebra 2 class, we have been learning about “Rules of Exponents”(RoE).  Let me rephrase that – I have been teaching my students about “Rules of Exponents”.  To gain perspective, these students are mostly sophomores and juniors.  They are introduced RoE in Algebra 1 and it is recovered in Geometry.  By the time they get to me one would think that they have a decent foundation of understanding.  To quote another teacher at my school “assume they know nothing”.  Sad quote, but when it comes to understanding  the material it is spot on.  They may recall a few of the tricks, but understanding?  Not even close.

In Algebra 1 students are thrown all of the rules in the first few days and asked to learn and understand them.  The tricks are taught, “anything to the zero is one!” is thrown about, about day 3 or 4 negative exponents are introduced and BOOM show us what you understand…sorry.  I keep writing the word understand like there is even a chance of that happening in six days.  By day 6 we ask students to show us what procedures they were able to memorize.  In geometry, the process is the same, and after looking at assessments might be a scaled back version of Algebra 1 (wtf?).

Anywho…now they come in to Algebra 2.  Day 1 – You know how to do RoE, right?  Day 2- Hope you’re good because here comes simplifying radicals (they have pretty much never seen), multiplying and adding radicals, rational exponents, and exponential functions.  This is my life.  We have been learning these skills for close to two weeks.  Each night I rack my brain for a creative method for students to latch on to these ideas and each day I come to school thinking that they are understanding.  A majority of the students are trying, asking questions of each other and of me, and I am doing my best to help motivate the students that are difficult to motivate.  This chaos and disorder is part of the job and as a teacher you get used to it, but checking in with students today – two days before test day – it seems like the entire class needs to go back to square one.  “So you’re telling me you can’t simplify the square root of 48?  You realize we spent like…3 days just on that?” Talk about defeating for a teacher.

Students laziness is not an excuse for bad teaching – call it what it is.

The next piece of stress came when I tried to share my frustration with other teachers.  Explaining the situation to them, I received the same response: “The kids are being lazy.  None of them do their homework, so you can’t expect them to understand it if they don’t try”.  The reason this angered me was simple: I didn’t believe it.  I have awesome students and I feel like everyone of them wants to learn the material.  There are definitely some that do not realize the benefit of homework as much as they should, but that is not the sole reason they struggle.  Teachers use the myth that students are lazy to shield them from the fact that how they are teaching may not be what is best for learning.

It is uncomfortable and it would be much easier to shift all of the blame to students, but I realize whatever methods I chose to help students learn did not work out as planned.  I see myself as an innovator and a teacher that listens to student input and tries to change my lessons accordingly, but time and again  my results are the same as every other teacher.  I am left wondering if anything I do really makes a difference in student understanding.

A downer for sure, but I am proud of the fact that I am upset.  It means I care about how students learn best and I want all of my students to be successful.  If I chalked all of my shortcomings up to lazy students I would be a much happier teacher, but a teacher that never grew or challenged myself.  I hope that out of this ordeal our department is able to have good discussions about the skills taught in each sequence of courses, and who knows…the kids could still ace the test on Friday. : /