Day 6 – Sadness

Today started with a great staff meeting about Cooperative Grouping structures and sharing and answering questions in small groups with other teachers.  I love the district I am in and the amazing teachers I have worked with for 14 years. Just sitting around the table this morning talking with teachers of all disciplines who are interested in trying something new in order to best reach their students, it’s a refreshing conversation and makes me excited.  I enjoy using cooperative groups in my classroom and have seen the benefits it brings to accountability for all students.

Overall today was a fine day, but it was overshadowed by my feelings of sadness.  I miss my friends, the people I have taught with for so many years who just get me.  Because of my position, I don’t really have lunch with anyone, so I’ve been eating by myself which obviously doesn’t help my feelings of sadness.  Lunch used to be fun, relaxing and a time to relax before heading off to teach, now I just sit at my desk and work through my lunch because I don’t know what else to do.  I know all of the math teachers in my new school because I have worked with many on committees over the years, but I don’t have the same lunch as any grade level really, so I can’t really crash their lunch and join in.

I am sad because I really miss the ins and outs of teaching, the planning, the organizing, the brainstorming with other teachers, making connections with students, etc.  Sure I have one class of 6th grade students  and I am co-teaching a 7th and 8th grade class, but this is sadly turning out to be the job that I was afraid it would be.  I don’t feel like I am doing any good or even really working much and it’s driving me insane.  I have another meeting on Friday along the topic about instructional coaching, which is something I am interested in…I used to think I wanted to teach teachers, but now I don’t even really know about that.  I’ve been offering my services and help to the math teachers, with the new technology program, to assist with grouping students, really anything…and no one is biting.  I can’t force them to want to allow me into their classroom, but what else am I supposed to do?  I keep decorating my classroom and my poor 6th grade students already thought there were enough posters on the walls! :)

With everything else going SO well in my personal life, this is really giving me a reality check.  I don’t have my Admin certificate because I knew a while back that I didn’t ever want to leave the classroom and this is just putting that into a clearer focus.  I need to be around teachers, students and interacting about math and teaching. I can’t figure out how to get that in my current position. I would love to be a district level PD person or math coach even, but I looked for those jobs this spring and couldn’t find anything. I am so afraid that I am going to wilt away and be this forgotten teacher who once taught math pretty well.

Yes, I am aware that these are all crazy thoughts, but it really consumed me today and here it is 9pm and I still haven’t gotten over it.  I know it will all be okay, at some point…but right now I am struggling to see the light, to see how I can continue to make a difference in the lives of my students and to help teachers in this new position of Math Specialist (also called Math Interventionist).  I wish there was more direction, like this is the job we want you to do and do it this way.  All of this freedom and do what you feel is best doesn’t work for me.  It’s my type A kicking in. :)

So I will breathe slowly, take a deep breath and try again tomorrow.  It’s a new day and can only get better.

Day 5 – Readiness Assessment

After a nice long three day weekend, I wasn’t quite ready to get back into the swing of things, but it ended up being a great day!

There are so many things I want to do in this new position of mine, but it is hard to know what is okay and what isn’t.  There are times that I like the lack of direction, but others where the type A in me needs a little more organization to follow.  I want to put together a newsletter of sorts for the math teachers in my building sharing apps, programs, blogs, activities that I find online.  It’s easy for me to find it all, just need to compile it in a useful manner that will effectively reach three different grade levels.  I also want to make sure teachers know that I am there to help them and their students, I think when you start the school year you get into a mode and forget to reach out for assistance or even ask for it.  Some have been coming to me on their own, which is great, but I need to do a better job of being out there and approaching them too.

I started a blog for my classroom and I am hoping to write a reflective post each day, for myself and for parents & students.  It’s on the Blogger platform and I’ve figured out how to add a Google Presentation (where I keep my daily agenda), a gallery for my ISN pages and a page for my Remind Announcements.  It’s been fun to mess around and figure it all out.

Today in 7th grade the students were in the lab completing a readiness assessment for the first unit.  It covers the necessary skills from previous grades that will be called upon in the first unit. The program will automatically assign them intervention lessons based upon the questions they miss.  The teacher can then assign them to complete those lessons or they will be completed during their time with me once the year and unit gets underway.

In 8th grade we are starting to get into the first unit and started with a vocabulary activity.  In groups of 3-4 the students had to use multiple resources (BYOT (google) and two different textbooks) to compare the definitions and come to a consensus on the wording they wanted to use.  I was amazied for Irrational Number there were three “different” definitions, different to the students, but not really different in meaning.  Once said “Any real number that cannot be expressed as a ratio”, another said “Any real number that cannot be expressed as a quotient of two numbers” and the last said “Any real number that cannot be expressed as a fraction.” This opened up a great conversation between group members about which one would be best to use and why.  And why were they worded different any way?  It was a fun activity, but it was hard for the four of us adults to keep the students on task. This will be a rowdy group this year.

In my 6th grade class we started our Weekly Warm-ups with Tough Patterns Tuesday. The patterns come from Fawn Nguyen (@fawnpnguyen) and her amazing site, http://www.visualpatterns.org.   Surprisingly, they had ZERO clue how to solve a pattern…I think I may have forgotten they were 6th graders and not the gifted 8th grade students who I had last year. So we walked through the steps in solving the pattern and I made notes on what I want to change on my Weekly Warm-up sheet in order to assist them and make it more clear.  I secretly thought about how much easier it would be to do Estimation180 each day instead of a different warm-up focus each day, but then what am I really teaching them?  Obviously since they struggled with identifying and finding a pattern, they need to work on it.  I am thinking of rearranging the days again so Friday only includes the reflection of their week and one good thing from the week, instead of a warm-up AND the reflection.  I just really like the idea of writing about their week in math and overall and sharing one good thing.  That Friday reflection was one of my favorite things from last year.  I learned about my students in a different way and had fun commenting on their questions and reflections.

Today was their last “I Notice/I Wonder” of the beginning of the school year.  I only use it for the first three days they are with me. Here are some of their comments from today:

I Notice

We were kind of working with exponents (This was Pattern #1 for the warm-up and we identified counting the squares, so it was exponents.)
How forgetful I am being (Ah, the joys of being in 6th grade and trying to figure out how to organize everything.)
That I am so COLD. (Yep, when the computers aren’t being used in my classroom the air is cold. When they are being used throughout the day, it gets quite warm. Dress in layers is my suggestion!)
That there is a quote of the week (YES! My school is a CHAMP school and has a quarterly theme with words and quotes of the week.  It’s a great way to connect the school together!)
That this year will be a challenge (Not if we can all work together!)
It’s hard to find patterns (Next Tuesday I want to do a better job of walking them through to find patterns, any suggestions?)
That we will have warm-ups everyday, I like that (I am glad she likes it, I just want to make sure they are useful and fun.)
That you have a lot of posters (Surprisingly less than in the past, but I like things to be colorful!)

I Wonder 
If my day will get any worse (This was the same student as the forgetful comment, but this makes me sad. It’s 8th period out of 9 and he’s had a rough day. I hope he has a better day tomorrow and I hope to make sure he does!)
What I will get on the test (They took a pre-assessment today that isn’t for a grade. There were many students who wondered about their performance on the pre-assessment.)
Why it’s colder than Friday (It was chilly!)
What hard things we will be doing later in the year (I like that they are wondering, but want to change the mindset that it will be hard.)
Do you give us tough patterns on purpose? (Hmmm…maybe I need to change the name?)
If we will have worksheets (With the change to most homework on the computers, this is a good question.  If it is useful and serves a purpose, I have no problem with worksheets to accomplish a task)

After the warm-up and a conversation about the Readiness Assessment for their first unit, they got on the computers (it’s SO cool having a classroom in a lab) and plugged away.  I had three gentlemen in the back that couldn’t stop talking to each other.  In the future I think I will spread them out. I only have 16 students and 29 computers, I can spread them out A LOT! It is funny how the squirrely kiddos stick out when you only have 16.  I think back to last year having multiple classes of 38 and how I probably wouldn’t have noticed so much. :)

@chrisrime mentioned to me the other day that after reading my blog post and links to others about music in the classroom, he decided to try his hand at creating a Chrome Extension to make the music play at certain times.  While I love all things technology, creating something like that on my own…well that just isn’t going to happen.  Today Chris sent a tweet with the link to his extension for Chrome.  Think of all the things you can use it for…his way for passing periods and warm-ups or on parent night to indicate when parents should switch classes.  What about for a station rotation activity to indicate when students should move?  All of the things I do through an IOS app  can be done through his extension.  He did post it knowing it might be a little rough, so check it out and let him know what you think! I am pretty impressed and hope it will work in my school where Pandora is blocked.  https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/musical-timer/heaadgfcmokbmoiepokjcjpabjkhcogf

This interaction with Chris just reminds me of the vast depth of knowledge, friendliness and sharing that exists out there “in the internet”.  Asking for help will get you a tons of responses and suggestions, asking a question does the same…there is always someone there to help or who is willing to help.  Being a part of this online community has enriched my teaching, changed my views on many things and made me love what I do even more.

Day 4 – Professional Learning Conversations & ISN’s

Yesterday I found out about a meeting I needed to attend today that all of the interventionists/specialists from the district were invited to attend. It is the first of four professional learning opportunities with Dr. Pam Rosa. Here is what I found out about her online, prior to attending the meeting: Dr. Pamela Rosa, a certified Danielson Facilitator, and a consultant of educational initiatives, specializes in teacher and principal evaluation, professional growth processes, as well as mentoring and coaching. She has worked as a teacher, literacy coach, principal, district administrator, and state board consultant. Her educational leadership and policy degrees are from Illinois State University and University of Illinois.  I wasn’t sure what the focus of the meeting was going to be and because I only met my 6th grade students yesterday, I decided to attend the meeting for the morning portion and come back to teach my students.

We received the book Learning-Focused Supervision – Developing Professional Expertise in Standards-Driven Systems.  Dr. Rosa talked about how the title should really be Learning-focused Conversations because Supervision makes it sound like we are higher than the teachers we are working with, which isn’t true.  We had a lot of great conversations in our groups and I am excited for the next three meetings to continue the discussions.  It sounds as though my district is trying to move towards having the interventionists also be “coaches” to work with teachers as well as the students we are working with.  I LOVE this idea and it is something I think I will be good at, however I thing they should be separate positions.  If the interventionists are really there to assist struggling learners across all grades in their school, then there is little time to really focus on helping teachers in an effective way.  This isn’t finalized, just an idea I think right now, but I will be interested to see how it all pans out.

Today in 6th grade students completed a reflection on yesterday’s Pentomino activity for their warm-up and were given their composition notebooks for their Interactive Student Notebooks.  Times have changed and students are not issued textbooks anymore because our math resources are fully digital.  However, we still need to practice good note taking and have a place to show our work and practice, so the students and I will be creating our own textbook this year, called the Interactive Student Notebook (ISN). I have used ISN’s for a few years now and love them.  It will be different working on it along side the digital math program, but I am sure we will find a process that works well.

I collected their homework from the night before which was the pennant about themselves. I had two students not color or decorate even though the typed directions said to and I had one student who didn’t complete it. When I asked him why and had him complete my missing homework form, he stated he had soccer practice and couldn’t do it.  Seeing as though it was the FIRST assignment that required them to tell me a bit about themselves, I was a little surprised…I could expect that from an 8th grade student, but I wasn’t expecting it from a 6th grade student.  I had a conversation with him about making sure he brought it on Tuesday and I debated the rest of the day whether I should use this as a first contact with his parents.  I decided to let it go and see what he brought on Tuesday.

They completed their “I Notice/I Wonder” again for Friday and some of the things they wrote were adorable and insightful:
I Notice
“That I am making new friends.” (I forget that the 6th graders come to us from 3 different elementary schools.)
“You are a really fun teacher.” (YIPPEE!)
“That you wrote back from yesterday.” (I heard them talking when they sat down that I wrote them back. I am glad they liked it.)
“Everything is organized! I love that!” (Awesome…a girl after my own heart!)
“There is a basket that looks like a basketball hoop.” (Yep, bought it last year for Trashketball!)
“You play music everyday for math.” (Yes and I need to get more music to play. I use an app called Seconds to organize music with breaks and this idea came from Mr. Vaudrey and I have LOVED it since I started using them! I think it will work better with the 6th graders too.)

I Wonder
“When we will have a party.” (Hmmm…this is middle school, no parties. Unless we are celebrating Math!)
“If I’ll ever memorize my passwords.” (Yikes, we even tried to make them easier for students by having most logins & passwords for multiple sites be the same. But this is all new for the 6th grade students.)
“If Math will always be this fun.” (ABSOLUTELY!)
“What digits is about.” (I need to explain this more. It is our districts adopted digital resource for our curriculum.)
“How many pages we will use in the composition notebook.” (All of the pages! Actually, good question, close to all I think.)

ISN Pages – I will link to my printable pages or where I found the pages.
Title Page – Math Coloring Page
Author Pages (in Pictures & in Words – Sarah Hagan’s Math Autobiography Foldable)
Study Buddies & Clock Partners
Table of Contents (TOC booklet – Shelli’s great one page TOC)

They seemed excited about the ISN and I was reminded that I need to get more tape dispensers and glue sticks.  The materials I had from last year didn’t quite make it. I purchased new materials bins with lids that don’t come off, but they are smaller, so I think the tape and glue sticks will have to stay somewhere else.

I am looking forward to a nice long Labor Day weekend.  I have planning to do for next week, but I will probably save it for Monday!

 

A shoutout to Remind

I don’t hide my love for the website/app Remind. It is fantastic.  I have been using Remind to text my students and parents without sharing my personal phone number for a few years.  It saves time, students love it and it is free!

I LOVE using Remind for my classes to send out positive quotes/inspirations on big days, fun trivia, reminders about homework, clarifications about homework, reminders about field trips, returning papers, etc. I also use it for my swim team practice group to send out positive quotes, fun swimming trivia, reminders about meets and practices, changes to a schedule, updates on meet performance and other fun messages. It’s SO easy to use and can be sent as a text or an email. Students don’t need to have a phone to receive messages, they can get it in their email accounts instead. Parents can sign up too, in fact I encourage it. It is ONLY an announcement system, they can’t text you back!

They just added two fun features in their recent update which came through my app today…the ability to take a poll/ask a question and get a stamped response and the ability to send voice updates. It’s a FREE program and it’s amazing. I like that it goes directly to the students and parents, they don’t have to check for a website, facebook, twitter or blog update…they get a text or an email with it right there. I can’t wait to try out the new features!

I posted my love on Twitter and @StephReilly brought up a good point that students seem to be burned out on Remind because so many of their teachers use it and send out LOTS of reminders. She even said her daughter didn’t want to sign up for her teacher’s account. I find that interesting because there are so many ways to communicate in today’s society and we as educators keep trying to “meet our students where they are” and now they aren’t as interested in the communications.  Maybe this will mean the circle will come back around and they will all learn how to use their assignment notebooks and write their assignments and details down. :) I don’t know what the answer is, but I have yet to receive and negative comments about using Remind with my students or my swimmers, so I will keep it up!

Even though my list above looks like a lot, I checked my sent messages and it averages about two per week.  I like it because I can send a quick reminder I know the students will get and not have to type a long email that goes to their parent’s accounts instead.  I will consider what I send before I send it and I think this year (even though I have a small class), I will ask students and parents if they liked it at the end of the year.

Honestly, it’s great! Try it out this year if you haven’t before!

Here’s the link again.

(Disclaimer: Remind did not ask me to post about their product, I am posting out of my own love!)

Day 3 – I have students!

Yippee! Today was like Christmas! I finally get to meet my 6th grade math class of 16 students.  The day started with a whole school Advisory lesson on CHAMPS, which are the school wide expectations.  There were 8th grade student leaders presenting to the 7th grade students.  It was great to see and there was good conversation about  a few of the items.

7th grade co-taught – We started their ISN’s today.  The teacher I co-teach with took my ISN professional development class last year and implemented them last year and loved them.  She has mentioned a few times how excited she is that I can help with foldables and ISN stuff, that will definitely be fun!  So they started with their author page (it was assigned for homework) and then we glued in the TOC.  We had a good discussion about what an ISN is and how we plan for them to use it.  They were either really sleepy or are great kids because they worked quietly to accomplish the task.  This will be a fun group to work with!

I worked with a couple of teachers today to assist them with the new Pearson digits product the district adopted last year.  We had to work through some bugs, but I think we figured it all out.  It’s a great program and resource for teachers to use and it’s all digital, which is fantastic. Our students do not receive any math textbooks and have not for a few years.

8th grade co-taught – They came down to my room (The MALL) to log into Digits and take the first Unit’s Readiness assessment.  The readiness assessment is a pre-assessment on skills necessary to be successful in the coming unit.  When the students are finished, the program automatically assigns them intervention lessons on the topics & skills they need the most work.  I plan to use those readiness assessments with all teachers in all grades to help identify students who will need more assistance with math this year.  The students didn’t really have issues logging in, but the assessment was a little harder than they thought.  Many said they were happy it wasn’t going to be for a grade.  This is a rowdier group of students, beside myself and the classroom teacher, there are two other aides in the room for 28 students.

My 6th grade math class is coming! I had planned a day of fun math problem solving, no rules for me…they heard them from every other teacher.  I basically told them the same rules apply to my classroom and that we would discuss them as needed.  I greeted them at the door, told them to choose any seat and follow the directions on the daily agenda.  I LOVE Rachel Rosales’s Name Plate activity (& have used it before), so they were working on putting their name on the front along with 4-5 pictures to help me get to know them.  I will say having 16 students is going to be nice and easy to get to know!  They had the length of two songs to complete that part before we moved on.  Then I introduced myself again, told them a little bit about me and asked them to open the flap on their name plate for Thursday and complete the “I Notice” (from Drexel University & Max Ray) before we did anything else.

Then I explained the Pentominoes Activity they were going to work on in their groups, handed out the materials and let them play.  I wanted an activity that had a low entry point, where their previous experience and understanding of math didn’t stop them from participating.  I also wanted a good cooperative group beginning activity and when I saw it on that blog, I knew it was the perfect activity.  They worked really hard and there was great conversation, frustration and perseverance.  After about 15 minutes I did provide them with a few hints, but none of the groups were successful in solving the puzzle this time around.

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A great question from one of the students was, “What does this have to do with Math?”. We took a break to discuss and the students came up with answers such as “Area, perimeter, shapes, Geometry, problem solving, working together, etc.” I mentioned that this was a math activity, but the main focus was to work together to accomplish a task. I really liked being able to walk around and observe the students while they work to start learning about who they are as mathematicians.

At the end of the class, with no solutions found, I clarified that in this class sometimes we will be frustrated and unable to solve a problem within our class time and that is OKAY! The most important part is how we problem solve and go about trying to figure out the solution. We closed with having them complete their “I Wonder” for Thursday and turned in their name plates and grabbed a Who Am I flag pennant to complete for homework. I used her free template, but changed what I wanted them to write in each box.  I will use those to decorate the classroom or maybe one of the bulletin boards!

I found an online version of Pentominoes for students to play and sent them the link via Remind. The HARD level in this game is what we were working on in class. http://www.scholastic.com/blueballiett/games/pentominoes_game.htm.

It was nice to finally meet my students today. Keep in mind I haven’t taught 6th grade since my first year of teaching…I’ve been 8th grade since then.  They are definitely smaller and less edgy than the 8th graders are. I am not a convert yet…I love my 8th graders, but I think it’s going to be a great  year!

Day 2 – The walls

This is what I saw when I entered my classroom this morning:

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Four and a half Math Practice posters fell down in addition to a bubble and a number. I was more than annoyed.  I even used expensive Command Strips because they worked well in previous years. It should be noted that they changed from flat paint to semi-gloss or eggshell so nothing sticks to the walls, which meant I had a piece of sandpaper and sanded the shine off the walls in each place I planned to use a command strip.  Still didn’t work.  I cleaned up the posters before I headed to my 7th grade co-taught class.

Today in 7th grade it was going over the rules and expectations of the class  I agree that the rules are important, but I like starting off with something mathy that gets students talking and working together.  I feel like you can address the rules as needed; however that is my style and it not everyone’s style of teaching.  After hanging out and helping out in that class, I went to my office and complained about my posters and someone suggested hot glue and even provided me with their glue gun! Downstairs I went, plugged it in and worked on my table signs. I took the table signs from one of my favorite sites, Technology Rocks Seriously, and turned them into circles to sit in the center of the fans.

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I also worked on the three bulletin boards on the other side of the room while it heated up.  The middle bulletin board is going to be Sarah Hagan’s Growth Mindset posters. Still clueless on the other two…

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In my 8th grade co-taught class, we had an activity where the students worked in their groups to come up with some BYOT rules.  They needed to illustrate the rule and explain it.  Then we switched papers between groups so they could see what others said, we had a class discussion and came to a consensus on the rules.  It was fun and interesting to see the student dynamics in that class.

After two days of working in my room, with no students of my own, no papers to prepare, no planning to be done, I have to say I was a little sad. It is such a change from what I know and have done.  It’s such a change from everything that I feel identifies me, but I know this is something that is going to challenge me, change me and allow me to grow as an educator and I can’t wait to get started!

Day 1 – New Experiences

Today marked the start of my 15th year of teaching and the first day in my teaching career where I didn’t have any students to welcome.  You may remember my job change in the spring to be a Math Specialist at one of the middle schools in my district.  (This is also called a Math Interventionist in my district.)  So because of the new position, I do not directly work on just one team teaching math like my previous 14 years.  I will be working with all of the math teachers and students at 6th, 7th and 8th grades in my building.  My main goal is to help math teachers identify students who are below grade level and either provide interventions through a pull out or by pushing into the classroom (in more of a co-teaching model).  I absolutely LOVE all of the math teachers at my school; I have worked with many of them through the years on various different committees, so that brings comfort to my new situation.

I will also teach one section of 6th Grade CC Math because they like the classes in 6th grade to have a lower teacher: student ratio, which I think is a great idea.  I will have 16 students in that class, but because we follow the middle school model, they will be staying on their team for 6th grade things for the first two days of school.  I get to meet them on Thursday!

I went to my 7th and 8th grade co-taught classes today to introduce myself quickly, but again they were doing a lot of welcome back to school stuff that wasn’t math related. So I hung out in my room (aka The MALL – Mathematics Assistance & Learning Lab) and hung posters on the VERY bare walls. My room is really the math computer lab, so you will see 29 computers in my pictures. I have tables in the middle of the room for my 6th grade class though.

Since I am BIG on the Math Practices and I had  a lot of wall to cover, I decided to make my Math Practices fit most of the wall. I created the Good Mathematicians header in powerpoint and found a legible large font (Janda Curly Girl) and fit it to the slides, printed on cardstock and laminated it. I had the large Math Practices posters already and I used Sarah Rubin’s Kid Friendly MP bubbles (colored coded to match the posters) and created the numbers to label the practices.  Thanks to @mathequalslove, @msrubinteach & @algebrasfriend for their helpful links and suggestions!  I love how it turned out!

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