Thursday, September 24, 2020

Broken Heart

 In the last two days, I have had conversations with my two eldest sons.  Both were good conversations, full of love and care, but have left me with a broken heart.

Both have young families, and one has a baby due any day.  Both are in situations where they are trying desperately to keep their families safe and healthy.  Both could REALLY use help in the next weeks.  However,  I am back teaching high school in a hybrid model, and thus, I am no longer "safe" and by extension neither is my husband.

I love seeing my students face to face, even if I only see them like this 2 days a week.  They are marvelous students.  Every time I walk into their classroom (yes, the same group of kids stay together all day...we teachers move.  So yes, I am living off a cart), my heart sings.  After a day of teaching remotely for 2 blocks, it renews me to teach face to face.  I cannot stress how much I love being in a classroom with them.  It would (will?) be so difficult if I ever have to go back to full remote teaching.  

One of my sons said, "Mom, you can't leave teaching right now.  You can't even go remote if they offered it to you when kids are still in school."  

"Why not?" I asked.

"Because for some of your kids, you are the only light in their lives.  The only one who can focus on them and let them know how much they matter...even if it is only twice a week. Yes, this sucks for our family and for you and Dad, but our kids have us and they know how much you love them."

But I love and miss my grandchildren with an ache that physically hurts.  One of my sons and his little family lived with us during the worst of the pandemic.  His wife was (is) pregnant but was having horrible "morning" sickness which lasted 24-7.  He was stretched to his limit trying to take care of a 16 mo. old, a wife who felt wretched, and work full time from home.  

"Could we come live with you guys if we all quarantine for 2 weeks first?"  And so began a wonderful adventure of communal living that lasted for several months.  We got to spend SO much time with them and  we became very important to their son.  "Pa" (grandpa) became a god to our grandson.  Now we can't see them at all except via video call. 

I can do a lot of self care when I get overwhelmed with the amount of work I have to do on a daily basis just to do a half-assed job of teaching.  I have never worked so hard or put in so many hours.  But I KNOW how to say, "Enough! Go take a walk, listen to a book, putter around the gardens!"

I do not know how to do self care for a broken heart.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

First Stab at Stand and Talk: Thanks, Sara!

Last night, Sara VanDerWerf was the Global Math Department's presenter.  Sara shared how she does her version of turn and talk:  she calls it Stand and Talk.  If you didn't get to hear her, go NOW and listen.  It will be the best hour you ever spent, and if you want more, go read her blog post about Stand and Talk.

I read her blog post a while back and it kept niggling at me that I needed to do this.  I already try to get students up to the vertical non-permanent surfaces (white boards posted all over the room) each day, but I wanted to make sure students were doing more talking to each other.

Sara's stand and talk strategy is great because students who normally wouldn't get together must get together (she has detailed strategies and directions for this.  I mean it: go listen!).

After listening to Sara last night, I was convicted that I could do this, I just needed to find a prompt that would work for what we were studying.  I thought it would take me a couple of days to come up with a prompt, but then it hit me.

My Algebra 1 kiddos are working on percent of increase and decrease.  Yesterday they were doing a scavenger hunt, and student after student got stuck on the same type of problem.  It was more complicated than a simple "do the subtraction, put the difference in the numerator, the original amount in the denominator, and solve for the percent."

In this type of problem, the percent was given, as was the new amount.  They needed to find the original amount.  And they couldn't.  They were just grabbing numbers and plunking them will-nilly.

Today, once they were partnered, I told them I was giving them a prompt which they were to talk about with their partner for ONE minute.  Both partners were to have an opportunity to say, notice, and/or ask questions to one another.

Here is the prompt:

As I wandered and listened (and it was hard not to laugh out loud when I began hearing arguments about gloobs and blarbs), it was interesting to hear them talk process rather than numbers.  

If a partnership were really stuck, I would ask them "What are 3 things you notice? What else? What are you wondering about? What else?"  (again, thanks to Annie Fetter and Sara VanDerWerf, two great Wonder Women) and then I would walk away (does anyone else find this REALLY hard to do?).  

For other partnerships, I asked what quantities are you noticing?  What relationships are you noticing? (thanks to Grace Kelemanik and Amy Lucenta's Routines for Reasoning).

Most students ended up wandering to white boards and creating a percent proportion as they discussed what they would do first, then, next, after that, and finally.

We wrapped up by letting the proportions stay up and looking around at what people had written: agree/disagree?  "Defend your position."  

Finally, I put up a problem from yesterday.  I asked them to consider the process they had just discovered and the work on the boards.  Every. Student. Got. The. Answer. (and, yes, they included a unit of measure!)

My administrator walked through just before we did this.  At first I was glad, since this was the first time doing something new.  Then I was sad, because the kiddos did such a great job!  

Sunday, September 23, 2018


At our first Faculty meeting on the day before school began, our Administration asked us (strongly suggested) that we have some sort of positive contact with each of our students' parents, some sort of personal contact.

This request was on the heels of the same Administration asking us (strongly suggesting) that we become as paperless as possible.

"How on earth can I write 97 personal notes or emails?  How long would that take me???"

So like the good little educator that I am, I put it out of my mind.  It seemed impossible, so if I ignored  it, maybe it would just go away?

It didn't.

At our monthly Faculty meeting, our Administration showed what one of our teachers did:  made a video introducing himself to his students' parents.

Hmmm.  That brought to mind one of the My Favorites from the first Twitter Math Camp I attended (Oklahoma 2014?).  John Mahlstedt ( @jdmahlstedt ) showed a slide show he made called "32 Things You May or May Not Know About Mr. Mahlstedt".   It was FANTASTIC.

John encouraged us to do the same in order to make us more human to our students.  I did this as soon as I got home (but only 15 things)!  I used it for several years until some of the slides became out dated and I just never got around to updating it.

Hmmm.  Perhaps this slide show would fit the bill.  I pulled it up, brushed it off, updated it with parents in mind, got  input and then the thumbs up from my Administration, and sent it off.

Wow.  I got so MANY responses from so MANY parents.  They had many positive comments, and in turn, they shared many bits of information about their children, and sometimes about themselves.

If you are interested, here is my slide show.  Make sure to hit Present and just keep on clicking!!

Thursday, August 30, 2018

New Year, Fresh Start

This summer I did something VERY new for me: 

I took the summer off.

Really, I did minimal work related to school.  I worked on my Google Level 1 certification and I read Routines for Reasoning by Kelemanik, Lucenta, and Creighton (GREAT read, btw). 

I am somewhere between 4 to 6 years from retiring, but I don't want to stop learning and I don't want to stop helping my students become better life long learners.  However, at the end of the school year, I was truly burnt out.  I realized that all the wonderfulness of Twitter Math Camp, all the blogs written by my inspiring MTBoS colleagues, all the meetings with my fellow teachers ....none of this was going to restore me.  I needed a true "sabbatical", and so I gave myself the wonderful present of mental REST.

Instead of writing curriculum, I cleaned out closets.  Instead of coming up with new lesson plans, I emptied out my home office.  Instead of diving more deeply into Geogebra and all the new Desmos awesomeness, I read novels and took naps.  Instead of travelling to TMC, I spent a long weekend travelling with my 4 remaining siblings to visit our 96 year old uncle!

Jo Boaler posted this today and I couldn't agree with her more:

While I feel like I may have failed some of my students last year,  I am rested and ready to jump back in, throwing caution to the wind.  My students and I are going to do some more and better thinking this year.  (Go read Elizabeth's (@cheesemonkeySF) blog post NOW)

Maybe we won't be the best at routines for reasoning, or with Geogebra or Desmos, or with openers and closers, but we will be thinking and living.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

What Was He Thinking?

A few days ago I gave my kiddos this problem:

We had been reviewing percents and so I tossed this on to a quiz.  I figured they would use either a proportion or change the percent to a decimal first and then multiply.

However, one young man wrote this: (this is my handwriting, recreating what he wrote)

It was 9 p.m. by the time I got to his paper, so I just wrote:  "I think you know what you are doing, but I cannot follow your thinking.  Will you explain it to me?"   

The next day I got together with him and he explained it to me.  It was a simple piece of brilliance.

"First of all," he said, "you have to ignore this."  He pointed to the proportion.  "I was just thinking about stuff."

"Oh, good," I said, relieved.  "You DO know that those are not equivalent, right?"

"Yeah, yeah.  So I knew that 8 of every 100 kids were sick.  So in 600 kids that would make 6 groups of 8 kids, or 48 kids.  Then that also means that in a group of 50 kids, there would be half as many kids sick, so instead of 8 kids, that would be 4 kids.  48 kids and 4 kids would be 52 kids out sick."

I nearly melted.  I absolutely LOVE it when kids have these great ways of seeing things.  

We also worked all week (in our warm ups and review questions on homework) on taking 10% of a number in our heads, which led to taking 20%, 30%, and even 15% in our heads.  One kid asked if we could practice more on finding out how much tip to leave at a restaurant, which also led us to a discussion of why we leave tips, what it means to have a living wage, and the types of bills their parents have to pay.  It was an amazing week with those students!

Saturday, July 22, 2017

A Message for TMC First Timers

To all of you who are headed out to Twitter Math Camp (#TMC17) for the first time:  hang on to your hats... you are in for the ride of a life time!

First of all, I will not be attending this year, so I am sorry I won't get to meet you in person.  There are many reasons for this (two other times away from family already this summer, being chief among them), but also because one of the great things about TMC is the intimacy of it.

Deciding to keep the numbers down means more interaction among more people.  I was blessed to attend this most fabulous of professional development 3 years in a row (thanks to the administration in my school, who supported me professionally and financially), and met some fabulous people with whom I stay in touch via Twitter.  I wanted to make sure I wasn't going to take up a spot that maybe should go to a first timer.

So, First Timers:  go for it! Jump in and learn and share.  You have a lot to contribute, so don't be shy (this coming from a MAJOR introvert).  Be sure to tag along when someone announces a bunch of people are going to dinner.  This is how I met Brian Bushart (@bstockus) and Meg Craig (@mathymeg07).  OR hang around the hotel lobby or restaurant, which is where I got to meet Sarah Martin (@Sarah3Martin) and Max Ray-Reik (@maxmathforum).  Max!..... whose book I had just finished reading on the plane, and who eventually came to my school. He helped me change the way I teach: a small adjustment which has resulted in BIG changes in the way my students and I learn and share.

I even got to meet some of my heroes (and was brave enough to ask for pictures):

But more importantly, I had the opportunity to meet people who live in my geographic area so we could get together for fun and for brain storming!

I hope in the near future, more of this great professional development at TMC will be video taped so others can benefit from it!  (Yes, @cheesemonkeysf, I sure would like to see your morning sessions at TMC17!).  What an amazing library of professional development that would make!  But be sure to visit the wikis and the archives from previous Twitter Math Camps.  They are full of fantastic materials and ideas.

This school year is going to be a real challenge for me.  It is the end of July and I still don't know what courses I will be teaching.  Because of some dual enrollment courses, I will no longer be teaching my favorite Honors Pre-Calculus classes (I don't have the requisite majors/Masters), and may end up teaching some courses I have never taught.  My teaching load will also be increased.  AND we have two new staff joining our math department, to whom I will want to be sure to be available .

But I will not be alone. In addition to the great math faculty at my school, I have a huge Professional Learning Community in the Math Twitter Blogosphere (be sure to go explore it!)  I may be shouting out for help along the way.  Thank you, in advance, to members of MTBoS past, present, and future, for your help!  I will be reading your tweets and posts (especially during TMC 17 time).

One final piece of advice:  Go forth and have a blast, First Timers!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

My Math Autobiography

Once upon a time, math and arithmetic was fun for me.  I enjoyed it, I found it easy and fun.

Then integers happened toward the end of junior high school.  And suddenly nothing made sense.  Well, that isn't TOTALLY true.  Multiplying and dividing integers had a very simple pattern: easy to catch on to, but adding and subtracting integers?   Why not just teach me Chinese....while speaking Russian?  That's how much sense it made to me.

And my teacher had only one way to "explain" it... using a horizontal number line.  Being spacially dyslexic, this was the worst possible way for me.  It was his ONLY tool.

When I got to Algebra 1, I was supposed to already be fluent in this integer-speak.  I learned process quickly.  I absolutely understood how to do and undo.....except I couldn't add or subtract with those integers!  I was just guessing!!!

Midterms came.  I studied so hard: practiced by doing and re-doing old homework assignments and tests.  Our teacher called us up to his desk during silent work time to "stage whisper" our exam grade to us.  I didn't hear him say "C" a grade I was wasn't an ssss sound.  Could all my hard work have paid off?  "Excuse me?" I said.  His reply came through loud and clear, and in the silence all could hear him say:  "D.  As in Dumb."

I wanted to die.

I was truly crushed.  And for a while, I was convinced he was right.  But I knew I was good in other subjects, REALLY good, so this just didn't make sense that I was Dumb in Math.

I muddled through that year, and Geometry was better.  I think I saw all those proofs as puzzles.  But then I got an Algebra 2 teacher who asked me if I could read (I asked for help on several word problems everyone else was too afraid to ask about).

I snapped.  I was done being called stupid.

"Yes, Ma'am, I can.  There is a sign down the hall that says "Guidance" and I think I will take myself down there."  This from skinny, timid Tina  The whole class fell silent as I gathered my books and bag and left.  I had never, ever done such a thing in all the years we had been in school together.

I deposited my stuff in Guidance, told the secretary I would be right back to see my counselor, and then went to my Assistant Principal's office to let him know I had just walked out of my math class.

"Come in, Tina," the Assistant Principal said.  "What seems to be the problem?"

"Well, I just walked out of Mrs. O's class, Dad, and I wanted to let you know.  I was not disrespectful, but I did walk out and will serve whatever detention she or you feel I should get for that.  But I will not go back to that class.  I am going to Guidance to have my Algebra 2 class switched.  You can talk with her and let me know what my consequences are."

Dad nodded, told me to go on my way and he would talk to Mrs. O.  He asked me to close the door on the way out.  I was nearly in the hall when I heard him erupt in laughter.

It was a long, slow climb back to some semblance of confidence in my math ability.  Some decent college experiences helped, but I still stayed away from math as much as I could.

I was trained to teach reading, and it was because of students with learning disabilities who came to me for reading help that math and math education returned to my life. Turned out many of my tutees also needed math help.  These students all struggled with concepts I had struggled with.  Together we came up with ways that helped them or I would think and think and think of how to make this more visual or more hands on for them.  Sometimes they showed ME things that someone else had showed THEM.

In the end, it was my students who made me a better math student, and eventually a better math teacher.  I am forever grateful to them, as my students continue to challenge me and make me grow.