Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Why #NCTM ?

I started teaching middle school mathematics 5 years ago. I had an alternate route certificate, granted by the state of South Carolina due to my earned B.S. in Mathematics. I knew my math, but I knew nothing about education, classroom management, assessment writing, formative assessments, lesson planning or writing, or anything else that a teacher should know. I was pretty much a girl off the street who knew some math, tasked with teaching math to at-risk kids (all of whom were much below grade-level, and many of whom had significant behavior issues). I had no clue what I was doing. But I was enthusiastic and passionate. And smart. I was determined to figure it out.

One of the first resources I stumbled upon was the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) website. I spent some time clicking around, looking at all the cool resources available to me. I didn't immediately become a member, but I did get my school to pay for me to participate in two webinars. The first was about how to use YouTube videos to motivate students in mathematics classes. The second was about helping students to create number sense. I found both webinars to be infinitely useful. Five years later I'm still using two specific ideas I gained from these experiences:

1) Fraction Jackson

    This is a hilarious video that my students really enjoy. I use it in a few ways. First, I use to as a hook into a fractions topic or unit. It gets my kids excited and invested in the lesson. They are eager to see what's coming next. This isn't always easy to do, so I appreciated a resource that helps me do that.  

Secondly, at the advice of the person who led the the webinar, I have students watch the video twice. The first time students are just enjoying the video. They are watching, singing, laughing etc. I immediately play it again, but this time ask the students to find the math  mistakes that Fraction Jackson says or writes. This has worked as a great way to get my students thinking mathematically in the context of a video that they really enjoy.

2) Fraction Division

       Dividing with fractions is hard to understand. In the past (and maybe still now) teachers just taught the "invert and multiply" rule, also know as "Keep , Change, Flip". This is the way I learned when I was in middle school. It works for some kids. They memorize a rule and conceptual understanding comes later. maybe years later. However, the CCSS is really pushing teachers to emphasize conceptual understanding FIRST, and then teach a rule or algorithm, if at all. The thought is that if students understand the concepts and have tools to model their thinking, they can achieve the correct answer. However, if a student only learns a rule, and then forgets it, what is he/she to do?

I participated in a webinar titled "Why Don't My Students Have Number Sense?" where the presenter showed a way to help students make sense of dividing whole numbers by fractions. He showed the following list:

He said that students should be shown this list and asked to search for patterns and then predict/approximate the answer of the last problem. Students should use mathematical reasoning and patterns to explain their thoughts. Though this may seem like an obvious task, it never occurred to me in my first year of teaching. In fact, no teacher ever had showed me something similar and asked me to make sense of how the outcomes are effected when the divisor increases/decreases. I found this activity meaningful for my own understanding, and my students always find it meaningful. When they have trouble working through a task and making the appropriate connections, I always remind them of this list and ask them to recall the pattern. Sure, students still have to model or use an algorithm to get the right answer. BUT, they are able to use number sense and reasoning to approximate the answer, which is arguably a much more valuable skill then simply "getting" the right answer.

Shortly after participating in these two webinars, I decided to spend the money to become a member of NCTM. Soon after, I started receiving "Teaching Mathematics in the Middle School", the middle school mathematics journal published by NCTM. This magazine/journal is, by far, the best mathematics resource I have ever come across. The articles are well done and meaningful, the activities are engaging and easy to use. My favorite sections are "Cartoon Corner", "Solve it!", and "Math for Real". I used both a Cartoon Corner and Solve it! activity when I went through the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards Certification (NBPTS) process and got great lessons that provided me awesome videos to submit as part of my portfolio.

 I have been wanting to attend the Annual Meeting for YEARS. Every year I scope out the location and dates, hoping that this will be the year I can find the funds and get my principal to grant me the professional days, so that I can attend. 2015 was my year!

I have an awesome principal who really believes in investing in her people, especially the people who WANT to learn more and be better. School districts don't typically provide a lot of content-specific professional development. I don't know why, as I think content-focused PD is the best way to improve teachers' instruction.

 I was so excited when I got permission to travel to Boston for the Annual Meeting. I started planning my sessions right away!

Reviews of each session I attended while at NCTM Boston are coming next!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Just Something I'm Thinking About....

I recently went to school/work for a paid summer work day, to work on writing and rewriting units using a very prescribed unit planner template that is part of the International Baccalaureate Program. (I work at an IB school.)

It must be said that I'm not a fan of IB. I don't think it works well for my students. I don't think it matches their needs or deficits. I don't' think it prioritizes the basic needs of the at-risk learner. I think it's an awesome program designed for a more advanced and affluent student than I teach. Many would argue against me, including some of my colleagues and definitely my principal. But I think what I think. I know my kids. I know what engages them, what interests them, and how they learn. IB isn't it, if you ask me. (No one did.)

It also must be said that I HATE being told HOW to do my job - by anyone. I know there are certain things I must do, like lesson plan, teach the standards, communicate with parents, take attendance etc. But I hate a template for things. I feel like I know best what I need to do a good job. I know what my kids need. I know how to convey math topics. I don't need to write down the materials needed for the lesson to know what I need. Writing it down is redundant and wastes time. I could go on, but won't.

So I find myself at school, sitting in front of a computer, staring at this unit planner given to me, and feeling ANGRY. Not frustrated, bored, or overwhelmed, but ANGRY. I'm mad that I have to use this template. Mad that I have to change what I do (that works!!!) to fit in these dumb boxes. I'm mad that I have to give a "Global Context" for teaching integers, when the standards just says that students should used number lines and other models to represent integer operations. What does a Global Context have to do with that? I'm so mad I can't work. I hate the whole idea of this. I hate that I'm forced to do it. And I hate that I have to spend time doing work that doesn't matter to me, and won't benefit what I do in the classroom. 

My mind immediately goes to avoidance techniques. I start wondering, and saying out loud to a friend, "This template doesn't work for math. Do you think I really have to use it? Who's gonna know if I don't? Who's gonna check?" I sit and waste time. I check my email. I go to the bathroom. I do everything but work.

Then it hits me. This is what my students feel like when I give them work they don't want to do. They are mad. They are frustrated. They avoid using any excuse they can think of. I'm 28, college educated, and usually a pleaser, and even I dig in my heels and go against what's asked of me. How can I ask more of an at-risk 7th grader (with poor impulse control, a minimal desire to pass, and a chaotic home life) then I am capable of myself?

Of course, the answer is that I cannot. So the question I'm asking is: What can I do to motivate my students to do work, when it's not important to them? How can I help students whose first reaction is to avoid, to engage in the work? (keep in mind that I strongly believe that not ALL content is real-life relevant or fun. sometimes one just has to work because one has to work. blah, i know)

This is just something I've been thinking about.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Mrs. Barber's Class :)

So, this is my 4th year teaching 7th grade math, and I LOVE it. My students' needs are a constant motivator to be better at what I do - the best math teacher they've ever had - the teacher that convinces them that math isn't "too hard". This is my focus every day - and is the reason I want to spend the time to get involved with the amazing teachers of the MTBoS :) Over the past 4 years, and through much trial and error, I've developed a two things that I think make my classroom distinctly mine:

1)  Individual Whiteboards
       I teach mostly students who are 2+ grade-levels behind who need LOTS of guided instruction before they are ready to tackle the 7th grade standards on their own. On the days when we are learning a new skill/concept we do guided instruction with individual whiteboards.

       I bought a few large sheets of marker board/shower board at Lowe's and had my dad and husband cut them  into 10 inch by 12 inch individual boards. I bought several yards of fleece at a fabric store that I cut into small squares that the students use as erasers - and I buy tons of markers at the beginning of each school year.

     After I introduce a new topic and my students take notes in their Interactive Notebooks, we pass out the boards, markers, and erasers and get to work! I present problems one at a time and the students show me their work and answers when they finish. I use a colored marker (students use black) and correct mistakes and add tips and pointers. I use words like "Great!" and "Beautiful!" for good work/right answers and words like "Try Again!" or "Look at _____!"  when discussing students' work with them. I never use the word "wrong"  or "incorrect" because my students shut-down easily.

    My students love this activity - and feel safe to try because they know I'm not grading their answers. I love this activity because it gives me a good picture of where my class is with the concept/skill before they leave my class for the day. I know who "got it" and who is still struggling - and how I should focus my energy the next day.

2) Constant Review
      Each day the students complete a 4-6 question "Get Started" that covers material that we studied earlier in the year, or skills the students struggle with and will need to access the 7th grade standards (i.e. multi-digit multiplication, rounding, subtraction with borrowing etc). This format keeps new skills fresh in my students minds (retention is an issue for them), and provides the opportunity for mini-lessons on remedial skills necessary for 7th grade. I used to do this activity on paper in a work-sheet format, but once I moved to a school where every student is issued an iPad, I've started using www.thatquiz.org to create and grade these assignments.

Constant and cumulative review is the single most important thing I do in my classroom to increase student achievement and I will do it as long as I teach!

*** Disclaimer: Obviously whiteboards and spiraling review are not ideas I came up with.  These are concepts are ideas I borrowed and adapted to meet the needs of me and my students. I give full credit to my first-year teacher mentor for inspiring the daily review format - and I credit a bunch of trial and error to discovering that individual whiteboards can be highly motivating for my students, and an AWESOME formative assessment for me :)***

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Interactive Student Notebooks and Foldable #1

I've been reading A LOT about Interactive Student Notebooks. I spent all summer researching, planning and thinking about how to best implement an ISN in my classroom. Up until a week before school I was convinced of what a GREAT idea they are, but I know myself. I am not organized. My desk and teacher tables are a mess. I misplace pens and papers and notebooks constantly. My students love to laugh at me looking for things that are right in front of my face. It's a vice that I'm working on, but it's not fixed yet :) I couldn't see how I would ever be able to effectively maintain the amount of organization required.

After discussing it with a colleague and reading Sarah Rubin's amazing how-to guide (here), I decided to commit. I KNOW this will be good for both me and my students!

Following Sarah's guide, I spent the whole first week of school doing the following:

1. Decorating the cover of the composition book
2. Setting up the Table of Contents
3. Going over class rules and procedures (in the ISN).
4. Completing a learning style survey
5. Take a multiple intelligences inventory

(all of this was borrowed from here)

In keeping with the the Interactive part of the ISN, I want to use more foldables this year. I am starting the year teaching Box-and-Whisker Plots and created a foldable in Powerpoint for students to take notes. This foldable covers the 10-step method of creating a plot (an idea I got from a colleague at the school where I worked last year).

TO C M LULU DI (To See my LuLu die)

(Yes I know this is kinda weird and morbid. But, I promise, the kids remember it!)

T - Title
O - put data set in order, least to greatest
C - create a number line
M - median
L - lower extreme
U - upper extreme
L - Lower quartile
U - Upper quartile
D - draw box-whiskers

I like to create foldables in Powerpoint, because I find it easier to align things and move things to exactly where I need them. It seems like I am always fighting with Word on the formatting. I copied these 2 pages front and back, then had the students fold on the solid lines and cut on the dashed lines. This created a 10 tab (one for each step) foldable.

BAWP Foldable

Here is a picture of the final product:

I like to teach box-and-whisker plots at the beginning of the year so that I can do lots of examples using class data (like class test grades) to reinforce. I have found that this topic is really difficult for many of my below grade-level students and the constanst reinforcement all year really helps!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Awesome Target Finds for 30 Cents!

The dollar section at Target is awesome, especially for teachers. This past weekend, I got a ton of stuff 70% off. I got each of these items for 30 cents each and couldn't be more excited!
Lesson plan book, foam clock, spanish reward stickets, memo book, student planner, 2 self-inking stamps and 6 small plastic containers!
Unfortunately, many of my 7th graders can't read an traditional clock with hands etc. They beg me to hang up a digital clock, but I refuse. We are going to learn to tell time the old school way if it kills me. I plan to hang this on the whiteboard with magnets and do a few problems with them during the warm-up, hoping they will catch on over time.

Love these spanish stickers! I plan to keep one for myself and give one to my fellow cheerleading coach and 2nd year spanish teacher. (update: gave her the stickers and she was SO excited and eager to use them. I love to give other people presents they really enjoy :) )
These self inking stamps are the best, especially for 30 cents. I think I will be going back to see if I can get a few more :)

Metric Measurement and Valentine's Day

This is an old post I wrote right after Valentine's day, but never posted. Not sure why. Either way, I think it's worth reading:

One of the things I love about middle school is that the kids are still 'little' enough to enjoy cutesy things. Even though they often drive me crazy, I really wanted to get my  kids Valentines this year. I ignored the day last year and felt like such a scrooge. So last night I went to Target and bought Fun Dip Valentine's, thinking I would pass them out to the students at the end of the period.

On the drive to school this morning (I commute an hour one-way) I got to thinking about how I would give out the candy without losing a bunch of class time. I couldn't just hand it out on the way out the door because Fun Dip is a time consuming candy, and I am sure the other teachers wouldn't appreciate me giving the kids candy and setting them free in the halls.

I didn't want to use my class time either, though. I really value my class time. I hardly let kids go to the bathroom etc. I always tell them "We don't miss math class, no matter what!" I try really hard to make sure every minute is well spent. I kept struggling to find a way to make the Fun Dip relevant and part of the instruction.

Here is what I did:

Today we learned Metric Measurement. Students learned to convert between metric measurements by counting jumps and moving decimals (we'll cover the multiply and dividing the rest of this week), using KING HENRY DIED BY DRINKING CHOCOLATE MILK. 

As an exit ticket, students were given their pack of fun dip. Students had to read the package and find it's mass (measured in grams). Then they converted that mass into 3 other units; kilograms, centigrams, and milligrams. When they were done, and had all 3 correct, they were allowed to spend the remaining few minutes eating their treat! The students loved it! They were so eager to try, worked hard for the correct answer, and celebrated in their success :) I was such a happy teacher!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Rate of Change

Many of the 7th grade standards in South Carolina have me cover topics very briefly. If I follow the standard exactly I have to literally fight to stay away from such obvious progressions of the math that are supposed to be taught in Algebra 1 and beyond. I find this extremely frustrating, because I feel like I'm trying to fool my students into thinking that this really is all there is to whatever topic we're covering.

Most recently this has come up in a 2-week unit I just finished with my 7th grade advanced students on Rate of Change. The standards say:

7-3.2 Analyze tables and graphs to determine the rate of change between and among quantities.
7-3.3 Understand slope of a constant rate of change.

I began this unit with filling in a function table with a given x-value and rule to find y. We then wrote a sentence describing the rate of change such as:

        As x increases by 3, y decreases by 1.

The students were then to determine if the 'Rate of Change' is constant or not constant, based on the ability to write of a sentence structured like the one above. This went pretty well. Most students were able to fill in the function table with no problem, and determining the Rate of Change was easy! Yay!

The next day we began studying graphs. Each graph had a line with drawn points. Students were to study the graph, translate the points to a table, and write a Rate of Change sentence in the same format as the day before. This was a bit more of a struggle since we haven't done an direct instruction on reading a graph, or plotting points. (Every holiday I have them graph a holiday picture for a day of 'fun math' that is still relevant and standards-based. The students seem to enjoy it and they get the much needed practice.)

The next day was supposed to be focused on slope. I put several graphs on my Promethean board. We wrote a Rate of Change sentence for each. We colored in the graph. I then urged the students to look at each picture carefully. I asked, "What do you notice about all the graphs?", "What do they all have in common?" It took some time, but we eventually got to the desired answer: "They are all straight lines!". Yay!

Now this is really where the standard ends. All I had to do was tell them that if the Rate of Change is constant then the line is straight. If the line is straight then it has as "Slope". And finally, Slope is a fancy math word for "Rate of Change".

But I couldn't stand it. I hate to leave my kids hanging. There is such an obvious and easy step right in front of them. I don't have to teach it. In fact, I try to only teach the standards in my classroom because standardized test acheivement is so 'important'. Rarely do I go above and beyond. I hate it, but it's true. This time I couldn't take it. We had to talk about slope. We defined slope, measured/calculated slope using Rise/Run and then made connections between tables, graphs, ROC sentences, slope and the function rule.

To sum it all up we completed a card sort where students were given 6 graphs, 6 rules, 6 tables, 6 slopes, and 6 sentences. Students worked in groups of 4-5 to sort the cards into groups were the rule matched the table, matched the graph, matched the slope, and finally matched the sentence. There were 4 sets of these cards that were traded between groups. Here are a few pics:

This card sort really helped my students make the connections between graphs, tables, Rate of Change, and slope. It was struggle for them to 'sort' it all out, but once they did, I knew they knew it!

In the end I am so glad I took the extra step. The kids got it. I probably saved the Algebra 1 teacher a day or two  of instruction for next year (if the kids remember what they learned), and the students understand how this all works together. It was all I could do to not keep going into equations of a line, y-intercepts, etc! Oh well...back to the standards it is...