My Teaching Journey

through the intersection of math and middle school

Year 4 and Year 1

School is upon is in Georgia. The first day is tomorrow, and for the first time, my wife and I both get to go to school! It will be my fourth year teaching and her first year teaching. She is teaching three 6th grade English/language arts classes at a middle school across town. She has been waiting for years, literally, to be a teacher, so I thought I’d help her with some legit teacher cred. While not a crafty person, I borrowed an idea from @approx_normal and made her a sign for her door. Don’t all amazing teachers need a cool sign?

While this is a birthday gift for the wife, I’m posting so I can finally be a part of #made4math Mondays.

Giveaway at To the Square Inch

Kate, from To the Square Inch, is giving away a prize package filled with teaching goodies. Head over and enter! It’s got some girly things, as well as some gender-neutral items. If your a guy, enter and give away some of the items to your favorite lady teacher friend.

Items in the giveaway:

  • EOS lip sphere
  • 3 mini BBW hand sanitizers.
  • Scratch and Sniff fruity stickers
  • Pink “Ring Pop” bottle opener
  • R.S.V.P. Multicolor Pens
  • Cupcake shaped paperclips
  • Pink Patterned BINDER CLIPS (my absolute favorite school supply.ever)
  • Mini Note To Self
  • Vera Bradley Cube note pad
  • Strawberry shaped post-its
  • 2 packs of super cute fruity notecards
  • 1 pack of handmade notecards made by my amazing Mama
  • The Sourcebook for Teaching Science
  • Teach Like a Champion Field Guide
  • $5 Starbucks Gift Card

Happy summer! I’ll write more soon about the work I’ve been doing since school ended in May (curriculum writing, planning for a 1:1 classroom, and working on learning targets for next year).

A Change in Position for Next Year

Today our principal told us our teaching teams for next year. I’ll be teaching on a two-person team in seventh grade. Yippee!

I’ve taught math for the last three years–one year in sixth grade and the past two years in eighth grade–so being able to teach seventh grade math will round out my experience in all three grades (but only sort of since the Common Core changes lots of standards).

But wait! I’m on a two-person team, which means I get to teach TWO subjects. My other subject is social studies, and I’m getting more and more excited about it. I was a history major as an undergrad and social studies has always been my first love, although I truly love middle school math topics.

This is what I’m looking forward to next year…

  • My teammate is awesome in every sense of the word.
  • One of the other social studies teachers is as detail-oriented as I am, and we get along famously.
  • Collaborating with other math teachers to further my understanding of high-quality math instruction
  • Collaborating with other social studies teachers. I will have to chance to learn about teaching another subject! So stoked!
  • Collaborating with other content teachers to create awesome interdisciplinary IB units
  • Teaching the same students twice each day. This gives me more time to build relationships and the chance to have a huge positive impact on their learning.
  • I get to learn about the inner workings of seventh graders, who are truly unique animals.

Some of my concerns…

  • Learning new math standards. Since some of the standards will be new, everyone will be learning together, and I can help with standards that are coming down from the eighth grade and standards that are coming up from the sixth grade.
  • Learning social studies content. Is it s cruel joke that they got the guy whose last name is Hussain to teach about Africa and Asia? Just kidding! I’m excited to share my cultural experience with my students. I’m hoping my students can interview my dad about Pakistani culture, and maybe the wife’s sister (who is teaching elementary school in Israel) can be pen pals with my students.

I’ll be content with whomever I teach, on any grade level and in any subject, but I feel very blessed with the way that next year is beginning to take shape.

Logic Puzzles and Math Remediation

We have 9 1/2 days left, and as the year ends, we are holding it together. “It” refers to our students. “Together” means we haven’t had any fights recently, but several of our pooh-bears have had trips to ISS since the Very Big Deal Government Mandated Tests ended last Wednesday.

Our district is one of the last in the region to cut summer school due to the budget constraints (the proposed budget for next year has reductions of almost 8 million dollars compared to this year’s budget). That means students in 5th and 8th grade who fail the Very Big Deal Government Mandated Test must retake it the last week of school rather than after four weeks of summer school (which was really only 13 instructional days last summer due to the four-day week and Memorial Day). The Metro Atlanta counties led the trend a few years ago, and I’ve heard lots of details from the mom-in-law about her elementary school’s model, so I wasn’t too surprised about the widespread upheaval it caused in the eighth grade.

Since students have to retake The Tests in math and reading, we were instructed by the district to begin remediation with students this week. We made groups based on benchmark exams and class performance, and brought back three of our student teachers as subs to help cover classes while math and ELA teachers are remediating. I know this is the reality of budgets and such, but it’s not a whole lot of fun. I already taught a math ELT (“extended learning time” or “extra learning time”), which is for the students who struggle in math, and that class is still meeting. Almost all of my math ELT students are in the math remediation, and some still have a regular math class, which means they may have three hours of a math instruction and forty-five minutes of math computer intervention before coming to me in ELT at the end of the day.

I’m not doing more remediation in ELT. Today I gave them the choice of previewing ninth grade math content, reviewing eighth grade math content, or doing logic puzzles. They chose to split each period between previewing ninth grade content and logic puzzles.

Today I threw this up (thanks to a guest post on Continuous Everywhere but Differentiable Nowhere a while ago). It didn’t fail, just like Anand said. They weren’t in the mood to write anything, but a small and passionate crowd gathered at the SmartBoard. Look closely; one student even turned the picture upside down and sideways at one point because he thought it would help solve the problem. I’ll have to break the news to them tomorrow that it’s impossible to solve.

I’ve dreaded ELT for the past three days, but I’m looking forward to it tomorrow…logic puzzles and factoring quadratics, here we come!

EDMS Presentation Links

Powerpoint slides (.pptx or .pdf)   |   Handout (.pdf)

New Teacher Resources

  • A six-page list of assessment strategies with lots of options for checking understanding at the end of a class
  • My collection of Teaching Ideas – This is a Google Document that contains my running list of good ideas. I haven’t had the chance to use most of them, but keep the list as a place to add new ideas. I refer to it at the beginning of each school year as I decide what changes to make from the previous year. Please comment on what is there by using use the comment feature (duh) to leave your thoughts.
  • Building Our Classroom – A collaborative site created by two preservice teachers as an “organized collection of thoughts about what makes a classroom work…everything from the nitty-gritty to the whopper questions, from homework hand-in to common core values.” There are 7 categories across the top of the site (e.g., Physical Spaces, Norms), with many specific topics in each one. Many of the comments are from educators who are well-known bloggers and spend a great deal of time advancing the online education community.
  • Success in the Classroom – From the site tagline: “Practical tips and strategies for new teachers and student teachers”
  • DisciplineHelp – “A resource for handling 124 behaviors at school and at home.” Register for a free account to get access to all 124 behaviors. Behaviors are divided by category (e.g., Attention, Power), and given helpful names (e.g., The Blurter, The Rude). It’s definitely worth using as soon as you start to become familiar with your students.
  • TeacherVision’s New Teacher Resources – There is a multitude of categories, each with several short pieces of advice. I enjoy going through the categories and finding a gem of an idea to implement in my class.
  • The Cornerstone for Teachers

Twitter for Educators: Twitter Hashtags for Educators

Blog Links: Educational Blogs by Discipline (a rather comprehensive list)

Blogs for Middle School Teachers (these are my favorite due to their creative lessons, helpful advice, or my ability to relate to them as an educator)

  • Bluebird’s Classroom – Mrs. Bluebird writes about her seventh grade classroom and her students. Her writing is always relevant to a middle school teacher and frequently humorous as well.
  • Always Formative – Jason Buell teaches middle school science and uses standards-based grading in his classes
  • The Line – Dina is a seventh-grade ELA teacher; her blog is the sole recommendation from my wife
  • The Teacher’s Lounge  – there are several educators who post here about a variety of teaching tips and issues (refer their post on who writes for the blog)
  • Crazy Teaching – Terie teaches high school science in Illinios in a one-to-one classroom; she uses a variety of project-based learning and Web 2.0 tools to teach her students

Blogs for math teachers

  • I Speak Math – Julie teaches 6th and 7th grade in North Carolina; she includes lots of foldables
  • Mathemagical Molly – Molly is  first year high school math teacher in Philadelphia
  • Mathy McMatherson – Daniel is a first year high school math teacher in Arizona
  • Teaching Ninja – A high school math teacher in her 8th year of teaching; she has some good posts on number sense
  • Overthinking my Teaching – Christopher is a former middle school math teacher and current math education professor in Minnesota; I mentally equate him to a Dr. Dorothy White of the blogging world.
  • f(t) – Kate is a high school math teacher who writes a lot of the curriculum she uses and shares much of it on her blog
  • Questions? – David Cox has been teaching middle school math since 2005; he focuses largely on how he can deepen his students’ thinking
  • dy/dan – Dan Meyer’s blog is what first started my interest in blogging; he used to write a lot about his classroom, but more recently has been writing about math curriculum and big ideas in math education.

Other online resources:

  • Teaching Channel – a large and growing selection of videos created by educators on topics including differentiation, lesson planning, assessment, collaboration, and Common Core; videos can be sorted by topic, subject, or grade level
  • Pinterest – search for a term (“middle school organization” or “linear equations”) to get lots of ideas
  • Free Technology for Teachers – includes ideas for integrating technology in all subject areas; frequent posts/updates

Book Recommendations

My resources for being a lifelong learner:

New Kids on the Block

Every year in April, there is one day to which I look forward. I look forward to it for weeks in advance. I can’t sleep the night before. I get nervous. It’s kinda like when you were a kid and your birthday never seemed to get any closer.

This is how I feel about facilitating a presentation for the UGA middle school education student teachers. I get to do that next Monday. I started working on the presentation a few weeks ago, incorporating a few ideas I had thought of in January. Last year I focused on techniques of effective teachers, using the blogosphere for your own professional development, and standards-based grading. For the techniques of effective teaching, I pulled from a running list that I keep in Google Docs, which I’ve collected from my preservice experience, teaching books, and the blogosphere; feel free to add your comments. I also shared some of my personal brainstorming ideas about teaching; again, feel free to add your comments. I tried to cover too much. Everyone was good until I got the standards-based grading, and then their eyes glazed over.

This year, I’m sticking to the first two topics–techniques of effective teachers and using the blogosphere for your own PD–with a heavy emphasis on the latter, as well as including resources from across the web (both blogs and non-blog resources). The six-panel meme at the top is how I’m going to segue into the section on needing to continue your own PD. Here are some of the ideas I’m including:

If you were presenting to 50 preservice teachers who had just finished their student teaching, what resources would you share with them?

Foldable for Linear Relationships and Graphing

Kudos to I Speak Math for the recent math activities she has posted; I sent the Human Box and Whisk-ers Plot activity to my seventh grade colleagues since Box and Whisker Plots are a seventh grade standard in Georgia, while I latched on to the foldable for reviewing linear relationships, which is the most significant eighth grade concept that I teach.

Since I Speak Math posted the Microsoft Word file, I made a few changes based on how I taught the concepts and what my students need to know. I left out domain and range but added the lyrics to Missy Elliot’s “Work It” since that’s how I taught perpendicular slopes.

As I was sharing the idea with my instructional coach this week, she immediately asked if I was going to make a large one. Confused and curious, I asked how. She said the tri-fold reminded her of the large tri-fold display boards used for poster presentations, of which she had several blank one. Awesome idea! I’ll post pictures when I (or my student teacher) finishes it.

Here are the links to my version of the foldable: PDF file and Word file

Area Diagrams to Scale

Mathy McMatherson requested a little help with an area diagram to scale. The result is not as nice as something Dan Meyer or others could make, but hopefully it will do for now. Perhaps one day I’ll ask my wife to show me the ropes of Adobe Illustrator.

Check out the Microsoft Word 2007 file or the PDF file.

Included shapes: square yard, square foot, square inch, square centimeter

My Classroom

The view of my classroom from the door. The whiteboard and front of the room are to the right.

I always enjoy visiting other teachers’ classrooms and seeing how they have crafted their physical space to accomodate their learners and their personality. I thought it would be fitting to share my classroom.

1. Two sets of trays for papers (one set of papers to be graded and one set of papers to be handed back); there is one tray for each period in each set

2. Tables – I started the year with traditional rows and then transitioned to pairs once my students learned my expectations. I have recently transitioned to tables of four. I’ll write about how that is going in another post. I haven’t abandoned it yet, though, so that’s an indication that it is doing as well or better than pairs.

3. The Back Shelf – There is a section for each period to leave their binders when I collect them for notebook checks. Some students choose to leave them in class when they don’t have homework.

4. Paper chains  – Each class has a paper chain; it’s length is determined by their behavior during class. I’ll write more about this topic in another post.

5. The Georgia Performance Standards – These are all of the standards that I teach my students during 8th grade. They cover the wall on both sides of the visible window. The set on the very right that are cut off is where they end. I use an arrow with silly putty to show the current standard or element.

6. My Desk – It’s in the back of the room rather than the front. I decided that I was sitting too much before or after school while doing work on my computer, so I moved my desk to the back. It serves a great purpose there by defending my cabinet and window from curious students; last year I was frequently bothered when students opened the window, but this year I haven’t had any problems. It is also currently serving at my student teacher’s desk since I rarely use it.

The view from the back. The previous picture was taken from the open door.

7. Word wall – The words for the current unit live behind the door. That way they are easy for everyone it see.

8. Shelf by the door – The pencil sharpener is on the shelf (in a plastic crate to prevent shavings from running amuck – it’s amazing!), as well as a sign-out sheet and three-hole punch for student use.

9. Small whiteboard – At the beginning of the year, I chose two students each week to be my classroom helpers. They would be the students I picked all week when I needed to hand out or collect papers, calculators, white boards, etc. I stopped using them consistently, so I changed the whiteboard to show the topic of the day, which I want students to write in their agenda daily. It also shows that night’s homework assignment.

10. Days of the week – I write upcoming events here for students to see, such as due dates, quizzes, or class events.

11. Whiteboard – This section of the whiteboard holds the date, essential question, and current standard (yes, again). I write the topic of the standard rather than the standard verbatim, and also list vocabulary that we will be using.

12. Smartboard – I wish it would calibrate properly and stay calibrated. I could teach without a Smartboard, but not without a projector. I do have a wireless slate from SmartTech, which I like a lot.

13. Clipboards – I use one for each class with a new page each week to record grades, attendance, and behavioral issues. This is a recently implemented system, and while I don’t love having to remember to grab the clipboard at the beginning of each class, it makes documentation and attendance a breeze. It also fits in the the school-wide PBIS revisions that I recently helped implement.

14. Laptop – While I moved my desk to the back of the class, my laptop had to stay at the front to connect to the projector. I used a short filing cabinet and two milk crates to create a standing desk. It prevents me from losing track of time before or after school because I have to stand to complete any work.

Now that you’ve seen mine, care to share and suggestions? How can I improve any of the systems I mentioned, or what do you have in your classroom that I could implement to make my life easier or my teaching better?

The Unforeseen Monster

We may have a gambling problem at school.

Let me explain. My school has a great new principal, and one of the things she encouraged early in the year were revisions to our positive behavior system. We resurrected the PBIS committee (we say “P-B-I-S” because “peebis” makes everyone feel awkward). I’m one of the co-facilitators.

The faculty that volunteered to be a part of the committee are awesome, dedicated, hardworking teachers. They had some amazing ideas. After many weeks, we settled on a pseudo-real world model where teachers pay students weekly with our school currency (the Pawbuck) based on the student’s individual behavior. Each student starts at a pay rate of 5 Pawbucks in each period and can lose them for a variety of infractions (being tardy or absent, not following class rules, etc). Students can earn up to 35 Pawbucks each week since they have 7 classes.

We had Pawbucks, but they were photocopied on different colored paper by grade level and looked, to be polite, lame. So, we enlisted a teacher who is a former graphic designer to create new Pawbucks for the school. We decided to have them printed as business cards so they are sturdier can can be reused; the school ordered 30,000 of them. (On a side note, I was very impressed with the customer service at Vistaprint when I called to order them).

Also, the only place the students could use the old Pawbucks was in the school store, which had offerings that few students considered spectacular. The PBIS committee created a list of incentives that students would like based on student surveys, thus making the Pawbucks desirable. The incentives include Sunshine breaks, no uniform days, and eat anywhere in the cafeteria days, among others.

Last Monday was the first payday. In class today, I overheard one student talking about how they had bet another student that the University of Alabama would win the BCS Championship game. The other students was apparently a fan of Louisiana State, so they took the bet. Student 2 lost all of his Pawbucks to Student 1. Our school currency is so valuable now that it is being used to gamble! The part of the tale that makes it even better is that Student 1 has a difficult time earning Pawbucks in class. He earned 3 or 4 of a possible 10 from me last week (I have him for two periods).  Ah, middle schoolers! How I never tire of working with you!

We wanted to implement a system that is analogous to the real world. We didn’t think about what some adults do with their money once they earn it. Oh well. Baby steps, right?

I found out more information about the unforeseen monster. Some seventh grade students were caught in the bathroom playing craps with their Pawbucks; they may have also been playing during a school assembly. In eighth grade, students are bartering with their Pawbucks. One student sold a pair of headphones to another student in exchange for Pawbucks; another student sold a watch.