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Year 17 Completed, Now On To Something Different

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What 17 Years of Teacher Stuff Looks Like

As I watch one final student in my classes take her final exam, I have a moment to pause, reflect, and blog about this whirlwind of a year. I’ve grown in so many ways and still have areas to work on but I feel great about my accomplishments and look forward to the future. Here is my Top Ten List of reflections on this last year.

1.) Increased Technology Integration

It is NO secret that I love technology. However, I am judicious about what I utilize in my classroom and whether it is using technology to improve on instruction or just as a replacement of something else I already do. Annie Forest had a blog post (that for the life of me and my Googling skills, I cannot locate) regarding her necessary needs for tech and it really makes you think about how, what, when, and where to use tech in your classroom. Some of my favorite tools this year include Google items like Docs and Sheets (even though I do not have a Google classroom), Geogebra, Desmos Activities and the calculator (especially when students thought that they were “cheating” by using the tool because of it’s ease of use), Khan Academy, Bitmojis and my Bitmoji post-its, Ted videos, Schoology, Twitter, the Post-It App to capture my daily “gots” and “needs” and our new gradebook through PowerSchool. I’ve gotten awesome with using SMART Notebook and one of my favorite things about it is drawing geometry pictures with ease, screen shotting, and inserting the diagram into a totally different program. I have involved my students now more than ever into the actual use of tech in my classroom but one aspect that I need to work on even more in the years to come is giving students even more voice and choice when it comes to using tech.

2.) One Expectation

Spurred on by reading Sara Vanderwerf’s blog, I took on the new mindset in class of one, HIGH expectation “50 minutes of math”. I plan to kick off my class in this manner next year as well. I used to have five expectations, per my discipline plan from college, but loved streamlining it down to just the ONE. Students this year would often quote that expectation not only back to me but to each other if other students got off task. I was amazed at how well it worked.

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I loved having a sign up for students to come see me to get help. It helped protect my time yet give them what they needed.

3.) Getting to Know My Students Better

One of my main goals this year was to get to know my students better. Inspired by another Sara Vanderwerf blog, I successfully did a MUCH better job of this through my own table tent activity (you should do this!), really making a concerted effort to ALWAYS stand at my door (to which if I was NOT standing there I often would find a student in my place acting “like me” by saying things like “hey, girl, hey” and how are you doing), and through activities like the 5x2x10 (5 students, 2 minutes per day, 10 days of me checking in and having a one-on-one conversation). I know that I can only improve on these activities but I really felt like I improved greatly over past years when it comes to this area of my teaching practice.

4.) No (Obligatory) Homework

I fully embraced this idea second semester. I was not happy with what I was getting from students in terms of the homework that I was assigning. Many of the assignments were copied or students would actually do the whole assignment but would sometimes practice skills 10 times INCORRECTLY. I realized that my aims for homework were not being met. Specifically, I wanted students to practice the skills from class on their own. The students who were typically doing the assignments did not really need the practice and the students who were not doing the assignments were not getting the practice they needed. I made all of my homework assignments optional. To address the need to have students practice skills correctly, I used Khan Academy so that students would get feedback immediately. Students who did not respond well to Khan Academy could “opt out” of the assignment without detriment to their grade. Although this system was FAR from perfect, the understanding/scores/grades in my classes was at least comparable if not better when compared to other classes in my school and my personal experience and grades from previous years. The system needs tweaking for sure but I loved some of the outcomes in class when I could point back to the idea of 50 minutes of math. Not having obligatory homework meant more time in class to do activities like the one pictured below since we didn’t have to go through the answers. In the future, I want to incorporate “Math at Home” activities for students to do with their parent/guardian related to the math that is present at home (money required for purchasing groceries and the tax involved, looking at yearly income tax documents, the math in measuring for making dinner or the math in sports etc)

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Although my prism project in class did not go completely as planned, I really liked having the opportunity to try something new, potentially fail, and learn from the experience. I hope that I can provide that same sense of comfort to teachers that I work with next year.

5.) New Job

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Next fall, I step into a new position as the Division Leader for STEM which includes Math, Science and CTE departments. I am excited for the new opportunity to have a different impact with students. At the same time, I didn’t realize how much of a voice I had while I was a teacher and how my voice can potentially be different in this new position. I have found myself really considering what I say, when I say it and how I say it so much more than I did before. This isn’t a bad thing but I wish I would’ve learned that lesson before now. Treasure your teacher voice, it is much more powerful than you probably believe. I want to scream from the rooftops that “I am the same ol’ G” but I know, in reality, that I will change. My hope is to stay true to me and to always keep students at the forefront of my decisions and actions.

6.) Phone Usage In Class

Given my open integration of tech in class, students have more access to potentially distracting applications in tech. I believe that school is a great place to learn about the appropriate use of technology. If students don’t learn in school, where do we expect them to learn these lessons in an authentic atmosphere. We have to approach students as the tech integrating learners they are though. We cannot expect that they will be perfect all of the time, students never have been. Even “back in the day” we passed notes, whispered conversations, and played games unrelated to the school tasks at hand. Today, adults have addictions to apps and games (think Candy Crush, or checking the likes on your status, etc). We have to use the time with our students to help them figure out how distracting their devices can be, how to focus appropriately in class, and how to manage our classroom goals while using technology. I am happy with the work that I did in this area but I am looking to improve upon it in the year to come.

7.) Grace and Presence

I’ve afforded myself more grace this year. By giving myself more grace, I found it easier to also empathize and extend more grace to my students as well. To paraphrase Angela Watson, ease your high expectations of yourself so that the only person that notices is you but so that you allow yourself the margin necessary to decrease some of the stress. I feel much more balanced. Almost everyday this semester has included a daily practice of meditation upon arrival at work. That practice has helped to focus my actions especially in the critical beginning of each school day. I also noticed that on days where I skipped the practice, I didn’t feel as in touch with the moment. Being present with my students from moment to moment and day to day has really helped me be a better instructor and work on my students needs. This work will always be something of a work in progress, however, I am enjoying this journey and look forward to what can be produced in the days to come.

8.) Math Play Table

I hope to have a play table even in my office next year. It draws students and adults alike into the room and engages them in math without them even knowing. It is really one of my favorite additions this school year.

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9.) New Visioning and ToDo Lists

This semester I worked through Angela Watson’s 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club. The club has been beneficial to my practice. The audio recordings were well matched with the times of the schoolyear presented and I love the way that she presents how to schedule your home and workweek. I will fully disclose that if you sign up for her club this month and mention me, she is offering a great deal to current members, HOWEVER, I would fully recommend this club even without the great deal. It has helped with many of the positive attributes noted above.

10.) Still Growing

I love that I can look back at this year and see that I am still growing as an educator. I am excited for the year ahead. I know I am not perfect and never will be however, I am proud of the work I’ve done this year and I can’t wait to take on the challenge of next year.

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I FINALLY ditched my old lesson plan books.  I had lesson plan books from my FIRST year of teaching (pictured above).  I still have work to do but I am proud of how much I was able to let go.
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The 40 Hour Teacher Workweek and Me

This year has been a good one for me as far as improving my practice and reflection but I realized that I was looking for something different, something more.  For the past two semesters I have thought about doing Angela Watson’s 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club but was scared because of the commitment (both financial and time).  As with most purchases, I applied my rule of if I see something once I won’t buy it on a whim but if I still want the item after that point then maybe I should buy it.  Additionally, a blogger that I truly respect, Sarah Carter, wrote a post about the club and that was the tipping point.

Top Five Takeaways Thus Far

When I signed up for the club, I put a calendar reminder to myself to make a “keep it” decision about three weeks in as Ms. Watson offers a money back guarantee. At that point though, I decided this program was a keeper. Here are the top five reasons why I decided to continue my membership:

  1. The List Making System As a list making person by nature I was surprised that I liked Ms. Watson’s way better than anything I had done previously.  I mean, I plan all my dinners in a Google calendar, have a grocery app on my phone that I love, and I used a post-it system at school that gave my post-it addiction purpose :).  However, this system was awesome and I loved that it was editable and in multiple formats.  As others have said, this system alone was worth the club investment. I’ve made priorities, felt less stressed, and made more time for my family.  I’ve been impressed that I have started training at 4am again and it hasn’t been detrimental to my energy level later in the day (which has not been the case in the past).  I have realized that these priorities have also allowed me more time to devote to landing a new job (I have landed TWO interviews this year….wish me luck on those positions :).
  2. The Weekly Podcast I am a big books on tape person for my commutes (I have a 45 minute commute to work each day) and having this 20 minute downloadable has been great.  I love that it previews the pdf materials available and provides great insights as well.  I have gotten some great ideas from the podcasts that I have implemented into my practice immediately. Also, I love the encouragement to just try ONE thing that week.  The program has so much to offer that it can become overwhelming, BUT with the encouragement to do just ONE thing I can definitely make that doable.
  3. The Online Community I like that the Facebook community is available.  I understand why it needs to be a Facebook community as opposed to a Twitter one (however, Twitter is still my preferred social media for teacher stuff). My posts have been approved quickly and I like going through this experience with other teachers.
  4. The Organization of the Club Ms. Watson organizes the materials into monthly topics.  Much of what she offers you could probably get from a variety of online resources for free.  Part of what you pay for is the organization of everything.  It helps give me focus and it feels like I have a coach.
  5. It’s Been Good I have had great results each time I have tried the ONE thing I decided each week.  I look forward to what the club has to offer in the remainder of this year especially over the summer as I prepare for next school year.

I highly recommend this program and have not been compensated for this review in any way.

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What I’ve Been “Reading”

Ever since we started back to school I have been listening to books on tape.  Honestly, if I would’ve known how well I respond to this media I would’ve used books on tape in high school and college.  However, Hoopla really makes everything easy and economical.  Typically books on tape start at $20 each and through Hoopla (thank you Indian Prairie Public Library) I can borrow 7 titles a month.  I’ve also started an Audible subscription which for $15 per month you can purchase one title at a much reduced rate.  Here are the books that I have “read” lately:

The Case for Christ by: Lee Strobel

This book intrigued me from beginning to end.  From all of the courtroom stories and metaphors to the real objective look at the history behind the Christ story, I was hooked.  This book strengthened my faith in Christ and I will wholeheartedly recommend it to Christians and Atheists alike since it really reads more like a secular book.  I have recommended it to almost everyone that I have talked with lately about the general topic of books.

Mind Hacking by: Sir John Hargrave

This book had me laughing out loud and really thinking about my thinking.  It was a relatively short read if you do not include the 21 day challenge.  I have used coachme.com to help me track the 21 day challenge (I am on day 16 at this point).  I have found it difficult (read: impossible) to do the meditation during the weekend.  It is my current challenge to myself to actually carve out the time and do meditation at home.  However, the meditation and challenges have really helped center me at work and people have already made comment about how much happier I seem.  It is nice to hear that, but it is even nicer feeling that.

Present Over Perfect by: Shauna Niequist

This book was just ok.  At first, it really seemed like the author was INSIDE my head.  It was really crazy how it seemed as though she was reading my mind.  Unfortunately, toward the end of the book, I got tired of what seemed like an endless stream of her consciousness.  My biggest takeaways from this book included the use of pajamas to really get my body and mind ready for bed, finding the strength to say no to make room for better yeses, and the reminder to myself that I don’t want my eulogy at my funeral to be “she was really efficient”.  I liked this book, but could see how to some it might not be their cup of tea.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by: Mark Manson

This book dropped the F-bomb like 100 times in the first 5 minutes.  The author laid off the word as the book went on and went to a much more standard vernacular by the end.  I like how he pointed out counter-intuitive ideas about what we choose to care about versus what we choose not to care about.  This book really reminded me of when I was taking a course called History and Thought in high school and how my teacher would go on and on about “free will”.  At the time, I thought it was just a buzz word for him.  Now I realize that really free will is all we have and the concept of free will is a big one.  I love how the book talked about how you always get to choose what you take as your responsibilities (though you don’t always get to choose the circumstances that led to those responsibilities).  This book was pretty far from most of the positive thinking self help books I’ve been reading but the more realist change of pace was good for me and my psyche.

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Symbols

Which symbols are precious to you?

How do symbols gain value?

How are symbols created and when are they no longer used?

In my job as a mathematician and teacher I am surrounded by symbols.  We use symbols to make things more efficient, bring attention to items for future reference, to abbreviate ideas, and to represent other things.  Google defines a symbol:

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I am struck by the reference to musical notation as the notes on a page represent a tone and length of that tone but is it really MUSIC?  No, the power to music comes from listening to it.  Are musical symbols necessary?  In some cases, yes.  I think it is amazing that Pachelbel’s intentions for the sound of his piece is probably the same now at the 100 weddings this weekend as he originally intended it to sound in the 1700s.  Without these symbols, that tradition might have been lost. Screen Shot 2017-09-27 at 7.27.25 PM.png

I think it is amazing in mathematics that by noting this:download.png

that the observer will know that I intend for lines l and m to never meet, EVER.  After establishing that, we have a whole slew of other ideas to show and prove.  Simple lines on a page take the place of words and meaning, as long as you understand what my symbols intend.  Symbols take on meaning only when the inscriber and the observer “know what you mean”.  Unfortunately, to the casual observer, some of this meaning is lost if you don’t know what I mean.  Thus rendering the symbol useless.

We place so much emphasis on symbols such as our flag, a cross, a star, a rainbow triangle, a plus sign, and the list continues.  We assume that other parties “know what you mean” by displaying these symbols.  But do they?  To show our dislike for an idea, we may dishonor, erase, or disrupt the symbols associated with these symbols.  When symbols we hold with high regard are treated in this way, we react with knee jerk reactions.  Why?  These symbols are just that – symbols.  Symbols may represent these real feelings and ideas, but the symbols themselves ARE NOT WHAT THEY REPRESENT.  Before we get up in arms about how a symbol is treated, we need to reconsider those feelings and realize that just because the symbol was treated in such a way, it does not take away from the essence and being of the thing the symbol is intended to represent.

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Not All Tools Need To Be Used #blaugust

This year I started with the intention of keeping an online lesson planner.  This would allow both my co-teacher and any other teachers on my team to “see where I am” whenever they wanted to dip in and check it out.  I tried it out for the last week and a half.  I thought that I tweaked it enough to really suit my needs and from day 1 I HATED IT!  It was awful because I could barely keep my schedule straight let alone what copies I had already made versus ones that needed to be made.  I really tried to make it work the second week as well and it is more hassle than it is worth.  So today, I printed out my old school boxes and suddenly felt at home YET disappointed with myself that I didn’t try to make it work.  Several years ago I gave up on my handwritten planner just to go out and buy another one after the first month of an online one – NOW I can barely imagine what it was like to carry the notebook around with me all the time as I LOVE my Google Calendar (I even do all my meal planning in a calendar).  Anyway, this just goes to show that maybe one day I will be ready to do all my planning virtually, but that is not today.  I wonder if the problems I had with technology this week might have led to this decision.  However, I am just going to enjoy the bliss of being in my happy planned space and enjoy my weekend 🙂 Sometimes tech DOES NOT answer all of your problems.

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Great Start To The New SchoolYear #blaugust

This year has had a great start in my classes.  I have been happy about how they have started and my students seem to be “buying” into my class.  The feedback regarding the name tents activity has been incredibly positive and I hope to do this activity maybe once a month with my students. I also did some work with my students on productive struggle which gave me some great insight into some of my students’ work ethic.  I have fallen behind in my #blaugust posts but hope that I can catch up in the next couple of days.  Here are some blog ideas that I need to flesh out:

1.) What I do/leave for substitute/guest teachers teachers

2.) The Solar Eclipse Hype

3.) My experience using an online lesson plan book and whether I think it is sustainable and useful

Moving forward from surviving the first week of classes, I am considering implementing homework that is reflection as opposed to practice or problem solving.  I need to resolve what to do about 1.) students who do not do the reflection and 2.) students who are absent.

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Building Relationships and a Shout Out #blaugust

I want to thank the entire #MTBoS for their support these last couple of years.  From positive vibes online to providing a window into your classroom, I am really grateful for the great lessons and ideas you have shared that I have implemented.  Special shout out to @saravdwerf for her blog.  It has been instrumental to me reconsidering some aspects of my practice.  

I really was drawn to a couple of Sara’s posts related to the first week of school.  Specifically, I was drawn to the name tents as a way to start building relationships.  I have a REALLY hard time remembering names.  I’ve been amazed at the names I have learned through this activity AND the unique things I probably never would have known without this activity.  

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I am always floored when students reveal very personal information after just one day.  I am glad she told me so now I will be aware. I really liked this activity and might incorporate it later this year as well.

On a side note, I have always been on a quest to have a better way of distributing and collecting Chromebooks.  I have a two sided cart with 30 Chromebooks.  You cannot see #1-15 when you face #16-30.  Here is what I am doing.  I will get the computers out before school, set them up on the wall like this.  Have my students (seated in fours) to come grab a stack for their desk.  At the end of class someone else will return the stack.  Thoughts?  Better ways of dealing with this situation.