Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thankful that I am finally teaching again!

This is a very good way to start a job. Work one week, then get the next one off!
I'm using the week to get a better picture of my students, make new seating charts so that the weaker students aren't all sitting at the same table, and racking my brain for ways to teach my geometry students how to think "proofs," which only a few are really ready for. Having a non-math-credentialed sub for 2 weeks was not very helpful there.
But I've talked with my colleagues and have some of my own tricks up my sleeve to get their minds more focuses. Among other things, I transferred my Geometer's Sketchpad registration to my school computer, so I can at least demonstrate parallel lines and the like dynamically. I'm considering letting them work with it table by table, since we only have the one computer in the classroom. I also found some great books very inexpensively on the Key Press website. I'm looking forward to trying out Mathercize warm-ups,  which are intended to develop students' reasoning and observation skills.
Cajon Pass from the summit
We are supposed to be teaching through projects as well at our charter school. We math teachers only need to provide 2 projects a year. I'm figuring on a project involving slope in my geometry classes. I drive up through the Cajon Pass every day to and from school, which goes up to over 4000 feet on the 15 Freeway. I figured we could divide the pass up into small sections, and use a topographical map to find the y difference, (while the x-distance in the map distance (measured with a string?) Then they can each make a graph of their section, and string them along the whole wall, along with pictures from Google Earth or their own.
So back to grading papers and making new seating charts!
Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

New Teacher!

I have just completed my first week of teaching in my new job.
The school is a public charter school, located in temporary classrooms while we wait for the powers to be to give the final construction permit to build the permanent school.
But my classroom is large enough for 6 tables big enough for 6 students each, although usually there are no more than 3-4 per table.
Since they had had a substitute for 2 weeks, it took some time to get them to realize that now we are seriously going to be learning math.
I also don't do much direct instruction, but get them going and then learn by trial and error, from each other, and from me as I go around.
In Algebra II they had been working on factoring with the sub, so we worked on that some more and then took on long division of polynomials, which the sub had skipped. There were many errors, because there are so many steps to do to complete a problem, one of which is subtraction, which involves distributing a negative. A couple of students had learned somewhere to place the change sign in a little circle, which I then taught, and the students took to it immediately. (That I said that I had learned it from other students was probably a plus.) But I told them we'd be learning an easier method - synthetic division - the next day, and that was a fantastic success. There were some holdbacks, but most could see that they could work them much faster that way.
But the big success came when I caught a student writing graffiti on the board, and it turned out to be "Math is great!" And yesterday I met the parents of one of my students, who had come home and reported that they had a new math teacher and she was great!
But I'm exhausted after the first week. Probably hardest is standing up all day long!
But I'm beginning to know where the students are in the material, and have vague ideas about who gets things quickly, who is willing to help others, and most importantly, who do I have to get at constantly to get them to do their work.
Classroom management is going relatively well, (except the day my advisor came for a visit in the period after lunch!) They are good kids, many with large and small learning and living problems, but I think they all want to learn. The school did miserably on last year's state math tests (but really well on English and other subjects) so we have double class periods, so kids can do their "homework" in class while they can ask me for help. (Which is good, except that math teachers only get a single prep hour a week!)

Monday, November 15, 2010

First day of school

Today was my first day of teaching at my new school.
I am dead tired of course, and definitely not used to standing on my feel all day! That I have to get up at 5:30, when I used to be a night-owl, is not fun, but it is lovely driving through the mountains over the Cajon Pass that early in the morning, waiting for the spot where the sun first requires sunglasses!
What was difficult was breaking the habits of students taught by a substitute the past couple of weeks. Getting them do get out books, paper and pencil to do some work.
But I think they're beginning to get that I really expect them to pass, and they have to work to do so!
That's all I can write now. Have to prepare for tomorrow!

Friday, November 5, 2010

The world has more than five choices

I never used multiple choice tests in Denmark. I think it was the greatest shock when I met the American educational system. Here are some ways to move beyond, and still prepare students for those tests.
In an article I received today in the Education Week Teacher newsletter, Classroom Assessments for a New Century Heather Wolpert-Gawron describes her "quest to move beyond the bubble test."
The world does not present five choices for every problem we meet, nor can everything be solved with standard formulas. If the math we teach is to be useful beyond the test, our students have to learn to think and apply concepts to practical applications. Math may be elegant for mathematicians, but it's a tool for everyone else.
In Denmark I taught languages, not math, but we had enormous freedom about what we taught. There is a certain basis knowledge required at each level, and in the latest standards, every class has to work on a particular "theme," which can be cross-departmental. I have a list of various themes used in math, along with the requirements for a written report. The final exam in Danish schools is two-part: a written (not multiple-choice) test on the basic requirements and an oral exam at the school "censored" by a teacher from another school on the theme. This time is always very inspirational for the censors, because they get new ideas they can use in their own schools.
This is a busy day for me. I will soon be off to my new school to sign the employment contract and discuss my duties - and then participate in the regular Friday Professional Development afternoon with my new colleagues.
After that I'll be off to Palm Springs for the California Math Council's Southern California conference.
(and a concert with the LA Phil on Sunday completes a very busy weekend!)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Persistence Pays Off!

I was offered a job today! I can start as soon as the finger-printing goes through!
I'll be teaching Algebra II and Geometry in a small rural charter school that has a great emphasis on project learning and professional development. I can't wait to start!
It took 3 or 4 applications to this school to get the job, but I knew it would be the right place for me, so I kept applying!
That of course explains the title. But persistence is an extremely important trait in a teacher. If we want to try something new that is supposedly a good idea, rather than what everyone else is doing, you have to keep at it, trying it in various ways, polishing it off, and don't give up with the first hints of failure.
The same is important when we work with our students. If a student appears to be uninterested in classwork, we have to keep working with him/her to find out why. Maybe there is a vision problem, maybe the student is bored, maybe there are family problems. Most of these can be solved if we persist in finding a solution.

Monday, November 1, 2010

It's Possible!

I saw Waiting for Superman this weekend. The movie kept telling me. "It is possible!" which is the theme of the accompanying website.The trailer can give you a good idea, but you have to see the movie, if you want to believe that it is possible for all children, when given a chance,to succeed in school.

But they don’t tell enough about HOW and WHAT the good teachers do. Just that those kids aren’t hopeless, and can really do well if the teacher – and the students – persist. Of course all the students whose parents have put their names in lotteries to get into a good charter school are also interested in the success of their children, no matter what their socio-economic status. Two kids had parents with college education, but one was living with a grandmother with minimal education, as did her (new deceased) children; but she didn’t want that to continue to the next generation. So you can’t discount the effects of the parents.

Diane Ravitch published a scathing review of the movie in The Myth of Charter Schools in the most recent New York Review of Books, dated November 11. She keeps wondering why they didn't show public schools that work, well knowing (as is documented in the film) that only a small percentage of charters really do work.)
For many people, these arguments require a willing suspension of disbelief. Most Americans graduated from public schools, and most went from school to college or the workplace without thinking that their school had limited their life chances. There was a time—which now seems distant—when most people assumed that students’ performance in school was largely determined by their own efforts and by the circumstances and support of their family, not by their teachers. There were good teachers and mediocre teachers, even bad teachers, but in the end, most public schools offered ample opportunity for education to those willing to pursue it. The annual Gallup poll about education shows that Americans are overwhelmingly dissatisfied with the quality of the nation’s schools, but 77 percent of public school parents award their own child’s public school a grade of A or B, the highest level of approval since the question was first asked in 1985.
The students left behind in the public schools may have more problems than just teachers alone can handle. But then maybe we should do what we can to make it work, since the message of "Superman" is that it is possible - but maybe harder.
The teachers in these schools believe it can be done (and none of the classrooms had 40 kids in them either.) We need to believe it is possible, believe in our students, and persist in motivating them to believe in themselves.
So despite Diane Ravitch, go see the movie and encourage any teachers or future teachers to see it! And then go to the movie's website or to to see how it’s done.
"Superman" is a real tear-jerker at the end, where you wait along with the children you have gotten to know to see if they win the lottery for the school they hope will change their lives.  (Only one does, which makes it all the more poignant.)
Among the credits at the end, they wrote text “possible” to 77177 which will get you on a mailing list and a $15 gift certificate to where you give to help teachers purchase equipment for their classrooms (which I have done for 4 different projects, and looking forward to giving my $15.)