Day One

I’m exhausted, y’all.

I almost hit publish then, but I’ll push through.

Tuesdays are my hardest days, schedule-wise. Three blocks back to back with no break until lunch at 12:10 (even later today because of first-day special schedule). It’s been go-go-go!

I launched my math 1 students’ INB’s which was cool. I think I would spread it out over two steps when I do it again next trimester. I wanted them to do our River Crossing problem first and then set up the INBs. But it would have been better to set up the INBs first, do the River Crossing problem and then glue that into the INB at the end of class. Oh well. Now I know. I used Cheesemonkeysf’s amazing INB intro activity and threatened them with a quiz tomorrow. Got to follow in the footsteps of the masters after all.

In math 2 I did a reprise of last years Subversive Lab Groupings and Venn Diagram activities, with the added bonus of Avery’s suggestion to have the kids Venn up the lab grouping cards at the end. Brilliant! The flow of the lesson went much better and I didn’t have to fill too much time talking at them about class logistics.

All in all, it was a good day.



I’m a Special Snowflake

…just like everyone else.

Macro Snowflakes by Alexey Kljatov

photo credit: Alexey Kljatov

Though, actually not like everybody else in this particular context.

This year my school is moving from a hodge-podge of every teacher using his/her own gradebook, to a system in which everyone uses one online gradebook through the same program that handles our attendance and such. We were given assurances at the end of last year that the gradebook we would be using would support whatever manner in which we currently assessed/graded our classes. And if such a way did not currently exist, by gum, we would find a way to make it work. I was actually part of the team that developed this recommendation (and some other ones too) to present to the faculty as a whole. I’m down with the universal gradebook plan.

However, I’m not actually going to be using the school’s gradebook.

For the past several years I’ve been using Active Grade, with what I call standards based grading–but which I always feel a little bad about, because it’s more broad than that. I was reading up on some of Jason’s old SBG posts and I realized that what I do could better be described as Topics-Based Grading (or TBG; because we really need more acronyms in the MTBOS, ammiright?).

As it turns out, our new universal gradebook doesn’t allow for teachers to input their own topics/standards. These are my options:

Assignment Types

No way to edit these. No way to add new assignment types to only my gradebook. To add them would mean having every single teacher have their drop-down menu explode with content and process standards that are irrelevant to the way they grade. Even if you select just three of these assignment types for your own gradebook calculations, you still see all the options when you input each assignment.

No can do.

I tried to wrap my head around some way to reverse engineer my TBG system to fit into this box, but I couldn’t make it happen. Luckily for me, my academic dean (the person who is launching this change) gets what I’m trying to do with my grading system and fully supports it. As he said when he gave me permission to not use the gradebook everyone else is using, “I’m not going to let the system force you to change how you grade, which is in many ways more evolved, just to fit into the system.” [paraphrasing heavily here, as I do not typically record all of my conversations]

So, yippee! I get to keep doing what I’m doing–which is the best way I’ve found to make me comfortable with the idea of giving grades [if it was up to me, I wouldn't give them at all]. If at some point our gradebook can handle what I need it to do, then I will switch over. Until then, I’ll keep using my Active Grade and my TBG and fight the good fight to move assessment away from earning points and towards learning content.




Accountability Structures

Hello Fellow Partners in Crime,

I have been busy telling my colleagues, my Academic Dean, and now you that I will be experimenting with INB’s this school year. I’m planning on using them in Math 1–which I am solo-teaching this year, so every student in that class will have the same experience provided that I follow through with my plan.all y'all

This is where all y’all come in: I’m telling you about it so that I have to follow through.

Whatever help you can provide, whatever noodging you can give me, whatever encouragement you want to share, whatever questions you want to ask–go for it. Make sure I am accountable.

Thanks in advance.

“Hey, You Guys!”

Last year Jackson Katz came to speak to our school. Afterwards, during our next morning meeting, our Dean of Faculty said that from then on she would be more thoughtful about beginning her announcements using gender-neutral language, specifically avoiding the phrase “you guys” and she invited the rest of the community to do the same.

It was awkward for a while, hearing people say “Hey — School!” or “Hello all” with obvious self-consciousness when they began their announcements. Occasionally someone would say “Hey guys” when they made an announcement and the audience would respond in some audible way, often prompting the speaker to start again “I mean, ‘hey everyone’.” It was strange and people made mistakes and it was weird. Change feels uncomfortable. Things felt a little uncomfortable for a bit.

Over time, though, the practice has seeped into our collective mindset. Saying “Hey guys” has become something we just don’t do very often. There are a couple of people who do say this, but the vast majority of our students now say something gender neutral each and every time they make an announcement. Without self-consciousness, without much thought. Just business as normal.

Using gender-neutral language is something I’ve done for a long time as a teacher. I’m not really sure when I made the conscious shift, but at some point it just sounded funny to my ear to address a room full of boys and girls with the term “guys.” I usually say something like “ladies and gentlemen” or “Hey folks!” which sounds funny at first, until it just starts to roll off of the tongue. I can’t remember the last time I addressed a class with “Hey guys, listen up!” or the equivalent. However, I’ve noticed that I continue to use “you guys” with small groups. I’m not really sure why. Perhaps it’s because of the less formal nature of addressing a group of two to four than speaking to the entire class. But for whatever reason, I haven’t–yet–eliminated this from my vocabulary in this context.

Something to keep working on…

A Pat on the Back

I don’t know about you, but this time of year I can get a little bit negative. I tend to look back on the year and think of all the things I didn’t do, or the things I could have done better. Usually I try to turn this into motivation to do a better job next year, but the summer is a long time to sustain that energy and I tend to be overly ambitious in my goal-setting, so by the end of the next year I find myself in the same space.

So this year I’m flipping the script. I want to think about the things I did really well. I’m hoping that others will join in and we’ll get a little matheme going! If you do, pretty please link to my post so I can see all the awesome things you rocked this year.

Here’s mine:

Do Now’s

I don’t do a Do Now every day, but I’ve established a good routine for them nonetheless. All of my students in all of my classes know the drill and are able to participate in each step of the process (though not all choose to at all times, of course). I am able to leave classes with subs and know that students can lead the Do Now without me in charge. The fact that I’d established a clear routine really hit home with me at the beginning of third trimester–I had a class with no new-to-me students (a rarity at my school!)–and when I did my first Do Now students just dove right into the conversation without any prompting.

Here’s what I do:

  1. Write problems on the whiteboard; students get out a piece of paper and do the problems. Usually I write up around 5 problems (exercises, really).
  2. When students are wrapping up, I ask for volunteers to put the solution for one of the problems up on the whiteboard.
  3. When volunteers have put up their solutions we discuss them using the following three questions:
  • Do you agree or disagree?

Students give a thumbs up or a thumbs down to indicate their agreement/disagreement. If they aren’t sure, they put their thumb to the side. I usually count how many thumbs I see out loud to allow for wait time and to indicate to students if I’m (not) getting enough responses.

  • What can we say about the documentation of work?

This is where I call on students who don’t often volunteer–or at least I try to; sometimes I forget and just call on raised hands.

  • Did anyone do it differently?

Sometimes I ask this one and sometimes I don’t. We get some cool variations out in the open when there are multiple solution methods being used.


So that’s my Pat On The Back. What’s yours?

What did you do really well this year? What are you proud of?

I’d love to hear about it!

(Not) The End

Looking over my posts from the past month I realized that this is the 30 from “#MTBoS30.”

I did it–I wrote 30 blog posts! Though not in 30 days. I missed a few days here and there. Mostly recently.

Thanks, Anne, for putting the idea out there in the interwebs, for getting me out of my non-blogging, I-don’t-have-anything-to-blog-about rut. I mean, clearly, I didn’t have anything to write about, but I didn’t let that stop me!

Like I said a few weeks ago, I’m going to keep going until the end of the school year–or at least until the end of the school year gets too overwhelming for me to blog any more. So, this isn’t the last inane post you’ll be reading from me (assuming you’re actually still reading this).

But for now–Hooray! I made it!

Not In Kansas Anymore

Yesterday (at the unholy hour of 7 am) I was at a meeting. The department chairs meet every other week before school to talk about school-wide issues and action items. These are kind of the big-picture things that shape the implementation of the philosophy of our school. So, not your typical “couldn’t you have said this in an email?” sort of meetings.

Yesterday’s meeting was about sustainability and how we could address issues of teachers feeling overwhelmed and stressed out. We started by listing items that seemed to come up in conversations about sustainability–or the lack thereof–and came up with a whiteboard filled with words. Many of these items, I mentioned, were endemic to being a teacher. Others were specific to our school, or at least for our “type” of school.

One item in particular that stood out for several of the teachers in the room was the idea of student-centered teaching being more challenging than a more teacher-centered style. Not that anyone was advocating that we all begin lecturing, rather they were pointing out that these types of lessons often come with increased planning, preparation and facilitation–all of which take up time and energy from our personal reserves. There was also discussion about how different disciplines (e.g. Humanities versus Science) had different challenges that made being student-centered difficult.

This is where I got really amused.

I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I do remember the gist of our science department chair’s response. And the fact that she looked at me as she said that,

It’s easier in some disciplines to be student-centered.

I let her know after the meeting how funny I found this comment. I told her that in any other school I’ve worked at (and many that I haven’t) the person saying those words would have been a math teacher. The fact that she was directing this comment to me–the math teacher!–was a sign of how different our school is from so many others. We have built a math curriculum that is student-centered pretty much at all times.

And now, since we’ve done such a good job at this, our colleagues are of the opinion that this is simply easier to accomplish this feat in mathematics. That the subject matter lends itself to student-centered learning.

I’m actually super proud of myself that I didn’t laugh out loud in the meeting.

But I’m more proud that we’ve clearly done a great job of doing what we do and doing it so well that our colleagues think it looks easy!