Scary Sprites (and Something Else)

Another teacher at our school is organizing an awesome writer’s workshop for teachers at our school over the summer. Here’s what I’ve written so far:

Sam’s[1] first day at school is my first day at school and it’s hard to say who is more confused. I ask my advisory[2] to fill out a “Get To Know Me” sheet. 18 sets of blank eyes stare back at me, including Sam.

We ride the bus back from Target. I talk with Sam and another advisee (probably in Spanish) about speaking Mam[3]. Sam speaks it, the other advisee, Grace (also from Guatemala), does not. I don’t fully understand what this means.

I make my advisory, The (one time) Crazy Ghosts, tell me their favorite song in hopes of making an advisory playlist (This doesn’t happen). Sam’s favorite song (at the time) is “Scary Sprites and (something else)” by Skrillex. In what will be the first of many “I Am Old” moments, I recognize the name Skrillex but am unsure whether it is a person or a band. I make a mental note to Google it later. (Update: Skrillex is a man)

Many times, Sam wanders into my classroom a few minutes before first period and helps to take down chairs. When you’re new, being early to first period is probably better than being alone.

At some point, Sam stops coming to school. I call home, but am only able to reach Mom a few times and with limited results. I see his name on a Wellness[4] referral. I leave a folder for him during Portfolios, which remains empty.

We switch the order of our classes at the semester. Sam’s first period (my class) becomes his last period and vice versa. At some point (March? April?), after many months away, Sam randomly wanders back into my class. Cristina, who was in Sam’s class (originally first period, now last period), but switched back to first period, recognizes him. “What are you doing here, maje[5]?” (I’m pretty sure she says it all in Spanish, despite being one of the better English speakers in the class) I send Sam to English class, not thinking to check in with him. I ask him how he’s doing at the end of the day. He says “fine”. I don’t see him again for a month.

3 of my advisees, including Sam, get SARBed[6].

We plan an SST[7] for Sam. I call Mom. No one picks up. We hold the SST anyway.

I’m in the office during prep (probably forgot to take attendance again) and I see Sam and his mom. I crouch by his chair and ask how he’s doing. He says he’s moved. I write down Sam’s address and phone number (I later find out that I accidentally wrote Sam’s number under another advisee’s name. Oops). Sam asks someone in the office, in English, if his mom can go home. They don’t hear him so he asks again in Spanish.

A few days before the school year starts, I see Sam’s name on my advisory list, but not my class list. He gets transferred to another advisory where there is another Mam speaker. I go to give his Portfolio to his new advisor, except that there’s nothing to give.

Sam comes back on the first day of school. He looks happy. I grab him outside class and write down his actual phone number.

Sam walks into my classroom, most likely stalling on his way to actual class. Another student jokes with him about something inappropriately adolescent. They leave to go to actual class.

Another teacher and I talk with Sam about being 18 and whether he’ll be back in school next year. We push for him to come back.

I hear another teacher pull Sam aside for ridiculousness in the halls (my words, not theirs). I wonder if this is a phase that he was supposed to go through last year. I hope he grows out of it quick.

The other team calls a flock of students, including Sam, to the stage during the end of year assembly. The other students walk up. I don’t see Sam. I worry that he’s stopped coming to school again. The other team reads Sam’s achievements and calls his name again. Heads turn. Sam walks down the aisle quickly. I think I see a sheepish grin on his face. I chide myself for doubting him.

[1] Not their real name. Obvio.

[2] The 18 students that I am responsible for supporting socioemotionally. Like a homeroom.

[3] A Guatemalan indigenous language.

[4] Students can be referred to the school Wellness center for a wide rage of health-related issue. All public high schools in our district have them.

[5] Vaguely Salvadorean for “dude”.

[6] Students who are truant are referred to the Student Attendance Review Board (SARB). This is an intervention along the spectrum of truancy intervention.

[7] Student Success Team (meeting). The student, teachers and other people who care about the student talk about how best to support the student.

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Pythagorean Theorem Student Data

Every few months, I meet with other beginning math and science teachers to discuss teaching and what it looks like for us (though the Knowles Science Teaching Fellowship). Recently, this has meant collecting data on our classrooms, presenting it to two other fellows, then discussing it.

The lesson I discussed was an exploration of the Pythagorean Theorem. Students read a reading guide and used Pythagorean Tangrams to see if the two smaller area squares added up to the bigger area square. (photos below)

Part of our assignment was to think about the Standards for Mathematical Practices, which, admittedly, I didn’t.

A couple of thoughts:

  • Students sometimes got stuck when trying to put together the two smaller squares to make the big square and I’d have to show them a hint or first step.This felt useful in terms of keeping the kiddos moving and not letting them get stuck on anything that was probably not hugely important (though if it wasn’t hugely important…) In general, I think I need to try and push students to struggle with math without giving up before asking for help. It feels like such a fine line between getting them engaged and than letting them be independent.
  • We also established that the students may not have understood the goal of the activity. Do they fully understand what it means when they make the two smaller squares equal the big square? Do they think that putting together the two smaller squares means that this will work for all squares?
  • It’s interesting to see how students explain and justify. One student says “I don’t know how to explain” which is frustrating because they probably could explain, but at least shows that they know they need to explain. It’s also interesting to see how students explain something tricky like “why do we need to write the small 2.” (This maybe feels like a “guess what the teacher is thinking” question)
  • In thinking about standards for mathematical practices, I go back and forth about which ones are “most important” (they’re all important, which makes it difficult for me to try and focus). So I might try and get our department (four people) to pick a math practice to focus on across courses next year. We’ll see.

Photos 1 and 2: Student AStudent A - Page 1

Student A - Page 2

Photos 3 and 4: Student BStudent B - Page 1Student B  - Page 2Photos 5 and 6: Student CStudent C - Page 1Student C  - Page 2

Blog Catracho

Honduras has been in the news lately, especially as it relates to undocumented immigration. A lot of our students, quite a few who are undocumented or have Interrupted Formal Educations, are from Honduras.

God Doesn’t Live Here: Written by Cristina Silva, a writer who lived in Honduras, for about a year, to be nearer to her husband’s family, but eventually returned to the United States for safety reasons.

“The wave of migrant children made me think about my nieces and nephews in Tegucigalpa and their many cousins. I remembered how despondent I felt when I learned that their parents never took them to the park because they were too afraid. It made me angry that my 3-year-old nephew could nonchalantly recount the story of his favorite uncle’s murder. I  worry about what kind of men the boys will become when they live in a society where educational and professional success does not ensure personal or financial security.”

The Children of the Drug Wars: An article by Sonia Lazarro, who wrote “Enrique’s Journey” about the drugs and violence causing children to leave Latin American countries and how the US should respond.

To permanently stem this flow of children, we must address the complex root causes of violence in Honduras, as well as the demand for illegal drugs in the United States that is fueling that violence.

In the meantime, however, we must recognize this as a refugee crisis, as the United Nations just recommended. These children are facing threats similar to the forceful conscription of child soldiers by warlords in Sudan or during the civil war in Bosnia. Being forced to sell drugs by narcos is no different from being forced into military service.

Why the Border Crisis is a Myth: Written by a county judge in El Paso about how communities along the US-Mexican border have, are and should respond to increased immigration.

“This effort to take away rights that were granted when there was significantly less anti-immigrant fervor isn’t just shortsighted and expensive, it’s un-American. We can debate the wisdom of providing greater protection to Central American children than to Mexican children, but there can be no doubt that giving safe haven to a child facing violence in a country that cannot protect its most vulnerable citizens is what a civilized country, with the resources we possess, should do.”

It’s funny, in a way, that these articles are over a year old (yes, I am the slowest poster), but still seem relevant today.

To balance out heavy news:

Dando Buenas Noticias: My friend’s orphanage made this awesome video about HIV/AIDS prevention in Honduras. It’s amazing to see how much these kids know and how accessible health care is to them (when I worked in Ecuador 7 years ago, antiretrovirals were supposed to be free, but were not accessible).

What have you heard about Honduras?

Most in the Summertime

This year, a few of my kiddos came to class tired. Heads down, non-participatory. I remember poking them and asking what was wrong. “We went to the gym yesterday and now we’re sore,” they said. It was a strange reminder that newcomer students do (frequently) do the things that mainstream students do. (I still made them do work – ain’t nobody got down for heads-downedness)

I had a chance to empathize with this at the beginning of June. School in our district ends in May. I spent the first week doing tons of exercise. Maybe because it’s something I don’t do enough during the year. Maybe because I had nothing else to do.

At any rate, I was pretty sore for the first week and suddenly understood what the kiddos were going through, post-gym in class (note to self: Don’t accidentally set the “Do 100 PushUps App” to 40 pushups during the first week. 10 is plenty).

Which is a roundabout way of saying that it’s summer and stuff needs to get done.

I tend to tailor how I talk about what I’m doing to my audience. People who assume teaching is all about 3 months off in the summer get a slightly harsher, more defensive, ramped up version. People from school who know what the school year looked like (and how I looked like going through it) get a slightly softer version.

Here’s How It Was:

  • Last day of school: Throw classroom in a box (“cleaning”). Fly to New York state for a friend’s wedding the day after school. Wake up to thunder and lightning which promptly clears and dries out for the ceremony.
  • Week 1: Wander around New York City. Be thankful for rain.
  • Week 1.5: Go to a 2-day district training about Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (how to create a positive school culture and what to do when students fall off that wagon). Super interesting. Wish we’d had more time.
  • Week 2: Help revise district curriculum. Last year, the district tested out a Common Core curriculum in all district schools. There was a lot of feedback and 3 of us spent 5 days making one better (there were lots of other people working on other units). Fascinating to see what things look like at a district level and to really dive into these units, progressions and standards. There’s never really enough time to get things done. Sigh.
  • Week 3: Go back to New York (thanks school, for covering costs) and visit sister schools in our network as they wrap up their portfolio processes. For these schools (which have been around much longer than ours), seniors needs to present and defend a portfolio of their work in order to graduate. This happens in place of standardized testing. So fascinating to see the amount of individual/small group teacher/student time that this takes as well as how their school culture leans towards “Portfolios are important because they are a more authentic assessment of learning”. Still thinking about how that affects our portfolio process at the 9/10 level (which is more reflective and less content-based).
  • Week 4: Um. Sleep? Exercise? Decide that if I spend 2 hours of productivity per day, we’ll call it a win. (Also, help to revise Advisory Scope and Sequence across grades 9-12 at our school. And when unsure, put everything into Google Spreadsheets)
  • Week 5: Go to friend’s wedding overseas. Read on the beach. (Mostly books given to me by a friend last summer. Oops.)
  • Week 6: Travel up and down the Eastern Seaboard. Catch up with friends. Frantically prep for:
  • Week 7: More traveling. And Knowles Summer meeting. Go to fascinating sessions. Talk to math and science teachers about…everything – curriculum, work/life balance, what’s working, what’s hard.
  • Week 8: Unpack 3 weeks of dirty clothing before going to hang out with a friend in Texas who I’ve been meaning to visit forever and haven’t gotten around to visiting until now.
  • Week 9: We’re back! 2 days of District Planning Time. In the past, this has looked like our math and science departments taking 2 days to talk about norms and collaboration. We’ve got quite a few new (amazing) people joining us, so this will be a good time to get us all on the same page. We have the rest of the week off, but then are back in school, planning as a staff for a week before the kiddos arrive the next week.

I’m not here much, but it feels like a busy, thoughtful summer in which I can do some thinking and actually get back to being a Real Adult.

Side note: I spent quite a bit of time on the 2nd New York trip texting back and forth with summer school teachers about how to best support one of our mutual students. Next year might be the year to teach summer school, unless I can think of something more entertaining.

Other side note: Those of you keeping track at home will notice that this teacher summer is only 2 months, not the 3 that many people assume.

Other, other side note: This summer’s mantra is “I think I Love You Most in the Summertime”, from this Rhett Miller song.

Picture: Curriculum Planning

Papers from curriculum planningThis is what it looks like when we unit plan. No judgement, please.