Things I Said I’d Do: 3 Takeaways from Summer School, 2017

Made it through 4 and 2 half weeks of summer school, which now feels like forever ago.

Some context: 2 of the teachers who used to work at my school and have since gone to work for The District were in charge of running the summer school program for emerging multilinguals (English Language Learners) in our district. Many of those kiddos are kiddos I teach during the school year. So I said I’d teach for the summer. I’d always thought about it and it seemed as good a year as any (and if I didn’t like it, I could cross it off the list of Things I Said I’d Do and Now Don’t Ever Have to Do Again. Spoiler alert: I’d do it again.)

3 takeaways:

  • Try New Things: It was much easier to try new things in summer school. Perhaps it was because all of the kiddos had some United States schooling under their belt (as opposed to some of our kiddos from the school year whose sojourn in my classroom is their first educational experience in the United States). In all likelihood, it was because the program is shorter and things didn’t really have time to fall apart and I was less nervous about implementing systems that might potentially not work. At the suggestion of Summer Planning Partner, I did some random seating rather than assigned seats. Kiddos seemed largely ok with being placed with random other kiddos (until Week 3, when I think they swapped the popsicle sticks I was using to randomly assign seats). I started using ClassDojo to select kiddos at random to read classroom objectives and share answers (though I usually stuck with Mr. Pinsky’s participation quiz app for general classroom management stuff). We tried integrating project pages throughout our unit rather than just all at the end.
  • Get Observed (and be OK with it): I got observed a lot during the summer. Our program brought in some teachers who wanted to learn more about teaching emerging multilinguals. Various District people came by. I swallowed my pride and told all of my teacher friends (who I can’t usually observe during the year because we work the same days) that they could come observe me. And it wasn’t horrible. I still get super nervous when there are other adults in my classroom, even after 4 years, but I think I just got over it this summer. I’ve always known that I mentally overreact when there are other adults in the room. So I’m mostly learning to ignore that. In every debrief I had this summer, people either had questions, positive noticings, or they didn’t say anything. I’ll take it.
  • Be OK with What You Can’t Control: There are a lot of logistics that go into summer school. During the year, we have systems in place to deal with them. Plus I loop with many of my kiddos, so I know them from the year before – family situations, educational history, the works. This is all a bit more complicated with summer school. Enrollment is tricky and subject to change. We work with kiddos from high schools from all over the city and District information is often…patchy. Whereas we probably would have shuffled our students a bit more evenly during the school year, we didn’t get quite as much of a chance to do that this summer. We didn’t find out as much about our students’ school experiences over the course of 5 weeks. And it was all OK. Again, this might have been because the program was shorter. It might be because our kiddos are pretty darn resilient. It might be because things just work themselves out.
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Takeaways from Twitter Math Camp

Back from a few days in Minneapolis at Twitter Math Camp and thinking about getting ready for next year. Twitter Math Camp is a grassroots conference organized by mathematics teachers and draws a pretty neat group of teachers from across the country (apparently, it was supposed to be a cruise at first).

Here’s what I’m thinking about now:

1. Addressing knowledge gaps through differentiation: I attended a morning session that ran over 3 days run by Park Star about how to address gaps in students’ existing mathematics knowledge. My big takeaway was that I need to figure out exactly what my goals are for my kiddos. Once those are established, I need to go back and figure out what they should have learned beforehand in order to access that content. Rather than pre-assessing the material we’re going to teach (but, um, haven’t), we should pre-assess the material kiddos should have learned and then differentiate support before the unit begins so that all students have access to what we’re learning. This feels especially relevant since so many of our kiddos come to us with gaps and different understandings from their home countries. Park Star also did a great job setting up the session – there were a ton of interactive strategies that also gave people think time. Probably stealing most of them for my class.

2. Mathematics identities: I went to a session by Nicole Bridge about students’ mathematical identities, which is something I’ve been finding myself pondering lately.

Big takeaways:

  1. Identity is COMPLEX (sorry, but not really, for the all caps).

2. One can have multiple identities at once.

3. A mathematics identity comes from what a person thinks of their ability to do mathematics as well as how others perceive and treat them

(*these are largely paraphrases of a quote from Danny Martin, link to citation, albeit not to actual paper here). I’m still mulling 0ver how to talk about this with my students, but I think even talking about these 3 ideas could be both new and productive to them.

3. How do we  revise the Common Core State Standards?: I attended a session with Henri Picciotto about changes to the Common Core. Something I’m taking away from other conferences I’ve attended is to think about the Common Core State Standards and how they progress from kindergarten to 12 grade (this also ties in nicely to Tracy Johnston Zager’s keynote about elementary and secondary teachers collaborating). I’m planning to think more about which standards to focus on (we rarely get through all of them). Henri points out that we don’t currently have a plan to revise the standards (Henri’s thoughts are here, which seem like a great starting point). They are a great starting point, but, like all things, they can be better. There seems to be consensus that the standards need to be revised (although this is an assumption, perhaps a big one), but by who, when, and how all seem to be more nebulous. Wondering if anyone else has any ideas or insights here…

4. Social Justice and Mathematics have similar themes. I loved Jose Vilson’s keynote, which pointed out that many of the expectations that mathematics teachers have for their students are similar. We ask our students to solve complicated, real world problems that don’t have one single clear answer. Why can’t we do the same when tackling difficult issues?

There’s some good conversations still happening on Twitter now (look for #TMC16 and #1TMCthing). And, like all conferences, even if you weren’t there, you can still catch videos of quite a few of the keynotes and My Favorites presentations where teachers share their favorite aspect of their classroom (Go to #3 on I Speak Math‘s blog). There’s also a lot of good stuff on the Twitter Math Camp wiki.

3 Takeaways from 2015-2016

It’s hard to believe that the school year is over (thank you, school district, for starting early and ending early).

3 Takeaways from This Year:

  1. Group roles: Many teachers in our district use group roles so that all students have something to contribute and so that no one can or has to do all the work. I actually feel like simplifying the process made it easier to use. Instead of posting roles on chart, I just assigned roles based on which seat students sat in. Less complicated and clearer for students (and me). Most students know their role title (Task Manager, Group Manager). I’d love for them to own those roles and use them to productively move their groups forward.
  2. Belonging in the Classroom: One of my takeaways from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics conference was students’ mathematical identities and sense of belonging in the classroom. I think our school does a pretty good job of this already, but I’d like to keep thinking about how to, well, think more about this. Look for this. Measure this. This feels especially important since some students feel so scared of mathematics and because some students enter saying they love mathematics and then get scared away by the English.
  3. Standards: I’m pretty sure I say this every year. I feel pretty OK about what we’re teaching, but need to think more about how it relates to and fits with Common Core. Especially for students who struggle and for students who need more of a challenge, looking backwards and forwards in the Standards and Progressions might be the way to go.

    2016-05-21 20.12.33

    This is how I’m starting my summer.

10 Takeaways from NCTM

In the process of reflecting/blogging on Days 2 and 3 of NCTM, but here are 10 takeaways from NCTM (in no particular order and horribly paraphrased):

  1. Mathematics is plural. Even if that takes away from the 140 character limit.
  2. The term “English Language Learners privileges” the dominant language (and let’s be real, English is pretty messed up). Give props to emergent bilinguals, trilinguals, quadrilinguals…
  3. How do I convince my kiddos that they belong in a math class? However you feel about Jo Boaler and Railside, that school’s alumni can reflect and expound on their mathematics experiences. That feeling of belonging and mathematics learning is real.
  4. How can I protect and nurture my kiddos’ brains? Especially in a city that is as divided and inequitable as San Francisco and with students arriving from the violence and malnutrition of countries like El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.
  5. Talk less. If a kiddo can say it or show it, I shouldn’t be saying it or showing it.

  6. If a kiddo can ask about it or argue about it, it is real enough.

  7. Ethnomathematics: How do I take the countries my kiddos come from (El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, China, Yemen, Russia, Palestine) and look for examples of math there?

  8. I lurk too much on Twitter. Just follow the people already.

  9. Reminder: I need to tell the story right. I need to look back at the standards.

  10. Reminder: There are more ways for families to support their kiddos than just homework support and back to school night.

3 Takeaways: NCTM, Day 1

Spending the last part of the week at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM).

3 Takeaways:

  1. Rochelle Gutièrrez‘s talk on Mathematics Teaching as Subversive Activity: I’m thinking about how mathematics affects student’s identity and the idea that mathematical ability is a perception but the trauma and status it affects are very real. Also, language-wise, I’m trying to get myself to say “emergent bilinguals (or trilinguals!)” and “mathematics” rather than “math” (I can’t quite say “maths” naturally yet). I think of Emilio, one of our kiddos who left school this year. I didn’t fully realize it, but English was actually his third language – he primarily spoke Mam, a Guatemalan indigenous language and learned quite a bit of Spanish in his time at our school. The idea of Emilio framed as an emergent trilingual sounds much more glorious than Emilio as a struggling student.
  2. The “Lessons from our Students: Stories From Railside High” alumni panel was AMAZING. I’ve heard so much about this school where Complex Instruction (challenging, structured groupwork with attention to student status) brought huge cultural and academic changes to the math department before it was crushed by district testing needs. But this was the first time I’d actually met any of the students. And it was AMAZING. They were all able to speak eloquently and thoughtfully about their experiences (one even brought all of her old math notes). It was also fascinating to see at least 3 of them involved in various aspects of education – policy, teaching and administration and to know that the experience they had their has really left a lasting impact. I only hope that my kiddos might be able to fully reflect on their mathematical experiences in such a similar way. (I also realized that many people might doubt Railside High as it is a pseudonym and therefore not Google-able.)
  3. I somewhat arbitrarily went to Mardi Gale’s “Algebra Intervention, Rigor, Problem Solving, and CCSM” as our school is struggling to raise scores on the mathematics SBAC. This talk got me thinking about how important it is to have multiple representations (which I try to think about often, but often drops off as the year wears on) and make explicit connections to prior knowledge. This feels especially important for supporting our kiddos who have interrupted formal education or had less rigorous schooling.
  4. The “Improving Student Outcomes through Family and Community Engagement” session by the Alameda County Office of Education is pushing me to think about what parent engagement can look like at home (rather than Back to School Night or homework help, as it is often envisioned). I’ve been putting off doing a survey of students about their home lives and should probably just do it.

Day 2, here we come.