The One with the Reading Guide Revision


It’s nice to be back in a unit that we’ve taught many times before (this is, I think, the only unit we teach every year).

A stray Google comment by Curriculum Partner on 2 year’s ago lesson plan reminds us that our original reading guide was somewhat clunky. We go through and revise the questions to focus on one workable problem each.

Kiddos are still stymied by the idea of getting X alone (as we call isolating the variable) and most of them refer to it as “making the equation easier”. Which, true, but still confusing.2017-01-10-18-42-14

Day 23: The One with the Quick Change to Explain to Each Other


Last year, our Admin gave us the option to request a certain prep period. Curriculum Partner and I have always had 2nd period prep, which suited us well as relatively new planning partners with a new curriculum. When things went south in 1st period, we’d huddle (usually during prep, sometimes in each other’s classrooms or the hallway during 1st period) and make up a new lesson.

I dreamt of having a later prep period this year. I’m more of a morning teacher, kiddos are calmer, and by after lunch, we’re all done.

We ended up with 2nd period prep, again. Which was cool.

It got even better today.

Our initial lesson (simplifying expressions with negatives) had so many pieces of paper and check-ins to manage. Plus there was a 2-kiddo meltdown, meaning that 1st period looked like:

  • Give instructions and distribute papers.
  • Check-in with kiddo outside in hall.
  • Answer phone call from office politely inquiring as to the nature of the meltdown.
  • Handle 3 team check-ins.
  • Repeat ad nauseum.

(It’s always an interesting experience to have multiple kiddos basically shouting, “Mister! Mister!” I’ve gotten better at managing it over time, but not so much this day)

So, during 2nd period, we scrapped the whole lesson. Curriculum Partner drew up a problem were kiddos explain different kinds of problems to each other and we turned the initial handouts into a series of Secret Problems. One kiddo is the teacher. They read a problem to the rest of the team. The team builds the expression. The kiddo/teacher checks to make sure it’s right, then lets the next person teach a different problem. We’ve had varying levels of success in prior years, but it went well on this day as kiddos knew enough to move their teams along.

Also, there was a fire drill during prep. Just because.

Photo: The problem where kiddos explain to each other, featuring “Opposite World”:




Day -8: The One With Squarelandia


The District says they’ll have a training on CPM, a mathematics curriculum. Our district curriculum pulls from it and we talked about it in grad skool, so I’ve seen it. But I jump at the chance to hear from people who use it frequently and know it better than I do.

We basically spend the whole day doing mathematics. At one point, another participant remarks that our work (which I am explaining on the document camera because: mathematics teaching) looks like a flag, to which I can only respond: “Yes, for the country of Squarelandia.” To which my teammate, who drew the diagram says, “I’d totally live there.”

What do you notice? What do you wonder?The flag of Squarelandia

Day 133: The One with the Professional Development Day

To be fair, I’ve actually had 3 professional development days over the last 4 days, but…

Our 4-person math department was fortunate enough to be able to take yesterday off to talk, plan and dream together. Our school is mostly grade-level based, so having the 4 math teachers in one room is a bit of a rarity. I’m also finding that other departments spend (or require) less time together, so we sometimes have to advocate a little harder for department time. (Much of our meeting time in prior years has been spent tinkering with the master schedule in order to figure out the most options we can offer students while paying attention to how we distribute students among cohorts, especially as we’ve dealt with detracking classes)

2016-03-23 22.15.03.jpgWe spent the first part of the morning doing a math problem together. This is a common practice in our District as it helps us see and appreciate other ways of thinking amongst colleagues (and potentially among students) and helps center our work in math. We also talked about how to best support our students in state testing (ugh) and some bigger picture visioning for what we hope for next year. It’s not yet been consensed upon whether a day of teaching or a day of productive meeting is more tiring.

Unrelated, my sub (who I know from grad skool and who is awesome) described the sole referral of the day as “Ronaldo was distracting and wouldn’t respond to redirection. After I sent him out on the referral, the class settled down and when he came back, he was more relaxed.” Which is Ronaldo in a nutshell.

Day -4: The One With the Obligatory Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich

Going back to school means going back to routine. Going back to school means trying to get to bed on time and get a good night’s sleep (twice failed already and it’s only Tuesday). Going back to school means running to Safeway at 7am because you have no bread. Going back to school means peanut butter sandwiches.

Photo: Obligatory P,B and JPeanut Butter and Jelly SandwichWe also got planning time to do  some  curricular alignment. While I’ve seen versions of all of the courses this year (huzzah for teaching at an Internationals School), we’ve never had much time to explicitly make connections between courses. We’ve got some ideas of which language functions we can teach simultaneously to support student learning and some ideas for aligning content.

Photo: Planning Semesters One and Two

Semesters One and Two

Room setup continues to move slowly, admittedly due to no one’s fault but my own. There’s not a whole lot I need to do since I’m using the same room setup as last year (except the part where I moved my desk to a new location for the third year in a row). I also might be in denial that summer is actually over. On the other hand, I’m actually going to put up the alphabet I’ve been meaning to use for over a year.

Photo: Alphabet Sounds (unabashedly poached from another teacher)

Alphabet Sounds

Summer Meeting Recap: Read It Again (and Again) and Shared Experiences

Every summer, I spend three days meeting with other beginning math and science teachers from across the country (through the Knowles Science Teaching Fellowship…which also includes math teachers). That’s a lot of math and science teachers – 5 cohorts worth of about 30 teachers each. Some takeaways from this year:

3 Read Protocol: I went to a workshop on the 3 Read Protocol. (and yes, this links back to something from my own district, though I’ve never used it before. Oops.) The idea is to take a relatively dense word problem. You as the teacher read it aloud once. You ask students to summarize the main idea. You (or a student) reads it aloud a second time, this time asking students to look for the math – numbers and quantities in the problem. You (or a student) reads the problem aloud a third time and students come up with a list of questions they can answer.

This feels like a great exercise to try with English Language Learners and feels like a good structure to help students strategically make sense of problems. It also dovetails nicely with norms we’ve been establishing about “read the question (many times) before you ask for help.” Huzzah student persistence!

Course Narrative: I went to another workshop on establishing coherence and narrative throughout a course. The workshop was designed for biology teachers and our course narrative (or, uh, lack thereof) feels choppy for many reasons. That being said, thinking about how one unit motivates another is something I haven’t done (But feel like we should engage further. Maybe next time we teach this course). We’re going to try using guiding questions for each unit to try and help students make sense of how the content in each unit is connected. We’ll see.

Talk: Our cohort, which is mostly second and third year teachers (and two fourth year teachers) is focusing on “talk” in our classes – how our students talk and how this helps them learn. Up until this point, I’ve mostly tried to get students to talk to each other for the sake of talk and speaking English (because: English Language Learners). So I’m excited to think about this and get more into details and figure out why I’m asking my kiddos to talk. This also dovetails nicely with a book that Mr. Williams recommended on Intentional Talk. Geared to elementary schools, but that’s not such a bad thing.

Teacher Leadership: Everyone at Summer Meeting read Jose Vilson’s “This is Not a Test”. One of the many themes that emerged was the idea of teacher leadership and teacher voice. How do teachers communicate the work that we do? How do we advocate for ourselves and our students? No easy answers here, but I’m excited to see the conversation grow and continue.

Restorative Practices: Another theme based on “This is Not a Test” is the idea of restorative practices. Our school (and district) has done some work with restorative practices, but there is still so much to learn. I still struggle to clearly define restorative practices, but I would describe them as building positive relationships early and trying to include all voices and thinking about how to include students in discipline processes. So interesting to see the tension between implementing restorative practices as an individual teacher versus as a full school (in hindsight, I feel extremely fortunate that our school has been working together to try and implement restorative practices)

Norms and Shared Experiences: Our cohort of 30 teachers spends lots of time together. We have a meeting in the fall and a meeting in the spring. We do Google Hangouts every other week. We’ve gone through a year of teaching (for some, the first year). So we’re close. Similarly, other cohorts are very close. It’s really interesting and tricky to see what happens when these different cohorts with different experiences and expectations come together. Often times, they don’t. One of my biggest takeaways is thinking about how to bridge those gaps and talk to people with different experiences and expectations.

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.

Days -4 and -3: The One with the Before and Afters (and the PB&J)

We’re halfway through our planning week, which is hard to imagine. We’ve gotten into grade level teams, we’re beginning to figure out our roles on our teams and we’ve planned a bit of next week’s orientation (given the large number of newcomers at our school, we spend the first two days of school orienting students to expectations, school values, groupwork and other things that our school holds dear). Curriculum Partner and I also turned in a draft (our third revision) of our scope and sequence, which outlines the standards and content we aspire to cover this year as well as the academic and language skills we hope to teach.

Photo #1: The Desks: Before and After

Tables: Before and AfterCurriculum Partner and I both realized we had extra tables in our rooms since furniture was shuffled around due to summer floor waxing. I didn’t realize this until quite a bit into the week, which makes me question how well I really know my classroom. I also realized last year that the trapezoidal tables in my room, which a colleague at another school refers to as “totally grad school-like” (paraphrased; they meant it in a positive way) were a bit too big, making it hard for students to talk to each and work together, hard for me to circulate, and easier for students to distract each other. So I randomly shoved everything into my room (Tuesday photo; above) and have mostly arranged rectangular tables (in the more crowded part of the room) to my liking. This brings back memories of freshman year in college when Roommate and I rearranged our furniture on a pretty much weekly basis.

Photo #2: The Number Line: Before and After

Number Line: Before and After
There’s a number line in my room from last year, but the screen that I use for my projector (which I use most days) covers it. I’ve also noticed that students are sometimes confused by negative numbers (especially with adding and subtracting) and by the way we say our numbers in English (eg “negative five” versus “cinco negativo” in Spanish, where the adjectives come last). Curriculum Partner and I have theories on how this affects students’ understanding of expressions with adding and subtracting negative numbers and my hope is that the new number line (featuring both numbers and words) will help remedy this. #MathTeacherProblem: I printed the numbers too big, but was (somewhat) able to fix this by putting the negative numbers to one side of the corner and the positive numbers on the other side. I do worry that students will now assume that zero is a positive number. Veamos.

Photo 3: The Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich
Party Butter Jelly Time
A former colleague (who I trust immensely) was always amused when I ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich basically every day for two and a half years (budget, yo). I may or may not have texted them this photo of the first peanut butter and jelly sandwich of the 2014-2015 school year. For reasons I don’t entirely understand, this picture has become relatively popular on Instagram. Go figure.

Questions for the Floor:

  • Given that I’m probably about 60% done setting up my room, how far along do you think I’ll be by 4pm Friday? (I’ve been known to go backwards at times, unfortunately)

So…How’s Your Summer Vacation Going?

“So…how’s your summer vacation going?”

This is how most of my conversations start these days. With my Mom. With my housemates. With my friends. With people I’m just meeting.

Sure, I don’t technically have to be “at a job”. But it’s been busy. I just haven’t had to be bright and sunny without coffee in front of my kiddos (who I miss, though I see some of them around town). Oh, and I can go to the bathroom whenever I want.

I get defensive about how the general public perceives teachers’ summers, which is totally unreasonable since no one actually asks this question in a negative way. But I do have to remind people that teachers work a lot during the summer when all I really want to be doing is sleeping and watching reruns of Veronica Mars. Hence this post.

Math Tiles

One of the math manipulatives we used in an Urban School workshop.

So here’s what I’ve done:

  • 2 weeks of curriculum writing. In preparation for next year’s district-wide Common Core roll out. Prepared units on mathematical modeling and orientation units on mathematical norms and culture building. Plus a 2 day conference in the middle.
  • 2 weeks of professional development classes. Learned about Mathematical Modeling and picked up a slew of hands-on, interactive tools and tasks (thanks Urban School and Bay Area Mathematics Project). Took one day to rest and one day to begin planning next year’s classes with curriculum partner.
  • 1 week in Latin America. Visited a friend doing work with food security and another friend managing an orphanage.
  • 1.5 weeks on the East Coast for a conference and travel. Bummed around New York. Talked about math, science, inquiry and education with rookie math and science teachers until my head exploded (and went to Friendly’s). Bummed around DC.

I get back tonight and district planning days start on Monday.

The Dog Days are Over, or however the song goes.