Friday, December 15, 2017

When The Pieces Come Together

One of the biggest differences between teaching middle school and teaching high school is getting the students to talk to each other. In the 8th grade, I felt like I was constantly telling kids to "be quiet" or "pay attention" or "turn around and look at me please" or "seriously stop poking him and listen for just 5 minutes". But if I could channel all that energy and desire to be social in the right direction, class discussions and student to student communication seemed to almost happen naturally.  Students LOVED talking. And all I had to do was make sure they were talking about what I wanted them to. 

Image result for teacher meme student talking

In the 11th grade, it couldn't be more opposite. I feel like I am standing in a room full of lethargic zombies some days just begging anyone to mutter a word or even think about turning toward a neighbor to engage with them. This has really forced me to get creative in my lesson planning, to make sure that I am living up to my daily goal of allowing every student an opportunity to speak every day. But if they aren't motivated to speak, or engaged in the lesson enough to WANT to contribute, they won't. Challenge accepted. 

Image result for teacher meme are you not entertained 

I have heard about "classroom jigsaws" at just about every training I have gone to the past few years, but for some reason I have avoided trying it. It just seemed like I could never think about a topic in my curriculum that it would REALLY work for students, and not just be a way for me to check the box to say I have done one. 

Until I started reviewing how to solve quadratic equations. Oh man, they needed some extra practice and I realized that part of the confusion was how many different ways you could solve for x in a quadratic equation but still get the same answer. So, I decided to try a jigsaw. Each problem could be solved by factoring, quadratic formula, or completing the square. I wanted students to not only know how to use each solving strategy, but also be able to decide when one strategy would be better than another and under what conditions. So here was the set up:
It went INCREDIBLE. I loved listening to the students discussing in their groups how to solve each problem. Many students had been a little lost or absent and so when they got to the factoring group they quickly realized they didn't know how to factor that particular problem. But the pressure of knowing that in just 5 minutes time they would have to go back to their original group and teach their group members was enough to really motivate them to find someone else who was in the factoring group and figure it out. The room was SO LOUD. I loved it. Everyone was talking, sharing ideas, showing each other short cuts and tips, and completely engaged in what was going on. 

I loved how when they went back to their original group all 3 group members had the same answer already, so the conversation was less about "getting the right answer" and more about how to manipulate the equation and solve it using the different strategies.

The student worksheet was super easy to make. You can find my copy here. I purposefully planned different equations that would highlight different solving hurdles, so that they would having something to discuss in regards to which strategy was the "best". 

What other mathematics content can you think of that would allow for a jigsaw to actually enhance student learning and increase student communication and collaboration?

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Not Everybody Likes Canned Soup

As the end of first quarter draws near, I am finally able to take a breath after what feels like 8 weeks of vigorously trying to not drown in the transition to a new high school, with new content to teach and two new teams to coach. I'll be honest, there have been times I questioned why I switched schools. It's been a tremendous amount of stress and made me question everything I thought I knew about teaching. But it's in these low moments, that I have to remind myself that we only grow and improve when we are forced outside of our comfort zone. This has literally been me at work so far this quarter. 

One of the biggest epiphanies that has happened the past 8 weeks is the realization that homemade soup is always better than canned soup. Always. In fact, I hate canned soup. 

A few years ago, our school district adopted the CPM curriculum for all classes Algebra and higher. It's not mandatory that we teach it exactly as is, but we are encouraged to follow the pacing and use the resources as needed with our professional judgement (isn't our district amazing!?). This post is in no way a bash on CPM, but rather a realization that as a teacher, I am my best self when I am teaching in a manner that works for me. I rarely used CPM in my Algebra class at the junior high, but as I worked to try to understand my new curriculum and tried to work through the sequencing and pacing of skills I have never taught, I found myself clinging to CPM for dear life. I was so worried about doing something wrong and getting behind that I forgot how to be "Miss Rowe" and instead found myself serving up canned CPM soup to the students every single day. I hated my classroom. I didn't like teaching how I was teaching. The students looked miserable when they left. And worst of all, I didn't feel like the students were actually learning. My biggest fear was actually becoming the reality of my classroom. 

Many of my students were in my class 3 years ago when they were in 8th grade, so it's been fun getting to see and teach so many familiar faces. One day last week a student walked by on his way out and said, "You teach really different now. I think I liked how you taught in 8th grade better.". I could have died. I literally wanted to just crawl under my portable and fire myself. I agreed with him. I liked it better, too. So after a weekend of soul searching and a few pep talks from some of my biggest education role models I came to the realization that... 

Canned or homemade, the kids are going to get fed. But oh my heck, isn't homemade soup just so much better? I am good at being me. I am good at teaching in a way that best highlights and caters to my unique style as an educator. And because of that, I am done with canned soup.

So what does that mean?

Students are talking. Students are moving around the room. Students are engaged and utilizing every waking minute of class time. Now, that's not to say that this can't be done with CPM. I'm sure it can. But it didn't work for me. And I am always going to advocate for every teacher to be able to make whatever changes are needed to do what is best for kids. And I am so thankful I work for a district and school that supports that same philosophy. 

We are a little crammed in our portable, but we are LOVING integrating activities like "scavenger hunts" or "problem loops" that force students to get up, collaborate, and check the answers as they go. 

Side note: Check out these awesome vocabulary visual cards here!

So here's to homemade soup! And the courage to teach in a way that works for you. You are the professional and you know what works best. And you know what's inspiring? No one can be you better than you can! 

Check out these awesome TpT Resources that we utilized this week:

Saturday, September 23, 2017

I'm Too Pretty To Do Math

Pretend you are a 12 year old girl. You're insecure. You're trying to figure out who you are. You have started middle school and the social aspect of school is starting to make you question everything about yourself. Your confidence is low, and your self perception is fragile. You head to the store and see this... 

No, not my boyfriend's father being a goofball. I honestly am not sure what is going on in this picture. Check out the upper right corner. 

This is a real sign. In a real store. It took my breath away when I first saw this picture. There are so many programs and organizations in our nation committed to encouraging young girls to get involved in STEM, with the hopes that this exposure will lead to more girls pursuing STEM careers in the future. As a local title holder in the Miss America system here in Idaho, I spent years and years committed to this cause. All that work. All that time. All that money. All of it is quickly brought down by an ignorant and inappropriate message like this. The message this sign sends young girls is so much more than the words on the wall. 

Pretty girls don't do math. 

Pretty girls buy the make up below this sign. 

Pretty girls are cheerleaders. 

Cheerleaders don't do math. 

Your mathematics ability and interest is rooted in your physical appearance. 

No wonder young, impressionable girls feel pulled in so many directions. No wonder young girls in our nation struggle with their confidence in math. If I was a 12 year old, desperately seeking approval from my peers, and I felt for a second that being "good at math" would jeopardize that, why would I try? 

This sign is why I do my job. This sign fuels my fire to break stereotypes surrounding women in STEM careers. This sign is what gets me up in the morning and keeps me awake at night. This sign is the reason why I know that I will always be needed in my career field. This sign is proof that MORE strong women are needed in the education world. 

Come join me. 

Come stand beside me and join me while I scream at the top of my lungs that you can be pretty and be good at math. You can play sports and be good at math. You can be strong and be good at math. You can love reading and be good at math. You can be a cheerleader and be good at math. You can be feminine and be good at math. You can be masculine and be good at math.

You can be YOU, with all your beautiful characteristics and flaws, and be good at math. 

I was a cheerleader.

I was a "beauty queen".

And I am a math teacher with a Master's Degree in Math Education. 

Be smart. Be proud. Be you.

Come join me, ladies. You are needed.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Year Six: Basically Year One for the Sixth Time

This post is my first attempt to be part of something bigger. It's my first purposeful step toward increasing my involvement in the math education world outside of my small bubble in Boise. I have been so lucky (thanks Boise School District!) to have had the opportunity to attend some national conferences the past few years like WIDA, La Cosecha, AVID Summer Institute, etc. This exposure gave me a real taste for the COMMUNITY that can be found with math educators all over the nation. 

How can I recreate that feeling of involvement, camaraderie, and belonging while being some what isolated in Boise? THE INTERNET! 

There are so many teacher blogs that I relentlessly follow (stalk) and a few of these incredible teachers have joined up to do a weekly #sundayfunday blogging challenging. I am ready to join in, instead of just being a silent observer like I have been. Here we go!


This weeks topic is: GOALS

I have two major goals for this upcoming school year. I am leaving the junior high after 5 years of teaching Pre-Algebra there and moving to the high school to teach Integrated 2 (aka Geometry). New school. New content. New challenges. New reasons to have a daily panic attack... NO! Just kidding. My goal is to be flexible and not let the obstacles that I will surely face overwhelm me. Is it going to be hard? For sure. Will I feel like it's my first year teaching all over again? Probably. But I have survived that before!

My second goal has already been set in motion with this blog post! I want to...

Be Inspired.
Be Challenged. 

and...make friends. 

I want to do all of these things both in person with the teachers in my building and district, and well as through social media and online outlets like Twitter and blogging. There is a whole world of FREE personal development and growth opportunities that I am not fully taking advantage of. Well folks, I think it's about time to...

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Making the Most of Math Warm Ups

"Make sure you have a great opener every day!"

"Don't forget you are expected to do a Bell Ringer every day!"

"You need to have students working on some kind of bell work as soon as the bell rings!"

We hear it over and over again. And for years I followed directions and made sure that students always had something to work on. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how much these "bell work" problems were disjointed from my units, unconnected from the days lesson, and seemingly worthless in the eyes of students. Usually, the problem was chosen by me 5 minutes before class started and was short and quick so that I could check the "bell work" box and move on to the good stuff. 

Oh how times have changed. 

The first major change to my bell work system was adding in some STRUCTURE to our day to day bell work. Each day serves a different purpose now, and helps me better choose what problems I am selecting so that I cover a wide variety of learning styles, outcomes, and solving strategies. 

Here is what our week looks like now:

Monday is for open minded thinking and a quick but effective discussion on multiple representations and most efficient representations. To do this, the problem selected needs to allow students to model their thinking in many different ways. After giving students time to model, I choose certain representations, in a certain order, with a certain purpose to be presented to the class. I was really inspired by the book "5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematical Discussions" by Margaret Smith and Mary Kay Stein. 

Image result for 5 best practices for mathematical discussions

The book focuses on ANTICIPATING, MONITORING, SELECTING, SEQUENCING, and CONNECTING. If you haven't read this book yet, you need to!

Here is an example of a problem we would do on Mondays:
No matter whether you like the new SBAC Common Core Test or not, the fact of the matter is that our kids have to take it. They have to. And I need to find a way to prepare them for the test with out getting overwhelmed. In the past, we have spent some time after Spring Break "practicing" for this test, and it's boring, monotonous, and absolutely dreadful to teach. Students hate it. And I can't say it's super effective. The problem is that the format of this test is a little different. The content isn't necessarily outrageously difficult, but the WAY that students have to answer problems and how students respond to the questions is kind of funky. And for that reason, I feel we NEED to have exposure to some of these types of problems. 

On Tuesdays, I pull grade level appropriate questions from the SBAC practice test. We focus on the content to some extent, but mostly focus on HOW to answer the question. Is it multiple choice? Are you being asked to select more than one answer that is correct? Is it open ended with lots of possible answers? Do you need to drag and drop items into an answer frame? How do you graph that line on the computer? 

Here are some examples, taken straight from the online portal of SBAC Sample Items:

I love having students analyze their own work as well as other student's work. On Wednesdays, students look at an example of made up student work and are given the task of finding where the student went wrong. Where did their error occur? I usually create these by hand, specifically targeting a misconception I have been seeing lately or anticipate coming up down the road. Students not only have to identify the error, but explain why it's wrong, and then fix it and solve the problem correctly. 

Here is an example:

Taken from the classic Instagram hashtag, on Thursdays we "throw back" to skills taught in previous grades. Pretty simple. Keep things fresh. Especially if it's an old skill that will be coming up or needed for future content. Purposefully place these "throw backs" to help you review skills you know you will need. 

Check out my previous blog post (here) to learn about what we do on Fridays.
What do you do for Bell Work? Now that students are productively working on something purposefully chosen each day, I find that these 5 minutes are no longer wasted but rather an essential part of the learning of our class! 

Saturday, April 8, 2017

It's a Good Day When Everyone Gets to be Right

Miss Rowe: "Fahad, will you share your thinking on this problem with the class when we all come back together?"

Fahad: "But misses, what if I'm wrong?"

Miss Rowe: "That's okay, I just want to hear what you think."

Fahad: "But what if I say something wrong?"

The fear of being wrong is scary enough. When you add in the fear of speaking with an accent or using the wrong word, the fear of speaking becomes overwhelming. The beginning of every new school year is filled with conversations like the one above. EL's are always second guessing their answers and their language, so much so that the fear of speaking keeps them from fully participating in the class discussions.

One activity I have started using to overcome this fear is called "Which One Doesn't Belong?". The idea for this activity is taken from the book with the same title by Christopher Danielson. You can find the book on Amazon here.

The great thing about this activity is that EVERYONE IS CORRECT! All 4 items in the picture could be the item that is wrong. Pick any of the items, there is a way to defend that it is the item that doesn't belong with the others. How great is that? Knowing that no matter which one you pick, you are right. BOOM! Your confidence skyrockets. Now you can work on being able to explain why. And the focus shifts from being right or wrong, to being able to communicate.

Here is a quick example:
3: Three doesn't belong because it's the only single digit number.
27: Twenty seven doesn't belong because it's the only number divisible by 9. Or its the only number that doesn't have a 3 in it.
123: One hundred twenty three doesn't belong because it's the only three digit number.
31: Thirty one doesn't belong because it's the only number not divisible by 3.

This is just a few of the many ways you could defend these numbers as the one that doesn't belong.

Want to know the best part? There is a website with TONS of examples for you to get started and get inspired. You can find it here. Once you get going, it's impossible to stop. I'm constantly finding ways to apply my content to this activity.

So how does this work?

1. Post the picture
2. Give students a few seconds of silent think time.
3. Have students go to the corner of the room that represents that number. I draw a quick map on the board that show the top right example would mean this corner of the room, etc.
4. Once they have chosen which one doesn't belong and walked to that corner, they talk as a group and pick their favorite justification.
5. Choose a volunteer to share out why the group thinks that that particular example doesn't belong.

So how could I make it harder?

To add another layer to this activity, challenge students to stay at the same corner no matter what and try to find a reason that number/example doesn't belong. 

And there you have it. A worry free activity where all students get a chance to be right. That's a classroom win for you AND all students!