New Teacher Reflections: Two Months In

It has been approximately two months in to the first school year of my life as a teacher. However, it feels like it has been more like 2 years.  Every time I meet someone who asks me how things are going, I tell them I‘m tired as hell, I should probably be getting a lot more sleep, I’m totally married to my job, but I love it! I’ve learned a great deal in these two months:

  • It’s all about them kids! No matter what I do, ultimately the question is what will be best for my students? 
  • Considering the first point, I am slowly learning to prioritize my huge to do list.  There will always be a lot to do, but whatever is for the well being of my students either academic or otherwise there will most likely be on top of the list. I have to pick and chose my battles. There are certain things worth taking stress over, while there ares somethings that will just have to be put on the burner for later.
  • Effective co-teaching requires a whole other layer of planning. Especially when you work with three different people. So I currently suck at it and it’s become a goal for the year to improve day by day.
  • I won’t remember later. It worked for me for 20 odd years of my life, but no more! I need to write things down.
  • Sleep is vital. I love it. I wish I had more of it. Sometimes I just have to STOP working and just sleep. Sleep is so awesome! I learned it the hard way:

Image

 

  • Bulletin boards are annoying, but I should have some work prepared to put up at any time.
  • Questions are an essential part of planning.  Coming up with one really concise and rich question can be enough for the class to explore for the entire period.
  • Middle school students are on a roller coaster. They are constantly on highs and lows. I’m slowly learning how to identify when they are on a high or low.
  • Students really love to help-middle schoolers anyways. I promise to take advantage of that.
  • It’s important to think about the highs and lows from the week and reflect on them. It’s easy to get the good moments lost in the “a lot-ness” of things that have to be done, the horrible lessons, misbehaviors of students, etc. 

Above all else, I feel extremely blessed to be working where I am for my first year. I feel extremely supported by my administration as well as working with a really great math team. I definitely felt nervous walking in the first day, but I feel that I can take risks, try new things, and make mistakes (which I have made a ton of already).  I love the conversations I have with my math coach and co-teacher and appreciate the thought we put into our lessons. I have a great new teacher mentor at my school who listens to my venting and frustrations.  

Looking forward to what comes next (though it would be nice if the papers to be graded would disappear).

Advertisements

Using “I Notice, I Wonder” for the First Time

Last week, I wrote about the general structure of my classes anchored in the “discussion protocol”. One thing that I mentioned was that prior to students exploring a particular question, we give them a couple of minutes to read and understand the question.

The questions have been pretty short that I feel pretty comfortable not having a teacher guided section where we make sense of the question as a class.  Having a co-teacher for all my classes also ensures that when we make our rounds, my co-teacher and I can make sure that students actually have a good sense of the question.

However, I’ve had my heart set on using  “I notice, I wonder” after I read about it on a few blogs since delving into the #MTBoS.  I was so happy excited, no, no…I’ve got it: EXUBERANT when “I notice, I wonder” would fit wonderfully in a lesson I was preparing, especially since I do have so many students who are not on reading level or are beginner ELLs, do not have confidence in their math abilities, seem lost when longer questions or situations are thrown at them and don’t know where to start.

Goal of the lesson: I wanted students to be able to describe describe different strategies for finding the GCF.  Up to this point, students had been listing the factors and finding the common factor. I expect students to continue doing this, but at the very least I wanted them to be aware of other approaches.

I had students do a series of quick 2 minute think-pair-shares and then jotted down their thoughts on the board.

Analyzing Strategies

ExploringQuestions

So much stuff

The Results

I really wished I had saved my chart from the smart board!

  • I had a lot more students than usual participate voluntarily. I had to resort to the Bowl of Destiny very few times.
  • The “I wonder” questions naturally led to the students delving deeper into the prime factorization strategy which was really foreign. (Example: I wonder why Derrick thinks prime factorization will help him find the GCF? I wonder why 2 x 2 x 3 is written differently  than the other numbers?)
  • In fact I used those last two questions as the focus questions for the rest of the period so they could really make sense of the prime factorization strategy before answering “Does this work for other numbers?” It also forced them to go back into the text because they don’t read everything!!
  • Students came up with their own questions and I had them answer them. There seemed to be more “buy-in” to explore the question of a peer rather than the “questions the teachers ask me to explore.”
  • This also made me realize how selective the students are towards reading in math. As I went around I asked, “I wonder what Derrick and Sasha trying to do?” So many of my students had skipped over the first part that explains EXACTLY what Sasha and Derrick are doing and just focused on the numbers and making their own hypotheses about what those numbers meant.  So I wonder if reading aloud together would help?
  • I learned just how valuable talking about a problem/situation can be to make sense of it.

I’m currently working on my next unit plan and I’m looking forward to using this frequently in my classroom.

Stepping into the Twitter World

A few years back I was very much into the twitter world with a personal account, but then I didn’t have much use for it. Now, I’m back exploring it as Mission #2 of the Exploring MTBoS.  

It’s definitely still overwhelming and fast paced–something that made me leave that world before, but I’m learning to organize and lurk/read/share without losing my sanity .

  • By far the one thing that I am looking forward to are the weekly MSmathchats that happen every Monday at 9 PM. (It was pretty sweet that #msmathchat trended that night as well!) Transcript can be found here. My circle of teacher friends consists of high school teachers and their experiences are vastly different than my day-to-day. Not that I don’t learn or benefit, but it is different. So I’m really looking forward to finding a community that is full of middle school teachers.

Twitter has also opened the windows to many blog posts and bloggers that have quickly been starred, bookmarked, or followed:

I think I'm discovering teacher treasure.
I think I’m discovering teacher treasure.

The hashtags are pretty darn awesome.  #MTBoS is exploding and I’ve found many goodies there. Also treasures have been found in #msmath and #msmathchat, especially around fractions.  

And most importantly there are really awesome tweeples (tweeps? tweeties?) out there! 

So I’m looking forward to my stay in the virtual MTBoS!

Taking Risks with Student Independence: Being Okay to Let Go

So this year my middle school is using the Connected Math Project 3 curriculum.  It has three phases: Launch, Explore, and Summary.  The lauch, lauches the lesson. Duh. Then students explore the activity and answer questions. Then, we summarize at the end.

Out of the many questions that are attached to each CMP lesson we’ve decided to pick 1-2 or to come up with our own rich question that students can explore for a significant time and so that we can have rich discussions afterwards.

But we also wanted to do something that would make students interdependent and wean them off of calling us over every time to understand what the question is about or asking for an entry point into the problem.

So the math team decided to structure the explore section with a specific protocol that we’ve called our discussion protocol. It consists of timed steps (usually step A-D or as many as needed). It’s easier for me to explain what we do with a specific lesson. This is Problem 2.2 in the CMP3 book Prime Time. The big mathematical idea is finding the lowest common multiple and recognizing that the LCM of relatively prime numbers is the product of the two numbers.

Launch
We launched the problem by having the students watch a short video on cicadas from the connected math website which essentially explains what cicadas are and that they come above ground either after 13 years or 17 years. At the end of the video they are asked, after how many years will the cicadas return if the 13 and 17 year cicadas return together if they came together this year?

Explore/Discussion Protocol
This is where our protocol actually begins. We’ve assigned 4 roles to each group.

Student Roles

  • Facilitator: The facilitator is the person who will read all the instructions for each step. This is the only person we give the actual task paper too. Students in my classes call this the facilitator’s paper.
  • Manager: The manager needs to make sure everyone in the group is on task and that the group is completing the steps before the timer goes off.
  • Speaker: The speaker will share the discussions that happen in the group with the entire class or be the group representative in other groups (semi-jigsaw).
  • Recorder: The recorder is the person who writes down the group’s ideas on the paper.

The students have really been taking the roles of facilitator and managers seriously. The facilitator’s paper is quickly becoming a sacred paper in the groups.  The managers also love the power–we’re still working on the speaker and recorder as those are less sought out roles.  

Teacher Role

We’re monitoring and observing students. We’re also thinking about which groups we want to do a group share out so we can highlight misconceptions, multiple approaches, multiple answers, etc. We’re also conferring with students. At times we’re also sitting with groups, especially if they need more of a guidance.

The “Steps”

Each step that contains a question begins with, “Read and make sense of question (insert question # here). (90 seconds)” For this step we expect students to make sense of the question together. At first I thought 90 seconds is too short, but it’s been working well.

Then students have 5 – 7 minutes to think about the question and to take notes. They can conference with others, but the expectation is that they are forming their own thoughts. At this step, we’re also doing a quick check to make sure that the question was actually understood by the students. We initially planned 2 questions, but then just stuck with question #1 only.

Question #1 – If they appear together this year, after how many years will the 13 and 17-year cicadas appear together again?

Question #2

a) Imagine there are 5 and 10 year cicadas.  When will 5-year and 10-year cicadas appear together again?

b) Imagine there are 2 and 3 year cicadas.  When will 2-year and 3-year cicadas appear together again?

c) Imagine there are 4 and 10 year cicadas.  When will 4-year and 10-year cicadas appear together again? 

We usually have one step that is a group check in. The students share their findings and strategies. Then at the end each member is expected to either:

  • make a comment
  • give a complement
  • or pose a question

I haven’t implemented this yet, but I’m thinking of giving students a graphic organizer where the recorder will record these comments, complements, and questions which would be collected at the end. Only because I want more accountability for this phase. 

The last step is usually preparation for a class or small group share out. Some things we have done:

  • Students create posters with an explanation of their strategies.
  • Students create posters with 4 quadrants in which one is a “comments” section. Here we ask them to write down what they struggled with, if there were any disagreements in the group, what they liked/disliked, etc.
  • Reflecting on the work done in the group by completing statements like: “For me, the most important idea that was discussed in my group was …. because….”

Further Developments to Consider

The sharing/summarizing after we’ve done all of this is what we’re struggling with.  I’m not sure what is the most effective way to share out what the groups have been taking about in their small groups and facilitating a student led discussion as opposed to being a back and forth between teacher and students, which is what is happening more or less right now. There are some things that we have been doing, which I will post later on. 🙂 

We’re also continuing to work on the pacing and timing and we understand that the time will always be the enemy, but that’s why we’ve chosen to focus on key questions.  

Here is another lesson that we did recently on finding the greatest common factor. Students had colored tiles as manipulatives to work through the problem.  Click on the following link to see the facilitator’s paper that we handed out:

Problem 2.3 Student discussion protocol

Wow that was a long post.

Mine, mine, mine!

 Mission #1: What makes my classroom unique?

So the trouble with answering that question is that I co-teach all of my math sections this year with THREE different people so it’s hard to pinpoint one thing that makes my classroom distinctly mine, especially since we have normed many of the practices within our math team. A later post on that. 😀

Here are two things that I do that I feel that are slightly unique to me.

#1: No judgement zone
I haven’t perfected this yet, but I’m trying to give a no-judgement zone vibe in my classroom. I’m turning the tables and letting my students decide, agree, or disagree with the perspectives, solutions, and strategies that others present.

During classroom share outs, I usually put up any and all responses my students give and then throw it back to the students. “Do we agree? disagree? Does anyone want to comment or elaborate?”

It’s still something I am struggling with because:

  • it’s so hard not to judge or make some sort of facial expression.
  • I struggle with the bringing it all back to full circle and make sure that misconceptions have been addressed by the end of the lesson.

#2: The Bowl of Destiny
This feature of my classroom is what I use to cold call on students. They hate it. I love it!

 

Bowl of Destiny -- each foam stick has a name of a student for cold calling.
Bowl of Destiny — each foam stick has a name of a student for cold calling.

Till next time.

Ms. K’s Korner

My name is Sahar Khatri and I’m a first year math teacher with fears, anxieties, hopes, and a whole load of excitement.  I teach 6th grade math in a new middle school in the Bronx. 

I’ve wanted to be a teacher for as long as I could remember–well except for one summer when I wanted to be an interior designer (which I owe to watching HGTV each second I was awake. Thank you DesignStar!). I’ve had remarkable teachers throughout my life and before I even went to college, I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.  Now years of undergrad + grad school + student teaching + tutoring … here I am.

This currently paints a true picture of my energy by the end of the week, but even then…I love what I do.

 

Image

Here are a few things that I love about my job:

  •  I love walking into work every (well let’s be real…”mostly every“) morning and spending the first 25 minutes of my day with my advisory students. Particularly I love using the “Connection Protocol” with them.  
  • I love that even on the crappiest days I can list about three good things that have happened. The good things are usually remarks, shenanigans, and at times the brilliance of my students.
  • Call me crazy, but I do love my sixth graders. They’re constantly on an emotional roller coaster, but I think that’s what makes them well…middle schoolers.
  • Teamwork/Collaboration:  We’re a small school AND a new school, so I’m sure that’s a factor. There’s so much to do and so few of us. Regardless, I love the people that I work with because each day I see how hard everyone is working together….and it shows in the consistency of how we teach, speak, and manage our students.
  • Our math department rocks! Our math department consists of four teachers + our math coach.  Call me biased, but I love the work that we’re doing and the things we are choosing to focus on. More about that in my next post :D! 
  • It’s hard, but I love that I co-teach all three of my math sections.  

Exploring the MathBlogsphere

These next few days I’ll be exploring the mathtwitterblogosphere, which I was introduced to by none other than Sam Shah after attending a new-teacher-boot camp/PD (led by @pispeak) with him over the summer.

One of my goals this year (besides eating on time and sleeping at a decent hour) is improving my questioning skills in the classroom so that I can give one or two concise questions that my students will explore with the overarching goal of creating a student-centric classroom.

Ambitious much? Hell freakin’ yes! 

Clearly I have much to learn and I can’t wait to explore what is out there!