Sunday, October 18, 2015

Rough Transitions Part 1: Classroom Layout

This year has been quite the change professionally (personally too but I can handle that!).  I moved from a middle school to a high school.  I truthfully didn't think that it was going to take me this long to adjust but it has.  For weeks, I felt like I did not get anything accomplished.
This is my first gif ever added!

Over the next few posts, I am going to highlight one of my identified rough transition points.   I am not doing this to say I have failed, I am doing this because I have identified the things that I struggled with, need to work on and things that I have overcome!

The first one I am going to talk about is student desk layout (aka classroom design)  If you would have told me at the beginning of the year that I was going to struggle with classroom layout, I would have laughed at you.  I was the kid that made scale models of my bedroom as a kid to 're-arrange' the furniture.  I put it in quotes because everything was so heavy, I never actually moved it but I felt that I did because of my model!. 

In the past, I had tables which was nice because it automatically grouped the students naturally in two's.  This year I have desks with detached chairs.  I started with pairs but saw everyone else had groups of 3's so I thought I would try it.   I seated at the 'head' a strong student who others in the group could rely on AND I could count on that students to be the supply gather.  It looked good on paper, visually it was nice as well but  I HATED IT!  There was a lack of student accountability in some groups while other groups did so well.  There were some students who preferred to work alone but there wasn't room for them to do this without being distracted and students had backs to each other, so class conversations were crap!  So last week, I made the move.

 I decided that I was going to listen to MY instincts and do what I wanted to do.   Like I said before, some of my freshman could NOT handle working groups of 3, others could.  Some needed to be isolated and held accountable.  Others needed 'ends' to sit on due to limited distractions.  I started moving desks at 7:10am (school starts at 7:30) and I ended up with awesomeness!   

  • Red-  These are reserved for my kids that are considered 'highly distractable'.  They are on the end, towards the front but still have someone next to them to reach out to.  
  • Orange- These are the 2nd priority in the class.  Students that can't handle a group, that need to be held accountable and need to focus.  Although they in the 'middle' of the classroom, in real life, it is actually like islands.  It is amazing.  In addition, sometimes during conversation, I will pull up a chair between them and just 'hang' out which is really me giving them extra support without them realizing it. 
  • Green-  These are the kids that are rocking it.  The kids that can work on their own but are also a great resource to other students around them.  When we 'pair' up, this student are working independently, but asking questions to both sets of pairs on either side.  This also allows me to supplement these students and have materials already there for them.  
  • Purple-  This is the second tier from the top.  These students are strong students but have to work at it.  This is why they are on the end so they still have someone to converse with and can easily talk to the other purples kiddy-corner from them.  
  • Blue-  These are similar to the purple kids but they are better at working in groups. 
  • Brown- Party of 1.  I have 1 student who falls into this category.  He can't handle himself anywhere but has proven that sitting alone is how he does best.  He is not shy of asking questions which makes this the perfect place for him! 
The remaining gray squares are the middle of the road fillers, we all have those!  I really like the 5-ers as I call them.  They form the perimeter of the classroom and when we are having class conversations (over the past 2 days) it has really helped!  They are looking at each other, interacting and listening too!   Long story short, I did what was right for MY students.  I would hope as the year goes on, I could add some more groups and adjust as needed but for right now, this is it!  

Have you struggled with your desks/tables?   What are some 'tricks' that you have for arranging and seating your high school/middle school students.  I am learning so much this year and I just want to learn more! 

Happy Sunday! 


Thursday, October 8, 2015

Why Popsicle Sticks and I DON'T get along!

It was during a recent post conference with a co-worker that student questioning strategies came up.  What I have been working on this year is really engaging all students.  Here is how I have been trying it....
  • Ask a question
  • Call on a student
  • Call on another student to clarify previous students answer
  • Ask another student to repeat 
  • Ask another student to put in own words
You get the idea.  This goes and goes and goes till I believe all students have an understanding and/or participation of all/most students.  It was suggested that I should use Popsicle sticks to make sure I get to all students.  Ok, I can deal with that but I almost fell off my chair when I heard the second statement.  To make sure that I reach all students, once I call on a student, I should NOT replace the stick in the cup!  NOOOOOOOO! I screamed in my head. 

What's my beef with Popsicle Sticks for Student Engagement? 

The first thing I thought of was what if I were a kid in my classroom.  I would pay really close attention till my name got called and then I would check out because my job was done!  

So today on my way home from work, I called Annie because I felt that this subject matter was an "Annie" topic.  Her first reaction was , "Oh NO!"  After she talked me off the Popsicle Stick ledge, she shared me her tricks for the sticks!  Thanks so much!   

So here is the alternative to Popsicle sticks!  Random Name/Number generator.  This essentially does the same thing as the sticks BUT if completely random.  I haven't done much digging into this yet but I found this one that is user friendly and fast!   I think an app for this would be great that I could just have on my phone/iPad.  One more awesome thing about this random name picker is that it is based on Math and when a student says "You're picking on me" because they have been picked numerous times,  I can point out that I had nothing to do with it!

What strategies do you have for calling on students and making sure that all have a chance to speak? 


I was in my PLT meeting today after school and this exact topic came up!  The pros/cons of popsicle sticks, random number generator and random name generator.  The general consensus is that they are acceptable AS LONG AS the sticks are put back!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Current Struggles

There are a few things that I am struggling with this new school year and I am hoping someone, anyone can help!

  • Freshman attitudes
    • After dealing with middle school students, I thought that high school attitudes would be nothing.  Well, the mix of high schoolers I have seem to all play off the worst of each other.  In one of my classes, I have the following
      • highly distracted x2
      • clueless x 2
      • joksters x 3
      • the 'all I want is teacher attention' x 1
      • middle of the ground but not a leader x6
      • too cool for school x 2
      • and of course the blenders (the rest)
    • So what do I do? This is their current seating arrangement: 
      • They are in pods of 3
      • Each pod has a leader, a student who has strong math skills
      • Each pod has an outgoing student who isn't afraid to ask questions
      • There is mixed ability at each pod
      • The distractors are all seated so they are facing 'out' and not towards the general group.
    • I have incorporated movement, humor, engaging problems but they seem to still be pushing back. 
    • I hold high expectations and I am not about to give in on things this early.  I have a group of girls that continue to fight on 'rules' such as being in your seat when the bell rings, being ready for class when the bell rings.  Out of the 28 students in the class, it is these 3 that just ruin it!  What can I do? They ruin my day. 
  • Working checkpoints into a demanding curriculum/pacing guide
    • We have a pacing guide that is pretty set in stone.  We have a curriculum map that should be followed.  I want to work in check points but I feel there is NO time!  I was thinking about using exit slips and entrance slips.  I want to but the hesitation I have is the time.  Since there is such a wide array in the classroom, what take one student 10 minutes may only take another 1 minute.  How I do balance this?  How do I work around this?  I have done it in the past but for some reason, I am running on empty and have nothing. 
  • Co-teaching
    • This has been a frequent topic of my blog lately.  Things just aren't working.  
      • From my end, I feel my co-teacher wants to be involved but doesn't give the effort, dedicate the time and knows that I will take care of it.  
      • I am struggling being a good teacher in these classes because I am not comfortable
So I have just aired my flaws and problems.  Please help!!!!!

Do you have suggestions for classroom management techniques that work amazingly? 
What about managing the demands of a pacing guide and the need for ongoing assessment? 
Co-teaching relationship building?

I feel that I am a 1st year teacher out of college again that has absolutely NO tricks up their sleeve anymore.  I am deflated and need some inspiration. 

Saturday, September 12, 2015

New year, New school, New Goals!

I will admit that I started this blog post about a month ago.  Thank goodness that I outlined my goals so when I revisited it, I could just write.   Past me was looking out for future me!  Thanks!

Here are my goals and their current status.   I know that there are currently 7 goals but I am feeling good about this year.

  1. Remind - I previously have used Class Dojo to track not academic behaviors, communicate with parents and have students reflect on their behavior.  Since I made the move to high school this year, I didn't know where it was going to fit in but I know I needed something to communicate with parents in addition to phone calls and e-mails.  Remind has rocked my world already.  Once a parent or student signs up for your class (using a code that they text to a 6-digit number) they instantly have access to 'reminds' that you send out.  Also, there is a chat feature.  This all occurs through a text message on their phone!  It is so easy it almost too good to be true.  I want to get ALL students signed up.  This week we have open house and I am going to be hounding my freshman parents like crazy!  Not only do I want ALL to sign up, I want to challenge myself to use Remind on a daily bases. 
  2. Visible Learning-  This will be my biggest challenge for the year.  I learned about this during new teacher week and I have a lot more to learn!  Here is the gist of it.  There are different instructional techniques that have an effect size.  The idea is that the larger the effect size, the greater the learning is.  Also with VL, it is about communicating Learning Targets, Success Criteria and Why we learning something to all students.  This is a lot harder than one thinks!  More to come on this topic soon... I hope. 
    50 Effect Sizes of Visible Learning
  3. Twitter/Google-Coming from a district that was ALL tech to a district that is just starting I find myself wanting to help streamline things!  First, the district has a twister but the high school does not!  I want to tweet at my high school!  I am still getting my feet wet and don't want to disrupt things much right off the bat.  This also goes for google.  Google docs... as much as I hate the phrase, 'create a google doc for that' it is actually pretty functional.  This past Friday, I witnessed the same birthday list be sent out 4 times through email.  That was because on the 1st draft, people were left off.  The 2nd, corrections were made.  The 3rd, mistakes were found and the 4th was the FINAL I guess.   I so wanted to create the google doc and share it but I know that people aren't ready for that yet.  So my goal for Google is to educate my department on how to use google docs to streamline things.  I have started a little bit but once again, don't want to rock the boat as they say.  
  4. Co-teaching- Work towards sharing the classroom, letting go, letting someone else in, finding a balance, working together.  Lots of work to do but hopefully some district provided PD will help me with this. It's for the better of the students.  
  5. Workload-  I don't want to be in the 'new teacher' funk again.  This means, I have a life and I need to find a balance between my work and my home life.  I need to set time aside to work and have fun the other times.  I have found myself saying, "I am going to have to do work on that Sunday so I can't _______"   That's not fun.  
  6. Blogging-  I want to blog at least once a week.  Ideally I want to do it every other day but I know that will never happen so I will write at least once a week.  Once I get in that habit, I will up my goal.  

What are your goals for the year?   Do you have something that you have started and will do whatever it takes to follow through with it?  I would love to hear from you.

Have a great day!

Friday, September 11, 2015

Never Forget

On this day, 14 years ago that I was at home with my Mom.  It was on a Tuesday and for some reason, I was still at home when the 1st plane hit.  I can vividly remember sitting with my mom in the TV room staring at the TV.  I was only 17 at this time but I knew that this was big.  This was bad.  This was a disaster.  I did not know at the time that these buildings were to NY like the Sears Tower or the Hancock Building were to Chicago.

In disbelief of what was happening, I went to school.  I can remember walking down the hallway and thinking to myself, what is happening.  It was sometime later that we got word in the school that a 2nd plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.  All I wanted to do was to get to Ms. Kris' classroom.  She was our aviation teacher, she would know what happened.  By the time I got there 7th period, she was not allowed to talk about it.  Being glued to the news for days, I still did not understand the impact that this act of terrorism had on the US and the people involved.

Over the past few years, I have watched documentaries and movies about 9/11.  I have cried as people involved told stories about their involvement.  I have sobbed at the idea that people woke up that morning and then they were just gone.

Today I watched 'Boatlift' and it is the story of boaters who flocked to NYC to rescue ordinary people from the unknown.
As I am sitting on the back porch watching this, I am crying like a baby.  The thing that got me was that nobody should ever have to go through this, EVER.  This was a horrible event and the good in people came out.  Strangers helped strangers in any and every way they could.  They rose above those awful people and did the right thing.

Another documentary I watched was 'Out of the Clear Blue Sky'.  They lost everything AND everyone.  They lost their friends, their family and themselves.  This is a news story about Cantor Fitzgerald.  This shows that emotions are real, these are real people that have had to overcome the worst.

Sitting in school this morning I was a mixed bags of emotions.  The kids that I am teaching were 4 years old when this happened.  I feel bad that this tragedy follows them and will forever follow them. Then I felt sad because of all the kids 14 years ago that lost their parents while they were sitting in a classroom.  They started their morning saying the pledge and on with their day they went.

Here, 14 years later, during a moment of silence, I wiped tears away.  How could anybody ever recover from this.  Then I think, people are good and good will prevail.

I realize this post is out of my usual but I couldn't not write about it.  I want good people to win.  I want the future(the kids) to learn that although there are nasty people out there, they have the choice to be good and to make this world a different place. What do you want to teach your kids that has nothing to do with your subject?

Never Forget

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

I'm really doing this huh?

There I am!  Smack dab in the middle of the crew.  I am part of the 'We are BHS' crowd!

Reflections of a REAL high school math teaching coming soon.  I am so much to do and not enough time.

How you do manage your time at the beginning of a new school year?  Any and all help would be appreciated!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Reflecting on Week 1

The title should be more like 'Reflecting on Week 1/2' but it is Friday, I went to work everyday this week so in my book, week 1 is done.

With that being said, I was of mixed emotions for many reasons that include in no particular order:
  1. Not knowing any of the staff
  2. Waking up at a god awful hour
  3. Not being familiar with the policies/procedures of the school/Feeling helpless at times when students would ask questions
  4. Starting a new co-teaching relationship
  5. Having the Superintendent walk into my classroom day 1
First, I would say by far the biggest change for me was not knowing anyone at school.  I didn't know that it was going to be this hard.  Spending the past 3 years in the same district allowed me to be comfortable.  I spent 9 months a year with great people.  I often times saw them more then my own man.   At the end of the year, I did not have a new job yet.  I was hired during the summer and I didn't get to say goodbye.  I am being a bit dramatic here but it is true!  I didn't get to divide up my things and 'will' my crap so it became other peoples 'crap' or have one last bash as FMS staff together.  Although I don't work there anymore, I still have some great friends there.  The lowest point of my week was Tuesday.  I had just spent the last 2 days in all day PD's, at lunch by myself in my classroom and didn't get to share anything exciting that happened during the summer because I didn't have a base to build upon.  I called my great friend Allison Ryan and she instantly mad me feel better.  She told me everything will be fine.  Teach first and friends will come.  I knew this but I needed to hear it from someone else.  Once students came the following day, I no longer felt alone.  There were people to talk to, things to accomplish and a stage to act on(thanks Annie for making me think of it this way!)

Second, I think it should be illegal for anything to start before 9am.  I am not a morning person.  I enjoy sleeping, waking up naturally and being up long after the sun comes up.   School starts at 7:30, contract time is 7:15, parking lot is a nightmare after 6:45.  So add a 30 minute commute (which is 3x my previous) that has me out of the house by 6:10ish.  It has been murder! My one saving grace, I get to listen to Eric & Kathy on the Mix.  If it wasn't for them, I would not enjoy my morning.
Third, I did as much reading as possible but I can say I know almost nothing about the policies,procedures,layout and information about school.  This high school has over 3,100 students.  It is HUGE and I have only been in my math wing! (That is a lie, I was in the field house today)  I am aware of the tardy policy, I know how to take attendance and where the G-wing is (between the B and D wing...duh!) but other than that, I don't know.  The dress code is who knows what.  On my list of things to print out is the lockdown procedures.  Hopefully, another week and this will get better. 

Fourth, I have two co-taught Algebra 1 blocks.  Adjusting to everything new, now I have so let go of some of my control freak issues and let someone else in.  Like totally awesome, just what I needed!

And lastly, day 1 was team building and students had just started a Get it Together activity and in walks Dr. Mitchem, Superintendent and the assistant Superintendent (I think).  The district is big on visible learning (love it) and I let the students the learning target, success criteria and why we were doing what we were doing but I still think that some of these children were clueless and my face was red.  Regardless, it was AWESOME to see the 'Big Boss' in classrooms day 1!  You scored big points in my book.  Will you come back please?!?!?!  

Overall, it was good week.  My previous district had their first institute day today and I miss the comfort but I know that moving to high school is something I needed to try.

I know this was a long post but before I take a 'nap' for the next 12 hours I felt I needed to write about my week before I lost the feeling.

How was your first week?  Are you in a similar situation?  I would love to hear about it and how things went for you!