Monday, December 21, 2015

Rice Krispy Treats in a cone

I really wanted my students to "see" exactly how a conic section is created. Yes, I could show them this visual
taken from Wikepedia

but what exactly does that mean, and again, HOW does that happen.

So, after reading a blog (I completely forget who's blog it was), I decided to buy conical shaped paper cups and stuff them with rice krispy treats. (I made one for each student. I hadn't realized how much rice krispy treats I would have to make, and how time consuming that job was. Thank God for Michelle Maher @mmaher19923 for helping me.)

The students were then given a paper plate, a plastic knife, and a conical shaped rice krispy treat to dissect. I had the students look back at the definitions of each and asked them to cut their treat into the 4 different conic sections. I had the students take pictures of their conic sections as they went, and post to a padlet.

Did this activity make them understand conic sections any better than the students that have come before them? I am not sure, but it certainly was fun, it made for a lot of laughter, and it was done on a day when majority of the students were taking some type of state test. Very low stress.

Will I do the activity again? Absolutely!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Why do the soft skills matter?

If you invest time in the student teaching the soft skills, regardless of subject, then the student knows you care about him.

If the student knows you care about them, then the student cares more about your class.

If the student cares more about your class, then the student cares more about school.

If the student cares more about school, then the student is (more likely) wants to be at school.

If the student wants to be at school, then the student tries harder in their other classes.

If the student tries harder in their other classes, then the student's overall demeanor toward school becomes more positive.

If the student's overall demeanor toward school becomes more positive, then the student is a happier person.

If the student is a happier person, then the student tends to treat people with respect and appreciation.

If the student treats people with respect and appreciation, then the student becomes a better citizen.


If you invest in the student teaching the soft skills, regardless of subject, then the student becomes a better citizen.

Monday, November 23, 2015

You Matter! You really do!

Within the first month of school, I received a package in my school mailbox. It was an "award" given to both my husband, Erol and me. (My hubby is also a math teacher!)  The award stated something to the effect that it is noticed that we go above and beyond our duties to help our students.  

With the award were two "Super PI" t-shirts.
One for me and one for my husband. The award was totally anonymous, and still to this day I have no clue who gave it to us. However, it made me feel appreciated. It made me feel like I made a difference. It made me feel like I mattered.

About a month ago, my husband was having a particularly rough day. Nothing seemed to be going right. He did his routine check of his email, and found an email from a fellow French 4 colleague. This colleague wrote to Erol, explaining to him that she had her students give speeches in French. One girl got up and talked about how she hated math until this year. She gave my husband all the credit for making her like math. This particular email made my husband smile, and made him realize that he does make a difference.

Several weeks after that, I was participating in a twitter chat, and I honestly don't remember which one it was. I think it was the #paedchat. We were chatting about what we can do to help our teachers that are in funks right now. How do we help that new teacher continue, or that teacher that is having a rough year? Stacy Lovedahl (@braveneutrino) happened to stop in the chat and introduce me to #edulift and their challenge for the month. The challenge is to lift someone up in teaching, to encourage, to support, and to let them know they matter. 

The last 3 weeks, with the help of my students, I have put "You Matter" note in about 30 teacher's, administrators, custodians, food service, and para professional mailboxes. My students are helping because they are the ones telling me the teachers that matter to them. The little notes just tell the person that they matter to someone, that they do make a difference, and that they are appreciated. I will continue this until every single person gets a "You Matter" note. These are completely anonymous, and I hope it stays that way. (trusting that no one in my school reads my blogs!) 

I also hung You Matter posters in the staff bathrooms. We really do matter to someone! 

So, that is who I am thankful for this year. I am thankful for that anonymous teacher that put that package in my mailbox, for the French teacher that emailed my husband, but Stacy for encouraging me to #edulift my colleagues. I feel that I am much happier person because of it! 

Monday, October 26, 2015

Continuing to keep the positive in the culture

At this time of the year, it is very hard to keep the positives up, and the negatives away. The students are getting tired and many are sick, the end of the marking period is near, and state testing for one of my courses is looming in the near future. However, this I will always continue to try. Giving up is never an option.

I try to CONNECT with my students each day by greeting each student as they enter my class and smile when I say hello.

I SHARE a funny story about me, my cats (usually), my family, or something I saw since I last saw the kids. That shows them I am human.

I JOKE with the kids, regardless of why or about what, just to get smiles on their faces.

This year, I have several students call me MOM, (it started because one girl said she wished I was her mother, and so several started calling me mom), and of course, I respond like a mom. MOM? WHAT? Go to your room!, etc. The boys particularly find this funny.

I ATTEND the students' activities outside of school. I have been to volley ball games, soccer games, choral recitals, foot ball games, parades (which I particularly don't care for!) and even a farm show (sorta).

I HELP my students with subjects other than math. I don't make math elite. I show my students that I want them to do well in all of their classes, and so I make sure they do well. I have helped students with spanish (thanks @SenoraGibbs for helping me to help them), biology, chemistry, geometry, and even Agriculture class (studying for a test on birds!).

I LISTEN to the students, regardless of what they want to tell me, and regardless if I have "time" to listen.

I LOVE my students!

Monday, October 19, 2015

The positives, the negatives, and don't forget Zero.

After 3 full years of flipping, and starting my 4th, things feel a little different this year. I don't know if that is because of things going on in my life, outside of school, that I have no control over, or if the new schedule to block schedule and the building of a new school has had impacts.

Some very positive things that have happened this year has really happened in my low level math class. That class is a flipped mastery class, with absolutely no homework out side of school. I have this class on my B day, blocks 1 and 2. School starts at 8:10, but I have some of these students (usually more than half) in my room by 7:50, asking for help with their other math class, asking for help with their current skill drill, asking for the next assignment, or just talking to me about life. These students have connected so much to me, and the community in the room is absolutely awesome! These students help each other, interact with each other, and encourage each other daily. One day, a student drew a flower on my board, because she told me that she would love to buy me a flower, but all she can afford is to draw one. Are you kidding me? The one drawn is far more important to me than any amount that could be purchased. This is a student that exclaimed at the beginning of the year that she hates Algebra!

I will tweet the picture of the flower.

My advanced classes has been flipped for 4 years now, but this year my students only want to watch the video, and some only want to watch, and not take notes. When I ask them to do anything other than watching the instructional video, they don't want to do it. Practice in math is so important, and exploring is even more important, but they only want the video. I have never had to deal with this before, so this caught me off guard. I could blame it on that many of my advanced students shouldn't really be in advanced classes, but that isn't an excuse. They are in my classroom and I need to teach them. Trying to change things a bit so that I can get more from the students.

The Zero:
Not positive or negative, but this year, out side of school so much is going on. My best friend buried her husband the other day. He took his own life. How do you get over that? Also, my own son has admitted that sometimes he feels like waking in the morning really isn't worth it. He is doing so well at school, both musically and academically, but yet, emotionally, there is something missing. I am a very concerned mommy, 2.5 hours away. Just trying to keep encouraging him, showing that there is so much to live for. I was diagnosed with Lyme's disease, and that has me very achey and exhausted. So, not positive or negative, and mostly not anything I can control, but it does take my heart.

Finally, I have decided to go back and finally get my Master's Degree, even though I have a bachelors + 50 something credits already, but that though of going back and getting a Masters of Education in Education Innovation is really exciting. I love learning!

Monday, September 14, 2015

My perfect PLC!

#Flipclass chat tonight is about PLC's. The #flashblog assignment is to write about our perfect PLC.  I am stuck. I really don't know what I would want in my perfect PLC. I want to compare it to my #flipclass PLN, or my #flipcon15 voxer group, or possibly my newly found #paedchat group.  Is that fair to do so?

I know that I want it to be a community that fosters risk taking, that encourages each other to think outside the box, to not be afraid to challenge one's thinking, and to have a number one goal of "What is best for the students!" I want it to meet when we are all not-exhausted, and in a comfortable area to work. My ideal PLC probably would happen after school hours, at someone's house or a small cafe, with a coffee or an adult beverage in hand. If not in the same physical space, then maybe in a google hangout or through google or twitter chats. I want it to meet without the requirement of meeting, for the good of the student and teacher. I want it to be cross curricular and cross grade levels. I don't want it to have rules, or mandatory topics. I want to feel connected to the people in the PLC. I want it to be more than one person.

I guess I do know what I want in my ideal PLC.  Is my ideal PLC possible? How can I make it happen?

Saturday, September 12, 2015

I wish my teacher knew...

I finally got to sit down and spend some time reading the "I wish my teacher knew.." responses I had my students complete on the first day.  Some of the posts made me smile, cheer, laugh out loud, and proud to be the students teacher, while others made me sad, angry, and more determined to help my students.  

The very first one I read justified to me why building community and relationships is so key, and why it must start on the FIRST day of school. This students wrote:

Other things I learned about my students:

  • One student's parents divorced this summer forcing her to move in with her brother. She still is unpacked.
  • One student moved here from Illinois this summer and is quiet.
  • One student's dad had a stroke 3 years ago, and still is wheel chair bound.
  • Many of my students are involved in some type of activity after school. Some say they may be tired in class, while others admit that time management is going to be important, with some hopeful that being in a flipped class will help with it all.
  • Some of my students have much younger siblings that add responsibilities to their after school schedules.
  • One of my students only gets to see his dad for 9 hours every other weekend.
  • One student was bullied and picked on in elementary and middle school, and is hoping that things will be different in high school. She is hoping for a fresh start.
  • Some students love math, and others take it because it is necessary.
  • Some students love working with others, while others would rather work alone.
  • One student writes that he wishes his teachers knew that encouragement goes a long way.
  • I have quite a few tennis players and track and field participants.
  • I have some students that love to travel and be adventurous, while I also have a few that would rather stay at home and not travel.
  • One of my students is a farmer, and wanted me to know that his free time is spent with his animals.
  • That I have taught quite a few of my students' siblings.
  • Some of my students are afraid of failure.
  • Many are excited to be in a flipped classroom, and are really excited to learn math this year.
This is the first year I did such an activity, and I will definitely do it again. I may even have them write another at semester break to see if there are new things I need to know.  

I promise my students that:

  • I won't let ANYONE in my presence bully, tease, or pick on another student.
  • I will encourage each and every one of them to do their best, and to take risks. Failures may happen, but failure always leads to learning.
  • I will always listen, give a hug, cry (or laugh) with them, give them a high five, and to celebrate along the way.
  • I will help them fit in, and to find activities that may be of interest to them.
  • I will never let a student be left out that wants to be included. 
  • I will ALWAYS care!
This is going to be an awesome school year! I already love my students.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Building Community

Building Community is one the absolute most important concepts one must employ in order to have a successful school year. It must also be done starting on Day 1. Students need to know that you care, that they opinions are valued, and that you will treat them like humans.  Students will only take risks when they are comfortable with you and the classroom environment.

That is why I will do practically no math on Day 1 of each of my classes. We will do various activities to help facilitate the growing of a community. Here is my plan.

Remind- Students will sign up to receive weekly remind texts from me and gain the ability to chat with me via texting.

Answer Garden- I have a question asking students to give me their first reactions to when they hear "math class."

Google Survey- Students will answer 10 questions about themselves in a google form. I am going to use this survey to make Kahoots about the students so that everyone gets to know their classmates.

Learning Style Survey- Students are going to visit a site and answer questions about learning styles, and will then post their results into a padlet that I created.

Kahoot - The class will play a kahoot that will be mostly about me, my family, my hobbies, and what a flipped classroom really is.

Socrative Space Race- Students will join pairs and compete in  Socrative Space Race using 10 Algebra 1 Review Questions.  (Can't share this because I don't know how.)

Blog- Students are going to blog in the LMS answering the following prompt "I wish my teacher knew...".  They may write about anything.

While these activities are going on, I will be distributing graphing calculators and note packets.  This will be the only day I had anything out. The students will be responsible for their group material after this day.

Possible issues may involve getting the really shy student to participate or joining the vast age differences 12-17. I will be anticipating these and will be able to help each of these situations.

I want my students to go home on that first day and tell their parents that I really wants to get to know them and that I care.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Flipcon15 Reflections

As I sit here reminiscing about FlipCon 15 this summer, many things stand out in my many memories.  These memories include old friends and new friends, my PLC, volunteering to moderate the virtual sessions, attending some other great sessions, the boat ride and the dinner at the baseball stadium. What I took away from  FlipCon 15 was so much more than that too.

First let me briefly explain my experience with flipping my class and what aspects of it I use. I teach high school mathematics, particularly Algebra 2 and a remediation of Algebra 1, and will be entering my 4th year of flipping. I use flipped learning with three of my classes and flipped mastery with the other two. After teaching the same thing for 16 years, I needed a change, and chose to start flipping at that time. I loved teaching the second level of Algebra, but I figured if I was bored, the students had to be. I also wanted to build better relationships with my students, and to give them more engaged class time. Flipping was the perfect fit.

Back to Flipcon15.  I miss my “flipping family.” It was nice not be the only one that understands and supports the power of flipping, not being the only one that is willing to take risks for the students’ benefits, not being the only one that has a chaotic classroom, and having others completely understand you when you say, “the louder my classroom is, the more learning that is taking place.”  

Having participated on a weekly basis in the #flipclass chat on Monday nights since October of 2013. Here is my first tweet to #flipclass:
Screen Shot 2015-08-08 at 11.34.39 AM.png
It took me several months to get up the nerve to actually really participate in the #flipclass twitter chat. Once I did, I learned so much and met so many people. I mention this PLC in this reflection of Flipcon15, because it allowed me the opportunity to meet people prior to attending the conference. It also made attending Flipcon15 by myself less scary, since I felt like I was meeting old friends.  I wasn’t shy to hug Kate Baker (@KtBkr4) the first time I met her because it was like I knew her for many years. I didn’t hesitate to walk up to Crystal Kirch (@crystalkirch) and ask her about sharing her WSQ with newbies. I introduced myself to Lindsay Stephenson (@MrsStephenson3) after her session and we became best buddies. I invited Carla Jefferson (@MrsJeff2u) to ride with me to the evening events, because I knew she was staying at the same hotel as I was. This is why I refer to “missing my family” since it truly was like a huge family reunion. As I reflect, I think it is imperative to possibly get everyone registered to attend these conferences involved in a twitter chat. It really makes the experience so much more.

This was my first year volunteering as a Virtual Moderator, and I truly enjoyed doing that. Not only did I get to sit in some great sessions and hear and see the presenter first hand, I also got to see the conversation going on in the virtual world and facilitate that conversation. I was the voice of those online as I asked their questions to the presenter. I will most certainly volunteer to do that again, and hope others get the chance as well.

My take aways from the conference are so many, that I am still trying to work through it all. I attended the Grade Divide presented by Kate Baker and Lindsay Cole, and felt that the conversation on grades and grading could have been the Keynote Speaker or a whole day discussion. What does an A in a class really mean? Is that A the same understanding in some other teacher’s class, teaching the same course? Is it fair to have a 60% chance to fail and only a 40% chance to pass (for those on a 60% is a D- scale)? I have hated grading for the last 20 years, and as my philosophy of teaching changes, I hate it even more. We aren’t giving the right feedback, nor are we grading the right things, in my opinion.

Another session that I attended that I am still trying to wrap my head around is Crystal Kirch’s, Formative Assessment on the Fly. Her session was so jam packed with great ways to assess students progresses in your class, that I am trying to explore and see which ones work and which ones I could do without. The issue I am having right now, is that I really feel that I could use them all, and am trying to figure out those appropriate spots for each. Right now, of all of them that are new to me, as some I have already used and like, I am really like, since it has many different ways to assess in a formative way.  Since I have 19 years of work done, goformative allows you to upload already created worksheets and create answer boxes for problems. That’s pretty cool.

The keynote speaker, Paul Anderson, was absolutely amazing. His presentation was thought provoking, funny, engaging, and brilliant. He had all of us laughing and chatting about ideas in twitter. He used great cartoons and connections that we all know to get his points across. Some of my favorite quotes, which are listed below, come from this Keynote presentation.

Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams also kept us entertained and continued to challenge us to think outside the box and to take risks. They encouraged us to not get stuck in a rut, and not to get too comfortable, because we should always be moving forward.

Some quotes that I got from this two day conference are listed below. There are many more, but these are the ones that touched me or really encouraged me to be a better teacher.

“You are the most important resource in your classroom!”- Paul Anderson
“Technology should be the hub that leads us into the real world.”- Paul Anderson
“From STEM to STEAM to STREAM to HAMSTER FLOAT.”- tweeted by Kristin Daniels (during Paul Anderson’s Keynote)
“Don’t put a grade on it if you want students to keep working. Putting a grade ends the conversation.” - Lindsay Cole and Kate Baker

In summary, Flipcon15 and the #flipclass twitter group is the absolutely most important professional development one can attend. The support is so superior than any other group I have been a part of. One the last day of Flipcon15, I commented how I really wished it was much longer, and it did feel like you do when you leave a family reunion. You were really starting to be a huge part of it, remembering the family, when it is all over. Flipcon16 can’t come soon enough.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Emotional labour

Honestly, if you teach, and don't have emotional labour, you aren't human. Fact! (in my opinion)

Avoiding it, shutting it off, decompressing about it aren't my strong point. I internalize everything I do, and deal with it. There are days I am so happy that I skip around the house singing, other days, so sad that I cry, and yet other days angry, because I feel as if I am being taken advantage of my certain people.

Having a husband that is also a teacher (of the same subject, in the same high school), it is very tough to not talk shop at home. It is hard to turn off school and just enjoy family time.  However, it is my husband that helps me. He is so laid back, not a #gogogo type of person and is always so very reasonable. He lets me vent (and doesn't try to stop it), will vent with me, but in the end, he is always has something positive or refreshing for me. It may just be, "I love you, Shai!" or "You are right, but wait 24 hours before doing anything about it!" or "Did you stop and think about what .......?"

I love attending basketball games, football games (every home Friday), volleyball, music recitals, soccer games, orchestra concerts, jazz concerts, plays, etc. The students LOVE seeing their teachers support them, and I truly enjoy it.  My husband on the other hand, loves being home. So, as we were raising our son, unless he was involved in one of the music events or plays, my husband stayed home and I went alone. Now, that my son is away at college, I still go alone.  Some may call attending these events emotional labour, but labour that I love. It helps me to decompress.  I have been known, though, to take papers that needed to be graded with me to basketball games, and grade them in the stands while watching the game.

The emotional labour that entails from the constant paper chase teachers have to do, or the constant changes and add ons that happen, or the constant responsibilities that are added, I could do without. However, I love teaching and I love my students each year, I do it for them.

So, I guess it all comes down to the fact that I endure this, for my students.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Building Community outside the classroom.

Tonight's #flashblog assignment from out #flipclass chat was how do you experience community outside of your classroom.

There are several ways I experience community outside of my classroom. I participate in many different twitter chats. #flipclass is my favorite PLN and twitter chat, since I am with very like minded people that only help me become a better teacher. I also participate in #edchat, #mathchat, #ntchat, #teachherfriends, #edcampPGH #teachedchat, ##21stedchat and others as I happen upon them. The twitter chats are a safe place to throw ideas out, get feedback, tweak ideas, and gather support. Just tonight, @samcarney and @justinaglio and talking about starting a #edchatPA. What is really very valuable about most of the twitter chats that I participate in is that there are so many disciplines represented that you grow in many ways.

Another way that I build community outside of my classroom is to attend conferences. This past year I attended both #edcampPGH and #flipcon15. After both of these conferences (or unconference for the #edcampPGH), I left with so much excitement, motivation, and yearning. The yearning was more selfishness. I really wanted to keep chatting and learning from everyone, that I didn't want it to end.

A more recent way of building community has been active participation in voxer groups. The voxer groups are a bit different from twitter chats, since you are limited to 140 characters and you actually get to hear voices. Hearing the voice of someone you look up to professionally, while learning from them, is very rewarding and impressionable.

I am already trying to figure out, plan how I am going to attend #flipcon16 next year. I promise that I WON"T miss it. It is about a 22 hour drive from my house, but half way there is Nashville, TN. I think I am going to meet my twin in Nashville, spend several days there, and then head to Allen, TX. The ride home will be a bit harder, but possibly another over night stop back in Nashville. I have a year to figure it out.

As for #edcampPGH that is already on my schedule for Nov. 7, and again, I won't miss it. Those folks there were awesome, and an extension of my family. After all, at that edcamp, we all speak the same language. (Pittsburghian!)

I will continue to build my community! I am #alwayslearning.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Puppets here, puppets there, puppets everywhere.

I was introduced to using puppets in the classroom by Cheryl Morris (@guster4lovers) and Andrew Thomasson (@thomasson_engl).  I started to think about what ways could I possibly use puppets in the high school math classrooms.  "Puppets wouldn't get students excited, just like stickers don't," some of my colleagues would remark.  Ha! Nothing gets a student to more excited than giving them a sticker (especially scratch and sniff), and puppets did the same.

I did not create a project sheet, nor a rubric, nor anything else except a list of K-2 math topics and social issue topics.  Here were my directions:

Create a puppet, out of a sock, or any other material, that has to have:
  1. eyes (buttons, wiggle eyes, etc...)
  2. clothing. (the sock can't be just a sock...needs nudity in math!)
I also told the students that they will choose a K-2 math concept to teach.  These puppet shows will be shared with live elementary classes, so they had to be authentic.

That's it.

I did this project during the 2 week of our state testing, so, my students were just working on their puppets during class, and the evenings were to be spent studying for their state Biology test and their AP World History test.  All of my students have already taken the Algebra 1 test, since they are in my Advanced Algebra 2 class.  It was my way to allow my students time to relax and not stress over math during this very stressful time of the year.  

I listened, watched, and learned as the students worked.  I knew nothing about what program the kids would use to make their videos, or even how and where we would record the videos.  This all came about with the help of a great IT media specialist.  We made a closet into a video recording stage, and he recorded each period for my kids.  We, together explored programs, and since my students have mostly Chromebooks, we used We Video.  (Some did use iMovie on Macs).

The videos came out spectacular. 

It was a very rewarding project, and one that I can definitely build on and enhance.  I am so excited to share and talk about this process.

Here are the padlet links to the puppets (my colleagues are voting for the top 3 puppets in each class period, so that is why the Letter and Number) and also a link that has the video links if you are interested in watching.

Please let me know if you look at these and what your thoughts are.

I am thinking that next year, I will have the students build puppets earlier on in the year, and then use them as alternative assessments.  Not sure, and am still thinking through this, but there is certainly potential with using and #teachingmathusingpuppets.

Monday, April 13, 2015


The number one thing that I have done in my classroom that is innovative, is to switch to flipping my class.  When I started flipping, no one in my district had heard of it. Doing something that no one else was doing, for the good of the student, is innovation.  I have lead many different professional development lessons on the topic within my district, and now outside after attending #edcampPGH this weekend, trying to persuade teachers to try it. Give it a chance.  I have had fellow colleagues tell me that I flip because I am lazy and don't want to do anything with the kids, and I flip, because I don't want to plan for my classes, and I flip...the list goes on.  I was bored, and was actually starting to look outside of the educational setting to find something else to do when I happened onto flipping. One week later, I assigned my first flipped lesson, and the rest is history.

This weekend, I attended my first #edcamp at Baldwin High School outside of Pittsburgh, PA.  I drug my husband, who also is a math teacher, along with me, since we were going to Pittsburgh anyway to see our son sing in his last choral performance. I wanted to attend to learn, to see innovation, to network with like minded teachers. I ended co-leading a session on flipping the class.  I got to share my excitement about flipping with other people that were interested.  My husband enjoyed the sessions he attended to, even though he wasn't planning on participating.

As for my colleagues at my district, I am slowly getting other people in other curriculums flipping, and they are encouraging others too. It's an exciting movement!

The innovation continues because now that I am fully flipped, and have been for almost 3 years, I now find/design activities that allow my students to explore/learn a topic in a different way. I have started to flip mastery one of my courses as well.

As I told a person in a a session this past weekend, if you stop learning, or if you feel that you have completely figured out the teaching profession, leave. Get out of it. One should never stop learning in our profession. Students today will so much different than students 5 years from now. There are jobs that don't exist now, that will exist in 5 years.  We have to stay fresh, in order to keeps students excited about learning.

Monday, March 23, 2015

What do I take away from conferences?

I attend professional conferences for many reasons.  I want to:

  • meet people that love doing what I do
  • network with people so that I am not always recreating the wheel
  • to get rejuvenated about teaching
  • to learn neat things to take back and share with others.
  • to have fun!
  • to laugh!
This past summer, I attended #flipcon14 in Mars, Pennsylvania, and it was one of the best decision I made about teaching and my professional development.  The single best decision regarding teaching was probably choosing to flip my classes.  I met so many people, and learned so much. I left there with so much knowledge and so many cool things to take back to my classes and colleagues. 

How do I remember what I attend and learn?  I am actually very old school.  I took at composition notebook (the kind that is stringed together) and mapped out what sessions I would go to and what I would watch later via online access.  For each session, I wrote at the top the name of the session, the presenter, locations, and anything else I knew prior to attending.  While in the session I take notes, write quotes, small things that would remind me about what I heard and saw.  Each night, prior to going to bed, I would review my notes, add anything else, star the pages, etc and then review what sessions I wanted to see the next day and make changes based on what I saw that day. 

For instance, I saw Crystal Kirch on the first day and knew I needed to see her second session the following day.  I am so glad I did.  I learned about Kahoot, about WSQ, and about many other things I wrote about.  I use the WSQ daily with my students and it has improved my teaching and my knowledge so much.

I also tweet and email colleagues with things that I saw and and want to remember.

I am also lucky to have a husband that also teaches math, so I also call him on breaks, at dinner, drive home, etc, and tell him what I saw and learned.  He often asks me about it later reminding me.

I had made the decision that if my attending #flipcon15 was denied this coming summer, I was paying my own way! It was so worth every penny! I can't wait to see what I walk away with this coming summer!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Mental Health is far more important than Content

Tonight's #flipclass #flashblog is something that has been in conversations in my circles for several months now.  How do I manage to cover content while balancing student stress levels?

My students know that they can "tap out" if things get way to stressful.  If a student has a major exam, lab, project, etc on the same day as a summative assessment for me, my students are permitted to take my assessment on another day.  I have had teachers tell me that students will do that just so that they can talk to other students to find out what is on the exam and have an unfair advantage.  My responses to that include:

I tell my students what is going to be on my exam.  Why the surprise? I give my students a "focus list" with how many questions, how many points, and the type of questions.  It really should be a guessing game!

I also would rather my students show me "what they know", and not "what they could remember under the load of stress."  I would rather my students be fresh and unstressed.  I believe I can get so much more from them when that happens.

I trust my students.  Until, I get something that makes me question their integrity, they have my trust. It all comes out in the wash, right?  If a student is going to cheat, he/she WILL get caught.  I absolutely feel that way.

I rarely have a student "tap out" more than once a year.  I keep track of the tap outs.  My students don't abuse it! But, it's there for them if they need to.

How does this affect my curriculum? It simply doesn't.  That's the beauty of flipping.  I do so much more than my curriculum calls for, AND I am finished for the year with a little less than a month to spare.  I have the room to adjust my schedule so that my students are overwhelmed, aren't stressed, aren't suicidal, enjoy math, and actually show me their knowledge.  I know that this is rare.  I don't teach an AP class, but is curriculum more important than health. The kids are kids!

Why has this been in my circle lately?  I have a student that I share with other teachers (obviously) and it was brought to our attention that this young lady was sad.  So sad that she was vomitting, missing school, wishing for death.  This is a student that wouldn't speak up and make teachers knowledgable about this.  A student that appeared to be fine when in school.  Just a bit shy! We got an email from mom making us aware.  I got a private email from the mother, saying that my class was the only one the her daughter was stressed over, since she knows she can tap out if needed.  So, my students will always be able to tap out.  Math can be second!

Also, our high school is moving to a block A/B schedule next year.  Part of the reason for this is because of our building project (new school being built while we go to school in it!) and because a survey by parents and students revealed that the level of homework and stress on our HS students is very high.  Have 4 90 minute periods a day for 2 day cycle will hopefully lessen that stress and amount of homework.

I believe in teacher the whole child.  The whole child is far more important that math, I truly believe that.

Monday, March 2, 2015

A lesson that ...

I was teaching (or trying to teach) conic sections.  I wanted the students to fully understand the definition of each of these conic sections.  The students were having a hard time understanding the idea of the "sum of the distances" for an ellipse, and "absolute value of the differences" for the hyperbola.  To understand these phrases from the definitions allows one to take the concept to a deeper depth.  So, I decided to design my classroom desks in an ellipse one day, and a hyperbola another.  I had a long rope that I had bought from Lowes, and designed the room so that the desks were in a true hyperbola with the "absolute value of the difference from the focal points" being constant.  I had a center point, endpoints, vertices, foci so that the shape was true to definition.  I randomly had 2 students that were sitting on the "wings" of the hyperbola measure the distance from the foci (another student holding the rope).  The students could visually see what was meant by the distance.  I did the same with the ellipse.  After defining and visually moving thing around, we then came up with the equations using the distance formulas.

The students found this approach more meaningful and more memorable.  When a student was stuck at a point in problem solving using hyperbolas and ellipses, the students would say, "Remember when..." and the students would be unstuck.

I am not sure that this would be considered an "off the wall" type of lesson, but it certainly was a lesson that wasn't normally planned.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Deep Learning looks like...

  • chaos
          Very rarely will you find the class working in any particular order.
  • students  working together
          Students never work alone.  They are discussing, scribbling ideas, trying different things.
  • students yelling (well, not really yelling, but disagreeing about an avenue)
          Some groups actually end up disagreeing and then agreeing and then disagreeing.
  • students walking around room talking to one another
          Often, the students are going from group to group to discuss with each other their ideas
  • I am no longer the center of attention or even in control.
          I circulate around the room, stirring the pot, offering counterexamples, but never telling what to           do.
  • many "aha" and "wow" moments
          Students get the smiles, when they might have it.  I love to hear the "wows" and "really"
  • authentic learning!
          Students not being talked at, or lead.  Students create the road.

Monday, February 9, 2015

What I heard in my classroom, on a Monday!

I happened upon a twitter hashtag of #CelebrateMonday.  It got me thinking about my Monday, my students, and my classroom.  Here are some of the comments that I remember students saying today that made me smile.  There were many, but these are the ones that came to mind as I was thinking about my Monday.  These are in no particular order!

1.  Can't I just stay here with you? Your room is my happy place. (This came from one of my low-level remediation math students!)  This was probably my #1 #CelebrateMonday comment.

2.  Who knew that fractions made things easier?  (I wasn't going to bust her bubble and say that I knew! Students were working with fractional exponents.)

3.  I love radicals within radicals.  (One of my 8th graders shouted out as I he was working on a team check with his team.)

4.  Why can't all teacher's teach this way?

5. Math counts, BABY! (I gathered that one of our middle school math counts teams did very well this weekend!)

6.  Rational exponents are HARD! Time to rewatch the video! (said to the "Time to make the donuts, theme!)

7.  Thanks for caring, Mrs. McGowan! You are like our mom!

8.  I hope we have an early dismissal, BUT after this class, of course! (and no, we didn't have an early dismissal.)

9.  Student 1: Can't we just abolish Mondays?
     Student 2: Then Tuesdays will become the new Monday.

So, as several of my teaching hero's say, "You got a day here! Make it a great one!"

Depth vs Breadth, that age old question!

What I teach in which course actually is on both ends of the pendulum.

In my Flipped Mastery remediation course, I have to cover/review topics from Algebra 1 to help the students pass the Keystone Exam.  I really have the say of what I remediate and how I remediate those students.  I generally use the Keystone Exam results to structure those topics. Not much depth goes into that because it's a limited amount of time that I see the students prior to them taking the exam.  I try different activities to engage the students, such as popsicle stick activities, online matching activities, puzzles, online interactive games, and stations, but the depth isn't really there.

As for my Advanced Algebra 2 class, my department got together and looked at the PA standards for all strands, and decided where certain topics should be and would be taught.  So, the course is outlined for me.  We do take the standards to a much higher thinking for the advanced level student, and cover far more content than our college prep level of Algebra 2.  With flipping, I am able to teach the basic foundations through video, which allows class time to take the depth a little farther.  Without flipping, I never had time to pause and explore.  Now, I do that with my students far more often.  When a student fills out a WSQ that asks a question that is perfect for this, I am able to use the time to have students explore.  Before flipping I used to have to say, great question, research it at home, and tell us about it tomorrow.  Now, we don't need that.  Also, now that we are 1-1 with chromebooks, students have the devices at their fingertips (or at least in their backpacks.)

I wrote a blog about my espoused platform just recently, and in it, wrote about how my teaching philosophy has changed over the 19 years of teaching.  As it was discussed at Flipcon 14, learning is at the intersection of content, curiosity, and relationships.  My classroom has moved from content heavy to where there is starting to be a balance of all 3.  It only took me 19 years, and it wouldn't have happened without flipping.  So, the skills that I feel that are important to teach my students tend not to be entirely based on math, but on living.  Here is a short list to start those skills:

1.  I want my students to learn how to appreciate everyone, accept everyone, and to get along with all beings.

2.  I want my students to take risks, and learn from failure.

3.  I want my students to be able to work with other people, to problem solve with each other, and to trust each other's opinions.

4.  I want my students to be able to communicate effectively and affectively.

Oh Yeah,

5.  I want my students to appreciate math and learn life-long skills.1

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Overcoming my fear of skiing

Today was monumental.

I have had a fear of skiing, both downhill and cross country, for many years.  I dislocated my knee cap 18 years ago, so the thought of skiing scared me to death. Furthermore, I hate snow and I hate being cold.  

Last weekend, my husband and I went snow shoeing, which I do like.  I have a lot of control over that, and falling isn't often.  We decided to snow shoe at the golf club which I am a member.  No golfing happening now, so it wasn't an issue.  Living in the Appalachian Mountain range, the golf course is quite hilly.  So, it was a challenge and a phenomenal workout.  While we were snow shoeing, we saw cross country ski tracks.  The snow was quit deep, and we were often thinking that cross country probably would have been a little easier than snow shoeing that particular day.

After snow shoeing, we met a couple friend for dinner and this couple are snow birds.  They love skiing, and in fact, they both have worked on ski slopes in Colorado.  Through this conversation, I thought maybe my husband and I would rent a pair of cross country skis to try it out.

Today was the day.  The weather was beautiful, sun was shining and the temperature was in the 40's.  An avid cross country skier recommended a particular canyon to go to learn how to ski.  This canyon follows a creek and is relatively flat, with very small inclines.  My husband and I embarked on this adventure.

We had a blast!

I watched a video on the basics on cross country skiing.  It was very helpful.  The only thing I didn't watch, and should have, was how to get up after falling.  We traveled more than 6 miles, and I fell 5-6 times.  I was actually happy about that.  The one fall was particularly interesting, because I right on the edge of the creek and was fearful of falling in.  I could not get up for anything.  At one time I was on my back with my skis in the air.  My husband politely reminded me that he didn't think that was going to be much help.  I finally got up, but not gracefully at all.

We also decided to climb a rather steep grade that wasn't part of the canyon.  Climbing was a work out, but fun.  When we go up to a bend, and realized the hill just continued up and around the next bend, we decided to turn around and go back down.  This was when we realized that we probably didn't make the best decision.  For a newbie, going down hill on cross country skis is not easy.  In fact it was quite rough and very scary. A couple of tumbles later (Thank God nothing is broken!) we made it down to the bottom.  We celebrated at the bottom.

This particular fear was mastered.  I loved it! I want to go back soon.  I want my own skis.

Why is this important to me realize?

How often do I get students that have a fear of something.  Possibly a fear of math all together, or a fear of tests, or a fear of working with others.  There could be a long list of fears a student may have.  My job is to try to help them overcome those fears.  My job is to find the beginner's canyon trail to help them move forward.  As I did with learning today, I had failures.  I fell, and I fell again.  I stepped on my own skis, and my husband's skis.  Coming down the hill, I wanted to cry.  I wanted to just sit down and not move.  But I didn't.  Overcoming those obstacles made me proud, and made me love cross country skiing.  Not quite ready for down hill, but frankly, that fear isn't s profound as it used to be.

If I can help one student this year overcome a fear related to math, I will be thrilled.  I will feel accomplished.

Monday, February 2, 2015

#FlipClass #flashblog on getting kids over the "suck."

Unfortunately, I don't give very many big projects in my math classes.  When I taught Geometry, I gave one every marking period, but not so much now.  We do little investigative things often, but nothing long term. The one big project that I do assign is in April/May is with my advanced math class.  In the past, these students didn't need much poking on my part to finish things, so I never used anything with them.

We are defining the "suck" as the time between a student gets excited to start the project and when they finish.  How do I keep my students moving along, meeting the goal at the deadline, and getting over that "suck."

Unfortunately, I am not very good at this. Personally, I work better sometimes under pressure, and have been known to wait until the last minute to finish something that is due (like a college recommendation, or a proposal of some sort) and it usually turns out to be a good product.  So, teaching high school students, I tend to want to put the responsibility on them.  They know their own schedule, and should work at it at their own pace to finish tasks. They have to learn sometime, right?

Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately as you may see, last semester my students didn't care, and didn't want to finish things.  They would rather play games on their phone, or snapchat, or instagram, or maybe even pick dirt from their finger nails than to finish anything math related.  A lot of pleading on my part got things done, but certainly not without a struggle or an argument from the other end. This was my flipped mastery class, with my remediation students.

Here's the fortunate part of the students not caring.  I still cared, and it really bothered me that they didn't care and didn't finish their work. This made me change!  Starting the new semester, I decided to make a check list.  On this checklist, there is the current weekly homework, with due dates, current weekly goals/tasks for the week, and then the upcoming homework assignment(s).  The reason I did the upcoming homework on this checklist is because the checklists aren't necessarily Monday- Friday, and their weekly homework is Monday - Monday. Not sure if it is confusing or not to the students, but I have already heard students asking other students, how their checklist is coming.  Maybe it will work.  If not, I will look for other ideas.

I am also using the website to remind the students to continue working. I figure they are on their phones so much, that an occasional text from me might spark their memory to finish things.

I hope it works.  If not, I will have to continue to figure out a way to "unsuck" my students again.

Monday, January 26, 2015

My espoused platform, educational philosophy, teaching platform, or whatever you want to call it now.

I am a mentor to a brand new teacher this year.  Not a new teacher to our school, but a teacher that just graduated from college last May, a teacher that is a mere 2 years older than my own son.  Not only am I her mentor, she actually co-teaches 1st period with me.  First period is the class that is the remediation course for our State Algebra test.  This class has many reluctant learners and learners that come to school because home isn't always the safest place for them to be.  She has taught me a ton, and I am hopeful I have taught her much as well.

Part of the mentoring process, she was tasked to write an "espoused plan."  Being a little embarrassed, I had to research what the heck an "espoused plan" was.  I had no clue.  Through research, I found that it really is just one's educational philosophy or teaching platform.  Espoused Plan is just a fancy word for what we all had to do when we started teaching.

What is it that I want my students to learn from me?  That's a huge question.  In an interview, if you don't answer this question "right", you may lose an opportunity for a job.  In my 19 years of teaching, what I want my students to learn from me has changed.  Honestly, and sadly to admit, when I started teaching, I only wanted the student to learn the math.  It was all about that math, 'bout that math, 'bout that math.  (Sorry, a song got in my head!) Content was everything.  Why wouldn't it be, my students had to be prepared for the next math class.  I wasn't going to be that teacher that others would complain about because my students didn't know how to factor a quadratic equation.

My own son, who was growing every year I was teaching (he is 19), and who has a diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome, starting asking a ton of questions.  Why does a clock tick? Why do car tires turn? Why can Santa make it around the world in one night? and even more serious questions, Why does a negative times a negative result in a positive number?  I realized that it wasn't enough to just teach.  Curiosity was huge, and one that had to be addressed.  I figured if my own son wanted to know the whys and what ifs, my own students had to as well.  I started to deemphasize concept and started looking at exercises that delved into the learning, that explained why.

Then as my son got to middle/high school years, learning and curiosity wasn't everything.  I watched him and realized that the most important classes were those subjects in which he had a personal relationship with the teachers.  He was never a boy that refused to learn, (he knew it wasn't acceptable) but he learned and thrived on those teachers that showed interest in him, listened to him, encouraged him, helped him overcome failure, allowing him to fail, and help him be accountable.  He connected so well with his music teachers because of this, and is now studying at a prestigious School of Music in a prestigious university for Sound, Recording, and Technology and Upright Base Performance (It's about that base, 'bout that base, 'bout that base.)  So, I moved my teaching to building the personal relationships with my students.  Being interested in the whole child, allowing my students to be risk takers, and helping them back up if they fail (and teaching math) are now my points of emphasis in my class.

So, what is that I want my students to learn from me? These are in no particular order.

I want my students to learn from me that being a caring person and respecting others is the single most important trait in this world.

I want my students to learn from me to accept others as they are, as I accept all of my students.

I want my students to learn that it is okay to fail (temporarily) and make mistakes, as long as, one learns from failure and the mistakes and improves the situation.

I want my students to learn from me that math is important, can be fun, and shouldn't be scary.

I want my students to learn from me that they can be creative and will be someone that does something important someday.

I want my students to learn from me to love life, and that they are valued.

I want my students to learn from me to never stop learning.  There is always something to learn.

I want my students to learn from me that it is okay to change your mind.  It is okay to not know what you want to do when you are 14.  It is okay to have many interests.

I want my students to learn from me that it doesn't matter what you look like, it's your actions and words that define you.

I want my students to learn from me that there will always be stumbling blocks and road barriers put in the way.  What defines them is not how they handle the blocks, but what they do after they overcome those barriers.

I want my students to learn from me that I will ALWAYS be here for them, to support them, to cheer them on, and to hug them when they need it.

I will never give up on a student.

How do I handle late work?

This week's #flashblog for #flipclass asked a question that is always something that causes debates among teachers.  That question is "How do you handle late work? How does your school handle it? How has that changed?"  In my own department, we vary so greatly on how to handle late work, so across the school there is even more variance.  While sitting at the table at lunch, I have overheard many arguments about how one accepts (or doesn't accept) late homework, and how they also don't agree (or agree) with the policy set forth in the handbook.  There are definitely two different situations that have to be addressed.  The first being a student's work is late due to not being in school and the other because the student just simply did not meet the deadline.

The high school that I teach at has a universal (or so it says) policy on how late work from students not present is handled.  The policy states that for every excused day a student is absent, he/she has that many days to make up the missed work.  This includes if a student is absent due to an educational travel or a field trip.  The later two reasons has caused much debate among the teachers, since the student is required to get work before going on the trip, and should be expected to have the work done when he/she returns.  However, the policy clearly states that the student has as many days absent to turn in that work.  I used to think that a student should hand in the work upon return since I took my time to get him the work ahead of time.  However, after having my son participate in many different musical endeavors where the students are literally running from 7 in the morning to bedtime each night.  There simply is no time for the student to work on and complete these assignments.  Having chaperoned some of these trips, I understand how exhausted the kids become, and do agree that they should be allowed extended time to make this work complete.

Students can surprise you though.  Last December, I had a student visit Germany for the who month of December.  She asked for her work before she left.  I gave her the links to the videos and all in class activities she would miss.  Each day, when I read my email before school, her assignment for that day would be complete, scanned in for me.  She had no problem returning after the new year and fitting right back into class.  I even emailed her mother the quiz/test the day before we were taking an assessment and her mother administered the quiz/test to her.  She was a student getting high marks prior to leaving and her high marks continued while in Germany. Not the norm though, I am sure.

As for the student that simply doesn't meet deadline, having been in school all days, the policy is left to the individual teacher.  This can cause some issues among teachers, for the student might say, "Well, Mrs. X accepts the work, without penalty, why won't you?"  However, I believe enacting a full blown policy where every teacher is to follow a set rule can remove the individuality from the situation.  I do accept late homework, although it happens so rarely.  When my students ask to hand in something late, either because they left it at home, left it in their mother's car, was too busy to do it the night before, etc, the student must write me a note as to why I should accept the work late, why it was late, and how they may change the situation to make sure it isn't late the next time.  This letter is expected to be hand written and addressed to me.  That way, I have a folder for every time a student asks to have late work accepted.  If ever an issue were to be raised by a parent, I also have the proper documentation to show them.  If I get more than 2 letters a year from the same student that would be a surprise to me.  If I get 5 of these a marking period, that would be a lot.  I don't know why I don't get a lot of requests for late acceptance due to deadlines.

This type of question usually leads to, "Do you allow students extra time to finish tests?" or "Do you allow students to retake Summative Assessments?"  Again, very touchy and debatable issues.  My attitude is that I want to see what my students know.  Everyone has the opportunity to take their driver's test how ever many times they need to until they pass.  Why do we often want to judge a student on one test result at one moment in time?  This leads to, why not just get rid of grades all together.  Okay, I digress.  Maybe topics for another time.

To summarize, my students are permitted one day for every day they are excused absent, and if the assignment is tardy but student was present, it may handed in without penalty, but with a handwritten letter addressing the following three questions.

  1. Why should I accept it late?
  2. Why was it late?
  3. How can the situation change so that it isn't late the next time?

Monday, January 19, 2015

Relationships, SCoodle, and Sites, OH MY!

I have been asked in #flipclass twitter chat what is one thing that makes my flipclass work better.

There are two things that make my #flipclass work better, and I will address each individually.

The first are the relationships formed with the students.  This actually could be like the age old question about which came first, the chicken or the egg.   I couldn't begin to flip my class successfully if I didn't believe that relationships were important.  However, I wouldn't be able to form relationships if I didn't flip my class, since flipping gives me extra time.  Sure, prior to 3 years ago, I had some pretty good relationships with my students and often had a waiting list to get into my courses, but those relationships only went so far.  I knew about the kids and what they participated in, I knew which kids liked math and which did not, and I knew what kind of math student they were.  However, I didn't know whether they worked well with others, if they enjoyed working with others, what their evening time looked like, who they hung out with, why they did the activities that they did, whether they were a single child or had siblings, where their parents went to college (or even if they went at all) and many other things. Furthermore, the relationships that I build with the parents are strong as well! Being a math teacher, one may find that those things I mention aren't important to math, and maybe directly they aren't.  However, if I know a kid is struggling at home because mom and dad are going through a divorce, that does indirectly affect math.  I am a teacher, and then I teach math.  Getting to know the Whole Child and teaching the whole child is so much more important than just teaching math.

The other piece, which is obviously the lesser important than building relationships, that I feel makes my classes work better is our Moodle.  We call it SCoodle, for State College Moodle.  It is an integral part of my teaching.  It is where I post my videos, and my WSQs, and all other important items of the class.  We as a district are required to keep things private and this allows me to do so.  I can do many things through our SCoodle and couldn't possibly imagine flipping my class without it.

I can name so many others, like Kahoot, Socrative, Infuse Learnine, Educannon, etc, but the two most important would be the ones I listed.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Help, I am stuck, and I don't know how to get unstuck....

I have had great success with flipping my classroom.  My Advanced Algebra 2 flipped class is going great.  The time spent on WSQs, learning the material, exploring the material, and communicating the math is phenomenal.  The kids love learning in a flipped lesson.  The parents support me whole-heartedly.  That isn't where I am stuck.  It's my flipped mastery class.

My flipped mastery class is my class of remediation.  Every student in that class failed to score proficient on the Algebra 1 Keystone Exam for Pennsylvania on their first try at the test.  They must pass it to graduate.  This class started off well, and the kids loved the ability to tune out everything and just work at their own pace.  In the beginning they reiterated to me often that they appreciated the ability to take their time, and really master the concepts.  The appreciated the time that I spent creating the materials (the note packets, the videos, the practice worksheets, the mastery sheets and the application sheets).  They liked that they always got a second chance if they needed it.

They were completely about one lesson every day or two, and proceeding at a pace that I was pleased with.  However, now, 2nd semester with less than 2 weeks left, I can't get them to do anything.  They claim its too hard, its too much work, its no longer fun.  They want me to just tell them how to do it.  I've tried explaining that telling them how to won't help them on the state test.  They don't care.  "Just tell us, Mrs. McGowan."  I really am struggling with that.

Instead of watching the videos, I have tried games, puzzles, bingo, and even other people's videos that I find on youtube and mathtube.  No response.

Flipped mastery I am struggling with.  How long do I let them struggle?  Do I let them struggle? Should I care more than them?  Do I forget about the mastery part and just move them on so that they finish the topics?  How many times do I have them retake skills?  What is mastery?

I've lay awake at night wondering if I have done enough, or if I have done too much.  I wonder what else can be done.  I wonder if I am hurting their learning by doing flipped mastery.

Help!  I am stuck, and need help getting unstuck.