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.