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.