Checking My Bias at the Door

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As a non-white educator, my biases are not called out, well, at all.  But that does not mean I should not be aware that biases exist.  I’m going to be completely transparent in this post so…warning

For my entire career I have worked within Title 1 schools on purpose.  While in undergraduate school, I had the opportunity to volunteer at a Non-Title school where I developed the bias “*these kids are entitled and I am not valued here”.

*Definition: white kids with parents who are lawyers, doctors, pilots, etc., kids of privlege

From that point, in 2003, I decided I would never teach in a Non-Title school.  Driven by my bias, I concluded what I had to offer would be wasted on *these kids.  The exclusion of a group based on their level of privilege; it’s harsh as I type it out but it is my truth.  And what was it I had to offer?  My philosophy has been to approach learning from a social emotional stance, providing students with a voice on how they learn best and meet them where they are.  Sidebar, this philosophy has evolved over time but the essence has remained the same.

So who did I feel was deserving of my teaching love and affection?  Students within Title 1 schools, more specifically, schools whose students looked like me.  I want to believe it all happened by happenstance, teaching at schools with a large African American population.  I would not say, I sought out these schools, especially not as much as I avoided Non-Title schools.  Over the past 15 years, I have poured my all into the children I taught.  Expectations were all ways high, the work was always intentional, the thought was always **my kids could.

**Definition: African American students from low socio-economic areas.

Still blinded to my biases, I was awarded the opportunity to support teachers within my school district with math instruction.  Two of the three schools I support have a high Hispanic population.  Enter screech sound here.  What?  How do you teach ***those kids?

***Definition: Any student who has English as a second language.

I immediately began to do some “research” on how to teach ***those kids.  I reached out through Twitter and email to educators who have worked in schools with high Hispanic populations.  The message was all the same, “Good teaching is good teaching, nothing is different”.  My biases began to creep to the surface.  Then my new supervisor stated the same thing to me as we stood in the parking lot.  Her look lack judgment but her words exposed my bias.  The exposure was hard to swallow, but necessary to digest.

So I asked myself, what makes *these kids and ***those kids so different from **my kids.  Answer, me! It was my own biases which didn’t match my belief of every kid deserves a solid foundation in mathematics and the flexibility to learn in their own way.  So now that I am naked before you, let me share my next steps in hopes that when your biases are exposed you can work to eliminate them.

Yes, I have a bias, now what?

Define what good teaching is and what it looks like.  For me good teaching starts with a context which automatically engages the learner.  This context allows the learner to bring their own knowledge to the table and and naturally discover what they know and what they don’t know.  It looks like consistently identifying misconceptions and developing a plan to intentionally address the misconceptions in a timely manner.  Good teaching allows for student goal setting and self assessment in addition to the formative assessment pieces determined by the teacher.

Be conscious of your thoughts.  Where are your expectations?  Be intentional about keeping the bar high no matter who is in front of you.  Reflection helps to check your “bar level”.  If your thoughts are focused on what the students can’t do instead of what they can and build from there you may be encountering your biases.

Remember your why.  What’s your philosophy?  Why are you an educator?  Check your actions and thoughts against your why.  If they don’t match, change your actions and thoughts.

Confess your flaws to a trusted colleague or friend.  Someone who is a critical friend and will call you out on the biases and help you work through them.  Not the person who will feed into your biases and deepen the level of the roots.

 

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I Hate Math

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Every math teachers’ most hated words, or at least something close.  I pride myself in making math fun, understandable, and relatable to my students.  I view instruction as a way to dispel myths created by negative experiences within math classrooms.  This year, I even implemented I Love Math month to combat math stereotypes and myths.

I’ve read and heard countless messages from students this year about how their perspective of math has changed.  But there were 3 vocal mindsets that had yet to change.  I began with encouraging words and motivational speeches to try and change their thinking.  And yet, negativity still prevailed.

So about March, I made a decision.  As my pastor puts it, I decided not to hug their fears.  When they would say statements like, “I’m not good at this” or “I hate math”, I responded with, “That’s unfortunate”.  When they would sit in their seats and not make an attempt while everyone else was engaged, I didn’t acknowledge them.  The bible puts it this way (in a different context of course): “…wives, submit to your husbands; so that even if some of them do not believe the Word, they will be won over by your conduct, without your saying anything, as they see your respectful and pure behavior.” 1 Peter 3:1-2 CJB.  What does that have to do with me and teaching? At some point, it isn’t our words that change the behavior and mindset, it’s our actions, passions and desire to do the right work.

What caused those students to come around was observing the enthusiasm of their peers and our stick-to-it-ness of challenging their fixed mindset.  Not giving into their demands of being less than their very best.  Not wavering from my core belief that math makes sense.  And establishing boundaries to say, this is where I begin and end and where you pick up to do the rest.

In the end, my hope is that they realized, when they put forth their best try, positive results occur.  My hope is that they realized it is a decision they must make in order to overcome the obstacles in which have been constructed in front of them.  My hope is that they realized love comes also in the form of encouragement in words and actions.

I’m not saying this is the antidote to the world’s problems, but it worked for me this year.  Every sickness does not have the same cure.  You will have to find what works for your relationship with your kids and that fits your core beliefs.  But I can guarantee you, when you lead with love (for math, kids, teaching, serving, etc) you will never lose.

I Love Math 2018- Day 2

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February 14th kicked off I Love Math month for my kids!  I learned about this idea in a session at #NCTMRegional2017 in Orlando.

Here is the list of events and slides.  I used components from Youcubed’s Inspirational Maths Week, visual patterns, Clothesline Math and 7th grade concepts you are reviewing.

Day 2 created a buzz within the room as students worked in groups to create equations which would result in a solution of x = 4.  Students were given the added incentive of creating a complex equation which I defined as an equation which included fractions or decimals, were multi-step and/or used the distributive property.

Each group chose one equation to share with the class in which everyone worked to prove or disprove the solution of x = 4.  Below are some of the equations shared within 3 of my 4 classes.

 

Things were so intense with selecting a winning team in my 4th academic class I needed the math AP to come and select the winning equation.

To see students so excited about mathematics was very encouraging and completely worth the 5-15 minutes spent each day during I Love Math month!

Video of Day 2 equation sharing

They Called Me a Murderer

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As I circulated around the room the lyrics from a Notorious B.I.G. song kept playing in my head, “Somebody got to die!”

That sounds harsh, but its my truth.  We couldn’t continue like this, its had gone on long enough.

No, this isn’t the beginning of my mystery novel, it’s actually my thoughts as I circulated watching my students engage in a Desk Hop activity.  I learned about Desk Hop from a blog I read several years ago, I wish I could cite it but I cannot remember the blog:-/.  At any rate, students went from desk to desk answering questions involving percent increase and percent decrease.  Some were fairly simple while others required a bit more reasoning.  However, the reasoning was stunted with one phrase.  One phrase that cause them all to stop thinking in their tracks and wave the white flag of surrender, paralyzed in their positions.  I can’t possible walk them through the thought process forever.  That’s when I devised a plan to get away with murder.

It was easy, I just did it.  I killed “I don’t get it”.  We had a funeral for it so that the kids would have time to mourn the lost of their old friend, which I referred to as their frenemy.  Many of them called me a murderer as they “wept loudly”.

Lucky for us “I don’t get it” is survived by “Here’s what I know… Here’s what I don’t know…”  As students became acquainted with their new friends they began to realized when they identified what they knew, developing a plan was easier than “I don’t get it” let off to be.

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Rest in peace “I don’t get it”.  I for one will not miss you!

I Must Be Okay…

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It’s impossible to fit everything in.  You would think by 15 years in this game I should be okay with this phenomenon.  Everyday, I try to summarize my lessons with some form of formative assessment: sticky bars, muddiest point, exit ticket, something.  But no matter my best intentions, these summarizing activities are just writings on the daily agenda and not actions conducted by my students.

Beating myself up during self reflection, I can’t understand why everything isn’t happening the way I plan?  In a perfect classroom, all my lessons play out exactly how I think through them in my mind.  In a perfect classroom, students will apply the strategies we’ve explored in new situations.

Today it hit me!  I have to be okay with not finishing.  Now, I’m not talking about not finishing a naked math worksheet or a bunch of Kuta worksheet word problems.  Those are meant to be used for just a portion of a class period, if at all.  I’m referring to rich tasks like the 3 act tasks we were working on today.  Tomorrow, I planned to do another task relating to percent increase and percent decrease.  But why is that necessary?  Why can’t I allow students to continue to make sense of the task before moving on?  The purpose of the tasks in to put students in problematic situation for which they can apply their reasoning and strategies to prove their estimations.  If students think the activity is fun, why not allow them to continue enjoying the mathematics in which they are engaged?

So what I planned for tomorrow will not be used in its entirety.  The Earth will not stop on its axis and the students won’t die from continuing the activity.  Learning will still occur, thinking will be completed and we will be closer to mastery than we were the previous day.  I’ll also have time to summarize the lesson.

I can’t be so tied to the plans I’ve entered into my calendar that it keeps me from productive teaching and learning, from following the lead of my students.

What’s More Important

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At the end of a unit, a decision must be made. As the teacher, you have the power to decide which mindset you want to encourage. Fixed mindset says this is the end of learning for Unit 1, show what you know and if you don’t know it too bad so sad. A growth mindset says, I know you may understand some concepts more than others. Learning is a process and you have until the end of this school year to master these standards.

I believe these mindsets are communicated to students through what we allow and disallow during the unit test/common assessments. So what did I allow for my first common assessment for my new students?

Our anchor charts we developed as a collaboration of 4 classes. Most math teachers have store bought posters hung in their classrooms. These posters remain up throughout the year and probably very rarely do students refer to them as a resource. Our anchor charts on the other hand are interactive and we refer back to them constantly throughout the learning process. And just as those store bought posters aren’t removed, our anchors are not removed during our unit tests.

I allowed students to ask me questions. Many I couldn’t answer such as, “do I multiply or divide for this question”. But for questions like, “I don’t understand what this question is asking me to do” were used as a teachable moment to apply the 3-Read Strategy to make sense of word problems. Questions like, “what’s a terminating decimal again” I answered because students were introduced to the term only a day before the test and I had yet to put it on the word wall. Here’s a note on word walls.

I helped kids use functions on the calculator. In 6th grade, students are only allowed to use 4 function calculators. Then in 7th grade, they are given TI-30s to use. And we all know the calculators don’t give correct answers if the user has incorrect thinking. So when they ended up with a SYNTAX ERROR message, I explained they had to use a different button from the subtraction symbol to input a negative number. When they tried entering a mixed number, I explained what buttons to push to get the template for mixed numbers.

I feel it’s important for students to have some success on their first assessment to help with math confidence. So on the 1st assessments , I go around checking over a few answers and encourage students to double check their thinking on those the answered incorrectly. In most cases, students have already applied some form of process of elimination and they end up with the correct answer. In other cases I can see their misconceptions even when the question is multiple choice. What I’ve found with using this method is in general students become a little more confident mathematically because of the overall success and they also become more prone to automatically review their answers before submitting their test.

And what I feel was the most important thing for them was, I asked, “is everyone doing okay?” Those that were pressed on. Those that weren’t looked up at me wide eyed and shook their heads no. Imagine the anxiety they were dealing with prior to my question.

At the end of our common assessment yesterday, I shared the class average with each class. We had a brief talk about how hard they’ve work over our two weeks together and how their hard work paid off. We discussed how our timeline for learning differed from the other math classes and how we will continue to work with the concepts to begin to commit them to memory.

I’m sure you have your own opinion about what was discussed within the post. And before you question what I’ve done, may I pose this question to you. What’s more important to you, politics and their rules of engagement or students and their overall mindset?

Catching My Breath

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How is it that we’re 6 weeks into the school year and this is my first time blogging?! It could be the fact we were out three days last week due to Hurricane Irma and the following two days were a whirlwind. Or the start of a personalized learning format has been taxing. I feel as though I haven’t been able to catch my breath.

My First Two Weeks

I wanted my Math Enrichment classes to be a place students wanted to come and learn math. I wanted it to be a place where they knew they had a voice and flexibility with a balance of structure. So we spent the first two weeks establishing our routines and procedures.

We had flexible seating in our classroom. Seats were assigned using playing cards. Students would enter the classroom, place their book bags near the door, find their seats and read the Daily Message. It worked well for us. Students never fought over who would sit where and they would have all materials needed for class before I was done greeting the last student.

Because students would work independent of my instruction, we needed clear expectations. What better way than for students to set the expectation for themselves. So each class participated in their own affinity map activity.

Each class had their own unique set of expectations in which they were held to during self guided work time. Of course I had to remind some that they in fact set the expectation they we currently not meeting. Ownership goes a long way.

The Work Began Week Three

We didn’t begin jumping into content until the 3rd week of school. The personalized learning curriculum developed for my course has 4 levels for each unit. I had all students begin at level 1.

Each day we were to complete self guided assignments, students would complete our goal setting form before diving into the assignments. At the end of the work session, students would complete a reflection form.

I was in a groove, and 5 weeks into the year, I was informed I was moving to 7th grade…