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…

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Being Black at TMC

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As an African American female, I often feel I have a heighten awareness of how I relate to the world around me. To be more specific, I have a conscious thought of the places I go, who I may encounter there and whether or not I have to enter said place with my guards up. Being an African American female in the south makes this awareness even more potent.

It's important to know that I grew up in the suburbs of southern Maryland with a diversity group of people, I never attended a predominately minority school nor did I attend a historically black college or university. With this said, I have been aware of my blackness and it's relationship to my world literally all my life.

I've made my own conclusion about life. One in particular relates to my attendance at Twitter Math Camp 2017. I concluded that by attending this conference, I'd be one of few black people there. This thought seemed very normal to me. As an educator, I've been in many professional learning sessions where I was the sole African American "representative" in the room. I've grown accustomed to it, making it my duty to represent my race and culture with dignity in those rooms.

So when I walked in the Dining Hall of Holy Innocent Episcopal School along with around 200 other participants, I wasn't surprised to see like 4 or 5 other brown skinned people. But that evening I received a DM from another participant which read, "Where are all the black people?"

In that moment, reading that message, I realized it wasn't my role to be the sole representative. It isn't supposed to be normal for me to be the only black face in the room. I had to ask myself some really hard questions. Jenise, what have you done to engage your African American counterparts in this forum? What message are you sending when you don't question why there aren't more African Americans in the room? And the toughest one, what's your role in this discussion?

Attending TMC was on my professional bucket list. I so desired to attend that I even wrote about it around this time last year in a Global Math Department article. When I shared this wish of attending with a good friend of mine, his response was, "To be honest Jenise, if you want to attend, you need to present." I immediately felt disappointed, with my first thought being, "I don't have anything to offer." But my desire to attend weighed so heavily upon me, I pulled up my big girl panties and submitted a proposal.

Fast forward to #TMC17, completely geeked up from the opportunity to learn from people I admire, I walked into something for which I was not prepared. Days leading to the conference, I received messages of encouragement from other #tmc17 participants when I expressed presentation gitters.

Walking into the Dining Hall, smiling faces greeted me and offers for seating invited me. Conversations were easy, many happening as if I were talking with an old friend I hadn't seen in a while.

To take things a step farther, opportunities for deep and vulnerable conversations about the art of teaching math occurred in multiple sessions. I found out quickly that I did have something to offer, and it was more than I expected.

Which brings me back to my tough questions. Could it be that many of my African American counterparts are not in these math communities because they've yet to be informed through a simple invitation? Is it because they feel they don't have anything to offer? Or do they feel our ways of teaching math are so drastically different that others wouldn't understand their perspective?

I don't have an answer to those questions. I know that #TMC17 has made me a better math educator with one conference. I can only imagine how I will continue to evolve as I attend more TMCs in the future. So I'm changing my #1tmcthing to speaking up and out about the underrepresentation of African American teachers in #tmc and #mtbos. Not speaking up as if these organization have purposely caused an injustice. But speaking up to inform, empower and educate African American teachers how to #pushsend and join the conversation. You have a lot to bring to the table and your voice deserves to be heard.

It’s All Becoming Real

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I blinked and pre-planning is next week!!  I’ve had a productive and relaxing summer, so no regrets (not even that 20 hour drive to Boston).  Now it’s time to put my game face on and head back to work.

Me

My game face!

I’ve setup  my classroom, for the most part.  I call it my cubby.

 

My lesson plans for the semester are uploaded.  T.I. said, “If you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready.”

Image result for TI

This is T.I.   I don’t know him personally.

And thanks to @JoyKirr, I have selected activities to fill my agenda for the first 2 weeks of school!! Sidebar: I’ll see my classes every other day.

eCLASS Scavenger Hunt

Manipulatives Exploration

Procedures and Routines Nearpod

and More!

Sneak Peek

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Like most people in my profession, my summer has been laced with relaxation and preparation for the coming school year.  I made this short (10 minutes) video for my collaborators of a new curriculum we’re planning to try this school year.

Just a little background before you view the video.

  • I’ll be teaching 6-8 grade math enrichment.
  • My max class size will be 20 students.
  • I will have access to 20 computers daily.

Personalized Learning Screencast

I’m open to feedback and suggestions.

Since I’ve Been Gone

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Writing the title made Kelly Clarkson’s song play through my mind.

 

A lot has happened since my last post.  And instead of boring you with minor details, I’ll share the highlights of April to May.

“School should end after GMAS!”

Georgia Milestones, Georgia’s standardized state test, happened a week after spring break.  My students were pretty anxious about the test has its a portion of the promotion criteria for 8th grade.  To ease the worries, we focused more on mindfulness strategies and stress relieving techniques versus math content.  With the help of some parents, I cooked them breakfast the mornings of the math test to help boost their brain activity.

That was only the first hurdle.  Once testing was done, the students were mentally spent and cried, understandably, “school should end after GMAS!”  The unfortunate part was, there was still a month left of school.

My Vow to Keep Them Engaged

Full fledged choice learning was my vow to keep my students engaged.  I asked the students to choose what and how they wanted to review for the semester final based on the provided student guides.  Students worked independently or within groups on the student guides during the work session which was followed by a daily mini quiz (Mini quiz example).  Our compromise was, we worked hard Mondays through Thursdays and had a free day on Fridays.

To prevent the student guides from becoming mundane, I implemented multiple review games such as Kahoot!, Quizlet Live and my favorite Towels on the Beach.  We also did many “get up and move” kinds of activities like gallery walk task cards and desk hop.

Using What Jo Taught Me

After testing I felt I had a fresh start to try some ideas I learned from reading Mathematical Mindset that I was too impatient to wait until next year to try.  So instead of creating a study guide for our semester 2 final, I created task cards similar to what Jo discussed in Chapter 7 From Tracking to Growth Mindset Grouping.  My sources were Illustrative Mathematics, Open Middle, Georgia Frameworks, nzmaths.co.nz and the SMILE inventory referenced in the book.

Look to the Future 

My role next year is changing yet again.  I’m super excited about what’s to come.  The rationale for my class is establishing mathematical mindsets and foundations in middle school.  I’ll be working with a curriculum to fill gaps 6th through 8th grade students have in mathematics.  The entire undertone will be growth mindset.  More on this to come!

 

You Know That Feeling?

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You know that feeling that you get when the excitement wells up on the inside of you?  I’m talking about the level of excitement that makes you want to give out the most gitty giggle you’ll only do around those most closest to you?  I felt that this past week. What made me feel that way? Choice. 

I’ve tried to make levels of choice happen in my classroom before as explained here and here. This year, inspired by a visit to a Montessori school, I’ve tried upping my level of choice for students. I’m going to explain things in reverse. 


Every student was engaged and on task completing one of the activities within the calendar.  The options were: live mini-lesson or video mini-lesson followed by a Hands-on Standards worksheet everyone was required to complete on Line of Best Fit. As I walked around observing students working in small groups, pairs or independently, I felt the excitement welling up. Before I gave off a squeal that would have reduced my cool points 😎, I calmly stated, “you all are working so well, I’m so proud of you right now.”

We worked at this level of choice all week. I’ve coined it Choice Learning and the students caught on quickly to where to go to find the activities for the day. Most of them use their phones to access the materials. I provide 2-5 iPads and a desktop computer for students who do not have their own technology. 

This is where we started.


One day a student made a comment about having choice and I ran with it. Not a wise decision in hindsight. We were reviewing for our unit assessment which covered 6 concepts. I instructed students to develop a learning plan which would be implemented over two days. For the plan students had to pick 3 concepts in which they need more practice to “sure up” their understanding. I would pick a 4 which would be based on the data from their most recent concept quiz. 

Based on their learning plan, they would pick activities to work on while I pulled small groups for remediation. It was short of a disaster. Why?  Not enough support on my part. Day one I spent most of my time working at a station trying to help students understand how to find the missing coordinate when give slope and one point. I never pulled small groups and there was ALOT of redirecting happening. 

What did I learned from all of that?

  1. Too much choice can be chaotic and overwhelming. 
  2. Have support materials for students to access helps to free me up for small group instruction. 
  3. But most importantly, assess the situation in truth and make adjustments. (Don’t just strap the idea.)

Moving Forward

Here’s the plan for next week that has me excited all over again: 



Using Observation Rubrics

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Anyone who has experienced John Van de Walle has probably read about observations rubrics. In his Elementary and Middle School Mathematics Teaching Developmentally book, he discussed various ways to collect formative data on students.  The observation rubric happens to be my favorite.


I’ve used this idea in my classes for about three years now. This school year I’ve been using it more consistently to truly inform my instruction on a day to day basis. What has helped with this consistency is use of standards based grading (SBG) as each rubric is developed based on the concept we are focusing on.

grade-snapshot

For example, we are currently focusing on linear vs non linear. So I reviewed the Achievements Level Descriptors developed by the Georgia Department of Education to define the levels of understanding. So when students engage in an activity, whether whole group, small group or independently I’m able to use the rubric to assess where they are.

Whole Group

Have you ever done a whiteboard activity with students? You may pose a question to the class, each student records their responses on their own whiteboard and holds it up for you to see their answers.  With the rubric on a clipboard, you can quickly record students level of understanding of the concept and make adjustments to the collaborative or independent portion of the day’s (or week’s) lesson.  As students are taking turns to go to the board to record their answers to problems, you could mark where they fall based on the expectations on the rubric.

Collaborative/Group/Partner Work

While students work on tasks from Illustrative Mathematics, Georgia Frameworks, Open Middle, etc.  I circulate with the rubric on the clipboard and ask questions or listen in on the conversations students are having and rate them on the rubric.

Formative Assessments

Often times I will use Exit Tickets or Plickers or post-it notes as formative assessments.  After reviewing the responses, I’ll record how the data reflects the expectations on the rubric.