Education

Pet Peeve

Some of you have heard this story already this week (or heard my opinion briefly if you are friends with me on Facebook), but I haven’t been able to shake the thoughts quite yet.

I was watching Who Wants to be a Millionaire earlier this week. It was a couples version for either soon to be or newly married couples. One of their questions was (I’m paraphrasing a bit and I don’t remember EXACTLY) if you are building a pyramid with a 5×5 block base and each layer decreases by one block per side length until the peak, how many blocks are in the pyramid.

Now, if you have ever used Dan Meyer’s Three Act Math tasks you may be familiar with the Amazing Watermelon task. This task shows a clip of teams from The Amazing Race having to build a pyramid of watermelons that starts with a 10×10 base and utilizes perfect squares all the way to the top. This is one of my favorite activities and tasks to do with my 6th graders…they love it and no matter their readiness levels can all access the problem and feel success.

Back to my frustration. Upon hearing the problem, the couple responds way to quickly with “we will ask the audience, we are not math people.”

THIS IS ONE MY LEAST FAVORITE PHRASES. I get so frustrated when people use this phrase as a way to get out of being a problem solver– our students hear adults use this phrase all the time and we have to stop. By saying this, we are giving our kids permission do, say and feel this same way, and we can’t accept that. Am I asking everyone to love math — of course! Just kidding — I know we all have our interests, our passions, our strengths and our weaknesses. They make us who we are and that is 100% okay!

That being said, I am a horrible speller and I do my best to remember correct grammar rules. I COULD consider myself “not a spelling/grammar person (my students will be the first to tell you they have to correct my spelling sometimes)”. But does that mean I will never write anything because I dislike spelling or have to take some extra time and effort to look over my work or use my resources to spell and write correctly. Of course not. How would I be successful in life if I never wrote.

We have to change this mindset of “not being a math person.” If it is not okay to avoid writing because I struggle with spelling, It shouldn’t be okay for people to avoid problem solving and math because they don’t think it is their strength.

This is why being a problem solver is such a vital skill. Being a mathematician is so much more than memorizing formulas and being able to quickly compute the sum, difference, product or quotient of numbers. To be a mathematician you have to be a problem solver and you CAN take your time in doing so. You CAN be a problem solver who CAN’T solve every computation problem in three seconds or less. This is a perfect transition into what my first “blog series” is going to focus on. One of my FAVORITE topics (because let’s be honest, I’d rather write about what I love than phrases that drive me crazy) the 8 Mathematical Practices.

After a lot of thinking and discussions with some of my colleagues (and friends) I feel very passionately about sharing what I know (and the wonderful resources where I learned it) about the 8 Mathematical Practices. I have my first post almost solidified (Math Practice 1- Making sense of a problem and persevere in solving them) and am looking forward to sharing it with you all.

In the meantime — continue encouraging your students to be problem solvers so when they are on Who Wants to be a Millionaire one day, I don’t have to get mad at them for asking the audience about a question a class of 11 and 12 year olds could figure out!

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Education · Teaching

Back By Popular Demand

Okay, maybe not popular demand, but back by the convincing words of a few.

I will be honest, I went through a phase of internal debate when it came to “blogging”. At first, I loved the idea of sharing my thoughts and experiences with my family, friends, colleagues and any strangers that happened to stumble (see what I did there those of you in the 25-30 age range — how many hours a day in college did we waste Stumbling online) upon what I have to say. Then, I hit this point of worry and doubt — did anyone really care what I had to say? Do people just think I am trying to make myself look good? What are my short term and long term goals for writing? Do I even have any or am I doing this for no purpose what so ever.

Needless to say, I still love the idea. My kids are too great to NOT share all the amazing things they do. I do have goals– maybe not be willing and ready to share them with the whole world yet, but they are there! Those who truly know my heart, know that I am not the “self promoting type” and have never really been good at “taking a compliment”. I can be flooded with self-doubt, with nervousness, with the fear of disappointing others, even though I promise, I do have self-confidence and determination in what I do! While I try to do better in those avenues, it is still a place for growth and development, and I do not think that is a horrible thing!

When it comes to my “day to day” job as a teacher, sure there are days when that bell rings and a sigh of relief overcomes me. Even on these days, 99.9% of the time, I can think of a student or a moment that brought me joy, happiness or amazement. These moments ALWAYS surround the compassion, giving, growth, achievement or perseverance my students have shown.  The students in my building are nothing short of amazing, and this CAN NOT be attributed to a ‘just me’ mentality. This has EVERYTHING to do with who they are in their hearts– deep to their core. This has EVERYTHING to do with the parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbors and siblings who love them. This has EVERYTHING to do with the phenomenally dedicated staff these kiddos have had willing to do ANYTHING for them since the minute they step into our building. My students are able to accomplish and succeed in 5th and 6th grade because of EVERYTHING they have been taught and learned prior to stepping into my classroom — it is why they can even begin to attempt the tasks and projects I place before them. I am forever grateful for their educational past, even if it is not a perfect picture.

The week leading up to winter break is always one of those love/hate relationship types. As teachers, we are looking forward to “break” (yes, I know most of us are still grading and planning– I am with ya, 7:00 is definitely sleeping in though), but we know the inevitable chaos the days before break have in store. Every year, I am amazed at how much I learn during this time. The holidays allow you to take something as simple as breakfast duty and let you see the true value behind that 20 minutes every morning. There are two brothers who are not in my classes (4th grader and kindergartner) who are either the first ones in the breakfast line, or the last ones because they are running really late. No matter if they are first or last, both of them ALWAYS look like they are still half asleep or sad. Now, this might not seem like a big deal because, duh its morning…but let me tell you, the kids in our building come in with ENERGY in the morning.  No matter when they come in, no matter how tired they look, these two have a way to brighten my day, tug at my heart, fill me with love and make my day better. The kindergartner never fails to give me 2 or 3 hugs before he heads to class, tells me a story that I can not for the life of me determine where it originated from and ask for an extra juice or for help opening his milk. It wasn’t until 2 days before break I realized his older brother (too old for 2-3 hugs a morning, doesn’t need help opening his milk or finding an extra juice) cared just as much as I did. I meant something to him just as he did to me.

The 4th graders spent a portion of their day writing acrostic poems and in the middle of the day, I got hand delivered a “Mrs Rhodes” acrostic poem that brought tears to my eyes. My favorite line “Every morning gets me out of my zombie mood at breakfast with her smile.” I am not kidding you. I lost it. You read those quotes all over the place about how your smile can make a difference and all that jazz and at the risk of sounding like Buddy the Elf, smiling is my favorite. I love to smile, I love the way it makes me feel (even if sometimes its a bit fake)  and I love the way it can make others feel or the way it can make people respond. Often times, my students ask me why I smile all the time (a question I have a difficult time answering sometimes because I teach at a public school — someone let me know how I can tell them “Because God is good, He loves us and His love is in us” without “crossing the line” and I will be overjoyed. In that moment, reading that poem I knew for sure my smile mattered. Relationships Matter.

My point overall (remember, I really didn’t want this to seem  like it was ‘about me’) is that what we do matters. How we show love matters. Our students notice EVERYTHING. They notice the zip lock bag that is always full of sharpened pencils that they can have no questions asked, they notice the cleaned out desks (they might not realize it took you an hour after school to get them that way), they notice our smiles, they notice our frowns. They notice what we do. They notice us.

As we head into the 2018 school year, let’s give our students something loving, something positive and something genuine to notice. Each and every day.

Education

That time of year.

If I needed any more proof that it is “that time of year” I could utilize the fact that I have not been able to force myself to sit down and reflect in writing for almost 3 weeks.

So much for my twice a week (once at the least) goal. I guess goals can be revised, rewritten and restarted!

Teaching 4 preps for the first time since my first year of teaching (this is year 6) has been one of the best parts of my day, and also one of the most stressful parts of my day! Gone are the days of making sure I have everything I need in the morning and being set for the day. Now I make sure I have everything I need until 9:15, then everything I need until 12:30 and then everything I need until 2:45. The planning, material gathering and reflection are at an all time high for this teacher, but it has been so invigorating in the process.

I assigned/taught/graded my first “real” writing assignment in 5 years and MAN did I forget what it was like to grade writing! Thank goodness for rubrics, but STILL. I definitely did not manage my time well this past weekend. ELA teachers, your dedication, self-discipline and perseverance are not going unnoticed!

My 6th graders have worked together with their learning teams to explore area concepts, teach each other about scientific investigations/experiments and discovered the similarities and differences between accuracy and precision.

My 5th graders have completed online simulations where they utilized the scientific method, learned how to choose measuring tools for the most accurate and precise measurement, created structures to test during a model earthquake inquiry and learned to model multiplication with an area model and a generic rectangle with partial products.

The level of focus and dedication the students display on a daily basis provide the added motivation for me when curling up on the couch with my golden retriever watching football or The Voice sounds so much better than planning and grading.

But it is that time of year.

It is that time of year where there doesn’t seem to be enough coffee in the world. It’s that time of year when the papers in the “to grade” pile are stacked higher than the papers in the “to complete” pile but definitely not has high as the “to pass back” pile (seriously–when do you all have time to pass things back?)! It is that time of year when we as teachers feel like we spend more hours taking to our students families than our own (especially if you have fall conferences). It is that time when we start thinking “I guess we will sleep in June” (because the weekends are NOT enough time to “catch up”).

One of my sisters is in her first year as a social worker and works for an agency that partners with the Cleveland Metropolitan Schools. I have had similar conversations with her trying to prepare her for the long late fall early winter days! So while I just sent her a Starbucks gift card to help in the short term, I had to remind her in the long term what while it is “that time of year” it is also that time of year to recognize the progress students have made. It is that time of year to reflect on just how much you really have gotten done in your curriculum or meetings. It is that time of year to remember how you have developed as an individual and a professional. It is that time of year to keep doing your best for your students, but also that time of year to keep doing your best for yourself.

Don’t forget to stop and take time to nourish your own spirit. For me, this comes in the form of spending time with my family and friends, going to bed an hour earlier (even if that means I have to wake up an hour earlier to finish the left over plans), taking an extra long walk with my dog and being okay with the “to grade” pile taking an extra day to shrink.

Enjoy “THIS time of year” it only comes around once with the kiddos you have now!

-AMR

Education

Thankful.

If you are hoping for a life-changing, earth-shaking, mind-blowing blog post today, I hate to disappoint you, but this is likely NOT going to be it. I was fortunate enough to spend all day yesterday and the first half of my day today with my 6th graders at Heartland Conference Retreat Center for 6th grade camp and it is by far one of my favorite experiences of each year.

In our district, the 6th grade teachers (and a few other staff members) from each building are allowed to take students on a 2-night, 3-day camp experience, and words can not do our trip justice. From the moment we arrive on campus, the Heartland Staff takes over and makes the experience as enjoyable and smooth as possible. They lead our students through courses that we select (this year- survival, team challenge, reptiles and amphibians, mammals, pathfinders and archery), afternoon activities and evening activities (this year- Wacky Olympics, a dance party, campfire and a night hike) and we get to enjoy bouncing around from class to class and observing our students learning and problem solving together. While these days are beyond exhausting, they are more than worth it!

I love being able to sit back and watch my kiddos experience things for the first time. Whether it is holding a bearded dragon, petting a chinchilla, climbing the indoor rock wall, building a shelter in the woods or learning how to build a fire, the level of engagement and joy are impossible to document to their fullest extent. The school I teach at is in a district that is considered affluent, but our building is classified as a Title I school with more than half of our students receiving free and reduced breakfast and lunch daily. The average socio-economic status of our families is the lowest in the district, while our ethnic diversity is among the highest! Our students are dedicated and determined students who practice our 7 virtues (respect, responsibility, self-discipline, honesty, perseverance, giving, and compassion) daily, yet do not always have the same out of school experiences and opportunities as their same grade level peers at other buildings around the district. 6th grade camp allows our students to experience activities they may otherwise not be exposed too, and I am so fortunate to be able to facilitate and be a part of their learning in these situations. Their smiles tell a better story than I will ever be able to.

The hardest part is choosing which pieces to share with you!

 

Education · Teaching

Teaching Collaboration.

Collaboration is vital in the world of education from both the teaching and learning perspective.

As I reflect on my first 5 (and 3 months) years of teaching, there are so many interactions with colleagues I am thankful for. There are so many co-workers and friends who have, because my collaboration with them, led me to be a better thinker, learner and teacher.

The ability to collaborate is one that is held in highest regard in the workplace (and in the classroom), yet I don’t remember at all being taught how to collaborate. This could be because I have a horrible memory of my childhood, or because when “we were kids” collaboration came more natural for whatever reason (I blame technology and the ability to be enthralled with an individual activity or in front of a screen). This year, I have tried to have all of the sections I teach (5th grade science, 5th grade math, 6th grade science and 6th grade math) all be centered around the nature of collaboration.

This was not as easy of a transition as I thought.

Little did I know, I had to teach my students how to collaborate effectively. I like to think with enough time to plan and enough resources (and time to study the material myself) I can teach just about anything. Then the first few days of school hit and I realized, well, this is new. I wanted my kids to work and learn together almost ALL the time, but I had to teach them how to do that. I had to take a step back and think about what my goals for collaboration were, and how slow was I willing to go content wise these first weeks of school to build the collaboration aspect of our learning community.

Thankfully, my school district was a step ahead of me. Our district adopted a new math program for 6th-12th graders that is TOTALLY focused around team learning and collaborative groups. CPM might have saved me. CPM is a math program based out of California, and they envision a world where “mathematics is view as intriguing and useful, is appreciated by all and where powerful mathematical thinking is an essential, ,universal and desirable trait; and where people are empowered by mathematical problem solving and reasoning…”. Their program is based around students working collaboratively in teams (because 4 brains are better than 1) and provide teachers with more tools, professional development and guidance than I could ever imagine to help embed collaboration in each and ever lesson. I will admit, I was apprehensive to make such a strong overall shift in classroom structure (we have always worked in teams problem solving, but that has not typically been the DAILY structure or expectation in class), but I have never been more thrilled with the progress a group of students has made in the first 3-4 weeks of school as I have seen with my current group of 6th graders. Each and every one of them is now committed to working as a team.

The great thing about this curriculum switch, is that it made it even easier for my other class periods (especially the ones with my 5th grade– I can tell them “I just want you to be prepared for 6th grade) to take on more of a collaborative learning approach. While we still have a long way to go,  I am so proud of my students in how quickly they have learned to work and learn together in ways they are not used to. I am energized and excited to see what the next 7-8 months have in store for my team of learners (including myself)!

-AMR

 

 

Education

Let Kids Be Kids

9 days down, and many more to go!

I now know why writers keep a journal with them at all times — I have had to jot down a list of things I want to reflect on and write about during these first couple weeks of school, but time seems to fly by (or when I do have time, all I want to do is take a nap….or binge watch Game of Thrones….do we really have to wait until 2019?!?!)!

Flexibility is the name of the game when it comes to teaching, which can be comical since most teachers I know thrive with a schedule. The first 9 days of school were all about scheduled flexibility. We are finally settling into a routine, and it is a routine that I am thrilled with. I was a little nervous at first looking at how our schedule was pieced together, it seemed like it would be very choppy with a lot of breaks throughout the day. This schedule is exactly what my students and I (hopefully my teammate too) need.

We have four solid instructional blocks that are packed with meaningful conversations, discussions, inquiry, collaboration, reading, writing, and learning. All because we have time in our day when our kids can be kids. We have time in our day where our kids can enjoy being together, can enjoy giving their brains a quick break and in turn can enjoy learning.

In the first 9 days, I have witnessed a group of 2nd, 5th and 6th graders playing together happily outside. I have witnessed sixteen 10 and 11 year olds play a huge game of duck, duck, goose. I have witnessed 20+ 5th and 6th graders huddle together to watch and protect a toad (and move in their huddled circle to keep the toad inside.

In the first 9 days, I have also witnessed teams of 3-4 students work together to extend and analyze mathematical patterns. I have witnessed these students represent the pattern visually, in words and with numbers. I have witnessed students work in pairs to complete an online simulation to help them practice collecting and organizing data. I have witnessed students helping their neighbors write eight or nine digit numbers in expanded form, in word form and numerical form when they were struggling. I have heard students apologize for accidents and mistakes. I have heard kids say they are happy to be in class. I have heard kids say they can’t wait to be able to read and I have heard kids say they wish they could keep playing their math games. I have watched students show compassion, giving, honesty, self-discipline and perseverance.

My heart has been overjoyed with what I have been able to witness from my students so far this year. I look forward to the year to come, and how much academic, social, emotional and personal growth I am going to witness in my students, and in myself thanks to my students.

The kids I get to work with every day are awesome. I am so blessed to be able help them continue to learn, grow and play in a place where they feel welcome, safe and happy.

Here’s to 2017-2018.

-AMR