Friday, March 18, 2011

The Voices

I just finished preparing for a math lesson.  I was having fun and was also focused on creating something of quality so the process took around 6 hours. 

Suddenly, I realize that my head is pounding.  Too much time playing with power point.  And that’s when they start.

A little voice in my head says, “Sarah you can’t continue like this!  You also spent a total of 10 hours working this weekend when you add in the time you spent grading papers.”  The other voice then starts up, “How could you start complaining like that?  Are you going to be a whiner now?  I thought you loved teaching?”

Then I feel very conflicted and guilty.  Most of all I feel tired.  Time to sleep.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Which Came First?

Which Came First?
Old Adage: Which came first the chicken or the egg?
In Education: Which came first the textbook or outcomes?
In Your Opinion:  Ideally, which SHOULD come first?

Me:  I'm still having a staring contest with the egg.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Making A Fool Of Myself

I was a downright stinky first year teacher, and I knew it.  Perhaps part of my struggle could be attributed to the fact that I bit off more than I could chew.  I was a "wannabe Gandhi" when I finished my degree at Seattle University.  I was out to tackle an extremely difficult teaching assignment and wanted to make a "difference".  I taught at an inner-city, low income middle school in a self contained classroom for students with emotional behavioral disorders.  I came in thinking I was "super teacher" and left clinging to my last drop of confidence.  

I wish I would have known the secret.  Most teachers are too proud to admit it but feel just as clueless and ineffective their first year.  As a newbie I didn’t dare mention any issue for fear of ridicule.  I bumbled forward on my solo walk of poor teaching and self hate.  There were far too many teachers in the staff room bragging about their most recent “earth shattering” lessons.  I wish more people sat around reflecting on their most recent classroom disasters.  It would make for more interesting conversation.  
With a masters degree and  four years on the job, I only feel moderately confident, on a good day.  I doubt it will get any better from here.  And I'm content with that.   Overly confident teachers end up losing touch with reality and ultimately fail their students.  Not every random and creative thing I plan unfolds  as I intend.  Sometimes the best lesson ideas just don't work,  but I keep trying.  Right now I'm adherent to the belief that this is the key to good teaching.  Just keep trying.  Even the most talented and experienced teachers are constantly experimenting, trying to avoid the temptation to deride themselves.  

I have concluded that the best way to deal with this issue is to embrace opportunities to make a fool of myself in and out of the classroom.  I openly admit to mistakes in front of my students and encourage kids to question my teaching and assessment practices.  I happily  regale colleagues with tales of my early disasters and more recent breakouts of the occasional “mediocre lesson pimples”.  I tell my students that the only way we know for sure that someone isn’t a robot is from their flub ups.  On my wall there is a large poster; “If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not learning.”  In order to grow, children and teachers need to feel safe.  They need to know that making mistakes is an essential part of the process of learning to be a better student and teacher.

You put on your clown suit, avoid honking your horn and, "just keep swimming."   (As Dori from Finding Nemo would say)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Geometry Says

Geometry Says:  Middle School Math Review Game

This game works in the same way that "Simon says" does.  Except you create gestures for the geometry concepts you’ve taught.   My 6th grade math students went nuts for it.   
Here are a few examples:  
“Peace sign” for an acute angle. 
“Loser sign” for a right angle.   
I’m sure you get the point.  When you say, "Geometry says, acute angle," the kids competing have to hold up a peace sign.  Its very easy to make up your own gestures.  If you have questions or something to add, shoot me an email.

As someone who grew up feeling like math wasn’t for me, I was happy to see one of the girl’s teams lay the smack down on the boys (although I didn’t visibly show it).  As a Middle School Math and Science teacher I can’t help but notice the boys complete domination of the class, which never fails to sadden me.  Is this unique to Arabia?  I doubt it.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Teacher's Grade

Survey Monkey is a great way to empower students and receive an accurate evaluation of your teaching.  My students rated my skills in multiple areas, answered open ended questions and awarded me a letter grade for first semester.  I received useful feedback that gave me a reference point for reflection.  The information has guided my teaching and opened candid conversations, bringing us closer together as a class.  We were able to bond over the stresses of the traditional assessment system, that party crashing report card.

Never to waste an opportunity for a fun math problem, I used this to teach GPA calculations, which included other bonus skills such as decimals and means.  Students were told by the school counselor that I would lose my xbox (Yes I do play Xbox) if I did not get high honors.  They found that my GPA was only good enough for regular honors and so I posed an extension problem.  If the person who gave me the lowest grade didn’t show up that day, would I have the magic GPA?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Math As An Art

Several weeks ago I was asked by a principal to read an article, "The Mathematician's Lament".  The school was considering me as a potential addition to their math department and they claimed the article explained their philosophy on math.

The Author, Paul Lockhart makes a beautiful point, math is an art.  The exact point I spent an entire hour debating with a physics major at a Mexican Restaurant last night.  He claimed that math was too rigorous to be an artistic pursuit.  Which lead me to believe that he was taught math the same way most of us were.  Spoonful upon spoonful of ipecac like formulas shoved down the throat without explanation.

Lockhart went wrong in two critical areas.  His overwhelming negativity and his naive belief that the stronger your math skills the better teacher you are.  He puts down the art of teaching by acting like teacher education is a waste of time.

This is not to say that some people are not naturally gifted educators.  Born teachers are similar to my gifted 6th grade math students who independently learn the skills required to solve a math problem.   Some inexperienced teachers intuitively create exciting and meaningful lessons.

Perhaps I have misunderstood the point this writer intended to make because the root of his philosophy is quite beautiful, "math as art."  My first experience with exploratory math was like an adventure.  I could choose any path that interested me, as long as it got me to a fruitful destination.

Even before reading the "lament" I was indebted to the founders of this style of math education.  During my time as a MIT student at Seattle University I attended a math conference with a friend from my cohort.  It shattered my previous ideas about math (math was painfully dictated and repetitively uncreative).  I used to hate math but now I love teaching it as a fun and creative pursuit.