A Year in the Past

One more year is almost in the past and I want to reflect on what I have done differently and what/who changed my teaching profession for the better.

This was the third year for me using Twitter, the second year of TMC and the first year of being a Desmos Fellow. I bring that up because there were many things that shaped me as a math teacher over the years, but these are three things that are currently guiding me in my profession.

Twitter: I started teaching 36+ years ago in a small high school as the only math teacher and struggled to find mentors. The state of Montana has been constantly struggling to get enough teachers in the rural areas, and then supporting them with mentor programs because of the distance to other schools. Now I teach in a larger school with 12 great math teachers in the same hall. We still rely on innovative ideas from the Internet. My single biggest source of new ideas is my Twitter community. That community started with #mtbos and @tmathc. The amazing part of my teaching career, started trying to find someone locally to collaborate with and I have recently collaborated with people literally around the world via Twitter on math techniques and lessons.

Twitter Math Camp: Early in my Twitter life I discovered a group that was meeting during the summer to make connections with each other via Twitter and an annual meeting. I followed their tweets that first year and became determined that I would be at the next summer meeting, no matter what it took. I attended TMC15 with a colleague and brought home more ideas than I could carry. Besides attending morning sessions on Desmos, I brought home ideas about VNPS (vertical non-permanent surfaces)  and VRG (visual random grouping) from the amazing Alex Overwijk @alexoverwijk. These two ideas changed the way that I taught. I implemented VNPS as soon as my classes started in the fall. Not only did it change how I taught, but the majority of my math colleagues in my building now also use VNPS on a regular basis. If you are not familiar with VNPS, research now and put it into practice ASAP. The amount of formative assessing I can do, and the student collaboration that takes place during VNPS is clearly superior to anything that I have ever done in my classroom. I now greet my students at the door and give them a random card to assign seats in groups of three. This is called VRG because students know two things, they are assigned randomly rather than some form of teacher manipulation and their partners are just for that day. I tried this mid-year last year and was not as successful. Starting at the beginning of the year, students haven’t already formed many opinions about their classmates and get to know a lot of student early in the year. I attended TMC16 and will be at TMC17!

Desmos: If you teach anything that involves graphing, you MUST use Desmos. Between the graphing tool for graphing and discovery, to the classroom activities that you can use, it will change the way you look at math and working in your classroom. If you haven’t seen Desmos or didn’t get the Desmos bug, go there NOW! desmos.com and/or teacher.desmos.com. I also have had the great fortune to be invited to be a part of an amazing group called the Desmos Fellowship. The great ideas just keep flowing from the creative Desmos Team and the fellowship group. Desmos gave me the opportunity to personally meet all these amazing people in November at the Desmos headquarters. These two groups are changing the way math is taught and how we look at math education.

Sub categories (but also important): 

  • Backwards Brain Bicycle: Thanks to @saravdwerf and @msfierst for the inspiration to build a Backwards Brain Bicycle and use it in my school to demonstrate perseverance with numerous side lessons. Here is my story: Backwards Brain Bicycle
  • Name Tents: These are not your usual name tent and you MUST do this to start your next year. Once again with great influence from TMC and @saravdwerd my colleagues and I used Name tents during the first week, with amazing results. Click on the link above for more information.
  • M Cubed: This is a local beginning to create a community like TMC. Thanks to@HilaryRisser we had the first annual event in Montana and I hope many to follow. Here is this past year’s link.
  • Standards Based Grading: I actually use Objective Based Grading, but with the same philosophy. I used it in my Algebra 1 classes this past Fall and will incorporate it in my Honors Algebra 2 classes this Spring.

It has been a really great year and next year will surely be better because of the wonderful math communities that allow me to live in their world! Thank you!

The Planning Begins

It is that time of the summer when I start to think about changes I want to make in my classroom and class procedures. I am attending a #desmos conference and #tmc16 in a few days. That will be a great environment to generate ideas. I am also be attending these with colleagues that give me the incentive and desire to take me out of my comfort zone. My comfort zone includes doing the same things that I have done in the past. When I am taken out of my comfort zone, great things happen.

comfortzone

So off to Minneapolis Minnesota for the rejuvenation that I need and the ideas that will make the next school year the best year yet.

End of the year reflection.

My school year ended on Friday and as I sit here Sunday night (when my teaching week usually begins) I am reflecting on my year.

I has been an interesting year. My “year” began last July at TMC15. I say that it started at TMC15 because that has shaped many of the things that I did this year. I was completely rejuvenated with TMC and the ideas generated there.

  • Twitter – What a wonder community and generator of ideas. So much food for thought and so many ideas, many of which I used in my classroom.
  • Desmos – I have always been a big fan of Desmos and attending TMC sessions last summer and having Eli Luberoff come to Montana to speak at our MCTM annual conference in October was amazing. I presented workshops on using Desmos in the classroom at the last three MCTM annual conferences and it is constantly changing for the better. This year Desmos Activity Builder was a great addition to my classroom
  • New textbook – This maybe wasn’t such a positive thing. I wanted to give the textbook a good shot, so I tried to use it the way the author intended. Then I spent a lot of time creating things to keep the students interested and energized. Now I know that I have some work to do to readjust for next year.
  • I tried Standards Based Grading (actually Objective Based Grading) and was pleased with it, but I need to refine my system.
  • I used Google Classroom several times this year and discovered its potential.
  • I did not give enough positive feedback to my students. This is a goal mine every year and I think I slipped a bit this year.

OK…to make improvements for next year.

  • I am attending TMC16 and MCubed (Montana version of TMC) this summer. I am co-presenting “5 Practices” at TMC and Desmos at MCubed. I am looking forward to getting more great ideas from both of them.
  • My colleagues and I will work this summer to put a better plan together to create thinkers and to make math more interesting and pertinent.
  • My daughter (also a math teacher) and I are going to build two “backward bicycles” to use in our respective schools. Thanks to Destin at  @smartereveryday and Sara @saravdwerf . We really need to teach our students about learning and perseverance.

More ideas to follow…