Forty Years Minus Seven Weeks

I am seven weeks short of 40 years of teaching and I have seen a lot of things. Over the years my classroom changed, my students changed, I’ve changed and now the world has changed. I just finished my third week working with my students remotely because of the COVID-19 virus and I am not optimistic this “new normal” is going to end before the school year is over.

For those that don’t personally know me, I am very much an introvert that loves teaching. I get very anxious in new situations with new people. However, once I get to know someone I find great comfort knowing them. It takes me longer than most to get comfortable with my classes when we are in the classroom. I love working with students. I love being in my classroom and watching my students learn and grow. I am comfortable with technology and have the tools, I just don’t like the lack of human contact with the current situation. This is my last year of teaching and this is not how I wanted my last year to end. I really hope I can finish my last year actually in my classroom with my students. 

I have always thought that our schools are full of heros, but now those heros are trying to do their job remotely. This is new to all of us and there are teachers out there doing amazing things, but students and teachers still need relationships. Even if they are introverts like me.

In my classroom I focus on building relationships and we experiment and discover math through interactions. I focus on orchestrating class discussions instead of direct instruction. This past three weeks has really been challenging, as I try to guide my students down a correct path remotely. My students are comfortable with the technology and almost all of them have the necessary technology. My current problem; I do not have students that are trained to just sit and watch someone explain things, because that is not how we do things in our classroom. Now I need to resort to more direct instruction and it has been difficult for me and them.

Sometimes you don’t really miss something until it’s gone.

At this point in my career I know these things (and my #1TMCThing).

Two years ago I came back from TMC15 and had a clear vision on what I needed to do in my classroom. Here is my blog from then: At this point in my life I know these things.

After teaching 35 years, I really evaluated what I was doing and how it worked with the current students. I had updated many of my class activities but was far from where I needed to be. Here I am two years later and here is the report on how I did on my beliefs.

VRG – Most days last year I greeted each student with a random card that assigned them a seat in a group of three. The greeting was valuable and the students familiarity with each other paid huge dividends. The collaboration as they were learning was also valuable. I will continue to do this.

VNPS – Immediately after I returned from TMC15 I started planning whiteboards on every available wall in my classroom. I also pushed my math colleagues to do the same. Most of the math classrooms in my high school now have whiteboards everywhere. I used VNPS on a regular basis the past two years. Students work together at the VNPS and the conversations are amazing. VNPS ARE A MUST IN EVERY MATH CLASSROOM!

Last year I implemented Standards Based Grading (SBG) in my Algebra 1 and Honors Algebra 2 classes. My grade reports went from meaningless to reporting strengths and weaknesses of my students. I also opened my assessments to retakes and the true purpose of what we are doing in our schools. If learning is our goal, we must give multiple opportunities to learn. SBG might seem like a big change, so you can call it Objective Based Grading and just change the names of your assessment to the objectives they are assessing. Instead of one grade, each of my assessments have 4-5 grades with objective names. Here is how each objective is scored on my assessments. SBG IS AN ABSOLUTELY REQUIRED CHANGE, IF YOU ARE NOT ALREADY DOING IT.

Desmos and Desmos Activities have changed how my students and I look at learning mathematics. The process of learning is so much more efficient when you use the right tools. As a Desmos Fellow, I learned how to build Desmos Activities that are purposeful and reach all levels of students. DESMOS HAS AND WILL CONTINUE TO CHANGE HOW MATHEMATICS IS STUDIED BY TEACHERS AND STUDENTS.

I would like to apologize to the over 3500 students that had to sit through their first day of the year listening to me read rules and procedures. I know by the end of the first day they couldn’t remember which rules went with which class and wanted to poke their eyes out. The past two years I made sure that I was doing activities the first week that helped students understand what learning looked and felt like. I made sure it was an activity that was math related and students were learning about each other and I was learning about them. My favorites are Noah’s Arc, The Taxman and Sum 31 Card Challenge. And, Name Tents from @saravdwerf  are a must for the first week. These are ideas I got from various people at TMC and the Twitter community.

I also attended TMC16 and TMC17, which generated all kinds of other things I need to think about and implement when they are needed. All the ideas expressed here have kept me young and my classroom fresh. Thank you all that have contributed to these changes.

I am still working on journaling in my classroom. I am going to make this my #1TMCThing. I know it is a great thing, I just need to work out the details. My plan is to do this electronically with either Google Classroom or some other electronic form.

Distractions that Interrupt Learning

I learned early on with cell phones, that when you ask a student to hand you their phone, it very often becomes confrontational. A cell phone is a very personal item for some people.

distractionsTo avoid the confrontation I created a “distraction box” and lumped cell phones in with the many other distraction that students bring to class. These items have changed over time, but include “fast food” toys, bouncy balls, Rubics cubes, bobble heads, magic cards, and the hot item now are the fidget cubes and fidget spinners.

A distraction could be a distraction to the individual student, the other students or even a distraction to me. On the first day of the year I explain to my students that if I make eye contact with them and point to the distraction box, they have a choice to make. If they smile and put the item in the box, they can take the item out of the box on the way out of the room. If they throw a fit and put the distraction in the box, they can have it back at the end of the day. If they refuse to put the distraction in the box, they go to the office with the distraction.

On the first day of the year we even practice smiling while we put an item in the box. The interaction is always kept very light and the students really are cooperative. It has been a few years since an interaction actually became confrontational, because I am not asking them to put the item in my hand. I even have students sometimes put their cell phone in the box on the way in the door because they know they are going to have trouble staying focused.

This distraction box concept really has changed the atmosphere of my room. Students understand what a distraction is and why we need to limit distractions. We even joke sometimes because the box isn’t big enough to put “Billie” in the box.

Backwards Brain Bike Progress Report

IMG_1789I have not published a video of me riding my bike since week 10. This is now week 20, still practicing about 10 minutes each day. I have not made noticeable progress in the last 10 weeks. I can concentrate and ride it confidently, but when I lose concentration I have to put my foot down. I will continue to practice each day, and am hoping that my brain takes over the balancing soon.

I have several students practicing now. I have one student (Caleb) that first tried on Monday and spent about 20 minutes each day this past week. His progress is about the same as mine at 10 weeks. It must be the “young” mind and his determination. Here is a link to the video of him on Friday after 5 days of riding.

Student after 5 days.

Some students still think it is going to be easy and they would just need to ride it for a while. After a few tries, they appreciated the difficulty. After the second day, Caleb told me that he had way more respect for me now. Up to that point I think many students just thing I am crazy with a backwards bike.

Unexpected Results

On Friday I was riding my Backwards Brain Bicycle in the hall during lunch. As I passed a group of special needs students one of the young men said to his group (not exact quotes but best I can remember), “HEY, there is that guy that rides that bike.” Then he said to me, “A few weeks ago I was in a really bad mood and was really angry at a lot of things. Then I saw you riding that bike and it made me really happy.”

I was very much at a loss of words. I said that I was glad that it made him happy and continued to ride down the hall. That conversation keeps rolling around in my brain. I woke up this morning and thought about all the unexpected results of the many things we do as a person and especially as a teacher. We sometimes never know who we have contact with and influence in a positive or negative way.

When I was younger my Dad always told me that we should greet everyone with a smile, and wave at them when we pass them as we drive. He said that we might be the reason that person has a very good day or a bad day, just based on that single interaction.

I have heard from many of my former students and it is always interesting what they remember or say about our personal interaction (besides the mathematics). Most things they tell me are things that I thought very little about at the time.

Greet the people you see today with a smile and a compliment. You may never know how it changed their day.

Week 10 of the BWBB


bike-logoI am getting better, but I keep stressing to my students and others, that this is 10 weeks of practice. I am still getting about 5-10 minutes of practice twice
a day. I did take it to our state teachers’ conference and it was interesting in who took interest. It was generally the younger teachers (and student helpers) and the very experienced teachers. It seemed like the younger teachers were convinced they could ride it and very experienced teachers were interested in the mental part of it.

Week 10 VideoMuch smoother and can go around corners. Still requires a lot of concentration.

Week 8 of the BWBB

I do not have a video for the 8th week.  It would pretty bike-logomuch look like week 6, except I can now go a bit farther. On Thursday I was able to make one and a half laps around the math wing without putting my feet down. That would be about 500 feet with 6 corners. After one and a half laps I noticed a centipede on the floor and completely lost my concentration. It is the little things that distract me and then my mind reverts back to what it has done for the last 50 years (turn into the fall). Many people still don’t realize that it is not learning to turn correctly that is the challenge, but unlearning what my mind has been doing for a long time. To actually turn a corner was not a big challenge for me, as much as the panic and losing concentration as it was happening.

I am still riding it 2-3 times per day and try to go two laps around the math wing. After two laps my mind seems really taxed and it is hard to concentrate any longer. When I have tried a third lap, it was a disaster. Later in the day I can try again with some success.

How does that relate to students that really have to struggle with math? With 60 minute periods a struggling student must really need stamina to make it to the end of class. This has reminded me to change up activities more often during the class period. I have always noticed that when we do an activity too long, students get off task. I assumed that it was because they were bored, but maybe the struggling students can no longer concentrate on that concept.

Learning is hard!

BWBB Week 6

bike-logoAfter six weeks of learning how to ride a Backwards Brain Bicycle, I am able to go about 100 feet without putting my feet down to catch myself. It is not pretty and definitely not smooth. I have decided my definition of being successful riding the bike, would be to ride it without “thinking” about steering for balance. At this point I am definitely having to think hard about turning into the fall, “in the opposite direction”. I want my brain to take over the balancing. I am having to really concentrate to steer to balance. If I get distracted, I revert back to what I have done on a bike for the past 50 years, and need to catch myself with my feet.

I am going a bit faster, which helps with the balance. As I go faster I feel strange not wearing a helmet, so I am going to start wearing a helmet. I don’t want to send the wrong message about safety.

One of my goals of this project is to actively study the learning process. I don’t know if this is the same thing, but my observation of other people is much more intriguing. Many students are convinced that it is going to be easy to ride the bike before they try. Some try a very short amount of time and want to walk way. Some try for a longer time and before they leave they promise to come back. I teach Algebra 1 to 9th grade students and Honors Algebra 2 to 9th-11th grade students. Interestly, lots of Algebra 1 students have tried and continue to try to ride the bike. Very few Honors Algebra 2 have tried to ride the bike. At this point, I am of the belief that people that are not used to failing don’t want to try things that their chance of success is low. Most of the Honors Algebra 2 students are also much more reserved and don’t want to “look bad” in front of their peers. I do not want to generalize this situation too much, but I do see huge differences in how the high academic achievers react differently than other students. Along the same lines, the Algebra 1 students that don’t give up in class, are more likely to try riding the bike (and try other things).

I would like more teachers to ride the bike and will make that one of my goals. I am taking my bike to our state teacher conference in three weeks and will courage people to try it. It is not on the agenda anywhere, but we have a great group of math teachers in Montana and I am sure it will get lots of interest.

 

Week 6 Video – I am getting better, but it really takes concentration and it doesn’t look smooth, yet.

Backwards Brain Bikes – Knowledge Does Not Equal Understanding

Another journey begins. The idea of a backwards bike intrigued me since I saw one on @smartereveryday. Then when I saw @saravdwerf tweet about her experience, I became driven. I describe it to non-believers that it is like the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. I can’t explain all the reasons but I am drawn to do this. I did see Sara and Morgan Fierst @MsFierst present their journey at TMC16.

My daughter @jwbrackney teaches math as well, and wanted to do the same thing. We are taking these to our schools and will use them throughout the year to demonstrate perseverance and to experience re-wiring our brains. We hope to work on this daily and journal the learning experience. We already have colleagues in both buildings excited about this.

This is just the beginning but I want to get this blogged while I remember the details.

So the first challenge was to find four bikes, two that we would use as the main parts and two that we just need the front shafts….

IMG_1660   IMG_1617   IMG_1609 (1)

The second challenge was much more difficult, to find four gears. After weeks of searching on the Internet (mainly because I wanted to get them cheap), decided that we could bore the center to the necessary size and didn’t need the exact center bore. I found some on Amazon for about $9.00 each. I had to buy them at two different times to find them at that price.  The prices change daily, today they are $42.00, I am sure the price will continue to fluctuate.

Boston Gear NB32-5/8 Spur Gear, 14.5 Pressure Angle, Steel, Inch, 16 Pitch, 0.625″ Bore, 2.125″ OD, 0.500″ Face Width, 32 Teeth

IMG_1645   IMG_1647

Then to find someone that could weld everything for us. My brother-in-law, had the necessary tools and skills to do this for us. He actually brazed them instead of welding which works much better on this type of metal.

IMG_1701   IMG_1690   IMG_1691

IMG_1708   IMG_1702 (1)   IMG_1704   IMG_1716    IMG_1714

IMG_1721   IMG_1717

We still need to get them all cleaned up and painted. Jennifer’s bike is the purple one and she wants to paint it her school colors. My bike is green with a black front fork and I decided to just paint the new pieces black, for now.

Here they are cleaned up and painted.

IMG_1827    IMG_1822

IMG_1786    IMG_1815

IMG_1830IMG_1789

Backwards Brain Bicycle

Why?

  • Demonstrate perseverance
  • Learn to learn
  • Demonstrate the struggle
  • Develop new brain connectors
  • Add some excitement in education
  • Cure Alzheimer’s ???

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…