A GOOD day. And a quality lesson.

My group of students this year seems game for just about anything. I feel like I have a willing band of mathematicians at my fingertips- or if not yet full fledged mathematicians, they are willing to listen and see where I'm going with all this.
So today I decided to jump into box and whisker plots. I have struggled with the entire statistics unit in the past few years. Stats. Blah. All math books turn it into lists of meaningless numbers or silly "real world" situations. I've struggled to make it mean something ANYTHING to all of us in the room. Which seems crazy, because stats should be the most applicable, the most real world thing I teach them all year.
But slowly, things have been shifting. A few good lessons here, a few "Ah ha!" moments for me, and some extra reading and research has all helped to lend new life to this unit. Lately, my book of choice has been Edward Tufte and I'm suddenly seeing the light as to why we graph anything at all EVER. So anyway, I'm starting to find my own passion for statistics and graphical representations.
Yesterday I did something I don't love to do- I taught something without much context. I threw five number summaries at my students, just wanting to get the vocab, the concept, and the process to the kids. I asked them to take a leap of faith, to trust that this moving around of numbers would lead us somewhere.
So today, we started to connect. We talked about summaries they write in Language Arts, how it is useful to take a large article and summarize it down to the main ideas. We talked about why a five number summary might be more useful than a list of data. We made vocabulary connections.
Then we calculated our age in months. Students wrote it on index cards and we marched outside. At this point, I started to get nervous. I mean, I could do this with a class of maybe 25 students, but how would I keep a line of 35 bodies engaged and listening? But, I decided, what's teaching without some adventure? I refuse to use class size as an excuse not to provide the very best for students.
We lined up from least to greatest. We figured out the student in the middle and he got to hold the "Median" card. Students found the quartiles and the max and min and each person in the five number summary held a card. With students lined up, toes on the edge of the sidewalk, I marked the quartiles and medians with yard sticks. The lower and upper 25% got a piece of yarn to hold (becoming the whisker) The middle quartiles crowded between the yardsticks. Suddenly, we were a box and whisker plot. And for the first time ever, I had students quickly seeing that our data was split into 25% chunks. That the range of the chunks might change, but that each quartile held 25% of the classmates. It was fun, it was visual, it was tactile. And somehow, it worked.
We trouped back inside to get our thoughts on paper. We drew what we had made and talked about what someone could learn about our class from looking at our visuals. Why it might be more useful than a list of numbers. And I think, just maybe, students really understood- not just wrote notes and memorized some vocab- but really understood, in their guts, the what and why of this particular statistical representation.
So tomorrow- how in the WORLD do I top that?


The swing of things

One week in and the swing of things has started to fall into place. I'm getting to know the personality of the classes. We finally are on the normal school bell schedule. Buses have started coming on time. I'm finding my rhythm in the day.
This year it's going to be about training the students to handle transitions. I have TONS of transitions during a class period. I have the luxury of an 82 minute class period and I use it to the fullest. I try to fit a few different types of learning into one class period- partner work, mini whiteboard time, group discussion, individual practice time. That means about every 15-20 mins I need to give new directions and have students execute them quickly. I've noticed this year's bunch likes to stop and chat along the way and that getting settled back in TAKES SOME TIME. But not too worry, I'll get them trained.
I'm particularly proud of my ability to take a boring worksheet and turn it into an interactive experience- which is usually where many of my transitions come from. For instance, yesterday I wanted to review proportions. I had, in my possession, a math riddle sheet. I have tons of these. Worksheets that, when the right answers are produced, give the answers to funny riddles. Okay, fun and such, but it's just the same old drill and kill with a riddle.
I took the sheet and cut the riddle part off. I then cut the problems in half- making two half sheets (A and B) of problems. As students came into the room, they were instructed to pick up one or the other, based of last names. In theory I had half the class with one sheet and half with the other. Right away, this creates interest. Students start comparing the sheets and figuring out what's different. As they work to finish the problems I have time to walk around and work with a few kids individually.
But still- it's just been worksheet time. Kids who already understood the work haven't been challenged. Students who were lost MAYBE got a minute to work with me, but nothing that will keep the math stuck in their heads. At this point, the students got to get up and move. The task was to get into groups with two A half sheets and two B half sheets. Movement- always wakes them up a little. Choice in groups (with some limitations)- always a bonus in middle school. Once they were in groups, I gave them the riddle portion of the sheet I had removed. As a group they worked to fill it in. Automatically, answers are being checked. I hear comparing of strategies. Conversation leads to deeper thinking.
So great, the riddles are worked out, the math is done- but let's take this deeper. Each group now had to come up with one rule or hint to share that would help someone solve a proportion problem. They recorded it on a slip of paper. I then warned them I would be calling on group members to share the strategy AT RANDOM, so they needed to make sure EVERYONE in the group could explain what was written. Cue the more capable kids quickly coaching and teaching the rest of the group how to explain what's on the paper. Beauty. And I did call at random- remember my "No Raised Hands" rule? I pulled names from a jar.
So we shared work, made an "proportions hints board" in class, and BOOM- a boring math worksheet turned into something so much more. It was 50 well spent minutes.


precious weekend

And suddenly, my weekends are precious again. In summer, weekends drift in and out, simply marking the time when more friends and family are more available to hang out. Suddenly, weekends are again my time to get things back together. The way weekends are for most the working world. Laundry. Dishes. Grocery shopping. Quiet time. Sleep. I actually enjoy getting back into the routine of them. Having a purpose for these hours away from the school.
This first weekend of the school year also allows me some time to process. What happened last week? Did I cover what I needed to? Can I remember any student names? What will come next in my plans for the year? Week one sits as a blur in my head. A blur of students, lockers, rules, procedures, names, and... HEAT. Last week felt stuck at a temperature much too hot to really get anything done. My classroom sat at 85 degrees, and I have one of the cooler rooms. So everything literally has melted in my mind. I hope the cooler temperatures rolling in next week help the students and I adjust to the reality of this new school year. Because this week we get serious. Pretests, homework, 8th grade expectations. Here we go.


Remember Mr. Rogers?

Remember Mr. Rogers? Fred Rogers- hero of children's programming, in his quiet unassumming way. Remember how you knew exactly what he would do when he walked in the door singing his song? He would change his jacket, put on the sweater. Zip it all the way up, and then half way down. Change shoes- always tossing the show from one hand to the other. Remember? It took me over 20 years to figure out that his little regular activities may very well have been the key to his success.

After a few years now in this job, I've found the key remains in having a routine. Wait. Strike that. In having routines. Plural. Routines for everything. It's the challenge I'm finding being in a new classroom. What are the routines? I tried to start this morning, even though I didn't have students today.
 Walk in. Hang jacket in closet. Set down bag. Turn phone to silent. Turn on computer as I walk by. Go to windows. Open them, turn on fan. Come back to desk. Unload bag- lunch, important items, etc. Put bag in closet. Sit at desk. Check email. Look over to do list from day before. Breath. Start Day.
Having routines for myself, important, yes. It's what keeps piles from building up on my desk. It's what keeps me caught up on grading. It's what ensure I'm not forgetting anything. BUT, even more important, routines for the students. Routines that are sensible, logical, teachable, doable, and easy to maintain.
I think the advantage I have in this point of my career over the myself from the early part of my career is understanding exactly what that last sentence means. It means NEVER assume students will just figure it out. It means NOT changing systems mid year, even when the system in place could be improved- wait until next fall for that change. It means taking the first two weeks to slowly and methodically teach these routines as they organically appear during the lesson.
What do I mean by routines for everything? To name a few: Starting class, turning in work, handing back work, bathroom breaks, sharpening pencils, test taking, group work, daily flow of class, giving of information, ways for students to ask for help, partner work, portfolios.

My goal in planning to first two weeks is to let the oppertunities to teach these routines arise naturally. Going over every routine in the first two days is A) BORING. For the students and me B) POINTLESS. Students won't remember something taught out of context C) A waste of the best few days of school- the days you have the most captive and eager audience. Let's learning something, do some math, get our brains going.
So what I do is put all the routines/rules/classroom details that need to be taught on little post-its. Then, as I look over the lessons I have planned, I see where they will fit. Oh, are we coloring our "Who I am" poster on day two? Stick a post-it in my plan book. What a great time to teach where student supplies are and where they are NOT (Read: don't touch my desk). Turning in our first homework assignment? Stick a post-it in my plan book.  Great time to show off the turn in baskets and talk about my crazy homework policies.

So anyway, that's what my brain is full of now. Do I have everything in place? Have I figured out all the bits and pieces that need to be taught? Do the first couple weeks look smooth, interesting, and informative for students? I sure as heck hope so, because I've been thinking so much my brain hurts.


A small classroom tour

My classroom is ready. Almost. There is still a ladder the custodians left when the awesomely moved my overhead screen to a new wall... I'm picky about set up. I haven't put out kids names on tables. I still have a few odds and ends around the rooms. I haven't labeled everything. But it will get done. It will. Tomorrow will be busy- but it's 6th grade only, so I have one more day to get the last pieces together. And then... I don't know why, but it doesn't seem real yet.

In the meantime, I thought a tour of my almost finished classroom was in order.

Entering the room... to the left
Entering room... to the right. My desk shows in the corner
I guess I could have turned some lights on. Or waited until the light was better... but that doesn't meet with my want for pictures NOW. The top picture shows off the big big panels in the room. These can actually be folded back so that my teaching partner and I can open up the rooms into one BIG monster room for team time and such. Awesome. The whole room was an atrocious, eye burning, almost neon blue when I moved in. Instead of dealing with the classic butcher paper or painting, I opted for the cheapest fabric I could find. It should last a long long time. It did end up costing more than I'm going to post here. But still, not bad. Paint wouldn't have been much cheaper.

Okay, on the panels....
First, the board with my latest and greatest classroom guideline. I'm a believer and follower of Dylan Wiliam. Such a great, great man. This article talks about no raised hands a bit: Daily Mail UK- No Raised Hands. I finally did it last year in it's true form (read: when I got tired and cranky I didn't just fall back on letting the kids raise hands and calling on the kid I knew would have the answer). I loved it. I used mini white boards to allow all students to answer. Or I called names at random from Popsicle sticks I drew from a can.

The article that started all this research for simple solutions to engage all students in learning can be found here: Inside the Black Box. I plan on rereading it before the year gets too far on.
Below the sign in my learning target board- right now it's got kitchy start of year goals for kids, but soon it will be filled with our math goals for units. The idea? If kids know what we are trying to learn, they have a lot better chance of getting there.

Next up- my Welsh Pride. My first teaching experience was across the pond at a wonderful school in southern Wales. I still put up my flag every year. Cymru am byth!!

Below, calculators. In a clear shoe holder. This way, it's easy for me to see if they are all back at the end of class. Oh yes, this is not my first time around the block. Things leave the class so easily. Not because 8th graders are out to steal things, but because they are SO SPACEY they will simply pack my supplies up with their own and walk out. I often get it all back at the end of the year when locker clean outs happen.
A panel of this and that. Posters I like.
Quotes about math.
A painting I've always loved.

You know. The random stuff in every classroom that reveals a bit about the teacher. The stuff to make the classroom interesting and in hopes that when the students space away from my lessons (because, let's face it, it's math class. I'm going to lose them from time to time) they have something interesting and worthwhile at which to look.

My whiteboard. You can see brackets above it... that's where the overhead screen used to be. But see, it covered my whiteboard, diminishing space for awesome math scribbles and figurings. So my fantastic custodians moved it for me. You will also see three computers I begged, borrowed, and stole from around the building. Two crash at regular intervals. Oh well. We'll get something better someday, in the mean time, this counts as my technology station.

Okay, some of my favorite posters. When I first started teaching I found these about to be thrown out. They are from the Apple "Think Different" Campaign. I wish I could get more- but apparently they have become collectors items for Apple Nerds. I found the quotes and typed them up and added them. I also have a Miles Davis, not pictured here. They ALWAYS lead to great discussion at some point in the year.

There's more to the room. The posters by my pencil sharpener (I figure, hey, they are standing there, sharpening their pencils, may as well give them something interesting to read). My wall of victory. The homework board. The bookcases. But maybe another day. In the meantime, time to travel into the future and get this school year started.

To work

Sitting in bed. Cup of tea. Sleeping cat. Quiet holiday Monday. Somehow I have to work up the energy to get myself into school. I promised myself I would go in today. Staple up that last bulletin board. Clean the last clutter off the counters. Bring a plant in the brighten the room. (I can have a plant! I have windows! Glory glory glory!) Maybe make some copies. Fully plan the first few weeks- weeks full of get to know you, name learning, rule giving, pretesting, and general observation of who these new students are.
Anyway... I guess it's time to leave this cozy day and get my mind around SCHOOL. School tomorrow.