Captain’s Bln(x): Day 14

Yesterday (Monday) we returned to teaching and learning after 4 days off last week for a total of a 6 day break when you count the weekend. I don’t think any of the faculty was ready to return until Tuesday (today). The kids seemed somewhat excited to be back though.

It was a rough day because we all came back to find that the internet was down for the entire district. We are a 1-to-1 school and many of the teachers rely on digital lessons that require working chromebooks. And even the teachers who eschew the laptops could not print any work materials because the network being down meant we could not send any information to the printers OR log in to the copies to make copies.

Luckily for me I downloaded the entire Illustrative Mathematics curriculum for middle school to my desktop, so my classes were able to run smoothly until the internet came back up.

Still, it was hectic. Additionally, we were coming back to work with the monthly faculty meeting yesterday AND open house is today. Welcome back to the daily grind I guess. I was so busy yesterday I didn’t have time to write yesterday’s post until just now. (Monday is my wife’s night off so I had the kids immediately after work and because of the faculty meeting I couldn’t write my post after 7th period like I normally do.)

Even though I got an unexpected 6-day vacation, I am struggling to come back to work. This year is my last official year as a Noyce Fellow and I am not sure what next year will look like for me. In the mean time, I am struggling to make it to the end of this task. It’s only September. Even Thanksgiving feels like a long way away.


Captain’s Bln(x): Day 13 Or Treja vu

Year 3 of teaching in South Carolina.

Year 3 of school being cancelled in September/October for hurricanes.

You’d think at some point they would start building in hurricane days like the north does snow days.

Anyway. Today a student said “Mr. Belcher, can I be honest? You are hurting my brain.”

My CP Geometry class is going faster than some of my students can keep pace with and I don’t really know what to do about it.



Captain’s Bln(x): A Note

If you are a new reader to this blog, please know that it is literally a “Quantity Over Quality” outfit.

It is a 180 daily blog. I write a post every school day, many times not proof-reading and just letting the stream-of-consciousness writing flow out in an effort to get a blog post on the page and uploaded before 4 PM.

I’m mostly writing for my own reflection and processing, but I also hope that it is helpful to any reader, teacher or non-teacher.

Feel free to comment any time or reach out to me on twitter: @teachbarefoot


Captain’s Bln(x): Day 12 Or Number Wars And Iocane Powder

During the first bell of my Seminar 1 class we finished up a lesson on absolute value that we had started the previous day. The kids seemed really dead but we powered through and answered the questions.

I was using a deck of cards to randomly call on students to give their answers to the questions. I kept all of the spades for myself and then passed out the other three suits. I would pull a card and then had any student that had the same value to raise their hand and then I decided who to call on from there. I shuffled the deck each time so that everyone could still expect to be called on even if their number had already been pulled.

In 2nd block, I decided to try a game that I had in my head since we were working on absolute value. Here are the rules:

  • The winner is the person at the end with the most cards
  • Number cards are face value, Ace is 1, Jack 11, Queen 12, and King 13. Jokers are 0
  • Black suits are positive numbers and Red suits are negative numbers
  • You win cards from other people by counting to three and each flipping over the top card from your stack at the same time. The first student to say which number represented by the cards is closer to zero gets to keep both

And that’s it! It’s just a modified War where instead of high card it is the number closer to zero.

In the future I plan to try a variation where I ask the students to add the numbers instead. (Subtraction wouldn’t work, unless I can figure out a way to make the order of the subtraction instantly clear.)

The kids really seemed to enjoy it. They were walking around challenging each other, arguing over who won, talking about absolute value.

And we had a little fun on Friday so a win.

So far this year I have been focusing more heavily on my Seminar class than my Geometry, and that is partly because this is attempt 3 for Geometry and partly because the Seminar class is brand new so I have lots of new things going on rather than re-hashes of old things.

We are in the logic and proof unit of Geometry and as much as I love it, I can tell it is a huge struggle for a lot of the students. I don’t remember learning this material in high school, but I do think it’s appropriate for the class. It’s tough because Geometry feels most like the “pure math” that I did in undergrad and graduate school and so it makes sense to really train students how to argue using logical structures and write proofs beyond just a standard HS two-column structure, but at the same time the material is very challenging and asks for level of performance and understanding that doesn’t quite mesh with some other plug-and-chug aspects that are still in this geometry curriculum.

So I was worried the class was kind of dry even though I varied the type of activities and kept the lecturing to a minimum as much as possible. We started with review of yesterday’s material (Conditional statements. Yes, it was a worksheet, but at some point you have to just try identifying the parts of a conditional statement and writing the converse, inverse, and contra-positive), then after going over the answers as a class (I did random card calling) we did an exploration activity, followed by class synthesis, then direct instruction (lecture) on the Law of Detachment and Law Of Syllogism. I should have stopped at that point and had them practice, practice, practice for the rest of the day.

But the pacing guide calls for us to do bi-conditional statements on the same day, so I continued with a great exploration activity from our textbook that has examples and non-examples of “rectapentagons”, a shape “made up” by a “student”. (*looks directly into the camera*: “scare quotes”). This worked pretty well as not only a break with more visual and accessible ideas, but also was a pretty decent intro to using bi-conditional statements as a way to write definitions.

We will have to practice on Monday. (And of course, move on to the next topic. But luckily I have been front-loading algebraic proof since day one so we have some more wiggle room this unit.)

I started to lose them at the end, I could tell. But I have a class of 31. It is a block class at the end of the day and it was Friday. They were ready. to. go.

And so was I so that’s all I’m gonna write.

EDIT: I had two helpful experiences concerning my geometry class on the Friday after I posted this.

The first was while talking to my friend and colleague, Chris after work. We were discussing the length of block classes and how difficult it can be for mature, well-adjusted, high-performing graduate students to focus for ninety minutes of class so it was no surprise that our high school students struggled with it. I felt a little better about how much we had gotten done in Geometry that day.

The second was a brief talk with my boss, Jeff Temoney, at the Friday night football game. He said he had been outside my room listening to me teach for a bit and that “I was working them hard on a Friday afternoon.” That also made me feel good that the class had been going better than I had originally thought.


Captain’s Bln(x): Day 11 Or Number Talks

[Full disclosure: I did some part-time work for Illustrative Mathematics helping to write High School curriculum in the Summer of 2018.]

I am really pleased with the Illustrative Mathematics lessons I am using through Open Up Math in my Seminar classes. Today was the first day that we did the Number Talk routine. I got some really great stuff out of my classes.

This was the lesson. 

My students learned a few things about me today:

  1. I am willing to wait and stare at the class in silence until some volunteers an answer, no matter how long it takes.
  2. If I say that I expect you to give your reasoning for an answer, I will hold you to it.

Although I usually resort to some kind of randomized calling or straight-up cold calling on students if there are no volunteers, I did not call on any student who did not raise their hand during the number talk. Usually if I cold call a student it is because I am asking them one of three questions: a review question (usually low DOK like recalling a definition), something I just gave them a reasonable amount of think time for and warned them that I would be expecting them to share their responses, or an opinion question where the “risk” of answering incorrectly is very low (like a WODB).

The students were VERY reluctant to share at first, but when the realized that the choices were sit and stare in silence at the projector OR volunteer an answer they gave in.

I did have a few of my classes where one student was willing to answer every time and it gave the class an outlet. I should have done a better job of enforcing the rule that a student could only share once or twice at the most. Next time.

But once the number talks got started, some really natural and good mathematics flowed out of the students.

When one student went to share why he thought 1.25 and 5/4 were different numbers, he placed a mark for 1.25 that was closer to 1.75. Immediately several students (in a helpful tone) said “No, man. It’s got to be closer to 1. Yeah. Right there.”

At my prompting, students were able to restate their own arguments or the arguments of there classmates. (We are in the VERY BEGINNING stages of this and it is nowhere at the level it needs to be concerning how much I talk and  how much they talk, but today was a start.)

When talking about the final question (0.01 vs 0.001) there was a student in each class who made the connection to 1/5 vs 1/9 in terms of comparing denominators which make smaller numbers.

My class personalities showed strongly, but surprisingly the class that I think is going to be the biggest behavioral challenge also was the most willing and quickest to work through the questions.

When and how students (and I) talk in the classroom has got to be the biggest challenge of this job. I am just now getting a handle on classroom management (when students shouldn’t talk and how they should talk to each other and me) but I think I have barely started on how to help students when they SHOULD talk and what that looks like. (I realize my definition of classroom management may be a little reductive, but it fits my idea here about managing the discussion happening in the classroom. I can get students to be quiet, but getting them to share and talk? Tough.

The structure of Open Math lessons from IM are a big leg up, but there’s still a lot of my own work to do.





Captain’s Bln(x): Day 10 Or Smallest Positive Whole Number

This morning I was caught flat-footed. It was my own fault. I thought that I had a lot of time because Wednesdays are late start and we only had our small Professional Learning Community initial meeting to complete. So I got to work at 745 instead of my usual 645 and I wasn’t in that much of a rush. Since I am using Illustrative Mathematics for my Seminar class, there isn’t nearly as much planning for me to do. But I forgot about Geometry. And I forgot about the Entry Ticket for all of my classes.

So at 915 I found myself scrambling to have something for students coming at 930. And of course a student came in asking a question so instead of working and printing that last 15 minutes I was helping.

And at 928 I realized I still didn’t have an entry ticket.

So I cut up a bunch of papers, placed them in a stack and wrote “Write your name on the paper and wait for directions” on the board. I’d plan in the last 2 minutes while taking roll.

I was starting to sweat a little when I remembered this wonderful tweet from Todd Feitelson (@toddf9) about his weekly contest.

Boom. Warm up.

“Put the smallest positive whole number that you think no one else will pick on the paper with your name and place it in the bowl.”

And the kids loved it. They asked if they could play again. And again. I started to riff on it a little, asking them to write down their strategy for winning without sharing with a neighbor. We tallied how often numbers were chosen and then did a Notice and Wonder with the data.

Suddenly I had run out of time in 1st period. The silly warm up game had taken the entire time. Whoops.

Then I had a problem because I didn’t want my other classes to get ahead and complete the IM materials I had planned so I knew I would have to make sure the warm up stretched out for the rest of my Seminar classes.

But it turned out to not really be a problem because all of the classes liked the game. (It helped that I offered candy as a prize.)

I am now planning to hold a school-wide contest just like Todd because it was so much fun.



Captain’s Bln(x): Day 9 Or It’s Fine!

Every weekend–especially long holiday weekends–I dread coming back to work and then once I am there and working, everything is fine.

It’s fine!

Not dog drinking while the house burns down around him meme fine, but actually and truly fine.

I am not sure why I get so worked up each weekend, but I do. I wish I wouldn’t.

I’m doing better at this job with each passing semester and although things have also been good in the past and although I know I will have difficulties in the future, I can really say: it’s fine. I am doing well at this.