Rookie Year: Day 11

Sorry, no clever alternate title today.

Currently I am teaching One-Step equations. For my non-math teacher readers, these are equations like

x + 10 = -3                   5x = 45

x – 5 = 8                       x/7 = 9

x + -1/2 = 5/4             6/7 x = 2/3

So essentially equations where only one thing is being done to the variable and you only have one thing to do in order to find the solution. My students did really well with the addition and subtraction ones. Although they still struggle with signed integer addition and it took a little prompting for them to complete problems where they needed to add or subtract fractions. But mostly they did well.

Addition and subtraction equations were yesterday and today we did multiplication and division equations, which were more of a challenge for them. There is still only one step to do, but the concepts concerning how multiplication and division are related are very fuzzy. When I asked them “dividing by  5 is the same as multiplying by what number”? I confused a great many of them and I am not sure that I ever brought some of them back from that confusion. My pedagogy is weak here. I am not sure how to effectively scaffold the relational understanding needed because I have not often had to teach this particular topic. If anyone has some resources I would appreciate it.

My first block fought me tooth and nail today. No one wanted to be on task. Every time I redirected another group stopped working. They really wore me out. My other blocks generally were very engaged today, but this has been two days in a row for that first block. I called a few parents during lunch to ask for some help. (I am taking Gary Rubenstein’s advice here: he says to not to threaten to call parents but to simply do it unexpectedly. I hope it works. We’re in the second full week and it feels like I am fighting to win back a class a little already.) I told them today that I have an infinite amount of patience. That isn’t quite true, but I have enough to not give up on them. I told them I’m just going to keep asking and expecting work from them. I can do it until they are sick of me. I will keep doing it. But talk is cheap. I’ll have to show them I mean it by doing exactly that tomorrow.

And the day after that.

And the day after that.

And the day after that.

All the way to day 180.

I hope it doesn’t take that long.


(This ending inspired by my favorite poem, i went fishing with my family when i was five by Tao Lin. I just realized that “And the day after that” should have been my alternate title, but I’m just stream-of-consciousnessing this posts mostly. I do some minor editing after and a little organization in my head before. Sorry.)


Rookie Year: Day 10 Or What Good Is This Sweater Vest

Today started out rough and then got better.

It started out rough because I had a fight with the copy machine. We currently still are not on speaking terms.

After that, my first block class was essentially a disaster. When my students left, I was straightening up the room talking to myself, “That was so bad. Why was that so bad?”

Usually my first block class is decently engaged for math first thing in the morning.

Today I got “I don’t like math. I’m confused. Why are we doing this.”

This was a little discouraging but I’m used to hearing those things so it wasn’t all that bad. However there seemed to be a low level of mutinous feelings throughout the block that I had never felt from this group before. No one was responding to questions or volunteering answers. Everyone was silent and stared down at their desks.

The issue is really that I am not Dan Meyer. No matter how many sweater vests I wear.

(That was a joke. It’s okay to laugh.)

I tried Dan’s “How Tall Is The Teacher Measured In Styrofoam Cups” activity today. He adapted it for a “first day” activity and although I didn’t use it on the first day, I thought it would be a way to engage the students and is related to equation solving (which is what the lesson was on) even though we aren’t on linear equations quite yet. (I downplayed that aspect. I may bring back cups as a familiar context once we get around to that despite of how today went.)

First block did NOT like it. This is where I got the “I don’t like math”s and so on. The task is decently open-ended I think I made them very uncomfortable. I try to get the students to share ideas and talk but I do a lot of explaining still. (I’m not opposed to some amount of Direct Instruction in the math classroom. I just want students to engage with the material and each other as well.) It was more freedom than I think they knew what to do with. My goal is to help them get to that independence but I thought this was a good activity to start with, but I’m not sure that I taught the lesson “correctly”. In fact, in all of times that I have taught that lesson to various classes (college, middle, and high school) I am not sure if I have taught it correctly. Need someone to watch to do it well. I’m rambling. Sorry. I’m too tired to organize my thoughts on this more clearly.

The TL;DR version is I think the students weren’t quite ready for the lesson and I didn’t implement it properly but I’m not deterred and I’m going to keep pushing them to be more independent and ask them to do tasks where I don’t tell them exactly how to do it first.

But also I think I had planned my overall lesson poorly. I thought it would be good to do that activity first and then the lecture/note taking part with group attempts second.After the disastrous first bell I swapped it around and did the cups activity second. This made the activity go marginally better but I still had some very reluctant students. I am not Dan Meyer. (I’m not trying to be, but I did want to use his lesson here.)

I also had to take a student out of class today and talk to him about how he speaks to the girls in my class. He made an inappropriate comment towards one. I don’t know if communicated the “that isn’t allowed in my class” well enough . I also spoke to the student who the comment was directed towards outside and told her that I wasn’t going to allow that to happen in my class and I wanted her to feel comfortable there. I don’t know if I handled that situation in the right way but I have never had to deal with that before. I made sure to call on both on the male student to communicate that I still wanted him to be a part of the class and after the rebuke there was no further issue on my part.

I’m wondering if my middle block usually responds to questions best not because of the students that are in there but because of the time. It’s not too early in the morning but it’s also not the end of the day. (Although it is right before lunch so I get a lot of “I’m hungry”s. I just tell them that I’m hungry too but that I’m always hungry. Which is true.)

More stuff happened today, but it’s late and I’m satisfied with this.

Thanks for reading!



Rookie Year: Day 9 Or Where Should They Sit

Mondays are busy for me with tutoring from 4-5 and also there was a staff meeting for all teachers so I am just now getting to the daily reflection post.

I gave the unit one test today so in a way I got a little break. Of course, the first half the class (I teach blocks) was the bellringer, attendance, and usual routine. And then we went over the practice test together. But the second half I merely had to keep an eye on students while they took the test. I have to confess that I am a little torn. I hate to ruin a perfectly good weekend, but Mondays are kind of a nice day to give a test as far as scheduling for the week goes. It gives the students extra time to study but I am doubtful that they take advantage of it. We have delayed starts on Wednesdays in our district and I know that the shortened time I will have then is when I will go over the exams with the classes and return them.

Perhaps I will try Tuesday next time and see if they do any better. (I will also try Fridays. Some of my classes were so restless on Friday that scheduling tests then may be easier on me than this Monday test.) I have some experimentation to do. All I know is that classroom management seems a lot easier when you don’t have to differentiate between talk about math and talk about not math.

Related to that is seating. I was speaking with another teacher after school today who is new to my district and whom I made friends with during on-boarding. I had moved my desks from groups of three back to the traditional row setting for the test administration. I have to admit that during the first half of the class while I was reviewing with the students and having them talk to me and answer questions, it was easier to control misbehavior when they sat in rows.

But I want my seating to communicate to them how we will do math in my class: together with students helping each other and me directing and guiding. I don’t just want compliance and I know that education circles I float in and out of on #mtbos (math-twitter-blogosphere) love to talk against compliance, but it’s hard to deny that when I am managing the classroom well it at least feels like the students are learning more. (And certainly I think it is true that when students are on task more learning should be happening, I am just trying to differentiate between me feeling in control of the class and learning experiences happening in my class.)

I think the answer to this is simply that I need to get better at directing the class when they are sitting in groups and creating a classroom culture of focus and work. I know this takes time. Time for me to get better at that aspect of my job and time for the students to get accustomed to that expectation and respond accordingly. Despite my miscues and mistakes with classroom management, my inexperienced perception is that I am very lucky to have the group of students that I have. I think overall they are great and a lot of issues just come from the fact they’re all 14.

Another thought that popped in my head today (and who knows the truth of it) is that I am simultaneously doing better than I think and also probably worse than I think. If that makes any sense. I don’t know.

So there isn’t a whole lot else to report today because of the test. Today was Mathematician Monday and I talked about Sophie Germain. I’m going to have to pass off the biographies to the students soon or else I am going to take all of them myself, haha.

My biggest concern right now is finding a groove with grading. A lot of my grading practices, shaped by my beliefs about and experiences in education, are difficult to implement here in the public high school setting in the same way that I had been doing at the college level. Of course, I learned about SBG from teachers who were doing SBG in a public high school setting, so there is no reason I cannot do it. I was just thrown off my feet the first few weeks and I am just now getting an idea of how it will work in the new system (and hopefully be conducive to student learning).


Rookie Year: Day 8

I once again find myself writing Friday’s reflection late on a Saturday. It’s hard to sit down and write on Friday after a full week. Especially after the first full week.

Yesterday was pretty rough. I had some review activities planned to help my students prepare for the test on Monday but it was clear that I did not do enough planning. I had a matrix exercise picked out using the medal counts from the Rio Olympics that I abandoned midway through the very first attempt in block one and moved on to the next thing (the transition was smoother than I am making it sound here once I decided to cut my losses but it still wasn’t pretty). I didn’t even try it in the next two blocks.

Sometimes I believe I am overconfident once I have an idea for a task or a lesson. The idea comes to me and I think “Oh yeah! That’ll be great. It covers this and we can practice that and we can discuss this,” but my procrastination / overconfidence in my abilities sometimes sabotages this.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that I am neglecting my job. I just mean that what I think is sufficiently prepared for a lesson is sometimes nowhere near it. I underestimate the preparation required and I overestimate how much the students are going to latch on to without some more serious scaffolding.

A word problem sheet I had made to help them practice in groups was a prime example of this. I had written the problem thinking I would give them time to attempt them in groups and as I was reading it out I realized there was far more concepts I could have teased out of the simple word problem if I had simply taken the time to think about them and write them up. I could have had a sheet that was only ONE word problem, but had 6-7 questions. Not necessarily breaking the problem down for the students–although some of it was that–but helping them see all the different things they could consider. I was doing this on the fly because it only occurred to me as we were working through it. This is what I mean. I am overly reliant on what I realize I could do on the fly. I’ve done it before, it happens often, and I’ve come to expect it.

I need to get out of the habit.

As a counterpoint, sometimes when I do sit and think through a certain activity, questions and ideas simply don’t come to me unless I am in the heat of the moment and the responses of my students inspire me. They ask a question or do something I didn’t expect. In these cases I value my ability to think on my feet. But there is an aspect of careful planning to teaching that I need to get better at. Hey, it’s only day 8. I’ll get better at it.

In less philosophical and more practical terms, my last block was a near circus yesterday. It was the last class on the last day of the first full week. I had to redirect and redirect and redirect. It was rough. But it was better than the experiences I had in student teaching. I still have miles to go when it comes to classroom discipline (more than any other aspect of teaching) but I do think that I have improved over my first attempts fresh out of college.

I think I will need to be a little more pro-active, not just in my last block, but all of them. My middle block, which is the most responsive, also had some problems in the middle of class. I had to pull students out of class for a moment and ask them to tone down the energy because while I appreciated their enthusiasm they were disrupting the rest of the class. They responded well but I don’t think I should have let it get to that point.

Well, that’s all I can remember from Friday right now and it will do. Thanks for reading.



Rookie Year: Day 7 Or Living The Dream

Today was both better and worse than yesterday.

A small part of me was suspicious that all of my students had somehow read my blog. 1/2 Block and 3/4 Block came in, sat down, and most of the them started working quietly on the bellringer. I had not said a single word about my frustration from yesterday. 6/7 block also came in and did their work, but that class is bigger and sometimes takes a little more wrangling and a little longer to settle down.

One of my colleagues, A (I will not use her name unless she tells me later that it is okay. Hi, A!) came by room this morning and said “I read your blog. Here’s what I do for my bellringer.” She has a seating chart where she checks off attendance, bellringer, and homework all at once. She tells the students that she will be coming around and they need to have at least started their work in order to get credit for the bellringer. It doesn’t have to be right, just attempted. I liked this very much and used this exact strategy today to a good effect. Also last night a math teacher from my alma mater messaged on Facebook and offered bellringer sheets that I remember so well from my time as a high schooler. I greatly appreciate the help from both of them and plan to use both suggestions at the same time. Thank you, A and J!

The rest of the lesson did not go as smoothly but it was not terrible. I had the students do quiz corrections by handing back the graded quizzes and then telling them to find a classmate who knew how to solve the questions that they had missed. Overall I was pleased with the result of this. I heard students arguing animatedly about solutions to various quiz questions. However this did not motivate all students. Several of them wanted to just come up to me and ask. I kept redirecting them to their classmates and then walking around the room, listening and chiming in when I felt some re-direction was necessary. This explanation of course makes it sound more smooth then it really was. Some students did not talk to anyone at all and others merely chatted about anything but math. I did my best to come around and put them back on task or encourage them to engage but this method was a big time suck. I did not get to all of the activities that I had planned for today.

I am moving the first unit test to Monday. I know that this is really a bad idea but I feel that I have no choice. Tomorrow is too soon–we really need at least one review day cushion between new material and a summative end-of-unit test and Tuesday would be too late. Some of the other teachers are giving their tests tomorrow. I feel that I am going too quickly and too slowly all at the same time. Only thing to do is keep going.

Today one of my students asked me “Mr. Belcher, why did you become a math teacher if you failed a math class?” (I got a C in a graduate course, which I consider failure–I mean it really is for a master’s student. But I let them think failure meant F. It’s also true that I have failed several math exams during my time as an undergraduate and graduate student. I have been using those failures and subsequent recoveries and successes as a way to connect with my students, who have experienced math failure often.) I told him that I didn’t let it discourage me and that I had already had my heart set on being a math teacher before I had failed that course. During lunch someone asked how I was doing and I replied “Not bad! Just tired” and they said “Living the dream, right?”. And actually I think I am.

I enjoy this job.



Rookie Year: Day 6

I’m pretty discouraged today. The warm up today was a few questions on matrix operations that were exactly the same as the exercises we tried yesterday and the exercises that the students had for homework. Everyone seemed lost. I couldn’t tell if it was because they didn’t know how to do the problems or they just didn’t want to start the warm up. I can’t get them to try it without asking me. I need to come up with another approach. I am purposefully asking questions that should be review from the previous day so the entry level should be very low or at least low enough that a neighbor could get them started.

They get Chromebooks by the end of the week. I may start having the bellringer be a quick google form quiz that expires 5 minutes after the class starts. I’ll have them write their work in the notebook like before but they’ll submit their answers electronically. I am hoping this motivates them to work some more. I was trying to get them to work the first 5 minutes without asking me for help but they are really resisting that. I may have to just refuse to help during that first part but I don’t want them to give up either. Using attendance as an excuse worked the first day I tried it but now I think they may just be waiting until I am done to ask me then.

I don’t know. I don’t have an answer for this. I’m pretty tired today. According to the pacing guide (and the pace of the other teachers) I should be giving a unit one test tomorrow or Friday. I have it scheduled for Friday. This feels really soon but also all of the material we have covered so far is technically supposed to be review from pre-algebra. It hasn’t felt like review for them, but that’s where we are supposed to be. There’s plenty more to do and we start into the textbook after this unit. My mind feels really scattered.


Rookie Year: Day 5

Okay, so Day 5 and I think I have figured out that I need to write my daily blog post before I leave the school or life gets in the way because once again I am sitting in the dark in my bedroom typing this. As a minor improvement over last night I am using my chromebook and not my phone.

My matrices lesson went decently well during the presentation, but then students became confused when they practiced what had been discussed. I am at a little bit of a loss to explain this. The questions on the sheet (with the exception of a few at the very end) were very similar in difficulty to the ones that I gave as examples when talking about matrices. It appears I need to improve the way that I am assessing students as I am introducing new material, but it is still a little confusing. I got a very strong response from most of the class as I repeatedly asked questions and got them to explain and justify. I need to change how I do a formative, informal assessment as I am giving direct instruction or I need to work on helping the students learn how to take more initiative.

Or both.

Or neither.

Like I said, the response was a little confusing. After working with them in small groups though most of them seemed to improve. Maybe there is just some brain shutdown during direct instruction no matter how short I try to make it. It’s also my very first time teaching matrices.

Today I put an #ObserveMe sign outside of my classroom. I took this directly from Robert Kaplinsky’s website after seeing him post about it on Twitter. Here is mine. I realized only after a full day of having the sign up that it had a minor typo. Oops. I fixed it after my last class when I noticed it. No one came in to observe today, but my room is set back away from the main passage for the hallway but I plan to leave it up all year. I made a Google form for people to use that is simply this levels of classroom discourse rubric that I also took from that link on Robert’s site and a free response question.

I think that rubric is fantastic but it also depressed me a little bit because I think I would score a 0 or 1 on almost every category, I didn’t think my class was going too badly so far, but I’m not sure how to make a culture shift in both my teaching and how students respond to that culture. As I have written already, my students are very reluctant to self-start and I am not sure what or how to encourage them to buy in to a system that looks like a level 2 or 3. And, for what it is worth, as much as the values and pedagogy embedded in the rubric appeal to me, I am also not sure how they mesh with the requirements and realities of the class and students I have.

Tomorrow I am writing these crazy daily posts before I go home I am so tired right now.