Rookie Year: Day 34 Or Hurricane Vacations

This post is very late. The last time I taught was two days ago on Tuesday.

The reason I am just now posting is that as I type Hurricane Matthew is barreling down on the state of Florida and will be up here in South Carolina by tomorrow. I got an email at the end of the day on Tuesday stating that the governor of South Carolina declared a state of emergency and so all government building would be shut down for Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of this week.

Don’t worry I’m not in danger. Columbia is sufficiently far off the coast that we will just get some heavy rain and strong winds. In fact the people that they are evacuating from the coast (places like Charleston) are being evacuated to Columbia so we should be okay.

I had a concept quiz scheduled for yesterday and a unit test scheduled for tomorrow so this week was a bust for me planning wise, but I am sure that my students are thanking God or the universe for saving them from a math test.

But I desperately needed a break as well. I was starting to get run down. The reality of what it means to teach three Foundations in Algebra courses every day to a group of students who have not yet acquired the underlying skills needed to be successful algebra and a full third of whom are on IEP and 504 plans, as well as discipline issues, my inexperience as a first year teacher, and the general lack of focus in 9th graders was getting to me. I needed a break and I couldn’t really take one.

So while I hope that everyone will be safe during the oncoming hurricane and that damage is minimal to non-existent, if I am honest I must admit that selfishly I am grateful for the surprise 5 day weekend that I currently have.

That said, Tuesday went much better than Monday. My students were more focused and I was feeling more energetic. I still had some discipline issues and I think that ether didn’t start strongly enough with classroom procedures and rules or I relaxed a little too early. I am not sure which is was. Probably both.

I also goofed during my third and final block.

My lesson plan on Tuesday for absolute value inequality problems was as follows. After attendance, bellringer, homework check, announcements, and so on, I gave a short presentation on the board where I reminded students of the definition of absolute value (or rather I asked them) and then I drew a number line on the board, labeled 0, 1, and -1, and then asked them to draw the same in their notes. Then I asked them to shade all numbers whose distance from zero was less than one. (By second block I varied my language as I repeated the prompt to them: “distance from zero less than one”, “closer to zero than one”.) Then I asked them to discuss what they shaded with a neighbor. Then I asked them to share as a class.

AKA a think, pair, share. But it was more like a shade, pair, share.

Then I asked them to describe the solutions they shaded in words.

Then I asked them to express the solution using math notation.

Then I asked them to compare the three representations. I did not do this part well enough. I should have had a compare and contrast prompt ready for them to do. Instead it was me in front asking them if the three representations made sense to them and that they say they all described the same thing. Habits are hard to break. A great chunk of my work seems not to be teaching but figuring out when to explain and when to ask them to figure it out. I consider myself to be an excellent, clear, and patient expositor of mathematics, but I think most people who really understood a problem could explain how to do it and teaching is more than just the explaining.

I then repeated this process with “numbers that are farther away from zero than one is”. After that I had them complete some questions about absolute value, and then graphed solutions to equations like |x| > 10 and |x| < b. Nothing beyond checking and building understanding of the relationship between absolute value and inequalities.

Then I had the whole class return to the board and I completed examples of more complicated absolute value inequalities such as 4|5x-1|+3 < 10 and so on. I made sure to get problems that ended up being both AND and OR compound inequalities, but I was winging these, making up problems on the fly, and each block got different examples.

I warned my classes at the beginning that these were problems with a lot of moving parts and that they had to synthesize and understand a lot of the skills they had already been learning to be able to solve these types of inequalities. I also told them that even though I was going to show them a framework with steps, they needed to really understand what they were writing down. I don’t think there are really solid step-by-step tricks that you can give to know how to solve absolute value inequalities every time. Even if someone has written down very clear step-by-steps that usually work, I would rather my students be able to make sense of the problems.

After I did examples I had them return to group work and try some on their own. Many of them struggled but a few got it. I had planned to have them practice so more yesterday but the hurricane wrecked my plans for the week.

The mistake that I mentioned earlier was that I had asked each block if they wanted all notes at once or to break it up in chunks. I should have just broken it up in chunks every time. The first two blocks chose chunking but the third block chose all examples and notes at once and it did not go nearly as well. It made me talk for too long in one stretch and they lost focus and somehow it left less time at the end, even though you would think it would leave more since we cut out two different transitions from board to group and back to board.

Oh well.

What I was thinking today is that I need to keep cutting down the length of time that I introduce something new. They need it in smaller doses. We need to get through more rounds of  “Direct Instruction, Group Work, Summarize” in one class. At most I have been getting two in a block and usually it’s only one cycle. I need to double to four I think. Give them more time to absorb and then come back and then absorb and try and then come back. One road-block to this is that my students complain about notes and even if they notes are short if I do more than one note taking session in a block they become downright squirrely.

I also need to do a better job of explaining the cycle to them and warning them there will be multiple short note taking or whole-class discussion sessions. One of my frustrations with them is how averse they are to taking notes at all. I can’t introduce new material to them or model how to do a problem without some direct instruction. I’ve been teasing them, “I swear y’all come in here and act surprised that we’re learning math in math class.”

They complain that I make them do too much. But if their memory of Mr. Belcher is that I worked them harder than any math teacher they ever had, I think I’ll be okay with that.

I guess if they learn something that’s good too.

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