Rookie Year: Day 134

I was tired yesterday when I was writing the daily post and so I neglected to mention something that happened that I thought was really cool because I just wanted to get it out of the way.

While I was teaching how to solve quadratic equations I was really trying to get students to see how a quadratic equation that equals 8 was a problem because we couldn’t use our fact that a*b = 0 implies that either a = 0 or b = 0. I wanted them to see how we could resolve the issue by simply moving the 8 over to the other side of the equation where the quadratic is, but most of my students were at a loss. It didn’t look like example 1 where there was a 0 on one side of the equation.

But it my middle block I managed to get a beautiful response from a student.

I said “We have an 8 but we need a 0. What can we do?”

And one of my students just said matter-of-factly “We just turn that 8 into a 0.” Ah it was so great.

Anyway today, I sang the quadratic formula to my students to the tune of pop goes the weasel and told them about my algebra teacher, who sang it to my class when I was their age. Me singing the quadratic equation loudly and off tune definitely got some laughs and some of them sang along too, which I asked them to do. I have been looking forward to that essentially by entire education career. Ever since I changed my major to math education, haha. I did have a few “too cool for school” (literally) students who refused to sing along, but that’s okay. They have to know the formula either way.

This week has gone a lot better than previous weeks and I am feeling much more upbeat about this final week leading into Spring Break than I did at the beginning. I am still concerned about finishing up the curriculum and still leaving enough time to do a comprehensive review from the previous course (Foundations of Algebra) to this one (Intermediate Algebra) so that my students are properly prepared for the state test. But I back on pace with the rest of the department. I just hope it isn’t too fast for the students, even if I am keeping up.

Thanks for reading!


Rookie Year: Day 133

I talked about solving quadratic equations by factoring today and also dove off a table onto a concrete slab covered by a mere layer of carpet just to get my students attention today while talking about a problem involving a divers time to hit the water. It worked decently well.

All of my classes were well behaved again and they responded well to the new material. But I am concerned about the timeline for this unit. I don’t know if we will have enough time before Spring Break to really do what we need to do in preparation. We will see. I’m teaching them the quadratic equation tomorrow.

I spent some time during my planning talking to the Assistant Principal who chose to hire me because I wanted to thank her for making that decision. It’s been a rough year so far, but I am learning and I appreciate the school that I am at.

Thanks for reading.


Rookie Year: Day 132

On the bright side, all three of my classes showed large improvements in behavior today.

On the down side, part of that improvement was really more a lack of disruption rather than engaging with the lesson.

But they really were better today. I gave each class the same talk because it was true for all three blocks. A strength of this class is listening and paying attention during notes. A weakness is when we try an activity.

For some reason this talk worked with all of them. I didn’t have chatter during notes and most of them worked at a reasonable noise level during the discovery activity.

I did have some sleepers and zone-outers and I want to engage them, but some days I’ll just take them not disrupting class.

My lesson plan involved notes where we simply recapped what we had discovered doing the Desmos Activities on Quadratics the past few days. I told my students we were putting words to the concepts we had talked about. I did add some new information, but most was a recap.

Then I had them do a discovery activity on how values of a,b and c affect the graph of a quadratic. This went alright, but some students got lost just from trying to sketch a graph that they see on Desmos. I guess this was an instance where I thought a certain skill was obvious but I was suffering the curse of knowledge. Apparently it isn’t obvious how to sketch a graph even if you have software to help. I guess if I thought more about it I should have known. If I consider a function that would be proportionally difficult for me to understand as quadratics are for my students, I would probably have difficulty parsing its structure.

Although I did have one student who I told “It’s not hard, you just don’t want to do it” to which she and her friend responded “Yeah.”. And then they did the work they didn’t want to do. I tolerated the grumbling.

So today went mostly well. I wish I would have had more engagement but trying to get students to pay attention and almost as tiring as getting them to stop disrupting. I can be obnoxious and persistent, but at the end of the day I can’t force my students to pay attention. I can only present material clearly well and choose good tasks for them to try and good questions for them to practice. I’m sure I will get better at both inspiring students to choose to participate and also policing them when they choose not to. But for today I’ll settle for a class that at least sounds like it is on task even if a portion of them aren’t.

Thanks for reading.


Rookie Year: Day 131

Today was up and down.

My lesson plan was to have students try the Desmos Polygraph on Quadratics, then do teacher pacing for the follow up Desmos Activity that summarized the polygraph, and then do a paper investigation on the connection between factors of quadratics and their zeros. I didn’t push the last one too hard. I just asked the students if they noticed any patterns. Some of them did, some of them didn’t. Some of them noticed other patterns, but I just wanted them to notice anything at all.

Before that final investigation, I asked each class what I have told them mathematicians do. They all told me “Mathematicians are lazy” which is funny because I have told them that. I am always telling them we don’t want to work hard, we want to find the shortcuts. We want to understand so we don’t have to compute or work by brute force. So at least one of my saying has gotten into their heads. I just bridged it to the one that I wanted, which was that mathematicians look for patterns. I told them that finding patterns can reduce our work load because we know what to expect.

I think by the time they leave me they will have both of my sayings about mathematicians down. Which I am jazzed about.

My classroom management or lack thereof got in the way a bit today. Too much chatter between screens. I lectured sternly at first block and gave a lot of teacher looks to last block, but it was my middle block that was the most difficult simply because they didn’t want to do the work. They are the smallest and the quietest but they also complain the most. While the first and last blocks had fun playing polygraph, the middle block just complained the whole time. Which is a shame because in my last block I heard some excellent mathematical discourse between students.

“Wait what do you mean by that?”

“Okay so like the graph can be above the line or below it right?”

And so on. Desmos really had a great idea when they made the polygraphs. I need to reflect more on what kind of tasks I can choose for my students to foster that kind of atmosphere and I also need to figure out how to cultivate that atmosphere for when I pick good tasks but the students don’t respond to them well. For last block it was no work at all for us to get good mathematics out of the polygraph. For the middle block it was pulling teeth. When it isn’t my choice of task that is at fault, how do I adjust in other ways? I don’t have an answer to that question yet, which frustrates me. The only thing I know to do is just force the students to do it, which is miserable, and I hate teaching miserable. One of my middle block students asked “Mr. Belcher, why do you seem less cheerful than normal” and I didn’t want to give her the honest answer, which was that their class had an awful attitude, because I felt it just would have made it worse. I don’t know.

I was re-reading over some old blog posts and I noticed how long I’ve been saying that my last block has been an issue but I haven’t done anything about it yet. And my first block has started to get worse too. Part of it is just fatigue. Constant discipline is my least favorite part of my job and I run out of juice as the semester goes on. I lose the will to correct every problem and keep everyone in line and it becomes a negative feedback loop as this causes me to be more tired and therefore less on task with discipline. I know that makes no sense: If I just kept discipline up it would be less tiring in the long run. But that’s how it is for me so far and I’m trying to change it but it’s the hardest part of the job for me.

One thing I have been thinking about is how much I rely on student self-correct and built up goodwill to ensure behavior in my classrooms. I expect the students to behave because they should and because I have built a decent relationship with a lot of them, but then I get stressed when they disappoint me. If I discipline someone or ask someone to leave, the rest of the class straightens up. So clearly the answer is to keep up discipline. But I keep messing it up. It’s like I’m hard wired not to confront people, even when I am in a position of leadership and authority. I know this is a hard thing for many people to learn when they first start teaching but I find it extremely discouraging.

I’m feeling better than I did yesterday though. And I know I’ll keep working on it to improve. And I know the first year is hard for everyone. Not that much longer until Spring Break.

Thanks for reading.


Rookie Year: Day 130

I think I am just about burned out.

I really did not want to go into work today.

I was not happy with how I ran any of my classes.

The Desmos activity I had planned to introduce quadratics was a disaster and I feel my facilitating was just as much to blame as lack of student initiative and engagement.

I am tired.

Spring Break is in 2 weeks but I am afraid that it won’t be enough. I am ready for summer break.

I need a 100th wind here soon or I am going to fizzle out before the end of the year.


Rookie Year: Day 129

Friday. Quizlet Live, In-Class Practice, Standard Quiz. Every Friday. For 9 weeks.

Despite being written on the board all week, every week and despite this being our routine EVERY Friday since January, there were students in every block for whom it was an apparent surprise that we had a quiz today.

I really don’t understand them sometimes.

Thanks for reading.


Rookie Year: Day 128

I woke up in a sour mood today. This was the first night this week that I got a full 8 hours of sleep, but when I got up I was feeling depressed and really did not feel like going in to work.

My first and second blocks did not really help that feeling. They were wilder than usual and did not want to work. My plan today didn’t have very many parts.

Since Tuesday was the last day of the 3rd quarter and marked halfway through this semester, I thought I would do a quick refresh of the syllabus and classroom expectations. This did not ┬áhave the effect that I wanted in my first block but it did have a measurable effect in the other two. I also need to make sure that I am following through on my rules. The constant reminders and disciplinary actions really wear me down. It takes a lot out of you to teach a room full of teenagers who don’t always have the self-motivation necessary to stay on task. Well, it’s not the whole room. It may not even be half the room. But sometimes when even just one student can’t just sit down and attempt the problems it gets tiresome. After the Syllabus refresh I did short notes-20ish minutes-on difference of squares and perfect square trinomials, and then sent the students to IXL to practice factoring. My morning classes really struggled with staying on task. I need to move some students around in first block for sure.

So I was feeling really wiped by lunch. I think I was silent for most of it as I sat in the teacher’s lounge eating with some of my friends.

But my last block was a nice pick me up. They got Perfect Square Trinomials and Difference of Squares faster than my first two classes. (I also finally figured out how I wanted to teach those. My poor first block are always my guinea pigs and I don’t always have the bugs worked out by second block.) And they also worked on their IXL practice more diligently than the first two blocks. I’m feeling better now but it was still a rough day and I’m ready to go home.

Thanks for reading.