Rookie Year: Day 161

I proctored the state EOC for Algebra 1 to all of my students yesterday and then I forgot to write my post. A few thoughts:

  • Some of my students were really zoned out during the test and I don’t know if it was anxiety or apathy or not understanding the material or just plain old lack of sleep. But I was worried about them.
  • I haven’t felt guilty or concerned about how good of a job I was doing until yesterday watching them take the test. Suddenly I felt like how they did was all on me and I was criticizing every choice I have made this year.
  • Legally I cannot share information about the test items but after proctoring it yesterday I have a higher opinion of it than I did last week. It was a rigorous test with good questions.

Patrick Honner said on Twitter recently that you can tell a lot about a teacher by what they do in class after the AP test. I didn’t give an AP test but I feel the same principle applies here. I  have also seen some others (my apologies I cannot remember who) tweet that if teaching stops after the test then we reinforce that it is the test and not learning that matters.

So I plan to teach these last few crazy days, but right now I have no idea what.

Thanks for reading.


Rookie Year: Day 160

I’ve been thinking lately how the end of this Rookie Year blog is going to be slightly unsatisfying because I didn’t post on days that I was out and I didn’t compensate my day count so I am not going to arrive at a final “Day 180” so I think on the last day of school, I am going to call it Day 180 even though I didn’t officially work 180 days this year with ambulance trips and colds and new babies. “Rookie Year: Day 168” would feel a little anti-climatic as an end to this.


After going over final exam tips with my students for Monday, I reviewed solutions to the last practice exam and then we played a particularly long Kahoot. I can tell that I am worn out. I didn’t feel like coming up with anything creative or engaging for reviewing solutions to the practice exam so I just stood at the board and went over the solutions for about 35ish minutes. And I also was not very vigilant during Kahoot about making sure that students didn’t also have games or some other tab open while we were working. I am just tired.

After I administer the final exam on Monday I am planning to teach a little geometry and trig and then have the students launch some model rockets for a final project.

Should be fun.
Could be a disaster.
Thanks for reading.


Rookie Year: Day 159

I had students in and out of my classroom today because they are currently taking their English EOCs. This is messing with my own review schedule, but there is nothing I can do about it. The math coordinator from the district sent us a fantastic practice exam, but the platform that it was hosted on was not very good. Based on my experience today I cannot recommend that you use Edulastic. The website was slow and many students had to reload their tests several times. Also questions were formatted improperly and I have to blame the site here because I saw the original properly formatted questions from the coordinator.

I can tell that my kids are just as tired as I am. They seemed totally dead today. I hope I didn’t push them too hard with practice problems this week and fry their brains for Monday. I will try to keep it fun and light tomorrow when we play a review game to go over the practice exam questions.

Thanks for reading.


Rookie Year: Day 158

I really didn’t feel like teaching this morning, but today was better.

I addressed at the beginning of each class how I thought yesterday went and that I was disappointed in their level of focus when we are so close to the final exam. I told them that they could work in partners but if they got too loud or too off task we would work silently and individually instead.

I don’t mind having a loud classroom when all of the students are talking about math, but when everyone is just goofing off I find it very frustrating.

It also probably helped that I bribed all of them with some Jolly Ranchers while they worked on the review questions.

For my final class, which was the rowdiest yesterday, I wrote 5 marks on the board and said if I erased all 5 we would go to silent work. I wanted a more visual reminder because they had been so much more out of hand than my other two blocks.

The South Carolina End Of Course Exam for Algebra I is this coming Monday and I am still trying to figure out what is the appropriate mix of:

“You need to take this state test seriously, it is 20% of your final grade by district policy”


“Tests and grades aren’t important, learning is what matters”

I am trying to find the right balance so that these messages don’t seem contradictory. Who knows if it is possible or not.

Thanks for reading.



Rookie Year: Day 157 Or Big Puzzle

I am running out of gas.

I am struggling to find my own motivation, let alone motivation to get 60 other people to engage and try in this final week before the EOC. It’s draining to have to be the motivation for someone else. I just don’t have enough in me at this point in the year. I have been doing review and practice activities, but some of my students seem to have given up. Even the ones that are on the cusp of passing are uninterested in focusing and it has nothing to do with spinners. I find this very frustrating but then I also feel guilty if I try to emotionally disconnect. At this point in the year it feels like I am not encouraging those students to learn but to simply cooperate, and frankly I barely have the energy for that. Classroom management has always been the most draining aspect of this job for me and that has remained true even as I saw improvement in my skill.

However I did have a wonderful conversation about magic squares with a few of my students in a middle block. They had been working hard the entire time and when there was about 15 minutes left they complained to me that they were tired. And it was a totally fair complaint. They had done a lot.

It started when one of them said “Mr. Belcher, math is like this giant puzzle that you are trying to figure out but you don’t have all the pieces,” which I thought was a great description. I shared something about Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems in very general terms. In retrospect I should have asked her to expand some more on what she meant by that, but I got excited. These two girls are always willing to discuss mathematical ideas with me and do a great job of wrestling with big concepts that I throw at them. I haven’t told them this, but I am trying to pique their interest in being math majors, especially because they are not students who would be considered “typical” for that path. They are some of my best students even though they don’t have the highest grades.

So I put a mostly completed 3×3 magic square on the board and asked them to finish it, explaining how it worked, which they grasped quickly. Then I put a 4×4 and I asked them to complete it from scratch. I was very pleased with the strategies they came up with immediately. I had told them the rows for a 4×4 have to add to 34. With no prompting at all after that, they decided that since 34/2 they would try to make 17 in two different ways across a row and then build from there.

What an interesting strategy! The bell rang before they could finish the square but they seemed to enjoy tackling the problem and I enjoyed helping them. But I also felt discouraged. I want to figure out how to make every day and every activity like that for ALL of my students, but I don’t see how to do that within the context I teach. I can make headway on some days and for some topics, but overall it feels as though the standards and expectations that are placed in math class in public school prevent that environment.

Working through this year I have tried to write and teach lessons that present math as a challenge or a puzzle to be figured out, but I didn’t always succeed. And at some points I didn’t try. Especially when I was tired or ran out of time.  have had this lingering suspicion that a lot of what is done in math classrooms is done because it is what is easiest. That’s not a judgement, I just told you I found myself doing that at points this year.

So things I have been trying this year but need to revisit and improve for next year:

  • How can I make all of my lessons in the spirit of that magic square and still fit within the context that my job exists in? (And is that possible to do?)
  • Where is the balance between making those lessons and not burning out from the amount of effort it takes? (Avoiding sliding into the “easy” lessons.)
  • What does good classroom management look like that doesn’t make me feel as though I have to be the motivation and focus for 60 other people and myself all at once? (How can I adjust to the fact that some students aren’t as motivated as i would like them to be or as much as they need to be to pass?)

There’s probably more but my head is feeling a little clouded right now and I can’t think of anything else.

Thanks for reading.



Rookie Year: Day 156

I don’t know if I am killing my students’ souls, but I gave them another EOC practice test yesterday and that was all we did. I have one more they can take before the real thing. I will probably give it to them on Friday.

Like I wrote a few days ago, I am afraid these posts are going to get very repetitive for a while near the end.

Thanks for reading.


Rookie Year: Day 155

My students took a test today and I am all caught up on grading, so it was a very slow day for me. I ended up thinking about how almost none of my students took advantage of re-assessments on standards quizzes and I really blame myself. I don’t think I communicated my hybrid-SBG system well AT ALL this first semester. All of my students seemed confused about how it worked the entire year. And that kind of makes sense because to be honest I am still a little confused on what I am doing. The SBG system that I was using for college students worked very well because I had complete control over how student grades are determined. But here at this high school we have to use a Total Points system rather than weights and student final grades are 40% Q3, 40% Q4, and 20% Final Exam by school policy.

There is talk of moving to where teachers can decide whether to do total points or weights next year, but it sounded like departments had to still be uniform so I would have to go along with whatever the department chooses. In either scenario I need to spend this summer working out exactly what I want my SBG system to look like and how I can better communicate it to students so that they understand.

But before I do that I need to update the online calculus classes that I teach because I have summer sections and I have essentially not changed them since I wrote rough drafts of the courses in 2013/14. I am thinking about moving them so that they are hosted entirely on Google Docs and for courses that I teach at UC I will simply have the students access through Blackboard.

I’m going to stop here though or else I will begin to ramble on my ideas for online education and that is a bit off-topic for this blog series.

Thanks for reading.