Tag Archives: back to school

Off to a good start

Regular classes started on Wednesday. Despite my having tried to condense my “this is what the class looks like” stuff so I could get into actual content, I only had a few minutes for math in 3 of the classes, and didn’t get to it at all in the other two. That was a bit sad for me.

The main reason for that, though, was that I went ahead and introduced standards-based grading to the kids, and it took longer than I expected. (Amazingly, despite MY having mulled this thing over for several weeks, it was totally new to them!) But they are very enthusiastic about the concept. I was reading through my description, and they were kind of staring at me glassy-eyed, and then I stopped reading and said, “That means that if I give a test on Thursday, and you don’t really get it on Thursday, but over the weekend you practice and then you come in on Monday and show me, I will change your grade to show that you really do understand it.” In every single class, that was what got their attention. I think they’re currently thinking that it’s too good to be true. :)

I do have a few kids who seem worried about my not grading their homework. I reassured them that (1) they will have the answers ahead of time, so they’ll be able to see if they’re doing it correctly, (2) we will go over problems that confused them in class the next day, and (3) I will look over any individual student’s homework and give more specific feedback if he or she wants me to do so. Also, I’m keeping track of whether they’re doing the homework or not in an “ungraded” category in my grade book, just on a 0-1-2 scale, so that if I see they’re having trouble understanding, I have a record of their practice and can say “you need to try doing your homework” or “you’re already doing your homework, so let’s figure out another strategy to help you.” With all those things in place, the kids who were worried seemed satisfied.

I told the other high school math teacher about SBG, and she is on board and using it in her classes as well (though her implementation is a little different, like she’s using a 5-point scale where I’m using a 4-point one). I’ve also talked about it with teachers in other subject areas, and while they’re not yet drinking the kool-aid, they’re talking about how tasty it looks. :) One English teacher in particular is really interested in learning more about it with the goal of possibly switching to SBG for the second semester. Do you know of any English edubloggers using SBG? If so, let me know so I can point her to them to read.

I have about a million thoughts on how my first couple of days of actual math lessons went, but I don’t have the energy to post them right now, as Little Precious was up sick all last night. So I’ll just leave you all a picture of the door to my classroom:


Day One, Sort Of

Today was the first day of school, but our high schoolers (it’s a K-12 school) don’t have regular classes for the first two days, so it was a little odd. They have Orientation, which is basically a series of seminars. I did lead two math seminars today, one for the juniors & seniors and one for the freshmen & sophomores.

I had a little more than an hour and a half with each group, which was way too long; I’m going to request that the times be reduced for next year. I split the session into two parts.

The first thing we did was based on George Woodbury’s post on doing a study skills inventory. I did a lot of asking, “How do you do that?” For example, a few kids listed “organization” as something that’s characteristic of a successful math student. We talked about what it means to be organized as a math student, and how one can make that happen. It was a pretty good discussion, but I think a lot of the kids were zoning out. That may have been related to their schedule for the day (lots of seminars, as I said), but I think even so I should work on making sure ALL students take part if I do this again in the future.

For the second part of the seminar, I took an idea from @Mythagon and decided to have them investigate spirolaterals. I chose this because it’s accessible to all of them, regardless of math course level, and because it was something I could do to get them thinking mathematically, looking for patterns and using mathematical terms to describe what they saw. Here is the worksheet I developed. (Buddy the Bunny is one of the stuffed animals who lives in my classroom, just as an fyi.) The kids really got into doing the spirolaterals, and they were engaged and working hard to find the patterns.

With the younger group, I didn’t get into questions 4 and 5, except to point them to this website where you can make those changes and generate more spirolaterals. But the students in that group were asking fabulous questions as they tried to articulate the rules they were developing about the kinds of patterns they were seeing – a lot of “what ifs” came from them. It was really awesome to have them so into what we were looking at, and it was great to say, “That’s a great question. Here’s another sheet of graph paper – why don’t you try to figure it out?” We didn’t have time during class to explore whether palindromes in spirolaterals make any particularly cool patterns, but I think it will be something to investigate!

Tomorrow I don’t have any classes, and then Wednesday will begin the real deal. I’m excited. :)


Teachers at my school report back today – summer is officially over for me. Our kids don’t start until the 23rd, and normally we wouldn’t be back until Monday, but this year we’re having some additional professional development today through Friday. I expect it’ll probably be related to global things like our school improvement plan, but I’ll find out for sure in less than an hour.

I’m still having difficulty thinking of myself as a Math Teacher. I guess it’ll seem more real once I’m actually teaching kids math, but right now, I’ve been a History Teacher for seven years, and it just seems weird, even though it’s what I have been wanting to do. I chatted with a stranger in a fabric store yesterday, and when she asked what I teach, I said “math” and it sounded odd to have that come out of my mouth.

This next month is going to be pretty intense for me, with school starting up as I try to get my thesis completed. I had a great meeting with my advisor yesterday, and we decided that I’m going to narrow my focus to just Descartes rather than all four mathematicians. I’m feeling excited about getting the work completed, even though I know that the next few weeks are going to be a challenge to get through. (There’s also a quilt top I’ve committed to piecing soon, not to mention a husband and little girl who like to see me from time to time, and various other things that seem to pop up demanding my time. It’s that “life” thing, ya know?)

Anyway, I mostly just wanted to get a post up here. Since I’m starting back today, I’ll hopefully have more things to write about in the near future. :)