Torch Relays

Two 12-hr work days down, 5 days until school officially starts. (Cliche about how there’s never enough time). I’m optimistic about this year, but I can’t remember a school year that I didn’t have a positive outlook. (Incurable, I’m told).
Yes, this summer, I attended Twitter Math Camp, and there’s a lot of residual glow that transfers easily to energy toward my classroom. But what’s really got me charged this year is watching my two co-workers, who joined me at TMC, prepare for the school year by igniting the rest of our department with the torch they’ve had burning since we got back from Jenks. These two awesome women (@tootalltrees and @d_Hazelton) have courageously engaged the other math teachers at the highschool in important conversations about how students learn mathematics best. And it’s catching on. Hopefully like wildfire.
I put my desks in groups of 4 today and took a neat panoramic picture with my new phone. I’m excited to see if it’s a successful, productive room arrangement.

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Thanks, Jenks

When you build up a future experience in your mind, it is not often BETTER than how you envisioned it.  Twitter Math Camp was that experience for me.  It was so much better than it looked on a hashtag.

In 2008, I began my twitter journey.  I mostly followed celebrities and friends.  My brother swore that twitter’s true gold was in following real people that have similar interests and ideas.  As it turns out, he was right.  Since jumping head first into the Mathtwitterblogosphere, I’ve experienced nothing but a genuine willingness to help one another become better educators.  TMC solidified my understanding of this network of delightful people that make up the math-educator-online community.

Recently, twitter was abuzz over the thought that TMC should be more theory, less play.  Part of the beauty of this experience was the organic nature in which everyone gathered and collaborated.  At professional conferences, you never see groups of teachers still talking pedagogy at 6pm, still at 8pm, and at midnight, and still at 2am. This went on for FOUR solid days.  Can you imagine this happening at school:  students staying after school into the night to work on the math investigation that they can’t stop talking about?  It doesn’t happen.  But anyone who’s been a summer camp counselor knows that there’s always that group of kids that can’t get enough interaction with their peers and choose to forgo sleep to soak it all in.  That’s why the C in TMC stands for CAMP and not Conference.

Some highlights for me: 

  • Justin Aion is the same ball-of-fun in person that he seems online.  I’m grateful for getting to spend time with him.
  • Max Ray is an artist at facilitating problem-solving.  His session was masterfully orchestrated.
  • Steve Leinwand is a humble communicator but an electrifying presenter.  I was moved by his keynote very much.
  • Malke and Christopher’s willingness to teach Math in Your Feet afterhours was generously spectacular. I was skeptical at first about my ability to engage, but I’m so thankful that I was pushed to do so.
  • Bob Lochel knows more stats activities than pages in a textbook.  I enjoyed working with him in the morning sessions very much.
  • Glenn Waddell is an amazing human being.  I’m humbled to have gotten to steal some of his attention this weekend.
  • Eli Luberoff is a humble genius and a class act.
  • I have the two greatest coworker friends, Teresa and Dianna, who came with me to Jenks and dove head first into the awesomeness of this community.

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I had hundreds of interactions with some fantastic people.  This isn’t something that can be re-created online, despite the fact that the community began there.  Thank you, Jenks, for hosting such an incredible event.

 

Confession: I’ve never really been good at math

Here’s a confession of mine:  I’ve never really thought of myself as ‘good at math.’  Yep, I’m a high school math teacher proclaiming my discontent with my mathematical abilities.  Ironic?  Sad?  Make you want to hide your children?  Read on, it’s not as bad as you think.

Being a math teacher was a second career for me, as my undergraduate degree is in accounting.  I dabbled in a minor in mathematics while at the University of Iowa but let a ‘C’ in Linear Algebra from a cold professor change my trajectory for the next 4 years.   When I went to graduate school to earn my masters in Mathematics Education, I was always intimidated by the math undergrads who were much more polished and current on mathematical theory.  Recently I came across this article which shed some light onto what often happens with girls in areas like mathematics. In short, women tend to give up on themselves more quickly because of their strong inner voice.   I know that I was never discouraged from pursuing difficult challenges by my parents, especially academically.  I came from a family that was very supportive of my education.  It was my own inner-voice telling me that I wasn’t as good at pure mathematics, which was the lingering after effect of that C grade.

Recently, Rafranz Davis wrote a blog post about the transformation of twitter admiration into palatable inspiration.   This post was timely for me since as summer conference season reaches its peak, I’ll be attending Twitter Math Camp starting on Thursday with dozens of other math tweeps with whom I’ve admired and been inspired by.  These positive interactions have projected me to a place where I’m comfortable with my mathematical abilities and completely humbled by my ability to participate with such a wonderful group of educators across social media.

 

 

Listening and Learning from Educators of Color

About a month ago, Christopher Danielson offered up a challenge to white educators to listen more and talk less. Specifically, we should be listening often to students/teachers/people of color and the privilege of being a white american that they do not have the opportunity to enjoy.   I took Danielson’s advice and began to really listen intently to these voices.  This blog post is how my listening will impact my teaching practice.

My family upbringing did not include overt racism, and my parents instilled values that included kindness to all.    I was confident growing up (and still am today) that my father worked very hard in order to financially secure his family.  His beginnings weren’t humble, as most would define the term, but coming from a family with 4 children, earning a C average in high school and attending the only college that would accept him weren’t great indicators of the kind of financial well-being that he has achieved.  My mother grew up in a household which included an alcoholic father and a co-dependant mother.   Her resilience allowed her to escape the dysfunction of her upbringing and earn a college degree. So my conclusion was: My family isn’t racist, my parents worked hard to get where they are in life, so anyone (white or black) should be able to do the same.  If they don’t, the problem must be individual.  After all, not all white people discriminate against black people.  

Then I began to listen.  And with that listening came a fuller understanding and acknowledgement of my white privilege and the institutional racism that still affects people of color today.  For example, I listened to Jose Vilson, whose book This is Not a Test explores the effect that race has on school and teacher quality.  His personal narrative allowed me to fully immerse myself into the issues of equality (or lack there of) that plague our inner-city schools.

I listened to Melinda D. Anderson whose unapologetic, relentless support for students and educators of color opened my eyes to how racism is treated as a thing of the past in our country but is a present day dilemma for people of color.   Her voice has helped me to recognize that black students disproportionately attend high poverty schools making segregation a 2014 issue, not a 1954 one.

I listened to Ta-Nehisi Coates whose monumental article The Case for Reparations challenged me to recognize that black americans may have equal opportunities in our country, but their access to those opportunities is anything but equal.  I listened to an hour long interview he did with Vox and one of the most powerful messages I received was this:  Our country had a 250-year policy of slavery plus another 100 years of downright discriminatory, racist laws.  We’ve spent the last 50 years trying to repair it, with many policy makers still not acknowledging that there was anything to repair in the first place.  So Coates asks, if a country spends 350 years seriously mistreating a particular culture and then 50 years sort of trying to fix it, where would you expect that culture to be socio-economically?

I also listened to this:  “Sixty-Three percent of Americans believe ‘blacks who can’t get ahead are mostly responsible for their own condition.'” And for the first time in my life I profoundly disagreed with that statement.  The very idea that blacks ‘who can’t get ahead’ would choose irresponsibility purposefully, over and over again, doesn’t make sense to me.  There are many reasons I find this belief held by a majority of Americans to be lunacy, but one in particular that is close to my heart is education.  As George Washington Carver stated, “Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom.”  How do we expect black students to earn that key to freedom when inequality continues to play a key role in schooling opportunities?   Is education a great equalizer when blacks are wildly disproportionately educated in schools that don’t measure up?

And I continue to listen.  The National Association for Multicultural Education published interviews with teachers of color which help white teachers like me “work more effectively and respectfully” with students of color:

  1. Listen to teachers of color
  2. Examine white privilege
  3. Be honest about your knowledge of a culture
  4. Clarify your purpose for teaching
  5. Challenge your students rather than pity them
  6. Be resilient

(Multicultural Perspectives 9(1), 3-9, 2007)

I want to continue to listen because by listening so far, I have been able to learn.  As a white person, I do not experience judgements based on my race, which is why it is so vital that I keep listening to those who do.

 

 

Twiddle dee Twiddla

Yesterday was our first official day of SUMMER.  So after a thunderstorm curtailed my gardening plans, I thought I’d check out some apps that have been on my to-do list for a while.   First up:  Twiddla, an online collaborative whiteboard.  Why a collaborative whiteboard?  Our school district uses Google Apps and there are many beneficial collaborative options through Google docs, sheets, etc. The problem:  Mathematics just doesn’t translate very well when typed or through a computer medium.  If I’d like kids to collaborate in real-time via the web, Twiddla might be a viable option for students to collaborate in real time online, with a blank canvas.

What I like:

  • No login required.  Just post the web address and kids are good to go.
  • PDF’s and images are insertable into the background.
  • There is a grid background as well.
  • Students can “chat” or audio conference while working.
  • A variety of colors, shapes, and line thicknesses can be utilized.
  • The Pro version (usually $14/month) is free for educators and students.
  • The writing is very smooth without a stylus.

What I did not like as much:

  • Annotations are added when writer “pauses” rather than as they are writing.
  • An “undo” button would be helpful.

Some screenshots from my twiddla-created session:

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Now, I’ll have to wait until Fall to test this app out with students, but I’m optimistic about it’s potential.  It could just be one of those things that’s “cool” but in reality, pencil and paper will do.

Brain Sweat

I’ve talked about my Algebra 2 class at length on this blog over the last 2 months, and as the trimester comes to a close, I want to celebrate the positives in this class as much as possible.  They frustrate me sometimes, but the bottom line is I’m willing to fight and fight hard to make their experience with math more positive.  Ultimately, they’ve been dealt an unfair hand:  crammed into giant classes and labeled incapable of high-level mathematics.  They are capable of more than they give, but they also deserve much more than they’ve been given.

The perpetual optimist in me wants to continue to celebrate their achievements and play the hand they’ve been dealt as best we can.  Today we took on Robert Kaplinsky’s Cheeseburger Lesson.  I’m not sure why I’m constantly drawn to this lesson, since the picture of the 100×100 makes me a little ill.  Perhaps it’s the constant student engagement I get from it, time after time.  The intriguing thought that someone actually purchased this godzilla-burger hooks students every time.

What I liked most about my class’s efforts toward this task was the multiple revisions they had before arriving at the correct answer.  I had many students assume that a 3×3 cost the same as three cheeseburgers, only to find that their burger only needed one bun.

Below is a student’s work that I really appreciated.  At the end of the activity, he said,

Mrs. Schmidt, I’m sweating.  I thought so hard on this problem that I’m sweating.  But I believe I have the right answer.”

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If I’m being completely honest overall, this class has tested me, day in and day out.  I’ve worked very hard, but in the end, I’m not sure I taught them much of anything worthwhile.  I hope I have, but I’m not sure I did.  A class size of 36 seemed insurmountable, and perhaps in some ways, I never really overcame it.  Unfortunately, next year’s class size projections promise more of the same.  The silver lining, however, is that I get another crack at teaching this same course, and I’m 100% sure I can do it better the next time around.