Saturday, August 2, 2014

I had to share this blog post. Time management is a huge hurtle for me, and it seems to get worse every year. Anyone who knows me knows that my ADHD son is the apple to my tree. I am very easily scattered, my brain goes in 20 different directions. Without my morning dose of pharmaceuticals, I am a MESS, and even then it's hard to put the puppy back on the papers (potty training metaphor - sorry if that's too obscure). I am constantly trying to better myself, but always seem to get bogged down with too...much...and I'm overwhelemed and I shut down. I need structure, but I also need simplicity. I need KISS - Keep It Simple, Sweetie!

I ran into this blog post on my Bloglovin' feed. (QUICK ASIDE: If you haven't found out about Bloglovin', I just did this summer, and it is wonderful. It's akin to an RSS feed, but strictly for blogs. There are a TON of blogs out there on whatever topic you want/need. I highly encourage you to look into it. There's also a Chrome extension that you can download that puts an icon at the upper right-hand side of your URL bar
chrome extension
that will tell you when your favorite blogs have been updated. Just go to the Chrome Web Store and search for "bloglovin'" on the left.)

Anyway, I subscribe to the Edutopia RSS feed through Bloglovin', and came across the post "7-Step Prep: Make a Weekly Plan for YOU!" by Maia Heyck-Merlin. Basically, she talked with 3 colleagues on how they organize themselves weekly. One did it using a totally blank weekly sheet, writing in events by hand, one did it totally digitally (it looked like she used Google Calendar, which would drive me absolutely gobsmacking NUTS - a far cry from my KISS scenario), and then there's Drew's way. AH...lovely Drew, who, in the midst of getting married, developed this best-of-both-world's weekly planning sheet that used technology to make the form (and put in some repeating tasks, to keep down the onerous task of handwriting), but leaving a boatload of blank lines for handwriting those tasks that crop up from week-to-week, day-to-day that would make either of the other forms too much for me (I'm just speaking for myself - if that works for you, I don't judge; Go for it sister [or brother]!). I'm not going to post a picture of his, or of the one I developed from his, because I want you to go to the post and read it and look at it yourself. But, here's the real kicker for me with Drew's weekly planning sheet.

He takes it with him. Everywhere. Brilliant.

Really, it is. It will seem like a pain at first, and I can see me leaving it many places until I get used to it (or maybe I never will, and my colleagues will just have to get used to seeing it and carting it back to me. The whole apple-tree-thing again.) But, taking that sheet with me will make sure that I am accountable when my admin stops me in the hall on the way to lunch to ask me to do something, or a teacher reminds me of something I need to do when I'm on the way to the bathroom, or I remember I'm supposed to be somewhere while taking my kids to special area.

I have a mini clip-board that I bought somewhere because I thought it was cute (sigh), but didn't have a specific use for it. I think I might have a use for it now - I could fold up the weekly plan (writing on the outside for ease of reading) and put it on that clipboard. Then, put it in my kangaroo pouch (a 3-pocket waist apron waiters use) ...

...and VOILA! I might have something here. <squeal>

Monday, July 28, 2014

Sorry I haven't posted in a few days. Life got in the way (new car shopping and I had to finish purging and organizing my old 5/6 grade files into the new 4th grade files for next year). But, here it is: my reflections on Chapter 2 (Organizing and Managing Math Materials) from Math Work Stations: Independent Learning You can Count on , K-2 by Debbie Diller

1. Which ideas in this chapter on organization did you find most helpful?
I liked the Classroom Math Corner, and purging the manipulatives. I do that regularly, but probably not as much as I need to. I know I still have too much - way too much of a pack rat. I should bring some home (most of the manipulatives I have are my own personal property) before I toss them.
2. Create a plan for organizing your math materials. Where will you begin? What's your goal? Who might help you? Start small.
I don't know really, I've gone through so much in my move from 5/6 to 4th. But, I think I can go through more and bring some home. I'll work on my press and organize one shelf at a time. My goal is to be able to see what I have when I open up the press without loose baggies, and each shelf for a strand (Num/Op, Geom/Meas, Data Analysis/Prob, Algebra)
3. Which math space do you want to organize first? Choose one.
Even though I need to do my press, I'm going to start with the shelves I was going to use as the classroom math "corner" (mine may not be in an actual corner).
4. Which categories of math manipulatives do you have too many of? Not enough? How can you work together to get the materials you need for teaching math?
Too many? Possibly Base 10 pieces, although already gave a multitude to 3rd grade when I moved in. Next might be geometry.
Not enough? Measurement (plenty of linear & money, not of other types). Also, don't have calculators.
I can borrow from teachers in other grades to get what I need, and I can make what I need or ask my principal for some. Calculators are on my list already.
5. Make plans for a classroom math corner.
I have 2 possibilities. First: two metal shelves I have lined up in a row. They act as a divider between the computers and the teaching space. I like putting a rug there, but putting a lamp would mean stretching a cord, which I don't like. Second: the taller black metal shelf by the window next to my desk. I was going to use it for indoor recess games storage, but there I could place a lamp and plants as well as the rug, to make it more inviting. Doesn't seem as centrally located, though. I think the first option is better.
6. Think of a lesson you've taught in which use of manipulatives went well. What did you do that made this lesson successful? Then think of a lesson when manipulatives were a nightmare. What went wrong? How could you restructure that lesson to improve it, and still use manipulatives?
Well, the best example I have is a centers activity I developed for 5th grade for geometry. It was structured, well thought out, and students knew what to expect. They had experience with the concepts beforehand. I can't think of a specific "nightmare" lesson, but the ones that do are the ones that aren't as structures or thought out, or where students are wanting to play with the materials instead of work with them. Giving students that exploration time was still important, even in the upper grades, and will be necessary in 4th grade, as well. I like the idea of having a station as manipulative exploration station. If I know I'll be using a manipulative in the near future, I could use a station for just shear exploration.
7. What tips on using manipulatives will you try from the end of this chapter?

  • exploration beforehand
  •  use of math mats
  • setting the purpose (also something my AP mentioned in a post-ob that she'd like to see me do more of - I hadn't realized that I wasn't explicitly doing that)
  • asking students for feedback on how or if the manipulatives helped them learn the math concept - that's a total new one on me, and I really like it. Students need to be more invested in their education, and not feel like it's being done to them but that they're an active participant.
This chapter on managing manipulatives was good. But, I really hope there's a chapter devoted to all the FILES I've accumulated, too. How do I determine how much of THAT I need to keep? I've purged and organized a bunch, but every other summer or so it seems I purge and re-organize into a different system, hoping this works for me. Crossing fingers...


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Thanks to the suggestion from a colleague who was leading an Archdiocesan professional development, I started following blogs of teachers who had what I wanted. One of those was Ashley's Educational Journey, where I learned first about math stations, and the book Math Work Stations: Independent Learning You can Count On, K-2 by Debbie Diller.

I know I said I was teaching 4th grade, but so does Ashley (and a lot of other people who follow Ashley and that Ashley follows on Bloglovin), and they all love this book. So, I figured, I needed to check it out.

So, I'm going to read it and go through the reflection questions myself a series of blog posts, since I don't have anyone else to do it with me (altogether now: awwwww), and any book study on it has long since past - apparently, I'm late to this party.

Chapter 1 - What is a Math Work Station?

"1) Share your new ideas about math work stations with a colleague (this blog post will do). Discuss the definition of math work stations provided in this chapter (on page 7)."
I didn't know there was a real difference between stations and centers, but I like that Debbie Diller made a distinct difference between the two. Centers being more of a "when you're finished" place to go, and extra, fun, filler activity, where stations are expected places of work, where every student is assigned to go and work and finish in the week. I was surprised that stations weren't changed more than they are. But, if groups go to a stations once a day, and they're for practice, they'd need to go to them several times for that practice to be of any benefit. I also didn't realize that it wasn't a place for new items. I've heard so much about having students discover learning that I may have gone too far in that direction, sometimes putting brand-new activities out for students to muddle through on their own. I know that's what true problem solving is (relying on knowledge you have to be able to solve a truly novel problem). However, they're not quite ready for that, and they need to work up to it. That's where the idea of building up stamina from The Daily 5 (see earlier post) would come in handy.

"2. If you are already using literacy work stations..."
Wasn't using any, so there aren't any parallels I can draw between them and math work stations. Next question.

"3. Think about your students and their level of engagement during math. What specific things engaged them most recently? What ideas did you get from this chapter that you will try in order to increase student engagement?"
Oh, I wish I'd had this question a little closer to May. OK, my students usual level of engagement, from 1-10, was usually a 5--and that's probably generous. When we were doing geometry, they were most engaged, and that was because we were most hands-on, with protractors (very novel) and angle-legs. My fifth graders really liked when we were doing a fraction activity where we were dividing up wholes that were less than the number of people involved (i.e. 2 pies among 5 people - how many pieces would each person get?). There was modeling, which involved a lot of math talk. The ideas from this chapter that I will try in order to increase student engagement on a more consistent basis is have daily stations with student choices & a variety of activities that provide practice from all the strands so that spiral review is happening on an on-going basis. Also, coming back together as a class to discuss what students did, how problems were solved, is another way to keep students engaged. Oh, but I'm so worried about HOW TO KEEP THIS ALL STRAIGHT IN MY HEAD AND TO STAY ACCOUNTABLE!!!!!!!

"4. How will what you teach in whole group impact the work students do at math stations? Share some examples of what you might move from whole-group math instruction to math stations." 
 According to the reading, you don't move anything to math stations until it has been taught to the whole group at least several times, so they've had a chance to practice it successfully with teacher modeling. Certainly, computation practice games like Contig, Factoring, etc., but also the fraction activity I described above. Word problems could be placed their, as well as directions that students write their own word problem in a certain style. Algebra scales (evaluating a variable) would be a way to practice computation.

"5. Determine how & where you'll set up your math work stations. Use the pictures on page 9 for ideas and inspiration."
I still have far too many manipulatives in my room - I need to weed, but I don't know if I'll get to do that before school starts. I think I'll have my small group space at the SMARTBoard near the front of the room, at the blue table - students would need to bring their chairs (I'll have to check to see if the height will work for that - if not, I'll swap it for the long, brown table from the back). Students can work at their desks or certain spots on the floor. I'll have a station that will be IXL math, since we will be doing that in 4th grade this year for everyone, so that will be for 2-3 students. I'll have to buy containers to set up the centers actually in - I'll make sure they are sized to fit file folders as well, so some of my existing materials can be used.
"6. Discuss how math work stations can support differentiated math instruction."
In going around to observe students during their stations, finding out where they are in the topic would be where you'd know how to tailor the small group lesson. The small group lesson can target the students needs. I'll students on their computation pre-assessment based on the skills needed for the Terra Nova test. That will help me determine what unit of study to begin first. Once students have been instructed on how to use math stations using the 10 steps to Independence from The Daily 5 (see previous post), I can pre-assess students on that first topic, plan my mini-lessons & observe from there. Done well, this system is set up quite perfectly for differentiated. However, again, I'm SO worried about getting overwhelmed & losing my way, as I've done in the past. I don't want negativity and FEAR (False Evidence Appearing Real) to keep me from trying this. I need to grow as a teacher, and I truly believe this is the way to do it. I just wish I felt like I had more support. <sigh> shake it off, shake it off

Thursday, July 17, 2014

I'm starting a new journey back.  Back into a self-contained classroom after 11+ years teaching in middle school, with the last 3 years concentrating just on 5/6 grade math. Back into teaching reading (in the content areas of science & social studies, but still), and I never have felt that I was an adequate reading teacher. And back into confidence and excitement about the coming school year.

I'm excited about the upcoming school year because I have been feeling so...I can't come up with another word but defeated...for the last several years. I have been trying to incorporate project-based learning in my classroom, taking in-services, reading what I could, going to conferences, but I just couldn't seem to make it work, so I always went back to lecturing. I tried to make that as interesting as I could, using manipulatives as often as possible, having students model in their notebooks. But, I knew in my heart that I was failing - I wasn't teaching in the manner that the students deserved, nor in the way I wanted to be teaching. It wasn't best practice. And, it wasn't getting results. My students test scores were not where they needed to be, year after year. So, I'd change tack the next year, hoping for something different. And, the same cycle would repeat. Frustrating. Demoralizing. Enough to make me question my career choice. I loved what I did, but I hated my job. I knew there had to be an answer, if I could just find it. I knew I was a good teacher - students, parents, fellow teachers, and my administration would tell me that I was one of the best math teachers they've seen. But, if that's the case, where's the disconnect? I'm determined to find it - and change it.

I'd been afraid to talk about this because I haven't really felt like there was a safe place to do this. Well, it's not very safe struggling here by myself, so I left the discomfort of suffering alone and chanced it by talking about it: to my principal during my end-of-year evaluation, to my colleagues, and during in-services. To my pleasant surprise, it was received well. Because of that, I received some very good advice.

Thanks to my wonderfully supportive partner teacher (who is also making the move from 5/6 to 4th with me, thank God!), I just read The Daily 5: Fostering Literacy Independence in the Elementary Grades by Gail Boushey & Joan Moser.

Now, this is mostly about teaching literacy directly, so it's more suited for my partner teacher, who is the reading/English teacher. At first I was wondering what it would offer for me, but I promised I would read it after she talked it up so much. And, it delivered.

The main thing that hit me was the "10 Steps to Independence". I always thought I taught my students those expectations, but all I really did was tell them to them and expect them to remember them. I never invested the time at the beginning, and so I never saw the results I wanted. According to the authors, when following these steps their students work independently without interrupting them when they're in conference with other students, and they don't use rewards at all. I've always dreamed of having a class that is intrinsically motivated.

Here are the 10 steps, and some of the my thoughts about them:

  1. ID what is to be taught - can be done as a brainstorm, but they don't usually recommend it b/c it takes too long, so they have their expectations ahead of time; for "Read to Self", their top 5 are: read the whole time, stay in one spot, get started right away, work quietly, build stamina; there are expectations for the students AND the teacher (it is a T-chart - 2 columns)
  2. Set a purpose & create a sense of urgency - answers the question, "Why should I to do this?" in an academic way; at least 2 reasons are placed at the top right & left of the anchor chart on either side of the title
  3. Record desired behaviors on an I-Chart (a/k/a anchor chart) - it's a T-chart, but they make it an I-chart, so the "I" stands for independence; it's added to & referred to all year long; done for every station/behavior/expectation; always worded positively; behaviors don't have to be added all at once, they can be added to as you begin your stations at the beginning of the year, helping to build stamina
  4. Model most-desirable behaviors - 1-2 students model the correct behaviors in front of the class as teacher points behavior(s) out on the I-chart; connect it back to the purpose you set in Step 2 by following up with "If he/she/they continue with this behavior, will they [purpose(s)]?" (i.e. become a better friend, learn to read better, be able to do more math problems, etc.)
  5. Model least-desirable behaviors, then most-desirable again - then have another student(s) model inappropriate behavior; ask students to connect back to purpose in Step 2 (it won't happen), then have those same students stop the inappropriate behavior and model appropriate behavior from the I-chart; ask students to connect back to purpose from Step 2 (now, it will happen).
  6. Place students around the room - in an organized fashion, set the students to practice what they've learned, but they get to choose within guidelines that have been given (part of an I-chart directive?). Teacher does not have a small group, simply observing, but does not intervene (see Step 8).
  7. Practice and build stamina - At the beginning, no timer, but letting the students tell you when it's time to stop by noticing when the first one gets antsy. Once an undesired behavior is shown, stamina is "broken" and stations stop. That way, no bad habits get learned. You record the time on a graph and challenge the students to improve their stamina the next time (which could be in 5 more minutes, after another I-chart group session to add another desired behavior). I never thought of this before. I love the chart & the challenge. 
  8. Stay out of the way - At this stage (what they call the "launching period"), they stay in one place. The teacher does not praise NOR does the teacher redirect, truly staying out of any interactions with the students. That will be very strange to try, but in doing so, the students will have to learn what real independence means, and I'll have an accurate sense of what's going and and where they are. If they're waiting on that feel & comfort of seeing/hearing/knowing I'm near to keep going, what's going to happen when I'm in a small group and can't be there for them? That stamina that I thought was there (and will need to be there) will disappear. However, that doesn't mean that I should be checking email. I should have an observation sheet, taking notes & making "next step" plans. I'll also need to be looking for, what they call, "barometer children" (I love this term - loving, but accurate!):  "...children who dictate the 'weather' of the classroom. A barometer student will be the first person to run out of stamina." (p. 48)  They caution against using our "teacher eye" on them to get them back on task - again, that's using us as false independence. If stamina is broken, stop stations & move to the next activity. Be careful that the child isn't just "resetting" (as they call it) - EXAMPLE: someone stopping to take a stretch then getting right back to work isn't breaking stamina. Don't stop stations too quickly.
  9. Use a quiet signal to bring students back to the gathering space - While in the "launching period" make no judgement on the length of time stations lasted. Building stamina takes time. Record the time and move on. I have a set of chimes that I hope to use. They'll resonate even after I'm finished touching them, so those who are really into their activity still have an opportunity to break focus. Also, I'm hoping the resonance will be long enough to serve as a "let's get cleaned up & to our spot before it stops." 
  10. Conduct a check-in; ask, "How did it go?" - should be brief (5 min max); can use exit slip or hand sign (Likert scale 1-4, below, approaching, at, above standard); go over expectations/behaviors one at a time, asking, "How did you do?"; Awesome idea for those who just want to agree - surfer hand gesture - thumb & pinky waved back-and-forth means, "Me, too!" (don't remember where I got that, somewhere on-line, wish I could give proper credit for that)
(p. 36-52, The Daily 5: Foserting Literacy Independence in the Elementary Grades, 2nd Ed., Gail Boushey & Joan Moser)

They repeat this 3-4 times a day (spread throughout the day) for 5-10 days - this is for Read to Self and Work on Writing. I'll need to modify this to concentrate more on math, science & social studies. I'll have to put this together with what I'm learning about math stations from another book I'm reading (future blog posts about that).

The idea of gradually increasing stamina is intriguing. I think that's something that's been missing in my instruction, and Common Core addresses it in the standards for mathematical practice, as well:

CCSS.MATH.PRACTICE.MP1 Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.

The authors use a line graph to keep track of how long it takes before the class loses stamina. I think I might use this to help with stamina on math problems, too.

The way they structure the Daily 5 is very similar to math workshop, which is another thing that I've discovered this summer, thanks to the wonderful advice of following blogs of teachers who have what you want. So, I plan to incorporate what they do into math workshop - when I figure that out. That's my next book. After I read it, I'll post on it, too.