Month: November 2014

Managing Limited Time

I recently had my second content observation for my student teaching. I wanted this observation to focus on how I was using my time in class. As I teach my pre-calculus class I’m feel as though I’m not getting through the material as quickly as I could so I give my students time in class to work on homework. My goal is that they should be able to finish a majority of the homework in class so that they have the support that they need. When looking at the data that was collected I spent 15 minutes on the warm-up and going over homework, 35 minutes on the material from that day’s lesson, which left 10 minutes for homework. My goal everyday to to try and give students at least 20 minutes a day to work on homework.

In the coaching session I started to think about where I could save time during a lesson so I get the amount of homework time in at the end of each hour. In thinking about it I do not like spending the amount of time we spend going over homework. Besides the time it takes I feel like I lose a lot of the class because generally only a few people need to go over that question. I would rather spend the time while we are doing homework to work one on one with students when they are stuck. Part of the problem I have seen this semester is that a majority of my students lack the confidence in their abilities to do the math. Many times the homework includes questions that requires students to use what we talked about during the lesson to apply to a new type of question. These typically are the ones that I have to go over. When students ask these questions I hear, “you never showed us how to do this type of problem so I can’t do it”. I want them to be able to reason through it but thats a skill that has not been built up until this point. They have a hard time understanding the value of a productive struggle and that problems worth solving do not always have an answer that can be found in under a minute.

I also have realized that I spend way too much writing definitions and going over them during a class period. In an ideal world I would like to have students homework be to go through the definitions for the next day. The way I envision this working the best would be in a one-to-one environment where I could do some kind of short video of audio presentation. I don’t have this luxury right now so I thought about trying to give students definitions pages so that they have them already down on paper and we can get through them much quicker.

As I think about the future I want to make sure that the limited time I have in class is being used in the most productive ways. I have a better understanding of where time goes during a lesson and want to use that to help me budget my time more effectively. I also want to build up the idea that applying what we learned to a new type of question is a good thing and the hand shouldn’t go up right away. All of this is going to take time to build up the confidence in students but I know it can done and I’m excited to see the effects during the rest of the semester and in my future classroom.


3 Act Math Round 1

As I was trying to decide what do on Halloween in my classes it just did not seem like a good idea to try to start something new. Halloween was already falling on a Friday and with students dressed up and myself dressed as Olaf, from Frozen, I had a feeling there would be too much of a distraction to try and start new material. I also did not want to waste the day by doing nothing so I turned to the Three-Act-Math Super Stairs task. This task was at a level that was below where my students are but challenging enough for us to take the hour to work through it. You can find the link to the task here.


We started by watching the prologue video and then I asked students what questions they had about the videos. Each class was able to come up with a good set of questions.



One of my favorite non math related question was “how does he not fall on his face?” Apparently my students would not be comfortable doing the Super Stairs.

I did pose my own question about how long it will take will take him to do the super stairs. I was surprised that this question didn’t come up especially since the video of the super stairs ends part way through. I then asked my students what information they wanted to know. Once my students realized I was not going to tell them the answer we started to get some good ideas about what we needed to know.



After we defined what was the difference between steps and stairs and looking at our estimates for the number of steps taken. Students were confident in their answer that there was 462 steps were taken. I think it helped that this number was within 100 steps of any estimate that students gave.


We next turned to how long it would take to complete the super stairs. Each class took different approaches. My first class decided to time the amount of time that it took to do each set of super stairs. They then divided the time by the number of super stairs that happened in the given amount of time. The goal was to find how long it took to do each super stair during each set and then use the five times they found to find the average amount of time spent per super stair. They then multiplied their average by 462 to get the amount of time it would take to do the entire super stairs. My second class decided that they wanted to look at the time it took going up and the time it took going down. They talked about trying to time the turn around time it took on each super stair. The struggled with timing that and decided against timing that and figured the time for that would work its way in with their timing errors on the time up and time down. They found the average time it took for him to go up and the average go down one stair and multiplied those numbers by the number of steps up and the number the of steps down and added the times together.



My first class found the time that it should take him to complete the super stairs at 8.3 minutes and my second class found that it should take 522 seconds. At this point I was curious about how their answers compared to the estimates that the made for the time. All of the estimates in both classes were in-between 2 and 3 minutes. I asked the class if they were satisfied with the time they found even though all of the estimates were well below the time they found. I was surprised when they tossed their estimates out to go with what they found. I then showed them the final video and we talked about how our time was way off and what could have led to this error.


We talked about how their timing may not have been as accurate at it could have been. My first class wondered how by taking the average of the the super stair may have affected their answer rather than timing the time up and the time down. Someone also brought up the idea that when we found the times we may have had a problem when we were converting the units. The answer they got were pretty close to double so they wondered if maybe the times they found were for 2 steps instead of one. Unfortunately we ran out of time in both classes and were unable to fully explore that idea.


While working on this I noticed a few interesting things about my students:

  • My students have a hard time asking for what information they need.
  • They were mad that I was making them answer the questions instead of me answering them.
  • They wanted to give up to early.
  • They have a hard time collaborating with each other to work through the process.

These are all areas that I want my students to be strong in and now I must think about how do I best support them in this growth.

Fire Up 2014

A few weeks ago I attend the Fire Up student teachers conference. I was able to attend three sessions that got me thinking about the kind of teacher I want to be. I attended sessions on how best to deal with difficult situations, how to embrace mistakes, and fostering a growth mindset that left me with the most to think about.


The first session about dealing with difficult educational situations really reminded me about how important relationships are. He spoke about how at some point there is going to be a situation where you say the wrong thing or you have to address an issue that is causing problems. The better the relationship that you have built with the student or parent the better the outcome the situation will have. It brought me back to the idea that I heard during my teacher assisting seminar, that students do not care what you know until they know that you care. I want to take the first month of the semester to spend the time getting to know everyone of my students and finding something about them that I can relate to. I also want to work on building a positive relationship with parents. I’m not sure what this will look like yet. I imagine it taking the form of calling to introduce myself before the school year starts and making periodic phones calls throughout the year. I also think a quick email home to parents at the end of the week would be a good idea. This is the area that I want to work the most on as I get my own classroom.


As I think about the other two sessions a common theme emerged about embracing mistakes and using those to help build upon what we are doing in class. I want my students to see that mistakes are a part of the learning process and something to be celebrated and not something to get dragged down by. I want to build up the idea of a growth mindset with my students. I want them to see that mistakes are what help them learn and that we often in fact learn more from mistakes than when we get the right answer on our first try. This is going to be a tough sell for students to embrace because students are trained to always get the right answer as soon as possible and if they do not it somehow says something negative about their intelligence. Right now I do not have all the ideas about how to set up this types of classroom. After these presentations I have a renewed interest in finding out how to do it and more resources to help me than I had before.


Overall, I think the Fire Up Conference helped me to see in what areas of my classroom norms I am happy with and where I still want to grow more. I really excited to see where my students will be able to go once I learn more about how to best support their learning.