Adventures of a New Teacher – Day 10

We are spending this week doing some more review (which for most of my students I get the feeling it seems like the first time), but we also transitioning into more of what I plan on doing for their math classes. I spent some time over the weekend thinking about how I wanted to go about assigning grades in the class. I decided on more of a traditional approach and making participation a significant chunk of the grade. For me all participation means is that they are actively getting work done. Ideally I wouldn’t want to have to get students to participate by making it a part of there grade but after talking with students I am seeing that it is what motivates my students. It is because of that I have decided to make it a part of their final grade. My goal with this is to give students some credit for the hard work that they are doing even if they don’t get it right the first time.

I hope this helps my students participate more as it is still something we are struggling with. Somedays students work really hard and try to work through whatever we are doing. Other days, like today, it’s like pulling teeth trying to get students to work. I cannot figure out why this is. The activities that we do, I would say are all around the same engagement level and so far have been around the same level of mathematics. So then why are some days so much better than others? I don’t know if I can answer this question right now, but it is something I want to keep thinking about the rest of the year. I’m going to keep pushing through and enforcing the fact the classroom norms that we have talked about. I also have to keep reminding myself that this does take time and we are only in the 3rd week of school. I also think it will help too when everything really starts to get into the content of their course.


Adventures of a New Teacher – Day 9

Another week of school down! I only two weeks into my plan to blog after everyday and I’ve got to say it’s hard to write everyday.

Today we spent some more time reviewing some core definitions and math skills. I’m feeling better about where my students are at in their basic skills. We have another week planned of review activities before we start getting into actual course work. I think this will be really helpful in getting them where there need to be before we start. It will also give me all week to plan how exactly this is going to work. Between the two hours of the day that I am actually teaching math there is 5 different classes going on. I will be teaching Algebra 1A, Algebra 1B, Geometry A, Geometry B, and Algebra 2A. This first semester is going to be a ton of work have to get ready for both A and B sections happening at the same time. It’s also going to be a huge departure from what I am used to as I try to run multiple sections in the same hour and work on flipping my classroom. I’ll post of more on this process as I get there this weekend and upcoming week.

I also want to share a couple of my takeaways from this position after week 2.

My students are awesome!¬†Overall I have a great group of students! I really enjoy having only 50 students as I am getting to know them more than I have been able to with students in the past. Since there are spending a lot of time working independently on courses we have more time to talk about what is going on with them outside of school. One of this biggest things I have learned so far that I want to make sure everyone understands is that alternative students are really not all that different as regular high school students. You have the same range of students in their abilities in different areas in either setting. I don’t deal with any different behavioral issues now and if anything so far it seems there have been less. Day in and day out we have a lot of fun! (And most of them are getting their work done too!)

Attendance is an Issue: If there is one thing that we struggle with it is attendance with some of our students. There is some people that I have seen maybe 1-2 days a week. This isn’t as big of an issue with the classes they are taking online because they can work on that at home. It does pose a bigger problem for the courses that we are able to teach ourselves. We are trying to figure out ways to encourage students to come to school. In the mean time I also need to think about what to do to make sure those students don’t fall behind in math classes if they are missing a lot of days.

Overall the positives of this program have so far outweighed any of the negatives so far. I’m looking forward to our first service learning experience next week as we do a beach cleanup. Here’s to hoping the weather stays positive because I don’t know if we will be able to reschedule again.

Adventures of a New Teacher – Day 8

Today I had to give one of the two math screeners our district has to our students.This made for a rather uneventful day in the classroom. I’m not the biggest fan of these screeners as I worry that its just another test and doesn’t ever accurately test our student’s knowledge. However, I think the one that I had to give today is a step up from the rest. This one was created by one of the local ISD’s and gives much more detailed information. Rather than calculating a score of readiness and some general areas where students seemed to preform poorly on, this one breaks it down by standards. It also only looks at some of the very foundational material students need to be successful.

I haven’t had a chance to really dive into the information that it gives me as we have a few people who still need to take it. As I am looking at it right now I can start to see where there is going to need to be some intervention steps taken to help our students get where they need to be. I’m really excited to be able to have the specific standards they are struggling on so that I can provide more targeted intervention both individually and as a whole group. This is going to help a lot as I plan for the next week or so before we really get into the actual coursework.

Tomorrow should be a much more entertaining day as it will be one the first time we are trying to do something beside coursework to try and get the whole program together!

Adventures of a New Teacher – Day 7

I have to say looking back on today it was a pretty uneventful day. We worked on reviewing fractions in my math classes. The students seemed to do well with this. I didn’t have time today to look over their work tonight so thats the plan for my planning hour tomorrow. I do have to say as we work more and more they are starting to work longer on things, which I am really pleased with. They are are not giving up as easily and are asking more questions than they have been! I want to keep developing this as we more forward in the year. I would also like to start to cultivate a sense of curiosity as to why the things we are doing work.

I am really happy with how things are playing out with the rest of the program. Our students have adjusted well to their new surroundings but there have been some policy changes that they are not the biggest fans of. I am doing my best to fight for the ones that are most important. I was able to make sure that they will be included in spirit week the same as high school students, which was big. I was able to sit down with some of the students from the old program about things they did in the past and I think I’m going to be able to make a lot of those things work. I’ll share later once I know exactly these will be. Hopefully by doing this the transition will be even better!

I think I have said in the past about how the other teacher I was supposed to work with is on medical leave this year. During this last week and a half students who came from the old program have told me stories about all the amazing things she did for them and today said that she was like a mom to a lot of them. I know that I can never compare to all the awesome things she was able to do. My goal is to do my best to make it the best year possible for our students! I think students understand this and they even told me today that I would soon be a part of the family. It really meant a lot to me to hear this from students who are coming from the old program.

And Mrs. Foster if you are reading this we have a surprise coming for you soon ūüôā

Adventures of a New Teacher – Day 6

We are starting to settle in to a routine and get everything figured out. I think our students are starting to get a good understanding of what they need to do to graduate and its starting to show in their work ethic throughout the day. This seems to make my day a whole lot easier even though there is still a lot to work out.

Today in my math classes, in my efforts to get my students to gain confidence in working with numbers in different ways, we worked on addition of two and three digits numbers without using the standard algorithm. For example, I asked what 4981 + 3759 is. Rather than stacking one on top of the other and adding each digit and carrying the “extra” numbers we talked about making one of numbers “nice” so that it become easy to add without the algorithm. For this example we talked about how 4981 is close to 5000. So then what could we take from 3759 and give to 4981 to make 5000. If we add 19 to 4981 we get 5000 and then our problem becomes 5000 + 3740. This becomes a simple addition problem and we end up with a final answer of 8740. As I went through this with both of my classes there became some clear and interesting differences between the two classes.

Class 1: 

At the beginning of the discussion I asked everyone if the standard algorithm makes sense when you carry the numbers you need. In this class it was near unanimous that it made no sense. We worked through and students seemed to understand what they have been doing for years with addition. If there is one thing that I learned in this class is that I have to be very careful how long we carry on a class discussion. I always try to keep it short but today we went a little longer than I usually do and starting to lose the class fast. Going forward I am definitely going to keep this in mind. Today also seemed to be a sort of break through with one of my students. She has been pushing back on our activities and has been one of the students who gives up very easily. I gave students a worksheet with problems to practices working through this “new” method and asked that they just do what they could before they left. She didn’t finish but took it with her a brought it back later finished. Before she left for the day she asked for a couple more worksheets to practice so she would do well in the class. I’ll admit worksheets aren’t my favorite but the fact she wants to work after school on math is awesome!

Class 2:

This time things went just about as opposite as they did the first time around. Students were convinced that it made sense why they carried numbers using the algorithm. However, when I asked them to explain why it made sense to do that I couldn’t get anything more than because thats the way that it worked. We continued through our discussion but it was evident that this group really struggled moving away from the traditional way. I was surprised with some of the students who struggled to even follow what I was doing. The students who seemed to struggle the most have been the ones who have been striving in activities I would have classified as more difficult. I will give it up to this group of students they work very hard a diligently trying to understand what we are doing.

After today I have decided to change my sequencing in my plans. Initially I had planned on working through the number sense activities like the one today for a couple weeks as a review. After today I think it may be a bit overwhelming to do this and I would hate to have them shut down. I think now we are going to work on reviewing algebraic concepts they need to be successful and work this number sense into class as smaller chunks spread out throughout the year. I am glad I was able to see some of the differences between classes today. I think by finally seeing this I will be able to plan more effectively for each class.

Adventures of a New Teacher – Day 5

Day 5 and the first Monday of the school year is complete!

After looking over a few activities from last week over the weekend I noticed that many of my students struggled with a solid understanding of the order of operations. What I saw most students doing was moving left to right across their expression, which would give them the number they wanted but wasn’t mathematically correct. After searching around I found this activity. I really liked it because it would not only focus on the order of operations but would force some critical thinking skills to be used.

We started out the day reviewing what I was¬†talking about when I said order of operations and how to actually use them. We we got started I gave them the first number from the suggestions and everyone got it rather quickly and I thought we were on to something great! I then went on to what I would consider to be the next difficulty level and it did not go over well. I had one group that got it in a few minutes. I let everyone else keep working but I started losing them. I had the one group that got share their solution but we moved back to the “level 1” numbers. It was after this that I started to see some surprising answers. I told students right away that the numbers that we were trying build¬†wouldn’t require any exponents or parenthesis. As I was checking there were some groups that had used them anyway to get the correct answer, which was awesome! I want this out of the box thinking and the idea of using different approaches to be a huge part of my teaching.

The second hour of my day I did pretty much the same thing except I ran through the problems in order as a way to try to work students up to more difficult ones. They did really well with it and I again had some people surprise me with their use of exponents that I don’t even know if it would have been one of my initial ideas.

As we continue to work through these small groups activities I am beginning to notice that some of my students start to shut down when they don’t get the correct answer right away. I have really tried to promote the idea that a productive struggle is a good thing and failure is awesome as long as you learn from it. One thing I have started to do with groups that I think is helping after they have multiple wrong attempts, is to look at their last attempt and talk with them to show them how they could learn from it. I also have noticed that with some of my students they start of strong with their work but as the hour goes on it starts to go downhill fast. As this week and the school year goes on that is going to one of my big focuses so if anyone has any ideas to help with it I would gladly take them!

Adventures of a New Teacher – Day 4

A day late in writing this is better than nothing, right? By the time I got home last night and sat down on the couch and passed out. Regardless of that I have survived my first week teaching! I don’t think I have ever been more tired, worked that hard, and still enjoyed every minute of it.

With that I have learned a lot of lessons in week 1.

  1. I think this might be the most important one. My students are really no different in the alternative than they were in the high school. I didn’t really think that they would be but a lot of other people have made comments stating they thought otherwise. The behavior and management issues that I deal with are same now as they were last year in the high school. I still deal with the same moaning and groaning about doing math ( We’re working on changing that). I would say they actually get to work faster overall than my high school students did.
  2. Finding the balance to get the things they need done is hard. The way that the schedule worked out for this year is between the 10 hours that we teach between us, 2 are math classes, 1 is an english class, and 1 is a government class. That leaves 6 hours of our day that are set aside to work on E2020 courses. Thats not to say everyone is spending 6 hours their day doing E2020. We have some students that go to the Tech Center for half the day, others have more hours of the day spent in a traditional class, but some still have a lot to do online. We have some students who are only a few credits away from graduating and a set to be done at the end of this first semester and we have others who still need just about every credit.

    I still think that this is too much E2020 in the day but I already had to fight to get it to where is now and this is what we have to work with. The students have already said that it is just too much time also. So in working to try to provide that balance this week we planned a two hour discussion about September 11th and the importance of that day. When I gave students the schedule for the day, the reaction I got was when am I supposed to work on my E2020. I was shocked considering just the day before they complaining about too much time on the computers. There was still going to be plenty of time in the day and throughout the week but I think we are going to have to revisit how we break this time up.

  3. Attendance.This is huge issue for us. I may have 25 people on my course list but may only get 12, or less, on any given day. With the online courses it isn’t so much of an issue because they can work on these outside of school, with the only requirement being they take tests in school. That leaves me with this issue of figuring out what to do with the two hours where I’m teaching the math. I can’t see a traditional points based system of grading working. If their grade is dependent on points awarded for what they do in class I don’t know that many people would be able to get credit. I’m working on developing a standards base approach to grades in those classes. I would rather award students credit if they can show they know the material rather than take away credit because they weren’t at school. We are still working out what the attendance policy will be but our principal has worked in alternative settings¬†before so he knows the issues with attendance and is working to make it so the policy works for them.
  4. My students want to feel like they are looked at the same as high school students. This is HUGE, especially with us working within the high school now. There are some policies being put into place that are making it hard for them to feel like they are included. I do not think this is fair and will fight against the ones that I can the best that I can. I know I can’t win all of these but I owe it to my students to fight for them.

I’m positive that I learned way more than this over the course of the week, but this is what a stood out to me. Overall, I had a wonderful first week of school and will keep working to make sure this new program is working for our students. I’m looking forward to week 2, especially for our first service learning project field trip on Friday where we are head to a local beach for a clean up as part of the Adopt a Beach Program.

Adventures of a New Teacher-Day 3

Day 3

Today was the first day we actually got into any sort of math. I decided to start out with very low level and high ceiling activities since my students are all over the board with their skills and when they last had an actual math class. We started with 100 Board Wipe Out and Commit and Capture both from Box Cars and One Eyed Jacks. In both activities, students use standard 6 sided die as random number generators. Once they get numbers they try to build every number 1-100 using whatever operations they are comfortable in using, and in the second they work with the die in the same way but it is more of a strategy and basic operations review.

Before starting this I explained that the goal of these weren’t for some grade but rather to get them back thinking about math and for me to start to get an idea of where their math skills are. When I mentioned that it wouldn’t be graded there was some disbelief that I would even think about making them do something that I wouldn’t count toward their grade. I braced myself for the back and forth that I thought for sure was coming. I went over again why the reason we were doing it was to benefit them going forward. With that it seemed to be an answer he and everyone else was happy with and they started working! It was a struggle at first for some since they didn’t believe they were even capable of what I was asking of them. As they asked a few questions and got a few blanks filled in students started to see that the could actually do it and from what I saw from walking around they were getting pretty creative. I know its only the third day but I’m hopeful that we are going to have a great year in my math classes.

Here’s to hoping that things during the rest of the day and within the program start becoming less of a hot mess. I’m dealing less with angry students wondering why the still need so many credits even though they are only one or two away from the 18 they need to graduate. I would say this is a testament to our wonderful counselor who is making her way through meeting with every students and making sure they are aware of what they actually need to do. My next goal is to make sure the wifi in my room is fixed so my students can actually get something done.

Adventures of a New Teacher – Day 2

Today was day 2 and I have to admit I feel like we’ve already been in school for a week. I have done so much in the last two days and still feel like I have so much to do! Today I found out that a majority of our student’s online component is not set up right. Luckily our new counselor has been amazing in helping us get everything figured out. I don’t know what we would do without her! I keep telling myself that by the end of the week we will have things figured out. For right now I’m just going to focus on what I can control and the successes we are having and today was definitely one of those days!

I have a majority of our students in either one of the two math classes that I have a dedicated hour for and we spent our day on the Marshmallow Challenge. I was nervous going in how much students would participate and how they would feel about things in general. To my delight they took the challenge and ran with it! Everyone really got into it and tried really hard to beat each other.

After we finished and we talking about how everything went I heard one of the best responses I could have hope for. The question was are things like this (hands on) going to be how the class will run. When I told they that it was my goal you could see the relief and to here them say that math is so much more fun (yes they said fun!) when we are doing it hands on. It made me feel so great that these kids are willing to put in the effort and participate in class early on in the year. It will definitely give me the motivation to provide as much hands on learning as I possibly can during the year!

Cannot wait to see what tomorrow brings!

Adventures of a New Teacher – Day 1

Today marked the first day of my teaching career and I would have to say it went remarkably well considering we are still working out quite a few kinks in the new program! My goal today was to try and get students familiar with a new program, new building, and a new teacher. I started with giving students the chance to ask me questions about myself. It was surprising what little questions they had! I think some of that may have been all the newness that it was just so overwhelming. I think we will return to this in some form after everyone gets settled in.

Quick recap on the numbers in our program. We have 2 teachers, 45-ish students, 3 subjects we are certified to teach (between the 2 of us), and 6 hours in a day. This means we see many students multiple times a day and I think my biggest struggle/challenge this year will be working with students who are in my room multiple times a day. Some of this will be broken up as we a few hours each day dedicated to online credit recovery for subjects that we unfortunately cannot teach.  There are sometimes I want to be able to supplement that part of the program and I have to be careful to not subject the same student to the same material in multiple hours. I learned that the hard way today when by the 5th hour of the day I had seen everyone in the program and ran out of things to talk about and do! Oops! I suppose its better to do that day one than later on down the road.

Learned my lesson there and ready to go back for day 2! Next up The Marshmallow Challenge!