Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Me Retire? Ha!

It happened twice in the last week and never before. Two people, separately, asked me how long I've been teaching for.

Me: I'm in my 28th year of teaching.

Them: Wow! You must be getting ready to retire!


My boss chuckled to himself at my reaction to the first woman, as we were at a conference together and chatting with others at our table.

Am I really ready to retire? No! And here's why.

  • I'm 48 years old. Yes, I got my first teaching job right out of college, and got the offer the night I graduated college...and yes, it was weird that I called them back from the pay phone at the Econo-Lodge bar, where I was celebrating with my friends. Forty-eight is still young, right? RIGHT??? I was always the youngest in my group, and now I've got the most seniority in my department...I actually think I've had that seniority for like 10 years?? True, I've gotten to the age where I am generally older than my student's parents. But so what? They keep me young, so I've got to stay!
  • It just keeps getting better and better. I feel sorry--actually very sorry--for new teachers. It's AWFUL. My student teaching experience was terrible. I was horrible and could not control the students. In fact, I was up for an award at graduation, and after the department chair observed me, I saw him shake his head at my mentor. I knew I was bad. The first year I taught, I had a horrible, horrible geometry class. There were two boys, in particular, that were rude and loved to disturb the class discussions (Jim and Bill. I still remember.) I literally did not know what to do with them. However, if I did not go through that, I never would have known how to handle classes later. And thankfully, with the bad classes, came the good ones, where kids would just smile and be happy and love your class. Sure on occasion, I still get a bad class - we all do - just a strange mix of kids. But you have good days and bad days, and my good days now FAR outnumber the bad ones. In the beginning, every day was a bad day. Every weekend, I had tears about this student or that student, and my grandmothers (in blessed memory) listened to my tortured soul. I never thought I'd last as a teacher in the beginning. NOW is the BEST, and why would I want to leave?
  • The explosion of #MTBoS, or the Math Twitter Blog-o-sphere has changed my math department from 11 people to thousands. I update and change lessons constantly based on what my tweeps are suggesting. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. But in the beginning, all I had was me, that purple ditto machine (with toxic fluid), and overhead transparencies that left me with a perpetual blue/green tinge on the side of my hand, and maybe one other teacher who taught the same subject as me, who in my mind was so much better, there was nothing I could do to be that good. In time, came confidence, which you can't gain any other way, in my opinion, than from getting a clean slate each year and knowing what works and what doesn't.
  • Apps such as Apple TV, Notability, YouTube videos, Google drive, and tons of others. Although not always perfect, these apps have changed my teaching tremendously. Technology has exploded and I can send students my notes in seconds, can work on documents on any computer with ease without emailing back and forth to myself or to colleagues, can find a great video to send my students if I want them to preview something (gosh do they love https://www.youtube.com/user/Mathbyfives), can create one wicked game of Kahoot!, and the list goes on. 
  • Deep, reflective workshops. Don't get me wrong, back in the 90's, NCTM conferences were my jam. I went to them religiously. We were forced to join in college, and I went every year for YEARS, but I started getting annoyed when you had to leave one session 15 minutes earlier to ensure that you get into a session that you wanted. I attended Twitter Math Camp for the last two years, and it was AMAZING. But this year, there was a lottery, and I was bummed, because for me, I get A LOT out of talking about the workshops with a colleague that attends with me. In fact, I think I get more out of that than going alone, as we can discuss how to apply it on a deeper level in a setting that we both know. So I didn't apply, knowing not all of us would get to go. I hope they change that next year. Last week, I went to Jo Boaler's workshop on Teaching Mathematical Mindsets. It was great! She had us think deeply about how to get kids to problem-solve without worrying so much if they were right or wrong, but more about just getting them to think and talk mathematics without fear or stigma of getting it wrong. We did a really fun activity that I will add below...so good, in fact, that my boss and I dragged 14 boxes of sugar cubes back on the red-eye so we could do the activity that morning. This summer, I am going to take a course at Cambridge University on Thinking Mathematically. I just decided one day to look at the Oxbridge catalog, and boom there it was. I won't stop going to workshops because they make me think differently; they change me to make me a better teacher. I keep looking for new ones because I keep wanting to learn. Having an empty nest certainly makes that easier!
So no, woman 1 and 2, and all the others who will probably start asking in the future, I am not planning on retiring soon. I am having too much fun. NOW is the time to teach. To those of you who find teaching hard...know that confidence comes with years of experience, and it will get better, as long as you have the time to put into it. Find conferences that speak to you. Don't be afraid to apply for grants. See what's out there and just go for it. Network with the people you meet who may become friends for life. It's a big world out there, but mathematically speaking, there are many other people just like you looking for new, innovative ways to teach. 

What's my point? This old dog CAN and WILL learn new tricks. And I will do so for many years to come, G-d willing. Here's to another 28 years. 
Students then discovered formulas for an nxn cube - facinating relationships!!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

A Great Conics Project Using #Desmos

I have assigned conic picture projects wayyyy before Desmos. My students did them by hand in the old days, and even on TI-83's (not easy) after that. This is the first time I ever did the project using Desmos, and it was a huge success. My students exceeded my expectations. Here is the project, some of which I got Mr. Sumerton.

Not only did students make great pictures, they did some pretty awesome math in the intersection part. And they told me that they really understood translating and conics so much better! Here are some pictures of their work.

What was even cooler is that some learned about trig curves and polar curves and how to rotate conics, even though they did not learn that in class.

And my other students, who saw the projects on display, were so impressed with their work! They wanted to know how the graphs were made, etc.

Above are parts of projects--I didn't take every picture because it would have been a lot.

Below is one full project, with the graphs made on Desmos colored in, the equations, and the points of intersection shown on Desmos and done algebraically. 

And here is a close-up of one student's intersection work. 

*Note: if you see any of these projects already online, please let me know, as we have a strict honor code on plagiarism. In addition, my students worked super hard on their projects and have gotten very upset when they see their projects copied online after I showcase their work on this blog. Let's keep sharing ideas and encouraging students to come up with their own  :)

Saturday, February 18, 2017

A Negative x A Negative = A Positive

What do you do when your flight is delayed 2 hours because your President happens to live in the town right next to yours? Blog. It's been a while.

It's been a crazy few months. A few weeks ago, I went to my uncle's funeral - the second funeral in the same family within a few months. Due to the funeral, I missed a culminating event/fundraiser that I worked really hard on and did not get to see it through. Of course, I was happy to be with my family in our time of need. But the timing was rough. Well, there never is a good time.

Today, I was flying to NJ for a fundraiser for my best friend Debbie who has been diagnosed with ALS. Not only is she going through some of the hardest moments of her life, but other friends of mine seem to be going through very difficult times as well. And for whatever reason, I truly, deeply feel their pain. And my aunt's pain, who lost her mother and husband within a few months. It feels like everything is hitting at once.

And it's February. Which in the teaching world, means it's the Longest, Shortest month. Kind of like a full moon.

Little, stupid things, too are making me crazy. My font now must be humongous because I can't see small print anymore. And in the bathroom at the airport, I noticed a huge smattering of gray hair--where did that come from??? The voice in my head asks, "Are my pants too tight from the excessive tortilla chips I ate last night?" And like Nora Ephron, I feel bad about my neck. 

OK. I must stop. I HAVE to write about some feel goods...some things that are going well so I can focus on the positives. Here we go. First, the math.

1. I love my problem-solving class. It is flexible enough that I can decide last minute to add the algebra of set theory and truth tables and take out probability because it will better serve the students in the class (who have had exposure to probability before or will soon.) So far this semester, we have studied sequences such as triangular and oblong numbers as well as the method of finite differences, the Fibonacci sequence and the Golden Ratio, the tower of Hanoi and its relationship to fractals and binary numbers, set theory, several puzzles and problem sets. Below are the interlocked Mobius Strip hearts we made for Valentine's Day. These kids jump into whatever I give them. They are a small class, but they are a mighty class, and they are smiling often. Takeaway: Teaching students math that they would not have been exposed to in the normal math curriculum is EXTREMELY rewarding! Solving problems in life is a hard thing to learn, but it's doable.
2. My Algebra 2 Honors class is so strong. They are cute and active, and boy they want to do well. We have been working on conics, and this year, I gave them this Desmos Conics Project I am excited to see their masterpieces! I think it took me 3 hours to make up a test that was challenging enough and not just regurgitation, and yet not too challenging. Here is their conics test, and here is their review sheetTakeaway: Challenging students is important, and making them think rather than just practice exercises can foster deeper learning. Tackling challenges in life is no easy task. But if you break it down one step at a time, it becomes more manageable. 
3. My Pre-Calculus students did exceptionally well on their trig unit. This year, I had them cooperatively unwrap the unit circle and create the sine and cosine graphs using spaghetti. A student said it really made sense of graphing for him (Goal!) I will definitely use this every year. We also created a human Unit Circle, and I played music as students walked around the spots on the floor marked by tape. When the music stopped, students froze and as I gave them directives (Give your x-value! Give your radian!), they tried very hard to each name them correctly. It was also a nice way for them to see which student was their "reflection point." These visuals, I believe, helped them to make concrete of the abstract. Finally, they also created unit circle projects, which I have been doing for many years now. Takeaway: Making math come alive for students definitely works. Life has its ups and downs, like a sine curve, and you have to know that where there are downs, there also are ups, and you have to create a healthy balance.  

4. It's our season for math club (Mu Alpha Theta), and we have been practicing every Friday after school since September. I probably get about 16 students who regularly dedicate their time to Algebra 2 practice, and 4 other math coaches simultaneously work with their teams. As I mentioned, this is a very strong Algebra 2 group, and at our last competition, they placed, and we had a student place as well. We are in our 6th year in the club with about 85 members, though honestly, I would say that 70 have truly been active...still, that's over 10% of the school who enjoy math enough to be working on it on a Friday afternoon! We came up with our shirt theme this year, POKEMAO, a play on Pokemon, of course, where MAO stands for "mu alpha theta" our math honor society. Takeaway: This club started with probably 15 people its first year and has grown so big. Take risks and try big things. Surround yourself with likeminded people and you will always feel good about yourself. 
5. I just got back from a school immersion trip to Greece. We traveled all around Athens and Delphi and more and studied math, history, and architecture. We took 13 students. It was amazing. Kalemera!! #sograteful Here is the Athens Math Treasure Hunt from http://www.explorica.com/ and the Answer KeyTakeaway: You learn more traveling that you do anywhere else. Sometimes when you feel like your life is in ruins, take the road less traveled. 

And not math...

6. I didn't take a picture, but my friend and I took up Pam's idea and did our 30-day happy teacher challenge in our faculty workroom, where we printed out positive challenges to do and hung up stickers for teachers to use as they accomplished them. It did not take off as much as I had hoped, but those who liked it really liked it and used it. Takeaway: you don't have to make everyone happy. Making a few people happier is still an awesome goal. It's easy to say the glass is half-empty and spread negativity. But it's more of a challenge to say it's half-full, and more rewarding, too. 
7. I have not had enough time to work on my Ted-Ed project, #StudentsTeachingStudents, but I been thinking about it. I've had students in my math club make short videos to teach other students. Over spring break, I will be creating a guide for students so they know how to make the videos. I also found an interesting app called Groupboard that I want students to use if they remotely peer tutor. Takeaway: Kids love to teach other kids! And I learn more from them every day than they do, me, I am convinced. 

8. I am SO excited to see and celebrate my friend Debbie tomorrow! Over 200 people are going to her fundraiser, and some are friends I have not seen in years and years. Our friends from California and France are coming as well as several from NJ. My sister is coming. My aunt (the one who just lost her mother and husband) will be there. Friends of mine that I worked with when I was a public school teacher will be there (I've been teaching in private school for the last 23 years). And tons and tons of Debbie's friends from work and community will be there to support her. Takeaway: Through the most awful things in the world, you can find good and hope. Friendship is a gift and should not be taken for granted.
A picture from 6 years ago
9. Next week, I am going to a Spark Women's Retreat, which is a branch of JWRP, which I've blogged about here. I've done more with these strong women in a year than I've done with any other group. When I am with them, I feel lighter, stronger, smarter. This event is at a spa so I will be learning, soul searching, and relaxing at the same time. Takeaway: As my son has posted on his wall at school, "Happiness is something that must be shared." Rest is necessary to strengthen one's soul. 

10. I have friends and family that I can rely on. I have a mother-in-law, a brother-in-law and a sister-in-law and brother-in-law that are all within a mile of me if I need anything (less actually.) My work friends are my lifeline. I speak to my sister every Saturday. Although I have lost some cherished loved ones in the last few years, I still have a large extended family that constantly support me. Takeaway: Although I lost my parents early in life, I have a large network of family and friends. Be thankful for your people and for those who nourish your soul.

11. My son is halfway through his freshman year in college, and I took a bus and saw him last week. We spent the whole weekend together, and it was wonderful for me to see what a hardworking, dedicated, and mature man he is. His smile fills my soul with joy. On the other hand, anything he gets even remotely upset about, I end up getting upset about. Ah to be a parent. But I wouldn't have it any other way. I am so grateful for our talks and texts. Takeaway: A mother's love is like no other. Take in every moment with your children. They grow up way too fast. 

12. And least but certainly not last, my husband is always there for me and puts me first. After 23 years of living in the same place, we have upgraded our vanity area in our master bathroom. Not that exciting, but you know how it is. My husband has dedicated so much time completing this for me even though it was really not a priority for him (truth be known, he really did not want to do it.) He knew it would make me happy, and we haven't done much around the house in a while. It's amazing to me that he is so reliable and completely dedicated to both me and our son. If I need anything, he jumps. Well, he would, except that he has a bad back. He cooks dinner for me every night. He takes care of me. I can do and be so much because he will do all the little things I ask of him. Except for getting me a puppy. Haha I know he's reading this, because he does that, too--supports me in my endeavors. He's underappreciated, and I need him to know how much I do appreciate him and love him. Takeaway: I am thankful and grateful to have such a support system. When there bumpiness in life, don't lose sight of the things that are in front of your face. 
24 (?) years ago

No backsplash yet!
So, I was 2 hours late landing. The rental car lost our reservation. I had plans to have dinner with my friend who flew in from California for Debbie's event tonight, and we won't get there till super late. What do they say, G-d watches you make plans and then laughs. It's OK. I was inconvenienced. But what I now realize, after writing this, is that there is so much good. So maybe it's a good thing Trump came in today. Because I might not have realized how good I have it.

Monday, January 2, 2017

30 Day Happy Teacher Challenge

We can all use a little positivity and happiness, right? I've actually blogged about this before, and it has been my highest viewed post of all time. So I thought I would post it again ICYMI. Last year I did not nearly make it to 30...But 2017 - it's a new year! Let's give it a shot together and try the 30 Day Happy Teacher Challenge!  
created by @prestoplans

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Goodbye 2016

This has been the most trying year for me.

  • My 95 year-old grandmother passed away in October, the day after my birthday. She had a long, wonderful life, but we were extremely close, as I lost both parents when I was in college. She was the last living grandparent, and her death finalizes my feeling of being an orphan, as the unconditional love of parents/grandparents is now forever in my past.
  • On the day of my grandmother's funeral, my best friend was diagnosed with ALS. I've blogged about this here and here. Debbie's own blog is a tough read, but it's also a way for me to get inside her head and know what she is really going through. Debbie had a colectomy earlier this year as well, and so it's been a very trying year for her, and therefore me. 
  • My son left for college, i.e., empty nest, empty room, and empty heart sometimes. There were calls home where he felt better after talking to me, but where I tossed and turned all night, not able to sleep as the worries left him and instead swirled 'round and 'round in my head.
So the math teacher in me can't help but notice and feel that my parent function no longer exists, the downward slope of my friend's deteriorating health is devastating, and as a mother of a college student, one day to the next is completely sinusoidal through the ups and downs of roommates, fraternities, and exams. It feels as though what's above me (parents, grandparents), what's below me (son) and what's side-by-side (friend) is in shambles, and it's more than any sane person can take, let alone me.

Top this off with the fact that my school, the place where I have worked and devoted my life to for the last 22 years (in some ways, also a parent to me), has been going through huge growing pains (to put it lightly), and it's pretty easy to see that I am a bit of a mess. 

But there have been good things. And that's what I really need to focus on. So in no particular order, here goes:
  • I have my family under one roof right now and have all the things I ever would really need right now. Including one good cup of coffee, at this very moment. 
  • I have traveled. I went to Israel with a women's group and came back with 10 new friends, some of which I keep in touch with every single day. I went to Quebec and Montreal on an Immersion trip with students, and it was also the trip of a lifetime--dog sledding, ice hotel, tobogganing, etc. Two trips of a lifetime in one year ain't so bad, right??
  • I became a TED-Ed innovative educator and traveled to NYC for an amazing weekend with a fantastic group of people and am working on an exciting project called Students Teaching Students.
  • I work with a great group of colleagues that have stayed strong through our trying year, and I am thankful for them and their strength. Their quick texts or conversations passing in corridors means more than they will ever know.
  • I've lost 10+ lbs this year, and kept it off, after trying to lose weight for year...thanks to Elite Fitness.
  • I have written two riddles for TED-Ed and am in the process of writing a third. One made the Top 10 Most Popular TED-Ed Animated Videos list!
  • My problem-solving course is exciting for me, as I can make it whatever I want, and I love being able to spend time on problems that I never had time to do in the regular curriculum.
  • Kindness and love from family members and friends who have reached out to help me during this difficult year. 
  • The Haute Yoga studio, and the ability to workout regularly.
  • My students, past and present, and my math club, which amazes me that we can keep 60+ students after school every Friday to practice.
  • Laughter, though lately I need to get it back into practice. 
  • I have helped others to do things that made them feel good about themselves...this always makes me feel good, and I need to do it more. 
  • Being connected to an online community where I can see what other teachers are doing around the world at any given moment. And I can share what I am doing as well.
  • Stitch Fix and FabFitFun boxes, which have been exciting to come home to. Is this silly to write about? Maybe. But I don't care...it's true. Sometimes, it's the little things.
This may be the first year that my resolution is not to lose weight. It never worked anyway. So I am going to try this instead. This is a mind map made by a former Google coach. I'm going to keep mine private. Half of it is blank. I've got some thinking to do today!

Watch the video here:
Here's to a fantastic 2017 to all...whatever you do, make it a great year, with kindness, helping others, and making you the best version of yourself possible.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Can you solve the 5 Robbers Problem? Students Teaching Students

I am very proud of my student in my Problem-Solving class, who, as his final exam project, created a TED-Ed lesson that is a take on the Pirates and 100 Gold Coins puzzle. The task was to model it after a TED-Ed riddle, and he did exactly that. Here is his full lesson, complete with the 5 multiple choice questions in the "Think Section," and "Dig Deeper" and "Discuss" sections. My student used http://www.videoscribe.co/ to complete the lesson, which made animation fairly simple. His voiceover was really well done. This is the first year I have done this project with my students, and I would definitely change some things in the future, such as having them start it earlier. Here is his full TED-Ed lesson. 

Can you solve the Five Robbers Logic Puzzle?

Here is the project description and rubric.

I am currently working on a TED-Ed innovative project that I am calling #StudentsTeachingStudents. Below is a Padlet that I am working on to include lessons from students who create videos to teach other students. You can find other student projects on there. My plan is to create a handbook on best practices for students teaching lessons through video and TED-Ed. If you are interested in having your students create lessons and have them posted on this site, please let me know!

Made with Padlet

Saturday, December 24, 2016

My Wonder Woman.

My Wonder Woman.
Or, An Ode to My Childhood Best Friend who has ALS

Her arms
Would squeeze me tight when she saw me. Would share the same sleeves of borrowed sweaters. Would move about wildly when telling a story. Would link my arm as we strolled. Would carry firewood for her dad. Would eventually rock three babes to sleep.

Her legs
Would walk miles with me, up and down Farm Lane. “Hi Irene,” she said midsentence, as we waved to someone passing us in a wood-paneled station wagon—what were we talking about? Anything. Everything. In long, puffy winter coats as we slid on the ice on a beloved snow day. Barefoot on the hot, uneven asphalt in the summer, against her mother’s wishes. All along North Valley Road, past the triangle.  To the playground. To the Post Office. To Pine Valley Swim Club, where we squirted on baby oil and basked in the sun on side-by-side weathered lawn chairs and talked about boys. Matching blue bathing suits. And to the Creek, when we did things you do when you are 14-year-olds, but you shouldn’t. 

Her voice
Greeted me with a happy, sing-song falsetto.  Would let out lots and lots of giggles. Could burst into songs from Free To Be You and Me at any time. Sang along to Meatloaf on an 8-track tape in her bedroom with a brush as a microphone. Would say, “Bless me,” after she held in her sneeze. Interchangeably called her oldest daughter and me each other's names when I visited. Built me up when I was down.

Her fingers
Would draw like magic, would write silky smooth, would cut up salads that I never had in my house. Were not old lady fingers, as someone once told her in the 8th grade, which stuck with her, but were perfect. Did they wear a grandfather’s baby ring? Someone’s. Hers? Tied the Indian skirts we wore (that we thought were perfectly normal till we saw in high school that they could tell we were from Roosevelt.) Gripped mine as we danced that silly dance at any Jewish party. Stirred the cream in my coffee during midnight breakfast runs at the diner on Route 130. So hot in my house that their freshly painted nails wouldn’t dry. They text me now. Thank G-d.

Her breathing
Was soothing to me when I slept over, as she inevitably fell asleep first. As I did Jumble puzzles in some book of hers or was it her grandmother’s? I felt so comfortable sleeping over her house, next to her. Was it a trundle bed? So many secrets we told in those beds, so many laughs. Ice cream in bed!

Her support
Was steadfast. Unswerving. No judgment. Never! She told me to stand up for myself. Not let others treat me badly. I needed that. Held me up when I was down-literally and figuratively...I needed her then. Need her now. I need to let her know that.

Her tears
Flowed easily, readily. Still do, only mine flow with her now…even when we are laughing, or when we are miles apart. Like now.

Her neck
Giraffe? Did she say that her neck reminded her of one? She loves giraffes. I think of her whenever I see one. Lots of people do. First hickeys, babies nuzzling. Best friends necklace, long gone. Now it tires. Heads are so heavy, aren’t they? Constantly thinking, constantly planning, constantly worrying. It will be ok. She tells me that, so it will.

IT WILL! So I say, slamming things down on my desk. Tuning out, eyes filling up during a meeting. Curtly responding to my son. Snapping at a friend who is trying to help. Disbelief. Shock. Anger. Sadness. ONWARD ME NOW – Wonder Woman as an anagram. No. Nope. No. NO!

We performed in plays together. I remember I was the witch in the Wizard of Oz in grammar school; “I’m melting!” I screamed in a perfected witch's voice…”I’m mellllltiiiiiing!”

She’s melting. My friend. My sister. My life. And I…

…I can’t hold her up.