Category Archives: Uncategorized

Share Your Teaching Story

Link to survey: https://forms.gle/wYqnCNJ2uu7y26rn8

For the past two years, I’ve been branching out career-wise and reflecting on my experiences as a teacher. I felt I needed a break from the classroom. I thought I might be burning out, or maybe I just needed a change. I switched up the courses I was teaching, went part-time, volunteered with some organizations, interviewed for other jobs and even took a position outside of education altogether. However, it’s now November, and I will be returning to teaching, full-time math, in January. I could not be more excited!

I’m writing this post to explain why I’m asking you to share your teaching story. I have a survey I’m doing because I really want to know what other teachers are going through. I read a lot about the profession and am involved in professional development activities. I’m engaged in my profession. Yet, I still had this wonder – is this the right job for me? Why am I so tired all the time? How can I respond to all the needs of my students and the demands of my schedule? Is something wrong with me?

I learned that there’s nothing wrong with me. There are so many articles and studies about burn-out, the increased demands on schools, and increased scrutiny of teachers. So, I know that’s all real. However, to me, the individual experiences are not always explored in these articles. I’m particularly interested in California math teachers’ experiences but would be happy to hear from anyone who is willing to share.

So, let me share my story (briefly) so you can understand where I’m coming from:

I got into teaching as a second career. Prior to teaching, I earned my master’s degree in economics and worked in the credit industry and then as a statistician for UC San Francisco, studying the health care labor force. I have a background in research and labor studies – no wonder I’m interested in issues surrounding the teacher labor force.

I went into teaching after having kids, thinking I would reduce my commute and have more time with my children and family. That was true – sort of. I had the summer and holiday breaks, but the workweek was incredibly time-consuming. I had no time for socializing or hobbies or other fun stuff. But, it was okay – I really loved what I was doing.

I started teaching at a public middle school as a full-time paid intern and worked on my credential at night. So, I was able to forgo a few courses, since I was already working full-time in the classroom. After earning my credential, I kept going to earn my master’s in education. I felt I would eventually go into education research. (That still hasn’t happened, but this project is my starting point).

I went from middle school to high school, eventually landing at the school where I graduated and where my oldest daughter was attending. She wasn’t totally sold on me teaching at her school, but I reminded her she would have access to money and car keys and I promised to leave her alone, and she was more accepting of the idea.

I loved it at first. For a few years, I felt like everything was really great. By my sixth year there, though, I was coming home in a bad mood, exhausted, wanting to pursue other things. I thought, did I only go into teaching because of my kids, and now that they’ve graduated, do I not like it anymore? No, I was really just getting burnt out. I was neglecting my own needs and teaching in a high performing community where expectations frequently went a bit beyond what was reasonable.

For 2017-2018, I was able to move from teaching math full-time to teaching 2 sections of AP Economics. I loved teaching economics but was still feeling pretty worn out each day, trying to manage some unruly behavior in one of my classes and manage expectations around grades. For 2018-2019, I took a partial leave of absence, so I could have a bit of a break and pursue some other career avenues. I volunteered with NCTM and took on a fellowship with the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.

These experiences were just what I needed. I was ready to go back to full-time teaching, and applied for a position at a different campus, thinking a change of scenery would be good. I had been working and living in the same community and thought maybe everything was a bit too close for comfort. However, on July 1st, I received an offer for a position with a large corporation, working as an associate economist. [Background: the summer before this, I had applied to positions outside of education and interviewed with this company and received an offer, but turned it down because it was a junior position and long commute and a pay cut and it was already September – I couldn’t really quit at that point.] But, in the summer of 2019, it was re-posted and re-offered to me, and despite the drawbacks, I took it thinking it would be worth checking out and would lead to bigger and better things.

It didn’t work out. I won’t go into detail, but suffice it to say, I didn’t feel challenged, I wasn’t doing anything that used my analytic skills, and I really did miss the interaction of the classroom and helping people. What I really learned from this experience is that I have a wealth of education experience and have a lot to offer to the field. I was able to go corporate and see if the grass was any greener, but it wasn’t. I learned that I need to manage the expectations that I put on myself to be perfect and instead, do my best to be a great teacher, within reason. Letting myself burn out is not okay.

Fortunately, with teaching, there are big chunks of time off where we get to pursue other interests, such as blogging about teacher labor market issues. Mostly, I’m focusing right now on the teacher experience. So, if you can take a bit of time and share your experience, I would really appreciate it. You may be in year one or year 30 of teaching. I’m not sure where this will lead, but I hope it leads somewhere.

I want to know where you teach, how long you’ve taught, how has your career evolved, have you ever thought of leaving? If so, why didn’t you or why did you and did you return? How do you feel about your decision?

Because I am just starting this project, I would love feedback on the survey questions and organization – I’m really just kind of throwing it out there as a Beta Version right now.

How will your responses be used?

Great question! I will try to aggregate the submissions in terms of state, region, courses, level (elementary, middle, high, college) to see if there are any trends. I may put up a chart of some responses, but I would remove all identifiers, and make sure there are at least 5 respondents included in any particular breakdown so that no one could be identified – this is standard practice in most government research projects.

There is a question at the end that asks your preferences about possibly being quoted, with no quote as an option. You can leave your email so that I can email you before printing anything. You can also email me if you want to discuss anything: laurie@quantgal.com

 

Measuring an Economy

Today I’m giving a presentation at the College of Marin to the hiring committee for the Social Studies department. I’m applying to teach Economics. I’ve taught at COM in the past, in the Business Department. Since then, I earned my teaching credential in mathematics and economics and an MS in Education to add to my other MA in Economics. So, I should feel well prepared, but I’m nervous, of course.

They asked me to give a 20-minute lesson where I “utilize current economic models to introduce students to contemporary issues of development, underdevelopment, and globalization.”

Hmmm… Twenty minutes worth. How will I narrow this down?

Well, what are contemporary issues in globalization? I’ve recently read Hillbilly Elegy. In that book, the author K.D. Vance, tells a story that spans several generations of his family who moved from Appalachian Kentucky to a steel town in Ohio, only to see the industry become automated and globalized away. Those are contemporary issues, for sure and they fit in with economic models of unemployment and GDP.

I created a powerpoint presentation that I’m sharing here. It looks at the Phillips Curve, GDP and other ways to measure the wellbeing of a nation. I use a lot of indicators and resources to get the audience to think about other measures that define the health of a nation and we compare them across the globe. I end the presentation with some summary information about what would make a nation developed or underdeveloped and we do an activity that highlights those ideas.

In the end, globalization can be helpful and harmful. As we globalize, we have a long way to go in terms of equality.

COM Presentation 04302019

 

Can An Exam Enhance Student Learning?

Today was our AP® Microeconomics exam on industrial organization, market failure, and government interventions. It was covering eight chapters in the text. After creating it, I had a few concerns:

  • it was too long
  • there were a couple things on there that I didn’t feel we thoroughly covered
  • I didn’t want to shorten it or postpone it

So, it was time to be creative. I know my students want to do well and that they care about learning. They want to get good grades, go to college, and have nice lives. I want all that for them, too. This test had the potential to cause a bunch of stress, complaints, and grade damage. I needed a solution. 

You may be thinking, well, just shorten it! Yeah, I thought the same thing. However, I wanted them to have the full range of possible AP® style questions that they would face on the AP® exam. And, it was about half the length of the exam. The AP® exam is only two hours and ten minutes long and we had 90 minutes for our test period. So, I felt it was actually a fair length, just longer than our usual in-class exams. I also liked all of the questions and knew we had covered everything except for a couple of terms that I felt they could figure out, like “average tax rate.” 

To take a pulse of how the kids were doing, I went around the room and checked in with everyone. “How’s it going?” “Any questions?” Most of them said no. They said it was okay. 

But, I still wanted to provide an opportunity for them to do better. With about 15 minutes left in the period, I told the students to review the exam, read any questions they hadn’t gotten to and scan the vocabulary and diagrams. I told them they could have ten more minutes to work on the test. At the end of the test, I told them they could go home, study again and have their tests back during the first 15 minutes of the next class (in two days – we have block periods).

During our tutorial period today, a group of students came in to work together and to try to ask me more questions. I didn’t want to answer but paid close attention to their discussions. It was thrilling to see them argue about ideas, look things up, work together and come to a consensus with how monopolists make profits and engage in price discrimination, how deadweight loss occurs, how a tax can fall unequally on consumers and producers and other microeconomic concepts. 

The best moment was when one of the students said, “This is great, I’m learning so much from this!” He’s a strong student anyway, who typically gets high grades and I was pleased to know that he was getting a lot out of the process. 

I know this breaks the tradition of testing, but I also knew these students appreciate a break and have an opportunity to know exactly what to study. It’s almost a way to build in a retake or have them do test corrections. Whatever the case, it accomplished what I hoped it would. A targeted re-studying session and a highly engaged discussion amongst the students where they strengthened their knowledge and improved their ability to demonstrate content mastery. 

 

 

 

Unit 1 Planning: Get them engaged on Day One!

(8/21) I will have my first day with my Algebra 2 students on Thursday (8/24). Here I sit, thinking about what to start with. Last year, we learned how to write numbers in different bases. Kids enjoyed it and asked to do more with it. But, we didn’t have a lot of time for it and it did not show up on the first test. It’s not part of the Algebra 2 curriculum. However, I remember learning about different bases somewhere in my high school math classes. It’s disappeared from the curriculum. Or, maybe it’s reappearing somewhere else.

Having kids learn to write the number 25 in base 5  (looks like 100), 7 in base 7 (looks like 10), 12 in base 4 (looks like 30), really is interesting for them. Their little neurons start firing. They say things like “Whoa!” and “That’s so cool!”

We also spent time issuing texts, getting kids signed up on Remind , and doing getting to know you activities. We went over some expectations, etc. But, I knew I had won them over. Then I started teaching.

This year, I want to do that again. And get them on Desmos quickly – download the app, etc. Play Marbleslides: Lines, etc.

(8/23) I make a plan often based on all of the great ideas and inspiration I get from Twitter math teachers (#mtbos #iteachmath), Jo Boaler, Dan Meyer and many others. I recently read a great article about not grading students in the first month (or some time frame like that) and I thought, “Wow, what a great way to build culture and address equity issues.”

So, I’m thinking about that right now.

I feel that the most important things I can do as a teacher is invite students to be curious, let them know they are an important part of the class, and teach them mathematical concepts. After meeting with my excellent colleagues, I’ve come up the following plan:

We are going to see if those iPads work. If they do (fingers crossed) I want to get students to do a card sort activity, and hopefully play some marbleslides and then get into some vocab around linear functions and translations. We will get signed up on Remind and learn about a few classroom expectations. Seriously kids, no phones and limit your bathroom breaks.  Be nice. That’s really it. However, when working with teens, there is always a need to discuss these things, come to an agreement and then move forward. They will test these agreements. We will need community building. I look forward to that.

I’m really excited to get going. I’ll be working some great activities and mathematical ideas into my lessons. We’ll explore some history, look at different bases, play games on Desmos, be creative, and have another great year!

Excellent Summer PD: Desmos Summer Institute

This summer I went to a two day Desmos training in sunny San Diego that was completely dedicated to improving student learning through activity builder.   Dan Meyer, their CEO, kicked off the training with his typical charismatic, humorous and collaborative way of learning about us and generating the goals and plans for the next two days. There were about 25 teachers and a group of Desmos staff and Desmos Teacher Fellows. So, we were surrounded with amazing support, creativity and collaboration.

The Desmos staff said we can share the materials from the workshop. I love that attitude of sharing. In that spirit, I’d like to share with you one of the great shares of Day 1, the Desmos scavenger hunt. The Hunt provides tasks and solutions so you can test your skills and learn new ones. We had great fun with that.

Using the activities or making your own requires you go to teacher.desmos.com. I recommend you get started by watching the one minute video and then create an account. You can login and start searching existing activities.

I recommend starting with searching the existing activities and activity bundles. There are individual activities or bundles of activities by topic (there is a list on the sidebar to the left of the screen). For instance, in Algebra 2, there is a bundle for exponential functions. There are currently seven activities. By doing a quick preview of each activity, you can decide which ones you want to use and when to use them during your unit. As you preview the activity, you’ll see a green pop-up that gives teacher tips. They are really helpful.

To make your own activities, I recommend using the materials provided by the Desmos team to help you build a great activity. To build your own, use this link to get started learn.desmos.com. Or, sign in to teacher.desmos.com, and click ‘Custom’ under ‘Your Activities’ on the left side bar. You can click ‘New Activity’ on the right and then click the ‘Get Started Here!’ link to take you to learn.desmos.com, to see helpful videos and examples. I also really recommend that you use the Teacher Guide when creating your activity. Each activity has a printable guide to help you build your activity and lesson plan. [FYI, the link to the Teacher Guide is an example, you will get one that corresponds to your activity]

I love the activities in Desmos and have had great success with them. Students work and I am freed up to circulate and help as needed. At a glance, I can see where every student is from the teacher dashboard. I can use the teacher tools to anonymize student names and project individual student work or entire class screen overlays so students can see multiple ways of solving problems. Students get instant feedback on their work. Pacing is individualized and many activities get more difficult as you progress, which challenges every student. Students naturally start to ask each other questions. I can partner students as needed. I can even pause an activity – which always leads to groans and the question, “Why did you stop it?!?” You can read about my marbleslides experience What’s great about marbleslides, if you want more details on a specific activity.

My takeaways:

  1. There are amazing educators out there. Find them and stick with them. Then, find more. Share your ideas. Share your lessons. Build better lessons together.
  2. There are great activities for Algebra 2 already built in Desmos. I’m not sure I want to build any myself. It’s not easy to do and more are being added all the time. There are teachers all over the country adding to the bank of activities.
  3. The activities are varied and can be used in many ways – introducing a topic, vocabulary builders, practice, and formative assessment. So far, the ones I’ve used have all provided differentiation for students.
  4. I will build some activities for my AP Economics classes, which I will be teaching for the first time and am very excited about. I’m picturing supply and demand shocks as a starting place. I built my story board using post-its, as recommended, and am ready to start building!

Having the time to really delve in and learn the tools and process for building activities was a gift. There is a second training August 10-11 in San Mateo, CA. Sign up by July 21

Feeling Overwhelmed, Math Teacher?

Time for a break. The best thing to do is turn off your computer, put your books away, close your planning book and take some time to think about other things. Really, just shut it down.

I can hear you saying to yourself, “I can’t because I’m expected to have this done by…” whatever deadline you’ve set for yourself. You can shut it down, though, and you should because you are feeling overwhelmed. And, you are most likely feeling overwhelmed because you are overwhelmed.

This job can get really demanding sometimes. People generally don’t seem to understand that. How could they unless they’ve done it? And, sorry to say it, but here it is… It can even sometimes feel that your administrators don’t understand what your workload is like. You have so much to do and so many people asking you questions and needing your help, that you sometimes don’t get a chance to eat or get some water or do the things you had planned to do that day. And, because you couldn’t do them, you are not ready for tomorrow. Yikes, stress!

When you’re having these thoughts and feelings, listen to them. When things feel like they are too much, it’s because they are. So, set everything aside and go home. Nurture yourself.

Go get some coffee, take a walk, go to a movie. Let yourself get back in touch with other things that matter. Read a chapter of a book you’ve been meaning to read. Play some music and dance in your living room (or classroom). You need a break, both mentally and physically.

When you go back to work, all that stuff will feel a bit easier. You may find that some of the problems have resolved themselves. Or, because you’ve calmed down and relaxed and are feeling better, you think of easy, creative solutions. You get some ideas. Novelty returns.

Give yourself a much needed break, even while still at work.

It’s okay to find an easy activity for the day to give you a bit of recovery time. Or, work in a review day and pick some random problems from the book. Don’t give homework.

Ask students to write 5 quiz questions for the next quiz based on the assignments so far. They will be working and you can circulate to see what they are thinking. Ask for 2 easy problems, 2 medium problems and 1 tough one. You can even differentiate and ask some students to write only 3 questions, but that have multiple parts. Mix it up. Notice what kids are saying, give guidance. Ask them to make mini how-to posters on graph paper. Have them color them in. All of these activities are useful for them, help to build mastery and allow you to relax and help and not be the center of attention.

It’s okay to not reply right away to email. It’ll wait. And your reply may even be better if you give yourself some time.

It’s okay to push your schedule back a day. You made the schedule! You can change it! If you are feeling overwhelmed, your students probably are, too. Ease off the gas pedal.

And, really, no matter what people say to the contrary, it’s okay to postpone the quiz if you haven’t written it. It’s okay to give a quiz with only 5 problems instead of 20. It’s easier to grade that, too. It’s okay to not work insane hours trying to do it all. Listen to your own needs sometimes.

As teachers, we set really high standards for ourselves and sometimes we struggle to meet them. That’s okay. Rest and good health are really important components in running a marathon.

I wonder, is math more demanding to teach than other topics? Well, maybe. I can think of some arguments supporting that view. My only experience teaching another subject was at our local community college, where I taught in the Business Department. It was definitely easier. But, it was also college.

So, let’s take care of ourselves, Math Teachers. When things start to feel really intense, take a break. Let your mind and body relax. You’ll actually handle the work demands better, once you forget about it for a while.

 

 

Tough grading moments….

I’m re-blogging this post from last June. It’s a good recap for keeping grades, grading and study habits in mind as we launch into our second semester next week

Laurie Hailer

One of the toughest things about grading is when the students with 79% or 89% ask/plead/argue for the B- or the A-. I do round an 89.5% or higher, to the 90%. I think that’s just doing proper rounding, as I like to teach in my classes, as opposed to truncating the grades. [Don’t know what truncating is? You can find out here] . But then, the 89.2% kid asks for the A-, too. I would be inclined if their test scores were in the A range, but they weren’t completing all the assignments, and so homework was dragging the grade down. But, if the test scores are in the B range, and homework completion is bringing the grade up to B+, I think that’s good enough.

I have several students who’ve missed a lot of school, or have ADHD and just don’t complete every assignment, or just never are there…

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