Monthly Archives: September 2007

This is what we mean by collaboration…

The NYC FOSS wiki is starting to take off, along with an email discussion among those of us who were in training together about how the program is working in our classrooms.  The consensus seems to be that the students are underprepared in many areas – math, science, and reading – and that while we are dealing with it, this significantly slows down the pace of the kits.  Anyway, I’ve posted a few more hand-outs on the wiki, and also a few by another teacher who hasn’t set up his own wiki ID yet.  So, if you’re an NYC 6th grade science teacher, or you know one, or you know a teacher using FOSS elsewhere, take a look and join the fun!

PS. No one yet has tried to create an identity and post stuff except me, so I don’t yet know whether the system works… if someone wants to be a guinea pig, the instructions for joining are on the homepage of the wiki.  Leave me a comment about whether or not they work, please!

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Into the Wild

I saw Into the Wild last night, and cried a little through-out. It started with the Sharon Olds poem he reads to his sister at college graduation – a poem I loved before this movie and which feels so appropriate today, not in my relationship to my parents but in the leaps of faith one must make to create the future.

But more significantly, I see many of my college friends in Chris McCandless, including one who died by suicide shortly after I left California. It’s the hunt for truth, the love of people and the simultaneous rejection of society. It’s finding something in nature that you can’t find anywhere else. It’s the urge to be alone, to purify.

Truth be told, I see a little of myself in Chris McCandless – not in the specifics of what he did, but in the extremity, the drive to figure things out. The movie rekindled an old idea to drive cross-country by myself one of these summers, taking it slow, learning to be alone, meeting who I meet, reading a lot, writing, taking pictures, seeing this incredible continent on which we live. It’s an idea as prosaic as it is wonderful – I know others who have done it, or similar, no big deal, almost a rite of passage if you were an eastern kid attending a western college. But to read Walt Whitman and Edward Abbey and Thoreau and Kerouac and Muir and be in those places… well, that’s the wonderful part.

Anyway, the urge to be alone and somehow understand things more deeply through solitude is strong in me right now. Yet another part of me yearns to find a true connection to someone else. And every little thing that happens – a conversation that I’m not part of, seeing pictures from which I know I’ve been edited out – is just another source of hurt. It’s like the knob controlling sensitivity has been snapped off completely.

*****

I’m missing the robotics kick-off today, which is annoying, but there was no way I was getting to Brooklyn by 9 am this morning and still hanging on to a scrap of sanity. I wanted to meet other coaches, though, and they had some workshops of interest, and I wanted to see the field set-up completed so I’d know what we have to build. But there are other ways.

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Habits

I love the process of learning something new: the struggle, at first, the questioning about whether it’s worth it, the forgetting to incorporate the new skill into daily life, and then, later, effort leading to success, and much later, realizing you’ve done it successfully without even thinking about it.

I think that differentiation in the classroom is, for me, beginning to move out of the initial phase when it feels like an almost impossible thing, and is starting to become a natural part of what I do as a teacher.  And I feel really good about that.  The turning point was when I sent home graphs with a class to finish for homework when they did not complete them in class.  I thought I’d messed up the next day’s lesson because the kids aren’t good at graphing and I wasn’t optimistic about what they’d do at home, and I figured now I’d spend a whole period just re-doing what they’d completed, with some of the kids who did it right the first time bored out of their minds.  But instead of just accepting that, I ended up putting the kids into four groups as I checked their graphs – one group had data that made no sense, so they had to repeat the experiment with more guidance from me, another group hadn’t added their numbers properly, so they got a little lesson on adding decimals, a third group struggled to plot their points, so they got help with the graphing task, and the fourth group had it all mastered, so they went on to the next part of the activity.  I recruited two students from this last group to serve as peer tutors and help me manage all my other groups.

Management is the tricky part of these lessons – but the moments when it all feels chaotic are amply rewarded by the moments when you realize that every – or nearly every – kid spent an hour getting instruction targeted to his or her specific difficulty.  The kids like it, too, and report that it’s helpful.  Their graphs were a LOT better.  So, hopefully I can use their buy-in as a way to help keep them on-task and reasonably quiet during this kind of lesson.

Differentiation has been one of my goals for two years – though it didn’t get much attention in Turkey – and I finally feel like I’m progressing towards it.  And that’s a good feeling.

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The most confessional post ever.

I’m so settled, career-wise.  I do something I love, at a pretty good place to do it, with people I like and respect.  There are awful days, but overall, it works.  I know what I do makes  a difference, too.  And I can see some of the steps in the “where do I go from here” question…

But.  There are other ways in which I feel so, so ready to grow up, to figure it out, to leave behind the playing around stage and move into the this-is-what-I-want stage.  I see mothers with little children and even though I cannot begin to imagine how anyone finds time to be the kind of teacher I am while simultaneously raising a child—- still, I see it and I want it at such a deep level it almost hurts.  I guess this is what is rather coldly referred to as the “biological clock” but should probably be renamed something warmer that gets at the tug inside you that just pulls harder and harder.

And now I find myself alone again and pretty sad and a little hurt and with self-esteem bottoming-out, and yet accepting that in the end, it frees me for the moment when I find what you can never truly look for.  But the things I want seem so far away and out of reach, and in the meantime, so much is lost, it’s like a big chunk has been bitten out of my life and left empty.

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Data, data, data

Have I mentioned that I teach one section (4 hours per week) of CMSP, Comprehensive Math & Science Program?  It’s really pushing me to differentiate, which is good, and to keep detailed data about student performance, also good.  Keeping and using data is an important school goal this year, and given the push to do it and a model of how, I’m really getting into it.  But more on that in another post.

CMSP is supposed to really focus on skills, algorithms, and so on, but it’s not just drills – though there is some of that.  We started with lessons on adding multiple digit numbers and sequences of multiple digit numbers, and subtracting multiple digit numbers.  Like, 345,329 + 87,630 + 56 + 785.  We did a couple of lessons, then I gave a quiz.  The goal is for every student to achieve 85% or higher on every skill – and we don’t move on until all but a few kids have achieved that.  So after quiz 1, a few kids clearly had mastered the skills – 90% or higher – and most had not.  What to do?  One thing led to another and I ended up grouping them in a flexible fashion and creating separate activities for each group targeted to the kind of mistakes they made.  All the students had to review their quizzes and do the problems they got wrong over, so they could begin to see the patterns in their mistakes themselves.  After that, some students made basic facts flashcards, others practiced lining problems up correctly, others focused on borrowing, etc.

My mastery group, the ones who already achieved a high score, began an experiment in something called “curriculum compacting.”  I surveyed them as to what they would like to do with time that they free up by mastering skills before others in the class.  Most chose to prep for the specialized high schools exam – two years away.  A few chose peer tutoring.  Other choices included a math-related project or doing logic puzzles.

After two days of targeted instruction, I gave quiz 2.  Four or five students moved into the mastery group and many improved.  One girl raised her grade 30% on this skill in three days (because she reviewed her basic facts with flashcards, greatly improving her accuracy).  By now, I could see four or five students who really were far behind.  I  designed more targeted instruction, divided the students up into slightly different groups, and tried to free up enough time to conference with those students about their errors.  This proved difficult because the flexible groups working on separate assignments leads to a lot of neediness – everyone wants your help and attention all the time.  I guess it will take time for this kind of class to become routine and classroom management to ease up a bit.

I gave quiz 3 today, and we’re moving on after this.  There are a few too many students below the 85% mark, but it’s time to go on.  I’ll design review work for the kids who are still behind – and for some, it’s just carelessness which they are aware of and need to work on for themselves – but as a class, we’re on to the next skill.

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Closing your eyes…

On the bus home after a long day working, just let your eyes close and feel the late afternoon sunshine warm your eyelids. This is what the bus driver was suggesting to the passengers crowding into the front of the bus. “It’s like a massage from God,” he said. “You close your eyes and you feel a tingle.”

“You might feel a tingle, but I think it’s annoying,” replied one woman.

“It’s annoying to you, but it’s my little massage from God.”

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I’m actually at the point where…

I’d rather spend the time reading or working or hanging out or cooking or doing yoga or sleeping than blogging.

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