Saturday, September 29, 2012

Full Swing

The school year is in full swing now as October nears, the sunlight dwindles, and the shadows lengthen. There is plenty of correcting, grade entering, and lesson planning to do this weekend but I am finding out that if I do not carve out some time to write a blog post, I never get to it.

In the interest of Staying Positive, this is a good time to cite some of the good things that have occurred during the first few weeks of the school year. I am of course still getting to know my new students, but it has been a nice start so far and they seem to be comfortable with my approach. I have enjoyed our classroom interactions so far.

The use of Google Forms, (an example of a homework assignment), with homework assignments has been a big help in improving my formative assessments of the level of understanding for each of my classes. The student homework submissions populate a spreadsheet that can be easily scanned before the next day's class to see what, if any, problems and misconceptions need to be addressed. Students, especially 7th graders, are not very good at asking for help. Getting a quick scan of their work rather than relying on student questions or educated guesswork on my part has been great. I have found that their misunderstandings are not always what I anticipate they might be and that they vary more from class to class than I had thought they would. This has been an important revelation for me. I also quickly discovered that, while it is easy to check student answers in a spreadsheet format, checking their work is not easy in a spreadsheet. After the first week, I had to ask that my students hand in their work the next class day so I can check for individual misunderstandings. Also, there are some math homework assignments that simply do not lend themselves to Google Forms and they have to be done more "old school". While this means, that there are still some papers that I deal with, my paper usage has been cut by at least 2/3. Much easier to manage which helps me be more productive.

I am quite pleased and excited with the usage of our class web site. The amount and quality of the questions regarding homework or class related issues has been much improved at this point in comparison to the previous two years of the web site's existence. And students have answered their own classmates questions a few times which is something I really encourage and am happy to see developing. To some degree, the utility of the web site is up to how the students end up using it. So far the trend indicates to me that my group of new students will be exploring ways to make the site the nerve center of our class when we are not in school.

All in all, plenty of positives to focus on.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


Today was the first day that I used the Reflection app mirroring software available for a PC in conjunction with my the Airplay feature on the Ipad. While there were a few glitches, largely due to some as yet undetermined issues with the Smart Notebook Ipad app, my experience was very positive.

The feature/implication I like the best is that with the use of Reflection, you are not tethered to any particular part of the classroom. Whatever content that is displayed on the screen of your IPad, is projected to the whole class and can be changed easily without needing to have anything pointing towards the front of the room. It allowed me to gain a much better perspective of my classroom and the level of my student engagement during the lesson. I was able to move about freely, essentially feeling like I was much more a part of the class. It was a good feeling.

I am excited about the potential this new piece of technology offers. If you use IPads in your classroom, I highly recommend looking into this technology solution.

Friday, September 7, 2012

First Impressions

The first four days of classes are in the "books". During the summer, it is easy to forget how tired you can feel by the end of the teaching week. For this week at least, it is a "good" tired feeling.

I am still talking too much. But I continue to be working on loosening the reins some and I feel good about making progress in not being center stage all the time. The classroom environment for each of my classes and homeroom is promising. I have been pleased with the class participation and respect my students have been showing each other. There is a bit of timidness with some of them - the fear of getting a wrong answer. In one of my classes today, it was difficult to get volunteers to show their work on the board. I assured that class that it is okay to get an incorrect answer and that was one of the ways we would learn together. More work will be needed to encourage them to take a chance on themselves.

One big improvement for my first week has been the utilization of Google Forms for homework assignments. I have been able to use the spreadsheet information from the assignments to more efficiently assess any trouble areas that are present. And I can do it in near real-time. It is taking quite a bit more time setting up the assignments than in years past and I will not be able to use this format for all assignments, but the potential for me to use homework in a much more productive way is exciting to me. Hopefully it will be beneficial for many of my students as well.

I am looking forward to a chance to rest a bit and completing some lesson planning this weekend so I can be ready for a new action-filled week. They will be keeping me on my toes. And that is a good thing.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Staying Positive Throughout

While looking at my Twitter feed last evening, Michael Pershan, @mpershan, sent a link to a video that I could not get out of my head all day today. Staying positive throughout the school year can be difficult. So when you have one of those days when the lesson bombs, events that were largely out of your control conspire to make it a lousy day, or you are just plain run down a bit towards the end of the week, be mindful of the refrain of this tune from The Hold Steady.

Have a great school year!

(and if you are a math teacher and not following @mpershan's work, you should!)

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Almost Here

It is Sunday evening and classes for me start Tuesday. Hard to believe that this will be my eighth year of teaching. For any newer teachers out there reading this, while the daily routines involved with teaching fortunately become easier, the job itself remains a constant challenge. And while I may not admit this by Spring, I think that challenge is one of the things I enjoy most about the profession. There so many different ways my students keep me on my toes. And with my own children chronologically grown up, (do they ever really grow up?), teaching and interacting with middle school students keeps me feeling relevant.

Each group of students is different and brings their unique spirit and set of challenges to you every day. Sure, there are similarities in behaviors that many display, but every year so far, they have manifested themselves in different and interesting ways. And there are always at least 10 of my students that approach math problems differently than I have encountered before. I learn so much from my students different perspectives and questions.

So the nervous and excited anticipation builds with little in the way of sleep likely for the next couple of nights. I do miss the days of forecasting the weather, (a meteorologist will always have the weather bug in him/her I guess), but the adventures and interactions that I know I will have with my students this year is no match for that. Bring it on kids, I am ready for another year.