Carl's Teaching Blog

A place to talk about teaching and learning

Author: Carl Oliver (Page 2 of 35)

Clog: Oh, This Is Much Better

After a morning flash of insight, I spent way too much time on this Linear Regression Desmos Activity. It seemed like too cool of an idea to not do, although I’m sure it could be better. be For 4 weeks I’ve followed the IM 8th grade unit on data associations with my Algebra class, but I didn’t really have a cool way to talk about what linear regression is, or have a way to teach the kids how to use the regression features in Desmos. In retrospect, I could have sailed into the #MTBoS and found what other people are doing around regression, but I sort of burned my boats when I started making this thing. I trudged on in making this thing until 8 minutes before class, when I realized I needed make copies, and get upstairs. In all the work on the activity and the copies I didn’t get a chance to get the laptop key. We couldn’t use computers!

So I was up in the front of class, trying to keep my kids engaged while Jayla went to find the teacher who last had the laptop key (he was in the bathroom). “Alright guys, let’s review what we’ve been doing the last few days.” Doing a little mini-lesson at the board seemed like a good way to kill time. “How many people know what kind association this might be?” I said to the class while gesturing towards a hastily drawn scatterplot. Students looked back at me with silence and agony. It was clear they were not engaged, maybe because they knew the computers were coming. Their body language screamed that they were not invested in doing any part of this whole lecture thing. Then I thought to myself, “Teaching like this SUCKS.”

Over the past cycle I have been working on teaching with IM. Those materials have a lot more interaction, and realy prioritize the student voice. Kids were getting used to debating about which terms should be used, and agreeing on what is the right answer. There was a smooth flow to those classes while this little mini-lesson felt spreading the last of the natural peanut butter jar. The previous cycle I worked with a co-teacher who really pushed me to have more interactive lessons, with videos for the lectures, so I really haven’t done any kind of lecturing in a while. It really blows.

It set an awful tone for the Desmos Activity, which required a little bit of me in the driver seat since the activity was unclear in some parts. After the Desmos I had the last few lessons from the IM unit. The kids did a card sort, and used the card sort to learn about frequency tables and made some stacked bar charts. Everything felt kind of normal again.

Well kinda… I still need to fix that Desmos Activity, let me know if you have any feedback!

Grading, Assessments, and Hot Pockets

So you’re at a PD, a really awesome one at that. Everybody is quietly thinking about the prompt “What is assessment?” Your neighbors are writing things like “Assessment is knowing where kids are, where they need to go, and what you should do next.” These poetic statements allude to many parts of a real-time data gathering and analyzing process . Diagnostic assessment, summative assessment, formative assessment are all critical pieces of information that end up letting the teacher know what they need to maximize student growth and learning. The information gained from assessment become the ingredients that “Chef Teacher” can use to create any number of delicious stews, or salads, or souffles.

The facilitator tells everyone to stop writing and to stand up and share with someone new. After 15 awkward seconds of trying to lock eyes with someone, you find a partner across the room. After shaking hands you read your poetic statement with a serious flourish. Your partner responds with the following:

Assessment is how you give kids grades.

You wonder for a second if their table was given the same task. This statement describes a calculation chore that happens at the middle and the end of each term. Grades are what you show to parents and administrators if they want to know how the kids are doing. Assessment is a process that ensures that you have the information at any given point to be able to make the grade, but also to do so much more. Assessment can help you make decisions in the moment, tweak tomorrow’s lesson, or even alter your unit structure. Your assessments can tease out which students understand what you taught today and which ones are relying on the trick they learned last year. Viewing assessment as only a tool for finding grades is like “Chef Teacher” going to the kitchen, by passing all the groceries, and microwaving a Hot Pocket.

You rack your brain for how to begin a conversation about Grading, Assessments,…and Hot Pockets, when your partner cracks a smile. Turns out he was messing with you. He didn’t really believe that Assessment is solely for producing grades, but lots of teachers out there do. How would you describe all the things that assessment could be to someone who thinks it is only for getting the numbers to put on the report card?

There’s a rare window to talk about mental health athletic boys that is opening

It’s rare when you see people talking about mental health, especially athletic boys. I don’t have any proof for this other than my own experience, but I imagine other have seen this as well. When I was an athletic boy I had a real disdain for mental health because my dad was diagnosed with mental illness. I thought it was a personal failing. “It was a weakness. I mean, who can’t keep their own head together?” Yet, only 5 years later I would be working through the exact same illness as my father at mental health facility near Michigan State. It is a rough thing to deal with because you have to it all alone until…

All of a sudden a number of professional athletes are talking about their own struggles with mental health.  This small acknowledgement that mental health is something worth taking seriously is really important for all of those athletic boys who don’t have any positive examples.

SQR post

I am trying to experiment with posting more about some of my administrator work,  even though it might be boring. This will provide some detail about one of the biggest things we had to do this past year to keep the school running. I started this post back in February, but am just now finishing it. If you make it to the end of this, let me know what you think about this kind of post.

We just had an our Quality Review, and it went pretty “Well”. Like so many things in NYC’s Department of Education, the QR is a thing that helps rate the school, and it fosters the kind of wide-eyed terror reserved for reacting to swarms of angry bees. The School Quality Review is a process where an impartial evaluator comes to your school and evaluates everything. Everything. They talk with the administration, they look at your data and reports, and they ask the administrator about any red flags they saw from your data.. and that’s all before the end of first period. The rest of the visit is spent with the observer looking at a number of things. Here’s a brief list:

  • Classroom visits
  • Meeting with students about work from those classes
  • A teacher team meeting
  • More classroom visits
  • A parent meeting
  • A meeting with a larger group of students
  • A focus group with teachers
  • Even more classroom visits
  •  3 meetings with the school leadership meeting
  • Conversation with the Union Rep
  • And a working lunch

The working lunch is the most tense. During that time the evaluator will process all the evidence they’ve gathered and give you a preliminary rating on the spot. For all the stress it causes, it is actually a really good opportunity for our school. While most ratings seem to only look at the quantitative measures of a school, the QR takes a qualitative approach. This can be very good for a school like ours who works with a population that can succeed with things the quanitatiave measures won’t pick up.

What are they observing?

QR observers use a rubric to analyze the mountain of evidence they gather from the various parts of their visit. This image from the newly updated DOE website has the rubric categories: 

If the Microsoft word flow chart didn’t tip you off, the most important areas are Curriculum, Pedagogy, and Assessment, often called the instructional core. When your review is finished your final score will be five ratings. I rating for each area in the instructional core, one rating for school culture and one for systems for improvement. The observers will look at the evidence they collect from around the school in order to figure out where the school falls on this rubric with the highest performers getting a “Well Developed” rating. In the past we would only have one day for a visit, but this year we had two action packed days.

Getting Prepared

We knew that we are having an QR from the beginning of the year, so we could get a number of things going from the beginning of the year. The number one thing was the Principal working out the School Self Evalution Form way ahead of time. About a month ago the QR date was announced, he was able to share a finished draft of this document that we as an admin team could give feedback on. Later, the school school read and provided feedback on the SSEF as we used it to think of the kind of evidence we wanted to highlight. The document was a really clear picture of what makes our school special. Having the clear vision of what we are about drove our upcoming cabinet meetings, staff meetings, and department meetings. We all thought about what we need to observer to see in order to really witness the vision of our school. lessons would be best to highlight. The administrators then worked to take all of the different resources, student work, and lessons plans that people were proud of and gathered it in to binders or google drive folders. These would later come in handy when the evaluator wanted to see evidence of one thing or another. We also used all of the notes we had collected at those meetings to remind our staff on the day of the review in case they got nervous and forget what they wanted to say about the school.

Calming people down

As we prepared for this we had to spend a lot of time helping people stop freaking out. A great thing about our school is that people pull together when things like this happen, but people might get too worried. It is important to focus people’s efforts on what is important. When talking to teachers that’s letting them know it’s probably more important that they revise their lesson plan, and get a good night’s sleep than to get all brand-new bulletin boards up. When talking to kids it’s letting them know that someone new is in the school. If they are selected for the student panel reassure them that they aren’t in trouble, and in fact they have an important opportunity to explain parts of the school like clubs, or guidance work, that aren’t going to come up in other meetings.

This is happening today

During the SQR I spent most of my day running around the school, as the Principal has one on conversations with the reviewer for most of the visits. Most of my time was either spent calming people down, or dealing with the “OF COURSE THIS IS HAPPENING TODAY” things that you know are going to come up. We got to school early to have the initial Leadership meeting with the evaluator. I would sit on three of these meetings and I would look for opportunities to make my Principal look good. It felt like I was sitting in on three conversations between the evaluator and my principal.

The first leadership meeting was us saying: “This is what you’re going to see, and here’s some documentation about that” and the Observer saying “I’ve already learned so much from your SSEF. Can you tell me more about this one specific thing?” The observer was as nice and polite as you can be while still maintaining a poker face. (What I’ve learned about the observers I’ve met is that they are nice people, who want to help schools get better. They have a hard job and being impartial is a must, so they may come across cold even when they may actually think your school is great).

After the first round of classroom visits there was a second meeting. Classroom visits were only the principal and the observer, so their conversation was hard to follow without context. The observer highlighted the things they had seen and the things they hadn’t seen in the classes and in the meetings they were in. We could also ask about questions about this, occasionally referring to items in the binder that showed evidence of practices the observer might not have seen. things that she might not have noticed or might not have had. I remember at some point running to my office and printing out a whole set of team meeting minutes to explain the pedagogical alignment of a  lesson they watched for 10 minutes.

The last meeting is pretty summative, as they pretty much have the 5 ratings figured out, and have a lot of evidence to explain each one. It kind of feels like the end of a cooking show, as the observer explains why we got the rating that we did for each area. During this it was clear that we had a weakness in one area and the observer was able to point out clear examples why. Over all our schore was well developed(!) so we were over the moon about that and immediately sent emails and texts to the staff thanking them for their hard work. We do need to work on the category we did poorly on. Instruction…

First post of 2018: Itching to get started again

It’s been a long, rough, couple of months since my last post. I can briefly fill you in on all the stuff that has happened.

  • Our second baby is 4 months old!!!
  • My last class ended in wonderful fashion. I had a solid pass rate and I got lots of good feedback about the number talk routines that I began each class with (which I’ll write a blog post about soon).
  • I’ve wrapped up a PD that uses the problem solving and helps teachers learn using video (which I’ll write a blog post about soon).
  • I took a month to come up with some pretty good New Year’s Resolutions (one of which is to write more blog posts, soon).
  • I also started this Eczema Diet after  jump to two kids triggered the worst flare of my lifetime with the disease.
  • After a fall and winter full of audits and external pressure, our school finally has a clear path forward for some of the things I oversee.

This time was rough largely because of my own difficulties shifting to having a lot less free time, but all of the same problems at work. There was an idea that I just should sit down and focus, causing my blog to get a little dusty. This wasn’t really working. Now I just feel bad for all the things I’m not posting, and I feel all alone because I have no one to talk with about the things that happen on the job. In the next year I’m going to try to put more things on the blog, even though they may not all be of the highest quality and hopefully improve that part of my work life.

Ok, so now that we’re all caught up, let me talk about what is going to happen.

  • I’m going to give a black history event with my school’s librarian. It is tentatively called building intergenerational wealth and is going to involve the next version of this Desmos activity.
  • I’m going to teach a class about the lottery, which will talk about probability through the lens of the lottery and how it operates in our neighborhoods.
  • One of my New Year’s resolutions is to write more about the administrative part of my job, and figure out how to make it interesting and valuable, so that will be good.

I’ve got a lot to look forward to, and I’m going to get as much of it on this blog as possible. If you have any thoughts, questions, or feedback let me know in the comments below!

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