Carl's Teaching Blog

A place to talk about teaching and learning

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Get your 2017 blogging off on the right foot with #MTBoSblogsplosion

Happy 2017 #MTBoS!! With every new year comes the opportunity to commit yourself to positive habits. If you navigated the series of tubes to this post, then you probably are interested in writing about math teaching and learning, or supporting those who do. For people who plan to start 2017 blogging, or people who want to them on, I present a individualized, flexible initiative, to support writers and streamline process for readers who follow along. It’s the #MTBoSblogsplosion!

Why #MTBoSblogsplosion?

It’s been shown that the practice of writing reflective helps one think deeper and helps the brain make connections. The collective blog posts can form an accurate snapshot of teaching and education in a world where the realities of the classroom can be lost beneath messages from people outside of education. When initiatives like this take place, it affords the opportunity for writers and readers to have real conversations, helping to strengthen the bonds that make the #MTBoS such a wonderful place.

What is the #MTBoSblogsplosion?

Simply put, bloggers will decide the kind of blogging they can commit to, then they will blog, and all of it will be shared on social media with the hashtag #MTBoSblogsplosion so others can follow along.

You can think about it as a 3 step process. Step 1 is to make a commitment to a realistic amount of blogging. Maintaining work-life balance isn’t easy, and the #MTBoSblogsplosion isn’t trying to force that to be much harder. Choose the kind of blogging commitment that makes sense to you. Start with a regular Frequency such as:

  • Daily
  • Weekly
  • Monthly
  • Twice each fort-night
  • Three times a week unless my kid doesn’t go down for their nap on the weekend
  • Something else?

Then you may want to choose a duration, or how long you want this to go. Maybe the month of January would work for you? Maybe you want to take it through February vacation, go for it! Do you only want to dip your toes in the water and go for two weeks? That’s also great!

Finally, you may want to focus your writing. Here you want to think about whether you want to document what is going on in your class, maybe you want to write about the different tasks that you’ve been working on, maybe you want to discuss your new role as department chair. It may help people to write with prompts, if so you can do that. Here are prompts and some other ideas:

  • The 2016 Blogging Initiative blog prompts are here. Great for beginners!
  • Teachthought.com has a full month of prompts around teacher gratitude
  • Summaries of books and NCTM Journal articles
  • Taking a picture of student work each day
  • Isolating and describing a memorable teacher-student interaction
  • Describing classroom activities that you would like feedback on
  • Are there other prompts?

If it doesn’t help you to have a focus, then don’t pressure yourself, feel free to leave it open.

So now you’ve got a commitment. You’ve decided an amount, a duration, and a focus. Step 2 is to share your commitment. Twee this out as a nice sentence so readers can know what you’re trying to do, and cheer you on! For example:

  • “Starting today I’m going to blog twice a week until Feb 1 about ways I can support my students. #mtbosblogsplosion”
  • “This month, I’ll write posts every school day (even if they’re short) about teaching and learning. #mtbosblogsplosion”
  • “For my New years resolution, I’m writing twice monthly, about a book or article that I’ll read,#mtbosblogsplosion”

After that initial tweet comes Step 3, start blogging!  Each time you post, tweet out a link along with the hashtag #mtbosblogsplosion.

And now the final step… Step 4 is to read and support others. The best part of initiatives like this is the positive energy and support you can get to reach your goals. Help generate and spread this energy by reading and leaving comments for other #MTBoSblogsplosion posts. This is a step that people can do even if they skipped the first 3 steps.

 

Explaining my lack of “help”-fulness

This year our school is talking about student work in mixed groups. We have been placed into 7 groups of teachers and social workers, each of whom are related to one student. After each session, the teacher bringing the work gets ideas for their teaching, and the group gains insights into the student and how our work affects them. These conversations have only involved essays so far, but this past Friday I was the presenter.

Due to realities of our schedule I provided a student’s partially finished math project for our descriptive inquiry group to look through. It was a project where the student had to create a set of equations that then help her solve a larger problem. The student make a mistake early on in the assignment and continued finishing the work, not being able to see that answers stopped making any sense. The discussion about this did not just allow for us to talk about the student. It allowed the members of the group a chance to step into a math teachers shoes and decide to how to respond to student misconception.

Talking about this student’s work flared up and we ended up having to scrap the rest of the inquiry protocol. The issue that broke our group apart happened after I explained the project and everyone gave their initial impressions. Someone noticed that the student made the a mistake. “The student should have multiplied these answers by x,” the teacher stated, referring to the column with numbers far to small to make sense in the situation, “so the teacher should show them what correct answer should be.” I began to feel a little uncomfortable. My instincts say the first thing to do would be to understand why the student made the mistake. I would need to ask a series of questions before I gave any kind of instruction. Thesequestions would intend to help the student to understand why the need to correct it, not to correct the multiplication, thus preventing the student from making sense of the problem.

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It’s Time To Talk More About Mental Illness

Today is the last day in May, which means it would be the last of my #MTBoS30 posts, if I hadn’t missed like 17 days. My ‘drafts’ are full of posts of half written nuggets of ideas that didn’t make it into a full fledged post once life got in the way. There is one post that has been there longer than any of the others. It’s the one that is the closest to completion, and will probably be the longest and most personal thing I’ve written. It currently has the working title of “Bipolar post.” and it details my whole story with mental illness. This is not that post. My hesitation in posting about my mental illness is stems from my fear of the stigma our society has around mental illness.

May is also National Mental Health month. The National Alliance on Mental Illness has been running a campaign all month about the importance of getting rid of the stigma surrounding Mental Illness. The stigma around mental illness shows up at the dinner table, in the halls of government, and in numerous places in our society. People seeking treatment for mental illness must plan as much for the negative labels around their condition as they do for the medication they will take to treat it. It’s a big problem, especially among people who deal with youth. Here is Mayim Bialik, former keynote speaker at NCTM Annual 2013, talking about the campaign:

Stopping use of harmful words is one thing, and it’s important. What I want to advocate for, is to take it a step further. If you’re one of the 1 in 5 people who are affected by Mental Illness, I would say that it would be good to share your story with someone. The most recent time I did this was with a student who we had admitted to the hospital and was returning to school. I also try to make it a point to do this whenever I hear someone use the term ‘Bipolar’ as an adjective. Whenever I have shared my story, I’ve found that it resonates with more than just 1 in 5 people, and it also leads to a good conversation, and a better, broader picture of what Mental Illness is.

Now you may be asking yourself, “Why is Carl advocating for this when he can’t even put his ‘Bipolar post’ live on the site?” I’m asking myself that too. I feel like I have a lot to talk about in terms of mental illness based on my experience, but then if I do I know people will look at me with ‘that look’. So sometimes throttling back and not telling the whole story is a good first step. It’s a start. That’s why this post is about starting. It’s not about putting yourself all the way out there all at once. It’s about taking one little small step.

Talking about Common Core at a Wedding

Yesterday I was at a great wedding for a friend of mine (Congratulations Kevin and Jessica!). While I was there, a friend of mine asked about Common Core and I suddenly couldn’t stop talking about it. The standards situation is likely to come up at any point when I’m outside of my education circles (this time it came up about 15 minutes after toast). It doesn’t seem like an open bar and loud pop music are a good back drop to discuss the intersection between theory, practice, and bureacracy, but I think I did a good job.

My main points were the following, and be sure to let me know if I’m not making sense in the comments below:

  • Standards are the best description we have of how students should learn math in the grades K through 12. While debate about the implementation, or the assessment, or the marketing could be debated the content of standards are solid. Considering the years of trying to change math class it’s the best shot we have at making real serious progress right now and should be fully implemented (in writing this I realize I was basically channeling Matt Larson’s great ignite talk).
  • CCSS-M is written by great people who have brilliant ideas of what should be going on in classrooms.  My buddy asked “do you even know who writes the standards?” suggesting that the standards were thrown together by special interest groups and not teachers. The authors are super-smart and they are around teachers all the time at NCTM and other conferences, and they always say brilliant stuff (like Phil Daro here on Answer getting).
  • The Common Core is suffering from a marketing problem. I think anyone can write anything, regardless of how little sense it makes, and put “aligned with Common Core on there” and face little conflict.  Common Core is the kind of project that didn’t really have all of the lawyers needed to attack publishers and school districts for intellectual property or trademark violations, (at least I think this is true) so it is possible for someone to put out some garbage that anyone could windup on some parents dining room table who could end up making a #STOPCOMMONCORE Facebook post.

We talked through the throwing of the bouquet and when we stopped at the the cutting of the cake and I thought that was the end of it. What I said in my last post was true, as he was obviously mulling this over in his head. After the cake was being plated my friend came back over and said, “So we need to take less funding from military and for more funding for Common Core’s marketing department?” I kind of agreed, but then I said no. What needs to happen is we just need to trust schools, researchers and teachers what are doing the hard work of education and stop second-guessing them every time things get scary. The military budget would be great, but this change doesn’t cost any money at all. Give schools the time, space, and respect they needs to attempt big changes and big shifts, otherwise don’t be surprised when things remain traditional.

I started back into a rant mode, arguing “You won’t see people question doctors and their medical practices, but when it’s a teacher it’s a whole different story…”, but we were interrupted. The DJ put Taylor Swift on and the bride was making the groom dance to it with her (I might have danced a little too). I know there are much more things to say about common core, but this is what I could put together yesterday. Let me know in the comments if I missed anything.

Teachers tell the best stories

Teachers always have the best stories. I spent this weekend at a wedding and was reminded of this fact. Sure, there are some people who have an amazing story of how they ran into Khloe Kardashian at the juice store, or whatever, but that kind of story is a random anomaly. I’ve found that Teachers can consistently entertain a group of people by merely going through some of the minutiae of their daily life.

I first learned of this as a teenager when I was drawn towards a conversation my aunt Josie Mae was having with my other Aunt’s. Josie May, who worked at a middle school school in Chicago, was going in detail about her students, her co-workers and teachers through a series of vignettes. I hung on her word as they were window into a world beyond the bubble of suburban school which was all I had known for the past 12 years.

My other relatives were pulled away and I was left staying next to Josie Mae who asked me what I was doing. I said I was actually in college and planning on going into education, and was interested in hearing more of her stories. What she said next really boggled my mind. She said, in the most serious of tones, “Oh, those weren’t stories. that was just what I did last Friday.” WHAT!?! As a teenager who thought I would have to memorize and rehearse interesting things to say at parties to impress people, this made quite an impact. At this point I knew I wanted to teach, but knowing that I would never be at a loss for an interesting tale at a family gathering seemed like an added bonus.

This Friday I show up at a good friend’s wedding where I ran into a nine or ten old buddies. We haven’t all been in the same place since we were probably in one of our parents garages over a decade. I didn’t have to worry about making up a story of how interesting my life has been in the past 14 years, and I was able to get through the awkwardness associated with this high school micro-reunion. We actually got into a pretty spirited conversation about common core that I’ll spin into another post.

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