The Goza Way

Hashtag Just Sayin'

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2014-15 Drafts 1: Started from the Bottom…

When I talk to new teachers I’m always curious how they feel about the workload associated with this profession.  It occurs to me that even in the most laid back environment teaching can be nearly impossible work, and I wonder how new teachers cope with that fact.

In my experience the fact that there are currently about 150 young people counting on you to provide them with good instruction can be very stressful.  The reality that many of them need much more than just scholastic assistance from us can be even more daunting.  The idea that it’s now or never with this group of 150 kids is probably motivation enough for some people to spend 18 hours a day thinking about and working on ways to improve their program so that those 150 kids get the absolute best throughout the year.  But 18 hours working means 24 – 18 hours of not working, and that’s borderline crazy if you ask me.  So the best advice I can give a young teacher is to be patient.  To realize that there are another 150 kids coming next year, and as much as this year is about the 150 you have now, it’s also about preparing yourself for the 3000 more you’ll see over the next 20 years.  I tell teachers not to be afraid to take their time to be great.  I tell them to try one or two big-picture strategies they want to use this year, see what works and try one or two more the next year.  I remind them that 6 hours after work this year is the same as 2 hours after work for the next 3 years, the only difference is that you wont be so burnt out after this year that you’ll be considering a new career path.

So my general advice to new teachers, especially the youngest ones, is to take their time trying to get to the top of the metaphorical mountain they see as great classroom teaching.  If your ultimate goal is the top of the mountain, enjoy the journey because if you hike all day and all night you’ll get tired of hiking before you even make it anywhere.

Which brings me to another thought.  I always envisioned the mountain I was climbing and saw the top as the ultimate goal for myself as a teacher.  And as a new teacher I could see the peak and it didn’t really look that far away.  But in my infinite wisdom (desire to enjoy other aspects of my youth and general laziness) I never rushed to get to the top.  Every day I would climb a little more and slowly but surely I found myself climbing extra during hours that I used to spend doing other things.  I found myself enjoying the climb as if I was finally getting in shape and found it to be a bit of a hobby that I wanted to do more of on the side.  After about seven or eight years of climbing I made it to the top of the mountain.  I looked out over my classroom and realized that I had become the teacher that I wanted to be.  I was at the peak that I had been slowly climbing towards for all those years.

And then something happened that was simultaneously terrible and fantastic.  I turned around and realized that the peak I had been climbing had been hiding another even larger mountain behind it.  During my climb I had learned a thing or two about climbing, but also a thing or two about mountains and now I knew that there was so much more to this teaching thing.  My goals had become loftier and more far reaching.  So I put my pack back on and starting climbing again.  It was actually great news.  I wasn’t ready to stop climbing anyway.

I’ve made it to the top of a few more peaks since and now I can see pretty far in all directions.  What I see is peaks everywhere.  Some higher and some lower and only a few that I have ever explored.  It’s beautiful.  It’s daunting.  It’s exciting.

This job is crazy.  You can work and think ’til you can’t anymore and there will always be another challenge waiting for you.  I love it.  But it’s nuts.  I hope to take a little time off this summer.  Maybe go climb some real mountains.  I also hope to work on this blog, #MTBoS around a little more, and write a lot of curriculum.  Oh yeah and TMC 2015.  That stands for Team Mountain Climbers right?  Count me in.

Me last summer living the dream (living the metaphor) in Switzerland.

Releasing the Drafts from 2014-15: Intro

Today I came to my blog for the first time in a while with conflicting thoughts.  I still don’t really know what to do with this thing.  Carl told me to just write.  He says its a good exercise, a good place to save my thoughts, and a good place to reflect on teaching.  I agree with him, but I can’t help but think that if going to publicly share my thoughts and experiences then they need to be worth sharing.  Furthermore, I owe it to anyone who might accidently stumble to my blog to write posts that are well thought out and well written, and I’m not super confident in my ability to do create such posts.  There are lots of good writers with great voices sharing ideas and experiences in the MTBoS and I’m not sure I really stack up well enough to justify this blog at all.

So I came to my blog to see what I had so far and contemplate what I should do going forward.  What I found was 12 drafts dating back to September of 2014 many of which were nearly completed.  Some of them I really liked.  I realized that I kinda had been blogging this last school year, I just had rarely published anything.  So before I give up on the blog, or try to rethink how I want to approach blogging going forward, I want to publish some of the ideas I was working on all year.

I’m reminded of a Nas song called Book of Rhymes where Nas basically flips through his notepad and starts rapping random verses that he had started but never finished.  It makes for a pretty cool song.  You should look it up if you like that kind of thing.  And it inspires me to publish some of my ideas even if they are unfinished or imperfect.  So this summer I’m making it my goal to do something with all those drafts.  Maybe through the process I can get a better idea of what I want to get out of this blog.  Here goes nothing…

My Return to Blogging. Wait, Why Did I Leave?

Okay so it turns out this was harder than I thought it would be.  I wanted to start “blogging” and I figured it would be easy enough.  I could think of countless times I had some interesting narrative in my mind regarding math or teaching or math teaching.  I had always wanted to start putting those narratives somewhere.  The blog made sense.  Plus all the cool kids were doing it.  So it was settled.  I sat down with a group of teachers who I liked a lot, Carl offered to set up Coast2Coast and it was on.  And then I had to start…

Yeah.  Well…  In 2014 I had like 5 posts.  I mean maybe 7, I don’t know, but it wasn’t impressive.  I’m not thrilled with it.  As the New Year begins, I’m re-motivated to write, but I’ve spent some time recently trying to figure out what made it so tough last year.  Here’s what I can come up with:

1)  I’m lazy.  Well I’m a lot less lazy than I used to be, which I feel great about, but I can still burn an hour doing not much at all and wonder where it went.  I assume/hope most people have that talent.

2)  It takes time.  Like right now, I’m looking up at the clock in the corner of my screen thinking about how I need to make some dinner soon and how I might not have time to finish this blog about not having time to finish blogs.

3)  No one is reading my posts.  Well Carl has probably read a few, or maybe all of them.  Carl is pretty good at that.  Thanks Carl!

4)  I don’t know what to write about.  See I think this is the big one.  The narratives I think of are often publishable, but many of them aren’t.  Maybe they are too specific, too student oriented, too math oriented, or too difficult to describe without pages and pages of back-story.  I find myself thinking, “Well I could blog about this but no one knows about that.”  Which is silly because no one is reading anyway, but still.  Which brings me to…

5)  I don’t know who/what I’m writing for.  I don’t know my audience.  Well I do, it’s Carl.  But I mean I don’t know who I even want as my audience.  Am I writing this for me?  Is that what these posts are about until people start reading?  Are they for personal growth only until I become a “cool kid” someday and actually have more than 5 twitter followers?  Or should I write them as if I am cool and people actually are reading and might comment and might care?  See, I don’t know.

I do know this:  I’m getting hungry.

I also know that I like doing this.  Writing.  Writing about what I’m thinking.  I even like writing about thinking about what I’m writing about.  (That actually makes sense right?  Write?)  So I’m going to keep at it.  Hopefully a lot more often this year.  And hopefully as the posts keep coming I’ll start to figure it out and actually start making this blogging thing useful…  Wish me luck!

CMC South Session 470 Making Task Based Learning Work for You

Thank you for coming to our session. Here are the materials used in the presentation.

N. Goza & L. Tran -Presentation Handouts

Presentation Powerpoint for Liem and Nate

N. Goza & L. Tran – Complete Unit 1 – Functions

Themes and Schemes 3: Thoughts About Thinking

The other day my wife told me I think too much. But not like the “you’re thinking about it too much” type of way. This was a more direct statement. Like, she was saying that I literally spend too much time thinking. And she was right. I do think too much. I’ll just sit somewhere, frozen, and think and forget that I’m supposed to be doing something else. Or a whole drive home can go by in the blink of an eye because I was deep in thought about who-knows-what (was I even watching the road?). Sometimes I can’t fall asleep because my thoughts are making me talk too loud to myself. Borderline crazy??

No, I don’t think I’m crazy. I think I just LIKE to think! And the reason why I like to think is that it usually leads me to something new, something I haven’t thought of before but I know is right, or good, or makes sense. Like I was just sitting there thinking and then I thought something that would be an awesome tweet or quote from a movie or something I should totally say in class someday or whatever. Like, whoa, good job man, what a great thought to think! That’s how I am. And I wonder what thinking is like for other people cause for me its funny and enlightening and refreshing and organizing and sometimes a little scary, but always something. Like I’m traveling down my thinking road and sometimes I just get exactly where I wanted to go and other times I’m somewhere else that’s awesome! It’s so fun!

And I assume that’s not very unique because I don’t consider myself to be some intellectual outlier, but I know thinking is different for my students. I know this because they don’t seem to like it as much.

So what is thinking like for them? Maybe they don’t like thinking as much as I do because they haven’t gotten very good at it yet. Maybe they aren’t very confident that their thought roads will go anywhere so they don’t really try to explore them for fear that they just dead end somewhere pointless. How can I make them better at thinking? How can I give them confidence that they can be productive thinkers? How can I convince them that thinking is a vehicle for learning and they have the ability to take the wheel? This will be a main goal for me going forward and I hope I can come up with a few successes to share here. Looks like I’ll have to put a lot of thought into it. Should be fun!

Themes and Schemes 2: The Responsibility of Being Responsible

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that responsibilities have become the number one time-taker-upper in my life. I’m not sure I choose to go to work everyday, but it’s my responsibility to myself, my family, and my bank account. I might not have to stay after school to tutor or coach basketball, but it’s become a responsibility to my students, principal and athletic director. I surely don’t want to go to the grocery store, help make dinner, clean up, return every email, iron, pack a lunch, get some sleep, and so on, but I have to, because I have responsibilities to my wife, my wallet, and my health. I even have to floss every night or my dentist thinks I’m irresponsible.

But I’m starting to get the hang of this responsibility stuff. I get it, and I’m smart enough spend my time doing things that make me feel both responsible and give me satisfaction and enjoyment. This blog, for example, feels professionally responsible and fulfills my responsibility as a colleague and friend to the other folks at Coast 2 Coast (and to anyone in the MTBoS who cares). And my job, well that’s one of my favorite responsibilities. When I sit down to write new problems for my students it’s a double-doozy because I’m doing something I find fun and interesting and being super professionally responsible at the same time.

When I was a kid I would have never thought that responsibility would take over my life. I never thought I’d find myself in the position I’m in right now: I have the choice of going outside to clean dust and spiders off of our filthy bikes or playing Super Mario Galaxy 2 (don’t knock it til you try it) for the next hour and I’m actually contemplating the bikes! Not even because I really want to ride them, but just because I could cross it off my “To Do” list once it’s done! And here in lies the problem with motivating my students: when it comes time for homework, they are totally playing Mario! Or… Well… They are totally playing “Kill Everything and Talk Shit Online”… or whatever that game is called.

And so I want “Responsibility” to be a theme this year. I want to put that word out there. I want to make it clear to them that eventually, and in fact quite soon, responsibility will take over their lives too. The less responsible they are > the longer their “To Do” lists become > the more things start falling off the back end of it > the worse things get for them. And they can’t stop it, they can only hope to contain it the way I have by putting myself in a position where my responsibilities and my interests are fairly well aligned. The only way to do that, I’d like to convince them, is to start now – to start feeling a certain sense of responsibility toward the important things in their lives. In some cases the things that are important to them and in other cases the things that are important to other people who care about them.

And I care about them so I will suggest this simple responsibility: Since you are already going to be sitting in my classroom for 2 hours today, and since you really can’t get away with doing anything you want to do during this time, how about doing the responsible thing and attempting to get something out of your time here. Maybe get a little better at Math. Maybe get a little better at thinking. Maybe get a little better at talking to people. Maybe make a friend who can help you with homework. Maybe try to get a good grade to push up that GPA. Maybe just try to get a passing grade so this isn’t a total waste of you life. Because spending time that you have and getting absolutely nothing out of it is irresponsible for anyone at any age.

Themes and Schemes Entry 1: 2014 Classroom Themes

As I prepare for the year ahead I’m planning a few themes that I want for my teaching with this next group of wonderful new kids I’m about to have. Here’s the Big 3 so far:

1) The “Growth Mindset” Theme
2) The “Good Boss Opportunity” Theme
3) The “This Classroom is a Sanctuary” Theme

The first one is pretty straightforward if you are familiar with the work of Carol Dweck (and friends). My colleagues and I at Coast 2 Coast are picking “Mindset” apart this summer so I imagine there will be multiple posts to come on Theme 1 and its implementation.

Theme 2 is another motivational piece. Unlike the Mindset stuff, I came up with this on my own and some people might not agree with this one. Its been a long standing belief of mine that its important for me to have swagger in my classroom. Long before “swag” became the “Super-Slang 2011 Word of the Year” I defined swagger as justified confidence and did some writing about how teachers should try to convey it in their classrooms. To me, this confidence was one of the main differences between First Year Mr. Goza and Sixth Year Mr. Goza (now starting my 10th year can I say my swag is on 10? #duh). Over the years I have gotten the impression that my students are kinda suckers for confidence, probably because their teenage insecurities make it hard for them to really have very much of it. So I started making a point to tell my students, with as much bravado as possible, that I was a great math teacher, that I really knew math, and that really knew how to explain math to young people. As the years past and I started accomplishing bigger things (like National Board Certification) I’d brag to my students about it. If you walked into my classroom one day I might be embarrassed to be so braggadocious (it’s not really my personality), but in front of my class it’s an important part of my teacher persona. At the beginning I really want to make the impression that I’m serious about this, and I’m good at what I’m doing and the students need to bring their A-game to “get on my level.” It’s basically a brainwashing in a way. I puff out my chest, demand respect, and next thing you know my kids think I’m the best math teacher they’ve ever had by Week 3. It makes the rest of the year a lot easier, and once that first impression is made I can slowly reveal the real me – a goof-ball who loves teaching math and having a good time with young people for a living.

In line with all that Swag is the “Good Boss Theme.” I want to tell my students that in life, some opportunities are more important that others, and some are just flat out better. Everyone I know can tell me about a terrible boss they had that didn’t help their career in any way. Sometimes that terrible boss was the reason they got laid off or left their job. This will inevitably happen to most people, but sometimes, we get lucky and work under someone who cares to help us grow in your profession, who treats us with fairness and respect, who works with us and not against us, and will help us transition to a better job or a more favorable career pathway. When you have that boss, you have to treat them better, work harder, and be the best version of yourself because if you do, you can grow immensely and make significant strides in your career. I want to tell my students that I am the math teacher version of that “Good Boss.” I can help make up for some of the lesser learning experiences they may have had in the past and build them up so that future math classes are easier for them. I want to be an ally for them on campus when they get in trouble or another teacher is at odds with them. I want to be the one who writes them a letter of recommendation for Student Government or AP Calculus or UCLA. And so my class isn’t just another class its an opportunity. An opportunity that not every class provides (I probably wont explicitly say that!). And now they need to seize that opportunity and put their best foot forward this year because this is their chance to really grow. I think that will fire them up. Combine it with some Goza Swag and a lot of Growth Mindset building and we’ll be off to the moon!

Lastly, Theme 3 is about the classroom. On the first day in my room the floors are all waxed, the desks are in order, and everything is clean. By the end of the year the place is a run-down mess. It’s not because my kids treat it poorly, its because no one really cleans it very often and we don’t make special effort to keep it looking good. This year I want to change that. I want my students to take pride in the fact that they are helping me have one of the better looking rooms on campus. They can even help decorate. If that means we have to have someone sweep every day, so be it. My goal is to end the year with a clean and organized classroom that looks better that it did when we started. I think focusing on this will go long way to help kids feel like my room is a safe place where we take ourselves seriously and are responsible for all aspects of the teaching and learning process. Obviously I don’t want to spend a lot of time on it, but I want to make it a priority from day one. In fact, I’m considering making it the first thing I talk to my classes about when they come in on the first day.

Small Moment & Big Issues

This is what happened on Thursday:

My AP Calculus Test had a simple question where students were asked to find the derivative of an inverse function for a given value. In fact, out of all the kids who came after school to review the test with me only one, my top student, actually had an explanation of how they got the answer. This didn’t surprise me despite the fact that it was one of the least difficult problems on the test. You can memorize the formula for the derivative of an inverse and plug in a value. Compared to other questions on the test, it’s crazy easy. So why did they miss it?

Probably because I never taught it. It’s out of the norm for me to put questions on the test unless we have investigated the topic/concept in class. But my decision not to teach the derivative of an inverse function was based on the fact that the application of that skill never comes up in the rest of the college board’s curriculum. As a result, I personally see it as a skill that is detached from the rest of the course. I see the derivative of inverses as a bubble in the concept map that only has one connection to the rest of the course. Those kind of bubbles get popped in my class.

So what I did was this: I told the kids to look in their book on page 165 and read about the derivative of an inverse. I explained to them why we weren’t going to spend class time on it and asked them to try a few sample problems from page 165 then memorize the formula. I don’t regret that choice. But do regret one thing. I admitted to the kids that I didn’t have the formula memorized. My justification was that it rarely comes up so I had no motivation to know it, and if I ever needed it I could look it up. BUT if I had a test to take, I’d memorize it so… PAGE 165. Looking back I wonder – Did my not knowing it and not needing it, imply that it wasn’t important for them to know it even though it would be on the test?? Maybe so. If so, I should probably memorize it and tell my students to memorize it next year.

OR, I could not memorize it, not teach it, not even mention it and peacefully protest the College Board for teaching a skill that never comes up in any other context or problem throughout the rest of the course. The 1.2 points my students might lose from not answering the one multiple choice question on the test is unlikely to change their score and less time looking at page 165 would give them more time to explore the more important concepts in the course. I’ll think about it…

Anyway, on to another issue. I have to talk about the one student who knew the formula, the one students who had actually read page 165. She is the top student in the class, by far. And when she told us that she actually knew how to find the answer someone said something like, “OMG! You’re so smart!” And the whole class agreed.

Ugggghhhh, really?? For reading?! For memorizing a simple formula?! This is so common at my school and it drives me crazy. My students think that the top students are blowing them out of the water because they are just smarter. It’s fixed mindset in total control! I stopped the class and yelled at them (in the kindest way possible of course).

Why didn’t you read page 165? Are you not able to read? I know you can memorize formulas. You know the derivative of radical x. Did Caroline (#fakename) read page 165 because she’s better than you at math? More intelligent than you? Does she know the formula because she’s better, or is it because SHE read the page I told YOU to read!?!(#page165) Don’t you see that you could have controlled this? Don’t you see that we will never know how good you are at Calculus if you refuse to do the little things that you can control that make you better? I’m just saying. Hashtag just sayin’.

I have to think about how I can convince my students that working hard and studying is crucial to their success, that it can make the “smarter.” This is obviously one of the great struggles in education, and here it was highlighted again in the top math class in my school. By the time they reach Calculus many students have developed obvious ability in math, but those same students are always the ones who turn in every assignment, study for tests, and read page 165. It’s important to consider that before we decide what really made them smart.

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