Saturday, October 1, 2016

STEM - Measurement Olympics

Juda has been part of the I^2 STEM summer institute at UW-Platteville the past 2 years; its goal is to have more STEM in schools which couples extremely well for my desire for large hands-on projects.  So I wanted to post about the Measurement Olympics I ran in my Intro to Engineering Class this semester and encourage other teachers to use it (motivation came from the institute and our school's Olympic theme this year).

Instead of homework I am trying to issue challenges this year.  I am pushing students to be persistent and solve difficult problems - really trying to focus on Habits of Mind.

I created a short youtube video about the events (so that my judges could know see first hand what the students were doing  - also here is a link to the materials)

It went great.  The students were divided into teams and estimate, calculated and worked hard on solving these problems - it ended with them presenting their results to panel of judges.  It went well and taught a lot of the real world skills we want in students.  Plus first prize was cool (see facebook post).....

Friday, July 29, 2016

Grow Rural Education Winner!!

Happy to announce that our STEM initiative at Juda receive a $10,000 grant to expand our robotic equipment used within our STEM program for all 6-12 grade students.  Monsanto Grow Rural Education funded the school project (2 years now - 2015 and 2016).

The STEM program is done during homeroom time through-out the year as ungraded part of our curriculum to help develop and practice 21st Century skills like persistence, flexible thinking, problem solving and team work.  It is key part of our visions to create life long learners.

Habits of Mind are quickly becoming the skills that separate people in the work place.  I am excited because this grant helps Juda continue on its vision of changing the school culture from one problem-one solution mindset to a growth mindset - one where students attack problems with multiple solutions and refine thru multiple revisions.  Like the world the students are entering.

Watch for updates!

Friday, July 15, 2016

Raising funds & Getting a cool math shirt......

Trying to find funds is always a challenge.  To help support our math team I already ask local businesses to sponsor the team and put their logos on the back of our shirt each year (levels of sponsorship include Nerd level & Uber-Nerd level).  But as the team has expanded to 50% of the HS and MS - it keeps requiring more funds.

And I refuse to let the math team be exclusive - it is inclusive.
I also refuse to sell pizzas or candles, etc.  Cause it does not have a good return for the time required.

Now I am trying teespring.  Here is our first shirt:

A Day Without

Is Like A Day
 Math Sunshine Red T-Shirt Front

Link to order

I will have to update in a few weeks if it worked (or did I at least get enough orders to get the one I order printed).

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Good versus Great - Making tough decisions.....

Had my great friend (thanks Mary!) send me an article on how good teachers become great.  I am always looking for the great activities, the best, and those are done at the expense of good things.  Knowing what not to do, I believe, is as important as knowing what to do -- because there simply are not enough minutes.

I found the post great because it started talked about perfect lesson plans, bulletin boards and binders.  The title said great teaching - and that is my goal - and I don't do any of that.  Ugh!  It was talking about all the things I skip to put time on authentic tasks that make students ready for what lays beyond my walls.  But then just about when I was ready to scream - it pivoted about how students need opportunities - authentic tasks.  And how much of the good teacher tasks must be skipped to be great (whew...) ---  saying: "In fact, becoming a great teacher requires that much of the good teacher code be broken." 

Think of all the things that can suck time -- Having perfect lessons, or the best hall passes or having all the right forms and binders prepared....    Heck those are things I often make the office ask for twice (cause a lot of stuff they ask for they just file, and most of the time - they ask once and not again).  Doing TPS things just takes more time than it is worth.  Uhhh...yeeahh...

Making things happen takes time but I think great teaching is letting students go (it was the number 1 thing in the article) - and that does not take as much time.  But I think that is hard for us as teachers.  Control can seem like a precious commodity, but in the end it is in the student's best interest to put them in control.  And success is nice but a lot more can be learned in failure and revision (for us teachers too).  

And the results are undeniable once you put students in control.  For years I have assigned projects using ideas and software that I have not done.  I think I could - but I am after end results, students can figure out details to create things (assigning a 3D house in Google Sketch Up is the largest project - I can barely draw a prism in Sketch Up). 

I plan to focus my upcoming reflections on how important minutes are in my classroom.  Not just for me and my time, but more importantly, my students time.


Monday, May 9, 2016

WMC Conference 2016 Reflections

Attended the Wisconsin Math Council (WMC) conference in Green Lake Wisconsin again this year, and another great conference.  A Gathering of a slew of dedicated math instructors from Kindergarden to College.  Peers presenting, keynotes presenting - just a lot of math discussions and thoughts.

For me personally it is a tremendous reflection time and I picked up some great ideas to use and share on ratios from Gail Burrill from Michigan State and division of fractions writing in a context from Natalia Bailey from Edgewood college/UW.   There was an intriguing session on standards base grading by Jeff Harding (even if he is from Illinois).  And UW-River Falls showed tidbits and I found some activities that will help my students with reasoning and justification.  All things that will make me a better teacher, all things that I would not have located on my own (most likely).  Things that make the conference very worth while - yet that is not the biggest return on my time at the conference (or my school district’s money).

There are 2 things I always find are huge at the conference for me professionally - 1) is presenting on my classroom (that is always scary - presenting in front of peers);  and 2) the reflections, peer discussions and time to think deeply about my practices.

I presented on recursive review and improvement that has resulted in our school’s ACT data - and that is always good for me.  It makes me think about the blend of necessary skills that my students need to be successful in math - while really reflecting on how to make sure my room is being driven from conceptual understanding with many opportunities for practice in problem solving and persistence (problem solving with many answers requiring justification).

The single most important thing that makes me go again and again is how the time, enviroment and presenters make me really think about my practices and how I approach the classroom.  What my goal for my teaching is, what my students will do - what I really need to lead them through so they are successful beyond my high school’s walls.  

And my number one take away is…..   


Picking one can always be something that gets a lot of “attention,” but this would be my number one - I am sure everyone’s is not the same. So a bit of a disclaimer: knowing how we teach is super important - that we are leading students to understanding, not memorization but from memory, that we would not worry about just the test but most importantly how they problem solve and analyze for their times beyond education institutions (and yet make sure they have the skills not to be unsuccessful in post-HS mathematics - meaning that the ACT and placement tests matter).  So with all that said, for me, the number one take away this year is:

Minutes matter.

I will modifiy many lessons because of this conference, and add things here and there.  But for me the number one thing is treating my 44 minutes period like the precious commodity it is.  That from bell to bell we are doing math - solving problems, mixing in review.  That the students are pushed and are working a combination of problems that review and stretch.  

It is so important that I am commiting to myself and 12 of you that read this blog that I am going to submit a presentation about it next year for the WMC (including some of more non typical things - like no HW grading or HW questions is class)   (Side-note: my wife does not believe there is 12 of you)

So there it all is - a great conference - already cannot wait for next year.  And I will do my best to make every minute count......

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Not in the curriculum, a phrase to be uttered rarely....

What is my mission?  What do I want students to be able to do and understand mathematically once they leave HS?  Those are questions I ask each week before I sit down to plan - the global question before what I want them to be able to do with a specific skill. 

I know that I want all my students to be ready for college and career -- but what does that really look like?  Once you get beyond that truly basic premise of "math ready"  what do we want?  I want innovative, problem solving students who don't accept the world around them without through questioning it!  Students who engage, attempt, FAIL, revise and retry.   I want projects that require that - and when they appear I have to remind myself to grab them - otherwise I get worried about what they may miss.

When is the last time an average adult had to factor a second order polynomial, or use the quadratic formula?  I know some jobs do....  But I was an engineer for 12 years prior to teaching and only a few times did I need specific higher level math, but what I did do was problem solving, data analysis, experimentation and logic thinking.  It was trying and FAILING, revising and retrying.  The skills that higher level math requires (when we keep the cost of errors low and let students do the work) - so math prepares us for those challenges!

Yet as a teacher it is easy to get caught in teaching all the things - all the details.  My tact has changed dramatically over the past decade - number one college bound students must place into college mathematics period (no remedial), and then second students must practice the soft skills of the math practices.  Teaching the focus of a parabola is not important, likewise matrix operations - the important part is the soft skills it takes to understand.  Now full-disclosure I only teach focus for a single day in Pre-Calculus and matrix operations in Pre-Calculus only - why?  Because unless you are on a STEM path those things, while good, are not as good as doing other soft projects.

Schools have the tendency not to make leaders, or challengers of the status quo but the opposite.  That is why a big part of my year is built around projects where I require the students to work with limited information, to learn skills that I do not show - I was reading Poke the Box by Seth Godin and he talked about how schools actually drive-out kids drive to initiate. 

And I agree our schools are still based on a sorting system - rule followers are rewarded, and - well - in most rooms vice versa.  The world is not orderly and does take turns - those that push hardest while maintaining ethics get there first and get the spoils.  We need to encourage free thinkers, get all students to be disobedient enough to be innovative - scary -  but we need students to question us (my favor joke now is don't trust me, verify me). 

Students must engage, try, fail and revise - but as any teacher will tell you, often students don't try unless they know the way to the solution.  That is not preparing them.  That is because they have to be taught on how to engage and revise; they need to hear that the wrong answer is not the end, just a step.  Rarely do my students get the math in the assigned projects correct, but if they support their position and do well they all get 100%!  If they don't support their position - they revise - then they get a 100%!   We work together, I model, they revise - not engaging is not an option.

As leaders we must embrace our roll to change what teaching looks like - and the first step is not to utter - it is not in the curriculum.  If it teaches soft skills - it is more important than half the math we teach - so grab it.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Juda STEM Day - 2015-16 Robot Mazes

Wanted to share our STEM video, really proud of what we are doing at Juda!

Moving away from graded projects can be scary, but it worth it!

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Mission - Gotta Believe It Is - Possible (and it is)....

Heard an interesting stat at the WTI conference last month - children of families that make more than $108,000 per year, graduate college  by 24 years old (6 years post HS) at a rate of approximately 75%.  When the income range changes to between $34,000 to $108,000, the graduation rate drops to about 25% - and just because that was not terrifying enough - when income is less than $34,000 the percent that graduate college by 24 years old is less than 10%.

There is the challenge.  And that feels daunting when you look at those percentages -- those college graduation rates are what our current system produces.  And that stat is why we simply cannot teach like we always have - our results have not been great.  Doing the same thing and expecting different results...... well we know what that is, insanity.  How we introduce students topics, how we expect them to process and understand must be changed.  We must recognize that the current system is not helping all students, and it was not designed to do so.  The system was designed to sort.

We must not sort, time that is needed and grades must be done differently.  Giving a student an F or B does not make him/her ready for their post HS life.  Grades cannot be the final measure of a student in a class room.  Their success after our walls should be, and that is why differentiation is key.

So when a school is over half free and reduced lunch your challenge is there.  I strive to make sure that my students can successfully complete their first semester of secondary math beyond HS - whether that is a technical college, a 4 year-college Algebra course or a Calculus depending on the courses the student have taken with me at my school.  And that is not easy; I continually push myself and my students to make sure they are all ready, even my D students.  For all of them are moving to careers (some thru college, some not) - and I accept that it is my job to make sure they can do math for their next step.

If students are not pushed, are not given upper level work there will be no belief they can handle secondary education.  And I think belief is what is really missing below $108,000 income level.  We must stop sorting and start setting up students for post-HS success.