Getting Back to Business

So, our school works on a trimester system with Thanksgiving Break (a full week) marking the end of the fall term. We also have fall term finals, so my last full day of classes was November 12. I set myself some lofty goals for the break and met about 80% of those goals. My number one goal, by far, was to do what I could to plan out our next fourteen days for all three of my preps. We have fourteen days of class until the long winter break begins.

I found out late in the summer that I was teaching a new course (around August 10) and I also have two brand new colleagues in my  department. I have not been able to spend as much time mentoring them as I had planned to. The combination of this disappointment, along with perpetually being only a few days ahead of my Discrete class made the fall term a pretty stressful one. I have three preps, five sections, and my chair responsibilities. Luckily, I have a pretty light student load this year.

So, I have my calendar mapped out for Geometry and AP Calculus BC and I have about ten of the fourteen days of Discrete taken care of. Overall I am pretty pleased. Add in the naps and the time with my wife and kiddos and it has been a good break with just enough productivity thrown in.

I am starting off my Geometry kiddos with a three day workshop on Reasoning and Proof. I found this somewhere on the inter webs recently but I cannot recall where. You can find the link here and if you recognize it, please let me know. I am pretty excited about this. I think that it will be a lively way to restart my classes and I am optimistic that the students may make some inroads into understanding the logical structure of proofs. We had a great activity with making peanut butter and jelly instructions for each other earlier in the year. I think that this serves as a nice follow up and I am happy that there is such time between them. My optimistic hope is that the students will make that connection on their own without me pointing it out. This unit has a similar idea with sentence strips outlining the process of making spaghetti. I do know that when I do the PBJ activity again in the future I will scaffold it a little more carefully in advance so that more of the students will have a solid idea how to approach that. If you want to read about our PBJ adventures you can look at this post or this one.

I am also already committed to a project for my winter break. Right before Thanksgiving I engaged in a lengthy and lively twitter discussion with Henry Picciotto (@hpicciotto), Elizabeth (@cheesemonkeysf), Peg Cagle (@pegcagle), Julie Reulbach (@jreulbach), Mattie B (@stoodle), and Chris Baldus (@Chrisbaldus04) We were discussing HW strategies. When to preview ideas, when to lag and let ideas catch up, how to possibly blend those strategies. It was an amazing conversation with people from all around and at least two of whom I am certain that I have never met. One of those great examples of why engaging with twitter has improved my practice. So, I am too weary to rewrite my HW sets that I wrote last year when we rolled out the Geometry text I wrote. But, I realize that the time before January will allow me to write a few more sets that I can use as buffers near the beginning of the year while I let ideas settle in and percolate for my students. The assignments that they would have been working on the night they were introduced to an idea will now come three or four days later. In the interim we will concentrate on in class discussion and practice and I will write some homework sets that concentrate more on helping to cement definitions and some new mechanical skills along the way – along with reminding them of highlights from 2015. I am excited to do this and I would not have had the motivation to do so without the urging of those virtual colleagues who took the time and care to share with me their ideas and experiences. I am a little anxious because change = bad for too many of my students, but I am convinced that the time off will allow me to think deeply about how to be as intentional and clear as possible with my students. The other fear I had and came to grips with is this – I am one of four Geometry teachers at our school. I am also the chair of the department and the author of the text. My ego keeps creeping in and wanting everyone to follow my lead because of both of my roles here. I came to peace (thanks Julie and Elizabeth!) with the idea that I do not have to have everyone on the same page AND with the idea that I can be a better leader in this process next year if I go through it myself this year. I will still share out my old (and new!) pacing guides and homework assignments. I will simply make it as clear as possible that not everyone needs to agree with this HW strategy and with the timing of assessments that this will entail. If the students are not doing homework concentrating on, say, section 6.4 until three days after we introduce that section in class, they cannot be held responsible for that material on an assessment until they have had time to practice. Consequently, assessments will lag behind where we are in class as well. I need to rethink my ideas about what review days mean and look like, but this kind of rethinking is one of the things that makes this job such a joy.

 

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