Building Relationships Digitally

Positive Praise Note from Administrator

Weeks after I started at a new school, one of my administrators gave me this note. Immediately I felt appreciated and our relationship grew. She always talked about the importance of building strong relationships with students and modeled it with actions like this. Telling someone you recognize they are working hard and doing a good job is a great way to build a relationship. I give students feedback like in my classroom all the time - I pass out high-fives and positive praise like confetti. When we transitioned to online learning last spring, I felt lost with how to maintain these relationships. 

About the same time we switched to distance learning and stay-at-home orders were in effect, I started working out with Peleton. I couldn't help but notice the subtle ways that the instructors gave positive praise and how it motivated me. Sometimes when we were in the middle of a minute long plank, the instructor would say, "I know this is hard, but you can do hard things." Or during a long uphill climb on the spinning bike, the instructor would say, "I'm proud of you for tackling this workout, you are getting stronger every day." Inspired by this, I started to sneak some motivation into my video instruction. I would tell the students I was proud of them for working hard - in my head I imagine the kids who were actually working hard feeling good about being recognized and the ones that weren't starting to work a little harder (kinda like if I am taking a break when the fitness instructor tells me he or she is proud of me). I would also validate the fact that what we were asking of them - learning online in a pandemic - was challenging work. Here is a video clip from one of my lessons: 

Last school year I already had strong relationships with my students when we transitioned to online instruction, so I was working more on maintenance of that relationship digitally. If this school year starts online (and I'm still not sure if it will), I need a way to build relationships with my students. Another thing I noticed during these workout videos is how the instructors tell some personal stories while we are exercising. They will have anecdotes that correlate to the music or the movement or just a story about their day. It makes me feel like I know them because I know things about them. I think this will be so important if I am instructing online. By telling them stories either about my personal life or my classroom experiences or how I feeling while recording the video, I think I can build those connections. By including some praise throughout my videos, I can help to motivate them to keep learning and let them know that I recognize their efforts.

digital sticker

I do need to find more ways to reach out with specific praise. I love these digital stickers (freebie from Damman's Algebra Room) as another way of sharing some positivity digitally and, while not as meaningful as a handwritten note left on your desk, they are easy to share digitally. As I said in a previous blog post, I will not compare this year to any other. I know that I felt extra motivated by that note from my administrator. She recognized something that I was doing that she appreciated and her comment made me strive to work even harder. Doing that digitally will be a challenge especially with students I do not know. But I also keep reminding myself that teenagers today often make and maintain relationships digitally. They feel connected to people online that they have never met, and I think our shared experiences of navigating this course during a pandemic will connect us when we do [hopefully] eventually meet in person. 

This School Year Safety Outweighs Engagement

Three weeks from today, I am scheduled to report back to school for pre-planning. I have only been in my classroom once in May for a couple hours to pack since my last day of classes on March 6. Thoughts about this school year fill my mind with worry even when I try to block them out. I share my worry with my teacher friends and my parent friends. I also find some solace in the fact that I do not have many options - my school is currently planning to return to face-to-face instruction so I will be teaching face-to-face and my own two children will do the same.

My classroom has always been filled with collaboration and activities and group work, but this year it will feel much different. I have always been intrigued by the idea of a flipped classroom and I think the 2020-21 school year will be the perfect time to pilot that. Instead of attempting to give instruction while wearing a mask, I will make video instruction that students will watch at home and then we will use our time together to practice, probably using online practice sites like Delta Math, Quizlet, Kahoot, and Quizizz.

During the beginning of each school year, I teach students the rituals and routines of my classroom through modeling, discussion, and practice. In this technology-reliant classroom, I will spend time creating norms around digital learning expectations in my classroom. Not only will they be spending more time using technology in my classroom than in years past, but they will be prepared in case they have a situation where we close down schools and they learn digitally. I will figure out ways to include lessons in digital integrity in my instruction for both when we are together and when they work from home. Topics I want to cover with my students in the first week of school:
-What assignments are appropriate to share with friends and what are not?  
- Why is academic honesty important when learning online?
- How can I responsibly use the Photo Math app to check my work but still practice so I can master topics on my own without the app?
- How can I advocate for help for myself through email messages with my teacher?

I had been racking my brain trying to think of ways to use the puzzles and games and collaboration that my students and I love under the current conditions, but I have since allowed myself to stop. Each year I try to improve my practice from years past but this school year I will not allow myself to complete with my former self that did not have the obstacles of a global pandemic.  Things also change so quickly that what I plan based on today's parameters may be outdated by next month. This year I will keep my expectations high but reasonable and focus on safety and mental health before content. And I will only compare this year of teaching to any others taught during a global pandemic - which is hopefully none.

5 Things I Learned Teaching from a Cart

My school is crowded. So crowded we do not have enough classrooms for every teacher and every room is used during every class period. So even on their planning period, teachers have another teacher and class in their rooms. Being on a cart is hard. It’s a new organizational struggle on top of an already demanding job. Here are the things I learned from two years of teaching from a cart: 

1. You find new ways of explaining things. I am a teacher that likes to have a lot of stuff. I love grabbing manipulatives from the closet or having endless supplies of construction paper for students to create posters. I could not anticipate everything I would want and push it around with me all the time. So I became more resourceful. I used what I had available and I was probably the only one who noticed. The students have nothing to compare your teaching to. White copy paper works fine for posters and a quick drawing with a dry erase marker can be just as effective as manipulatives.

2. You get to know your colleagues and sometimes take away ideas from their boards. At the first school I worked at, I taught for six years and I don’t think I went into all my colleagues classrooms. In my two years on a cart, I made it into every single one. I got to know my colleagues this way just from having a two minute conversation every day. I also stole some ideas from them. One day I found this explanation of the Transitive Property on a colleague's board and I was able to start using it right away.

3. Claim some space as yours. This is something I changed between my two years on a cart. My first year I was new and felt very awkward going into someone else’s space. I spent the 1st quarter so nervous I would mess something up that I barely touched anything. Then I realized it was ok to stake claim to a piece of the room for me and my students. It was my space too for the hour or two I spent there. I found that by reserving a pieces of the white board, a piece of the wall to display anchor charts and a spot on a bookshelf to store essentials, the room felt more like mine. In fact a few of the students who regularly arrived after I was already in the room were surprised that the room was not mine. [Anchor chart inspired by iteachalgebra]

4. Pack light. As I said before, I like to have a lot of stuff, but I also like to not go home every night with back pain from pushing a hundred pounds around on a cart because I might need it. On my cart, I kept: my favorite pens, loaner pencils, water bottle, rosters, answer keys, a copy of my interactive notebook. If I needed something I did t have like scissors or post it’s, i would borrow from the room. (I am very lucky to work at a school that supplies our essential office stuff, I know this is not the case for everyone).
 I also found these totes at Costco. I like that they have a lid that clamps closed because they are bound to fall off in a crowded hallway at some point. I would switch these out with the daily activity.

5. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. All and all while my years on a cart were difficult, but it was not the worst. It challenged me organizationally in a good way to be prepared and really think about all aspects on my lesson in my planning. It also made me grateful for having a classroom to call my own. Here are the things I realized I missed most and am looking forward to doing when I have my own four walls and a normal non-pandemic environment:
  • Greeting students at the door. I hated coming in the room after students because I can gather so much from that initial interaction
  • Displaying student work and anchor charts. I had a very small area for this when sharing classrooms and I can’t wait to wallpapers the walls with it.
  • Creating organization areas. I am more organized than my pre-cart days and am excited to use what I learned to create systems that make my classroom run efficiently. 

An Introduction

You know how you sometimes interact with someone for a long time before you realize you have never been properly introduced. I said hello to the woman across the street for about five years before I finally broke down and asked her what her first name was. So, I realized I have never really introduced myself in his space or let you know why I started this site in the first place: 

I started this blog 6 years ago. Some of the best ideas I use in my classroom come from reading teacher blogs and I wanted to be part of that community. I have shared ideas that work for me and others that don’t. It’s fun to go back and read my earlier posts and see how my classroom has evolved since then.

I spent 10 years teaching in Florida and then moved to Missouri 3 years ago to be closer to family. My 13 years as a teacher have all been in secondary math - 7 years in middle school and this year will start my 6th year in high school. I have taught a handful of honors classes but the majority of my experience is with students who are not proficient in math ... yet. That growth mindset is something is work on with them all year - you can learn math, you can learn to like math, I can help.

My classroom is often loud - filled with the sounds of students talking about math together. I love circulating and hearing what they have to say, how the explain their answers to one another, how they question each other. They occasionally ask me to referee an argument, but I often do it by asking them questions to help them discover the answer on their own. I ask a lot more questions than I answers. At the beginning of the year, my students complain that I always answer their questions with more questions instead of just giving them an answer but I tell them I am training them to think like mathematicians and use what they know to problem solve. I always want to make sure they are solving more math problems a day than I am.

So that’s a peek into why I started this blog and what my classroom looks like. I’m making a goal to document more. This school year (2020-21) will be filled with a lot of unknowns and a lot of learning. I doubt it will look much like the rest of my years but I am determined to make the best of whatever hand I am dealt.

Here are some ideas for upcoming blogs:
  • How I use student checkers
  • Two years as a traveling teacher - teaching from a cart
  • How distance learning got me thinking about flipping my classroom

Solving Equations: Variables on Both Sides vs Combine Like Terms

It seems pretty cut and dry to me - either the variables are on the same side of the equal sign or they aren't. But I can't tell you how many of my students confuse the procedures for these equations. I find that showing one of each of these types of problems side by side helps them. 

So I would show these two equations and ask them to compare and contrast them. I also have them draw a line down the equal sign when learning how to solve equations. This really helps them to remember to keep both sides balanced using the properties of equality

I created these notes to help walk students through the difference between the two types of equations. I like to use gradual release with these notes. We solve the equations at the top together (I Do). Then they try the matching in the middle with a partner (We Do). Then they try to problems at the bottom on their own (You Do). I usually project these notes onto the board and have students show their work on the board. 

Like any other math topic, practice helps them to improve so I created this puzzle . I love using self-checking activities so students can self- monitor as they go. If they don’t find their answer or the puzzle doesn’t make the correct shape, they know they made a mistake. I tell them the first thing they should check is whether they correctly combined like terms or used inverse operations.  
Often they will incorrectly use inverse operations when solving a problem where the terms are on the same side. They will say “I subtracted 7x from both sides.” Then it’s very easy to have them show me where they did that on the other side (spoiler alert - they didn’t) and then we can talk about a different strategy instead.

Graphing Equations from Standard Form

My students have such a difficult time keeping track of all the different methods of graphing lines from each form. I use this foldable to help them keep track of the various forms, but I also drill that they can always change it to slope-intercept form. And if they get really desperate, they can just use a table of values to graph everything. I think practicing converting from standard form to slope intercept form is a great way to practice literal equations as well.

I use these notes to practice rearranging equations from standard form to slope-intercept form. I have students glue them along the edge of the page and show all their work on the lines of the notebook paper. (They print four per page.)

I created this puzzle for students to practice converting between standard form and slope-intercept form. They find an equation in standard form, rearrange it to slope intercept form, and match the two pieces. There are several similar equations to keep students on their toes and "attending to mathematical precision."

 I love using these puzzles for practice activities, not only does it encourage students to work together, but students also receive immediate feedback - when they don't find their answers or their puzzle doesn't make the right shape, they know they have a mistake.

Translating a line

I will never forget one of my students telling me after a district exam, "One of the questions asked me to translate a line - what does that mean, write it in Spanish?" I thought I had done just a great job on the linear functions unit, but I had totally missed connecting the idea of translations for them. I had always waited until quadratic functions to talk about shifts in the parent function as transformations, but when I looked into the standards I realized I was missing a key part of linear functionsCCSS.MATH.CONTENT.HSF.BF.B.3: Identify the effect on the graph of replacing f(x) with f(x)+ k, … for specific values of k (both positive and negative); find the value of k given the graphs. 
So I created some doodle notes that compare various graphs to the parent function. Each graph already had y = x graphed, so seeing the transformation is easier. 

The standard specifically addresses translations, but I also wanted students to see that changing the slope is actually a dilation and making it negative is a reflection. 

After finishing the notes, we completed a dominoes activity to practice translations. I love these dominoes because they have an answer bank to work from. They start with the line y = x and perform the vertical translations up or down. Students match the graph and then perform the next translation.

For extra practice I had them write the equation of each line, again reinforcing the idea that the constant is the only thing changing in the equation. 

Both sheets made up a two-page spread in our interactive notebooks. 

I wrapped things up with this "Try It" question too. I know that before this lesson, my students would have had no idea how to even tackle it, but they were so confident in their answers. With any luck, when they see questions about "translating" on the next test, it will no longer think of a foreign language. 

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