Tag Archives: math

Sometimes I feel Perplexed that I’m a math teacher

Over 6 years ago, after my first summer in the “Summer MA in English for Teachers” program in UC Irvine (fabulous, cost-efficient program – I recommend – even though I didn’t finish), I wrote my “about” section and theorized my thoughts on the purpose of this blog’s existence.  I was into poetry, I still reveled in my Comp Lit BA, I was 23, I was a bit puzzled after my first year as a teacher, and I just had lots of ideas of what I wanted to do with education.

Then I went through graduate school.  I went through 2 years at a patriarchal, no-excuses charter. And now I’m finishing up at an organization where it was (for the most part) positive.  I went from teaching English Reading and Grammar to a self-contained middle school classroom to Humanities to Math.  MATH!

Every time I come here, I begin to just go in crazy random directions of reflection…

Right now though, I’m excited to share my first original math project that I’m going to introduce to my 6th-8th graders next week!!!! FINALLY!!!  I like it because it allows us to get excited about math history and provides a lot of entry points (I think), while also maintaining classroom management.  I was so excited about this I cranked it out in about 6 hours.

The URL is accessible, I already created a packet. The only other materials necessary are colors, paper, graph paper, rulers, compasses, calculators… which I know sounds like a lot but it actually isn’t that bad because different students can use different materials at different times.

If you feel like taking a look and giving me feedback, go to tinyurl.com/kimfibonacci.




(Teacher note: I think for 6th graders, I’ll sort of look and see. The start is a bit dry, and maybe it would be better just to start with the artsy Wheel of Theodorus).


When You Try Your Best but the ship still sinks

I had a smaller group today of about 8 7th grade boys.
After they finished making fun of at my saying “dude”, we talked about which classes they felt “grounded” in and which classes worried them, and then talked about why they felt each way, and then about what they could adopt from the “good class” to the “bad class.”

They love humanities (because it’s fun, they ask questions, they try their best, and complete their work).  From a teacher perspective, I also see that there is a real community and within the structure and expectations, students know what to do to succeed. They feel successful!

The class that the boys were most “worried” about was (surprise, surprise), TTO, our math pilot.  They brought up things like…
– not wanting to be laughed at
– teachers not able to answer their question right away and then their session is done during the “independent zone” time
– teachers not explaining why but just how (CM was referring to our recent project, and all I could do was nod sympathetically, because it’s true!)

And I’m just nodding.. because I *totally* get it. And yet, what can I say? I’m the teacher in this program. I can’t honestly bash it with a clear conscience because we are still working at fixing it.  They did ask me why I was teaching TTO, and I did honestly respond that I didn’t have much of a choice.  I told them I didn’t want to teach humanities and that I wanted to teach math, and this was the choice of our school.

My question is… why do we want to keep tweaking and fixing it? What does it offer that we so desire?

  • Honestly, were our students pretty behind when they started? yes.
  • (Are we setting the curve in Oakland flats schools? yes).
  • Are kids learning math? yes.
  • Are kids learning more math? sure! possibly!

But what about considering these other questions:

  • Are they happy? maybe that’s a nonissue.
  • Are they getting opportunities to work deeply with math through inquiry, pauses, wonderings, and struggle? no. And maybe that’s our fault. we’re “just not leveraging the tasks and small group collaborations to their full potential.”
  • Do they understand expectations? Maybe.. but again, that’s our fault too, because we could have better management.

With TTO, our students might be learning more math.  But is it at the rate that it’s worth the opportunity cost of happiness and … just.. kiddo noises?  I think I’m actually fine with them slowing down if it means we can have a better relationship, and they don’t leave thinking math is boring and online programs suck (because if used in moderation, it wouldn’t be bad).  During the short transition period between schools, I like to visit other classrooms.  These past 2 weeks, this is what I’ve seen:

  • 1 humanities class pausing before starting the day because kids have been working so hard, they did 10 minutes of theater games before getting started
  • science class finishing up their lab reports, color-coding their drafts, and listening to music and staying focused and walking around to get the supplies they needed.
  • another humanities class doing a jeopardy review game before a test
  • another humanities class spending earned time outside on a Friday
  • classes starting to gear up for their expeditions

Basically, the more I’m with this pilot, the more I realize that I came to teach middle school so that we could get excited and learn to be fine with struggle and pause and reflect (for real — I mean if you do reflections like every 3 weeks, how do you even measure growth?  how do you grow in 3 weeks???) and stop being motivated by external factors so that the kids could become super pre-adults who have creativity, assurance, and communication skills………. I didn’t come to teach middle school so that my kids could become testing automatons a la Korea and Singapore. Been there. Done that. Left that. Leaving this.

Glass Half-Empty?

I appreciate that I’m at a school that likes to celebrate successes and understand that teaching is difficult.  At the same time, I’m struggling a bit between over-celebrating or just sugar coating situations to .. keep the morale high? or make it seem like things are better than they are?  I don’t know why they do this!

So last week, we had our first project segment of our math program.  It was a mess.  Teachers weren’t fully prepared, materials weren’t paced well, students were a hodge-podge of ability and behaviors, and it was cramped.  Basically, everything we had just accustomed ourselves to in the classroom instruction setting (students working on the same standards with similar backgrounds, and smaller groups) went out the window.

As a result, it was horrific.  It took everything in me to stay positive everyday and constantly brainstorm and make spur-of-the-moment changes to at least help some kids be successful.  At the same time, I gave up on the “management” part and simply just .. tried to cut my losses.  It was discouraging to say the least.

On our “presentation day”, that kids didn’t take seriously until that day showed up…, I had 6 out of 24 kids present in one 7/8 class, 4/19 kids present in my other 7/8 class. 10/16 kids present in my 6th grade class, and 6/16 kids present in the other 6th grade class.

That day we also had the admin-equivalents do walk-throughs and video our “baseline.”  Mine was the only class that even had presentations because some kids did do it.  Was it because of my stellar teaching? No.  Kids who have that extra drive will always succeed despite poor teachers, environments, and influences.  Those students are not whom I gauge my success by.

So, I rolled my eyes a bit when this was “celebrated.”  (See? They were talking about math – and they had the opportunity to talk math!).  But then, this same example was touted in our small math PD.  (See how Junia’s classroom had this presentation opportunity — never mind that everyone else at the other tables were totally off-topic).  Then, today, I saw this “inspirational example” in a school-wide newsletter.  And this just sort of ticked me off… because I get that we’re scrounging for the silver-lining, but there’s actually a lot of other examples we could look at.  Why can’t we acknowledge that this first round was crap.  Why do we sugarcoat?  I think it actually cheapens our successes and experiences because to anyone who is on the inside, they know what the actual circumstances were.  Yet everyone on the outside perceives something different.

I know it’s tantamount to our success and positive culture to celebrate small breakthroughs, but when 2 students who are at- or above-level and are self-motivated are provided as examples of “success”, it makes me feel like we’re desperate.

Other teachers told me to stop saying, “But” and just to acknowledge the positives, and I DO, but at the same time, I’m not PROUD about this.  And I hope I’ll NEVER be at a position where THIS is a “proud” moment, because it’s not.  The kids that most needed my help didn’t get the help they needed, and I severely doubt the line, “but kids who normally don’t have the opportunity to talk math, now did.”

Am I being overly Scrooge-y about this?  I don’t know.  But I wish they would stop using that almost lucky video clip… because I think teachers in my same context who don’t know the context in which that clip was taken would actually feel discouraged.  I’d feel discouraged if I saw this — I’d wonder, “What am I not doing that this teacher is doing?”

Well here’s my answer.  You’re probably doing nothing different- just this teacher at hand lucked out with two great kids.

THEN this makes ME suspicious of every stinking video I see of “good work.”

Teachers need Rest!

On crankiness combated by the community served…
Today was a harrowing day at school.. even though Wednesdays I don’t teach, I felt drained today because there was so much.. brainwork yesterday.
So, today, we were literally totally wilted. (Practicing transitions is a butt). And my feet hurt. My throat hurt. My head died. And I had a stankfaced attitude. (Had to email my team to apologize 😦 ).
Then as I walked out (around 5:30pm), I saw these teeny, teeny kids littering the playground!!! From the after-school program! I swear, one boy is so compact – he’s barely past my knee. I was dying. They are SO SO CUTE. My colleague then asked me if I’ve seen the TK (transitional kindergarten) kids, and I haven’t!
I look at my 6th graders, and I feel like they’re small. Even though I have friends with kids of all ages, it just boggles my mind to see such TINY kids at school.
On the sobering realities of teaching in Oakland…
Yesterday we went over emergency procedures, and it’s always so sobering to think about lockdown and hear questions from other teachers about “what to do when…”. Eeps. I remember my first year teaching in Oakland, when one girl asked me if I’d risk my life for them (it was after Sandy Hook happened), and at that moment, I just looked at her.. panicked, and said, “I don’t know.”
Random Highs for today!
+ Spent 1 minute in the teacher’s lounge! (almost stayed for lunch, but then fled).
+ Got to my second site, checked in with an 8th grade gal who walked out of my class on Tuesday, still had time to eat some lunch, set up a projector, and be relatively calm by the time classes began again!
+ At the second campus, I saw a teeeeeeny boy doing hopscotched and I exclaimed at how well he did it. He then excitedly beckoned me to wait and showed me how he could do it again BACKwards. A girl next to him was also literally jumping up and down in support. I asked them what grade they were and they showed me the number 5.. I got confused and was thinking “Man, I really stink at gauging age, but these 5th graders are small….” and then he said, “I’m 5.” So… safe to say… using my Sherlock skills of deduction, hopscotch + boy and girl happily supporting each other + the number 5 = KINDERGARTNERS!
+ Thankful for my K-1 teaching colleagues at ASCEND who’ve taught me how to speak with littl’uns.
+ Thankful I teach the big’uns.
+ Giddy that as the school year is beginning, I’m bumping into my graduated kids all over the place.  Apparently it’s common for them to visit ASCEND in the first weeks of school.  So adorable. They are so grown!
+ This gem of a do-now response!

+ This gem of a do-now response!

Hitting Teacher Milestones

Bam – Bam- and BAM!  Do you hear that? That’s the sound of milestones being hit!

The 2015-2016 school year…

  • starting my 5th year!
  • I have SIBLINGS of PAST students in my class
  • Aapparently, quite a few of my 8th graders from last year came to school to visit *me* today. (Desafortunadamente, I was at the other site).

Other Thoughts:
So, last night, I was up til about 12 prepping some things. Then, when I went to bed, I kept giggling because I was genuinely excited to go to school and see all my kids.

I slept restlessly (it was really hot last night?).

This morning, I overslept so I missed the bus and biked to school instead.

Began to get ready and ran into students – and it’s absolutely delightful hearing changed voices, admiring height differences, hairstyles, etc.

As we rolled out our first day of TTO, I saw kids just really trying *hard* to keep it together. Kids that I warned the other teachers about didn’t stick out!

The second school site was a bit more difficult because it was unfamiliar to me and it’s going through changes.

Working at 2 sites is really teaching me about the importance of school expectations and culture AND the necessity for *consistency* in the teachers. It’s totally different teaching middle school to kids who didn’t have that and kids who did.

Ode to 6th Graders

Still feeling *glow-y* about the starry-eyedness of the 6th graders at my first school.  *happy sigh*.  I’VE NEVER TAUGHT 6TH GRADE BEFORE.. and they are just SO stanking adorable. (7th/8th grade have their charms too).

Some 6th graders are HUGE and some 6th graders are tiny, that I have to resist the urge to crouch on my knees and talk to them.

Kidbit Tidbits:

Boy 1: “Did she do that to you too?”

Boy 2: “Yeah!” 

(I didn’t turn around to see who said this, but this was right after I vigorously shook a 6th grader’s hand and accidentally cracked his finger. I apologized, but didn’t realize I did this to others! After that, I limply shook the tiny soft hands of the girls behind these two boys).

There was a 6th grade girl showing LOTS of stankfaced attitude. They weren’t even in the classroom yet and she was already making “MmHmm, OKay” remarks after I gave directions.

Right then, my math coach (who is in charge of the transition bells) asked her, “Hey, do you want to help me out with a job?”

The change was immediate.  The girl’s body language got all bashful and she nodded shyly.  After that, in class, she was amazing.  I almost laughed because sometimes, kids are so easy.  It’s really just about making them feel safe and wanted.  Easier said than done. Of course.

When kids were filling out their “Who I Am” Mosaic assignment, there’s a box for “a favorite childhood memory.”  One girl asked me, “What if I don’t have a favorite childhood memory?”  As I prodded a bit, she said, “most of my past is full of sad and bad things.”  I noticed that she wrote that she had siblings.  “Do you like your brother?” I asked.  She said yes.  I then gave a funny memory I had of my little brother and asked her if she had any.  She then wrote, “spending time with my mom.”

I’m excited to be a part of this team because my team is excellent.  We are super aligned in teaching philosophy.  They work hard.  AND, I get to see 300 students everyday. And that is most exciting for me.

Some drawbacks today though:

  • Our lunch transition time (1 hour) was chock full of clean up and set up so.. lunch on the run sort of didn’t happen. :-/  *Must make time to eat!*
  • The parking lot was locked (we were promised our own spaces)
  • The art teacher was slated to teach while I was teaching math… I hate to be the person to kick out art … but… it had to be done.
  • Got home at 6p.  How did *that* happen?!

Only 4 drawbacks? I’ll take that!

CSET Series: Math III and OpenCourseWare

I have a personal problem where when something difficult peers over my life’s horizon, I go into denial and procrastination mode.

Leetle by leetle, I’m doing better… mainly because honestly? It makes my God happy when I try my best.

Last month, I spent one week feverishly cramming for the first of three math CSET exams (In CA, you need to take 3 subtests to earn a math teaching credential… although I don’t know why I have to get one since my multiple subject cred technically covers up through 8th grade and I doubt any 8th grader will be learning calculus no matter what’s in Common Core…).

I felt pretty despondent about it because I honestly knew very little.  No, I’m not being modest. At one point I wrote in the free response section, “Hello, I plan to teach in urban Oakland where there are very little qualified math teachers.  As you can see, I’m a creative problem solver and I am great at explaining my thinking. Please be gentle.”  Or something along those lines – basically appealing to their pathos.

Now in two weeks, I have the third subtest (CSET III for trig and calc).  Two days after, I’ll have the second subtest.  I just don’t have time to do them any time else.. although now that I think about it, if I don’t pass, I might as well have just scheduled these for later.  (20/20 hindsight).

To add to all this unmotivation is the fact that trigonometry kicked my BUTT in high school and although I loved calc, I can’t say I really remember any of it.  (Truly, a 5 on an AP Calc exam doesn’t really work 10 years later..).

BuuUUuuUUuuut…just now, I figured out the cosine of 5pi/4 by drawing a picture .. so now I feel a leeeetle better about my prospects.

I’m using Khan Academy, Barron’s AP Calc book and UCI’s Open Courseware to prep math teachers for the CSETs.  I’ll let you know which worked out the best for me later.

If you know of any other resources, let me know!

Example diagnostic problem from UCI's OCW CSET Test prep!

Example diagnostic problem from UCI’s OCW CSET Test prep!

It’s not enough to be smart.

I remember last year, how my principal said that one of the reasons she hired me was because I was “smart.”  I smiled weakly not just because in that context, it wasn’t necessarily a compliment, but because what came rushing into my head was grad school discussions of how intelligence in no way, shape, or form made up for training and experience.

I especially feel that right now as I stare at my loathsome Algebra book (copyright 2000).  At least last year, for Pre-Algebra, I had a more up-to-date book (copyright 2004, I believe), and it made a huge difference in terms of graphics and extra resources.  In general, for math textbooks, the textbooks themselves aren’t very strong.  I didn’t really begin learning from a textbook until high school, and I definitely never read those lessons – I just focused on my notes.  These textbooks are difficult!  In junior high, I learned directly from my teacher.

Now, I’m the teacher.  And I’m having a hard time because my textbook problems don’t match the format and focus of the tests that I’m supposed to give.  They also don’t necessarily jive with the format of standardized tests that I still have to prepare my students for.  I look at this, and I know the formula for successful grades for my students.  Want to know the formula?

  1. 15-minute warm-up.
  2. 30 minutes reviewing the previous night’s homework and the warm-up questions.
  3. 20-minute lesson
  4. 25 minutes of guided practice.
  5. Give them 20 minutes after lunch to start on the homework as I walk around the classroom.
  6. Rinse. repeat.  Every two days, give a quiz.  Review for 2 days before the test with problems that are in the exact format of the test problems they will most likely get.
  7. Do cumulative chapter reviews every 3-4 chapters.  Have quarterly and semesterly exams.
  8. At the end of the book, review 2 weeks on as many CST-like problems as you can.

Congratulations; with this method  100% of your kids will now score 60% or higher on the CST test meaning according to California, they are now “Proficient” in math.

Unfortunately, most of your students will probably forget half of what they haphazardly learned because there weren’t too many connections to applications and synthesis (because word problems aren’t necessarily application, it’s pulling out the right numbers, crossing out unnecessary words, and again, plugging and chugging).

At the end of the day, I don’t feel too hot.  Repeating and drilling is brutal.

Is this enough for geometry?  Trig?  Calculus?

What the hell is a Comp Lit major doing here?  Can’t we give them anyone better?

Last year, I went to a cool math workshop on differentiated math instruction.  All I can think about now, as I prep my notes is how if I had enough time, I could create more resources to engage my students at different levels.  My heart’s also sinking thinking about one girl who just transferred into my class – she’s definitely a grade level or two behind.

I wish I had organized math resources (instead of a folder of PDFs of xeroxed worksheets).  I wish I had a real Master’s guide (instead of a document of worksheets with handwritten answers in them).  I wish I actually had more than high school math instruction in my own academic background.  I wish I had a teaching mentor who would give me specific advice on how to teach math well (instead of giving me lame ideas that I already know (ie: have students grade each other’s quizzes so that you can have more time.  ALREADY DO THAT.  okay then.  How about this worksheet here?  WAY TOO EASY)).  I wish I had great math training.  In fact, I wish I was focusing on the humanities or something and the other teacher could focus on the math and sciences.  I wish we had more of a system in place where teachers work together.

I mean, my school is getting better and using more teamwork.  I appreciate that.  But old habits die hard.  And the fact that currently, my students do best at math just sucks.  Because it doesn’t mean I’m a good math teacher, it just means that I’m good at teaching how to best the standardized test.


And one last PS:  If I’m considered “smart” in math, then our future generation is screwed.