Teachers Wanting To Better Their Profession by Leaving the Classroom

Note: I attempted to write this almost like a conversation…

I have been hearing the question more and more lately: “Brandon, you left teaching and seem to be enjoying your new job. I’m thinking about the same. Can you tell me about it?”

This is a hard question to answer for a variety of reasons. My original reasons for leaving the classroom included a chance to move and have a guaranteed job that would pay the bills in a cool area and I was already in a bit of a transition teaching-career-wise having moved to a TOSA role. While I was in the Admin program, I wasn’t 100% sold on its relevance to what I wanted to do career-wise.

If you’re leaving teaching because you’re getting burnt out – I will say I would suggest something else. Many of the same frustrations you may feel in teaching will be present in any other industry. However, there are also many ways to leverage your strengths as a professional educator in other fields. The classroom isn’t for everyone for their entire lives, and you can’t feel guilty about trying something different even if for a few years! Personally, I’d rather have someone who was burnt out leave the classroom rather than be a less-then-excellent teacher in the classroom.

Things I Left Behind

I left behind students! There are a lot of days I miss that feeling when a student understands something for the first time, for the art of teaching – even the art of disciplining a kid and watching them grow throughout the years.

Things I’ve Learned

I was always frustrated with teachers who would say things like, “Well I need training for XYZ if they want me to use it with students,” because I felt that some things were just part of the job! (Examples: Being able to copy and paste on the computer, etc). Then in my current job when I was expected to know things like how to, “load standards into Postgres,” and not given a how-to… I realize payback can come in many forms! I still find myself almost objecting to some of the things I’m asked to do because I have no training in it, but have realized that I am expected to learn what is needed as it is needed. I was good at using technology in the classroom, but realize now I had little idea how things worked behind the scenes.

I did not take this job to get rich, I took it because I knew I was missing something about my knowledge from a technology perspective. I’m still not where I want to be yet, but getting there. I love reaching students and companies around the world I don’t see myself leaving Ed-tech anytime soon. Being part of ACT has been a great experience to see the bigger picture of the educational testing industry for the good and bad, but also to be part of something that reaches millions of students a year.

Things I Wish I’d Known

I wish I had taken more time to learn how to program/code in college and earlier… in fact I’m not really sure what interrupted me between learning basic html at 14 and NOT learning how to do basic coding after that. I also wish I’d known more about the world of business although that would have been impossible as a teacher. Words like “project manager” were just that and it’s assumed that I know exactly what an NDA means and implied; but I usually look it up just to be sure.

Pay-wise, I did not know what to ask for in a pay contract. The cost of premiums and deductibles are still a bit of a mystery (when does the individual and/or the family deductible begin or end?) , the fact that teachers are getting paid for 180+ days a year but yet full time also needs to be taken into account. Figure out your hourly rate then work out from there what you’re worth and you may be surprised. I saw a higher salary number without taking into account vacation days, the fact that before I wasn’t working  260 workdays etc, figured out the monthly net and said “wow!” until I realized that the cost of living in the Bay vs Fresno isn’t higher just in rent but also in groceries and any restaurant.  Admittedly, we have also gone from pretty much just the two of us to four humans over the past three years – when we moved Madelyn was only nine months!

I also wish I had realized just how much I was used to the cyclical nature of teaching! It’s not the days off I miss so much as it’s the being able to look forward to the next break, or school year, or sports season etc. Of course things are now defined by different projects and that sort of thing, but it’s more artificial and I think affects how well I’m able to get into the workflow of a certain project.

Things I Wish Business Knew More of About Teaching

Education time is measured in semesters and school years, not so much days/weeks/quarters. Teachers don’t have time or energy to try everything, and just because something is ‘better’ than another product in the same category doesn’t mean they’ll use it. They’ll use what is comfortable, what works with what they already have, and what their students like. And most teachers don’t have time to seek out new technology for their students – they either wait for it to be introduced at PD sessions (with minimal followup?) or for a friend to use it and show them how to integrate it into their classroom. Edtech wants to act like a business where people are constantly evaluating the best out there and going for it – again, even if it should, that’s not quite how schools work. It also bothers me a lot when salespeople say a product can do something but to actually use said feature is buried within the product or it doesn’t really do what they think it does at all.

Is Leaving Right for You?

As I mentioned, in the past month at least four people have mentioned they’re looking for something other than teaching. These are often brilliant teachers. My own checklist was:

  1. Can I use my experience as as teacher to help impact an industry that will help make things better for other teachers?
  2. Am I looking for a change of pace (And in my case, I felt once my kids were older it would be much harder to move to a different city and take a big financial risk.)
  3. Am I ok with working with adults not just teenagers after all these years?
  4. How well do I learn things on my own without prompting?

I would strongly recommend a ToSA role first – I absolutely loved that job even if it did get caught up quite a bit in politics etc. My own personality is pretty well suited for that because I’m calm but can push my agenda when needed without alienating everyone around me. But that too means a move to the District Office usually and your job/what you do everyday is not your own as it was as a classroom teacher.

Conclusion

I really do feel I’m making a difference in the world of education just from a different perspective. I am often the only former educator in the room and can connect well with others from the tech, pedagogy, administration and teacher side of things given my past experiences. My favorite part of the job is still talking to teachers about how the products and tools I’m helping develop will help students achieve more in the classroom. Due to a shift in time, I’m able to stay up on tech trends and devote time to organizations like CMC as well as continue my adjunct work at Fresno Pacific University.  My favorite part of working at OpenEd has been learning how to modify postgres queries for my own use, learning a lot more about the OER world, and being able to travel.

Resources:

edsurge.com/jobs

 

Glassdoor

 

Remembering a friend

Note: I don’t know details, I just know that Will passed away last week. 

Before there was thewillshat and May the Forms be With You, there was a man named Will Kimbley. I first met Will as so-called Re-Entry student at Fresno Pacific around 2003. Unbeknownst to me, for a year he was writing a paper about me for a class he was taking as part of the scholarship . He shared it with me after writing it – he’d been watching how I interacted with people not just during the semi-monthly Senate meetings of which I presided over but also how I came early to help set up, cleaned up afterwards, made time for people, and genuinely cared about the issues and the people involved. We also had long email exchanges arguing things discussed in Senate (in particular I found an email exchange we had that if printed out would be about 8 pages around the issue of Commencement and units transferring or not etc). Will would often talk about how I was the first person he knew who had a gmail.com address and I actually ‘gave’ an account to him in the days when that was a thing circa 2004.

As we both started teaching – him in Elementary and myself in Secondary, we stayed in touch a bit but this was really before Facebook was everywhere and Twitter even existed. I went to a few CV CUE conferences and would see Will, but it wasn’t until around 2010 that we reconnected.

Funny story: I don’t remember the circumstances, but one time I didn’t have my phone and needed to call my wife to tell her something important – but couldn’t. So I messaged him on Facebook to ask him to call my wife and ask her whatever it was I needed… he actually did as awkward as that probably was because she had no ideas who he was. That’s the kind of guy Will was – always willing to be helpful when needed!

In 2011 we both attended a CUE Rockstar Camp at Minarets High School and for the first time I saw just how popular he was in Ed-tech circles. He really was a rockstar with his knowledge and ability to put practical technology in the hands of kids, and train their teachers as well.  But more importantly, he welcomed my wife and I, introducing us to people he knew and speaking highly of us. A few weeks later we both found ourselves teaching at Computech Middle School last minute and did quite a bit of cross-curricular partnerships!

It was Will who first encouraged me to present at the smaller CV CUE conferences to get my feet wet; I’ve presented all over the country now.  None of it would have happened if Will had not encouraged me, given kind yet useful feedback, and been a role model for how to take what he was doing in the classroom and make it accessible for other teachers. He actually gave me the CUE conference registration where I ended up meeting the CEO of OpenEd and was offered a job in 2014 (didn’t end up leaving until a year late).

The last time I saw Will was a year ago at the Lead 3.0 conference in Redondo Beach. He was preparing to leave for Monterey so had driven down that day I believe – a long haul! We had a great time catching up on our different careers in a limited amount of time and wished each other well, talked about meeting up etc in the Bay Area/Monterey but it just didn’t quite work out with my own schedule with kids.

Rest in peace Will. You inspired many and we learned a lot from you. Your life touched us to be better, to get involved, to smile and follow the mantra:

I measure myself, not by how well I teach, but by how well my students learn.

I measure the technology I use, not by how cool it is,
but by how well it helps my students learn.” 

OER and Equity: Part 2

When I first got really into the ‘open’ movement nearly two decades ago as a Linux user, a huge part of it was for the issues of equality it promised. Free software meant more money could help students in poverty was the promise. Free educational resources, ideally teacher-created also held the same promise – replace expensive, proprietary textbooks with high quality, highly skilled content creators (Teachers).

So it has surprised me in the past few months to get to work on what I would have previously said, “that doesn’t concern me.” as a creator/sharer of educational content and not a programmer at heart – educational standards. I gave a conference presentation about this a few months ago at LibreLearnLab but became aware of an effort from IMS Global a few months later. It seems others in the ed-tech industry had already realized that a common language to describe the various fields that could go into an educational standard were lacking. For example, in the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, there are a few things, “missing,” that could help both teachers, students, and ed-tech products:

  • Example problems to demonstrate the standardscreen-shot-2017-04-03-at-3-55-22-pm
  • Programatic progressions statements – ie this set of standards leads to this set. Yes, there are the progressions documents and it’s not too hard to figure it out, but not everyone can infer that the Expressions and Equations turn into the Functions strand in grade 8-high school unless they understand the pedagogy that leads them there – which I can tell you most engineers don’t care nor should they need to know this.
  • Type of statement (Cluster vs Standard vs higher-level headings) – sounds minor but when we’re talking about thousands of possible statements differentiating between these statements can really help. IE the math practices are standards not searchable by a keyword, but a human curator can recognize when those practices are apparent in a particular math task or learning resource.

In addition, the only ways to see possible connections between other frameworks such as the TEKS standards and CCSS are either costly correlation services or manual search. Even with that, there has not been a formally defined way to write the TEKS statements in common ways. Thinking about time, spending time translating statements and searching in the dark for resources is not the most equitable process.  Furthermore, at some point CCSS will be replaced by something else, and we will want some robust way to transfer the good curriculum activities/tasks to be in alignment (or not!) with those new standards. The NGSS introduce even more nuance with three dimensional standards that aren’t a simple tree anymore…

oepoer-1

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Open Competency Frameworks Will Help K12

The advantage of machine-readable standards may not be apparent in their application to the Open Education movement. As standards change by jurisdiction or eventually new standards themselves, all of the hours spent categorizing and tagging resources may be able to be transferred over if the new standards have overlap. In addition, as opposed to monolithic PDF documents that States and Organizations normally publish their standards in, with an open competency framework those standards would be easily searchable and usable for content creators looking to find resources to help students.

The more metadata the standards have already on them – including notes, examples, rubrics as to what addresses that standard, connections to other standards and more – the better and more specific the OER content can be, which will give more choices of robust, rubric-evaluated standards-aligned curriculum to schools. Usually when standards are published they are not revised for 10-15 years which used to be the norm, but the world changes too fast now. Standards in an electronic format that automatically link to the updated format can become dynamically better (with major revisions every other year perhaps to address gaps as they arise or enhance wording, etc). Yes we need consistency, but just as once a student publishes a blog or other live-published feature we would expect some degree of revision based on feedback, so too should academic standards be open to revision and updating.

What is exciting to me – a curriculum guy – is seeing how the technical backend will enable better, more robust standards and description of the relationships between the standards down the line. As open educational resources are refined and revised, it is important that the standards they point too are not only the most accurate but also as informational as they can be.

Biblical Leadership

cognitive functions
cognitive functions

In the past couple of weeks through my employer, I’ve taken and received results back on leadership/personality types. In summary, I took the Meyers Briggs test for the first time since early college (forgot what I was but I think INFP?)  and was a bit surprised to learn that I am classified now as INTJ.  The parts that kind of surprised me were the Judging over Perceiving and Thinking over Feeling. In some ways after thinking about it more it makes sense but I guess I usually see myself as too soft when it comes to people so thus good to see I’m starting to be able to see the bigger picture better.

I also received feedback in the form of a 360 feedback survey. I had done this two years ago when I was part of the Fresno Unified Leadership Cohort, but the time and context is quite different in the business world now than coming from a classroom teacher! My main feedback before was confronting people; and it still is one of my weaker points.

In church this morning the sermon was on David and Goliath – not so much the grandiose things, but about how David just needed to ‘show up’ to be used by God to do great things.

One of my own biblical leadership heroes has always been Nehemiah because he:

  • Was bold in asking for money and time to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem
  • Asked God to simply “Strengthen his hands” (Neh 6.9)
  • Was resolute in times of darkness and attack
  • Was not a flashy leader, but led from example and resolve

In light of my personality type assessment, 360 degree feedback comments and essentially how I’ve been feeling lately at work, excited to continue to ground myself and lead from example into the future. I am most excited about being able to integrate my passions for “open everything” (educational resources, open source software products, open pedagogy/open educational practices) into my day job as opportunities present themselves.

 

OER and Equity

Over 20% of children in the United States live in poverty (http://www.nccp.org/topics/childpoverty.html)

Most internet access in the United States takes place on “mobile” devices such as phones and tablets (https://techcrunch.com/2014/08/21/majority-of-digital-media-consumption-now-takes-place-in-mobile-apps/)

 

Taken together, we know that most internet consumption in the future will not happen on big screens with legacy OS’s. While this presents a problem for some sectors (software development, heavy graphics etc) for most of the internet this is a welcome problem.

Open Educational Resources is a term that’s been around a while, but with varying degrees of fidelity. I use the definition defined at opencontent.org by David Wiley and others at opencontent.org/definition:
The terms “open content” and “open educational resources” describe any copyrightable work (traditionally excluding software, which is described by other terms like “open source”) that is licensed in a manner that provides users with free and perpetual permission to engage in the 5R activities:

  • Retain – the right to make, own, and control copies of the content (e.g., download, duplicate, store, and manage)

  • Reuse – the right to use the content in a wide range of ways (e.g., in a class, in a study group, on a website, in a video)

  • Revise – the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language)

  • Remix – the right to combine the original or revised content with other material to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup)

  • Redistribute – the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend)

When it comes to reaching students in poverty with OER, my observations are that the ball has often been dropped but doesn’t have to be. Part of the Open Content definition is the ALMS rubric:

  1. Access to Editing Tools: Is it easy to edit the content?
  2. Level of Expertise Required:Is it hard to use the tools that edit the content?
  3. Meaningfully Editable: Is it easy to edit the content in a way that would help remix it (ie a PDF is a terrible way to publish open content)
  4. Self-Sourced: A more technical one, but “It the format preferred for consuming the open content the same format preferred for revising or remixing the open content (e.g., HTML)?”

A lot of the open content that I have seen thus far does not fit this definition. Sometimes folks have great content within their LMS, but it’s just sitting there. Or it’s on a website somewhere but you can’t easily copy and paste the text, or it’s in a Google Doc and thus not as easily searchable as perhaps other public information. PDF’s still make up almost 80% of non-HTML documents on the internet, so that’s a lot of information that for most intents and purposes is trapped.

There are a lot of great efforts happening to free this content – much of it thanks to folks like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Mozilla, Creative Commons, IMS Global and various Open Education groups/consortiums.

I taught middle and high school for about 10 years in and around Fresno, CA. Many of my students grew up without fathers, without parents having even any kind of job (government assistance for_their_entire_lives) and computer use was either at school or cell phones. Some middle and upper class people mock those considered low-income and their use of often higher-end cell phones – not realizing these people don’t have a car, don’t have a mortgage, a retirement fund, etc – so money goes toward the immediate need/gratification.

Open Educational Resources need to be made with Universal Design for Learning principles in mind. My wife retells this image from the comic strip when talking about the need for universal design in all educational settings:

http://www.uvm.edu/~cdci/archives/mgiangre/
http://www.uvm.edu/~cdci/archives/mgiangre/

This need is still true even now. All OER should:

  • Be easily translatable (Google Translate works great)
  • Allow the option of being read aloud
  • Be licensed with no restrictions CC-BY
  • Follow the norms laid out by the ALMS rubric
  • Be printable: Of course being able to print materials easily (read: Not a string of oddly formatted HTML pages!) does a lot of good as well. If kids can print it they can access it, period – as long as the other accessibility guidelines mentioned are present like language, etc.

Failure to follow these principles of design will serve only to widen the gap between the tech elite and the tech poor. As we have seen in society today, there is a large gap not just in the reality of Americans but in the ability to have a perception of reality.

“How does it feel to be white?”

In the past few months several leading math organizations (NCTM, NCSM, CMC) have released joint statements talking about the conversations of Math Equity.

From the NCTM paper, one quote stuck out at me regarding teacher education perspectives:

Providing all students with access is not enough; educators must have the knowledge, skills, and disposition necessary to support effective, equitable mathematics teaching and learning.
In other words, while I suppose you could have students read Flatland and then connect that to social injustice etc, that’s not the point here. In December Dan Meyer wrote about the problem of the proliferation of tall good looking white guys at education (of which I don’t think I fit into two of those descriptors, but close enough).

In college a friend of my roommates came into our dorm and casually asked, “How does it feel to be white?” when he saw my computer set up (nice looking case, big monitor), and I didn’t quite know how to react. I was taken aback –  I tried to justify his comment in my head – if I’d bought it new I can see that – but I hadn’t. I’d worked extra money, made a bags of skittles last a week just to save the extra buck and things like that for years. It took me a while to fully understand what he meant. After all, I’d worked really hard to buy that computer more than just financially – but hours learning about Linux, about hardware and how to best optimize things.

I cared for my computer almost much and probably more than my car. My parents told me in 8th grade that if I saved up at least $1,000 for a computer, they would match it. They thought this would take a few years as my allowance at the time was I think $20 a month for snacks and small trips – I had $130 in ‘savings’ at the time I remember. That summer and all throughout my freshman year I took extra small jobs whenever I could, even taking over my brothers chores to double the amount of income I could make. So by my sophomore year I had the money and carefully went about choosing what I wanted. I settled on an AMD-based Gateway system with all the trimmings. This computer would last me about 6 years through upgrading everything except for the case. I added a 17″ flatscreen monitor my sophomore year of college which was about $250 but looked more expensive.

What I eventually realized about his comment was that it wasn’t the amount of money having a nice computer took, it was the priorities in my life that let me spend money on that. It was the fact that because my parents were able to provide for my basic needs so something like a computer – which at the time wasn’t really needed for any job and something as nice as that wasn’t needed for school per se. It was that I’d chosen to spend that money knowing that I’d be able to get more money later. And when I was in middle school tinkering with spare parts and putting them together, having a dad that could help explain or point me to the right places, and even drive me to another city to get the needed parts (yes, this was in the days before amazon and ebay).

As a math teacher who taught predominately in lower-income areas, I couldn’t pretend to know exactly what kids were going through, or experienced, or even what daily life was like. I’ve never struggled with not having enough money to buy food or at least couldn’t put it on a credit card if I needed too (been there in my early teaching days!). But I could listen with empathy, keep in mind that their parents may not be able to help them, and give students opportunities. Through Tri-This! Inc I was able to help take kids to the snow often for the first (only?) time, go camping, travel up and down California and complete triathlons. Through math I was able to explain things to them and encourage them to college – several of my students even ended up at Fresno Pacific University my alma mater!

Being white is not a negative thing – it’s who we are. Because we are born into white privilege – and we are – doesn’t mean we can’t be that much more compassionate and strive for empathy. I cannot be the same type of figure in students lives that my sisters and brothers of color can be, but I can just be who I am – a mentor who strives for compassion, integrity and shows students unconditional acceptance and love.

 

I’ve been writing this post off and on since about November 2016, and I’m still not sure what I’m trying to say I guess. Justification for me to be slightly offended at the comment? Guilt or embarrassment about working hard for it? Not sure. What I do know is that little comment 15 years ago helped give me perspective whenever I did have physical possessions that were important to me, but not important to other people for very good reasons.

A “Blank Page” Google Docs Add-On

I was talking with my online friend Tim Brzezinski the other day about the great work he does with Geogebra and how to accelerate even more synergy between the interactive element and Google Docs.  He is experimenting with linking to google doc exploration guides from within Geogebra applets. I wondered what it might look like if we embedded the Geogebra applet into a sidebar so created a simple, blank sidebar add-on to embed the Geogebra applet. What I found  was that it was far too small (300 pixels set width) to really be usable, but it was a good little project nonetheless.

To use this in practicality, click the link below, Make a Copy to your own drive from the File Menu, then select Tools, Script Editor.

You will see something like the image below – click on over to Sidebar.html and edit the HTML code (a few examples down below)screen-shot-2017-02-02-at-3-28-56-pm

 

Google Scripts Project

 

Example HTML that embeds a youtube video

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html>
<head>
<base target="_top">
</head>
<body>
<iframe width="300" height="100%" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/ghfcrjTpZE0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe> </body>
</html>

The main change I made is of course the width to 300 and the height to be 100%. (Sample Document) 

screen-shot-2017-02-03-at-10-04-34-am

 

 

 

 

 

 

Map on the Side

Document

screen-shot-2017-02-03-at-10-14-29-am

 

 

 

 

 

Admittedly the method isn’t very pretty, and before I publish to the Chrome store I’ll make it so people can just paste the embed code into the frame and it will then automatically embed it (thus it will be able to be changed for each new doc…), but what are some thoughts for how this could be used?

AIMS Zone of Proximal Construction – Tools for Productive Struggle

The AIMS Center on the campus of Fresno Pacific University is an organization that I’ve admired for at least 15 years. I actually was an AIMS scholarship recipient as an undergraduate mathematics major and as a teacher I used AIMS activities whenever I could.

AIMS has changed a bit in the past few years from producing print curriculum – they realized there was a bunch of OER stuff out there that it was getting hard to compete – and focusing on professional development and research.

My wife Meagan and I were invited to speak last week on behalf of their Colloquium Series – research-minded talks to math and science teachers going through an AIMS-related cohort.

We spoke about ways to help teachers let their students experience productive struggle. Emphasis on productive. Meagan, a special education teacher and adjunct professor, focused on environmental factors and things that teachers can do specifically for the learner. I focused on making the math connections when possible, as well as technology tools for formative assessment and PD to give the best information to both students and teachers. Formative assessment should really be called feedback in my opinion, and I made the comment either on the podcast or during the talk that if our formative assessment tools aren’t giving the STUDENTS feedback we’re missing the point.

Universal Design for Learning – designing learning not to accommodate learners with special needs, but thinking about those accommodations and then designing the lesson to reach ALL Learners with those methods – was the biggest takeaway so much so that Meagan and I are planning on attending the CAST conference in Boston this summer. It was a great night with feedback from the, ‘students’, conversations with Dr Brownell for the podcast, and overall feeling like being home and fun to be in front of people with great questions. My main points:

  1. Make formative assessment something the students themselves can learn about  – don’t keep the ‘dashboard’ confined to the teacher!
  2. Give students multiple ways to express their learning and struggles
  3. Design your classroom in a way that there are no questions for what is expected of students – the less outside stressors, the more they can focus on the academic tasks at hand.

Podcast

Video Archive of the Presentation

Slides

Thanks Lori Hamada, Dr Chris Brownell and the entire AIMS staff for making our visit welcoming and great! We can’t wait to be back!

#TT4T Book Study – Turn Weakness Into Strength

Note: This is an ongoing book study started by Chase Orton about Tim Ferris' Tools of Titans. Intro Post

I was reading this week about how different people have taken what were considered weaknesses and turned them into their greatest strengths. Take Arnold Schwarzenegger talking about his heavy accent even after being in the United States for several years:

Arnold was able to use his biggest “flaws” as his biggest assets, in part because he could bide his time and didn’t have to rush to make rent. He shared an illustrative anecdote from the Terminator set: “Jim Cameron said if we wouldn’t have had Schwarzenegger, then we couldn’t have done the movie, because only he sounded like a machine.”

He took what critics told him was preventing him from further roles and made it something that became his trademark.

As teachers we often face the same thing. I’ve read books (can’t remember from where!) where they talk about some teachers on teams maybe aren’t great teachers, so make up for it by being really nice people. Or maybe the teacher who is always involved in fundraising and supervising sports never comes to the professional learning community collaboration time. For myself personally, I found that while I understood the math well, I wasn’t very good at things like recognizing kids birthdays, or even sometimes recognizing when discipline wasn’t quite what I needed it to be in a classroom. In other words, I was so inside my head about the lesson I would miss the bigger story of what was going on in my classroom.

This flaw was pointed out to me by the principal who became my friend that shaped my teaching career the most, Jeremy Ward at Computech Middle School. He had a good way through feedback in Google Docs and in person about being honest about what he saw. Organization was the root cause of my struggles – often I’d be fumbling from class to class for markers or materials that I would miss the cues from kids coming into class.  So over time I was able to become a minimalist teacher, and with less, “stuff,” I became more effective.  Likewise, I was able to point this out to both students and other teachers who may have struggled with being able to focus on the task at hand.

What are your weaknesses that you have turned into strengths?

#TT4T – The Damage Done In Not Waiting

I’m reading Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers after a gentle nudge from Chase Orton, whom I’ve gotten to know through CMC conferences recently.

There is a part in the first part of the book where it’s talking about learnings from Siddhartta Buddha. A merchant is asking what Siddhartha can give him if he can’t give him possessions. A short portion of the exchange is follows:

Merchant: “Very well, and what can you give? What have you learned that you can give?”

Siddhartha: “I can think, I can wait, I can fast.”

He can’t give money, he can’t give things. But he goes on to explain a bit – if he doesn’t have food, then he can fast.

Let’s take the same ideas and apply it to teaching mathematics:

I can think (Math Practices 7,8)

Tim Ferris extrapolates further that because he can think, he can make good decisions.

We can teach kids how to memorize things, or we can teach them the why behind the algorithms. We can give them a goal without support, or we can teach them a system of how to study and achieve in education and in life. Specifically I’m thinking about being able to give our students the foundational skills needed to really engage deeply in DOK 3 level problems – we know that we can’t immediately engage kids with a DOK 4. I once saw a chart from an administrator who thought the DOK levels were like a ladder, and that the end of every quarter should automatically see DOK 4 level problems… a blatant misrepresentation of the paradigm

I can wait (Math Practices 1, 3)

In the book, Tim expands – because he can wait, he can play the long-term game and not make short-term bad decisions.

This idea of waiting for students to understand things hit me pretty hard. When I moved from high school to middle school, I noticed that I was quicker to help the middle school students – probably because I felt they needed it. This was incorrect! I only discovered this fact when I recorded myself teaching over the course of several days and then watched the recordings on fast-forward to be able to spot trends.

I didn’t wait for kids to answer incorrectly or not. I was not giving kids a chance to struggle. This affects equity and as is talked about over and over again in Mathematical Mindsets, my classroom was not a safe place to learn by making mistakes and then being able to apply that knowledge in a new context. I made immediate changes to pre-write questions I knew I wanted to ask and adapt those questions from class to class as needed.

I can fast (Mathematical Practice 1)

Obviously we aren’t going to ask students to not eat here. But we can stop, “spoon-feeding,” them answers (see what I did there?!). Too often I would catch myself asking leading questions without even realizing it – but why should I be asking guiding questions at all when students should have the tools to self-diagnose.

What to do about it

Some ideas I had while writing this post:

  1. Use puzzles during warmup to help remind students that just as they can find different ways to solve a puzzle, they can find different ways to solve a problem.
  2. Have students explain their steps out loud to another student or explain it back to me using an app such as Recap. I would also often have students in a group be recording into an audio device and then the next day, have them play back parts of the audio to be able to hear themselves solving problems – their own insights to their thinking process was often quite interesting!
  3. Strategies/activities I have used to stimulate students perseverance include the Four Four’s activity, Grazing Goat, and having students find multiple ways of solving the same linear equation. When appropriate, three act tasks are also great to see results!

What tools/tasks do you use in the context of “Think, Wait, Fast”?