New Job!

Christopher’s post today made me realize that I hadn’t taken a minute to blog about my new job either. Possibly because I haven’t exactly been able to find a minute where I’ve been interested in blogging, but regardless I should try to make time since it’s been a couple months.

So in case you missed it, I got a new job!  I have the uber fancy title of “Associate Director” and refer to myself as a “troubadour of professional development” neither of which are particularly helpful in understanding what the heck it is I do all the time. Part of the fun is all the different things I do and part of the insanity is omg all the different things I do. So here are a few of the things I do. Currently anyway, this list seems to get longer by the day.

  • Plan and facilitate provincial PD offerings. Our team looks at the province globally and tries to decide what teachers will want/need for professional development during the year. Then we offer it!
  • Plan and facilitate PD for school divisions. Schools contract us out to do a whole variety of PD for their staffs. So far I’ve been working almost exclusively in math-land, but I’ll eventually have to branch out into some more generalist things.
  • Write (?!) and then fulfil long term contracts. Currently I’ve got one long term project on the go, and it’s an interesting hybrid of PD, planning and coaching with a small group of teachers on one staff. This is pretty exciting work since it’s long term and it’s my real connection to classrooms and students.
  • Support and work with our larger facilitator community. Our actual team is teeny tiny, so we are growing a large network of teachers in the province who can plan and then facilitate for us when opportunities arise. It’s the very beginning of this project, so this means lots of co-planning & co-facilitating & feedback loops.
  • Plan conferences. Some people don’t find this very fun, but I’m a fan.
  • Attend all the meetings. If teachers are involved we want to be involved & if math is involved I want to be involved. (other folks do the other meetings 🙂 ) We try to both make sure we understand what is going on in teachers’ lives from all directions so we can be mindful of their needs, and advocate for meaningful teacher supports.

So life is certainly never boring! Add in a pile of driving – this province is large! – and all kinds of random things and adventures and it’s a busy gig. I have the most awesome team to work with, and am meeting all the most amazing teachers, so all in all it’s been a great move. I will let you know if I feel the same way after I deliver my first plenary at the end of October!

TMC Reflection, the feels edition

Uh, maybe don’t look too close at the date of my last blog post mmmmkay? (Bet all you new #MTBoSers didn’t even know I had one, that’s cool).

#TMC15

I just started reading some reflections, promptly started crying at all the loveliness, so figured I better blog my own reflection before I’m incapable of doing so. I think I did say I’d at least make an honest effort at blogging more than once a decade at TMC after all.

TMC15 for me was a reunion of the very best kind. TMC13 was an amazing experience, but it was tinged with a desire to meet all the people and do all the things. At 150 strong it seemed pretty sure that it would certainly become an annual thing, but Canada is far & who can predict the future right? TMC this year, for me, had none of the feelings of needing to do anything.

It kinda had the qualities of a really good spiralling curriculum. I was able to spend really nice dedicated time with people who have been friends for a really long time. I was also able to deepen friendships and spend more time with people I only had a chance to meet in person briefly in Philly, which was really really lovely. I also had the opportunity to meet and learn with a wack of new folks – both long chats & quick hellos.

The things that didn’t happen? The people I didn’t get to meet or spend as much time as I would have liked with? Well it seems just perfect anyway, because as Elizabeth would say “This is a revolution” and no one is going anywhere. It feels very comfortable to know I’ll catch them next time, whenever that might be, and it will be awesome then.

New Lesson Plan Format

Image

I’m back!  I sent this out via the twitters not that long ago, but thought maybe it’s worth sharing a bit more widely.  This year will be my first year being seriously planned and ready (thanks to my most amazing Math 9 community).  The Math 9 group planned an entire unit that is a combination of review/responsive/enrichment stations to address the fact that every year we get grade 9s with a huge range of ability in our classes.  I’m totally against streaming, so I consider this a good thing, but it is daunting to deal with.  So yay! stations! I’m pumped to see how they work.  The stations are also paired with the new material that students need to learn from our curriculum, which is all stuff I’ve taught many times.  The organization of everything was feeling a little bit funny in my mind – I’ve got this great binder of all the papers related to the stations, then some not so clear notes on how exactly our group envisions new instruction and honestly it’s sort of a mess.  I am totally confident that I could do a really decent job of winging the new instruction pieces since I’ve taught it so many times, but this seems like a good opportunity to take the time to get organized AND be more thoughtful.

Et voila! My new lesson plan template was born.  It is stolen modified heavily from the 5 Practices book from NCTM (Stein & Smith) and I think will work well to organize new lessons, as well as keep track of the anticipating & monitoring that I tend to do on the fly.  Yet again a huge thanks to Christopher Danielson (buy his book!) for introducing me to this little gem at TMC13. 

Lesson Planning Document (on Dropbox)

Early Days

So I rarely post about actual classroom stuff, and I’ve got a long lineup of half started posts, but hey! this seems like an easy thing to share (and I’m somewhat interested in the results.)  Students’ first day homework is to go home and reflect on what characteristics/qualities good learners, communicators, problem solvers and community members have.  The next day we throw these all up on the board.  This year I added in the step of then brainstorming in table groups what barriers to these things might be.  We put these all up beside our characteristics and then we talk about our classroom community and norms/expectations for the year.  I thought these conversations went especially well this year, the students were pretty thoughtful and seemed really open minded to the idea that we’re actively making a community where we will come together everyday to learn and make mistakes together.  I’m going to not say (for the moment anyway) why I find the different classes so fascinating.

 

 

 

My $0.02 on the MTBoS and TMC

Because naturally I have an opinion on everything, especially things I love.  And I love the MTBoS.  By extension, I love TMC. I also, often, find that I come off sounding sort of like a jerk when I voice my opinions, so I feel that I should preface that all that is said below is said from a place of deep love for all the math teachers (and teachers in general really) who are trying to make teaching just a little bit easier by connecting on the interwebs.

There has been a little bit of concern voiced over the continued expansion of TMC because of the genuine desire to continue to expand and grow the MTBoS. Not wanting to grow TMC out of fear that it would change the dynamic of the conference directly contradicts what I feel pretty confident we all claim is our very best feature – that we are a community.  The most welcoming community around.  Anyone who is just trying to be a little less sucky at teaching math is a welcome addition to the tribe.

I won’t lie, I was a little nervous to be headed to TMC. Social situations in which you “know” people, but don’t actually know any of them are awkward. I mean, some of you people I have literally been talking with everyday for 4 years.  There was going to be over a hundred “friends” to manage, and let’s be honest, it’s really hard to not want to miss out on something awesome, so choices in who to talk with, who to eat with, what sessions to go to, all felt a little on the overwhelming side.

Know what?  Turns out we’re all just as awesome in person.  And that meeting 100 people in 4 days is impossible.  So I get the fear of what happens when we keep growing? How do we find time to spend with all these awesome people? And these are my thoughts.

There is never enough time. Seriously.  I didn’t get to spend enough time with anyone, including Anne who I shared a room with and kept up late every single night talking her ear off. There was so little time I didn’t even meet some very cool folks I was hoping to meet.  Or I just sort of waved at them and said “Hi!” but no real conversations were had.  However, there will never be enough time, and that doesn’t mean I can’t continue the already existing relationships in the way we do already, all year round.  Not having met people in person certainly doesn’t change our ability to have valuable online relationships.  Meeting people definitely can add a richer dimension to existing relationships, but that doesn’t subtract from others.  It’s not a one or the other scenario.  Because of the growth in TMC this year, I got to meet some really awesome new people who I didn’t already “know” and had amazing conversations with them (sure, I absolutely wanted more time with them too.)  Point being, there was this really nice dynamic of “familiar” faces and new and amazing people to meet.

That attitude of welcoming made TMC such an easy place to be and to learn.  It was phenomenal to be able to talk to any attendee at any time about themselves and about math.  Want to talk more? People simply took over the lobby.  Want to go for supper? Attach yourself to a group and start walking.  Sure, you can spend your time worrying about the experiences you’re missing out on or you can just really enjoy the ones that present themselves.

So long as this aspect of community is preserved, I really don’t think TMC can be too big.  And who preserves it?  We do.  By being our best selves.  By being math teachers who just want to suck a little less.

Trust Part Deux

So the Saskatchewan government is going to spend a cool 6 million to implement standardized testing in it’s first year (2013). Kudos that we’re actually calling a spade a spade here, and not inventing some fake name like “assessment for learning” when we really mean standardized testing. I have yet to see a shred of data that says large scale standardized testing does a lick of good to improve student achievement. In fact, I’ve seen a whole lot of it that says it hurts students achievement for a whole host of reasons. This is without even touching all the possible misuses for this data school divisions in other countries are inventing to use it for (oh hai America!). I have a pretty good hunch though, that the government will tell us all that we have no way of knowing about our students’ achievement and if it’s improving or not without these comprehensive, large scale, fancy new standardized tests. Naturally this is false. If I was a good blogger I’d link to how small scale, small group tests yield the same data, but it’s summer. And we all know I’m a terrible blogger (case in point, I still insist on two spaces after a period. Deal with it.) Uh, maybe I’ll come back to it.

For the sake of this blog post, let’s pretend there weren’t 6 million other things in education that are being seriously underfunded right now. We’ll ignore large class sizes, crumbling buildings, atrocious (embarrassing even) First Nations graduation rates, lack of appropriate support staff, etc. etc. Things are pretend lovely in the state of education in Saskatchewan, and the government genuinely wants to help do what they are so desperately claiming these tests will do – increase communication between schools and stakeholders and improve student achievement.

That is what the government is claiming these tests are all about – establishing clear communication with stakeholders in education so problem areas and interventions can be implemented early in a child’s educational scenario. Parents will have a better picture of how their children are doing since they will get the data. Teachers will be able to better address student areas of difficulty as they will receive the data in September of the right year. Divisions will be able to plan professional development as they will get data on their teachers. The province will be able to properly allocate funds for struggling schools/programs since they can look at school level data. When you say it like this 6 million sounds like a bargain.

However, let’s get real. There is no money for interventions or external supports for students who are struggling. This government has spent it’s time cutting those budgets. So to pretend that after spending 6 million on tests that will identify issues teachers already know exist that magically something different will happen is insulting. That’s right. Teachers around the province right now already know what those tests are going to say, and more than an hour long multiple choice computer test could ever tell them, right now. With their limited resources, they practice what amounts to educational triage and try their very best to secure supports for their students who are most in need. They deal at the classroom level with what they can. Ask any teacher in the province come the month of October for a description of any of their students and compare it to the data received from the tests. Be prepared for some shock and awe, as these teachers who “aren’t transparent” will have a detailed description of where that student is at, what things could be tried to help that student improve, and some excellent hypotheses as to where things may have gone sideways in the past.

So, what could the government be doing with all that cash? That would actually be useful to parents and stakeholders? How about a standardized reporting procedure that actually makes sense? Instead of complaining about how teachers don’t communicate what they know (you ever tried to communicate daily/weekly/monthly with 120 different sets of parents?) why don’t we make it easier for teachers to communicate? I don’t mean online grade books with rows of percentages (that’s not communication folks, as much as you love those numbers) I mean actual communication about what outcomes students are meeting, which they are not, and resources so parents can help if they are so inclined. Help beyond harassing the teacher for assignment due dates that is.

Seriously. Our report card system is slightly better than a joke. I spend a lot of time reading cumulative folders for my struggling students trying to glean information on what they can actually do in mathematics. It’s fairly telling that I often just want to throw the whole thing in the garbage. Elementary teachers slave over these documents, spending more hours than should be legal, and are forced to use these weird descriptors that are completely unhelpful to me. I assume they are even less helpful to parents as they don’t attend PD in edu-jargon-ese. They aren’t trained to read “Johnny sometimes can solve simple equations involving positive integers” as “Johnny failed the algebra unit” because poor Johnny is actually supposed to be able to solve complex equations using both positive and negative numbers by the end of grade 8. Parents don’t know the contents of the curriculum inside and out, they don’t know when a sometimes is “okay, I’m just learning like I’m supposed to” and when it means “DANGER DANGER, SERIOUSLY FALLING BEHIND HERE.” A report card that let teachers be honest about a students progress over the year, as well as facilitated parent understanding as to how this progress related to grade level norms AND was somewhat simple for teachers to use? I think someone could do this for less than 6 million. Heck, I volunteer to do it for one! What a steal!

Now, let’s imagine that the government took the left over money from improving our reporting procedures and developed some parent resources. You know, so parents were able to do something more than wring their hands and say “well, I was never really good at math so…” or “this is all so different from when I went to school, I don’t even understand it.” The vast majority or parents genuinely want to help their kids do better. It’s not their fault our approach to curriculum has changed and it’s crazy to think they’d instantly like something completely unlike what they expect. Or that they’d even know where to start. It’s also a wee bit insane to think teachers should take on the burden of developing resources for parents on top of their current workload. There are excellent resources out there. Ones way better than random worksheets and flash cards, and less frustrating than the guessing games that current occur at homework time. Curating the best of these and tieing them directly to common areas of difficulty that students encounter, plus offering workshops for parents should be the government’s job, not up to individual school divisions to piece together with their limited resources. Not to be too crazy, but I know a teacher or two who would take this on for a million as well.

So, in theory, I’ve found an alternate solution to the government’s problem AND I’ve saved them 4 millions dollars. My plan also has an unbelievably low cost in years 2+, unlike the current plan. Any chance we can get these savings reinvested into education Sask Party?

SUM 2013 Presentation

So @justagurl24 and I gave a presentations on the mathtwitterblogospher at SUM this year.  It was meh (in my opinion).  I think we were both hoping the audience would be more interactive, but really we just got a bunch of stares.  Which, I should have anticipated given how folks look at me when I say I outsource everything to twitter.  Also, one of our “activities” fell flat – given Dan was the keynote I was thinking everyone would have laptops/ipads with them.  Asking folks to read blogs on their phones was a little awkward.  Also, since laptops weren’t really prevalent, having folks interact with the twitter feed we crowdsourced (thanks to all who answered/gave resources on our volume questions!) wasn’t really an option. Lastly, it would have been nice to check out some of the cool sites y’all are putting together, but as a let me show you on this screen exercise it’s pretty yawn-fest-y.  Not that my quick run down/explanation was much better.

I’ve had several audience members say they are going to actively engage in twitter now, but this may have more to do with them being great colleagues instead of R & my’s persuasive powers.  If you plan to give a similar presentation, I’d definitely want to find a non-tech way to add some pizazz and would include some other video testimonials from folks.

Here’s our slides, I think we’ve got most of the current goings on of the mathtwitterblogosphere represented if you’re looking for a list.

Google Presentation Slides

I also updated my “Math Tweeps” twitter list if you’re here from our session and looking for some folks to follow.  If you’re already an active math twitterer and you’re wondering why you’re on the list, updating this thing is far more onerous than it should be and I probably just assumed you were already on it 🙂  I rarely use my lists, so I’m not missing out on all your genius, promise.