Closing the Gap

I am excited for my kids to take our yearly state assessment this year.  Don’t get me wrong, I am still stressed.  I could use two more weeks before testing to fully give the Open Up Resources IM Curriculum Units 7 and 8 a bit more time to develop conceptually with my students but I also know that my kids know what we have gotten to very well.  From proportional reasoning to solving equations they truly own the math they’ve learned this year.  Unfortunately, it takes quite a while into next school year before we get that state assessment data back so for now I get to be really excited about how my kids performed on NWEA’s MAP test this year.

If you aren’t familiar with MAP,  it is norm-referenced by grade level and my district gives it 3 times per year to monitor growth.  Typically in 7th grade a year’s growth is considered 6 points.  I started the year with kids in my collaborative class that ranged in score from a 1st grade level to an 8th grade level…no easy task to differentiate for.  Even still, I couldn’t hide my excitement as my kids begin to report their scores to me and see their excited faces when they realized they reach their goal.  I give each of my students a note on the day of MAP testing.  One side features a motivational quote and the other side has a had written note from me along with their goal for the test.  I like for them to have a frame of reference so that as they finish they don’t have to ask me if “they did good”.  Instead, they can evaluate their performance against their goal themselves.

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To summarize how they did…they killed it.  Our principal challenged us to have each child grow one and half years this year and on average my class more than did that with 1.7 years of growth.  While it did make me happy that all kids grew, it made me more excited that the Open Up Resources IM curriculum helped close the achievement gap with my English Language Learners showing 2.3 years of growth while my Students with Disabilities grew an average of 2.5 years.

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The same kids that came into the class ranging from 1st grade level to 8th grade level ended the year with on levels that ranged from 3rd grade to high school, proving that the curriculum can both challenge advanced learners and foster their growth while still helping to catch up our most struggling students.  I knew before the MAP test that my GAP students had grown considerably just by observing their confidence level and reasoning ability but seeing the quantitative date prove the qualitative data I had observed further deepened my belief that this curriculum truly does work for all learners.  With three weeks to go before our state assessment I am more confident than ever in the work we have done in my classroom this year.  We did more than “prep” for a test.  Instead my students turned into real mathematicians that reason, struggle, and think to make sense of difficult problems rather than just rushing to “do math”.

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Rising Up

Disclaimer – This post is cathartic writing for me.  Hopefully I will be back to lesson blogging this week!

And we'll rise upi, like the waveswe'll rise up in spite of the ache

The last few weeks have taken their toll on me.  The people closest to me notice the difference.  I am much less talkative, seem far away a good part of the time, and my mind is always somewhere else.  I have tried to snap myself out of it but it has been difficult to overcome.  Plain and simple this legislative session has taken its toll on me.

My fellow teachers and I have been called unimaginable things by our Governor.  We have been accused of being the reason that children get abused and try drugs.  We have seen the people that we elected to serve our communities turn their back on us and try and cut public education to its core in closed door meetings and back room deals.

I have lost friendships because people couldn’t separate their political beliefs from the need to just to do what is best for children.  I have lost respect for people who perhaps unintentionally hurt me to my core with their lack of support for public education, making arguments that much like our Governor’s made no sense.

Here is the thing you may not know about teacher’s though…we get knocked down 100 times a day and get back up.  We can be cursed by a child in one minute and the very next minute consoling that same child because of something that is going on at home.   We can walk into a school upset about what is happening to our profession and then as soon as the bell rings be “on” for another academy award deserving performance in front of our class to get them excited about learning.  We can survive 8 hours without having 30 seconds to run to the restroom and can eat our lunch in 21 minutes standing in the cafeteria while tutoring some kids, discipling others, and adjusting our lesson for the second half of the day.

Teachers have been more than knocked down over the last few weeks but now is the time they rise up yet again.  They rise up for the children who will be so very excited to see them Monday morning.  They rise up for the student teachers who haven’t given up on being a teacher and are learning so much from them about how to teach content while loving kids.  They rise up for the children at home who look up to them as role models and have learned from them how to handle adversity with grace and class.

I am not fully sure what I will do with myself now that I am not constantly monitoring legislation and watching hours of live coverage from our house and senate.   I do know that I will continue to give the 120 kids I teach as much love as I can while finishing up teaching them the content they need before 8th grade.  I know I will continue to be a voice at the state level for kids who don’t have one.  I know I will keep being vocal about my support of public education and it’s importance in our society.  I know I won’t quit rising up for kids because they deserve it.

What More Can I Do?

I have had a lot of thoughts on my mind over the course of the last few days with all that is going on not only in Kentucky but nationally in regards to education.  The question that keeps going through my mind however is about what more I can do.  I have often used this blog to help work through my thoughts and feelings and this time is no different although it will probably get me in trouble yet again.

In Kentucky Charter schools continue to be a hot topic and until yesterday were being funded in our state budget.  Our Governor, Matt Bevin, seems determined to bring them to our state and it seems that during his veto period this week there is a good chance the funding for them will return.  My own representatives voted to bring Charter schools to Kentucky as well.  My question it this, what more do I have to do to make you want your children in my class?

I work at least two hours each day at school in addition to my contractual hours.  That doesn’t count the two to three hours I also spend at home working after my own children go to bed finding resources, creating stations, or making games to keep kids engaged and learning daily.

I spend hundreds of dollars of my own money buying the supplies and resources needed to keep my class current and fun for the 120 kids that sit in room 406 each day.  I endure the crazy looks at the grocery store when I buy a cart full of crunchy and puffy Cheetos so we can learn about surface area.  I see people weirdly staring as I buy the store out of goldfish and food coloring so that my students can have first hand experience with populations and sampling.  I carefully mix salt water concoctions so that my students never forget the concept of ratios and proportions.

I got a Bachelor’s degree in agriculture education and then went back to become certified in math so I could make and even bigger difference.  Then, I finished a Masters in Teacher Leadership and am now looking for a doctoral program all so I can continually improve myself as both a teacher and a leader.

I double or triple my district required 24 hours of professional development yearly at my own expense and on my own my own time so that I can continue to refine my craft and improve myself for my students.

I donate more than 100 hours of free professional development to districts each year.  I offer my time, resources, and lessons free to the teachers in these districts so that I can improve math education for students across the state of Kentucky not just in my own classroom.

I push myself every day to be better, do better, and teach better so that my students continue to learn and grow.  I teach everything from advanced students to struggling learners and nearly all seem to find success within the walls of my classroom.  I never quit trying to ensure they all succeed and never stop growing.

I have held kids hands as they said goodbye to parents that passed away and cried with them as they mourned the loss of classmates.  I have sent them home with food from my own kitchen so that they wouldn’t be hungry over the holidays and had pizzas paid for and delivered to their homes when I was afraid the food had run out.

Yet, none of that seems to be enough for some of my policy makers.  They look at all my colleagues and I do and claim it isn’t good enough and that there is still need a for Charter schools in Kentucky.  They had the intent to cut public school funding while funding charter schools until my colleagues and I finally held the line in Frankfort and called for change.  However, I go to bed tonight knowing that all I do it still not good enough for our Governor and at anytime now our funding can be cut by him and funding for Charter schools reimplemented during his line item vetoes.

I want all of my legislators and our Governor that are continuing to push for Charter schools to answer one question for me tonight.  What more can I do for you to want Kentucky’s students in my classroom?  What more will it take for you to see the value in the work I do?  How can I make you see all the good I do?  I was humbled to be recognized recently on a National level as a Milken Educator and yet my own legislator can’t see that value in me.  What more can I do?

Kids

Good Teachers Matter

As I sit here at home this morning trying to explain to my own children why there is no school today I am sad in more ways than I can explain.  It is a hard time to be Kentucky school teacher.  This post isn’t about that though.  I have colleagues and fellow teachers that are 100 times better at speaking about what is happening politically here than I am.  This post is simply to remind me and hopefully others why good teachers matter.

I believe I have shared before that I am a first generation college student.  I had wonderful parents that pushed us hard and expected us to achieve great things.  Unlike many teachers I do not come from a family of educators.  I am the only teacher in my immediate family.  Recently my cousin Kendra has also become a teacher but otherwise even in my extended family I was the first.  I feel I must have been called to be a teacher because I love it so very much  but I can’t pinpoint a certain teacher or person who pushed me into the profession.  However I can pinpoint many teachers that have made a personal impression on me and constantly remind me why good teachers matter.

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Mr. Stoltzfus

Dan Stoltzfus was the agriculture teacher and FFA Advisor at Mercer County High School.  I had zero intention of taking an ag classes due to lots of stereotypes in spite of being raised on a farm.  Mr. Stolzfus visited our house many times trying to convince me to give it a try and finally my sophomore year I did.  I have always had a relatively large personality but most people don’t know that I am also painfully self conscious.  In Mr. Stoltzfus’ class we all had to stand up and say one paragraph of the FFA Creed and I was a nervous wreck.  I stood up and did my very best reciting it from memory and I will never forget Mr. Stoltzfus saying that I had a great speaking voice and should use it more often.  He more than likely doesn’t even remember this statement but it completely changed the trajectory of my life.  I began doing public speaking contests with my FFA Chapter and even winning awards for speaking.  I found my voice all because of one kind comment from a teacher.  I am able to present about my passion for teaching now on a state and sometimes even national level because one teacher took three seconds and encouraged me to use my voice.  Good teachers like Mr. Stoltzfus matter.

Mrs. Powell

When my son came to Ronielle Powell’s class he was a struggling reader.  I am a math teacher to the core and have always been an avid reader so I had know idea how to help him make sense of the words on the page.  His dad worked for hours with him playing site words games and encouraging him and yet we still made little progress.  Ms. Powell changed his trajectory.  He came to her below grade level and left above grade level for reading.  Her blend of high expectations and motherly love was exactly what he needed.  I asked him this morning what made Ms. Powell such a good teacher and he said quickly that she spent so much extra time with him to help him catch up and always told him that if he worked hard he would be where his classmates were in no time.  She believed in him until he believed in himself.  Good teachers like Mrs. Powell matter.

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Ms. Kipper

I have blogged before about my daughter Embry’s early life health struggles and the vision and eye problems she has a reminder of her hard start at life.  I was terrified when she went to Kindergarten that she would be picked on and struggle with dealing with other kids who asked questions about her “little eye”.  Ms. Kippler made Kindergarten magical for Embry and at the end of it Embry decided that not only did she want to be a teacher one day but that she wanted to be a kindergarten teacher and only at Wellington just like Ms. Kippler.  That is still her dream now.  Good teachers like Ms. Kippler matter.

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Ms. Sienicki

I work with some amazing teachers that inspire me and push me to work harder and be better.  Perhaps no one has made me work as hard to form relationships with students as Erin Sienicki has.  Erin doesn’t just teach struggling kids she becomes a part of their lives.  She is the teacher they invite to their quinceanera, the one they share their hardest problems with, and the one that holds their hand at the funerals of their friends that lost their lives too soon.  She taught me the importance of writing notes to students past and present to let them know you care for them and believe in them long after they are no longer in your classrooms.  She volunteers at a home for runway teens in her free time and I am fairly certain she spends every extra dollar she has buying food, clothes, and supplies for her kids that need it most.  Good teachers like Ms. Sienicki matter.

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I could write paragraph after paragraph about different good teachers who matter and why.  Embry wanted me to mention Mrs. Harris also who has given her confidence in herself.  Jackson said Mrs. Tremoulis helped him learn to love reading with her 40 book challenge and Mrs. Fryrear made him a stronger writer by spending lots of extra time with him.  They both say Mrs. Underwood helped them learn to read.  I could name hundreds of teachers I have had the opportunity to learn from, teach with, and be friends with that matter too.

As I sit here with my kids on this unexpected and sad day off with tears in my eyes writing this post I am thankful for all the good teachers in our lives that make a difference every day.  Good teachers matters; I hope you will all remember that in the difficult days to come.

Sum Relay Races

Disclaimer…I learned about this review method at a conference years ago and have loved incorporating it into my class.  I am 99% sure I learned about it from Pam Wilson…thank Pam!

 

Although I love conceptual based problems and teaching sometimes my kids need some procedural fluency practice and I hate worksheets more than most!  We needed some extra practice today on the quadratic formula so I introduced my kids to this fun relay race game that requires teamwork more than speed and wanted to share it!

Students were placed in groups of 3.  (I usually allow them to pick their own)

Each group decided which student will be A, B, and C and records it on their answer recording sheet.

Students receive a card that has 3 problems on it.  One is labeled A, one B, and one C.  Each student does their problem and records their answer on their sheet.  Once all the answers have been recorded students find the sum of their answers and record it in the last column.

Once students have the sum they run their recording sheet up to me and I check the sum only.  If it is correct they get the next problem card and if it is incorrect they go back to their seats to work together to try and find their errors and then resubmit their answer.

If a group is really struggling I will look over their answers to A,B, and C to determine where the errors are in order to better help the group narrow down their mistake.

I generally provide our team money for the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place teams.  I also always have an additional activity in case there are early finishers…today it was a trail review in the hallway but no one quite got to that part!

This was our first time this year utilizing this game but the kids loved it and asked to do it more!  I actually had to make my 4th hour leave today because they were determined to finish.

Here are the Quadratic Formula Problem Cards  and Relay Race Answer Recording  Sheet that we used in class today.  I have also embedded my first Swivl video of me giving the directions and a few minutes of the kids working in their groups today.  (This class had a lot of students on a band field trip today…my class size is usually much larger!).  Let me know if you have questions or suggestions to improve!

Finding Your River

I am home from spending an incredible few days at the Milken Educator Awards Forum in Washington D.C. surrounded by people who are as passionate and excited about teaching as I am.  There were so many incredible conversations, panels, and TedTalks that I will be rereading my tweets often in the next few days to remind myself of all that I learned.

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My favorite quote however came from Wade Whitehead.  He reminded us that there are two types of people in the world, pie people and river people.  Pie people view success as a pie.  Every time someone else experiences success or good fortune they see it as a piece of the pie that can no longer have.  River people on the other hand see success as a river. They believe that if someone else dips their cup in the river to achieve success it is ok because the river keeps flowing and there will be plenty to fill their cup when it is their turn to dip it in.

I have spent way too much time in my life focused and worried about what pie people will think of me.  I worry they will grow tired of my ideas and continual push to innovate, that they will somehow see my passion as self serving, and the success and recognition I have received as a negative.  I am more blessed than I realize sometimes by river people and one of my goals for the rest of this year is to focus more on the positive influences in my life.

I sat in a room with 75 people for three days that exemplified what river people are made of.  The Milken Educators and staff that I had the pleasure to share my time with were as gracious, supportive, and inspiring than any group I have ever been around.  They reminded me that good teachers matter, that dynamic teachers change kids lives, and that I must continue to work to give students a voice with those that make policy decisions.  My mind is working overtime as I narrow down my platform and begin to make plans on how to best spread my message on a larger scale.

That means that I am going to push myself to blog more especially about the activities that are happening in my class every week as I work to develop kids into mathematicians.  It has been more than five years now since Karim Kai Ani from Mathalcious inspired me to use math as a means to social justice and to push kids to use math as a spectrum to see the world and be better citizens as a result of their mathematical understanding.  Although, that continues to be my motivation for working so hard in the classroom to inspire students I have not done a good enough job sharing here how I do that in my classroom.  I hope to share more of those activities and discussions here in order to perhaps make a small impact in other math teacher’s classes as well.

In the mean time, while pushing myself to do a better job being an advocate for math education I am also going to focus more on all the amazing river people in my life.  I am forever thankful to everyone who brightens my life by pushing me to be better and do more with the talents and skills I have been given.  I am especially thankful to Lowell Milken and everyone at the Milken Foundation for recognizing me not for what I have done but for what I CAN do.

If not me then who?

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Becoming a Teacher

By far the question I get asked the most is “why did you become a teacher?”.  I have no good answer for that question.  I have made it clear that I never intended to be a teacher but once I stepped in front of a group of kids I began to fall in love with the profession for a lot of reasons.  With 100% honesty I can tell you that when I decided to become a teacher I didn’t think about:

  • Having summers off.  It truly never crossed my mind and it truly has never happened.  I work at STEM Camp in the summer, host a Back to School Math and Reading Clinic for incoming 6th graders, go to many PDs beyond the required 24 hours, spend weeks redoing my classroom, read all the education books that I don’t have time for during the school year, and make plans about how I need to improve on in the coming year in order to best serve my students.
  • Losing my pension.  When I relocated back to Kentucky to teach I knew their pension system was strong.  Perhaps I didn’t do enough research but I assumed that it would be there for me when the time came for me to retire.  It never once crossed my mind that the system I pay my share into monthly would falter or the agreement I entered into when I became a Kentucky teacher would be voided or changed.
  • Not collecting social security.  I had absolutely no idea that Kentucky teachers were not eligible for social security.
  • Teaching until I was 65 with 44 years of complete service.  I starting teaching at the age of 21.  In order to make it until 65 I will work 44 years before I can retire.  If you have ever been in my classroom you know it is a wild and crazy experience.  I literally spend my days standing on tables, jumping from chair to chair, laying on the floor and dramatically acting out real world math situations.  It is hard to imagine me doing any of those things at 65.
  • Being armed at school.  I truly had no idea that 13 years ago when I became a teacher that parts of the public would eventually want me to carry a gun at school.  I have to keep the safety of my student on my mind daily and I have numerous “plans” on what to do during an active shooter situation but none of them include me being armed.

 

I have never thought about any of those things to be honest until this year.  This year I have had to stand by and watch my profession be ripped apart by my elected officials.  I have had to hear that I am unsophisticated, lazy, greedy, misinformed, ignorant, and perhaps worst of all bad at my job.  I now have to think about all the things listed above on a daily basis.  I have to wonder what will happen to my career and my financial future when my legislators finally reach an agreement.  I have to feel like a bargaining chip in a political game rather than a valued and educated professional.  Even still, I get up every morning prepared to provide 120 students with the best math education I can.  I continue to do the very best I can at my job in spite of what I continue to hear about my profession in the media because:

  • All children deserve access to highly qualified educators that are passionate about what they do.
  • Although my legislators have no problem turning their back on me, I could never turn my back on the students I represent and serve.
  • For many students I (and their other teachers) am the only caring adult they come in contact with on a given day.
  • I had inspired, motivated and talented teachers for all 13 years I was a public school student and future generations of Kentuckians deserve the same.
  • Whether they realize it now our not, our legislators were once students who also benefited from the hard work and dedication of teachers.  Teachers influence the future well beyond the years they teach.
  • My heart lies in the classroom.

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I am not really sure what the purpose of this post is except to say that I can promise you that teachers are not the monsters that our current Kentucky leaders are making us out to be.  We are parents, community members, volunteers, coaches, voters, and of course teachers that truly have the best interest of Kentucky students at heart.  We believe that Kentucky kids deserve the most educated, talented and passionate teachers standing in front of their classrooms each day (or in my case on a table!) each day.  The only way to achieve that is to ensure that we continue to keep our promised to past, present and future teachers.  Teachers have paid not only their financial part into the pension system but also their emotional part by investing in child after child that has come to their classroom.  It is time for our elected officials to pay their part.29197266_10105411006441640_6386232781327826944_n