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

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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

 

 

The Magnet Game

Lots of people have been asking about some of the games we play in class that I have been posting on Twitter…I am going to do my best to do a short blog series on these as we head into spring time and I know lots of teachers will be looking for ways to review content and keep kids engaged!  For the record I don’t take credit for any of these!  I have had the pleasure of working with some brilliant people over the years that I have shared these with me and now I am glad to share them with you!

The Magnet Game is one of those games that I have to talk myself into playing due to the mass chaos that is causes in my classroom but the kids always rate it as one of their favorites and once we start playing it is one of my favorites too!

Materials needed: 

Magnets that will stick to your white board

Colored pieces of paper (amount of colors depends on how many teams you want, I usually do 5)  I generally create 8 slips from one sheet of paper.

A set of problems that you want to use during the game.  (I usually dump them into a SMART Board file or PowerPoint)

Procedure:

I randomly assign kids to “color” teams.  They don’t need to be sitting with members of their team (it is actually better if they aren’t).  I just walk around the room randomly handing kids stacks of one color of paper.  I make sure the teams are the same number of people on them.  (If there isn’t a number that is easily divisible I just do the best I can.  For example if is have 28 students I do 3 teams of 6 and 2 teams of 5 but make the maximum points a team can earn during a round 5.

I always start with enough magnets for each student in the class.  I display the first question, they answer it and then run to the board to place their answer under a magnet.  After the answers are in I quickly scan them and award one point to the teams for every correct answer.  (I usually have a student keep track for me on the board).

Before I display the second question I remove 2 or 3 magnets to make it a bit more interesting.  I continue to check for correct answers and reward points before removing a couple more magnets each round.  Eventually as the rounds progress it gets very interesting to get a spot under a magnet.

 

We always have so much fun playing this game and it is an awesome way to practice procedural fluency.  It requires very little prep work and materials that are readily available to my classroom!  I hope you will give it a try also, if you have question please ask!

Making Kids Feel Special

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In my last blog post I talked a bit about going to the PLCs at Work Conference last fall and some of the math ideas I was able to generate as a result.  However, my head was also filled with lots of other ideas to improve our school culture as a whole.  A huge take away for me was on the importance of making kids feel special.  My own children are lucky to go to a wonderful elementary school that makes a huge effort to make students feel special.  Not only do the classrooms have weekly VIP recognitions for students who go above and beyond but there are also awards assemblies quarterly where every child is recognized for what they shine at.  As a parent, I love the way their faces light up when they have been recognized by their teachers or administrators and how genuinely excited they are when one if their classmates is recognized.  In my school we do recognize children as students of the month however with only two students selected per team out of a school of 1100 there are a great number of children who never receive this recognition.  There are also a lot of students who do amazing things from time to time but just can’t seem to keep their school life together enough to be recognized for this monthly achievement (sometimes 1 day is a long time for a kid to keep it together, much less 30!)

Upon arriving home, my colleague Erin Sienecki and I knew we wanted to make an effort to find a way to make more kids feel special.  We came up with the idea to recognize kids for “popping” up as leaders with popcorn on Fridays.  We settled in on the popcorn idea because:

  1. It’s cheap and with a budget of $0 that’s important
  2. We knew the smell of popcorn popping would fill the building and kids would know leaders were about to be recognized.

We created a bulletin board with the help of some very creative volunteers and slips for teachers to nominate students for a leadership award.  The goal was for teachers to recognize kids who went above and beyond in some way whether it be social or academic that wouldn’t necessarily earn them student of the month recognition.  We have had students nominated for things such as cleaning up trash that didn’t belong to them or for showing really high growth on an assessment.

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On Friday mornings we have PTSA volunteers come in and pop the popcorn, place it in the bag and staple the leadership nomination on the bag.  We also make copies of the completed nomination forms so that we can add them to our bulletin board.  Near the end of the day, our administrators burst into classrooms to announce that there is a student leader in the room!  The students usually begin trying to guess who it is as the administrator reads their nomination form to the class and then presents the leader with the bag of popcorn.  The kids are always so excited for their classmates and cheer and clap and also hopefully resolve to work hard so that they may be recognized the next week.

Thus far, we have had some really positive feedback on the program from staff, parents, and students.  We have been recognizing around 70 students biweekly with this leadership program and can’t wait to expand it to a weekly program next school  year.  Personally, each student I have nominated for a leadership award has mentioned it to me privately and thanked me for seeing the good in them.  As a teacher, it does my heart so much good to know that for a brief moment I was able to help a student feel special.

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And on a special side note, most of the credit for this program goes directly to my colleague Erin Sienecki.  Erin is champion of making kids feel loved and special and I am thankful for her leadership on this school wide initiative.