Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Student Journals: Volumes of Pyramids, Cones, and Spheres (Days 65-66)

Today the eighth graders return to the Student Journals. As I promised on the blog last week, they are now working on the following standard:

Know the formulas for the volumes of cones, cylinders, and spheres and use them to solve real-world and mathematical problems.

Today I cover cylinders, and tomorrow I'll do cylinders. We're now in the geometry standards -- and as you can tell from the title of this blog, geometry is my favorite subject to teach.

There are a few issues with this lesson. As the readers of this blog already know, the volume of a cylinder is:

V = pi r^2 h

The problem here is how to handle the number pi here. Some texts have their students leave the answers in terms of pi, while others have the students use 3.14 instead. This can make a difference in the answers, for example:

Find the volume of a cylinder with radius 1 and height 10, to the nearest hundredth.

Let's try this one -- since pi to the nearest hundredth, we obtain:

V = pi r^2 h
V = (3.14)(1^2)(10)
V = 31.4 cubic units

But the correct answer is 31.42 cubic units -- since pi is more accurately 3.14159, the answer of 10pi is actually closer to 31.4159, which rounds to 31.42. We lose the digit 2 when we round before we perform the multiplication.

The Illinois State text doesn't make it clear which convention is to be used -- the students are merely instructed to find the volume, with no mention of rounding at all. But there is one question where the volume is given and the students are supposed to find the radius. It goes something like this:

Find the radius of a cylinder with volume 6280 cubic units and height 20.

Notice that if we use pi = 3.14, we obtain the exact equation r^2 = 100, which is clearly intended. So the Illinois State text expects students to use 3.14 for pi.

The expectation that students round pi to 3.14 before using it is made more explicit on IXL. The instructions given on that website are:

Use pi = 3.14, and round your answer to the nearest hundredth.

So IXL would not accept 31.42 as the answer to the above question, even though 10pi is much closer to 31.42 than 31.4.

I want to keep my class consistent with Illinois State and IXL, and so I tell my students to substitute in 3.14 for pi, just as they substitute in values of h and r. In particular, I don't have my students use the pi key on the calculator.

But then there's another problem. You see, most of the calculators in the class are Casio fx-300ES, and on these calculators, decimals are automatically converted to fractions. So instead of 31.4, the Casio displays 157/5. As awkward as 31.4 is, 157/5 is even worse. It sends the wrong message, as it makes numbers like 10pi appear rational, after we made a big deal about irrationality. And I can't figure out how to turn off the fractions, except by pressing the scientific notation mode -- and I don't want the students to see 3.140000000 01 either. We did cover scientific notation earlier, but it was taught briefly and in pieces.

By the way, the calculator also displays some irrationals exactly, including some square roots like sqrt(2), and even pi itself and its multiples. So 10pi displays exactly as 10pi, if the students were to use the pi key to perform the calculation.

At this point, I could have the students just keep their answers in terms of pi using the Casio, or even by hand and dispense with the calculator completely. But this approach doesn't satisfy Illinois State or IXL, where students need to multiply by 3.14. And finding the volume of a cylinder with radius 14 and height 16, using 3.14 as pi, is very cumbersome to do by hand -- even more so if we replace "cylinder" with "cone" and force the students to divide by 3.

Finally, I keep bringing up IXL, but I'm sure whether the students will even get to use IXL for this lesson before this week's test. Eighth graders are scheduled for IXL on Mondays and Thursdays, but the Monday lesson is right after coding. I couldn't have had the eighth graders find volume on IXL yesterday, since they didn't learn about volume until today. And on Thursdays by Bruin Corps member may be present, and then I'll switch to science for both the main class period and IXL time (when they'll use another online program for science instead).

I was considering purchasing some cheap four-function calculators for $1 each to avoid the Casio fraction problem. But I don't want to buy them and then end up doing science instead of IXL anyway.

I had a new eighth grade student enroll today. Fortunately, she's seen 

Meanwhile, yesterday the seventh grade class got in trouble. The coding teacher walked in and asked the class to quiet down. They didn't, and so he just walked right back out. This forced me to take out the seventh grade Student Journals and begin the lesson on scale drawings -- and if they weren't quiet for the coding teacher, of course they weren't quiet for me either. I was so upset with them that I declared one of the pages to be a quiz, and then collected it. Naturally most of the students scored 0 out of 7, since they were too busy talking to learn it.

As it turned out, the seventh grade talking continued into English class. My colleague sent the biggest offenders to the office -- the administrators called their parents and suspended them after getting in trouble for the third time. Well, at least the history teacher got a quiet seventh grade class.

Meanwhile, all three of us middle school teachers agreed to start giving out packets of worksheets, which are a combination of homework and classwork. I could tell you how the packets work -- or better yet, I can sing it to you:


1st Verse:
Your folks came up to us and said,
"Hey teachers, you can't hack it!
You make the claim you give our kids
Much work, but you can't back it."
So we got together and said,
"Let's stop all this racket!
We'll staple all our good worksheets
To make a ten-page packet."

2nd Verse:
Don't leave your packet behind,
Make sure that you backpack it.
Or if it starts to rain then
Hide it underneath your jacket.
Keep it in a folder so that
You can always track it,
Make sure that you never ever
Leave your ten-page packet.

3rd Verse:
When it's homework time then
Take it out and just attack it.
When there's extra time in class
Then you need to unpack it.
When it's time to turn it in
Make sure that you don't lack it.
To each and every teacher just
Turn in your ten-page packet.

By the way, you may be wondering where I'm getting the worksheets to fill these packets. Actually, I'm getting them from the texts I've purchased from the library -- Saxon 65 and Algebra 1/2 for sixth and eighth graders respectively, along with the old McDougal Littell seventh grade text!

For "Day in the Life," there is no teacher whose daily posting day is the 29th. So instead, let's go back to our old standby, Fawn Nguyen:

Nguyen writes a special Thanksgiving post in which she makes a big announcement:

On Sunday, I wrote a longer-than-usual email to my siblings about my intentions to begin gathering facts and etching memories for a bucket-list item of writing a book. I told them it could take anywhere between 3 to 10 years, meaning I have no clue.

So apparently Nguyen's upcoming book will be an autobiography. I look forward to reading it -- more to see what she has to say about her teaching career than her "fish cabin" story. Well, I guess I'll have to check the bookstores and Amazon between 2019 and 2026.

If I'm reading Nguyen's blog, I might as well check out our other old standby, Sarah Carter:

Carter's physical science class is still working on chemistry. As you can see, she and two students used pipe cleaners to create three molecules -- H2O, NH3, and CH4. No, my own class is not working on chemistry yet, but we might get there soon.

This is a two-day post. Tomorrow we will continue working on the Student Journals in all grades, so it should be a normal day -- at least as normal as a middle school Wednesday can be.

My next post will be Thursday, December 1st.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Intro to Green Team and Revised Pacing Plan

Table of Contents:
1. The Length of Thanksgiving Break
2. The Need for Thanksgiving Break
3. Intro to Green Team
4. More Thoughts on Pacing
5. Only Fifteen Standards -- You Wish!
6. Upcoming Plans for Sixth Grade
7. Upcoming Plans for Seventh Grade
8. Upcoming Plans for Eighth Grade
9. Today's "Day in the Life" Poster
10. Presidential Consistency

The Length of Thanksgiving Break

This is what I wrote last year on my blog about the length of Thanksgiving break:

Of course, since I was born, air travel has become more common, and families often live in different states on opposite coasts. Some news reports began to identify Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, as the biggest travel day of the year. Families that travel on Wednesday obviously can't send their children to school that day. So in the 1990's, some districts began to observe a five-day weekend from Wednesday to Sunday, including the largest district in the area, LAUSD, for a few years around this time. (Such schools still exist. This year, the eighth-grade daughter of our English teacher attends a school that has a five-day weekend for Thanksgiving.)

The schools I attended as a student always held school the day before Thanksgiving, but for a few years, when I was in the sixth through ninth grades, a staff development day was held on the Monday after Thanksgiving (the day now called Cyber Monday, but this was back when the Internet was still in its infancy).

In a way, the entire week off is the next logical step after a five-day weekend. Wednesday may be the biggest travel day of the year -- and so in order to get the jump on the crowds, flyers may leave on Tuesday instead. And once we take Tuesday off from school, we might as well take Monday off as well, since no one wants a lone day, a one-day week. And so the entire week is taken off.

And as I wrote before, my current charter school had another day off for staff development on top of that, so students are home for a week and a day, starting the Friday before Thanksgiving!

The Need for Thanksgiving Break

As a teacher, I can say that we certainly need Thanksgiving break! The last week before the break was tough because it also marked the start of a new trimester, with grades to be completed and parent conferences to be held.

So what exactly did I do today, my first true weekday of Thanksgiving break? Well, I worked of course -- I met with the leader of the Green Team program that I want to implement for science. Not only that, but our English teacher will be going to our school on Wednesday. You see, she hasn't had time to work on the bulletin boards lately, so she decided to ask her daughter to come and help her -- since the girl's school, as I wrote earlier, has a five-day weekend starting Wednesday. The fifth grade teacher has also agreed to come in to decorate her own classroom.

This reminds me of something that Tina Cardone, leader of "Day in the Life," writes:

A day you work during the summer (what do you mean teachers don’t take the entire summer off?)

Clearly we teachers don't even take the entire Thanksgiving break off, much less summer. Now Cardone writes this in response to anti-teacher critics who say that not only don't teachers work during our holiday breaks, but we aren't satisfied with them and need to take more days off!

One such critic goes by the username "Floyd Thursby." He often writes that teachers like to take an extra day off before Thanksgiving:

[If due process worked -- dw] We wouldn’t have 12% call in sick the Tuesday before Thanksgiving with no fear of being fired.

Here Thursby is referring to a district that observes a five-day weekend from Wednesday to Sunday, so "the Tuesday before Thanksgiving" refers to the last day of school before the holiday.

Intro to Green Team

So what exactly is this Green Team, anyway? Here is a quote from the brochure:

"Let's Move Nation & Beyond's" Green Team Program is designed to engage students and their families; school faculty, administration and leadership; and the broader community on the importance of energy conservation topics. It will focus on campus-wide awareness, direct education to children, and Green Team leader development."

As I wrote earlier, I met with the leader of the Green Team this afternoon. She tells me a little more about how this program will work:

-- There will be a monthly newsletter for all students K-8 informing them about ways they can help their families save energy and water. We're hoping that the first newsletter will be December 1st.

-- The next step is to introduce this unit in science with a Pre-Assessment. This Pre-Assessment should be given just before winter break.

-- In January, the science unit will begin in earnest. Students can bring in copies of their energy and water bills. By the end of the unit, we're hoping that students have implemented enough saving tips to see a noticeable reduction in their bills. The grade with the largest reduction can win prizes, which could be anything from a classroom pizza party to even some sort of field trip.

-- There will also be a science project or fair associated with this unit. If everything goes right, the projects will be completed by Earth Day, which is Saturday, April 22nd.

In order for this to work out, as the Green Team leader explains, there should be at least ten schools participating in the program. So far, five schools have signed on, counting my own. All of these schools are either charters, like my own, or small private schools. Unfortunately, our sister charter can't be included, because it's not actually within the Los Angeles city limits and thus isn't served by the LA Department of Water and Power (one of the sponsors of the program).

Originally, the Green Team program was intended for Grades 5-7. But it's awkward to include sixth and seventh grade at a middle school but not eighth, so now it's extended to eighth grade as well.

On the other hand, fifth grade usually isn't included at most middle schools. But we're a K-8 school, and so we can include fifth grade all we want. I've spoken with our fifth grade teacher on our PD day, and she's enthusiastic about the program as well. After all, even the fifth grade class has only the Illinois State text and thus the science is limited to only the STEM projects. Both of us know that both fifth and eighth grades have NGSS tests in May, so let's include both grades as this could be the only science they'll see. I might even drop by our school on Wednesday and let the fifth grade teacher know what I learned today -- since, if you recall, she'll be at the school that day to decorate!

As I said earlier, I definitely look forward to working with the Green Team in my room. I hope that it will help my students out with science -- and even save them a little money.

More Thoughts on Pacing

A week and a half ago, I wrote about my worries regarding the pacing. The Benchmark Tests threw me for a loop -- there were so many standards appearing on the tests that we hadn't covered yet. So I wrote how I'll make sure that every standard is covered before the next Benchmark Tests.

But here's the problem -- there are so many standards that don't appear on any of the Benchmarks throughout the year, yet will appear on the actual SBAC! For example, let's take a look at the standards that appear on Benchmarks:

1st Trimester Benchmark: RP3a, NS2, EE2c, G4, SP3
2nd Trimester Benchmark: RP2, NS1, EE2b, G2, SP1
3rd Trimester Benchmark: RP3b, NS4, EE4, G2, SP5a

Notice how some standards appear to be missing -- for example, under the NS (Number Sense) thread, we see NS1, 2, and 4 included, but not NS3. Oh well, maybe NS3 isn't that important then -- or is it? Let's see what this missing standard actually is:

Fluently add, subtract, multiply, and divide multi-digit decimals using the standard algorithm for each operation.

And now I'm thinking, what the...! This is clearly a very important standard -- indeed, it might be the most important standard in all of sixth grade! I think all the way back to my old math texts back in elementary school. The first grade text had a picture of addition on the front cover -- and to me, this meant that first grade is the "year of addition." The second grade text had a subtraction picture on the cover, as second grade is the "year of subtraction." The third grade text had a multiplication picture on the cover, and so on. And the sixth grade text had a picture of decimals. So to me, this meant that sixth grade is the "year of decimals." So the idea that decimals would be omitted is strange indeed.

Furthermore, I think back to Parent Conferences, and I was telling one parent about how well his daughter was doing with long division. His reply was that this is good, because his daughter will be well-prepared to compute with -- you guessed it, decimals. So the idea of having a sixth grade math class without decimals is unthinkable.

Only Fifteen Standards -- You Wish!

Some people may argue that there are just too many standards in the Common Core. I remember in years back when I was trying to come up with alternatives to the Core here on the blog -- as I often did during holiday periods such as Thanksgiving break. I like the idea of there being only 15 standards, with five on each Benchmark. This gives us about two weeks on each standard -- enough time to do a STEM project followed by the lesson (but at the time I came up with this, I wasn't thinking about STEM projects or anything like that).

I actually tried to come up with such a simple plan for a sixth grade class -- until I realized that I'd left out some of the key standards, such as decimals! I was so embarrassed that I didn't even bother to post my sixth grade plan -- until unwittingly, I posted a sixth grade pacing plan two weeks ago based on the Benchmark Tests. Since decimals didn't appear on the Benchmarks, they didn't appear on my proposed pacing plan.

Again, it's so annoying that the so-called "pacing plan" (provided by Illinois State) doesn't correspond exactly to the Benchmarks (provided by Illinois State), and respects the order of neither the STEM text (provided by Illinois State) nor the traditional Student Journals (provided by Illinois State).

At this point, those familiar with my blog may say -- hey, I'm one to talk! My first year on the blog, I presented a Geometry text by doing Chapter 1, 2, 3, 4, back to 3 again, one lesson from 6, then to 5, 6, 7, and then skip all the way to 12. And the following year, I doubled down on chapter jumping by covering Chapter 7 before 5, and so on.

Of course, there's a difference here. Even though that text was the closest I've seen a pre-Core text get to Common Core Geometry, there were some differences, and so I jumped chapters in order to cover all of the tested material. On the other hand, the "pacing plan," Benchmarks, and texts all come from the same source, namely Illinois State. One would think that at the very least, the pacing plan and Benchmarks should correspond.

I'm thinking about a seventh-grader at my school. She'd struggled throughout elementary school math, yet managed to score "proficient" on last year's SBAC. She continues to succeed this year, as she earned the top score on the 7th grade Benchmark. But now I'm worried that her scores will go down, because there'll be so much material on the SBAC that I won't have covered. That will surely happen if I base my pacing plan solely on the Benchmarks!

The 6th and 7th grade STEM texts each contain 27 projects. There's no way that I'll be able to cover all 27 projects throughout the year. But at least the Illinois State pacing plan matches each project with standards. By covering all of the projects, I'd cover all of the standards. But since I can't cover all of the projects, I'll be omitting standards that might occur on the SBAC.

Oh, and by the way, the idea that I should give a project once every two weeks also comes from Illinois State -- this is how often we must submit project forms to the developers. This means that I can comfortably fit 15 projects in the year -- five each trimester, plus a little cushion time for the Benchmark Tests themselves.

Illinois State brags that its curriculum prepares students for the SBAC. If I could improve the Illinois State text, here's how I'd do it:

-- There should be only 15 STEM projects. All standards that are likely to be tested on the SBAC should match up with one of these projects.
-- The first Benchmark should match up with Projects 1-5. The second Benchmark should match up with Projects 6-10. The third Benchmark should match up with Projects 11-15.
-- Some of the projects currently in the Illinois State sixth and seventh grade texts are listed with above grade-level standards. If such projects are to remain, they should be numbered Project 16 (or 17) and given after the SBAC, so as not to distract from on grade-level SBAC questions.
-- With so many standards to cover and fewer projects, we can't waste the first four projects on "Tools for Learning" that correspond only to Mathematical Practices rather than actual math standards.

Actually, as a teacher of all three grade levels, I like how the first few projects are for all three grade levels, so I don't have to prepare for three different projects at once. But it took nearly the entire first trimester just to get through "Tools for Learning" (that is, Unit 0). Perhaps there should be only one or two projects in Unit 0 -- or if we're to keep Unit 0 intact, they should at least correspond to the standards that appear on the first Benchmark. We can then keep the first Benchmark as it is, provided the second and third Benchmarks span the rest of the SBAC.

All of this is what I'd do if I could fix the Illinois State text -- but of course, I can't do that. But since I definitely don't want to skip decimals in sixth grade, I must already change the pacing plan that I gave in my November 10th post. I will continue to follow the projects in order, with a goal of reaching Project 15 around the time of the third Benchmark and the SBAC. Then I'll just teach the standards that correspond to each project, as these more nearly span the SBAC. This means that once again there will be missing standards at the second Benchmark, but to me it's more important that students feel ready for the SBAC, not the Benchmarks.

Let's look at each grade level in turn to see what the pacing plan will look like for the next few Learning Modules (that is, the next few projects):

Upcoming Plans for Sixth Grade

6th grade
-- Module 6: RP1, RP2
-- Module 7: NS4
-- Module 8: RP3d

For Module 6, Standards RP1 and RP2 have already been covered. The big point of departure is Module 7, where we will jump to NS4, which is on greatest common factor. In Module 8, RP3d is on measurement -- recall that this is the standard my counterpart was teaching at our sister charter.

Module 8 is the last module in Unit 1: Mathematics in Motion. Recall that the goal is to reach Module 15 for the SBAC (with Module 16 squeezed in during or after SBAC). This marks the end of Unit 3, meaning that I won't be able to cover Units 4, 5, or 6. Yet there is a compelling reason to cover at least Unit 6 this year. Let's look at Unit 6 to find out why:

24. Go With the Flow
25. What Did You Do With All That Water?
26. The Air That I Breathe
27. What Can We Expect?

And the first part of Project 25 is:

Exploring I: What is the importance of conserving water?

In other words -- Project 25 is directly related to the goals of the Green Team! Our partnership with the Green Team is a strong incentive to cover this project during the year. After all this discussion about how I want to give the projects in order, suddenly now I want to jump to Unit 6. Keep in mind that I haven't really done a good job with the sixth grade projects -- I spent only one day on each of the first two projects of Unit 1, and this wasn't nearly enough for them to learn anything. Tying STEM projects to Green Team means that I'll definitely have time to cover the projects, as there will already be time reserved to Green Team.

This does mean that I might end up pairing Module 6 with Standard SP3. There are several reasons to do so -- SP3 was covered on the first Benchmark but not in any STEM project, while some of the other stats standards are covered in Unit 6.

Most likely I'll do Module 7 before winter break, then jump directly to Modules 24 and 25 on water right after winter break, when the Green Team begins in earnest. Sure, they'll miss Module 8 on measurement, but there's measurement in Module 24 as well.

The only problem with tying STEM projects to Green Team is that these projects only appear in the sixth grade text. Unfortunately, 7th and 8th (and 5th) graders won't have access to these projects.

Upcoming Plans for Seventh Grade

7th grade
-- Module 6: none (MP only)
-- Module 7: G2, G5
-- Module 8: G3
-- Module 9: EE6, G4
-- Module 10: G6, G7

For some reason, Module 6 in the seventh grade text is just like Modules 1-4, with "Mathematical Practices" as the only standards listed. But Module 5 lists G1, on map scales, as a standard. Both Modules 5 and 6 involve maps, so G1 is a good standard to cover here. As we can see, this leads into more geometry standards for the remainder of Unit 1.

Upcoming Plans for Eighth Grade

8th grade
-- Module 6: NS1, NS2, EE2, G9
-- Module 7: G1a thru G2
-- Module 8: G3 thru G5
-- Module 9: G6 thru G8

For Module 6, the only standard we haven't covered yet is G9, on volume -- and notice that this is followed by more geometry standards. These include G1 and G2 -- which mark the gateway to the transformation geometry with which we associate Common Core.

As you know from my first two years on the blog, geometry is my favorite topic, and I spent so much time writing about transformations and geometry. So of course I have lots to say about how I plan on teaching the eighth grade geometry units.

As it turns out, only G2 and G4 appear on the Benchmarks. Again, blindly following the Benchmarks leaves out many important topics, such as G5 (parallel lines and angles) and G6 thru G8 (on the Pythagorean Theorem), that definitely appear on the SBAC.

I've said before that in many ways, Common Core 8 is like Integrated Math I. Ironically, even though this is a geometry blog, that statement is more applicable to algebra than to geometry. The algebra content of Integrated Math I should match both the algebra content of Common Core 8 and the first half of Algebra I. Therefore, if we take the first half of the a pre-Core Algebra I text, this provides us with enough algebra to cover both Common Core 8 and Integrated Math I.

But the analogous statement for geometry is impossible. We cannot say that the geometry content of Integrated Math I matches both the geometry content of Common Core 8 and the first half of high school Geometry. This is because there are some topics in the first half of Geometry that are inappropriate for Common Core 8 (such as two-column proofs), while there are some topics in Common Core 8 that don't appear until the second half of Geometry (such as similarity).

Let's look at one Common Core 8 standard in particular:

Use informal arguments to establish facts about the angle sum and exterior angle of triangles, about the angles created when parallel lines are cut by a transversal, and the angle-angle criterion for similarity of triangles. For example, arrange three copies of the same triangle so that the sum of the three angles appears to form a line, and give an argument in terms of transversals why this is so.

This standard clearly mentions informal arguments. So we obviously don't want to see any sort of two-column proofs. Also, we agonized for years on the blog over the proofs of the Parallel Consequences -- some of those proofs are barely appropriate for high school Geometry, thus certainly not appropriate for Common Core 8.

So instead, let's come up with an informal argument for the Parallel Consequences. Recall that the Corresponding Angles Consequence ultimately goes back to translations. So if two parallel lines are cut by a transversal and angles 1 and 2 are corresponding angles. then they are congruent. In this case, I'll tell the eighth graders to imagine the translation mapping angle 1 to 2 -- this translation is clearly in the direction of the transversal itself. Likewise, for alternate interior angles, the students can imagine rotating one of the angles 180 degrees to coincide with the other.

One advantage of this trick is that I don't even need to use the terms "corresponding angles" or "alternate interior angles" at all. Instead of focusing on these terms, students think only about the transformations mapping one to the other. And by doing so, they learn to appreciate the relationship between transformations and congruence.

Today's Day in the Life Poster

The "Day in the Life" poster whose monthly posting date is the 21st is Wendy Menard, a New York high school teacher:


Here is a link to Menard's November 21st post:


Menard begins:

This post comes to you at 6:22 AM on the first very cold and blustery day of the season.  It’s the start of the short pre- Thanksgiving week, and I am looking forward to the 4 day weekend probably as much as my students.

So obviously Menard's school doesn't take the entire week off, or even a five-day weekend.

Most of Menard's school day revolves around her Algebra II classes. Tomorrow she'll give her students a test, so today she has her students work on a "practice exam" in groups. The thing is, her "practice exam" is the actual test! She writes:

I think it may have dawned on some of the students that they were looking at the actual exam, and this will be the only time I can use this element of surprise.  Hopefully, I will see better results and more work that evidences understanding tomorrow.

Backing up a little, I notice that Menard's Parent Conferences day is also November 17th! (Her post is dated the 18th because she wanted to include a second day of conferences.) As I wrote earlier, most schools in New York City have a Labor Day start, so the conferences mark the end of the first quarter, not the first trimester.

Menard writes:

Today is the Autumnal Education Equinox – the longest day of the teacher’s year: Parent Teacher Conferences.

Unfortunately, Menard's analogy falls flat here. The longest day of the year is the summer solstice, not the autumnal equinox. So I assume she means to say "Today is the Summer Education Solstice."

As it turns out, my own Summer Education Solstice was the 16th, as that was my long day where I had to arrive early and stay late (though not as late as Menard). For both of us, our respective "solstices" were quite busy, but the day after the solstice for both of us was quite light, since most of the parents had talked to us the previous day.

Presidential Consistency

This wouldn't be a Thanksgiving break post without more talk about the Common Core debate. As a matter of fact, I've been thinking more about some ideas that I've posted on the blog in the past.

You might recall when I wrote about the "Classical Curriculum." In this curriculum, Grades 5-8 are basically a repeat of Grades 1-4 for history and science. I wrote about the idea of extending this concept to math. I've already written about how first grade is the "year of addition" of whole numbers, second grade the "year of subtraction," third grade the "year of multiplication," and fourth grade the "year of division."

So under the "Classical Curriculum," we can make fifth grade another "year of addition," but for rational numbers (including fractions and integers). Sixth grade becomes a "year of subtraction," seventh grade a "year of multiplication," and eighth grade a "year of division." This is very different from the Common Core or most pre-Core standards. Fifth grade is a bit early for addition of integers, while eighth grade is a bit late for division of fractions and decimals.

But now I've seen actual middle school students, and now I'm starting to like the idea of this math "Classical Curriculum" a bit more. I've noticed that more often than not, it's the eighth graders who are reaching for a calculator, not sixth graders. This is because sixth graders have been studying the standard algorithms of arithmetic for the past few years. But after sixth grade, the learning of the algorithms is complete. All of seventh grade is spent forgetting about the algorithms, so by the time they reach eighth grade, "do arithmetic" means reaching for a calculator.

So delaying division of rationals into eighth grade forces these students to continue thinking about the algorithms of arithmetic as opposed to reaching for a calculator. This bridges the gap between Grades 4-6, when they first learn and practice long division, and Algebra II/Pre-Calc, when they learn about long division of polynomials.

But there's one more proposal that I want to discuss in this post -- Presidential Consistency. This is the idea that presidents hypocritically propose various education reforms for the public schools, then shield their own children from it by sending them to private schools that don't implement these education reforms. Presidential Consistency Core is automatically defined to be the curriculum used at whatever school the First Children attend. This way, charges of hypocrisy don't come up, as the president's children would have the same curriculum as everyone else.

We have a newly elected president, Donald Trump. I feel that I can safely mention politics at the bottom of a long holiday post -- and besides, notice that Wendy Menard openly discusses politics right at the top of her November 21st post, and even more so in her November 9th post (that is, the day after the election). But this post isn't about the president-elect but about his young son Barron, especially since his education plans have been announced over the weekend.


Barron is ten years old, with his 11th birthday in March. So I assume that he's a fifth grader. The announcement is that Barron will at least remain at his New York City private school until the end of the current school year, so that he won't have to switch schools mid-year. I assume that even though he attends a private school, his calendar follows other Big Apple schools, with no school until after Labor Day and the last day of school just barely before June 30th.

It's possible that for sixth grade, Barron will attend a DC school -- maybe even Sidwell Friends, the same school as Sasha and Malia Obama. Under my Presidential Consistency plan, the curriculum would follow the outgoing president's children's school under the end of the year, so that just like Barron, no one would have to switch curricula mid-year either. If Barron were to attend Sidwell then Presidential Consistency Core wouldn't change -- it would be defined as Sidwell's standards.

For the remainder of this post, let's assume that Barron continues to attend his current school for sixth grade and beyond -- this is Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School:


Let's focus on the middle school math standards -- one because I'm a middle school math teacher, and two because this is what Barron is learning now:


Notice that at Columbia, "middle school" is defined as Grades 5-7 (similar to how the Green Team defines "middle school"), so Barron is already a middle school student. As I compare Columbia's math curriculum to Common Core, most of Columbia's standards are either the same as Common Core's or are possibly one year earlier (for example, I notice that "systems of linear equations" is listed as a seventh grade topic at Columbia). Therefore Consistency Core could move some of Common Core's standards down one grade.

I thought this part is fascinating:

[6th graders] also use tables, graphs, written language, and symbolic rules to examine patterns. To bring these concepts to life, students invest imaginary funds in the stock market and use formulas to figure out their gains and losses over time, as well as research a future career and determine a budget to support themselves in NYC.

Interestingly enough, my old sixth grade math teacher had us play a stock market game as well.

One might expect that with a tougher seventh grade curriculum, all eighth graders might be pushed into Algebra I. The following link shows that this is not the case:


We see "an introductory Pre-Algebra course" mentioned as one of the classes, so this class is available for eighth graders. Meanwhile, of the Geometry course, it's stated that students follow a "traditional study of Euclidean plane geometry." I interpret this as indicating that transformations will not appear in this course, so opponents of transformation geometry would appreciate that.

I'm also a middle school science teacher, so let's look at the science curriculum:


I notice that STEM is mentioned, so I assume that the Barron is doing STEM projects similar to what I'm doing in my own classes. The sixth and seventh grade courses appear to be one year ahead of the old pre-NGSS standards here in California -- the fifth grade course doesn't correspond to any class that I can easily recognize.

This concludes the post -- my last post of the Thanksgiving break. My next post won't be until Tuesday, November 29th -- the second day back from break, since the November 17th post was actually a two-day post covering both Days 63 and 64. Enjoy your Floyd Thursby day (that is, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving) and the rest of your holiday!

Friday, November 18, 2016

MTBoS A Day in the Life Project: November Reflection

This is my monthly post for November for Tina Cardone's "Day in the Life" project. Even though today is Friday, there was no school for the students -- just a professional development day.

If you really want, you can read my "Day in the Life" for today's PD day:

8:15 -- I arrive at my school.

8:30 -- The PD begins. A speaker has flown all the way from New Jersey to here in California to discuss today's PD topic, "Responsive Classroom." You can read more about it at the following link:


9:55 -- We have a ten-minute break. During this time, I check my email and receive a response from the Green Team, who wants to implement a special science lesson in my class. Please see previous "Day in the Life" post, dated yesterday (for Parent Confences/day before Thanksgiving break). for more information on what the Green Team is.

10:05 -- The PD resumes.

12:30 -- We have a 45-minute break. Lunch is provided for teachers -- chicken with mac and cheese.

1:15 -- The PD resumes.

2:00 -- The PD ends. I decide to spend some time cleaning up and organizing my room.

3:15 -- I go home for the day and head for my computer to type up this blog entry.

I know -- this is rather pointless, especially since I already submitted a PD post in August. So today I'll write more on Cardone's special reflection questions. Notice that I incorporate some of what I learned at today's PD into the reflection. The Survival stage of my first year continues:

1) Teachers make a lot of decisions throughout the day.  Sometimes we make so many it feels overwhelming.  When you think about today, what is a decision/teacher move you made that you are proud of?  What is one you are worried wasn’t ideal?

I'm thinking back to Tuesday, November 8th. (No, the decision I'm about to write about has nothing to do with the election!) Due to a combination of strange events, instead of teaching in my classroom, I was subbing for the middle school math/science teacher at our sister charter school! On that day, I made one decision I'm proud of -- but unfortunately two of which I'm less than proud.

I made my good decision during the first block of the day, seventh grade math. My counterpart left a multiplication table for the students to complete in three minutes, but some students told me that I was wrong and that they're supposed to get four or five minutes. So I told them that if they took extra time, there'd be less time for Playworks Classroom Game Time to follow. That ended the argument.

My first bad decision occurred during sixth grade science. At both charter schools, the official policy is that students are not to eat or drink in the class, not even water, and my counterpart teacher's note specifically stated that all water bottles are to be placed near the sink. One girl claimed that she's allowed to drink water, and some other students backed her up. I yelled at her.

My second bad decision occurred during seventh grade science. The students had a worksheet where they had to distinguish between physical and chemical reactions. Some students were confused, but they claimed that they were finished and went to the computers. They told me that they were on IXL (there's that dang IXL again!), but instead everyone was just playing around. I yelled at them.

2) Every person’s life is full of highs and lows.  Share with us some of what that is like for a teacher.  What are you looking forward to?  What has been a challenge for you lately?

Obviously, I'm looking forward to Thanksgiving break. As far as class is concerned, I'm looking for the opportunity to teach more science in my own classroom via the Green Team program. Notice how at our sister school, science is a separate block of the day (and IXL is squeezed in), whereas at our own campus, IXL gets its own block and science is squeezed in.

But here we see what my obvious challenge is -- I'm yelling way too much. Both the sixth and seventh grade classes at my sister school began the class civilly, but by the end I was yelling. In both cases, the yelling began after I tried to enforce an unpopular rule -- no water in the sixth grade and work the entire period in the seventh grade.

During my previous two years as a sub, I rarely if ever yelled at the students. But this is because I almost never enforced unpopular rules. For example, I let the students eat and drink, especially if the regular teacher doesn't explicitly forbid eating in the sub notes. Similarly, if the students should be working on the computer and they listened to music on headphones instead, I'd let them, since there were much worse things they could have been doing. I knew that trying to enforce rules would lead only to arguments.

But all of this has changed because now I'm a teacher who must enforce the rules. Whenever I do so, I end up yelling -- whether at my home school or the sister school (where I know what the rules are).

When I returned to my home school, I tried to avoid yelling. For example, two days later I had some students who were out of their assigned seat. Fortunately, I was in the middle of a game of Fraction Fever, where the classes were divided into two teams trying to win. So it was easy to deduct a point whenever a student left his seat. This typically worked -- the student returned to his seat without argument after his team complains that he cost the team a point.

It's easy to avoid arguments during an activity that is fun, such as Playworks or Fraction Fever -- all I have to do is take time away from the activity or points away from the score. But I need to be able to manage the class during normal lessons. The week after the incident at my sister school (that is, the week just completed), there were four days of school, and all four days I yelled at some point.

-- On Monday, an eighth grader complained about the Parent Conference week schedule. Nutrition is at 11:05 everyday, but this is after two periods on regular days and three on shortened days. (Other middle schools often do the same -- they have break after 2nd period most days, but after 3rd period on shortened days.) She insisted that it was break and that I couldn't tell time, so I yelled at her.

-- On Tuesday, I started a STEM activity which required the students to divide into pairs. I wanted to give each pair a STEM textbook, but there were so few of them I didn't even have enough for every pair (much less every student). So I told them they could break into groups of three. But then four students wanted to make a group. I informed them that they couldn't, since four is too far away from the two intended by the text. The students refused to make a smaller group, so I yelled at them.

-- On Wednesday, I gave a quiz to all three grades. In every case, some students would not be completely silent during the quiz -- once every stopped talking, some seventh graders would make sound effects, everyone would laugh, and then the talking would resume. I yelled at the students the entire time. Then I quietly wrote on the board that the only the first 14 quizzes (about half the class) would be graded, and everyone else would get a zero. Only those students who weren't talking saw the message and avoided the zero, but some of the students getting zeros are the top kids in the class.

-- On Thursday, the eighth graders were doing a science lesson with my Bruin Corps member (again, see yesterday's "Day in the Life" post). This was a life science lesson, but it appeared in the eighth grade standards according to our online software. One girl (yes, the same girl from Monday) correctly noted that she learned this lesson in seventh grade (under the old pre-NGSS standards) and therefore she'd refuse to work on the lesson. I was about to login to our website and show her the standards, but she continued to complain before I could get to the site, so I yelled at her again.

So now we look at our PD -- Responsive Classroom. Some of the things we learned at the meeting can help me avoid yelling at the students. These include:

-- Developmentally Responsive Teaching
-- Reminding Language
-- Redirecting Language

These last two especially can help me avoid arguments. Let's look at, for example, Monday's argument and how I could have avoided yelling at the eighth grade girl:

Me: After this class you will go to English class.
Girl: No, we have nutrition now.
Me: For a participation point, who can read me the schedule written on the board?
Another Student: After this class we go to English.
Me: Thank you. You get a point.

That ends the argument, since now it's no longer me against the girl, but me and another against the original student. The other student is given an incentive -- the participation point -- to side with me and the correct schedule instead of the girl saying the wrong schedule.

A similar trick could have worked with the same girl on Thursday. I ignore her when she says that she won't do the science lesson and have another student read the standards from the website. It's even possible that the original girl wouldn't have contradicted me on Thursday -- she might have shown me more respect, because I'd have shown her respect by not yelling at her on Monday!

3) We are reminded constantly of how relational teaching is.  As teachers we work to build relationships with our coworkers and students.  Describe a relational moment you had with someone recently.

This post is already getting long, but I'll add that the relationships we form with our students is part of the guiding principles of Responsive Classroom.

4) Teachers are always working on improving, and often have specific goals for things to work on throughout a year.  What have you been doing to work toward your goal?  How do you feel you are doing?

My goal is to be the ideal classroom manager. This post shows that I'm far from my goal, but Responsive Classroom can help me reach it.

5) What else happened this month that you would like to share?

There's nothing else for me to share, as I've shared so much already.

My next monthly post is December 18th -- oops, that's a Sunday, so more reflection! My next personal post will be on the day that I meet with the Green Team -- hopefully Monday.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Two Turkeys With One Stone (Days 63-64)

This post is being submitted to Tina Cardone's "Day in the Life" project. It fulfills two of the project requirements -- it's for both Parent Conferences and Day before Thanksgiving break. Our school takes a full week off for Thanksgiving and the Friday before the holiday is professional development, so today, November 17th, is the last day we see both students and parents.

It may seem strange that the week before Thanksgiving is Parent Conferences. Actually, this week was chosen because our school uses trimesters and today (Day 63) is right around the one-third mark of the school year. I'm still in the Survival phase of my first year (October and November):

7:45 -- I arrive at my school.

7:50 -- Our first parent arrives -- yes, parents can choose to come before school if they desire. It's the mother of one of our sixth graders. The mother and her daughter arrive at the history room, where all three middle school teachers -- the history teacher, the English teacher, and me -- are sitting. We've agreed that it's easiest to do it this way, so parents can speak to all three of us together.

As it turns out, this girl is earning straight A's and is one of the quietest students our classes. So naturally, all of us have only positive things to tell her mother. We three teachers wish that all of our students were like this girl.

8:00 -- I report to the playground, where many students are beginning to arrive. The students are told to gather in a circle for the flag salute.

8:25 -- My first class, a seventh grade class, begins. Now it's a tradition in many classrooms on the day before Thanksgiving break to give a turkey graphing activity. I actually posted this activity on my blog last year, and this year I'm giving the activity. I originally found the turkey on another website:


9:20 -- My seventh graders leave and my eighth graders arrive. As usual, I begin the class with a Warm-Up question:

If the function is x2 and the output is 34, what is the input?

The correct answer is 17 -- and of course today's date is the 17th. My support staff member goes around to stamp the sheets that have the correct answer.

9:30 -- I decide not to do the turkey graphing activity with my students -- much to the dismay of some of the students, who see the activity mentioned on the board. The reason for this is science.

You see, officially I am the math and science teacher at my small charter middle school, but my credential is in math. What ends up happening is that I teach mostly math, but squeeze in science whenever I can -- for example, there are various STEM projects sprinkled through the year. But to me, this isn't nearly enough science -- especially not for the eighth graders, who have a Next Generation Science Standards test at the end of the year. Therefore I make extra effort to make sure that my eighth graders get some science.

Now today I have a UCLA student to assist in the classroom. This is part of Bruin Corps -- a program for college students to help inspire our youngsters to work towards college themselves. He happens to be a biology major -- which is convenient, since I'm weak on biology.

I go to the website of an online curriculum that I sometimes use for science. It lists many standards that are considered eighth grade science here in California. The first one is "Growth, Development, and Reproduction of Organisms." And so I have my Bruin Corps member teach the lesson. My eighth graders learn about genetic material, mutations, and DNA, taking guided notes from the worksheet downloaded from the website. (I don't link to it here because it requires a login to access.)

10:00 -- I give the students an Exit Pass question -- they are to write down what they've learned from the Bruin Corps member. Then the Warm-Up/Exit Pass sheets and guided notes are collected.

10:15 -- My eighth graders leave and my sixth graders arrive. Just like the seventh graders, this class works on the turkey graphing activity. During this time, I hand out four licorice sticks to all students who earned an A on yesterday's quiz.

11:05 -- My sixth graders leave for nutrition, except for one girl who has incurred a short detention for going to the restroom yesterday when our school has a no-pass policy.

11:25 -- My sixth grade class returns from nutrition. Ordinarily we don't have the same class before and after the break, but our schedule is awkward this week due to Parent Conferences. The three middle school teachers decided that we would see all three grades before the break, and then rotate so that we see one grade each day after the break. Today happens to be sixth grade for me.

Ordinarily when I see sixth grade for the second time in a day, it's considered Math Intervention and the students use our other software program, IXL. (Again I don't give the link here.) I wrote about Math Intervention in my "Day in the Life" post for October.

The sixth graders are often very loud during IXL time, and today is no exception. As I implied back in October, some students still have trouble with their passwords. Since then, I came up with the idea of handing out computers to only some of the students and putting the rest on a waiting list. All students who fail to login to IXL within five minutes must forfeit their computers and give them to someone on the waiting list.

I intend for the students who lose their computers to go back to the turkey activity. Instead, these students interpret this time to be free time -- they talk very loud and run around the classroom, and even some of the students who have laptops join them. In short, IXL time for sixth graders has become a big mess! Today, it might have been better just to have all of the students continue to graph the turkey, since none of them have actually finished it. I should have either foregone IXL entirely or reserved it for those few students who actually complete the turkey.

12:45 -- My sixth grade class goes out to lunch. As it turns out, on shortened days such as today, the middle school students go home right after lunch.

1:00 -- During lunch, I decide to check my e-mail. Today I receive a very interesting message -- it is from a senior specialist at a local non-profit organization. She proposes to have a special meeting with me to discuss a special middle school science program, called Green Team. In short, her organization would join up with the LA Department of Water and Power to teach students about energy and water -- specifically how to conserve these resources.

As I wrote earlier in this post, I welcome any and every opportunity to sneak in extra science lessons into my science-starved class. So I reply that I'm willing to participate in Green Team. Next week I'm scheduled to meet with her to discuss the program in more detail and how to implement it.

1:30 -- Our first afternoon conference begins. It's the father of one of our most troublesome seventh graders -- he just barely scraped through my class with a C, but he failed history and English, and even received a C in music -- a class in which almost everyone gets an A. I tell his father that he can do much better, but he hangs out with the wrong crowd. Just yesterday he or one of his friends pulled a classic prank -- putting a tack in my chair.

2:55 -- After a lull without any parents, the mother of a sixth grader arrives. The girl is getting B's in both my class and history, yet is failing English. The mother is a Spanish speaker, so our history teacher must translate for the English teacher, who explains that the girl has trouble writing. My colleague tells her mother about an time last month where I had the whole class write standards when they were too loud (during IXL time, of course), and the poor girl cried as she was unable to finish.

3:00 -- In the middle of the English teacher's exposition, the mother of an eighth grader arrives. I go over to talk to this mother as the English teacher is still talking to the sixth grader's mom. The eighth grade girl is earning C's in all three classes -- mine, history, and English. I tell the mother that even though her daughter passed some of her tests, she failed some others. Still, I let the mother know that the girl is very well-behaved and likes to help us out after school, especially the English teacher.

3:40 -- The parents of a sixth grader arrive -- but they are in a hurry due to a family emergency, so they just pick up their son's report card (I gave him a C) and leave.

3:55 -- No more parents show up. The history teacher counts out the remaining reports and figures that about two-thirds of the parents showed up this week.

4:00 -- I go home for the day and head for my computer to type up this blog entry.

Tomorrow I'll submit my monthly "Day in the Life" post, since my date is the 18th. I'll save all of Cardone's special reflection questions for tomorrow's post.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Quiz #4 (Day 62)

Notice that the day numbering of this post appears to be off -- this ought to be a two-day post, labeled (Days 62-63) rather than just (Day 62). That's because a number of events are conspiring to alter my blogging schedule.

First of all, notice that the LAUSD -- just like the districts where I subbed last year -- takes an entire week off for Thanksgiving. This means that the last day of school before Thanksgiving should be Friday, November 18th -- or so I thought. You see, last week it was announced that Friday would be a Pupil-Free Day for professional development. The last day I'll see the students is actually tomorrow, November 17th, rather than Friday the 18th.

But why, you may ask, does this affect my blogging schedule? Well, let's think back to the "Day in the Life" project. My monthly posting day is the 18th, yes, but look at some of the other days when I'm supposed to post besides the 18th:

Key days:
week before students arrive (a PD day)
First day of school
Parent Conferences
Day before Thanksgiving break?
Before and after Christmas break
Snow day
State test day (pick one)
Last day of school
A day you work during the summer
(this could be summer 2016 or summer 2017)

We see that the day before Thanksgiving break is a day that I'm supposed to post no matter what. As far as I'm concerned, "day before Thanksgiving break" refers to the last day that students attend class before the holiday. This means that I must post tomorrow to satisfy "Day in the Life" requirements.

But notice that tomorrow is Day 63 -- a multiple of three, thus a scheduled day off from blogging. All along I thought the day before break would be Friday, Day 64, not Thursday, Day 63. In short, a day I wanted to take off from blogging is now a day I'm required to blog!

To accommodate this change, today's post is now a one-day post, Day 62 only. Tomorrow's post will then become a two-day post, Days 63-64, with Day 64 referring to Cyber Monday (that is, the Monday we come back from Thanksgiving). And that day will be, for my students, a literal Cyber Monday as they'll be coding that day. Since I try to avoid posting on coding Mondays anyway, making tomorrow a two-day post gives me a ready excuse to skip posting on Cyber Monday.

Now let's look at that list of key posting days again -- one of them is Parent Conferences. Notice that this week, being the first of the new trimester, is Parent Conferences week. (In fact, today is our "long day" for conferences, with conferences as early as 7 AM and as late as 6 PM.)

This means that I ought to make a post this week for conferences. Well, tomorrow's post, which I'm already submitting for Day before Thanksgiving break, can serve double-duty as my Parent Conferences post! I just hope that at least one parent shows up tomorrow -- it will do no good to label a post as a Parent Conferences post without any parents. If no parents show up, then I'll go back and edit today's post and submit two separate posts -- today for Conferences and tomorrow for Day before Thanksgiving break.

With all of this going on, notice that I'm still obligated to make my monthly post on the 18th! But now this is no longer a student day. I could write a "Day in the Life" post about the PD meeting I'' have that day -- but then again, I already submitted a PD post back in August, and I don't think Tina Cardone needs another PD post. So instead, I'll briefly mention the meeting and then focus more on Cardone's reflection questions, just as I'll do when the 18th falls on Saturday or Sunday. Before the unexpected PD meeting, I almost thought I'd be able to make one post serve triple-duty -- post about both Day before Thanksgiving break and Parent Conferences on the 18th! But now I'll see neither students nor parents on the 18th. (The 18th now counts as my first holiday post -- one that I post during a break rather than the school year.)

Renumbering Cyber Monday as Day 64 rather than Day 65 now means that many of the statements I claimed about the blog calendar are now false:

-- I wrote that my charter school and LAUSD differed by only one day -- in the spring. Actually, there are now two differences between the charter and LAUSD calendars -- the first is this Friday, and the other is still coming up in the spring.
-- I wrote that the 18th will not fall on a multiple of three again. Actually, it will again at some point.
-- I wrote that there would be no more two-post weeks (Monday holiday, followed by Tuesday and Friday both multiples of three). Actually, there will be such a week again.

It also means that my original plans for this week have been altered. At first this is what I wanted:

-- Monday: Coding
-- Tuesday/Wednesday: STEM projects
-- Thursday: Quiz #4
-- Friday: Turkey Graphing Activity

But now there's no longer school on Friday. Instead, this is my week:

-- Monday: Coding
-- Tuesday: STEM projects
-- Wednesday: Quiz #4
-- Thursday: Turkey Graphing Activity

So now there's only one day for STEM projects. Actually, I sneaked in extra time for the seventh and eighth grade projects -- 8th on Monday before coding and 7th on Tuesday after nutrition (and again today after music during "advisory.") But once again, the 6th graders get the short end of the stick when it comes to projects. And that's due to not the Benchmark Tests, but the pre-holiday schedule.

Today all students take a quiz on the last topic they covered before the Benchmarks. For eighth grade this is Intro to Functions, for seventh grade opposites, and for sixth grade long division.

The "Day in the Life" poster whose monthly posting date is the 16th is Matt Baker:


Oh yeah, I remember this blog -- Pythagoras was a nerd indeed! Here is today's post from Matt Baker, the New York high school teacher:


Actually, though Baker posted this today and the 16th is his posting day, this is officially not his November 16th post. Instead, the date of the post is November 3rd -- and since the 3rd isn't his posting date, it must be one of his special dates. You guessed it -- it's his Parent Conferences post!

Notice that Baker is a high school teacher, and most high schools don't use trimesters. Then again, New York still has a Labor Day Start. So we conclude that November 3rd was chosen for conferences because it's the end of the first quarter in New York. We see that the first quarter on the Labor Day Start Calendar and the first trimester on the Early Start Calendar both end in November, which makes this a big month for conferences.

Also, notice that Parent Conferences week usually doesn't occur at high schools -- and it's even rare at pure middle schools that aren't K-8 schools. Most likely, Baker's school has only a single Parent Conferences night, not a full week.

Let's take a peek at Baker's post and compare his conference day to my own:

We have parent teacher conferences this evening. At our school we try to focus on having the students lead the conferences, talking about what’s going well and what they want to improve. 

That's interesting. I don't think that would work at our school -- trying to have middle school students lead their conferences.

Students are supposed to see me to schedule a time to meet ahead of time, but for some reason I haven’t had many kids sign up yet. Somehow I have a 50 minute window in the middle of the evening tonight. Which actually means I’ll have a bunch of parents just dropping in. It’s good that the parents have come in and are looking to meet teachers, but it’s frustrating to not be able to predict which conversations I’ll have to have.

Now that is exactly like my own school's setup!

The problem with how we do conferences is that every conference is supposed to last 10 minutes, but then they’re also supposed to start one right after the other. So if I start at 5, talk for 10 minutes, I’m done at 5:10. But then that family has to be somewhere to start at 5:10. 

My school is so small that all middle school students have the same three teachers. So the three of us all meet in the one classroom and have the parents speak to all three of us at once. We decided that it's too tough to have the parents sign up for specific times, so there is no rigid schedule for us. Of course, it's often the case that a middle school student has a younger sibling in the elementary grades, so sometimes parents still had to rush to another classroom.

Notice that Baker's conferences lasted until 8 PM (actually the last was around 7 PM). My own conferences end at 6 PM tonight, our longest night -- but they start as early as 7 AM (and the first parent doesn't actually arrive today until around 7:40 AM).

Even though I want to focus on Baker's conferences in this post, I couldn't help but notice the following from his description of the school day:

In Algebra 2 we’re teaching the Quadratic Formula, so we get to sing the song. We showed kids the derivation, but honestly that level of algebra is a stretch for a lot of kids. We’ve been flying through the Quadratics unit because it’s presumed prior knowledge. Except we don’t offer Algebra 1 at our school.

So apparently, Baker's high school actually enforces eighth grade Algebra I, with Geometry as the lowest class for freshmen. This is unexpected at a school in New York, a Common Core state. Notice that the California pre-Core standards encouraged eighth grade Algebra I, but even then, most Cali high schools offered Algebra I to freshmen who didn't excel in the course the previous year.

And of course, I know that "sing the song" almost certainly refers to the parody of "Pop Goes the Weasel" that classes often use to learn the Quadratic Formula. Since my eighth graders aren't learning Algebra I, that song won't be sung in my class. Notice that my class doesn't have music breaks this week, since we don't have 80-minute classes.

This concludes today's post. Tomorrow will be the first of my two "Day in the Life" posts, where I'll discuss my own Parent Conferences day as well as the last day before Thanksgiving break.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Capacity of Water-Carrying Structures (Day 61)

Learning Module 6 of the Illinois State text is "The Capacity of Water-Carrying Structures." (As usual, I'm referring to the eighth grade text.) This project is the first one of the second trimester.

Yesterday was the first day of our "everyday is like Wednesday" schedule for parent conferences. So we squeezed in all of our classes into the shortened Common Planning schedule. This is not unlike what full middle schools do on their Common Planning Days, shorten every period -- so each period was only 50 minutes long instead of 80.

This would have worked out perfectly had it not been for Monday coding. On a regular Monday, the coding teacher sees the seventh graders during the first part of first block, and then the eighth graders during the last part of second block. That's because in between he sees the combo K-1 class -- and it's awkward for him to change his elementary schedule just because middle school has shorter classes.

And so he ended up coding with 7th grade, then K-1, and then 6th grade during 3rd period. As it turned out, 4th period is usually IXL with 8th grade, so he just did coding with them then instead.

This meant that I had 2nd period with 8th grade with nothing to do -- nothing, that is, except begin the STEM project. So we actually began "Capacity" yesterday.

What exactly is "Capacity," anyway? In this project, students are to discover that the most efficient pipe shape is a cylinder. By efficient, of course, I mean that it has the largest volume given a fixed lateral area.

Notice that this is really just the Isoperimetric Theorem that I mentioned back in April. Of all plane figures with the same perimeter, the circle has the largest area. Multiplying both sides of this inequality by the constant height, we conclude that of all prisms with the same lateral area, the cylinder has the largest volume. (Of course, of all solids with the same surface, rather than lateral, area, the sphere has the largest volume. But a pipe can't be a sphere -- pipes must actually go places, and so they are actually prisms.)

Of course, in this project, the students are to discover this for themselves. Yesterday, the students created four "pipes," each out of a half-sheet of paper. One is a cylinder, one a rectangular prism, one a triangle prism, and the fourth is of their choosing. Then today, the goal is to pour sand down the pipes and measure how fast they fall, in hopes they'll see that the cylinder is the fastest.

Unfortunately, when we return to the project today there are a few problems. Some of the tubes the students constructed yesterday got lost -- and I haven't been able to find the scissors all week. I had to ask the English teacher yesterday for scissors, and I don't want to ask her again for them today. In the end, I have one group perform the experiment with just three tubes. But then this group, who tries the cylinder first, has trouble figuring out how to control the stopwatch. In the end, they time it wrong, so that it appears that the cylinder is the slowest instead of the fastest! Notice that all of the problems with the project ultimately go back to materials -- from losing the scissors to losing the tubes to not knowing how to stop the watch.

Today the seventh graders work on the project "Traveling Around," where they learn how to read topographic maps, and the sixth graders work on "Walk This Way," where they try to keep track of human movement. There;s more confusion with the schedule today -- after nutrition I want to have IXL with the sixth graders. But then the other middle school teachers say that it's better to rotate the last class of the day, and I find myself with seventh grade instead. So I just have them continue working on "Traveling Around." Some of the groups draw their own topographic maps, but there's not enough time for them to try making their own relief maps (with depth).

The "Day in the Life" poster whose monthly posting day is the 15th is Kathy Howe:


Howe hasn't made her November 15th post yet, but I do see something interesting in her October 15th post, despite that date being a Saturday:


Howe writes:

It’s 6:00 and the sixth-grade tests are finished [being graded -- dw].

Ah ha -- so Howe is a fellow middle school teacher! (It turns out that she teaches in Texas.) I'm always especially interested in middle school bloggers, so let's look at this post in more detail:

It’s 6:00 and the sixth-grade tests are finished.  I only had two perfect papers this time, which is down quite a few from the number I had on the first test.  I thought decimals were easier than fractions, but maybe I wrote harder questions to compensate.  Or maybe they didn’t study as much because they think decimals are easier.  Hard to say.  I noticed that my twins who are new to the school this year left remainders on their division problems.  Since I didn’t teach about that, but just reminded them to keep dividing as they were taught last year, I have emailed the girls to ask them to come into tutorial so I can teach them about this.  I went back and regraded their papers to give back the points I took off for leaving the remainders.  When I wondered aloud if other kids (who made the same error) would complain, he reminded me that the important thing is to treat my students equitably, not equally.  Good advice.  We’re going to head home for dinner.  I need to choose between grading the seventh-grade tests, doing some more detailed planning for next week, or taking a break after dinner.

Notice that I haven't really taught decimals yet this year, but this certainly gives me something to look out for whenever we do reach decimals.

Howe writes about her seventh grade class as part of the reflection questions:

We’re starting new units in both of my classes next week.  I’m going to teach fraction, decimal, and percent equivalence in sixth grade.  I’m teaching rates, ratios, and proportions in seventh.  In the sixth grade class, I’m not doing a lot to change the delivery of the material from last year.  But in seventh, I’m pushing to have a lot more real-world applications and student-centered lessons.  Because this topic is so easy to connect to the real world, I have a lot of different options for 3-act tasks [King (of MTBoS) Dan Meyer's lessons -- dw] and authentic assessments.  The sixth graders will do this same topic soon, so they will benefit from these applications as well.  I’m realizing that sometimes you need to teach skills and it is ok if they are not saturated with context.  When the context is genuine, then you apply it like crazy, and use the skills that you learned before in the new context.

Notice that in my class we already covered unit rates in both sixth and seventh grades -- this is what I taught at the start of the year.

Howe even writes about a trip to the doctor she made that Saturday morning:

As I’m filling out my paperwork, a woman sits down with a Saxon math book and a grade book in hand.  The woman on the other side asks if she is a teacher.  It turns out that there are four of us who are teachers, all sitting together in the waiting room.  Lucky for us this clinic offers Saturday appointments!

Ah yes, we've discussed the Saxon texts several times here on the blog -- in fact, I purchased the Saxon Algebra 1/2 text just last month. Yes, there do exist schools actually use the Saxon texts, and recall that Texas was never a Common Core state.

I'll definitely continue to look out for more posts on Howe's blog in the future.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Trimester 1 Review and Trimester 2 Preview (Days 59-60)

Tomorrow is Veteran's Day. Remember that here in California, Vets Day must occur on November 11th no matter what day of the week it is. Fortunately, this year it falls on a Friday, so it does result in a three-day weekend, unlike the past two years.

This is also a two-day post, so the second day included in this post is Monday. As you can see, we are approaching Day 60, the one-third mark of the year, so this marks the end of the first trimester. And there are several things going on now.

Recall that I teach at a K-8 -- and like most elementary schools, the end of the first trimester is immediately followed by Parent Conferences week, During this week, school is out early -- we are on Wednesday "schedule" the entire week. I put "schedule" in scare quotes because we haven't really had a Wednesday schedule at all. Indeed, I can't recall even two consecutive Wednesdays this year when we've followed the same schedule both days, and now we'll have an entire week of Wednesdays.

Our school policy is that teachers need to be available for conferences one day before school (as early as 7:00) and one day after school (as late as 6:30). Originally, the other middle school teachers and I selected Wednesday as our long day. But some middle school parents requested early conferences on Monday, and so it appears we'll be there early both Monday and Wednesday. On the other hand, one parent wanted a 5:30 PM conference on Tuesday, but we plan on delaying that until Wednesday.

Of course, the end of the trimester means giving out grades. As it turns out, none of my eighth graders is failing this first trimester. There were a number of easier topics this first trimester -- and I've said before that I like the idea of giving the students grades before the hard topics come up. This way, students can feel good about themselves and believe that they can succeed in the new trimester on the more difficult topics.

The lowest student in the class managed to scrape barely with a C (recall that there are no D's). I know that she worked hard to pass the last quiz on exponents -- I'm so proud of her! Meanwhile, one guy has emerged as the new top student in the class, and so he easily earned an A this trimester.

Today in class I have the students play Fraction Fever again -- just as I squeezed in Fraction Fever right after the Benchmarks in August. This is the first time I had the eighth graders join in -- last time only sixth and seventh graders played the game. And of course I sing the Fraction Fever song again -- as I've said before, the seventh graders especially like this song:

Fraction Fever:

Hey, if you never
Played Fraction Fever
To get in the action
You gotta get the right fraction!

Choose the wrong one and down you fall
(Down you fall!)
Through the hole and that's not all!
(That's not all!)

If you find the right one later
(Right one later!)
You'll go up in the elevator!

When you get to Floor 20
(Floor 20!)
You'll win plenty!

Fraction! Fever!
Fraction! Fever!

And so now I must look ahead to the second trimester. I will make sure that we don't arrive at the second Benchmarks having failed to cover all of the covered topics. At least now I know how to access Benchmarks on the Illinois State website, so I know what to expect.

As usual, the blog will focus on eighth grade, so let's look at the eighth grade Benchmarks.

First Benchmark:
1. The Number System NS.1
2. Expressions and Equations EE.1
3. Functions F.2
4. Geometry G.2
5. Statistics and Probability SP.1

Second Benchmark:
1. The Number System NS.2
2. Expressions and Equations EE.2
3. Functions F.3
4. Geometry G.4
5. Statistics and Probability SP.2

Third Benchmark:
1. The Number System NS.2
2. Expressions and Equations EE.3
3. Functions F.4
4. Geometry G.2

Recall that my grading scale is based on 1000 points. Of these points, 400 are for Formal Assessment and Projects -- and I'll have three 100-point tests and five 20-point STEM projects. So in a sense, each trimester is divided into five units -- and there are five standards to cover on each Benchmark, so this is convenient. Each unit can consist of a project and a STEM project.

The Illinois State pacing plan tells us how the projects correlate with standards -- except, of course, for the first four projects, Tools for Learning. I haven't written much about those correlations because I was waiting to get past Tools for Learning, only for it to be Benchmark time.

Next year, when I can start again from scratch, I'll be sure to follow the above pacing. But this year, I can only worry about the second trimester and Benchmark. For this Benchmark, notice that I've already covered NS.2 and EE.2, so I can replace these with G.2 and SP.1, which I should have covered during the first trimester.

Let's fit in the standards like this:

Second Trimester:
1. Statistics and Probability SP.1 (Days 60-69)
2. Geometry G.2 (Days 70-79)
3. Functions F.3 (Days 80-89)
4. Geometry G.4 (Days 90-99)
5. Statistics and Probability SP.2 (Days 100-109)

I like the idea of covering stats before geometry for several reasons. Recall that eighth graders are supposed to learn how dilations and similarity (geometry) leads to slope (functions), and so this pattern fits. My focus on transformations may be heavy on graphing and the coordinate plane, considering that some graphing appears in that first stats unit.

Recall that the way that I want to teach eighth grade geometry should reflect my vision of geometry as expressed during the first two years of this blog. Again, eighth grade math (Common Core 8) is nearly identical to Integrated Math I at some high schools. I want readers to see this website and compare this to their own Common Core 8 and Integrated Math I classes.

The "Day in the Life" poster whose monthly posting date is the tenth is Elissa Miller:


Yes, I've mentioned Miller's site before. No, she hasn't made her November 10th post yet -- but somehow I missed her October 10th post last month:


As it turned out, October 10th was Columbus Day, which her school observed as a day off. Still, Miller gave a full "Day in the Life" post about her day off from school. Naturally, her post on her off day is full of reflection. For example, Miller writes:

I spend so much time putting together notes, practice, and quizzes from my curriculum. It's mostly formatting and copying and pasting. As soon as I feel accomplished for having everything prepared, I start questioning if it's the best way to teach it. I can't feel content.

Like Miller, I'm always concerned with how I'm teaching the material. I don't like the way I missed several topics during the first trimester. I also hope that my plans for second trimester will work as I cover the three strands of Functions, Geometry, and Stats. Let's see whether this order (Stats, Geometry, Function, Geometry, Stats -- weird, but supported by Common Core) will be successful.

This is a two-day post. Due to the Veteran's Day holiday, my next post will be on Tuesday.