Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Input, Process, Output (Day 91)

Here is today's Pappas question of the day:

.(93)repeating = x / 33

Notice that this decimal is just 93/99, which reduces to 31/33. So the answer is x = 31 -- of course, today's date is the 31st. My eighth graders did a few questions similar to this one earlier -- and more recently, my seventh graders dealt with terminating decimals.

The month of January has come to a close, and with it is the end of the 2017 Blogging Initiative. I do wish to link to some of the other participants, especially the middle school teachers:

Our first teacher is "Mathy" Cathy Yenca, who teaches seventh grade in Pennsylania:


Here is a link to her Week 4 post:


Recall that the Week 4 topic is about our biggest failures. For Yenca, her biggest failure involves problems she's had with projects. Two of her projects involve the concepts of surface area and volume, but her students didn't learn as much from the projects as they should have.

Notice that Yenca's projects come from Dan Meyer -- the King of the MTBoS. I can't use Meyer's projects in my classes, since I must only use Illinois State projects. But I've had some similar issues with these projects as well. In particular, there was an eighth grade project earlier where students had to compare the volume of a cylinder to that of other prisms. And just today, the sixth graders had to find the surface area of a piece of wood.

I write about these projects in my comments to Yenca:

I found this post via the Blogging Initiative — in fact I’m one of the other middle school teachers who participated.
I’m wondering whether your popcorn project would have worked better if Act 1 presented the two completed cylinders — of completely different shapes (one tall/thin, one short/broad) — so that students would have no reason to assume that the volumes are equal. Then in the final act, we cut the cylinders back down to the original rectangles to show that surprise, surprise — they’re the same rectangle!
My own school embraces projects, and just today I gave my sixth graders a project where they had to find the surface area of pieces of wood — which sounds very similar to your projects. I ended up breaking up the project into discovery/direct instruction rather than pure discovery, just as you had to do. Basically, I had the students discover that measuring the wood requires three dimensions — and then I directly told the successful students the formula for surface area.

By the way, one of Yenca's other projects is intended to show the students that doubling the length of a cube quadruples its surface area and increases its volume by a factor of eight. I wonder whether the lesson "Can There Be Giants?" from the U of Chicago Geometry text (alluded to on the blog in past years) might have helped motivate this idea. I guess the problem is that surface area just isn't a very easy topic to engage students in.

The other middle school teacher is New Yorker Anna Pacura:


Here is Pacura's Week 4 entry:


Pacura's post title refers to the PBS show Magic School Bus, which is a near-contemporary of Square One TV, as the first Bus episode aired about a year or so after Square One TV ended. Actually, there may be new episodes of the show released on Netflix in 2017.

In her post, Pacura writes about how she used "integer chips" -- that is, manipulatives -- to teach her seventh graders. As a student teacher, I've had mixed success with algebra tiles -- it really helped some students out, while others thought it was a waste of time. Now manipulatives are supposed to be included in one of the "learning centers" that I'm supposed to teach on Thursday.

I write about my experience with manipulatives in my comments to Pacura:

I've had mixed reactions when I've used manipulatives similar to the Integer Chips that you describe. For some students they were helpful, while others were more like you, havingalready mastered algorithms without the need for "tiles" or "chips."

My school embraces manipulatives, and soon I'll be required to use them in my upcoming lessons, including integer lessons.

It's been a pleasure getting to read your posts during the 2017 Blogging Initiative. See you in 2018!

Pacura also submitted an extra post to the challenge -- one where she describes her failures as a math student rather than a math teacher. She writes:

That was also the year that I wasn't just taking 8th grade math, but also 9th grade (Sequential 1) math after school.  For the first time in my life, math wasn't coming easily to me anymore.  But I get through it, and did well on the Sequential 1 Regents that June, which meant that in high school, I would be taking all freshman classes, except for math, where I would be a year ahead. My failure came in my second year of high school, when I was taking Sequential 3 (again a sophomore taking a Junior year math class) and I got lazy.

I know that "Regents" means New York State tests -- I'm not an expert on them, but I've seen so many New Yorkers refer to these tests before. From context clues, I gather that "Sequential 1" in the Empire State is what other states call "Integrated Math I." I've written about the similarities between Common Core 8 and Integrated Math I. Naturally, Pacura was in high school well before Common Core -- I wonder whether the double would have worked better if her eighth grade class was Common Core 8, as this class and Integrated Math (Sequential) I are so similar.

Of course, the failures mentioned by Yenca, Pacura, and the other participants pale in comparison to my mistake, where I fail to teach an entire subject. My problems with science became an issue again in class today -- especially after one of the other teachers reminds the eighth graders today that there is a California science test coming up. One of my students sits in the teacher's chair, and when I tell her to leave my chair, her response is essentially that I'm not really the teacher, since I don't even teach a subject that they have a big test on.

Once again, my science failures creep into classroom management. It would be simplistic to say that all of my classroom management problems go back to science failures -- indeed, I reckon students would just find other excuses not to obey me. But still, each day I don't teach science means another day that students can use the lack of science instruction to justify not respecting me.

I don't need to repeat my entire Week 4 post to detail my science failures. But after today's latest argument, I doubt that giving my kids a Study Island will be acceptable. The idea of giving my students one science lesson per week might have been OK had I started it in August, but with Wednesday (the science day) already being February, students rightfully feel that they aren't being adequately prepared for the test.

Again, I feel that nothing short of a science project tomorrow will quell the concerns. But now I must figure out what project to give. I already gave the first project from the Illinois State physical science text (on molecules). The second project has the students investigate six "mystery powders and liquids" in order to discover some of their properties. But that means I have to find and gather six mystery chemicals, plus figure out where some of the materials (such as a magnet) are located. And this says nothing about the California/NGSS confusion whether I should even be taking lessons out of the physical science text in the first place.

This is another reason why I wasn't looking forward to teaching science -- all of the materials needed for a successful project. I suspect that the projects that the students will enjoy the most are the ones with the more materials and prep time needed, and any project I can easily prepare by tomorrow will be considered too boring. Again, the day for science is tomorrow, and I'm in trouble. In fact, I feel that I need a real Magic School Bus to take my students on a science field trip, as that's the only way I can come up with a good lesson! But I'm definitely no Ms. Frizzle....

I haven't said anything about the eighth grade STEM project for today. Well, Learning Module 10 of the Illinois State eighth grade text is called "Input, Process, Output." It introduces students to functions as well as the graphing calculator. Seventh graders had a project on exercise and how it affects both calories burned and the heart rate.

In fact, I saw that today was the perfect day for a Square One TV song at music break. There is a song called "Count the Ways," performed by the country duo the Judds. This song prominently mentions the normal human heart rate, 70 beats per minute (or 100,000 beats per day). It is not posted on YouTube except as part of a full Square One TV episode (song starts about 5 1/2 minutes in):

Here is a transcription of the lyrics -- which can't be found on Barry Carter's site. My version changes it up a bit so that I, the singer, am the "mystery man" referred to in the song:


My love is three-dimensional, it has width, depth, and length,
I'll run that by you one more time.
Like an equilateral triangle, my love has special strength.
Yes, I have mathematics on my mind.

Let me count the ways that I love you,
I'll calculate the rhythm of my heart.
Let me count the ways that I love you,
And count each fraction of a second we're apart.
My heart beats for you 70 times a minute.
My heart beats for you 4200 times an hour.
My heart beats for you 100,000 times a day.
Three million times a month, 36 million times a year.

Yes, I want you to know that I'm not your average guy.
I'm the missing factor in your equation.
I'll multiply your happiness 'til your love equals mine,
Hey, you don't need any more persuasion,

(Repeat Refrain)

It's also a great song to sing because of the opening line about how love is three-dimensional -- it has width, depth, and length. All I have to do was change "love" to "wood," and it fits the sixth grade project on surface area.

(By the way, notice that the heartbeats in a day is close to the fifth power of 10. There have been some Calendar Reform proposals -- more accurately, Clock Reform -- that take full advantage of this near equivalence. They introduce metric time by using "beat," as in heartbeat, to refer to 10^-5 day.)

Well, the 2017 Blogging Initiative is now complete. But my science adventures are just beginning.

Friday, January 27, 2017

The MTBoS, Week 4: My Biggest Failure (Days 89-90)

This post fulfills Week 4 of the 2017 Blogging Initiative. This topic for this week's Initiative post is "We All Fall Down":

You are going to write a blogpost about one mistake/error/failure you made, and proudly and publicly share that with the world. OR… and this is more ambitious but wow would reading this keep us glued to the screen… keep a log of teaching failures for a day, a few days, or even the entire week… and then publish it!

Well, I can only wish that biggest teaching failure lasted only a day, a few days, or a week. Instead, my biggest failure spans the entire school year.

My biggest teaching failure is science -- as in, I failed to teach science the entire school year.

At this point, you may point out that this is the MTBoS, or Math Twitter Blogosphere. As math teachers, we're not supposed to teach science any more than we should teach English or history. Well, the truth is -- actually, let me start at the beginning.

I was hired to my first teaching position back in April -- in fact, I announced it right here on this blog in my final post that month. I was to work at a charter middle school here in Los Angeles, where I would teach math to all three middle school grades. The director (principal) handed me a copy of the Illinois State text, a project-based math curriculum, and told me to make myself familiar with some of the projects.

I still remember my first day of work, a PD day about two weeks before the first day of school. The director showed us teachers the middle school building -- first the history classroom, then the English room, and finally my room. At that point, I asked the teacher where the science room is, and her reply would doom me towards an entire year of failures -- "There is no science teacher."

Our charter school didn't always lack a science teacher. In fact, just last year there were separate teachers for math and science, but both of those teachers left. You may have heard of the "teacher shortage" here in California, where there aren't enough teachers to fill all available positions -- especially science positions.

Indeed, I would've liked to have all of last summer to prepare for teaching science instead of having it sprung upon me on my first day. But of course, the school was still holding out hope that either the science teacher would return, or that a true science teacher would be hired.

Back when I was earning my credential in math, I had the opportunity to add what California calls a "foundational level" science credential to teach middle school science, but I turned down the offer -- I'd figured that it would add unnecessary work when it was already tough trying to complete my main math credential. Of course, if I could have known that my first teaching job would require me to cover science, I'd have taken the foundational science credential in a heartbeat. (Notice that if this had been a public school, I'd be required to have that credential to teach science in the first place, but a charter school has a little more leeway in what credentials are required.)

So how should I teach science? In a science class, we expect there to be a mix of lecture and lab -- but how often, for example, should a teacher give a science projects? I knew, for example, that it takes about three weeks to cover a chapter of a traditional math text --  but I only knew that because that's how often I gave tests as a student teacher of math. Since I never student taught science, I didn't know how such a class would be organized.

I think back to my own days as a science student -- which contain many highs and lows. As a high school freshman, my general science teacher saw some promise in me and wanted to promote me to an Applied Bio/Chem class, but I moved to another school before the end of the first quarter. Two years later, my Integrated Science III teacher at that new school similarly thought I was gifted and not only recommended me for Chemistry, but convinced the magnet at our school to accept me! As a senior I passed AP Physics C with flying colors and earned A- in my first physics course at UCLA.

But in another physics course, I earned my lowest grade ever at UCLA, a C-. Furthermore, I also earned some mediocre grades in my middle school science classes. Life science was always my weakest science subject, and so my grade dropped from B to C in my seventh grade class, which focused on life science. That C grade meant that I wasn't eligible for the advanced eighth grade science class and had to settle for the regular science class. My grades that year dropped from C to C-, and to this day I believe it was because I was distracted by the troublemakers in the class -- students I wouldn't have interacted with had I qualified for the advanced class. It's disheartening to note that I earned a C- in the exact class -- Science 8 -- that I'm supposed to teach!

My official title is "STEM teacher" -- Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math -- and this is how it appears on the students' schedule. There was no specification as to how I should divvy the class between math and science.

Our school uses an 80-minute block schedule. It seems reasonable to divide the block into two periods of 40 minutes each, one for math and one for science. But this would amount to having six preps -- Math 6, Math 7, Math 8, Science 6, Science 7, Science 8. I'd like any MTBoS teacher reading this to imagine having not just six classes, but six preps, with three of those preps in a different subject.

Of course, I knew that of the three grades, eighth is the most important grade for science. Here in California, the three tested grades for science are fifth, eighth, and tenth. So if I mainly taught science to eighth grade, I'd have only four preps -- still a lot, but not nearly as daunting as six.

On most days of the week, I teach four blocks -- one for each grade of "STEM," followed by a block for use of the IXL software. But on Wednesdays we had a different schedule:

1. STEM 6
2. Study Island 8
3. STEM 8
4, STEM 7
5, Advisory

Now "Study Island" is another online educational program -- and unlike IXL, Study Island actually provides middle school science lessons. (IXL is now in the process of adding MS science.) And so I decided to convert the Study Island period into a makeshift science class for my eighth graders who needed to prepare for the California Science Test.

By the way, I was inspired by the example of one of the most famous MTBoS bloggers, Sarah Carter, a math teacher who also suddenly finds herself teaching science this year:


There obviously are no other math or science teachers at my school, and so my math and science department is the MTBoS. And so I ended up adopting Carter's lessons. For the second Wednesday of school, I gave my eighth graders the Survival in the Desert activity.


Now this was Benchmark Testing week, and so I wanted to give my eighth graders a Benchmark Test for science. Since this is officially Study Island time, I had the students go to Study Island and complete the eighth grade pre-test as a Benchmark. This led to the students complaining -- there were so many questions to which they didn't know the answer. I ended up dropping the pre-test completely.

In September, I continued with Carter's lesson plans. Her first unit of the year was the Mathematics of Science, and so she gave the students a lesson on scientific notation.


But this leads to another disaster. You can see that Carter spent an entire week on scientific notation while I tried to squeeze it into one day's lesson. I started with the cards that you scan find at the Carter link, and my class struggles just as hers does. But Carter then follows it up with a foldable for note taking, whereas my class went straight to STEM, where we worked on something different. At the very least, if I was going to do this lesson, I should have waited until October, when an actual lesson on scientific notation would begin in my STEM class.

Around this time, the Wednesday schedule changed, (We often joked that at our school, we never followed the same schedule two Wednesdays in a row!) Music class would take over, and both the Study Island 8 and STEM 7 blocks turned into music instead. With the loss of the Study Island period, science went by the wayside -- except when we went on a field trip to the LA County Fair, when I told the students to look for and identify the various farm animals as a science lesson.

In October, there was a Wednesday when there was no school -- for Yom Kippur. I once wrote on this blog that I might use a lunisolar holiday like Easter or Yom Kippur to introduce students to the motions of the earth, moon, and sun. (Speaking of lunisolar calendars, tomorrow is Chinese New Year, perhaps the most celebrated lunar holiday.) I printed out some worksheets from Study Island and gave them to students in all three grades. I gave the students a quiz, and some students did well, but there were many low scores as well. For the sixth and seventh graders, this would be the only real science lesson I'd given them all year.

November marked the end of the first trimester. I knew that I wanted to do a better job teaching science to the eighth graders. But there's yet another issue I need to discuss here -- the Next Generation Science Standards and their implementation in California.

According to the old standards, sixth grade focuses on Earth Science, seventh grade on Life Science, and eighth grade on Physical Science. But with the new standards, California will be switching to the new model, with all three types of science to be taught all three years.

On my blog, I've written about the Common Core Standards. Like them or hate them, one problem with any new set of standards is the transition. It's ironic that the federal government encourages states to adopt the standards, yet during the transition, the states are required to use the old standards on the state tests! Here's a link to the most recent status regarding the tests:


California attempted to appeal the decision by the feds that the old tests be given, but lost. But it appears that the state may defiantly give tests based on the new standards anyway. Still, this fight between the state and the feds leads to uncertainty for science teachers like me.

I still wanted the Study Island software to be the basis for my science class -- and as of now, Study Island uses the new standards. And so I'd have to give lessons on all three types of science -- including my weakest subject, life science.

Several times a week, I receive a visit from a college student from UCLA. This program, called Bruin Corps, allows college students to work with middle school students and help the adolescents to the point that they can aspire to attend UCLA themselves. One of my Bruin Corps members is a molecular bio major, and so I asked him to help out with a Study Island lesson on genes and DNA.

That very same day, I met with a lady from the LA Department of Water and Power. She was the leader of the Green Team -- an initiative to teach the students about conservation. This fit right into science, as there was also a Study Island unit on Human Interactions (with the environment). The students will be working on science projects when the Green Team starts in earnest in February.

So in December, I decided to introduce my students to the Green Team by having them complete the Study Island quiz on Human Interactions as a pre-test. This quiz would not count except for students who had zeros on previous quizzes to make up. This led to more complaints about why science was used to make up grades when I never taught science.

That takes us to this month -- and in this month, I've had several heated arguments with my students about science:

-- On the 13th, I decide to print the students a Study Island worksheet on Human Interactions. The idea is that this lesson would bridge the gap to the Green Team next month. But then partway through the lesson, the students complained that it was too boring and refused to work on it. One girl who had transferred in from another school told me that her old school had a real science teacher who gave interesting projects, such as an Edible Cell Model. I agree to try something similar in my class.

-- On the 17th (after the three-day weekend) I introduce an Edible Molecule Project to be completed at home, just like the Edible Cell Model from last year. But the students reject this as well, telling me that they can't do it since they haven't learned anything about molecules yet. This includes the new girl, who probably never wanted to do the project in the first place. She only brought it up in order to tell me how her old teacher was a much better science teacher than I am (which is true, since she was a genuine science teacher and I'm not).

-- On the 19th (the 18th was a field trip day), I continue to pursue the atom/molecules lesson by introducing Foldable notes (similar to those mentioned in Carter's posts). This seems to work a little better than the previous lessons. Many students enjoy decorating the outside of the Foldables -- this is why I think Foldable notes are a great idea! The real problem is that the 17th and 19th were supposed to be math days, not science. I fall behind on the math lessons due to all the days spent either doing science or arguing about it.

-- On the 23rd, a new schedule is announced, to begin on Wednesday. Here, in fact, is the new Wednesday schedule:

1. SBAC Math Prep 8
2. STEM 6
3. STEM 8
4. SBAC Science Prep 8
5. Advisory

For the first time, the actual word "science" appears on the schedule -- not STEM or math, but honest to goodness "science." I use the first Wednesday science period to complete, finally, the edible molecule project using candy and toothpicks. I'm worried, though, that molecules, an eighth grade topic on the old standards, are now considered a seventh grade topic under NGSS.

I wish that I'd scheduled that first science lesson this month for the 20th, not the 13th, to reduces the time between the first argument about science and its appearance on the schedule. This week marks the midpoint of the second trimester, which I often call the third "hexter," which can mean either "six weeks" or "one-sixth of the year." As three sixths reduces to one half, this also marks the end of the first semester. In the LAUSD, the first semester actually ends before winter break -- but since our middle school doesn't have finals, we end the third hexter closer the mathematical midpoint. We can consider the last day of the first semester to be Tuesday, as that's when the schedule changed. This is actually Day 90 on the LAUSD calendar, but for us it was only Day 86 due to four extra PD days we had that were not observed by the district.

My science failures also cut into my classroom management. If I tell a student to do something and I say that it's the rules, the student complains, "Well, the rule is that we're supposed to learn science," and so they claim that they break rules because I'm breaking rules in not teaching science. This has already occurred in eighth grade, and even a seventh grader used this argument.

Of course, I now know what I should have done about science. I already mentioned how I'm fond of three-week cycles -- well, I should have used the original Study Island period by cycling among Foldable notes, a project, and a quiz on Study Island. The science period should occur every week, even after music tinkered with the schedule. This would have led quite nicely to the current test prep block for science, where I could continue the same three-week cycle. Avoid all pre-tests until the students are confident that I'll actually teach the material.

I also could have included more science for sixth and seventh grades as well. Every three weeks, I schedule a day for a basic multiplication quiz, which I call a "Dren Quiz." I actually don't schedule anything else that day, even though the Dren Quiz doesn't take 80 minutes. (In fact, it really shouldn't even take 80 seconds.) I usually use the rest of the block to catch up on other lessons, but instead I could have used it to provide some science to the sixth and seventh graders.

But what should have I done about the whole state standards/NGSS mess? (Right now, I try to explain NGSS to the students, but they don't listen. Based on my bad lessons, they think that I know nothing about science, so why should I know what NGSS is?) Perhaps I could have taught eighth grade physical science and seventh grade life science, but NGSS for sixth grade, as the transition to NGSS will be complete by the time they reach eighth grade. For life science, I don't feel comfortable with an animal dissection lab, but there are some microscopes in the room, so I could have used these in a lesson.

I shouldn't have been dependent on Bruin Corps or Green Team for science lessons. Indeed, I should have implemented the above plan before I even know what Bruin Corps and Green Team are.

My charter school has a sister school. The crucial difference between that school and ours is that the other school only goes K-7 rather than K-8, Therefore my counterpart teacher uses the four blocks for Math 7, Math 6, Science 6, Science 7 rather than Math 6, Math 7, Math 8, IXL. The Illinois State text also provides materials for science, and my counterpart uses these. She tells me that the science projects are much more enjoyable than the "STEM" projects that appear in the math text. It's easier for her to do because she doesn't teach eighth grade, but she does say that the four preps are tough -- it would be much better if she only taught math. Next year, she's hoping to move back to her natural grade to teach, kindergarten. If even a natural kindergarten teacher can implement the science projects, then so should I.

I'm receiving mixed messages from the administration regarding science. When the science texts were first delivered to our school, they were sent directly to the sister charter since they have a real science block and we don't. But now, of course, with the state science test coming they want me to teach science. (Note that Illinois State texts can be accessed online, so maybe I should have used those books all along.)

Back when I was in eighth grade, science was a one-semester course. So let's see whether I can be successful in making science for one semester -- this newly begun second semester -- at this school.

Here is the Pappas question for today:

The longer side of a right triangle is 45, and one shorter side is 36. What is the other shorter side?

This is an actual Warm-Up question I gave in my eighth grade class today. (The projector broke, and so I couldn't display the online Illinois State question.) It's a Pythagorean Theorem question:

a^2 + b^2 = c^2
a^2 + 36^2 = 45^2
a^2 + 1296 = 2025
a^2 = 729
a = 27

So the other leg is 27 -- and of course today's date is the 27th.

Let's wrap up this (admittedly lengthy, but it was a huge mistake) post with one more story. As I was leaving to go home today, I saw one of my sixth graders in the after school program. And she was working on a science project where students combined several ingredients in a bottle. The resulting liquid was colored, had an artificial fragrance, and scattered light when a flashlight was held up to it. This was an interesting project, but it's a shame that one of my students is learning more science after school than in her actual "science" class.

This concludes the 2017 MTBoS Blogging Initiative. I look forward to seeing you guys in 2018 -- hopefully by then, we'll have a real science teacher and I can focus on teaching only math! This is a two-day post, so my next personal post will be Tuesday.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Student Journal: Pythagorean Theorem (Day 88)

Here is today's Pappas question of the day:

The equation of a trajectile y = -12x^2 + 12x + 23. What is the maximum height it reaches?

This is a more complex Algebra I problem, approaching Algebra II level. To me, a good way to solve it is to complete the square: y = -12 (x - 1/2)^2 + 26. The maximum occurs when the expression in the parentheses is zero. That height is 26 -- and of course, today's date is the 26th. I didn't my students this problem of course -- again today's Warm-Up comes from the Illinois State text.

Speaking of Illinois State, today is the day that I was supposed to begin the "centers" -- you know, the extra components of the Illinois State curriculum that I'm to include in my lessons. Thursdays ought to be a good day for implementing the centers as my support staff member and Bruin Corps member are both present, this allowing to divide the class into three learning centers.

But as it turns out, the learning centers were not to be. My support staff member is only present for the first block of the day as she, like all the support staff, is involved in Playworks activities. (See my November 1st and 9th posts for more info on what Playworks is.) So she ends up leaving before my Bruin Corps member arrives, so there is never all three of us present.

Meanwhile, someone else is present in my room today instead -- the instructional assistant. (I mentioned her in my January monthly "Day in the Life" post.) She has returned to help me meet my goal of becoming the ideal classroom manager.

With the assistant present, it was probably a bad idea to have centers anyway. She begins each block by reminding the students of the general rules and consequences. Many of her ideas derive from the Responsive Classroom training that we've had recently. This is followed by the main lesson -- which ends up being a traditional lesson -- definitely nothing like the Illinois State learning centers.

Will all this extra assistance work to make me reach ideal classroom management? I'm not sure. I know that many students don't respect me as a teacher for several reasons -- some of which is related to my problems with teaching science. (I know -- we're still one day away from finally reaching that science post I keep talking about!) Once a student decides not to respect a teacher, there's virtually nothing a teacher can do to change that.

Still, it was always my goal to improve my classroom management, and change everything that is within my power to control. The assistant has already worked with our English teacher, who tells me that so far, the new plan has improved her classroom.

Our new consequence hierarchy begins, as usual, with a warning -- and recall that by my own definition of ideal classroom management, the majority of consequences issued are warnings with the higher levels rarely reached. The second level is a 150-word essay explaining what the student has done, and the third is a parent phone call. As a last resort, students are sent out of the room.

In all classes, I end up continuing the lessons I started yesterday. For the eighth graders, this is the Pythagorean Theorem lesson. I think that I did an okay job explaining the theorem -- and I did use my lesson from last year where students use a puzzle to prove the theorem -- but many students are confused due to the classroom being too loud during the lesson. (This is what necessitated the visit by the instructional assistant in the first place.) I think that today, with the assistant enforcing the new discipline plan, the students understand the lesson better.

But all of this time explaining to explain standards G6 (the proof of the theorem) and G7 (application of the theorem) meant that there was little time for G8 (the Distance Formula). Notice that the lessons from last year's blog posts also combine the Pythagorean Theorem and Distance Formula.

I'm almost certain that a Distance Formula question will appear on the SBAC. Of course, our new schedule allows extra time for SBAC prep, but I hate the idea of the students seeing a standard for the first time during SBAC prep time. So far, there's already two topics (dilations and distance) that I couldn't cover during the lessons. This is a major turn-off for students when it appears that I'm always reviewing and testing topics that haven't been taught, especially in light of the science fiasco.

Part of the problem was my makeshift pacing plan, which was driven by the STEM projects. Often more than one standard is covered by a Learning Module, so if I cover one project a week, it also means that I must attempt to teach several standards per week. The real Year View pacing plan provided by Illinois State teaches one standard per week. It counts standards, not learning modules.

In sixth grade, the problems are worse because the current module covers both EE4 (equivalent expressions) and NS3 (decimal arithmetic). It seems dirty of me not to emphasis decimals in a sixth grade class, but officially EE4, and not NS3, is considered major content (MC). Of course EE4 is a challenging standard for sixth graders who are seeing variables for the first time, so between this and the management issues, I had little time for decimals at all.

I actually thought that all the MC standards for sixth grade were in Volume 1 of the Student Journal, so I was surprised that the EE standards are in Volume 2, (On the other hand, the EE standards for seventh and eighth grades are in the respective first volumes.) Holding out hope that I could reach decimal arithmetic and not wanting to jump between volumes, I ended up having the students just take notes and not use the Student Journals at all -- yet another deviation from the pacing plan.

The sixth graders will probably see decimals in my SBAC prep class -- just because a standard isn't MC, it doesn't mean that it won't appear on the SBAC. The first question on the seventh grade practice test, for example, is on statistics -- and no SP standards are considered MC!

By the way, here's the link to the practice SBAC test. (That's right -- I've always written about the PARCC on this site, but the actual Common Core test in California is the SBAC.)


The seventh graders are working on converting fractions to decimals. I'm not sure whether I'll ever use learning centers in the seventh grade class. For one thing, seventh grade loses a day because I don't see them on Wednesdays on the new schedule. Notice that Wednesdays are supposed to be for traditional lessons -- those aren't really the lesson I ought to skip. Moreover, seventh grade is first block on Thursdays, and my Bruin Corps member usually arrives after first block. So there will never be three adults in the room to do centers in the first place.

By the way, my Bruin Corps member isn't looking forward to implementing centers at all. It seems ideal to divide the class into groups and place all the struggling students together -- but the kids who struggle are often the students who not only misbehave, but fail to get along with each other. (So again, it all goes back to behavior.) The Bruin Corps student tells me that he'd rather move from group to group than be stuck with one.

Perhaps it would have been better to try centers out last Thursday, the 19th. That way, if the centers cause problems, at least it would be the day before a Dren Quiz, not a real test. Of course, the Illinois State pacing plan states that centers should be the day before assessment -- yet it's difficult for me to see how the learning centers could be effective as actual test review.

For music break, today's song pertains to the sixth grade lesson on expressions -- but of course, eighth graders also need to plug in values of a, b, and c into the Pythagorean Theorem.


Plug it in, plug it in!
The variables are the letters.
Plug it in, plug it in!
That's where you put the numbers.
Use PEMDAS to simplify,
After you substitute.
To reduce the number of terms
You may need to distribute.
Plug it in, plug it in!

Tomorrow will be the math test in all of classes -- but not on the blog. Instead, it will be my Week 4 topic for the Blogging Initiative on my biggest teaching failure -- science.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Similarity (Days 86-87)

Here is the Pappas question for today:

lim (n->oo) (6) lim (n->oo) (4)

The limit of a constant is the constant. So it's six times four or 24, and today's date is the 24th. Of course, this isn't a middle school problem but the simplest possible Calculus problem. But today I gave Illinois State questions as a warm-up, so this is the question for the blog.

The Oscar nominations have been released. Hidden Figures received three nominations -- for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actress Octavia Spencer (Dorothy). Some people believe that Taraji Henson (Katherine) was snubbed for Best Leading Actress. While most experts expect La La Land to dominate the awards, I hope that Hidden Figures will at least win something at the Academy Awards.

All classes today at least officially are assigned to work on STEM projects. Learning Module 9 of the Illinois State text is called "Similarity," but this is a misnomer. The main topic of this module is in fact the Pythagorean Theorem.

I can't explain the title of the module, but I do know the link between similarity and the Pythagorean Theorem -- the preferred proof of the theorem in the Common Core Geometry. But notice that in eighth grade, the connection between similarity and right triangles usually isn't emphasized.

This is a good time to take a step back and discuss how I'm using transformations to teach geometry to my eighth graders. The first week, when I introduced the transformations, was fine, but the second week led to problems. There were several arguments about science and the way I'm teaching it -- and I'm still saving it for Friday's post. Suffice it to say that I only taught math once last week -- on Friday, I discussed parallel lines cut by a transversal. As I promised on the blog, I used translations and rotations to show why corresponding and alternate interior angles respectively are congruent.

Last week was also supposed to contain a lesson on dilations -- which I skipped for science. So now any attempt to connect dilations to the Pythagorean Theorem is doomed to failure. I still want to introduce dilations at some point, since I should try to connect similarity to slope. Notice that under the Year View of our pacing plan, all of Expressions and Equations (including slope) appear before Geometry, even though similar triangles are supposed to be used to explain slope.

Today I wanted to have the students work on the STEM project. The students are directed to draw right triangles on dot paper and measure their sides, then draw squares along each side in order to measure their areas. Of course, the goal is for the square on the hypotenuse to equal the sum of the squares on the legs.

But then there was another issue in class. Today was the day that I made the Hidden Figures extra credit assignment due. There are several students failing the class, and I was hoping that I could give the students a little boost.

Recall that at our school there is no D grade, so anyone with a grade below 70% has an F, My sixth grade class had the most F's, but many of those F's are in the 60% range, where the extra credit is enough to raise the students to passing. The eighth grade class had fewer F's, but those F's were more in the 50% range.

And so I ended up spending much of the period trying to come up with an alternative assignment that, in addition to Hidden Figures, would allow students to raise their grade from 50% to 70%. This was problematic because then the students who are already earning good grades start abandoning the project to work on the extra credit assignments. I've read that this is a big cause of grade inflation -- some easy assignment designed to reduce F's ends up raising the grades of the top students too.

Keep in mind that the original cause of all the F's was the zeros received for talking during the tests when they were given. Suddenly, the grades are being detached from levels of knowledge -- first with all the zeros (so smart students who talk a lot have low grades), and then with Hidden Figures being used to raise the zeros. Notice that when I first declared Hidden Figures to be extra credit, I was expecting only one or two students at the most to complete it -- it was before we decided to make the movie into a field trip.

And this is not to mention that my grading scale has gone out of whack anyway. My original plan was for the whole trimester to be worth 1000 points, divided up into sections so that 400 points (or 40%) is for projects and tests, 200 points (20%) for quizzes, and so on. It was easier when I planned on five learning modules per trimester. I knew how many points I needed everything to be worth, but now, with the idea of covering all major content (MC) before the SBAC, there must be more than five modules per trimester, and so all the points are off if I want the total to be 1000.

With all of this worry about grades, not much of the project was completed. But this is not to worry, as I have another Pythagorean Theorem activity already posted to the blog (from last year) -- and I like it more than the Illinois State project. There are some examples in the Student Journal that are similar to my own activity, and so I wouldn't be deviating too much from the prescribed Illinois State lesson if I were to start tomorrow's lesson with my own activity.

So tomorrow, my new schedule has the eighth graders starting with SBAC Math Prep in the morning, then the Student Journals in the middle, and finally science at the end of the day. We'll see how it all turns out tomorrow -- the second day of this two-day post.

Today's song for music break is a parody of TLC's "No Scrubs":


A DREN is a guy that thinks he's fly
And is also known as a buster
Always talkin' about what he wants
So (no)

I don't want your number (no)
I don't want to give you INTERVIEW and (no)
I don't want YOUR RESUME (no)
I don't want none of your time and (no)

I don't want no DREN
A DREN is a guy that can't get no JOB from me
Hanging out the passenger side
Of his best friend's ride
Trying to GET HIRED BY me
I don't want no DREN
A DREN is a guy that can't get no love from me
Hanging out the passenger side
Of his best friend's ride
Trying to GET HIRED BY me

But a DREN is checkin' me
But his MATH is kinda weak
And I know that he cannot approach me
'Cause I'm lookin' like class and he's lookin' like trash
So (no)

I don't want your number (no)
I don't want to give you INTERVIEW and (no)
I don't want YOUR RESUME (no)
I don't want none of your time (no)


The "Day in the Life" poster with a monthly posting date of the 24th is Brian Palacios, a New York high school math teacher:


He hasn't made his January 24th post yet, but here's a link to his December 24th post:


Of course that day was Christmas Eve, so there's not much math teaching in that post. Palacios does answer the reflection questions about several issues on his mind, including the completion of two major applications and a meeting he had with the principal.

Now that the Hidden Figures assignment has been submitted and the Oscar nominations have been released, this will be my last mention of the film for now (at least until Oscar night) after having mentioned it in nearly every post this month. As important are the gender and racial issues raised by the movie are, let's toss those aside. The focus of my blog during the school year is the math.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Coding: Unity (Day 85)

Let's begin with the Pappas question of the day:

0.23 liters = ? centiliters

The answer is is 23 -- and of course today is the 23rd. Conversion of units is the lesson that my sixth graders just completed.

Five of my last six posts here on the blog are challenge posts. We've finally reached a lull in the challenges, as my last post for the Initiative will be Friday, while my next post for "Day in the Life" won't be until February 18th. Last week I made only two posts due to the holiday -- but I make up for it this week, with four posts scheduled. And let me keep this a challenge-free post and avoid even links to other challenge entries.

Meanwhile, today is a coding Monday. I've been lucky lately in avoiding one-day posts where that one day is coding Monday -- the last such post was October 24th. Today the eighth graders learn about Unity, a video game engine:


In case you're curious, sixth graders create logos for an imaginary company, while seventh graders learn about spreadsheets. The students learn about various Excel functions, including mean, median, and mode. I don't normally have music break on coding Mondays, but I couldn't help singing the Measures of Center song from last month to jog the students' memory.

I usually use the coding Monday posts to discuss other issues on my mind. There are two big issues to which I alluded in my challenge posts, but I didn't want to tie those posts up with these issues:

-- The students don't like the way I teach science (or fail to teach it).
-- The administration doesn't like the way I teach math.

I'm saving a discussion of science for the challenge post on Friday. This is because the Week 4 topic is to write about a teaching failure, and what bigger failure do I have teaching than science? Instead, I'll write about my math teaching and the administration. (Traditionalists, again this may be a good time to stop reading this post, since you won't like anything to follow.)

In my lone non-challenge post since the end of winter break (dated the 12th), I wrote about how I'm falling behind in covering all of the major content (MC) that may appear on the SBAC. Then in my "Day in the Life" post on the 18th, I mentioned several "bells and whistles" that are part of the Illinois State curriculum, but I haven't included in any lessons yet. In the Common Planning meeting, we (the elementary teachers and I) were told point blank that we must include these bells and whistles in our lessons, and we had to give a ten-minute report on how exactly we'll do so.

I've mentioned in previous posts that Illinois State provides a pacing plan, but I've had trouble deciphering it. After I complained about it, the developers added a "Year View" to the pacing plan, so that we can actually see how the units correspond to the calendar.

I've stated that of the various components, one ought to be taught in the order presented in the text -- and on the Year View, that is the traditional text (or Student Journal). This text covers all of the Common Core Standards in the order given by the Core itself -- start with Ratios and Proportional Reasoning, then Number System, Expressions and Equations, Geometry, and we end with Statistics and Probability. (For eighth grade, we drop Ratios and add Functions before Geometry.)

In some ways, the naive order of the standards is logical, since Ratios, Number System, and Expressions are all considered major content (MC) while Geometry (except for eighth grade) and Stats and Prob aren't. I instead tried to follow the order of the STEM projects, which ends up jumping between strands. So unfortunately I've already deviated from the Year View.

I don't want to post the Year View in full since I'm not following it, but I do want to show the relationship between the months and the standards for future reference. As usual, I'll post eighth grade only:

Aug. (last few days)-Sept.: NS1 through EE3
October: EE3 through EE6
November: EE6 through EE8a
December: EE8a through EE8c
January: EE8c through F3
February: F3 through G1a
March: G1a through G3
April: G3 through G5
May: G5 through G8
June: G8 through SP4

This isn't as much an issue in sixth and seventh grade where Geometry isn't MC, but for eighth grade, this is problematic. The last MC standard, G8, isn't completed until June 1st! Perhaps Number System should be omitted at the start of the year in order to get all of Geometry finished.

Each standard is allotted a certain number of days, from four to six. If there are four days, then the basic pattern is:

-- One day for STEM projects
-- One day for the traditional lesson (Student Journal)
-- One day for "centers" (that which I've been calling "bells and whistles" earlier)
-- One day for assessment

If there are five or six days available for the standard, then the extra days are to be assigned to the "centers" lesson. The Year View is based on four days of math per week -- which applies to our school as Mondays are for coding. So each standard spans a week to a week and a half.

For some reason, I still haven't figured out the "assessment" part of the Year View. There is supposed to be half a day of Pre-Assessment and half a day of Post-Assessment -- with the other half of the assessments given as homework? (The seventh grade assessments are done the same way, but the sixth grade is even worse -- all of the assessments are listed as "homework"!) There is also one day of Interactive Homework, which the kids are supposed to complete online.

Now since I'm behind schedule, I decide to reduce "centers" to one day. Then each standard spans a week -- and each part of the lesson corresponds to a day of the week:

Monday: Coding
Tuesday: STEM project
Wednesday: Student Journal
Thursday: Centers
Friday: Assessment

But now there's been yet another change -- this time to the daily "bell" schedule (a misnomer, as our charter lacks bells). Afraid that our students aren't prepared for the SBAC, the administration has reworked the bell schedule to incorporate SBAC prep. Here's my new schedule:

1. STEM 7
2. STEM 8
3, STEM 6
4. SBAC Math Prep 6
5. SBAC Math Prep 7

1. STEM 6
2. STEM 7
3. STEM 8
4. SBAC Math Prep 6
5. SBAC Math Prep 7

1. SBAC Math Prep 8
2. STEM 6
3. STEM 8
4. SBAC Science Prep 8
5. Advisory

This schedule will be tougher on the students as the sixth and seventh graders have much less P.E. -- instead of having it everyday except Wednesday, they have it only on Wednesday. It's also harder on both the English teacher and myself as neither of us get a break during said P.E. time! The kids are also losing their IXL computer time -- but computers may be used during the test prep time, since the SBAC itself will be given on a computer.

As for my schedule, I see the eighth graders less during the week -- except for Wednesdays, when I end up seeing them most of the day. Notice that for the first time, the word "science" actually appears on the eighth grade schedule -- not just "math" or "STEM." I did address a concern to those in charge that the eighth graders weren't getting enough science -- but that's all I'll say until Friday.

On the other hand, seventh grade math always seems to get the short end of the stick. Even the original schedule I received at the start of summer gave no seventh grade math on Wednesdays. At first that was changed so that I would see 7th grade on Wednesday -- except that was changed to music instead. (Now music has been eliminated as well -- once the music teacher recovers from his injury, he'll teach elementary only.)

Anyway, notice that the schedule has returned to my not seeing 7th grade at all on Wednesdays. And moreover, notice that seventh grade test prep is given the "period 5" spot -- which used to be the shorter P.E. period!

This also throws a wrench into the Year View pacing plan. Notice that periods are shorter on Wednesdays due to Common Planning -- and that's when the traditional lessons are. And seventh grade is left without traditional lessons at all! The only logical solution is to use the test prep time on Tuesday for the traditional lesson -- technically, I am preparing the students for the SBAC by actually teaching the math!

Well, we'll see how this new schedule goes on Wednesday. Tomorrow will be the last day we're on the old schedule.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The MTBoS, Week 3: Middle School Math Links (Days 83-84)

This post fulfills Week 3 of the 2017 Blogging Initiative. This topic for this week's Initiative post is "Read and Share":

We will read blog posts by other math educators and then chose one (or many) to write about on our blogs.
You can either:
  1. Write about a single blogpost.  Please leave a comment on their post!
  2. Compile a bunch of blogposts that you love.  Here are some ideas to get you started:
    1. You can pick a bunch of various posts.
    2. You can blog around a theme.  Examples:
      1. A unit you are getting ready to cover
      2. Helpful classroom tools or ideas
      3. People or posts that inspire you
      4. And more and more!!
    3. You can read blogs by people who are in your area and blog about them. Yes, the #MTBoS has a search engine that can show you that!
Notice that I already do this -- link to other teacher blogs on this blog. In fact, after each of my posts in both the 2016 and 2017 Initiatives, my very next post (which I didn't submit to the challenge) was to link to some of the other participants. I didn't make such a post after Week 2, since I'd seen that the Week 3 topic is itself a linkfest.

On the other hand, I don't want to link back to Week 2 posts, since you (the readers of the Initiative) have already seen those. Instead, I link back to some of the participants of the other challenge that's going on now -- Tina Cardone's "Day in the Life" challenge.

No, there is no Cardone participant whose monthly posting day is today, the 19th. So instead, I'll follow suggestion #2 and blog around the following theme:

Middle School Blogs

It's no secret that most MTBoS bloggers are high school teachers. This makes sense, as many of those who currently teach middle school math don't even think of themselves as math teachers. (For example, the middle school math and science teacher at our sister charter school is in fact a natural kindergarten teacher.) So they are less likely to participate in something like the MTBoS.

But I found that several middle school teachers were participating in Cardone's project. And so in today's post, I'll link to these teachers. In each case, I begin with the number indicating that teacher's monthly posting day, and then a link first to the blog itself, and to the most recent "Day in the Life" post, which could be a December or January post. (The date on each post might not necessarily be the monthly posting date as we were to post the last day before, and first day, after winter break.)

6. Dawneen Zabinske's blog: http://mszmathmess.blogspot.com/
Her January 6th post:

Ms. Z teaches sixth and seventh grades in South Carolina. Here's how she describes her blog:

This blog chronicles my journey as a middle school math teacher at a magnet school that is centered around a military theme. Mathematical Mess represents the chaos of mathematical thinking (and sometimes my classroom as we strive to be more creative in problem solving and critical thinking).

11. Bernadette Scheetz's blog: http://random-ah-ha-moments.blogspot.com/
Her January 11th post: http://random-ah-ha-moments.blogspot.com/2017/01/ditlife-11117.html

Scheetz teaches sixth and seventh grades in Maryland. One thing I notice in her January 11th post is that she often divides her class into "target groups" for more directed instruction. She writes that some of these groups are reviewing fractions or basic skills. This is something I need to work on in my own classes.

13. Kit Golan's blog: https://teachdomore.wordpress.com/
His December 13th post: https://teachdomore.wordpress.com/2016/12/13/whyistay-mfaproud/

Golan teaches sixth and seventh grades in New York. Here's how he describes his blog:

After my fifth year of teaching 8th grade math, I’m transferring schools and I’m going to be teaching 6th and 7th graders. I’m excited for the change in content/curriculum, and I’m hoping the switch will provide me an opportunity to innovate and revisit some of the things I’ve done in the past and consider how to do them better in the future.

15. Kathy Howe's blog: https://mathyesyoucan.wordpress.com/
Her First Day After Christmas Break post: 

Howe teaches sixth and seventh grades in Texas. Here's how she describes her blog:

My name is Kathy Howe.  I’ve taught Earth Science, Physical Science, Chemistry, Algebra, Pre-Algebra, and general math.  Right now I’m teaching general math and pre-algebra to sixth and seventh graders at a private school in Texas.

17. Mariam Brunner's blog: https://mbrunnermath.wordpress.com/
Her December 17th post: 

Brunner teaches sixth grade in Georgia. I choose not to mention her "About Me" blurb, despite providing it to others, because she links to both her school and her church, and I don't want to reblog such personal information. Instead, I'll write about the project she describes in her December 17th post -- sixth graders learn all about financial literacy.

22. Jonathan Newman's blog: https://hilbertshotel.wordpress.com/
His November 22nd post: 

Newman teaches eighth grade in Maryland -- yes, the first eighth grade teacher. on the list. Again I omit his "About Me" blurb since he actually links to his school website. Instead I mention that this post doubles as his "last day before Thanksgiving" post (the Tuesday before the holiday, which for personal reasons I call "Floyd Thursby Day"). His students take Benchmark Tests all day.

23. Alexandra Otto's blog: https://ottographblog.wordpress.com/
Her November 23rd post: 

Otto teaches sixth grade in Alaska. In this post, it's the day after Floyd Thursby Day, and there is no school that day. Instead, she writes about some conversations she has on her day off, when she tells other adults that she's a math teacher. Some of them have strong opinions of both math class in general and Common Core math in particular.

30. Kevin Cormier's blog: http://run-the-numbers.blogspot.com/
His December 30th post: 

Cormier teaches seventh and eighth grades in Massachusetts. This blog was a bit difficult to find for me, since Cardone provided us with an outdated link. Well, this post obviously occurs during winter break, so instead he writes about a former student of his that he meets that day. Now a college student, she tells Cormier about the ups and downs (too many) in the intervening years,

Before Cardone's project, the only middle school blog I knew was Fawn Nguyen's:


Nguyen is one of the better-known members of the MTBoS, so she needs no introduction. She teaches sixth and eighth grades right hear in my home state of California.

For once, the Week 3 prompt this year contains an image:

I used this search engine to find MTBoS results for the movie Hidden Figures, since our school went on a field trip to see the movie yesterday. (One of the posters I mentioned above, Mariam Brunner, watched the movie on a snow day and blogged about it.)

The first result is Max Ray's blog:


Max Ray is not a teacher. Here's how he describes his blog:

Hey, I’m Max. I work and blog at the Math Forum at Drexel University. My title is “Professional Collaboration Facilitator.” So what do I actually do?
  • I visit schools and teachers, observe, coach, co-teach and model lessons, mostly about teaching problem-solving skills, and teaching content through problem-solving.

In this link, Ray mentions a game students can play after watching the movie. I'd like to say that I spent today, the day after the field trip, playing Ray's game. Unfortunately, it was a day that was filled with arguments, with both seventh and eighth graders wondering why our school don't have a real science teacher -- and what I, as the "STEM" teacher, am doing and not doing to teach enough science this year. There were also complaints from all three grades about the new homework system, in which we are required to have students complete the homework online!

Here is today's Pappas problem:

361^(1/2) = x

The answer is the square root of 361, or 19 -- and today's date is the nineteenth.

This is a two-day post, and my day off from posting is Friday. (Good -- that will allow me to avoid politics in this post!) My next personal post is on Monday, and there is one week left in the 2017 Blogging Initiative.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

A Field Trip Day (Day 82)

This post fulfills my monthly requirement for Tina Cardone's "Day in the Life" project. My monthly posting day is today, the 18th, and for once, it's not a weekend or holiday break.

But today is, in fact, a field trip day. You may recall our first field trip from my September monthly post -- my posting date was a Sunday, and the trip to the LA Country Fair was two days earlier. So that post was pure reflection post, but as the field trip occurred on the last school day before the post, it figured prominently in my reflection responses.

Today's field trip on the other hand, occurs on the actual 18th of the month itself. I could say that today, just like the PD Day on November 18th, is also not a real school day, and so I should just answer reflection questions. But instead, I think I'll actually do a "Day in the Life" for today, since I do actually interact with students. I'm sure Cardone didn't have a field trip day in mind when she came up with the project, but how could I've known there'd be a field trip on the 18th of a month?

The field trip is to see the movie Hidden Figures. I've already watched the movie on the 6th, the day it was released -- and in fact I blogged about the movie that day. I wrote that day that it would be a good idea for our students to watch it, and voila! That's what they watch today.

It's still January and the period of Disillusionment, but how can I be disillusioned on a day when my students are watching a movie? Actually, my disillusionment today has nothing to do with anything the students do.

7:45 -- I arrive at my school.

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.

8:20 -- We don't even bother to send the students to any class. Instead, the students sit on the benches while we teachers check their permission slips. Students are required to wear uniforms on the trip, but many of them aren't wearing them. They are required to change into their uniforms or call their parents to bring their uniforms to school.

9:30 -- The fifth through eighth graders at our K-8 charter school have boarded the buses, and we are now on our way to the theater.

10:00 -- We arrive at the ArcLight movie theater in Culver City. We are actually not that far from where the TV shows Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune are taped, and I tell the students this. Many of the students stand in line to purchase popcorn.

10:30 -- The movie begins. I wrote a full review of the movie in my January 6th post. I'll repeat parts of it here for the sake of Cardone and her readers -- and I'll add in a few student reactions as well. As this review may contain SPOILERS, those of you who haven't seen the movie yet may prefer to sjip the rest of this post.

The protagonist is Katherine Johnson (nee Goble), a mathematician and scientist. She is a real person, and in fact she's still alive -- she turned 98 just after the trailer was first released. We first meet the young Katherine as she is growing up in West Virginia. She is very smart, especially in math, but she can't attend her local high school because she is black. So a high school for African-Americans contacts her family to invite the girl to attend. Her parents are shocked, because she's just getting ready to complete the sixth grade. But the administrators are impressed when they see Katherine solve a complicated algebra problem on the board. As a math teacher, I can tell you that all the math in the movie appears to be genuine. Katherine solves a quartic, or fourth-degree, equation that has already been factored into two quadratics. The girl explains how she used the Zero Product Property to find all four solutions.

The scene jumps to the early 1960's. The now middle-aged Katherine is riding in a car with her two companions, Dorothy and Mary, when the car breaks down. A police car arrives on the scene, and the cop is impressed when he finds out that the three women work for NASA. This is right after the Soviet launch of Sputnik, and thus the Americans are now working hard on their own launch of a space capsule.

Naturally, Katherine faces several challenges due to both her gender and her race. She's assigned to assist her white coworker Paul, who resents her so much that doesn't even want to let her drink from the coffeepot. My own students often ask to go to the restroom during class, and so does Katherine during her work -- but the nearest colored bathroom require her to walk a full mile round trip, in high heels! Unlike my students, though, Katherine carries her work with her. Mr. Harrison is annoyed when she has to leave for forty minutes at a time.

At this point, Runnin', a Pharrell Williams song, plays, and one of my students recognizes it -- from yesterday's music break. I sang its first verse as my song of the day.

We also learn a little more about Katherine's family. She is a widow who has to raise three daughters with only her own mother to help out. After NASA learns that a Russian, Yuri Gagarin, has orbited the earth, Katherine and the others must spend long hours working away from their families. Despite this, she meets a new guy, Colonel Jim Johnson, whom she eventually marries. Jim's ring comes from his parents, whose marriage lasted 52 years. It's revealed that as of 2016, the colonel is also still alive, and the couple has just celebrated their 56th wedding anniversary.

At this point, a few of my students hoot and holler as Katherine and Jim share their first very passionate kiss.

The climax of the movie is when astronaut John Glenn is set to orbit the earth. The engineers must calculate the "go/no go" point where the space capsule would reenter earth's atmosphere. Glenn is worried that the calculations are incorrect, and so NASA calls in the only mathematician whom he trusts to find the exact point of reentry -- Katherine. Glenn is launched into space, and he's supposed to orbit the earth seven times, but instead orbits it only thrice. He's afraid that he will burn up upon reentry, but with the help of Katherine and the other engineers, his capsule safely lands in the water near the Bahamas. By the way, the real John Glenn fell short of seeing his depiction in the movie, as he died about a month ago.

As a math teacher, I enjoyed this movie greatly! I recognized more actual math in the movie. For example, to calculate the "go/no go" point, I see Katherine multiply a certain number of degrees by pi/180 -- that is, she converted the degrees to radians. And I also liked seeing actual clips from the 1960's of the Friendship 7 capsule, President Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Many of the students cheer when they recognize King.

In fact, I loved the movie even better watching it the second time! I like how two fifth graders sitting behind me -- black girls, so they're in the target demographic, pick up on some of the hidden symbolism of the movie that even I missed the first time. The girls notice the scene where Katherine is handed a piece of chalk and asked to calculate the "go/no go" point to impress the white men who are in the room with her. The fifth graders compare it to the opening scene where Katherine is handed a piece of chalk and asked to solve the equation to impress the teachers at her new school.

Of course, both the girls and I notice the more obvious symbolic moments. It's Paul who must run the mile round trip to fetch Katherine when Glenn is about to launch. The fifth graders are upset when Paul never gives Katherine credit for her work, He insists that "computers don't author reports," but after the astronaut's safe landing, he lets her include both their names on the report. And at the end of the movie, Paul is the one serving Katherine coffee.

12:45 -- The movie ends. At our school, this would be lunchtime -- and today it's again lunchtime as my support provider and the fifth grade support provider provide us with pizza and water! I talk to one of my sixth graders. He tells me that this is his first ever visit to a movie theater, and so he definitely enjoys the experience!

1:00 -- The buses arrive to return us to the school.

1:45 -- Wednesdays are Common Planning days at our school. So once the students return to school, they're dismissed -- and the easy part of my day is over. The more difficult part of the day is dealing with the Common Planning meeting, since the topic of the day is the Illinois State math text.

I've alluded to the Illinois State text several times in my "Day in the Life" posts, including back in my August PD day post. That day, I met the person who created some of the projects that actually appear in the STEM text. Well, at today's meeting the actual curriculum developers have flown in all the way from England to discuss the implementation.

You see, the reason that they keep flying in that our school is considered a pilot school for the text, yet we aren't actually the first to adopt it. Another school has already done so -- and its scores on the Common Core tests rose dramatically. And so the administrators keep flying the developers in over and over in order to make sure that our implementation is complete. If our school doesn't show sufficient gains on the test scores, the assumption will be that it's due to the failure of us teachers to implement the curriculum completely.

And so today, all the teachers except those in the middle school who teach English/history are required to give a ten-minute report on what we'll do to implement the Illinois State curriculum. The emphasis is on whether we're including all the extra bells and whistles that are part of the program.

2:30 -- My counterpart -- the middle school math and science teacher at our sister charter school -- presents first. She includes the Illinois State pre-assessment and post-assessments for each unit, but she hasn't given all the STEM projects yet. She's afraid that the first project in the text -- where students are asked to build mousetrap cars -- won't go well.

3:00 -- The dreaded moment has come -- it's now my turn to present. Let me include a little of what I wrote in my written report. Pay special attention to the extra components that I haven't included yet, but am now required to. (Now there's that Disillusionment!)

-- Assessments

Illinois State Level 1 questions will be used for Daily Assessments.
Level 2-3 questions are 50-point quizzes and 100-point tests.

Quizzes and tests will be given on a 3-week rotation as follows: the first week is a Dren Quiz, the second week is a 100-point test covering that week's and the previous week's standard, and the third week is 50-point quiz covering only that week's standards. 

Within each week, here is the daily plan:
Monday: Coding
Tuesday: Illinois State STEM Project
Wednesday: Begin Traditional Content (Illinois State Student Journal)
Thursday: Finish Traditional Content (Illinois State Student Journal)
Friday: Weekly Assessment

Of course, Illinois State daily assessments are given throughout the week.

-- Manipulatives

DIDAX manipulatives can be given the same weeks as the Basic Skills Quiz. It is said that DIDAX is for struggling students, so those who fail the Basic Skills Quiz can use DIDAX in order to reinforce those basic skills.

-- Focus Tutorials

Focus Tutorials are given same weeks as 100-point tests. With at least two standards to be covered, Focus Tutorials can be completed on whiteboards to prepare students for the tests.

-- Die-Cuts

The die-cut can be given same weeks as 50-point quizzes. As of now I don't even know how to use the machine, so hopefully I can figure it out by February 3rd. I've heard that die-cuts can be used for fractions and 6th grade has a fractions lesson then. I also know that die-cuts are to be used for some "art projects." [Note, after I say this, one of the developers shows me how to use the machine.]

-- Centers

I know that with both my support provided and a Bruin Corps member in my room everyday (save Monday, which is for coding), I must divide the class into three centers. I can discuss with the others who exactly will be assigned to each center. We must watch out for behavior issues -- for example, if Bruin Corps arrives late and that group consists of students who don't work well together.

-- Homework

I don't assign the Interactive Homework System directly online for two reasons. First, the students have never been assigned individual TPS passwords. Second, I don't trust them to do the assignments even if they had the passwords -- they'd come up with all sorts of excuses, beginning with "I forgot my TPS password" and going up to "I can't access TPS from home." So instead, I print the Interactive Homework System pages and include them in packets, along with the daily practice workbooks that we were given at the start of the year. [Note, after I say this, the developers tell me that giving the online homework is required, and our director/principal tells me that only two students, a brother and sister, lack Internet access.]

3:30 -- It's our fifth grade teacher's turn to go. Before the presentations, she tells me that neither one of us really has time to complete the report, since we're both on the field trip all day. Still, her lessons meet Illinois State specifications much better than mine, since she incorporates the DIDAX manipulatives, Focus Tutorials, and Die-Cuts into her lessons. Instead of using the daily practice text for homework (since that's not from Illinois State), she uses it as a Warm-Up instead.

4:00 -- After the fourth grade teacher gives the final presentation, the meeting ends. Overall, today was a good day, marred only by my getting a little sick/cold, especially during the meeting time. I go home to type this blog entry.

I obviously don't assign any students any math problems since there are no classes today. But I'll still post the Pappas Question of the Day, written in ASCII:

6 * sqrt(6+sqrt(6+sqrt(6+... = ?

You don't have to be a Katherine to solve this problem. If we denote the square root by x, notice that adding 6 and taking its square root produces itself again, so sqrt(6 + x) = x. Solving this gives x = 3, but we ask for 6x due to the extra factor of six. So the answer is 18 -- and today's date is the 18th.

After the movie, our director/principal gives us a packet for Hidden Figures, which we can discuss with our students. The packet actually comes from the following website:


which I found by following a link from Denise Gaskins -- a teacher whose blog I found during the other MTBoS challenge (the 2017 Blogging Initiative). Unfortunately, this packet is based on the book Hidden Figures, not the movie -- and the book covers so much more than the film. Judging by the questions, we see that the book begins in the 1940's, back when NASA was called "NACA" -- and Katherine doesn't even appear until Chapter 8. The events of the movie all correspond to the second half of the book. Now imagine asking these questions to our students, who of course only watched the movie!

I'll include one of Cardone's special reflection questions today:

4) Teachers are always working on improving, and often have specific goals for things to work on throughout a year.  
First post: What is a goal you have for the year?  
Subsequent posts: What have you been doing to work toward your goal?  How do you feel you are doing?
What if each T set a goal of some sort for the yr that they could reflect on? Then we ask: How have you been working toward your goal?

My goal is to become the ideal classroom manager. Well, yesterday an assistant arrived in my classroom to help me reach that goal. She has experience in all grades K-12 and beyond, and she's already helping me establish some new rules and routines with my sixth graders -- and even using Interactive Modeling (as in the Responsive Classroom training, see my November and December monthly posts) to explain the new rules. For example, she suggests that I hold up two fingers on my right hand and place my left finger on my lips to indicate silence.

The assistant goes to the sister charter school today -- which is just as well, since our school is on a field trip. Tomorrow she may return, and it will be just like my second day of school, where I ask the students to come up with rules (and those rules, of course, failed, hence my need for an assistant),

Tomorrow will be my last post for the week, so it's by default my Week 3 Blogging Initiative post. I point out that my next monthly post will be February 18th -- oops, a Saturday!