I’ve signed up for Tina Cardone’s “Day in the Life” project here: http://drawingonmath.blogspot.com/2016/08/day-in-life-book-plan.html

In NYC, we don’t resume school until after Labor Day, so I didn’t blog on my usual day (the 13th of each month), because on Saturday, I spent the day cleaning the house to get ready for the early birthday party I had yesterday (we had two friends over and played three board games – my favorite way to spend a weekend!).

Today, however, was a very mathy/teacher-y day, so I figured I’d do my “day-in-the-life” today and next month, I’ll go back to my 13th of the month. So here goes my first entry.

Since it’s still summer, and I’m a night-owl (definitely NOT a morning person!), I slept in a little bit today. I woke up around 11:30 and had a cup of tea with an apple cider donut from yesterday’s farmer’s market, while I browsed my teacher twitter feed. I realized around 11:55 that I needed to take a quick shower because I had to meet my math teacher colleagues at 1:30PM about an hour away in the Manhattan apartment of one of them. I left a little bit late (after debating whether or not to bring my laptop and my graph paper notebook), and I took the subway all the way there. I tried to read my twitter feed underground, but eventually gave up and read the Star Wars novel I’m in the middle of instead.

When I got to my friend’s apartment, the other two math teachers were both there. It was only 4 of the 5 of us, because one guy is still on vacation. They were talking about the goings-on of people from our school that I don’t know yet – I’ve met these three people because we’ve met up a few times this summer to plan math, but I haven’t really met any of the other content area teachers yet.

They mentioned that programs had been sent out by email today, so I logged on to her wifi and downloaded my schedule for the year. This is the first time I’m seeing the bell schedule too! Classes begin at 8AM, and there’s no morning homeroom, so students may drop by at 7:55 to drop off their coats before going to class. Each period is 43 minutes long, and then there’s three minutes before the next class begins so they have time to pass in the hallways. Homeroom is always 15 minutes from 11:55 – 12:10, and then the students go to lunch. We’re going to need to come up with a system for homeroom, so that it is structured – I need to think about this a bit more. After lunch, there’s only two more periods and then the day is over between 2:20 and 2:30. Students may drop by again to pick up their coats before going home.

This year, I’ve got two “preps” – 6th grade math and 7th grade math. I teach two of each, and I’m going to be a 6th grade homeroom teacher. I will have six periods with each class, one double period per week. I also have an AIS period to bring me up to 25 teaching periods total; I’ve been assured by my coworker that there will probably only be 5 or so students in that class and it probably won’t begin at first, because they’ll need to figure out who needs it (and my school supposedly has a very low number of students needing AIS in math; more of them need it in ELA). I’ve got two prep periods on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Fridays. I have common planning time with the other 6th grade math teacher on Wednesdays and with the other 7th grade math teachers on Friday afternoons. I always have a prep either first or second period (which I like!), but I also have two 8th period preps, which I’ve rarely had in the past.

The (potentially) sucky things about my schedule are that I’m going to teach four in a row on Tuesday mornings – 2nd period through 5th period, go straight to homeroom, and not get a break until lunch (so that’s from 8:46 until 12:05, no break!) and on Thursdays, I’ll have six teaching periods, because I’ve got a two doubles that day – one with my a sixth grade class and one with a seventh grade class.

After we spent a little bit of time talking about scheduling, we moved into the main reason we were meeting up today. My new middle school has what’s called “screened admission” – in order to get in, 5th graders who apply need to take some admissions tests: one in ELA, one in math, and one in “collaboration” (last year, the collaboration test was playing SET in a group and being evaluated for how they worked together and communicated with their peers, not for winning!). Today, our goal was to design the roughly 12 question test for these 5th graders to take so that we didn’t have to do it in January, when we were all burnt out. The head of the math department gave us all the exam that she had created (modified from previous years’ tests to avoid cheating through being handed the answers). The questions all required computations (without calculators), but it was also a test with lots of wordy problems geared towards sense-making. There was definitely some problem-solving involved. In some of the cases, the questions were relatively straight-forward, and could be solved in a variety of ways (for example, asking the students what day it was 23 days ago, if today is a particular day of the week), while other questions were much more complex, like telling students combinations of nonsense words were equal to other amounts and how much did one nonsense word weigh in terms of another? (i.e. could be solved with diagrams or systems of equations, and was basically using some substitution). We started just by taking some time to read through the questions and answer them ourselves so we could discuss it. I thought it was funny that NONE of us got a perfect score! In most cases, our mistakes were because we were working too quickly, not reading carefully enough, or misread the question. For example, in one question, it asked “how much further” and we all read “how far in total?” In some cases, we changed the wording of questions to be more clear, whereas in others, we decided the deceptiveness was part of the point. We created an answer key with a rubric for what would get points (and how many), and we changed a few of the last couple of questions (including incorporating a visual pattern from visualpatterns.org!). We had some good discussions about the types of mistakes we expected students to make, and which ones we thought still demonstrated enough mathematical understanding to earn points and which ones did not. We also had some interesting conversations about the mistakes we made in solving some of the problems. I thought it was interesting to note that there was definitely some embarrassment and nervousness among us about having made mistakes, and I was pretty good at looking at other people’s work and figuring out where they went wrong (when they couldn’t figure it out themselves). For example, in one question (which we all solved algebraically, and I have no idea, other than pictures, how the 5th graders will solve the problem!), the teacher had two equations, and she’d isolated one variable in the first equation, but when she substituted it into the other equation, she replaced the expression and distributed correctly, but lost the other term that was on that side of the equation. I was so fascinated by that question (especially given that I can’t quite picture how the students will try to solve it!), that I offered to grade that one when the time comes.

After we finished the exam, we spent a little bit more time chatting, and I felt like I was getting a chance to build my relationship with my new co-workers. At one point, one of them drew me a map of the school, and showed me where the kids swipe in, where the teachers enter, where we have to move our time cards, and where we’ll find the parent coordinator (who will make us copies!) and the payroll secretary (who doesn’t like it if we’re late because she has to do coverages!).

The other thing that’s interesting about my new school is that while most classes are scheduled by homeroom, and students travel together in homerooms with one schedule, they are sometimes “split” for math. They do ICT classes (which are called inclusion) and they incorporate “part time ICT/self-contained” students into otherwise gen-ed classes for other subjects, but they receive extra support in math (and/or ELA), and so they get split up for math. In 7th grade, there’s a three-way split, because in addition to the ICT split, there’s also an accelerated split, of students who are advanced in math and will be going into the accelerated algebra class in 8th grade. So according to my new colleagues, I’ll be teaching all gen ed students (which has never happened before, as I’ve always had some SETSS students in my classes, and last year, I taught ICT), and they’ll be mostly at or above grade level. I’ve been told that I will need to be prepared to challenge them and to keep them engaged, otherwise, they’ll think I’m babyish and they won’t find enough challenge.

I shared a couple of different activities with my two 7th grade co-workers this afternoon: the dot talks and the WODB. They liked the WODB, but worried about some of them (especially the shapes ones) being too easy. We also discussed how some of them were more useful than others, and some were more relevant to our various units than others (i.e. the numbers in our number theory unit, the fraction circles in our probability unit, etc.), but I thought it was interesting that in both cases (the WODB and the dot talks), they “warned” me that my students might perceive some of these activities as too baby-ish, and not challenging enough content-wise. I felt reasonably successful in articulating/defending why I thought the tasks were important and meaningful to them, but it made me wonder how I ensure that I can do the same with the students.

I’m getting nervous now, because we’re getting close. My birthday is on Friday (which always seems to signal the end of the summer to me), I have two weeks before I’m allowed into my classroom to set up, and I’ve got three weeks until I have my teacher PD days (and in two weeks from Thursday, I meet my students!). I can’t believe how close it is, and how much still remains on my summer to do list (especially the “around the house projects).

Let’s tackle some of the reflection questions from the “Day in the Life” though I think some might not be as relevant:

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?

This one is a bit tricky to think about in the context of what I was doing today. I suppose the decision to ask my colleagues to think about how we expected 5th graders to solve a question without using a system of equation or potentially algebra was an important move. All four of us had used algebra to solve the rather complex problem, and I think it was important for us to consider how else it could be solved in order to create our rubric and answer key.

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?

I’m nervous about starting at a new school, because I’m a bit overwhelmed at taking on the task of teaching two grade levels and two new sets of content standards. I’m feeling challenged to know where to begin in planning my lessons for the first weeks of school (and even the first units!) because there are things I want to try to implement, but I’m nervous about how to keep on top of everything and do everything I want to do. I need to keep reminding myself that it’s okay to not be perfect and not accomplish everything new that I want to incorporate all in one year.

I’m looking forward to working with new people who enjoy collaborating, I’m looking forward to working at a smaller school with fewer students, I’m looking forward to working with students who (supposedly) have a better affect towards math.

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.

I think the majority of today’s post is a relational moment, as I was working with my new colleagues and learning the dynamic of how they interact with each other and what they’re like as people. I think it can be nerve-wracking to start working in a new place, but I’ve been very lucky in that I’m going to be working with people who genuinely seem to care about teaching and doing math, and they’re open to suggestions and ideas from me (though they do push back sometimes and I need to defend my ideas – but it’s not from a “cranky” place, but more from a “how do we implement this?” or “I’m not sure this is the right idea for this grade level/these kids” place).

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?

I think I’m going to write more about my goals for the year in a separate post.

5. I think I’ve already pretty well answered question 5 about what else has been going on!