Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Time Flies!

Well, I haven't done the best at keeping up with this blog.  At first, my excuse was that I didn't have much to write about from just observing.  Now that I am teaching lessons, I have too many things to do and, seemingly, not enough time.

So, without further ado, here are some highlights of the past few weeks.

  • Had my first observation with my university supervisor.  My lack of nervousness surprised me.  The more time I spend in the classroom, the more I know that is where I am supposed to be.  He gave me some useful feedback about what I was doing well at and what I should start trying to focus more on.  Our follow-up conference was interesting because my professor has no experience with teaching in high school.  All of his teaching and research has been done at the elementary level.  
  • Survived my first SURPRISE observation by the school's principal.  My cooperating teacher had left me in charge of the class for a few minutes while she walked a student to the office.  Several minutes later she had not returned.  I had started pondering whether or not I should begin going over the bellwork when the principal walked in the door and sat down to observe.  So, I just started teaching.  The principal only stayed for a minute or two, but I hope I made a good impression.  
  • I'm finally getting the students' names down.  I've discovered that knowing a student's name is the first step in building a relationship with that student.  This morning a student called out to me in the hall.  I was able to say good morning and call them by name.  The student was pleasantly pleased that I knew his name.  There are still a few quiet students in each class that I don't know their names yet, but I'm getting there!
  • I gave my first detention this week.  The school just adopted a new tardy policy.  One tardy = One afternoon of detention.  I learned my lesson, however.  I need to wait until the end of the class period to actually give the detention slip to the students.  After I gave one student his detention slip, he literally shut down for the rest of the class period.  It was a real struggle to get him to do anything.  
  • Made my first foldable today.  It was a three flap foldable over the three ways to determine slope.  I don't think my students have ever been taught how to take notes.  It's always an adventure when I sit down next to a student to help them, and I ask to look at their notes.  There are the students who copy down ever mark I made on the board.  And, at the other end of the spectrum, there are those students who write down nothing.  Though we had already gone over the different equations for finding slope, I wanted the students to review these equations and be able to look them up if they forgot them.  So, this morning as I showered I had the epiphany that we had covered three ways to find slope.  And, the other day I saw a template for making a tri-fold foldable.  We made them in class today, and the students seemed to really enjoy them.  Since we were writing with markers on foldables, the students didn't realize that they were basically rewriting the same things they had already (hopefully) written in their notes.  My favorite part of the experience was teaching the students how to use their foldable to help them with their homework assignment.  When students told me that they didn't know what to do, I would ask them which flap of their foldable matched the problem (finding the slope from the equation, graph, or two points).  Once they decided which flap to use, all they had to do was open the flap and write the equation down on their paper.  Usually this was enough to get them started and working on their own.  Yay foldables!   

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Week of Firsts

Today marks the end of my first week as a student teacher.  And, this week has been full of firsts.  First faculty meeting.  First PLC meeting.  First fire drill as a teacher.  But, I'm particularly excited to share a first I experienced today that was unexpected.

First time to teach algebra in Spanish.  


I wasn't expecting to teach algebra in Spanish today.  While the majority of the students were testing, I was given the task of helping 5 students with their algebra homework.  Given a table, they were supposed to graph the points, describe what was happening in words, and write an equation to represent the table.

While the other students had began working, one girl had pulled out pencil and paper, but she had not started her work.  After helping some of the other students with their equations, I realized that this girl had still not started.  So, I sat down by her and began talking her through how to plot points.  However, I soon found out that this student spoke zero English.  On top of that, this was her first day of school.

I sat there quietly for about thirty seconds.  Then, I proceeded, much to the surprise of the students sitting at the table, to start trying to explain how to plot points in Spanish.  I say "trying" because while I took 4 semesters of Spanish in college, I haven't taken a Spanish class in two years.  However, I had some amazing Spanish professors in college who really challenged me and pushed me to learn the language.  And, because of them, I still know enough Spanish to have a basic conversation or read a children's book in Spanish.  Was my Spanish perfect?  That's a definite no.  Apparently, I said that I was drinking something at one point instead of taking something...  I was also informed that my pronunciation was lacking. I guess my "pero" sounds too much like "perro."

I definitely need to learn some basic math vocabulary in Spanish, though.  Knowing the Spanish words for "line" or "point" would have been most helpful today.  Despite my major shortcomings with the Spanish language, I am so thankful for the fact that I was able to communicate with this student today.  I can't imagine moving to another state, starting a new school, and not being able to understand a single word that any of your teachers are saying.   

This is why I am becoming a teacher.  Will I have a major impact on the lives of each of my students?  No.  But, I can make a difference in a student's day, and sometimes that's all it takes.  And, I am learning each day that they will have an impact on my life, too.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Reflections on the First Week

Well, the first week of my student teaching experience has come and gone.  Okay, there were only three days of classes, but what an experience those three days were.  Thus far, I have only been observing the teacher, grading papers, and circulating the classroom, helping students with their work. 

The majority of the things I have learned these past few days have not been about teaching math.  Instead, they have been about students.  The inner-city school I am completing my student teaching at is part of a different world than the one I was raised in.  Students talk candidly about drugs, race, the fear of ending up living on the street.  The majority of these students are at risk of not meeting the state requirements for graduation. 

Yes, these students need to learn math.  But, they need so much more than that.  While I feel at least semi-prepared to teach math since I will be graduating in May with a degree in mathematics, I feel quite unprepared to teach these students.  How can I relate math to these students who have experienced things in their lives that I cannot even begin to imagine?   

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Student Teaching...Day One Complete

Well, I've survived my first day of student teaching.  I apologize in advance if this blog post seems fragmented.  It is fragmented.  After a day of observing and interacting with students, I have so many thoughts floating through my head.  Actually, the word "thoughts" in the preceding sentence could be replaced with "questions" as I look back over what I have written.  I don't have the answers to these questions right now.  Some of them I may never have answers for.  But, I fear that if I do not record them today, they will be lost.  Because a hundred new questions and thoughts will likely take their place tomorrow.     

Algebra 1
Today, I noticed that the majority of problems that students had were with negatives and fractions.  Though I was surprised at the fact that many students still struggled with the fact that a negative times a negative is a positive, I was more surprised how many students just ignored the negative signs altogether.  It was as if the negative signs were invisible to the students.  Why?

When are we ever going to use this?
The class had been reviewing how to solve inequalities for less than five minutes when this question was posed.  My cooperating teacher was quick to remind the students that while they might not use algebra in their lives, they will use the logical thinking skills that algebra teaches daily.  To me, math and its applications surround us.  Working for my family's business, I have the opportunity to use algebra on a regular basis.  But, I realize I am an exception.  How can I make math relevant to my students?

Geometry
Other than the geometry problems I worked on my teacher certification exam, this is really my first exposure to geometry since my freshman year of high school.  Today, I realized that geometry is about the WHY? question.  Sure, we ask students to find the measure of angle 2.  But, almost always, this is followed up with the question of why that is true.  Students are, for maybe the first time, being asked to justify their steps.  The fact that students have so little experience talking about mathematics becomes soon evident.

Why do we ask the WHY? question in geometry but not algebra?  In algebra, we want to know if students know WHAT we are solving for, WHAT the solution to the equation is, WHAT the slope of the line is, ...