Saturday, February 7, 2015

Snow, logic and rigor.

February is here, along with the new semester.  The weather alternates between just above the freezing mark and just below it, so every morning begins with a decision on whether to shovel out the car,  and risk finding one of the valued parking spots at school or standing on a frozen snow bank waiting for the bus to come.

I have almost mastered the bus time app.  It allows me to remove my finger from my gloves to check my cell phone repeatedly to see if the 6:47 bus will come at 6:47, 6:48, or 6:49.  The first day I tried it the bus arrived and left as I looked at the app.   I decided I wouldn't look again, but just wait and watch the street as I've done for six decades, but alas- I am addicted to the damn phone - just like everyone else.

I am back to teaching a  geometry self-contained class.  The new semester, almost surely my last semester, brought a slew of changes of our teaching schedules, so, at least for 45 minutes a day, I end my career just as I started it, teaching students with disabilities the "general" curriculum in a separate classroom. The topic I was given first -logic.

I am fairly convinced that nothing in education today has anything really to do with logic.  Otherwise I certainly wouldn't be teaching if p then q,  to high school students who are not really sure what folding your paper in half means.  (The professional small learning group community had a discussion on rigor,  and I posed the question  -was asking whether a paper that was folded down the vertical center line was an equal representation of half as one folded down the horizontal line.    I was assured it was rigorous.- by  three of the people in the group- the other four were asleep). 

But I spent the week with questions like:  If its Tuesday,  then it must by Belgium. ) Okay - not really - because that is anachronistic joke  akin, to calling out second floor ladies lingerie - when the elevator door opens and no one gets out.  But surprisingly to me at least, so was the sentence from the text book:  Jedi warriors do not use light sabers.  (One of the girls insisted I spelled it wrong- it should say light savers like the candy. (Lifesavers?)

Bernie had his head down - he was too tired to learn he told me, he had worked until 3:00 am in the convenience store by his house.  I made him pick up his head.  It sounds  so mean as I type it.  But that's how it goes- you come, you learn- with your head up.

The snow fell in spurts outside our window yet again, and in an attempt to derail the logic discussion we talked about where we came from (as in the country we used to live in versus the topic of evolution which was being hotly debated in the Teacher's lounge along with a chorus of Bob Marley songs- but again that is not the main topic- and since I have been sitting through many workshops on writing non-fiction, I am going to attempt to stick to my topic).

Five out of six of the students were from the Dominican Republic.  They talked wistfully of an Island with beaches and mountains and a climate that never required one to decide whether or not to shovel out a car or take a bus. (Of course- the economy did limit one'options which is probably why everyone was sitting in a classroom in New York- even after working until the wee hours of the morning, watching snow fall.

I wrote the sentence:  If it snows then its winter. 

Unless you live in DR Ana said.  
True- even if that wasn't what the answer the textbook said it was supposed to be.

But Bernie's head popped up and insisted it does snow in the Dominican Republic.

The class was skeptical.  I didn't know for sure, but I was once in Hawaii when there was a snowstorm on Mauna Kea.

Off topic- again.  

We went back to finding inverses and converses and contrapositives- because that's what were supposed to be doing
-  Constanza.    Bernie called out, That's the place in the DR where -it snows!

How did he know?  He texted his mother. 

Yes he's not supposed to have his cell phone out.  Yes he's not supposed to be texting- he's supposed to be folding his paper in half ( Ana gave him a sheet, he didn't have a notebook he wouldn't be paid until the evening).   But he was with us  now.

And I know where it snows in the Dominican Republic.
Rigorous?  Maybe. But its our kind of logic .

Sunday, February 1, 2015

When will I use this?

I can complete a square.  Okay, its not like finding the cure for cancer or creating world peace, but its a skill I mastered more than once.  Its like the joke about quitting smoking, it can't be all that hard - I've done it numerous times.

I've never smoked, but from time to time I find myself mired in a mathematical curriculum that defies my usually effective sense of mathematical reasoning- the mathematical acrobatics I put myself through, because it serves some purpose in my life.  For instance, Macy's had gloves on sale yesterday.  The marked price was $48, the sign said 40% off, I have a deal with Macy's I keep buying things and they keep sending me coupons, so I knew that the gloves would cost me  a number that is less than the predicted low temperature for tomorrow.

I bought the gloves.  (For the record it came to $28 with tax and the predicted low tomorrow is 14 degrees)

The Algebra I curriculum includes figuring out percentages of things and coming up with what things should cost.  Of course last week's Regents, postponed  by the prediction of a historic snowstorm that never came, included a question that gave the final price after a 20% discount and the deal was to figure out the original cost.

I'm sure I'll hear lots of complaints about that- we never practiced that scenario.

And what difference should it make- either you want the dress at the sale price or your don't.
If you have to know the original price to think its a good enough deal to buy- you don't  really need the dress. (My father used to say, if you need to ask the price, you can't afford it).

In my humble opinion.

I was watching the Big Bang theory last week.  My cousin is always amazed that a show about a bunch of brainy nerds is the most popular show on TV. Sheldon stood in front of a white board and whined about something or another in his self important life.  But behind him was a reduction of simple radicals,  another skill I mastered in my year of not the most basic concepts of high school math.  I had written something very similar on our very own white board just a few weeks back.  The joke being, that most of the viewers would have no idea that Sheldon's scratching were the mere exercises of the Algebra II curriculum and not the genius level pondering he purported

Every semester I listen to poignant posing of the same the question.
Why am I taking this math?  - I'll never use it.

True, you probably don't remember how to figure percentages that will give you  the original cost of an item in Macy's quickly either, though there's most likely an app for that in the cell phone in your pocket if you really want to.  If you need the current cost, there's a station where you can scan it quickly.

But completing the square or reducing a radical?  Other than realizing that the people who provided the props for Sheldon's whining monologue- its hard to imagine a situation where that's needed- and anyone who actually would require such calculations at work, would undoubtedly have software that would instantaneously do so.

Teacher Koi,  my carpool companion once asked me what would we do if all the computers in the world stopped working at once.

Not being able to solve a quadratic equation would be the least of my problems.  It would rank far behind not being able to get money out of the ATM and not having the digital thermostat control the central heating in our home and this February -the temperature would rapidly sink to a level where  no gloves on sale or not would suffice.

The new semester begins on Tuesday.  I will click on the Algebra II curriculum that arrived in my e-mail box yesterday and again try to learn, plan, adapt and teach the carefully constructed lists of skills and concepts listed in the course curriculum. (Hopefully in that order) Some will get it, some will try, others will whine that the don't need to put much mental energy to these abstractions, they'll never use them.  I expect they are right.   But the in the end we will pass most of them anyway.  The principal told us to.  But that's a story for another day.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Inclusion Teacher

Two days after I began teaching an inclusion class for the first time, the World Trade Towers fell. 

We had a west facing classroom.  We could see the plumes of smoke from the window, We pulled the shades.  We assured the students the world would not end that day, and theie parents would be there when they returned home,  but when they left for lunch, we hugged each other after each desperate phone call to our own loved ones ended with good news. We had known each other for two days.

  I worked in an elementary school then, in a district (when they existed) that was pretty progressive.  Although it was part of the New York School City System, because geographic districts operated independently in those days, the leadership of that district often tried out new trends earlier than other places in NYC.  Mayoral control put an end to that

I’ve had a long history with inclusion, the practice of mixing general education students with students with IEPs in the same class .  A friend looked at the explanation, when we first learned about it and predicted we would end our  careers as overpaid teacher assistants. When I began as an inclusion teacher, our district put much thought into how the program would work, how would the teachers be trained, how would the physical space be arranged, how would the parents be informed.  Teachers were interviewed to make sure they’re styles and personalities were compatible.  Co-teaching is like a marriage, we were told, my brand new co-teacher leaned close, and said, “I’m divorced.”

But we were a good marriage, the class worked.  All the students in the class, those with IEPs and those without met standards and were promoted.  The reviewers (they've had so many names and incarnations since that time) said it was the only classroom where they saw adequate differentiated instruction.  We worked so well as a team that we were immediately were broken up for the next year. And although Integrated Co-teaching is now widespread throughout the City schools, I’ve never again had an inclusion class where any  any pre-thought or consideration went into how it would work.

I have had a series of co-teachers that were weak. One, riddled by constant pain which she treated with a series of prescription medicines,  often told the students things like, the Ancient Egyptians had electricity in the pyramids, (she saw that on the Discovery Channel) and Rodin was Renaissance artist (she knew that for a fact and the World Book Encyclopedia must have put a typo in for his birth date).  Sadly, the year after I left the school she walked in front of a car during  a preparation period and was killed. No teacher evaluation program needed, the Darwin Awards sufficed.

That was possibly the nadir in my co-teaching career.

Possibly- last year I had a teacher I called an asshole to his face. Luckily I waited a few nano-seconds after the students left.  It was a Friday afternoon and I was able to storm out right after.

And with all this wonderful  experience, Monday I was sent to a workshop on teaching inclusion classes.

As soon as I beat down the bad attitude demon on my shoulder –it was useful, and when the presenter announced at the end of the day that he would observe us the following morning, I snapped into action and rewrote the lesson plan to match some of the techniques he preached.  The sad thing is that I agreed with him, we can co teach far better than we do.  But in a school based on traditional instruction, where each methodology is broken into 22 distinct, measurable skills, and evaluations are linked to exams that appear way beyond the capacity of our learners, who wants to try anything new?

Although, I had planned the day carefully to make a quick exit at the bell, I stayed late to create a new lesson, immediately deleting the Smart Notebook file and keeping friends from Texas waiting for me at restaurant for over a half hour.

I rewrote the Smart Notebook presentation after dinner, (evidence for sure that some learners, must have a quiet space to be successful), went over the course of the lesson with my co-teacher during our usual co-planning time, the car ride to school.  (Thank you traffic on the Grand Central Service road, we worked out who would teach what,  while we waited three lights to get past the traffic light on Parsons).   And taught our lesson.

The observer liked it.  We didn't quite have enough time to have the students work in groups enough to master the concept, but he didn't come back the next day to notice.

My co-teacher did.  She went back to traditional teaching.  I walked around helping people, feeling like a tremendously overpaid teacher assistant.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

If Teacherfish's School Were a Village

Kliptown Youth Program.  A program in the Soweto Township of Johannesburg, For the people in the " global village" who have no access to computers in their homes, let alone flush toilets.  Anyone interested in learning more should contact:

Winnie was not happy. She had her head on the desk and what my mother would have called, a ferkrimpt punim  (literally a pinched face- but sour puss is the best idiomatic translation). It didn't help the matter that the temperature in the room was approaching 90 degrees.

 I have a lesson plan and a Smart Notebook file, for the lesson if anyone wants it just leave a comment and a way I can get it to you.

"This is not math.  We are supposed to be doing math."  I have taught Winnie before, she is hard working, self-advocating, not unintelligent, and her IEP lists her as being on the Asperger's Spectrum.  My co-teacher last year hated that, he thought her too weird.   I wasn't so fond of my co-teacher, I thought him too mean. Winnie has a structure in her brain about a math class, and the fact that we were not solving for x, was very uncomfortable. Understanding, experienced, special educator that I am, I told her to pick her head up, and get over herself.  Hey- it was 90 degrees in that room.  What I didn't tell her was they were making us do a multi -cultural lesson. 

I thought it was math- just not exactly the kind we are used to teaching. Our struggling large city high school took another punch to the gut (sorry- I've been watching a Houdini miniseries this weekend).  Our graduation rate fell almost to the 50% mark.

Because I read the local education news website, I found out the following.  I will quote from an article, since I might never get it right otherwise.  The point is we are now part of this unnamed plan:

The plan places the low-performing schools in an intensive-support group, dubbed the “School Achievement Initiative.” Chalkbeat, September 3, 2014.


Now the Chancellor  is coming to visit us on Monday.  The first thing we were told to do, was in all content area, to prepare multi-cultural lessons that illustrate our mission: that we celebrate and honor the fact that many of students come from different parts of the world. I can't speak for the other departments but the math teachers' reaction was similar to Winnie's.

I took a play out of one of the Teacher Guppy’s playbook.  We collected information on a few statistics and watched the video, If the World Was a Village.  This weekend I will tabulate the data and have the students make posters to illustrate the statistics from our school community.  I will post the results on a bulletin board for the school's chancellor to be impressed with,- or not.  I know I should spend more time teaching the students how to tabulate, analyze and chart the statistics.  (Yes Winnie that would really be math and High School Common Core Statistics standards) but who has time for that -we have Regents to pass, and graduation rates to raise.  

Tom suggested that our school motto can be represented numerically as:
                                1 + d > 1

One +  diversity is greater than one. 
Wow- great- I made a big fuss about him being able to quantify a concept.

"Yes, Marlene said, only if diversity is less than zero"

Wait- can that be true?  Is this really math?

Tomorrow we go back to looking for x.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Common Core BS

Sam,  George and Eduardo entered the room.  They folded the bodies honed on weight lifting and hoop shooting into the one armed classroom chairs designed for people honed on classroom instruction and studying.  Nonetheless they squeezed into three chairs  in a row.

I moved them (unwillingly) around.  I collected cell phones.  I gave out sharpened number two pencils.  I read a long pink sheet about electronic devices.  The long pink sheet is required reading.  It uses terms like beepers and PDAs, archaic terms for the cell phone age but no one questioned me and anyway the cell phones where already tucked into plastic bags with printed identification. Yes NYC does not allow cell phones in school.  No one wants to use that argument, though when being asked to pay for a lost cell phone.

For  three hours, I stood by the over- sized windows, the kind that were put into large community high schools in an age when one electric bulb needed to be supplemented with the sunlight that poured through ten foot high windows.  The school building crests a hill surrounded by a community of row houses interspersed with Old Victorians that once housed the workers for the mills and the factories that dotted the neighborhood.  The elevator train brought waves of European immigrants into the neighborhood to work those jobs.  The high school educated their children and sent them out to work those jobs too.

The El train still rumbles through.  The mills and factories have closed.  The European immigrants have moved on and have been replaced by immigrants from South America and Southeast Asia. And the high school stills tries to educate their children.  But with no mill and  factory jobs we are charged with making them college ready.

We are told that Common Core Standards is the way to do this.  Make the standards rigorous.  Then develop exams aligned with these highly rigorous standards.  (By develop - I mean purchase) Then administer the tests.

And so this week,  I entered the age of Common Core testing.  I have too much invested in retiring from my job without problems, to go into too much detail about the content of the test.  Pearson doesn't want us sharing. But suffice it to say I was familiar with the authors of the texts used.  I have consistently scored in upper 90% of literacy exams my entire life, and yet I am not sure  I would have gotten the majority of the questions correct.

It did not matter that I did not allow Sam, George and Eduardo to sit next to each other.  Within the first ten minutes Sam was reporting out loud that this was bullshit.   I told him to do the best he could. I told him to be quiet.  Another ten minutes passed and everyone was asking when they could leave.
In an hour's time Sam and George began conversing.  They weren't talking about the test, they had no idea what was on the test. They couldn't read it.  I had no choice but to get a dean in.  They wouldn't quiet for the dean.  He called for the head of testing.  She threatened to call the principal.  Now  George panicked.   "Stop acting so special ed", he told Sam. The head of testing removed  Eduardo who was pressing on despite the noise,  to a quieter room.  The dean left.  With George out of the discussion Sam went back to work.  Then it was possible to  leave.  Sam handed in his test, George handed in his test, Eduardo came back to our room to hand in his test.

"Do you want to finish it here, it's quiet now?"  I asked.

"No," Eduardo answered. He was late for an appointment with his parole officer.

It is a meaningless test.  We are not counting it for promotion, graduation requirements or anything else.  The rationale for giving it was to see what work we need to do.

And I suppose,  when the test results are released to the press, with no indication of what the test actually looked like, to report how badly we are doing educating children.

The El train will bring these children out of the neighborhood of closed mills and factories, past the gentrifiying neighborhoods of Brooklyn to Manhattan.  There they can compete for jobs with the purchasers of new high-rise condominiums and warehouse turned lofts because the higher standards will force us to be better teachers and them better learners, they will be able to compete in the global market.  It least that's what I am told.

Or they won't.

Sam was right.
This is bullshit.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Mine's Bigger Than Yours, or size really does matter

Someone left a worksheet with a diagram of the male reproductive system on the resource room table.  That’s not weird.  Someone leaves something on the table- everyday:  anything from  listing the causes, events and  impact of the French Revolution to finding the intersection  of the locus of a point and a line, to the conjugation of irregular Spanish verbs.  My job, besides being able to be able to immediately recall, explain and facilitate the answers (simultaneously for everyone) is to be able to make sure your homework gets back in your bag, so you can produce it when the teacher asks for it).
I picked up the biology worksheet and asked several people if it was their penis.
A few just said no.   Then I asked Angel.

Angel:  “Nope, I have a much larger one.”

Me,:  “Uh- too much information for me, Angel.”

Angel:  “No- miss, I didn’t mean it that way- I have a much larger diagram in my notebook.”

Me: “Go home Angel, have a good weekend.” (I would have liked to add you and your penis, but I understand boundaries, and have a significant pension to keep.)

The worksheet got filed with all unclaimed worksheets, in the circular file.  It will rest there comfortably with the  causes of the French Revolution,  the conjugated verbs and the intersection of a circle and a line- until the night janitor empties the garbage.

PS:  As I typed the last sentence I couldn't help but make off-color connections with all the topics listed above, from the proletariat being screwed to conjugal verbs to the proverbial hand signal where the index finger from one hand intersects the circle created with the thumb and index finger of the other.

Too much information?

You try being surrounded by teenage hormones all day and see how you start to think.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Effective or Not?

David wouldn't move his seat.  It didn't matter that the assistant principal was in the room.  It didn’t matter that her pen was poised above the pad, ready to make all the low inference observations required to give her evidence to rate me ineffective, developing or effective.

David doesn't like me much.  He has had the misfortune to be assigned to my resource room four semesters in a row.  If I understood at all how the programming office works I would figure out exactly what the probability of that is.  Just for starters there are about 100 students in the school that are assigned to one out of eleven resource rooms with six different teachers.  This school doesn't consider grouping students together based on need or grade level, unless you consider which period is most available in your program a need, so I imagine the chance of being assigned to any one teacher repeatedly,  is extremely low.  But David has “crapped out” to a use a gambling term, four times. 
I have a fondness for the blog Math=Love, where an incredibly young, incredibly talented math teacher writes about all things to do with high school math.  In one blog post she states that she understands probability way too well to ever choose to go gambling.  I applaud her sentiments.  I choose to go gambling a lot.
David is a hard-working dedicated student, who often appears to be quite bright.  But he can’t read well.  Though I have seen official reports with his grade level as high as seventh grade, my assessments always show that he misreads (as in reads the wrong word, or leaves it out altogether)  about 40% of the time for  material written on a middle school level.  He earns good grades.  The teachers like him.  He works hard.
But I have spoken to him too many times about his reading disability.  He won’t work with me. Everyone, his father, the school psychologist, the teacher from the same country as his parents (he was born here) and the assistant principal have tried to speak with him, but he remains aloof.
Actually he hates me.
The assistant principal was ready to observe the goings on of our little resource room.  I had things set up, all I needed to do was sit down next to the group working on the Algebra Regents. But David had the seat I needed and he wouldn't move. 
I asked him nicely, I bribed him under my breath, I shifted the table.
didn't have the time to consult the rubric.  What would a highly effective teacher do? (I suppose highly effective teachers don’t have students that hate them).
Finally, exasperated, I told David, I was going to get some papers and if he wasn't gone from the seat when I returned to the spot, I was going to sit on his lap and sing.
Maybe?  He moved.
Yesterday I got the rated observation back. 
All categories were rated effective.  I am either very good or very lucky.  Most likely a little of the first, more of the second, many people have shown me much less favorable rating sheets.
“Your classroom is structured, routines are obvious and you relate to your students with kindness and humor.”
I survive the rating miasma another year.
Effective- I have my personal doubts, I still can’t get David to work with me on reading skills.