What 8th Graders Want From Your Classroom Expectations

I’m grading my first set of final exams and I had a small survey at the end to get ideas for next year. I’m always thinking forward, but I thought this would be a powerful opportunity for reflection from their perspective.  Especially this class.

I asked them to tell me one classroom expectation they liked having and why. I don’t really know what I expected them to say because my expectations aren’t outlined anywhere on a poster in my room. It’s one of those, “When you walk in, you just KNOW.” Because of that, I wondered if they would ask me what I meant by the question. They didn’t. And I was pleasantly surprised by the expectation they appreciated the most: respect from each other. 

Just so you know, I don’t allow “shut up” in my classes – NO EXCEPTIONS. I correct it immediately and they learn quickly to rephrase those two words in a more polite way.

I also don’t allow kids to “roast” each other.  I don’t like it and I don’t allow it – NO EXCEPTIONS. We are a community of family and trust for 94 minutes, and we don’t speak to each other disrespectfully.

Here are some of their responses about my expectation of respect:


I should also tell you that in the past, I’ve always been proud of my classroom management skills. When you teach for 17 years and kids always seem to “buy in” to what you expect with no pushback, you think you have it all figured out.

Ahem. Well… Lemme tell you. I don’t think that anymore.

This class really challenged my thinking on classroom management. When I got them, they were used to running the show and I had some behavioral issues and personality conflicts I had never experienced before. Unlike my other two classes, it took months to bring this class into a culture of respect (not only of me, but of each other).

But you know what? I wouldn’t change it because it pushed me to figure out how to find a way to get kids who hated each other to appreciate and respect each other.

And in the end, they actually appreciated that I made them respect each other ALL YEAR LONG.  

WOW.

So yeah. That was pretty awesome.

And this was the best compliment I could ask for:


Thanks, Z. 🙂

I’m curious what tomorrow’s group will say.

I’ll keep you posted.

8th Grade #MTBoS PLN

**My A.D.D. is so terrible right now, that I swear I thought I already posted when I started it last week. My state test is Tuesday… Hopefully my brain will come back once it’s over. **

 

This idea won’t start out like it’s about 8th grade, but it is… trust me.

I’m going to start this post with a flashback… to 2008.  I don’t even think we had classified “#MTBoS” as we know it today.

Picture this:
School ends around May. I’m teaching AP Statistics and Algebra 2.  I have no one to collaborate with in my district/state, but that doesn’t stop me from collaborating a few days every week over the summer with the amazing @druinok.

What does that look like? Man – I wish I still had screenshots of the texts and emails we sent back and forth.  But here’s an idea of the questions we started with in May (which we revisited every summer):

  • What are the big ideas for AP Stats?
  • What order of those big ideas would make the most sense for our students who seem to struggle with our course?
  • What are the learning targets that go with each of those big ideas? Can we phrase them as questions that we are using our content to answer?
  • What things worked well for us this year? What bombed?
  • How do we put the focus on the classroom content so that the test scores will take care of themselves?
  • What feedback did we get from students that will help us be more mindful of concerns/issues for our upcoming crew of kids?
  • What did we learn from the risks we took this year and the planning we did last year?
  • Do our assessments do enough to model the AP test? Could they be better?
  • What unit was our biggest struggle to teach? What unit was the biggest struggle for students to connect to?
  • What new things do we want to try this year?
  • What’s the new technology that’s currently available that could increase understanding in our classroom?
  • Should we give homework? When/how? What should it look like? Is it purposeful?
  • How do we make students connect the peer feedback on free response questions to the peer feedback they give each other in ELA?
  • What should the big ticket items be on our unit one test? What should that test look like? Can we get the assessments ready for the first few units over the summer and see what adjustments we need to make over the year?
  • What are we forgetting?
  • Wait – did we eat today?

Mind you – a lot of our planning took place from our respective chairs at pools in our different states.   Every day we would take our bag of stuff to the pool to plan.  No pressure.  No deadlines. No worries.  Just brainstorming ways to make stats more and more awesome.

What’s great about @druinok is that I could ask her ANY off the wall “What if…” question and I knew that: (a) she would think about it from every angle (b) she didn’t judge me negatively, even if it was not the best idea and (c) she was SO great at trying to help me figure out where it might go wrong.  It’s great to be supportive, and trust me SHE  IS! But I have “rainbows and unicorns” goggles sometimes, and I don’t always see the train wrecks that are obvious to everyone else but me. She would always help me avoid those train wrecks when I would try to create/modify an idea.

Or she might say, “I saw something that I thought would be cool to build a lesson around. Can we work on that?” And BOOM – the Case of Kristen Gilbert was born (which we used to start the first day of AP stats each year).

We could also say (without fear): “I don’t like this assessment question. How can we make it better?” And it wasn’t a power struggle with one of us trying to be better than the other (because there’s NO WAY I could compete with her, haha) – the focus was always on the best experience for the students.

When I met Shelli, I’d just found out I was teaching AP Stats for the first time. Shelli started teaching AP Stats the first year the test was released, so she had a decade of experience behind her. I didn’t know much and I had NOTHING to offer but ideas and a ton of questions (SO. MANY. QUESTIONS). She shared whatever she thought would be helpful and never made me feel like my questions/worries/wonders were stupid. She’s one of those colleagues that you wish you’d had as a teacher.

Then came the fateful day where Shelli tried to convince me to join Twitter to “talk” to other math teachers. Back in the day, the only thing I knew about Twitter was that Justin Bieber (Beiber? Beeber? Idk) would tweet daily about what he ate, what he saw, what he thought… I didn’t care about that.  She said “trust me”, and I did.  And our little PLN of two stats teachers started to grow as she introduced me to other stats teachers on Twitter.  Before I knew it, there at least a dozen of us bouncing ideas off of each other in the same respect about both courses I taught. And it was something I looked forward to every summer.

I.  MISS.  THAT.  And as much as Shelli loves me, I don’t know that she’s going to move to the middle school and she shouldn’t – she is crazy amazing at what she teaches.

So here’s the my guilty pleasure: I’m a summer planner and learner. I can’t help it.  Give me some sun, my deck (or a pool), and my Gavin DeGraw playlist and I’m gold.  Summer is where I want to build my classes and be selfish about my own learning.

If that’s not how you spend your summer, I am not judging or hating on you at all, I promise. I’m just speaking about what I need to reduce my anxiety over the school year.  I definitely didn’t have this year mapped/planned out when I went back into the classroom and I feel like it ate my lunch every week. (Did YOU think I would quit coaching 1/4 through the school year and go back to teaching? Cuz I didn’t.)

But. I. Love. It.
I don’t want to be anywhere else right now.  I work with the most amazing kids at the most incredible school with an administrator who couldn’t be more supportive.  And this summer I will be planning with Cononiah.  She was one of my favorite teachers as a curriculum specialist, and now I get to work with her EVERY DAY.  And now that Mallory is about to graduate (she has a job on the coast and her principal is almost as awesome as mine), she will be able to plan with us.

As NCTM and MTBoS have begun to work together to bring teachers into this global PLN using social media, I’m noticing more and more 8th grade teachers – many of which are the only 8th grade teachers at their school.  Some are brand new 8th grade teachers, and some are former high school teachers or curriculum coaches who are coming back to middle school and teaching 8th.

And I wonder if they’re wondering about the same things that Cononiah, Mallory, and I are wondering about. (…that’s a lot of wondering, but I refuse to fix that sentence)

So I’m asking: would you like to collaborate with us over the summer?  I don’t care if you’ve been teaching 30 years or 30 days.  But if you’re thinking of building or improving what you have over the summer, we are thinking about that as well and would love to bounce ideas off of you.  You could be a long time MTBoS contributor and blog every day OR have a Twitter account that’s a hot minute old and fear blogging more than you fear clowns.  Or maybe you don’t even use Twitter, but someone sent this to you because you mentioned wanting to collaborate.

If you are thinking about your classes next year, we would love to think about that and plan with you. Those same things Shelli and I would wonder about during the summer are the same things I wonder about 8th.

If that sounds like something you’re interested in, here’s a Google Form to get the ball rolling.  School ends for us on May 19th.  I figure that’s enough time to get some folks on board and I’ll send more details then.  Also, I’m planning to use #8thmathpln to share on Twitter and would love to add you to my 8th grade list.

We are excited about this summer and creating some amazing things for our students with you!

There’s always that ONE…

Archery season is finally over. It’s always a bittersweet ending because I’m happy to finally get my life back, but I already miss it like crazy.

I have the same feeling towards the upcoming end of school. I’m prepping/planning/reviewing for our state assessments, while thinking, “GAH – I need to remember to do this thing activity again next year…” and “NOOOOPE. This idea is going in the ‘burn’ pile because it was a hot mess and a half.”  So there will be a lot of reflection and pre-planning for next year while this year comes to a close.

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SERIOUSLY???? UGH.

Most days, I know I’m in the right spot.  Teaching middle school is THE BEST. I have amazing colleagues and I couldn’t ask for a more supportive administrator.  Most days are like most of those arrows – TENS. But there’s always that one screwup that brings me back to reality. And even though it’s an outlier, I can’t seem to let go of that one.  I sometimes forget to celebrate the other times I get it right.  If you know me, you understand how incredibly hypocritical this is because I’m constantly telling most of my colleagues and friends (and students) to let go of that one bad thing.  You can’t fix it, you can’t change it, and obsessing about that one failure will not do anything to make it any better. I tell my archers, “Forget the last arrow.  Only the next one counts.”

I think to do that, I need to make some changes.

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Student Feedback on Student Teachers

Two things happened this week that were pretty impressive to me as a mentor teacher.

#1) No tech? No big deal.

Early in the week, my projector went out.

My student teacher had planned several days’ lessons around discovery with our interactive algebra tiles mat and with algebra tiles in Desmos. The plan was to start the discussions as a whole class and then allow students to do some discovery on their own using Chromebooks. Then we would allow students to justify their reasoning to the class and have some discussion on what we noticed/wondered with the structure.

That was the plan, but you know Mr. Murphy and that infamous law.

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Mentoring Through a Different Lens

I need to start this post by giving a shoutout to Tina Cardoneand David Coffey for this conversation:
I think I’ve quoted David’s reply about a dozen times whenever I think or talk about my experience with my current student teacher.  This experience is unique for me for a few reasons: (1) she knows what I’m like as a teacher when I’ve taught the same course half a dozen times and I have it down to a science and (2) now she’s getting to experience what it’s like for me to teach a course from scratch and the planning, questioning, wondering, winning, and failing that comes along with it.

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Following Danielson’s advice: "Find What You Love… Do More Of That…"

My last blog post was almost a year ago. If you don’t remember it (or more likely didn’t read it), give it a once over so the rest of this makes sense.

Danielson’s words haven’t just been ringing in my ears since his TMC15 keynote. They have been haunting my soul to return to my love: middle school.

This isn’t going to be a well thought out blog post (sorry, not sorry) because I can’t keep this a secret anymore:
I’m going back to the classroom in about a week to teach 8th grade!

This may be a surprise to a lot of people, but lemme explain:

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A Different Type of "Notice" and "Wonder"

As I was walking down a middle school hallway yesterday, I glanced up and noticed some hand drawn pictures of student faces with the phrase “I wonder…” at the beginning of each one. I noticed statements like:

–“I wonder how many stars there are in the night sky.”
–“I wonder if horses were ever used for something else.”
–“I wonder what New York looks like from the air.”
–“I wonder who is leading rushing in the NFL.”
–“I wonder how many hairs are on my head.”

I was excited at first, thinking this assignment was from a math class where students were asked something like, “What have you always wondered that might be number/math/geometry related?”

When I noticed the next set of pictures, however, I stopped in my tracks and my heart sank as I read:

–“I wonder why I’m here.”

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