Saturday, September 21, 2013

Interactive Math Journals - Part 2

Earlier this summer I kept seeing interactive math journals popping up everywhere, but I was a little concerned about the fact that they were simply a glorified way of taking notes. I didn't get any comments on my blog, but I shared the idea with my two teammates. I kept looking and being concerned, they got really excited, and here we are using interactive journals in math class. So I thought now would be the perfect time to revisit the questions I asked to see if I actually have the answers. What I wrote back in July is in bold print, and my thoughts today are underneath.

  • How is this different than the note-taking I did in high school?
    • It's a lot different. When I took notes in high school and in college the teachers talked or wrote things on the board, and we either summarized or copied. There have been a few times where our kids have copied things, but that's mostly been to check their work. Each of our activities have involved the kids exploring a topic and using what they know to create their own answers. Then they check them and make the corrections necessary so that their journals are accurate.
  • What about kids with fine motors skills who can't write in small boxes?
    • This is probably the drawn back I've seen with the journals. Because of our students needs, we have often provided typed information that they manipulate and glue into their journals rather than them doing all of the writing. Extra time for us in terms of typing, printing and doing some of the cutting, but it's still up to the kids to make sense of the information that we're giving them.
  • What about kids who can't keep up with note-taking in class? Are these as effective if the students are able to participate in the discussion but aren't taking their own notes?
    • I'm now seeing that, at least as we're using them, the journals really aren't so much a place for note-taking, but they are a place for collecting knowledge. I think as I was researching this summer I read a post where somebody likened the interactive journals to making your own text book, and now I understand what they mean. It's not so much about the kids writing or copying what you say, but it's a place for the kids to complete activities that show they've met the learning goal.
  • Besides taking notes and flipping the paper, how do the students affect some sort of change with these notebooks? What else do they do?
    • We're really just at the very start of our notebooks, but my teammates keeps reinforcing with the kids that this is their resource. We know it's hard to remember everything so this is a personal place to look back and get reminders about skills you already know. So what else are the kids doing with them? Using them to review topics and make connections to new ones. 
    • Some of our activities so far including creating moveable rays so kids could create different types of angles, gluing in an envelope with a set of polygons so the kids could compare different polygons by attributes and properties, and creating solids from nets. (I'm not going to lie -- we've been able to make some connections to real life activities in terms of using some of these ideas in construction and landscaping, but honestly, I'm not running around comparing polygons by their attributes. The kids did enjoy finding how shapes and solids really are everywhere in the real world and in art, though.)
  • It seems as though there are very specific notes that go in these notebooks. Do the students have to include exactly what the teacher wants in the Interactive Notebook or are the students free to write / organize their notebooks in a manner that makes sense to them?
    • As of right now we're giving our kids what we want to put into the journals, but we are leaving space and time at the end of each segment for the kids to do some type of a reflection. We think this is an extremely valuable resource, but we're having difficulty helping others see that these reflections are examples of formative assessments. Still working on changing the thoughts that assessments have to be tests or quizzes.
  • How much paper does this use?
    • Probably no more than a more traditional approach of using worksheets that go along with a text book. We probably use more than some people because we provide more completed items for the kids, but since we're using composition journals I don't feel the amount is extraordinary.

In addition to getting the answers to some of my questions, I'm also finding that the short breaks to cut and glue or manipulate and glue have been positive brain breaks or great opportunities for the kids to talk math. It's also been exciting to hear the conversations our kids have been having and watching them work together.

I'm thankful my teammates were able to see the potential and the positives when I couldn't, and I'm excited to see where our kids can go as we collect more and more knowledge in our journals.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Out of the Darkness

Tomorrow will be day 13 of school. In these first 13 days I have had or will have (by the end of tomorrow) Parent Night, a faculty meeting, 2 mornings (2 hours blocks each) of standardized testing, a support services meeting, my first walk-through, 3 hours of work to complete the paperwork for my clinical observation, a spelling inventory assessment, a pre-observation meeting, my entire class pulled for Dibels benchmarking, a follow-up meeting on the walk-through, two morning meetings to grade standardized testing open-ended responses, and a data meeting to place students in their appropriate intervention groups. And next week my post-observation paperwork is due, and I have meetings Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday morning before school, Thursday after school, and Friday during planning.

Oh - and I'm supposed to plan and prepare for instruction at some point, too.


I love teaching, but I do so little of it. So much of my time is spent on paperwork and in meetings (meetings, I might add, that could be eliminated through the use of a blog or other online collaboration tools), that I am forgetting the joy I have for working with my kids. And when I am with the kids so many of them are facing so many challenges it makes my heart even heavier.

I swore after reading this that I would not let them suck my fun circuits dry, and yet I'm already starting to feel a little dried out. After 12 days.

Just when I needed something to combat all of this a bright light appeared as I walked past the cafeteria. Five of my kiddos from last year were frantically waving at me so I thought, "What the heck! I'll brave the cafeteria and say hi." 5 minutes and about 20 hugs later I finally made it to the table of the five original girls whose waves brought me into the cafeteria in the first place. There were kids hopping up from tables all over the cafeteria (GASP!! Getting up without permission?!?!?!?!?! What were they thinking????) to say hi and give me a big hug.

Needless to say, I'm not feeling so dried up any more. And I think I'll have to stop by that cafeteria more often.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Nothing Like a Forced PLN

So to help us prepare and begin to implement the Common Core and work through our first year of the new Multiple Measures Evaluation System here in PA, my district is trying to do a lot of things to support us. While I appreciate everything that's going on I feel like once again education is taking something positive and making it more of a chore than a help.

Over the past three years I have developed a pretty substantial Personal / Professional Learning Network. Through the connections I've made on Twitter, the chats I'm part of, and the blogs that I read I am finding many teachers to learn with and from, and I'm learning so many new strategies to help my students explore and learn topics more successfully. I share what I've learned with colleagues, even going so far as sharing important blog posts and books that I'm reading with administrators, including our superintendent. The work that I do on my own, informally, has helped me learn and grow as a professional in ways that college courses and district provided days never have.

So what's with the title of my post?

Even though I am actively connected with people from around the world, my district has purchased licenses to a website called pd360. The idea is straight forward - you go in, watch a video, reflect, and discuss in a community; what's frustrating is that these are things that I am already doing on my own - but I'm not just analyzing video made by the School Improvement Network. I'm reading and watching blogs and videos made by other teachers, by people in the classroom, by students. I get to decide what might be valuable and might be the most helpful for me and my teammates and our unique group of students. In this program I am given a list of videos to watch (although I can browse the additional videos and choose ones of interest to me if I want to watch more), I'm given questions to answer, and I'm given tasks to complete in the in-program community, which right now is made up of the people I work with at school. Sounds so much more like a college course than a PLN to me.

Here's what I'm wondering: since the huge emphasis is differentiating instruction and mindfully planning for the different student needs in our classroom (the fact that this is only an emphasis now could be a whole other blog post -- are we really not doing this??) why is our administration not differentiating this professional development for the teachers? I feel it's because our administrators don't really know enough about each of us and the work we do in the classroom to truly differentiate and point us in the directions we each need to grow. I wonder what answer they would give. I'm definitely going to ask that as soon as I can.

But just like I tell my kids when there are skills we only have to learn for the tests (yep - we all know it happens), sometimes there is just stuff you have to do even when you don't like it. So I will plug ahead and complete the tasks that I'm required to do in the hopes that I will gain some new knowledge from it. I just hope that, at some point, the website will stop freezing and logging me out so I can actually accomplish the course I'm supposed to complete!