Sunset on my GVSU

Through this student teaching semester at Rockford High School I have grown in many ways. The most important growth is my confidence and excitement to teach and lead my very own classroom! But more specifically there are two major ways I have grown this semester.

The most noticeable change is my greater control of words. At the beginning of the semester I said “okay” and “alright” over 100 times in a lesson (my students kept a tally on occasion). But now I have no words that I repeat annoyingly. The only help I needed to fix this was the knowledge that I was doing it! Another big growth I have made is with the student relationships. Debate-ably the most important part of teaching, is relating to the students. At the beginning of the semester I became good friends with the students. But this proved to be detrimental as I became the leading teacher of the classes. They saw me as a friend rather than a teacher and for some, respect was lacking. However, by the end of the semester I believe there was an understanding that I knew a lot about math and that any activities I assigned for them had been thought out and was worth doing. While this didn’t stop all the students from giving me their full respect, I still had many that trusted in me and on rare occasions confided in me.

A third growth involves many strategies that I found to be useful and that I plan to use in the future. The teaching strategy I like the most is teaching from the back of the room. While most teachers present the information and lead the class from the whiteboard. I liked it most when I was in the back facilitating discussion and pairs or groups of students were at the front presenting a problem or owning the spotlight. This strategy allows the classroom to feel like a community of learners rather than a lecture, and it allows for me to be able to observe the entire class and have my back to them as little as possible. This strategy also works best when students are doing the work which often means students are discovery the math and students talk to each other more than just the teacher talking to the entire class.

Another strategy I found is a new formative assessment application called plickers. I found this on twitter and after reading about it I quickly put it into use. This has allowed me to structure lessons in steps where I can quickly check each and every students at the end of each step. If any student does not yet understand, we can stop right then and there and make sure everyone is ready before moving onto the next step. I have used plickers for review questions, a survey type game and for quick formative assessments like I described above. While some formative assessments may be better for certain lessons, I am convinced that there is no way to formatively assess more quickly.

To see more thoughts and activities from my student teaching semester as well as my entire GVSU College of Education experience, just out my field portfolio.


Review Posters Activity

Throughout this semester I have struggled to find a good way to review before a test or a final exam. At first I thought team competitions would be fun, but the idea of a winner and a loser wasn’t the most supportive of a classroom of friendly learners so I figured there must be a better way.

Next I tried some games where there is no loser, just many winners and the winners get a small prize. Since there were a lot of winners this worked pretty well to keep the classroom environment positive. However, I felt a few students were enjoying the math for math’s sake but rather just for the prize. This isn’t a big deal, but in addition to this many of the students used strategies to find an answer quickly rather than accurately. I am a little worried that in the long run some of these students might accidentally practice a procedure improperly because of the review game.

Since both those activities were okay, neither was perfect. I decided to try a different type of activity to help students review for their last unit test and final exam. I was hoping to run an activity that allows the community of learners to be stronger, and for everything to be student-centered if possible.

I had the students split into groups of their choosing and each group had to “become and expert” on a specific problem on the review. Groups created posters of their problems and showed exactly how to solve them. They needed to make the posters clear so that anyone in the class could understand it without explanation.


Above are some examples. After groups created their posters they hung them up so that anyone who struggled with a problem could find that problem on a poster and look through the steps to find what they did wrong. This worked decently well if the students were motivated enough to check their work on the posters. However, the community in the classroom was very positive. Groups were working together and everyone felt the need to do a good job since others would be looking at their poster for help.

IMG_20141113_135606742 IMG_20141113_135600529

After groups made their posters to the best of their ability. I did not do this, but I wish I had allowed the entire class walk around in a “gallery walk” and give feedback on other posters. Such as, what could be clearer, or what might look more aesthetically pleasing. Then allow groups to improve their posters based on the feedback and finalize their work so their class can study with or without a teacher to guide them.

Comic Strip to Introduce induction/deduction

My students in my geometry concepts classes are struggling with doing anything more than note taking. So I am now on a mission to get these learners to get involved in some of the teaching by introducing more student centered activities and getting the students to think and speak rather than the same old listen listen listen.

After using twitter to find an awesome way to introduce inductive/deductive reasoning to my class (which my CT says is one of the hardest units for geometry concepts) I began putting it into action. I found a comic strip and cut up a bunch of copies to make a sort of jigsaw puzzle. I then spent (a little too much time probably) writing down possible student responses and how I would answer them or lead the class to discuss a way to finding the answer.

My debate-ably over the top planning paid off though! Because today I let the students piece together the comic strip and then show their work at the front of the class. Each group of two students participated in the discussion (which is rare in itself) but also a few students who I thought would avoid going to the front and sharing were more than happy to take the spot light for awhile.


IMG_20140915_132528669~2These two examples were probably the most common arrangements for the comic. After emphasizing that saying a panel goes at the end “because it makes sense” was not explaining your reasoning, the discuss got a lot better. There were even reasons like the cat looked angry or he howled in pain which were much stronger reasons. In my first period, the students were even challenging each other, like saying the example above were wrong because the dictionary would knock Garfield off the fence meaning that panel must be the last one. This type of reasoning, and critiquing of others, is exactly what I was hoping for.


This last example is unique since it was one of the few that had the dictionary coming in and hitting Garfield early rather than late. When asked their reasoning they were unable to make a clear statement, but after others said the punchline in a comic is usually at the end, they defended by saying it was funny to keep making the noise after getting hit by the dictionary. Could be true, but bottom line is the students discussed and challenged each other very well in my first period which got us on a great foot to talk about inductive and deductive reasoning.

Unfortunately, in my fourth period the students enjoyed putting the comic together but struggled to vocalize their reasoning as to why panels were in a certain order. Similarly, other students in the class failed to really challenge the presenting groups panel arrangement. One student even said everyone is right because the joke is funny no matter what the order. While this is true, I mentioned that certain arrangements set up the punchline better and make it more funny but that did not seem to satisfy him.

Anyways, I do think this activity was a success in both hours, although much more successful in first period where we discussed it for over 20 minutes whereas in 4th period we discussed the comic strip for barely 15. I believe the students are more comfortable with each other in first period where they can find it fun to challenge each other, although it is very possible my energy level is drained by 4th period in which case I might need to start drinking coffee more often!!

New School, New Students, New Everything.

For most teachers this fall is the beginning of a new school year and thus new students to work with. However, for student teachers it is basically a new everything. In the past two weeks or so I have met over a hundred students as well as new colleague teachers and administrators. In addition, I have been learning new curriculum for this school and how the teachers here do things.

I will save you the suspense and just tell you know that I am enjoying my time so far. One student even decorated my name that was on the whiteboard and nicknamed me maroon (because I was wearing that color that day and hopefully not because she thinks I am a moron)!

mr. maroon

While it has been a lot of “new”, it has also been a lot of fun figuring out how everything works and who these students are.

So this blog will now be my reflections and thoughts from this upcoming semester which is my last before being out in the real world and having my very own classroom. Please feel free to comment about anything (including lol’s and omg’s!)

The students are wonderful! Some are funny, some are insightful, and some are quiet, but all the students have a fun personality. Each class is a little different yet they have all come to me for questions and allowed me to lead their discussions and have even laughed at my jokes (which, if you know my jokes, can be shocking). I know these classes and students are awesome, because every morning I wake up excited to go back to teach and learn concurrently with them.

Earlier this week I had my first observation by my math content professor from Grand Valley State University. It was a low key, see the classroom and environment, type of thing. Through this observation and the following discussion with my professor, we nailed down my main goals for my classes at this time. 1) To get the students more active, 2) move from teacher-centered to more student-centered activities and 3) increase my repertoire of small group activities that I am comfortable with.

So far, I have an idea of where I want to go with goals 1 and 2 since they can both be solved by picking activities that get the students moving but also get them centered on doing the math themselves as well as teaching/talking about the math process. I have already tried one activity this week and I plan to try some more this upcoming week. I will definitely need to reflect on how each activity goes so keep your eyes open!!

Wearing a Different Hat

Throughout this semester my CT and I have been teaching in our 7th grade classroom in different styles. His style, which I have termed “urban style”, is teacher-centered lessons of lecture. My style, which my CT termed “suburban style”, is student centered and collaborative.

In an attempt to understand where my CT is coming from, I decided to wear his hat for a lesson and truly teach in his “urban style”. In order to accurately gauge the fidelity of my implementation of his style of teaching I choose to teach “urban style” during the second observation of my Professor, Mr. Hasenbank. I also asked my CT how he felt my lesson went in which he replied that it went very well. With my CT’s reply and Prof. Hasenbank’s agreement, I can be assured that fidelity of implementation was high.

Throughout the lesson, Prof. Hasenbank was observing me and he made this graph that mapped out compliance level of engagement from each individual student in the classroom. To help you interpret the table, you should know that all squares without an X through them had a student, and a letter means that that student was observed to not be engaged compliantly during the time coded with the letter in the margin.



As you can see the students compliantly engaged (8-12 students) are mostly in the middle and front of the classroom while those rarely compliant (7-8 students) are in the back and edges of the room.
As a teacher, I find it unacceptable to have 7-8 students so unengaged that they aren’t even compliant. I am positive that those students did not learn anything during my lesson, and that is unacceptable. However, when I asked my CT he said it is the students choice to not learn and that having a large number unwilling to work during a lesson is normal. Hard for me to blame an 11 or 12 year old for being bored during a 30 minute lecture. Is this really part of the “urban style” too?

My CT and I have had some great talks about why we each teach in our styles and my general conclusion is that we have very different beliefs about what it means to do and to learn mathematics. I have concluded that “urban style”  teachers see learning math as challenging for all and to get an A you have to work hard, ask questions, and be persistent. Three qualities that are not prevalent in a lot of middle schoolers. In “urban style”, doing mathematics is having all the procedures/formulas memorized and knowing when to use which procedure for a particular problem.
My “suburban style” math learning is more exploration and paired/group discussions and doing math is done in many different ways by different people but as long as your reasoning is sound and you are thinking logically, then you are doing mathematics.

Technology Symposium

On March 19th I attended a symposium about teaching and learning with technology. At this symposium I talked with many presenters, one of my favorites was with Szymon Machajewski about an app he helped create called “Library Quest”.

With this app they made quests for people to work through with different objectives such as finding a section of the library, or a certain resource. Below is a picture of the app where the user can select which quest he/she would like to do. There are only three on this one, but notice the point system for each quest for easy formative assessing and easy student friendly self assessment.


The app utilized all floors of the library and was interactive. Questions varied from multiple choices to short essay. You could even display images if we wanted to make a question with a math figure of some sort. I talked with Machajewski about how this app can be used in my future classroom. We came to the conclusion that this would be a great tool for reviewing topics, giving out individual assignments, and differentiating instruction.

Through this app I could make my own “math quests” on all different math subjects and at different difficulty levels. Making this quests and getting the students access to them would allow students to work through assignments, or have quests for extra practice. I could also assign quest 1 for certain lower achieving students, quest 2 for average students, and quest 3 for advanced students allowing all students to be challenged in their zone of proximal development.

This app also gives students a choice of what quest they will complete. Choice is a great motivator and I feel this is a big advantage for this app. Similarly, when reviewing topics before a test I can make a quest for each of the main ideas that we have been working on. Then students can choose which main ideas they want to do a quest for, thus allowing them to review the topic they feel they need to review. Very useful app to get all students working on exactly the topic they need more work in.

If you are interested and want to read more, here is an article about Library Quest App at the GVSU Library.

Being Observed by my Education Coach

After being observed for the first time by my cognitive Coach, I now know what I need to work on and what strategies I can use to improve. Before my lesson I let my coach know my main goal as a teacher, engage all students in the room. The key word in this goal is all. I noticed that many students were not required to participate and were not expected to either. They essentially were given up on, and I wanted to get those students back into the class and back to learning.

During the reflection about how my lesson went, we discussed how well I reached my goal. I felt I had gotten some students who aren’t normally involved a chance to learn through collaborative work. but also many students were still continually off task and unwilling to try to learn. Additionally, we found that while I had done a good job circulating around the room with quick discussions being held at each group, I also failed to talk to a couple groups more than once meaning I did not adequately check their understanding. These were the two major problems that my coach and I talked about.

So what will I do next to advance my learning you may ask, and if you did ask that, I would first say that that is a great question! Then I would say that I have two plans of action. For the students who are still unengaged, I will work to give them ownership of their learning. To do this, I will plan choices for individual students to make such as allowing them to pick between two groups. One that will be with me working through a similar problem at the board and another group that will go to the back of the room and work collaboratively on some similar but more challenging problems. Giving them this choice will hopefully get each student to buy in to the class and increase their engagement.
Next is my plan for improving my own class circulation methods and to ensure that I hit every group an adequate number of times during collaborative work time. To improve this, I plan on making it more of a conscious effort to do so. Being able to self regulate myself rather than just going with the flow should be beneficial. Additionally, I will have the students assess my efforts by asking them, in an exit pass format, how many times a teacher checked to make sure you were understanding the problems.