Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Best of I Want to Teach Forever: February 2009

I was worried that the 52 Teachers, 52 Lessons project was going to fizzle out when I had no submissions after Week 4, but after some intense recruiting, we had two more great posts this month and a few more already lined up for the future. I'm still looking for help finding top education sites outside the US so that the project can become a world wide phenomenon! In the meantime, here's this month's entries:
Besides the project, here are my top five (technically six) posts for February:
  1. Sports Statistics: Final Project and Final Reflections (2/1)
  2. The Mohawk Experiment, Year Two: First Impressions (2/6) & follow up Does It Work? (2/17).
  3. Transforming Logarithmic Functions Bingo (2/8)
  4. Life Without Teaching and An Experimental School Model (2/19)
  5. The Many Faces of Mr. D (2/24) - Spring cleaning has unearthed some treasures from my teaching career, including a series of student sketches of yours truly. If you were to view only these drawings, you might believe I was either a hairy, obese slave driver or a jacked-up baller with a lowrider. Yes, it's that good.
If you've just started visiting here this month, check out the best of January and the best of 2008 to catch up.

If you enjoy this site, the best ways to support it are to subscribe to my RSS feed, become a Follower (click Follow on the sidebar), and to share links on your blog or favorite social bookmarking site (click the "Share" button below for some quick and easy options).

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Math Concept Splash and More Great Resources on Scribd

I just received this email and wanted to pass along some great resources to you.
Hi Mr D,

I am a retired math teacher from Leominster, MA who is part of a team that offers Mass Summer Institutes each year that are funded by the Massachusetts Department of Education. During the institutes, we teach algebra and geometry content while modeling the use of many strategies that support all learners in middle school and high school. I've posted dozens of sample strategies on Scribd, a document-sharing website.

My favorite strategy is the Math Concept Splash, which I've modified from the pre-reading Word Splash strategy, which we learned about in our district from The Skillful Teacher: Building Your Teaching Skills. In the example we were shown, vocabulary words, phrases, sentences, and ideas from an assigned-reading article were “splashed” on a page and students were asked to brainstorm what they knew and thought they knew before actually reading the article.

As math teachers, we wondered how we could use the splash as a strategy in our middle school and high school classes. I created this Functions and Relations Splash based on using multiple representations—words, graphs, table of values, and equations—to use in several ways: to check for prior knowledge from a previous course or chapter; to review before a chapter or semester exam; and to review for state assessment tests. Since the initial time we learned about splashes, teachers from our district and our summer institutes have created more than 50 splashes for grades 5 through AP Calculus.

Here are 3 links from Scribd that will help math teachers understand how to use a splash in math class.
  1. The Splash Intro Sheet created as a teacher guide to using a concept splash in math class.
  2. The Functions and Relations Splash created for algebra through pre-calculus classes to review math concepts.
  3. The same Functions and Relations Splash as a PowerPoint presentation, showing how the teacher and students can use it in class to check for prior knowledge and to review.
There are more than a dozen additional Math Concept Splashes posted on Scribd and also directions for creating them in Microsoft Word and PowerPoint.
I've never used Scribd before I got this email. It's a pretty interesting platform for sharing documents, using a format called iPaper which the creators tout as a "a fast and light alternative to PDF". I quickly found some practice problems on radians and degrees, which I've been covering in my Algebra II class, so there's some potential for lesson planning there.

There's all kinds of content there, from recent issues of Scientific American to sample student answers from a math test. It's worth exploring. If you have any of your content or know of great stuff on there, please share it in the comments!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Many Faces of Mr. D

Three years ago, I was starting over at a new school (something I've done a lot of in my short career) and looking to try out some ideas that had been bouncing around in my head. I wanted to make sure to give my students a reason to come to class and be happy and engaged while there. One idea was to hold a weekly contest that was almost completely unrelated to algebra. That's not to say it couldn't be academic, but it was meant to be something to break out of the normal routine and challenge students' conception of what math class was supposed to be.

One of the first contests I ran was called "Draw Mr. D". I asked my students (who at that point didn't really know me yet) to draw a picture of me, encouraging them to be creative and funny. I believe I told them that I knew at some point they would do this anyway (as we all do), so we might as well have some fun with it together. I also revisited the contest later in the year to see if their depictions might have changed.

Needless to say, the results were fascinating. Without any further ado, here are The Many Faces of Mr. D:

You can also view the slideshow directly here.

I'm in the middle of a huge project to digitize all of my paper records, including everything I've collected over the years from the classroom. I can't wait to share all of the funny, traumatic, absurd and life-affirming treasures I find. Stay tuned!

Monday, February 23, 2009

52 Teachers, 52 Lessons #6: Try Subbing First

This week's lesson comes from Miss Cal.Q.L8, a young teacher HS math teacher who is learning the ropes as a substitute. You can read her great insights at her new blog.

The most important advice I can give to teachers is if at all possible - try being a substitute first. I have just finished my student teaching and am now subbing before pursuing a full-time position. Subbing teaches me instantly how to be flexible, how to manage any classroom, and how to deal with the unpredictable. It's an excellent way to become familiar with a building, the administration, the students, and your future co-workers - especially if you aren't sure where you want to work. Since I'm subbing for K-12, I am meeting a lot of family members of the students I may have in the future. Also, I am able to help out with different sports teams, clubs, and projects without being totally responsible. This helps me see what I enjoy doing and what I'm good at for future reference. From being in charge of someone else's classroom, you can easily learn new tips and tricks as well as what not to do. It gives me a clearer focus of how I want to run my classroom, the plans I need to leave for a substitute, and how to be more organized. I like being able to see what works and what doesn't. You also quickly learn what adults you can lean on for help and who are friendly and easy to work with. Coming in with fresh eyes to various classrooms makes it really easy to see who truly cares about their kids and who is just there for the paycheck. I haven't even started teaching yet but I already know that this is an invaluable experience for my future.

Read more about this project here or add the 52 teachers 52 lessons tag to your favorites. Email your entries to teachforeverATgmailDOTcom. Week 6 will be posted next Monday, March 1st.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Call For Help: Top International Teacher Sites?

Outside of the United States, the top ten countries that have sent visitors to this blog over the past year are:
  1. Canada
  2. UK
  3. Australia
  4. India
  5. Philippines
  6. New Zealand
  7. Singapore
  8. Spain
  9. Malaysia
  10. Turkey
I want to reach out to more international visitors, but I don't know where to start. I also want to ask teachers from other countries to participate in the 52 Teachers, 52 Lessons project.

So my question is this: What are some of the most widely read and respected education websites, blogs and social networks in the countries listed above (or anywhere outside the US)?

Leave your links in the comments or send me an email (teachforeverATgmailDOTcom).

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Life Without Teaching and An Experimental School Model

I just finished reading Company, the newest novel by Max Barry (author of the equally good Jennifer Government). In the novel, an eager but naive business school graduate named Jones joins Zephyr Holdings, who's purpose is--well, nobody knows, and nobody has the guts to ask. Unsatisfied that no one can give him a straight answer, Jones decides to go right to the top, and discovers [SPOILER ALERT] that Zephyr doesn't really exist. It's a phony company with real employees, used as a test bed for management techniques that the real company puts into a series of best-selling business books (think Six Sigma). Jones is offered a chance to become a leader in the real company, but struggles with the ethics of treating employees like lab rats instead of people.

I enjoyed this book a lot, and it inspired me to start two distinct thought experiments:

1. Working 9 to 5... Or, Life Without Teaching
I've never had experience in a real office environment--I've been a teacher since graduating from college. My vision of what a 9-5 job would really be like is pieced together from fictional media creations, business magazines, and anecdotes from friends and family. In my imagination, I would have a difficult time adjusting to this, because compared to what I do every day, it sounds downright boring.

Sure, I'm constantly frustrated for any number of reasons, the pay is lousy and I take a lot of work home. It would be nice to truly leave my work at work and come home and not worry about it. I'm convinced that my teaching career would make it nearly impossible for me to be stressed out about TPS reports or pretty much anything else they could throw at me. I'm well trained in the areas of pointless meetings and redundant paperwork, so that wouldn't be an issue. While money has never been the biggest issue for me, I wouldn't refuse a paycheck that would make paying the bills a little easier.

On the other hand, the joy I get from actually teaching, from inspiring confident, hardworking young people and from the challenge of creating new lessons and materials to help them learn would be difficult to replicate. I'm busy with something at work the entire day, and I know that when I have too much free time, I tend to go stir crazy very quickly.

Most importantly, if I stopped teaching, I feel like it would spell the end of I Want to Teach Forever. What would I write about? I wouldn't have any authority to speak on education issues anymore. When I created this site, my tag line was"Inspiration, information and ideas to help keep teachers in the classroom." I'd feel like a hypocrite, even if plenty of retired teachers share their insights everyday. Writing and participating in conversations through this blog is usually the highlight of my day, and I would miss it dearly.

2. Creating Zephyr Academy, The School That Doesn't Exist
As usual, I can't separate teaching from everything else I do, so while reading Company, I couldn't help but think about the possibility of creating a school that existed as a controlled experiment. Schools and universities develop and test new curricula and classroom management techniques all the time, but the ways they can observe the results is limited.

In schools I've worked in, when the administration or district implemented exciting new strategies to improve test scores, the strategies themselves were given most of the credit when the scores went up that year. The fact that good teachers were retained, that these teachers kept striving to improve their instruction, or that scores were already on a clear upward trend from K-12, weren't as important as the very expensive technology purchased or the tutoring and benchmark testing that took students out of classes constantly. No one usually bothered to ask the students or teachers why they thought scores had been improving consistently.

Any classroom teacher can tell you that there's so many intangibles, or little things that are quantifiable but usually ignored, that contribute to the success or failure of their classes in just about every category. This is where a "Zephyr Academy" could be helpful.

In the book, there are cameras and microphones everywhere. Every bit of data, from sales figures to water cooler chatter is recorded and studied. Every employee has a file with detailed data and notes (one character's file says "Do not promote under any circumstances," for example). Agents are placed in every department, performing a normal job function while monitoring everything. Various special projects, some big and some small, are implemented and studied. The entire company is constantly being tweaked for maximum efficiency and effectiveness.

Let's put aside some of the thornier ethics questions for a moment and imagine what this might look like in a school setting. Classrooms, hallways, and common areas would be monitored and recorded. A steering committee of sorts would decide on experiments large and small, outside the day-to-day administration of the school. Ideally, this test bed could yield concrete results that could be replicated in schools across the country.

Now, many schools have leadership committees, but these groups are sometimes unrepresentative of their respective departments. My current school has a steering committee which is made up of volunteers, which is more diverse and effective. Neither group has the power to make the kind of changes that would called upon in this experimental school. It would be a totally new structure.

Now, back to the ethics questions I avoided earlier. There are two central problems at the heart of both Company and this thought experiment:
  1. Privacy and legal concerns would make this nearly impossible. If you could make everyone (staff and students alike) aware that this school was an experimental school and would be attempting many radical new ideas, and have them sign off on it, it could work. I just have a hard time imagining enough people agreeing to this (which is something employees never did in the book) for it to work.
  2. Even if it's legal, is it right? Again, even if it was legal, I think most Americans wouldn't stand for students (or teachers) being treated like lab rats. They would see it as gambling with the education and futures of each young person involved. I'd have a hard time disagreeing with them, but I ask you to think about one thing: In the schools you've taught in, the ones you attended, or those that your children attend, how many failed experiments have you seen come and go? How many failed initiatives are still going on, some indefinitely? I just wonder if that's really any different.
Perhaps the only thing you could actually use anywhere is the collection and proper use of data to improve instruction and administration. Schools are collecting more data than ever, but how are they using it? I mentioned the use of improved test scores to justify anything and everything a school does to try to get them there, with little to no scrutiny or reflection.

Education Innovation, one of my favorite blogs, wrote an interesting take on the use of data in a post entitled Getting Stuck on 'The New Stupid'. Read it and think about it!

Share your thoughts on either of my thoughts (or the book) in the comments. I look forward to the discussion.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Mohawk Experiment, Year Two: Does It Work?

Last week was my first full week of school after restarting my mohawk experiment. To be honest, after a bumpy first week, I wasn't optimistic about whether this creature on my head would have any effect on student motivation. It seems like I've tried most of my best ideas this year with less than stellar results, leaving me more frustrated than usual this year.

I'm happy to report, however, that I think I've really turned a corner with my Algebra I class. I am able to teach more without interruption at the beginning of class, they are more engaged in their independent work, and they are less prone to outbursts or arguments directed towards me. Time will tell if this is just an anomaly or a real change, but I'll take it for now.

It's too early to declare this a success overall, but last week was certainly a successful week. I know it has also made a difference in my other classes, as students learn why I did it and understand the symbolism.

I can tell you that I am making a small sacrifice of my happiness for the good of my students. Part of me wants to have a really bad day so I have an excuse to shave it off. I don't like it--I don't like any hairstyle that requires a lot of maintenance in terms of cost or effort. What's more is that here in Boston, unlike the eternal warmth of the Rio Grande Valley, it's freakin' cold! As you can imagine, it's difficult to wear a hat and keep my mohawk upright. Indeed, most days I take the styling goo with me to work and wait to spike it up until I get there.

So while my students and girlfriend both love it, I do not, except for the obvious: it has promoted a positive change in my students' behavior and work ethic. Anything I can do to preserve that is a sacrifice I am willing to make!

Read more about this experiment here.

Monday, February 16, 2009

52 Teachers, 52 Lessons #5: Put The Technology Down

After a one week hiatus, the 52 Teachers, 52 Lessons community project is back on track. This week's entry comes from Kate of f(t) (one of many great bloggers featured on my blogroll). She has a very interesting perspective on technology in the classroom. Enjoy!

Hey, New Teachers!

Put. The technology. Down.

No, really. Put it down.

It's not going to teach for you.

It's not going to make the kids get right triangle proportions in a whole new way they never got it before.

It's never going to take the place of a thoughtful, relevant lesson, lovingly developed by you.

Because the technology was made by people. People who never taught Geometry in your town. People who never met your kids.

And other people can not decide FOR you how YOU are going to teach something well.

If you can't already teach something well without technology, technology is just going to make things worse.

Technology is the guy who smokes and rides a motorcycle. It's exciting and sexy. And it's bad for you.


OK, if you insist, you can use it.

But it has to be THIS way: "I am planning this lesson, which is going to be awesome. It would be REALLY awesome if X." And the technology does X. Then you can use it.

And not THIS way: "This technology is so COOL! I have to use it SOMEHOW!"

No! Bad. Put it down.

(To clarify, I'm specifically using the word "technology" to mean the snake oil peddled as educational hard/software, of the variety "Have the kids log in and give them a copy of this worksheet!" (and, I dunno, go sit at your desk and drink coffee or something). I don't mean stop using your telephone and ban all calculators. If it is the kind that makes the awesome lesson you lovingly developed go smoother, easier, and less stressfully, ok. (I had to add this part because I wouldn't want my Smart Board to think I was talking bad about it. I love that thing. I'm serious. If it could pay my bills, I'd marry it.))

My name is Kate.
I teach high school students some mathematics in upstate NY.
I have a blog at

Read more about this project here or add the 52 teachers 52 lessons tag to your favorites. Email your entries to teachforeverATgmailDOTcom. Week 6 will be posted next Monday, February 23rd.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Educational T-Shirt Revolution Will Not Be Televised

In our line of work, we are usually restricted to business, or at the very least business casual, attire. Exceptions are made, but usually only for items emblazoned with school logos, mascots and colors. It's rare that we're allowed to tap into the vast wealth of educational t-shirts on the market today. It's unconscionable!

I for one am willing to stand up against this injustice: Let our teachers educate not only with their lessons and leadership, but their t-shirts as well!

I submit to you just a small sampling of what's out there, organized by department. Just imagine the teachable moments we could have had!

Math Department
Advanced Trig t-shirtPi t-shirt

English Department
Bad Spellers t-shirtCancel My Subscription t-shirt

Science Department
Fungi t-shirtPluto t-shirt

Social Studies Department
New Jersey t-shirtCommunist Russia t-shirt

Explore for yourself at I Want to Teach Forever-approved vendor Noisebot.

100% Cotton-Based Learning is possible!

Friday, February 13, 2009

New Software Could Finally Replace Your Old Graphing Calculator From High School

While I'm happy that my TI-82 graphic calculator still functions, I would be lying if I didn't admit that it's decidedly unsexy aesthetic didn't make me want to hide it from my students out of embarrassment. It's an old Volvo wagon in a world of sleek crossover SUVs.

I can't remember exactly when I bought it, but I estimate that it's nearly the same age as some of my incoming high school freshmen. I don't know if that makes me old, or just says a lot about the quality of the calculator. I'll comfort myself by assuming the latter.

In any case, a new program called SpeedCrunch is a powerful but easy-to-use calculator that incorporates a lot of what made your old standby so handy (plus much more). Lifehacker has a thorough rundown of its features.

I don't know if I'd ever dump my trusty TI-82, but since I won't be packing it on any vacations, this kind of program might be a great portable solution.

If you're just looking to write equations instead, check out my earlier post on the awesome LaTeX Equation Editor.

Try it out and share your thoughts in the comments--or suggest alternatives that you recommend.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Researcher Makes Poor Man's Smartboard Using $40 Wii Remote

My friend Robert just sent me a link to this awesome demonstration of how a researcher hacked a $40 Nintendo Wii Remote to make a smartboard (among other things) from TED. I have a break next week and can't wait to figure out how to do this myself.

Related: Wii wants to teach (my guest post on Learn Me Good)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Stress Relief: Finally, An Educational Math Video That Gets It Right!

Look Around You is a BBC import that is a recent addition to Cartoon Network's Adult Swim. Read more about it on The Underwire.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

No 52 Teachers, 52 Lessons Entry This Week

Sorry folks, but no one submitted anything this week. We'll resume next Monday. Click on the 52 teachers 52 lessons tag for more information about this community project.

Also, I apologize for not posting this yesterday. I was hit pretty hard by a flu-like virus this weekend, and had to take Monday off from school. Even though I was laid up at home, I couldn't bring myself to write anything--so you know I must have been really out of it! I'm getting back up to speed slowly but surely.


Sunday, February 8, 2009

Transforming Logarithmic Functions Bingo

Here's an Algebra II bingo game I built with Steve Mashburn's BINGO Master template for transforming logarithmic functions. Student bingo cards contain several transformations from the function log(x + 2), and the call sheet contains descriptions of the transformations students need to make. For example:

Call sheet: Reflected over the x-axis
On student bingo cards: -log(x + 2)

When I thought of using this review, I originally wanted to turn this game on its head, doing the same thing with exponential functions (as we were studying them together). Unfortunately I couldn't figure out how to get the template to print any exponents on the bingo cards, which rendered it unusable for that.

I didn't have time to switch the call sheet and bingo cards either, giving students the logarithms and having them find the transformations on their cards, but this would be an excellent addition to this activity.

You should do a quick review of the types of transformations, and allow students to use well-organized notes as well. I didn't do this well enough before playing the game, and it didn't go quite as smoothly as I would have hoped.

More info:

Saturday, February 7, 2009

2 More Great Opportunities from Discovery Education

I received both of these via email recently and hope you can benefit from one or both!

Siemens We Can Change The World Challenge


Are Your Students Up for the Challenge?

As our valued partner, we're excited to share this opportunity with you.

Now through March 15, 2009, middle school students can "go green" and team up for the Siemens We Can Change the World Challenge , the first and only national K-12 sustainability education initiative aligned to education standards.

Prizes for students and teachers include Regional and National Recognition, Cash and an Appearance on Discovery's Planet Green Television Network.

The Challenge is entirely web-based and provides a robust collection of resources for students and teachers from interactive labs to lesson plans, custom developed by the same curriculum team that brings you our award-winning services Discovery Education streaming and Discovery Education Science.

Come check it out at and you can even take a quiz to measure your own environmental IQ!

The competition is open to all U.S. middle school students between grades 6-8. Teams will be made up of two to three students and a teacher or adult advisor (i.e. parent, Girl/Boy Scout leader etc.). The initiative will expand to elementary schools in 2009 and to high schools in 2010.

Teams will be judged by a panel of environmental experts and science educators. Teams will be judged on their ability to create a positive, measurable solution to a local environmental problem or issue using scientific methodology and how well they explain how the solution can be replicated by other communities.

Get started today!
Inspiring Invention Contest
Tell Us What Inspires You
Find Out How You Could Win More Than $22,000 in Prizes

Invention starts with inspiration and that's where great teachers play a part. Discovery Education is proud to partner with the Ad Council in support of their Inspiring Invention contest.

Together with the United States Patent and Trademark Office and the National Inventors Hall of Fame, we invite you to mentor students in middle and high school to get them excited about the process of invention.

Creativity counts! The contest asks you and your students to create a public service announcement that motivates others to get inspired and start inventing. Show us how invention enriches everyday life and your school could win a prize package from Sony Creative Software!

We've amassed excellent resources to get you, well, inspired! Start with lesson plans for elementary, middle and high school students. Then bring the famous inventors and their inventions into your classroom with biographies and historic documents.

Inspired to invent? Make good use of our Tool Box to create a PSA with your students and enter the contest. You'll find tips and examples to get started and a FREE download of Sony video editing software. Hurry! Entries will be accepted through March 15th.

Get started!
If you know of any other similar contests, please share them in the comments!

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Mohawk Experiment, Year Two: First Impressions

My school is unique in that each quarter of the school year is essentially independent. Our entire structure has more in common with colleges than high schools: students pick new classes every ten weeks, and receive credits on a quarterly (not yearly) basis. To graduate they must reach a minimum amount of credits in different disciplines, as they would in college. Most students stay in the same level of math and science classes, but scheduling snafus inevitably cause students to be shuffled around. In addition, each quarter brings new students into the mix (as this is one of the few places they can get some credits towards graduation even though they're starting in February).

Thus while there is some consistency from quarter to quarter, each one is really it's own creature. It offers a chance to start over in ways that a new grading period at a traditional high school can't provide.

Things had been so rough this year that I felt something drastic was warranted. So on Tuesday night, I embarked on the second year of a daring motivational experiment that had been successful in 2008:

The Mohawk Experiment, Year Two: First Impressions

My Algebra I class has been my toughest by far. I've never taught a more challenging group, and considering my track record, that's really saying something. I told them on Tuesday that I was willing to do whatever it takes to get them to focus more, work harder and behave better. I was going to make the same deal with them I had made with my students one year ago: I would cut my hair into a mohawk, and keep it that way as long as they held up their end.

They were skeptical, as most of them are used to adults failing to follow through on promises. Wednesday morning, I delivered.

I was prepared for most of the jokes I would get ("Did you lose a bet?") and the attention it would garner. I expected the shock and the laughs, but not the widespread appreciation I received--often from kids who aren't my students. The phrase I heard the most the last two days was "I love your mohawk, mistah".

I explained the deal with my Algebra I class to everyone who wondered why I would do such a thing, which seemed to impress people even more. I was congratulated by many students who thought I was kind of "boring" or that I would never do such a thing. The experiment has had the unintended consequence of increasing my "cool factor" all over campus.

I heard from a colleague that I had scored major points with one of my students, who declared to her, "Now THAT'S a teacher." That was another common thread that's carried throughout the past two days.

As far as what it did for the class in question, the jury's still out. Wednesday was great, but many students were absent due to the inclement weather. On Thursday, things took a turn for the worse, and I was almost ready to give up already. I told the class as much, but the students who I am trying to turn around just aren't buying into this at all. I was adamant that I did not do this just to watch the class revert to their worst behaviors, and that things needed to improve dramatically today if they wanted to see this thing out.

I've been looking back at what I went through last year and realize that it's more similar than I was initially willing to admit. I just need to make it clear now as I did then that when the mohawk goes away, so does my goodwill. In short, they're not going to like what happens when the experiment is over. We'll see what today brings!

Read more about this experiment here.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

New Free Flash Card Software Helps You Study

Last month, indispensable productivity blog Lifehacker shared another great learning tool called Anki. Anki is essentially a multimedia flash card program, perfect for helping your students study for standardized tests or other big exams. Lifehacker has a video explaining the system.

This is the latest of a few options for flash card-style learning programs featured on Lifehacker in recent months. VerbaLearn focuses on vocabulary, and Teach2000 makes it easy to create and organize many sets of virtual flash cards.

So much for buying hundreds of index cards, huh?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

It's Back: The Mohawk Experiment, Year Two

First Impressions
Does It Work?

Read about last year's original experiment by reading "A motivational experiment off the top of my head".

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Call For Help: How Do We Get Boys to Respect the Restroom?

At the last school I worked in, vandalism was so prevalent and the campus so overcrowded that the constant destruction of the boys' bathroom was not surprising. Tagging by graffiti "crews" (interested only in graffiti as art) or actual gangs would cover the walls, mirrors and doors. Students would break parts of stalls and toilets, and break the towel and soap dispensers off the walls so rapidly that new ones wouldn't last a day. At one point, they would alternately lock bathrooms or simply not replace things for a long time.

In my current school, tagging isn't an issue, but the bathroom is a disaster. Besides people peeing all over the toilets and floors (and usually not flushing what actually gets inside the bowl), every few days all of the toilet paper and paper towel rolls are shoved into every urine-filled toilet. A door was broken off its hinges as well. This was actually a new bathroom after the old ones were closed due to students causing flooding in one and taping the garbage can to the ceiling in the other (among other incidents).

My question is simple: how can we get our male students to respect the bathroom? There's virtually no vandalism outside of it, and even if you put the destruction to the side for a moment, it's still disgusting and messy all the time.
  1. If you've had this particular problem at your school, what has been successful in addressing it?
  2. Have you had similar issues elsewhere at school? What has been done that has worked?
  3. How do we build a sense of ownership and responsibility for our school in this case, and in general?
I'm looking forward to your comments. Any idea is appreciated!

Monday, February 2, 2009

52 Teachers, 52 Lessons #4: Sometimes Quitting Is The Best Thing You Can Do!

This week's entry comes from one of my favorite bloggers, Joel of So You Want to Teach?, who has been keeping track of this project on his site:

Sometimes Quitting Is The Best Thing You Can Do!

Without a doubt, 9 Reasons To Quit Teaching (And 10 Reasons To Stick) is the most popular blog post I have ever written. I ask myself why that might be, but then I look and realize that much of the blog traffic comes to me from people looking to quit teaching.

I hope in this post to be able to clarify for you some of the best reasons to not quit teaching. But first, let's look at quitting from a different standpoint than perhaps we have considered before.

Quitters never win? Au contraire
The old school adage is that quitters never win. Unfortunately, that trite saying is too simplistic. Sometimes quitters are the only ones who win. Consider these examples:
  • In an auction, the one who doesn't quit often ends up with an overpriced item.
  • The boy who doesn't quit pursuing an uninterested girl often wastes a lot of time, burns bridges, misses out on other opportunities, and alienates the girl and her friends in the
  • In Vegas, the woman who quits while she is ahead is rare indeed. Usually people win and then squander most or all of their winnings trying to hit the jackpot again.
So as we can see from these examples, there are certain situations where quitting is simply the best choice. But what about in the teaching profession? Is quitting always the best choice? No way. But is quitting sometimes the best choice? Undoubtedly!

Quitters sometimes win?
Now we're getting the hang of things. Quitters sometimes win. Not always, but sometimes. The challenge is to distinguish the time for quitting from the time for sticking. So how do you know? It ultimately boils down to weighing the pros and cons. Standard advice when faced with a choice to quit or not. But sometimes we need to quit even when we don't think we do.

The longer we hold onto a sinking ship, the more dire our situation becomes.

Did you get that? That's huge. Let's look at another -- more involved -- real world imaginary example.

Imagine you have $100,000 invested in a good solid growth stock mutual fund with a long-term proven track record. Most financial advisors would be totally cool with that. But then imagine you also owe $100,000 on your house. Seems okay. But wait, if we look at it from another perspective, we can ask if you had your house paid off, would you take out a mortgage to invest in mutual funds? Most people would say no. It's the same situation, just turned around.

So you wake up one morning in early October 2008 and realize it's time to cash in, get out of debt, and free up your income to do nothing but build wealth instead of making payments to the bank each month. So you go out and sell your mutual funds, and pay off the house.

Then the second week of October happens, and the market falls. And falls. And falls. If you hadn't looked at your situation when you did, you might still be sitting there with $100,000 in the mortgage, and only $65,000 invested.

So ummm, I don't get it, how can I apply this in my classroom?
The thing is this:

Just because a situation looks good, that doesn't mean there is security.

Fear not, though. The inverse is also true.

Just because a situation seems dire, that doesn't mean it is insecure.

You have to really dig in and look at the situation a lot before making any decision.

So how can this make me a better teacher again?
Great question. Let's discuss it in the comments! I'll start off:
  • Sometimes our classroom management philosophy is convoluted and needs to be reexamined.
  • Sometimes what we've always done before doesn't fit the specific group of students we see before us. We need to modify.
  • Sometimes we need to relax on our rules a little bit.
  • Sometimes a different school (or a different subject, or a different state, or a different country) is exactly what we need to thrive.
  • Sometimes we do need to quit teaching. There are some valid reasons as well as some invalid reasons.
Read more about this project here or add the 52 teachers 52 lessons tag to your favorites. Email your entries to teachforeverATgmailDOTcom. Week 5 will be posted next Monday, February 9th.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Sports Statistics: Final Project and Final Reflections

My Sports Statistics just ended, and while I had dreams of continuing the class into the 3rd quarter of school (my school offers different classes each quarter in a quasi-college way), they died around winter break. The class was a huge disappointment for a number of reasons:
  1. Most of the students in the class were only superficially engaged in the class. Many didn't know what they signed up for and/or didn't want to be there. They were focused and working when they were there, but beyond getting the assignment done, there was little investment in what we were doing.
  2. Attendance was horrendous. The class ran twice a week, and there were many times when I had a completely different group of students from one class to the next. It's difficult to move on when you're in a constant state of catching up.
  3. The FSM-prescribed method of finding stats took too much time. I didn't think of a better method until winter break came around, so we stopped tallying additional stats as of December 16th.
  4. I didn't have the time to arrange things I wanted like guest speakers and field trips to connect our classwork to sports statistics in the real world. We weren't able to really use the stats in any meaningful way.
I create a simple final project for the course. I asked students to look back at the original player values we had used to select our initial fantasy basketball rosters. Using what we know now--near the halfway point of the season--they have to create the best possible team stat-wise using the same player values. I think it was a good way to bring things full circle.

In the end, I learned a lot, and would approach things differently if we started over. I see the value in this and will try to work it into my regular math classes as an ongoing, extra credit project. I enjoyed experimenting with something different, that's for sure. Click on the sports statistics tag for more posts about my experience with this course.