So… What Do You Do Now?

Before Spring Break, I cleaned out my classroom and left.
This week was my first week as Professional Development Specialist. In my district, we don’t actually “specialize”, but rather support teachers across all contents. I’m hoping to specialize in Tech Integration, something that our district sorely needs (and I’m assuming that’s the reason I was hired).

"Welcome aboard!, now can you

“Welcome aboard! Can you carry that case of soda to the fridge in the other room?”

Here are some observations:
1.) While I’m a “specialist”, I don’t actually give specialized trainings. After walking through five schools, all five mentioned a need for EdTech Integration; good news for me.

2.) Nobody working in education outside of the classroom is in a hurry. Everyone seems to stroll between events and walk between buildings at a leisurely pace. My orientation meeting with my new bosses lasted nearly three hours, and not once did anybody look at the clock and wonder when 2nd period was going to end.

"I still have to pass a note to my friend and gotothebathroomLET'SGO!

“I still have to pass a note to my friend and go to the bathroom and walk allthewayacrosscampusHURRYUP!

3.) After said meeting, we went to the district office so my Director could introduce us. I immediately realized that I hadn’t had lunch yet. No bell had rung to instruct me that it was lunchtime, so I didn’t eat. As the clock rolled past 1:00 and marched toward 2:00, I was grumpy, faint, and didn’t enjoy parading through every cubicle in the damn building, but I managed to smile anyway.

"Everything is fine, it's just a flesh wound."

“Everything is fine, I’m just… woo… a little light-headed.”

4.) There are three of us just hired, one was brought in a few months ago to serve as interim coordinator (my immediate supervisor) but her first official day was Monday, with me and Chris. Chris and I are the only men in a building full of women, both youngest by… we’re the youngest by about 12 seasons of the Bachelor.

Remember this guy? Season three? I was still in high school.

Remember this guy? Season three? I was still in high school.

5.) I stayed “late” until 4:10. It’s likely that I’ll leave most days around 3:15 and have no lessons to plan, working out of my car at my school sites, asking teachers what they need to teach their best. That’s awesome.

6.) One of the line items on my orientation agenda was “Student contact is minimal”. That is not awesome, but I got to prep three elementary classes for the state test yesterday.

7.) Director said that our job descriptions for the next 10 weeks are “ambiguous”. That might be awesome.

8.) Everybody… everybody  mentions how young I am. Eventually, my colleagues will note that I’m skilled in EdTech because I work hard, not because I was born after 1970. Perhaps my babyface will grease the wheels on getting me into an EdTech training role, so I’ll keep grinning and saying “Thank you”.

Though, if I actually looked like Babyface, I wouldn't have that problem.

If only I actually looked like Babyface.

9.) The secretary in my department is Eve, a tiny lady in running shoes with a thick accent who is excited about everything. I love her immediately. Her cubicle is covered with paper fans from all the places she’s visited around the world, and she goes for walks during her lunch break.

10.) The storage area for all the specialists is un-interesting-ly called “The Brick Building”. There’s a big “8″ spray-painted on the wall. My goal is to have everybody calling it “The Ocho” before summer. Also, it’s in total disarray and my “ambiguous” job description can hopefully include “making The Ocho into usable space and clearing out a decade’s worth of old textbooks”, which would be awesome.

11.) I’m the youngest, greenest, and tallest teacher in this building. While I may know a lot about some things nobody else does, I know very little about things that everybody else does. My attitude is one of seeking to understand new ideas and help others, not preach and inform everyone of stuff I learned on Twitter. I’m the new kid on the block, and polite will win more friends than smart.

To show I have "The Right Stuff" and keep "Hangin Tough".

To show I have “The Right Stuff” and keep “Hangin Tough”.

 

~Matt “What’s a Specialist?” Vaudrey

Sure Feels Like Quitting

Wednesday – Last Day in the Classroom

All four periods requested to throw a going-away party. I can take that as a sweet sentiment after I’ve made a difference in their lives all year…or a bunch of middle-schoolers lunging at any opportunity to have soda in class.

It’s probably about 30-70.

We packed up my personal effects, snacked on Hot Cheetos for 50 minutes, cleaned up for 3 minutes, then I told them this:

“In cultures, when people are leaving to do new things, usually they are given a blessing or a commission. As my 8th graders promote to high school, usually I give a blessing, but I am leaving early, so we’re doing it today. Some cultures place hands on the shoulders of the person who’s leaving, but there are too many of you, so I’ll just do this:”

I hold my hands out over them, palms down.

“May you be passionate problem-solvers and curious critics. May you be loyal to your friends, obedient to people in charge, friendly to strangers, and kind to those in need. May you be safe, healthy, loved, and happy, and may you become more of those every day. May you every day become a better version of yourself. You have 54 days left of 8th grade. Make them count.”

Bell rings. Out they go. I turn in my keys and leave.

Tuesday – Two Days Left in the Classroom

Vaudrey: You know how sometimes I’m silly and tell jokes? This isn’t one of those times. What I’m about to tell you isn’t a joke.

Nathan: Are you dying?
Jane: Are we in trouble?
Angel: He’s totally dying.
Diane: Just shut up and listen to him!

Vaudrey: You will have a sub on Thursday and Friday; you already knew that. And when you come back from Spring Break, you will have a different math teacher. Tomorrow  is my last day here with you.

Class: What? Why?

Vaudrey: Those meetings I had at the District were job interviews. I’m going to be a Teacher Coach. I’ll take ideas from what our class does and go show other classes how to do it.

Noah: Wow. This sucks.
Diana: No! You’re the reason I get excited about learning!
Marie starts crying.
Ashley: Can I have your Justin Bieber Picture?
Alex: Can I have your Mr. Vaudrey sign?
Asia: You should give us something because we’re your favorite class.
Andy: Do you get paid more money?
Laura: What kind of cake do you like?
Mando: Does your wife know about this?
Vaudrey: Yeah, she’s okay with it.
Victor: Of course she is; she’s not getting her heart broken!
Vaudrey: Please keep it quiet until the end of the day, so I can tell each class personally. I want them to hear it from me.
Linda: [Red-faced and tears in her eyes] What if I can’t learn from the new teacher?

Monday – Three Days Left in the Classroom

“Did you get the joab?” Asked Ms. Zipper–my RSP Aide for 5th period–her distinct Brooklyn accent apparent in her enthusiasm.

“Yeah, I did.” I gave a pained grin. “It’s bittersweet; I don’t want to leave my students mid-year.”

“Oh!” She stammered. “When do you start?”

“The Monday after break. My last day is Wednesday.”

“This Wednesday?” Asked Zipper, her eyebrows raising and head tilting in a distinct New England mannerism. “Yoah kids are gonna lose it.”

Friday – Four Days Left in the Classroom

My phone rings as I’m grading our benchmarks in the teacher’s lounge. It’s Bobbi from district H.R., offering me a position as Professional Development Specialist. She says I start Monday, April 7th.

April 7th is the first day back from our 2-week Spring Break, which starts Friday.
Plus the CUE Conference is this Thursday-Saturday.

I gulped, realizing that I had three more days with my students to tell them, pack up my class, and leave.

Well… shoot.

~Matt “Change Hurts” Vaudrey

*That was the humblest way I could explain what a Professional Development Specialist does, without making it sound like I’m ditching them.

A Great Day

Today was a great day.

Linear and Non-linear Functions

Today, the lesson was on linear and non-linear functions. After plotting points and noticing that a ruler can’t go through all five, we stood up, hands at our sides.

I stood on a desk. Because it’s my class and I can do what I want to.

“Elbows out.” [I show them.]
“Arms out.” [All students are making a T.]
“Arms down.” [Everyone is giggling, but obeying.]
“When I say go, show me a linear function with your arms… go!” T

he class snaps into a variety of positions, all with straight arms.

Kinda like this, but all at the same time.

Kinda like this, but all at the same time.

“Awesome. Arms down. Now show me a non-linear function…go!”

Kinda like this, but all at the same time.

Kinda like this, but all at the same time.

When 5th period arrived, the day went from good to great. First, they barely made it to one linear function before they were karate-kicking chairs and each other.

“Huh… Okay, siddown.” I said, hopping off the desk.
They froze. “What?”
“Yeah, I’m not gonna fight you so we can do fun things in class. Siddown.”

We do some more practice and agree to try again. We make it through a couple successful commands before Lorraine takes it up a notch:

“Can we play Simon Says?”

Hell yes, we can!

(This isn't actually 5th period, but it's the best shot I got today.)

Simon says ‘show me a non-linear function’.
Simon says ‘show me a function that makes a vertical line’.
Arms down. Ah! I didn’t say ‘Simon Says’. You’re out, you’re out, you’re out. Sit.
Simon says ‘show me the YMCA’.

Estimations

The 6th period iPad Intervention class has been taking on Estimations, Visual Patterns, Would You Rather, and Daily Desmos.

Today, we tackled the Red Vines task, and it was friggin’ awesome.

Previously, we established that one of Mr. Stadel’s hands holds 18 Red Vines, so our guesses hovered around 100-120 (5-7 handfuls).

redvines1

Halfway through the video answer, we’re at 150 and I hear Frank.

“Goddammit! I only put 130!”

When’s the last time you found an activity for math class that got kids amped enough to curse about it?

For the record, Frank thought he was mumbling to his neighbor, and I didn’t discipline him. Judge if you must, but I’d much rather have excitement and foul language than boredom and silence.

The real highlight of today, however, came when the video slowed down.

redvines2

 

…and Donte is out of his seat, pumping both arms in the air, chanting, “Two hundred! Two hundred! Come ooooon, baby! Two hundred!” He’s dancing back and forth as only an amateur pro athlete can.

Then, Mr. Stadel pulls out the 201st Red Vine, just to taunt Donte.

redvines3

..and Donte’s arms fall to his sides, his jaw drops, and his eyes deaden. He stands transfixed, staring at the wall, crestfallen that he was so close to a perfect guess.

And I laughed my ass off.

~Matt “Hasn’t Eaten Red Vines Since Middle School” Vaudrey

 

Teens and the Supernatural (not the show)

First year of teaching: Survival. Don’t die.
Middle years: Improve. Make a few dozen memorable lessons that you enjoy teaching.
Curriculum Adoption Year: Survive. Attempt to cram your memorable lessons into foreign molds, like Michelangelo building a swan from the tin foil wrapped around Mexican leftovers.

Sometimes, though, it works okay.

Given all the recent discussion on real-world vs. fake-world in math education, it’s tempting for teachers in the middle years (this author included) to try any means necessary to create engagement out of half a steak burrito.

Let’s try saying that another way:

8th Grade Standard 8.F.2:

Compare properties of two functions, each represented in a different way (algebraically, graphically, numerically in tables, or by verbal descriptions).

Okay. Those examples could go horribly or great.

Interesting?

Interesting?

Interesting?

Interesting?

Middle and high school are where the social development of students flexes dramatically from day to day.

Can I wear this? What happens if I wear this? How much makeup is too much? What will my friends think if I date this person?  Does this matter? Who should I talk to? Where do I fit in?

Michael Pershan absolutely nails something about students that few discuss (outside of my youth pastor wife and me): adolescents still aren’t quite sure which things are real and which aren’t, which things matter and which don’t.

What? No! You cannot drink radioactive waste to grow gills!

What? No! You cannot drink radioactive waste to grow gills!

Teachers, how many of your students have mentioned ghosts, superpowers, or the Illuminati this year? While it’s less than half that ask the questions like, “Mr. Vaudrey, are vampires real?”, the entire class is silent while I answer. I think that’s because:

Students aren’t certain what’s real and what’s not, so grappling and applying meaning are core tenets of a successful math curriculum.

More on that functions lesson later this week.

~Matt “There’s a reason Harry Potter has sold 400 million copies” Vaudrey

Barbie Bungee 2014

It appears that Fawn and I did this lesson on the same day… again. We teach over 100 miles from each other, but we appear to have some type of ESP that only affects the snarky.

Anyway.

Barbie

Twice in the last three months, I have told a room full of teachers and education professionals to “take a risk, jump in, just go for it”, and I’ve used today’s lesson as an example. The Barbie Bungee (two years ago) was just dropped on students with no prior discussion and only a little planning on my part, and it went fine.

Kinda creepy, but fine.

What I didn’t mention was that I did this lesson at the end of the school year after testing, when students are most likely to be thankful for a day outside and a weird lesson. A day without a clear learning objective was fine then.

Not so, now.

Toward the end of a unit on graphing (using prescribed curriculum that left some holes), we took a couple days to do the Barbie Bungee. I overhauled the handout completely… except it’s still pink.

When I say completely, I mean brain is a bit fried from making sense of the prescribed curriculum, and I forgot what students care about or what is mathematically important.

First, show a video.

In the first three seconds, students (and teachers in my workshop) gasp. They are hooked. Then, as a class, we discuss. “What do you think those guys were talking about as they drove out to the missile silo?” Student comments followed:

Will the rope break?
Will the rope be long enough?
Will anybody find my body before it freezes solid in the Russian wilderness?

“Why not get a short rope?” I ask. “My wife doesn’t want my brain mushed out my ears, and I might just use a seat belt for this jump.”
“Yeah, but that’s boring,” says Frankie. “Like, you wouldn’t have any fun.”
“Ah, so I want a really long bungee, then.”
“No!” Angelica jumps in. “Cuz if it’s too long, then you’ll hit the ground and die.”

Boom. Constraints established. A bungee jump should be fun, yet safe.

dangerousyetfun

Just like “Bear-Caging”, which is all the rage in British Columbia.

Students brought dolls, were grouped into twos and threes, and did trials at three heights to find the maximum jump that was still safe. This was a change from last year, when students did three trials at five heights (a luxury from 90-minute periods that 55-minute periods do not afford).

It pained me to delete my beautiful table from previous years (attachment here), and even as I did it, something about the new lab sheet felt … lacking.

It wasn’t until my math coach came to visit (and I felt a bit self-conscious) that I realized what was missing:

The Point.

ThePointLogo

It was a fun activity with no point (just as before), except that now, I had stuck it in the middle of a unit without crafting student tasks around a learning goal.

The pink lab sheet and fun activity was just another disjointed set of operations with no attachment to the larger world of mathematics, the very thing I seek to avoid.

I also try to avoid bears, but luckily, there's a cage for that.

I also try to avoid bears, but luckily, there’s a cage for that.

I feel compelled here to note that Barbie Bungee does not fit into the adopted curriculum, but something like it would be necessary (more on that later).

Math Coach burst into my class at lunch. “The big jump. That’s the point. They are gathering data to derive an equation to solve for the big height so Barbie doesn’t die. That’s your point.”

IMG_2748 (1)

Here’s the issue with that: with an error hovering around 15% (and no training on line of best fit), my students’ equations were all over the place. One group calculated they would need eight rubber bands to jump off the roof (when 58 inches required six), and the group next to them needed 100.

Well, crap. I scrapped Bungee from that day.

Monday morning, I weighed all the Barbies on a food scale. Taking one from each weight class outside, I recorded my own data points (more than three apiece), and dropped them into Desmos, which is fast-becoming my go-to device for concrete-izing when something is too abstract.

BarbieBungeeDesmos1

Click here for my Desmos graph.

Now–one doll at a time–I call on students and move the sliders.

“Marco, should the slope increase, decrease, or stay the same? Maria, should the y-intercept increase, decrease, or stay the same? Alex, should the slope…”

Students were silent, every period, as they saw firsthand in real-time what it means to “increase the slope of a line”.

Also, there was no “right answer”. You wanna move the y-intercept down? Fine. The next student might move it right back up.

Can you imagine doing this by hand? Blech.

BarbieBungeeDesmos2

Eventually, students agreed that the line of each weight class passed through the respective points (for the most part), and we dropped the slider values into an equation for the number of bungees needed (r) to jump a certain height (h).

I passed out my Barbies to each group, and each Barbie matched up with an equation from a Barbie in a similar weight class.

And--feminist that I am--I didn't use the term "weight class".

And–feminist that I am–I didn’t use the term “weight class”.

Micro-managey? Sure. But when you teach RSP 8th-graders, you can’t exactly have the free-flowing hippie class that Fawn does. I made the choice to limit minor errors, so I need only correct ones pertinent to this unit.

Meaning I kept the long bungees from each period instead of waiting for groups to untie and re-tie them each period, and I labeled the legs of my Barbies, so they wouldn’t forget what her name was.

Also, duct-tape dresses.

Also, duct-tape dresses.

A few minutes of calculating, a few more of tying rubber bands, and we’re off to the races.

Click to see video.

Click to see video.

We spent the most time discussing how to fit the line to the data and why.

I’m okay with that.

~Matt “Middleweight” Vaudrey

A Good Day

When in the course of human events, teachers will sometimes adopt curriculum.

The best days happen outside of it.

Gremlins, Speed Dating, and Monomial Cubes

Before we go further, I should describe what we call “Monster Equations” in my school.

"Ach! Gross!"

“Eek!”

The above equation is a Monster. It has several steps, uses multiple operations, and is terrifying to an 8th grade RSP student. Luckily, we have tools to fight such monsters.

Monster instructions

Our notes for this week.

The acronym DCMAM stands for Don’t Call Me A Monster.
It also stands for the steps needed (in order) to whittle a “Monster” down to a 2-step equation (with which, the students are modestly comfortable).

Got it? That’s a Monster Equation and why we call it that. Onward:

Onward

Last week, I taught Monster Equations and it bombed. Students didn’t know how to combine like terms, distribute properly, mirror operations on both sides of the equal sign “wall”, or even add two numbers with different signs.

This isn’t surprising; those are all skills covered in 7th grade, and our adopted curriculum assumes they remember everything.

The same way that my wife assumes hot dogs are good for you, you just have to eat enough of them.

So, my class is going back to those basics, and today was “Gremlin Equations”.

Surprisingly, about 1/3 of each class had seen the movie.

Surprisingly, about 1/3 of each class had seen the 30-year-old movie.

A “Gremlin” equation isn’t quite a Monster, but still requires delicate handling, because if you break the rules…

gremlin2

…they get ugly.

Here enters our activity for today:

“Each of you has an expression glued to the bottom of your paper, it’s half of a Gremlin Equation. You and your partner will combine your two expressions to make a Gremlin and solve it together. When you’re done, you both stand and find new partners.”

As I described it to my department head, I realized what it actually was:

Equation Speed Dating.

"I see you checking out my coefficients, baby."

“I see you checking out my coefficients, baby.”

In the first classes, one student would fill both sides of the worksheet with about 10 minutes left and proclaim, “I’m done.” At that point, I killed the music, returned students to their seats, and opened up the Pan Balance from NCTM. They dove right into it and burned the last few minutes.

AutoCrat, a Foldable, and Impromptu Estimation

After about three hours of attempting to synthesize Google Drive with my district firewall, I was met with a failure sandwich on toasted frustration bread. My digital team-mates–John and Karl–did the best they could to troubleshoot unique solutions:

Well, 6th period arrived before IT support did, so I pulled a quick foldable from Sarah’s blog and followed it with my bag full of monomial cubes, planning to do some random practice.

Photo Feb 04, 2 55 59 PM

I held up the bag and immediately a student called, “How many dice are in the bag?”

Oh. I thought. This just got much more interesting.
“What do you think?” I asked.

A couple students call out guesses before someone yells, “Can we see one of them?”

Photo Feb 04, 2 56 21 PM

We pull a few guesses (where the median is about 65) and start counting them together.

Photo Feb 04, 2 46 17 PM

“Is there an easier way to arrange them for counting? This is confusing me.”

Photo Feb 04, 2 49 38 PM

“Okay, five by five… so we’ve got three 25s plus one… so… “
Student: 76! I was close!
“What if this was on a planet where humans had 4 fingers on each hand instead of 5?”

Students paused. Thought for a little bit. Then…

Photo Feb 04, 2 53 59 PM

Hey! Five 16s with 4 missing! That’s also 76!

So, yeah. It was a good day.

Tomorrow, students will finish up their Monster Posters with this cut-and-paste Monster Equation activity.

~Matt “The Expression Matchmaker” Vaudrey

 

The Myth of the Digital Native

Attention, Administrators:

"Yes?"

“Yes?”

I have some news.

The term “Digital Native”, while creative, isn’t an accurate representation of young students.

Because I liked being included as a “Digital Immigrant” (an equally cute term), I bought into the idea, but I’ve been less and less convinced lately.

Partly because of the description: A digital native is a person born into today’s digital culture, who takes to it naturally, as a duck to water.

Network Management

Network Configuration

Even hearing it phrased like that begs the question: Do students actually take to technology easier, faster, or more often than their aged counterparts?

"Oh, I just use it to text and hammer nails."

“Oh, I just use it to text and hammer nails.”

Nope.

Not even a little.

Sure, my younger sisters can text like it’s their job, and my students are really good at Minecraft,

Like, really, suspiciously good at Minecraft.

Like, really, suspiciously good at Minecraft.

but when it comes to tackling foreign territory, they are just as confused and lost as everybody else. Often, more so; they lack the reasoning skills to seek the likely solution to their problem.

This week, my Pad students were floored when I showed them satellite view in Google Maps. It took us 20 minutes to get walking directions from their house to the school. Setting up new iPads takes two hours at the beginning of the year.

Teachers, however, are more likely to realize that after they’ve joined a wireless network, they can click DONE to move on to the next screen. No less than 15 students ask me “Now what do I do?” during iPad setup.

YOU JUS... hmm... Just click where it says "Done".

YOU JUS… hmm… Just click where it says “Done”.

So, Administrators: if you use the term “digital native” with a teacher who deals with young people and technology, they’ll likely raise an eyebrow.

~Matt “Dual Citizenship” Vaudrey