RANT

So, it’s that time of year again. That time when I get so fed up while searching for lesson and activity ideas and clicking on links to should-be swell articles only to have them lead me to the dreaded Teachers Pay Teachers (TPT) site with all its evil.

I hate TPT more than just about anything related to education. I hate it more than testing. I hate it more than late work. I hate it more than interactive notebooks which almost killed me a couple years ago. I hate it more than cotton candy—well maybe the same as cotton-candy because that is what it is.

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TPT is sweet and fluffy and full of nothing of real substance when things heat up. It’s good for the seller and the sales platform but does nothing for the consumer in the long run. It’s a quick fix.

Here’s my short list of rants on TPT:

  • Teachers pay the host (TPT) to which the second teachers post stuff and that posting teacher gets pennies.
  • Teachers show up at NCCTM and other places of professional development as speakers and actually do their TPT commercials there. They try to turn other teachers onto the site. I walk out of those sessions. This boils my blood. NCTM is about educators supporting and inspiring one another all to advance student learning. It can all be tied directly to student learning. Not to some price-point.
  • I don’t even search Pintrest for educational resources because Pintrest keeps taking me to TPT stuff. Just stop it.
  • The products I have seen from TPT that other teachers innocently share with me lack depth. They lack rigor. They lack my touch. My ownership. My love. They aren’t me. They are someone else. They are not for my kids and I can resist them easily, just like cotton-candy.
  • Teachers I’ve asked, buy entire units and whole year curriculums from TPT “because it’s so much easier.” Easy does not equate to good. Easy does not mean it meets the rigor expectations of the district or state or even the school or the teacher. Yes, the purchasing teacher didn’t have to work. That is the worst feature of all.

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This applies to teachers too!!!

  • Shouldn’t the school, district or state have something to say about an entire sequence of curriculum that is being used on a set of kids? Or shouldn’t they at least be aware of what the teacher is using? Educators use the standards and find supporting learning activities and strategies. Educators work to do what is right for the kids they teach rather than fitting their kids’ learning to someone else’s fluff materials.
  • If the TPT products are that good, shouldn’t the school system pay for the resources rather than the teachers?
  • From what I see from TPT materials, the teachers creating these materials and selling them are playing school rather than teaching school aka helping students learn. It’s all-pretty, but that’s it. Full disclosure: I have not done enough investigating to make this bold statement as fact, but this is my blog and I’ll do it if I want to.
  • In the professional learning communities to which I belong, teachers support teachers. Teachers help one anther become better educators. Teachers take one another’s’ lessons and activities and use them and improve them and share back the improvements. They do this willingly and enthusiastically and it’s received that way. Educators feel the love and effort others put into their materials.
  • TPT does not share experiences. My professional learning communities do. They do this in person, on twitter and in blog posts. And it’s priceless. I love you tweeps and bloggers and flesh and blood colleagues too.

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Thank you to my professional learning communities for helping make me a better educator for my students. Thank you for doing all the right things for all the right reasons.

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Thanking my teachers–long over-due

In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, I want to give a shout out to the following people from my past. I credit my core as a teacher to them.

Mr. Wolfram was my math teacher all through high school. You read that correctly. I had the same math teacher for four years. Fortunately, he was amazing. He was so amazing that all of my kids from the past seven years (since I’ve been teaching high school courses to middle schoolers) know the name of my high school math teacher from 36 years ago. From Mr. Wolfram I learned that you earn As and get Bs. Even though you place for a cash prize in a state geometry test, that was not good enough to get put on his Math Hall of Fame wall. That was all good to know before college. I wasn’t quite the big fish I thought I was. Math was fun. Math was cool. Math was worth the effort.

Paul Humke—Humke was a visiting professor at St. Olaf my first semester of college, Fall 1980. He was a great teacher. I got a B, which was generous, but he was the first teacher I ever really talked to. He knew I was having a tough time—so lonely; so poor at a rich-man’s school; so just not a good fit. He told me to quit studying during Chapel time and actually go to Chapel. What a concept! He was also the one to tell me that I could actually major in math. He was a difference maker. He also wore sandals and socks—in the dead of winter in Minnesota. So cool.

Dr. Pilgrim was my adviser when I transferred to Luther. He never got over the fact that he misspelled—dang, some word that stared with an i—all throughout his dissertation. (I actually know that he is still living in Decorah, IA (Luther) as does my aunt. She goes to his nursing home and tells him that I’m finally teaching and other bragging points that my mother feeds her sister.) Dr. Pilgrim set up a tutoring opportunity my junior year with a high school geometry student. (I think it was the daughter of his dentist.) I had no idea what I was doing, but I got paid for three hours each Saturday morning. I spent way too much time getting ready for Heidi (my student) and loved every minute. But I was a math-econ major and had no sights on teaching. You could only get el-ed at Luther so I never even considered teaching. But Dr. Pilgrim knew—even though it took 25+ years for me to figure it out.

Dr. Triton was my senior paper advisor at Luther. He was the one professor that scared the daylights out of me. My mother somehow convinced me that he needed to be my senior paper advisor. Seriously mom? It was good though. He only looked scary. Great guy. Gentle giant. That experience taught me to be not afraid of those who first appear scary. That was not the point of my paper, but it was the take-away. (1984)

Fast forward to 2006…Alex K. This was a high school kid that was the bother of one of my daughter’s friends. He needed help with his algebra 2. It was a win-win. I helped him and he helped me figure out what I was really supposed to be doing. I. Loved. It. Done—I enrolled at UNCG and got my masters in middle grades math. Why middle grades? I fall in love with my son and his friends when they were in middle school. So cool—weird but cool emerging individuals.

And my mom. Dr. Baumgardner. My biggest fan. Ever and always. She never pushed me into anything and always fully supported me in everything I have ever done. It’s not until I am much older that I realize how special that really is. Uh Oh—I’m feeling a mother’s day post coming on. Don’t fret. I probably won’t. I’d cry so much I’d dehydrate.

Thank you teachers. That’s not enough, but that’s all I got. Virtual love, hugs, kisses and sincere public appreciation to you all.

BTW, this post was inspired by Meg Craig—thank you Meg @mathymeg07.

 

 

Favorite Things 2016

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Inspired by Favorite Things,  OSCAR HAMMERSTEIN LIL RICHARD RODGERS

Favorite Things of this Math Teacher

Domains and ranges and intercepts and zeros,
students that don’t lose odd negatives are heroes,
linear functions each graphed with green strings, (I prefer spaghetti but it didn’t rhyme)
these are a few of my favorite things.

New sharpened pencils and eager new faces,
field trips and class trips and visiting new places,
Garfield’s proof and the ah-hah it brings, (Seriously!)
these are a few of my favorite things.

Expanding binomials with gigantic powers,
cheering on students at sports after hours, (LOVE!!)
functions that model bizarre plats and dings,
these are a few of my favorite things.

When the office calls,
when email stings, (man, do I have a few of those!)
when I’m feeling sad,
I simply remember my favorite things,
I teach math and I’m so glad.

MRS. VAUGHN

Sorry to do this to you. I couldn’t help myself. Just don’t tell my family! They say “life is not a musical,” but I choose not to believe.

I really thought about 1)seating charts, 2)step function grading, or 3)fun math songs that lead to no real learning, but this came out of my fingers.

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Year 10 and I’m sucking air. SOS

Four classes. Still trying to figure out their personalities. Strangely, I know all names in my core 2, but NOT my homeroom. Guess I’m too busy with paperwork junk to know my own kids. I hate that.

I was talking to my husband tonight about my classes (Math II kids–8th graders taking 9th or 10th grade math and standard Math 8 kids.) I strive to challenge the top in those Math II classes and I always get incredible growth out of the kids who were previously underperforming in those classes. In my Math 8 classes, I teach to the bottom of the pack. (WHY??!!) I take the Truman stance — “the buck stops here.” They are NOT going to high school not being able to multiply, divide and ‘do” fractions. That comes before functions, exponents and transformations. I will not let them not learn the basics–again.

Growth in the Math 8 classes is mixed. Growth is amazing for those who finally decide to work. It’s acceptable for the higher kids in that class. Too many lower kids eventually end up hating me or math and I swear, they intentionally get 1’s on their end of grade tests. (They know way more than they perform.) Do they hate me for making them work; for having high expectations; for expecting them to do SOMETHING? I really think that I may be the first person that ever believed they could succeed. And yet…

Here’s where I need serious feedback. Should I treat my Math 8 kids as I do my Math II kids and move on? I think not. This is the class the state requires them to pass–AND they need to become true problem solvers. (I want both my brain surgeon and my mechanic to be good at solving problems!) I feel so responsible for the lower kids that I ache (aka cry) every day. When I focus on them, the rest of the class goes Bat Crazy. Everyday I feel like a bad teacher.

I REALLY like these kids, yet I feel like I’m not reaching them. I do my seating chart so the neediest kids are closest to me so I can support them. I’m keeping school. I’m not teaching and my kids aren’t learning and I feel like a failure. Just as bad, the higher kids are getting nothing–or at least very little. Behaviors are such that I can’t set up individualized lessons on tablets that the higher kids can get while I work with the kids that need remediation. All 32 kids need constant attention and supervision. Again, I feel like a failure. I’ve been doing this ten years and I can’t figure this out.

When I think back about when I first taught algebra to kids who weren’t ready, I approached it as if they were fully qualified for algebra because I didn’t know any better. (I do remember stupid-Steven my first naive year. Steven didn’t get it. I announced to Steven that I would “not leave him behind” when he didn’t get it. Best I recall, he got a fare bit.) I suppose I didn’t notice that other students didn’t get it. Amazingly enough, lower kids grew like crazy. I was too new to know they were low so I didn’t teach them that way. Now I know too much? Is that it?

I also think kids are different now than ten years ago when I started. There wasn’t the constant instant gratification of social media. That’s a lot to compete with. I own Math II. Math 8 is seriously troubling.

Sad thing is these are the kids that need the most.

LOST.

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Jesus and Jello

I am about to begin my 10th year of teaching. I was thinking today about what that will look like. Each year a theme or something peculiar happens that helps define the year to make it memorable for students. The two best were the year of Jesus and the year of Jello. The year of Jesus came about because the kids just could not get the hang of or meaning of slope in my Math 8 classes. Seriously. I was so desperate, one day we did a whole series of questions to which each answer was “slope.” Some kids still didn’t get it. I told them it was like a children’s sermon. Whenever the pastor asks the kids a question and the kids don’t know the answer, the answer is always “Jesus” except here the answer is “slope.” This turned into whenever a student did not know the answer to a question they said “Jesus.” It became an immediate clue that I had to go back and reteach, so it was very useful, but a little awkward to explain to administration. Another year became the year of Jello. I tell the kids every year about the Vaughn Theory of Math and Jello. It goes like this: math concepts are like Jello. They both start out runny, without form. It takes time and chilling out for concepts to set up just like it takes Jello time and chilling to set up and take form. When we tackled a particularly difficult concept for kids, like domain and range or completing the square, it took a while for the concepts to set up, then they had them for life. For the kid who would start to stress out and wail, “I don’t get it” I would tell the student, it’s going to be ok, your Jello just hasn’t set up yet. Now of course, I tuned into that student and gradually removed the Jello mold. To show the students how much confidence I had in them I made Jello Jigglers as a surprise the day of their final. All their Jello was set up by then.

One year I sang all the time and I had math songs for everything. Songs are fun, but they don’t take student learning very far. Last year was the year of entry points. Finding a way into a problem and then finding another way in. This helped both my Math II kids as well as my standard Math 8 kids. It is especially rewarding when kids find a way I hadn’t thought of. I’m simply giddy when my Math 8 kids do that. Gosh. Last year doesn’t sound like much fun for students, but at least they learned to persevere and find ways into problems.

This year I am going to use student tablets more. I read about some cool Math 8 tasks with Desmos and I keep thinking of more as I cut the grass and clean out closets and other normal teacher summer tasks. This just might be the year of Desmos. It is one of the very few apps that work on our low budget tablets. I need to figure out how kids can save their work and practice that myself. I also want them to be able to send their work to my cloud. I’ve got a couple weeks to figure that out.

I have no idea what the kookie thing of the year will be. Those things just happen spontaneously. When it reveals itself, I’ll post about it. I don’t expect Jesus will make a comeback, no pun intended.

Oh, and it’s ok if nobody reads this. I’m just practicing my blogging. My goal is a minimum of once per quarter. But I’ve got to practice being brave.

This is not a goldfish!!!

I’m really doing this. After stalking math blogs for years, I decided to put on my big girl panties and start my own. I’m a bit nervous and sick to my stomach, but that means I respect my audience. I was going to do this last year, but my IT/personalized learning guru made fun of me when I asked him for a recommendation for a blog platform. He said blogs were like goldfish. They don’t live very long. I’m really mad at myself for listening to him. I knew better! I wasted a year.

I want to be a better teacher. I want and need to share with others if that is going to happen. I also want to be part of the synergistic community of math teachers that I have been mooching off of for years. I want to reflect and create and collaborate with others.  I am also organizationally challenged. This could be a hot mess. Wish me luck!