Monday, July 31, 2017

#tmc17 Reflection!

Confession: I almost didn't go to #tmc17. I didn't really know anyone and went back and forth about whether it would be worth it to eat alone at lunch and feel super awkward and out of place. But I decided to do it anyway. I decided to branch outside my comfort zone and it was one of the best decisions of my life.

Let's back up. This year I'll be starting my first - that's right FIRST - year of teaching! Prior to TMC I had been incredibly anxious about my first year - the kids I'll have, teaching classes I've never taught before, how to structure my classroom, and so much more! But, as Graham Fletcher said in his keynote on Friday, I hope to surround myself with people who are smarter than me, and this has made me rest easier and fill with joy for the upcoming year. The nerves are still there, but I have hope in having just surrounded myself with 200 of the teachers I hope to be.

I couldn't quite think how to put all my thoughts into words, so I'm just going to write a list because I LOVE lists!

  • I will never be able to fully understand my students' stories, but that does not mean I cannot fully love them.
    • I had actually been processing this very thought prior to coming to TMC. As a white, straight woman from an upper-middle class background, I will never be able to know what it's like to go hungry, be in a foster home, or not have a roof over my head. Grace Chen's keynote reminded me that my students' stories started long before I had them in my classroom and they will continue long after they leave my classroom. I cannot always change the political injustices that have affected my students, but I can create a space in which they are wholly and fully loved, despite not being able to fully comprehend what they are going through.
  • Putting yourself out there is one of the most powerful things you will ever do.
    • Throughout the course of TMC, I asked questions to strangers, engaged in conversations, went out to dinner with strangers, asked for a MTBoS mentor on Twitter, and connected with people via Twitter. I found that through the simple act of engagement, I have been overwhelmed by power of community and the willingness of others to lend their time, resources, and encouragement.
  • As a math teacher, I want words, not numbers, to transform my classroom.
    • This point is two-fold: relational and instructional. I have always firmly believed in the power of words to build relationships in the classroom. I got the idea from another teacher awhile ago to have kids write letters on the first day of school where they can write anything they want to me! Last year, letters ranged from feelings about math to religion to death and it gave me a glimpse into who they are. I'll be taking this one step further this year by writing ALL my kids back within the first couple of weeks. This lets them know they are seen, they are heard, and they have something valuable to say. SO I LOVE WORDS! I'll be implementing Elissa Miller's "two nice things" in my classroom this year where if a student says something rude (even about themselves), they then have to say two nice things about that person. I love that it establishes a classroom culture of respect and creates a microcosm of the world I want to see (per Grace Chen's talk). As for the instructional power of words, I attended Tina Cardone's "Finding the Words" afternoon session and it identified the power of words in teaching mathematics specifically. My #1TMCThing comes from her session which is journaling! She has students journal at the end of each class by responding to two questions - 1 math related and 1 not math related. The non-math related question may be establishing a goal for the week, responding to a quote, etc. I loved the aspect of asking a math question for students to respond to so that I can get a sense of whether students conceptually understand the material or if they are just going through the procedure. It also adds closure to my lessons where I can give a quick re-cap of what was discussed and then have students write a few sentences. Note: we are on 90 minute block scheduling every day which gives me the opportunity to have them journal the last 5-7 minutes. I realize this may not be possible/tight on a traditional 45 minute schedule! 
  • Students forget....a lot.
    • Even with the best teachers and the best lessons (neither of which apply to me), students will forget what they have learned. I realized that it is not something to be feared, but something that I do need to work with. Through all the things that I've learned, I'm hoping to implement Delta Math as weekly problem sets to review on past material. I've glimpsed through the program, but never used it before so I'm sure there will be some hiccups along the way. But here's to trying new things, right? I am also hoping to use Delta Math as a previewing tool for upcoming material. Before a systems of equations unit, this might mean giving some example problems on solving equations or some basic systems of equations practice before it is taught. Since we are integrated (Math I, Math II, Math III), many topics such as systems and factoring come up in multiple courses and this can be a useful tool both for retention and previewing upcoming material for those who forgot from the previous course. 
  • There are thousands of great ideas out there. You don't have to use them every single day.
    • The greatest relief of my life was when Sean Sweeney was doing his "My Favorite" and he said he gives his kids a worksheet sometimes. WHAT A RELIEF. I try to incorporate investigations, Polygraph for vocabulary acquisition, activities, and more, but sometimes I end up falling back on the traditional worksheet and feel like a horrible teacher. I remind myself to strive to be better every day, but that it is okay. A worksheet doesn't make a horrible teacher just as much as a Desmos activity doesn't make you a great teacher. It's what your students are learning from it and the classroom culture around mathematics. I just remind myself that it's okay, I'm working, and I'm getting there.


  1. Sounds like you have a great foundation upon which to build your teaching career. I wish you all the best!

  2. Thank you for this. I"ve been teaching and helping people learn math for over 30 years and I still have that "oh, I"ll be an outsider" thing. *Part* of me knows "yea, so what? They really won't put a cone of silence around you!"
    I remember my first years teaching and being so shocked at how much students forgot. I mean, I had told them that! Review, review, review :) What was boring for me was "Oh, a quiz I can ACE!!!!"
    . And yup!!! The tools are not what makes you a great teacher. It's how you use them...