Monday, April 25, 2016

The Struggle is Real

The. Struggle. Is. Real.

I knew that this math adventure was not going to be a walk in park. But I did not think that my students would struggle as much with this switch over as I am experiencing. I have been putting off blogging the failures because I was hoping for the moment when all of my students would exclaim that they love math, PBL, and all the wonderful things we were doing. I wanted to create the epic "This is how to be successful in your classroom" blog where I would boast about how all of my students bought into this idea and were learning so much. But, I'm not quite there yet.

Since Spring Break we have been embarking more on the actual academic part of math. We are looking at very basic parts of algebra and spending lots of time on each one of those concepts. We have spent time with:
     -Rational and Irrational Numbers
     -Variables and Expressions
     -Order of Operations
     -The Distributive Property
     -Multi Step Equations

For each of these topics the students start out with a google doc that they are responsible for filling in. They look like this:
Each assignment is unique, but all are very similar. For my co-teacher and I, this was a way for us to front-load information. Students work independently or in groups (preferred) to complete each document and it's tasks. Once they are complete, they turn it on Classroom. From here we go into a project that involves each of the topics. So far, we have done a math based game of Clue, made a class snack of Muddy Buddies, done an assignment on taxes, and tomorrow we will start doing a comic strip assignment on

That all sounds great, but the amount of work that I get turned into me is minimal. Most of the work that is turned in is less than half complete. Even when I go over answers I can't seem to get the kids to do the work. Grades have dropped, so has my morale. I am not sure what to do, suggestions at this point would be greatly appreciated!

I thought with my "genius" idea of the changing education project that the students would see what they needed to do to be successful in this new environment. I thought they were ready to see how things can change and how they can become better learners and become more prepared for the work-force. But now I think I may be asking too much, or maybe I just feel like giving up. Im not really sure.

So, the struggle is real. I'm stuck at a point where I don't feel like I can hold their hands and walk them through each and every step, but I still want to push them with help. I hate when my students get mad at me for not telling them the answer. I get asked at least 3 times a day, "why can't you just tell me answer?". Most of my kids have struggled in math for so long that they were just given answers to make it seem easier on them... or maybe it was easier on their teachers that way. I guess Im not sure how to find that happy medium between hand-holding and helping.

Words of wisdom are welcome! Anything that might help! This mermaid feels like she is drowning.

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Trip of a Lifetime!

    Naturally, all mermaids LOVE to travel. It's a pretty well known fact, so if you did not know, I'm sorry. The past two years I have been developing a "Spring Break" project for my merpeople so that they have the chance to sea the 7 seas... if you catch my drift! The kiddos will embark on this next adventure from now until Spring Break. I can not wait to see where they go and what they will do!

   Here is the link to download the project! Feel free to make it your own! I will update you on the results.

   Happy Spring Break!

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Changing Education Project - Results

   Last week, the little merpeople set off to tell me about how they wanted to change education. I created a very simple, yet complex, project for them, "How do you want to see your education change". They had only a few guidelines which were the following (in their exact form):

In groups no larger than 3 people, you are going to create a 5-10 minute presentation about how you want to see education changed, and how the perfect system of education looks to you. 

In your final presentation you must include:
*A brief history of education in the USA (no more than :45 seconds)
*What does education look like today? (no more than :45 seconds)
*How do you want to change education - what should it look like?
You can address ideas such as:
Time spent in school
Standardized Testing

This is an open assignment. You can make your presentation in any style you would like. It can be a video, slide show, song and dance… It’s OPEN to you!  

     As you can see, it was very open ended project. The idea was that this project would take 4 days for them to complete in class and then we would have two days of presentations for each class period. Without fail, we had an Internet DDoS attack last week, so we had two days where the kids could not access anything on their chrome books, so we got pushed back just a bit. We were finally able to get everything together and do presentations on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. Overall, most of the projects were pretty well done. We are still learning how to not read off the board and face the class when speaking, but other than that, 80% of the groups put in a good effort. While I knew this would not be a 100% success, as there are always the few who just don't get into the project, I think overall, this went quite well. 

   Based on what the kids presented I did learn a lot of key points about what they wanted to see in their education, and those are the points that I wanted to share with you:
  • No more homework 
  • Start school at a later time
  • More elective choices, especially hands-on classes
  • Option to have a "night school" where kids can go to school in the afternoons
  • Job placement support
  • More mental health services, for kids who need therapy and/or counseling
  • More teachers who care
  • Have both computer and paper based options, since some kids prefer one or the other
  • Be harder on kids who don't do their work in class since it brings other kid's grades down

   On that last note, each class and I had the discussion about effort based grading and their thoughts on it. 100% of my kids agreed that people who put in a lot of effort, but don't always get the right answer, should still get a large amount of points on the given project. Amazingly, they also all agreed that homework is allowed to be assigned if students do not finish the in-class work. And then, to top it off, they also all said it was fair for me to give 0's to students who do not give any effort during class and if they do not take their work home on it. One student in my 4th period even said, "It is not fair for you to have to justify giving a kid a grade if they waste your time too." That made me smile. 

    While on the top of grading, I also explained standard-based grading and how that will work with our effort-based grading scale. So far, they all seemed to understand... so I guess, so far so good!

   Once everyone had finished their presentations, the students had to complete a self-grading form about their effort in this project. Some of the self grades were interesting, but most of the kids graded them as I would have graded them. In addition to the self grade, they also had to answer the question "Honestly, what did you think about this project". Here are some of their responses:
  • "This project was very easy and a good way to let the teacher know how we feel about school and he way we ant education to be. I hope this project makes a difference in the way we have school to a way we want to have school be."
  • "i thought it was a fantastic idea for the entire class to do i really enjoyed it"
  • "It was actually pretty fun because we got to state our opinion on what we think plus we got to talk with our friends to work together."
  • "I think the project was kind of hard because, there are a lot of choices and answers for what education looks like today and what we wanted to look like. A lot of research of What education looked like today but, a relief when me and my partners have finished our power point together."
   Now, it was not all happy mermaids and fishes, there were a few kids who did not like the project. I realized that I will never please all my kids, but I was surprised that there were a handful of kids who did not like this project. Here were some of their responses:
  • "To be completely honest it was boring to me but I do have to say, I did learn some new things that I didn't once know."
  • "It was pretty bad to be honest."
  • "i dont really like working on computers . so honestly didnt like it one bit. we didnt really learn much and since i have been so busy at home that i didnt have time to get on the computer at home."
  • "I personally did not like this project we did not learn anything about math in this project and this is a math class. I like it better when we do accelerated math that's what this class is all about"
     I can't please them all. I told them, you get out of your education what you put into it. Maybe these kids just did not put the effort into it. Or maybe they did, and they really just did not like it. Hopefully as time goes on I can get all my little merpeople on board about how doing hands-on learning will really benefit them in the future. Only time will tell! 

    Overall, I enjoyed watching the kids collaboratively create and share their ideas. Personally, I got the chance to see what they thought was important in their education. I will get to apply those ideas into this new curriculum and hopefully create a system that all the merpeople will enjoy! 

   So after all of that, I will leave you all with the one question that stumped every single one of my kids, "How do I get those who just do not care to learn to learn?"

Monday, February 29, 2016

An Open Letter to my Students

    Today was another one of those days where I was feeling a little lost. Project number one is almost done and only a few of the kids bought into this new way of learning. I started to look for some signs to ensure me that am on the right track with what I am doing here. I googled "changing education" and the first link that came up was this video:

After I watched it, I felt so much better and I was inspired. I was inspired to let my students know that we were here to change education for the better. To really kick off our new curriculum that my co-teacher and I are creating, I wrote an open letter to my students, which I wanted to share with you.

Following this letter, my students will begin group work to create a presentation about what they want to get out of their education. More details and final projects later! 

Dear Students,

We have reached a time in the world where everything is changing. You are living in an era where technology changes faster than the tides. This constant change has also sparked a change in education, and it is a change that you are going to be able to have a huge say in. You are going to shape your education and shape the way you learn.
From early on as students we were given a math formula or a scientific theory and asked plug in the answers to continue to make those things work. We read the same history books, looked at the same primary sources, and we all wrote the same essays. English teachers across the country had us all read the same books, and analyze them in the same way, we never been given the freedom to express ourselves in our own unique way. We have been living inside the box for so long, it’s time for us to get outside of the box. We are going to make the change today. And by we, I mean YOU.
Before we begin, I think it’s important that you understand how your teacher learns, and how that makes me teach the way that I do, especially in math. Since I was a child I have had more energy than I knew what to do with it… And more energy than my parents knew how to deal with. I was always moving. I found it hard to shut off my brain at night. Being quiet at home was hard, I never won the “quiet game”. Because of this, I found it hard to sit still and listen to teachers talk for long periods of time. This model of teaching just wasn't for me. I did well in school, when it came to following directions, but academically, I always kind of struggled. Math and science were the worst, I could never grasp the concepts. English wasn't too bad, and history was my favorite, but I always had a hard time with analyzing sources and finding the “author’s voice”. I loved art, ASB, yearbook, and photo. Those were the classes I looked forward to because it was easy for me to learn the way I did in those classes. School wasn't the worst, but it was not something that I looked forward to everyday.
Early on in life I knew how I learned. I was, I am, a tactile-visual learner. Meaning, I learn by doing and seeing. Things made sense when teachers spent the time with me to show me the concepts and let me work them out in front of them. I had a math tutor growing up who would always let me explain the way I thought a problem made sense. Once she understood how I saw the concept, she would do everything she could to continue to help me with problems in the way that made sense to me. Come test time, I could do the problems, but I would never do them in the teacher had taught them. I got marked down for doing problems in ways that were not the same we were taught in class. I was so frustrated in math because of this, I HATED MATH. I mean, I liked math when I was with my tutor because I understood, but as soon as I got to class, I would go back to hating it and I would shut down. Math made me cry, it caused me so much anxiety, if I had the balls to break the rules as a teenager I would have ditched math everyday. As I moved into university I realized that because I was a tactile-visual learner I needed more hands on projects to learn the concepts better. In my math for education classes we learned how to approach concepts from different angles (no pun intended) and how to teach concepts to kids like myself, who might not understand things in the most concrete of ways. Suddenly when given a hands on ap, math made sense. Don’t get me wrong, I still struggled in those university classes, but the fact that I could look at math in a different way and not be marked down for it made math so much less of a scary concept.
So my darling students, this is where this new way of learning is coming from. It’s coming from a lot of self-reflection about my learning habits, and your learning habits. Its coming from me wanting to see you do the best you can do each day and get the most out of each and every 54 minute math period. It’s coming from knowing that you might not understand the concept the first time it is explained to you. This comes from the need for me to take you away from the people who get angry at you when you don’t understand the history lecture and show them that you can learn more by than just listening to their dry lecture and doing the same worksheet they have been assigning since I was in high school. And it’s knowing that it’s okay that you don’t get it the first time. It’s that you might not want to do this particular assignment because in the way everyone else does because it makes more sense to do it another way. Or because it’s boring and you have an idea that will make it better. It’s coming from the fact that each and everyone of you is an individual and therefore, education should not made with cookie cutters, it should be sculpted by you.
Now that we have come back around to the point, this is where I tell you that your education is going to be in your hands now. I want you to be active learners and I want you to grow from your learning. You are going to create your own assignments, assessments, and tools. You will have the opportunity to create material for your peers and present that material to them. You aren't going to be graded on your test scores anymore, you are going to be graded on your drive and effort. You will be pushed into discussion about what certain concepts mean and why they are even important for you to learn at such a young age. You are going to design what your math education will look like. It’s going to be different, it’s going to be hard. But together, we are going to make math a class that you are always going to remember. You have the power now, you just have to figure out how to use it.

Are you ready? ...Let’s do this!

With Love,

Ms. Harriman

I’d like to thank a few of the teachers I had growing up who let me explore my own thoughts and had patience with me. The ones who supported me when I didn't understand and the ones who inspired me to be the person that I am today. Thanks for staying with me after school and believing in me. More importantly, thank you for giving me the strength to believe in myself enough to teach today.
Mr. Leonard (2nd grade), Tina Sardina (1st and 3rd grade), Scott Reiter (4th Grade), Kathy Kinsella (5th Grade), Anita Henderson (8th Grade math), Scott Scarbrough (7th grade history), Brian Gilwee (Photo and Yearbook), Suzie Wakefield (ASB), Keith McKee (chemistry), Stephanie Sellers (English), Tom Waldron (English), and Mr. Lieb (Algebra II), Dr. Stacy Kasendorf (USD SOLES), Dr. Jerry Ammer (USD SOLES), and Dr. Viviana Alexandrowicz (USD SOLES).

And extra special thanks to Karen Welch, my math tutor, Lynn McGrath and Perla Myers (USD Math/Liberal Studies), who let me see math in a different light and always told me it was all going to work out, even if I had to cry my way through every math problem on the page. And to the person who was my best teacher without technically ever being my teacher, Phelim O’Connell, thanks for believing me and letting me experiment with technology. It paved the way to today!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Slight Success

        After being out at PD yesterday, I was nervous to come back into the classroom today and try to get all the students back on the computers and up and running with their WebQuest. But I knew I had to just jump back in and do it. Once period 1 updated all of the computers for me (bless their little mermaid hearts), which took the whole period because we were updating 33 Chrome Books at one time. They weren't too mad about not having to start the new project, so overall, that period went well. Haha.

      Back to period 4, they did so much better! First of all, the computers worked (thanks period 1!) which made a huge difference! Amazing... haha. Before we started, we had another long talk about how the world of education is changing. The role of teachers and students will begin to change more dramatically than they think. Our conversation was fluid and really rolled into a conversation about how self-learning now will help them figure things out when they get to the real world. I had to reassure a few of them that that did not mean that they taught themselves everything while I watched re-runs of 30 Rock on Netflix during class, but it meant that they would have to go out on a limb and search for answer. No answers were going to be put in front of them. No more "list of steps" and "this is how you do it cheat sheets." For example, today we were making graphs on GoogleSheets. I told them that if they did not remember how to graph on google it would be a good idea to use YouTube and watch a video. The ones that really took off got it so well, and a few of them even had graphs done by the end of class! YAY!

     There were a few who struggled still. The one kid who wanted me to tell him where to find all the answers, and the other one who tried to do the bare minimum and tell me the assignment was completed, and the one who tried falling asleep because it was "going to be easier to do it at home". It's still not perfect... And lets keep it real... it won't ever be perfect. But the take away from today is that this Mermaid was able to make something happen. The hook got tied on the line correctly and the fishes nibbled.

    Treasure Chest is still out there, but the X is starting to become more clear!

Monday, February 22, 2016

Is There Really Treasure in the Treasure Chest?

      So, to make a long story short... I became a teacher, I found a job, and two years later I got an AMAZING co-teacher... and the two of us set out on a mission. The mission - How do we find a way to teach math in a tangible way for our students with a wide variety of learning disabilities and a complete lack of interest in math? Well, we are young and stupid (kidding, were very smart!), so naturally we came to the conclusion of "Let's change EVERYTHING we are doing".

My partner in crime!

     After lengthy discussions with my co-teacher, we thought we had a plan. It was the plan, I mean, we were going to change everything. We were going to go back to teaching the way we were taught to teach. Good bye Accelerated Math, your time has come to an end. It was time go to back and make lesson plans, present material, give homework, and have exams. It was literally EVERYTHING THEY TAUGHT US IN COLLEGE! It was perfect. We found text books, we found worksheets, I even downloaded $30 worth of worksheets from TeachersPayTeachers... We were ready for this adventure.


     With strong support from our wonderful principal and our amazing digital arts teacher, our whole idea changed. I mean seriously, IT ALL CHANGED. Why should we not embrace technology (our school is going 1-to-1 next year) and why should we not embrace common core as it should be embraced? We looked at each other and thought... Why not? Why not us? Why not now? Before I got home after that faithful meeting (I only live 12 minutes from work), I had an email in my inbox saying that there were 33 ChromeBooks on their way to my classroom so that we could begin this adventure... OMG, IT WAS HAPPENING. We were going to change everything.

    Now, by change everything, I mean change everything. We are getting ready for our students to learn and embrace the world. We are taking away a traditional grading scale, we are going to grade on effort and work completion... #GASP! We will teach our students to inquire learning in a new way. They will fend for themselves in a sense, they will run the classroom, make the rules (obvi, with some guidance from us), make the assignments, and make their own deadlines. The hope, with this odd sense of PBL, is that the kids will invest more of their time since they are the ones who have the control. Will it work... I HAVE NO IDEA! But like I said... Why not? Why not us? Why not now?

      So after all that... today we had an excellent meeting with fellow teaching rebels (we are pretty much District 13 or the teacher's version of Dumbledore's Army, if that helps explain this group of individuals) and to be honest (as I always am) I was VERY inspired. I would start today! Well, with only one class... baby steps, am I right? So I did what I thought would be simple. I made a WebQuest where my students would research sports stats and then graph them.... Simple, right? WRONG. Let's remember it's technology we are working with here. So naturally, none of the brand new computers I had would open ANYTHING I created on google for the kiddos. Then the kids discovered the messaging feature when they were all on the same page. That was a disaster! Then nothing opened once we figured out how to get around the google issue... It was 43 minutes of pure teaching torture. Noting went right. Nothing went as planned. My kiddos literally could not even open one page that I had set for them for research. Remember, mermaids DO NOT CRY, so I was trying to hold it together... MERMAIDS DON'T CRY. Finally, the bell rang. THANK TRITON! We got nothing done. NOTHING. Well, that's a lie. We figured out how to open the google doc I made with the instructions if the kids changed "drive" to "docs" in the URL, but then nothing opened after that. So... yahhhhh.... we pretty much got nothing done. On the verge of tears (again, MERMAIDS DON'T CRY) the kiddos left and I sat in my thoughts.

      Back track to my yearbook kids at the start of the year trying to figure out this new way of yearbook-ing we going to try. It was hard. It was new. The copy was a freaking pain the butt. The layouts were different and covered so much more. The kids FREAKED OUT. We had a huge discussion about failure and how failure aides our success. And in my deep thoughts (still remembering that mermaids don't cry) I suddenly remembered the quote that I had shared with them on the day they thought they were all going to cry...

So what if I failed on the first day? Every single one of my brilliant yearbook kids failed the first time they wrote their copy and did their new layout. If that group of kids can figure out failure and how to overcome it, I knew that I could too! I always knew failure would be a possibility in this mad math world, but failure does not mean that it is over. It means that there is a start. A start to change everything for the better... this mermaid is going to find a way to make it work. This mermaid is on a mission to see if there is any treasure in this vast and complex math/technology treasure chest. 

      Today, there is no treasure in that chest, but now the map to lead to treasure is starting to form...