I’ve heard that phrase more times than I can count, but I should have started counting back when I heard it for the first time, because I’m sure the number of times would have been staggering (at least I think I’m sure). Many teachers just don’t like the way school, teaching and learning are going right now. Some teachers love it, but for a lot of us, the stress of what is really a totally new job and a totally new teacher identity in a location where our profession crosses over with our home and personal lives so that we forget whether we’re supposed to be preparing a lesson or preparing a snack is leading to the inevitable…teacher burnout.
When it comes to math homework, parents often feel that they HAVE TO HELP their kids get everything right. Many parents take on the role of Untrained Math Teacher at home as well and can often undercut well planned lessons and units. This can often cause more damage, frustration and distress than we want. A major message of my book, Hacking Mathematics: 10 Problems That Need Solving, is that questioning is at the heart of learning mathematics, not answering. So here’s an infographic for you to share with parents who want to help their kids that will teach them how to promote questioning and will keep the learning in the hands of their kids and the teaching in the hands of their teachers.
Share and share and share!!!
And if you want this in another version, here you go!
I’ve been working with teachers and school districts all summer to prepare for their new reality of Distance Learning and Remote Teaching. One of the major conflicts teachers have had is that Google Meet doesn’t allow them to ANNOTATE the screen while they’re screen sharing.
The second issue was that most of their students are on Chromebooks, and when using ZOOM on a chromebook, there is no ANNOTATION feature either! So the only person able to annotate a screen during this time was a teacher who was using a PC or MAC.
Today was a hard day, for a while. Our dog, Scout, has been with us since 2007. She’s a bichon-shih tzu mix and is a sweet, docile family pet.
In fact, we’ve had fish who’ve made more of a commotion than Scout does. She hasn’t been herself, so I took her to the vet yesterday for a checkup and a grooming. This morning, when I was cleaning up an accident she had in the kitchen, the vet called to tell me that Scout was suffering from massive kidney failure. The vet mentioned a bunch of numbers that were way off the charts and suggested I bring her in. I’d anticipated that this may be coming from her recent symptoms, but nonetheless, having a conversation that included the phrase, “there’s a chance she may not recover from this,” was not high up on my Quarantine To-Do list. I woke up my wife and told her where we were going, so she got up to sit with Scout for a while before we left. Scout is still at the vet for care and observation, so I’m waiting to hear more in the next couple days.
My wife wrote on Facebook that “This has been a very difficult day.” No other details other than we’d gone outside in the rain to play for a while.
This is where something unexpected, something magical happened. Someone commented on my wife’s post with a simple, “Hang in there. Sending you all loves every time I drive up and down the street.” That person was my elementary school music teacher. She grew up a few houses up the road from where we now live and her parents still live in that house, so she visits often and brings them things they need, especially now due to Covid-19 measures. My wife is now an elementary school music teacher.
I thought to myself at that moment how funny it was that my elementary school music teacher may have played in the rain on this street, too. And that now, 30 years after leaving that school, she would reach out to my wife with a simple but strong message of kindness and support.
But it doesn’t end there. About an hour and a half later there was a knock on the door. Yes, really, a knock on the door. When I opened it, there she was…my elementary school music teacher, wearing a mask and bearing a gift. A board game she had two copies of that she thought would make a great escape for our family tonight. It’s from 1987…a year when I was a student in her class. As soon as we finished dinner the family dove in to play. It was fun, challenging, distracting, and full of the love of a kind friend. Just what we needed.
Never…NEVER underestimate the power of kindness, both in word and in deed. And never, NEVER underestimate the long lasting effect of an authentic teacher-student relationship.
To my teacher and friend, Ms. Smith, thank you. You are still the wonderful human I always knew you were and always told people you were. And thank you for modeling friendship, kindness, and connection for my children, too. At a time when we were struggling with the absence of a family member, a friend stepped in.
I get asked “What are your tips for teachers thinking about remote teaching now and into the fall” pretty often. I’ve responded in different ways and have heard some other great responses, too! But here are two perspectives I’d like us all to consider.
I hear a lot about people saying teachers need to have grace with our kids now. Let’s relax and lower expectations for our kids because we don’t have any idea what their home life is like. I agree and think this is totally on point right now. But that means teachers need to think about the kids coming to them this fall. They will be the first group of kids to have ever gone through PANDEMIC CLOSURES FOR SCHOOL. They will have missed a third of their school year! And they won’t be the same kids as the kids you usually get every year. Next year’s classes will be brand new classes. Remember this: These are not the same kids and you ARE NOT teaching the same material. Don’t take those kids who are in Algebra 1 now, walking into Algebra 2 next year and think they’re going to be prepared to take your old version of Algebra 2. They’re not. Change your curriculum. Change your approach. You’ve got a whole new world to build. I’ll help you build if you want. But we’ve got to recognize that next year our new kids can’t be treated the same as in past years just because it’s September.
The second thing I want to point out is this. I’ve seen amazing posts from teachers during all this. I see bitmoji classrooms, virtual choirs, and creative solutions to difficult problems. But hear this. A LOT of other teachers see these same things… and HATE them. Every time they see a post about things like this their stomachs turn. It’s not jealousy. It’s not actually hatred. But it may be because these posts make them feel inferior or feel like they’re not as good at their job or are less professional than those teachers who are doing them. Don’t stop posting these because we need positivity, we need creativity, and we need success stories! But, we also need to realize that a lot of teachers are feeling their identity as professionals being slapped in the face during this time. They’re unsure of themselves. They’re not sure what it’s going to be like when they go back and what people’s expectations of them are going to be. Let’s be open to understanding and considering that, thinking about those perspectives of teachers. They’re coming back into school not exactly sure who they are as a teacher anymore and not exactly sure what people expect from them and totally unsure of what the new standard for “Distinguished Teaching” is. It’s going to be powerful for us as leaders, teachers and everyone who enters a school to recognize that we are all walking into our buildings, hopefully, as CHANGED PEOPLE and each of us needs to go get to know those new people for who they are now and to go work with those people to build a new situation and a new culture at our schools, for our kids and for the future of education.
I got glasses when I was in 4th grade. I don’t remember the moment I got them and whether or not I was happy about it. I just know it happened in 4th grade because the plastic school bus that my mom hung on the wall that had all of my annual school pictures in it has me with no glasses in 3rd grade and some glasses in 4th. I’ve had glasses ever since, except for a brief stint from 11th grade to sophomore year of college where I wore contacts…also cataloged by the school bus photo collection.
The second oldest child of my four needed glasses before she was 2 years old. We noticed that she would put her face right up to stuff in order to see it and every time we’d walk more than a few steps away from her she’d cry as if we’d disappeared entirely. After realizing that it was more than just a dramatic baby, we took her to the eye doctor, then a retinal specialist, and came to learn that she’s got healthy retinas, but the most severe nearsightedness/astigmatism combo I’ve ever heard of. If you know anything about prescriptions, how does -15.5 in the left eye and -17 in the right sound to you? That means that without glasses when I’m five feet away from her, I look like this:
So when she got glasses, at 2 months shy of 2 years old, the doctors told us that we should keep an eye on her because kids usually put their glasses down and break them. Well, not this time. For likely the first time in her life she was able to see us, her room, her house, her dog, trees…everything. Never once did she break them, because she never took them off except to go to sleep, and even then she wasn’t happy about it. First thing in the morning every day her first word wasn’t “Dada” or “Mama” but instead…”Gasses”…which I assume meant glasses, unless she could see the air or something. It shouldn’t have surprised me to find out that our older daughter needed glasses a few years ago, but it did a bit. And it shouldn’t have surprised me to find out that my 8-year-old son AND 6-year-old daughter needed glasses, too, which I learned late in December of 2019. My youngest daughter has the second-worst prescription…-9.75 in her left eye.
Why is it Denis’ Glasses Story Blog Post time? Because analogies rule, and it’s now the year 2020. Everyone in my family needs vision correction. Me: Myopia and Astigmatisms, both eyes My wife: Myopia, both eyes My 15-year-old daughter: Myopia, both eyes My 13-year-old daughter: Severe Myopia and Severe Astigmatisms, both eyes My 8-year-old son: Amblyopia, left eye My 6-year-old daughter: Amblyopia, left eye
We all need vision correction. We all have vision correction for slightly different reasons and for varying severity. Professionals have studied how to fix the problems we have and have given us a range of choices to pick from; glasses, contacts, surgery, eyeball replacement (not this one). We all look back at the moment we got glasses and have said “how did I ever see without these? The world is so much more clear now.”
I write this blog for teachers and school leaders, so let me ask you teachers and school leaders this: What’s your vision for your students, your staff, your school? Is it clear? Does it need correction? Is it mildly nearsighted or blurry beyond recognition? Will you seek vision correction now, heading into the new year, or will you look back at the end of 2020 and say “I should have seen this coming.” Don’t have 2020 Hindsight. Have a clear 2020 Vision.
So, I seem to have a thing about blogging when it snows. Today is no different. We had a snow day today and I took out the snowblower to clear out the 8-10 inches of snow in my driveway. Things were going well for a while until, without explanation, the snowblower’s forward moving gear stopped working. For some, this wouldn’t be an issue, but I live on a decently steep hill and have a decently steep driveway, so without forward propulsion, I’m not going to get much snowblowing done. I took out the shovel to get going manually, but as I began to move the snowblower into the garage, I noticed that the Reverse gear was working.
Why on earth would only the REVERSE gear work? No, really, I’m asking. If you know, tweet me instructions to fix my problem @MathDenisNJ.
It was at this point that I remembered something my third grade teacher, Ms. Dalrymple, had said to me. It was January and we little third graders got to bring in one of our Christmas presents for Show ‘n Tell since back in the 80’s you could still talk about Christmas in school. I brought in my favorite gift, a remote control car my parents had gotten me. I was so excited when I opened up that gift that at age 42 I still remember it vividly. BUT…it was one of those remote control cars that wasn’t all that remote. The “remote” was connected to a wire that was connected to the car.
The interesting thing about this car is that it goes forward and backward, but only turns when it’s going in reverse. So you race ahead, back up and turn at the same time, then race ahead in a new direction. I complained a bit to Ms. Dalrymple that “it doesn’t turn when it’s driving.” Her response to me was what I remembered this morning in the driveway.
Don’t focus on what it can’t do. Make the most of what it CAN DO!
So I took the snowblower, turned it around, backed it up the driveway and let gravity and some back muscle push it down the driveway until all the snow was gone. Then I did the neighbor’s driveway, too, because even though the forward gear wasn’t working, JUST LOOK WHAT IT COULD DO!!
Teachers, as you look at your students, do you look at them for what they can’t do, or do you celebrate and make the most of what they CAN DO?
Leaders, as you look at your faculty and staff, do you look at them for what they can’t do, or do you celebrate and make the most of what they CAN DO?
What kind of culture will your school have if you focus on what the people who come through your doors every day CAN DO? Think about that, then #MakeItReal
Today I remembered my Nana. She passed away in 1994. I loved her very much and she lived with our family for the last 6 years of her life. I was 17 when she died. Of course I missed her when she died, but I didn’t really think about her life and her choices deeply and thoughtfully until today. I thought about her today because my amazing wife sent me a song that she’d heard and immediately loved, so she wanted me to hear it, too. When I listened to it, I instantly thought of my Nana. Her name is Margaret Corbett. She was born in Ireland in 1899 and came to the United States in 1921. She left her home, where she was the oldest of 13 children, to start a new life in America. She made her home in New York City, worked at an Automat, married, raised my father and his brother and sister, moved to NJ and for as long as I knew her she was the ever present matriarch of the Sheeran Family. But today, when my wife sent me this song, I realized who my Nana really was, what a brave soul she must have been, and what she sacrificed to come here. Without her strength, I would not be here. Without her courage and hope, my family would not exist. She was just 22 years old when she left her family, not sure if she’d ever see them again, to start her new life. She never saw her mother again. She never saw her father again. She never played the role of big sister to her 12 dear siblings again. It takes so much more than a momentary spontaneous decision to leave one’s homeland, family, comfort and history. It takes bravery, passion, hope, and a battle with the fear inside you that requires strength and emotion to win. I wish I’d listened to her as she told stories of her past, but I was young and unaware. She used to sing, though. She’d sing songs we were singing as a family, but when she was alone she’d sing tunes in Gaelic. The song my wife shared with me is called Erin Gra Mo Croi (Ireland of my heart). I’m sure Nana sang these words. I wish I’d listened when she sang them, because she was remembering her home. Read the words, and listen to the song below.
Ohh Erin grá mo chrói, you’re the dear old land to me You’re the fairest that my eyes did e’er behold You’re the land Saint Patrick blessed You’re the bright star of the west You’re that dear little isle so far away
At the setting of the sun, when my long day’s work was done I rambled down the seashore for a walk And I being all alone I sat down upon a stone For to gaze upon the scenes of New York
Oh Erin grá mo chrói, you’re the dear old land to me You’re the fairest that my eyes have ever seen And if ever I go home, it’s from you I never will roam You’re my own native land so far away
With the turf fire burning bright on a cold dark winter’s night And the snow flakes falling gently to the ground When Saint Patrick’s Day has come, my thoughts will carry me home To that dear little isle so far away.
Oh Erin grá mo chrói, you’re the dear old land to me You’re the fairest that my eyes have ever seen You’re the land Saint Patrick blessed You’re the bright star of the west You’re that dear little isle so far away
On the day that I did part, well it broke my mother’s heart Will I never see my dear ones anymore? Not until my bones are laid in the cold and silent grave In my own native land so far away
Oh Erin grá mo chrói, you’re the dear old land to me You’re the fairest that my eyes have ever seen And if ever I go home, it’s from you I never will roam You’re my own native land so far away You’re my own native land so far away
Hi everybody. Let’s just put this out there right now.
In fact, I’m so adamant about that, that I’ve started a hashtag on Twitter and Facebook, and maybe now Instagram called #SnowflakesAreHexagons, where I post pictures of products that use non-hexagonal snowflakes on their materials or advertising. Here are a few examples.
Please share ones you find with me using the #SnowflakesAreHexagons Hashtag!!!
That being said, feel free to read about why anytime you want to here, here or here. See?!?!
Now, here’s why I’m writing this. Many of you may be having your students make paper snowflakes in your classrooms for decorations, and many of those snowflakes WILL NOT be hexagons. That’s because your students don’t know HOW to fold them properly to make hexagonal snowflakes when they cut them out.
For the love of all that is winter, DO NOT just give them instructions like these!!
Instead, make this a true learning opportunity using student creativity, productive struggle, and the Design Process.
Have students take a piece of paper and make any snowflake they want using any type of folding procedure they want.
Reveal to them that likely none of them are hexagonal, but in Real Life…ALL OF THEM ARE!! Even show them the hashtag examples now!
In any good design process, after we develop our first idea, we get feedback, and improve our design. So the next step is to have them consider how they might make their snowflake hexagonal and attempt a redesign.
Lather, Rinse, Repeat…always repeat. Until they’ve gotten to a point where they can make a hexagonal snowflake, all along the way tracking their attempts.
The final goal, have them WRITE INSTRUCTIONS for making a hexagonal snowflake based on their experiences.
If you take this #MakeItReal approach to the #SnowflakesAreHexagons conundrum, your students will come out of it with more than just a craft to hang or take home, but potentially a deep understanding of geometry, the design process, and how learning happens.