Tuesday, March 29, 2011

How Do You Do PBL in a High School Math Class? (Part 1 of 2)


      When someone finds out I am a teacher at a New Tech school they always ask how hard it is to write projects.  When they then find out I teach algebra, geometry, and engineering in a New Tech school they ask "How do you do PBL in a math class?"  What's funny is until I was asked that the first time I never thought about it because I was told that this school is 100% PBL and the idea of NOT doing PBL never entered my mind.

     Now  I am nearing the end of my third year at our school and I have seen three years of teachers imagining, creating, and living through projects.  One of the key parts of our professional development is the requirement for each teacher to present a project they are planning on doing, or, a project they are thinking about doing, once every 2 or 3 months during our weekly faculty sessions.  Once you have examined someone's project critically and have had projects of your own examined critically the creative juices flow much more quickly.

     What follows is a quick run down on how we set up the algebra one curriculum for the 2009/2010 school year.  First, to do PBL you have got to throw out the state and district curriculum.  Now I've got your attention.  Actually, as a good teacher you NEVER deviate from the curriculum.  What you DO deviate from is any type of pacing guide or "year at a glance" that the school district has for the rest of the schools.  There are very few, if any, teachers capable of creating projects that exactly align with the pacing recommended in a text book or by a district curriculum specialist. 

     So we went to the district specialist and we told her that we would promise to incorporate all of the required content but that we needed to rearrange when the content would be introduced.  She agreed to listen to our plan and even gave us the go ahead provided we gave her our entire year planned out showing the projects and what content would be covered.  That is harder than it sounds.  We had to agree to projects many times with just a name, an idea, and the content to be included.

     Next time we start creating......

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Job Hopping a Blessing?

   As more and more teachers around the country are dusting off their resume and making sure their LinkedIn accounts are up to date, I am thinking back to my resume and how being a military spouse has affected my job searches over the years.

   I had always assumed that my resume was tinged or somehow inadequate because of all of the years of being a stay at home dad.  And, all of those various jobs teaching math and science at levels from 6th grade to college (in 4 states and 2 countries).

     But now I'm starting to see that I bring a lot of knowledge about the teaching profession to the table.   Many of the teachers I have taught with, over the years, are really, really good at their chosen profession.  A huge number of those have, inadvertently, made me feel less than perfect in the shadow of their awesomeness.   Some of those teachers are housed in the school I am in right now.  They really do have a gift for their craft.

     Now I find myself taking a step back and looking at how prepared these teachers are for starting fresh at another school or even in another profession.  That's what is happening to hundreds of teachers all around Texas and in my current town of Round Rock.   Have they taught the same subject and at the same grade level for a number of years?  Have they only been in one district their entire careers?  Have they ever moved to a different town, county, or state?  Dramatic changes to your life can and will cause an incredible amount of stress and are they ready to deal with that while looking for a job?

     Suddenly I feel ready to give them advice or, at a minimum, a shoulder to cry on and an ear to listen to their worries and fears.   My resume includes some things that are not quantifiable.  I've said goodbye to great people with the standard "I'll be back" lie.  I've walked into job interviews knowing that, once again, I'd be teaching Algebra 1 (even though I would kill to be teaching Algebra 2 or Pre-Calculus) - if they hired me.  I've taken Pedagogy tests in every state I've taught in because I needed to transfer my certification.  Even though I had to take the National Teacher's Exam for my Master's degree. 
     I've also taken the state math tests for every level from 4th through 12th grades, depending on the state, and I've gotten certified to teach Middle School science for my first teaching job (8th grade math and science) and Physics (when a high school told me they may need me to teach Algebra and Physics).  I have never had to take a test more than once to pass them and assumed that it was the case for everyone until I was taking the math test in Florida and the guy sitting next to me was taking it for the third time - I always wondered if he passed that test.

     So as I sit here at 53 having taught off and on since 1992 I am realizing that this coming year may or may not find me in the classroom.  That's up to my school district.  But, I fully plan to exercise my right to be a good friend and a good colleague to those facing the difficult facts of being laid off in an environment where no one in Central Texas is hiring.  But, those willing to travel, will find work.  There are school districts hiring in this state.  There are school districts hiring in neighboring states.  And, there are schools hiring overseas.  I fully intend to guide those seeking a job to these job openings.  If you know of a district - anywhere - that is looking for some teachers leave that information in the comments section and I will pass it on to those looking for work.  And, hopefully, I won't be looking over that list for myself.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Time To Work On Your Resume

    The current state of affairs here in the great state of Texas has me realizing that no teacher is safe and every teacher needs to start the "what if..." discussion with themselves and anyone else significant in their lives.

     Unfortunately I have seen this coming for quite a while and I have been going through the emotional roller coaster of how to deal with the thought of no income from me in the next two school years.

     That's the other thing that we Texas teachers get to deal with: The Biannual Budget.  You see we may make it through this coming school year but will money even be tighter next year forcing teacher layoffs for the 2012/2013 school year?   Will this pressure ever stop?

     So, what would I do if I could get a year or two off and (the big lie) money were no option?  Well to start with, I have been saying for about 10 years that I need another degree.  This time I need the PHD or EdD after my name.  What's great about waiting so long is that I don't have to get it in anything other than an area of interest because I'm too old to be getting it "to get the perfect administrative job."

     While working on my degree I would like to be working with an educational foundation, a higher education position (university/college), or with a company dealing with education.  That would, in my perfect world, free me up to attend conferences that matter to me but are way too expensive in both cost and time in my current world.  I would attend Educon, TCEA, ISTE, SXSWedu and SXSWi, NCTM, TED (and all of its offsprings of the TEDx variety).

     Because of how active I would be in social media and in networking at each of these conferences, I would be invited to attend other, more localized, events that I have only heard mentioned via twitter.  I would be invited to speak on conference panels and sit on panels looking at better ways to educate our children.

     Best of all I would get to meet and talk with some of the great educators I have met (virtually, via twitter) from Canada, Australia, and many more countries.  Those Canadians, in particular, would invite me up for some education talk and to see some great hockey and curling and we'd sit by the fire drinking Labatts.....Sorry, I got a bit carried away...

     Let's see, is my Linkedin up to date?....

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Thoughts on Two Days at SXSWedu

Used With Permission
     Just finished the inaugural edition of SXSWedu and I've really enjoyed myself.  There were some great, and not so great, speakers and panels but that's what you expect when you come to one of these events.  What was unique about this conference was that it was in it's first year and there were several hundred people in attendance.

     I mean, who even heard about this conference?  Who pushed it out there for people to sign up?  Certainly it was very low key in Central Texas and no one I knew was walking around saying, "are you going to SXSWedu?"  But that's the topic of a previous post. 

     In talking with people on the Advisory Board I learned that this is not the flavor that they envision in future SXSWedu's.   This conference needed to feature the Texas Education Association's (TEA) Project Share which meant that there were more tech panels than what we might see next year.  It is the hopes of the organizers that we see various strands, including tech, in future conferences so that there is a more well rounded list of panels.

    One of the things I brought up in my last post was changing the date of this event.  But, again after discussions with people, it became clear that this conference is NOT intended to compete with TCEA.  It will remain in this time frame so that those educators interested in attending SXSWi can stay in town and do both conferences.  That will give techies a chance to either do TCEA or SXSWi (or both if they're rich or live near central Texas).

    So, what did I get out of this conference?  The main thing I learned about was what the organizers at TEA had hoped for; lots of information about Project Share.  I am now a believer and I went so far as to set up a date for our Region XIII representative to come by and train our teachers on the basics of Project Share.  It really is that good and really does have incredible potential for our teachers and students.