The End of Grad School!

I just submitted my last grad school assignment.  Graduation is on Friday, May 13th.

But instead of buying another cap and gown, taking a day off from school and getting up early to drive 2 1/2 hours to the university to walk, I’ve decided to stay with my students.  I’m not one for pomp and circumstance, and I’m not sure I feel that much smarter or experienced.  Maybe I’ll see if my mom wants to go out for dinner.  I’m mostly looking forward to all of the free time I’ll have now that there’s no more homework.

I’d like to thank my students, husband, family, friends and the internet for getting me through.

…mostly my husband though, for listening to all of the complaining.

The Good:

I really enjoyed my Algebra and my Geometry for teachers classes.  I had the same professor for both, and he was very good at taking the bite out of proofs.  I know that I have used a similar approach with my students after taking these classes, and I’ve seen improvement.  I don’t teach Algebra or Geometry, but helping students explain themselves has great merit in the Pre-Algebra and Physics classes.

I also enjoyed my Technology class.  I’m a bit of a geek, so I was worried that this would be a snooze like my Comp Sci requirements during my bachelors.  Even though I had this blog before taking the class, I found out that I was not quite as connected as I could be.  Sure, there were a few ‘gimmicky’ apps with minimal application that were presented, but for the most part it was a collective of teachers working together to use the technology available.  I’m sure if I took the class again, I’d find something new.  I’m not sure if I could say that about any other class I’ve taken.

It was also fun to meet other teachers and experience dorm life from the first time.  I met lots of people with different teaching styles, and it encouraged me to reach out of my comfort zone and be the type of teacher I wanted to be, instead of playing it safe and mimicking my coworkers.  That, in itself has worked wonders on my classroom management and my effectiveness as a teacher.

The Bad:

Thesis

This thing.  The Action Research Project.  Much like the comic I linked above, it went through 39 revisions.  (My goal was to keep it under 40.  Go Me!)

This project was plagued with little problems.

Because students move in and out of our school district, even though I had 40+ students sign consent forms at the end of Q1, I only had 22 students remaining in the project at the end of Q3.  The last two chapters were hard to write as a result of this small sample size.  Even though my data showed positive changes, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the small sample size was a limiting factor.

I became really sick of getting asked if I was flipping the class.  I thought my students would find the Khan videos boring, and there was no guarantee that students would have computer access outside of my class.  I used this explanation and even put it into my paper, but it still came up at every single meeting, and at the defense.

I also made the silly mistake of requesting to start my thesis project during my first year of graduate school.  I heard that sometimes the thesis takes more than a year, and I did not want to get caught doing my study during my first year in our new school building.  Turns out that my graduate program lost its funding last summer, and they decided to waive the thesis project for everyone who started the same year as me, but hadn’t started the project.  This means that people who started the same summer, not only didn’t have to write a thesis, but didn’t have to take classes during fall or spring (because they were related to the thesis).

I did have to take these classes, because I took thesis classes last year.  So I ended up being the last scraggler to finish a thesis project, one of 2 people in the fall class and the only person in the spring class.  The other students did a smaller project to make up for the credits they missed.  So I got to watch the other people in my program post their diplomas in December, knowing that I still had to take a spring class.  It didn’t work well for my motivation, but I made sure to maintain A’s.

With all of my colleagues being finished, my Saturdays this school year often boiled down to just me and the grad school requirements.  There was nobody working on the same thing to talk to.  I’d never been in such small classes, or so isolated with respect to education.  It felt lonely.

That being said, I feel that this is the most significant thing I produced during my grad school experience.  I might even be a little bit proud of it, and at the end, I’m glad I know how to do solid action research now.  I may even be crazy enough to do it again someday.  (Someday far, far away from today…)

So even though it was really frustrating to be the last one in ‘my group’ to fulfill the graduation requirements, and even though we all walk away with the same degree, I guess I’m happy to have the knowledge of writing the thesis.

The Ugly:

The first summer, we had a Calculus class and a Math/Science connection class that were taught by the same professor who would frequently ‘rage-quit’ problems halfway through.  If, in Calculus, he noticed something wasn’t working out, he became flustered.  Instead of troubleshooting the problem as teacher and class, he would get really angry, erase the board, tell us it was easy, and move on.  Closer to the end of the semester, several students in my class got so fed up with it that they demanded an explanation on a problem and did not want to let him wave it away.  He got so angry and went on an extended rant.  He pretty much told us we were all too stupid to be in the class if we didn’t understand it.

We had a test the next day.  Some students lost an entire letter grade for rounding.  The test never specified how to round or whether or not to take significant digits before.  I got lucky.  I rounded to 2 decimal places out of habit and got an A.

The Math/Science connection class was even sadder.  He simply photocopied a textbook (which I think was originally mathematics as applied to biological sciences) and had us popcorn read.  The class was 2 hours long.  Two hours, three nights a week of listening to other people popcorn read.  Occasionally we would get an assignment.  Regardless of how well we did those assignments, we all got 100% on everything.

When course evaluations came out during that class, he told us everyone was getting A’s before he left the room.  I don’t think offering grades as a bribe helped with his evaluations.  He wasn’t back the next year.

This spring, my biggest complaint is that it has been 42 days since anything has been graded in the class in which I am the only student.  It would be really nice to know if I’ve done well enough to maintain straight A’s before the gradebook closes at midnight.

My other complaint is that the content of the course is mostly busywork.

The Verdict:

Despite one crazy professor, one gigantic paper and some really boring homework assignments, I think that going to grad school was still a good idea.  It feels really cool to know I’ll get my master’s degree before 30, and I feel really lucky that I was able to be a part of a grant-funded program.

And every part of the experience, even the negative, has given me a lot to think about as I progress in my profession.

8/10, would go to grad school again.

Baby Steps toward a Paperless Physics Class…

This is a thing I’ve been secretly working on for weeks, but it has become more relevant in the last few days.

Yesterday during our daily announcements video, our principal announced that there would be no backpacks in the halls or classrooms once we move to the new school building.  (Students can bring backpacks from home and leave them in their lockers, and then pick them up and use them to take stuff home at the end.)

My freshmen seemed pretty neutral to the idea and didn’t have much to say as they watched the video.  However, my juniors in physics had a lot to say about it today.  They really wanted to know how I felt.

I understand that these are the kids who probably have 3 or 4 monster textbooks to tote around (mine being one of them).  I also understand that most of these teachers require separate notebooks or binders.  (Again, guilty as charged…)

So I was honest with them.  I asked them to look in my corner behind my desk.  There lies my green and grey plaid backpack.

“See, even you have a backpack!”

I confessed that I did.  Teacher’s editions are heavy, and carrying them around used to be a pain in the butt.

Then my second confession:  My backpack hasn’t gone home since Thanksgiving break.  I’ve switched to using the .pdf version of the textbook.  I have copies of everything on our school’s Microsoft One Drive.  It’s awesome because I can literally stop working after school, walk home with nothing, and have access to all of my resources on my home computer (if the urge to work strikes).

In my own self-contained teacher bubble, I am paperless as I plan and build assignments.  However when I get to work, I make copies and distribute textbooks like everybody else.  Our school is an older building, the wifi isn’t great.  I share my laptop cart with two other teachers.   Not every student’s phone runs the same operating system.

It was really easy to use these things as excuses as to why I couldn’t go paperless with the students!  But the more I think about it, they are just excuses and can be overcome.

We are moving to a brand new building next year so (hopefully) the wifi will be better.  The reason I mention the move is that it’s made me lazy.  I look at the things I need to pack and think ‘I just don’t wanna!’

So out of laziness, I put on my thinking cap and decided to do what I could with One Note and One Drive.  If I can digitize some stuff, I can travel lighter, right?

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Distributive Property Sliders

I’ve been working on the Distributive Property in my Transmath classes.  It’s one of my favorite lessons to teach, but it always ends up taking 3-4 days until all students are proficient.

I was going on my 3rd day of teaching Distributive Property, and I really wanted to try something different.  I was looking through my blogroll on feedly and I saw this post by MissCalcul8 which led me to this post by Restructuring Algebra.  (It’s always great to add another blog to my list.)

Anyway, I’m sure that while I used sliders in my own education, the idea of using them in my high school classes hadn’t quite occurred to me.  My transmath classes will not get to function notation this year, and I’m too impatient to bookmark blog posts and wait to use them later.

So I busted out powerpoint and made my own for distributive property.  This is what the end result looked like:

Distributive Sliders

(We flipped a coin and rolled a die to determine the signs and values of the numbers on the 5th slider)

We spent half of a class period putting the sliders together, and then spent the next day an a half sharing and solving problems that students created.

Could I have given the same amount of problems on a worksheet and said, “Pick five and solve for tomorrow?”

Of course…but this was way more fun!

Distributive Property Sliders

Let’s Play 25

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What makes a good survey?

Yesterday, I opened my work e-mail to find a survey about professional development.  We have had a lot of PD this year, and I was kind of excited to give my input.  But time got away from me, and I didn’t get to it until this morning.  In that time, the original sender of the survey said that responses to PD have been overwhelmingly positive.

There were 18 questions total.  I found two of them a little bit odd and thought I’d share.

Question 2

This question doesn’t allow for any comments.  What if I didn’t have a take-away?  What if I’ve already read this person’s books but still enjoyed seeing them?  What if it was an elementary specialist that was largely irrelevant to me as a math/physics teacher?

I look at this one and feel like it’s weighted in the positive direction.  It’s almost like there is a ‘Somewhat Uninformative’ and ‘Largely Uninformative’ option missing from the bottom of the choice list.

This later question suffers from the same problem…

Question 7

As you can see from the rows and rows of bubbles, we have seen quite a few things this year.  Now not every teacher has seen all of them, but I could offer an option on at least 10 of these PD choices.

My big problem again is the lack of a comments box.  Where can I say the things that I share on twitter?  What if I found it insulting that the speaker made fun of the tech generation (while I took notes on my phone) and appealed only to traditional methods?  What if I liked a speaker, but would like them better in a smaller setting or break-outs?  What if I wanna suggest Skypeing someone cool?

I also don’t like that I don’t have the option to say something wasn’t of use or wasn’t good information.  For example, I have repeatedly been shown how to fold a piece of lined paper in half to make t-notes…and this will revolutionize my teaching.  Where do I say that I know where to find graphic organizers online, and don’t need to be shown anymore?  (Please…)

Where can I say that I would like to talk to people who teach the same subjects, but maybe in a different area?  How do you REALLY handle diversity in a math/science class.  How do other teachers REALLY make math meaningful and hands-on?  What kinds of field trips and activities can I use to bring a science class from good to great, even though museums, theme parks and traditional outings are farther away?

So after I answered the survey I drafted and sent an e-mail.  I feel bad because I know that reading my e-mail is more work than slogging through my survey responses, but I don’t really feel like some of the survey questions captured my opinion on the subject.

The rest of the survey was fine, but I wonder how much two poorly worded questions can skew the overall results of the survey to the positive side.

And just to clarify, I believe that these two questions were an honest oversight, and not intended to adjust the results.  But if we’re going to ask for honest responses to PD, we need to make sure that the option to respond negatively is always there.

Questions?

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My Favorite Thing

MyFav

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The Last Day of First Semester, Year Four…

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#MTBOS Blogging Initiative

I, Amanda Skinner, resolve to blog in 2016 in order to open my classroom up and share my thoughts with other teachers. I hope to accomplish this goal by participating in the January Blogging Initiation hosted by Explore MTBoS.

You, too, could join in on this exciting adventure. All you have to do is dust off your blog and get ready for the first prompt to arrive January 10th!

Wish me luck!

30 Days – What does a good mentor do?

Explain:  What does a good mentor “do”?

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