Planning Versus Doing: The Planning Quandary

Along with a new year comes a fresh start, a clean slate, and a new chapter to write.

With a new page to write on, you would think that finding a topic to blog about should not be that difficult. I mean, there are so many topics that consume my everyday thoughts: making plans to be a better teacher (part of being a better PERSON), planning my professional development for this year, planning my 12 races for this year, writing effective lesson plans,  planning out the long-term process of earning my PhD, and the list goes on. So why am I having so much trouble thinking about what to post?

Maybe I am having difficulty because instead of spending my time DOING, I am spending my time PLANNING.

PlannerI am a very organized person and planning out events – from tonight’s dinner to my life-long career – is in my DNA. (In fact, my husband makes fun of me because of my inability to eat lunch without planning what I’ll be eating five to six hours later.) But, in all seriousness, I have discovered that in my world, planning often takes the front seat and the doing becomes secondary.

I have always been the girl with the detailed agenda book, multiple calendars around the house, and a desk covered in sticky notes galore (organized in rows and columns, of course). I can’t help it. I’m a planner. I like to know what I am going to be doing each day on my vacation  – hour by hour – and exactly what I will need to pack for the trip…even months out from our departure date. I had the first semester of math units planned out for this school year…last May. Yes, instead of using my full steam to teach at the end of last year, I was planning for the following year.

I don’t think I will ever be able to diagnose the reason behind this neurotic behavior or discover a cure; but I optimistically believe admittance is the first step. Does that mean that I’m on my way to being a Type B, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kinda gal? Nope. Not in this lifetime, anyway. But I think in this new year I need to start focusing on the present. I need to focus more on what I am DOING, and less on what I plan to do in the future. Because, truth be told, most of my plans change, anyway. We don’t have control of our futures. So, while planning takes a lot of the surprise and suspense out of future endeavors, it doesn’t lock everything in.

My “word” for 2015 is BETTER. My goal is to practice being a better person: wife, teacher, learner, runner, etc. But I think I need to add a word in front of that word…now, my “words” are DO, BETTER. I don’t mean act better, but act in the moment better. I must focus on the present better, and not let planning for the future get in my way of doing.

Are you a planner? Does your presence in the moment suffer from your over-planning? Share your story here or with me on Twitter, @thatmathlady. We will DO, BETTER together in 2015!

Needing Balance: We All Have Those Weeks

Thank you Avril Carpenter. I needed this.

We all have those weeks. You know, the weeks where nothing goes right? This week was mine.

This week was the 5th week of school (I teach at a school in Charlotte, North Carolina with a continuous-learning-calendar) and it was a rough one. The school week started off like any other. Teachers were told that we would begin DE Testing – a form of standardized testing – midweek. OK, no biggie. [Side note: I hate standardized testing, but it is a necessary evil (from what I’m told).]

In previous years during DE testing, the school day would be on “pause” in the morning, Tests would take place in each classroom around the school, and once students finished with their Reading or Math tests, the whole school would “unpause” and pick back up with the rest of the day. Well, this year, we tested students in their Reading and Math class blocks. Sounds like a great idea…except it made life extremely harder for the teachers. I won’t go into all the details, but many hours of instruction were unnecessarily missed this week due to testing.

In addition to that, one of my four block classes (that class) decided to start acting up beyond belief this week. They have been a bubbling volcano on the verge of erupting the past couple of weeks of school, and they finally reached their boiling point-of-no-return on Tuesday. [They are one of those groups who are more concerned with tearing each other down than building each other up, not to mention they don’t give one iota of concern about math.] That class, I have determined, is this year’s project.  I need to find a way to turn their attitudes around. However, this week wasn’t going to be the week to do that because I had bigger fish to fry…that’s right, the DE test.

On top of the DE test and that class of kiddos, I received some bad news from a project team that I am working on, had several students’ parents to call to inform them of their students’ failing math grades, had additional unplanned meetings throughout the week, and a half-marathon to train for.

Needless to say, I came home (on several occasions) this week frustrated and tired. I wanted to forget this week was evening happening and just go to bed. I probably should have done that or at least pound out some frustration on the treadmill. Instead, I made dinner, tried to stay awake to get some quality time in with my husband (because I feel guilty if I don’t) and, as a result, got into a heated mini-debate with my husband which left me even more upset and irritated. I went to bed so upset that I was still fuming when I got up the next morning. I began to blame my anger on everything – the ridiculous DE test, that contemptible class, poor scheduling, all of the time-consuming meetings, my husband – instead of looking at myself from the outside.

I stopped to think. Why had I let all these things get to me? Why was I letting it pile on now? And then I thought, what can I do to prevent this from happening again in the future

I quickly figured it out. (Jump down to This Week’s Take-Aways)

I don’t keep a journal or a diary, but I love to blog. Instead of waiting until the weekend, maybe I should have blogged about some of this stuff as it was happening. Maybe I should have skipped a few Twitter chats; or instead of watching TV with my husband, I should have read that book I was dying to finish, or I should have gone to bed so I didn’t start any arguments. Now, looking back, I realize that it is OK to take time for yourself when you need it most. Time alone in order to reflect, calm down, blog it out, etc…it isn’t selfish when you realize that taking care of yourself, in the end, will take care of your relationships with others.

I try to give my all to those who matter most to me all the time. And while I don’t see myself changing in that regard, I need to figure out a way to keep a healthy balance, especially when the tough gets going and the going gets tough. Lately, I have noticed many of my Twitter PLC commenting on a “healthy balance” as they approach the new school year. Keeping work, family and self-health in check is important, and I realized that first-hand this week.

This Week’s Take-Aways

1. Breathe. Not just to keep living, but to enjoy living. If I have learned anything from the year of yoga classes that I have taken, it is that deep breaths keep us focused on the present, which is what living should all be about.

2.  It is OK to say “No.” I have been taught this lesson multiple times in my life. Still haven’t learned it. Saying “no” to someone isn’t a bad thing, it is a necessary thing.

3. “What you allow is what will continue.”  This quote was tweeted by @Inspire_Us this week and I immediately retweeted it, thinking of that class.

4. “Sometimes you have to lose the battle to win the war.”  Another quote tweeted by @Inspire_Us this week that I really needed to get through this week. Every new day brings a new battle, and if you fight every one to the death, you won’t be left standing to win the war.

5. If you marry the right guy, he will support you through the thick and thin. I’m so lucky to have found my husband and I try to express this as much as possible. This was one of the hardest weeks I’ve had in awhile, and he never once complained about my irritability, short-temper, or inability to stay awake past 7 pm. Instead, he baked me banana meringue pudding. Now that is true love.

Mission #1 for MathTwitterBlogosphere

I really enjoyed participating in Sam Shah’s New Blogger’s Initiation last summer; so much so, that I am now participating in a new challenge: the MathTwitterBlogosphere (MTBoS) Exploration!

Before I begin, I feel like I owe my Twitter and Blogging PLN – math folk and education folk – an apology. Months ago I made a personal goal on my blog to continue to reach out to my PLN via my blog and thru Tweets while going back to the classroom. Well, I haven’t done a great job of that. Life took an unexpected turn to Busyville. I’m not going to bring you down with the list of my series of unfortunate events that has kept me away from my computer, but I don’t want my PLN thinking that I just gave up on you after a year of meeting you all!

What could be some fancy word problems for this question?

That is why I am so thankful for Sam Shah (@samjshah)  and his team of amazing MathTwitterBlogosphere groupies who have started another challenge. This challenge will hopefully give me the motivation I need to get back into the blogging realm, despite my hectic new life (which will hopefully slow down after we celebrate my husband’s birthday, I’ve run my marathon in November, and the holidays come and go). All I can say is don’t expect too much out of me…this first challenge was sent out last Sunday. It is now Saturday. I’m writing this blog just under the wire!

This first mission of Team MathTwitterBlogosphere is to respond to a prompt. Easy ‘nough:

What is one of your favorite open-ended/rich problems?

I love this prompt for two reasons. First of all, it reminded me of a great warm-up that I used to do with my students all the time, but have forgotten to use in my classroom this year! Secondly, since I had forgotten it, I have yet to share it with my PLN! Until now…

This is probably the simplest math problem there is, but the students’ answers are usually the most complicated, rich, and unique answers you’ll ever see in a math class. Before asking the question, I give students a number, equation, data table, graph, or geometrical shape. Then, I ask them the question: What is the question?

Pretty simple.

How do you use it in your classroom?

First, you write on the poster (“The Answer is…” and “What is the Question?”) and cut a hole in the middle (mine is 7″ by 10″).

Next, hang the poster up on a white board and write various answers in the middle. Students can answer on sticky notes and place their sticky notes on the board OR use Expo markers and write directly on the board around the poster! This open-ended question is interactive, challenging AND fun!

Sometimes you can give equations that students need to apply to real-world scenarios…
You could create a geometry OR temperature question from this answer!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whew! That blog post felt good. What’s next, Mr. Shah? 🙂

Why I Haven’t Been Blogging

I made some professional goals this summer, a few weeks before my year-round school year began. One of the goals was to continue blogging and reflecting on my practice. I admit that if I was being graded on my blogging, I would earn a big, fat “F”. Wow, this goal is going to be much harder to achieve than I had originally believed.

Teaching is a time-consuming profession. This is not news to any teacher out there. We spend most of our awake hours lesson planning, grading assignments, meetings, creating assessments, analyzing assessments, and, oh yeah, teaching. There are not enough hours in the day to get it all done! Yet, I made it a goal to stay in touch with the blogging world, so I am going to take advantage of this “extra” day off to blog about it. “It” being the many reasons I haven’t blogged.

Blogging requires topics to think about and then talk about. While I’ve come across many blog-worthy topics (i.e., technology in classrooms, teaching PBLs, running an after-school camp, and working in a high-poverty school) I haven’t had time to sit down and really delve into any of them on a blogging level. Until now. I would like to take this extra day, Labor Day, to blog about some new elements of my daily teaching life that have made teaching easier for me. Hopefully they will help you, too.

Prezis: Prezis are not new, but they were new to me about one month ago. I made my first Prezi (http://prezi.com/ylypmiedscwr/?utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=copy) to introduce the brand new STEAM class to our middle school students. It is much more eye-appealing than MS’s PowerPoint, and the templates are so user-friendly. www.prezi.com

Student Feedback Surveys: One best practice that I was determined to implement into my classroom this year was student feedback surveys. We already conducted one survey after our initial PBL lesson and it really helped. What I learned, though, was that students need experience in taking these surveys, and I could tell that this was the first one they had ever taken for a teacher before. Although I didn’t get the meaty responses I was looking for, I was able to get the overall big picture of my students’ likes and dislikes and some insight into the changes they would make if we were to teach this lesson again. While there are various platforms to conduct surveys, we used the free survey service provided by www.surveymonkey.com.

STEAM Education: STEAM education is a unique and powerful curricular tool to teach the sciences and arts in a project-based way. The STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) fields of professionalism and college degrees are sky-rocketing, and we need to prepare our kids for a STEAM world. U.S. State Representative Suzanne Bonamici (D-Oregon) made her voice heard earlier in 2013 with her position on STEAM: “STEAM education will foster creativity, innovation, and thinking outside the box – all of which will help our students on the path to global competitiveness.” Our world is only going to get more advanced in these areas, and students who are not exposed to sci-tech, engineering, math and design are going to fall behind. I wish all schools had a STEAM program, and it is my goal personal mission to make this brand new program a success for my school.

DonorsChoose.Org I am so thankful for this online donation organization. My principal told me about Donors Choose two months ago and I quickly signed up two projects. They were fully funded within 2 weeks. I was blessed with some donations from friends and family. But the best part were the donations made by perfect strangers who donated to my project out of the kindness of their heart. Wow! My students and I are so thankful for these donations….what an amazing organization! www.donorschoose.org

And while my blogging presence and Twitter (@thatmathlady) presence may be lacking lately, don’t think I’m not following you all and reading your blogs and Tweets! I follow my Twitter PLN every spare moment I get and try to read up on all the blogs each morning. Thank you for continuing to share with me your magic in the classroom…I hope to be able to return the favor intermittently throughout the school year! 🙂

Reasons Why Students Should Blog

First, I would like to thank Popplet.com for giving me the inspiration for this blog post. I used their free Popplet service to create a small brainstorming bubble map (above). Of course, I couldn’t just leave my thoughts limited to the bubbles, so I decided to blog about it!

I recently read a blog on edudemic’s website titled “How To Integrate Blogging Into Math Classes.” Wow, that seems like a no-brainer, but why hadn’t I ever thought about that before? What a great idea!

As you’ll see in edudemic’s blog (added by Felicia Young), sites such as Kidblog.org provide a safe environment for students and teachers to blog. I think this is a fabulous tool to get students involved in the blogging forum. While I’m not endorsing this website, I just want to share it with other educators out there who may not have heard of it and want to do something similar for their students.

Weblogs have become one of the greatest avenues of communication these days. Students need to be – and want to be – involved in this part of our virtual culture. Blogging will allow them to express their own ideas, discuss various viewpoints on a variety of topics, and, most importantly, practice their reading and writing skills. (Shh…don’t tell them the last part or they may not want to do it!) Also, blogs can be used across the curriculum. Here are some sample blogging prompts:

Math: Reflect on a math concept that was really difficult for you to fully understand. Why do you think it was so difficult to learn? What could have made it easier to learn? 150 word minimum.

Science: We just learned about the three states of matter. What would life be like if there were only two states of matter? Pick one to eliminate and reflect on how life would be different without it. 200 word minimum.

Music: What is your favorite genre or style of music? How do you feel when you hear that style of music being played?

Art: What is your favorite van Gogh painting? What makes that piece your favorite? Color, texture, movement, feeling, etc.

Language Arts: Reflect on some of the books you have read and the characters in them. Which character can you relate to the most? Why?

As you can see, some of the examples have length requirements, and others do not. I believe that should be left up to teacher discretion; some students may need that type of requirement to push them outside of their “comfort zone.”

I see my students blogging in our future. How about you?