My Favorite Podcasts: 2015 Edition

Like many of you reading this, I’m a fan of podcasts. It began several years ago when my husband and I were on a road-trip. He had downloaded a few of his favorite comedy podcasts for our trip and as soon as we listened to them, I was hooked. To this day, I love taking road-trips with my hubby and laughing along to Comedy Bang Bang (@comedybangbang), the Nerdist Podcast (@nerdistdotcom) and Aisha Tyler’s Girl on Guy Podcast.

It didn’t take me long to realize that there are podcasts out there for everyone (and I mean, everyone.) I have listened to a wide variety of different podcasts in the past two years. I have found some that I listen to religiously and others that I deleted after five minutes. [Now, I know what you may be thinking: Five minutes?! She didn’t even give them a chance! But there are too many awesome podcasts and episodes of podcasts out there to waste a mere five minutes on one that doesn’t float my podcast-boat.]

Fortunately for me, my commute for the past two years has roughly averaged 50 minutes a day for nearly 400 school days..According to my calculations, I have devoted 20,000 minutes of my life to traveling to-and-from school. While not every minute has been spent listening to podcasts, an over-whelming majority of them have been. During those 20,000 minutes, I have become slightly attached to several podcast shows that I would like to mention in this blog as some of my favorites. My hope is two-fold in that (A) you’ll be inspired to become an avid podcast listener if you aren’t one already, and (B) you’ll be encouraged to try out one of these podcasts for yourself. And, of course, I’d absolutely be tickled if you’d comment on my blog or contact me via Twitter (@thatmathlady) and share some of your favorite podcasts with yours truly!

By the way, I download all of my podcasts for free from iTunes, but you can find them online and on Android phones as well. Without further ado, here is my list of favorites for 2015:

Podcast #1: Stuff You Should Know

Of all varieties of podcasts out there, SYSK is my favorite! I listen to the hosts, Chuck and Josh, on my commute to work, while running around the neighborhood, and even while grocery shopping. What is this podcast about? Well, it basically well-equips the listener with thorough facts and unique trivia about various topics. Want to know how water slides work? What about cinnamon? You can find out about these topics as well as hundreds more – from stem cells to black holes – each week!

Ever since I have been listening to SYSK, I have been able to impress my husband (and students!) with dozens of random facts. His response whenever I drop a trivia fact out of the blue, “You’ve been listening to Stuff You Should Know again, haven’t you?” Yes. Yes, I have.

Podcast #2: Every Classroom Matters

Vicki Davis (a.k.a. The Cool Cat Teacher) and her podcast on the BAM! Radio Network was the very first K-12 podcast I found and boy, am I glad I did! Vicki Davis does a phenomenal job exploring a variety of hot topics in education today including policy issues, tech-integration, creativity, and engaging students in every classroom. She has interviewed hundreds of expert teachers and leaders in the profession and I have learned so much from their personal insights. (Side Note: A professional goal of mine is to be one of those expert teachers that Vicki Davis interviews some day!)

Podcast #3: Angela Watson’s Truth for Teachers

I found Angela Watson’s podcast after a member of my Twitter PLN raved about her book, Awakened. I began following Angela Watson (@Angela_Watson) on Twitter right away. Shortly after that, I learned about her podcast, “Truth for Teachers.” I downloaded all of her episodes at once and had caught up her entire first season within a few days. Why do I love this podcast? Ms. Watson tells it as it is. There is no sugar-coating to the troubles of this profession; however, there are classy and professional ways to handle the curveballs that are thrown at teachers on a daily basis. Watson reveals some real struggles that teachers must face on a daily basis and gives supportive suggestions to help persevere through them. Finally, I don’t feel alone in this demanding profession anymore. And you won’t either!

Podcast #4: TeacherCast Broadcasting Network

In today’s connected world, there are so many ways that teachers can utilize technology to improve their practice. But how many of our educators know what these methods are and how to use them most effectively? My goal is to integrate tech into the classroom in the most efficient ways possible. Sometimes, however, I’m still scared that I’m not doing that. Listening to Jeff Bradbury and his many techy guests on this podcast have given me a plethora of ideas and strategies to use technology with my students. While I’m still slightly intimidated by stepping up my tech game, I’m much less so thanks to this podcast!

PS – You can even watch or listen to this podcast LIVE!

Podcast #5: Serial

This 12-episode mini-series was the Game of Thrones of podcasts in the fall of 2014. Listeners could not wait to download the latest episode each Thursday and hear the new evidence that the host, Sarah Koenig, had dug up and the dots she had connected in regards to the 1999 murder this podcast was investigating. If you haven’t checked this podcast out, you still have time before Season Two of Serial is released later this year.

BONUS Podcast: BeardED

This podcast is a new addition to my list, but I felt it needed to be included in this blog post, anyway. I knew I would be a big fan of this newish podcast when – within 5 minutes of the first episode – the host, John Mason, uttered the words, “All teachers should geek out on coffee.” Truer words have never been spoken.

I haven’t met John face to face (yet) but we’ve shared many cups of coffee while chatting with our #BFC530 PLN on Twitter, Monday through Friday at 5:30 AM. I am the biggest fan of each of my #BFC530 PLN members, and I just knew John Mason’s podcast about being a connected educator would speak volumes to me. (I was right!)  Three episodes in and I have a feeling that Mr. Mason has a hit on his hands!

One Final Thought

For those of you looking to increase your podcast experience in life and need some guidance, may I suggest the #PodcastPD Twitter chats on Sunday evenings at 8:30 PM EST!

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!

The Reality of a Turn-around Math Classroom

When I made the decision 2 years ago to become a middle school math teacher, there were 3 things I knew I wanted to implement in my classroom (if possible):

1. Flipped Classroom Learning

2. Interactive Math Notebooks

3. Math Workshop

I was ecstatic when I was offered a job at in an inner-city TItle 1 K-8 school; however, I knew that, logistically, one of those elements would be missing from my classroom. (You can’t require homework to be completed through the use of technology if some of your students are homeless.) So, even though I went through the process to become “Flipped Certified,” I knew that I was having to put that dream practice on hold by taking this position. 

So that left two elements to embed into my teaching practices: IMNBs and Workshop.

I was excited to use interactive notebooks because I had heard about all of the success teachers have had with them. Not only do they, IMNBs, serve as a catch-all for everything students do in class (so students can look back at all of the artifacts they have created throughout the semester) but they also keep students organized and give them an easy way to study for their weekly & summative assessments. Bam!

The other element of my teaching practice, workshop, I knew would be a struggle to strongly implement. Let me explain why:

I learned over the summer that the cohort of 7th grade students that I would be teaching this year were 6% proficient on the 2014 state test. That is a tough number to look at. To be fair, those students had a tough year…three different math teachers (one of them being a long-term sub with very little at stake) and very little accountability for their actions. The number of referrals written for student behavior were outrageous. Very little learning took place in the math classroom. Foundational skills were lost, new concepts were ignored, and some of our students graduated the 6th grade knowing less than when they began the year. 

Whoa.

The first thing I had to do was set the norms and high expectations for these kiddos. This was not easy because it was something they were not used to having: norms and expectations. I take that back, maybe there were expectations in the past but these students didn’t know what they were. They weren’t notified when they had met or failed to meet those expectations. The only expectation they were aware of last year were to (1) show up to class, and (2) don’t cuss out the teacher. 

Expectations were explained and norms were put in place. Students took their Unit 1 pretest and scored in the neighborhood of 20%. Not bad. So Unit 1 began, as did Math Workshop.

Workshop in my class consisted of 3 or 4 stations. Independent Practice (practicing questions at the knowledge or application level), Partner Practice (on higher-level thinking problems), Small Group with the teacher, and Computers (a.k.a. online instructional videos). Students would spend 30 minutes at one station each day and rotate the next day.

While a few students thrived in this autonomous learning environment, many of my students struggled. It took me a few weeks to realize it, but I found out that they still don’t have the self-control to work independently, or the foundational knowledge and problem-solving skills to master this content on their own. I decided to let the numbers tell me if I should continue workshop. The students took the Unit 1 Post test last week and the class averages were the following:

Class A: 44%

Class B: 42%

Class C: 60%

Class D: 33%

Those may seem dismal to some of you, but I was THRILLED that all of my classes grew from averages of 20% five weeks earlier! (And if you met my kids, you’d be thrilled, too!) At the end of the day, however, those numbers just weren’t high enough for me to justify continuing Workshop at this time. I need to try something else, pull back on the reigns just a bit, and tighten up the classroom. And I realized that it is O.K. to adjust classroom practices, especially when you notice there needs to be improvement for your students’ success.

So I’m batting .333 for my dream classroom. That’s alright with me. The reality is, is that someday we will be able to bring back workshop and possibly even some methods of Flipped Classroom Learning. Unitl then, we will keep rocking out the IMNBs and keeping GROWING, because that is what education is all about!