My school’s new schedule splits eight periods into an A day and a B day with four periods each (plus advisory on Mondays and Tuesdays). My A days are very different from my B days; I teach two blocks on A days, and only one on B day. I decided to write about Thursday (which was a B day) since I had a mix of teaching and lead teacher stuff and philosophy club. So just keep in mind that this is only kind of representative of my day-to-day job experience.
Before School Starts
My alarm goes off at 5:40, I snooze once, take a shower, get dressed, pack my bag, eat breakfast, and get out the door by 6:30. I walk to the bus stop, take the bus to Chelsea, and walk the rest of the way to school. Before taking off my coat and hat, I walk into the mailroom. I put the keys to the math department Chromebook cart in Ms. Yu’s mailbox. I grab some blue paper and get in line for the copier. I make copies of quizzes (always on blue paper) for my Mathematical Foundations classes and make some copies of my do now. I head to my classroom, and settle in by logging into my computer, opening up my slides for my first period class, and having some coffee. A few Calculus students drop by. A couple students work on their problem sets (due on Friday) and ask me a question or two, a couple students ask me to retake quizzes and I print them out a retake. A couple students just use my classroom to meet before walking to class, and one student uses my counter as her second locker, dropping off her jacket every morning.
First Period – Mathematical Foundations (8:00–9:27)
The bell rings, but I hardly notice that I’m supposed to start class because so many of my students are running late. Students grab their notebooks from the counter, and I pass out two copies of the do now to each table in the hopes that students will work together. Students call me over to help or to ask, “Mister, is this right?” When they get it right, I flip it over to reveal a slightly harder problem. They were practicing multiplying linear binomials using the area model, which was a big part of this unit. By the end of the do now, most of my class has arrived, and I transition to the next activity, which I call a definition check. I use an app on my phone to randomly call on a student asking them, “What do you think when you hear _____,” filling that blank with a vocabulary word. They respond with the answer from their glossary. I call on another person and ask the same question. I repeat with a few vocab words and move on. Today, the vocab was: multiplication, factor, and product, and we connected this back to the do now: the factors are the side lengths and the product is the area. Next I passed up some algebra tiles and projected a timer with 20 minutes to show how much time students had to finish their problem sets. They had been working on their problem sets for a couple days now, and most groups had discovered a formula for completing the square. When the timer went off, I collected the problem set, and passed out a handout. Students glued/taped the handout in as page 52 in their notebooks, which took a few minutes. Then, I asked students to make a rectangle with an area of using their algebra tiles. Once they had, I clarified that when they are asked to factor, I am looking for the side lengths, which were and . I reminded them that algebra tiles are just one of three methods we have used to factor, and showed them how I would solve the same problem in two other ways. I passed out some practice problems on factoring and circulated as they tried them out. Finally, I passed out a quiz, which was their third and final attempt of the quarter to demonstrate their ability to multiply and factor polynomials. And with that, 2nd quarter came to a close.
Second Period – Intensified Algebra / Algebra 1 PLC (9:30–10:56)
When B days fall on a Wednesday or Thursday, I have two meetings called PLCs (Professional Learning Communities), and I start with the the Intensified Algebra / Algebra 1 PLC, which has five math teachers, an assistant principal, an instructional coach, and me. Today is an unusual meeting: our representative from Agile Mind has come to support us around unit planning the next unit in our Intensified Algebra courses. Our Intensified Algebra courses meet every day instead of every other day to try and give extra support to our highest-need 9th graders. This course tries to cover Pre-Algebra and Algebra 1 topics in order to get students ready to take Geometry as a sophomore. This course is the only one we offer with a curriculum that we pay for. The curriculum was designed by the Dana Center and is called Agile Mind. As part of the program, we are provided with two on-site visits by a program representative, with the today being the second. So instead of our instructional coach, the Agile Mind representative is running the show today. She passes out the test and standards for Unit 5, which is about solving linear equations and inequalities. In partners, we take the end of unit test, and then as a group, we discuss what content the test is designed to cover. I found taking a test to be pretty boring and tedious. I also found it discouraging that some of the questions were meant to preview the material in the next unit without providing a need for it. For instance, students were asked to solve a simple two-step linear equation by setting each side equal to y, making a graph/table, and finding when the graph/table had the same y-value. But there was no need to solve these problems this way, and it felt unnecessarily convoluted to me. On the other hand, taking the unit test before starting the unit is a good way to think about the big picture of the unit, which I think can be really hard the first time you teach a course.
Third Period – Algebra 2 PLC (10:59–12:51)
For my second PLC, I moved next door to work with a different assistant principal, a different instructional coach, four Algebra 2 teachers, and Wesley, who is the only one who teaches AP Statistics and Discrete Math. Right now, the Algebra 2 teachers are working on planning lessons individually for the upcoming unit, and next time, we will give each other feedback on these lessons. Hopefully, after that, all of the Algebra 2 teachers can implement all of the lessons we created and we can observe each other in the process. While they work through their lessons, I help one teacher understand some of the resources and work on planning my upcoming unit in Mathematical Foundations, which is supposed to support their work in Algebra 2. I’m thinking of focusing on radicals, and while I have some ideas, I’m still not sure how I will make that happen. After the meeting, I have 25 minutes for lunch – I eat a tuna sandwich and chat with two other math teachers.
Fourth Period – Prep (12:54–2:20)
Usually, during fourth period of PLC days, I type up some notes from the two PLCs so that the teachers who aren’t in the meeting can hear about what is happening, but today, I have a few distractions. For once, my classroom is available, and it is great to be able to work in there, but a bunch of my seniors (who don’t have a class) come by to hang out and do some work at a leisurely pace. They distract me a bit, but they are pretty entertaining too – they talk presidential politics and take an online citizenship test for fun, and I can’t help but chime in from time to time. Meanwhile, I finish writing quiz retakes for Calculus on Friday, and make some copies. I answer some emails and start writing PLC notes but don’t finish. I do some last minute prep for philosophy club and run across the street for some iced coffee, getting back to my classroom right before the bell rings at 2:20.
After School – Philosophy Club
For the last three years, I have spend my Thursday afternoons running a Philosophy Club. My students (mostly seniors and mostly my Calculus students) insist on getting food before the meeting, so we start around 2:45. We always warm up with ethical dilemmas, usually pulled from the New York Times Magazine. We discussed Should My Rich Friends Apply For Financial Aid? followed by Is My Neighbor Obliged to Report Me to Immigration? Most of my students have low-income, immigrant families, so these dilemmas were an exercise in playing Devil’s advocate, and after expressing some initial outrage and indignation, my students did a pretty good job. Next, I asked When Does Bread Become Toast? because I saw that article and it seemed like a fun way to circle back to a recurring Philosophy Club question: where do we draw the line? Their reaction was way more intense and polarizing than I could have possible imagined, and they considered the same extreme questions that I had: what about the crispy bread that isn’t yet browned? What about the burnt to a crisp bread? Are either/both of those toast? Finally, we moved on to our main topic: free will. We had a really fun conversation about this question last week, and this time, I added a new wrinkle: if we do not have free will, can we still be held accountable for our actions? After some careful consideration of that question, we read a chapter from Dostoevsky’s Notes From Underground that I though connected to the discussion about free will. We usually end philosophy club whenever the number of tangential discussions reaches a critical mass, and this week, that happened at 4:25, which is a bit later than usual. I packed up and headed home, getting there around 5:15.
At home, I took it easier than unusual, watching some TV and relaxing on the couch. I also adapted Sam Shah’s delightful activity into a Calculus problem set to give my students Friday – I won’t see them for 9 days and want them to start thinking about inflection points and have some fun doing some math. I get to bed around 10:30.