2nd Annual STEM College Fair

college fair

Yesterday afternoon we hosted our second annual STEM College Fair. Last year we had representatives from five colleges and universities, mostly from Maine, come visit our school and talk with our students. This year there were sixteen reps from all over New England, large schools and small, liberal arts and technical, private and public, thanks to our amazing guidance colleagues.

The representatives had an opportunity to tour the building and eat lunch with some of our students, Baxter Ambassadors, who engaged in lively conversations about why they came to Baxter Academy and how they hope to continue their education beyond Baxter. After lunch there were some panel discussions that focused on the application process, what it’s like to study a STEM field at a liberal arts school, the benefits of attending a community college, how project-based learning connects to research, and what studying engineering at college is really about.  During the last hour of school, the fair was up and running with students in grades 9-11 (the 12th graders are pretty well set) roaming from table to table learning about what makes each program unique or special.

I’d like to think that in visiting our school, these reps learned what makes Baxter Academy unique and special.

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“That’s a Big Twinkie”

You know the quote. You can watch the clip.
twinkie

Yesterday I brought a box of Twinkies to class so my students could check Egon’s math. They measured twinkie dimensions and borrowed scales from the science lab. They made the classic error of not paying attention to units. And they argued – consulted – with one another. They didn’t quite finish during class yesterday. I predict that they will be somewhat surprised by the results.

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Crunch Time

May is an important time in the life of Flex Friday. It’s crunch time. Time for groups to figure out how much of their original project proposal they will be able to complete. With four Friday’s of work time left, what needs to get done and how will they make that happen?

One of the groups that I supervise on Friday’s was particularly productive this morning. Their project involves a lot of design and engineering. But they’re 9th graders, so it also involves a lot of trial and error.

Last week they realized that using the big white board in my room to brainstorm and design and share their thinking with each other really helps a lot. That’s progress.

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The Grant

So we got this grant. It’s big, for us anyway. And it’s a federal grant. We’ve tried for three years to get a federal grant and finally, we got one. We never had any start-up funds. We just jumped in and did it. What did we get this grant for? For everything that we’ve been trying to do and have to do anyway. Nice, right? It is. Really.

My part of the grant is to look at “Anytime, Anywhere” learning, streamline it, organize it, find ways to link our standards to it, and talk to the folks who are looking for ways to track it. This includes our snow day learning, Flex Friday, and alternative course work. And I get to work with a really awesome colleague to do this. Meanwhile, others will be working on dual-enrollment college courses, community service, and internships.

Because learning isn’t confined to the classroom. And learning math doesn’t have to happen in a math classroom from a math teacher. Learning how to write can happen in science class, because they are taught how to write in science class. We are working to be flexible because we are competency based. And that means that we look at evidence of what the student knows, not who the student learned from. Learning is organic and holistic.

So look for future posts about the progress of our Anytime, Anywhere learning curriculum development. It’s going to be quite a ride.

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What a day …

It was one of those days, like so many other days, when there wasn’t a moment to breathe and so much was pulling me in so many different directions. Today was the “official” Teacher Appreciation Day, according to the Google doodle, anyway. Yesterday was the day that we had bagels and I received some notes from kids and parents. Today was just hectic and crazy. Plus, we’re having a spirit week. You know, when kids (and teachers) are supposed to dress according to different themes every day and you pit classes against each other in “friendly” competition to earn meaningless “pride” points. Each morning my job is to record who is present in my Advisory and who dressed up. I predict that we come in tied for last. So far, we’ve earned 0 points, and I’m so okay with that. Can you tell I’m not a fan?

After all of this – the teaching, the lunch meeting, the guidance meeting (where I at least got to decompress a bit), the writing emails to parents, the updating RTI plans – today’s after school meeting is in content areas. That means that I get to talk about math & math teaching with a few really cool people. We’re trying to finalize our courses for next year so that we can have kids sign up. (I know, you probably did that at your school in February.) We’re still working out the kinks as we iron out issues with our proficiency-based, student-centered, balance between high demand and access for all. But that’s the good work, the work we not only need to do, but the work I signed up to do. And I am lucky that I get to do that work with good people.

So, happy Teacher Appreciation Day to all of you in the #MTBoS and beyond who keep doing this work for your students. And who every once in a while challenge me to connect with you. Thank you. I truly appreciate it.

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Classroom arguing

Today and last Thursday the same group of students was arguing with each other about the math they were learning. On Thursday, they stayed about 5 minutes into lunch to finish their argument. It was fun to listen to. They were so engaged and talking math and refining their understanding. Eventually, today, they called me over to hear their arguments and clarify any misunderstandings. Here’s the beginning of the exchange:

S1: “Let me ask you this, Pam …”

S2: “No don’t ask her that, you’ll just confuse her.”

S1: “Let me ask. She’s a teacher with a lot more experience with this stuff than we have. I bet she won’t get confused.”

My students make me smile.

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3.14.16 Pi Day & Learning

Typically, I haven’t liked celebrating Pi Day. Interrupting learning just to eat pie or recite memorized digits just seems like a waste of everyone’s time. But these are the things that students and popular culture associate with Pi Day celebrations. Today is different, though. Today, I have the chance to weave learning into Pi Day.

It’s the last week of the term, so my 3D geometry students are working on final projects. I don’t feel too badly interrupting them to have them wonder a bit about the weirdness of pi. There are lots of ideas about this in James Tanton’s Weird Ways to Work with Pi, which I was happy to find. I was wondering what “pi” would look like for regular polygons like a triangle, or a square, or an octagon. Could we even talk about pi for polygons? And then I happened upon Tanton’s book. So today, I’m asking my geometry students to consider the question, “What does pi look like for regular polygons?”

I also have a class called “Social Decision Making.” It’s about voting methods, fair division, and a bit of game theory. So, in the only class where sharing a pie among 10 people is a relevant mathematical activity, we’re going to divide a pie, fairly, for all of us. Depending on the number of students in class, we might even just use parallel cuts, to make it interesting.

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