Acceptance and Belonging

 

I just returned from TMC17 (Twitter Math Camp) in Atlanta, Georgia where I spent five glorious days surrounded by some of the best of the best in the mathematics world.  As I sit and reflect on my time there I am consumed by a feeling of love and gratitude for the amazeballs mathematicians that have welcomed me as one of their own, and who I consider to be family!

My childhood was tumultuous to say the least.  My parents had a plethora of issues.  The most challenging being mental illness and alcoholism. These challenges created many problems that resulted in us moving so often that I went to fourteen schools.  It wasn’t uncommon to find us squatting in abandoned homes with no running water or electricity.  Many days I went to school hungry and unclean.  As hard as they tried, my parents could not handle the stress that this lifestyle brought and after seven separations and divorce fillings they stopped trying. As an adult, I have a wonderful family and career.  Even so, my husband and I have lived through oil industry busts and several rounds of bad economy. We have lived in three different states in order to go where he could find work.  Always being the new person, and as a child, going to school as the dirty little transient kid in second hand clothes,  I know a little something about not being accepted or belonging.  Even after all these years, the feelings of inadequacy and unacceptance are something I struggle with.  There are very few places I go, or people I associate with that make me feel welcome, accepted and valued.  I have to work hard not to see myself through the lens of that dirty little transient kid in the corner, doing my best to be the paint on the wall.

It is with the deepest gratitude and a huge amount of awe that I find myself not only accepted and loved by this amazing community called #MTBoS, but also respected and valued as a professional.  I graduated with a BS in Special Education in 1987 and taught for four years before deciding public school was not for me.  I took about 15 years away and worked as the director of an early childhood center.  Eleven years ago I returned to public education and realized that there was so much I needed to learn in order to be the best teacher I could be for my students.  This led me seek my Masters in Teaching, Learning and Leadership with an emphasis on Elementary Mathematics Specialist.  It was while I was seeking this degree that I was introduced to the MTBoS via Levi and TMC 14.   I have only been a math nerd for three and a half years!  I am a newbie, and while I have plenty of classroom experience, I still consider myself a novice as a mathematics teacher.  In most societies, careers, and communities, I would not be seen as a viable contributor or member.  It is with the deepest gratitude, humbleness, and awe that I can say; this is absolutely NOT the case at TMC or in the MTBoS community.  I believe unequivocally that of all the communities I have ever been a part of that THIS one has been the most open, accepting, nurturing, inspiring, challenging and downright FUN that I have ever been a part of!

Where else can you go, whether virtually or in person and have professional and personal conversations with the likes of Max, Annie, Peg, Chris, Graham,  Brian, Lisa, Bob, Andrew, Tina, John, Glenn, Hedge, Christopher, Malke, Sara, Tracy, Audrey, Llana, Steve, Edmund, Carl, Stephen, Sam, Carly, Madison, Julie, LeviSadie and so many more?  These conversations, acceptance and relationships do not end the last day of Twitter Math Camp, but they extend to Twitter, Facebook, NCTM and other conference events.  Every single organization, movement, company, or collective is only as awesome as its people.  I am beyond blessed and eternally thankful that this fantabulous community exists and has taken me as one of its own.  I value the learning and growth that this collective inspires me to pursue, but even more than that I cherish the acceptance, the love, the genuine sense of inclusion that I have with my fellow math nerds.  To each of you I say thank you.  I love learning, growing and becoming with you!

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A Post a Day #8 – Getting Nostalgic #NoticeWonder Style

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I notice I can’t think about tomorrow being our last day of school.  I notice I can’t think about not seeing my students for 2 and a half months.  If I do I get teary eyed and melancholy.  My students have stolen my heart.  I notice that they have become a part of me.  They have changed me, and I am better for having been their teacher.  I also get sad because I know that so many of them have tumultuous home lives.  I notice so many of them struggle with self confidence.  So many of them wrestle with life in general because of the disabilities that challenge them in so many areas of their lives.  I wonder  if  over the next few months they will forget that they are problem solvers.  I wonder if they will get caught up in the many conflicts that they are sure to have, and forget how it feels to be in our safe and loving community.  I wonder if  they will feel alone and helpless and forget about having a growth mindset and noticing and wondering as a way to solve any problem.  I love them.  I worry for them, and I know they will continually occupy my thoughts and prayers this summer.  As the last day with my students looms tomorrow I notice I can’t wait for next school year to begin so we can pick up where we left off and continue our #NoticeWonder journey toward becoming powerful problem solvers with growth mindsets!

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A Post a Day #7 – Relationships Make a Difference

Today my eighth grade boys were called to the library to get “THE Sexually Transmitted Disease Talk.”  When they walked out of class they were full of swag, and too cool for school.  I could hear them bragging that they didn’t need this talk because they already knew all of this stuff!

A man enjoying his time while strutting some dance moves

They were gone for about 40 minutes and then the girls were called to go hear the same talk.  When the boys returned, without exception every one of them looked like this:

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Once I got them seated and calmed down they immediately began peppering me with questions that they were too afraid to ask of the school nurse.  I truthfully answered questions regarding transmission of STDs and the various protection products available.  In addition I answered questions about the way STDs can be transmitted as well as the prognosis and treatment of STDs.  I was secretly laughing on the inside about the stark difference of the boys that left my class before the “talk” and the ones that returned afterwards.  I was also thankful that they were comfortable enough and trusted me enough to boldly throw their questions at me.  I am thankful that they feel safe enough with me to do so and trust that I will answer them truthfully.  So today I am reminded that relationships really do matter with students, and if you build a safe community where everyone respects one another, that you can reach and teach students far beyond the academic requirements of state standards.  Forgive me if I giggle here and there about how quickly they lost their swagger.  Ahhh, the confidence and innocence of youth is wonderful!

A Post A Day #6 – Sometimes You Just Have to Roll With The Flow

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The plan for the day was to utilize the Movie October Sky to facilitate discussions centered around growth mindset, history and social justice.  We were also going to compare and contrast the movie with Hidden Figures.  In addition I planned to discuss the struggles each of the lead characters experienced  and how those struggles were influenced by society.

Enter a snow cone vendor showing up, sports physicals, volleyball team meetings, baseball team meetings, NJHS meetings, softball meetings, band and choir practice and an impromptu locker clean out day facilitated by the administration.  There were so many interruptions today in every hour that I gave up on discussions and just let the students watch the movie.  At the end of the day we got an email stating that the snow cone vendor will be back tomorrow, the 8th grade students will be pulled out of various classes to have “THE HIV” talk, sports physicals are not done, and that locker clean outs will continue.

The lesson for today is, breathe and roll with the flow!  Tomorrow I will allow my students to watch the remainder of the movie and hopefully on Monday we can have our discussion, or not since finals are on Tuesday.  Planning and keeping students on a schedule during the last week of school is a minute by minute endeavor!

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A Post A Day #5 Black Magic

The end is approaching way too quickly!  My students only have two full days left before the district mandated days of final exams on Monday and Tuesday.  Today the plan was to create flexahexagons, and if time allowed we were going to make origami cubes.  It turns out that time did not allow for the cubes like the ones in this video.

We began our activity by watching this Video, and then we colored these Patterns as per our individual likings.  We then reviewed these Directions and began the process of folding our flexes as directed.  I utilized my document camera and demonstrated the folds and then worked one on one with individuals when it became apparent that frustration levels were rising to an unproductive level.  By the end of each class period every student had created a successful flexagon, and I managed to keep from pulling every strand of hair out of my head.  This activity was one that we had been looking forward to for a while now.  We had tried the activity earlier in the year, but wound up ditching it because student’s frustration level was not productive and tears have no place in a math classroom!   Today many students still experienced high frustration levels and struggled, but there were no tears, no giving up and all were successful.  I was made keenly aware of several students who seem to have some serious spatial awareness challenges.  I am already thinking toward next school year and lessons or instructional routines that I can incorporate into our investigations to help students develop this ability.  I will also ask our Occupational Therapist about age appropriate activities to utilize in my classes.

The best moments of my day happened in last hour.  As students finished up their projects and flexed them for the first time you could hear loud gasps and excited voices exclaiming how cool their flexes were.  My very favorite was when one giddy young lady proclaimed with excitement and awe in her voice, “Mrs. Naegele knows black magic!”  I kind of like the idea of having magical powers and am blessed that I can still bring the wow factor even to the most skeptical middle schooler!  Oh my goodness, I LOVE these kids!  I don’t know how I am going to get through summer without them!

 

Update:  When my 20 year old daughter, who is home from college, came home from work tonight I showed her my flex.  She wanted to make one so I showed her how.  When she flexed her creation for the first time she declared that I am magic and wanted to know how I got it!  It’s a slam dunk day when you can impress your students AND your grown daughter!

A Post A Day #4 Keeping It Real

As the number of school days dwindles I find myself conflicted.  My body and mind need to be rejuvenated by the lazy days of summer, but my heart is sad for the many days I will not get to learn with my students!  I am fortunate as a special education teacher that I get to stay with my students for several years, and on the first day of school my students and I are ahead of the game because we already know and love one another!

So, as the year winds down we are engaging in some reflective activities and talking about how we have changed and grown over the year.  Today we revisited the Go Ahead, Break the Ice activity that we did the first week of school.  When we did the activity at the beginning of the year it took us an entire period to get through it, but today we launched, engaged and debriefed in less than 15 minutes.  The students reflected on the arguments that ensued at the beginning of the year because no one wanted to listen to or compromise with anyone else.  Today students employed a multitude of problem solving strategies and identified situations in real life where these skills are necessary, and were proud of the growth they have experienced this year.

We followed this activity by writing math acrostic poems.  Students were enthusiastic about sharing their creations and this teacher was moved to tears by positive growth mindset that these poems revealed.  Here are a few of my favorites:

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To cap off the class we did a “Math Is” snowball fight inspired by this blog by Math=Love. Each of us wrote three “math is: statements on a paper, crumpled it and then we all tossed them in the air.  Once everyone got a snowball we took turns reading the statements shared by our classmates.  It was touching that the students know each other well enough that they were able to identity the author even with no name on the snowball.

Some of my favorite “math is” statements were:

  • “I think math is fun now.”
  • “Math is exciting.”
  • “Math is making some people mad about it because they don’t know hard makes your brain grow.”
  • “Math is patterns.”
  • “Math is attitude.”
  • “Math is art.”
  • “Math is something I have problems with, but I have accepted it and learned.”

Of course I have to keep it real and honest so here are some that tell me I still have more work to do:

  • “Math is boring.
  • ”“Math is stupid.”

Even though these statements reflect a less than positive attitude toward math, the fact that more than one student felt safe and comfortable enough to share their negative thoughts affirm that relationships have developed and a community has been formed.  I love doing these kind of activities with my students and when so much awesome is shared it makes the nearing of the last day even more bitter-sweet!  I am going to cherish every second I have left with thESE awesome math nerds!

A Post A Day Until Summer Break #3

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Today my heart is filled with pride and joy!  I have known all year long that my students were making progress.  I could see it in their faces.  I could hear it when they explained their thinking.  I could feel it in the goose bumps I regularly got when one of them would #NoticeWonder and make conjectures, connections and express their understanding.  In short, my teacher gene was telling me that all was going well and everyone was learning and progressing.

Well, today I got definitive proof that my instincts were spot on!  I conducted my last benchmark assessment for the year as well as a math attitude survey  that was developed by Donna Boucher, and the results blew me away! Not only have ALL of my student’s standard scores improved tremendously, but their positive attitude towards math has grown exponentially!  I always believe that what I am doing works and that following a pacing guide is not necessary, but it is scary when so many around you do!  I have not formally covered everything in our standards, but I have used #NoticeWonder, Estimation 180, daily instructional routines accompanied with this form and promoted think time, problem solving and productive discourse, and my students have proved to me once again that if you stay true to the pedagogy of constructivist, discourse rich, problem solving that they will learn and love doing it!   What a fantabulous Monday!  There is only one more left in this school year!  Let’s make every day count friends!

Day 2 – A Post a Day Until Summer Break

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I am late on my post a day because Friday started at school at 7:45 am and ended at an #ECET2OK / #ECET2 conference at 9:30 pm.  Then on Saturday I was back at the conference and going strong at 7:45 am.  I have to admit that as I was getting in my car to come home Friday night I found myself wondering what in the heck I was thinking when I signed up to attend and present at this conference.  Saturday morning, as I drove away from home with my husband still cozy in bed, I was kicking myself even harder.  I couldn’t fathom what I was thinking when I applied to present at a conference so late in the school year, on Mother’s Day weekend AND on the weekend my daughter would be moving home from college for the summer.

When I got to the conference and was greeted by the enthusiastic organizers and immediately surrounded by passionate and driven educators from all over the state my mood was elevated and continued to swell throughout the day.  Presenter after presenter, keynote speaker after keynote speaker and participants galore shared themselves, inspired me and stoked my passion fire in such a beautiful way.  I have made new friends, learned from some of the best in the state, and am rejuvenated to tackle all of my goals for the summer.

Alfred Lord Tennyson said, “I am part of all that I have met.”  I am blessed to have met so many wonderful educators and learned from each of them.  I am reminded that even when I feel like I am too tired to go on, and just want the responsibilities to end for a while, if I choose the right people and the right experiences I will be fueled even while I am giving.

School’s Out For Summer – Well Almost!

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So,  my #ElemMathChat PLC has challenged me to write a post a day for the remainder of the school year.  I warned @mathkaveli AKA Jeremiah Reush, that my posts would be braggadocios because my students are blowing the ceiling off of the school with their amazingness!  I was not kidding!

Today our town was under a tornado warning which resulted in everyone going into our shelter classrooms.  One of those rooms happens to be my classroom.  I teach math to students who have disabilities.  Throughout the year we have honed our problem solving skills by utilizing #NoticeWonder and exploring and challenging ourselves to  have a  #GrowthMindset .  In this process we have practiced communication skills, tolerance, acceptance and analyzation of other’s ideas and strategies while remaining respectful of one another.  Today, in the midst of the tornado precautions, I witnessed my students putting those skills to practice while in a non-math related situation.  We were crammed in our classroom with 3 other classes of students.  The close proximity and nature of middle school students made our space feel uncomfortable and not  smell too great!

My students made me extremely proud by conducting  themselves with integrity.  They  led by example,  and each of them remained calm, respectfully quiet and did not get upset when others were clearly encroaching not only on their personal space, but also on their learning space.  These are the same students who struggled at the beginning of the year to wait their turn to speak, to listen when others spoke, and to stay calm when things were not as they expected them to be.

The lesson I took from today was:  Every minute counts.  Every day matters.  Students will learn each day  of the school year that I show up to teach and challenge them, and the lessons they learn in math class help them intellectually as well as socially.  So I may only have a few days left of this  school  year, but I am going to make the most of every minute because I have so much more I want to teach and my students are still with me 100 percent!  These kids keep my fire ignited!  I am one blessed lady!

Inspiration

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In my classroom, I have a white board that is directly behind my desk.  A very inconvenient placing makes this board useless for instructional purposes.  Thankfully there is also a whiteboard at the front of my classroom, and it gets the job done!  I have turned the board behind my desk into a shrine of sorts dedicated to people, resources and ideas that inspire me.  I include stickers, books, photos, notes, anything and everything that reminds me that I have a village out there supporting me and my practices.  I believe these connections are paramount for educators.  We must feel we are connected to the math revolution that is so much more than ourselves.  We must surround ourselves with people and ideas that fuel our passions and push us to become the best versions of ourselves possible.  Thus I have my Board of Inspiration in my classroom as a constant reminder.

Away from the classroom, I keep connected and inspired through weekly Twitter Chats with my wonderful PLN on #ElemMathChat, and I follow some amazing blogs whose authors remind me of best practices, and inspire me to take chances in my teaching.  There are times when I feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of amazing right at my fingertips!  I have to remind myself that Rome was not won in a day, and that the way you eat an elephant is one bite at a time!  In other words, take the resources as you can, and don’t beat yourself up mentally if you choose to take a night off to watch some television or veg with a good book!

Last week I went to see the amazing movie, Hidden Figures, and came away affected by the multiple messages the movie conveys.  I have been wondering how I can incorporate the movie into my lessons, and how I might tie the math we do in our class to the math that Katherine Johnson and the other mathematicians were doing in the movie. My thoughts have never been far from trying to find a way to explore the connections of  the racist and sexist experiences that Katherine and her fellow computers experienced in the movie to the trials and trauma that my students face because of their learning differences and disabilities.  I have been searching for a way to use the movie to inspire my students to continue in their development of growth mindsets.  Thankfully I did not have to wonder for very long as the bombdiggity Max Ray just happens to be one of my very favorite inspirations!  As I sat down to contemplate a possible lesson I discovered Max’s most recent publication,  A Hidden Figures Lesson Plan  a wonderful blog that brought to the surface all of the ideas that have been swimming in my mind ever since I saw the movie!

I cannot begin to comprehend the frustrations and failures that my students face because they were born with disabilities, nor can I begin to understand what it was like to be an educated black woman in the 1960s. I can look at both groups and admire them for their grit.  I can be inspired by their tenacity, and for being the example for us all to follow.  I am hoping that my students take the opportunity to reflect upon these ideas so that they realize the struggles they face are preparing them to be warriors in future setbacks they may encounter.  That if they are willing to take risks, make mistakes, struggle through the hard times, that they will become problem solvers and as Max says, “Find strength in the ways that adversity has shaped them, and  know those strengths serves each of us in our mathematical lives.”

We started the year off in grand style, exploring www.youcubed.org and the Weeks of Inspirational Math found there.  My students latched onto the ideals and beliefs they learned like their lives depended on it.  We have been desperate to find more stories, more examples of struggle that lead to success.  This movie and lesson are just what we have been craving!    I can’t wait to share Hidden Treasure:  Using Math to Shatter Barriers , Max’s lesson that I have transferred to Google Slides with them this week.  I am sure my students will be inspired by the mathematicians, and I am sure I will be inspired by my students!

Update 1/20/17

What a fantastic week with the @MNMathNerds!  I came away from this week as affected by our investigation into Max’s Hidden Figures lesson as I did from watching the movie.  We had a plethora of amazing discussions about history, science, math and social justice!  I am still processing all of the awesome that took place!  There were so many remarkable questions like, “Mrs. Naegele, why did they call the movie Hidden Figures?”  and,  “Why did people treat each other like that?” that inspired genuine and reflective discussions.  We spent time looking into the history that led to the setting of the movie.  We relished discussing the grit and integrity of the ladies spot lighted in Hidden Figures and wondered how we could use the barriers that each of us face to change our worlds.  Students shared personal and heart wrenching stories of times that life was not fair to them.  Through these personal interactions relationships and trust were fostered and strengthened.  It was a beautiful thing to be a part of!  The thoughts and realizations that came with the activity Mission Control were reflective as well as mathematical, and students begged to do the activity again!

Weekly engage in a routine I call Think it Through Thursdays.  I normally give students an answer and they are asked to create a question that could be asked to answer the question.  Last week I posed this question instead, “How do you use your frustrations and challenges with your learning differences to help you succeed in a moment of crisis?”  Here are a few of the responses I received:

“When I make mistakes I learn from them and then I grow.”

“I ask for help from someone I trust.”

“I remind myself that I am in charge of my happy.”

“I make up my mind to do it!”

“I decide that I am going to be bigger than my problem.”

“I keep an open heart.”

“I keep trying and never give up.”

“I believe in myself and don’t snap when things get hard.”

“I stand up to my problem and tackle it.”

“I help other people when they need help so I can be an example.”

“I use the pain my problems cause to make me stronger.  That is what life is about.                 You can’t just quit.”

These kids amaze me with their determination and veracity.  As I knew they would, they inspire me!