Thursday, April 24, 2014


I have a confession to make. I have an imaginary boyfriend. I know he is my imaginary boyfriend because when I read his books for the first time it was like we'd been friends in high school. Or like he'd been creepily eavesdropping on me and my friends to get material for his books.
Yesterday my imaginary boyfriend was named one of Time's 100 Most Influential People. I can't tell you how happy this makes me.
I love that a young adult author made the list, and I love it even more that it's John Green. 
I've always thought that if your goal as a writer is to influence people then writing for young adults is the way to have the greatest impact. The books I read as a young adult were part of shaping who I became.
Books you read when you are in your teens stay with you. They reach you right when you are examining the world, questioning assumptions you've always were confident in and trying to find where you fit. 
John Green's books give teenagers a place. Reading them I finally felt that someone was portraying teens realistically- or at least finally portraying the group of friends I had. 

Last year my friend and I were so excited to see our imaginary boyfriend in person at the National Book Festival. (Yes, we share him. It's ok. It's imaginary anyway). We thought we were getting there early to get good seats. We stumbled onto the National Mall at a ridiculously early hour only to find his tent packed with teens. Teens who got up earlier than we, the adults , to hear him. As we watched the girls collectively gasp when he reached the potium we realized with horror that he wasn't just our imaginary boyfriend. We shared him with all these teen girls. 
I was torn between wanting to yell at these girls, "Find someone your own age!  He's too old to be your imaginary boyfriend. He is mine!" and just being jealous that these kids have his books to help them through adolescence. 

If you haven't read any of his books yet I highly recommend you remedy that situation. Even if you are in your mid 30s and feel like you are too old to read teen novels. You're not.
Start with An Abundance of Katherines, followed by Will Grayson, Will Grayson. Then move on to Papertowns, a Looking for Alaska and finally let yourself absorb The Fault in Our Stars and feel remorse that you are just now reading these books. What would high school have been like if you'd had these characters to influence you? 

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Great Math Debate and the Common Core

Now that I'm on maternity leave I have a lot of time to read education blogs. Unfortunately most of this time occurs in the middle of the night. At the moment I am typing left handed on my iPhone while I hold a sleeping baby with my right. Please forgive any typos. 

I've seen a lot of posts over the last few weeks about how the common core teaches math. There have been angry parents posting their kid's homework on Facebook and Twitter, showing off just how crazy the common core really is. Outrage over their children being asked to justify their thinking is a huge part of this frustration. It's math, when you know you know, seems to be a common theme.
Here's the thing: these posts are getting people up in arms about the common core but it isn't the common core making teachers teach this way. These math methods have been around since before the core and they'll be here after it. This is how I've been taught to teach math since I began teaching and I don't teach in a common core state. 
This way of teaching math teaches children to understand numbers, not merely follow a formula. It promotes a stronger number sense that should ease children in understanding higher math in the future. Beyond math itself it teaches students executive functioning skills they need to succeed in life. We should all be able to manipulate numbers and explain our thinking. We can't tell our bosses that we made a decision because our brains told us too. We need to be able to understand our thinking so we can build on our current knowledge. If we can't explain how we got to an answer how can we apply our answer to the next step? Since I started teaching math this way I've gained a much better understanding of math myself. I'm embarrassed that I made it all the way through college calculus but didn't have "ah ha" moments in math until teaching it this new way. 

However, I strongly feel that this can't be the only way we teach math. Some kids will use this method and sail though because their working memory will quickly allow them to hold numbers, sums, and procedures in their brain while they work to find an answer. Some kids, particularly the ones I work with, the ones with special needs, have a much harder time doing so. They can follow the steps we teach and can understand the mathematical concept, but they can't always effectively "do the math." Their answers are often wrong not because they don't understand what they are doing but because they don't have any number facts memorized. They aren't automatic with their math facts, which means not only do they have to remember how to draw a number line to solve a subtraction problem, and how to explain it, but they have to remember the actual math facts. Quick facts like 1+9 or 8+7 shouldn't be something kids struggle with after it's been introduced. At some point those facts have to become automatic if we want children to be successful in math. Often when we are teaching math in this "new" way we teach students how to solve the problem, show their work and draw a math picture to show their thinking. After they can show their understanding we often move onto the next math concept without allowing our students to do more than just understand. We aren't letting them build mastery or become automatic with their number facts. When we move on to soon we leave kids with a lot of understanding but not a lot of knowing. When my students with special needs sit down to do a three digit subtraction problem they are more likely to get it wrong because they can't hold all the steps in their working memory. If they had some basic facts in their long term memory that would free up working memory space to determine how to solve the problem. 

We can't just teach one way or the other- we have to teach both. 

We also clearly need to spend more time educating parents on how we teach math and why- and more importantly/ we need parents to trust us instead of assuming the old way is always the best way. 

Frozen love

I'm a bit late to the Frozen party. OK way late, but I hadn't really paid too much attention to all the hype. Since I just now have a toddler old enough to partake in movies it's been years since I've even paid attention to movie prevuew. I kind if figure if it is big the kids will tell me about it in school.
So the other day I broke down as the perfect-what's a tv mommy?-parent and decided that the answer to having two kids while on maternity leave is to break your own rules.
"Want to watch a movie?" I asked my two year old.
"What's a movie?" She asked. 
We settled ourselves in front of the tv, the three of us cuddled together as rain pounded outside. The toddler and I shared a bowl of popcorn and sipped hot chocolate while I ordered Frozen from On Demand. (I may have been desperate...)

I LOVE this movie. I love it so much that I want to go by it and have Little Lipstick watch it once a week. It's about sisters. Who love each other.
For a two year old who is trying to comprehend why this red, screaming baby has invaded her life it is perfect. This is why your life sucks now, I want to say, because one day she won't be a screaming baby anymore. She'll be your sister and you'll love her. The movie erased all my mommy guilt about bringing this creature into my daughter's life. I'm giving her a huge gift, not just ignoring her to feed my new love.

Behind my own personal reasons I love the movie because the true sisterly love at the end is tangible for kids. They get it. They have sisters and brothers they love. They might not always have rosy relationships but they can understand sibling love. It's what they experience instead of that far off princess and prince happily ever after love they only learn about in movies. Sure Frozen has some if that, but the bigger message is about siblings. 
We need more of that- princesses love their sisters. When the love story falls apart your sister is still there for you.

And that snowman was cute too.

Sisters. Even when one is screaming her head off.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Teacher Leadership and Improving Public Ed

Yesterday Real Clear Education published a piece on the use of teacher leadership.
With all the talk on the common core, closing the achievement gap and charter schools/vouchers teacher leadership often gets lost in the shuffle. National conversation turns to taking sides on education issues instead of talking about ways to actual change what happens within schools. 

Real Clear's commentary starts by noting what I believe is the number one problem with education: 
"Many agree: to improve public schooling in America, we must attract and retain more top performing teachers. It's well documented that not enough high-performing individuals - not enough who graduate in the top third of their college classes - enter the profession of teaching today. Of those talented individuals who do enter, far too many leave within five years, for reasons ranging from the lack of long term economic rewards to limited upward mobility. So how can we address issues of professional stagnation to recruit and retain great educators?"

The way to address this, it goes on to note is through teacher leadership- when mentor or leader teachers take time to work with new teachers to improve instruction. 
I've worked in two highly collaborative schools, though with different collaborative models. Both though gave us access to coaches or specialists. This had a huge impact on instruction, how we plan our lessons, view our students' progress and determine what to do for struggling and high achieving students. Those conversations with teacher leaders  aren't a punishment or an intervention for struggling teachers. It's a culture of collaboration that improves practice and in turn student achievement. 
The article goes on to say, "There is a risk in applying the blunt instrument of business school leadership lessons in the educational setting. We should stop calling teacher leadership "teacher leadership" and consider "peer influencer."

This too is true. To make meaningful connections and collaborative relationships teachers need peer influencers as opposed to leaders. Telling someone how to teach will not have the long lasting success of telling someone why to teach a certain way, how to improve instruction, and inspiring thoughtful conversations about improving practice.

I highly recommend reading the article because it brings up excellent points about the use of using teacher leaders in schools. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Best Parenting Book Yet

The day I left for maternity leave the third graders I work with gave me the best parenting advice book I've ever received. Each third grader filled out a page themselves, predicting the baby's birth date, weight, (which reflected some CRAZY understanding of weight...  I was not carrying a 30 pound baby in case any third graders are wondering...), a list of suggested names and then parenting advice for me and Mr. Lipstick as well as big sister advice for Little Lipstick, and one hope for the baby.

Best. Advice. Ever.

 "When your baby cry's a long time it means they are really hungry and wants milk, or needs to be changed."
Big sister advice: "When you carry her in your lap remember to hold her neck on both sides so when she grows up her neck will be normal."
 I need to know more. There is a story there about a parenting warning, an infant's neck, and a big sister.

Advice to us: "Feed stuff healthy"  Yes, yes, we will try.
Big sister advice: "Learn how to change her diaper".  Yes, please. 

Advice to us: "Make sure she does not put her hands in a power socket".  Excellent advice. 

 You know many of these have to come with a back story. "Hide your expensive stuff" either comes from a parent's warning or a very disappointing moment as an older sibling. These third graders have been around the block. They know what it's like to be the older one. I just wish I was there when they'd written these so I could dig deeper into what exactly happened in their lives to make them feel that this is the most important advice they need to give my daughter.

When she cries she needs food or a diaper change, feed her healthy food, no hands in the electric socket. I think they covered all the parenting basics.

This kid knows babies.