Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Where Has The Time Gone?

I create this as I am sitting through finals week at SDSU with all the student teachers. This brings me back to the memories of “boot camp” we had for two weeks in January.

(Updated 5/3) Those two sentences were all I fit in during my three-day finals schedule. School, among many other things, got the best of me during this stressful last week of school at SDSU! Naturally, I put off the final papers until the due dates as well which doesn’t help. On top of it, the championship season of track & field is around the corner next week which includes an added stress as well. Anyway, the point of this blog post is to briefly reflect on my unique experience as a student-teacher-athlete. I was fortunate enough to get a taste of what it’s like to be a high school teacher with my phenomenal cooperating teacher Mr. Mark Kreie.

(Updated 5/11) The year is now over! I am sitting in my hotel room waiting to have a 25-lap date with the NDSU track. Anyways, continuing where I left off. I am very satisfied with my experience this spring. Again, being a student-teacher-athlete was one of the most challenging and enriching experiences of my life. First, being a student this spring. I began the first two weeks of classes with a two-week “boot camp” with all of my student-teaching peers as we participated in classes every day from 8 to 4. This student portion of my journey consisted of a multitude of assignments to complete over the time-period, along with an introduction of our assignments throughout the semester. This complicated the athlete portion of my life in which I missed 3:20 practice daily.

Once boot camp was complete, I set off for my duties in the classroom, with the list of assignments lurking in the back of my mind. For the duration of the semester, I was to complete a weekly assignment, along with several larger projects due at midterm and finals. The weekly assignments consisted of lesson reflections, first, mid, and final reflections. Similarly, we had a handful of professional excellence assignments to conclude such as parent communication, two teacher evaluations, two student evaluations, a law based assignment, a management plan, a Personal Learning Objective (PLO), a stress management plan, and a unit plan. As we wrapped up the semester, we all met again for three days during finals week as I previously spoke of. During this three days, we completed any final assignments and were granted time to work on our final projects for the gallery walk. As I graduated, I now look forward to not being a student for several more years, until I pursue my Master’s Degree J

There were many reasons for why I am grateful to have been placed with Mr. Kreie, but the focal fortune was the fact that he was so considerate of my time. For those who are unaware, Mr. Kreie was quite the basketball star for the Minnesota Crookston Golden Eagles! Because of this, I feel he was sensitive to my needs as a student-athlete and assisted me in any way imaginable. When there may have been stressful periods during my life, Mr. Kreie offered to help whether it was words of wisdom, covering the online video for the day, helping me plan, etc. I got a great taste of what it’s like to be a full-time teacher with Mr. Kreie, and he enlightened me on all there is to know. Mr. Kreie was also an open book of resources. He was not protective of his resources but encouraged me to use them not only during the spring but throughout my teaching career.

I was satisfied with how easily I fell into the “groove” of working a full-time job. My body was slowly acclimating to the early mornings and potentially late nights. I remember several late Tuesday nights creating the weekly Wednesday Quiz and Quiz Retake. Similarly, there were many late nights grading tests or quizzes that I was unable to get to during my planning periods. One thing I learned, along with many other student-teachers, was how difficult it is to be productive during planning periods! At BHS, students are encouraged to visit teachers for one-on-one help during planning periods. Fortunately, this meant I experienced a lot of tutoring during the semester (which I really enjoy), but unfortunately this meant no time to finish grading or planning for the next day. As a whole, I am luckier than most of my peers with the phenomenal teacher I was placed with. I had two preps, and I didn’t necessarily feel overly swamped with “teacher work” to be completed. Several days were easier or harder than most, but I enjoyed my exposure to education!

This is my most unique category in which none of my peers were able to relate to. Yes, I understand many attempted to take on part-time jobs during student-teaching, but taking part in the athletic experience is something faintly divergent. If we were to compare a sheer number of hours, I estimate nearly 20 hours of hard work dedicated to my athletic experience. This includes, but is not limited to, daily practice (including 8 AM Sunday long runs 12-16 miles), team meetings, weightlifting, core and stretching, online running log completion, training room appearances for rehab/ice bathing, etc. Now 20 hours is a heavy workload for a student who most likely is able to work only weekends, but I understand several worked on the weekdays as well. I doubt many other student-teachers worked over 20 hours per week, but if they did, I have a counter argument. (Updated 5/24) My life would have been much easier this semester if I wasn’t so self-conscious of how much sleep I was getting. Although some days are tough to get through off of 5-6 hours of sleep, I could not perform well with that amount of sleep. I did my best this semester but did not get the necessary sleep to perform at my highest level. This fact alone leaves me at a disadvantage to most other runners who are most likely not in my situation.

Another factor this semester was the time spent on my feet during the day. My legs took some time getting used to wearing dress shoes all days. Every day was a battle to get to practice on time. Practice started at 3:20 PM, and I got out of school early at 3:15 PM every day, some days later. Lastly, this is the most stress I have had to go through most likely ever in my lifetime. This makes it even more challenging to perform at a peak level.

These are not a list of excuses for why I didn’t perform better, but more so positive reassurance of how I will train for my job next year. When I stick to thinking positively, I am very satisfied with how well I balanced everything from school, a girlfriend, student teaching, competing, and having a life.

The year is finally over, the four years flew by here at SDSU. I am so grateful to have encountered so many individuals here that have changed my life. This is my last post as a student, and I apologize for length if any brave soul has read this far. This is a satisfying feeling to close the chapter of my collegiate lifestyle with this blog post. Argue with me if I am wrong, but being a Student-Athlete-Teacher will be one of the most difficult tasks I ever accomplish in my life! 

(Below are two examples (4/19 & 4/24) of hectic days this semester, but the two of many!)

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Are We Challenging Students to Their Highest Potential?

I recently wrote and reflected on my visit to Eastern Carver County school district. This school of personalized learning was interesting, to say the least, and potentially the future of public education.

[Side note: I am still unsure of the logistics that are placed within a personalized learning school, but Dan Meyer would agree that they are not necessarily better than traditional schooling. Following Dan Meyer’s blog post, I should actually be calling it individualized learning. Individualized learning looked fantastic when I saw it in play, but what if we place it in the center of inner-city public schools? I would like to see the demographics in which individualized learning is being placed. I am not placing stereotypes, but if you give this system of individualized learning to a group of students, not every student will take advantage of the freedom in an appropriate manner.]

I am curious how many students would be more challenged by a traditional school setting, than individualized learning, or vice versa. Within comments on Dan Meyer’s blog post, someone responded in regards to technology not being able to challenge students. If this were true, are we challenging students enough in the public-school system? I am curious where the line is drawn for how much we can do for the students in the high school system, especially if we want them to be prepared to take on the real world. The real world is not going to consistently remind them to turn assignments in (advisories/study hall), the real world is not going to give students the perfect problem they have been trained for. The real world is not going to have well thought out answers, so should we challenge students more often by simply giving them performance tasks that require them to think deeper? Should we provide more problems that do not yield “friendly” answers? I understand teachers incorporate such tasks, but I am not sure how often.

Unlike many millennials, I am not one to inform the world of social media on my life achievements. I have accepted a job at Parnassus Preparatory School in Maple Grove, MN. My school revolves around a classical education, the very system that created such distinguished individuals as Plato, Aristotle, etc. This system seems new but has been present for thousands of years with the exception of the recent century. These students that are challenged from a young age in a traditional classroom setting may not respond in the same manner to the challenges I have witnessed in an average public school. I am not sure what is making our students feel challenged, other than not being exposed to such problems for a majority of their lives. I have a handful of first-hand experiences I will share.


Problem number five (above) was on a recent quiz of ours that I created. I found the problem online and felt I must provide an image for the small chance students do not know what a parking garage is. I understand this is not the clearest problem, but I required the students to think slightly more than the usual problem given to them asking for a value ‘x’. If I gave students this exact problem with a labeled triangle, 90% of them would solve the problem correctly. Instead, this problem was given and the number probably drops closer to 65-75% of students answering correctly. I wish I had concrete evidence but the quizzes are already handed back. Regardless, many students had questions during the quiz of where the 130 feet goes, and what angle we are trying to find. Why did this problem give students so much trouble? As my teacher and I say, we are not “spoon-feeding” the students with this problem. This requires them to think a little further than the stereotypical math problem and problem solve.

This problem above was given on a quiz retake. I am unsure why I provided triangles with these problems, but felt it was a small factor in challenging students thinking by assuming it is a right triangle. The original quiz I created had one triangle of each: acute, obtuse, and right. The three problems above are two obtuse, and one right triangle. Out of the handful of students that tried a retake, two of them directly asked me why there was not acute triangle, and assumed they were wrong. I love when I have students second guess themselves. I often remind them to be confident in their work. This is another problem I feel is present within current education, as previously discussed. Students are given this perception that in situations like this, the answers obviously have to be one of each type of triangle. Even though two of the handful of students that retook the quiz asked me about this, I feel most of them were questioning if their answers were correct due to this fact.


Lastly, I mentioned not so “friendly” answers as another problem I have witnessed in the school system. More so, the lack of unfriendly answers within problems. It makes all of us mathematicians happy when we solve a problem that results in a whole number. The problem above was on a regular quiz, this is the key that I created. I am unsure if it was me being mean, stupid, creative, or all of the above. Unfortunately, if students do not solve for the missing sides in the order I did, then simplified radical form is not entirely possible. Thus, I created a mess for myself grading. Setting aside the poor creation of the problem, focus more on how this threw so many of my students out of wack. Most of my strong students had no problem with this, at least in answering correctly. I am sure I made almost every student second guess themselves with these answers. I felt bad initially until I realized there is always a quiz retake for up to 90%! What is wrong with these answers? They are not friendly whole numbers we were hoping for, so it must be wrong right?

I love challenging my students in any way possible, especially if it means the stakes are low. Exposing students to such problems in the classroom will prepare them for a real world of problems they will be able to confidently solve, and understand it is not a problem out of the textbook waiting to yield a “friendly” answer. I look forward to beginning the next chapter of my life in classical education, and being exposed to techniques to challenge my students. As I was reading in my classical education handbook, this educational system provides students with the “tools of learning” to apply towards any challenge they are faced at in life, rather than the focused subject matter.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Is Personalized Learning the Future of Education?

(Note: This was created for a university reflection. Thus, it is rather lengthy.)

Today, I was given the opportunity to attend a paid trip with my fellow SDSU student teachers to Eastern Carver County School District in Chaska, Minnesota. We stayed overnight last night, and woke up this morning for an early arrival at Pioneer Ridge Middle School. The middle school was a fantastic example of what personalized learning looks like. We were greeted by staff members, and a personalized learning instruction coach, that guided us to what they call the “Hub” or more commonly the media center. The staff was quick to note that this middle school was much more advanced in the process of personalized learning. The district is on board with personalized learning, but every school is on a different step of the journey. Therefore, this was a great school to observe due to their highly structured personalized learning curriculum.

Our tour began with a little over an hour presentation on how personalized learning has evolved for them, and what the school day looks like. This particular middle school offers two tracks for students, thus choosing which type of learner they feel they are. There exists an Explorer and an Adventurer path. The Explorer track is more traditionally based with direct instruction at the helm of learning. On the contrary, there is the Adventurer course in which the students decide daily their class schedule. What this looks like is “Daily Dish” to begin their day and the core teachers of Language Arts, Social Studies, and Science presenting to the students what they are offering for each period of the day. During this time, the students have their choice of which classes they will attend at which time. Each class period consists of its own unique set of activities on the agenda. Below is a list of the types of “Structures & Environments” the school offers within the classrooms.

·      Seminars – Direct instruction
·      Coaching Workshops – Similar instruction and Q & A
·      Conferences – Individual meetings
·      Personal Flex – Individual work time
·      Group Flex – Collaboration as groups or to discuss learning
·      Learner Led Workshops – Learner leading an LT or a passion
·      Critical Thinking Circles – Discussion
·      Learning Hubs – Peer teaching interactions

The structure above is what’s evident within this personalized learning system constructed by the school district. Notice the two “Flex” options. The personalized approach of the flex options is that the students are able to sign up (on their phones or devices) to essentially opt out of class for a certain period. This gives them the opportunity to work on other homework if they feel their progress in the class they are flexing in is satisfactory. There are dedicated flex zones throughout the classrooms and school for students to meet or work individually. The core principal behind this system is to give students the opportunity to understand how they learn best. I also found interesting that offered in the Hub was peer tutoring. I am unsure how the students are chosen to tutor, but students are encouraged to help one another collaboratively. Lastly, I will note that the school uses standards based grading, which does not reflect behavior in any form. The administration at Pioneer Ridge Middle School feel that traditional schools include far too much influence from student behavior. As the interim principal informed us, “Kids will be kids.” They do not believe in penalizing a student’s academic performance solely for the reason of behavior.

I have produced this lengthy reflection of our visit at the middle school, but notice how math was not included within the core subjects. The math teacher within me was curious how seriously the math track is taken. To my pleasure, I feel the math program is taken rather seriously, but much more personalized in regards to pacing. There are four options for students to progress through the math program at the middle school. Included below is said four-year plan.

The beauty of this plan is that students who either struggle or excel end up either on pace or ahead of Minnesota state standards. Standardized tests also help determine which pace is suited for a learner. Math, along with the other classes offered, are taken during the other time left throughout the school day for electives. This reminds me that the middle school uses standards based grading. Not the entire school district uses standards based, but most teachers are gradually implementing a four tier “grade” for each standard. For more information on standards based, Dan Meyer has a fantastic blog post included with many resources on standards based grading.

Following a lunch break at Tommies Malt Shop, we were given a brief presentation at Chanhassen High School in what they call the Union. This is supposed to reflect a college Union in the manner of a room to just be kids. This includes a pool table, foosball table, table tennis, stereo system, couches, comfortable chairs, etc. This is a possible room to visit during flex time. The assistant principal informed us of the overwhelming process of visits and interviews necessary to construct the high school personalized learning system. This included, but was not limited to, businesses in Minneapolis to observe what the “workforce” looks like in the twenty-first century. The ending result is an identical set of furniture and classroom structure to reflect what the students may experience further on in life.

Personalized learning wasn’t quite as stressed in the high school as the middle school, but I understand why it’s not easy. In Chanhassen High School, they have what’s called a “Quad” for 9th graders. This Quad is comprised of four block periods. This is similar to the middle school system in which students choose their schedule for that four-period section. This also allows for the student-teacher interactions listed above in the middle school. Students do not have to take the Quad track if they do not wish to, but many find it beneficial to transition into high school. When I say transition, I mean that from 9th grade on, the elaborate personalized learning structure is nearly eliminated. I am sure the school would love for personalized learning to be evident among the higher grades, but it is very difficult for a system like Adventurer to be setup in the high school when only ten students may be taking a class. Due to the variety of tracks students take in high school, it is nearly impossible to treat the entire school in a similar manner as the Quad.

Although the structure isn’t identical, personalized learning still exists in the high school. There are spaces called “caves” throughout the school placed underneath staircases and sheltered areas where students can work on schoolwork. This is due to our desire as young kids to build “forts” and hangout under them. Even as high schoolers, they enjoy being in their “sheltered” space to focus. These spaces may be typically occupied by students who are “flexing.” Similar to the middle school, the students have an electronic scheduling system in which they may choose to flex out of a class, as long as the teacher chooses not to lock them from doing so. In relation to the students choosing to flex, there are dedicated spaces on the upstairs level of the high school for productive behavior. The first of which (pictured below) is what they call the “Garage.” This is a room dedicated for student tutoring/collaboration. Similarly, the “L” is and L shaped room connected to the Garage that is quiet and monitored by a teacher for assistance in whatever the students need. The classrooms are intelligently structured, students may flex, and they understand how they learn best. Evidence is submitted by each student to meet a standard; in whichever manner they desire. Personalized learning is very much so existent within the high school, and they are constantly making changes as the system is not yet perfected. Lastly, several teachers have even offered to teach five classes at once, due to the very low enrollment in very specific classes, such as art and engineering.

Studio portion of the “L”

The assistant principal, and staff, informed us they wish someday for grades to be eliminated. It is understood that this is very difficult in today’s educational system of GPA’s and applying to universities. Administration fully believes this is what’s best for the student’s learning and where education will eventually move towards. It took baby steps for change to occur, but the teachers were cooperative. They realized after observing teacher cooperating in the personalized learning system that they can do so as well! The district has created this community mentality, and the community provides support to this very diverse environment. There exists unending support that the pedagogical theories are very much in place, just wrapped in a different package. The students drive the bus of curriculum. A commonly asked question in Eastern Carver County is, “What’s best for your learning?” Students understand they have the choice, and know what is and is not a wise educational decision. Therefore, I conclude this reflection with a few questions. Is this the future of education ten, twenty, thirty years from now? How do these students transition into very concrete college classrooms? Does this system better prepare our students for the workforce and improve collaboration skills? The answers to these questions may be found several years down the road after personalized learning has been completed by a student K-12.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

How Do We Challenge Gifted Students?

Before arriving at Brookings High School, I emailed my cooperating teacher, Mr. Kreie, on my nervousness of student teaching. As most veteran teachers would respond, he ensured me not to worry. He also strongly believed that I will be working with an intelligent group of students. I quickly realized my cooperating teacher's statement wasn't far from the truth! In a public school system teaching Geometry and Advanced Algebra 2, not every student will be on the same playing field. Although most students do their homework, study for their tests, and work as hard as a typical high schooler, there are a select few who do not do so. No, I am not talking about those who have caught the notorious "senior slack" bug, I am referring to those students who are bored in our classrooms. I believe these students are not given as much attention as they deserve.

Being enrolled in a Special Education course at SDSU, I was naturally required to purchase a textbook for the course. As expected, the book highlights many road blocks that challenge our students today in the classroom such as ADHD, Autism, Dyslexia, etc. Several of us student teachers expressed our concerns with gifted students, but failed to discuss any strategies with the professor. With No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and the recently signed successor Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), there is a stronger focus on special education than ever before. Although this is highly necessary, teachers continue to struggle on what needs to be done with the other end of the spectrum, gifted students. Through my observations at BHS, I have noticed several students who are continually "bored" in class. They work on personal projects, such as computer programs, instead of paying attention in class. This begs the question of how far should we allow these students to test out? If these gifted students, occasionally middle schoolers, were able to "test out" of mathematics through a senior level, what's next? If we have students who are in 9th grade enrolled in Calculus, what is there to teach them the rest of their high school careers? Is the solution PSEO? The difficulty with PSEO and online class enrollment is social interaction and classroom environment. If students are nearly skipping most of their high school education, they will be unprepared for the norms of college courses. If PSEO or hybrid/online courses were not the solution, what is?

 I don't know the answer to challenging gifted students, nor have I extensively researched the topic, but I have heard suggestions. Additional material given to this select group of students is an option for extra credit, but most likely a gifted student does not need the extra credit for his or her pre-existing A+. My cooperating teacher had an interesting viewpoint on this scenario in the sense that he doesn't believe the answer is to keep pushing these students further along the chronological mathematics timeline. Nor do either of us believe in online classes for gifted students. He brought up an interesting idea yesterday when the topic was briefly discussed. He said that a possibility is to provide a diagnostics test when approaching a new unit/topic in class. If a student passes the desired "cut off" score, they would study a related topic further in depth. This topic would not be common core alligned, nor something most high school students have seen in their lives. How this would operate in our classroom would be a form of team teaching. Due to the fact that there are two teachers in our classroom, I would potentially teach the majority of the class on the planned material. My cooperating teacher would then have another section of students in the back of the room exploring further, more challenging and interesting topics for the gifted students.

Again, I have not explored the options regarding this challenge. I am curious what options there are to give the attention that is needed for all levels of students.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Welcome to My Life

Who am I?

My name is Brendan Sage, and I am a student teacher at Brookings High School (BHS) through South Dakota State University (SDSU). I am from the twin cities, and my passion for mathematics began in high school with the completion of numerous advanced mathematics and calculus courses.

After frequently being asked whether I would pursue the teaching profession, I continually responded with a look of disgust. In high school, I felt I had no patience or interest in order to teach. Long story short, I enrolled at SDSU with the mindset of working in my cubicle as an actuary for the remainder of my life. Following a presentation conducted by Dr. Larson & Dr. Vestal of the SDSU Math Ed. program, I found that my passion for education was alive, I just had to dig deep to find it. Once my eyes were opened, I woke up everyday more and more excited to become a high school mathematics teacher such as the role models I had during my high school experience.

I have completed my long journey of jumping through the hoops of the university program, and I now find myself here at BHS intrigued to experience what it takes to be a teacher. I have been pondering the idea of blogging as I am gradually becoming an educator. I chose to investigate blogging during a university course at SDSU focusing on stress management in education. After further review, there are many educators who believe blogging is a great way to reflect and share ideas. I have no intention of anyone reading my blogs, but I find it is a great way for me to get involved in my career!

I look forward to creating more posts in the future!