Tag Archives: me

End of an Era

My digital curriculum job is dead. Long live my digital curriculum job.

As of January 7…or maybe later this week…or maybe retroactively January 1, I will no longer work for Time To Know. It’s the end of an era.

Time To Know has joined forces with McGraw-Hill Education, and as part of that relationship, I am becoming a McGraw-Hill employee. In case you didn’t know, Time To Know is a digital curriculum company based out of Tel Aviv, Israel. Most of the employees are located in Israel, and they will continue working for Time To Know. Those of us working in the United States, however, were offered to McGraw-Hill. Sort of like a dowry. Thankfully they accepted us.

In the end, I think it’s to my benefit to work for a company based out of the US, not to mention a corporation like McGraw-Hill which is able to offer employee benefits a start up like Time To Know could not afford. But before I get all chummy with my new corporate overlords, I’d like to reflect back on the past three and a half years I worked at Time To Know. It’s been an incredible experience (for the most part), and I can only hope that my time spent at McGraw-Hill will be just as rewarding.

Top 5 Reasons I Enjoyed Working at Time To Know

1. Discourse

One of the reasons I loved this job immediately is because I got to argue with people about teaching and learning. In my years as a public school teacher, I found that most of my co-teachers did not like it when I challenged their ideas. Not that I went out of my way to say they sucked or anything. I just naturally enjoy talking out lesson ideas and figuring out how to improve them. That means if I disagree with something and think that it’s not going to be best for the students, then I will stand up and say so. Yeah, that didn’t go over so well usually.

The Original US Team

No grudges. No matter how intense the meeting, we always came out as friends.

But at Time To Know? They encouraged it! I remember numerous heated meetings when I first started working with my team. The best part is that we knew that we weren’t arguing because we were mad at each other, but because we wanted to design the best instruction we could for the teachers and students. The culture at Time To Know encouraged passion and collaboration in a way I never experienced as a teacher.

I’ll be honest, you needed a thick skin to survive on my team. The first time I had to present a lesson I wrote, I was defensive, I was flushed, and my pulse was going a mile a minute. It didn’t help that the review meetings were nicknamed “shredding” because it was often the case that they would offer so much feedback that your lesson felt shredded to ribbons and you were left with a lot of rewrites. Those meetings, tough as they were at times, taught me a great deal about the power of collaboration. You can accomplish amazing things if you can get people in a room who believe in the same mission, speak their minds, and honestly listen to each other.

2. Travel

As a public school teacher, I was lucky if I got to travel to Dallas or Houston for a conference. At Time To Know I’ve traveled to Dallas and San Antonio, but I’ve also traveled to Israel, New York City, Ohio, and North Carolina. At this point I’m a bit tired of travel for work, but boy was it a great run while it lasted. Traveling to Israel is probably the highlight of my years at Time To Know. If I’m counting correctly, I’ve traveled there 5 times and I had a blast each time. Of course I was there for work, but I fit in plenty of sightseeing to make it worth it.

Jerusalem- The Old City

To be honest, I didn’t know much about Israel before I took this job, and it was never on my radar as a place I’d ever like to visit, but I have to say, if you ever have the chance to go, you should definitely take it. It’s surreal to drive down the highway and see every other exit is a place from the Bible. The country is just sopping wet with history. I’ve been to the Sea of Galilee, Nazareth, Megiddo (the site of Armageddon!), and Jerusalem, to name a few places. The great thing is that it isn’t a large country so you can see a lot in a few days.

Floatin' along

Floating at the Dead Sea while on a work trip. One of the coolest things I’ve ever done!

Be sure to go to the Dead Sea. It’s unbelievable. No matter how hard you try, you just cannot sink. Your body wants to float and it will fight you. Even trying to tread water, you’ll feel your feet being pulled out from under you and up to the surface of the water. There’s something magical about it that captured a feeling I haven’t had since I was a kid.

The Bianca - the most amazing pizza I have ever tasted

The Bianca – the most amazing pizza I have ever tasted

And of course eat plenty of delicious food. It’s one of my favorite reasons to travel after all, and Israel is one of my favorite places to eat.

3. The La-Las

LaLas

The La Las

In my office in Austin, there were at one time 6 of us on the math team and 4 amazing ladies on the Language Arts team, nicknamed the La-Las. I can’t imagine what this job would have been like without them. Whereas the math team was usually quiet and deep in thought, the La-Las could usually be heard laughing and telling stories. I’ve never met four people who enjoy working with each other as much as they do. Their specialty was bringing the whole office together for good food and good company. They organized birthday lunches, taco salad potlucks, Thanksgiving feasts, and white elephant gift exchanges. And they made great traveling companions. We’d meet up every evening in the hotel lounge to decompress and laugh together.

4. My Team

Mathinators!

The Math Team – Pure Awesome

We tried coming up with a nickname like the La-Las. We were the Mathinators or something. It didn’t stick. And it was kind of dumb. We just weren’t as cool as the La-Las.

GoGoWall

Every time we released a lesson, we placed it on the Go-Go Wall. (Our office building was next door to a strip club, and their business office used to be in our office space. Super classy!)

What we lacked in clever names, we more than made up for in pure awesome.  Over the past three years the team I led produced nearly 100 digital math lessons. And when I say lesson, I mean an hour or more of content that involves a wide variety of interactions in the classroom from whole class discussion to individual exploration. I’m proud of the work we did. We were able to meet increasingly tight deadlines without sacrificing quality.

5. The Product

I know this should probably be number one on my list of things to remember about this job, but honestly all of my other experiences trump this. As much as I love our product, I’ve always been a bit sad that I’m making lessons I don’t get to teach myself. I know several thousand students have encountered lessons I’ve designed, which is just baffling to think about, but I can’t help but selfishly think, “I want to be the one teaching those kids with our curriculum!”

I guess that speaks well of our curriculum that it’s something I want to use myself. Nowadays there are so many digital products vying for students’, teachers’, and schools’ attention. Many are criticized for isolating students by plugging them into individualized programs. There’s also a fear that technology products are trying to replace teachers. Check out Dan Meyer’s latest blog post for an example from a charter school. What I love about our curriculum is that it has always been designed to keep the teacher as an important figure in the class. We aim to augment with technology, not take away or diminish.

And that’s all I want to say about our curriculum because I don’t want anyone to think this is turning into a commercial. Suffice it to say, I’m proud of the lessons I’ve written, and I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of writing them.

Looking Ahead

T2K-MHE Team

Here’s to great success as McGraw-Hill and Time To Know join forces.

While my time as a curriculum developer at Time To Know is over, I embark on a new journey as a curriculum developer at McGraw-Hill…which is to say I’m basically doing the same job as before but my paycheck comes from someone else. I’m thankful that McGraw-Hill has faith in the work we’ve been doing, and they’re allowing us to continue without a lot of interference or unreasonable demands. If all goes well, I’ll continue to develop math lessons to be proud of, and it will be a good long while before I have to write another post like this one.

How I got where I am today

Source: Brian Stockus

As I mentioned in my first post, I was an elementary school teacher for 8 years. Towards the end of my final year, a friend suggested I apply for a curriculum designer position at the company where I now work. At the same time, my principal offered me a position teaching one subject on a compartmentalized 5th grade team. This may surprise you, but in fact it was a tough decision! Those pesky “real life”, “adult” decisions usually are. Here’s how I got where I am today.

For me it came down to responsibilities. Let’s compare the responsibilities of being a curriculum designer and being a teacher.

Source: Nationaal Archief via Flickr
No known copyright restrictions.

Digital Curriculum Designer

  • Research different ways a math concept can be taught, as well as common student misconceptions
  • Analyze state standards related to that math concept
  • Write a math lesson
  • Incorporate others’ feedback after they review my math lesson
  • Simulate teaching my math lesson, followed by incorporating feedback
  • Review the lesson once it’s produced to check for bugs

All of this work has a process and flow that moves from lesson to lesson in fairly predictable ways. Oh, and I get an hour lunch and I can go to the bathroom whenever I want. Really, whenever I want. It’s okay to be jealous.

Elementary School Teacher

  • Teaching my students
    • Presenting lessons
    • Questioning students
    • Adjusting the flow mid-lesson to adapt to my students
    • Dealing with behavior problems that occurred during the lesson
  • Grading assignments
    • Grading the assignment itself – which took varying amounts of time. Multiple choice assignments are much faster to grade than say, reading student stories, grading with a rubric, and writing constructive feedback
    • Recording grades in our computerized gradebook
    • Analyzing student data to figure out who needed more help and/or how to adjust the flow of my instruction moving forward
  • Lesson planning
    • Figuring out which standards/concepts I wanted to teach the following week in several different subject areas – writing, reading, math, science, and social studies
    • Researching materials that I could use as fodder for lessons
    • Deciding if I would use materials wholesale, or modifying materials, or starting from scratch if I couldn’t find anything I liked
    • Making any support materials I needed for the lessons – Powerpoints, transparencies, posters, etc.
    • Photocopying any materials the students would need for the lesson
  • Communicating with others
    • Responding to emails and phone calls from parents, school administrators, other teachers, and district administrators
    • Attending weekly planning meetings with my team
    • Attending scheduled or spur of the moment ARD meetings
    • Attending faculty meetings
  • Miscellaneous
    • Leading a campus committee that met once a month
    • Morning or after school duty as assigned
    • Keeping my classroom clean – filing, putting things away after a lesson
    • Creating attractive bulletin boards to show off student learning
    • Attending professional development workshops, which leads to:
    • Writing sub plans (I don’t miss this one bit)

Hmm, when you break it down like that, it makes a lot of sense why I opted for the curriculum designer position. I basically took one slice of my job as a teacher and made an entire job out of it.

When I was a teacher, I constantly struggled to do it all, and I got burned out. Considering that out of my prescribed 7:30-3:30 workday, I was with children for about 6 hours 15 minutes, I was really only hitting one of my responsibilities for most of the work day – teaching students. Thankfully, I love that part of the job. However, in order to be prepared for such an extended responsibility on a daily basis, I had to cram everything else into the remaining 1 hour 45 minutes (of which 30 minutes was lunch) or I had to find more time.

Source: Brian Stockus

In order to do all the other responsibilities, and try to do them well, I regularly came in early, stayed late, and/or took work home. I know that as a salaried employee (vs. being an hourly employee) I’m not entitled to strict 8 hour work days. By the same token, however, why is it reasonable to expect teachers to work 10-12 hours daily for 9 months of the year, not including any time spent working on the weekends? Shouldn’t weekends be reserved for recharging or bonding with family members?

The sad thing is that I liked it! For me teaching is as much of a hobby as it is a job. Look at me now – it’s the weekend and I’m reading education blogs and writing my own blog post! Maybe I could have spent less of my free time doing teacherly tasks if I was more efficient with my time or if I was willing to cut myself off instead of getting involved in just one more thing in my classroom.

So, it seems like it was a no brainer why I took my current job, but like I said, it was actually a tough decision. Here are the factors that had me consider staying as a teacher. These are also the factors that would influence me to go back to the classroom in the future:

  • School leadership. I had an excellent principal. She was supportive and a problem solver. Instead of blaming my team when students didn’t perform well on a benchmark exam, she sat us down and asked what she could do to help. Campus leadership sets the tone for the school. There’s no getting around it.
  • Focus. I would be able to focus on teaching one subject. I wanted to be good at teaching it all, and I do enjoy teaching every subject, but I just couldn’t be the expert of all of them. If I had the opportunity to plan and teach just one subject, I could invest a lot more energy in high quality lesson planning (vs. some of the seat-of-my-pants planning I used to do).
  • Collaboration. Alternatively, I would be happy coming back if I found the right team of teachers. This is a tricky thing to do however because teaching is a very personal experience as evidence by statements such as, “These are my kids. I’m the only one who knows what they need.” Or “This is the way I understand the material so this is how I’m going to teach it.” I had a team once that met every week and wrote lesson plans together. Beforehand we each took one of the subjects and planned individually. Then we shared the plans during our meeting. So, if I planned reading for the week, I would share my plans, and if someone else planned math, they would share their plans. Then we would talk about the plans and make suggestions about how to make them even better. You were still allowed to personalize for your class, but it gave the entire team common ground. More importantly it distributed the work load so that I only had to focus on the intense planning of one subject each week.

What this says to me is that teaching needs to become less isolated and more collaborative. I thrived when I had others sharing the work load with me. That’s why this whole math blogging/twittering initiative was started and why it has resonated so much with those who are just starting to participate. Instead of feeling alone with your questions about how to teach a particular concept, how to incorporate technology in the classrooms, or how to deal with that student who won’t stop talking, you can share with a community of people in the exact same situations! This builds a lot of creative energy that helps sustain all of you and hopefully makes you more resilient against burning out. The last thing we need are good teachers like all of you becoming another statistic of leaving the classroom.

What the heck does this guy do?

So I took the advice of Dan Meyer and started my own blog and Twitter (@bstockus) accounts today. I’m excited to join the mathtwitterblogosphere!

I should start by introducing myself. My name is Brian Stockus. I was an elementary school teacher for eight years in Texas. In the middle of that I went back to school to earn my Master’s degree in instructional technology. For the past three years I’ve been working for a digital curriculum company designing elementary math lessons and leading a team of instructional designers. I’m not here to advertise for my company so I probably won’t mention it much in my writing. If you’re dying to know more about it, send me a message and I’ll fill you in.

Floatin' along

Floating at the Dead Sea while on a work trip. One of the coolest things I’ve ever done!

I’ve loved my current job because it’s allowed me to spend time on something I never had nearly enough time for as a teacher – designing lessons! That should have been a key part of my job as a teacher, right? Instead I felt like I was always flying by the seat of my pants as far as lesson planning went because I was always juggling so many other responsibilities. It used to be common practice for me to invent a lesson as I showered in the morning before school, but now I’m afforded the time over several days(!) to learn about a topic, discuss it with others, make lesson drafts, and have other people review them. Sadly the trade off is that I don’t get to teach my lessons to students when I’m done, but I take what I can get. Even if this isn’t something I’ll do long term, I’m learning a lot and enjoying the ride.

Outside of my job, my partner and I are becoming licensed to foster and hopeful adopt a child in the near future. I’m excited and terrified at the same time. While I still have free time, I like to spend time outdoors gardening and indoors playing video games and reading comic books. I foresee napping being a favorite past time once we have a child. Who am I kidding? I love napping now. 🙂

Gardening isn’t always easy in Texas, but I still enjoy it.

That’s all for now. Again, I’m excited to join the ranks of math bloggers.

-Brian