Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Day 3: Problem Solving, Vocab and Frustration

Throughout my career in education, I have run across various teachers that make me think "Holy crap! I want to be like that!"  I look at what they do and I try horribly to emulate them.  This almost never works for a variety of reasons.  The main ones that come to mind are that I am too lazy to prepare the lessons as well as they do and that our personalities are different.  They are usually pretty nice and I am ... not.

I would like my students to do more self-directed learning, but with much of my population, that's very difficult and I'm not sure how to move them in that direction.  I think that with the Geometry class this year, that will happen.  Class today was incredible.

I'm following the curriculum that has been laid out in the high school.  It's fairly scripted, which is good since I haven't taught geometry since 2005 and the teachers who wrote it have been doing it for years.  They work very closely with the state mandated tests and know what skills are being tested.  They are also excellent teachers.  I, however, have double periods, so I can go more in depth and do more "fun" things.

I began class with the honeycomb warm-up that deals with pattern recognition and generalization.  It's the same warm-up that I use for my Math 8 class, but with slightly modified questions and a different follow-up discussion.

Several people have said it was way too wordy. I think I agree.
To answer the third question, I had a student come to the board and drag hexagons around the Promethean Board to show his solution.

After the warm-up, we did the vocabulary activity that is done at the high school.  Students were given a MASSIVE list of Algebra 1 vocab that they should know, put into groups and asked to define 10 terms in their own words, pick another 10 and write examples or pictures, then pick 5 more that they don't know.  Many of these students are self-directed learners and they worked VERY well in their groups, producing good stuff that I can put on my walls!

After that, I did the Marshmallow Challenge with them. Several of the groups jumped right in, trying various designs, having quiet, intense discussions and working VERY well.  I only had two groups that tried one design and gave up when it didn't work.

Me: "What are you guys doing right now? Where's your tower?"
Them: "We made one and it was good, but then it fell over."
Me: "That's great! It's part of the process! Find something in your design that worked and improve it, find the thing that didn't work and fix it.  Failure is acceptable. Giving up is not."

It sort of worked...

The Marshmallow Challenge is difficult for me because I have trouble refraining from giving suggestions.

I was very pleased at the successes AND the failures.  Their homework was to write at least 5 lines talking about their strategy for the group, the things that worked and the things that didn't.  I'm planning to adopt the brilliant words of Fawn Nguyen:
Full disclosure: She's one of the teachers I want to emulate.

It was an incredible class.  I'm getting more and more excited and nervous about this year.  The better they are, the easier it will be to fall behind them. :-/  Also, as soon as I assign the homework, I have Remind101 schedule a text for later in the evening so I don't forget. (LOVING this program!)

Math 8 also started VERY well.  The kids came in and, those with notebooks, began working on the warm-ups immediately.  I can tell who the chatty kids are going to be and I'll be dealing with it ASAP.  After a lengthy discussion about pattern recognition and generalization of patterns, I assigned them two problem solving tasks that I stole from the beautiful and brilliant Fawn Nguyen.  I had them work in small groups, doing the work on scratch paper and then transfer the finished product, including their process to a larger sheet of paper to be hung up in the room.

They were then given a list of vocabulary for the chapter to define.  I usually don't like this type of activity, but I've also found that these are the kinds of activities that my students will do without complaint.  I have no idea why, but they are more willing to do the tasks that require the least amount of creativity (read: most boring).  Perhaps they were trained this way.  Part of my job will be to break them of that and get them excited about the interactive and hands-on activities.

My last period did not go as well.  Two of the four groups needed constant redirection back to task and were constantly asking me for the answers.  When I refused to give them and instead asked directed questions, they gave up. This is more like what I have experienced in the school so far.

"You mean we have to draw rectangles? How many?? More than 2?!? That's too much."

After the success of the previous classes, this is very frustrating.  I need three of me in the room to make sure I'm hovering over groups at all times.  After explaining what I wanted four times, one group still claimed that they had no idea.  Perhaps if they were interested in listening.

I think a better teacher would be able to figure out how to bring them around and I will continue working on it.  By the time this period rolls around, I'm tired and I'm hot.  I know that I'm not serving them as best as I can and I hate that.

I need to find a better way and I can't let my frustration at the end of the day overshadow the joy I feel at the beginning.

New Goal: Figure out how to attach things to the painted brick walls in 80% humidity.


  1. The nice thing about the first day of school is that it's all benchmark data, there's no losing, only nguyening. If your last period was able to be persistent and self-directed on day one, then you wouldn't have anyone to teach how to be persistent and self directed. How sad! In June you'll be able to look back at them and be like, "remember when you wouldn't even draw more than two rectangles, and look at you now!"

    Just think of it this way... "I notice you're having a hard time staying on task." You get to notice! "I wonder why the heck you can't manage to draw more than 2 rectangles" How fun, now you're wondering too! "I wonder, dear student, what we're going to do with you..."

    Um also -- it kind of sounds like you had a rockstar day overall. Maybe you could just have your last and first periods swap.

    And I'm 100% useless at helping you with your new goal. Nothing I put on a wall ever stays up. Even screws and nails tend to fail on me.

    1. These are great points. I have a tendency to forget that there are supposed to be struggles to my job. We can't all be the teacher that every kid wishes to get in class and will work a million ours to impress.

      It would be nice though.

      Also, I forget that "I notice, I wonder" can apply to me as well as my students. Thanks for the comments, Max!

  2. I would think that your students are also hot and tired by the end of the day-maybe acknowledge that you're ALL hot and tired and then go on from there.

    1. I started the class by reminding them that I have been wearing long pants and a long sleeves and I know what the temperature is. I think I forget, in my own heated misery, that they are also hot and tired.

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