Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Day 11: Crash, Burn, Cry, Try Again

I should have known that when I was sweating through my shirt before the kids even entered the building, that it was going to be a rough day.

I hit a major stumbling block.  I hinted about this yesterday, but today it became a glaring issue.  My frustration started to get the better of me.

I began working on the project extensions from Mathalicious in all of my classes.  Mathalicious provides an amazing worksheet for the students in the form of a Project Planning Guide.  I explained to the students that it is just a guide, something to help them focus their ideas into a flow chart. I wasn't looking for specific answers to any of the questions, but rather I wanted them to fill out the planning charts in a way that direct the flow of their projects.

The geometry kids got it and worked very well.

The math 8 kids seemed to have tremendous difficulty with the concepts being asked of them.  The driving question of the activity is:

How does displaying menu items in terms of minutes of exercise, instead of calories, affect what people order?

The first question on the planning sheet is "Restate the question in your own words."  The responses that I'm getting are depressing me to no end.  Many of them are things along the lines of "how do certain exercises burn calories?" or "How many calories are in a meal?"

I tried asking directed questions, but clearly I have some gaps in my questioning skills.  I wasn't able to come up with the right question to get them to say either what I wanted, or something close enough that it even made sense.  The inability to even analyze a sentence to determine the contents is frightening to me.  I asked the class as a whole and only one person could even come close.  We tweaked it together and when we finally got something close to what it needed to be, everyone refused to write it down.

I told them that we could cover the same content doing worksheets for an hour and a half a day, 180 days a year but that I wanted to do projects and interesting content.  I got blank stares and heads down.  I had flashbacks to last year and almost had a panic attack.
I know it's going to be a long road and I'm committed to it.  I have to teach them persistence as well as myself.  I need to learn how to ask enough questions to get them to the answer I want, or one that's acceptable, but not so many that they (or I) get bored and frustrated.

I also need to remember that they aren't used to this type of assignment or project.  As I said yesterday, there will be an adjustment period, not just for them, but for me.  I think I made a huge mistake having them try it on their own, or in small groups.  With the first time we're using the form, I should have walked with them, holding hands where I needed to, perhaps through a class discussion of each piece.

At least I know what I'll be doing tomorrow!

I found myself thinking "If they can't answer these basic questions, how can I expect them to write a survey, ask people questions, compile data and display it in a coherent fashion?"  Now that they've left my room and my frustration has mostly passed, I'm able to answer that question: "I can teach them how to do those things.  I can take the time to show them the methods and help them as much as I have to."  I'm not going to give up on this project, or on doing projects.  I will teach them to struggle and to succeed.  I will teach them that hard-won accomplishments are the sweetest.

Maybe I'll even teach myself that in process.

On the other hand, maybe the fact that my room was overcrowded and unbearably hot was what lead to their lack of involvement...

8 comments:

1. Even the best teachers and most enthusiastic students will wilt at 87 degrees. Give yourself (and them) a pass for the day.

1. I figured I would. I knew it was hot, but I didn't HOW hot until the end of the day.

2. I totally get it; I've experienced a lot of that over the last week or so, putting something out there for them to pick up and run with, and having them react with varying levels of panic, disinterest, or other ... undesirable outcomes. I can also relate, today, to having unhappy flashbacks to last year.

I appreciate your determination, and I appreciate that you wrote, "Maybe I'll even teach myself that in the process." Bull's-eye. Good thing it's so early in the year--we have so much time left to work with this ... crop?

P.S. It must be rough without air conditioning--I can only imagine. BWAAA!!

3. YUCK to the icky temp!
8th is such a hard year, sometimes they can act so grown up, I forget they still need a lot of hand holding in the beginning.

1. It IS a hard year! Because they grow up so much during the year, I forget that when they come in, I'm basically dealing with 7th graders.

4. I can tell from this post how you're not thinking "oh snap! they don't know/can't do anything!" and instead focusing on "oh boy, I just learned something about them! Now I can think about helping them take the next step!" Well, once you get into a room that's not 87 degrees you can start thinking about that. I hear Friday will be in the 70s...

One thing you might enjoy playing around with is doing preview teasers for a lesson like the Mathalicious one, at the end of class for 5 minutes at a time on the days leading up to it. Like if you're going to start one on Monday, show the first video Wednesday at the last 5 minutes. Then the last 10 minutes of Thursday show the video again and have them notice and wonder about it. Use that to figure out what they grasped about the video. Friday show it again and asked what they heard new this time or if there's anything they want to revise. Then ask them to think about which of their wonderings they could use math to figure out.

I wonder sometimes (and Karim will come push back on me about this, I know!) if the things kids wonder are the things they're ready to think about. Comparing relationships is hard for people (especially 8th grade people), and so they might only be ready to think about calories <--> exercise and calories <--> food separately for a while. They might be genuinely perplexed by how exercise minutes and calories are related, and how food and calories are related, and struggle to go food <--> calories <--> exercise. Remember the Filling Glasses notice/wonder from TMC? Most kids can think about graph <--> rate and glass <--> rate but struggle to articulate glass <--> rate <--> graph in any coherent way (and that's with high-school students!)

Spreading the launch out over a couple days gives you time to gather more of that data and decide if you need to let them play around with the pre-activity concepts like how does the time you spend running relate to the number of calories you burn, and how does the number of nuggets you eat relate to the number of calories you eat. And you don't have a whole day of "oh snap they so aren't ready for this!" because you're just doing 5 minutes at the end of the day and then you have time to go think about what you learned about them.

Also -- I'm just curious -- did they get the emotion of the story? Like, did they get the idea that people make dumb choices at McDonald's and Karim wants to help people make healthier choices?

5. I don't want to make myself out to be a saint. I definitely have my moments where I scream to myself "THEY CAN'T DO ANYTHING!!!" but getting frustrated with them isn't productive, so I take that and try to find what they need. It's better for them and, more importantly, better for me.

What I'm discovering is that their math skills are lower than I would like, but they aren't really the problem. The main problems are their reading and comprehension skills. Many of them are auditory learners by default because their ability to read and understand is negligible and I'm not sure what to do with that. I have them practice reading and writing, but it's going to be a long road.

I like the idea of spreading it out over several days. Since this was the first project with them, the learning curve for them (read: me) is nearly asymptotic.

As far as I could tell, they WOULD have gotten the emotion of the story, if they had understood what we were talking about. I couldn't seem to figure out how to get them to understand what we were ACTUALLY talking about. They were stuck on calculating calories for the food eaten and couldn't get past that.

6. Dude, you're teaching 8th graders in 87 degree rooms. Isn't that one of the automatic qualifications for sainthood, right after not decomposing after you die?

I dreamed about the McDonald's problem last night, I can't remember exactly what I dreamed but I was explaining to someone that you'd have to run for 4 hours to burn off a McFlurry and were they still going to order it knowing that. And the lady in my dream was like, "really, 4 hours? That's crazy. I guess I won't be needing that..." and then we talked about how many McNuggets a person could eat and someone thought maybe 1000 or 1000000...

Noticing and wondering seems to help kids with reading comprehension. I'm also a big fan of acting stories out (with manipulatives or as little plays) and then checking if what was acted out matched the story. Also reading a sentence at a time and predicting what it will be about. Or one partner reads a paragraph and the other summarizes it in under 10 words.

Oh, but mostly patience. Kids get better at things they try and then try again and maybe reflect on a little in between, which is exactly what you're doing, you saint, you.