Thursday, October 31, 2013

Day 46: Failure and Success


Loyal readers will remember the conversation that I had with a student yesterday in which I teased proper wording out him.  It turns out that in an effort to get him to say what I wanted, I may have been taking away from time in which he could be solving the problems of the world!  Mathematical nomenclature and conventions are important though...
In any event, we were discussing find angles related to parallel lines.

 By the various examples that are in the guided notes, students were expected at add an auxiliary line that was parallel to the two horizontal lines and use the alternate interior angles theorem to calculate the measure of angle 1.  The set-up would look like:

However, the student I talked about yesterday had a different approach.  Instead, he added a vertical line, creating two right triangles and, between the triangle sum theorem and the angle addition postulate, found the missing angles in the triangles and then angle 1.  His set-up looked like this:

In this particular case, his approach took much more time to prove and many of the other kids thought it was a waste of time, but I was deeply impressed and almost hugged him for it.

And then the day went to crap.

In pre-algebra, I'd been preparing to do the new Mathalicious lesson, Pandemic.  It deals with vampires, exponential growth, disease, log functions, vampires and death!  I've been pumped about it since I saw Karim preview it a few weeks ago!  I knew that the math would be a bit advanced for my students since we've only barely scratched the surface of exponents, but I figured they could work out the patterns and we could talk about it.

The first class barely made it through the first act before they tuned it out.  They were complaining about how much effort it was to apply the pattern to anything large.  They got stuck at a VERY basic point and I was so confused by it that I wasn't able to figure out a way to help them.

I began to run into the same problem that I often do with my pre-algebra classes.  The students who picked up on it quickly got bored when I wasn't moving at their speed while the ones who needed more help were left in the dust, even at the much slower pace that I was moving.

The class was already short on students through fights and suspensions, so it might have simply been a bad dynamic, but the lesson bombed.  My frustration was through the roof and my anger at my students lack of interest VERY quickly transformed into shame and self-disappointment.  I hated that this amazingly fun lesson from people whom I deeply respect had gone SO poorly.  I figured that the way I introduced the content must have been pretty bad and I didn't want to let down the Mathalicious crew by jacking up their lesson.

So I jumped on Twitter.  I knew that the lesson was designed for students in Algebra, but I also knew that many teachers were doing it with younger kids like mine.  @MaryfWilliams posted some great pictures of her classes, which I found very encouraging and @lisabej_manitou told me that she started her class with the paper folding warm-up.  It helped them to get a better grasp of exponential growth.  So I started the second class with that warm-up.


The students were engaged and clambering over each other to give me answers.  I didn't introduce exponential notation and they happily ground out 2^33 BY HAND! ON WHITE BOARDS!!

The only student who did not participate did not do so on religious grounds, to which I didn't object.  She happily took the picture of those of us who wanted it.

Let me tell you how weird it is trying to teach with glow-in-the-dark vampire teeth to a room full of kids with glow-in-the-dark vampire teeth.

The kids rocked it and I'm so proud of them!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Day 45: Socratic Teaching!

After my post yesterday and thinking about how I haven't done as much content as I would like, all of my classes worked on content today.  I'm actually quite pleased with how it went!

The geometry kids worked on the next section of the guided notes (flipped classroom!) and I had an amazing interaction with a student.

Student: "Mr. Aion, doesn't a quadrilateral equal 360?"
Me: "I don't know what you mean?"
S: "Does a quadrilateral equal 360?"
M: "360 what?"
S: "Degrees.  Do they equal 360 degrees?"
M: "What do you mean 'equal' 360?"
S: "Does a quadrilateral add up to 360?"
M: "What do you mean 'add up to 360'? It's a shape."
S: "The measures."
M: "Of?"
S: "Do the angles of a quadrilateral equal 360?"
M: "Show me a quadrilateral."
S: **holds up a book**
M: **points to one corner** "Is this angle equal 360?"
S: "No."
M: "So what are you asking me?"
S: "Are all of the angles equal to 360?"
M: "Well, you just told me that one of them wasn't, so how could they all be?"
S: "Do they add up to 360?"
M: "What's a better, more mathematical way to say that?"
S: "Sum."
M: "Awesome! Ask your question again."
S: "Mr. Aion, Do the interior angles of a quadrilateral have a sum of 360 degrees?"
M: "That's a great question! What do you think?"

I was tempted to push him further to use the word "interior" but I could tell I was about at the limit of his perseverance and didn't want him slipping into "forget it!"  What I loved about this interaction was two-fold. First, this is a student who is normally as disengaged as the geometry kids get.  He's late almost every day and rarely brings his materials.  He's VERY bright and turns in assignments, but seems to do them grudgingly.

Second, I was VERY proud of myself for not answering his question.  It would have been so easy to have to conversation go like this:

S: "Mr. Aion, doesn't a quadrilateral equal 360?"
M: "Do you mean 'do the interior angles add up to 360 degrees'?"
S: "Yes."
Me: "Yes."

Or the even worse:

S: "Mr. Aion, doesn't a quadrilateral equal 360?"
M: "Yes. The angles inside add up to 360 degrees."

Both of these interactions teach the student, but they teach him the wrong thing.  At the end, his take-away is "If I get stuck or have a question, I should just ask immediately and get an answer."  This is the worst message that I think I could convey.  I'm sure that I still do this frequently, but I'm keeping an eye out so that I catch myself before it happens.

I want my students to be self-reliant.  My main goal as an educator is to have my students not need me at all.  I want them to get a problem, or make their own, and I feel as though I should re-write The Prince to be educationally centered.

Maybe when I make my millions selling an educational theory book, I will title it "Teach Like Machiavelli."

Also, after the post yesterday about retention, as well as a conversation with @ChrisRime I decided to dedicate my pre-algebra class to review today.  Rather than have them do workbook pages from the last chapter, I made up a sheet of 15 short answer problems and a template for showing their work.  I gave them the double period to work on it, indicating that these were not "quick answer" problems.  They were simple enough mathematically, but they required the students to set-up the problem AND solve it.  I purposely chose this method for the previous material because I didn't want them freaking about new stuff and a more "rigorous" assessment.

They worked very well on it.  I attribute that to the fact that I let them work with whomever they wanted and wasn't constantly telling them to get back to work.  I checked in with "what number are you working on?"

Next time, I'll limit it to 10 questions instead of 15 and then step it up gradually.  They stuck with it until about question 14 when I think they burned out.
They made good use of the whiteboards...

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Day 44: Backsliding and Deep Self-Criticism

Well, it turns out that I was having such a good time teaching that I didn't actually teach the kids anything.

I collected homework in the geometry class for the first time today.  I told them I was going to, so it wasn't a shock to anyone and almost everyone turned it in.  The problem was that, while we've spent several weeks talking about deductive reasoning and, while assignment was a practice test on deductive reasoning, I had dozens of questions and frustrated and confused looks.  I have been relying on these students to be self-directed and notify me when they are having trouble, but that isn't always the case. John Mahlstedt wrote a great post about Why "Smart" Kids Hate "Why" that really hits the nail on the head about forcing students to think about their own understanding.

I have run into this issue in geometry, where I am teaching one thing but assignments are about something else.  I'd like to blame the fact that I'm using the high school guided notes, but the reality is that I'm having too much fun with this class and haven't been following the curriculum.  We are going to spend some intense time over the next few weeks getting back on track and making sure we hit the "critical points" in the curriculum.

It seems to my students as though I am organized, but I am clearly not.

I would think it was an isolated case, but when we went over the warm-up in pre-algebra, the same basic thing happened.  They were asked to two solve 1-step equations, one with a decimal and one with a fraction.  When they got stumped, I took it back a step and made it a problem with just integers.  My plan was to make the connection between the two, showing that they are essentially no different in method.

They couldn't solve the easier one either.  They couldn't tell me that we were trying to isolate the variable.  They couldn't tell me how to do that.

In the end, I drew a balance scale and we completed the problem with boxes.  While I didn't mind this approach, it felt as though they had never seen it before.  Their attention was acceptable, but retention was awful.

I see several reasons why this might happen and I dislike all of them.

1) They are only pretending to understand when we cover topics.  I am at fault here for not doing a good enough job of checking for ACTUAL understanding before moving on.
2) They understand, but don't have the retention skills to keep those ideas accessible.  I am at fault here for not making good enough connections that allow those bridges to be spanned and fostering recall.
3) There is not enough spiral review.  I am at fault here for not providing students with adequate opportunities to keep those skills fresh in their minds.
4) They are not willing to put forth the effort to find the needed information either in their minds or their notes.  While they bear a large portion of the responsibility here because it is their education, I am also at fault for not doing enough to encourage persistence and perseverance when solving problems.

Last year, this entire post would have been a rant bout how lazy the kids are and how they need to grab onto their own education because it's the only thing that will save them.  This year, I'm actually wracked with a certain level of guilt about the amount of fun I've been having while doing a woefully inadequate job of educating them.

I should clarify that before it seems like I'm falling into self-loathing and self-doubt, I will acknowledge that I have been providing my students with an education.  I have been honing certain critical thinking skills and allowing them to become more comfortable in math class.  I don't, by any means, think that I have wasted their time, or mine.

At the same time, we are not nearly as far into the curriculum as we should be and, clearly, they don't have as solid a grasp on the concepts as I would like.  They don't have the perseverance that I would like them to have and, sadly to say, neither do I.

But every day is a new day and, now armed with this knowledge, hopefully, I will be able to design better lessons, including more spiral review and critical thinking skills that will help them to be successful.

I have some serious thinking to do.

In happier news, #MSMathChat trended again last night!!!
I really need to learn how to take and edit screenshots.
Thank you so much to everyone who came out, contributed, watched, etc.!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Day 43: Games and Unforseen Consequences

Over the weekend, I put out a call on Twitter for journal prompt ideas and the amazing and brilliant @algebrainiac1 started rattling off a prolific list of great topics!  The list became so long that someone suggested we make it into a Google doc where people could add their own ideas.

So I did!  Please feel free to use the ideas that are there as well as adding others!

Today's question comes directly from the list!

I gave my geometry students a practice test to work on in their groups today.  I told them to consult their guided notes, their books and their group mates before asking me any questions.  They didn't seem to get the point and insisted on asking me things.

@Sarcasymptote has gotten recognition for diverting student questions by playing the ukulele in his class, which I think is brilliant.  I, however, can't play ukulele so I had to think of something else.

I started brushing my teeth.  It's REALLY hard to answer student questions with a mouth full of toothpaste foam.  The first kid who INSISTED that I answer ended up with flecks of toothpaste on his desk and quickly changed his mind.

Since I haven't put in grades since October 4th, I assigned the rest of the problems as homework to be collected tomorrow.  Then we played Mastermind!  Have I mentioned lately how much I'm loving my job this year?

If I can find 5 more copies of Clue, I think I'll make their chapter assessment be "Play two games of Clue.  Discuss the process that you used to determine the accusation made to end the game!" Or something like that.

The pre-algebra classes needed some guided practice so they were given a dry erase board, a marker and a group.  After I checked each problem, that group moved on.

A few mistakes, but we talked about them and the reason they were wrong.

Then we played Mastermind!  Many of these students, whom I would normally describe as educational nihilists, were so enthralled in the game that they were shouting at each other about the choices they were making in picking colors.

Clearly I need to play more games.

I have a student in my class who is working on her 2nd year in 8th grade.  Last year, I had her in my Reading Enrichment class (an entirely different story) and she started the year well, dropped off quickly and ended up with an F for lack of participation and effort.  She is a VERY bright girl and I liked her from the start, feeling disappointed when I couldn't convince her to change her ways.

She started this year with much the same attitude that she ended last year.  She was angry all the time and several times screamed in my face and stormed out.  You may also recall a few weeks ago when I asked for student feedback, I received a beautiful piece of paper:

This lovely display was from the young lady in question.  I know that she has had a ton of stuff going on at home, to the point where the Office of Children, Youth and Families has gotten involved.  I received an e-mail from her family advocate today.  It contained some information that I found, literally, stunning.  I stared at my computer for no less than 30 seconds, reading it several times.

I’ve had an opportunity to meet with {Mother} to discuss some of the goals she would like to accomplish, and some of the things in her life she feels she need to address in order to achieve these goals.  In this conversation, I also asked {Mother's} daughter {Student} to identify any individuals  in her life that she feels are a support to her.  {Student} has identified you as one such support.  She is hoping that you would be willing and available to attend a meeting, called a Conference, to help the family devise a plan that can help meet some of their needs.  Ultimately, the plan that emerges from this meeting can help them accomplish their short and long term goals.  I wanted to reach out to you to find out if you work be willing and able to participate in such a Conference for the family.

To say that I am flabbergasted would be an understatement.

The reality is that teachers don't have any idea what kind of impact we have on our students, good or bad.  We just have to keep doing the best we can do and hope that we are serving our students well.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Day 42: Shadows of YesterYear

My initial question for today was "If math were a fruit or vegetable, which would it be and why?" but when I began the picture, my bowl of fruit was SO awful that I erased the whole thing and came up with a different question.

"Pizza because you can put whatever you want on it, but they all start out with the same base."
"Alphabet soup because it's full of letters."
"Sour Patch Kids because it starts out sour and then gets sweet."
"Veggies because even if you don't like them, they are good for you."
"Tofu because it's pretty bland but you can do so much with it."

 In geometry, we are finishing up the chapter by going over some proofs of line segments and angles.  Dull stuff, but we talked about it getting them in the habit of doing proofs for less intuitive things.

After a review of the homework in pre-algebra, the students took a quiz on fraction operations.  I was trying out a new format with them because on all of the homework so far, they've been putting the problems in the calculator.  This isn't an issue except that I want them to understand what's happening inside the calculator.

I took a testing idea from Frank Noschese and modified it with a suggestion from the lovely Sadie Estrella.  I gave them 8 problems (like and unlike fractions with each of the 4 operations) with the answers.  The directions were to show the work that justified the answer.  That was, I was testing on the concepts rather than the calculations.

In the last two problems, I gave them a fraction and asked them to come up with a multiplication problem and a division problem where that fraction would be the answer.

In my first class, 3 kids flat out refused to even attempt the test.  One girl put hers away and then, while making defiant eye contact with me, told me that she wasn't done with it yet.  When I explained that she would not be leaving my room with the test in her possession and that if she needed to spend her lunch period with me, that would happen, she gave it back pretty quickly.

Several students left many of the problems blank and, even having the directions explained to them several times in different ways, claimed to have no idea what they were supposed to do.

Last year, I would have taken my frustration at this out on the students, but this year, it makes me question the efficacy of tests at all.  All of the kids who refused to work or left problems blank have been giving full effort for our class work for the past few days and have been doing an excellent job.  I reminded them of that and the general reply was "I know. I just don't want to do this."

I will be making some phone calls tonight.

The same two girls who had to be removed from class last Friday for being a disruption had to be removed again today.  Instead of sending them to the office, I put them outside the room to cool off until I was able to talk to them.  Every time I went to do so, they interrupted me by screaming about how they didn't do anything.  I think the record was 4 words out of my mouth before I was shouted down.  So I went back inside and tried again in a few minutes.  Same deal.  And then again.

I hate kicking kids out because it's not effective, but as a direct result of these girls, whose parents are unreachable, the other students are unable to do anything.  We have had meetings with guidance and the principals, but there is no change.  I would like to be able to help them, but I don't think that I have the ability to do so.  I certainly don't seem to have to patience.

Today was an insane day for behavior. Lots of teachers were out and I think there were 3 fights.  Kids were rude and disrespectful in ways I don't normally see.  My last class, even after the removal of the two girls, was bouncing off the walls.  Last year, I was told that I should try more interactive activities in my class, that I should be more lenient.  I responded by saying that it wasn't possible, that the kids would take any inch of freedom and run amok with it.  This is why we don't have recess at my school.  The kids have shown repeatedly that with any amount of free time, they start punching each other.

This year, I think my activities have been very successful.  I don't know how much learning is happening and, after the assessment disaster in pre-algebra today, I think it's not much, but my room was a better place to be.

Today, my last class did exactly what last-year me said they would do and it enrages me beyond words.  I have done so much to make my classroom an enjoyable place to be where they don't sit and copy notes for 90 minutes, where they can collaborate with their peers to create the best learning environment and the behavior today, and increasingly over the past few weeks, felt like a slap in the face.

Last-year me would have punished the entire class, making them work silently and independently, emphasizing everything I do for them by taking it away.  He would have given them a speech about the opportunities that they are squandering.  He got VERY good at that speech.

This-year me is VERY frustrated and glad that it's Friday so he can spend the weekend trying to figure out what to do.  It is consistently the same students and I honestly don't believe that they can benefit from staying in my classroom.

I am at a loss and I will think about this over the weekend.

I would appreciate any input that is offered and I will try my very best not to be contrary.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Day 41: Making Connections, Both Academic and Personal

I was pretty proud of the picture today and VERY impressed with some of the answers I got, most of all "California" because of the reason he gave.

A lazy day for me!  I was feeling the effects of P90X from Tuesday and not having run in over a week, so I was physically exhausted.  I had an interaction with a distant colleague (whom I love and respect) this morning is which I was thoughtless and hurt her feelings, so I was mentally worn.  I spent much of the morning thinking about how I could have been more sensitive to her feelings and, being regretful about it.

Luckily for me, there was a field trip for the students in our GATE program (gifted) which ended upbeing about 70% of my geometry class.

We spent much of the period talking about random things including religion, zombies, viruses, and whatever else the kids asked about.  They were highly engaged and asked good questions.  After a bit, I gave them the assignment we were GOING to do in class, knowing they would work on it either in class or tonight.  It's awesome having kids who I don't have to harass about their work.

In pre-algebra, we did more work using the rectangles to solve addition of unlike fractions.  Several students asked really great questions about how to deal with negatives and we had a good discussion as a result.  After a discussion on the #MTBoS last night regarding mixed numbers versus improper fractions, I made sure to emphasize both in the approach today.  Using the blocks makes it MUCH easier for students to see how the mixed numbers and the improper fractions are equivalent.

Moving from an abstract to a concrete method for this concept has brought a few VERY interesting things to light.  First, some students who are normally engaged seem to have tuned out.  When I asked them about it, their responses seemed to indicate that they felt working with blocks was baby stuff and they were too old for that.  I tried to explain that they didn't have to use the blocks.  Whatever worked for them is the one I want them to use, provided they show their steps and they are legit.  My goal was not to force one method over another, but for some reason, this method struck them as so juvenile that they refused to participate.  Just wait until I start singing songs later in the year...

Second, several students who had been tuned out before seemed to perk up and become HIGHLY engaged, asking great questions and doing all of the practice problems.  One student in particular who has done almost nothing all year has been producing great work during the last few days.

I am making sure to shower those kids with praise and commendations, giving them as much attention as I can.  Positive reinforcement is king!

I keep snacks in one of my drawers and have told a few students that, on days when they miss breakfast, to come and see me.  I know that many of our children don't eat breakfast and only eat lunch because we give it to them for free.  It's just a function of where I teach.  Occasionally, a student will approach me quietly and ask for something to eat and I will happily give it to them.

Yesterday, a student approached me after class and asked for something to eat.  I asked her if she was alright and reached in the drawer for a cereal bar.  When I turned back around, she had tears streaming down her face.  I asked her what was wrong and she said there was stuff going on at home.

Before I go on, I should state that I in no way suspect abuse.  I think it's more along the lines of typical teenaged girl drama.

I asked her if she wanted to talk about it and she said she didn't, but she was still crying and I didn't want her walking through the crowded halls like that.  I had her sit down until she was calmed down and, once the halls were clear, I walked her to class.

I checked in on her a few times throughout the day and I was debating calling home.  I decided against it because I didn't want to make things worse by asking her parents and, if I called to speak to her only, her parents might be suspicious.  So I held off.

I pulled her aside this morning to ask how she was doing and she said she was a little better, but things weren't good.  I reiterated that she could talk to me about whatever she wanted or needed to.  She thanked me and said she appreciated it.

Then she went on a field trip for the day.  I don't want to push her to talk to me, but I'm worried that if I try to talk to her parents, I would betray her trust in me needlessly.  I will keep checking up on her.  When I asked her today, she said she hasn't been sleeping and has surgery coming up for "lady crap."  I wished her the best and told her to keep me posted.

I really like some of these kids this year.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Day 40: Nguyening Them Over

Today's question:

The responses I got back fell into two categories: Students who think math is boring and those who love my class.

My favorite one:

Mirror, Mirror, on the wall,
Who's the mathiest of them all?  I AM! 

I love math, I want more!

Just like that, a problem's done!

How great is that!  I think I want to do this again later in the year and see how the responses have changed.

In the geometry class, we went over the guided notes for a section dealing with postulates.  After we finished it, we completed our trials for The Lady and The Tiger.  I am pleased to say that no one was eaten by tigers!

The paperwork for that would be awful.

Then Pre-algebra.  After going over the warm-up and answering questions about the homework, I started talking about adding unlike fractions.  When I talked about division of fractions, I took a page from Fawn and used the method of rectangles.  As is my wont, I didn't think through the lesson all that well, but I loved the concept and wanted to do it again.

So today, I did!

I used the same basic method as division:

1/3 + 3/4

Draw two boxes that are 3x4.  Shade 1/3 of the first and 3/4 of the second (going down rows/columns).  Each of those boxes is a rectangular pizza cut into the same number of slices.  How many pieces did you eat total?(numerator)  How many slices in a pizza?(demoninator)

The kids who normally get lost picked it up VERY quickly and were excited to try it on their own. (Including a student who hasn't done much of anything all year.  This lit his fire!)

In sad news, the marking period is ending and people are going to start realizing that I haven't been grading anything.  I'm going to have to come up with an assessment for the last two chapters...

I hate to ruin good learning with grades.  It changes the motivation from intrinsic to extrinsic.

Also, I began experimenting with letting kids go to the bathroom between classes, provided they come back on time.  I will start keeping a list of kids who are late and they will lose the privilege of going.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Day 39: Puzzles and Pictures

I came in today full of art and math all mashed together in a giant ball of MArTH!  I started my classes with a new whiteboard question:

While the students were working on those, I began "I notice, I wonder" with 4 pictures that I selected from my trip to St. Louis.

My prime take-away is that I should have specific things in mind when I do "I notice, I wonder" if I hope to direct their attention in one way or another.

This introduction (45 minutes) was about the same in all of my class with varying degrees of success.  The geometry classes then went on to work on The Lady and The Tiger.  We got through the 9th trial out of 12 with a minimal number of students being eaten by tigers.  I suppose at some point, I'm going to have to go back to the curriculum, but I don't wanna!

In pre-algebra, we had a niiiiiiiice long talk about appropriate behavior with a substitute.  Mostly, it boiled down to "If you don't act that way when I'm here, why would you with someone else?"  After having his head down for the entire period, a young man tried to "get me on his side" about why he was unfairly assigned a detention.  I explained to him that his overt rudeness throughout my class would make it impossible for me to answer any of his non-content related questions.  He put his head back down.

After our "chat" I did a few examples of fraction division using Fawn's Rectangle Method and the kids seemed to enjoy it.  I will probably do a few more that way soon.  We then moved on to a VERY basic explanation of adding fractions with the same denominators. (snooooooze)

While they were working, I assembled a flag of flags from the various classes.  I'm very pleased with what they came up with and I'm happy that I can be decorating my room!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Day 37: SUCCESS!

Sadly, we missed half of my geometry class for students who had to finish their CDT testing from yesterday, but once we got back into the class, we ROCKED IT!

I had the students who came up with band names write them on the side board:

Then we started the lesson off with a video:
I asked them about the logical progression of thought that Sarah uses to pass the doors.  Thankfully, with this clip, I was able to avoid a discussion of cod pieces.

I then told them the story of the king who wished to use logical puzzles for his trials, rather than evidence.  He brought prisoners before two doors and told them that behind each door was either a lady or a tiger and they had to solve a riddle to pick which door to open.  I had the students work in their groups with white boards and I gave then 3 minutes for each puzzle.  At the end of each one, I had them hold their boards up to tell me which door their group chose.  Then based on the majority of the class, I opened one door after asking a random student to explain how they came up with their choice.  If they lived through the choice, their group got a point!

The file is a little dull, but the doors move to reveal the tiger or lady.

The discussions that were happening as I walked around were amazing! A few groups used truth tables (because we just did those and they have been trained that you use something in school immediately after you learn it) but most didn't.  Many of the groups talked through their reasoning based on whether the signs above the doors were true or not.  There was LOTS of deductive reasoning happening, which is what I wanted!

I think Fawn would be proud of me!

Having been so disappointed with how I executed the candy bar fraction multiplication lesson, I thought pretty hard about the division lesson.  I hate saying "We don't like dividing fractions, so flip the second one and multiply!"  I would much rather the students discover that on their own, with a bit of guidance, because then they understand why.

So I used an extension of the chocolate bar example from the other day to talk about division of fractions.

I went through it VERY slowly, making the kids answer all sorts of questions and explaining their reasoning.  We did several examples on the side board, with me using the phrase "Well, what about this?" (which, for some reason, I always hear in Karim's voice.)  They started out the class a bit detached and I was worried about engaging them.   Then they began to tune in and, seeing success in something they previously thought was difficult, 90% became fully engaged, volunteering answers and asking great questions!

One of the students said "Can we stop talking about it and just do it?"

My enthusiasm MAY have scared her.  They worked VERY well for the rest of the period, finishing the assigned practice problems and more, staying on task and asking great questions.

Making something that seems difficult into something easy.  Who would have thought!

The last class didn't catch on as well.  I don't think I taught it any differently, so the mitigating factor may have been the 13 interruptions to my class.  (4 times interrupted by girls laughing/talking, 1 time kicking said girls out, 1 time explaining to security why I was kicking them out, 2 times explaining to the class about how their education was being compromised, 1 time for security bringing me referrals, 1 time for the students being sent back to my class, 1 time for the behavioral specialist bringing the students down to find out if they could come back and where he should send them, 1 time for the principal to come and tell me that I had to send referrals up with the student and 1 time for me to sit and write the referrals.)

All in all, though, it was a good day!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Day 36: The Adequately Laid Plans of Math and Men

I had fun and (I thought) interesting lessons for my classes today and, after spending 20 minutes on my new whiteboard drawing and question, ran into our math coach!

He reminded me that my classes were scheduled to spend the day in the computer lab doing diagnostic testing.

I guess I'm ready for tomorrow!

The CDT test is the only standardized test that I think is worth while.  SBG people would love it too since it's adaptive, provides instant feedback and breaks down the scores by areas of strength and weakness.  It takes a little long, but when the students complete it the second time in the spring, it shows where they have grown and by how much.

What kind of idiot WOULDN'T want to test in here!

Watching student performance on this assessment, I notice a major distinction between my classes.

My geometry students work for proficiency and score.

My pre-algebra students work for completion.

I am wondering, as I often have, if that difference in mentality is what separates these two group, or if separating them created the mentality.

Apparently, research shows that putting mid-level kids with high-level kids pushes the middle kids up and allows the high level to soar.  Putting middle with low does the same.

Putting high with low hurts all of them.  The high level kids aren't adequately challenged and become bored.  The low level kids get frustrated at when they see themselves as being "the dumb ones" in the class and they tune out.

On top of all of that, kids in 8th grade with 3rd grade reading levels are going to be hurt in EVERY class, not just reading.

I don't know the solution, but I do know that what we're doing now isn't working.  I have VERY bright kids in my low-level classes because they were lazy and "failed" before.  They are now bored and disruptive.

I would like to separate my class into two or more groups, but I don't know what tasks to give them.  Differentiation has always been a hated buzzword to me.  My thinking was, and I'll admit still is to a certain extend, that if lessons need to be drastically differentiated, then those students should be in a different class.

And then I covered a class (during my only prep) where the students were slapping each other for fun.

Good times.

After school we had a math department meeting.  My old self came back and I complained about things that the school and the board do for almost the entire time.  I hate doing that, but when I get on a tear, I just can't seem to stop.
WHEW! Much better!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Day 35: Napping At My Desk

I'm tired.  I have been staying up too late and getting up too early.  I'm getting run down and I think I've pulled a muscle in my lower back.

So I'm not "teaching" today!  And you can't make me!

I began geometry with a warm-up and another question and picture like yesterday.

I got some pretty cool answers too.

As I said yesterday, I'm a bit behind where I want to be in geometry, so I'm making decisions about what to cover with what depth.  I decided that the less I talk, the less likely I am to get distracted and off track.  As a result, I had the students work in their small groups today on the guided notes and practice problems for the section on deductive reasoning.  We then went over it as a group.

It's really difficult to explain to a student the subtle differences that we expect them to be able to conclude.  I love symbolic logic, but they want things explained in sentences.  I think the laws of detachment and syllogism make a bit more sense when you connect the sentences to symbols.

I'm thinking that I may skip much of this chapter because I would rather teach logical thought and the use of puzzles and games.  I have a pretty rocking Promethean presentation where students have to choose between doors, behind which is either a princess or a tiger.  I love the lesson because I'll get to show a clip from Labyrinth!
"Do your homework, or I will wear this codpiece!"

For pre-algebra, I downloaded Tarsia software, which is awesome for making matching puzzles.  Instead of just having kids do drill problems, I make a triangle puzzle that the kids put together in groups.  Several groups got done early and finished their homework.

Even as I'm writing this and thinking about how successful it was, I'm suddenly struck about how disappointed I am with myself.  Yes, they are putting a puzzle together, but they are just doing drill problems.  It suddenly strikes me as a trick to get them to do math.  It's not authentic and it's not really interesting.  They were engaged, but I'm not satisfied.

BAH!  Next time!


Dear Elementary Teachers,
PLEASE stop teaching cross-multiplication! It messes kids up forever!
Middle School Math Teachers

What I REALLY need to do is make a chronological list of all of the topics that are to be covered and then try to find activities for each.  If the list exists, then when I find an activity that I love, I can slot it in and not worry about losing it.

"This is an awesome project! What a shame I won't need it until April."
"Damn! I wish I had an awesome project for this topic!"

Planning ahead is a skill that I need to develop.  Especially if I want my classes not to suck.

I've been given a basic timeline of topics for geometry from the high school and I'll see if I can match it up to projects and authentic problems.  For pre-algebra, I'll have to make one up myself since there isn't one that I've been able to find.  Maybe I'll email our curriculum coordinator and see if he has a list of concepts that the board wants to cover in this class that I've been teaching for the last three years...

In my last class, two girls were passing notes, being VERY uncharitable to two other girls ("fatty pants" and "tally pants"), who got a hold of it, and they all stormed out.  I don't understand the student (human) thinking that says it's totally cool to say nasty things about someone else, but as soon as they say anything about you, IT'S ON!  All of our bullying prevention programs are failures.

In our team meeting today, we discussed a student who does very well in my class, but comes off as sneaky and sly in her others.  This is a girl whom I really like and see great things for.  She is bright, inquisitive and a natural leader.  I don't want her to turn into the mean girl and I fear she has that potential.  I know this is the pot calling the kettle black, but she needs some humility and she'll be golden.

I pulled her aside before her lunch to talk to her about her behavior in other classes.  I told her that above all, teachers hate to be lied to.  If you don't have your homework, own up to it and take responsibility.  Don't lie about it and say you forgot it at home or that you turned it in and it must have gotten lost.

She claimed she was going to sneeze, but her eyes were watering for another reason.  I didn't have the heart to call her on her lie.  I did, however, tell her how much I adore her and how badly I want her to succeed.
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