Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Day 26: Time For A Change

I've been in the same classroom for the last three years.  It's one of the smaller classes in the building and, as a result, space is at a premium.  In addition to this, the Promethean Board was installed along the longer wall of my rectangle, limiting where I can place my desks.  I have had my desks in columns (groups of 3 desks, 2 desks, 3 desks that run 4 rows deep).

This morning, that changed.

The ones at the back are askew not because I was drunk, but so they would fit.

Geometry has 31 students, so once they were in, I was able to get a better sense for where the desks had to go to ensure that everyone could see and that people weren't sitting on top of each other.  That's not the kind of class I teach.

My hope is that by setting the class up in groups of 4, it will encourage me to do more group work and collaborate projects.  We'll see how it goes!  For today at least, I'm letting them pick their own groups.

The geometry class spent the period working on a drafting project designed by some of our high school teachers.  Ideally, I would like the projects to be more open ended, allowing students to express their creativity.  After watching them work for a bit, I'm glad I didn't go that route.  This project is long and took over an hour for the kids who managed to finish.  In addition, their familiarity with the compass and ability to follow very specific directions left a bit to be desired.

As they work with the tools more, I'll branch out and give them more open ended projects.  So, I decided to see this exercise as a way to teach them about the tools, rather than the math.  It was a wild success!  They loved it.  My class was loud and rowdy and 95% of the kids were on task.  I was glad that I had stolen crayons from another teacher so the kids who finished early could decorate their work.

Why yes, that is a turtle on fire. Did I mention how much I love these kids?

With the new setup, I was able to walk down the middle of the room and keep proximity without having to run across the room.  So far, I'm pleased with the way the desks are set.

In math 8, I also had them in groups.  They received a blank template with 25 spaces on it.  I gave each student the most difficult version of the chapter test and had them work with their groups, showing their work and answering the questions.  For the most part, they didn't ask me much and when they did, I redirected them back to their groups.

Near the end of the period, I grabbed one test randomly from each group and told them which questions they needed to work on.  They went back to their groups and finished what they needed to.

In 4th period, I noticed an amazing trend that I'm sure will not be a shock to anyone.  The boys and the girls self-segregated.  This in itself wasn't a shock, but the fact that the male groups didn't do as much as they should have and the female groups finished early was.  I expect great things from all of my students, but in my experience, it's been about 50/50 for work ethic.  In geometry, they also self-segregated, except for two groups and I couldn't say that the boys worked better or that the girls worked better.

This week is Spirit Week, with different themes each day.  Today was Wacky Tacky Wednesday.  I enjoyed myself quite a bit and the geometry kids did as well.  I have a great picture from 1st period, but since it shows their faces, I won't post it here.  You'll have to settle for these two...

In my last class of the day, 4 students entered my room with teardrops drawn on their faces in sharpie.  I immediately sent them out to scrub their faces.  I would think that in a community with the level of crime and violence that this one has, students wouldn't be so quick to make light of murder.  Perhaps I don't understand the students as well as I thought.

When they returned, I made sure to commend their work and make it clear that it wasn't them who made me angry, but their actions.  I think it's an important distinction to make.

I'm planning to have the tests on Friday be group AND individual.  I'm going to have the students working silently for the first half of the class, then I'll have them work with their group to compare work and answers.  At the end of the test, I'll collect all of the papers and grade one at random, giving that grade to all 4 students.  This was a suggestion given to me a fellow #MTBoS member and I'm excited to see how it works!

On an unrelated note, I checked out Happy Class for seating chart help.  You put in your students and class layout, then put who students can and can't work with.  When you hit "optimize," it moves the students around based on preferences and given you a happiness score.  In doing this, I found out two very interesting things.

1) Kids may like other kids, but they know who they can't be with if they want to produce quality work.
2) The highest level of "happiness" I could achieve in my pre-algebra class was 61%.


  1. I am so delighted to read about your classroom. Having the students work in groups of three and four allows more voices to be heard, an opportunity to orally rehearse your thinking, something not valued by all practitioners.
    I think you would benefit from the work of Rodger and David Johnson, the gurus of Cooperative Learning, Kagan (CA) and Slavin. Slavin's approach has more of an emphasis on competition, and Kagan is more of collaborator, but the Johnsons have so many great ideas to structure cooperative learning experiences. Also, you definitely get the individual accountability while sustaining a group mentality strategy! One addition i might encourage to your repertoire of pedagogy, adding two social skills to make groups accountable for social interactions such as: "Paraphrase another teammates understanding" or "use first names when addressing teammates." This brings a class together as well. (You may recall I had movie night when the class earned points as a group -we watched "the Witches" and ate Pizza) When i monitor the academic task, i also count the number of times i hear each group fulfill a social goal on a chart. At the end of the period, i share out the data and record point for each group and class. (Note: initially the kids fake it horribly, but after a while, they become less performance conscious and more sincere.) Love your blog, and you are pretty ok too :)!

  2. Your classroom set up looks pretty fantastic! I know teachers who would give away their favorite slide ruler for those desks.

    I think the happiness thing is interesting. As I told you on twitter I am a fan of random seat assignments. My meta-message to my kids is that everybody has something to contribute to a conversation and we need to listen to each other. If we go with their preferences we get the social segregation and often terrible status issues. Anyway. We can keep talking.

    And.. I want that sweater.

    1. One of the things that I found interesting was I made sure to ask "Tell me two people that you can work with. Not your friends, but people with whom you can produce quality work" and "tell me one person with whom you CAN'T work, not 'don't want' to work with." For the most part, the students were VERY honest. I attribute this to the fact that I had them point to my seating chart instead of saying names out loud.

      Many kids picked their friends to NOT sit with and even said "if we work together, we'll just talk."

      I was concerned about self-segregation too, but I recognize that middle school is rough enough without being forced to work with someone who is a bully. Also, I'm only using this as a guide. :-)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...