Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Day 52: A Tale of Two Classes

Contrary to what my coworker thought, that is not a hijab. It is a raincoat.

I have never claimed to be perfect.  I don't think I've even claimed to be good.  The whole point of this reflective blog is to help me to become the teacher that I want to be.  It gives me a chance to take a step, take stock of my thoughts and improve upon them next time.

Today was a day when I was reminded that not all students are equal and cannot be treated as such.  This is not to say that they should not be treated fairly, but I recognize that fair and equal are not the same.  So, this is a tale of two classes:


In geometry, we did the warm-up, discussed the various methods that students used to solve the problem and moved to our review game.

I will happily give credit to @MissCalcu8 for Balloon Pop and to @NathanKraft1 for his hatred of review games!  Basically, you split the class into teams and give each team balloons or tokens, or something along those lines.  Then you begin to ask questions.  If a team gets an answer right, they get to pop a balloon on another team.  After they have been eliminated, a team can still seek revenge by popping balloons.

I printed off the balloon PowerPoint from @MissCalcul8 to put into sheet protectors, but then I had another idea.  I got ACTUAL balloons from the science teacher. (Note to self: replace science teacher's balloons)

Since I had 7 teams and only 4 balloons for each team, I was worried that they would run out of balloons WAY too quickly.  In theory, the whole game could be over in 4 turns!  So I added a wrinkle.

When a team got a question right, they could pop a balloon on an opposing team, or they could steal one!  This immediately started teams forming alliances and talking strategy.  Things got VERY heated, but because there was so much at stake, everyone seemed to be engaged, arguing their points with their group mates so they would get the chance to pop or steal.  The students became VERY attached to their balloons, decorating them and begging other teams not to take them.  Others got joy out of popping the "friends" of other teams.

Using actual balloons for this review is NOT for the faint of heart.  The kids were rowdy and loud and bouncing around the room.  They were yelling at each other and at me.  It would be VERY easy for this review to get out of hand.

With that said, this was great!  They were rowdy, but on task and even kids who are normally disengaged were heavily involved in strategy, problem solving and balloon hoarding.

At the end, everyone got "vegetables" according to how many balloons they had left:
# of pieces of "vegetables" = # of balloons + 1

Math 8:

The majority of the students entered the room and refused to even attempt the warm-up.  Two students "attempted" it, but their answers made it clear that they thought I wasn't going to check their work.

In previous years, students got a grade every day for putting an honest attempt into the warm-up.  I think I may have to go back to that when my 10 new students enter the room.  I can handle a student or two blowing off the warm-up on occasion, but not an entire class.

I'm sorry to say that my frustration and anger got the best of me.  I assigned them two practice sheets to work on individually and silently.  Since I NEVER do this, they realized pretty quickly that they had done something wrong and worked very hard.

When they finished, and asked "what do we do now?"  I had them continue working on their Thanksgiving Day projects.  Most of them had finished with the recipes and were ready to start scaling up.  As they worked, I told them that I appreciated them working hard and I handed out iPads.

When they started looking up food prices, they realized that things like vegetables and turkey aren't advertised on walmart.com and they might actually have to go to the store to find some prices.  Judging by the motivation of many of these students, I fear that this is where the bottleneck will occur.  I'm going to have my colleagues and the students bring in circulars from the supermarkets so we can use those as well.

As usual, something I should have planned BEFORE now.

I hate that I have to punish them to get them to do what I need them to.  To be clear, the work wasn't the punishment.  The punishment was being forced to do it on their own instead of with a partner or group.  I do my very best not to assign work as punishment.

I am constantly amazed at the different dynamics of different classes.  I know that every kid is different with their own strengths and weaknesses, but I think there are still some generalizations that can be made about different classes.  For instance, my geometry students are, in general, more academically motivated.  For reasons on which I won't speculate, they see good grades as almost more important than anything else.  As a result, they move quicker through the curriculum and are now "advanced."

The math 8 students, in general, are not as academically motivated.  Their interests lie elsewhere and, as a result, school falls by the wayside.  This isn't a judgement of their priorities, simply what I have observed.  This leads to less of a grasp of complex mathematics.  I try to show them what amazing things are out there, and keep hoping that my enthusiasm will sweep them up, but so far...

Even the differences between classes on the same level are stark.  The afternoon math 8 class dove right into the warm-up and, while they had difficulty with it, they worked well.  I wonder if the work ethic in the two classes would reverse if I had them at reverse times.

There are just too many factors involved in the academic motivation of students to be able to boil it down to a few simple things.
I will keep trying and continue to figure out how to get them to complete tasks without my pulling teeth.

I need to find or develop a task that is essentially "Show me that you know this material, however you can and want!"


  1. oh that is too cool that you used real balloons!!! I give them the option of popping another team's balloon or "inflating" one of their popped balloons by erasing the x. Doing mine tomorrow with 7th grade, hope they like it as much as 8th grade did!

    1. They had tremendous fun popping the balloons! I just lucked out that there were enough to do it.

      Let me know how it goes tomorrow!

  2. Thanks for sharing. I love your honesty. It helps me more than you know.

    1. I'm very happy to hear that! Sometimes I feel like I'm sending my thoughts into the void. The curse of blogging is the inverse ratio between the length of a post and the amount of feedback. I appreciate you for reading and if there are topics you would like me to cover, please let me know!

  3. Justin, I appreciate your candor in talking about days that aren't the best, and I love your point about trying never to assign work as punishment--that's so important for helping students construct their own intrinsic motivation.

    I've got no magical solutions, but a lot of teachers I know have been sharing similar struggles related to current 8th/9th graders. Seems like there are a lot of tough customers in that group, although I see a glimmer of hope in the fact that they asked "what do we do now?" instead of just going on to mess around and waste time. I like your idea about inviting them to figure out how to demonstrate their knowledge to you--I had a lot of projects like that in grad school and I enjoyed them.

    Sending some solidarity and good energy your way!
    Hollis / @adkpiper

    1. Thank you so much for your comments!

      I know that once the kids got used to that type of assignment, they would thrive with it. What I worry about is the scaffolding that would be required to get them to demonstrate quality product, especially if I were a student, I would be VERY uncomfortable not having boundaries for an assignment.

      I think I'll start it with this coming unit, giving them the entire chapter to think about and work on it. We will see how it goes!

      Thank you for coming by and reading!

    2. My instructional designer brain says to scaffold the _process_, not just the product. Tell them at the beginning of class that you're going to teach them some stuff today and then ask them to demonstrate to you that they know it.

      Let 'me know that you're open to however they want to demonstrate it, and that their homework for tomorrow will be to explain HOW their demonstration proves that they know the material. Then talk a little bit about whether it shows it clearly (shows success), shows it for all the material covered (adequate breadth), and whether their demonstration could be improved.

      Then scaffold it outward for larger and larger pieces until they're self-identifying demonstration methods for whole units.

      Your comments to Tammy resonate for me, too: I feel like I spend a ton of time writing blog posts, but I'm not sure how many people read them. Google Analytics helps for counting eyeballs/2, but I really treasure the comments because they show attention and care.

      I hope tomorrow is easier in your classes!
      Hollis / @adkpiper

    3. This is a really sound suggestion. I started geometry today explaining that this would be the culmination of Chapter 4 and they should start thinking about it before we even start the chapter. Several students already expressed interest in making videos.

      I will also be doing it smaller assignments throughout the unit so they get used to the idea and understand what it means to demonstrate mastery. (now I just need to figure out what it looks like...)

      What is your blog? If I'm not already following it, I would like to!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...