Thursday, December 12, 2013

Day 71: Low Floor, Low Ceiling

I'm ashamed of this one...

After my post on Friday about games, I had several discussions with the amazing people at ThinkFun about using games in the classroom and, long story short, I am now the proud owner of Rush Hour, Brainteaser Kit and Chocolate Fix!

After excitedly opening the boxes, my 4-year old wanted to know if it was for her.  I told her that, no, it was for my students, but we could play for a bit if she wanted.

So I opened up Chocolate Fix and showed her the pieces and the board.  Then I set out the clue for Challenge 1.  She went to work!

This was challenge 3 or 4 that she managed to complete on her own!

I showed the video to my geometry students today, mostly because I was bragging about how amazing my daughter is.  The kids were suitably impressed and I explained how we would be doing more games and puzzles in class.

To further demonstrate the power of Twitter to my students, I was able to send along a mistake that they caught on the ThinkFun website.  I'll tell them tomorrow how I got a reply and that the problem that THEY found will be corrected because of them!

I then had them complete another quiz for the first 6 skills of the SBG and when they finished with that, they got to work on the brainteasers from my new pack!  They were fully engaged and working together.  When they got frustrated, they simply traded puzzles with another group and kept working.

The pre-algebra classes now have a large enough stack of pages to do in their workbooks that the assignments are differentiated.  The kids who have been keeping up with them are moving on to new stuff.  The ones who haven't been have students in the class who can help them and I can spend more time working on the kids who need the attention.

I watched kids loudly talking, laughing and having a good time.  If someone had walked in, they would have thought that nothing was happening, but a close inspection would have shown 80% of the students were working diligently on one task or another.

It's often hard to know what engagement looks like.  I used to think that engagement was kids quietly working on problems.  Then I started doing more projects and group work and realized that engagement can take myriad forms, not all of which make teachers comfortable.  Some of them make me downright squirm, but if lesson engagement is the goal, I have to be willing to squirm a bit for the benefit of my students. 

Something happened today which hasn't happened since 2009.  Students came and ate their lunches with me.  Almost nothing makes me happier than when kids feel safe enough in my room to hang out there on their free time.

Two boys came to finish a test and asked if they could stay and play games.
WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!?! Don't show excitement!!!
**sigh** "I SUPPOSE you can in. Just don't be noisy!"

The Part Where You Groan At Me:

Maybe I'm just like my mother.  She's never satisfied!

Today was one of the highest levels of student engagement that I've had in pre-algebra since my class doubled in size.  My problem with it is that they were working on worksheets.  They weren't doing projects, they weren't expanding their thinking, they weren't developing the skills that I want them to develop.

But they were engaged.  (With the exception of the two students who run on motion sensors. When I'm not standing right next to them, the light goes out of their eyes and the gnomes who control their movements go on a coffee break.)

I'm going to count it as a day to reset.  I know that I can't get them where I want overnight.  I know it will be a long, slow process.  I know that I have to give them praise when they do well and occasionally give them a break.

I also need to remember that I too need to feel success.  I too need to give myself a break from dragging them kicking and screaming into a higher level of cognitive processing.

Sometimes, I need to give a bit of slack on the rope so that I can renew my efforts with greater energy and vigor.

I know that many teachers would rather have kids do low-end tasks with energy than high-end tasks with none.  "If I give them something harder, they won't work.  I would rather them work!"  This may be a legitimate teaching strategy and I don't begrudge teachers in difficult situations who choose.

But it's not what I want for my students or for me.  So today will, hopefully, be rare.

Several of my students are in the orchestra, which has a concert tonight, and they asked me to attend.  I'm going to quickly shove food into my children and go back!

I love being asked for my presence!


  1. Hi,

    My pre-algebra students are doing a lot of worksheets lately. I have the "Key to Curriculum" workbooks, the "Key to Algebra" ones, and I xeroxed 25 copies, each one like 35 pages (18 front & back) ... I bought binders at CostCo and put them in there. Anywhoo, that's what they're working on. Engagement has increased some but there's a general feeling of disappointment--after 20 minutes or so working on them today, they got to like an energy pit and started saying, "We're tired of doing this." God, I was tired, too. Little sleep last night. I just haven't managed to plan for that third class; I've managed, to some extent, to plan for Geometry and Algebra 1, but this pre-Algebra class I have after lunch has just suffered. And I don't care enough; when lunch ended today I did not want that class to start. If I sound selfish, it's because I am. It is a totally selfish Dittmer who thinks and feels these things at 1 in the afternoon. I guess I need to get honest with them about this--I need to say, "This isn't working."
    I suppose what has stopped me in my tracks again and again when lesson planning for this group is the large percentage of students who have no idea what is going on. I am stunned into paralysis. Obviously, I have to get myself un-stunned and do something different. None of my excuses makes any of this acceptable.

    I hope you come up with some good activities; maybe I'll copy them ... All of them.

    Your daughter is clearly a genius. Most impressive is her mastery of the exploding fist-bump.

    1. Hi,

      A couple of things!

      1) If the kids are turning to you and saying "we're tired of doing this!" that provides you with the perfect opportunity for you to say "Then if I find something else to do, will you do it?" If/when they don't perform to your expectations, remind them that they could always go back to worksheets.

      The sad reality is that certain classes are more taxing and tiring than others.

      2) Have this talk with them. Ask them to give you ideas about keeping the class fun and exciting. Tell them about your frustrations and how you want more for them.

      She can also Squid-Away :-)

  2. Something's in the air, I fear. I had a day this past week with my Stats kids that sounds like what you and Mark are describing. Monday night I was working out notes for a new section in Stats and just wasn't feeling it. I decided to use one of the PowerPoints that the author provides. So, I apologized to my class up front and then went through the PP slides with them. One of the quietest, most attentive days I've seen in a while. I took it personally, but a colleague helpfully suggested that this might have simply been due to the novelty of being allowed to simply sit and listen rather than talk and think. sigh...


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