Monday, January 27, 2014

Day 90: EduAngel vs. EduDevil

It was very cold and snowy this weekend.  Not the kind of snow that lets kids go outside and have fun, but the kind that makes parents shut and lock the door for fear of frostbite or yeti attacks.

I would guess that might be the reason why my students were out of control today.

The geometry kids were much more rowdy than normal, bordering on rude with constant side conversations.  We started discussing properties of triangles and I went over their guided notes on circumcenter and incenter.  The note packets that I've been getting from the high school talk about the circumcenter as the point of concurrency for the perpendicular bisectors or a triangle, but it doesn't talk about what the word "circumcenter" means.  I think the circumcenter and the incenter are fascinating because of what they are! The center of the circle that contains the vertices of the triangle is the circumcenter while the center of the largest circle that can be contained inside that triangle is the incenter.

So I talked about this, even though it wasn't in the note packet.

I tried doing the constructions to show them.  The instant I faced the board, they were talking again.

I can't really be angry with them because they are normally great with this stuff and I have to remember that they are still children.  What I CAN be upset about is the 4 students who had their heads down after I had long conversations with their respective parents about why they were earning "not an A."

My frustration with the class as a whole reached pretty high.  I ended up talking to them about the problem with being "the smart kids" in the school.  It went something like this.

"If you are a first round draft pick to the NFL, what does that say about your abilities?"
"That's you're really good."
"Exactly.  Now, if you show up and think that you're hot stuff and so you don't need to practice, what will happen?"
"You'll get out of shape and not be good anymore."
"So, you understand this about sports, but not about academics.  If you aren't practicing what we do here, if you aren't paying attention, if you aren't participating in the discussions, you will get out of shape.  The people in the other classes, who are working, will pass you by.  You will go from being an easy A student, to a struggling B or C student not because you're dumb, but because you're out of practice on how to study, how to work."

I also threw in some stuff about how that was me and how high school just about killed me because I was out of practice and didn't know how to work.

I'll do a construction activity with them this week when I feel I can trust them with sharp objects again.

I've been thinking more and more about putting the pre-algebra kids back into rows.  I've been trying for 4 months to have them in groups and, especially since the addition of the 13 students to my class, that has been failing miserably.  I simply can't put them in groups where they WON'T talk constantly when I'm not standing over them.

At the same time, my room is too small to have one section in rows for them and one in groups for Geometry.   I may have to put everyone back into rows and have the geometry kids turn their desks for group work.

I HATE the idea of going back to rows.  It feels as though I've failed to make my class a place of positive education.  At the same time, the current set-up isn't working.  My level of frustration is causing me to give up and then I hate myself even more.

Rather than rows, tomorrow, we will be assigning seats.  I have to be willing to deal with the griping and false complaints about how they can't see the board (which, interestingly, only ever comes from kids who put their heads down when I move them closer.)

Self-directed learning didn't work.  Teacher-directed learning didn't work.  I can't keep complaining about how this group of students was purposely separated for exactly this reason, because complaining doesn't fix anything.

I'm not complaining.  I'm stating that I don't know what to do.  They have days when they are quiet and let me do my thing, but I am highly suspicious of the engagement. and days when they are loud and don't let me do my thing.

The worst part is that the frustration is SO exhausting that when school is over, I don't want to think about it.  I don't want to spend the time to try to find activities for them because the pessimistic Mr. Aion on my shoulder is telling me "why bother? They are just going to talk over you anyway! They are just going to not do it anyway."

I've been trying extremely hard this year not to listen to him.  I've been trying to listen to the other guy who reminds me that some of them come from horrible circumstances and them just showing up to school is a victory.  He reminds me that they are still children and don't have fully developed frontal cortexes (cortices?) and impulse control hasn't been developed.  He reminds me that I love solving puzzles and this is just another puzzle to figure out.

He reminds me that if I would put in the extra effort to find, develop and prepare more or different activities, I might eventually find one that gets them excited about my class.

It's days like this, internal debates like this, that make me wonder (again) if I am too lazy to be a good teacher.

In period 8/9, I taught to four students while the rest sang and danced around the room.

I know that classroom management and lesson planning are tied together and that, while there are off-days, good lessons will lead to good management because students will be engaged.  But I find myself asking myself the kinds of questions I asked last year and I hate it.

I would truly appreciate some guidance.  I promise that I will try not reply with reasons why it won't work.


  1. No suggestions...only empathy. And eager to read the suggestions of others.

  2. Justin, instead of just rows could you put them in pairs within rows? It allows them to have a partner they can quickly work with, and also makes it easy for two students to turn desks to work with the two students behind them for a group of 4. Not sure if this will help solve your talking problem at all but it might make you feel like you're not giving up on group work completely.

    1. That's how my desks were arranged at my last school.

    2. Pair rows was how I've had them for the last few years and how I started this year. It worked reasonably well, but it still felt too traditional and I don't know how effective it was. There is almost no other way that I can organize the desks because of the room size...

    3. I have a teeny room (actually a storage closet), and I have my desks in rows. Its really easy to switch them back and forth for groups (we do it almost daily) but the default is pairs. That way they can still have conversations with their partners, and they can get into groups in less than 15 seconds (I time it).

  3. A small suggestion on triangle centers: Split them into groups of four. Give each group 4 copies of the same triangle. In each group, have one student find the point where the medians intersect, one find the point where the altitudes intersect, one find the point where the perpendicular bisectors of the sides intersect, and one find the point where the angle bisectors intersect. Ask them to decide which of those points is the center of the triangle and defend their answers. Get the medians together, the altitudes together, and each of the bisectors together. Have them collaborate on a good argument as to why THEIR point should be the center. Present arguments to another class and take a vote. In the end, they are all centers, in the way that mean, median, and mode are (sort of), so there isn't a winner, but a best use for each one. Can the kids find that best use? Notice that I never named them, because I don't really give a hoot what they're called. Oh, and are they ever the same point?? When?

    As for Pre-Algebra, it certainly is tough, but less planning will only make it tougher. What is your current topic?

    1. Since my kids are already in groups of 4, this would be a great activity! I think the geometry kids just had an off day and I hope they'll be back on soon.

      In pre-algebra, we're doing ratios and rates. I have several activities, but the last several have been met with indifference and "that's too much."

    2. As much as "worksheets" have been vilified on Twitter and elsewhere, a well-constructed lesson, contained in a single-sheet "hand-out," can be a great classroom management tool when used sparingly. Students can work at their own pace, in small groups or individually, and you are free to help the students who need more support. The CT Algebra 1 Model Curriculum was written in this style, with the intent that some of the lessons be presented in whole class format, some in small group, some paired, and some in individual modes. Here's a sample unit, on Linear Functions; you may find something you like in it. The lessons are available in doc format for editing also, but the pdf compilation is easiest to view.

      Directions for access (open to anyone) are here:

      To access the assessments, you must be a CT teacher.

    3. Something funky happened, here's the link to the Linear Functions Unit:

  4. Maybe you should bring in a couch. I was in a classroom last fall that had a couch in the front of the room, next to the teacher's desk. It was sort of an L-shaped thing with a high back. Those sitting on the couch were not visible to those behind them. Tough to pose a distraction when you can't be seen, and who wants to get up when they are sitting in a deep cushiony couch? I don't know if it would work, but it came to mind when I read this post... figured it can't hurt to share!

    1. I love that idea! I had actually thought about using a couch, or a lounge chair, as a reward. Sadly, I have no room in my closet-sized classroom for even another desk.

  5. I second the suggestion for pairs rather than rows. Also, just wondering if you assign seats now. I find that it's very helpful to assign seats for productive group work. Also, separating the groups that are not being productive that day while the rest can continue working together is another strategy. But ultimately, it is on the kids to take responsibility for their learning and behavior in class. Perhaps go to rows or groups for a while, then try a short activity in groups where you emphasize (and perhaps give points) for on-task behavior and engagement. You can then build on those small successes. This is super frustrating and tough though - I've been there and it sucks to feel like you can't structure the class in the way that you know would benefit students' learning because they're not doing their part.

  6. I LOVE the sports analogy as a way to try and get kids to connect work with success in other venues! Sorry it was such a frustrating day.

  7. Justin - a few thoughts. I haven't read the other comments, so this may be redundant. First thing, you yourself said the weather was oppressive in its own way, which will elicit less than model behavior. It doesn't make it any easier, but it doesn't make you less of a teacher.

    Re constructions and sharp points: do you know about these:
    They are truly the greatest thing since sliced bread. I love them, and order sets every couple of years. I usually throw them into a proposal, but they aren't that pricey. And students with fine motor issues usually do better with these than the pointy kind, which only work well when they are of higher quality than schools usually provide. Can you do any construction demos or practice with GeoGebra or Geometer's Sketchpad?

    My other strong reaction is to your self-condemnation on returning to rows. Some students needs the structure, and some content is well delivered in rows. This is not a failure on your part, but rather a willingness to let go of something you thought was best, and is not. You can train your Geometry students to quickly move into groups and to re-organize the rows at the end of class - make it a contest - how quickly, how quietly, etc. And when (if) the pre-algebra kids are ready, you can try some activities in groups again.

    You read my Polar Vortex post - January is hard, especially for those of us getting hit with unusually cold weather. No one has the energy to re-invent the wheel right now. Sometimes it's okay just to coast a bit - that's part of the process of getting ready to re-invent.

    And, by the way - I know EXACTLY where Math would go! TMC14!!!


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