As I watched my geometry students taking the PSSA ELA: Writing Field Test this morning, I couldn't help but notice how my normally amazing, energetic, engaged, interested, curious students looked as if they had taken leave of their bodies and gone off wander the aether while their corporeal forms remained for the mundane task of "properly shading bubbles."
Now, more than ever, I am of the belief that assessments need to be active and valuable. This is neither. On top of that, these students won't know their scores for at least 6 months, if ever. They will receive no feedback beyond a raw number (not even a percentage) and will have no idea WHAT they got wrong or how to improve it.
I could go off about my thoughts on standardized testing, but I think it would only make me sad.
And then the day went WAY up!
First, I decided that, while my students were finishing up their standardized tests, that I would draw one of them.
Then, the indomitable Max Ray came to observe my classes!
|We had to take the picture in front of "the famous board" to prove that we "weren't just in some bar."|
The geometry students welcomed him with open arms and then got right to work on their park projects. I think that there are a few groups with such a high level of comfort in their own skills that they ran away with their ideas.
One group wants their "park" to be a 2-story fun zone which includes a paintball course and a laser tag arena.
When the Math 8 class came in (Pd. 4/5) I gave a brief introduction, reminded them of what they were supposed to be working on, and then let them go. While this wasn't a disaster, there were several problems.
My goals for this project, while I don't think they were too lofty, clearly needed a bit more background. I spent much of the period working with one or two groups trying to explain the concept of scale factors without saying "for every 10 feet in real life, use 1 block of grid paper." I want students to discover these on their own, but they were getting frustrated and so was I.
In addition, there were several students who claimed to be finished with "their part" of the project, but a quick inspection proved that to be untrue. I felt that I spent the period going back and forth, putting out fires and redirecting.
But I didn't get angry or sad. Just having Max in the room, his small, warm smile as though enjoying a joke with himself, not unkindly, gave me the reassurance I needed to believe that this was actually part of the process. Not just for them, but for me. He never appeared to be disapproving or critical of my interactions or strategies and that helped me to remain positive and unflustered with the kids.
After class, we had lunch, I showed him around the school and we talked about the lesson. We discussed various ways to help them understand not just how to make a scale drawing, but WHY you would want a scale drawing. What happened in period 8/9 was entirely the brainchild of Max with slight tweakings by me based on the personalities, strengths and weaknesses of my students.
When the students entered the class, I told the students that I was thinking of rearranging the desks, but my inherent laziness meant that I didn't want to start moving desks around until I knew where I wanted them. I asked what I should do and the students suggested that I draw a picture.
I asked one of my more active (disruptive) students to hold a desk up to the Promethean board while I traced it. Then, since I have 31 desks in my room, I began copying the traced desk. After 2 copies, I was out of room on the board.
I asked my students what I could do and, of course, they suggested that I shrink the outline. I asked them how much to shrink it and a discussion began about how big the board was compared to the room and so, how big the desks should be.
"The board is square. Is the room square? How big should I make the drawing of the room on the board?"
There was lots of "a little bigger, no longer, no wider."
"The room is basically in lines, right? What might be a good way to make sure out drawing is on lines?"
"You could put in on a grid."
"That seems like a good idea! Do we have a way of saying how many blocks wide and long the room should be? Should I just pick them randomly?"
"You should use the blocks on the wall."
At this point, I cheered loudly inside and shot a happy glance at Max. During our pre-class discussion, I told him that I had confidence that someone would get us to exactly this point.
"I think that's a good idea. So, how many block wide and long will the classroom be?"
The students counted, told me and I changed slides to where I had already prepared a scale outline of the room.
"So, would you agree that this is the room drawn to the scale that you told me? Then how do I know how big to make the desks in this picture?"
At this point, a student moved her desk to the wall and measured it using the tiles.
"The desks are 2 by 3, so you should shrink the trace down to that."
Once I did, they felt that the outlines were too small. At Max's suggestion, we looked at the side of the room and, using the 2x3 desks in the picture, saw that we could fit exactly 7 desks in a line against the way. We then verified the truth of this by moving 7 desks onto the wall. The kids were astounded and finally agreed that, while they looked small in the picture, they were the right size.
We then started adding several items from around the room to our scale drawing including the iPad cart, the cabinet and the "heater thing against the wall." I had the students tell me where those objects were in relation to the corners and they used the ceiling tiles to find the corresponding spots on walls that didn't have windows.
85% of the students were engaged and participating.
Did I mention that during this entire time, there were 3 students who never stopped talking and laughing loudly? For the most part I ignored them, asking them quietly a few times to stop talking and changing the seat of one of the students.
After the class, Max and I had a talk about those students in relation to the others. He told me that my engaged students, while perhaps distracted, were not derailed by the ones who were talking. And interesting thought struck me that had not before today.
Just because I am distracted in my teaching does not mean that my students are distracted in their learning. They were able to tune out the annoying kids and I had never noticed that. I assumed that because someone was distracting me, that it detracted from the educational environment. This was clearly not the case today.
I wonder how much learning time has been wasted by my wanting to squash distracting behavior for the benefit of others rather than simply teaching.
In any event, it turned out to be an amazing lesson and I'll be doing it with Pd 4/5 tomorrow.
I cannot express how happy I was to have Max come and observe me and my classes today. We had several talks about how students are the same everywhere. That conversation made me think that sharing success is important, but sharing failure is vital.
We (teachers) need to know that others are having the same struggles. We need to know that others are dealing with the same difficulties, so that we can talk about them and find a solution.
More!! I WANT MORE PEOPLE TO OBSERVE!!! COME TO MY CLASSROOM, INTERNETS!!!