Friday, February 28, 2014

Day 110: Doodle Day!

After the multiple videos from Vi Hart yesterday, my Geometry kids asked if they could have a "doodle day."  I went one better and made it full blown crafts.

Before class, several kids told me that they had spent some time watching other videos online and had some ideas that they wanted to try today.  After a brief introduction, I unleashed them and let them explore.  They did not disappoint!  I'll let their work speak for itself.


It was so interesting to hear them talk about how they chose to draw, paint, color, construct what they did.  Almost all them, without realizing it, picked an arbitrary rule and stuck to it.

"I made a bunch of dots and connected every other."
"I connected the Popsicle sticks at the ends and made them go at similar angles"
"I put some triangles into other triangles"

Since February is(was) Dating Violence Awareness Month, we had an assembly at the end of the day.  This meant I didn't see my period 8/9.  Since they are already a little behind period 4/5, I didn't want them falling further by forging ahead with period 4/5.  So, after we went over the warm-up and the homework, they had a game day.

As was in line with the gender-based observations I've made before, the girls played games and the boys played at hitting each other in the crotch.  Business as usual.

This was a pretty good week, but I am certainly ready for the weekend.

My student quote of the day: "Why can't I use your chapstick? We're both white!"
It's good to know that my gender is not in question...

Edit: I had to add the following for posterity!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Day 109: Holding My Breath

In geometry, once again, I got way off topic, talking about math rather than calculation.  We ended up watching a series of videos from Vi Hart.  They were 100% engaged, to the point where they asked for me, asked insightful questions and were doodling the entire time.

Vi believes (and rightly so) that there is a major disconnect between the mathematics that we teach in schools and ACTUAL mathematics.  I completely agree with her and it has been on my driving goals this year to close that gap.  I want my students to be able to do math.  I want them to understand why I love math as much as I do.  This was an excellent way to show them, and for them to show me what they can do.

We even had the talk where I said "I'd love to assign you to do something like this, but the assignment would defeat the purpose.  Instead, I'll say that anything you do that you think it interesting, show us and I'll put it on my wall!"

So what they asked for was a "Doodle Day" tomorrow. I'm so excited to see the results!

We had a team meeting today and pulled in a young lady who has been declining steadily over the past few months.  We expressed our concerned without accusing her of anything.  I finished the meeting by asking her to think about what we (her teachers) could do to help her to be successful.  She said she would think about it.

Period 4/5 started out normally.  We did Estimation 180 and I handed out the quizzes from yesterday.  I told them how the students who had been consistently paying attention, participating, asking questions over the last 4 days all earned A's and B's while the kids who hadn't, hadn't.  Several of the kids who earned A's and B's are ones who are traditionally more "difficult" students and I made a point to make eye contact and tell them how proud I was of them.

When we started going over some practice problems, there were suddenly only 6 kids who were tuning me out.  The rest either moved closer to the board to pay better attention, or moved off in small groups to practice the exercises on their own.

I had several kids actually fighting over which one of them got to put the exercises on the board!  Two or three students took upon themselves to go around the room tutoring others who were confused and didn't want to ask for help.  The end result was several groups of students diligently working with little to no encouragement from me.  I quietly walked around, giving reassuring should squeeze and back pats to kids.  I was so proud, I think it might have been spilling on everything.

One of my more difficult students, after being tutored by one of her peers for a solid 45 minutes, meekly asked me if she could retake her test.  I thanked her for her hard work and let her do so.  Her score DRAMATICALLY improved.

I was so happy that I didn't even maim anyone when a kid, not where he was supposed to be, smudged my whiteboard drawing.

Period 8/9 eventually got to the same point of small groups breaking off to do the work, but it took a little longer.  In addition, the 8 students who were loud and disruptive (to me) composed a larger percentage of the class.  Overall, however, I was incredibly pleased with how they worked and I made sure to make myself available for them.

The student that we pulled aside earlier in the day worked her butt off for me and I was able to honestly tell her how proud I was.

I am not for a moment thinking "IT WORKED!!!  THEY CAME AROUND!!"

I know that each day is a different day with different dynamics so I'm not going to read too much into it.

But I see it as a HUGE step in the right direction and I'm very pleased.  It does mean, however, that I now need to redouble my efforts to make sure they don't backslide into their old habits.  The new ones haven't had enough time to solidify yet.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Day 108: A Texan at Lunch!

I meant to talk about ratios in geometry.  Instead, a student's answer to my "Question of the Day" (Koch's Killers) sent me off on an hour long tangent (hah!) on fractals and Benoit Mandelbrot.  We talked about the idea of an interating function and recursive patterns.  As usually happens in geometry when I go flying off into oblivion, the students came with me, propelling me further with excellent and insightful questions.

At some point, I would love to do a project where these students come up with a rule and have other students replicate their fractals without looking at pictures of them.

After watching a video of zooming in on the Mandelbrot Set, the students came to a conclusion that may become my mantra:

When you have mathematics, there is no need for drugs!

I can trace my love of mathematics back to school when, during bouts of bored, I would draw Sierpinski triangles in my notebooks.  I hadn't realized that I had actually said this out loud to my students until two of them showed me what they were doing during class.

We did eventually get back to a discussion of ratios and, in retrospect, I should have used a segue to talk about the ratio of large triangles to small triangles in the Sierpinski gasket and the Koch Curve.  Hopefully, I'll remember to ask them about it tomorrow...

Another day in pre-algebra of me focusing my attention on the students who are engaged.  Not as many as yesterday, but I'm not discouraged.  The ones who were engaged were, with 2 exceptions, different than the ones from yesterday.

We spent the first of the double period going over practice problems, having students go through each one, telling me what to write on the board.  There were several good discussions about why they were doing what they were and I was fairly pleased.

So we took a quiz! The second period began with a 10 question quiz on what we had just been talking about (since Friday.)  The students who had been actively participating in class were finished in a VERY reasonable amount of time while the rest had their tests trickle in slowly, offering up weak statements about lack of understanding.  When I asked them if they thought there might be a correlation between their confusion and the amount of time spent talking about not-math, they seemed even more confused.

They still seem to believe that I am aimlessly wandering through concepts without a goal or direction.  I wonder if that is a failure of them to pay attention, or a failure of me to clarify.  I much prefer discovery learning.  I believe that the journey of education is MUCH more important than the destination.

But the image that comes to mind is that of people sitting inside a covered wagon, all of the flaps down, complaining that they aren't moving just because they can't see the landscape.

Clearly, I spent WAY too much time in my childhood playing Oregon Trail.

At least my students aren't hunting buffalo in the hallways.

On another note, my Twitter friend, Adam Holman, VP at a school in Austin, was in town today for a mini-conference.  Since he was unable to come to me during their short lunch break, I went to him!  No sooner was I in the door than he introduced me as his friend that he had never met as a way to illustrate the power of the PLN that is Twitter.

He could not have been more right!  I can't imagine how many traffic laws I broke trying to get to him with enough time to talk before we both had to be back where we needed to be, but it was SO worth it.  His energy was invigorating and, after 45 minutes of chatting, I was ready to return to work and get the most out of my day!

An interesting note about student distraction.  In period 8/9, 3 of the 5 tables of students had their heads down diligently working on their quizzes while the remaining two tables were singing, dancing, braiding each others hair, etc.  What was fascinating was that it didn't seem to distract the working students in any way.  They continued with their quizzes as though it were silent.

This only confirms for me the theory that was proposed by Max Ray and that I have been working off ever since.  Just because I find something distracting doesn't mean that my students do.

I need to be more aware of their attention than mine.

In addition, the quiz grades for the kids who were consistently paying attention and working for the last 3 days? A's and B's.

The ones who weren't? F's.

I wonder if there is a relationship between active participation in class and content mastery...

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Day 107: How Is Babby Formed?

Those tiny black flecks are birds

I handed back the geometry tests where I wanted them to explain their reasoning.  We talked about the difference between knowing the material (which they clearly do) and being able to explain it (which some of them do.)  Since it is the only grade they currently have, many of them were VERY upset.  Since I've been moving towards standards-based grading and the philosophies that go along with it, I'm allowing them to make their corrections and demonstrate their knowledge to me.  I think that having a 45% on their report cards will motivate these kids to correct their errors.

Thankfully, I spoke with the pre-algebra kids yesterday about why we don't do cross-multiplication.  As a result, I was ready to talk to the Geometry kids about it today.  We had a long discussion about it and I felt good about their understanding at the end.

My strategy in pre-algebra yesterday seemed to work, at least moderately and at least today.  Yesterday, I ignored all student behavior that didn't distract those students who were working.  Today, I noticed an increase in the number of engaged students.  It was a small increase, but still an increase.

I make eye-contact with the students who are asking or answering questions.  I ask them follow-up questions that force them to explain their reasoning.  I encourage students who participate and thank them for their contributions.

In period 4/5 yesterday, there were 5 students who were engaged in our discussion.  Today, there were 7.  In period 8/9 yesterday, there were 3 students who were engaged in our discussion.  Today, there were 6.  The two girls who, yesterday, were singing and yelling, today were arguing about a conversation they had over Facebook.  I asked them to please step outside to finish their conversation, which they did.  When they returned, they weren't on task, but they weren't disruptive.

I know that this tactic, if it's effective, will take time.  I know that I can't expect each day to get better the way it did from yesterday, but I'll take this as a good sign.

I am providing an environment where students can learn if they choose to.  I am doing my best to provide them reasons to choose to learn.  Ultimately, I don't know if it's even possible to do more than this.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Day 106: Pulling Teeth

Since I gave the geometry students the weekend to finish up their final drafts of the Chapter 4 assessment, I was expecting quality work turned in.  I received quality work from about half of the groups.  Most of them started off VERY well with detailed explanations of their work, but quickly lost the thread and turned to assumptions and just the algebraic work rather than the reasoning.

We also had a long talk about the purpose and definition of the equal sign.  I poked and prodded my students for a definition until one unlucky student said "It's where the answer goes."  I thanked him profusely for saying what the others believed, but clearly didn't want to say.  Then we were able to talk.

Since I want to be emphasizing the methods that they use as well as increased communication, their homework assignment reflected that goal.  They were given time in class to work on their guided notes and the practice problems from the section.  The homework was to pick 2 problems and write a detailed explanation of their work.

This is a skill that is important to me.  No one cares what you know if you can't convey it.

Pre-algebra was...interesting.

I picked 4 proportion problems and we spent the entire class working on them.  I was desperately channeling Tina Cardone and any time a student said "I do the cross product," I asked him or her why it was done and how it worked.  When they couldn't answer me, we went into various other methods.

When they had worked through the problem, me pushing them the whole way, not giving them any hints, I wrote the same problem on the board and asked if there was another way we could do it.

"Is that the answer?"
"I don't know. Let's try a different method and see if we get the same thing!"

Halfway through the class, they started to understand that I wasn't going to give them hints or tell them answers.  They began looking back to how we had done previous problems for methods that they could use.

When I went to put the 4th problem from the set up on the board, a student asked if they could work on it alone before we went over it.

This weekend, I had a long conversation with my mom about expectations and how mine are not being met.  The conclusion that I finally came to was that I don't need to lower my academic or behavioral expectations, but I do need to examine my expectations of what success should look like.

I would argue that that question, coming from that student, constitutes a resounding success.  I was so incredibly proud of her and told her so.  She complained about having a headache, but did so with the kind of smile reserved for someone who knows that they have accomplished something.  "This is starting to get easier."

Did I mention that all of this (in both classes) happened with half of the class loudly talking, laughing and singing?  I made sure to keep an eye out for students distracting those who were working and put a stop to that, but otherwise, no matter how infuriating and disrespectful I found it, I kept teaching those who were engaged.

And they were SO engaged!  They were having arguments and discussions about which method to pick and why a certain method wouldn't work and what they should do.  I gave them candy as a thank you for being on task.

Near the end, several students who had been talking and singing all period asked if they could do the problem.  My first instinct was to say "ABSOLUTELY NOT! You were a jerk all period and now you want to show off?"

Then I thought "This might be the success that leads them back to the path."

What I said was "Absolutely!  Tell me what we should do!"

In theory, if I can tolerate the insanity and chaos for a while, the disruptive students will see that I'm not playing their game and tune back in, like the students did near the end of the period.

Hopefully, if I show them that I care about student effort more than teacher retribution, I can win them over.

Time will tell.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Day 105: Math and Music

A student casually mentioning the Mormon Church at the start of geometry led me into a 25 minute talk about comparative religions, which led to a discussion of why there is a disproportionate number of marathon winners from a certain tribe in Kenya.

I finally got back to where I WANTED to be, which was talking about math and music.  If you have not seen this video demonstrating the connections between the Fibonacci Sequence and the song Lateralus by Tool, you should take the 9 minutes and 24 seconds to watch it.

Go ahead.  I'll wait.
Wasn't that amazing???  My students certainly thought so!  I have enough kids in that class who are musically inclined that we were able to have a meaningful discussion about the nature of time signatures and how unusual they are in that song.

We talked about taking normal concepts and not destroying them, but bending them to the limits for the purpose of creation.  As usually happens when we start talking about a topic I find fascinating, the period went by VERY quickly and, without enough time for them to finish their Chapter 4 assessments from yesterday, I made it due on Monday.  I also told them that with greater time to work on it, my expectations of quality are increased.

In pre-algebra, we started talking about proportionality.  My campaign to ignore the distractions continues and, while I'm a little twitchy about the perceived chaos in my room, I'm finding a higher level of engagement among the quieter students.  The answers I'm getting to questions are more perceptive and accurate.

Getting active, productive participation in period 8/9 is still like pulling teeth, but I blame it on the fact that the kids are completely burned out by the end of the day, having had no breaks.

Have I mentioned that before? Our school schedule has students going from class to class from 7:45-2:50 every day with only a half hour for lunch where they are required to sit at a table for the duration.

When I have a lazy day at home, when I have nothing to do and spend the time sitting on the couch or at the computer all day, I find myself more tired at the end of the day than if I had been active.  I think the same happens with students who are forced to sit for 7 straight hours.

During period 9, my frustration and annoyance got the better of me.  One of students, who started the year very strongly, has been declining slowly over the past few months.  He brings his materials to my class, but no longer writes anything down and has quiet conversation throughout my entire class.  In order to show him that I wasn't ignorant of his non-involvement, I asked him a question today.

"Is number 4 proportional or non-proportional? Thumbs up for proportional, thumbs down for non" I asked the class, as I had for the previous 3.

I looked around at responses calling on students to explain their reasoning.  I called on the student previously mentioned.

"You said it was non-proportional. Why do you think that?"

**crickets**  He refused to make eye-contact and instead, put his hand in front of his face, giggled and whispered to his friend "I'm not answering him."

So I waited, looking at him with anticipation and patience.  After 30 seconds, I reiterated my question.  "Why do you think it's non-proportional?"

"You might as well move on. I'm not saying anything."

Something inside me snapped.

I waited for him to give me an answer.

It took 17 minutes of me patiently looking at him while he continued to giggle and tell his friend that he wasn't going to answer.

I shouldn't have done this.  Even as it was happening, I was thinking what a bad idea this was.  I shouldn't engage with students in this fashion because even if I win, I lose.  But I did it anyway.  What happened was amazing.

The students started getting pissed off.  At him.

"Dude, just answer his question!"
"Why are you being a jerk?"
"It's a simple answer!"
"If you don't know it, say so!  There's nothing wrong with that!" (This one blew me away.)
"Mr. Aion, can we help him out?"
"Can I do this one?"

It continued like this.

I waited patiently, re-asking my question every few minutes or so to remind him that I hadn't forgotten him.

Out of the corner of my eye, my students continued working on the practice problems and, anticipating that I would be willing to wait for their answers as well, started explaining their answers to each other.

He finally gave in, pressured from the other students who wanted to check their answers with me and realizing that I wasn't going to blink.

"I don't know why because I wasn't paying attention."
"Thank you for your honesty. I appreciate that," I said without sarcasm.  "Can anyone help him out? Why is this one non-proportional?"
"When you reduce the fractions all the way, they aren't equal!"
"Excellent! What about number 5?"

And we moved on without a hiccup.

I asked the student to stay after class for a minute so I could talk to him about the exchange (or lack thereof) but he refused to stay.

I hate how I reacted to him.  I put him on the spot in a way that wasn't considerate to him or to the other students.

But the results for everyone else were remarkable!  It doesn't excuse the interaction and I will apologize to him on Monday, but it certainly makes me think about what we allow students to get away with.  If we set our expectations high, they will live up to them.

The same will happen if we set them low.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Day 104: A Better Day, A Better Test

I realize that my posts are starting to take a dark and sad turn.  The purpose of this blog is to help me think about my practice and find ways to improve it.  My efforts to that effect this year have dwarfed those previously in my career.

Part of that reflection is honesty.  When I have a good day, I celebrate it and looks for ways to reproduce it.  When I have a bad day, I need to also celebrate it as a learning experience.

I have spoken with other teachers about this and I have come to the conclusion that we can't just share our victories, but also our failures.  We all have awful days when things don't go the way we wanted.  We need to be reminded of that.  It's so easy to take a failure personally and let it sprout dark clouds over our heads.  By hearing that others have the same struggles helps me to put things into perspective.

We have not had a single full week of school since before Christmas.  The weather is awful and unpredictable.  Our students don't have recess or, really, any downtime in the school day at all.  There are more factors than I can count.  I am only one aspect in the lives of my students.  I can only do the best I can.

A surprise phone call from Mark Dittmer last night helped me to talk some things out and renew my commitment to the students and self-improvement.

With the absurd Chapter 4 Test results and the lack of accuracy on the Park Project,  I have come to the conclusion that I may be asking too many diverse things of my students.  I am pulling them more directions than they are used to and I'm not allowing them to become experts in any.  I don't think I've had a clear vision for my goals in the classroom.

So today, I went back to basics.

In Geometry, I printed out copies of the textbook-created open ended assessment.  I put them back in groups of 4, which they chose, and told them the following:

"Since you guys did a terrible job on the multiple choice, but rocked the open-ended section, I want to give you a chance to show me what you know.  You have 13 problems in front of you.  As a group, you are to solve these problems and provide detailed explanations of your work and reasoning.  Treat it as though you are writing a solution manual for the text book and the people reading it will not be able to ask you questions."

They thrived!  I like this type of assessment because it has fewer questions, but requires greater levels of communication and understanding.  The discussions that I overheard while walking around were excellent.  There were debates about content, reasoning and explanation.

Several students asked about length of explanation and received the only answer I'm willing to give.  "It needs to be long enough to show me that you have mastered the material."

After a few minutes of listening to students argue with each other about what they should and should not include, I did an example on the board.

I also overheard many arguments that ended with "Just do that! We're running out of time!"

I want them to finish their assignments in a timely fashion but I don't want them producing mediocre work because they rushed.  So we will continue this assignment tomorrow.  I am deeply proud of the work they did today and I made sure to tell them so.

Also, during Geometry, I "borrowed" a headband and wore it for the day.

I'm starting to think that I should wear a silly hat each day in order to remember not to take myself so seriously.

The pre-algebra kids seemed to respond to the conversation we had yesterday about how hard I try to engage them.  Today's class went VERY well.  The kids who are normally disruptive were passed out and the fence sitters joined us in an exploration of constant rate of change.

As is my wont, I took a question from a student and ran away with it.  I was asked where we might see linear equations in real life and I vaulted into a 40 minute example of cell phone plans that engaged the kids in a way I hadn't seen before.  It started with the basics of "here are three plans. How do you know which one to pick?" and expanded into how they truly charge for data (step-functions.)

At the end, we again talked about the difference between doing calculation and doing math.  Today, they did math and it seemed as though they liked it.  I think I need to focus more on that.

The same lesson in period 8/9 was met with indifference and rudeness.  I pushed through for the kids who were paying attention and I heaped praise on them for their active participation.

Overall, it was a much better day than yesterday and I'm celebrating that.

My friend, a substitute who is certified to teach history, came to see me after school to say that he's been reading this blog to get tips on how to teach math and is, apparently, getting much better at it.

Mr. Aion: Teacher of math teaching to history teachers

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Day 103: The Great Unburdening

I spent almost the entirety of geometry telling them how disappointed I was in the results of their projects.  I have noticed, along with several of the other teachers, a drastic decline in the quality of work on these "upper tier" students over the last few weeks.  I reminded them again about my goals of the class, to produce students who are proficient thinkers.

I think I did very good job of not showing anger, but sadness, which is truly what I feel.  I praised their creativity and dedication to creating amazing parks in Minecraft.  I told them how impressed I was at the incredible imaginations they displayed.  I told them how disappointed I was that only three groups managed to stick to the deadline, only four managed to turn it in at all, and not a single one managed to incorporate all of the presentation elements that were required.

I think that this group of students respects me.  I wouldn't go so far as to say that they look up to me, but I know that many of them do like me.  I hope that by expressing my disappointment, rather than anger, it will help some of them to realize that I truly do care about them.

I said a ton of things to them, but one thing in particular that I remember was that I never, under any conditions, want to hear that something they have done is "good enough."  I expect them to work towards excellence and, more importantly, they should expect themselves to work towards excellence.

In period 4/5, I started my lesson, but ended it pretty early on when students made it abundantly clear that they didn't care.  We had a long talk about how many different ways I have tried to engage them and how those have failed.  The students who needed to hear it the most puts their heads down and went to sleep.

The acknowledged my efforts to make the class interesting.  One of the students even said "we aren't used to learning math any way other than worksheets."  We had a discussion about the difference between doing math and doing calculation.

In period 8/9, I was trying again to ignore the distractions that were not distracting the students.  As a result, I had a student with an iPhone case pretend that she had an actual phone.  She pretended to call her mom and tell her how mean I was being for not letting her go to the bathroom.  It was a "no hall-pass day" so I couldn't even if she hadn't spent the first 45 minutes singing Disney songs at the top of her lungs.

I had a very good lesson for the 3 students who were willing to receive it.

I can feel the indifference clawing at me, seeking purchase.  My will to fight it is waning.

Anger is easier than sadness, but I can't gather the energy for it.

I've been going to sleep around 9 each night, often crashing as soon as my children are in bed.  It doesn't seem to help.

My only solace is that I'm overhearing other teachers talk about how their days have been awful.  While I don't wish ill on them, it reminds me that things are happening outside of my classroom that are often out of our control.

I'm just so tired of it being a fight every day.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Day 102: Minecraft vs. Nothing

That's a star with a beard.

When I gave the Park Project, I had it in my mind that this would be something that the students could use to express both their mathematical knowledge and creativity.  We worked on it all last week and I gave them the weekend to finish it up.

In Geometry, only 3 groups out of 8 were ready to present.  Some of it was lack of planning, but some was due to students not being able to get together to finish.  The three groups who did present did so remotely.  All three created their parks in Minecraft and played video tours, followed by answering follow-up questions about design choices.

I am AMAZED at what they produced!

The scales aren't great, but the detail and dedication is incredible.

I have no skill or patience for this kind of thing, so it amazes me the level of detail and dedication that they can put into these.

If nothing else, it shows me that they can persevere, working very hard to finish a project or solve a problem if they find value in it.

Since I had planned for the full class to be presentations and discussions, and I only had 3 presentations, I showed them this blog post about relative sizes of stars in the galaxy.  It then lead to a discussion about Newton's Cradle and conservation of energy.  We watched a few videos of the Cradle and after explaining the forces, I paused the video and asked the students what they thought would happen when the presenter released the balls.

It was an excellent discussion with 90% engagement, which worked out well for when my principal entered the room for a quick observation.  I think she liked what she saw.

In pre-algebra, 5 of the 6 groups were "ready to present."  Of those, 3 forgot their blueprints, 1 didn't have a park name and 2 forgot all of their stuff in their lockers.  I did my best not to let my disappointment show and I questioned them on their process and ideas.

I went back and forth in my head about how to treat the lack of effort and results.  On one hand, if I pretend like it's great work, I'm worried they will think that their mediocre effort is good enough, which is most certainly is not.  If I show them my true feelings, I'm worried they will have a false idea how much effort they put in and think "I worked really hard on this and he hates it! Why try?"

I don't know how to convey my complete and total disappointment in a constructive way.  I told them that I didn't feel as though the work they presented accurately represented a week's worth of effort.  I went down the checklist that they had and pulled out an item from each job that wasn't completed in any of the presentations, such as a colored final draft.

They didn't even hit the bare minimum of requirements for the project.  There was not a single blueprint where the measurements were correct and, since no one was able to explain to me how they got their measurements, I can only assume that they were made up.

I'm not yelling.  I'm not tearing out my hair.  I'm not roaring my terrible roar or gnashing my terrible teeth.

Research shows that the greatest way to help students learn and achieve to create rich tasks for them to complete.  Tasks that require them to do more than regurgitate facts.

I am not an amazing teacher and I would never pretend to be.  I do, however, feel as though I have tried very hard this year to provide my students with rich tasks and offer them experiences that they may not have had before.  I have wanted them to use their creativity to explore and grow.

I keep thinking that if I stick to it, they will, eventually, realize I'm not going to stop and will put the effort in to something interesting.  I keep hoping for a "If we can't beat him, we might as well join him" mentality and I'm not finding it.

Instead, I'm finding myself more and more being pulled in their direction.  "If they aren't going to do the assignments anyway, why should I take my time to come up with clever and creative ones?"  They are happy to sit and engage in a lecture, but as soon as I ask them to do something beyond grinding through problems, they give up.  They will work until the "fun" stops.  They will work until the brain sweat starts.

This has always been a problem, but I haven't cared before this year. 

At the end of period 8/9, I asked the kids what grade they felt they deserved on their presentations.
"Out of 10? A 9."

Two of these accurately reflect what I might assign.  Kids who rated themselves way too high, if they were honest, I'm not sure why they thought it.

And the group that rated themselves a "2"?  If they felt that way, why didn't they work improve it? If they thought they earned an F, why did they even bother to turn it in?

When I asked them why they didn't do more work on it, they said "we didn't feel like it."

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Day 101: Planning Is Lame

Every teacher in the building had a class coverage today.

I spent last night thinking about the new seating arrangement and how I don't like it.  I tried to identify reasons why I didn't like that I could change but would still preserve the work and agency that the students developed.  So I came up with this:

I separated the rows in the middle and pulled a desk from the bottom of the U so now I can walk in between the class.  It also means that this kids in the middle are not trapped and don't have to hood-slide over the desks to get there.

I'm tired.  Getting up at 4:30 to be at work by 6 has been taking its toll.  I've been crashing MUCH earlier than normal (read 9:00) but the extra sleep hasn't seemed to help me catch up.

On top of that, with the schedules messed up from weather, assemblies, tests and other activities, trying to maintain a semblance of order and normalcy has taken more energy than normal.  Today, I'm all crapped out.

The geometry kids worked on their parks, with one group going to computer lab to build their park in Minecraft (videos to be uploaded when done!)  Several of those groups had discussions about when they were getting together over the weekend to finish their projects.

Every one of these conversations that I overhear makes the stark difference between the kinds of students in Geometry and those in Math 8.  Those conversations sound more like:
"This is good enough."
"I don't want to fix this."
"Can't our park just be a field?"

In anticipation of another frustrating day of me watching students pretend to work, I found a short worksheet on scale factors.  It's a good sheet that has them go from model/drawing to reality and back as well as being given the measurements and having to find the scale.  I handed out the sheet and, when not a single student in the room made a move to even turn it towards themselves, I realized this was something we would have to at least start together.

So we went through it.  I asked certain students to read the directions, others to read the questions and then I started asking questions:
"How should we start this?"

We went through the page, taking 5-10 minutes for each problem as I tied it back to the scale drawing of the class room and a tab from Google Maps.  We estimated the distance from the school to my house and then used to the directions function to verify that.

The lesson itself was really good with about half of the kids engaged for almost the whole time and another 25% floating in and out.

I made a conscious effort to only address off-task behavior when it was deeply distracting to me, or mildly distracting to other students.  I am amazed at the level of quality work that some of the kids can do while surrounded by people jabbering at each other.

There were a few who talked most of the class and then jumped in with an answer when they could get it quickly.  My immediate reaction to this has always been something like "You've been talking for the entire period and now you want to join us? I don't think so!" This was, I suppose, a vain attempt to get participation from the beginning.

I'm trying to get away from that this year for 2 reasons.  The first being that it seems unnecessarily harsh.  The second being that while I'm not sure that allowing that participation doesn't send the signal that you can just tune into class whenever you feel like it, that it's taking away rewards from the kids who have been working hard and well all period, I'm not sure that it does.  With my indecision on this topic, I've decided to err on the side of encouraging participating students.  (That may have been the most awkward paragraph I've ever written.)

The lesson worked just as well in period 8/9 with about the same level of participation.  The students who were engaged were VERY engaged and the others were tuned out.  I found them incredibly distracting, but my engaged students didn't appear to, so I let it go.

One student who is normally bouncing off the walls (Max, he was the one who I asked to hold the desk) sat on the opposite side of the room as the rest of the distractions and was completely engaged for the entire period.  I pulled him aside after class to heap praise on him for his active engagement and the great work that he did.  He was embarrassed in the way of someone who doesn't normally receive positive feedback.

It's difficult to teach while students are talking and singing and not paying attention, but I was able to reach a larger portion than I normally do (I think) and I didn't finish the day frustrated, angry or sad.

Overall, I count that as a win.  I started the day tired and prepared to sit behind my desk, watching sadly as students didn't work.  It turned into a great spontaneous lesson with some active engagement from some "fringe" students.

This was a good day!

Also, it was crazy hat day and I got some Valentines from students!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...