I-THINK

My first I-THINK I Can Problem Solve activity!  As I expected, it was kind of a disaster.  The students are new to this type of thinking and responding, and I most certainly am new to this kind of teaching.  But, I expected that, so I just focused on what I was learning to do next time.

The main thing was that no matter how much scaffolding I did, the students did not understand the question, which also explains why some (and some of my brightest) seemed disengaged.  They thought the Coconut Problem was a simple question (7 coconuts times 3 sailors plus the 3 thrown to the monkeys is 24), so they stopped thinking and processing.  It was only when I went around and questioned them (How are you accounting for the coconuts the sailors stole?) that they started to see the scope of the problem.

I also found it difficult to explain what I meant by “different methods to solve.”  In third period, I gave examples of write an equation, draw a picture, guess and check.  So they all parroted that without understanding what those things meant.  In fourth period I gave the general example of “Three methods for gassing up my car would be: go to a gas station, siphon some gas from someone else, refine my own gasoline.”  That seemed to confuse things even more.

I definitely will keep doing this.  My goal is twice a month.  Hopefully, together, both the students and I will get better at it.

Also, I am out of my orthopedic “boot” and back in shoes today!

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Random Thoughts for a Wednesday

Today I did the Sweet Work with Fractions activity from NCTM. It went okay, not a disaster but not a rousing success, either. It made them think, but unfortunately the “level of concern” was not high enough. They are just not good enough with fractions for the activity to go quickly, and without the concern of being called on soon, they got bored and side conversations sprung up. This may be a good one to repeat using one of the variations because now they know what to expect and, hopefully, after seeing their scored answer sheets with the rubric I made, will make them better understand what the expectation is. I am starting to think that some things need to be done several times to work.

As I stated in this blog post, I decided to break up the block by teaching different benchmarks in the different hours. So while first hour is integers and fractions, second hour is equations. We just completed one-step equations, and so today as a review, I did One-Step Equation Bingo. That was fun, although pseudo-compliance is a problem because they can pretend to be working the problem but really not be doing anything. Still, it is a good activity to have in my bag of tricks, good for a shortened day or sub day.

On to Geometry: I completely forgot to teach angle addition. I taught segment addition, and then I ran right off into supplementary and complimentary angles. I just realized my mistake in the middle of class today, so I may go ahead and circle back tomorrow.

Also, I was thinking about changing my bell work but now I’m reconsidering. Since it’s pretty basic, the students ARE getting better at it as they have more practice. Having 20 questions or so means that they are all working, no matter how early they get in to class. I can stop as soon as I want (lately I’ve only been taking the first 5 or 6 minutes of class). So it is working.

What’s not working is the kids who finish early. I’m trying the green pen thing, but they aren’t really “down” with helping each other once their done. I’ve spoken to other teachers, who confirm that our students are reluctant to pair-share, discuss, or help one another. I suppose it is ordinary shyness. But that is an element I’ll need to think up a solution to.

And We’re Off

I’ve already taken my first sub day.

My five-year old picked up a stomach bug and was sick all night Thursday night, so I had to stay home with him Friday. Yes, the fourth day of school. I didn’t even have any sub plans made. Luckily for me I have home internet now and my awesome school secretary let me email her the plans and she made copies for me.

However, by Sunday morning I was feeling the bug, and by Sunday night I was laid out by it. I dragged myself to school Monday because I really didn’t want to miss another day. I made it through but let’s just say there wasn’t a lot of Socratic Method happening. I came home and just crashed out. Let’s hope I’m more myself today.

So, That Happened

I got observed today.  It wasn’t a formal observation or anything.  More like a surprise inspection.  My principal and vice-principal came in unannounced and observed my third period lesson and asked students questions.

I don’t think it went well.

The feedback I got was that I’m not giving clear enough instructions (Because part of what I was doing was seeing how well they follow instructions), I’m not encouraging enough talking and discussion (because the observation ended before the discussion portion), and I’m not checking on their work enough (because I can barely hobble around my classroom).

I know…positivity.  This is my challenge.  I get constructive criticism and I take it personally.  See the paragraph above.  See my immediate defensive comments in parentheses.  This is something I really need to work on.  But as the sage said, in order to get out of jail you first need to realize you’re in jail.

We also had a math department meeting today.  The main focus was how to facilitate classroom discussion and how to get students to comply.  There were five main points:

  1. Make sure to give clear and concise instruction.
  2. Explain in the instruction what the desired response is.  Are students to write down the answer?  Share out?  Will one student be called on?
  3. Give an exact time limit for how long they will work.  Try to be as accurate as possible, keeping in mind it is better to end early (telling them they have two minutes and then stopping after a minute and a half) than end late (telling them they have two minutes and actually giving them three).
  4. Stand back and observe the class before you start to circulate.  Look to the “MVPs” first.  As you walk around you will be listening to student discourse.  This is your opportunity to watch.
  5. Complement and critique the discussion, not the math.  Remember that the discussion is the goal.  Give positive feedback for positive behaviors (i.e. “You did a good job explaining your diagram.”)

A recommended resource was  Edutopia for new thinking about teaching.

I talked to a fellow math teacher about interactive notebooks and how I’m just flummoxed by it all.  As we talked and she showed me the one she’s making for her Algebra 1 class, it occurred to me that I could make my own this year to get a feel for it as I go along, and then if I feel it is something valuable I could work it in to my classes next year.

Some Up, Some Down…

Today I did Everybody is a Genius’s Points Lines Planes Describe-and-Draw Activity in Geometry.  It was really awesome and fun.  I started with just a little vocabulary review which was direct instruction.  I know I could have done that in a more interactive way, but frankly I nearly ran out of time anyway and that would have completely skewed things.  Instead of having the students draw on index cards I made up a sheet with spaces for each drawing.   I started out with three minutes for each drawing but then shortened that to two minutes.  Even so, we didn’t finish in second and third period.  The students really seemed to enjoy it.

I was less successful in Algebra.  I used an activity from our Summer Institute involving modeling integer addition and subtraction in different ways.  The activity was good, but my teaching was not.  I basically just had the students do it but I didn’t have insightful or probing questions, and I didn’t have a whole lot of interactivity with it.  So, overall a dud class and something I really need to address in my teaching.  I am also realizing that the class just gets way to stale if I stay on one topic for the whole two hours of the double-block.  I might have to jump ahead a unit and basically teach the class as two different tracks.

It didn’t help that by fifth period I felt like I was walking on ground glass.  I really wanted to sit down but that is just not the way I teach.  I finally did perch on a stool in sixth period once the drawing activity was up and running, but even then I found myself getting up too much. This is why I have foot problems.  I’m always pacing around the classroom like a caged tiger.

First Day Recap

I started the day a bit negative but I had to remind myself to turn it around.  Besides, I HATE hearing myself be negative.  Ever have that sensation that as the words are coming out of your mouth you just want to grab them and shove them back in?  Yeah, that’s the way I feel when I hear myself talking negatively.  I cringe.  BUT luckily, thanks to two of my math teacher peeps, my issues were resolved before my first class.  I even had time to label my desks.

And while I am really glad that I got on the list for book checkout today, it DID mean that I had to walk three-quarters of the way across campus and back five times today on my still healing foot.  So now I’m home and my feet ache, but on the plus side (positivity!) I actually think all of this walking and being on my feet is going to help my foot heal faster.  And truth be told, my feet ALWAYS hurt the first couple of weeks of school anyway, until I get used to six-hour-plus days on my feet.  Part of the issue was that my fifth and sixth period needed more management, which meant more walking around, just at the time when I felt like I was walking on a bloody stump.  The contrast bath the doctor prescribed (alternating hot & cold foot baths) was delightful, though.  I may have to do that again before bed.

Overall good, but I was definitely more lecture-y today than I would have liked to be.  I know, first day and all, but I want to be aware of it.  I have a few students who are disengaged or are acting out so I’ll have to craft a strategy for dealing with that, and a returning student (repeating Geometry) who I’m not sure what I’m going to do with.  He is on an IEP and always wants to just leave class to go to his resource teacher, but if my lessons are structured around more discovery and group discussions, he misses too much instruction to do that.  He’s not happy about it and consequently is acting out already.  I plan to talk with his resource teacher and my lead about it.

I also didn’t have quite enough stuff for Algebra 1.  I need to do more with them and have more stuff “up my sleeve.”  I did figure out a good way to do the graphic organizer for vocabulary.  Rather than have them do one for each word, I had them to the pre-assessment and then pick the two words they scored the lowest on and do those.  Sixth period is super noisy and off-task, but that is nothing new for a sixth period.  I’ll have to keep things hopping in there.

So, I feel good about today, but ill-prepared for tomorrow, and so tired I know I can’t do anything more tonight, except maybe set up my seating chart and record some of the stuff I had them do today.

Oh, also, the student who was supposed to TA for me this year can’t now.  Blergh on that!

To finish on a positive note:  I love my new timer!  Best $1 I ever spent.  It kept me on track so “two more minutes” really WAS two more minutes.  And it beeped to remind me to move on.  Excellent.

First Day

Today is the first day of the school year.  I don’t really feel ready, but on the other hand, I’m ready as I’ll ever be.  I’ve got Geometry lesson planned for the first week already, and Algebra 1 just through tomorrow (it’s a double block, so those 4 lessons equal the same amount as I’ve planned for Geometry).  My goal is to do some sort of group discussion activity every day.

My sons helped me set up my classroom last Friday.  I still don’t have teacher’s editions for my textbooks, but since I’m focusing on group work that doesn’t really bother me.  I arranged the desks in groups following Mathy McMatherson’s suggestion. I used Math=Love’s room signs for problem solving and integer operations.  And I added this quote from Melissa Hillman: ”Video games taught me that a giant, open world you know nothing about and bumble your way through like a fool will soon feel like familiar ground as long as you keep playing, pay attention, and see mistakes as gathering information for better problem solving next time.”  I love that and I hope that my students recognize that they already have the skill set to be successful in math!