Tuesday, December 27, 2005

As I ponder the remainder of the school year, with the end of the first semester pressing quickly into view, I am terrified. How will I ever get through everything? Really.. seriously.. someone.. anyone... HOW DO YOU EVER GET THROUGH IT ALL??

I think it is just the change in mindset I have this year, the feeling I must teach to mastery, the I cannot move on until a majority of my students "get it", a knowing that if they do not understand the basics, the order of operations, the adding/subtracting/multiplying/dividing of integers, balancing simple one-step algebraic equations.. if they don't really GET all of that, the other things I will expect of them will be impossible. To me them understanding these concepts is so much more important than moving on. However, I also know that the MEAP next fall will expect them to have learned it all.

Am I an incompetent teacher, are my students slower than the average Michigan students, is it the fact they come to me underprepared for grade level work? Is it a combination of all of the above? I only have control over my teaching - I must deal with the students I have, with the skills sets they arrive with. So therefore the solution to the dilemna lies solely within me, my teaching, my ability to impart my knowledge into their minds. How do I do it? How can I improve? I need time to reflect, to really look objectively at the things I am doing, how I am doing them, and why... and ultimately, what do I need to change?

Monday, December 12, 2005

I can't believe the school year is almost half over. I feel like just yesterday those 7th graders walked in the door all excited to be back in school.

As far as covering curriculum, I think I am moving too slowly. I am always caught between moving on, and making sure they "get it". How do you balance the two? I constantly struggle to find that balance.

We're just now finishing Chapter 1 in our new math textbooks. Granted, it is a very involved chapter, covering everything from problem solving strategies, to integers, to writing and solving algebraic equations. And we've done some thing not in the book, of course, several tech integration projects, a review of decimals, place value, rounding, etc... that they sorely needed. But at this rate, my students will be in grad school before we finish 7th grade math.

So how so other teachers handle this problem? Do you just MOVE ON.. do you keep reteaching until you are confident that they get it? Are you better at time management than I am? Are you better at differentiating instruction than I am so you can have students working on 14 different lessons in your classroom? What so you use assessments for? Do we really need to give Chapter Tests if we plan on moving on anyway, regardless of the students' performance? How do you produce grades for report cards? Do you consider participation, or only how a student measures up against a pre-set standard?

hmmmm... issues to ponder.. questions for the ages..

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

I am so impressed overall with the efforts of my students this year. It is not that they are perfect by any means, but we are closing in on the end of the first marking period and I have only one student with a D, and no E's. They are working hard to get their assignments done and turned in on time. What can this be attributed to? Not me.. I don't really think I am doing anything differently this year, except maybe being more insistent and riding some of the ones who tend to slack a bit harder.

I think the biggest determining factor is Guided Study class. Those kids who would not get their work finished and would not do homework, have that extra class period every day. It really does make a difference. Most of them work hard those extra 50 minutes. They ask for help, they redo assignments, they really appreciate the opportunity they have. It is frustrating to have to tell students who are not in there and want to be that they cannot join. I wish every kid who wanted it, could have it.

I am looking forward to Friday. We are having our first inservice day, a true in-district PD day, led by teachers/staff in our own school. We are offering a selection of half a dozen or so tech classes, everything from software trainings in SchoolWires and Discourse,to using streaming video and webmail, ClassServer, and PowerGrade and just general tech integration. It is truly a "something for everyone" menu. My only concern is the negativity I fear some may come with. I can only do my best to make my sessions interesting, relavent and realize just as my 7th graders must accept some of the responsibilty for their own learning, so must these adult learners.

Today Mr. Overhiser came to talk to students about their upcoming vist to the museum. THey were soooo well behaved. I was as proud as could be. Now if our Thursday visit goes as smoothly...

Monday, October 03, 2005

It's the sixth week of school and things are moving along quickly. Today was our clean up day at Hamilton Lake. Most of the kids were awesome. I was so impressed with some of them. Lincoln was out there pushing/pulling this heavy huge cart up and down the hills, with it gettting heavier and heavier as other kids put garbage in there. Even with the metal, old tires, etc.. Lincoln insisted on taking charge of that cart. He was dripping with sweat. Dakota was dragging huge trees off the trail. Kara was up in the back of the truck shoveling weeds onto the bonfire pile. John and Josh were picking up the most disgusting stuff I've ever seen.

and then.. the other ones.. who just simply would not listen - swinging from trees, stomping dirt piles, running through the woods, not helping pull weeds or pick up garbage. They were rude to Mrs. Brown from the Soil Conservation District. They did not want to get dirty. They simply were not into the project at all. I was really disappointed in them.

Other stuff at school. We are working on integers. This is their first experience with algebra, variables, exponents, and negative numbers. It seems this group has less prior knowledge than most groups. But they are working hard and seem to be "getting it". We are taking it slow. I am determined that before we move on, they will have the basics down.

Tomorrow Mr Oberhiser from the Historical Society will come talk to them about their visit to the musuem which is scheduled for Thursday. I hope we can instill in those who were incooperative today, the importance of being more so tomorrow and Thursday.

Next week we start MEAPS.... YUCK!! Christine will give Language Arts the first week and then I will give the math the next. I don't feel like the kids are ready at all.. I just have to have faith they can problem solve their way through.

Monday, August 29, 2005

The first day is over. It went by like a whirlwind. With students only beingthere for half the day, it was like herding cattle to get them through theirschedules. I am really excited for a couple of reasons though. The 7thgraders I have this year, I had for tech class last year so no learningnames this year! They already know me and my expectations somewhat. Ialready know them and their temperaments. I think it is going to be a greatyear.Another reason I am excited is our new math program. After 10 years of usingConnected Math, we have gone to a more traditional series, using GlencoeMath 2, Math 3 and Pre-Algebra (eventually Algebra) in a hopes to get moreof our high schoolers ready to take Calculus as seniors. While there wasmuch I loved about Connected, it was difficult for many of our students,parents were unhappy, and it did not meet our Michigan standardseffectively. I feel intrepid about following a text since I have alwayspretty much winged my way through the year, with my classes workingprimarily on project based learning experiences. But with this newcurriculum/text, I will be expected to adhere more to the "norm".The kids were great - so excited to be back. Several of us had gottentogether last week and decorated the halls with posters, crepe paperbanners, and HUGE WELCOME BACK banners with cute little stick peoplerepresenting all the staff. I also hung a banner by the student bathroomsthat said, "Sign your name if you are happy to be back in school." By the time the dismissal bell rang today, it was full of signatures, validating our efforts.

Friday, June 24, 2005

The door has closed on another school year. My room sits closed and stuffy, bare walls, clean desk.... an empty echo of voices long gone. All is all, it was a great year. I am not confident I taught as much math as I should have. However, we did an incredible amount of worthwhile learning this year. Having laptops really impacted my teaching in ways I never thought possible. The students really put the pressure on to us them every day, and I am just not competent enough in tech integration at this point to always have Plan A involve the computers. Still, in the end of year evaluations students fill out, their responses were so positive in regard to the laptops and how helpful they found them.

Today I was looking over the end of year STAR reading test scores, seeing the dramatic improvements made by so many kids. AR, right or wrong... is getting our students to READ!

Our new math program is on order! I am so excited. A bit intimidated as well... I have NEVER taught using a text book primarily and I am not so keen on doing it either. I do think these books will better suit our population. We are going to Glencoe from Connected Math. I love so much about Connected - the higher level thinking skills are great but I have always doubted the effectiveness of it really giving my students the down and dirty skills they need to succeed, in high school math, and in life. I just don't see kids developing NUMBER SENSE anymore. I am hoping the more parent and kid friendly layout of the Glencoe books will help our MEAP scores rise. Our new superintendent really layed it out - if he buys the books, the SCORES MUST IMPROVE.... I understand his point.. I really do.. but kids are unpredicatble.

Now with the imminent threat of the local prison closing, who knows what the next year will bring. If all those kids leave our school.... who knows WHAT I will be teaching....

Busy summer plans... one week was already spent at Digital Design Academy learning Dreamweaver, Flash, and Fireworks. WOW... way cool... way cool...
This week one day working on the Technology through Generations project with my 5 high schoolers who will teach adult ed classes in the evenings about basic online stuff. Two more days working with the Eastern Upper Peninsula ISD Math Intervention Specialist Team developing the new protocol for special ed referrals for struggling math students.
Next week starts tutoring my little incoming 7th grader.... an online Tapped In project with TLN, working on NSDC presentation.... planning for CiviConnections grant conference....

and I really want to read the latest Nicholas Sparks and John Grisham novels before school starts again....

Monday, May 02, 2005

Our geometry unit is pretty much wrapped up. This is always my favorite all year. It is so easy to do hands-on activities that students enjoy. We made tangrams, made 3-D figures, learned how to construct triangles, perpendicular bisectors, designed, made and flew kites, learned all the normal stuff too. It is so rewarding to see students like little Annie who has struggled so all year, blossom in geometry because she can see it and touch it.

Now we are starting into some work on ratios and proportional reasoning which I will tie back into similar triangles eventually. Today students worked in groups to measure various bdoy parts. Tomorrow they will use these measurements to draw life-size replicas of themselves. The next step.... to scale smaller versions of themselves, using proportions to find the measurements.

Looped in all this I am trying to do some sampling activities. We want to count the grass at the football field, and today was our day to take our foot by foot cardboard "window" to count sections, but it was SNOWING so we decided to wait to a warmer day!

Next week is camp... I am so excited. This is the best 3 days of 7th grade without a doubt. THis group of kids will be awesome campers. We have so many new plans - square dancing one night, a campfire sing-along (an idea way past due...) complete with so'mores. Add in the normal stuff - canoeing, hiking, survival, archery, air rifle, photo scavenger hunt, stream, shirt making, woodshop, etc.... what more could a kid (and an overgrown kid... ME!!) ask for for 3 days fun.
I think the best part for me is my own daughter.. my 19 year old lost soul of a child... is going the second year to teach classes - stream is her specialty. To watch her there with those girls especially - digging in the mud and muck, getting them to find critters and touch them... I am so amazed. She is really good with them.. I wish she could see this the way I do!

ahhhh..... life is good.... I love my job... I love my job... and this time... it is a sincere I love my job day!

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

We started our geometry unit yesterday... my favorite of the year. We always start by cutting tangrams and then using the tans to create shapes. WOW! I love this stuff so much... having the kids cut their own is a trial, no doubt, but we get through so much great vocabulary as we do it. squares, rectangles, parallelograms, trapezoids, similar, acute, obtuse, hypotenuse, etc... it is such a fun lesson for me and them, and they really pick up on it quickly. And I love their enthusiam for making the shapes, and their frustration when they can't.... and the groans, and moans of THIS IS IMPOSSIBLE!!! OH WAIT I GOT IT!! This is what it's all about :-)

Monday, February 07, 2005

Would someone tell me what is SO terribly complicated about writing a letter?? We have spent 2 valuable days of math class writing thank you letters to the governor for our laptops. A worthwhile assignment, yes... but I did not know it was going to be so terribly difficult for my students to handle it.

I set it up so they used a total block style format - DON'T INDENT ANYTHING... I must have said that at least... 1000 times the past 2 days.... not exaggerating in the least... but yet, as the letters came out of the printer, INDENTED lines!!!

Little things like capitalizing MI both letters in the state abbreviation.... Little things like capitalizing their own names...Little things like addressing an envelope. I put a sample on the board, leaving nothing to chance, or so I was naiive enough to think. But where I wrote "your name" for the first line of the return address, one young man actually wrote "your name"... and no, he was not being smart assed... at least I don't even want to think so...

and then another of my charmers, got suspended today for having "a huge ole back of dope" in his pocket.... the same young man who flipped me off in class Friday for scolding him for laughing when a girl was crying because she thought her PowerPoint was erased.

somedays.... somedays... somedays... I am glad this is here so not only can I vent but also so I can look back and read the good days... somedays... somedays... somedays...

Thursday, February 03, 2005

If we survive integers, I will be amazed. The most frustrating part is the kids who don't get it. I don't know what else to try, honestly. So many of my lower kids, the ones who usually struggle, are picking up on this so easily now. It is the higher end kids who are lost - who keep saying they don't get it. Part of me just wants to scream - it really is not that complicated!! But the 7th grade teacher in me knows it is so abstract for them at this age, that yes, it is that complicated.

Tomorrow we will take time to write letter to Governor Granholm to ask for her continued support of the FTL program. I hope I get some really good letters that may impact her decisions on allocating budget funds.

The spelling bee was tonight... alas, my little Frank who begged me to be there, went out on his first word. ACHIEVEMENT.... but of course it was not his fault - the judges were blocking his view of his dad, he could not see me, either(although I had a clear view of him...) blah, blah... that poor kid wanted it so badly... and winning would have really boosted his self-esteem but sometimes in life we take the hard licks... he just seems to get more than his fair share.

Friday, January 28, 2005

What an absolutely wonderful day to be a teacher :-) This was one of those days that makes it all worthwhile.... To start the day, another 7th grade teacher and I escorted 28 of our 7th graders out to breakfast. Their homeroom had won the first semester Survivor challenge. They were SO well-behaved. The entire outing could not have gone any smoother.

And then, like frosting on a cake... so went math class. Yesterday I introduced the idea of subtracting integers on a number line. This is by far the hardest, most abstract thing we do all year... I positively dread it. Yesterday was OK, pretty typical for the first day of this new concept. Today though, I gave them blank number lines and problems to put on them... partner problems, where the addition of a negative was the partner of the subtraction of the positive, and so forth. THEY GOT IT!!! I was so amazed, impressed, proud. They finished out the hour online at math.com with their first 2 integers lessons. It was such good stuff....

I was so elated that when my little 6th graders came in begging to go to the high school winter homecoming assembly, I actually took them. And, they behaved like absolute angels....

Some days, I love my job.... I really love it... today was stellar.

Monday, January 17, 2005

grrrr..... It was ONE OF THOSE DAYS....I don't know if it was because it was Monday, because there was a snowstorm raging outside, because I came to school in a very pro-kid state of mind, or a combination of all of the above... but I could have walked away and gone to McDonald's and said HIRE ME... without even giving it much thought today.

The kids were loud, chatty, catty, rude, disruptive, disrespectful.... They did not want to pay attention, and we were doing something new - adding integers using a number line model... so when I expected them to be able to attempt the new skill independently... they could not even give it a valiant effort for the most part. And it was not just those predictable few who were not with me, it was a majority of them. They were either daydreaming, talking among themselves, putting on lip gloss (BIG GGGGGRRRRR......), reading their AR book, most anything but watching me at the board. I was so annoyed and frustrated and ultimately impatient, which really did not help the situation at all....

Why are some days so difficult, and the rest of the time, days go by.. day after day, week after week... things running so smoothly one becomes complacent? And then a day like today, that is so absolutely outside the realm of normality, it makes me question my reasons for being a teacher at all??

But as frustrating as today was, I know... I trust.... I have to believe... tomorrow will start with a clean slate... and my sweet angels will return... RIGHT??? :-)
ahh... the joy of taking 40 middle schoolers to a hockey game... words cannot describe... but I will try...
When you live in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, hockey is a way of life. In our little town, even in the summer months, hockey dominates. Kids block off entire blocks of streets to play street hockey, and even more amazing, drivers take the long way through town to let the games continue. In the winter, parents drive 60 miles each way to take skaters to the nearest artificial ice so hockey players can practice and play. When winter finally sets in, and the weather permits, the old hockey building in town makes real ice. Our players much prefer to practice here, priding themselves on being the only team around who still does it the “old way”.
With hockey being so important to the Yooper culture, it only seemed natural to want to take our middle schoolers to a college hockey game. Our isolated location means many of our students never travel to new places or see things others take for granted, so a trip to a REAL hockey game is a REAL treat. Not only do you get the thrill of the hockey game, but you get to see things like traffic lights, fast food restaurants other than McDonald’s, and people, lots of them.
So plans were made, tickets were ordered, the bus requested…. 40 middle schoolers and 8 adults were eager for the adventure.
When I drove into school Friday night, I was bundled up on all my warm winter gear, long johns, turtleneck, sweatshirt, hat, gloves, boots, all in hopes I would not to freeze to death on the school bus. The air temps were below zero, the wind chills and treacherously low, in the minus 30’s and 40’s, and blizzard conditions were predicted for our route. But nothing was keeping us from going on this trip!
When I walked into the school, I was greeted by a throng of excited middle schoolers. As the crowd grew to our anticipated number, the excitement also grew. I checked the trip roster, and when the bus finally arrived 15 minutes late, we loaded up and off we drove into the cold and darkness of a snowstorm.
The bus was filled with laughter, songs, the smells of body emissions from those who must have eaten cabbage, beans, and other noxious gas producing foods for months before loading the bus, and the objections of those smelling those gases. But the laughter was the predominant, and the 100 miles passed quickly, with excitement building with every mile.
When we neared Marquette, I passed out hockey tickets, and went over the rules: Always stay with a buddy. Always let an adult know where you are going.
It seemed so simple… until we got to Berry Events Center, and the throng poured off the bus. The excitement was too much. I have been on many field trips, taken students to many events, but I have never seen such chaos ensue in such as short time. Students scattered in every possible direction, some headed to the rest rooms after the 2 hour bus ride; some were desperate for food; others found their seats. But everywhere I turned, there was a student alone!! There were like fleas on the back of a dog, crawling through the arena, mysteriously appearing and disappearing, alluding my attempts to herd them all back together.
By the time the National Anthem started, miraculously, all of them had made it to our section, and were seated, with enough food to feed a third world country’s entire population for a week.
I can’t say I saw a lot of the hockey game that night, with all the ups and downs, the questions, and the laughter, but I do know that I have never enjoyed a hockey game more. During the second period, the Northern Michigan University mascot, Wildcat Willy, came to visit. He was so amazing with my group. He had them in headlocks, he teased, he made them laugh, he had them cheering… Willy made us feel like we were the most important spectators at the game.
My students had made letters to hold up at the game that spelled out NEWBERRY MIDDLE SCHOOL LOVES THE NMU WILDCATS. The letters were in the school colors of green and gold, complete with sparkles. The process of making this message took hours of coordinating, and left my classroom covered in paint and glitter that may always be there. But it looked so amazing! It was spelled right!! They got them passed out in order!! They held the letter high above their heads and CHEERED!! Kids you would never see talking to each other at school, laughing together, working to spell out other words.
And soon, another chant arose from some: G is for Mrs. George… L is for Love… as they held the G and L high above their heads. I knew all the hard work to get this trip together for them was worth it in that instant.
Our team won the game. We managed to get the entire crew back on the bus, and headed home without major incidence. Until they started singing again... some strange song I had never heard that had places to put in people's names... about relationships or something... anyway, initially it was fun, but then of course it got out of hand.. and rude, so we made them stop... which all in all was not too bad I guess...
We got home a bit later than anticipated and it was 10 below when we did arrive... but what a night... what a wonderful night...

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Integers are always a baffling thing for my 7th graders and this year's group is no different. While the basics of much of the information we cover is relatively simple to comprehend, that in reality on serves to make the material seemingly that much more difficult for them to "get". Why is that the case? That is the million$ question!

We are working on absolute value.... such an easy concept- whatever the number, its absoute value is simply that number without regard for its sign, the distance the number is from 0 on the number line.. but they turn it into something much more complex....

And mix that with snippets of subtracting negative numbers they have been exposed to here and there and think they know... it is all a tumble of confusion. But they are slowly coming around... and with these kids, I have to believe it will come...

My group of 7th graders I have now... WOW!! What a contrast to the first group. This group works independently... and works... Monday and Tuesday they spent finding links about the tsunami. I was so impressed with their efforts. Then they rotated around the room looking at the sites each other had found. WOW!! again... unbelievable... they are so ON TASK... so mature compared to the last group. I wonder what the last group will be like!

I have been thinking a lot about camp lately.. We are trying to find a person to teach square dancing maybe one evening... I still would like to come up some exciting classes which do nto require so much prep from us ahead of time. It seems we are in such a rush prepping those few weeks before camp it is a whirlwind.

Not a resolution this year to blog... but I will try harder to be a regular... too many other committments... too many people/things/demands on my time...