Sunday, November 23, 2008

With 3 1/2 weeks left until Christmas break, I am trying to organize my brain around some active, fun, engaging GLCE driven math lessons to keep my kids on track. Part of the difficulty lies with the planned absences this time of year. So many parents schedule extended vacations around the holidays. While I believe in the value of travel, family time, and the premise that learning occurs naturally outside the classroom, these trips make lesson planning more complicated.

Many of the hands on things in my bag of tricks have no written work to substitute for absent students. Sure, I could in theory dig out some worksheets from our text to hand them, but does that truly replicate?

So..... I am going to plan forgetting students will be gone, knowing some will miss out.

This short Thanksgiving week is easy. We are going to draw Cartesian cartoons. My students always need practice graphing, for some reason. I don't see what they struggle so much with what appears to be a simple concept. However, thanks to my supervising teacher when I was student teaching oh so many years ago, I purchased 2 books of Cartesian cartoons - with only only positive coordinates and the other with points in all four quadrants. I also got a super simple one for those struggling students - this one has letters and numbers with direction to color squares different colors. It is cute but not challenging for most 7th graders. I want to require all students to complete the most difficult one but as usual, I wonder if I am setting myself up for a disaster. If time permitted, I would have them each do 2, or complete one and create one. Can you imagine how creative some of their own would be?

After turkey holiday time is done, we will head into our data unit. I have a great hands-on lesson to review mean, median, mode, as well as quartiles. I invited our special ed teacher to bring his kids in for the data stuff so things are going to be exciting 4th hour. This is my GREAT class though so I am not worried to much other than space. Suddenly I will have 32 kids instead of 21, but there will be an additional teacher. My only concern with them joining us is one student who has Asperger's Syndrome and does not adjust well to large, loud groups, or change.

In the past, I have used the tiny snack boxes of raisins to teach box & whisker plots ( you know.. those funny graphs you see **everywhere** ... OK, the only place I have ever seen the is a textbook and the MEAP). The raisins work great though. We create a double box and whisker comparing our estimates of how many raisins are in the box with our actual #'s. We also create a double stem and leaf plot with our data. While raisins are not students' favorite snack, it makes a relatively dull lesson more exciting.

Then we move on to circle graphs. When I was first teaching, I bought snack bags of M&M's but now that I am older and wiser with the funds I spend in my classroom, I use Tootie Frootie cereal, which works just as well. Those big bags are cheap and a paper cup of cereal is perfect for circle graph data. I have students create a small poster of their own individual data displayed in both a circle and bar graph, as well the class data. Great lesson for not just graphs, and why each is better for certain circumstances, but also, we hit relative and cumulative frequency, as well as translating those into fractions, decimals and percents. And at the end, I have all those cool posters to hang on the walls, which students LOVE.

SO back to lesson planning..... I think I will start out with a little book work to prep them first so their prior knowledge is activated. With the promise of cool food activities on the horizon, the book work will set them up perfectly.

Social studies: Monday we start their presentation project on Europe. I took the social studies GLCE's and sorted through what they needed to know, and created this. I hope it works OK. I have concerns about a couple of my students who do very little work. I struggle with the constant question of allowing students to choose their own partners, or assigning them. I hate sticking a good student with someone who will not do their share of the work.

I wish I had some cool idea for something other than a powerpoint - but here I am into powerpointless land again. This mode of presentation does lend itself well to this project but I would love to introduce students to a cool new tool. Alas, I don't have one in my back pocket so ..... and I do not want the time to be caught up in teaching how to use the tool either. That reminds me, though, I need to create a sample for them to critique! (YIKES!)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I was gone Monday morning for a math department meeting and then all day Tuesday to the ISD for a math curriculum team meeting. I had the same sub both days, a very nice retired teacher from our district.

Unfortunately, it was mass chaos while she was there. Some of it, my kids knew better, but other things, were entirely within her control.

She allowed students to take attendance. I am all for giving students responsibility, but we are told over and over again that our attendance book is a legal binding document. Mine was inaccurate as only 7th graders can be expected to make it!

My prealgebra 4th hour class did not even get to go over their homework from the day before to get a chance for questions to be answered because she was too busy talking about hurricanes. Both of my prealgebra classes on their assignment she gave them answers to problems. She didn't work through problems with them, she just simply gave them answers. Several students last hour were so upset they actually starred those problems on their papers with a note.

The classroom was a mess, a disaster area, with garbage, papers, rulers, colored pencils, etc.. all over. This, I scolded my classes for. They know better than to leave our room that way.

The social studies assignment was fairly simple - directions in the teacher's addition said to have students label countries in Europe with name, and then divide them into regions - north, south, east and west according to the clues given in the chapter. She told them to just label countries and color them. A total waste of time.... No higher order thinking at all.

Several students did NOTHING while I was gone. Granted they are the ones who do little when I am there, but at least I try to get them to work. She was excited they had written names on their papers.

I am frustrated with our substitute teacher situation. I have complained and complained but it does no good.

My district expects me to attend these meetings, which are planned months in advance, but instead of securing competent subs, I get the bottom of the barrel. This means the days I am gone are a total waste of educational time. I feel like telling the kids to just not show up when I am going to be gone.

The worst part is when the kids themselves complain. I have no answer for them. How can I defend her actions? Should I?

And, today I have no voice.... laryngitis has set in and all I can do it squeak. As usual, the kids were great, rising to the occasion for the most part. I did have a few issues but none that weren't with the usual suspects. They will have to wait for another post!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Mighty Dragon of Chaos
When you are inherently unorganized, life’s simplest tasks can be ove
rwhelming. That describes me exactly. I am one of those people, left to her own devices, would simply suffocate under the piles of stuff that accumulate around me. Fortunately, I am not ashamed to admit this personality flaw and am in constant search of tricks to lasso the mighty dragon of chaos.

Over the years, I have collected ideas from every teacher I have met. While some work well for them and not for me, I have managed to piece together enough tools to keep my classroom running somewhat smoothly most of the time.

Below are my top ten stolen organization secrets:

1. Have specific places for students to turn in work – I use plastic stackable baskets, with bold clear labels for each hour. This stops students from tossing a paper onto my desk and being sucked into the black hole, never to be seen again.

2. Have a designated place for students to collect their work from when they are absent. The last thing I do each day before leaving school is take care of absent work. I look at my attendance book and for each student gone each hour, I put exactly what we did that day with any homework and handouts in a basket marked with the hour and ABSENT WORK. This puts the primary responsibility on the student, and makes my life easier without the question of “What did I miss yesterday?” being easy to answer.

3. Have a NO NAME folder. Unless you teach in Lake Woebegone, your students will on occasion, turn in work without a name. Later when they note a missing assignment, you can now simply point, “Did you check the No Name folder?”

4. Use online grading programming - if your district does not use something like PowerSchool, fight to get it. This makes for fewer parent phone calls, fewer students questioning about their grades, fewer writing lists of missing assignments, and best of all, no last minute panic at report card time. But do not get behind on grading - you expect students to turn work in on time. Have the courtesy to assess and return promptly as well. I find myself much more accountable when grades are posted for parents to view.

5. Write the day's lesson on the board. This solves the perpetual “What are we doing today?” question as well as focuses you and your students on the task at hand. Also, write notes on board - reminders for week, etc... so kids learn to look there. Help them learn to be responsible and plan ahead.

6. Have a board in hall outside classroom where you write what students need for class each hour. This method of reminding them what to bring each day helps teach middle schoolers to be organized. Students can be overwhelmed with so many classes and different teachers and thinking in 4 minutes can be tough.

7. Expect students to come to class prepared - I do not allow them to go get calculators, pencil, etc... I loan pencils, paper, textbooks, etc...they are all in designated area of classroom. I do not loan calculators, but "If you wanted it you would have brought it to class" usually sets the tone. Time in the hall is wasted time and I simply do not allow them to go get forgotten things.

8. Keep seating charts on a podium or other easily accessible location so you can take attendance in a split second as students are completing the class starter for day - something written on board to get their minds into gear for today's class - as you take attendance -ours is required to be online within first 10 minutes of class so I do it immediately when the bell rings. Seating charts also are invaluable to a substitute teacher. Mine also serves as a roster for fire drills or other trips out of the classroom since I have no grade book as such.

9. Use email for parent contacts whenever possible – This saves time and makes it easy to keep paper trail. Parents appreciate the ease of contact. Talk to parents early on - establish a positive relationship before there are problems. Send them a positive email about something you notice about a student. Those positives are like money in the bank when you do encounter a discipline problem later in the year.

10.Let go of the things that don’t really matter. My first years in the classroom I spent hours organizing my class library. When students returned books, I had to put the checkout cards back in and shelve the books back in their appropriate location. Finally, a couple of years ago, I decided enough of that! Now students know my books are NOT organized. If they want a book, they will have to dig for it. It is almost like a treasure hunt. Books in order may matter to you, but for me, those are hours better spent on other things. Examine your own classroom for those little things you can let go.

My classroom is not neat and tidy and shiny like some. It has that homey, lived-in, loved look. The tables are never quite in perfect straight lines, the computer cords are twisted and tangled, and my teacher desk looks like a recycling center exploded on it. But my students and I spend our time together engaged in learning, and for the most part, things run smoothly. With a little help from my stolen ideas, I bet yours could be the same!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I admit it... I am a bad person, a bad teacher.... My least favorite student is suspended for 3 days, and that makes me ecstatic. He got into trouble after school, being disrespectful to a paraprofessional, arguing about something. I cannot be accused of picking on him. This incident in no way had anything to do with me.

When he is gone, things run so much more smoothly, though today, his buddy did get into a bit of trouble. It seems he is having trouble in band and instead of dealing with the teacher personally, he is running his mouth in the hall, and even in class, being disrespectful towards her. Not only is this unacceptable, the attitude is carrying over into class. Today, I saw him throw a piece of something across the room. My usual punishment for such an offense is to show up at lunch and clean before going down to cafeteria. Of course, this young man balked at giving up his lunch time, and tried to convince me to let him come to my room instead of band. I first said no and then thought, hmmm.. perfect teachable moment.

He showed up right on time and started picking up all those million tiny scraps on my floor. He did ask for a broom and I said no way.... then, I started talking to him about band and his attitude towards the band teacher, and how disrespectful he had been towards her earlier. He told me his side of the story, in great detail. We talked about possible solutions. He decided to write her a letter outlining how he feels, how he feels about being treated unfairly in her class, and what his proposed solution to the problems is. He left with a smile on his face. My floor is clean.

Will he follow through and really write to her? I don't know. I will touch base with him tomorrow and ask him. I hope he does, and I hope she reads it with an open heart and mind.

He really is a good kid, with a tough life, and I like him a lot. I want him to realize that. I hope today helps that relationship grow.

Monday, November 10, 2008

First snow delay this morning! Wow, totally unexpected. But of course, the kids are all wired now. It certainly makes for an interesting start to the day and week!

Last week ended with parent teacher conferences Thursday. I saw 36 parents of the 67 students I teach. Not a bad turnout. I think now with PowerSchool, and parents having constant access to their child's grades, we see fewer inherently. That is unfortunate because there are so many other things I would like to talk to parents about other than grades.

Typically, most of the parents I want to talk to, don't show up. However, this year, I did get to have some great conversations with several parents. It is wonderful how supportive and concerned most parents are about their children and their education.

I have to admit I love conferences, even though the sitting there all day is tiring. I love hearing comments that this is the first year a student has done well in math, or that I am a large part of the reason their child is having a great 7th grade year. It is reaffirming that all the time and effort I put forth is appreciated.

I love talking to parents about how great their kids are. I love sharing stories of their sense of humor, kind deeds for others, as well as academics successes. Parents love their child unconditionally, but the reassurance that someone else feels the same can be so comforting. I had one mom tell me her child has never felt smart before this year. He has always thought he was dumb, treated as such by teachers. That breaks my heart.... he is an amazing kid. He has a huge attendance problem, is frequently tardy to school, does not always make up his work... but those are parenting issues. When he is here, he is engaged, on task, very knowledgeable about a variety of topics, and wants to do well. I love having him in class. I shudder to think that teachers have damaged children this way, year after year...

But then.. there are those students I do not connect with, I know. We cannot all reach all of them, despite our best of intentions.