Getting Around

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Finally Got the Year's First Cold

I went to bed very early the last two nights because I was wiped. Now I'm up in the wee hours of the morning because I feel yucky and can't sleep. I sort of blame the parents of the poor kid who kept coming to school over the last week an a half even though he was too miserable to keep his head up for long stretches. I gave him hand sanitizer or sent him to the bathroom to wash his hands after each big, gross, nose-blowing episode, but it just wasn't enough. I even sent him to the nurse one day when he said his head hurt so much he couldn't see the board. He sits in front.  She kept him for most of the period, which is unusual.

I realize that we can't all stay home with our kids when they're sick, so I'm only kidding when I blame the parents. But now I'll probably get a bunch of other kids sick because I'm all over the building and I can't see taking time off.  I will be drugged to the max to get through the days until this cold passes, making me less than fabulous in my time with my students. This guy's poor parents are probably frustrated that they can't keep him home for whatever reason. I can't imagine anyone willingly sending such a pathetic creature to school, day after day.

So, if your kid is sick and you CAN stay home, DO. They aren't learning when they're that sick and passing illness around makes it harder on everyone to learn in the following weeks. While I believe my subjects are important, there is nothing so earth-shattering going on that we can't make up later.

To my little sick friend, take care. We can be miserable together on Monday. I'll bring the hot tea.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

#msSunFun War

When it comes to review, my go-to game is War. I doubt I'm alone in using this game as my backup for practice. This is that card game most kids learn in Kindergarten or so, at least in the US. One of these days I'll post some of the mats I made for some of the variants.

The basic game goes like this:

1) Each kid gets a roughly equal part of a deck of cards.

2) Everyone flips a card at the same time. The kid with the highest (or lowest) card collects everyone's cards.

3) If there's a tie between two or more kids, everyone leaves their cards down and the tied kids flip again until someone is the winner. The winner takes all the cards that are down.

4) Keep playing until time's up or someone has all the cards. Whoever has the most when you run out of time, wins.

This game is very versatile. So, you could have kids flip two cards each round and add them together, with the largest or smallest number as the winner. You can do this for pretty much any of the 4 basic arithmetic functions with any number of digits. You can have groups go head-to-head with a judge. You can also use it for place value (flip 3 or more cards, read the number out loud, largest/smallest wins), decimals, and fractions. For fractions I create paper mats with outlines for the cards and a fraction bar between them. You can start with fractions, have everyone calculate the decimal equivalent, and then largest/smallest wins. It goes on and on. For any "rote" practice activity you can probably come up with a War variant.

Another nice thing is that you don't have to keep your cards together in decks since it doesn't really matter what you start with. You can just keep them all in a basket or bin together and everyone pulls out a handful to play. No shuffling that way! If you remove the face cards and then later decide you want to use them to represent 10s or 11s or whatever, just keep them in a separate bin and everyone can grab a handful from each basket so they have some of everything.

I like to use the Joker as a zero. It seems fitting.

And yes, you can buy math cards that don't have face cards or you can buy special decks for rummy, but I just make do with the cheap stuff from the dollar bin. I tell the kids it's good to be flexible, imaginative, and creative. Plus, it's a memory workout to remember what's what!

Friday, September 7, 2012

My First Three Act Lesson

Today was the kind of day in science where we needed to do something a little different. We've been hitting the SI pretty hard the last few days. We're ahead of the other 7th grade classes on that by a smidge and I could feel brain saturation setting in. Nobody cared how cool it was that a liter of water was related to a weight measurement in the same system (I know, right?).

So, without too much preparation, I decided to throw one of Dan Meyer's thee act problems at them. We will be starting our force and motion unit in a week-ish. I told the kids it was a little advance teaser.  I showed them "The Slow Forty" since it's got some motion in it. I did not tell them what we were trying to find out. I led them in a discussion first about what they wondered about the video.

As you would expect from a hastily-planned lesson, the results were mixed.

The picture above is from 3rd period. It took them a little while to get warmed up, but as soon as they got going it was a joy to behold. One group wanted to time the runner, but not a single person had a watch so we had to download a stopwatch for my school iPad. They were floored that I was totally fine with doing that and that I handed the iPad off to the group who wanted to time. They asked interesting questions, figured out what they'd need to know, and attempted to get that information in order to answer the questions they generated. They didn't notice that it's "The Slow Forty" and NOT "The Slow Fifty," but for a first outing into doing their own thinking I was OK with this. You'll notice that even though we broke into groups based on what questions they were interested in asking they ended up divided mostly along gender lines, but again, I wasn't going to get uppity about that. 3rd period wanted more of these exercises and they wanted to be allowed to extend them and research them. I think I can honestly say #winning here.

5th period was the complete opposite. Even though I felt they set themselves up with arguably better questions than the other class, they had trouble staying on track. They didn't try to find information they didn't have despite nudging. One group changed their minds and decided to find out how far the guy ran. Since it was a self-selected group of my slowest learners, I thought I could let them try and then when they realized how easy it was to get that information I could push them to wonder about something more deeper. It was no go.  They shut down as soon as they (finally) noticed that there were yard lines visible. I did have one group notice that the stride count stopped at the 40-yard line, but once they got that far they lost track of their initial wonderings. Not a single group came up with any answers or any observations about what they needed to know. When I debriefed them, they said that this was "hard" and that they wanted me to tell them what to do. They did want to repeat the experience, but it seemed motivated more by the desire to chit chat than to dig into a problem.

Now that I've done this once in a very free-form sort of way, I have ideas for doing it again. I really liked it when it was working. I confess to being utterly exhausted before the day even started, and facilitating noisy, mobile learners requires more energy than regurgitating a lesson at a classroom of sitting students. So clearly I have to be at the top of my game to make this the best experience possible.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

#msSunFun Homework Policy

Here's my first #msSunFun post! Not sure how homework policies are fun, but they sure are interesting.

My homework policy is somewhat set by my school. In general, my school district is moving to a "no homework" policy for middle schools. You can debate that all you like, but the math department at my school said, "WHOA!" In exchange for being allowed to assign homework, we agreed that it would only be a completion grade, there would be no penalty for late assignments, and we would dial the amount way back.

Since my school requires bell work, I go around stamping kids' homework as they do the bell work. I wanted a fun stamp, but I got one from Staples that has the date and the usual business-type word choices. The kids think it's funny when I stamp them as "Backordered." Anyway, I write down the names who kids who didn't turn in their work and kids who show me late work so I can get it entered into the online gradebook quickly later in the day.

Even though there's little homework assigned, kids still seem to have trouble getting the work done during class. Any student missing two or more assignments has to go to something called "Lunch Crunch" on Tuesdays and Fridays. On those mornings, the first period teachers hand out slips with each student's missing assignments. If a kid has two or more, they pick up a sack lunch in the cafeteria and go work on homework in a special room. I'm told that last year they had a few weeks in the winter where there were so many kids they had to move to the auditorium. Kids who are chronically behind can also be assigned to stay after school on particular days, though I'm not clear on how that works since it's so early in the year.

We also have two mornings a week where the schedule is adjusted to allow for an extra period, where kids do intervention and enrichment. They can make up homework, labs, get help from particular teachers, or do fun learning activities if they're all caught up.

While I don't like being limited in what I can assign and how I can grade it, I do love that the school has built in all these ways to get kids to get their work done. In return, I'm very thoughtful about what I assign and I cherry-pick problems to have kids practice the things I see they need extra practice on.