Getting Around

Monday, April 15, 2013

Miss Nelson is Missing!

I came across this video of one of my favorite books when I was a kid, Miss Nelson is Missing!, by Harry G. Allard. It strikes a chord with me because in my math class right now I feel like Viola Swamp, who I imagine was a worksheet packet kind of teacher. I hope to turn back into Miss Nelson someday.  If you remember the book, you'll love this adaptation by a class of Kindergarteners.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Behaviorally Overly Ambitious

My morning math class has been struggling with behavior this year. For whatever reason, I get the kids who move into the district. They tend to be lower-skilled students, since a move into our school is often the latest in a long line of moves. Such moves disrupt their education. At some point, they learn that there aren't very many benefits to being a good student since all that work counts for nothing at their next school.

Disengaged kids become bored kids who tend to get into trouble.

It had gotten so bad it was almost impossible to teach. The last straw was the day class was interrupted 10 times in 46 minutes, mostly for students in my class being called to the office to be told they would be serving a working lunch because of all the assignments they had missing from my class...the one they were just pulled out of.  *sigh*

I had had enough.

So this week I rebooted the class on the advice of a colleague. We practiced walking into the class. We practiced raising our hands to talk*. We practiced working with a partner.

The rest of the week I had to have them walk into class multiple times. If they didn't get it in a way that supported the learning environment, we practiced it until they got it.  A few of my trouble makers were out frequently this week, so class time was mostly OK and I only had to remind them to raise their hands rather than do another lesson on hand raising.

Then yesterday I got bold. They had been working hard. I was tired of seat work/training. I decided that we would do some math practice with a relay race.

That was stupid. They weren't ready, behaviorally, for something that had them up and about. It got so loud before we even got through a trial run of the relay that I had to cancel the whole thing. I even had my mentor in the room to help me. Some kids got so angry with the kids who ruined it I was worried there might be a fight on the way out of class. I'm angry with myself for wasting so much valuable learning time.

I promised the students some nice worksheets for practice next week. This is not the kind of teacher I want to be. I hate worksheets. I EVEN MADE PACKET, so help me. I'll probably make up some challenge packets for the kids who are ready to move on, but they're still packets.

I have to remind myself to go in baby steps. As a group, we can only move as fast in terms of behavior as the least-skilled kid in the class.

I'm afraid the last 6 weeks of the school year are going to be dead boring for the students and for me. Blech.

*I prefer a more open, conversation-type feel to class and I don't usually enforce raised hands to talk. I hit my breaking point with these kids though, so I felt compelled to be strict about it. We'll see how long I can do it.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Introducing Slope

line by geogebra
We are working on graphing right now and it's time to do slope. I hated, Hated, HATED slope when I was in middle school. Rise over run made no sense to me at all. I thought about how to approach slope this year for weeks.

Usually I start with a line that's got points on it, I do the whole rise over run business, and we plug away until we can do it without too many errors. Eventually I take away the pre-plotted points and they have to come up with those.

Since one of our standards is that students will be able to draw a line given two points or a point and a slope, I decided to start by drawing this time. Once we had a line with two points down I gave them one point and asked what I'd need to know to draw a particular line.

They thought about it. I love this. They really thought about it. At one point someone suggested that we needed to know how to get to the next point so we'd know what direction to go in. Brilliant! So I told them to go 2 up and 3 over (to the right, because right now we're always reading graphs left to right). I wrote 2/3 as a ratio with the words "up" and "over" next to the numbers. Then, on a new coordinate plane, I drew the same starting point but with different "clues" to the next point. And then another one. And another one. And then I let them tell me how to find the next point on the line.

This could have flopped in so many ways, particularly since this class has many behavioral issues. But it worked!

What I love is that THEY figured out that the top number is related to y somehow. THEY decided that we could skip the word "down" and slap a negative sign on there. THEY noticed that 3/2 gets you the same line as 6/4.

I only barely brought up the word slope toward the end of class. I briefly mentioned rise over run, but didn't dwell on it. Their whole assignment was to take points and slopes I gave them and graph them for practice. I plan to do more practice in class tomorrow before we start finding slopes on lines that have already been drawn. I'm thinking I might make it a treasure-map sort of activity, or one where one kid comes up with the slope from a line and passes it to another kid who has to draw the original line based on what the first kid gave them.

While I have no expectations that they will understand slope better than students who learned with me before, I really loved trying something new and having it work out so well. I wish class could be like that everyday!