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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Friday Night Sites

So my super-short work week was actually increased by 50%, due to the fact that my off-site training, scheduled for today, was canceled. It was canceled yesterday at 4:00 PM. I'm really thankful that I checked my email before I left yesterday, because otherwise I would have been wondering where everybody was at 8 o'clock this morning.

When I got to school this morning, I was told not to clock in, because my sub was already there. Eventually, that was changed, and I was able to clock in and resume my duties. I got down to my room just as the sub was closing the door and starting to introduce herself to the kids. The kids who were sitting and standing around their desks, looking like they had absolutely no idea what to do. Despite the instructions for the day ALWAYS being written on the board, despite me telling them yesterday exactly what they should do when they entered the room -- there was only one kid who had his spiral notebook out and ready to do the first morning problem.

Ah well, maybe by June, these kids will know the routines.

At any rate, one routine that we should all follow is to check out the bi-weekly Carnival of Education over at Bellringers. The theme this week is Friday Night Lights, which might not mean much to you if you're not from Texas, but the posts listed are still well worth reading.

Bring your cowbell and ignore those kids making out under the bleachers.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Shortest. Week. Ever

Do you remember the discussion of a 4-day school week? How it would save electricity, power, the universe, etc? And my counter-proposal was that if cutting ONE day off of the usual week would do that much good, why not shave FOUR days off?

Well, this week is going to be pretty darn close to that proposal.

Yesterday (Monday) was a student holiday/staff development day. No kids, no lessons, no teaching.

Today was a regular day.

Tomorrow is a regular day.

Thursday, I have to attend an off-site meeting for some math program I had never heard of before. Thus, I will not have kids, or lessons, or do any teaching.

Friday is Fair Day, so there is no school.

This boils down to a 2-day school week for me. Thank goodness it's the end of the grading period, and we're just reviewing. I'd hate to try to introduce anything new and expect it to stick.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The newest voice online

A good friend of mine is one of the "Educator Voices" in the Dallas Morning News this year, and his first editorial column ran today. It's very well written, and I invite everyone to check it out.

Down with the sickness

**Big news! For whatever reason, Amazon.com has discounted Learn Me Good from $11.99 down to $8.63! I have no idea how long this will last, but please spread the word! ****

Last year, as I recall, I made it about 2 days into the school year before getting sick. Whether it was a cold, allergies, "the crud," whatever, I'm not sure. I'm never sure, as they all seem to have the same symptoms, and they all make me feel the same way.

This year, I managed to make it into the 5th week before succumbing to the evil illness. Maybe it's marital bliss that staved it off for so long, or maybe I really have built up a better immunity. But it was finally my time to fall victim. Several kids had been absent, or even worse, PRESENT with sniffles and wet hacking coughs.

I started to notice that scratchy tickling in the back of my throat on Monday, and Tuesday was worse. It probably didn't help that I stayed up way to late on Monday night, watching the exciting end to the Saints-49ers football game, and then I had to get up for early morning duty the next day. On Wednesday, after school, I felt like I had hit a wall. My head was on fire, my whole body felt foggy, and my throat was on fire. When I got home, though, I had no fever, I just felt miserable. I have never taken a nap between school and actual bedtime, but I did that day.

Yesterday (Friday), I just drifted through the day, trying to make it to 3:00. I went home and took a nap again, and then slept till 10:30 this morning.

I'm hoping a good 2-day blast of sleep and non-activity will kick this thing on its rear.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Seems to have worked... for now

Last week, I bemoaned my students' lack of work showing. Monday, I put into play a plan of action that I hoped would solve that issue. So far, it seems to be working.

I have always used a system that involves blue tickets to reward the kids for making good choices. They get blue tickets which they can put in a basket on my desk, and at the end of the week, I pull out 3 names for simple little prizes like pencils and small toys and such.

Now I've added orange tickets into the mix (ORANGE!!??!!!!!). Where blue tickets are like raffle tickets, orange tickets are like cash. If the kids get an orange ticket, they can use it to buy a prize, they don't have to get lucky to get their ticket pulled from the basket.

But the only way they can earn an orange ticket is by getting a 100 on a test and showing all of their work. Anybody who marks all the correct answers but doesn't show how they got those answers will not receive an orange ticket. Anybody who makes a silly mistake and gets an answer wrong will not receive an orange ticket.

I introduced the orange tickets on Monday as we went over last week's test, and I gave the kids the spiel and the rules.

Yesterday, during the test over comparing (less than, greater than) and ordering (greatest to least, and vice versa), I didn't have to remind a single kid to show his/her work. There were a few silly mistakes made, where the problem said least to greatest, and the kid put his/her numbers in greatest to least order, but yesterday's test went MUCH better than last week's. Gradewise, there are still a few issues, but all of my kids showed all of their work, which to me, is a huge victory in a major battle.

I only hope that it continues throughout the year.

Also, I had the opportunity to meet the mother of the child who told me (AND put into writing) that his mother had told him, "Don't listen to your teacher."

Anyone want to guess what the outcome of THAT was? Even more perfectly, the principal walked by as we were meeting, so I got to tell the mother AND the principal about little A's claim. Of course, the mother denied it, and she was quite upset at her son for saying that. I should get much better results out of him now that his mom knows the score.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Shake up some Buzz

Is it that time again? Every other Wednesday, Carol at Bellringers serves up the latest from the world of edumacators in her Carnival of Education Buzz. Today, Episode 4 (The Tinman and the Unicorn) is presented.

Check out all of the great posts found there, and be sure to comment on a few!

In my classroom, I have decided to shake things up a bit. I just drew up a completely new seating chart, new partners, everything. I will implement this first thing tomorrow, and MAN do I hope it results in some positive changes. Too many kids thinking that just because they sit at the table farthest from the white board, that they don't have to pay attention when I'm writing on it. Nevermind the fact that I'm still less than 10 feet away from them (it's a very small room).

Keep your fingers crossed!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Who grades the test?

I was speaking to my kids today about the TAKS and the importance of filling in the answer bubbles neatly. That, and the reason that they should never ever write anything in or near the bubbles other than filling in the one that they are choosing.

So I asked my class who they thought actually would be grading their TAKS tests. Several hands went up.

"The teacher?" one asked.
"Nope," I replied.
"You?" the next one guessed.
"Uh, I AM the teacher, so still no," I countered.
"The principal?"
"No."
"The President?"

One of my kids actually thought that President Barrack Obama might take time out of his busy schedule to pick up a red pen and grade his TAKS test. Forget the mess of the economy, the whole international politics scene -- give him a key to the 3rd grade math test, and put him to work!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Words escape me

Today was NOT the greatest Friday in the world. By 8:20, I had already put one kid in time out in another classroom, ripped up one kid's homework and thrown it across the room, and taken two kids down the hallway to the phone to call their parents.

I've had better mornings, to say the least.

My rage just continued to simmer all morning long because of my homeroom's seeming apathy about their education. We've been studying number forms this week. Standard form, expanded form, and word form. For most of the 3rd graders, this is the first time they have been required to know how to read a 4, 5, or 6 digit number. On Tuesday, we went over expanded form, and Wednesday and Thursday, we went over word form.

Expanded form never ceases to frustrate me. It is, quite possibly, the absolute SIMPLEST type of problem in all of 3rd grade. It involves adding, every question has plus signs in it, to remind you to add, just in case you forgot, and mostly, you are adding zeros!! A typical question is "What number is represented by 300,000 + 20,000 + 500 + 40 + 8?"

Year after year after year, I have kids that stumble all over these problems, merely because of the fact that they refuse to actually add the numbers. They would rather cherry pick the first digit off of every "piece" and string those numbers together. For the above question, I would get a ton of answers that read 32,548. (Or worse, 3,2548)

I pull my hair out, grind my teeth, and stress out big time while I plead and cajole and try to convince them that if they would just stack these numbers up vertically and add them, they would get the right answer every time. I am usually successful in this endeavor during the day or two that we practice expanded form in class, and sometimes I can get the kids to do it on their homework for that night. When the test rolls around, all bets are off.

Going over the word form strategy on Wednesday and Thursday, I felt I was making some progress. It's overwhelming at first for the kids to see these large numbers and even larger strings of words. But I have a strategy called "Three easy boxes" where we chunk the numbers and words into 3-digit groups, and when the kids do this, they are almost always successful.

Yesterday, I worked with small groups for the first time this year. I was pretty pleased with myself, as time management and small groups are among my weak points that I'm trying to improve on. The kids I worked with got it, and they were telling me all the steps while they did three easy boxes on the number words and turned them into standard form. Before each class dismissed, I passed out the homework, and we did a couple of example problems so that they kids would know exactly what I expected to see.

So this morning, I was incredibly disappointed to find that ONE out of my 15 homeroom students had done her homework correctly. I have 17 in my homeroom, but 2 were absent, so I have no idea if they did it right. And I don't mean that the other 14 wrote down the wrong numbers, I mean that the other 14 didn't try to turn the words into numbers at all. They just bubbled in answers.

Some of the kids hadn't even done the work on the problems that I did in class.

One girl had done nothing BUT the 2 problems that we did together in class, and she said, "Oh, were we supposed to do the other ones?" I had to struggle very hard not to use adult language. Instead, I marched her down to the phone. Call number 1.

I told the kids that I had planned on giving them a little inside recess at the end of the class, but that instead, that time would be used at the beginning, for them to work on their homework, doing it the right way. After about 15 minutes, which involved the second call and placing the third kid in time out in another room, we went over most of the homework problems, which involved doing the strategies of changing words to numbers over and over and over. Over and over and over, I kept saying, "This is what I expect to see on your tests. THIS is the work I want to see BEFORE you fill in a bubble."

When the test started, it was as if I had never spoken a word about it. I walked around and had to stop by about 8 kids' desks, noticing that they had filled in bubbles for questions 1 and 2 without showing a lick of work. No stacking and adding, no three easy boxes, NOTHING.

I understand that these kids are babies at the beginning of the year. Understanding that is not the same as liking it, though, and I was in a terrible mood for the whole morning.

The spelling test went just as poorly, but I won't even go into that.

My afternoon class walked in, and as they did their calendar activities, I started glancing at homeworks to check their work. The first I flipped over looked just like the morning class's. My heart sank. The next one I flipped had all of the work completely done. So did the next, and the next, and the next. Out of the 15 kids in the afternoon class, only 3 had NOT done their work correctly.

After wanting to punt my morning class through the nearest uprights, I just wanted to hug this second class.

I still had a lot of the same issues during the test. For some reason, there is a major disconnect with 3rd graders between work in class and work on tests. But I was a lot more pleased and proud of the 2nd group.

The other high point of my day involved a nice little piece of evidence that I now have in my possession.

One of the kids in the morning class told me that he was going to do the homework the way we practiced it in class, but his mother had told him not to do it that way. I explained that since she wasn't present in class to see how we did things, that HE would have to be the one to show her how we did these problems. He kept saying that she told him not to do it that way. I kept telling him that if she said that, he needed to tell her, "This is the way Mister Teacher says we have to do it."

Eventually, he said, "She said not to listen to the teacher."

Oh, really?? I asked him to repeat it, and then I repeated it myself to be sure. "Your mom actually told you not to listen to your teacher?"

He nodded his head. So I went and got a piece of paper and told him to write that down, explaining the whole time that I wanted to be able to show that paper to his mom when we sat down to talk, and that I wanted to be able to show that paper to the principal and assistant principal when they asked about his work.

Most kids would back away from a claim like that at this point. But my munchkin persisted, and wrote down his statement.

Should be very interesting next week to actually talk to his mom and verify or shoot down this claim.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

WHEW!!

Well, my wife and I apparently just dodged a tornado. Or 2. Hard to tell, because we didn't have access to a television from our tiny downstairs workout room where we were taking cover. But the people that came in to join us said that they had just seen report of a tornado touching down at Love Field airport, which is only about a mile from us.

All I had to worry about today at school was a few lights flickering. The week has been going pretty well (short week, we had Monday off) though. We've been doing various number forms. Expanded, word, standard. The kids are picking them up pretty well, which is no small feat with the words, since they've never had to read a number bigger than 3 digits before.

I still have a few kids that are total dead zones when it comes to listening, and that's just a bit irritating, but one of my kids who had been a total slug for the first 2 weeks, has had an INCREDIBLE 2 days this week. I talked with him Friday about changing his attitude and his mindset, and he has really gotten it done.

Super-ironically, he came into my room this morning before class started and said, "There's a slug in the hall!" Sure enough, there was literally a slug crawling on the floor near where he had been sitting. I guess the mantle had been passed.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

A new way of doing things!

Yesterday morning, as the kids were returning to their seats after Calendar Math, I was walking around checking to see if they had shown their work on the homework from the night before. It was a set of 10 place value questions (ie, What is the value of the 5 in 498, 256?), and I had insisted that they show a place value chart for each question before choosing their answer. We had even done the first question and chart together in class the day before.

All of the kids had done their charts except one, A, who had not been doing his homework this year anyway. So that really didn't surprise me.

As I picked up his paper to look on the back, he watched me with a spark in his eye. I of course saw nothing on the back except the one chart that we had done in class, but before I could ask, "Where are your place value charts?" A proudly exclaimed, "I did it a DIFFERENT way!" As if he had independently discovered a new element.

I tried not to be TOO harsh as I told him that merely filling in an answer bubble without doing anything else was not actually a "way" so to speak.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Traipse through the sawdust

The newest edition of the Education Buzz Carnival just came out over at Bellringers, so mosey on over there and smell the greasepaint and try not to point at the freaks. I haven't really had a chance to head over there myself just yet, but if you save me a seat on the Tilt-a-Whirl, I'll be there.

Tomorrow, at my school, we're supposed to wear a shirt that somehow symbolizes a form of labor, in honor of... wait for it... Rosh Hashanah. No, I think it's for Labor Day. Anyway, I haven't decided what I am going to wear.

I suggested to a female colleague that she stuff 3 pillows under her shirt, walk around sweaty and holding her back all day, and around noon, spill a bunch of water on the floor. She politely declined.

My next thought was to wear a shirt depicting Hercules, he of the 12 Labors. After all, what public school teacher hasn't at SOME point felt like he was cleaning out the Augean Stables or skin the Nemean Lion? (OK, I googled it.)

There's always the plumber route, but do I really want the kids to see my crack? Nah.

I'll probably just wind up wearing some old t-shirt from a community service project or something. But I can already tell I need to start thinking ahead for Arbor Day...

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