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Saturday, October 31, 2009

What's the Difference?

Well, we gave a subtraction test this past Thursday, and MOST of my kids did pretty well. Which is a good thing, since we've been practicing subtraction pretty extensively for the past 2 weeks!!

The good news is that I started the year with about 4/5 of my kids thinking that 2-8=6 (not regrouping), and now I only have 4 or 5 kids that still do that on a regular basis. In fact, one of the questions on the test was "How do you know when you are supposed to regroup on a subtraction question?" I am pleased to say that all but about 3 of the kids answered something to the effect of "When you have a tiny top and a big bottom."

Of course, some of my kids who still don't regroup got that question correct, so they KNOW when they are supposed to regroup in theory, they just don't put it into practice...

What disappointed me was the other short answer question. Much like on our addition test, where I was looking for the word 'SUM,' I posed a similar question on this test:

What is the math word that means "the answer to a subtraction problem?"

The answer, of course, is "Difference." This is something that we have talked about repeatedly, used in word problems, and it was even up on the board on a Clue Word list. However, I only had 16 kids (out of 40) that got this question correct.

Wrong answers included the following:

Sum (I guess they missed it on the last test and hoped to jump on the bandwagon this time)

Check your work (Good advice, but does not answer the question)

How many more

Take away


Left (These words at least are subtraction clue words, but still don't answer my question)

Subtract (Too obvious, kid)

And my personal favorite (*SARCASM ALERT!!*):


Yeah, the answer to a SUBTRACTION problem is called "The Addition."

Just when I thought we had mastered the concept of opposites...

Friday, October 30, 2009

Linking while sick

I called in sick today for the first time this year. I very rarely miss school, but I was just feeling horrible yesterday, and being able to sleep in till 11 this morning certainly seemed to help that some. I'm still stuffed up and I still have a sore throat and a headache, but at least I'm not having to deal with unruly children on top of that.

So, since I'm home, I figured I'd go ahead and make a new blog post, pointing over to our good friend Tom deRosa's page -- I Want to Teach Forever (FAME!). Tom has hosted the Carnival of Education this week, and it's got some great posts, including Sum Wrong Answers from here at Learn Me Good. Now if Mr. D would just add me to his blogroll! :)

I've also been slowly coming into my own in the Twitter-verse, but I'm still learning gradually. I know there are lots of you out there that are using Twitter that I have not hooked up with yet, so I wanted to send an open invite to anyone reading this to follow me @learnmegood and to leave a comment on this post with your twitter name so that I can follow you.

Twitter Me Good!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Powers of Observations

I had my first observation today. Don't know if I can call it an official or unofficial obervation, but the principal walked in midway through math class and sat in the back and watched.

At the time, I was throwing tennis balls at one kid while calling him unflattering names, so I don't know how that will look in print.


Actually, at the time, the kids were practicing 3-digit subtraction across zeroes with whiteboards, so it looked a little like controlled chaos. I was walking around the room as kids randomly held up their board for me to see that they had done a problem, checked it by adding the bottom two numbers, and verified that their answer matched.

It was a lot of me nodding across the room and pointing, saying, "Good. OK. Yep. Right. Good."

At one point, a girl at the table closest to the principal was having trouble with one question so I went over to help her. (Helping, while occasionally glancing around at the whiteboards around the room, quietly nodding, "Good. Yep. Right on.")

While I was trying to help her, she seemed mesmerized by the principal. I would ask her (the student) where to get more tens from, and she would glance at her board, then gaze at the principal. I would ask her again, and she would answer Hundreds, then borrow one from the hundreds place, then look up and gaze at the principal.

Finally, even the principal said, "Child! Focus on your work!!"

Saturday, October 24, 2009

20 great online sites for kids' education

Once again, Karen Schweitzer -- Guest Poster Extraordinaire -- is at it again! This time, she has contributed a list that can help teachers and kids who have internet access at home or nearby.

Her list is titled, "20 Online Tools and Sites to Engage Students in Learning," and without any further ado, here it is!

The Internet is loaded with tools and websites that teachers can use to engage their students in math lessons, language arts, history, art, music, and other subjects. Here are 20 online tools and sites to try throughout the school year:
Math - Rader's is an excellent mathematics site with fun and interactive games, exercises, and activities. Resources are designed for students who are working with basic to advanced math concepts. - is an online mathematics site where students can play games, practice math, use online calculators, and get homework help. This math site is a great way for students to learn about math while having a fun and engaging experience. - Developed specifically to help math students, AplusMath uses interactive games, flashcards, puzzles, and worksheets to encourage effective learning and better grades.
Gamequarium - Gamequarium offers free online tools and games that are wonderful for helping students learn math. The site provides tools for general math, calculators, and converters along with multiple interactive math games.
Language Arts
The Story Home - This site features classic and original audio stories designed for younger students. The stories can be listened to on the computer or transferred to a CD or MP3 player.
WordAhead - WordAhead provides free online vocabulary videos for college bound high school students. Users of this site can browse through the videos, watch them in the study room, and read word lists. The site also features a word of the day and useful study widgets.
Visuwords - This graphical dictionary makes it easy to see how words relate to one another. Visuwords can be used by students and teachers as an interactive dictionary and thesaurus.
Bookwink - Bookwink uses podcasting and videos to connect elementary and middle school students with books they may find interesting. The monthly updated videos take an average of three minutes to watch.
HyperHistory - This impressive history site features thousands of files that cover about 3,000 years of world history. HyperHistory has links for people, events, and maps. Hard copies can also be printed. - has unique history games that are designed to entertain students while teaching important history facts. The site also features online history activities for reviewing previously learned facts.
History Matters - Designed for students and teachers, this history site provides innovative teaching materials, primary documents, and historical evidence guides.
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History - The Smithsonian Museum has several interactive tools and resources that students can use for studying natural history. Resources include lesson plans, web-based student activities, and classroom resources.
Arts and Music
Artopia - This comprehensive art site for middle school students concentrates on visual and performing arts. Artopia allows students to study imported works while taking part in activities that teach principles, styles, and processes. - is a free online tool that students can use to get in touch with their creative side through drawing, painting, and writing. This mess-free site can be used without installing any software.
DSO Kids - The DSO Kids site offers games and activities that engage students in the art of music. Just a few of the games worth trying are time machine, music match, and picture paint.
Glogster - This free beta site makes it easy for students to express their creative side through mixing images, text, music, and videos.
Nota - Nota is a free collaborative web tool that can be used for collaborating, creating, and sharing online material. The site allows you to integrate text, maps, video, photos, clip art, and much more.
Bugscope - This free interactive online microscope allows K-12 students around the world to explore insects under a scanning electron microscope. Teachers wanting to sign their class up for a session need to apply six weeks in advance. However, five previous sessions can be found online.
BrainPop - BrainPop is an educational site that provides curriculum-based games for engaging students in learning. Throughout this site, you can find educational games for science, social studies, English, math, art, music, health, and technology.
Cyberbee - Cyberbee encourages students to discover educational content on the Internet through a series of treasure hunts. The site also provides teachers with curriculum ideas, postcards, research tools, web links, and web projects.
Guest post from education writer Karen Schweitzer. Karen is the Guide to Business School. She also writes about online degree programs for

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Early release? For the kids maybe...

Tomorrow is an early release day for DISD. At least for the kids, who get to leave at 12:30.

For the teachers, early release day usually turns out to be a LONGER day than most, because after the kids go free, the teachers meet to analyze the recent benchmark (BM) tests.


I can't wait to spend hours poring over why my English as a second language kids didn't get an elaborate word problem involving division. Could it be that there was more trickeration on the question than usual? Could it be that we haven't begun to teach division yet? Could it be that the kids aren't good readers?


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Docents and gallery walks

Today was a really good day for math class. We had designated it as a Problem Solving day, so I had the kids work in groups to solve word problems. We've been going over subtraction for the past couple of weeks, so I had written up 5 subtraction word problems -- none of which used the word "left" -- and gave one to each group.

The groups then copied the problem onto a larger piece of posterboard and went through the steps of solving the problem.

For the most part, the kids worked well together, talked out the problems, and took their fair share of the work. We had made up a rubric for groupwork beforehand, and the kids graded themselves and their partners after they were done with the problem.

After that, though, the really enjoyable part began. I posted the problems on the walls around the room and had each group choose a "docent" -- a group member to stand by the poster and answer any questions or explain the process to the groups that would rotate around during the gallery walk.

Once the gallery walk began and groups were checking out each other's work, I walked around and listened in. I really enjoyed hearing discussions of which number in the problem was the "whole" and which were the "parts;" how "difference" means the same thing as "how many more;" how you are supposed to round numbers if the question has the word "about" in it; how there is no possible way 38 dogs still need to be fed if there were only 21 dogs to begin with and 17 of them have already been fed.

I still have some incredibly low kids in my class, there is no way around that. But I also have a large group of kids that are really beginning to show great thinking skills and the ability to share their reasoning.

Monday, October 19, 2009

I'll turn the lights off...

My partner and I have been working hard to meet this year's decree that we have to conference with every student's parents. While some teachers are choosing to take this at its most literal level -- ie, hello, how are you? Nice to meet you, thanks for coming by, take care, great conference -- we are sitting down for 15-30 minutes with each parent and going over grades, benchmarks, expectations, etc.

Last Thursday night was the "official" parent conference night, and we met with 15 students' parents that day. The next day, we were at school till almost 6 meeting with more parents. Yes, on a Friday. Today, we were at school till almost 6 again.

At least I can say that the end is in sight. We have about 5 more scheduled for tomorrow, and then we have about 6 more than we haven't been able to schedule yet.

I'm glad we don't have to do this EVERY time report cards come out...

Friday, October 16, 2009

Ghost in the Machine

For the past couple of weeks, my overhead machine has been bugging the crap out of me. On a daily basis, there comes a time when I touch it just so, or put a little bit of pressure in a certain place, or just LOOK at it the wrong way, and it goes off. But then I touch it again, and it comes back on. And goes off. And comes back on.

This usually continues until I do either:

a) the mature and professional thing -- push the on/off button, open the lid, close it firmly, and push the on/off button again.


b) the immature "Fonzie" thing and pound it with a closed fist, bringing it back on.

After about the 4th day of this (when I wasn't nearly as aggravated by it), when the light would start going off and on, I jokingly referred to it as "the ghost." That got a laugh from the kids.

NOW, after about the 20th day of it, it happens, and all the kids immediately shout, "The ghost!!" While I mutter about wanting to kick the ghost in the family jewels.

I keep meaning to look into this in more detail, except that I've been inundated with meetings, parent conferences, etc. I don't know if there is a short in the machine or if the light bulb is faulty, and I just haven't followed up on either of those yet.

And so the ghost lives on. I'm about ready to cross the streams on this sucker though...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

One Crazy Night

Tonight was parent-teacher conference night, and things were a bit hectic, to say the least.

Actually, it goes back to last week, when we were told that we needed to meet with EVERY parent within a 2-week window. 44 parents is a lot of parents to contact, set up a meeting with, and then actually meet with. It certainly cannot be done in 4 hours on one night, so we scheduled certain people for certain time slots.

In fact, it was a TA helping us by calling parents and scheduling them, so I really didn't know exactly who we were going to be meeting with tonight until just today.

But for the past 2 days, there have been announcements over the speaker saying, "Remember! It's parent-teacher conference night! We want to see you there! Bring your parents!!"

And kids saying, "HUH???" because we hadn't yet gotten ahold of their parents to schedule a conference!

At any rate, my partner and I met with 3 parents during our planning period and lunch (I wolfed down a tray of frito chili pie in ten minutes) and then 12 more this evening. We had to turn away 5 parents, scheduling them for a later date.

Only one of them seemed to take it harshly, saying she would not be back (but I think she was an aunt anyway, and we weren't really sure why she was there and not the mom or dad...).

Tomorrow, we are signed up for conferences till 5:00! On a Friday! Ughh....

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Big Tex says Howdy!

This week's Carnival of Education is being hosted by Carol over at Bell Ringers, and it's got a great midway! Go check out the sites, read the posts, and leave a few comments! Oh, and stay away from the deep fried butter.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Sum wrong answers

I gave a math test today, and the subject was addition. There were several computation problems to allow the kids to show (or disprove) their mastery of basic facts and regrouping, a couple of word problems, and one short answer question.

The question was, "What is the math word that means 'the answer to an addition problem?'"

I even talked about this question for a bit before the kids got started on the test. I told them that I just wanted one word that is another name for the answer we get when we add. This is definitely something that we have discussed before.

Out of 40 kids that took the test, I believe I had 15 that got the correct answer, "sum."

Here are the wrong answers I got:

Add (so obvious, yet so wrong)

The sain (in the membrane?)

Math addition (as opposed to social studies addition?)

Equal (nope, it's different)

Altogether (the process, but not the answer)

Standard Form (the answer is IN standard form, but that's not what it's called)

Fourty thousand ninety three (only for a VERY specific addition problem)

Add saharats (????)

The plus sign (the ANSWER is not called the plus sign!!)

Shug you whorek (I found this somewhat offending when I first read it, but then I realized he meant Show your work)

Regroup (Another random math word that does not answer the question)

Ah, vocabulary, my old nemesis, you win again!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Benchmark stumpers

Last week was Benchmark week at my school. Or, as I like to refer to it -- BM week. Four benchmarks! Four subjects! Four mornings of absolute joy!!!

I don't particularly care for benchmark tests. First of all, they often seem to be written by someone who hasn't spoken to a child in 10 years, much less actually TAUGHT one. The story problems always have really weird names in them (and believe me, I teach at a school with some really weird names) like Azcaputle and Terrenicavia. They contain questions that cover concepts that we have not even taught yet. And there is SO much reading involved that a lot of my kids who are good at math but not so great at reading just get swamped by all the verbiage.

Oh, and since we teachers are all a bunch of lying, cheating, stuck up, scruffy looking nerf herders, we certainly cannot be trusted to administer these tests to our own students. So I found myself in another 3rd grade teacher's room for those four mornings, watching her kids (and trying SO very hard not to tell them all the answers and fill in the bubble sheets for them!).

A few observations:

On the Social Studies test, a couple of kids said that a Good Citizen destroys property and breaks laws.

On the Science test, a few students said that it was ok to drink a strange laboratory liquid to identify it.

On the math test, 3 kids were absolutely stumped by the first page. They were not able to move forward until I pointed out to them that that was just the measurement page with rulers and unit conversions, and that question number ONE was on the following page...

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Baby Twitting

I have a couple of disturbing trends to report here today.

First, I have been to see several movie that are distinctly in the "adults-only-and-even-then-only-SOME-adults" category, yet each time, I am seated almost directly next to a child under the age of four!!!

My buddy and I went to see District 9 about a month ago, and there was a kid about 3 years old sitting 5 seats down from us! That was an awesome movie, but NOT for a child!!

Even worse, my girlfriend and I went to see Paranormal Activity on Friday night, and there was a ONE-YEAR-OLD sitting 6 seats away!!! That movie was scary as hell! What parent in their right mind takes a baby to see a movie like that???

The next disturbing trend is one I have decided to stick my toe into, and that is the world of Twitter. Yes, I have opened a Twitter account. So I invite all of you to "follow me" as I impart my words of wisdom. Yeah. :)

My user name is @learnmegood, and I hope to Tweet you soon!

Thursday, October 08, 2009


Ed U Cater has an excellent Help Wanted ad up on his site today. It sums up all of the things that he is being asked to do beyond the actual act of teaching students, and he's looking for a personal assistant.

Just in case anyone is interested in filling the position. Come to think of it, I could use one of those assistants, too.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Looking up

Our first 6 weeks grading period ended last Friday, and the grades are officially locked in place. We gave a cumulative math exam on Friday, and I was pretty pleased with the results overall. In my morning class, all 22 kids passed (above 70), and in the afternoon class, I still had a 30, a 45, and a few in the 60s, but the others did well -- and that one kid went from a 17 to an 80!

I'm starting to think there's hope yet.

This week has been rough, as we've given benchmark tests every morning. However, for the limited time we've had, the kids have done pretty well each day. Granted, we are going over 2 and 3 digit addition with regrouping, something that should be pretty easy for them. But they are all showing their work and making the effort, so that's nice to see.

Tomorrow is the math benchmark. Typically, these things are atrocious, especially the first one of the year, but I have high hopes. My kids know place value. They know how to round. They know how to write a number in word form and expanded form. Most of them understand how to find a missing number in a pattern. These are the things that should be tested. The problem usually arises in the wording of the questions. Some of them are ridiculously over-worded or use vocabulary that nobody outside of Harvard would ever use.

I seem to recall a question one year that asked, "What time does Tommy go to folklorien class?"

What The Folk-lorien???

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Finally, some motivation that works!!

I think I have finally struck upon some valid motivation for one of my super-low kids!!

Let me explain the back-story. This kid is heavy-set, academically low, a talker, a player, a does-not-pay-attentioner, and generally all-around "slug." On the first math test, this kid got a 20-something. On the second math test, he got a 17. And these were not hard math tests, or unfair tests. He just was not trying at all, and it showed.

Conversely, a lot of my other kids HAVE been picking it up and trying harder. I am finally starting to get through to them that paying attention and doing their work the way we practice in class really CAN help them get the right answers and get better grades.

In my morning class, every single one of my kids who had scored low on the first test dramatically improved their grade on the second test, and the kids who had done well on the first test, also did well on the second.

In my afternoon class, which contains the "slug" (and several others), there wasn't quite the same dramatic results, but there were a few kids who improved and several others who passed both tests.

So I decided to make a really big deal about this. At the very beginning of school, I had gotten stacks of "Buy one adult meal, get a kid's meal free" cards from Denny's, Golden Corral, and Popeye's. So I took the time to fill them out with the kids' names, my name, our school name, etc along with the phrase "Math Improvement!" if they had improved their score, or "Math Skills!" if they had passed both tests.

I gave these out on Tuesday. Everybody in my first class got one, and they loved it. Somewhere around 60% of my second class got one, as there were still several kids with very poor grades.

On Wednesday, my "slug" started paying attention. He was raising his hand to answer questions. Correctly!! He brought the homework in on Thursday morning with work shown and completed. The kids took the 6-weeks cumulative assessment on Thursday, and this kid, while not having everything correct, had work shown for every question. He had labeled his coins, he had shown me his addition when he needed to, he had drawn place value charts.

When I graded the tests, I found that this "slug" -- who had made a 20-something on his first test, and a 17 on the second -- had scored an 80 on the 6-weeks test. An EIGHTY!!

Now maybe the planets aligned just right for him to finally get with the program. Maybe something I said about effort finally seeped through.

But I have a feeling it was the idea of free food that finally jump-started his engine.

And you know what, I'm ok with that.

Somebody will definitely be getting a Golden Corral coupon come Monday morning.