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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Um, that wasn't the question...

There's a local radio station here in Dallas called The Ticket that had a really funny interaction a few years ago, and they still play the clip every once in a while. One of the radio guys was interviewing the chief of police, and he asked him, "So do you like your gig?"

The police chief replied, "Yes, I love my job!"

The radio guy immediately cut him off from replying further, saying, "That wasn't the question. Do you like your JOB?"

I had an interaction in class today that made me wonder if I wasn't aware myself of the questions I was asking.

Pretty sure I was asking the right questions, but the kids weren't answering the questions I was asking. Like grand master chess wizards, they were already thinking 5 moves ahead, and answering 5 questions down the road.

I'm giving them LOTS of credit here...

We have a routine called Daily Depositor. We have a running total of the days of school so far. So on day 1, the total was 1. On day 2, the total was 2+1, or 3. On day 3, the total was 3+3, or 6. And so on. Each day, we add the current school day to the existing total to get a new total. While doing this, we've been using the words Sum and Total.

Today, our existing total was 300, and it was the 25th day of school. I made the comment that whenever I saw the number 25, it made me think of something else, something that I carry around in my pocket, see almost every day, and sometimes use in the store. I asked, "Does this number make YOU think of anything like that?"

I called on the first kid with hand raised. "Sum?" she ventured.

"Um, is a SUM a thing you carry in your pocket? What does this specific number, 25, make you think of?" I asked.

I called on another kid. "Total?"

"No." Pretty much my response.

I don't want to leave anybody in suspense, so I'll reveal right now what answer I was actually looking for:

The password is... QUARTER.

Some kids FINALLY narrowed it down to money that I was looking for. But the scope remained wide.

"Twenty-five monies?"

"Twenty-five dollars?"

And then the one that I almost cracked up on... I called on one kid, who stood up and formally responded, "Twenty-five dollars, put on a credit card."

Somebody FINALLY guessed quarter, after what seemed like an eternity. Then we were able to check the addition problem and move on to the question that had been prematurely answered twice -- "And what do we have now that we have added?"


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Who wants to read?

I've been thinking it over lately, and I've decided to go ahead and do it. It worked (somewhat) with the first one, so maybe it'll work with this one.

From now through the end of September (that means midnight this Friday), I will email a copy of Learn Me Gooder to anyone who sends me an email (learnmegood2 AT yahoo DOT com) asking for one. The catch is, I am asking you, if you do read that email copy, to then write a review of it on Amazon and/or B&

Of course, if you REALLY like it, I'd love it if you spread the word to friends and family (yours, not mine), join my facebook page, request a copy at your local library(s), and write letters to Entertainment Weekly asking them for a 2-page spread featuring my books.

But I'm going on good will and honesty here, so if you ask for a copy, I'm trusting you to follow through with the review later. Good or bad. Just honest.

Thanks in advance, and you're welcome in advance.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

On a dime

It's truly amazing how quickly things can change, on a dime, as the old saying goes. This week has proven that.

Monday was one of the most frustrating days of the year. The High Level Task was a difficult one -- it would have been difficult for a class of high-achieving, non-apathetic, English as a First Language students -- and it drained me. It drained my energy, my patience, and our class time. Just going over the directions took forever. I wanted them to repeat the directions to me, in their own words, to make sure they understood what to do. So we spent a LONG time on each step of the directions. Then we did a couple of example steps, so they would know how they were supposed to record their explorations.

Finally, I gave them the green light to start the task with their groups. With most groups, you would have thought I had merely handed them the paper and said, "Go."

Most of the class (BOTH classes) were utterly clueless. They didn't know what to do, they were moving their token the wrong way on the 1,000 scroll, they were either not recording things at all, or recording them the wrong way.

I was majorly frustrated.

Then on Tuesday, something clicked. The kids were participating. They were telling me correct answers. They were showing their work on the paper. We seemed to have achieved something.

Wednesday was great, too. It was a review day for the Unit 1 post-test. We went over place value, pictographs, number forms, greater than and less than, number patterns. The kids were telling me how to show their work. They were creating and labeling pictographs. They seemed completely set for today's test.

Then Bam, they must have hit another dime. I was again majorly frustrated today, this time with their efforts on the test. Granted, some of the kids did a great job, but in the case of my morning class especially, I was mentally screaming as I walked around the room seeing kid after kid filling in answer bubbles with absolutely no work shown. The second question was a pictograph - something we had JUST done so well on the day before - and only a handful of students were labeling the pictures before choosing an answer.

Even when I made a big deal about NOT just choosing an answer choice without showing any work, I still had kids who just filled in a bubble and then waited for the next question.

If looks could kill, I'd have multiple counts of manslaughter against me today.

Thankfully, they can't, so I just have multiple fragments of a major headache.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Morning sickness

Just a couple of quick hits today:

First, the new Carnival of Education is up and running over at Bellringers. The theme is Meet the Teacher Night, and there are several great posts to check out.

Next up, I had to call in sick yesterday due to feeling like crap. Felt like it today too, but since the doctor told me yesterday that I didn't have strep, I figured I needed to go and face the children.

However, the best piece of news I got also came yesterday, when my wife and I went to HER doctor and confirmed that she (my wife, not the doctor) is indeed pregnant! I'm gonna have a kiddo of my own!

I'm thankful for the last nine years of seeing various examples of how NOT to raise a child. I can't wait to be a father! :)

Monday, September 12, 2011

I say "math," you say "YES!"

As is so often the case, my morning and afternoon classes seem to be so widely different in their attitude and attention. In my morning class, I feel like I spend more than half my time BEGGING the kids to answer questions. I could ask, "What is 1 + 1?" in that class, and only 3 hands would go up. Out of 20. The same 3 that ALWAYS go up. If I call on one of the other 17, odds are that that kid will stare at me -- either because he/she didn't even hear the question, he/she has no interest whatsoever in even attempting to answer the question, or he/she truly does not know how to add one and one.

In my afternoon class, usually when I ask a question, nearly half the hands go up, and a good 3/4 of the OTHER half at least appears to be thinking about the answer. There are really only about 5 kids in there (out of 22) that have the apathy of the morning group.

Today, the afternoon class gave me a giggle. Right before we went to lunch, I said to the class, "When we come back from lunch, we are going to continue talking about..."

I trailed off, because the kid sitting closest to me appeared to be having an epileptic seizure, albeit the happiest, most attention-seeking seizure ever. As I gave him, "The Look," one of the other kids tried to finish my sentence.

"Math?" he said.

I kind of smirked at that. "Well, yes, we ARE going to continue talking about math," I began, intending to finish with the intended statement about pictographs, which we had begun on Friday. I was unable to finish my sentence though, because at that point, I was interrupted by a smattering of applause.

The kids were clapping because we were going to continue talking about math. In math class!!

When I did continue with pictographs, I got even more cheering. Over half of the hands went up when I asked who remembered what a pictograph was.

In the morning class, only 1 kid could tell me what a pictograph was.


During a small group activity today, one of my kids was stuck on 15 + 4. I had finally gotten him to stack the numbers vertically so that he was just adding the 5 and the 4 in the ones place, but he was stumped. He was staring at it, not writing anything, not making any move to write anything, possibly not even contemplating the solution. I stood by him and asked what 5+4 was, and he just stared. Most kids, even the strugglers, would start counting on their fingers, but he was showing no signs of having ANY addition experience at all.

I asked him to hold up five fingers with one hand. Then I asked him to hold up four fingers with the other hand. Then I asked him how many fingers he was holding up.

"Five and four," he replied.

"OK, and how many is that altogether?"

"Five and four."

It took me about one and three minutes to finally get a total out of him.

It's been a VERY challenging year...

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Old habits are born hard

I just finished grading the math test we gave yesterday at the end of the first 3rd weeks. This was a short, 5-question test that covered a few pretty basic topics that we've been going over. One question was about place value, one was expanded form, one was word form, one was a number pattern, and one was completing a piece of a hundreds chart.

Overall, I can't be too displeased with the grades. There were several 100s, which is always nice. I made a HUGE deal while monitoring the test about how I would be taking off points if work was not shown. We've talked about making place value charts, displaying the rule for a number pattern, etc. I did have to CONSTANTLY remind certain kids of this possible point deduction throughout the course of the test, but it does seem to have sunk in with several of the kids. Nobody made a 100 who didn't display their thinking and work.

Usually, at the beginning of the year, getting the kids to show their work is like pulling teeth or catching a leprechaun. VERY difficult and arduous. It's been no different this year. The homework situation has NOT been pretty. But this test I graded shows me that the tide IS turning.

That's always a positive note.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Worrisome curriculum

I'm having a bit of trouble with our new math curriculum. I actually like how detailed it is, and how there's a pretty good script to follow for talking with the kids. However, I don't always feel like I'm getting a lot accomplished.

The big push this year is to implement a lot of "High Level Tasks" or HLTs (not to be confused with TLC). The tasks themselves have been interesting enough, but they seem more designed for a class full of take charge, go-getter, ACTIVELY PARTICIPATING students, as opposed to newly minted, reluctant, shy, often-lazy 3rd graders.

Several times, the kids have not completed the task in the time allotted. Including today, when I even broke down and modeled the first part for them (after seeing absolutely no progress for the first 15 minutes) -- then proceeded to see a few instances of decent partner work, but little to no recording on paper.

When we DO finish the task (and even when we don't), there's almost no time left for anything else. I typically like to have some time to spiral back on what we've done before so they don't forget; to practice things in a slightly different way; to work with small groups of lower kids; to go over HW when it applies, etc. But there's just no time allotted for that with this new curriculum.

We also apparently don't even get around to covering addition and subtraction until the end of this first 6-weeks period. And I have a LOT of kids who don't know how to subtract, or even how to align numbers vertically to add them.

Today was the 12th day of classes. It has been a very stressful 12 days of school so far. I haven't even gone into all of the "stuff" (being nice here) that's being asked of us outside of the actual teaching.

Anybody else out there want to sound off about your year so far?