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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Pardon the Interruption

Lately, we've been having a lot of interruptions at my school. I'm not talking about the kind that involves little Billy bursting into tears because he's shoved a crayon up his nose, or rabid opossums wandering into the classroom and curling up in a basket of place value blocks.

No, these interruptions are coming from the front office. Throughout the day, there seems to be an endless stream of announcements over the PA.

"Time to pick up the kids."
"Send some kids to pick up fliers."
"We need this form filled out by noon today."
"Whoever left the severed head in the teacher's lounge refrigerator -- very funny."

Being in the full swing of a fantastic fantasy football season, I started thinking how it might be nice to apply some NFL rules to our school's front office.

NFL coaches get 3 challenge flags to use throughout a game. If they make a challenge in error, they lose one of their time-outs.

I propose that our administrators be allotted 3 announcements to use throughout a school WEEK. Any of those 3 PA announcements that is deemed by the faculty to be unnecessary or irrelevant will result in the loss of an after-school meeting.


We were talking about simple machines in science class today. Actually, before I even mentioned simple machines, I tried to "engage" them by presenting a scenario. I said that we had a 200-lb box on the floor that we needed to put on the top of a shelf. I asked them to brainstorm with their group all of the possible ways that we could get that box up to the top of the shelf.

Most of the solutions involved lifting the box. Either 10-12 kids could lift the box at the same time, or Big Show of pro wrestling fame could come in and lift it for us.

But then a couple of kids suggested using a lever, and I was very impressed. They didn't use the WORD "lever," but what they were describing was most definitely a lever.

One boy's action plan was hilarious. He said, "Here's what we're gonna do. We're gonna get a big board and put it on a rock like a see saw. Then we put the box on one side of the board. Then we drop a BIIIGGGG rock onto the other side, and the box gonna fly up to the shelf."

I started to thank him for his input, but he was lost in thought, stroking his chin, muttering, "... or maybe we have a really fat kid jump on the other side..."

FINALLY! The kids are starting to THINK in my class! Let no one interrupt them!!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Flintstones chewable ginseng

Tutoring started this week, so now I get to answer the question, "Is today tutoring?" about 512 times every day. I would normally expect my kids to remember that Tuesday and Thursday are the tutoring days, but since I have proof that some of my kids cannot even remember how OLD they are, I have no aspirations that they will remember which days are tutoring days.

Seriously, I have at least one child who doesn't know how old she is. We went to the library to browse at the Book Fair yesterday after lunch, and this little girl brought a book to me. She asked if she could write down the price so that she could remember how much to bring the next day. I saw that it was $7.99, so I THOUGHT I could help her easily remember how much to bring. I asked her, "How old are you?" (thinking she would say 8) She replied, "I do not know. My mother never told me."

The librarian looked at me in horror, and I just sighed and said, "Yeah, that's my life this year."

Back to tutoring, I worked with a group of kids today that were also suffering from Youth Alzheimer's. I asked them to "find the sum" of two numbers -- something we have been doing all year long. They looked at me as if I had said, "Jibberjab the doohickey." In Russian.

After reminding them that "Sum" means the answer to an addition problem, I asked the point blank what "sum" meant. Dasvidaniya, all over again. And again, and again.

After tutoring, only 2 of the 4 tutoring buses were on time. Most of the teachers were herding the kids into two lines to wait for those two remaining buses. "Herding" is the perfect word for that, because these kids definitely have a herd mentality. After waiting for about 10 minutes in a line, they bolted wildly for the street as soon as they saw the bus pull up. Any semblance of a line was gone, and it was every kid for himself. Including my new friend, "Steven Segall," the 2nd grader who likes to chew on acorns and draw all over his own face with a magic marker.

As I hurried after the herd, I passed one of the buses that had been sitting there for a while, and as I glanced in, I saw a kid (who obviously did not see me) stand up and shout, "SHIT!!" Not in anger, not in pain, not in surprise -- he said it like he was taking it for a test drive.

Which made me wish that kids would try out new academic vocabulary with the fervor and frequency that they try out the forbidden vocabulary. I think I need to start using math words in the context of curse words to try to entice the kids to start saying them.

"Sum you!"
"Go estimate yourself!"
"Son of a difference!"

I came home today with a pounding headache. I am super thankful that tomorrow is Friday. Which, despite the confusion, is NOT a tutoring day.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Working for the weekend

Man, is it nice to sleep in on Saturday (unlike my poor wife who had to get up and go to a math training today).

A few quick hits today.

First, speaking of my wife, we had an ultrasound done last Friday, and it was pretty spectacular to see our little 8-week-old wingnut, looking like a little spaceship from the old arcade game Defender. He's got a pretty huge head, and a really rapid heart beat. I'm guessing he'll be a ten-pounder at least, like his old man.

Next up, a friendly reminder and request to everyone who got a free copy of Learn Me Gooder a few weeks ago. Please don't forget to write a review online when you are finished. So far, only about 3 people have made good on that exchange. Thanks to those 3!!

I encourage everyone to check out the current Carnival of Education over at Bell Ringers. Carol is great about including posts from Learn Me Good, even when I forget to submit one! Thanks, Carol!

The Teachers Certification Degrees site has included Learn Me Good on its list of Top 50 Elementary Teacher Blogs. It's really just an honor to be nominated.

And finally, a few quick hits from the week at school:

-- The "Fruits and Vegetables" program has been upped to TWO days a week this year. So yesterday at around 2, we were asked by PA (it was either the 2nd or 3rd of about 5 announcements in the afternoon, but we're very "flexible" that way) to send a couple of kids to the cafeteria to get the veggies and then to let the kids eat them in class. This is because the kids have proven a tendency to use the veggies as projectiles when allowed to take them on the bus. My two gophers returned with buckets to broccoli and cauliflower. YUMMY!!
Oh, and the stuff was STILL all over the floor in the 5th grade hallway at the end of the day.

-- We practiced measuring, with a tape measure, this week. The kids enjoyed it. We measured body parts (get your mind out of the gutter) and then turned that data into bar graphs. In fact, I was in the process of demonstrating how to measure the circumference of one's thigh when the fruit and vegetable announcement came on. I now have proof that my thigh is bigger around than most kids' heads.

-- In my latest attempt to get my homeroom to actually participate in class, I made an appeal to the "excellent students" in the class. Without naming any names, and without visibly averting my eyes from kids I know NOT to be excellent students, I asked the "excellent students" in the class to please help me out by actively monitoring their partners while we did boardwork. I think this may have helped a bit. We'll see.

-- The kids SEEMED to grasp how to make change after we practiced, practiced, practiced nearly all day Monday and Tuesday, but on the quiz I gave yesterday, it became clear that most of them had forgotten again. In a scenario where two apples are being bought for 65 cents each, and a $5 bill is being produced to pay for them, a couple of kids STILL tried to add 65 + 2, many kids added the two apples but left that as their answer (not the change received), and a few still think you should subtract items you are buying. In this case, that means 65 - 65, resulting in the opinion that ONE apple costs you money, but buying TWO apples gets you both of them for free.
Is it any wonder our economy is in the toilet?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The money train has passed us by

I've learned over the past few days that my kids have absolutely no working knowledge whatsoever of money. Sure, most of them can identify a penny and a dime, but how it works in the real world, they are clueless.

Or WERE, I should say (and I should hope), after two intense days of money boot camp. Monday, they were telling me that they would subtract to find the total amount spent at a store and add to find change. Today, some of them were still telling me the same, but many were starting to catch on. Tomorrow, I have no doubt that some of them will stick to their story (after all, Youth Alzheimers DOES seem to be rampant in my class this year), but hopefully most of them will have mastered it.

I put a menu up on the board today (coke -- $2, hot dog -- $4, massive headache -- priceless) and started assigning them tiny little projects based on that menu and piles of fake money on their desks. I gave them a certain amount of money and a food order (2 hot dogs, 4 cokes, 2 chips, and a cookie) and their group had to figure out how much change they would get back if they bought that order. It took a while, but they finally started to get it, for the most part.

I still did have a few kids trying to subtract 17-40 or trying to find change by subtracting their food total minus the price of one hot dog, but overall, by the third mini-challenge, most groups seemed to be getting it.

Though the actual USE of money still eludes some. One boy asked, "You can buy something with five dollars?" in a tone of voice that suggested that I was telling him that skunks provided the best floral-scented handsoap. I asked him, "Have you seriously never seen a commercial for Subway sandwiches?"

To which the other kids chimed in, "YEAH! 5... 5 dollar... 5 dollar footlongs!"

Of course, by the time I see them tomorrow, they will have slept (presumably), so it might have flown out the window. I did have one little girl who was absent Thursday take a make-up quiz on rounding this morning. The first question said, "Round 583 to the nearest hundred." This little girl started writing, "5 - odd; 8 - even; 3 - odd." When I pointed out the word "Round" and asked her to ROUND, she told me, "I do not remember rounding." This is something we did all last week, but she's completely forgotten the skill already.

I really do NOT have high hopes for the STAAR this year...

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Night and Day differences

Teaching two sections of 3rd grade, I've often commented on how the 2 classes seem like entirely different entities. But never so much as this year.

One of my classes gets into the lessons, almost everyone participates, they listen and remember, and they give me a standing ovation when I announce that I'm passing out homework.

The other class contains only about 3 kids who participate on a regular basis, they often forget things that we've discussed ten minutes prior, and they seem to be recess-resistant.

The second six weeks of school began yesterday, so my partner and I flip-flopped the order of classes. I now have HIS homeroom in the morning and MY homeroom in the afternoon.

The past two mornings have been wonderful. The kids have brought their completed homework, we've had plenty of time for science as well as math, and the kids can tell me that estimating means the same thing as rounding, and that both terms mean choosing a close number to make math easier.

Yesterday afternoon on the other hand was nearly fatal to me, and today was only slightly better. Only 6 kids out of 20 did last night's homework correctly and/or completely, we squandered yesterday's science time ENTIRELY because no one would admit to saying something (5 kids finally admitted it, after 15 minutes of stonewalling), and the kids tell me that estimating means the same thing as rounding, and both terms mean... estimating. Or rounding.

My homeroom is also the one that, when they DO participate, tell me random math words in the hopes that one of them will be the answer to my question.

Me: "What math word means the answer to a subtraction problem?"
Kid 1: "Expanded form!"
Kid 2: "Estimate!"
Kid 3: "In all!"
Kid 4: "Estimate!"

Last week, our Daily Depositor had two addends that ended with an 8. I asked the kids what we called it when we are adding the same number twice (having seen a SECOND grade friend whose kids all seemed to grasp doubles pretty firmly).

One little kid, A, raised his hand triumphantly and answered, "Regroup!"

Later, when we had just written a number in word form and I asked what form the original number was in (standard form), I saw several hands go up, including A's. I said, "And please don't say 'Total,' or 'Sum.'"

A's hand slowly went down as the most dejected look formed on his face. Poor kid.

Report cards come out next week, and 7 of my homeroom kids are failing math. And every day, on the drive home, I hear in my head the voice of the woman who gave a presentation on the new STAAR test -- "This test will really evaluate the LEVEL of your teaching!"

And every time I hear her say that in my head, it pisses me off just a little bit more. The level of my teaching isn't the full problem here, or (dare I say) even most of the problem. The level of attention and retention of many of my kids is the problem here.

Here's hoping that one day soon, I will stumble upon SOME motivation or incentive that will actually matter to these kids. I'm going through my bag of tricks pretty quick here...

October quick hits

Catching up time here. I've either been too busy, despondent, or hungry to post much lately, and a little housekeeping is in order.

First of all, I have put the Kindle edition of Learn Me Gooder and the Nook edition of Learn Me Gooder on sale for only 99 cents through this coming Sunday, October 9. If you haven't snatched it up yet, please do so now, and tell all your friends that have an e-reader!

Secondly, a big thank you to those of you who have made good on your end of the free-book-for-a-review swap that I offered last week. I really appreciate it! And for anyone who is able, please copy your review onto! Thanks!

Nextly, Carol of Bellringers was kind enough to include one of my posts in the latest Carnival of Education, so here's a little linky love for the Carnival.

Lastly, a big shout out to Paula at who featured Learn Me Gooder on her site today! If you have a Kindle, you HAVE to have dailycheapreads bookmarked!