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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Week in review

Yet another "not quite full" week of school this past week. We did go Monday through Friday, but Tuesday was a "Horizontal Planning" day, so our classes had subs while we planned and analyzed data (JOY!). Then Friday was an early release day.

This upcoming week will be the first true five full day week in a while.

Interestingly enough, the half day (Friday) was the most packed of them all, in terms of "events."

My day started with a kid from another 3rd grade class coming to talk to me before school started, to tell me that a boy in ANOTHER 3rd grade class "had pictures of naked women in his backpack!"

Being a collector myself, I felt it was my duty to check out what he had. No, actually, I did my job and took the contraband away from the kid and reported him to his actual teacher. The "pictures of naked women" turned out to be a lingerie calendar, featuring women who, while attractive, could not have been any younger than 40. Not sure exactly where this kid got this calendar (since I didn't for a moment believe his story that his older brother slipped it into his backpack while he was in the shower), but it was hardly high quality.

Later, I gave a fractions test, and at one point I saw one of my more distractible students intently studying his pencil instead of his test. I whispered to him, "Please focus!" He looked up at me, nodded his head, then went back to staring at his pencil even more intensely. I had to follow up my comment with, "Focus on your TEST, not on your pencil!"

Oh, and this happened this week, too.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Something is, as something does

I have a confession to make. I used the "s-word" in class yesterday. Repeatedly.

Fed up with seeing the same kids coasting through class, eyes fixed on the floor, the wall, or their pencil while we read through instructions for an upcoming activity, I decided to say something about it.

I told the kids that I felt that some very Stupid decisions were being made. I told them that there were lots and lots of Stupid adults in the world. That I knew some of them and that they were no fun to be around. That Stupid adults made Stupid choices as kids and decided to be Stupid students.

I then made it clear to the kids that I wasn't calling any of them Stupid, but that some very Stupid decisions were being made. That if they didn't want to become Stupid adults, they needed to make sure that they did NOT turn into Stupid students.

After that, the hands-on, small group activity went REALLY well!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Fascinating, ain't it?

Well whadda ya know? Out of the blue, I received an email saying that my blog had been nominated for a "Fascination Award" under the category Teaching Blogs. Apparently, this post called Pimp My Name from all the way back in 2007 earned me a nod for best blog.

So starting Saturday, Jan 21, the polls will be open for voting, and I sure would appreciate it if you would click on the badge below and vote for Learn Me Good!

Online PhD Programs

Friday, January 13, 2012

And now for a little light literacy

Over the Christmas break, I finally read a review copy of a book that I had been sent by Jonathan Grant, a former newsman in Georgia. The book is called Chain Gang Elementary, and in a nutshell, it describes an all-out war between the head of a PTA (PTO actually) organization and the principal of his son's school.

I told Jonathan that I would recommend it here on the blog and post my review as well, so here it is:

I was contacted by Jonathan Grant a few months ago and asked if I would like a copy of his new book, Chain Gang Elementary, in order to review and share with the readers of my blog. Being a teacher myself, I got a bit bogged down in the intervening time period and didn't get a chance to read it, but here in the middle of our Christmas break, I was really able to get into it.

I highly enjoyed this novel. It was exceptionally well-written, the dialogue was crisp, and the characters were completely believable. I found only a couple of formatting errors, and most importantly, once I got into it, it had me enthralled.

The hero, Richard Gray, is a parent at the school, who winds up falling into the position of Parent Teacher Organization president. Since this is his story, most of the people on his side (the protagonists) are fellow parents and PTO members. Many of the ANtagonists are teachers and administrators at the school. Believe me when I say, the LAST thing I want to read is another round of teacher-bashing (which seems to be getting way too prevalent nowadays), and I will admit that I was a bit anxious when I started getting into the "battle mode" of the story. However, this is not at all a work of teacher-bashing. There was a very heroic teacher (who was of course labeled "the worst teacher at the school"), along with several other common-sense, cause-friendly teachers at the school. The teachers and administrators who were "enemy combatants" were truly idiots and awful people. I found myself getting angry at their actions, thinking that if I or anyone I knew did those sorts of things (putting in a cartoon then lying down in the teacher's lounge, while kids got into fights in the classroom, for instance), I would want to take legal action myself.
I have worked with my share of kids like Devonious, Alicia, and Nick. Obviously, Jonathan Grant has had some experience as well, because the characterizations were authentic.

Well done, Mr. Grant, and best of luck with the promotion of this great work.

In other book news, I just noticed the other day that Carl Ashmore has FINALLY released the second book in his Time Hunters series -- The Time Hunters and the Box of Eternity. I really enjoyed the original Time Hunters book, and this one already has 6 glowing reviews, all of them 5-stars. Looking forward to getting a copy and devouring it!

Lastly, Vicki Lieski, another popular indie writer, has started up her own book site, called Addicted to ebooks. This is a place to go and look for reviews, genres, descriptions, and links to all the sites that sell the book. Check it out!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Rounding for Dummies...

I received a new review on the Amazon page for Learn Me Good last night, and it kind of stunned me. It wasn't that it was a 1-star rating (though that's never music to my eyes); it wasn't that the lady ended it by saying that she regretted recommending it to some teacher friends before she read it.

What floored me was that she gave it a 1-star and said the book was total crap because of one story in the book where I taught the kids estimation.

Here is an excerpt from her review:
But in the middle of the story, I began to suspect his identity, and doubt his credibility as a teacher. He wrote of teaching his third graders estimation ... he claimed to have a strong background in his subjects, having gone to college to complete teacher licensure classes ... yet there he was, using a metaphor of "punching" a number up (which no third grade teacher would willingly use, being wary of accusations of encouraging physical harassment.)

To seal his fate with me, he then proceeded to write of the difference, within his metaphor, or punching a number up vs letting it fall down. He was teaching them to round up or round down. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS ROUNDING DOWN!A teacher would know that. Teachers spend years clarifying that for students and their parents.

Forget the fact that the punch it up method is something I learned FROM a teacher and have passed on TO many other teachers, all of whom use it and love it. What concerned me was that I am a teacher, and I did NOT in fact know that THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS ROUNDING DOWN!

I don't normally respond to bad reviews, but I had to ask for clarification. 34 does not round down to 30? 125 does not round down to 100?

In the meantime, I posted about it on Facebook and got a ton of responses. One of my friends posted a link:
On this page, Jim Loy seems to agree with the Amazon reviewer:
"Rounding down" is ambiguous, and is not an expression used by mathematicians, nor is it found in arithmetic text books in grade school. It shows a small misunderstanding of the term "rounding."

He then goes on to talk about rounding and estimation, but every one of his examples uses integers and decimals. Not exactly what we're talking about in 3rd grade.

I figured that this was probably a matter of semantics, and that the reviewer somehow thought that I was teaching the kids to drop 34 to 20 -- actually subtracting 1 from the tens place. Sure enough, she did reply to my reply today, and confirmed that this was her understanding from what she had read. She went on to tell me that visual number lines and manipulatives are a must and gave a mini-lesson on how she would teach estimation.

I'm not exactly sure why she would think that a short, funny anecdote in a humor novel would go into detail about every single step used in the classroom (obviously, she thought punch it up/drop it down was my single verbal instruction to the kids), or even why this one detail would totally derail the book, or heck what the phrase, "I began to suspect his identity" even MEANS!

I'm pretty sure now, though, that I'm not leading America's future generation astray. I had my doubts last night, wondering if I was totally missing something, teaching the kids the mathematical equivalent of "E before I, except after C."

And maybe the phrase "rounding down" really ISN'T found in any grade school math books. I doubt phrases like, "Go next door and get ten more," "Subtract the neighbors in a pattern," or "The alligator eats the bigger number" are to be found anywhere in a grade school math book, either.

Doesn't mean us teachers (and, um, those of us who only play a teacher on television?) don't use them all the time to help the kids remember their steps and strategies.

Oh, and just between you and me...

Check out Step 2 in this 3rd grade STAAR Readiness manual I found today...

Monday, January 09, 2012

Parts is parts

I had a really good day today, with both classes. I showed them how to use the "Part-Part-Whole" strategy to write fractions. The kids caught on really quickly, and most of them really took to it as something that they might use on a regular basis now. We'll see what kind of results I get back on tonight's homework, where I told them that they could use part-part-whole if they wanted to, but that they didn't have to.

So for this week's INTERACTIVE MONDAY, I'm asking: What is a lesson you've done recently that has worked really well? And if you can't think of one, then tell us one you've done recently that just backfired horrifically!

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Missing the point

So I just spent about half an hour writing some variation of the same theme on 18 notecards. The main idea was "We saw in our experiment that gravity pulls things down at the same time." 18 out of 19 notecards in my afternoon class.

This week, the science focus has been gravity. I started by showing the kids three water bottles of the same size but different mass. One was empty, one had wet paper towels in it, and one had sand in it. They were labeled, respectively, lightest, medium, and heaviest.

I had them write a prediction for what order in which they would hit the ground if they were dropped at the same time and from the same height. Most of them said the heaviest would hit the ground first. This seems intuitive at that age. Some of them said the lightest would hit the ground first, and qualified that by saying that since it didn't weigh as much, it could move faster. OK, there are no wrong hypotheses, after all.

But then the kids did their own experiment involving three different items of varying mass. They dropped the items repeatedly at the same time and saw that they all hit the ground at the same time. We discussed afterwards how items hit the ground at the same time due to gravity. I told them that if we went up to the top of the school and dropped a bowling ball and a grape at the same time, they would hit the ground at the same time. I even held up a tiny eraser and the big thick math textbook and dropped them, and (GASP) they hit the ground at the same time.

So yesterday, for their test (AKA "Reflection"), I showed them 3 items with varying masses. A big heavy Baby Care book that a fellow teacher had loaned me (the kids found this hilarious; one girl even snorted, "HA! BABY!"), a mostly empty water bottle, and a little binder clip. I identified them as heaviest, medium, and lightest. I then asked them to write, on the index card, what order the items would hit the ground in if dropped at the same time, and to explain their reasoning.

One girl, out of nineteen students, wrote that they would hit at the same time because that's how gravity works. The other eighteen wrote some staggered order, most of the explanations being that the more mass an object has, the faster it will fall.


I really hope a lesson on magnetism is coming up soon, because at least then SOMETHING has a chance of "sticking" in my class.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

My first new year success

On January 1st, I did accomplish something. I took a song that I had made back in 2009 and put it up on YouTube. This song is called Chili Mac, and it's a parody of the Justin Timberlake song, Sexy Back. I really did have aspirations of making a video to go along with it; an SNL-esque type deal with me in fake beard and ridiculous glasses. But I finally realized that I would never get around to that, so I just threw a bunch of random pictures into a slide show and put the song to picture.


Tuesday, January 03, 2012

How was your first day back?

Ladies and gentlemen -- I present to you -- INTERACTIVE MONDAY! (On Tuesday, yes; I'm a little behind.)

So my question today is How was your first day back? This might have been yesterday, it might have been today, it might not be till NEXT Monday. At any rate, once it's over, come back here and answer the question!

As for me, it was a really good first day back. Sure, I didn't do anything that I had on my lesson plan. This was because our copies hadn't been made, so I couldn't give the new unit pre-test as planed. However, it made it possible for me to hold a fun little review game that let the kids work in teams to refresh their memories on concepts like polygons, congruency, and estimating.

I'm going to try to encourage the kids to start looking for and sharing real-world examples of math usage, so I started today by telling the kids about how my wife is pregnant and that when we went to the doctor we learned that it usually takes about 40 weeks for the baby to come, and we've already passed 21 weeks. Then I asked them how I could have figured out how many weeks we still had before the baby's arrival. Many of them of course said ADD!

I had to inform them that if anyone told my wife that she still had 61 weeks of pregnancy, she would chop my head off.

We're starting a unit on fractions, so this should be an interesting few weeks.

Looking forward to hearing how YOUR first day back went!

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Welcome, 2012!

Happy New Year, everyone!! Have a fabulous 2012!

To kick off the new year, I am putting Learn Me Good (Kindle version) on sale for --- FREE, starting tomorrow, January 2. The sale will end Wednesday, January 4.

Even if you've already read it, please do me a favor and one-click Learn Me Good and/or tell everyone you know to do the same.