Monday, April 30, 2012

Motivating Students - A Two-Tier System by Motivation, Not Ability

Can we change the luck formula?
This post, at least the majority of it, was not written by me, although it could have been and I wish I had written it.  I have long advocated for the students who want to learn, and I have been frustrated by those who do not care, not because they are throwing away their education, which they are, but because they are also forfeiting the education of their classmates.  As one of a growing number of parents who has opted out of the local public school (and remember, this is a well regarded school, not a failing school) and as a witness to the train wreck that is public education, I can tell you that something needs to change very quickly and radically. 

In researching this blog, I found an interesting article that catalogs the problems in today's classrooms and suggests a solution that would actually work in the last few paragraphs.  These excerpts, especially, spoke to me as a possible solution:
  • "Public schools must be allowed to purge disruptive elements in defense of student’s rights."
  • "The classrooms will be overly populated with angry, frustrated students who have been failed by their families, their schools, their communities, American corporations, their government and, most importantly, themselves. How do we teach students who, for many reasons, do not value their own education? How do we teach students whose families are not actively vested in their own children’s education? Every child has a right to an education, but what do we do with the large numbers of students who impede other students’ pursuit of knowledge and achievement? Until there is a massive overhaul of the urban public school system, perhaps we should embrace a two-tier school policy that separates involved families (like Steve Collins’s) and motivated students (like Shatara) from the disruption and discouragement of the students who seemingly do not care."
A lot of the dissent against a two-tier policy is that low income students are disproportionately placed in the lower classrooms because they are further behind, which is probably true and hence a valid concern.  But, our school system is more segregated than ever, and the disruption of learning is not just occurring in poor areas, as this commenter on the above article noted:
  • Ah, it’s called heterogenious (sic) grouping and it’s the idea of the educational elite: put students of all ability levels into one classroom where the slower ones will be inspired by the smarter ones. Any teacher will tell you it works just the opposite: the brighter, motivated students get dragged down by the nitwits in the back of the room. It’s happening in all schools, not just poor ones.
The only thing that I would take issue with in the above comment would be the use of the terminology "slower" and "smarter".  It is my experience that slow does not always equal unmotivated any more than smart corrolates with "good student".  In fact, the students that are not innately gifted but who work and try are the students that the current system is most neglecting, as I witnessed last week while proctoring the state tests.  Only two of my students did well; those who don't care performed poorly, but the heartbreaking part was that those who did try throughout the school year did almost as poorly.  Those students struggled with the basics such as long division, but they did learn the concepts that they were taught in my class, such as setting up proportions or evaluating formulas.  Those are the ones we need to save.

The following bullets are some of the highlights from the comment section of the Kristof article.  There are a lot of good ideas from a lot of different sources on a range of topics, but I cherry-picked the comments that pertain to the two-tier system in one way or another.  I did not edit these in any way, leaving misspellings and grammatical errors as is.
  • Schools could try just moving disruptive students into a “detention class” which would be large enough to constitute a “class” Students who got good grades would gradually be moved into an “achievement class” . So the motivated students would, within a few days or weeks, be separated from the unmotivated, within the same school. Teachers would have to endure periods of teaching a whole class of the unmotivated but maybe these students could learn something, since most would be functioning below grade level. if a student did homework five days in a row with some degree of effort he or she could move back into an “achievement class.”
  • The parents want a two tier system so that’s what we’ll have. This is a democratic country. Public education was put in place by the people because the fee-based system of education in 19th century America was unfair to those too poor to pay. (This is still the system in poor regions like Africa). It was meant to provide the opportunity for an education to all, not a guarantee of an education nor a form of adolescent day care. This was understood at the time. If current law (or politics) prevents the public schools from providing the proper environment for learning, parents will go to alternatives.
  • But we must not succomb to the notion that tolerating such awful behavior in students just to uphold some governmental requirement for school is bankrupt.
  • I, too, am frustrated with the unmotivated students that consistently disrupt my classroom in our middle school. Like Will, I have also proposed a separate place (in our campus-designed school, we would have a separate building available) for those students who show by their behavior that they cannot function in a regular classroom.
  • We have an alternative school in our system, with too few places. We now have a policy of sending students back to regular school at the beginning of each new quarter. This includes students who have assaulted students and teachers, and who are chronic disrupters. At the beginning of each nine weeks, we lose learning time dealing with these students, who may then be sent to the alternative school again, or not.
  • A separate place at the same school could go two ways: either it becomes a mark of honor to be there, given the mindset of some of our students, or it becomes a place to get out of, in which case the separation would have served its purpose. A monthly or even bi-weekly review of students’ work and behavior would give frequent crossover capability. Our subject curriculums are well-calibrated between teachers, and transitioning could happen fairly seamlessly. I can see parents buying into this program as well, which, as Will expresses, is one of the key differences between students who are succeeding academically, and those who are not.
  • Segregate the losers. Let them perform for each other. They will soon diminish in numbers as the stigma of being second class will motivate those with any self respect. The future of the rest is written. “Nor all thy piety nor wit may call it back to cancel half a line”. Segregation will keep the damage at the ordained level.
  • 1 As you suggest, segregate students according to scholarship. Then segregate again according to achievement rate. 2 Treat the vast slag pile at the bottom appropriately. An effective school for them will resemble boot camp or even a prison. Punishments and rewards. Behavior modification. That sort of thing. Jack it up. Don’t just blather about cultural sensitivity and civil rights.
  • Until the problem “students” are permanently removed from the classroom there will be no solution worthy of the term. Kids who are unwilling to participate have no place with kids who are ready to get an education. They should be segregated into other educational institutions better able to address their needs.
  • Teaching to the lowest common denominator is not “social justice”.
  • Separate classrooms, maybe even separate schools, emphasis on discipline and social skills.
  • The troubled kids should be isolated so that the ambitious ones can learn.
  • What if schools saw themselves as places to educate children? What if students who were not prepared with books, pen, and paper were not admitted to class? What if students who disrupted class were not allowed to return? What if classes were designed for the students who wished to progress? Why are the students who want to learn paying for the warehousing of disengaged children with their futures?
  • Only when we create schools for learning and teaching will they have something of value to offer. The future of our country depends on it. We are not educating vast numbers of our citizens. How will we make intelligent choices, contribute to our society, if our population is denied an education because we choose to use schools as a place to enclose rather than educate?
  • I would suggest that the Chicago public high schools divide their schools into three tracks: college prep, general studies, and drop-in classes. The serious students in the first track, who want to go to college, could take classes together with other motivated students. The students, who don’t want to go to college, but want a high school diploma, could take general studies classes in the second track with other students who want to graduate. The third track could be for the students with poor attendance, no motivation, behavior problems, etc.
  • It is obvious that students eligible for the third track have NOT BEEN PARENTED by caring adults. Their parents probably have overwhelming problems themselves and no time or skills to raise them. This group of students should get social services that they never received at home: getting good nutrition, being read aloud to, being taught survival skills like cooking and laundry, classes in anger management, having caring adults who listen to them, field trips to cultural sites, etc. In other words, they should get all the attention that other children take for granted. These children are STARVED for good care and, more than likely, willing to disrupt a class to deny an education to others getting what they lack in their own lives. (If I am starving, and I see you eating steak, it would be tempting to make your meal as miserable as possible.)
  • This third track would be expensive to administer; but, would save society millions in the future. Also, the goal would be to move students in this track up into the other tracks, as they learn to care about school and their own futures.
  • It's pretty hard to teach content when this is
    happening.  And it is happening.
  • Unfortunately, and as ugly as it is, the only fair thing to do (as far as the motivated, or even semi-motivated are concerned) is to allow a two tier system. As a (recent) product of public education, I’ve seen how the unwilling ruin the education experiences of even the most motivated students and how they zap the scarce resources schools have. Money and time that could be spent creating motivation for borderline students through programs like sports and clubs. Public schools are being forced to cut programs that provide motivation (or find corporate sponsorship) in order to provide enough discipline and remedial attention to students unwilling to put any effort into learning. Why should good students suffer for the sake of these bad apples when (in some cases) the best efforts of the most dedicated adults isn’t going to accomplish anything? Why cut the programs that keep marginal students interested in order to keep trouble makers and hate mongers in school? Why punish everyone else in order to force people who don’t want to be in school to go there?
  • How do you teach kids who don’t want to learn? You don’t. You can’t.
  • Students who do not want to learn and will not let other students learn are destroying public schools across the nation. Administrators and school boards will not give the teachers the tools to combat these students. Therefore, these students run the schools and abuse the teachers and students who want to learn. The administrators will not support the teachers.
  • I think that any teacher who has taught in a failing public district school has wished that some of the more motivated kids had a better chance. When I taught in Camden, teachers would whisper the names of charter schools to parents at conferences. It felt like an underground railroad to a real education. While I wish more district schools could be places of learning, in the meantime charters give hope to some of our students. Today I’m a teacher in a great charter school and I’m happy that our 300 students at least have a chance. Maybe some day more district schools can work like ours and more students will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education.
  • Many other countries have a tracked system whereby students who are not interested in academics still get a solid education in a trade. This might be a good alternative.
  • If they don’t want to be in school get them out where they can go to the future that they so richly deserve and leave the students who want to learn alone. Yes I know it is harsh but tell what else works?
  • While it’s a shame that many parents do not have the time or the inclination to be sure their children get an education, which is virtually free for them, the rest of the student body should not be forced to waste their time while teachers are spending their efforts on kids who, for whatever reason, do not care.
    Many may beleive education to be a right, but if the opportunity is available and is not taken advantage of, it is only the fault of those who let it pass them by.I had very few teachers who did not give their all in the class room. They worked tirelessly to help everyone who showed even an ounce of desire, and more on those who didn’t. The situation in public schools is absolutly not the fault of teachers.
    It is the fault of parents and communities who are not forced to learn and strive and work or starve. It is the failure of a culture that has pride in ignorance and getting something for nothing.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Respect in the Classroom, Respect in Life

When photographing some of my manipulatives, I couldn't help but photograph the state of my room.  Now, I try to police the floors as best I can, but middle school teachers share their rooms, and often times there are greater issues than cleanliness.  However!  There are a few stray papers, and there are the scene in these pictures, which is beyond slovenly.  The number of students that sneak food into the classroom is astonishing, and the wrappers and crumbs end up everywhere.  It is disgusting. 

Is cleanliness a form of respect?  Is filth a sign of moral corruption?  It certainly can lead to disease and germs, but is it correlated with incivility as well? 

When I taught in my first school, I felt as if I was making a difference in kids' lives.  It was a tough school, but my students, by and large, were eager to learn.  That school, while not in a modern facility, and a far cry from my corporate days in the Woolworth building, was reasonably clean, and the neighborhood, again, was tolerably maintained.  In that case, safety did not corrolate with neatness, since it was there that, during my tenure, a double drive-by shooting occurred and one of my students was, let me choose my words carefully, slaughtered by another student.

In the school where the above photos were taken, the neighborhood is equally garbage-strewn.  Lack of attention in your surroundings seeps into inattentiveness towards your actions.  If you don't respect your own and others' property, it is fair to expect disrespect towards teachers.  Some have written about how clean, modern facilities leads children to higher achievement.  I know that clean, modern workbooks do not necessarily lead to good academics.  I know that investing in technology, which is easily broken if handled carelessly, is a poor choice for valuable expenditures.  Keys are popped off, cords are stepped on, they are dropped, all the while kids feel like it's a toy and they can visit during instructional time.  Look at this collection of destroyed books from the same classroom, and tell me if you'd be comfortable giving this same group of students laptop computers.

Can be children be taught respect?  Sure.  What I'd like to know is, since I need to teach them motivation, and I need to teach them self-restraint, and I have to teach them math, is it humanly possible to also teach respect?  Next year, I'm going to start off the year very slowly, which is easy to say in April.  Next September, with the pre-testing and the assemblies and the push to keep to the pacing calendar, it will probably be more rush-rush and lessons in respect, restraint, motivation, etc, will fall to the wayside.  Does anyone in middle school have any success with balancing all of these responsibilities?

Shame, Lies and Videotape

The word "shame" is taboo in today's Western cultures; teachers today are forbidden to reproach children regarding the most shameful behaviors for fear that it will irrevocably harm their self-esteem.  Now, shaming a child gratuitously like I would hear through the door connecting my second grade classroom to the third grade classroom next to us is not what I'm advocating here.  Those loud belittling sessions were so regular that I question their effect on their intended audience (who was my neighbor, and who never struck me as particularly troublesome), however they did succeed in making me fear the 3rd grade teacher, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.  I didn't lose sleep worrying about it, but I was especially obediant in this teacher's classroom when I had her the following year.  Fear and shame are a part of life, and there is a place for both in schools.

I was chastised by teachers very few times as a student, and each occasion I remember vividly.  My first scolding occurred in first grade when I was caught cheating on a spelling quiz, another time in second grade music class when I became too excited pretending to be a chick, and once in third grade for climbing a drainpipe at recess.  I experience shame as a sickening feeling that starts simultaneously in the toes and on the top of the head, flows across your body and meets in your gut where it swirls and churns.  I dreaded the next thing to come as I watched my teacher take away my cheat sheet, faced the wall, or waited for the principal.  After the drainpipe incident, I didn't get into trouble at school again until Senior Skip day at the end of senior year.  So, shame is effective deterrant in my case.
This is now the quickest route to fame, fortune
and a reality TV show.  We celebrate these
self-absorbed people every time we watch these
guilty pleasures.  Shame on you, Barbie!
And that is exactly what shame is: a deterrent from dishonorable behavior.  It is not the same as humiliation or degradation.  Those are things that someone does to somebody else.  Shame comes from within, or at least it should.  Guilt is an emotion that keeps people in check.  A thoughtful person does not rationalize their crude behavior, they view it critically without the egomeniacal mentality that pervades our society.  Today, children's role models are the people that become rich (or, richer) and famous for "leaked" sex tapes and dressing scandalously in public, or other such shameful behaviors. I'm afraid it's hard to enforce normative behavior in people with no conscience.

So, what do we do for the child with no sense of shame or self-regulation, without the ability to stop his or her baser impulses, no capacity to do things against his or her inclination?  Since the goal of this blog is to address solutions to the very real problems facing teachers and education, I found some resources for teachers in regards to self-regulation and middle schoolers, which is a bit late developmentally to learn such a thing, but it is the population that I serve.  There is a survey called the Self-Regulation Questionnaire, or SRQ that gauges how motivated a student is or is not.  Somehow, magically I assume, they will take the survey and realize that the path to success is paved with intrinsic motivation and hard work.  I say magically, because there are plenty of studies on the "relative autonomy index" score on this questionnaire and students' academic performance, but no information that I could find on how to raise a students RAI.  The best I can gather is that from there, they should monitor if they are working towards their goals by completing a "learning contract form".  My school currently does this, as does every other school with which I am familiar.  In the learning contract, or goals, as they are called in most every school, the students write about what they can do to succeed, and look back at why they performed well or poorly.  I am thinking about asking the administrators in my school to add a component about how they feel about their past performance, as well.

I have always started my school year talking to students about effort and success.  I reinforce this by pointing out that those who do homework also do well on assessments.  I also corrolate school success with incomes, in order to motivate them extrinsically.  Learning takes hard work and dedication, there is no other way.  Currently, this does little to change the behaviors of those who are looking for immediate gratification.  Other things that have little to no effect on these students attitudes and work ethics are phone calls home, failing grades, lunch and afterschool detention, being pulled out by the dean, suspension etc.  Do I really think giving kids a survey will change this?  No.  Will I give the survey as soon as the math state test is in the rearview mirror.  Yes, because I am desperate.  My students do not care.  My students do not try.  They will probably not take the survey seriously.  But, I have to try it.  I will let you know the results as soon as I know.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

the cat in the hat

sally and nick  heard a bump so open the door laura laura
I like the waterfall.  It's such a beautiful picture. 
I love the flower.  I love the whole picture.

This is the story of the two Laura's that went to the pool.  They brought bathing suits and they went for a swim in the pool.  Then they came out of the pool, and they took their towels so they could dry off.  And then, they went home.  They went past the farm and saw a baby chick and the mommy chicken and heard something say "cock-a-doodle-doo".  And they didn't know what said "cock-a-doodle-doo".  And then they went into the farm and they had a pool in the farm and they had goldfish in the pool.  And they even let people go in the pool.  When they had towels on them, they took them off and they had a big diving board.  So they climbed up the ladder and dived off the diving board and into the pool with the goldfish.

Then the farmer said, "You can use this pool and you can live here."  And they said, "We want to live here!  We want to live here!".

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is a guest post written Laura.  The first sentence and the title were typed by Laura, and the rest was dictated by Laura and transcribed by Mom..

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

English Programs - Which are the Best?

My daughter was accepted to apply for both citywide and district gifted and talented programs.  And, in true DOE fashion, we have, essentially, five days to make our decision.  I say essentially, because we learned she was accepted last week, but the DOE was on vacation last week.  So, this week, my husband and I are joining the frazzled mass of parents at open houses.  And we're being hit with all kinds of information about protocol and strategizing the program ranking, transportation options, sibling preferences, seat availability and all sorts of complications that only New York City could invent.  I learned the difference between district programs (who have enrichment), and city programs (that offer acceleration as well as enrichment).  I could even tell you the difference between acceleration and compaction.  What we want, of course, is a good education for our daughter.  And for parents in NYC who seek a quality education, the choices are tough, tougher, and downright shitty. 

Before we even entered this rat's nest, we had to fight for a place at our zoned school.  Our zoned school, the reason we purchased a house in a pricy neighborhood, announce in October that they were overcrowded and, naturally, they were this close to passing a resolution to move the zone border.  Actually, they didn't tell us as much as we found out.  And, again, naturally, our house, bought specifically so that our daughter could attend this school, was this close to being placed outside this border, for the year my child was to enter the school.  Four hundred petitions, hours spent on hold to get the run-around from DOE officials, unanswered emails, and many impassioned speeches later, the rezoning was voted down.  Rejoice! 

Then came the lotto.  Since the zone was not redrawn, the school now needed to restrict the number of children admitted into kindergarten (actually, the size of zone has nothing to do with the overcrowding, but that's another story).  This is where our luck changed.  Tootie Pie was admitted to the school.  Cue the confetti!  Wonder at your good fortune!  Argue about which parent will enroll her!  And, then, the results came from the gifted and talented: 99th percentile.  Which is why I've now become that parent, the very person I could not stand: the hyperinvolved, earnestly asking overly specific questions, dangerously armed with a little knowledge, panicked, overambitious parent.  Or, at least, I will be until Friday.

So, we are attending the open houses.  Maybe this is a mistake; getting our hopes up for dream schools that will never meet our expectations.  My husband and I are math teachers, and so we know the terminology and programs being thrown at parents, and we feel pretty smug that we have a grasp of at least one small part of this overwhelming puzzle.  However, English Language Arts is a different story for us; they're really razzle-dazzling us here, and unlike with the math, we don't know what any of it means, or if it's good or bad.  Does anyone know a good English program being used today?  Fountas and Pinnell, balanced literacy, writer's workshop, write source, leveled reading: aren't these all fancy words for the ELA equivalent of "fuzzy math"?  Do students learn grammar, spelling, vocabulary, and punctuation anymore?  ELA teachers, please weigh in.  Quickly!!!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Miniature Saarinen Tulip Table How To Tutorial

The Tulip table is complete.  It is wonky, but it is complete.  I am creating another original model with hopefully smoother edges.  If you're interested in the process, it is detailed below:

A fresh-out-of-the-oven batch of marble table tops
  • Sculpey clay for the original
  • wet/dry sandpaper
  • Smooth-On Oomoo 30 Silicon Mold Making rubber
  • Legos
  • rubber bands
  • vaseline
  • non-sulphur clay (I used Plasticina)
  • Straw
  • Smooth-Cast 325 plastic
  • Plastic spray paint
  • Sculpey clay in white, black, transluscent and pewter for "marble" top
  • Pasta machine
Giving the bases, and a toilet, a spray of paint
The hardest part is the model.  All I can suggest is either an art degree with a major in sculpture, or the patience of a saint and tons of sanding.  Once the original is complete, make a mold box (I use Legos), and fill the box to about halfway with non-sulphur clay (sulphur will eat away at your original).  Push the model into the clay and make a pour hole at the bottom with a straw.  Make registration keys with a small, round object.  Pour the rubber slowly over the model until covered.  Allow to dry and remove clay.  Cover the top of the rubber mold half with vaseline and allow to dry, then pour in rubber on other side.  When your mold is done, rubber band it together and pour in the plastic.  Demold and remove the flashing.  I didn't use plastic coloring, so I had to spray paint the finished product.

For the top, I mix together mostly white, with tiny bits of black, transluscent and pewter.  Roll together until the streaking is the way you like it.  Then, put it through a pasta machine and cut out a 3 inch diameter circle.  Bake, and glue the top to your base.  Hopefully someday I will come up with a video on the step-by-step. 

And here is the finished product with a Reac shell chair!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Spoilt for Choice

This post is a thinly veiled brag about my daughter.  She took the OLSAT and BRSA and scored 99%.  Since most of my reading audience (Hi, Mom!) is probably not familiar with the insanity that is facing middle class parents in New York City, those acronyms are preschool intelligence tests.  So, now we have a week to apply to a gifted school if we choose.  Well, duh!  Of course we're interested.  She can apply to city or district gifted and talented programs.  There are 32 districts in the city, and there are 5 citywide G&T programs: one in Brooklyn, one in Queens, and the other 3 are in Manhattan.  The city programs in Manhattan are, naturally, much more desirable than the local district program.  The schools there are literally unbelievable.  And, our district G&T is only in its second year.  Attending school in Manhattan would be a huge inconvenience, obviously, but I want the best for my little patootie, and Manhattan is the best.  What lengths would you go to for your little one?  Would you commute from Queens to Manhattan, back to Queens (for my job), and then back to Manhattan to return to Queens?  FOR SIX, NINE or THIRTEEN YEARS? 
The face of a gifted student
Yet, this is what I wanted.  I wanted her to attend a school in Manhattan: Hunter College Elementary.  And, now that the opportunity is here, I'm seeing just how impractical it is.  Nothing like a solid dose of reality to invalidate your dreams.  I've even looked into studio apartments on the Upper West Side and I'm considering finding a new job in the city, easing the commute to only two trips a day instead of five (I cannot believe that is even an option for this commutaphobe).

I am so proud of my little girl.  She did such a good job! 

Friday, April 6, 2012

Finished Doll House


Welcome to our doll house!  Come on inside Tilted Acres!

One bedroom, with a GeoReflector (math manipulative) bed and a Marx Little Hostess dresser.

Reac Chair, chest and armoire are just marked "Hong Kong", and antlers are by La Petite Moderne.

The kitchen, which features the amazing Tomy kitchen set.  In the foreground is what I imagine is the grandmother's old stove and pump sink (it really works)

A better view of the Tomy kitchen.  Kitchen table and grandmother's stove are Renwal, and the fiberglass shell chair is Reac. 
Marx blue couch, Tomy couch and coffee table.  Ma Petite Moderne Arco Castiglione lamp.

After failing to attach the front door with hinges, twice, I ended up supergluing rubber bands to the door and frame.  Ghetto.  And, the pictures are revealing to me a fair amount of glue that will need to be touched up.  And then I have to add the trim along the bottom walls, but need a miter box before I do so.  Of course, the rooms need rugs, which is one of my latest projects.  So, apparently, a doll house is similar to a real house in that the to-do list is long and growing.  But, for me, anyhow, both are mostly fun. 

Isn't America Great?


These do not count as
dollhouses, in my mind
I bought my daughter's first dollhouse as a kit for Christmas.  Well, first, if you don't count the My Little Pony house that features a musical toilet, but technically that's a ponyhouse, right?  And, we're not counting the Polly Pocket homes, of which we had two, because, um, those are Polly houses?  Oh!  Technically one's a hotel, and the other is described as an apartment, so...  Anyhow, once I was need deep in mini-home construction aggravations, the neighborhood girls said they had something for L.  This something turned out to be two Barbie houses, plus this and this.  Then, just this week, I found another Barbie house on the side of the road, with furniture!  

When I bought the doll house kit, I joked with the woman who sold it to me that if my family had to live in a small home, then our dolls would have to, as well.  So the original plan was to have one small 1':1" dollhouse.  But aquired Barbie houses tend to be around 4' tall, and in a house with a 16'x30' footprint, one of these large play homes is plenty.  There was no way we were going to have three.  So, we played dollhouse shuffle yesterday: the dollhouse that we kept in our house went to Oma's, the one at Oma's went to our friend, and the Malibu Dream home is now in our basement.  

I have remarked on how I find just the things I'm looking for on the street.  I also find a great many things that I don't need, but that doesn't stop me from keeping it anyhow.  I believe that when you form an idea of what you want, it comes to you.  I suppose I am quite good at dreaming up material things that I need.  I need to change focus to the more important things in life that I need.  So, now, where is that six foot tall Norwegian doctor?
Apparently, I'm putting out there that I want more of these. 
I should really try to stop my subconscience from operating, else I'll be buried in a sea of pink plastic soon.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Free Math SmartBoard Math Lessons

In my biography for this blog, I assert that I know middle school math better than anyone else.  While this is something of a stretch, it is almost certainly true that I am more familiar with middle school math than you do, even if you happen to be a math teacher.  Three years ago, I was teaching Greatest Common Factor and Least Common Multiple, and I told the students that I was demonstrating just a couple of ways to find them.  One student asked if we could see some other methods, and the other students chimed in that they, too, would like a quick synopsis of other procedures.  While it may seem unbelieveable that children would want to know more ways than I'd already taught them on this rather dry, not heavily applicable to the real-world skill, remember that they would do anything to get a teacher off-topic, if only for a moment.  So, I indulged them, and while I was in the midst of my impromptu lesson I had one of those out-of-body experiences where I could see myself and I realized that I know a little too much about finding GCF and LCM.  I was thinking, gee, Linda, how did you come to know so much about this topic, and isn't it a bit strange? 
They try this problem, with their
fraction pieces and a timer
I have been wanting to write a guest blog, and my first post is for a "best practices" teaching website.  In this effort, I have been taking screenshots of my smartboard lessons.  These lessons represent years of work and experience, so why not show them off? 

A slide and its progression. 
From top to bottom:
the old style visual aid, wrapped in
rubber bands to hold it together;
the same prism, now on the
smart board, peeling off the layers,
breaking off the individual
 cubes and displaying
the solution.

Then, reveal correct answer, and misconception.
The screens I chose to show in the guest blog demonstrate the use of manipulatives in the classroom, which is considered a good practice, methods to dispel misconceptions, which is extremely difficult to do, and engaging, hand-on lessons, which, if you're a teacher, you know means headaches!  I've developed these lessons for use with the smartboard, and there are hundreds of slides with cartoons, turn and talks, think pair shares, reflections, procedures, do nows and links to interactive websites.  The instant access to visuals is a godsend for a teacher who is accustomed to having to draw such things as turnstiles and radiometers, to little effect.  But even better are the interactive elements.  The smartboard timers help keep students on task, and they even give me a better feel for how long three minutes really is.  I no longer have to circle the classroom with a rectangular prism made of snap cubes in my hand, demonstrating what the dimensions of the prism are.  I can spin spinners, flip coins, or toss dice without having to tell the students to "trust me, it's heads".  I do not have to buy the incredibly expensive quad-ruled chart paper to teach the coordinate plane or graphing.  And I don't have the aggravation of other teachers in my classroom blithely taking a sheet or two without permission and using them indiscriminately after I take such care to use them sparingly by plotting things in pencil and erasing it clean before the next class.  That's over $2.00 a sheet, people!  And, while I'm on the subject, do you have any idea how expensive overhead projector lightbulbs are?  They're not cheap!  Don't leave it on for the whole period, because the fan doesn't work and it's going to overheat!  I'm not paid enough for these supplies!!!  

Ahem, <straightening my tie>, where was I?  I like the smartboard.  For those of you who are interested, this is a tiny glimpse of my life as a teacher.  For fellow teachers, if you'd like copies of my smartboard lessons, I'd be more than happy to share them.  You don't even need a smartboard to use them, just a computer and a projector and a copy of the software.  This is how I use it, because I no longer have a smartboard, either.  I have most middle school math topics done, and a few 6th and 7th grade science lessons.  Leave a comment and I'll send you them.  

And if you're curious about the GCF and LCM, first off let me say that you're a bit strange, too.  No, I'm kidding: intellectual curiosity is one of the great gifts of being a human.  But follow this blog, and we just may cover it, like it or not!

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