Archive for October, 2011

Remember that class that was all failing? They were giving me a hard time (to put it mildly), they were down and discouraged… well half of them got A’s on the last test and almost everyone passed!

I am so proud of them and so excited that they are working harder and are going to see the benefit of hard work when they get their tests back on Monday.

Unfortunately my other period that was doing very well all tanked the exam so I need to take a lot at what is going on there but for this moment I am going to make a big effort to congratulate and encourage 5th period to take pride in themselves and their hard work. Yay them!

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This school has the lowest possible expectations for its students. Students are not expected to do homework, come on time, complete missed work, do their own work on tests, pay attention, behave properly, etc. Why do I say this?

1. Cheating is okay. Where I grew up – your eyes drifted more than once you got a zero. Here, if I have to tell you more than 3 times I get to take off 5 points. Also, students are INFURIATED with me for not helping them on exams. So much so that many tests end up on the floor, students get up and ditch class and ultimately give up. I am constantly saying variations of, “This is an assessment of your knowledge, not mine,” which the students loathe.

2. Homework is optional. Yes, it is 20% of your grade but hey don’t worry because I’m not allowed to have so many F’s I have to allow you to make up EVERY SINGLE ASSIGNMENT for FULL CREDIT before the marking period is over. So now students who have been slacking off get to do all this work (and I get to grade it) and not lose any points. But the point of homework is not for a grade it’s to understand content better and be able to participate in classroom activities and learning!!

For instance, I had a study guide packet I gave students, I made it worth homework points as incentive for more to do it (didn’t work). But when students came in and found out it was worth points, they took the test, turned it in and then got to work on the study guide – SO BACKWARDS. And they didn’t even care.

3. I was told by several teachers to make sure the quarterly exam is not cumulative, not too hard, and does not make it so they fail. In fact, one teacher is having her quarterly test grade based on students completing standardized test problems in the computer lab. Maybe I’ll do a project…

I am feeling a little frustrated since I am supposed to be assisting students more with critical thinking and less with procedures  and many of my students might meet me at my expectations if I had more support.

What I think I will do with the seniors is a project where I offer them two jobs, one at salary and the other hourly and they have to tell me which is better and what their paychecks would look like etc. (This is what we’ve been working on all quarter and commission). With the juniors maybe I’ll do a project where they pick one topic from all the topics we’ve done so far and create their own quiz questions and answer key or something like that.

I refuse to compromise learning so everyone can get an A. When I did the discovering pi project (pictures and awesome post soon to come) it went GREAT and I scored it as a quiz grade to boost their averages. I want to do something like that, but I need to think quick so it’s up and ready to start on Monday and be completed by Wednesday!

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I survived my first week teaching all six classes by myself. Things did not go perfectly; students acted out, students were rude, lessons failed, lessons went great, students said they liked my class and all sorts of things. Students participated while others got angry, I made new student allies while definitely alienating and losing others. But the best news of it all is that I am not bitter, I am not angry, I feel great!

I feel so connected with the students, the school, and teaching. What is great about feeling well, so great, is that the week wasn’t perfect and I am okay. Even when the last period of the day gave me trouble I still went home with a smile on my face. I still walked the halls feeling good.  I am appreciative of my ability to reflect, be aware of circumstances/situations I am happy and unhappy about, talk to coworkers/tweeps, get advice, seek help, and then ultimately let it go.

On Thursday the honors students would not shut up. I had given them extra time to finish their projects and then wanted to rally back their attention. They are the one class that I have the most trouble getting silent – it could be that it is last period, that they fill the entire room, or that they are all best-friend-know-it-alls but either way it is what it is.

So it’s Thursday last period and I really don’t feel like yelling. Instead I just stand there and notice the clock – they have been talking now amongst themselves for about 3 minutes before one student shouted to a few others “Shut up – she’s waiting for us.” That took another minute and then finally it was silent. I said very quietly, “It took four minutes for you to settle down and pay attention after I had asked you several times so you will stay four minutes after the bell.” The uproar that ensued was intense but I just pulled up my arm and started counting on my watch, it took another minute before the students caught on, yelled to each other and shut up. “We will be staying five minutes.”

This had never occurred to me before, I’m not sure where the idea came from but students were furious. When the bell rang I shouted from them to sit down and 4 students shouted, “F this” and bolted – they got written up for demerits and the rest had to sit for 5 minutes.

I’m telling this story because I was worried about how the students would act, what would happen, would this backfire, does it matter? When 8th period began Friday they were the best behaved they have been yet. I couldn’t figure it out til I remembered, oh yea I held them after school yesterday. I had forgotten!!! I didn’t hold a grudge when they came in, I let them behave well, I had thanked them several times for it, and I had let it go.

Now some students were clearly angry – rolling eyes, not doing work, general misbehavior but the majority of the class was in line and telling those students to keep it in line so that they didn’t have to stay after school. I wanted accountability to one another and I got it. But most importantly I wasn’t still angry at those students who bolted early, who wouldn’t shut up, or anything else. I let it go.


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“Raise your hand if you studied for this quiz.”

((Chirp, chirp. Do you hear those crickets??))

“I didn’t know you could study for math.”

I asked that question in all three class periods (including honors!) and got the same response. Are you kidding me???????? Wait, really… wait… ARE YOU KIDDING ME????? There are a lot of things that surprise me about these students:

  1. When they are absent they NEVER ask what they missed (that includes when they’ve missed tests or quizzes)
  2. Only about half ever complete their homework
  3. They do not do quiz corrections despite the boost on their quiz grades (half of the points you missed back people!!)
  4. They blame. (Okay actually, they are teens so that doesn’t surprise me, just annoys me.)
  5. We offer free after school tutoring (hey, I work there!) and no one comes.
  6. They don’t study.

The format I used for quiz corrections (see this post) allowed me to see if students studied for the quiz or not. It didn’t surprise me that they didn’t study (they already admitted that) but their anger and frustration with their scores did surprise me. They do not see the correlation between studying, homework, paying attention/participation and getting the grade (or rather understanding). I hope that asking (and answering) questions like that will help them see the relationship between effort and scores. However there were some students who did study and did not perform well and at that point we need to address HOW they are studying.

(also note, this student did NOT turn in any quiz corrections to improve their score)

What I found most irritating (and I definitely took this too personally) was that almost all the students blamed me for their crappy grades. The honors students FREAKED out at me. Not only do I believe the quiz was fair BUT quiz corrections are available for those who were unhappy with their performance. The bottom line is they  are choosing to blame me rather than take responsiblity for their grades. “You failed me. “This teacher gave me a bad grade.” “This teacher won’t give me an A.” These are sayings I hear constantly about myself and other teachers around the school. It’s very hard for me not to take it personally but to find ways to help them learn to take responsibility and do better.

I don’t want to let them push me away, I don’t want to get so frustrated I give up. These students are good students, they are not dumb, they are not bad. But I require thinking and effort in my classroom. Some of these students are used to an inflated grade or a little amount of work – so when they enter my room they either flip out, shut down, or tune out. I realize routine, high expectations and practice will get them better at this but for now I just feel very frustrated.

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After some thought I’ve decided to do quiz corrections during 5th period tomorrow instead of teaching something new. Someone told me about setting up groups of same ability level instead of putting higher abilities with lower abilities. This will prevent that one student who is doing better than the others from dominating or getting bored. I was debating creating groups based on the questions they got wrong and student attitudes/participation.

I’m going to use the form below, adapted (but mostly stolen) from Tina C (the original can be found here).

Depending on how well that goes during 5th period I may do the same in 7th period also. However two students did receive A’s in 7th period, so hopefully I can use them to go around and help their peers (or should I put them in a group…?). Unfortunately, both of those students are extremely quiet and might not want to do that so we’ll just have to see.

During 8th period (honors) we will move on and quiz corrections will be an optional out of class assignment. I will start the “unit” on estimation. As I explained this is mainly teaching students how to handle standardized test questions that look like this: Estimate 824,123 x 124 = 800,00 x 100. As suggested I think I will research some population facts/number figures about Philadelphia, our school, iPhone/texting, sneakers, etc.  That will lead to basic estimation and then we will move onto operations with estimation.

One way I am going try to bring grades up for those failing students is a lot more practice. Since students tend to not do H.W. at my school I need to figure out a way to incorporate more practice into the classroom. I thought I was doing this but apparently not enough. I am also going to look into some puzzle/joke worksheets, although they are corny maybe students are more likely to do those then just a bunch of random problems and word problems. I found this which I prefer over something like this  and then Wednesday (or Thursday) we will do the Pi/Circumference Project which will lead us into our next “unit” of area/perimeter/circumference (yes, thank you test prep book for making that one little section – oy).

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Since the principal special requested math-art to decorate the 9th floor hallway I finally get to do a project with my students. Unfortunately, I’m pressed for time and I have to do a one day in-class project with posters up by Friday. But fear not students, I think I have an idea.

I found this online and it’s pretty much what my co-op described he wanted to do. In 48 minutes I think we can move this 2 day 7th grade lesson to an 11th grade discovery activity. Furthermore I know these students do not know what pi really means – hell it took me a whole week to teach that it was irrational (but they ALL got that one right on the previous quiz, yay!).

The one thing I preferred about the original activity was that students measured 6 different objects on their own. My students really struggle with measurement in general (i.e. they don’t quite know 12 inches in a foot etc.) so I don’t want to take away from the purpose of the project by creating too many obstacles but I also don’t want to lose the fun in it.

The students will measure 2 pre-cut different sized circles and fill out the worksheet accordingly.  I was thinking to put a big grid on the board where all the students would record their final column. Once we discover that “Hey – that’s pi!” – we’ll see which student measured closest to pi which can lead us to discuss measurement error and so forth.

Thoughts? Revision suggestions? This is not happening until Wednesday so I look forward to your comments.

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The ideal type of learner for me: the student who is struggling, doesn’t love math, vaguely interested, awake,  but respectful and sort of willing to try. I don’t need  a kiss-ass participator and I actually prefer students who have a harder time reaching solutions. The point of me saying this is that I like the challenging students, I like the ones that “don’t get it.” But right now, I don’t know how to reach this particular class that is full of “don’t get its” and more disheartening “don’t care, give-ups.”

This class is behind, very very very behind and extremely discouraged and disengaged. Almost all of them are failing, they take no responsiblity for their academic work (i.e. admittedly do not study/complete homework yet blame me), and during class time they refuse to stay awake or participate in any way (complete classwork, ask questions). Many fall asleep and even when I wake them up seconds later are back asleep (there are grading punishments for sleeping but their grades suffer anyway when they don’t pay attention so I’d prefer if they’d just stay awake!!).

Initially, this class gave me the greatest behavioral troubles. I wasn’t able to teach them for the first few days because there were so many outbursts and issues that I had to focus more on throwing kids out, disciplining or setting up classroom expectations. Finally I have gotten the classroom to a place of kind of respectfulness but now I want to it to be a place of learning. I want to help them, I don’t want to give up on them but there are so many issues inside this one class period that I’m at a loss for where to begin. Do I structure my lessons differently? Do I go slower?  Do I….?!?!

Last week on Tuesday we got a call from the Dept. head that the students would be taking the PSAT the next day, so switch gears and focus on that for the day (oh hey – just forget that quiz you were going to give today!). First of all, WTF, help with a huge test and strategies in one day? Second, most of these students will not be going to college (we are a mainly vo-tech school) and this test will only discourage and frustrate them since they are so unprepared. As suspected, Thursday one student (in that class) came in fuming that nothing he learned in this school helped him on that stupid test, what a f-ing waste, blah blah blah.

All of my students in that period were crushed. They said they couldn’t answer a single question on the test and it was heartbreaking. Some students looked like they were going to cry while others (student above) turned to anger.  They were unable to focus on the quiz review and ultimately unable to pass the quiz on Friday.

This is not the first time the class has failed a quiz. I offer quiz corrections to earn half of the points you miss back — the only caveat (to prevent cheating and encourage learning) is you must explain the error/show all work to get the right answer. Not one student in that period did the quiz corrections. (To be fair out of all 60 students only 5 did corrections and many many more should have).

On Monday I want to start the week right. I’m giving the quiz back and I want to make corrections mandatory. We will also be starting the next topic which is estimation for the next two days. I want to build their self-esteem back up a little bit but according to the co-op this area is very challenging for these students. I want to get them back involved in mathematics. I want to bring them back (actually, I don’t think I ever had this period). I really want to help them but I’m just not sure where to begin.


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