Posts Tagged ‘Success’

Yesterday we had a full day PD where Spence Rogers from PEAK came and did a workshop. This is not his first time at our school and many of our teachers have been flown to his week long conference out in Colorado. But it was all new to me. A post on all the great stuff I liked and other thoughts that made me ponder to come but I wanted to offer a quick reflection on “safety.”

PEAK has the “six keys” model and one of them is safety – you can provide, break or use the safety key in the classroom by doing certain things. I thought a lot about how true and accurate my formative assessments are or could be based on the safety my students feel in my classroom.

I tried the following today. We are studying trig identities (simplifying, factoring and verifying) and students are struggling but getting there. I used the following phrasing

Raise your hand if you see the next step. I will not call on you if you raise your hand.

Ok, hands down. Please raise your hand if you’d like to explain what you notice.

It worked really great. A lot of students felt safe to raise their hands and let me know they see something (depending on the phrasing sometimes I asked raise your hand if you’re thinking of something that MIGHT work, etc.) but are not ready to share it to the class.

I have also been using thumb signals to determine if we need more examples, ready for individual practice, or how to proceed within the lecture. Today I asked them to close their eyes (and to actually do so out of respect for their classmates) and show me their thumbs. I saw a lot more thumbs down today than I have yet.

I am really excited for the feedback my students are giving me and am thrilled that I am learning how to create an environment that protects their safety and allows them to tell me what they need in many different ways. I keep reading articles, blog posts and asking my coworkers how they communicate with the whole group and I’m eager to hear more ways.

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I realize it’s an odd time to “catch up” with all my fellow bloggers and twitter friends out there but it’s 7:45 on a Sunday morning and I’d rather do this than the mountain of grading, weekly lesson planning, worksheet creating and respond to all those emails in my work inbox. So here I am. Running from all this great responsibility I dreamed of – and I have just one phrase to tell you all – I LOVE IT.

I am so happy to finally have my own classroom. It’s been a challenging 7 weeks but overall I believe I’ve had more success than failures.

The first four weeks were hell. As a mid year teacher I knew I would have a lot of push back from my students – mainly behaviorally and they did not disappoint. I was extremely strict and stern and adhered to the code of conduct in ways I didn’t believe were possible. I wrote so many detentions a day and students were always down in administration complaining about me. Is this a good thing? NO. I hated it. I was unable to build any personal relationships because the kids kept testing me. I tried to joke with them but every time I gave them a little leeway they would try to take back the classroom and not refocus. I realized I had to set up these boundaries and sacrifice the relationships for the time being. Maybe a veteran teacher would be better at this than I but in the end – I haven’t written a detention in 2 weeks and the students are acting appropriately and respectfully to myself and their peers. Do they like me? Hell no. Are they working well and doing better in my classroom? Yes. Trade off I suppose. What I’ve been focusing on the last two weeks is building relationships with students and my whole classes. It’s a slow process but hopefully we get there.

Why I am so happy at this school despite being the evil new teacher who just inhabited room 240:

  1. Administration backs teachers – all those complaints they never once (okay fine, once) asked me to pull a detention or took a students side. Because of this, students started to realize I had merit in my rules and eventually adhered to them. No one has been down to administration in two weeks (despite the girl with the attitude problem on Thursday who was told to talk to me after school and marched down to the Dean of Students).
  2. Collaboration and a spirit of support – The math department has been wonderful. Almost all the other teachers are around my age in their 4th-5th year of teaching and have a lot of support, materials, and advice to give. They’re fun and happy and not a lot of debbie downer talk over by the vending machines.
  3. I’m learning – PD every Friday isn’t a drag for this new teacher, I am learning new cool ways to teach materials in my classroom. I’ve adopted the idea of a “support station” in my classroom. This wall in the back of the room could range from being a solution station or a spot where students can check their work only on a multi step problem. This eliminates calling me over constantly and helps them feel in charge of their learning and lets them move at their own pace a little more than if I called back their attention to provide help to the class. I’ve also stolen the idea of “White Board” work from a few of the other teachers. By putting graph paper inside sheet protectors students have little white boards. I give them small expo markers and we do competitive group work review and just general class work on them for something different. New ideas from new colleagues.
  4. Resources – I have a smartboard, a classroom set of TI-84 plus calculators, and computer labs. May not seem like a lot but it’s a huge leap from the school I worked at before. In addition, the school is kept in immaculate condition.
  5. Mandatory Math Projects – We have to have a minimum of 3 performance based assessments per quarter. This means they encourage that discovery based learned and more in depth critical thinking rather just all summative procedure based learning.

A post on the struggles to come. Because I promise it won’t fit on here nicely.

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My students rock. We just finished a 3-4 day unit on Surface Area that ended with a quiz that only 3 students out of 70 did not pass – amazing progress!!!!

I started out the volume unit by handing-out a warm-up worksheet that asked students to count the number of cubes that made up each figure. There was an example at the top of the page that also showed students that it was cubic centimeters so answer with the units cm^3. I got fantastic questions immediately:

Are we counting the faces or are we counting the cubes?

Score 1 for a successful surface area unit yet again. I explained we are counting the CUBES, I saw many students erasing their previous answers. They finished the problems in about 3 minutes once they realized it was simply counting up boxes. We went around the room answering the questions making sure to include the correct units (hey, it’s cm^3 because they’re little cubes!).

Next I directed their attention to my desk, and asked them to turn their warm-up paper over and SILENTLY write down their prediction on which container held more and give a reason why. I stated again the need to not shout out because they don’t want to share their answers with their neighbors. I held up each Tupperware for them and its corresponding name (neighboring  high schools).

My demonstration table

I asked students to raise their hands for each Tupperware, we started with St. Joes. In the first class nobody raised their hand (interestingly, in the honors class about a third believed it was the biggest which shows they are different kinds of thinkers, but I digress). Instead of just moving on I asked if somebody would raise their hand and explain why they did NOT pick St. Joes. The volunteer’s responses included words like deep and short. I reenforced the word Height and when they explained that it was in fact wide I used the word Base. I continued to use those words over and over until the students started to include them in their own descriptions.

As expected, we became split on Masterman and P E&T and it was time to figure out how we were going to measure this! I held up my marshmallows and explained these were my kind-of-cubic centimeters like in the warm-up activity and we were going to count how many cubes filled it up. I asked why this wasn’t perfect and students explained that they were cylinders, wouldn’t fill up the perfectly, could we have half layers?, smushy, etc. And we agreed upon no smushing and a good estimate. I also asked if I could just dump a bunch in and they emphatically responded NO! I must build a layer on the bottom and build carefully.


I had a student volunteer and a supervisor (both rooting on opposite teams) to come up and measure P E&T while I measured Masterman for the class (it was clear). I found there were 6 marshmallows on the bottom layer and I showed this to students and asked if I could find a shortcut. I decided to look at how many layers could I fit and noticed there were four (I stacked four marshmallows on the side and showed students). About half the class shouted, TWENTY-FOUR MARSHMALLOWS WILL FIT!

Score. How did you get that number? I multiplied. Why? Ummmm. Okay, let’s see if you’re all right! And then I proceeded to fill up the Tupperware and WOW, 24. And then I asked them use the terms base and height to explain their shortcut and they explained they multiplied base by height.

The next awesomeness happened when skinny ol’ P &ET ended up with 25 marshmallows and we were flabbergasted on how the two different shapes could hold such a similar amount! And then students started to realize that maybe ones fatter base made up for the shorter height. The conversation was mind-blowing and it occurred in all three class periods.

So when time to show them the volume formula for rectangular prisms and cubes it was super easy for them to see we just get the area of the base and multiply the height. They wrote down the formulas I put on the board and did the following two pieces of classwork, exit ticket, AND completed their homework. Mind you, we did all this in a short day – which means 38 minutes. WOW.

They continued to show me they understand the concept of volume when we moved onto more figures including cones and pyramids which we compared to cylinders and prisms and saw how their volume was related (I put figures inside of other figures and asked questions like which holds more to reenforce similarity/differences) and thus the formulas would be related. It’s been a very successful and exciting 2 weeks of learning for us!

Unfortunately – I only have 10 days left of student teaching. Which means I am going to do some AWESOME things for the next 10 days to get the most out of the last few days – up next, Pythagorean Theorem (looking for projects!)

Sources: All worksheets (except Molly-made exit ticket) taken from: http://www.superteacherworksheets.com/volume.html

My Links: Classwork:http://www.scribd.com/fullscreen/73201749?access_key=key-1f62a6i45ii2q5u5p4zf. http://www.scribd.com/fullscreen/73201750?access_key=key-2kgmvw3emrxadclicsrr


Exit Ticket: http://www.scribd.com/fullscreen/73201835?access_key=key-rishm72tbtyzsvm7aqf

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I focused on surface area this week with my juniors in my catch-all-test-prep-this-should-definitely-be-illegal class. (To put my two cents in on forcing students to take Algebra 2 as well as a PSSA prep class… well a post for another time I suppose).  The past two weeks we were covering area and perimeter and I was astounded at the lack of understanding. Many misconceptions were evident but the most alarming was the inability to use the test prep formula sheet. For example, many students were unable to identify the triangle on their paper and match it to the triangle on the formula sheet and thus find the correct formula. I thought it might be because they were using a right triangle and the height was measured different, but when the test came and I matched the shapes to their formula sheet I was still surprised at the number of students who could not match the shapes. Thus the test on area and perimeter became a test on something totally different.

Only about 5 students in each class were still struggling with identifying parts of a shape and the rest of the students were starting to get frustrated and bored. I decided to move forward and try to squash area misconceptions during surface area, since we would still continue to use the area formulas for the shapes again and again.

Why I believe this unit worked so effectively had to with the use of scaffolding in their warm-ups, manipulatives, and lots of classwork practice time with limited homework. For each day I focused on two shapes and had the warmup focus on finding the area of the 2-D shapes that would ultimately make up the 3-D solids. For example, for the rectangular solid their warm-up was to find the area of three rectangles that later in the lesson we would put together to build the 3-D solid.

I made sure that for each shape they saw the deconstruction of the solid into their familiar shapes and I had cut out my own nets and taped and colored them to pass around the classroom for further understanding. What captivated the students most was asking them what shapes they believed made up the 3-D solid. For example with the cylinder they all noticed the two circles for the bases but most did not guess that the “middle” was actually a rectangle. When we got to the cone it was pretty cool how excited they were to guess what the 2-D shape would be. I used that as a great moment to say, “This is a funky shape- which is why it has a funky formula.” So the students didn’t really moan and groan at the obnoxious cone formula because they saw (sort of) where it came from.

Finally I made sure to have a practice sheet for the last 15 minutes of class everyday. I wanted students to practice the formulas in front of me and immediately after learning about it. I also read this blog about Results Only Learning Environment and the role of homework. Since homework completion and cheating are two huge obstacles to overcome I decided to focus on classwork and if students needed more time they could complete the rest of the worksheet at home. This way I could monitor who is doing their own work, the struggles they are having as well as ensure they are getting the practice I desire.

Overall I was very pleased with this unit and hoping to follow some of these teaching themes that worked to help me in the Volume Unit I start on Wednesday.  All suggestions, resources, and what you’ve done in the past for surface area and volume would be greatly appreciated as well!

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It seems like forever ago but I wanted to finally blog about the success of the Discovering Pi/Discovering Circumference formula project I did with my students.

I used this as a warm-up to squash any questions students may have had about vocabulary etc.

That took about 5-10 minutes for us to answer as a class and reinforce the correct answers and why. I also made a point to let students know that they should pay attention or take notes because they would need to know all these things to successfully complete the project. I also explained that this project would count as a quiz grade and an opportunity to boost their averages. These were all (bribes?) incentives for students to engage with the project and do their best.

I handed out the worksheet and read the directions out loud. I also read the rubric out loud for students with a strong emphasis on the FOCUS ON TASK points.  I passed out supplies or in some classes I let students help me pass out supplies. We don’t have enough scissors or glue so students had to share those but each student got 2 different sized pre-cut circles and two different colored pieces of yarn.

I would probably not use yarn if I were to do this again, it stretches and makes a lot more opportunity for measurement error. I used yarn for a prettier poster option but in hindsight something without stretch would be better.

I also put a giant grid on the white board for students to put their name and their two decimal answers up on the board when they completed their calculations and before they could get construction paper. In the last 10 minutes of class we looked at the results on the board and at least one student in each class recognized we were awfully close to pi.

I then wrote C/D = pi and then solved for C = pi*D, and then we discussed radius and diameter and substituted and got C = 2*pi*r. A lot of students were shouting out “pi-r-squared” but when we got the end they were able to see that the circumference formula is not “pi-r-squared,” and why. They did identifying radius, diameter, and find the circumference procedures for homework and do-now’s the next day.


Students got so creative and were so engaged and here are some of the results:

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A moment of victory

To copy my dearest idol Sophie, I am going to share another short post on a success from the other day.

The honors class from hell (read here) is going so much better. Since I held them after the bell and slightly modified a few seats I have seen a  huge difference in attitude and behaviors.

Yesterday one student said to me,

Ms. P, at first I didn’t see you as a real teacher but then you asserted yourself and now I really respect you.

Well thanks K-man, that made a huge difference in my day. What’s awesome is I already knew that they had changed their attitudes towards me before students started saying nice things such as hellos, goodbyes, and can I help hand out those papers. In this case, I really needed to show them that I was a serious teacher.

In my teacher education program I was told to use tactics such as holding students after the bell as a last resort.  In this situation I let them drive me crazy for about month and finally took some serious actions and it was a necessary evil – I’m grateful I did it (maybe I should’ve done it sooner!). Sometimes students need to see serious consequences for their actions and holding the whole class accountable also makes them tell each other to shut up before I even have to say anything now too!

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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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