Monday, November 24, 2003

I haven't blogged for a week and I really miss this time! Last week was a goofy week with me gone to a conference the last 3 days - the sub notes were mostly good. Only 2 suspensions while I was away - seems a small fight broke out in my room but the antagonist was no real surprise, I am sad to say.

A while back I gave the students in my math classes an assignment to bring in items for a taste test experiment/price comparison activity. I gave them plenty of time to get the stuff, a chance to bring a note from home if they were unable to bring it, reminders, etc... still, about 20 of my 80 did not bring anything! So much for planning something fun for the last 2 days before our break. I was mad, sad, disappointed... and the worst part, lots of "good" kids did not bring their items. In fact, some of those real characters that never have their homework, actually remembered to bring this stuff!

So now I am faced with the "what to do with them" problem - I had said they would sit in detention but there are too many to send! I copied icky "busy-work" worksheets but I HATE that! It is inherently against my grain to give math as punishment. I cannot let them participate - it is unfair to those who were responsible. I feel like Scrooge...

The conference was OK- a lot of the info was above my head... it was geared to more the Tech reps for districts but had a ton of great info about NCLB, writing tech plans, using technology to improve student achievement, testing, standards/curriculum alignment,etc. The best part is always the away from school bonding. The 4 of us who went are friends anyway so we made the most of the 5 hours each way there and home catching up, laughing, gossiping - calling the principal the catch him up on our antics... you just got to love cell phones! I feel revived and refreshed!

THe kids complained the sub said they were idiots, but this was from 2 young men who today, well.... let's just say that would not be an entirely incorrect label based on their behaviors in class today - of course, I dealt with it a bit differently than she but I know them also. Still, I feel uncomfortable with that. Maybe I will mention it to the principal tomorrow.

I am reading the book recommended on the listserve "What Great Teachers Do Differently" - what a wonderful read - interesting - thought-provoking - eye-opening... I do so much well... I do so much horridly..... Life is a learning process, a growing event... teaching is the same... I shall continue to strive to become a "great" teacher.... and person... especially in the lives of these kids I see daily...

Monday, November 17, 2003

Things went well today in math class. My students were using the data from their surveys they gave their classmates to make graphs - 2 bar, 2 circle, and other of their choice - 1 for each question. They also need a frequency table for each question/graph, and a circle graph table for each of the 2 circle graphs. These will all eventually go onto poster board to make a display to show their survey results. So far, they are doing very well. The circle graph is causing them some problems, but I expected that. We have not done any fractions, decimals or ratios yet this year. Many students struggled with the protractor use also but they seem to be catching on quickly.

The biggest concern - those few who will not/cannot tune in to oral instructions, and are unable/unwilling to read the printed ones given them. It is always the same few....

Social studies - they worked in groups to create a timeline comparing important historical dates from US and Canada 1763-1900. WOW! We had allowed one class period to finish but most of my groups were still in the planning stages. We will finish tomorrow which throws off the rest of the week...

I leave Wednesday at noon, gone Thursday & Friday to Michigan Institute for Educational Management conference in Grand Rapids. That makes for a hectic week this week and next, with next week being Thanksgiving. THis week is the end of the 2nd marking period so grades are due by end of day next Monday... whew!

Sunday, November 16, 2003

It is Sunday but I still spent about 4 hours at school today. Sometimes I feel resentful of other teachers who seem to survive without putting in these extra hours - how do they get everything done? Am I simply that unorganized and incompetent that I cannot do what others do in the same amount of time? Or I am doing too much extra?

What I did today....
** put up a bulletin board - not an educational well-thought out teaching sample - just a bulletin board. Laminated pictures of the Upper Peninsula, deer, wolves, and such.
** Changed the window clings that had been up since school started from school things to snowflakes.
**Hung pictures of National parks in social studies room
** worked on geometry unit plans for after Thanksgiving - looked at standards, what I did last year, what I think the kids really need to be successful at activities that support standards, and other activities for things I simply feel they need to know/experience - made a few copies of some activities to send over to make multiple copies
**worked on upcoming social studies project - a poster on a Latin American country - typed up a basic instruction sheet and list of countries students can choose from based on resource books we have on hand
**copied rubrics for math project students will work on in class this week
** took my daughter in who cut paper for tomorrow's timeline activity and squares from cardstock for tangrams for geometry unit (also cut herself twice on paper cutter... she is 18!! my 7th graders would have been safer I think!!)
**updated website assignment calendars
**got out colored pencils and markers for timeline and math projects
**typed up some National Geography week fun question quizzes

Even looking back, I cannot see that anything, except the last part, is EXTRA. It will all make my job easier, and my teaching time more productive.

Bulletin boards - I wish I had more time to make creative presentations that tie in with what we are doing in class. I'd love to utilize these for project ideas, samples, enrichment activities, etc.. but I never seem to have time to actually plan these.

Of course, planning time during the school day is short- reading on the listserve today, someone mentioned the planning time their school had. Ours is really inadequate - 30 minutes before school - about 20-25 during student lunch which is actually when I eat since my lunch hour is at 2:05. I usually eat at my computer entering grades so I guess it is double-duty, but still, with this limited time, split into 2 sessions, I have to spend so much time outside of alloted "planning time" to jsut keep my head above water.

I wish someone would give me a magic wand to wave over my days to solve this time crisis....

Saturday, November 15, 2003

Happy opening day of deer season here - thank goodness it is on Saturday although we still had many gone yesterday headed to "camp" early.

What a week - so much good - so much I'd rather forget...

After the wonderful Monday beginning, Tuesday was also a "good" day. We started off in the auditorium to see the dress rehearsal of the high school Veteran's Day assembly - I was reluctant to go, to give up seeing my 1st hour math class for a day, thinking the kids would not be really all that impressed. THe presentation was outstanding - my class was outstanding - I was so amazed and awestruck by their intent attention. Maybe the fact it was high schoolers up there helped - I'm not sure. THe rest of the day, the kids seemed subdued.

Wednesday, woooo..... a day to remember - my principal popped in last hour Tuesday to ask about observing me Wednesday. I said sure, we were headed to computer lab. So it was all set - he'd come observe 2nd hour. When 1st hour Wednesday went well, I was pumped. We were using Excel to create computer generated graphs from spreadsheets, the first time most students had ever done this. 1st class listened, followed along, did extremely well. Better than I had hoped.

2nd hour - the observation...small class, usually a pretty good group, even given the fact this is the inclusion group. It was easily my most horrifying hour of my all 10 years in the classroom. THe kids were chatty to the point of just plain loud and rude - they were not following directions - several kept going ahead and getting lost - others were always so far behind, I could not keep them caught up without losing all the others so it was a constant battle of slow down/speed up. The spec ed teacher comes in about halfway into class- she was also shocked at their behaviors.

It would have been a frustating hour anyday - but knowing my principal was there watching, made everything seem just futile.

Thursday - no school - blizzard came thru Wednesday night - we really only got a few inches of fresh snow but the winds were horrible and the electricity was out for 7 hours.

Friday -a new day - I rethought my lesson plans for the next couple of weeks after losing a day of school, knowing I will be gone to conference next Wed, Thur, & Fri, and then THanksgiving the next week... we took surveys (the ones the kids had typed on Monday)

Great day- they were organized, quiet, on task! They even had time to start tallying answers. Now next week they will take their data, make circle graphs, bar graphs, pictographs, etc... They seem to really be enjoying it so far - I know it is better to use "fun" data than the stuff the book has - YUCK!

I must go wake my college freshman daughter- we are off to shop on this opening deer season day. It's 100 mile each way to the nearest mall so it will be a long day; best get going.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Not bad for a Monday!! Math class - hey! hey! back to the computer lab where first students typed surveys they will eventually use to survey their classmates. Then we will create "visual presentations"....i.e. graphs and tables to display their info after they compile the responses. They are really pumped - some of the questions are soooo 7th grade. 2 of the girls have all these fruufruu questions: what is the funniest word you know? what is your favorite temporary tatoo saying? and so on... but that is OK. It will still be good stuff for graphing.

After typing surveys, they had time to finish their research from a week or so ago when the internet went down. Very uneventful for the most part :-)

Ah... thank you oh great middle school gods for a wonderful day!

Friday, November 07, 2003

Speak not, the Lord said...
and took away my voice...
and yet I went to school anyway...
on Friday...
and lo, the children were liken to angels....
and spoke for me to the crowds, telling one another, "Put away your calculators!" "Remember to pick up your chairs." "NO late papers on Monday" "Mrs. George says to have a good weekend."

Oh I am so very tired but it was worth it to be there and see them in all their glory...
They really do rise to meet your expectations....

Thursday, November 06, 2003

No great insights tonight - just 2 days without my student to reflect upon. I have a horrid case of laryngitis - just a occasional squeak to join my whisper - as my college- aged daughter and loving husband, and well, even the dog, taunt me about my lack of voice. Me... the ultimate chatterbox - unable to speak!! It is too terrible to be true!

Tomorrow I will go back to school with or without a voice. I shudder to think of the chaos which ensued without me there today. My babies were measuring the height and arm span of each other and recording this data along with that of all their classmates. They will then create scattergrams and make some observations about these. I am quite certain it was something near a 3-ring circus today. Not as a reflection on the sub, whoever it was, but give 30 7th graders 25 foot measuring tapes to measure each other... I can only imagine what was measured :-)

Snow storm on the way tomorrow - close to 10 inches in the next 24 -36 hours.... the kids will be all CRAZY with the barometer change! and me unable to raise my voice - what a great lesson for them and me...

now if I can stop coughing long enough to sleep tonight.. after Survivor of course!!

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

I love my job I love my job.... somedays I keep repeating it hoping to make it true, and other days like today, it is so true I almost get chills :-)

Nothing really special - I don't know why somedays it seems so good... today in math kids had a short worksheet packet on interpreting graphs - no biggie - after that, they were working on digging graphs from magazines. I have piles of old magazines (I am a subscription junkie...) in crates - they dug through Time, Discover, Better Homes & Gardens, Time for Kids, Alaska, Reader's Digest, etc... finding all kinds of graphs - now they will glue their graphs on paper with explanations of what is shown in the graph and why the type of graph was chosen for its particular purpose. THey were so "into" looking for graphs it was almost funny!

Social studies - our first 2 US geograohy videos - the introductory overview and the Pacific West - WOW! I cannot believe how much info is packed into those 2o minutes videos - what beautiful photography! The kids loved them. I hope they make it through the entire set - we watch 2 a day for the remainder of the week. If today is any indication, they will beg for more!

so, I love my job, I love my job....

Monday, November 03, 2003

Just another Manic Monday.... but actually, all in all, a quiet one at the ole' 7th grade ranch. Only 1 kiddie absent... the others must have been coming down off their Halloween candy high because even in social studies class, I had 4 sleepers. I tried to wake them each, at least twice, and then decided maybe they needed the sleep more than ss at that time. And, 2 of the sleepers were 2 of the usually more hmm... shall we say "irritating" students so it was actually blessed relief.

Friday I sent home progress reports to all students with below 70% in my classes. 28 progress reports for 80 math students and 28 social studies students. But the change was dramatic today - most students received them Saturday - I had parent notes, kids with planners for me to sign, kids looking for makeup work. It was amazing!

but... WHY DON'T PARENTS LOOK AT POWERSCHOOL??? Why don't they stay on top of their kids daily/weekly instead of waiting for those once a marking period progress reports and report cards? I try to keep parents informed but it is difficult to contact them all regularly and when I know they can access their child's grade via phone or internet, I am reluctant to use my time to inform them. There are so many other pressing things I could be doing school wise. Do parents just assume 7th graders will be responsible on their own?

Then there was the young man who loudly asked why I sent him a postcard for his A on his social studies test... (he also got a progress report for his 40 some percent in math..) Must have been his first because I try to send psotcards for any test scores that are A or dramatic improvements. But he was cute... embarassed and proud... then even asked to go to library in AR - got a HUGE book way above his level but insists he wants to read it - will finish it... he has 3 weeks...

My classes are so unbalanced - 1st hour 28 kids - quiet for the most part... 2nd hour - 22 kids - loud group, inclusion kids in there - not that they are at all behavior problems because they are great kids - 3rd hour is the dreaded social studies with 28 kids - AR is up to 32 (with 30 tables/chairs) - and then last hour is 29 again... too bad the scheduling is so difficult to make equitable. I miss the years with 20-22 kids each hour :-(

As teaching days go, I shall not complain about this one - the smiles and positive attitudes to start the week certainly make for a good start for me. Of course knowing Wednesday I have off, and a snowstorm predicted for tonight help also!!


Sunday, November 02, 2003

Reflection is the mark of a truly inspiring and inspired educator according to the book I just read on mentoring. I hope that I can use this blog/reflection to become more inspired and inspiring. I feel that too often the things I blog here are not all that reflective, but more chitchatty about my thoughts. I guess just the putting words to screen do help me think through my thoughts about my days but I would like to take this to a deeper more meaningful level at which I truly examine my teaching - my lessons - my classroom - its productivity.

After a day of catching up on school "stuff" - I feel sort of melancholy that all those great things I accomplished will not really dazzle my students. When I spend time writing lessons, trying to incorporate their lives in to what we are doing, I am usually disappointed they do not appreciate that we are not simply turning the page in a book. I guess part of it comes from the fact I am not really sold on our math program and its ultimate completeness. THe following is an excerpt from an email I sent to a middleweb colleague this morning about our program:
Connected Math - I love many of the higher level thinking aspects of the
program but with my 7th grade students, they need more structure, more
"math". It does not really align with the sequence of the Michigan standards
either. In order to maintain the sequence I should be using, I end up
pulling in from lots of other places.

The program assumes the kids come to me with many skills they do not have -
fractions, decimals, percents, etc. It does not give enough practice in such
areas either. It presents a problems and the kids, through solving this
problem, should "acquire" these skills. My kids just don't. Even most of the
higher level kids need more exposure to an idea.

For first unit, Patterns, Relationships, and Functions, I did use the CMP
Variables and Patterns book. But we did alot of other practice writing
equations and such. One of the high school math teachers and I were looking
at some of the equations they expect 7th graders to be able to write and for
most of them, it is just beyond their grasp, and their need at this point.

One of the 8th grade books go extensively into exponential growth which is
so far over their heads to try to see/write the equations, also.

Another problem is the program is too long - we can never, even if we use
the program exclusively, get through all the books, and there are topics in
the optional books which are on our state assessment (MEAP).

WHen our kids get to the high school, teachers there find them to be great
problem solvers, but without basic skills they need to be successful on
algebra. I am all for higher level thinking, having a student driven
curriculum, and having students learn math in context of real life
situations, but I am realist also. They need to know their basic facts, they
need to be able to +,-,x and / intergers, fractions and decimals and they
need to be able to round off numbers, understand scientific notation, etc..,
all those basic ideas we learned through rote practice, in order to be
successful in chemistry, physics, physical science, geometry, etc... This is
where I find CMP coming up short. Most of my students come to me not being
able to divide even simple problems like 550/10 or 46/2. THey have no
concept of fractions - largest, smallest, finding equivalent fractions,
simplifying fractions, etc. They cannot subtract when they need to borrow.
THey are very calculator dependent, which for most things is OK but I really
think they need to be able to do some of these things on their own.

Could it be used with just a higher level group? Maybe - but we are a small
school. I only have 3 sections of 7th grade math, with about 80 kids in my
math classes(6 are pulled out to an LD teacher for math - maybe 4-6 are in
categorical classrooms all day). Reality is what one class does, they all
do - the mix of students is kept very "shuffled".

I also struggle with CMP with what to grade - how to use some of its
philosophies (partner quizzes) and ideas to suit my students and my own
needs. Parents by and large in our community do not like it - they cannot
help their kids with their homework -there are no examples or real
explanations. The parents find the math "over their heads" and this attitude
definently rubs off on students.

AND... now back to the blog....
I do like CMP - I do not like CMP - I do like CMP - I do not like CMP. I feel like I need a daisy to pluck petals off as I chant. I am reviewing another program - MathScape - it seems much like CMP, but with more practice problems, more reinforcement. It still lacks the skill/drill type activities I feel my students need in some areas, but seems more complete than CMP. It is also very colorful and "fun" - I think students would be excited to use it, at least initially. I love the House PLan unit - it is so similar to the one I did in class last year, except with the added component of making an actual 3-D model of the house. I had thought about that last year but was not sure how to tackle it - This series does it so well. It is awesome - I cannot wait until spring so we can do this unit - I think I will try to incorporate many of the MathScape ideas in to what I already do.
Anybody reading this who uses Math Scape??? Please email me: I 'd love your input on this program.

Off for now - to reflect on my 22 years of marriage as of today :-)