Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The first marking period is winding down, and overall, students are doing well. I feel, more than ever before, my grades truly reflect learning, at least in math.

With homework/classwork only 10% of the final grade, the quizzes/tests really do make a huge impact on that final grade. I have more kids asking for redo's, more really asking questions, working through the assignments, and I truly think, LEARNING.

I am trying to give more frequent quizzes. My goal was once a week, and at the middle of week 4, we took quiz 3 in prealgebra today, and will take quiz 3 in math later this week, so we are a bit off schedule but that simply can't always be helped.

It seems my regular math class is always behind for some reason. Today it was the science field trip that put us yet another day behind. Such is life in teaching.

I wish I could find a way to model my social studies class grades more on assessments and less on daily work, but I seldom give "tests" in that class. We do so much together, more discussions, more writing about what we've done, which I guess could be summative assessments, but somehow they seem so ambigious in nature I am reluctant to call them that.

Math is black and white, either you get it or you don't. Social studies is so much more gray to me. It is about people and places and ideas. I can test on map skills or locations, facts and figures, but so much of what we do just doesn't lend itself to that format. I must focus and work on doing that more often.

Our new social studies texts were ordered today, finally. Maybe once I am using a book more, I will find it easier to test from the written materials? I don't like teaching social studies from a text but I find meeting the GLCE's for 7th grade difficult. Partly, I think I don't have the background in the material, but also I find the expectations overwhelming and impossible to cover adequately. I am hoping the text will guide me somewhat.

Overall, it's been a great start to school, and I do not feel that sense of loss I do some years when I long for "last year's kids". I am enjoying these for the moment!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Last night was our first Fun Night of the year, sponsored by my 7th grade. It did not go off as smoothly as I would have liked, but I know that is because of our own lack of preparation with the kids.

We had students sign up to work in the concession, 20 minute shifts with 3 kids working at a time. Some would have done this last year as 6th graders. It really is not complicated - pop, baked goods, and last night we had hot dogs and chips, which I handled.

The problem? First off, some of the kids have NO customer service finesse at all. One of the first crew kept yelling when someone walked up, "WHAT DO YOU WANT?" They gave out cups filled halfway with soda, didn't wash their hands or wear gloves.

However, those things were easily overcome. The biggest thing was showing up for their 20 minute time slot and actually staying and working the entire time. Not one single group showed up in its entirety, less than 10 minutes late for their shift. Of course, the group there from the earlier shift wanted to leave the second the clock said their shift was over.

I had one little girl want to leave her 20 minutes early because she was too tired. When she did get to leave, she raced immediately to the dance floor.

Others were ecstatic because, "THIS IS MY FAVORITE SONG! CAN I PLEEEEEASE GO DANCE JUST THIS ONE SONG?" and of course, looked devastasted when I refused their request.

One child actually suggested we should have 10 minute shifts!!

The workers were for the most part, not the popular kids, but the 'uncool' kids of the group, those peripheral students. I was upset that the "cool" kids were not a part of the work crew, and will make sure next time THEY are the ones filling the work schedule.

The proceeds of these is a big part of how we fund 7th grade camp, so it should be a group responsibility to make sure things come off without a hitch. THere will be other Fun Nights sponsored by the other grades where our 7th graders do not have to work and help out, but this one is THEIR responsibility.

Even cleanup was a battle. One of the 4 workers on the schedule for cleanup showed up. I sent her to find the others, but they never came back, so alas, most of the cleanup fell to me, another teacher, her daughter, and a couple of parents. As I was hauling bags of garbage out, taking leftover junk up the stairs trip after trip, I realized how unjust the evening was.

Monday... class meeting about working and responsibility!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Yesterday was our first Math Curriculum Review Team meeting at our Intermediate School District. We work on aligning lessons, units, and resources to the Grade Level Content Expectations.

This past summer when I was working there, I got into a kind of a tiff with another teacher about grades - I insisted they should not reflect things like late assignments, participation, etc... redo's should be not only encouraged but required, and those new scores should replace the old ones, not be averaged with original scores.

This other teacher was very insistent that I was wrong and would not even listen to what I had to say. I defended my position strongly but it was like talking to a wall.

That was June. Yesterday... she came up to me and told me she wanted to thank me for challenging her! She has since thought more about our conversation, done some research, participated in some Balanced Assessment training, and is rethinking her teaching and grading/assessing practices. She said she hates to think of all the students she has "scarred" over the years with her methods!

How humbling to be a part of someone's growth!! I hugged her and told her how exciting it was that she is now reflecting and reconsidering her methods!!

Monday, September 22, 2008

As we head into the second half of the first 6 week marking period, I feel a sense of calm and accomplishment. It is hard to explain, but I think it all comes down to the tracked math classes this year.

I have 2 pre-algebra classes which are both doing well, and moving right along. But I only have 1 "just" 7th grade math class. Those are the kids who were ear marked as struggling math students. We are doing so great, I can't believe it. Without the pressure to keep up with the "top" kids, I feel like we can stop, slow down, take more time to work on concepts, and really make sure they are getting it. We are almost on track with other years, so in all truth, we are not moving slower than usual, but it feels like so much less pressure to stay on track. I feel more relaxed and less stressed, which equates to higher achievement in my students.

Social studies is fun, completely. We are still working on population concepts, and the students seems so intelligent and knowledgeable about every topic we've discussed. Tomorrow we start watching Human Footprint and I can't wait to discuss the DVD with them. I know they will be enlightening and enlightened.

Union issues at school continue to plague the peace and quiet but I continue to teach and love my kids, regardless of the turmoil around me. It seems more and more teachers are choosing that route, and that makes me happy. I know we have many staff who are not only competent but truly care about kids and learning.

In other news to note, SNOW next week!! THe science teacher has planned this little outing for all of us - going to Dollarville Dam/flooding to do some water samples. And... of course, it is supposed to SNOW!! teehee... isn't that just par for the course??

Our first Fun Night is scheduled for Friday. It should be a good one - the first of the year, the weather is still nice out, and the kids are excited. I too am looking forward to it.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

2 weeks down already. It's been a busy 2 weeks, with picture day, too many staff meetings, a math department meeting, a social studies department meeting, school improvement team meeting, and kickoff assembly for the parent group's big fund raiser. Whew... add in trying to get kids into MY classroom routine... let's just say: I hope the next week is a bit calmer - OH WAIT, it's homecoming week!

All that aside, it really seems like the school year is off to a great start. The kids are getting into the routine of reading the board to know what to bring to class, what day it is, what we are doing in class, etc... I am always amazed that most teachers do NOT expect students to read and follow posted instructions. I do not understand why you would want to tell them everything! It is sooo much simpler for me to do things my way.

I use a lot of positive reinforcements, OK, bribery, the first few weeks to get the routines in place. Your homework is in the basket where it belongs? A box of Nerds is yours! You remembered your AR book for math class? A roll of Smarties for you! I know all the anti-candy reasoning, and the anti-bribery thoughts... so please, spare me the criticism. It works. A few will never get into the routine, but most catch on much faster when the rewards are tangible. It only takes a few times and then I wean them off.

Our first quiz is tomorrow, knowing that Monday is NOT the best choice for a quiz, but with all the miscellaneous stuff going on last week, we got a bit off track. I am trying to quiz each Friday this year, following the Marzano logic that testing frequently promotes learning. I have always quizzed sporadically in the past, and want to give regular planned assessments of this kind a try. My problem is, I find myself frequently taking longer to get through material than I initially plan. Occasionally, we are ahead of schedule. But it just seems my plans are penciled in, not inked, so my Friday quiz may often be a Thursday or Monday quiz instead!

Social studies has been a lot of fun. I am using materials I got from Population Connection this summer and am loving the interactive discussions sparked from the activities. Students seem to be enjoying it as well. The World Population Video in particular, sparked a lot of rich conversation. I want to show it again, using it as a springboard for a conversation about the various eras of history. The book that came along with the video has a great description of them I think will be great to use.

Behavior has been very good. I had one young man suspended for skipping his 6th hour class but otherwise, none have been in any major trouble so far. I do have one who has tardies accumulating, and several with attendance issues. I wish parents would just realize how tough these habits make success.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Friday... finally... the first week is always the toughest, simply because we are in the training part of the school year, trying to get students into the routine, learning where, when, how. It is amazing how quickly I learn so much about each individual from the seemingly innocent actions.

One thing that struck me particularly odd was the stacks of math notebooks after school yesterday. My kids all have a math notebook, which is stored on a rolling cart by the classroom door. On their way in and out, they grab or toss notebooks there for storage. My math classes are tracked this year, 1 high, 1 low and then a middle group. The notebooks for the low group were tossed haphazardly in a random this way/that way arrangement on their shelf. THe middle group was neater, some in a stack, the rest tossed whichever way. The high group... all perfectly stacked, going same way, in one neat stack. Wow... hard to imagine we could predict intelligent by organizational skills?

Overall, this bunch seems like a good crew. So far, even the "trouble-makers" from last year are not causing too much havoc. I am loving the sense of humor of several of them, and am impressed with their intelligence and willingness to answer questions, take risks and be wrong. Those are such important to success skills, more so than any "book learning" they can come in with.

I shared a powerpoint of goofy slides today, taken from a couple of those emails you always get in your inbox and never know what to do with: one of optical illusions, and another of food carved into weird things. They absolutely had a blast with both of them! The discussions were the best!