Friday, March 27, 2009

OH but it has been a WEEK! The houses are coming along wonderfully but I am beat. The constant questions, the counting/measuring scales, trying to help draw plans of houses I have never seen... It becomes overwhelming after a few days.

Overall, I am thrilled with their progress. Every single student, with the exception of DR who has been suspended all week, has been working faithfully, engaged in their task at hand.

Some students are doing models that are simply incredible, with details, furniture, paint even. Others are doing models that are to scale and great! One of my hard core problem boys said today, "This is the hardest best work I have ever done in school!" He was proud of his efforts and so I am!!

Pictures to be posted later!!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

We are starting one of my favorite projects of the year - the House Plan Project. It seems every year, it is a bit different, but the bottom line is always an experience, a real life experience in scale, scale factor, and scale models.

I start to generate excitement by hanging blueprints around the room. We talk about different elevations, or views, shown on the prints. We explore the site plans/landscape plans. I share with them entire blueprint books from big commerical projects from nearby towns.

The next part of the assignment is where things start to get a bit tough. I send students home to measure their own home. I loan measuring tapes to those who need one. I try to give a week to get the measurements taken, since it can be a time-consuming task, one that is easier done with a partner. Every day I remind them about taking measurements, encouraging them to use a sunny day, one that is a bit warmer, since they will be climbing over snowbanks outside to measure.

Inevitably though, the first day of the project, a few show up with no measurements. I could, in theory, give them some. But this defeats much of the purpose of the assignment, having them visualize their home and create a scale model of it. Being given a floor plan to follow takes their creativity out of the mix, turns it into an assignment rather than a project, and is in no way challenging or stimulating.

Then, not only do those students miss out on the experience of completing this project, the learning part, they are disruptive and tough to handle the days we are working in class.

Others students are engaged, drawing, making models, drawing elevation views, learning, sharing, and experiencing.

How do I get these other students to engage?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

This is the first year we have truly tracked for math. The jury is still out as to the success of the schedule.

I do like the fact that my prealgebra students can move along without worry we are leaving some of the students behind. These are students with at or above grade level math kids when they come to me, so we spend very little time reviewing concepts taught in previous years. I am free to teach content relevant to 7th grade not things they should have learned before.

The class I struggle the most with is not suprisedly, the low group. The makeup of this group is by design, the students who for whatever reason, just do not have the background from 6th grade, or even before, they need to accomplish what the prealgebra kids are doing. About a third of these students are hard workers, ones who always do what is asked of them, always make their best efforts, and are never discpline problems. Another third are fringe kids, those with frequent absences or other issues which make it difficult for them to be successful, but they are not hard core discpline cases, and can do the work, just hard a tough time keeping up. The last third are hard core discpline students, those who are frequently suspended, and when here, do everything possible to avoid working. They are disruptive, refuse to work, are unmotivated, and just simply do not care. One day one student might work some, but the others are loud and disruptive. Another day, you think you have almost connected with another one, but any gains made with the one from the day before are gone.

It feels like I am walking up a slippery slope, one step forward, three steps back.

I try to make class engaging. I try to plan fun, hands on activities when appropriate. However, these are the students who throw things, intentionally wreck supplies, crumple their garbage into the cubbies instead of using the trash can, despite several trips to the can during class. They come to class without a pencil, their book, or paper. They have no ideas where anything is, nor do they care.

I truly do believe every student CAN learn. Some of these are the brightest kids in the school. I just struggle with the every student WILL learn motto. Too often, second hour, I feel like that is out of my control.

Despite my best efforts to engage, to work individually with them, to make those personal connections, nothing seems to make a lasting impact.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Friday the 13th at MAMSE was a lucky day. I started out in the session Healing a Staff in Conflict. Nic Cooper did an excellent job of explaining conflict, why it is a good thing, how it can be used productively, and gave some easy strategies to ease the pain of these situations. I would love to have him come to our school to implement some of his strategies.

Session 2 was my only disappointment. The guy meant well, but almost his entire presentation, word for word, was on his PowerPoint. The content was fluff, and I left looking to make sure I was NOT attending any of his other sessions.

My next session was probably my favorite overall, though it is hard to choose just one. Active Learning Strategies in the Middle School Classroom sounded great on paper, but it was a presentation from a Glencoe textbook rep so I was a bit leary. WOW! I am thrilled I went. DJ West gave us a plethora of activites to use with kids. Some of these I had used, but others were completely exciting and new. His active reading strategies will be engaging for my kids and help them remember content. He described some activites like foldables I already use, but showed new ideas I will apply. The entire 55 minutes, he had us working, engaged and excited. His short, quick ideas will keep middle schoolers wondering what is coming next!

Lunch time was spent in the wonderful cafeteria at White Pine Middle School. I love the setup of this school. The sprawling grounds, the separate buildings, the large gym and cafeteria... It just feels welcoming, despite the fact it is an older facility.

After lunch I was able to meet my regional director, Tim Hall, who is the Sault Middle School principal. It was fun to connect with him, talking about the various people we know as our networks overlap.

The last session of the day was a Web 2.0 session, with William Merrill from Central Michigan University. What an energetic speaker he was! He has a dry wit that captured the attention of everyone in the audience as he explored using blogs, wikis, social bookmarking sites, podcasts, mashups, etc.. with us. When he was still talking at the magic minute the session should have ended, no one got up to leave. I left thinking, "Wow, I should be doing some of this stuff more often. My kids would be so geeked."

Overall, MAMSE was a wonderful 2 days of making new friends, catching up with old ones, and putting faces to virtual ones. I left energized for the last stretch of the school year, ready to go back to the classroom and try the new ideas I learned.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

A comment on a previous post asked for classroom management ideas for subs. Off the top of my head, here are a few:

Get to school early if at all possible. Too often, I see subs, who knew they were subbing that day, walking into the building with students. I realize subbing is not a high pay position, but getting there a few minutes early to look over lesson plans for the day helps you get off to an easier start.

Remember that students probably miss their real teacher - especially for elementary and middle school kids, they do not adjust well to change, so just having you there sets them off. Talk to them, and assure them you plan to have a great day with them. No threats, no ultimatums about behavior, just talk as if you are looking forward to spending the day with them.

Follow the lesson plan left! If you run into a problem with content, do the best you can, encourage students to help out, and move on. Leave a note for the teacher about the problems you encountered. But NEVER, ever, allow students' "We don't get this" to thwart your efforts. They do that to US as well. Encourage them to look at examples, and get help from each other. Do NOT allow them to convince you to not do to assignment!

Carry some tricks and fun stuff with you. A couple of sets of Brain Quest cards can go a long way. They do not have to be for the exact age group for which you are subbing. My 7th graders love the 4th grade questions. These can be used for end of hour fillers, or in an emergency situation with no lesson plans, make for a great competitive game that can easily fill an hour.

Take the trouble makers aside and talk to them instead of blowing up and kicking them out. Talk quietly, privately and calmly and ask them what you can do to help them be successful while you are there today. Try to engage them in the lesson personally if necessary. Some kids just freak out when a sub comes, and get goofy and overreact without meaning to.

Do not waste the entire hour in small talk. The kids really don't like it, and the teacher will have lost a day of instruction upon coming back.

Have the kids clean up at the end of hour. Make sure supplies are taken care of, garbage is picked up, chairs are pushed in... Don't leave a mess for the teacher to come back to. 99% of the time, the kids would have had to pick up with that teacher there, they are just waiting for you to push them to do it as well. Don't let them be slackers with you.

Encourage by motivating with students who are working. Point out behaviors that align with the protocol for the day. Be supportive.

Surfing the internet is not what you are here for today. When your nose is to the screen, kids sense an opportunity to be sneaky. Before you realize it, things are out of control. Too often, I see subs who are online all day, sitting at the teacher desk, and they wonder why they run into behavior issues.

Don't get into a shouting match with a student. Be the adult! Be calm!

Don't make sweeping accusations - "you guys are stupid" "how can you not know how to do this" "what, are you kindergarteners?" Students will bristle when you threaten or demean them.

Those are a few of the ideas I thought of initially. Hopefully, it helps! Good luck. Good teachers need great subs to take care of their classes when they must be away! We appreciate your hard work and efforts.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Today was a great day at the MAMSE conference!

We started out with keynote speaker Ron Clark. I was skeptical of Clark and his "fame" but watching him and listening to him, I KNOW why middle schoolers love him! He is energetic, funny, and motivating. I thoroughly loved listening to him speak.

My first session was cancelled which usually would mean just scoot to another session, but since Clark's keynote had run over, we thought initially the speaker was running late. By the time we realized no one was coming, it was too late to get into any other sessions.

I was disgruntled and went to get lunch. Then I headed to a session presented by 2 teachers from White Pine Middle School where the conference was held. They presented a variety of techniques for working with struggling students. It was an interesting session, but many of their ideas would not work in my small school which has fewer students in all three grades than they have in one grade. Still, overall, I got some good ideas to try with my students.

The next session I went to was a hands on math session. It was intended to reach all middle level teachers, with a strategy for each grade level to take back and use. The 3 presenters did a great job. I learned a very easy trick for teaching students to balance 2 step equations. I can't wait to get back on Monday and share it with my kids!

I had planned to attend a session on social studies next thinking I would get some ideas for incorporating some new strategies in the one section I teach. When I got the handout, the speaker had constantly used "GLIC" instead of "GLCE". I decided quickly, this was not where I needed to be.... maybe I was wrong, but a Michigan teacher who does not understand GLCE stands for GRADE LEVEL CONTENT EXPECTATIONS.... I just do not think she is going to teach me anything.

Heading into a packed room, I wondered if I should have stayed where I was. This session was supposed to a presenation on Kagan cooperative strategies presented by CMU middle level preservice teachers. It was GREAT! I left with some ideas of how to use these tried and true methods in new and exciting ways.

Off to my last session, I was curious to see the presentation that had been recommended to me as a good one. The session on tiered assignments was relevant and interesting, using many of Rick Wormeli's ideas. Having been a Wormeli fan for a long time, I was thrilled to see his work cited and used practically. One vocab activity was especially intriguing and I will use it in my social studies class!

The day ended talking with MAMSE president Teresa Sutherland and Shawn McGirr. Then off to dinner with a crowd of MAMSE attendees.

All in all... a worthwhile, educational day!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Yesterday was an in-house PD day for our district. I went into the process a bit discontented. A speaker from somewhere else was coming to talk, part 2 of something I had missed part 1 of. I was somewhat going into it with a bad attitude.

The speaker was Anita Kishel from Ruby Payne's aha Process Inc. We started the day half an hour late, no fault of the speaker, just a miscommunication from our administration. This only served to further annoy me as I sat in the cafeteria thinking of all the things I needed to be doing in my room.

Once Ms. Kishel got started, she spent the morning reviewing ideas from the first workshop, and having us jigsaw this book we were given. It was tedious and boring and I was annoyed. I had read some of Dr. Payne's work before, and while I find it interesting and relevant to my teaching, I really wasn't learning anything new.

Finally, after lunch, Ms. Kishel starting giving us strategies to use with students. I was immediately drawn in. I LOVE things I can use, new ideas, new tools to reach and teach kids. Of course, all the ideas she presented won't work for me, but I came away with several I can't wait to use!

I think my favorite..... it is a kind of word wall of sorts.... This is a somewhat adapted version of hers.... I am going to post the alphabet on a large laminated sheet, and as we study units in social studies, students will scrounge for words that represent that region for each letter. I think it will be engaging and fun, and will grab the interest of some of the lower level students I have.

The day did seem to drag on, what should have taken half a day was drug out all day... but I left excited with new cool ideas, so overall, I give it a B+!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

There is little more frustrating to me than wasted time out of my classroom. I love to go to a conference or PD day that is worthwhile, inspiring and leads me to a new revelation for my teaching.

I am on the Math Curriculum Review Team at my intermediate school district. Much of the time spent at those meetings is worthwhile, and I have gained much by my involvement in the group. Yesterday was not one of those days I left the meeting feeling positive.

We started the day with this problem, the Ron Castleman problem. In and of itself, the problem and the process was a worthwhile one. First we worked out our own solutions to the problem, a simple percent problem. We were instructed to try to come up with more than one solution to the problem, including using diagrams. Then we shared with a partner, and then shared with the large group.

We were then given an article discussing this problem in great detail. (I would give the link to the work we read but unfortunately, there was no reference on the handout. It simply says "Chapter 5, Linking Fractions, Decimals and Percents Using an Area Model".) We were given highlighters to mark things that struck us as particularly enlightening, or that we had questions about. The article was worthwhile, and I highlighted many interesting quotes I hoped to discuss further.

Then we were told we were going to blog about this article. We were instructed how to get to our newly created MCRT blog space. We then began posting our comments. This is where the activity really started downhill. The person in charge had not explored the blogging experience completely, so in essence, all we did was write a comment, which then had to be approved before it was posted. By the time she got our comments posted, we had moved on to another task in our meeting.

What could have been a wonder exploration of using a blog for discussion, was simply a busy work task. The article we read is not posted there, there is a simple list of our first names and our brief comment. Yes we posted to a blog, but did we learn about how blogging can be used in our classrooms? Did we learn how blogging could be used in our own group to further conversation? Do you really think any of those 20+ people are going to go back to our comments and read them, and further comment?

This was one of those instances of using technology for the sake of using technology. There was nothing gained from the experience. A conversation in the room would have been more productive.

Perhaps the most ironic part of the day? Next door the local superintendents were in a meeting learning about the new technologies coming down the pike. I spoke briefly with one of my former superintendents who now works in a neighboring district. He was excited to share some of the cutting edge things he was learning about: blogs, wikis, zoomerang, myspace....