Category Archives: classroom management

A cold day, followed by a beautiful display of student initiative

Yesterday we had a cold day! It’s like a snow day, except it’s really cold out. With wind chill, temperatures around here were -35 F. The timing was good because somehow I ended up being really sick yesterday. So I didn’t particularly enjoy myself on my day off (in fact, I felt terrible), but thankfully I could nap by the fire, drink tea, and spend the day recuperating.

Anyway, I wanted to post about a proud moment from my FST class today. These kids are used to a lot of hand-holding and spoon-feeding, and many of them rarely do independent work (unless I really hound them). Most days, I’ll hear this from at least one FST student: “I’ll be honest, Ms. C, I’m not gonna do this.”

These kids are mostly seniors who’ve been placed in “lower track” math classes their whole life, so changing their mindset isn’t easy. But they did elect to take 4 years of math in high school, plus they’re all good kids, so I know it’s worth it to keep trying.

Today, I told them I would walk them through one example of each type of problem (unit circle stuff), but that was it. No more.

A few kids said, “Aw, can’t you keep going.”

“Nope. I said that was all I was going to do as a class.”

Here is where one kid said, “We can keep doing them as a class, I’ll just go up there.” And he did.

The awesome thing was this kid didn’t know how to solve the problems. But he was willing to go up there and try to figure it out. It probably helped that he’s in the drama club and is an anchor on the school announcements.

So he starts to play the role of the teacher. “Ok, so let’s do problem 2: 495 degrees. We need to find an equivalent rotation between 0 and 360 degrees. How do we do that?”

Miraculously, the rest of the kids played along.

“It’s 45 degrees.” “No, it’s 135 degrees.” “How’d you get that?”

The 135 degree kid explains his thinking, the kid at the board follows along, agrees, and writes down 135.

I quickly snap out of my state of shock and try to remember good techniques for facilitating student discussions.

So I ask, “S, could you please repeat how you got 135?”

So he does.

“Thank you. Can someone summarize or rephrase what S just said?”

Someone does.

And, oh man, it was beautiful. Students were participating without any prodding from me. I managed to remember to ask good questions (Who can rephrase that? Who did it differently?) and to occasionally ask for a collective pause to let something sink in for everyone before moving on. Most importantly, I remembered not to interrupt too much.

1 Comment

Filed under classroom management, collaboration, culture, FST / Algebra 2

The teacher learns

I’m getting better at making my expectations clear. Giving quick, short directions right away and repeating them until all students are with me sounds obvious, but it’s easy to move on without some kids and then you never really get them back.

Always be one step ahead of the kids. Pass out and explain the next task to the kids before they start their quizlet so that kids who finish early have something to do.

I freaking love warm ups. Haven’t figured out a system for them yet though. Should I preprint the questions on a half sheet? Should I grade it? I think the answer is probably yes to both of those questions, but I don’t love the idea of using more paper or having more things to grade.

Graphic organizers are great. A few phrases in a few boxes is more writing than we usually do in math class. They work on it individually, then in groups, then I solicit answers and go over it as a class.

That reminds me: cold-calling = awesome. I have cards with student names on them that I use. Open ended questions or questions with more than one right answer (give me one of the transformations we’ve talked about) are best.

I’m almost half-way done with my first year! The lows have been low, but the highs have been high, and I keep reminding myself just to be better than I was yesterday. Always learning.

Leave a comment

Filed under classroom management, productive struggle

Keep Yo Head Up

I came home from school on Tuesday and told my boyfriend that I wasn’t going back. Of course, I was overreacting to one bad day, and after a good night’s rest, I went to school as normal the next morning. The rest of the week went great, so there you go. It’s so easy to focus on the negative and forget the positive that I have to continually remind myself of what’s going well in my classroom, or I’d never make it.

Last week, my administration granted me the privilege to watch an experienced colleague teach a class. I watched a Biology class that was so well taught that I left feeling inspired. I used to think classroom management was my biggest issue, but after watching that lesson, I realized that time management might actually be my biggest problem. I wasn’t managing time at all. (That sounds crazy, but it really shouldn’t surprise me. I won “Most Likely to be Late to their Own Funeral” in high school. The clock in my car is always set to a random time. I never rush anywhere or feel a sense of urgency.) For example, I used to set the kids off on a task with absolutely no time-frame. I guess I thought that every kid had to finish before moving on.

To avoid wasting so much time, I need to keep things moving fairly quickly. I need to set time limits on activities. I can’t have kids messing around because they think they have the rest of the class period to accomplish something that really only needs 10 minutes of concentrated effort. I need to have tasks for kids who finish early, and I need to recognize that there’s not enough time to wait for 25 kids to each discover something on their own. One thing that has been effective for me is to have a list of two things that students need to accomplish within a given time-frame, with the second item being one that doesn’t require all students to get to before moving on.

Lessons learned there for sure, and that’s a good thing. Other good things: Had a good 1-1 conversation with a student who acts out in my class and likes to challenge me. Two students I’ve been trying to get a hold of for awhile finally came in after school to take missing tests and even waited 10 minutes extra for me because I was in a meeting that went long. Did a a fun investigation in FST (blog post coming soon, hopefully). Taught some algebra-heavy topics in Geometry and no one threw a fit, including me.

Did a long problem in Geometry, and at the end a student pointed out “that answer doesn’t make sense”. She was right, it didn’t, but I couldn’t see a mistake in my work. I stepped back and told everyone to try and find the mistake. Finally, one of my favorite delinquents (he’s not really) piped up, and said “The point is labelled wrong in the diagram. It should be (1,0) not (0,1).” Dang it, a typo on the handout. But all was well because I got to model mistake-making in front of my students. Then I had to go through and basically re-do the entire problem which was also good because the students got to see it again and hopefully understand better.

Oh yeah, and I’m the advisor of the newly formed snowboard and ski club. Held a brief meeting in my classroom after school just to see how many people were interested, and within a few minutes, my room was packed. It was awesome. One of my Geom kids has stepped up as the student leader of the club, which is exactly what I needed.

Leave a comment

Filed under classroom management, productive struggle

A Flop

Had a pretty big lesson flop today. I was frustrated at the end of the particular class, but I’ve thought about some things I can do to improve. Fortunately, I’m on an A-B schedule, so I get to re-do the lesson on Monday with another class. (My A-day kids always get the flops.)

I’m almost too embarrassed to write about the lesson because so much was wrong with it. I am tweaking every part of it for Monday. I thought about scraping the main task altogether, but it’s a good task that was ruined by poor implementation.

First, I am not going to assume the students remember how to do something even though I know they studied it last year. Flying through one example and saying, “This is familiar, right?” isn’t going to cut it. It turns out what they learned last year was a “trick” anyway, so I definitely need to do a better job explaining explicitly what is happening conceptually.

Second, I am not going to throw a handout at them and expect them to get to work. I am going to do a better job explaining the task and modeling how they should get started. I just read the phrase “model curiosity” while surfing some blogs, and I think it perfectly describes what I need to do at the beginning of a task.

Third, I’ve got to follow through on my behavior expectations. I had too many non-participating, off-task students. Worst of all, I let them behave that way. I let them get out of their assigned seats. This is my problem. I don’t like telling people what to do. I just want them to do the right thing. But I have to remember that high schoolers are still kids, and they still need guidance. Basically, I’ve got to toughen up. I’ve got to enforce my expectations.

Fourth, I want to do a better job structuring group work. I think this will also help me with my classroom management issues. I think I need to bring the groups back for a whole-class check-in more often. If there are four parts to the task, then I think I should bring everyone back together to go over each one before we move on to the next. In contrast, today I just said “do it” and consequently lost a lot of people, who never came back when I tried to go over everything at the end. So, on Monday, as students make progress on part 1, I’m going to bring us back together and have groups share. Then I’m going to explain part 2 and let them go. Then I’m going to bring them back again for a whole-class discussion on part 2. Then I’m going to explain part 3, and so on.

The tricky bit will be bringing everyone back. They’ll want to keep talking to their friends, but I need them to pay attention to me or whoever is sharing. I really need something to get everyone’s attention back. Maybe a timer, but students might work more slowly or more quickly than I anticipate. Another new teacher, who is in the English department, shared with me her method for bring everyone back. She simply says, “I need everyone back up here in 3.. 2… 1.” That sounds magical to me.

I can probably pull it off. I can do anything, right? I think what will work for me and for my students is to explain to them at the beginning what it’s going to look like. I will explain that I will let them work on part 1 for a bit, but that when I say “I need everyone back up here in 3, 2, 1” they need to stop where they are, turn to the front, and listen because we are going to share ideas at that point.

Overall, I think I need to be a better communicator. Specifically, I need to be more explicit with my directions and my expectations. More explicit with some of my explanations of content would also be good. Again, these are kids, not adults. They are learners, not experienced mathematicians. They are relying on me to communicate well.

1 Comment

Filed under classroom management, group work, planning