Today is a coding Monday. Obviously, I don't have much to say about math in today's post, since I spend most of today watching the coding teacher do his work.
In today's computer lesson, the teacher provides each eighth grader with a Google account, then shows the kids how to edit in Word. (As usual, this blog's focus is on the eighth graders, thus this post is titled "Editing in Word.") Some of the students already know what they are doing and attack the teacher-provided sample document with ease. Other students struggle, and the teacher warns them that they'll be in trouble if they make it to high school and don't know how to use a word processor.
I think back to the first time I used Word -- it was in a summer coding class I took in high school nearly 20 years ago. I took an exploratory computer class in middle school as well, but I don't remember whether or not the word processor we used was Word -- I suspect it wasn't.
The sixth and seventh graders had a lesson on cyberbullies and safety. Last week, the lessons were reversed -- the eighth graders learned about safety and the younger kids used Word.
Since there's no math for me to discuss today, this is a great time to catch you readers up with my year-long goal to become an ideal classroom manager. I assume that the incident that I'm about to describe are quite common in classrooms.
It begins as my eighth graders arrive. Usually, the coding teacher arrives 20-25 minutes after the block begins, so I use that time for a Warm-Up and passing out the homework for the week, and then the students can use the extra time to start on the homework until the coding teacher gets here. I pass out calculators for the Warm-Up, since it is still on square roots and irrational numbers.
But then the students continue to use the calculators on the homework. The questions on the homework (that come from a practice workbook) aren't quite dren-level questions like single-digit multiplication -- indeed, the first question is long division. But still, this is the type of question that some people (like traditionalists, for example), say should be done without a calculator.
Of course, you readers may notice that this is homework, and so there's actually nothing stopping them from using calculators at home to do the homework. Nonetheless, I'll do whatever it takes to stop them from using calculators in front of me on the homework.
So I take the calculators away. And this causes one student -- and she happens to be the lowest student in the class -- to say, "I need the calculator because I'm not smart like you are!"
I know that from a traditionalist perspective, the people who can do long division by hand are actually the normal ones and those who can't divide are on the outs! I don't bring up traditionalists in class anymore, but I do say, "I'm not smart -- I'm normal."
The girl's response is, "I need it because I'm not normal like you are!"
Keep this in mind as I discuss what happens when the eighth graders return after lunch -- a Math Intervention block that also used for an online math curriculum. The girl enters the classroom upset because someone has taken her cellphone, and so she disrupts the classroom by telling the other students to empty out their backpacks in search of the phone.
At this point I begin to yell at the students to stop the search immediately and get back to work. The problem, I tell them, is that phones are forbidden in the classroom. In theory, all phones are supposed to be confiscated at the start of the day, to be returned at the end of the day. But you can probably figure out why this is doomed to failure -- a student who turns it in is guaranteed to be without a phone for a full seven hours, while someone who keeps it can probably sneak in even just a few minutes on the phone at some point without being caught.
I tell the students that I can't make them turn in their phones, but I can enforce the rules by at least not granting any class time to search for missing phones. The student begins to cry, thinking about what her mother will say when she finds out that the phone is missing.
Then she tries to ask for a restroom pass -- but the problem is that last week, the principal told me that I can't allow restroom passes anymore either. Formerly I've been allowing students to leave during Music Break, but lately they've been taking advantage and using that time to go places other than the restroom. At this point the girl complains, "I hate this class because you care about the rules so much!"
At this point I tell her that if she leaves, I'll have to give her a detention for using the restroom during class time. (Of course she has no intention of going to the restroom -- she just wants to go out and search for the phone.) She accepts my detention and leaves the room. But then the principal shows up to the classroom, having been called in by the English teacher due to the riot in my class. The principal asks for the girl who first caused the disruption, and upon her return from the "restroom," she is forced to go to the office.
Let's step back now and think about what's happening here. The reason that I enforce the rules is that students who use the restroom only during breaks and puts their education about the entertainment of a cell phone find themselves with lots and lots of A's on their report cards. Given a choice between being bored with an A and entertained with an F, I'd always choose boredom with the A.
But let's think about this from the girl's perspective. She is at the bottom of my class -- so she's most likely failed math her entire time as a scholar. Think back to what she said earlier about calculators -- only special "smart" people like me can do math without a calculator, not those like herself. She believes that no matter how hard she works, she'll get a bad grade in math. So to her, the choice is between being bored with an F and entertained with an F -- and in that situation, she might as well choose entertainment. And in fact, she immediately puts her head down when I start talking about getting A's as a reason for following the rules -- since she believes that she'll never get A's.
I've mentioned it this here on the blog before -- this student thinks that only special "smart" people can be good at math, not ordinary people like herself. Now imagine if the Cleveland Cavaliers believed that only "special" teams like the Lakers, Celtics, or even the Warriors win championships, not ordinary teams like themselves. Or if the Chicago Cubs now assume that only special teams like the Yankees and Cardinals win World Series, not ordinary teams like themselves. Sure -- the girl has struggled in math since kindergarten, but the Cubs have struggled in baseball for a century before her troubles began.
This, of course, is all related to the "growth mindset." But unfortunately, "growth mindset" has turned into a buzzword that can mean anything the writer wants it to mean. Still, the important thing I should ask is, how can I get this girl to realize that she should work hard so her grades will rise?
So far, I've seen that endless stories about traditionalists, A's, and their futures doesn't work. And of course, yelling at her as I did today doesn't work at all. Of course, there is no simple answer -- otherwise we'd all be excellent math teachers.
Since today is the 26th, let's look at the blog of Tara Daas, whose monthly posting day is today:
Here is a link to her September 26th post:
Daas is a Georgia high school teacher who teaches mostly Algebra I. Her regular classes are learning about compound inequalities, but she also has three Accelerated Algebra I classes, which are learning about even and odd functions. When I took Algebra I as a student so many years ago, it was a regular class, so I didn't learn about even and odd functions.
Daas writes about the struggles her third period class is having. This is technically an Accelerated class, but they aren't as successful as her other classes. She points out how she tries to connect even and odd functions to the transformations (y-axis reflections and 180-degree rotations about the origin) that they learned the previous year in Common Core 8, but this doesn't help them.
Well, hopefully we'll both improve with time.