Sunday, September 18, 2016

MTBoS A Day in the Life Project: September Reflection

Because today, September 18th, falls on a Sunday, I am posting and responding to Tina Cardone's five reflection questions.

1) Teachers make a lot of decisions throughout the day. Sometimes we make so many it feels overwhelming. When you think about today, what is a decision/teacher move you made that you are proud of? What is one you are worried wasn’t ideal?

I think that the best decision I made during the first 22 days of school was to include a music break as part of my daily lesson. As I wrote in my First Day of School (August 16th) and August monthly posts, I try to sing a math related song three times a week. This motivates the students to want to sing along -- and by learning the words, they are learning math without realizing it. One of my most popular songs is the one I mentioned in my August monthly post, Count on It. Music break is ten minutes out of an 80-minute block -- but as an incentive, I extend the break to 15 minutes if the students are singing along.

As for the worst decision I made -- well, the field trip to the LA County Fair was two days ago, and so it's still fresh on my mind. There were a number of poor decisions I made on that trip. I know that this isn't supposed to be a Day in the Life post, but here is a brief overview of my field trip:

10:00 -- We arrived at the fair. All groups -- including mine of half a dozen sixth graders, five boys, one girl -- walked through the Jurassic Planet exhibit. My students were hungry and wanted to eat their lunch, but I tell them that all groups would eat near Mojo's Wild and Crazy Island.

12:00 -- The students eventually spent all of their money on the Extreme Thrills tickets. Since all of the other rides were now open, we walked towards the Carnival section -- only to find out that all of the rides require purchasing tickets. The kids kept walking hoping to find a free ride, but we didn't.

2:00 -- As we get ready to board the bus to leave, I met my Support Staff aide, who had a small group of sixth graders of her own. She told me that her group had taken a tram to the farm area, rode a few extreme rides, and still had money left over for the carnival rides!

At that point, one of my group members proceeded to blame me for giving them such a miserable day at the fair -- even though I wasn't the one who wouldn't let them ride. (That would be the carnies who told them that they needed tickets to ride.) On the other hand, he had a point, as there actually were a few things that I could have done to improve my group's experience at the fair.

Until I arrived, I didn't even know that there was a tram. That was something I should have looked into ahead of time -- when I was doing research for my song "Meet Me in Pomona, Mona." Finally, I should have found out that all of the rides require tickets -- perhaps if I'd told my students this, they would have saved money for the Carnival section.

2) Every person’s life is full of highs and lows. Share with us some of what that is like for a teacher. What are you looking forward to? What has been a challenge for you lately?

Well, for a while I had been looking forward to the fair. Now I am looking forward to some of the projects that I will be teaching soon. Many students enjoyed the first project from the Illinois State STEM text (that I mentioned in my PD post, August 12th) -- building mousetrap cars. In the third project, we will return to the mousetrap cars and add string to propel them forward.

As for challenges -- well, in many ways, the fair field trip is a microcosm of the problems that I've been having in the classroom. I don't have a strong teacher tone -- one that makes students think, "I'd better do what he says right now." Instead, everything I say ends up either a weak tone or a yell. So the students didn't listen to me when I told them to stop spending money on the Extreme Thrills.

Some of the things I say in the classroom invite arguments. For example, this week before I gave my seventh graders a "Dren Quiz" (basic skills quiz), I told them about Mark Bauerlein's disparaging name for our generation. One girl told her mother that I had insulted her directly, and the mother walked up to me and asked me why I would call a 12-year-old girl by that word. I informed her that I was referring to our generation, not her daughter. Still, my words led to an unwanted argument.

3) We are reminded constantly of how relational teaching is. As teachers we work to build relationships with our coworkers and students. Describe a relational moment you had with someone recently.

I'm actually thinking about the two students who had caused the most trouble at the fair. As it turns out, I actually had to call their parents the day before the fair due to problems in the classroom. And for one of the two students -- the girl -- it was the second time I'd had to call home, for a week earlier I'd caught her trying to use her Foldable notes on the general quiz. I'd forbidden notes on the sixth grade quiz because the quiz should have been so easy.

She cheated by trying to use her Foldable notes on a quiz. This means that she must have done a great job taking the Foldable notes! And indeed, she did -- many of the other students had parts of their notes missing, but this girl's notes were complete. So the positive thing I can say tomorrow is that she's a great note taker -- and when she stops chasing and hitting others and focuses in class as much as she did on her Foldable, people will like her more.

I also want to find something positive to say to the other disruptive student -- the boy. I know that this will be more of a challenge, since he didn't even pass his Dren Quiz. Perhaps I can help him prepare for his next Dren Quiz, and that will be a positive for him.

4) Teachers are always working on improving, and often have specific goals for things to work on throughout a year. What have you been doing to work toward your goal?  How do you feel you are doing?

I believe that on the ideal classroom management plan, the most important step of the discipline hierarchy is the first step -- the "Warning." The ideal classroom manager gives many warnings throughout the period, and these warning are sufficient to get the students back on task. The other steps on the hierarchy are seldom reached.

So I will stop trying to inspire my students to telling them about Bauerlein, as this leads only to heated arguments. Instead, I will just remind them only that they are taking a "Dren Quiz" -- a "dren" being a reverse-nerd (who lacks basic math skills). Only after they pass it do I tell them what they've accomplished -- how knowing basic skills will lead to future success.

In short, my goal is to become the ideal classroom manager who can get the students to follow the rules quickly without arguments.

5) What else happened this month that you would like to share?

The big thing for me to mention this month is the Illinois State text. As I wrote back in my August PD post, the Illinois State text is a project-based curriculum. We've already completed the first project, "The Need for Speed" (mousetrap cars), and this past week I allowed my seventh and eighth graders to work on the second project, "Show Me the Numbers," where students measure how far various objects with wheels, such as Hot Wheels toy cars, travel in five revolutions. I didn't do the project with the sixth graders due to bad behavior -- in particular, the students actually stole from my desk some of the Hot Wheels to be used in the project! I didn't think the sixth graders deserved to work on a project after stealing some of the materials.

Well, here's the thing -- it's not as if Illinois State simply delivered the text and project materials, and teachers can do whatever we want with them. On the contrary, representatives from Illinois State and curriculum developers (from England!) continually inspect us to see whether we are implementing the curriculum fully. We are required to submit a report every two weeks showing them which projects we've done in the classroom.

Notice that my Learning Module pacing plan mentioned in my August PD post already fits this -- I'll do projects once every ten school days, which aligns with the biweekly reports to Illinois State. The problem is that I'm not supposed to skip projects due to bad behavior -- the projects aren't the dessert, for they are the main course. Indeed, according to the curriculum developers, students are less likely to misbehave if they are doing something fun, and so my response to behavior problems should be to increase the time spent on projects, not decrease it!

I'm considering having a behavior plan where the class works towards project time -- say each class starts with 10 minutes, then I add minutes whenever the class is quiet or behaves. When the class reaches 50 minutes -- the length of a class period on Wednesday -- then the students will have that entire period to work on the third project (the return to the mousetrap cars).

But according to the curriculum developers, I must give the projects no matter what. Well, that's OK, for the minute count is rigged in the students' favor. It will be easy for the students to earn minutes, and even if they fall short of 50 minutes, I'll just give a short Warm-Up or Exit Pass that will take up the difference in time, and they can have the rest of the time for the project.

My next monthly post for "A Day in the Life" will be Tuesday, October 18th.

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