Thursday, September 8, 2016

Whiteboard Lesson: Converting Rational Numbers (Day 16)

Let me begin this post by introducing my next MTBoS challenge -- and suddenly you're thinking, there's yet another MTBoS challenge? So Blaugust isn't enough for us -- now we need Septemblog, Octoblog, Novemblog, Decemblog, and so on?

Actually, this is a different sort of challenge. Instead of posting everyday for a month, this challenge involves posting once a month for a year:

The creator of this challenge is Tina Cardone, a Massachusetts high school math teacher. I've written about Cardone before -- she came up with some of the prompts for the 2016 Blogging Initiative back in January. Here is Cardone's description of the challenge:

Each author will pick a different date and write on the same day of the month each month.

Additional key days where all authors will write: 
  • A teacher day the week before students arrive
  • First day of school
  • Parent Conferences day
  • Day before Thanksgiving break? (are people more worn out before Thanksgiving or Christmas break?)
  • Before and after Christmas break
  • Snow day
  • State test day (pick one)
  • Last day of school
  • A day you work during the summer (you mean teachers don’t take the entire summer off?)

Now I live in Southern California, so of course I won't write about a "Snow Day," but I can write on all the other days -- perhaps I can include a "Rain Day" as the California equivalent. According to Cardone, the prompt for each day is "A Day in the Life of...."

As is always the case, I'm late to the party. Cardone tells us that she may include some of our posts in a book that she's writing -- but not mine, since I joined too late. And two of the days in the list have already passed -- "A teacher day..." and the first day of school. But I did write posts for each of those first two days:

A teacher day the week before students arrive

This post is very long -- I began the post with a disclaimer, followed by a Blaugust prompt, and then links to various other teacher websites. Scroll down to "More on the Illinois State text" -- this and the following sections mention teacher meetings and some of the information I learned there. It is not written in "A Day in the Life of..." format -- but I can always go back and edit that post if I need to to satisfy the challenge requirement.

First day of school

I actually did write this post in "A Day in the Life of..." format, so it should already meet challenge requirements as it is. Here's another example of what "A Day in the Life of..." posts look like, based on yesterday:

7:45 -- I arrive at my school.

8:15 -- I report to the playground, where many of my students are beginning to arrive. The students are told to gather in a circle for the flag salute. But this time, the sixth graders and I are in charge of leading the morning circle routine.

8:25 -- My first class, a sixth grade class, begins. This class has grown so that there are now 26 students in this class. I continue an easy lesson on ratios, and the students take foldable notes.

9:20 -- My sixth graders leave and my eighth graders arrive. Now I admit that on Wednesdays, which is our Common Planning day, the schedule is very confusing -- and in fact, the other middle school teachers and I are still trying to work out the kinks. The eighth graders are supposed to be here for two periods -- the first to do a computer lesson, the second for math.

My plan is that I would use the computer period for science. But I don't have the students go to the computer, because I knew that all the computer questions were on lessons they haven't learned -- the students would just guess all the answers and use the rest of the time for free computer play. The students need to learn science. So I decide to give them a science lesson from the famous MTBoS blogger Sarah Carter, on accuracy and precision:

I have the students throw balls of crumpled paper into the trash can in order to determine the accuracy and precision. Today (that is, Thursday), I notice that Carter has written another post about her accuracy and precision assignment:

Returning to Wednesday, many of the students are still upset that they are required to be in my room for so long, with no computer time to break it up. During the math lesson, which was on converting rational numbers between fraction and decimal form, one student even tried to throw a small rubber ball at me. I don't know who the culprit is, but one girl accuses another of being the one. I don't believe the accuser, because I know that the one she's accusing is often picked on by the others -- they would say that the poor girl is guilty whether or not it's true.

11:05 -- Nutrition finally arrives. I dismiss only the students who have been working on science -- as it turns out, both the accuser and accused failed to finish. The accused girl stays to finish it, but the accuser leaves without permission -- apparently to go straight to the office and repeat her accusation of the poor girl. I receive a phone call that I must send the girl to the office. Apparently the administrators believe the accusation, and the girl is forced to leave the school early -- along with another group of eighth grade girls who often cause trouble (but not the "whistle blower").

During nutrition, I meet my predecessor -- the previous middle school math teacher. As it turns out, he is now teaching at a nearby high school. He tells me that last year, a great way to engage the students is to get them working on whiteboards, since we can't trust them to work at any other time -- especially not on the homework. And so I include whiteboards in my plans for Thursday.

11:25 -- My seventh graders arrive, but due to the mixed-up Wednesday schedule, they come to my room only for music, not for math. The music teacher gives them a test on various instruments and informs them that they will begin playing the piano next week.

12:15 -- This time is officially called "advisory." The students are very confused as to where they were supposed to go. I inform the other middle school teachers that I want to see the sixth graders at this time, so that we can prepare for tomorrow's morning circle routine.

At this time, the sixth graders are very loud, and some of them play with rubber bands. I assign lunch detention to three of the students.

12:45 -- I release the students to lunch. Two of the students report to the lunch detention table, but one boy tries to hide. The girl he's hiding behind tells me that he isn't there -- and so I give that girl lunch detention as well. She is very upset and says that she'll inform her mother that I'm giving her a detention for no reason. I inform her that she should not protect a troublemaker, and that the best thing to say when I'm looking for a student other than her is nothing at all.

1:15 -- The middle school students go home right after lunch. I've noticed that usually when there is a troublesome situation, younger kids (like 6th graders) tend to tattle-tale, while older kids (like 8th graders) prefer not to snitch and instead protect the misbehaving student. In the end, it's ironic that the two biggest troublemakers of the day are an eighth grader who tattle-tales and a sixth grader who protects another student!

But of course my day is nowhere near over yet. It's a Common Planning day, and so I must wait for the 2:00 meeting to begin.

1:50 -- I decide to check my email -- and discover that the meeting is at our sister campus (as our charter school has two different locations), nearly ten miles away. Oops!

2:15 -- I finally arrive at the other campus. I speak to my counterpart -- the math and science teacher at the other school. She is in a rush to leave, but she briefly tells me that she's also been struggling with the Illinois State text. Some of the answers given in the teacher edition are wrong, while the student edition expects sixth graders to graph linear equations without explanation.

2:35 -- The meeting begins. So in the end, it doesn't really matter that I am late, since the meetings never start on time anyway. I'm not the only one who has trouble traveling to the other campus.

During the meeting, we teachers are introduced to the software that we are supposed to use to take attendance and grades -- and this is the fourth week of school.

4:00 -- After the meeting, I am assigned a laptop, since the one I'd been assigned at the start of the year never worked.

And so in many ways this was what the first day of school should have been like. I finally obtain a working laptop and have access to the software we need. I meet with my predecessor so that I know what and how to teach. Our Wednesday schedule is finally beginning to stabilize (but it needs fixing).

Then again, in the old days Wednesday really would have been the first day of school. For years the LAUSD -- whose calendar our charter largely follows -- begin the Wednesday after Labor Day. It was four years ago when the LAUSD adopted the Early Start Calendar.

I actually don't have much to say about today, Thursday, except to say that I do indeed give the whiteboard lesson to all three grades today. For the eighth graders, it's a chance for them to practice converting decimals into fractions, including repeating decimals.

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