Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Meaning of a Day in the Life (Day 42)

This post fulfills my October blogging requirement for Tina Cardone's "A Day in the Life" project.

Before I write about my day, let me remind the readers that I'm a first-year teacher. According to Cardone, first-year teachers undergo several phases of attitudes towards teaching. On her special graph, October and November correspond to the Survival Phase. Bear this in mind as you read about October 18th, the forty-second day of school:

7:45 -- I arrive at my school.

8:00 -- I report to the playground, where many students are beginning to arrive. The students are told to gather in a circle for the flag salute.

8:25 -- My first class, a sixth grade class, begins.

8:45 -- The dean comes in and announces the start of the CELDT test -- the California English Language Development Test. All students classified as English Learners -- which about a third of the class -- go downstairs to take the test.

9:45 -- My sixth graders leave and my seventh graders arrive. Many of these students are still out taking the CELDT test.

11:05 -- My seventh graders leave for nutrition.

11:25 -- My eighth grade class arrives. I begin the class the same way I start all my classes, with a Warm-Up question:

Question: (x^3)^6 = x^?

The answer is 18 -- and of course today is the 18th.

11:35 -- Today is the second day of the project we've been working on. It is called "Learning to Communicate," and it is the fourth project of the Illinois State text. (I explained how the Illinois State text is project-based back in my August PD post.) The first four projects are the same for all three grades, and so this is the third time today that I'm giving this project. It was tricky, though, since many of the students are out for the CELDT. There are no eighth graders taking the test -- this class is just a smaller class anyway.

The project requires students to draw various 3D figures on two types of graph paper. The first part, given last Friday, was on oblique graph paper. Today we use isometric paper. I found the isometric paper using Google -- here is the first link:


Notice that the words "isometric" and "isometry" -- as in Common Core Geometry transformation -- are definitely related. Both mean "equal length" -- an isometry maps segments to segments of equal length, and on isometric paper, the sides of the cube are all the same length on the paper.

But some students struggled to draw a cube on the oblique paper on Friday, and so today I've already drawn some cubes and other figures on the isometric paper so students can just copy it. Yet many of the students still have trouble with it. They either try to draw an oblique cube on the isometric paper or merely draw a square.

I think back to the activity I gave back on the third day of school (which I mentioned back in my monthly post for August). I found the activity in another textbook, in a lesson called "Drawing in Perspective," even though the blocks were drawn obliquely or isometrically, not in perspective. In that lesson, the students drew "buildings," with most of them drawing flat rectangles. I've been hoping that they would improve after this lesson, but so far most of them haven't.

I'm a bit surprised that they're having trouble drawing cubes. I believe that I could draw an oblique cube in my early elementary years. But then again, I could never draw a person -- my figures weren't exactly stick figures, but they weren't much better. I reckon that there are several students who can draw lifelike human beings yet can't draw a cube. It is the difference between the "left brain" (the more analytic, mathematical side) and the "right brain" (the more artistic side).

12:05 -- Because I know how tough the 80-minute block schedule can be on middle school students, I provide a music break. My student support aide arrives during the music break. I get out my guitar and I play the following inspirational song:


1st Verse:
Involves many tools.
There's teaming, journaling,
And sketching in school.
When you draw the shapes,
To look 3D, like a cube.
Just compare it, then
Choose the best from your group.

Learning to communicate
Is what we all must do.
It's the meaning of life, too!

2nd Verse:
Not just with your friends.
If you're with someone else
The world won't come to an end.
It will be much better
If you talk to everyone.
Get along with others
Yeah, that's so much fun!

(Repeat Refrain)

12:15 -- At this point, a terrible incident occurs. I choose not to post the full details of the incident here on the blog due to its sensitive nature. To make a long story short, some students start writing a letter in hopes of getting another teacher at the school fired! My only involvement with the incident is that the letter is written during my math class. (My support aide is not sitting in a location where she can tell what the students were writing -- only I see and hear them.)

12:35 -- This is a good time to end the period with an Exit Pass. Students copy the following line:

Today, we drew 3D figures on isometric graph paper.
12:45 -- My eighth grade class goes out to lunch.
1:25 -- My sixth grade class returns for a special "Math Intervention" class. There is special software for this class. I spend much of the period making sure that the students all have the correct password.

The online lesson is on unit rates. This lesson is challenging, since students have to divide to find the unit rates, and many of the numbers they need to divide are multi-digit. No one makes it to the top score of 100, but many students make it to the 90's -- the software starts asking challenge questions once a student reaches 90.

As for the questions involving single-digit numbers, I continue my campaign to stop students from becoming "drens," or reverse-nerds who can't do simple arithmetic. Here's how it works -- this Thursday, the students are scheduled to take a "Dren Quiz" on their 3's times tables. So I draw a multiplication table on the board that goes from 3's to 9's. When the Dren Quiz begins, I'll erase the 3's from the table, so that only the 4's through 9's remain. The table will remain on the board until it's time for them to take their 4's Dren Quiz (probably in December). This way students can have help with the higher times tables but will have to learn them before they're erased.

2:25 -- My sixth graders go out to P.E. class.

3:20 -- All of the middle school teachers plus the fifth grade teacher (at our K-8 school) gather in the classroom of the teacher victimized by the smear letter. We all try to comfort the poor teacher, who is visibly upset.

4:00 -- I go home for the day and head for my computer to type up this blog entry.

Cardone provides us with five reflection questions to answer. I've decided that I'll only answer one of the questions each month except for those months in which the 18th falls on the weekend, since I feel that my posts are long enough without answering all five questions.

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?

This is followed by five sub-questions:

What has kept you going lately when it's gotten tough?
What was the most negative/positive part of your day?
What made you smile today? What are you looking forward to tomorrow/next school day?
What has been your biggest challenge lately?
What part(s) of your day were abnormal? How did you adjust to that?

Well, here are my answers to those questions:

1. One thing that has kept me going lately is the new book I bought. On Sunday, the last day of the annual Barnes and Noble Educator Appreciation Week sale, I got a recreational math book. It was Incredible Numbers by Professor Ian Stewart. This book contains chapters devoted to several important numbers -- the first ten natural numbers, 0, 1, rational numbers, irrational numbers, and even infinite numbers.

The last chapter of this book is devoted to the number 42 -- the "Meaning of Life" according to author Douglas Adams. Stewart writes that 42 is an interesting number indeed -- it is both "pronic" (the product of consecutive natural numbers) and a Catalan number, to boot. Today I read this final chapter first in honor of today being the 42nd day of school. Notice that I even incorporate this idea into the title of this post (not to mention today's song):

The Meaning of Life = 42

Adding "day" to both sides gives:

The Meaning of a Day in the Life = Day 42

And of course, "Day in the Life" is the name of the current blogging project. Then again, it's sad that after I sing a song about learning to communicate and getting along with others, the students use written communication to ruin my colleague.

(Oh, and the isometric pictures my students had to copy are on page 41 -- but the instructions on how to create your own drawings is on the next page!)

2. The most positive part of the day was seeing the sixth graders work well -- even though many of them are talkative, they are still hard-working. Some of them figure out how to draw the cubes correctly, and with a little guidance, they succeed on the online assignment. The most negative part of the day is the obvious incident.

3. The one thing I'm looking forward to tomorrow -- well, maybe I'm not actually "looking forward" to this, but it's definitely coming tomorrow -- is the Illinois State observation.

Recall that Illinois State is the publisher of our current math text. I've mentioned in my previous "Day in the Life" posts that Illinois State doesn't merely provide the text and the materials -- we are to submit biweekly reports with pictures of the projects and how well the students are performing them.

Well, the curriculum developers will actually be flying in tomorrow to observe all math teachers third grade and above. And this is from thousands of miles away -- I'm not sure whether it will be Brad Christensen from Illinois State or two other developers from all the way in England.

4. The biggest challenge -- well, I still want to reach my goal of ideal classroom management. This means that most consequences are warnings, and these are enough to end most misbehavior. At this point, I'm further away from that goal than ever. Those eighth graders who wrote the letter don't respect me much more than my colleague. Indeed, above both of us on the totem pole of respect is my support aide!

Whenever I tried to tell the eighth graders to stop writing and start doing the math project, their response was, "Don't yell at me!" I didn't even mention that I knew exactly what they were writing -- their response likely would have been that I had no right to eavesdrop on them!

5.The part of my day which was abnormal was the obvious incident. I apologize to my readers that this one incident has dominated much of this post -- but then again, this is a "Day in the Life" post, and the incident was a major part of the day.

The incident worries because, as I've stated, I'm the next lowest on the totem pole -- if the students are successful in causing my colleague to leave the school, they'll be going after me next! It gives new meaning to Cardone's Survival Phase -- the two of us really are trying to survive. And my colleague, though new at our school, isn't even a first-year teacher!

Tomorrow is our mixed-up Wednesday schedule. But this time, the schedule confusion is actually to our advantage. For you see, on this strange schedule, my colleague doesn't see the eighth graders at all on Wednesdays!

On the other hand, I'm not sure which grade I'll have during the Illinois State observation. The last time we had a Wednesday schedule, the seventh graders were in my room for music until 12:15 (i.e., a quarter-hour after the observation is supposed to begin). We may end up rearranging the rooms so that I can teach math at noon, but hopefully this won't result in my colleague having to deal with the eighth graders at any point.

(And this is not to mention that while I believe the CELDT testing is over, the test might have spilled over into tomorrow, which may affect the project, as it's supposed to be completed in groups.)

This ends my monthly "Day in the Life" post for October. My next scheduled monthly post will be November 18th, a Friday.

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