Thursday, November 17, 2016

Two Turkeys With One Stone (Days 63-64)

This post is being submitted to Tina Cardone's "Day in the Life" project. It fulfills two of the project requirements -- it's for both Parent Conferences and Day before Thanksgiving break. Our school takes a full week off for Thanksgiving and the Friday before the holiday is professional development, so today, November 17th, is the last day we see both students and parents.

It may seem strange that the week before Thanksgiving is Parent Conferences. Actually, this week was chosen because our school uses trimesters and today (Day 63) is right around the one-third mark of the school year. I'm still in the Survival phase of my first year (October and November):

7:45 -- I arrive at my school.

7:50 -- Our first parent arrives -- yes, parents can choose to come before school if they desire. It's the mother of one of our sixth graders. The mother and her daughter arrive at the history room, where all three middle school teachers -- the history teacher, the English teacher, and me -- are sitting. We've agreed that it's easiest to do it this way, so parents can speak to all three of us together.

As it turns out, this girl is earning straight A's and is one of the quietest students our classes. So naturally, all of us have only positive things to tell her mother. We three teachers wish that all of our students were like this girl.

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 seventh grade class, begins. Now it's a tradition in many classrooms on the day before Thanksgiving break to give a turkey graphing activity. I actually posted this activity on my blog last year, and this year I'm giving the activity. I originally found the turkey on another website:

9:20 -- My seventh graders leave and my eighth graders arrive. As usual, I begin the class with a Warm-Up question:

If the function is x2 and the output is 34, what is the input?

The correct answer is 17 -- and of course today's date is the 17th. My support staff member goes around to stamp the sheets that have the correct answer.

9:30 -- I decide not to do the turkey graphing activity with my students -- much to the dismay of some of the students, who see the activity mentioned on the board. The reason for this is science.

You see, officially I am the math and science teacher at my small charter middle school, but my credential is in math. What ends up happening is that I teach mostly math, but squeeze in science whenever I can -- for example, there are various STEM projects sprinkled through the year. But to me, this isn't nearly enough science -- especially not for the eighth graders, who have a Next Generation Science Standards test at the end of the year. Therefore I make extra effort to make sure that my eighth graders get some science.

Now today I have a UCLA student to assist in the classroom. This is part of Bruin Corps -- a program for college students to help inspire our youngsters to work towards college themselves. He happens to be a biology major -- which is convenient, since I'm weak on biology.

I go to the website of an online curriculum that I sometimes use for science. It lists many standards that are considered eighth grade science here in California. The first one is "Growth, Development, and Reproduction of Organisms." And so I have my Bruin Corps member teach the lesson. My eighth graders learn about genetic material, mutations, and DNA, taking guided notes from the worksheet downloaded from the website. (I don't link to it here because it requires a login to access.)

10:00 -- I give the students an Exit Pass question -- they are to write down what they've learned from the Bruin Corps member. Then the Warm-Up/Exit Pass sheets and guided notes are collected.

10:15 -- My eighth graders leave and my sixth graders arrive. Just like the seventh graders, this class works on the turkey graphing activity. During this time, I hand out four licorice sticks to all students who earned an A on yesterday's quiz.

11:05 -- My sixth graders leave for nutrition, except for one girl who has incurred a short detention for going to the restroom yesterday when our school has a no-pass policy.

11:25 -- My sixth grade class returns from nutrition. Ordinarily we don't have the same class before and after the break, but our schedule is awkward this week due to Parent Conferences. The three middle school teachers decided that we would see all three grades before the break, and then rotate so that we see one grade each day after the break. Today happens to be sixth grade for me.

Ordinarily when I see sixth grade for the second time in a day, it's considered Math Intervention and the students use our other software program, IXL. (Again I don't give the link here.) I wrote about Math Intervention in my "Day in the Life" post for October.

The sixth graders are often very loud during IXL time, and today is no exception. As I implied back in October, some students still have trouble with their passwords. Since then, I came up with the idea of handing out computers to only some of the students and putting the rest on a waiting list. All students who fail to login to IXL within five minutes must forfeit their computers and give them to someone on the waiting list.

I intend for the students who lose their computers to go back to the turkey activity. Instead, these students interpret this time to be free time -- they talk very loud and run around the classroom, and even some of the students who have laptops join them. In short, IXL time for sixth graders has become a big mess! Today, it might have been better just to have all of the students continue to graph the turkey, since none of them have actually finished it. I should have either foregone IXL entirely or reserved it for those few students who actually complete the turkey.

12:45 -- My sixth grade class goes out to lunch. As it turns out, on shortened days such as today, the middle school students go home right after lunch.

1:00 -- During lunch, I decide to check my e-mail. Today I receive a very interesting message -- it is from a senior specialist at a local non-profit organization. She proposes to have a special meeting with me to discuss a special middle school science program, called Green Team. In short, her organization would join up with the LA Department of Water and Power to teach students about energy and water -- specifically how to conserve these resources.

As I wrote earlier in this post, I welcome any and every opportunity to sneak in extra science lessons into my science-starved class. So I reply that I'm willing to participate in Green Team. Next week I'm scheduled to meet with her to discuss the program in more detail and how to implement it.

1:30 -- Our first afternoon conference begins. It's the father of one of our most troublesome seventh graders -- he just barely scraped through my class with a C, but he failed history and English, and even received a C in music -- a class in which almost everyone gets an A. I tell his father that he can do much better, but he hangs out with the wrong crowd. Just yesterday he or one of his friends pulled a classic prank -- putting a tack in my chair.

2:55 -- After a lull without any parents, the mother of a sixth grader arrives. The girl is getting B's in both my class and history, yet is failing English. The mother is a Spanish speaker, so our history teacher must translate for the English teacher, who explains that the girl has trouble writing. My colleague tells her mother about an time last month where I had the whole class write standards when they were too loud (during IXL time, of course), and the poor girl cried as she was unable to finish.

3:00 -- In the middle of the English teacher's exposition, the mother of an eighth grader arrives. I go over to talk to this mother as the English teacher is still talking to the sixth grader's mom. The eighth grade girl is earning C's in all three classes -- mine, history, and English. I tell the mother that even though her daughter passed some of her tests, she failed some others. Still, I let the mother know that the girl is very well-behaved and likes to help us out after school, especially the English teacher.

3:40 -- The parents of a sixth grader arrive -- but they are in a hurry due to a family emergency, so they just pick up their son's report card (I gave him a C) and leave.

3:55 -- No more parents show up. The history teacher counts out the remaining reports and figures that about two-thirds of the parents showed up this week.

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

Tomorrow I'll submit my monthly "Day in the Life" post, since my date is the 18th. I'll save all of Cardone's special reflection questions for tomorrow's post.

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