Right now, I'm thinking about the Green Team and the plans for a science unit on the conservation of energy and water. For weeks, ever since I first learned about the Green Team, my plans were for tomorrow, December 13th, to be the day that I give my students the Green Team pretest.
Not only that, my first quiz of the trimester was just before Thanksgiving, and on that quiz, I had to give a large number of zeros for talking. Then right after the holiday was the first test of the trimester, and I had to give even more zeros for talking and cheating. Here's how I caught two of my eighth graders -- do you recall the eighth grade test on volume? The problem was that many of my CASIO calculators would convert decimals like 3.14 to fractions, while others would keep them decimals. In fact, one CASIO did neither of these -- instead, it gave answers as mixed numbers. There was only one such calculator, and I knew exactly who had it -- yet three students tried to turn in tests with mixed number solutions!
With all of these zeros, I told the students that they could make up the zeros by taking a "special science quiz" -- that is, the Green Team pretest. This quiz will count as my second quiz for the trimester -- recall that there's enough time to give four quizzes each trimester, but my grading is set up so that only two of them actually count. A pretest is an excellent quiz to avoid counting in the grade, as it's given for diagnostic purposes only. But since I have so many zeros, I decided to count the test only for students with zeros, so that they can erase them. After all, the students might know very little about energy and water conservation, but any points they can earn on this quiz will be better than a zero.
Well, here's the problem -- the Green Team pretests won't be delivered in time. Indeed, before the pretests, we're supposed to receive some Green Team newsletters, and as of now, they're scheduled to arrive tomorrow at lunchtime. Notice that I'm still not exactly sure what these "pretests" are supposed to look like -- I got a sneak peek at the newsletters and saw that there are four informal questions about conservation asked on each one, so maybe those are the "pretests"!
Of course, none of this would matter had I not made a big deal about all the zeros and how the Green Team pretest would be used to erase them. Right now I have large numbers of failing students, and I've promised them a chance to make it up today.
So here's the plan -- recall that I've been using special software to teach science this year. This software informs me of the Next Generation Science Standards and what will appear on the NGSS tests coming up. In conjunction with my Bruin Corps member, I've prepared some special science lessons for my eighth graders.
And so I can do the same thing right here. One of the units provided by the software is called "Human Impacts," and this is directly related to energy and water conservation. Even though I don't use this software with every grade, I can nonetheless print out a ten-question quiz from the website and use it as a "pretest" or "special science quiz" for the purposes of erasing zeros. Then I'll see what happens if and when the real pretests are ever delivered.
During music break tomorrow, I want to play "The Gauss Christmath Special," from one of my favorite mathematicians, Vi Hart:
Lately Hart's videos have been less mathematical and more political in nature, especially since the most recent election. This video hearkens back to when she was still a "mathemusician."
Let's look at our "Day in the Life" for today. The participant with a monthly posting date of the 12th is Jen Hudak:
But for some reason, there are two posters for the 12th given on our list. The other blogger who's supposed to post on the 12th is Kent Haines:
I consider Jen Hudak to be the active "Day in the Life" poster for the 12th. This is because Haines hasn't posted since September, while Hudak has already made her December 12th post. But Haines is a middle school teacher, so let's take a look at his September post as well.
We begin with Hudak, though. She begins her December 12th post by explaining why she didn't make her November 12th post:
Last month I had a major surgery just 4 days before I was supposed to write my DITLife blogpost. Since I could hardly get out of bed, and was definitely hopped up on *prescribed* pain kills, I thought it would be okay for me to skip that month. Pretty sure I made the right call because I think anything I posted would've been non-coherent anyway.
I hope you feel better soon, Mrs. Hudak! She explains that she is a Massachusetts math coach, so it wasn't too disruptive for her to miss a month of school.
Hudak devotes the rest of her post to how she's spent her month at home. She admits that she hasn't thought about math as much due to her illness, except for communicating via Twitter with various other math teachers.
And now you can see why I wish to get to Haines and his September post:
Notice that this is not his September 12th post. In his actual September 12th post, he mentions Philadelphia, so I assume that he's either a Pennsylvania or South New Jersey teacher. In either case, we know that Haines is definitely a middle school teacher.
In the link above, Haines begins by describing one of his former students, "Ana":
In my first three years of teaching, I taught a girl named, let’s say, Ana, who started 6th grade as a terrified, anxious student on the verge of failure and ended 8th grade by placing out of Algebra 1 and into Geometry for high school. Since that time, she has continued to make remarkable progress as a math student, beyond even what I thought she was capable of doing.
The first thing we notice is that Haines taught Ana for all three middle school grades. If I remain at my current school for three years, I'll wind up teaching some kids for three years as well.
Ana walked into my class in 6th grade with a crippling math anxiety. Her struggles in math were so profound that she had been diagnosed with a math-related learning disability. She hardly knew any of her multiplication facts (she struggled with 4*3, for instance), and the sight of word problems on a math worksheet terrified her into paralysis.
The fact that Ana didn't know what 4*3 is reminds me of the 4's Dren Quiz I gave last week. There were three sixth graders who failed that quiz, just as Ana would have done.
In seventh grade, she opened up a bit. She still didn’t like talking in class, so I told her that I would only call on her when I knew she knew the right answer. With that assurance, she started sharing her ideas in class more and more. Her work improved, but was still marred by years of conceptual gaps that she was still struggling to overcome. She was moving in the right direction, but she had a long way to go.
The point of this post is to show that Ana's math skills dramatically improved -- and how Haines was instrumental in making them improve. As I just wrote, I have three sixth graders who failed the Dren Quiz -- in other words, three possible Anas. If even one of them has the potential of improving as much as Ana did, then I owe it to that student to help out as much as I can.
In eighth grade, Ana took Algebra 1 because it was the only course offered at our school for 8th graders. We knew that this would be a struggle, so I met with Ana and her mom and assured Ana that this would be a great year to build a foundation in algebra so that when she went to the public high school, she could take Algebra 1 again and feel very comfortable.
It figures that Haines teaches at a small school if he can teach one student for three years, and so it figures that there'd be only one option for eighth graders. But it seems interesting that the lone math class for eighth grade would be Algebra I. Keep in mind that this story takes place in the past -- probably before his state adopted the Common Core Standards. Had this been California, we know that our state encouraged eighth grade Algebra I under the pre-Core standards.
Now I want to compare Ana's transformation to my own students' potential. I've already written about the eighth grader who transferred from another school. I want to teach her Algebra I on the side -- since my school's lone option for eighth grade is not Algebra I but Common Core 8 -- in the hopes that she can place into Geometry next year. Actually, my biggest fear is behavior -- it will be hard for me to teach her and make sure that the other students are behaving well.
On one hand, I've written about my classroom management struggles as a first-year teacher. It's easy for me to say that I should wait until I'm a more experienced classroom manager before attempting to teach my eighth graders Algebra I on the side. But then again, let's look at what Haines wrote again:
In my first three years of teaching, I taught a girl named, let’s say, Ana, who started 6th grade as a terrified, anxious student on the verge of failure and ended 8th grade by placing out of Algebra 1 and into Geometry for high school.
So Haines was also an inexperienced teacher at the time he taught Ana -- and yet he was able to overcome classroom management issues in order to teach Ana. So once again, I need to do what's needed for my students regardless of any management problems.
Also, notice that on this blog, I write about eighth grade a lot. But in reality, my most important cohort are my sixth graders. I lament how I could have taught volume to my eighth graders better, but in the end, it's just one year -- and they'll see volume again in Geometry anyway. But if things go right, I'll be the only math teacher these sixth graders will have for three years. If I fail to teach them effectively, I'll have ruined math for them completely. On the other hand, I could become a miracle worker to these students, just as Haines was to Ana.
Of the three sixth graders who failed the Dren Quiz, one of them was chosen by my Bruin Corps member to be one of his focus students. You see, UCLA requires the Bruin Corps members to select three struggling students, and my member chose one in each grade. The sixth grader failed her Dren Quiz, yet my member saw so much potential in her. Perhaps with his help, she can grow as much as Ana did.
Also, today one of the other students who failed the Dren Quiz asks me whether I can give her some extra help after school tomorrow. Before I read the Haines post, I was wondering what exactly I can teach her. Normally, I'd want to prepare the student for an upcoming quiz or test. But we just took the 4's Dren Quiz, and the 5's Dren Quiz is about a month away. Meanwhile, the only quiz we're taking is the Green Team "pretest" -- and since it's a pretest, students aren't supposed to prepare for it.
Moreover, I know of many students who ask for help right after getting a bad grade on a quiz, test, or report card, and then forget about it soon after. I can easily see this girl asking for help today, right after seeing the results of her Dren Quiz, and then forgetting all about staying tomorrow.
But all of this was before I read the Haines post. I now see that I can help my student the same way that Haines helped Ana. I can help her on anything -- her 5's times tables, or better yet, all of her times tables in general. Just getting her caught up on basic skills will boost her confidence just as much as Ana's. And I'll be sure to remind her to come to the after-school tutoring.
Overall, I need to make sure that my sixth graders are engaged, especially if, as I said, I'll be the only math teacher they have for three years. Right now, there are so many students failing -- mainly due to the zeros they earned for talking during the test. And just last week, many sixth graders didn't even bother to turn in the Warm-Up sheet! It's tough when the students tune me out from the very start of the class.
This is a two-day post. My next post will be Wednesday.