Sunday, December 18, 2016

MTBoS A Day in the Life Post: December Reflection

This is my monthly post for Tina Cardone's Day in the Life project. As you can see, not only is today Sunday, but winter break has already started. Notice what's happened as a result of my choosing the 18th as my posting date -- of the first five eighteenths of the month, three of them have fallen either on the weekend or during a holiday break. Only August 18th and October 18th have been actual school days so far!

So it's time for -- you guessed it -- Cardone's five special reflection questions. But let's start with a special question that she gives for this month:

Are people more worn out before Thanksgiving or Christmas break?

For me, the easiest way to answer this question is, which break has more consecutive weekdays of school leading up to it? Here in California, every school takes Veteran's Day off -- a holiday that is about a week before Thanksgiving break. But there were three straight weeks of school leading up to winter break. I can easily see teachers in states that don't observe Veteran's Day give Thanksgiving break as the answer to that question, but for us, we're more worn about before Christmas break.

In fact, at our PD meeting on Thursday, we began with a morning circle at which each teacher was asked, what are we looking forward to during winter break? The most common answer was "rest."

Let's get to the rest of Cardone's questions. I'm definitely still in the Disillusionment stage (December and January) of my first year:

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?

My best decision this month was to shorten my Dren Quizzes for struggling students. Recall that a Dren Quiz is a basic skills quiz where I give my students fifty multiplication questions. The students are required to get an A, or 45 out of 50, on the Dren Quiz. Unfortunately, there were students who failed the last quiz, the 3's Dren Quiz.

It was the history teacher who suggested that I cut down the Dren Quiz for these students. And so to each student who failed the 3's Dren Quiz, I only gave them only 20 questions instead of 50 on their 4's Dren Quiz. This worked for two of my students -- one eighth grader and one seventh grader. I'm sure that both girls are happy to pass their quizzes.

Unfortunately, three sixth graders continue to have trouble with their Dren Quizzes. I'm hoping to give these students some extra help before they take their 5's Dren Quiz in January.

My least ideal decision this month was how I handled the quiz makeups and the science pretest. First, there was a problem with my first quiz and first test this trimester, namely that too many students continuously talking during these assessments. So I had to give out a lot of zeros -- resulting in so many students earning F's thus far, especially in sixth grade.

So I wanted to give the students a chance to erase the zeros. Meanwhile, as I mentioned back in my November "Day in the Life" posts, the Green Team science unit is coming up. I was told that the Green Team unit would begin with a pretest. I knew that a pretest shouldn't count for a grade, but I decided that I would count it for those who had zeros -- that is, I'd replace the zeros with whatever they earned on the pretest. Even if a student gets only one question correct on the pretest, one question is better than zero.

Well, first of all, the Green Team newsletter didn't arrive until the afternoon after my intended day for the pretest. Second, the "pretest" turned out to be very informal -- four questions about energy and water conservation were printed in the newsletter, with the answers right next to them. Obviously, this was very inappropriate for any sort of grade, especially a makeup grade.

But I'd been telling the students for two weeks that there would be a special science quiz that would be used to erase the zeros. Anticipating that the "pretests" wouldn't arrive in time, I decided to go to our online science program for science and print out five questions from the unit on Human Interactions -- as this is most closely related to conservation -- and use it as a pretest. The highest score ended up being 45%, which is to be expected on a pretest. These students earned 45% by getting two of the five questions correct (for 40%) and then I gave them an additional 5% because one question asked them to list four events in order and they got one of them right.

But one huge problem is that the sixth graders continued to talk during this quiz too -- so it didn't solve the original problem of talking during the quiz (which caused the zeros in the first place). A few students basically admitted that they were copying -- two girls asked why they didn't earn as high a score as another girl (the one they'd been copying). The answer, of course, is that they miscopied one of the answers accidentally.

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, I'm looking forward to the geometry units coming up in seventh and eighth grade. You may notice that even though I'm a middle school teacher, this blog is named Common Core Geometry. As it happens, geometry is my favorite topic to teach. We're now in the geometry units, and so I'm eager to teach them to my students.

But even though I'm looking forward to them, I'm worried. The new Common Core 8 geometry lessons are very new -- they are on transformations. I've devoted many, many posts on this blog over two years to transformation geometry, but that's not the same as teaching it to actual students. I know that unless I'm careful, the students will wind up being very confused and not learning anything.

As for what has been a challenge for me lately, well, I guess I've already answered that. My big challenge is getting my students to be silent during quizzes and tests.

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.

Well, December 7th was my birthday, and of course this is the holiday season. So I can easily name several relational moments in how we celebrated my birthday and Christmas.

First of all, I never tell anyone my birthday in advance -- I've never done so, not even when I was a student myself, so I certainly don't now as a teacher. I don't wish to guilt anyone into buying me a gift, nor do I was the pressure of having to remember other people's birthdays and figure out what they want as a gift.

The first time I informed anyone of my birthday was in an activity on December 7th itself. The first question I asked the students was to "guess the teacher's age," and then I told them that it was my thirty-sixth birthday. (Please see my December 7th post for more information.)

Upon learning that it was my birthday, some students quickly drew me a handmade card which read, "Happy 36th Birthday!" (Notice that I don't mind the students knowing my age.) Because my birthday fell on a Wednesday, the music teacher was present, and so he led the class in a rendition of "Happy Birthday."

After the Wednesday Common Planning meeting that day, the director (principal) handed me a birthday bag filled with goodies -- some mini-donuts, chips, and a soda bottle. Most likely, she obtained all of our birthdays from our applications, so she likely would have given me the bag even if I hadn't revealed my birthday earlier that day.

The day after my birthday was the start of our Secret Santa. I ended up drawing the name of our middle school English teacher. Each day last week we were to give our recipients a small gift leading up to Friday, when we'd give our main gift. I gave the English teacher, among other things, a lottery ticket and some candy canes -- the tricky thing, though, was to keep a straight face as she told me what her Secret Santa had bought her, since of course her classroom was right next door to mine.

I also was torn regarding what to get her for her main gift. On her wish list, she'd written that she liked eating at In 'N Out -- even though she's a vegetarian (actually a pescatarian). So I decided to be safe and buy her a Starbucks gift card instead. After I revealed myself, she told me that she liked eating the grilled cheese sandwiches at In 'N Out. But in the end, she enjoyed her gifts. Christmas is an interesting time for her as her own birthday is on the 22nd.

My own Secret Santa turned out to be one of the support staff members. She bought me some classroom materials that I'd asked for on my wish list, including tissue paper (as we're always running out in my class). For the main gifts, she got me a McDonalds gift card (the McRib sandwich is currently back in Southern California) and the DVD of the first Alvin and the Chipmunks movie. I'd watched and enjoyed the movie in theaters yet never purchased the DVD, so I appreciated the gift.

One of the students, a seventh grade girl, also purchased mugs for each middle school teacher. Mine reads, "I'm a teacher -- Like the Internet, only better!"

Friday was a so-called PD day -- in reality, it was our staff Christmas party. We met at a bowling alley in downtown L.A., and we bowled, played arcade games, and even sang karaoke! Since I sing songs in class (which I call "Music Break" -- see my August or October "Day in the Life" posts for more info), I had to participate in karaoke, and I sang Will Smith song "Gettin' Jiggy wit It." (This is not to be confused with "Gettin' Triggy wit It," a parody that I mention back in my May 10th post.)

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?

Right now I'm feeling very -- I might as well say it, disillusioned -- about my goal of being the ideal classroom manager. The ideal classroom manager can correct most student misbehavior merely by warning them, but of course I can't.

And we only need to look at my last "Day in the Life" post to see the problem. When that seventh grade girl took out her cell phone and started videotaping, the ideal classroom manager would have told her to put it away, and she would have put it away immediately. But I'm not the ideal manager -- and so to she, she just lied and claimed that she was merely playing with the phone case. Then she went right back to playing with the phone.

But the best evidence that I'm failing in my goal is not the fact that the girl was videotaping, but the content of the video. You see, I was the target of her video. And if I had that video and could post it here, you can see exactly how far from the ideal classroom manager I am.

If you recall from my last post, these two boys were playing with a broken broomstick. Now the ideal classroom manager would have told them to put the stick down, and they would have put the stick down immediately. Of course, when I told them to put it down, they start running around the classroom instead. This is what the girl wanted to record on her phone.

In the past, I've often found myself yelling when students act up. This is obviously not ideal, for several reasons. In fact, what ends up happening is that the students start complying only because they want me to stop yelling! And often it's because they're afraid that another teacher (such as the history teacher) or an administrator might hear me yelling, realize that something's the matter, and then come in to punish them. So it sends the message that what I'm saying doesn't matter -- only when an administrator or an ideal classroom manager comes in do they have to behave.

I have several students to whom I want to give special help, from my three sixth graders who are still failing Dren Quizzes all the way up to an eighth grade girl who transferred from a school that offered Algebra I in Grade 8 to our school that doesn't offer the class, yet I'm hoping that I can help her get into Geometry next year anyway. I want to be able to help all of these students one-on-one, yet they may all reject my help because they fear that I'll yell -- either at them directly or at another student in the class. Several students have already said "Stay away from me!" right after I've been yelling, even when I know they need help.

Thursday's PD meeting was the first full day of the Responsive Classroom training. In theory, this training should help all of us become better classroom managers. But some of the elementary teachers at our K-8 school have already objected that even if we follow the Responsive Classroom strategies, their students still won't comply -- how much less then, I wonder, will our middle school students comply?

One example is the Brain Break -- a time when students do an activity to break up the monotony of our lessons. In a way, my Music Break is already a type of Brain Break.

Now one specific activity the presenter suggests we use is called "Human Protractor." The teacher asks questions that have a numerical answer, and the students respond by moving their arms. Pointing the arms straight down indicates zero, while pointing them straight up indicates the maximum of a predetermined range -- say ten in a kindergarten class, 100 in first grade, and so on. Pointing the arms horizontally indicates the midpoint of the range, such as five or 50, and pointing them obliquely represents intermediate numbers.

The name "Human Protractor" suggests that a good range to use is zero to 180, and then I can ask the students questions to which the answer is a number of degrees. Horizontal arms indicate a right angle, downward arms are acute, and upward arms are obtuse.

The activity sounds ideal for my own classroom. But here's the problem -- I know my middle school students will likely just sit down and not participate. I'd be the only person in the room actually raising and lowering arms!

Then again, I've already chosen the first song for Music Break after the students return -- the Square One TV song "Angle Dance." I know some of my students like to dance -- indeed, some seventh graders started dancing during the free computer time on Wednesday. So I might be able to have an Angle Dance and sneak Human Protractor right into the dance, since it fits perfectly.

The remainder of the PD time is devoted to the first two parts of the Responsive Classroom text -- Establishing Rules and Interactive Modeling. Well, establishing rules isn't our problem. I'd agree that Interactive Modeling is something I need to do more of. But again, after the teacher models a behavior, a few students are chosen to repeat the behavior -- assuming that they actually do it.

Then again, Interactive Modeling should help students solve math problems as well. I can show a few examples on the board, and then call a few students up to solve the problem. I'm hoping that my students will be able to understand math better this way.

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

Back on Saturday, December 3rd, I attended a Math Maze tournament:

Math Maze is said to be a card game for students in Grades 3-9. My own school didn't participate in the tournament, so I was only there as an observer. And since my school wasn't directly involved, I didn't post about it on the blog until today.

Then again, it does seem like an interesting game to play in my own classes, especially when we approach the units on operations of rational numbers.

This concludes my post. My next monthly "Day in the Life" post will be January 18th -- a Wednesday hence finally a school day. My next special "Day in the Life" post will be January 10th -- a Tuesday for the special day "After Christmas break."

As for my personal blog, my plan is to post every 3-5 days during winter break.

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