My Teaching Journey

through the intersection of math and middle school

Category Archives: Anecdotes

Year 4 and Year 1

School is upon is in Georgia. The first day is tomorrow, and for the first time, my wife and I both get to go to school! It will be my fourth year teaching and her first year teaching. She is teaching three 6th grade English/language arts classes at a middle school across town. She has been waiting for years, literally, to be a teacher, so I thought I’d help her with some legit teacher cred. While not a crafty person, I borrowed an idea from @approx_normal and made her a sign for her door. Don’t all amazing teachers need a cool sign?

While this is a birthday gift for the wife, I’m posting so I can finally be a part of #made4math Mondays.

Logic Puzzles and Math Remediation

We have 9 1/2 days left, and as the year ends, we are holding it together. “It” refers to our students. “Together” means we haven’t had any fights recently, but several of our pooh-bears have had trips to ISS since the Very Big Deal Government Mandated Tests ended last Wednesday.

Our district is one of the last in the region to cut summer school due to the budget constraints (the proposed budget for next year has reductions of almost 8 million dollars compared to this year’s budget). That means students in 5th and 8th grade who fail the Very Big Deal Government Mandated Test must retake it the last week of school rather than after four weeks of summer school (which was really only 13 instructional days last summer due to the four-day week and Memorial Day). The Metro Atlanta counties led the trend a few years ago, and I’ve heard lots of details from the mom-in-law about her elementary school’s model, so I wasn’t too surprised about the widespread upheaval it caused in the eighth grade.

Since students have to retake The Tests in math and reading, we were instructed by the district to begin remediation with students this week. We made groups based on benchmark exams and class performance, and brought back three of our student teachers as subs to help cover classes while math and ELA teachers are remediating. I know this is the reality of budgets and such, but it’s not a whole lot of fun. I already taught a math ELT (“extended learning time” or “extra learning time”), which is for the students who struggle in math, and that class is still meeting. Almost all of my math ELT students are in the math remediation, and some still have a regular math class, which means they may have three hours of a math instruction and forty-five minutes of math computer intervention before coming to me in ELT at the end of the day.

I’m not doing more remediation in ELT. Today I gave them the choice of previewing ninth grade math content, reviewing eighth grade math content, or doing logic puzzles. They chose to split each period between previewing ninth grade content and logic puzzles.

Today I threw this up (thanks to a guest post on Continuous Everywhere but Differentiable Nowhere a while ago). It didn’t fail, just like Anand said. They weren’t in the mood to write anything, but a small and passionate crowd gathered at the SmartBoard. Look closely; one student even turned the picture upside down and sideways at one point because he thought it would help solve the problem. I’ll have to break the news to them tomorrow that it’s impossible to solve.

I’ve dreaded ELT for the past three days, but I’m looking forward to it tomorrow…logic puzzles and factoring quadratics, here we come!

The Unforeseen Monster

We may have a gambling problem at school.

Let me explain. My school has a great new principal, and one of the things she encouraged early in the year were revisions to our positive behavior system. We resurrected the PBIS committee (we say “P-B-I-S” because “peebis” makes everyone feel awkward). I’m one of the co-facilitators.

The faculty that volunteered to be a part of the committee are awesome, dedicated, hardworking teachers. They had some amazing ideas. After many weeks, we settled on a pseudo-real world model where teachers pay students weekly with our school currency (the Pawbuck) based on the student’s individual behavior. Each student starts at a pay rate of 5 Pawbucks in each period and can lose them for a variety of infractions (being tardy or absent, not following class rules, etc). Students can earn up to 35 Pawbucks each week since they have 7 classes.

We had Pawbucks, but they were photocopied on different colored paper by grade level and looked, to be polite, lame. So, we enlisted a teacher who is a former graphic designer to create new Pawbucks for the school. We decided to have them printed as business cards so they are sturdier can can be reused; the school ordered 30,000 of them. (On a side note, I was very impressed with the customer service at Vistaprint when I called to order them).

Also, the only place the students could use the old Pawbucks was in the school store, which had offerings that few students considered spectacular. The PBIS committee created a list of incentives that students would like based on student surveys, thus making the Pawbucks desirable. The incentives include Sunshine breaks, no uniform days, and eat anywhere in the cafeteria days, among others.

Last Monday was the first payday. In class today, I overheard one student talking about how they had bet another student that the University of Alabama would win the BCS Championship game. The other students was apparently a fan of Louisiana State, so they took the bet. Student 2 lost all of his Pawbucks to Student 1. Our school currency is so valuable now that it is being used to gamble! The part of the tale that makes it even better is that Student 1 has a difficult time earning Pawbucks in class. He earned 3 or 4 of a possible 10 from me last week (I have him for two periods).  Ah, middle schoolers! How I never tire of working with you!

We wanted to implement a system that is analogous to the real world. We didn’t think about what some adults do with their money once they earn it. Oh well. Baby steps, right?

I found out more information about the unforeseen monster. Some seventh grade students were caught in the bathroom playing craps with their Pawbucks; they may have also been playing during a school assembly. In eighth grade, students are bartering with their Pawbucks. One student sold a pair of headphones to another student in exchange for Pawbucks; another student sold a watch.

The Tough Girl Theorem

I taught a new lesson a few weeks ago, one that I did not teach last year. The goal of the lesson was for students to understand that there are patterns (useful patterns!) when calculating the standard form of a number from the exponential from. The table they completed is below. Students are sitting in groups of 3 or 4, so I assigned each group two columns to complete. Groups shared their findings with the rest of the class before they answered questions based on the patterns.

One student, a bright girl who acts tough and spends more time socializing than learning during class looked at the completed table and observed that the even bases have all even numbers in standard form and the off bases have all odd numbers in standard form. The students had already told me that they could use the patterns to help confirm their multiplication when finding standard from without a calculator, but another student got excited and explained how Tough Girl’s idea could be more useful since it did not change with different bases like the patterns do.

I named the idea after [Tough Girl] on the spot. Now, my second period can refer to [Tough Girl]’s Theorem to help prove or disprove their work. [Tough Girl] was so proud of herself, and for good reason. I was proud of her too.

Grading Assistant

I had a history professor one time who claimed that he used his cat to grade his students’ papers. He would throw them on the floor across the room, and the ones his cat would sit on would receive the highest grades (or lowest grades, depending on his mood or the cat’s mood).

I was in bed last week grading papers, and Amos decided to help out. I think he was really just jealous of the attention I was giving the papers.

The Best Sub Ever

I’m out of the classroom at least once a month for professional development or a meeting of some sort. Today, I had a Middle School Instructional Council meeting for the second half of the day. Whenever possible, I try to get Mrs. Hussain to be my sub. She is the World’s Best Sub.

She knows my students, or at least the stories I tell about them, so she’s always interested in meeting them. She can ask me questions about my lesson plan the night before, which means she is a sub who KNOWS WHAT IS SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN during class. She also is my wife, which means the students know I will see her that night and she will tell me everything that happened.

The first time I had her sub, I told my students the day before so they wouldn’t be surprised (it’s not good to surprise middle school students; they become crazed at the slightest change from normalcy). The conversation went something like this:

Me: I will be absent tomorrow due to a district meeting. Mrs. Hussain will be your substitute.

Girl 1: What? Your wife? [almost falls out of chair with excitement]

Boy 1: [turns to friend] Aw, man! We’re going to have to be good. She’s going to tell him everything!

I love my students, even Boy 1.