I am behind the times here, having just read the book How Children Succeed.I was struck by the emphasis on grit and perseverance.  I had some kind of vague ideas about these things being important, and talk with my students often about the Common Core Standard for Mathematical Practice #1: Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them, but now more than ever I’m convinced of the importance of perseverance.

So, on Friday, when a colleague came in to borrow my class to administer a quick task problem on a topic that my students have never been explicitly taught (ratios), I shouldn’t have been surprised by the results.

My seventh period class is composed of 30 students, 6 of whom are also in my Seminar class (for struggling students – these are kids who have not met standard in prior years). On the task problem, 5 students turned in completely blank papers and did not even attempt the problem.  Of those 5 students, all are Seminar students.  Only one of my Seminar students attempted the problem.

Huh. I’m thinking that’s pretty telling.

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Integer Operations – why???

In my support classes, I’m trying to focus on standards this year – helping students understand what a standard means, how to study to address a standard and what it looks like to meet standard.  In my 7th grade support class, we’re working on integer operations.

In the past, I have used this Integer Foldable (from Everybody is a Genius) with some success. I still like it and I’ve had students add it to their notebooks, but I’m also trying to address a more conceptual understanding of what it means to add, subtract, multiply and divide with integers. We’ve been using integer chips and number lines and I’m starting to see a solid understanding in most of my students…. except for some division.

Why, oh, why is a negative divided by a negative positive??

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Two Weeks Down

We are two weeks in to the new school year and I’m giving my first properly graded assessment today. I’m not really satisfied with it, from a standards-based perspective, but I hope it will do a good job of capturing how my students have done with our quick “practice/review” unit.

We have a big problem in my district (well, math teachers consider it a problem – parents and students may not!) with students wanting to skip 6th grade math and jump into 7th. We already teach Algebra to all 8th graders, so this is quite an accelleration, and really does not suit most students well. But, parents and students are keen to skip (because who DOESN’T want to take Calculus as a high school junior?), so whenever we start the year off with something other than really hard and completely new math, we get plenty of requests for students to skip into 7th grade.

It’s really frustrating and a bit ridiculous, really. In an effort to combat the problem this year, I’ve been billing our initial lessons as practicing how we learn in 6th grade rather than reviewing the actual math content. Instead of reviewing place value, we discussed what a Learning Target is and how to know if you’ve mastered it. Instead of reviewing ordering decimals, rounding and estimating, we practiced taking notes and identifying vocabulary words and key concepts. Yesterday, instead of reviewing adding and subtracting decimals, we learned how to do a whiteboard activity in class.

And so – my desks are filthy! The brand-new desks chosen for our brand-new school do not have smooth surfaces, but rather a textured mottled surface that grabs on to and keeps every stray bit of pencil shavings, lead, and eraser leavings. Well, I’ve also discovered the desks are a magnet for the teensy bits of whiteboard marker that wipe off of the individual use boards.

Does anyone have tips for cleaning desk surfaces? Back-to-school night is Tuesday and these desks are ridiculous!!

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Interesting Quirks

Grassy AreaOur new building has some interesting quirks, one of which is this beautiful grassy area. It is placed between the two main classroom wings which stick out like spokes from the Commons area (cafeteria/stage/open space), but it is only accessible by what are essentially “emergency access only” doors that don’t have external handles. Weird, right?

My colleagues and I have decided that it would be the perfect “outdoor classroom” – at least until the rain starts! I took this photo from the seating area in our new library. Unfortunately, our librarian quit last week so nothing in the library is unpacked or organized yet. Oh well. 

In other news, at our all-staff meeting today we began to implement a problem-solving strategy called “Interest Based Strategies” (or IBS, if you like unfortunate acronyms) to discuss a few of the current school rules that are hotly contested. I attended a training earlier this summer on Interest Based Strategies and was really impressed by it. Our district used IBS to bargain our new contract the year before last and it was smooth, painless and nearly everyone is happy with it. I’m glad we will be using the strategies as a building and in smaller committees and groups, but it was kind of a bummer that we ran out of time in our meeting today to fully complete the process as a whole building. The committee reviewing the rules will be going over our work today and coming to a final conclusion on whether to change the existing rules or not. 

There were four issues up for discussion today, and it was interesting to me to see where various colleagues fell on the issues. I admit I am guilty of not always noticing students chewing gum, I probably miss dress code violations, and I am torn on the issue of mobile devices in the classroom.  I love, love, love my school’s policy of no backpacks in the classroom, however, and I will be sad if that changes. 



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New Building

We moved into a new building this year, which has been really overwhelming to me. There’s something about a blank slate that really stressed me out. I finally feel like I’ve made some good progress, and I stopped at the local school supply store today to pick up a few new items and replace a few things that didn’t survive the move. I’m pretty excited to finish setting up the student-facing parts of my room!

I am not sure about my desk though – that’s still very much a work in progress. There are no desk drawers, just filing cabinets (some with shallow drawers) so my existing drawer organizers don’t fit/work in the same way. I’m going to give it a week or two and see how it goes before getting more supplies.

Blank Slate:

room_west room_north2 room_north room_back

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(In Mrs. Weasley’s Voice): Where HAVE YOU BEEN?

I’ve been busy! Very busy! I now have two years under my belt at the school mentioned in my previous posts, and am gearing up for a third year. I looped with my students the past two years, teaching first sixth grade math (and a 6th/7th combined math support class) and then seventh grade math (and a 6th grade combined math/reading support class with a reading teacher).

This year, I’m looping back down to sixth grade and am currently scheduled to teach three 6th grade math classes, one 6th grade math/reading support class, and one 7th grade math/reading support class.

The big news now is that we have a brand-new curriculum! I was on the adoption team last year and it was an interesting process, and I’m very excited about the materials we chose. A bit nervous, really, but I think it will go well.  We will be using Core Focus on Math, and I can not say enough good things about our experiences with it so far (especially compared to our other options).

I still have no curriculum for the support classes but as I move closer and closer to true Standards-Based-Grading, it gets easier to plan, and I do have the benefit of having ten bright shiny new computers in my classroom, which students will use to work through personalized learning progressions on ALEKS and complete other assignments.

Speaking of my classroom – it’s brand new. The whole building is! We are all looking forward to working out the kinks of a new building but not at all sure how things will go the first week, since our enrollment is way up and classes are being added as we speak.  Fun times for all!

With a brand new curriculum, and starting over again with 6th graders, my goal this year is to shift to grading assessments from a truly standards-based perspective. I’m giving myself some flexibility in implementation and am really looking forward to it!

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Change is in the air…

We are a week into school, and changes are afoot. You may recall that one of the classes I teach this year is 6th grade Math Lab.  Note: Math Lab classes used to be called “Math Support” and are designed to serve a dual purpose:  1) to support students in meeting standard on the state test and 2) to support students in their current math class by previewing & reviewing.

This afternoon I met with R (the 7th grade Math Lab teacher) and our administrators to discuss collapsing our respective lab classes into one, effective Wednesday.

As it stands right now, I teach 8 6th graders and she teaches 8 7th graders. Despite our requests to add more students (identified through the use of a pre-test), there is nobody left to add, really.  I have all 8 of the 6th graders who did not meet standard on our state test last year and are not enrolled in another support class already (ie, ELL, School Skills, Reading Lab).  R’s class is in a similar predicament.  It shouldn’t be surprising to anyone that the kids who need extra help in math tend to need extra help in reading/English/school skills, and yet every year we have the same conversation.  We have spent HOURS over the past few days looking at pre-tests, state test data, MAP test data (oh, by the way, we are changing to the STAR test this year, too – it’s cheaper and shorter – but my students won’t take that until September 28, so forget about using it for beginning-of-the-year placement decisions), trying to identify the correct students for these classes which were populated by counselors based on state test scores from last year.

So now I am faced with the task of combining the two classes.  Both R and I have worked very hard to establish a strong sense of community and develop good routines to help these students achieve success.  Now, a week into school, I get to start over.  One of my kiddos won’t be staying in, due to a scheduling conflict (did I mention that my current class is moving to 2nd period, when R’s class currently takes place?), R’s class is losing two who have tested out due to their hard work this summer and we are adding up to 6 new students, pending scheduling conflicts.

I am feeling a little overwhelmed. How can I support the 7th graders who need to review integer operations without exposing the 6th graders (who have never seen integers before) to material they aren’t ready for? How do I keep the 7th graders engaged and actively learning while I work with the 6th graders on 2-digit multiplication?  They all need to work on division, but my 6th graders haven’t learned how to divide with fractions or decimals yet, so I will have to sort that out as well.

This isn’t quite what I signed up for, but it will be an adventure! I’ve been guaranteed a laptop cart in my room permanently, and am looking at various online math programs to use as a component of instruction to try to buy myself time to work with each group of students independently, and I am excited about that potential.  It will be a learning year for us all…

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