Monday, September 24, 2007

Monday, September 17, 2007

Are you ready for this?

I quickly mentioned the Readiness Checker idea a few posts ago, as a new idea I got from another teacher. I want to revisit it here, now that school has been under way for a few weeks. I have to say, it is simply excellent. In the past, I've done a variety of readiness checks, with various degrees of success. This is working better than any other method I've tried.

So here's how it works. To be ready, students must, *by the time the bell rings* do the following:

  • Take out binder

  • Take out homework (and Readiness Checker)

  • Have a pencil sharp and ready

  • Put backpack in back of the room

  • Begin working on the Do Now

If all of those things are completed, the student earns a sticker or stamp on their Readiness Checker. When the checker is filled in (I currently have 9 spaces on mine, but will probably extend it to 12 for the next round), it turns into a "get out of homework" pass. This has the benefit of putting a nice positive incentive on being ready for class, no negative consequence, and it is not directly tied to points in the grade.

It has been working like a charm in my 9th grade Numeracy classes. Most of the time, I have at least 3/4 of the students earn a sticker (often more), which lets class start quietly, focused, and on track. Of course, there are off days (like Friday afternoons), but overall this has been a fantastic new innovation. If you teach students that have difficulty getting started, I highly recommend a system like this. A couple of our 12th grade English teachers are doing this too (I was surprised, but they say the students love it.) Best of all, there is no added management on your part - if the student loses their checker, give them a nice new blank one. (So far, though homework sometimes "gets lost", I haven't had a single student lose their Readiness Checker. What a surprise! :)

Saturday, September 15, 2007

What we have to watch out for (a partial list)

San Jose, though a relatively safe city overall, does have a significant gang problem. Our students are generally not involved in gangs directly (though we do get the occasional hard core kid), but their communities are infused in a wash of red and blue, and gang symbols are everywhere. We work hard to keep this out of our school, so that all our kids can be and feel safe, and part of that means clamping down on the little behaviors that can flare up into big problems. So, aside from all of the normal things a teacher needs to watch out for, here are some others, any of which will get a kid put on a strict "gang contract" (which usually means that further behavior will end them up in a discipline committee meeting to discuss their behavior and their desire to remain at DCP).

  • Red or blue markings on clothes or shoes

  • Red or blue hair rubber bands, red or blue pens sticking out of pockets or used to hold up hair, red or blue nail polish and makeup

  • Students writing in red pen (blue is too ubiquitous to try to prevent)

  • Crossing out 3s or 4s; replacing "e"s with "3"s or writing "e"s backwards

  • Using the numbers 3, 13, 4, or 14 inappropriately

  • Showing problems with colors (i.e. a student given a blue whiteboard marker to write with who refuses and trades for a red)

  • Certain tags like Sur, Norte, 408, ESSJ, Sharks

  • Markings at the base of the thumb (3 or 4 dots)

  • Roman numerals XIII or XIV, and clever ways to write them, such as dotting your "i"s with an "x", like in the word "live"

  • Certain hand gestures

  • The UFW eagle has also become a gang symbol. I had a couple of students building it out of unit cubes last week!

There are more, but that's all I can think of off the top of my head. It may seem trivial or ridiculous to watch out for these things, but it is amazing how serious they can be, and how they can lead directly to students getting physically intimidated or hurt.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Another discrete learning moment

In Numeracy, we have so far been working on two concepts: solving word problems with the bar model method and adding integers with and without manipulatives.

The bar model work has been quite interesting, and I'll post more on how it's going later. Adding integers has gone pretty well, as it is not that difficult of a topic for most students. The hard part, as always, is breaking students of their deeply ingrained habits of wanting the "rule" or the "shortcut" that will let them solve the problem faster. They can't seem to figure out that they have learned these rules again and again over the years, and that they haven't stuck yet. And, even though they may think they know the rule, they might not. Several times today I heard "a negative minus a negative is a positive". But I digress...

Today, I began integer subtraction in two of my classes; subtraction is, of course, much more difficult for students to master. In my first class, there was a lot of buy-in. First, I showed them how to do problems where the second number is smaller in magnitude than the first number (8 - 5, -6 - -4), which is easy to show with unit cubes and an integer mat. I like showing how the second example is no more difficult than the first when you understand what you are actually doing. Then, things got really interesting when we moved to problems like 6 - -4, 4 - 7, and -4 - -9. I showed them why and how we add zero pairs to be able to subtract. After I went through it once, a couple eyes lit up. After the next problem, a couple more. And after the third, a few more. I could actually witness students engaged in the act of finally learning a concept. This is one of the joys of teaching basic math to older students. One of my repeating students raised his hand and said, "I don't get it. Why is this so easy? Last year this made no sense, and now it's easy." I think I was able to convince him that the fact that he was paying close attention throughout the lesson was the answer to his question (I didn't teach him last year, but I know he almost never engaged in his class). I'm not sure if this meta-knowledge will stick, but if it does, I think he may now be set to finally learn some math and pass algebra. For sure, when he does lose focus in the future, I'll remind him about what he discovered today.

But with all successes come setbacks (I didn't say failure! I must be getting less cynical). In the next class, the lesson did not go over so well. A couple kids showed me the bright-eyed look of victory, but most were just playing with their cubes. I think I need to invest in unit cubes that do not lock like legos... Some of the students know the "rule", and though they don't know why it works, they wanted to keep using it and not try the blocks. I wouldn't mind it so much (for the few who really do know how to use the rule), except that it prevents students who don't know the rule yet from seeing the value in using the manipulatives. It's like creating a short-circuit. I have two more classes to go on this lesson, so we'll see how the others react. I am still getting a feel for the different character of my different periods, but certain patterns are already surfacing.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

My life just got a bit easier

Every year, a handful of juniors end up having a free period due to various scheduling reasons. But, we don't let them sit idle. Instead, they become TAs. This may sound like a cruel thing to do, but they really seem to love the responsibility. For us, grading endless quizzes, for example, just isn't quite as entertaining as it used to be. But for them, it is a brand-spanking new rush of power! Ahh.. remember that first A you gave? That first F? Can you smell the red ink? Ok, I use DCP purple and orange... They even seem to like things like organizing files and cleaning lab equipment. Go figure.

I just got a TA assigned to me during my one Algebra 2 period. She was in my Algebra 2 honors class last year, and earned an A+. She'll be grading the daily homework quizzes, grading other quizzes from my Numeracy class while I lecture (ok, she can do her own homework if I don't have anything to grade that day...), and helping tutor students in the class during individual/pair/group work time. She starts tomorrow and I am psyched.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

In the news... again...

Yesterday's article about DCP's gain in the API, reflecting the fact that the students decided to actually take the tests last spring.