Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Prepositional Nightmare: Anywhere a Cat Can Go

One of the problems with block scheduling is that, when you lose a day of school, it throws your whole system off. Due to community day on Thursday, and spring break starting on Friday, periods 1 - 4 met twice this week, but 5-6 only met once. So, it was time for a slush lesson. Sorry, I mean "enrichment". I find these hard to do well, because if it is something worthwhile - such that you can justify spending 80 minutes of time with periods 1 through 4 - then you want the other periods to see it to. And if it isn't worthwhile, then why not just have a pizza party or something? But you'll never catch me throwing away a lesson like that. There's just no time to waste.

So I decided to experiment with correcting a linguistic problem that bothers me, but is not necessarily mission critical. That is the reversal of terms when saying division and subtraction problems out loud, confusing divided by with divided into, and my personal favorite, "subtract 7 to both sides". I know that part of the problem here is the somewhat arbitrary nature of prepositions, and I've been told that fluency with prepositions is one of the last things to develop when a person is learning a new language, and can take many years of practice. When students make these mistakes in class, I tend to repeat their words back to them, using the correct language, but not making a big deal out of it. My thinking here was that I could do a lesson on it, and then, when they make those mistakes in the future, I can just say "remember the correct way to say that?" and jog their memory, instead of launching cold into an explanation again and again.

I did the lesson. Nothing fancy - just some explanation, some practice, a little board wars (which I typically shun, but it's a slush lesson, so what the hey) and some delectable Easter candy prizes. Yesterday, the students were pretty non-enthused about working on prepositions (shocking, I know), and board wars was so-so, although there were quite a few kids who were very motivated to win the giant bunny lollipops. Today, I had some pig- and ducky-shaped candies to give away, and I think I struck gold, because the minute I showed them to my class, they freaked out and got super-focused. I don't really like bribery, but I think it's probably ok to break form on the day before vacation.

In any case, we were well into the first round of board wars when the phone rang. When I picked up the receiver, I heard some students say "Mr. Greene, we're in Algebra class right now and we have a question." I was pretty confused, until their teacher came on the line. He had them on speaker phone, and said, "My students are telling me that I'm not speaking like a mathematician." (Speak Like a Mathematician is the phrase I use with them for all matters linguistic.) They were all laughing in the background. I finally got what was going on, and said, "Hold on, let me put you on speaker phone here." When I did that, his class erupted in a cheer, which my class could hear, and they were shouting hellos back and forth (although nobody knew who was in each class). They quieted down, and I had them ask me the question - it seems that their teacher said "subtract by 7", and not only did they notice the mistake, they had enough confidence in themselves to call him on it. So I settled it for them, all the kids shouted goodbye to each other, and we went on to an excellent board wars competition.

Later, when talking about it with the other teacher, he told me that he had actually read a problem that said "reduced by 7", but the students swore he said "subtracted by 7" and he decided to play it up for them and call me since he knew I'd been working on it with them. Moments like that are really cool (and potentially powerful), and they can't really be planned out. I love when the last class before a break is a really good one.

p.s.
Does anyone else remember the phrase "anywhere a cat can go"? I still remember it from 7th grade French.

p.p.s
Funny cat videos. My classes loved these for the physical humor. But if you've ever had a cat, you'll see that the cartoonist captures their behavior really well. Enjoy!

1 comment:

Lsquared said...

That sounds like a great use of a lame-duck day. I've got another math language pet peeve (I teach college students, so this is a proof type peeve): using all are not when you really mean not all are. For example:

All rectangles are not squares
rather than
Not all rectangles are squares

So how do you play board-wars? Maybe I can try that next time I teach geometry.