Thursday, October 31, 2013

Just Wait....


I recently saw a post on Facebook called 'Joy, or Just Wait?' It talked about new parents constantly being barraged with, "Oh just wait until they are teenagers..." or, "Oh just wait until (fill in the blank with something negative about parenting)...". In a round about way this made me think about my teaching career. (For the full article click here.)

Parenting can be challenging and so can teaching. There is a lot of negativity that surrounds both. The summer before I started teaching I was working hard to get prepared. Third grade was completely new to me and I didn't know where to start. Having student-taught in fifth grade, I was worried to "step down" to third. But my job was at a school I had previously worked at and I felt it would all be okay.

The school where I worked was a Title 1 school. For those of you that don't know what that is, a Title 1 school has at least 50% of the student body on free or reduced lunch. We had 2 (that has since turned into three) different apartment complexes in our boundaries which means we also had a lot of students transitioning in and out of our classrooms. I had worked as an After-school Program Coordinator for three years at this school and had a little background on the population, school procedures, and teaching (oh my naiveté!).

During the summer about a month before school started, I received my first "Just wait..." phone call. Apparently the group I was going to get was "the hardest group we've had in my twenty years here!" This teacher, who I know had only good intentions, warned me to find another school to teach at because my kids were "rough." While I appreciated her concern (truly I did), this made me want to stay even more. I sorta have this stubborn streak that won't let me quit something once I'm committed.

This was the first of many warnings I received about my first group of kiddos. I heard many more "Just waits" while I was preparing that summer. Surrounded by negativity I tried not to get discouraged. Teaching is hard. We have a lot of hoops to jump through.  We have parents who can't help, parents who won't help, and parents who can't help but help anyway. We have conferences, faculty meetings, professional development, and trainings. We have papers to grade, lesson plans to write, and data to track! And let's all face it, our hardest kids are NEVER absent!

But teaching is also wonderful. For every negative thing we have to face, there is undoubtedly more positives. We have hugs to give, smiles to share, and high fives in the hall. We have accomplishments to celebrate and the joy of seeing that spark in their eyes when they learn something new! We buy our kiddos backpacks, shoes, socks, pencils, paper, crayons, glue and more because they need it so desperately. We slip granola bars into the hands of our homeless kids who haven't eaten since lunch at school yesterday. We wipe the tears away from the student whose mom overdosed on drugs over the weekend. We do all of this and more. We do it because we care. We do it because we love what we do. And we do it above all because they are worth it.

So despite all of the negativity surrounding education that we face on a daily basis, I wanted to share with you a few of the "just waits" that I have discovered since that first phone call a few summers ago.

- Just wait until your class comes in on that very first day of school and you realize they are all just as nervous as you are!

- Just wait until a student starts throwing things around the room and you realize you know exactly how to handle the situation and everything worked out great!

-Just wait until you see a student who has struggled to learn something finally "get it" because of you. Those are the moments that give you goose bumps!

-Just wait until you get your students as excited about learning as you are. Enthusiasm for learning is easy to share!

-Just wait until your student makes a connection from a story they read in social studies to a story they are reading during guided reading.

-Just wait until you get a hug from the same student every day as they tell you, "Mrs. Tabrizi, you're my favorite teacher!" (And even though they say it every year, to every teacher, they still mean it!)

-Just wait until the students who you struggled with on a daily basis come back to visit you when they are in junior high and high school. They'll give you a wry smile that speaks volumes when they enter your door!

And finally,

-Just wait for the moment when you feel bogged down by everything you have to do, overworked and underpaid, and just plain tired. These moments will come. But they won't last. Remember this: You are a better teacher than you could ever imagine. Your students are in your room because they need YOU. You are making a profound difference in each of their lives in ways you can't see yet. When you start to feel this way, pull out a pen and paper and begin making your own "Just Wait" list. I promise it will fill up faster than you think!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Math Task Explanation Part 3

Math Tasks Part 3

Welcome back to part 3 of my math task explanations! I hope that you have found this useful to you and that it answers any questions you may have. If not, please leave your questions in the comment section and I'll try to help clarify.

Part 3: The Actual Task
I will be using a 5th grade level task to walk through. A third grade level task is found in my Free Math Task Explanations set.

I start by briefly reviewing the Math Task Procedure Posters . Then I simply read over the task using the document camera and have the students use their finger to circle in the air any important information. I asked them basic questions like "what are we looking for?" and then put my students into groups of 2 or 3.

Lets look at the 5.NBT.2 Powers of Ten math task called "Sewer Rats".
It states:

There are many rats in the sewers. The total amount of rats doubles every seven days. How many rats are there in the sewers after one year? Write your answer in scientific notation.

Extension: One rat has three babies. Each of those babies has three babies. The rats follow this same pattern of birth for 10 generations. How many rats are there altogether?

Now you may look at this at say "Wait a minute! It doesn't tell you how many rats are in the sewer to begin with!". Again, that's the point. This is were the independent thinking and reasonable estimating comes in. The students need to decide what reasonable and what numbers they really want to deal with when doing the task. You will probably have some that will be smart alecks (shocking I know) and choose a number like 5 billion. Well, let 'em! If they can do the math correctly it DOESN'T MATTER WHAT NUMBER THEY CHOOSE!" The purpose of a task is to focus on the mathematical process and mathematical reasoning. Your student will learn quickly that they won't want to be a smart aleck during task time.

If you felt it appropriate you could talk about how many rats would realistically be in the sewer. 1? 100? 1,000? Make sure you let your students decide. This means that every group could potentially use different numbers in their problems and that's fabulous. The numbers they choose don't matter as long as the answer and process are correct. (And by answer I mean as long as their math is correct with whatever number they choose.)

So say your student picks 5 (it's not very surprising that they lean toward benchmark numbers like 1, 5, 10, 50, 100 etc.). That means they take 5 rats and double every seven days. So:

-Day 1: 5 rats
-Day 7: 10 rats
-Day 14: 20 rats
-Day 21: 40 rats
-Day 28: 80 rats
-Day 35: 160 rats
-Day 42: 320 rats
They will need to double it a total of 52 times (for 52 weeks in the year). They could do this by adding, multiplying, drawing pictures, using manipulatives. However they want to solve it is up to them. As you are walking around you can gently guide them (do not give them answers, just suggestions) into easier paths or clearer processes. (FOR THIS TASK I WOULD RECOMMEND THAT THE MAJORITY OF YOUR CLASS START WITH A LOWER NUMER. In this task the numbers get really big really fast!).

After the students have been working for several minutes, walk around and take note of the different approaches your students are taking on this problem. Then, pull up 1-3 groups and have them share their thinking on the document camera or board. This is a crucial piece that allows for student reflection. It also helps us as teachers see what our students are thinking and where they are in the mathematical process. As much as I wish my students could learn everything from me, sometimes it takes the words of a peer to help something click.

After sharing a few, my students would go back to work. I would walk around and ask questions like: "Okay, explain to me what you are doing." or "Can you tell me more about this?". I tried not to praise to heavily (and the facilitators at our state training said to not praise at all!) because then the other groups think that there might be only one correct way of doing things. I couldn't just look and them and say nothing so I would respond with "I like your thinking here!" or "I really love how you showed me two different ways to solve this!" etc.

Finally, if there was time at the end, we would share a few more groups and talk about their work and answers. The students would turn in their task pages to me and any additional pages they had done work on. I graded these as a participation grade. The tasks are to help my kiddos think and talk about math and help me to see where my students are and where I as the teacher need to take them.

There are many different ways to do a task in your room. How do you run your math tasks? 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Wall Folders: A grading and missing assignment miracle

Wall Folders for Classroom Management

One thing that I have LOVED using in my classroom is wall folders. Wall folders seriously saved my sanity over and over. They help with classroom organization, collecting student work, grading, entering grades, managing late work, classroom procedures and more!

I really have to give a shout-out to my site teacher when I was student teaching. She is the one who gave me the idea (one of many).

How to make wall folders:
1. First, you take colored folders. I used the thicker ones for durability.

2. Add your students names. This can be done in many different ways. My site teacher laminated her names and used Velcro  to easily change the names from year to year. I had a lot more mobility in my classroom (usually about 40-60% of my students would move in and out) so I used badge holders that I got from Office Max. I just applied these with brads so I could easily slip in the students names

3. Tape the two short sides that are open with packaging tape.

4. Add three paper clips: Two at the top and one at the bottom.

5. Tape or secure to the wall close together.

Here is an zoomed in picture of the folders.
Wall Folders Zoomed In

Now some teachers use the opening in the top for students to turn in work and get it passed back to them. That is an option. However, with how rough my little 3rd graders could be on paper, I didn't want to be changing the folders every single year. The folders in this picture are five years old. You could also have your wall folders hang vertically instead of horizontally.

You want to organize your students alphabetically by last name. My first instinct was to alphabetize by first name because that is aesthetically pleasing and I'm a little type A. But if you alphabetize by last name, when the papers are collected to be graded, they are already to go in alphabetical order! This may only be an issue with me but having a stack of papers placed neatly on my desk by my class president in alphabetical order made entering grades SO MUCH easier! I didn't have to take the extra seconds to search for a name. Now maybe this is just something that bugs me, but seconds are valuable in the classroom and this is one thing that made grading much easier.

The two paper clips are the top are for your students to turn in their work. They slide it up under the paper clips. I had my students always place their papers with their names on the right hand side. That way when they are collected the papers are all facing the same way in alphabetical order. This takes a little practice depending on your class but they usually pick it up pretty fast. I have only had a few students that push their papers up too hard and take the paper clips with them. They can fix that themselves (usually :)) pretty fast.

Wall Folders With Papers

The paper clip at the bottom is for their cards. The cards show who is missing an assignment and what assignment it is. I have many different colored pieces of laminated cardstock. They are about 2 x 4 inches. When a student doesn't turn in an assignment, my class president would write the assignment name next to a colored card. Then she/he would take that colored card and put it in the bottom paper clip to mark which students hadn't turned in the assignment. The president does this BEFORE they collect the other papers. Then the president would collect the papers from left to right across the rows and place the pile on my desk.

Here is a picture of the board with the assignment lists. (And that is 8 year old handwriting so don't judge too harshly!! :))

So, for example, if a student was missing our grammar page 183 and practice page 212 (copied front to back) then they would have a yellow card. If they were also missing practice page 211 and spelling page 183 they would have an orange card. The students and I could look at the wall and see who was missing what immediately! They didn't have to come up to me to ask what they were missing and I didn't have to track them down and keep checking my gradebook to see who was missing what. Seriously fabulous.
Wall Folder Cards

In my room my students couldn't go outside to recess if they had cards. They would need to stay inside and do their work. I also had a basket labeled "Extra Papers" where I made 1-3 extra copies of work that they could check to find what they needed. When they were done with their work, they would take their card off and turn their paper in. (I had them turn their late work in a different box so the wall folders wouldn't be cluttered with random late work pages but you could do it however you wanted.)

The best part is that my class president took care of all of this! If I had a class where I didn't trust a student to do this on their own then I had to be more involved but usually it went smoothly. At the end of the week any students with missing work were given an orange card that said late work. All the other cards were put back and the assignment names erased so we could start over fresh the next week. The student would have to come see me and I would staple all of their work together along with a note for the parents to sign and they would take it home for the weekend to work on it.

Wall folders take up some space but if you can afford to give that up then try it! You won't be sorry!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Math Task Explanations Part 2

Math Tasks Part 2

Welcome to part 2 of my enthralling series called "Math Task Explanations"! 
(If you missed part 1 you can click here: Math Task Explanations Part 1)

I talked briefly about the procedures I set up in my classroom when doing a task and now I want to get into the nitty gritty. Exciting right?

As mentioned before, I did tasks with my other teaching half. She is a FANTASTIC and strong teacher and I have learned so much from her. This means that we had about 45 kids in my room on task day. Translation: PROCEDURES WERE A MUST! We would start by briefly reviewing the procedures all together by talking about them, acting them out etc. Then I would introduce the task for the day.

We tied in the task topic to whatever we were studying in class which made it nice and easy. I would simply read the task to them and ask very generic questions such as "What is it asking you to find?" or "Can you see the important information?". If it seemed to be a particularly difficult concept (like time to the nearest minute, don't even get me started with some of my kids!!!) I might prompt them more. Bottom line is you are the professional in your room with strong gut instincts. You know your kids and if you need to hold their hand longer or not. It is important to note that we walked our kids through an entire task together the first time. I did think alouds on how I would estimate, check, find etc. the answers to the problem. This is a really important step that can help them see the process.

 Then we would split our kids into groups. We tried it every way you could think of: high/high, high/medium, low/low, high/low, medium/low etc. Sometimes we wanted our low babies to have a strong example and we placed them with a high student. Other times we wanted to challenge our high kids and we put them all together. It depends on your needs at the time. The possibilities are endless. Having our low babies together pushed them and surprised us. The picture that I used for Part 1 is a paper taken from 2 special education students. They were using mathematical thinking and stretching their brains even if they didn't always find the exact right answer.

Side note: We tried using groups of 4 at the beginning and didn't love it. We found that students were more engaged and more accountable when working in partners.

At first the students feel a little unsure about the task process (and trust me I felt the same way!). The students are used to having all the information given to them in a tidy little package and they just need to simply add/subtract/multiply/divide it. This stretches them as a student and you as the teacher!!

The important thing to remember about tasks is that not all of the information is given and that's on purpose! We are trying to get our students to be deep, INDEPENDENT thinkers. Trust me, at the beginning the students will look at you like they can find the answer in your face. They are used to being spoon fed and we need to help them break that habit.

I have had several questions where the teacher is wondering how the students will know what to estimate. That is where you can guide them at the task presentation. Ask them explicitly "What do we need to estimate/find here?". They can get it easier than you think. (After doing two or three of them this becomes no problem). To make this easier, I am going to walk you through a math task in Part 3. Since my Free Math Task Explanation set walks you through a 3rd grade problem, I figured I would use a 5th grade task.

If you didn't get my Free Math Task Procedure set just click on the link!

What questions do you have? How have you set up tasks in your room?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Math Task Explanation part 1

Math Tasks Explanations Part 1

I have had several people ask me to go into more detail about my math tasks. I know that sometimes they can seem confusing and even way beyond your students. I promise they can do it and so can you!!

(You can also download my Free Math Task Explanations for more information)

Two years ago my state had a MAJOR training on math tasks. This was where I learned what was expected and how to create them. This is also where I accidentally flashed the assistant superintendent while pumping (I was still breast feeding my daughter) during a break. Alas that is a horrifying story for another time!

I admit that when I was first introduced to math tasks that I was doubtful. They seemed SO open ended and very ambiguous. But I soon realized that therein lies their beauty! One of the points of the Common Core is to create students who are deep, independent thinkers that can make educated estimations as well as check the reasonableness of their answers. Math tasks fit in perfectly with that! Why are we doing all the heavy lifting for our students? I'm too old and too tired for that!

Once I realized the beauty of the task I thought to myself: "Okay we just had a week long training on this. I'm actually excited about it and want to try it." I set out with my other teaching half to get our math task process started. We came up with a list of procedures to help us. We went over these procedures a lot at the beginning and then periodically throughout the year. I'm sure you could think of others, but here are the ones we came up with:

1. Quiet voices.
2. Everyone participates.
3. Focus on task.
4. Take turns.
5. No put downs. Everyone’s ideas can be heard.
6. Tasks may be hard, stick with it!
7. Figure out ways to get along! Problem solve!!
8. Teacher’s job is to guide you, not give you the answers!
9. Three ways to show your work.
10. More than one way to solve a problem.
11. Treat manipulatives with respect.
12. Be responsible to return all materials that are checked out.
13. Record your thinking so we don’t forget.
14. Circle the important numbers and words.

Click on the link to go to my Math Task Procedures Freebie!!

We decided to try and do the math tasks in a manageable way. We knew our state and district wanted us to implement them but with the millions of other things that are mandated we didn't have time to do one daily. We decided on once a week and loved it! We chose our short day (early out day) and did the tasks every Wednesday because our time for math was a little shorter that day, about an hour long. This gave us enough time to present, work on and share the task. Our students also became used to task day and honestly it became their favorite day of the week.

Well it seems like this post is turning into a novel so I will break it up into a few parts. I hope you enjoyed part on. If you have ANY questions please leave a comment and ask. If you have a question then others have it as well.

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