First, find the starting line

Teaching is hard sometimes. I love the challenge most of the time, but sometimes when I am confronting that challenge, I feel like I am trying to climb a waterfall.

Yesterday we were working in math on multistep word problems in addition and subtraction.

The directions read something like this; In problems 7 - 10 you will use information from the Gopher Stadium that has a capacity of 47,866 people.

In my world, I know to frontload the vocabulary such as "information" and definitely "capacity" and maybe even "problems." But then I will set the students free to attack the word problems using their strategies, checking in periodically for support and guidance...

15 minutes later I make it to one of my students' desk. He is diligently working but clearly confused. "What's up?" Said I.

"I can't figure this problem out!" Said he.

"Ok, what's holding you up?" Said I.

"Well, I can't figure out how to do 7 minus 10." He said with frustration. "I can't figure out where to regroup from!"

It came from the part that said, 'in problems 7 - 10...' I know it sounds like a script straight from a cheesy teacher joke book, but it wasn't. It's straight from my attempt to teach these kids how to do math and to love math.

Poor kid had done a lot of scratch work, too.


Phone a Friend, cont'd

One more very important part.

Just like in Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, they have to ask their friend the question, their friend answers them, and the original student has to then relay the answer to me. Instead of my typical, impatient way of saying, 'do you want me to check with somebody else??', at which point they smile and think, 'perfect, now I'm off the hook and I'll check out'.

That's all.

Phone a Friend

So I started trying something today and I really like it. That's why I'm passing it on to you. When I call on a student and they say, "I don't know", they have the option of phoning a friend. It's not a new concept, but I added a slight yet significant twist. When they 'phone a friend', they have to re-ask the question in their own words. Meaning, they have to articulate exactly what it is that they don't know.

It proved to be extremely difficult for some of my students. Possibly because their answer of "I don't know" was just a cover for not having paid attention. But it was even difficult for a couple of students whom I know were paying attention, they just couldn't pinpoint what exactly they didn't understand.

It's quick and it's simple, but I like it and I think it will help me know my students better and it will help teach them to independently monitor what exactly is confusing them. Oh yeah, they also find it fun to use the whisper phones to call each other with.


high expectations

This past week I was submitting a poorly written essay for a possible $2,500 prize, money that would be spent on classroom supplies. As I was writing the essay I started to learn something. I am not the only one who has expectations for my kids.

Any educator knows that high expectations are crucial for success. As soon as a student learns that you are willing to settle for less than their best effort, they'll quickly meet that standard.

While I was writing about my students and the general condition of my school and the neighborhood my school resides in, I realized that those conditions - often less than ideal - demonstrate expectations for the students as well. The trash on the streets and the graffiti-covered walls that the students pass each day tells them what their community expects of them. The overall lack of equipment - whether PE/recess or curriculum or technology - demonstrates the expectations of their state and of their nation.

These are factors, not excuses.

This year I have started to accumulate more technology, much more than anyone else in the building. I have a lcd projector, four student computers, and now a 4-year old, brand new interwrite pad. It's wonderful. I have seen engagement increase. I have a new sense of motivation in creating lessons.

I have heard from many people in my district that elementary students can't utilize or be responsible with technology. It's silly. But now that I am seeing my students learning with this technology I am learning that these new things do more than just increase engagement. They tell the students that they are expected to be responsible. These new technologies tell the students that someone or something big (i.e. the school, the district, or more) believes they can and will be responsible.

Resources, facilities, equipment, and even communities hold expectations for my students. Unfortunately, most of the time we have to work to show these 10-year old kids that they can beat the expectations placed on them. So often we just stop there. What else could I do, anyway?

What is my action as a result of this conviction? A continued passionate pursuit for resources and upgraded facilities? Yes. A continued, daily effort to convince the students that I am trustworthy and that they can overcome the circumstances of their little worlds? Yes.

What more could I do? That is the question that I pray everyday...