A Typical Day in 208

The other day we applied some of our recent work with decimals, fractions, and percents during our morning work and we created the above graph that shows what the typical school day looks like in Room 208. At first the kids were insulted that recess was such a small piece of the pie. But as we continued to talk about what information the graph provides the viewer, one of my quieter girls noticed that we spent 14% of our "perfect day" not learning something. As I was getting ready to spring from that into a discussion about why I try to integrate learning into recess (chess, checkers, backgammon, math games, etc), during lunch (book groups and voluntary tutoring), and dismissal (class jobs and DEAR time) - just as I was ready to climb onto my soapbox, another one of the girls astutely added, "and how often are we actually in the classroom for writing at 2:55?" The students began to recognize how important every minute is.

A couple of days later we used the morning work to estimate what the average week in our life looked like:

This led to even better discussion about how we choose to spend our time. They weren't too happy that over 40% of their week was spent sleeping (we came up with the average amount of sleep for the class as 10 hours a night).

Next up - The Average Year. The goal? To help them understand that what they choose to do outside of school is important.


Waiting for Superman

I just read about a film that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and has been picked up by Paramount. Called Waiting for Superman, the documentary was created by the same guy who did 'An Inconvenient Truth'. It is a documentary about the flawed and failing public education system.

Being a teacher, especially one in an urban school, I am used to hearing how screwed up the entire system is. I have grown accustomed to hearing quick fixes - it's about having good teachers, it's about building strong relationships, it's about preparing for the test, it's about not teaching to the test, it's about character education, it's about rapport, it's about regiment - I could go on. So when I read the description of the documentary and a few short articles that were analyzing why Paramount picked up the film I expected to hear more of the same. But this film seems like it might get at the real issue - it goes after the unions.

It is not a quick fix to say 'get rid of the NEA.' It actually would reveal some tremendous holes in every school. Teachers would no longer be protected simply because of experience, teachers would have motivation to improve every year, the tests would be shown as an inaccurate measurement of growth...OR teachers would become protected by connections more than quality, teachers would have more motivation to cheat on tests to obtain more money, and the tests would stay the same.

Surely a quality documentary will explore the alternatives to a system controlled by the union. That is why I want to see it. I would love to see this option actually explored. Not because I think the disappearance of the union would be an immediate solution but because I think the abolition of the NEA would force people to hammer out bigger issues.

I think it could lead to much better education for my students - therefore I hope the film shines a light on a problem that is commonly brought up and rarely taken seriously.


How Long Does Recess Last?

I had a student today who was telling me that I might as well not give him homework. He told me that he didn't mind doing his work during recess but that he would always lose whatever I sent home so I might as well save the copy and just have him do it during recess. Enjoying his logic I reminded him that if he would just do it at home he would get his recess everyday.

He then asked me a question, one of those questions that I love, he said "how long should it take me to do my homework each night?"

"20-30 minutes."

"How long is recess?"

"15 minutes..."

"That's why I do my work here, I get more time to play."

Now to figure out how to make him care about his homework enough to do it at home, as I design it to be done there while he is interacting with his parents. His reasoning is smart. It tells me that I need to do a better job planning homework to be meaningful. And it tells me that I am somehow a teacher who uses recess as the ultimate form of punishment, it's nice when a student sees recess for what it is.


Donors Choose, part II

For a long time I have wanted to start a chess club. Hopefully this Donors Choose project will make it possible. I'm sure it will now that I have released this announcement to my thousands of followers.