Developmental, Tested, or Proper Foundation?

This is only my second year teaching 5th grade. I just finished introducing geometry to my second group of students and I have reached the same tough question for the second year in a row. Upon assessment and reflection, I find that my students are having similar struggle this year as they did last year. They can identify the shapes, but they can't explain the rules of that shape.

For example, they know what a square is, but they can't explain why a square is also a rectangle. Or why a rectangle is a parallelogram, even though they know what a rectangle looks like and what a parallelogram will look like on the test. I taught the rules, but I focused on the vocabulary and the nomination of the shapes.

Should I reteach the rules of the shapes even though they are not tested?

Why I should - it is important that they know why a square is a rectangle but a rectangle is not a square in terms of creating a solid foundation in geometry. I am not only preparing my students for the upcoming test, I am preparing them for middle school. I know that most students really struggle with the abstract parts of math (algebra or trigonometry or calculus) because they often learned the how but not the why.

Why I shouldn't - maybe that part of the shapes is not tested because it's not necessary at this developmental point in the students' learning. I ask this question with almost every lesson I plan. Teachers often teach shortcuts that are often, in my opinion, not healthy. Some teach lattice for multiplication. Some teach that an estimation is a guess. Some teach the trick to finding common denominators without ever teaching why it works. Sometimes it is good to not go too deep, sometimes it is important to spend time laying the strong foundation.

How do I decide when to teach them just enough to get the question right on the test and when to spend time on things that may not be necessary for the test this year but will provide a good foundation?


New Rules

New Rules

What do you think? I resonate most with the attack on the constant comparisons to "past scores". I would add a rule about international comparisons, unless we're all taking the same test. And if those international comparisons would show data for ALL STUDENTS IN THE COUNTRY, not just all students who took that test.

Prefixes and Suffixes for 5th Grade - Word clouds - WordItOut

Prefixes and Suffixes for 5th Grade - Word clouds - WordItOut

Virtually Real World

We just got finished with a unit on decimals, fractions, and percents. Midway through the unit I had the idea to have each of the 4 groups of students in the room choose an NBA team and we would track their wins and losses and then calculate their winning percentage. Definitely not a new idea.

But when the day came to tally up the first round of games put Sportsline up on the projector. Once it was up there my kids started noticing things that I never did.

Just on this screen image alone (from today's sportsline) the students could notice the poll results at the bottom. You can't see that 75,348 had voted, but I would simply ask, "about how many people would 60% of 75,000 people be? That's how many people think the Colts will win. We've also done some work around conversions. There's a countdown to the superbowl - a perfect opportunity to talk about conversions with 5th graders. There's a headline for a hockey game, a player assisted 2 of the teams 4 goals....quick! "what percentage of the teams points did he have a part in?" There's a headline the reads, "13-year old commits to USC". That definitely would get the students' attention, I would ask how many months it would be until he would actually be at USC playing football.

I was loving the discussion but we needed to move on (different day, same basic stuff). Just then one of my boys pointed out a couple of editorials. I couldn't pass up the opportunity - we had just talked about editorials in persuasive writing and the students were so confused by my examples I had been trying to figure out another way to talk about them. Thanks to a student pointing out a great example of persuasive writing on a site I check every day, I now know how to introduce editorials AND engage the students at the same time.

All of this had me thinking - I need to acknowledge the virtual real world when I am developing lessons and word problems. So often I use computers and the internet in the classroom, but I only access educational sites or sites built specifically with school at the focus. But it is important to remember to access the real world on the internet and use that as a launching pad and even assessment tool for the classroom. I wish I had access to facebook and youtube - it couldn't be much more real world, virtually, than that and the students might begin to connect what we're doing in class to something they love.


Learning Lessons Every Day

I have heard so many stories from and about my students that they don't always impact me the way they probably should. In some ways, I think I am desensitized to the stories. I had a student leave my classroom yesterday for another school. He was always one of my favorites even though he hated sitting in his chair - unless I would let him turn the chair upside down. He told me they needed to move because their electricity had been cut for a year, their gas had been cut for two months, and their xbox had just been stolen. It saddened me more that he was leaving than to hear about his home life over the past year. I think that's a problem.

Leaving school today there was a group of 8 or so tough-looking fellas hanging out on a porch right across from our school. They were somewhat intimidating in their solidarity of all black outfits and black and silver bandannas. It isn't unusual to have these guys outside, usually picking up their younger, less scary siblings. But is was the first time I had seen them congregated in such a large group.

They were just watching the hundreds of students leave the building. Standing next door to a house where the police shut down some sort of drug operation two days ago and about 20 yards away from where a 7th grade student had been shot to death about this time last year.

There was something else unique about this afternoon. When we walked outside every one of my students looked at them and then back at me. Several of them asked me why the guys were there. The students are used to us providing a safe environment. What was also unnerving to me was that many of the parents who were waiting outside were glancing over their shoulders at the gang as well.

Keeping an eye on each of my students we walked down the sidewalk. When I was down to one student, one of my rougher boys (but he is a great student), I asked him if he knew the guys on the porch.
"yeah, they used to be friends with my brother."
I was curious. I had heard about his brother who had recently gotten out of a short stint in jail and was trying to turn his life around, but was having a hard time finding a job. So I asked, "was he in that gang?"
"Yeah, Florence" He said in a very matter of fact way.
Then he told me that his brother's best friend is still in with the gangs but that he had switched from the Florence (f13) gang to another one. Then he said - "that's why the guys flipped the Florence sign at me when we walked past, so that I would know they were still mad about my brother's friend switching and my brother quitting."
"That's crazy." I said, "I didn't even see them do anything. Are you sure they meant for you to see the sign?"
"yeah. Once when my brother picked me up they were doing the same thing. But my brother just ignored them because he's not into that anymore."

I pray that I never become desensitized, nor that I will ever romanticize the gang world. It is easy to do because I still feel a little like I am an extra in a movie when I see the tattooed groups walking around. I also pray that God will help me be a difference in some kid's life. That I will at least provide a positive classroom so that they can have as an escape from the chaos outside. I also pray that I will not be overly fearful of the gangs nor exaggerate their influence on my students' lives.

I love how God is teaching me lessons every day.