Another week down, LOTS more learned

Well, here we are, the student teaching experience has been flying by.  I only have about a month left of teaching and then it will be time to turn the class back over to my coordinating teacher again. So what have I learned since my last blog post? Way to much, as always!

One of the main things that I set as a goal since the last time I blogged was to add more activities into my teaching. I found myself doing way too much lecturing and not enough student discovery. So I set a goal of trying to have one activity per week for students to be involved in. You might say that this is not enough. But as a new teacher entering the profession and having to work and have a lecture, this is almost too much. Right now I think I have been more like one activity every week and a half. The main reason for this is because of the time it takes to create a fun, engaging, activity that students will enjoy but will also benefit from. I figure that if I can do this once every week to two weeks, then next year continue this only the opposite weeks, by the end of a couple years I will have an inquiry based activity at least once a week. Then if I can keep continuing this each year until eventually nearly every day will include some type of activity, the students will be learning and I will be sleeping 😉 (the dream of a teacher not having to “work” in a classroom but have the students learn everything themselves!)

Another thing I learned just recently was a great way to create groups in the classroom. Now this wouldn’t work every time because used too much, the students will catch on but what you do is have a deck of cards- 1 card per student in the room. You have another deck identical to this deck. One of the decks is prearranged with how you want the groups to be organized and the other is with you and is being shuffled as you walk around the classroom explaining the task the students are going to participate in. You tell them that they will be placed into groups by whatever card they receive. To them, since you are shuffling a deck of cards, it is going to be random. But when you are ready to deal the cards, you walk over to where the other deck is (already sorted) and swap them – but make sure the students do not know this happens. Then pass out this deck. This way the students can’t see that the groups were prearranged and it was just luck of the card that they are together. I haven’t used this in my classroom yet but it sounds like a genius idea. The students would not be able to complain that you sorted them unfairly.

The third thing that I learned over the weekend was an improvement on the thumbs up/thumbs down formative assessment check. I use this quite often in my classroom to get a quick glance at student understanding of the topic during instruction. Ask them to place the thumb up concealed against their chest to where only you can see it if they understand, thumbs down (concealed) if they do not understand, and thumbs sideways if they are sort of understanding but not fully. This is a great tool and I encourage everyone to use it. The addition to this that I learned over the weekend was having the students; only if they really do not understand, having a really bad day, or some other reason that you allow, then the student can place their other hand over their wrist of the hand with the thumb facing a direction. This allows only the students that do that to not be called on. Any other student, including those without their thumb raised, can be called on and expected to contribute to the discussion.

I also use a similar thing to this for different answers students give me to problems. If I have multiple answers then I ask students to give me 1 finger for the first answer, 2 for the second, and so on. I then ask a representative from each group why they think it is their particular answer and have a discussion amongst students as to what the true answer really is. Sometimes none of the answers given are even correct but I go with what I am given. (this was hard at first for me, I wanted to steer the answers to mine as well as how they found those answers to my way. I have gotten A LOT better at seeing their viewpoint and not forcing mine on them as I have continued teaching and hopefully will continue to get better as more time passes)

Those are the some of the things that I have learned since my last post.

AS ALWAYS COMMENTS, SUGGESTIONS, CRITICISM IS WANTED!

Errors of a beginning teacher

Well, this week was my first full week taking on two preps and all five classes. Overall I feel that I am growing each and every day. I am learning new ways to teach and keep students engaged as well as learning what not to do.

One thing that I learned to do is to have an open classroom and not be afraid to joke around with students during the lesson. When the students feel that the classroom is open and their comments are welcome, they are more likely, on and individual basis, to participate in classroom discussions as well as full on class discussions. As beginning teachers we are always trying to find that balance and I started off trying to have absolute control over the classroom in my TA semester. This worked for the type of students that I was dealing with. Those students needed the structure to learn.

Once I started at my student teaching school, the atmosphere was completely different. These students do not need as much structure to learn, they need more of an open classroom and like to carry on conversations about math as well as other things. I am learning a lot more of my students personal experiences in this setting than I ever would have imagined in my TA placement.

With the open atmosphere, I have seen problems arise. One problem is that select students like to carry on individual conversations during the time that I am trying to explain something to the class or while the rest of the class is enjoying a discussion. It is hard to stop the discussion to address these students. I like to be a mobile teacher while I teach, floating around the room and ensuring the students are engaged. The problem arises that at this school we have an interactive whiteboard and usually during these discussions I am recording some of the students mathematical thoughts on the board for other students to be able to visually see it. It makes it difficult to be able to perform quiet classroom management techniques and not interrupt the discussion and kill it.

Another issue that I have seen with this classroom is the different hour atmospheres. I am still trying to adjust my classroom management to the appropriate level that each hour needs. The first couple hours are more of a relaxed atmosphere and are the most open where as the last couple hours are very talkative and need more control. I am increasing my strictness with this class and need to just raise it up to semi-strict and not allow all the side conversations to go on and slowly release them. As it is always said, it is easier to stop what doesn’t start than to stop what is already started.

Another issue that I was faced with today was my grading of quizzes to fast. I made some mistakes in my grading, they benefited the students, where I didn’t mark wrong what should have been wrong. I was trying to hurry and get through them in order to hand them back and just went to fast and didn’t mark things wrong. Some of the students that did get it marked wrong were clearly upset that I did not do this on others and because it was my mistake, I didn’t want to go back and change it. This was a hard issue to deal with for me because there were quite a few that I made this mistake on. Next time I just need to slow down and realize that if I hurry just like the students, I will make mistakes that could be avoided.

These are some of my biggest realizations for this week, any thoughts on them are welcome. I am always open to an outside viewpoint of how to go about becoming a better teacher.
Have a great week everyone!

Start of Student Teaching

Well, I finally started taking over classes after the first month of being in my student teaching placement. I wanted to take them over before this but due to exams the students were reviewing for a week then had exams last week. But anyway have my first two classes now, fifth hour and sixth hour. I decided to take over these two hours because this offered me the opportunity to start with algebra I class and a geometry class. That way as I take over the other classes, I do not have to prep any extra. I already have them done. I should have all hours taken over in the next 2 weeks. Taken over another hour after every quiz/test that is given for the smoothest transition between my C.T. teaching and myself. I cannot wait to have my full load! I am very excited about it.

I have run into a few issues that I know are going to be a problem though. Most of them are coming out of sixth hour. These students are just not wanting to put in the effort that is needed for an algebra I class. They are freshman and after last semester’s exam, the good majority of them were below a B for their semester grades. My C.T. has been trying to get these students more engaged while she was teaching the class and said that it was a struggle for her as well. All of the other hours respond well to the lesson and the way that they are being presented except for this hour. An example is the use of individual white boards for the students to do their work on and be able to erase a simple mistake without having to waste paper. The other four hours love these and use them exceptionally well. Sixth hour just disengages and draws pictures the entire time. Even with me going over to the students drawing and asking them to stop drawing or put their white boards away, they still continue to draw and end up being told to put their whiteboards away and work on paper.

It appears that I am going to have to take a different approach to this hour than the other hours. My classroom management is going to have to tighten up and I am not going to be able to allow as much talking and discussion that I normally welcome into my classroom. I do not want to force students to do the work in my class, as I feel this needs to be something they decide to do on their own. I assign homework and make them responsible for it but they still do not work on it or put in the effort that is wanted out of them.

I plan on having a little heart to heart with this hour today and explaining to them that this is the year that starts counting, they still have a chance to bring up their g.p.a. In middle school, grades were not really important, and to me they still are not important, but to the rest of the world (principal, school district, colleges, trade schools, etc…) they are very important. I want all of my students to do well in my class. I will supply them with all the needed knowledge that they will need to do well in my class and in the future. But it has to be their decision to use this to their advantage. I am not for sure what to do besides that with them; it is a hard road to go down. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated it.

On a better note, I am excited for geometry tomorrow. I created a fun filled triangle similarity wiki on geogebra (http://bit.ly/fkLxUD). I am interested to see how the students respond to this and if it really does help them with triangle similarity. I have fallen in love with geogebra though for both my algebra and geometry classes. I am trying to incorporate it as often as I can. Especially in algebra for those students that do not have a graphing calculator. It is a great resource and all students should learn the benefits of it.

First Unit is DONE!

Well my first teaching unit is finished. On a scale from one to ten I would rate my teaching at about a 5. This might be being to harsh on myself, but I feel that I could have done better. There are things that if I was teaching it the following year, I would include and others that I would get rid off. There are different orders that I wish I had gone in to help with understanding. But overall the class passed the exam (maybe after grading easy and helping them more than I wanted to on the project to increase their grade). But the important thing is that the students that attempted the project and actually finished it (I gave them two class periods too!) received at least a 75%. I graded mostly on mastery learning so if they understood what they were doing that was the important part. I tried to get the students to understand this and they wouldn’t…meaning I tried to get them to show me what they were thinking and not just writing answers. Some did but the majority didn’t. Something to build on though. I was disappointed though in how many students did not finish the project. There were way too many for how much time in class they had. One side of me feels like I could have set up how they did this project differently, but the other side of me was kind of happy to see who actually cared about their grades. Obviously the students that finish did. The best part though was how after I returned the tests and projects I got asked if there was some other way to make up points on their test by students that did not work on the project. My first question to them was that exact thing “did you finish you project and ask questions to one of the four teachers while working on it if you didn’t?” When they answered no, I just said sorry there is nothing you can do if you did not attempt the project. They did not seem very happy about this, but they chose to not work on the project after many reminders from me that this was what was going to raise their test grades up.

But like I said overall I am happy with my first ever teaching experience where I had to design and implement the lessons. After doing this I can’t wait to continue on and finish my student teaching semester next semester and then get my first teaching job. This has only strengthened my belief that I am going into the right career. Once I am in my own classroom and have total control over everything, I will learn the best ways to teach the students that I have and will develop great strategies for teaching. Right now I am still learning how to walk and I will fall many times before I can string together steps to get to the end and where I want my students to be. I can’t wait til next semester.

NOW OFF TO WORK ON MY PORTFOLIO SO I CAN RELAX THIS WEEKEND!

Learning from mistakes

So this last week was going alright up until about Thursday. We had another sub on Thursday, I forgot that I was being observed by the College of ED so obviously was unprepared for that, and the students wouldn’t pay attention and I ended up threatening them with a test that they were not prepared for and ended up averaging below a 50% on. Overall not a great week.
But in all of this trouble there is light that shines through. I learned A LOT from all of this happening. 1. write in a calendar or phone on when you are being observed and set reminder to go off night before. 2. When students are losing focus and you have to keep reminding them, don’t get frustrated and yell think about what is wrong with your lesson that is not engaging to them. 3. NEVER THREATEN STUDENTS WITH HOMEWORK OR A TEST! ESPECIALLY WHEN NOT READY FOR IT! This will just set them up for failure which is exactly what I did.

So being that they failed the test, this has given me a great opportunity to practice reteaching material. I sat down and talked to some people about the best way to go about this. We all agreed that just giving them another test that is similar would probably not be the best idea. So I decided to give them a small in class project where they have 5 questions and each question has three or four choices for the first fraction and three or four for the second and they must add or subtract these. There is one question on addition of fractions, one on subtraction of fractions, one on addition of mixed numbers, subtraction of mixed numbers, and having to rearrange for subtraction. One of these will have at least three fractions to be added together and one they will have to write their own story problem for.They will also have to pictorially represent the fractions by dividing circles into pieces and shading the pieces for each step.
Seeing as what my re-assessment was going to be I knew that I had to start with helping them represent fractions with pictures. I made a nice little worksheet that slowly released teacher responsibility of dividing and shading circles. the first one was completely done for them, second one the circles were divided, third circles were just there, and the fourth was on their own. I figured sixth graders would love having to draw and fill in these circles, it is something different than just working with numbers. They would even get to color!

Taught this lesson today and guess what, they didn’t really like it. They were also confused by it which leads to the not liking it. But if they are not able to represent the fractions then obviously they are not ready to move on. I should have been doing it this way the entire time. I think it really helped on getting them to realize equivalent fractions must shade the same amount of the circle. Going to do another lesson like this tomorrow with more mixed numbers and rearranging mixed numbers for fractions and planning on Thursday to have them work on the re-assessment.

We will see how this goes. Hopefully better the second time around. I can have high expectations for these kids and want them to succeed.

On a side note though, the students that got the highest score in class were the ones that have parental support at home for getting their homework done and making sure they understand it and get it right. It really goes to show how important that parental support is.

Realizing how some texts just don’t cut it for main texts

“You can’t relate to a superhero, to a superman, but you can identify with a real man who in times of crisis draws forth some extraordinary quality from within himself and triumphs but only after a struggle.” ~Timothy Dalton

So this last week, well lets just say that it did not go very well at all. It was my first week of actually planning my own lessons and in doing so I did what probably most beginning teachers do, based my lessons off of the main text. This was a mistake. I like the book we use (bits and pieces II) as a supplement book, but as a main textbook that students are supposed to be relying on, it is lacking A LOT of information. I feel that a main text book should be something that students can use if the teacher doesn’t explain something well enough for students to understand. It should be another resource for them to use and see examples of problems to be able to understand what they are supposed to be doing. This book relies HEAVILY on the teacher explaining how to work on the problems. If the teacher fails then the students struggle with understanding and struggle ever understanding. I started to realize this was not going to work when I was trying to follow along with the book and even I did not want to be there from how boring it was. But it was how the book suggested presenting the material and I figured I would give it a try, it sounded like it would work and sounded all nice.

When I realized I needed to change, it was almost a week into the unit and I knew from student’s that some of them were just not getting it. In my two classes that I took over, I only had like 5 students that really understood what was going on, the rest were split into two groups; those that could get common denominators, and those that couldn’t. Knowing this, I split the class into three groups (I am fortunate right now and have four teachers in my room so was able to do this) and we had to basically re-teach all day Friday for students that were not understanding. I feel that this was the first step in the right direction.

The students were supposed to have their test this Tuesday but I am pushing it back til Friday and am going to just create my own lesson plans based on what they need to know to be able to add/subtract fractions. I will teach them, hopefully, in an interesting way and I know this will be better than basing my teachings off of the book. It is what I should have did in the first place.

I do have some other good coming out of this experience though. I realized to actually look at a book and ask myself “is this way of teaching the best way that I know how from all of my education classes and math classes?” Also I will be asking myself “Is there supplements in the book itself for students that are not understanding the way I am teaching and be able to figure it out with help from their parents and/or on their own. If it is a no, then I will not be using said book. It is pointless. The book is basically just supplying problems in this case and no actual teaching is taking place. If they have never seen/do not understand the information before, there is no way that the students can teach themselves.  This was a great learning experience and I will be taking this into account in my future classes.

BTW THANKS ALL EVERYONE THAT HELPED ME OUT WHEN I WAS STRUGGLING AND GAVE ME SUGGESTIONS EITHER VIA TWITTER OR IN PERSON!

Any more suggestions I will take into account. I am truly open to all. Like I said this is my first time actually teaching and putting the theory into practice and would love to have more input on what I can do to better myself as a teacher and better my students as learners. 🙂

P.S. A fellow TA in the same school but different classroom has done the same thing I have with this book…only she did it sooner and it seems from what she says that her students are learning the information better. None of my Coordinating Teachers actually like the book other than a supplement material either. So it is not just me that does not like the book. I will admit it is a GREAT supplement book, just not something that I feel is a main text material.

Week one over

So I started teaching my three week unit last Wednesday and I am done with the first week now. It has been a rough start overall, but it was expected for my first time lesson planning and actually teaching a class. Do I think that the students are learning, sure, is it everything I had wanted them to learn, unfortunately no.

I know of quite a few problems that I am having in my teaching strategies and the biggest one is my assertiveness, especially when asking student’s questions. I need to quit acting scared/nervous, because I’m not scared and have no reason to be nervous, and start showing that I know what I am doing. That is definitely the biggest issue I have right now.

The second issue is time management. We start off everyday with questions that my C.T. has prepared that usually take 20-25 minutes of my lesson time. Some of them relate to what I will be teaching and some of them are trying to teach another lesson slowly to catch the students up to what they missed by preparing for the MEAP. With a 60 minute class, this cuts my time down in half by the time transitioning time is done. So I am trying to squeeze what normally is an hour lesson into hopefully 30 minutes. So far the most time I have had is 25 minutes. It makes it difficult as I am trying to rush through the topics then and am personally doing more than I would like. I want the students to answer the questions, but instead I am answering them on my own or with a small amount of student help. I am also struggling with time awareness in my classes. Because I plan my lessons to be close to an hour, I have noticed we have one minute left in class 3 out of the 5 days and am rushing to get the students to their next class. I need to be more aware of this and hopefully will get better at starting to clean up at the 3 minute til end of class mark.

The third issue that I am having is student engagement. Today we had a problem that involved buying spices to make different spice recipes. This might work for a high school or college level for student engagement. But at the sixth grade level, students do not care about spices. I really don’t care about spices. I probably should have re-wrote the problem to involve something else instead of spices to keep the students engaged but I did not think about this beforehand. I did notice the majority of the students were involved when I posed a question before this one that had two of the students names. They saw their names and almost everyone else by knowing them wanted to work on the problem and figure it out. Great engagement here. But spices did not interest them because they don’t really cook and have never really experienced different spices.

If I can work on fixing these three things over the course of my lesson I will be happy. I have some other things that I need to work on as well, but I feel these are going to be three of the major issues that I need to get corrected. Hopefully I can get them worked out sooner rather than later just for the kids benefits. I would hate to see them be at a disadvantage because I couldn’t perform what was asked of me to the best of my ability.

Teaching with a Substitute in the room

Well we had two subs in our room this week. One on Tuesday and another on Friday. Tuesday didn’t go too bad, but there were definitely struggles happening with some of the hours to get them under control. We were able to control them for the most part and keep them somewhat on task for the first three hours that we were there. Overall I feel like for the first time this year that the students did not have the main teacher in the room, it went really good. I have heard other TA’s say that the students were just out of hand and couldn’t be controlled to work on much of anything. For us, we were able to get through the majority of what we were supposed to, not everything but the majority.

Friday on the other hand was unbelievable. Every one of the classes, even the two hours we only see on half days, which Friday was, were nearly perfect with their behavior. I don’t know why but for some reason they were just amazing. Even my co-TA thought so. Granted we did only see each hour for 26 minutes, but when I was in high school I had more energy on these half days then on full days due to the excitement that we were going to be done with school before noon and had the rest of the day to relax. Especially when a half day happened on Friday’s and we could start the weekend sooner. We were able to get through nearly all of the Remote (clicker) quiz for every hour except for the inclusion hour which is a little bit behind and I had to go over some area formulas on the fly with them. I probably should have did this better but we only had about 5 minutes left in class and couldn’t go in depth. Will have to get them to actually take notes on the area of a triangle on Monday. I didn’t make it all the way in 5th hour either due to my pacing being thrown off by the inclusion hour. But we made it through 9 of the 10 questions. I feel like I explained the ones they didn’t do all that well on pretty decent. One thing I did find out later by my co-TA is that I could of explained one question better. I was looking for one particular way and didn’t even realize I was not acknowledging how good some other ways were that the students said. I should of acknowledged them and said they were good and still got to my way but instead I basically shot them down. Will have to work on this for next time I run into this situation.

Another thing that I did this week was my student shadow and my compare and contrast of different discipline styles. For my student shadow we had to follow a behaviorally challenged student around for a couple hours, them not knowing of course, and take notes on how they act in different classes. I shadowed a student that is always shouting out in our class and is had to keep on task. I found out this is the case for the other classes as well, only worse in those ones. We keep the student on task quite a bit better in our class, but this could be due to there being 4 adults in our room and only 1 in the other classes that I observed.

For my compare and contrast I had to observe two different teachers that had two different management styles. I observed one, who was teaching an inclusion class, and I don’t know if it was the teacher’s fault or if it was the students in the class that made it crazy, but there were quite a few students that were not on task in the class. There were also some that I felt should have been disciplined that just got away with it. If they were in my class, I personally would have had these few students that were causing the biggest disruptions on a personal discipline plan, because they were happy about the school wide discipline to send them to the RTC classroom. This way there were greater consequences for these student’s misbehavior’s. The other class that I observed was an advanced class of students that were a little out of hand, but they were playing a group game that required them to be excited and yell out. I feel for the day they were actually very well behaved. I don’t think we could pull off the game in most of our classes without complete chaos occurring.  Overall I was impressed by this teachers discpline tactics except that there were students sent out in the hall without any supervision. I don’t feel students that are misbehaving should ever be sent out in the hall without supervision, they can create too much trouble being unsupervised. One of my professors told a story when he was a principal about how two teachers sent students in the hall and one of them actually ended up being stabbed because of the feud between them. This is a very good example of what could happen, will it in most cases, no. But is it worth that on your conscious  knowing that if you wouldn’t have sent that student out in the hall, then they wouldn’t have been stabbed.

Overall this was a great week with a lot of learning experiences for me. I can see myself growing in my classroom organization and management, and am on my way to becoming an effective teacher by the end of this school year. Only about 25 more weeks of learning before I am done and can try out all of these new experiences and find which ones work best in my very own classroom.

Meap Preparation

As I am working with sixth and seventh graders on the meap (Michigan’s Educational Assessment Program) preparation, I have come to realize how much emphasis is put on the meap. I know it is a must due to it being the backbone to how education funds are dispersed and other key educational decisions, but I am beginning to wonder if this is a good thing to be doing.

In the classroom that I am teacher assisting in, we have the remotes that allow students to answer multiple choice questions through the computer. They are timed questions for the most part, with four options, A, B, C, or D. The main problem that I am seeing with this is that students are always expecting to have the answers given to them before they start working on problems. They are basing whether they multiply, divide, add, or subtract off of these answers given and not off of the context of the story problem and what the problem asks them to do.When I ask the students what in the problem helped them decide what to do, or why they choose that operation, at least 75% of the time it is based on the answers given and 20% of the remaining time they are not sure or they just knew it was and could not explain how they knew. This basing on the answers given is a great technique for standardized tests because the answers are always given, but in real life it not this way.

The important question is, Who’s fault is this? I do not feel this is the students fault for learning this way. Today’s school society is based more and more on standardized tests. Students have to pass them to move on, school funding, students to get into college, and many other school related decisions are based on these standardized tests. So with this much based on standardized tests these days, how do teachers not teach students to take these tests, especially with all of this great remote technology which lets teachers have a way of formative assessment in instant feedback to what students understand, and what students are still confused on. I personally love the technology and remote program. But how can it be still used to teach standardized timed test skills and also not have students relying on answers to decide how to do a problem but keeping the formative assessment because it is a great tool to a teacher.

One way that I have proposed to my C.T. is to instead of giving the students the answers, posing the question first with no answers given, let them work through it, and for the next “slide” it is the same question only this time has the answers. This way the students have to first figure out the problem, then submit their answers. This could still be in a timed situation but the majority of the time would be spent on the no answer slide and then only 20 seconds or so to put in their answers on the next slide.

Another way that was presented to me later in the day is to, instead of putting actual answers to the story problem, pose the story problem only instead of having them answer this, ask the students what type of question is this and for the answers have, addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division and then for the next slide they would have to solve this same story problem using the method they feel was right.

Another way that I thought about later today was to just given them some numbers, one of the numbers being marked the answer and then for the A B C D choices having different story problems that involve the other numbers that when some operation is done to the other numbers, it results in the answer. But they would have to think about it and how to word the story problem.

The reason I am so worried about this using the answer to decide on how to go about the problem is because in real life you are almost never given both the question and the solution. You are only given one of these and you must come up with the other on your own.

I feel that we are giving our students a disservice by not preparing them for what life is going to throw at them. I plan to change that in my  classroom this semester, and hopefully by demonstrating this technique, others will follow and realize what they are truly preparing their students for.

any other suggestions as to how to still use the remote technology and no have the focus solely on the standardized test would be greatly appreciated.