Monday, December 16, 2013

Why My Kids are the Best

Today was a Monday. Last week was a crazy week, complete with a "snow" day for rain, a delayed opening for ice, a teacher inservice day, and a Career Day program. That made for an entire week with only one "normal" day, Thursday. When I walked into school today, I could see that my co-workers were dragging. No one, it seemed, wanted to be back in school this week after last week's taste of freedom. I suspected my kids would feel the same way. Thank goodness I underestimated them.

My first period class is learning how to solve equations. We're working on equations with variables on both sides. I was immensely proud of how all 20 of my kids were doing beautiful work and checks this morning. I only had to remind two kids to check their work. The students who were getting stuck were actively asking for help. This must be some sort of pre-Christmas miracle! At the end of the class, one girl spontaneously shared, "This is the first time I've ever liked math. Before, I hated it and now it's my favorite subject. My dad can't believe it because I always used to say how much I hated math." That darling earned a high five and I told her she'd just made my week!

I also really like how I had my kids do their equations today.

You know, because sometimes you just want to use a canned worksheet but you loathe their spacing and don't really see any practical reason to retype the problems.  (Does that make me a "bad" teacher?  Perhaps to some who literally make every paper their kids touch.  I look at it more as "picking my battles."  And, I've learned that I'm not very good at writing equations with a good variety of all the things kids need.  Inevitably, I leave off fractional coefficients, or negative coefficients, or negative answers, or... you get the idea.)  So, I announced to my class that I can't stand when I ask kids to write on notebook paper instead of a worksheet and someone decides to try to cram all of their work onto the worksheet, necessitating skipping steps and writing illegibly to make it work.  We wouldn't be doing that.  Instead, we put glue on the bottom and two sides of the worksheet and attached it to the bottom of our notebook page.  That left the top edge open as a pocket.  Then, we worked the problems (and checks) on notebook paper which we could fold and store in the pocket.  Happy teacher, happy kids!  This should keep lost papers to a minimum and ensures everyone is showing work.  By the way, that worksheet is ancient.  I couldn't even tell you with certainty what book it's from though I would guess Holt; my coworker ran them off for us both. 

Fast forward to my afternoon class and the kids are doing some classwork on exponential functions; nothing too inspired, really. I reminded them that page 35 in their ISN would be useful in completing the classwork. As I circulated around, I stopped and asked students how the work was going. One pair met me with a chorus of "It's hard; it's confusing!" These girls are very capable but they are so scared to make a mistake that they get in their own way. We had a conversation around the idea that they're going to have to do some things that are challenging if they want to continue to learn. That means they're going to have to get some things wrong here and there. Each time they get something wrong and struggle with it a little, they're learning. "You and I, we've been told from a young age that we're smart by our parents and teachers who love us very much. Unfortunately, that's set us up. Now, we think that we won't be able to be considered smart if we get something wrong." (The girls nod.) "That's really unfair. We need to think of ourselves as hard working and be proud of ourselves for giving full effort. We can work hard no matter how easy or difficult the challenge in front of us is, so it's something we can control." The girls agreed and they got to work on the problem that they had just a minute earlier said was, "confusing." A few minutes later when I came by again, one of them was proud to show me her correct answer. She said, "These notes are really useful. I saw the connection between the question and what we had written here and here on the notes," gesturing to different parts of a foldable we'd completed earlier in the unit. Award one point to Jo Boaler's "How to Learn Math" and one point to ISNs!

Why are your kids awesome?

 Mathematically yours,
Miss B


  1. This is ingenious! Sometimes its the simple things that make everything fit together. Thanks for sharing this. I have stolen so many of your ideas this year. Keep up the awesome work!

  2. I think we teach the same thing (almost). I teach Common Core Algebra I and 7B/8th. It seems like you post things just when I need them. :-)

    1. Thanks for your comments, Andrea! It sounds like your school has an accelerated 6th grade that also covers part of 7th grade and then you teach 7th grade students the second half of 7th and all of 8th to prepare them for Algebra in 8th. Is that right? We're starting that kind of accelerated track with our current 6th and 7th grade students, but it sounds like the students that come to me for Algebra next year will also need to cover some of the 8th grade standards, so I might be putting out a call for advice then! Again, thanks for your comments. Seeing them today was a great way to start the holiday break!