Catching My Breath

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How is it that we’re 6 weeks into the school year and this is my first time blogging?! It could be the fact we were out three days last week due to Hurricane Irma and the following two days were a whirlwind. Or the start of a personalized learning format has been taxing. I feel as though I haven’t been able to catch my breath.

My First Two Weeks

I wanted my Math Enrichment classes to be a place students wanted to come and learn math. I wanted it to be a place where they knew they had a voice and flexibility with a balance of structure. So we spent the first two weeks establishing our routines and procedures.

We had flexible seating in our classroom. Seats were assigned using playing cards. Students would enter the classroom, place their book bags near the door, find their seats and read the Daily Message. It worked well for us. Students never fought over who would sit where and they would have all materials needed for class before I was done greeting the last student.

Because students would work independent of my instruction, we needed clear expectations. What better way than for students to set the expectation for themselves. So each class participated in their own affinity map activity.

Each class had their own unique set of expectations in which they were held to during self guided work time. Of course I had to remind some that they in fact set the expectation they we currently not meeting. Ownership goes a long way.

The Work Began Week Three

We didn’t begin jumping into content until the 3rd week of school. The personalized learning curriculum developed for my course has 4 levels for each unit. I had all students begin at level 1.

Each day we were to complete self guided assignments, students would complete our goal setting form before diving into the assignments. At the end of the work session, students would complete a reflection form.

I was in a groove, and 5 weeks into the year, I was informed I was moving to 7th grade…

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Since I’ve Been Gone

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Writing the title made Kelly Clarkson’s song play through my mind.

 

A lot has happened since my last post.  And instead of boring you with minor details, I’ll share the highlights of April to May.

“School should end after GMAS!”

Georgia Milestones, Georgia’s standardized state test, happened a week after spring break.  My students were pretty anxious about the test has its a portion of the promotion criteria for 8th grade.  To ease the worries, we focused more on mindfulness strategies and stress relieving techniques versus math content.  With the help of some parents, I cooked them breakfast the mornings of the math test to help boost their brain activity.

That was only the first hurdle.  Once testing was done, the students were mentally spent and cried, understandably, “school should end after GMAS!”  The unfortunate part was, there was still a month left of school.

My Vow to Keep Them Engaged

Full fledged choice learning was my vow to keep my students engaged.  I asked the students to choose what and how they wanted to review for the semester final based on the provided student guides.  Students worked independently or within groups on the student guides during the work session which was followed by a daily mini quiz (Mini quiz example).  Our compromise was, we worked hard Mondays through Thursdays and had a free day on Fridays.

To prevent the student guides from becoming mundane, I implemented multiple review games such as Kahoot!, Quizlet Live and my favorite Towels on the Beach.  We also did many “get up and move” kinds of activities like gallery walk task cards and desk hop.

Using What Jo Taught Me

After testing I felt I had a fresh start to try some ideas I learned from reading Mathematical Mindset that I was too impatient to wait until next year to try.  So instead of creating a study guide for our semester 2 final, I created task cards similar to what Jo discussed in Chapter 7 From Tracking to Growth Mindset Grouping.  My sources were Illustrative Mathematics, Open Middle, Georgia Frameworks, nzmaths.co.nz and the SMILE inventory referenced in the book.

Look to the Future 

My role next year is changing yet again.  I’m super excited about what’s to come.  The rationale for my class is establishing mathematical mindsets and foundations in middle school.  I’ll be working with a curriculum to fill gaps 6th through 8th grade students have in mathematics.  The entire undertone will be growth mindset.  More on this to come!

 

Musical Chairs

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We’re nearing the end of our unit on exponents and scientific notation. This means it’s time to prepare for our common assessment. What better way to do this than with a game of musical chairs. 👍🏾

Last year, I had the pleasure of attending a session at GCTM conducted by educators from Hart County, Georgia. They discussed engaging ways to implement practice in the math classroom; perfect for me as practice was my area of instructional weakness when I taught 7th grade two years ago. 

Musical chairs was one of the activities presented where you setup chairs in traditional musical chairs style. In each chair, a question is placed face down. The music is played, I used Keep Your Head Up, Good to be Alive and Run, and students circle the chairs. My 8th graders were gitty and circled the chairs in suspense of the music stopping. When the music stopped, the quickly sat down and began solving the problems in their seat. Once finished I would check their answer and offer feedback. We repeated this process over and over until class ended. 

Students played as if someone could be eliminated, one student continuously asked, “how do people get out?!”  I never answered mainly because I had not thought about that aspect. Students answered about 6 questions from their study guide, received immediate feedback and it would’ve been more if time had allowed. Everyone was engaged and excited. Everyone worked to answer the questions. 

Hindsight, take time to answer questions myself before the game to avoid solving them mentally during the game. Develop a way for students to get “out” but keep them engaged in the game. 

Giving Them What They Want

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Within my post There’s a Disconnect, students shared they would like to review concepts to be assessed by playing games. Wanting to be a woman of my word, I did what I always do when I need to think, I went for a walk.  (Total sidebar, taking a moment to “be in the moment” and decompress is essential to your well-being.  Try it some time.)

What came out of that walk is explained below.

Hunger Games

Our last unit dealt with probability.  Perfect!  I tied in the last unit with other concepts to be covered on our district final.  We watched the first 20 minutes of The Hunger Games.  From there we completed The Reaping and the games began!

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Within this Powerpoint, you’ll find directions for two games played, Hot Seat and Review Relay.  Students were pumped about earning points for the districts.

This may have been my favorite game.  Tributes had to make it to the cornucopia to retrieve items from their sponsors.

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Incorporating technology, we played Kahoot, Overthrowing the Capitol.

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Mini-Society

My students need some extra motivation to compensate for the lack of intrinsic motivation quite often throughout the year.  The end of the year was no different.  To keep students motivated to continue down the road of success until the very last day, we developed a mini-society.

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School ended May 20th.

I Can’t Sleep

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I can’t sleep because I lost control with my 2nd academic class yesterday. This class has had the most difficult time adjusting to the environment I am trying to establish in my math class. Even after setting expectations and routines, they still struggled tremendously working independently as table groups and small groups based on ability.

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I’ve tried positive reinforcements, complimenting those students who were meeting the expectation, I’ve restated expectations with each next step. We’ve even started a compliment chain in which the students will receive a treat if they earn enough compliments to make the chain reach the floor. These are all tactics which have been proven effective in the past and with my other classes, but for 2nd academic not so much.

So today I lost it. I raised my voice at them in frustration and with the fear of failing. It was probably for 1 solid minute that I went on my rant about how I had had it. Of course compliance followed. But I don’t want compliance, I want these kids to be excited about the opportunity to think, the freedom to do math their way and level of engagement created by doing hands on math activities. Before class ended, I apologized to them. I let them know it wasn’t okay for me to talk to them like that. I emailed their parents to let them know what I had done.

But here I am up since 4am, when I don’t need to awake until 6:30am. I’m pondering ways to reach these students. After reading @turtletoms comment to my Voices Carry post, discussing logical consequences vs punishment I’ve decided I’m going to use logical consequences. I plan on rearranging seating arrangements. In the email sent to parents yesterday, I encouraged them to come and visit the classroom. I want the students to know, their parents and I collectively care about their success and understanding in math this year. But that’s where I am stuck.

I’m open for suggestions. With a group of students not used to freedom, how have you been able to instill in them the desire to want more for themselves.
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