The paths to "Eureka" moments: Teaching Mathematics in Secondary Education

Posts tagged ‘Student Behavior’

Extra-curricular Reflection #1

Activity Day at Middle School

6a00d8341fa9ad53ef00e54f0c5a108833-800wiOn special days at our middle school, the academic day ends early and students and teachers participate in a variety of fun activities- Activity Day! On this particular day, several tables were set up with games like “guess what’s in the box”, where students stuck their hands in a black box only to feel slimy spaghetti or Jell-O. Other tables had puzzles and board games, while the gym shook from the bass as the school dance took place. It was fun to see students relaxed and in a non-classroom setting. As I helped to direct the “guess what’s in the box” activity, I was able to connect with my students on a more personal level, joke around with them, and observe their friend groups outside the classroom. It was also helpful to see where students’ interests took them. Some students preferred to dance the whole time, while others preferred to sit at the doodle-design activity table.

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Understanding students’ interests will definitely help me as I plan math lessons and activities. This will especially be helpful as I look to connect math topics with the real life experiences of my students.

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Teacher Observation #2: Ms. K

Teacher Observation #2: Ms. K

12442583961705917736smiley eyes.svg.medSpecial Education Teacher Ms. K is a true example of teaching through organized instruction and creating a safe learning environment.

Ms. K has an established classroom routine each day. The schedule is written on a board near the front of the room:

1.  10 Minute Warm-up Exercise

2.  Vocabulary Review

3.  Lesson

4.  3 Minute Break

5.  Individual Practice

6.  3 Minute Break

By strictly following this schedule, Ms. K’s students can be at ease throughout the day, knowing what is ahead and what they are to be doing at all times. The vocabulary words, learning goal, and examples given during the “lesson” period of the day are all to be written down in their personal journals. This expectation is the same every day so that students are familiar with what they need to do in order to be successful. These journals, along with all worksheets and warm-up exercises, are kept in personal files that are set out on their desks prior to each class period and then collected at the end. Collecting the students’ work each day eliminate the possibility of forgetting or misplacing important documents in between periods or leaving items at home. In this way, the focus is on academic learning and students are able to devote their energies to the subjects being taught without worrying about paperwork details. 

Organization and classroom management meet through Ms. K’s ticket jar system. When students are demonstrating positive behavior in staying on task, Ms. K gives them a ticket which they then write their names on and place in the ticket jar. On Friday’s Ms. K draws a ticket from the jar and awards the winner with a prize. The more positive behavior displayed, the more chances students have of winning. Rewards become large-scale (class wide parties) when entire class periods demonstrate positive behavior and excellent study skills. Classes that accomplish this get a star on the chart in the back of the room. The class with the most stars at the end of the month wins a party!

Along the same classroom management theme, Ms. K creates a safe and learning conducive environment with her classroom decor, atmosphere,  and posting of classroom expectations. Soft Christmas lights line the wall space above her large window on the far side of the room. Seasonal decor embellish plain tables and counter spaces as well as empty windows. Colorful posters and student work are neatly displayed on most walls. As Ms. K has gotten to know her students, she has asked their preferences on noise levels and light brightness. As a result, some classes have music playing softly during warm-up exercises and individual work times. Other classes have the lights dimmed during individual work time. Accommodations like these are class specific and only changed when students can come to agreements on what they want their learning spaces to be like.  Students continue to take ownership for their environment by determining their own classroom expectations and then writing them on posters which hang on the front wall. Expectations like, “Listen to others” and “Ask Questions” are phrased positively and encourage students to engage in the classroom.

Ms. K’s organization and classroom management techniques have given her students the freedom and comfort of learning in a safe space that promotes their specific learning preferences. I hope to implement similar strategies in my own classroom so as to encourage students to take ownership of their own learning and promote academic growth.

Teacher Observation 1

 

Teacher Observation Reflection

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Setting: Middle School Math Classroom

The teacher I am working directly with, we will call him Mr. T, demonstrates excellent teaching techniques and classroom management methodology.

Mr. T primarily uses differentiated instruction to enable the students to take ownership and responsibility for their own learning. The format of his class period might start with a 10min instructional period where he provides students with new material, then 15-20min of collaborative work on assigned problems (while he formatively assesses and answers questions while working with struggling students). After this, he would have 10min for students to demonstrate their work to the class on the projector, and finally the remaining time will be spent getting feedback (exit slips) and answering or asking questions. This format is student centered and very much follows a differentiated instructional approach.

Mr. T pushes students to take ownership of their learning by insisting and reminding them to ask questions, to see him during lunch for further clarification, and come talk to him after class if necessary. He teaches them to ask specific questions, slow the teacher down, and “manage the teacher” instead of allowing the teacher to “manage the student”. Furthermore, he sets high expectations for them. They are to bring their own supplies, (i.e. calculator, ruler, pencil) in this way, preparing for their learning. Students are also required to take notes and write key terms and important ideas in their math journals. By requiring students to practice good note-taking, Mr. T is preparing them for their future high school classrooms. He will sometimes stop the “math lesson” to discuss a reason for the classroom norms and how they will help the students in their future lives. For example, Mr. T has said, “Ladies and gentlemen, I see a lot of people looking down at their notebooks or out the window and Student1 is answering one of my questions. Now, here, the expectation is that when someone is talking, you look at them. You do this to not only hear what they are saying, but to show them honor. In this way, you communicate your respect for them and what they have to say.” Discussions like these are a proactive approach to classroom management. In this scenario, Student1 was talking, and while the other students were not talking over Studen1, they were not paying attention to what was being said. Mr. T uses opportunities like these to reiterate the classroom norms and to encourage positive behavior. Additionally, Mr. T takes the time to provide positive feedback when students are demonstrating the desired classroom behavior. For example, the other day a very shy student (Student2) raised her hand to ask a question during an instructional segment of the lesson. Mr. T stopped and thanked the student for asking the question. Later, as Student2 was working during a collaborative work time, Mr. T made it a point to go tell the student that he was proud of her. When she asked why, he simply said he was proud she had been brave enough to ask him a question.

So then, Mr. T uses his teaching time and classroom norms to create a positive environment of where the students are responsible for their own learning.

x + students = culture of learning (Find x)

What are the building blocks to a classroom community and culture of learners?

One key foundational block in the structure of a culture of learners is to make the classroom a place where students trust the teacher and believe it’s a safe place to take risks. In doing this, the classroom becomes learner centered (core competency L1). By creating a safe place, a teacher can foster and encourage a student’s self esteem, their confidence in the subject matter, and their willingness to grow as a learner.

As a teacher, I will establish my classroom to be a safe place where respect and trust is mutual between my students and I. One of the ways I will do this is by getting to know my students individually. I will conduct a class survey at the beginning of the year to determine some of their interests. I will maintain regular individual conversations with them through quarterly letter writing. In addition, I will also share about my interests and likes/dislikes in math so as to relate to them at a more personal level. Finally, all questions will be valued in my class. There will be no such thing as a “bad question” so long as it is classroom appropriate.

The challenges of creating this safe culture for learning will be many. With so many students, it will take effort to get to know them all and ensure they know they are valued members of our classroom community. However, as long as a constant effort is being made to respect my students, I feel they will be able to help in creating a place where learning can take place.

Questions to consider: Is a book club actually a helpful strategy to use in a math class?  What kind of jobs could I create that are more than just “classroom chores” in my math class?

Reflective Book Report: The Angel Inside Went Sour

Reflections on “The Angel Inside Went Sour”

Dr. Esther Rothman’s book, “The Angel Inside Went Sour” documents her position as the principal of Livingston School for girls in New York, beginning in 1959. Rothman, a well experienced teacher with a doctorate in psychology was highly qualified for any principal position by the time she was assigned to Livingston. This school was special in that it was the final destination for troublesome girls; a place where they were sent when they had been suspended from multiple public schools and even failed in the correctional schools. As a principal, Dr. Rothman drastically changed the daily routine and methods of Livingston. She hired teachers who could not only teach, but who loved teaching. Teachers at Livingston had to love learning from their students and be willing to put up with and love students who: used dirty language as their main vocabulary, acted without a sense of purpose, were frustrated with life, yet, fought to survive and keep above the water of hopelessness (Rothman 1972). She describes many examples and scenarios in which she both failed and succeeded in reaching out and showing girls that they were loved and could make something better of their lives.

Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed “The Angel Inside Went Sour”.  Through Dr. Rothman’s words, I was able to step inside the inner city school of Livingston and catch a glimpse at what real teaching is all about. At first, I was a bit shocked at the attitudes and vulgar language that the girls used; Rothman thoughtfully included word-for-word language of the girls for authenticity and honesty. But as I continued reading, I was thankful for the exposure to the everyday experiences that the teachers at Livingston had.

As an inner city school, Livingston was filled with girls from extremely rough home lives. Girls faced situations and experiences I could never dream of living through. I loved how Rothman took the school day and flipped it upside down by having the students choose their own schedule and which subjects they wanted to learn. This not only showed me the importance of giving students choices, but even a bit more control when they have none in their personal lives. I realize that this exact example is next to impossible for most schools, but in principal, the idea of breaking the mold, and molding education to fit the needs of students is revolutionary and very applicable to the classroom today.

Livingston was also a very multicultural school with the minority being white students. Rothman treated students of different ethnicities equally. She seemed to see race as a cultural boundary (Banks, 2010). Her staff was comprised of a mixture of races. Through her eyes, whether it be a student or teacher, she saw them as people. Dr. Rothman and her teachers did not simply overlook race and culture when teaching, they embraced it. They allowed the culture to change their curriculum so that it was designed specifically for their students (Banks, 2010).

I was continuously inspired by the way Dr. Rothman handled difficult situations and difficult students. Her methods were grounded in getting students to understand why they were hurt, why they felt the need to lash out at others, and how they might better fix the problem by being in control of themselves. She rarely “punished” girls. Punishment seems to be the easy way out of a problem, without really solving it (Rothman, 1972). Instead, Rothman worked through problems with students and found ways of rewarding those who were able to work through problems on their own.

As I continued to read, I was awestruck and challenged by the lives of the teachers at Livingston as well as by Dr. Rothman herself. They were able to see past the behavior of a student, and look deeper into the lives and hurts of students, in order to heal their broken self-worth. Students, no, people, came first. When a girl was at Livingston, she was not there to improve her reading, writing, or arithmetic; though she often did so. She was there to learn about herself, and hopefully come to the realization that she could be more. Teachers needed to be good at their subject. So good, so as to attract the attention and curiosity of girls who chose what they felt they should learn. But more than experts in their field, teachers needed to be invested in the lives of their students. They had to care more about the girls than they did about being cussed at. They had to care more about making a difference in the lives of their students than their test scores. These were real teachers.

When I am teaching, I hope to be able to model myself after the teachers at Livingston. They saw past race, social economic status, and reached out to hurting lives. Through respecting the students, and treating them like breathing, feeling, human beings, teachers were able to connect with students and make a difference. I want to put my students first. I will put their personal growth before my classroom agendas and be sensitive to the lives which they live. From a multicultural standpoint, I will defy racial and ethnic stereotypes and treat my students with respect. Doing this, I hope to also look through the behaviors of my students and dig deeper into the hurt causing their angel inside to be sour.

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References

Banks, J.A., & Banks, C.A. (2010). Multicultural education: issues and perspectives. Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons

Rothman, E. P. (1972). The angel inside went sour. New York, N.Y.: Bantam Books.