Monday, January 24, 2011

How to get your student's attention in math class

We've been covering data analysis in math class -- an introduction for most of my students to mean, median and mode. We've been practicing with a good deal of word problems: test scores, pennies, stamps, and game scores.

Math class is, unfortunately, in the afternoon. This means that my students often check out and the gap in my math class is much wider than it is in reading. I'll admit it -- sometimes I purposefully throw things in to wake them up. Today, I was trying to come up with a sports team name. Many of my kids are on their own teams, so any of those name aren't an option (the Jaguars score better than that! etc). So I made up a problem about a basketball team -- called the Sabers.

Oooo whee! You'd think I'd just said that I cancelled all the district testing for this week--heck, any testing related to the TCAP. I got almost a bigger reaction than when they realized they'd earned their pizza party for class points.

"Ms. Astronaut! You watch the GAME??!?!?!?!"
"Aw yeah, she watches the GAME!"
"No way, she doesn't watch the game"

After I calmed them down, we continued with the lesson. I then proposed that to find the range, we take Derwin's high score and Jason's low score and --

"Oh My GOD she watches the GAME!!!"
"Man, I love me some Derwin"
"She watches the Game! She watches the Game!"

Yes children. I watch some of the same shows that you do, as disturbing as that is on occasion. We'll add that to the other tv shows I can talk to you about that surprised you (I'd list them, but it's pretty much Disney channel shows. )

It's been a strange transition back to school with my kids since we've had so many snow days. As a New Englander, these days are starting to get a little ridiculous. If it's called the night before, you wake up and look out the window to see just a hint of snow dusting your car. The ice has been a bit of an issue since no one is prepared to deal with it. I keep myself motivated with the small things

-- my kids wanted to know how they could nominate me for Teacher of the Year
--some of them seemed sad when I told them I wasn't one of the options this year
--my kids are finally learning how to be quiet during testing (thankfully, since we've got a lot)
--pretty much all of them responded with a resounding NO! when the word "substitute teacher" was mentioned
--my donors choose project got fully funded! My kids have NO idea that all these wonderful books will soon be on their way!
--One girl's response to the question "What do you think is the President's most important job is?"

Response? To make sure that the world is perfect.

How can you not love that?

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Whoever smelt it...

When I first learned I would be teaching elementary school, my favorite memories turned to 4th grade. I had an absolutely remarkable 4th grade teacher who would go on to be a semi-finalist for my state's teacher of the year award. I remember reading Shadow of a Bull in literature circles, being told my new favorite book was at an 8th grade level, singing along with the girls at recess to the popular songs of the era -- either Spice Girls or Titanic. I remember being bullied and picked on, but for things like being really smart and wearing glasses.

My memory, however, is overall pretty foggy on many of the details. I do remember having a crush on the same boy throughout elementary school. He lived right around the corner and every so often growing up our families would have playdates with all the kids. I tried my hardest to hide that I liked him so using my skills in logic, I was mean to him and said I hated him. I've learned from my girls this is no longer the accepted rationale in 4th grade. Being mean to a boy is so he doesn't think you're easy. Duh.

One thing I have no memory of is how certain bodily functions were dealt with, especially farting. The only thing that sticks out is the phrase "Whoever smelt it, dealt it"

I began to realize this would be an issue in my classroom fairly early on. In the middle of class one day, I had a girl raising her hand, anxiously bouncing up and down in her seat. I let the kids get started on the activity and walked over to her.

"Do you need to go to the bathroom?" I asked (at this point we weren't really supposed to let students leave by themselves) She shook her head quickly."Do you need a drink of water?" I inquired, now curious why she was so agitated.

"No, Ms. Astronaut. I need to go in the hall" she replied. I'd let students step out in the hallway if they needed a minute to cool down, but this girl did not seem upset.

"Why?" I asked.

Her neighbor looked at me and rolled her eyes. "Ms. Astronaut, she's got to toot."

I agreed to let her leave, and as she walked away I turned toward the board and laughed to myself. How ridiculous it seemed that she would get so worked up about farting in class. Little did I know it was the start of a long saga with farting.

I discovered as the year went on that she would not be the only student who would ask for a reprieve to relieve themselves in this way. Finally, each time that laughter would erupt over a noxious smell I would say "Guys, it's not funny. It's natural." Some of my better behaved students have started to echo this phrase whenever a farting incident occurs.

So why am I just writing about this now?

This week, one of my students was having routine flatulence issues. He was clearly embarrassed and it seemed as though something out of the usual had to be going on in his digestive system. We were sitting in a circle on the floor to introduce a math game, in fairly close proximity to one another, when it happened again for the upteenth time that day. One girl almost always leads the charge in laughing and she was not holding back this time. I could see the boy beside looking nervous, worried, and on the verge of tears beside beside me.

So I did what I had to do. I took responsibility for his fart.

After I claimed responsibility for the smell that was quickly dispersing across the carpet, there was silence. Then the ringleader began to laugh even harder. In my most serious teacher voice, I asked her what was so funny.

"But Ms. Astronaut, I ain't never had a teacher fart before!"

As the class erupted into laughter, I couldn't help but smile. Even though my kiddos are in the scary discovering hormones phase, they still are fascinated to learn that their teachers are real people. You own skinny jeans? You have a family? You eat lunch when you're not with them in the lunchroom? You like who [insert almost any popular artist here]?!?

Lesson of the year: Real people can make mistakes. Mini-lesson of the day: Real people fart.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

My kids and the Jonas Brothers

Question: What do the things in the title have in common?

Answer: What was going through my head in LaGuardia as I made my way back home to Nashville after a  well-enjoyed winter break.

What happened: I arrived at my gate in LaGuardia exhausted and hungry. My connection was tight, I'd had to check through security to get from one concourse to the other, and it was right in the middle of dinnertime. I went to the only food place within sight of my gate -- Auntie Annie's Pretzels. While I've been primed by experiences at malls and airports to respond like Pavlov's dog, there can be times when the smell is overpowering. I turned my head away from the counter and the obnoxious family in front of me and lo and behold, I saw him.

One of the Jonas brothers. My brain just sort of shut off for a moment and the only thought that crossed my brain was "My kids are never going to believe this. How can I best tell this story so that I'm cool?"

While my brain processed this challenge, the JoBro continued to walk through the airport. My brain was calling out "Joe! Joe!" but my mouth would not move. Probably a good thing, because I realized by the woman beside him that it was the married JoBro. While no one who knows me would probably believe that I, on occassion, can't speak, this one time I was especially glad -- turns out his name is Kevin, not Joe. Woops.

In essence, however, the thought of my kids overtook my brain. How much [insert name here] would like this toy. [Insert name here] loves this book -- I wonder if he/she's read the next book in the series? Here's a workbook on phonics -- I could really use this with [insert name here]. I did share some of the stories of the past year with friends and family, and I could tell a lot of them were impressed, especially the ones that have taught themselves. I was struck too by the stories I chose to tell and how I felt afterward. Instead of feeling tired, I think I finally had enough of a break to feel motivated and rejuvenated.

So we'll see. Class begins again on Tuesday and I'm introducing some new procedures to tackle some of the issues we had last quarter. I keep hearing over and over again that something magical happens over Winter Break -- I'm keeping my fingers crossed. If not, I can at least take deep breaths,  think of the wonderful time that I had with friends and family, and count down to my reunion in April.