Friday, April 27, 2012

Testing Week Down Time

Testing week is upon us.  From Tuesday through Friday we will have full school days and I will be spending over 7 non-testing hours with a rotating group of 130 students.  Three fourths of these students I have not had any class time with at all this year.  So, I sit and ponder how to provide quality activities that will make their testing week as positive as possible while they are spending time with me, a complete educational stranger in their lives.  I think I have come up with some low tech mathematics ideas and resources I would like to share for those of you who are in a similar boat or are just wondering what the heck I am planning on doing with these middle school kiddos for four days.

Last Monday April 23 - the day after Earth Day my students explored the Brita Water Filter 3 Act Math activity from Dan Meyer's Three Act Math Activities.  I showed the short video about plastic water bottles circling the Earth and it really hit home with the students.  Here are the questions my classes came up with: Brita Questions.  The reason I am bringing this up is because it is leading up to my first activity for testing week

A Year Is...  I will begin by showing all of the students the Brita Commercial (19 second version) to remind those students who got to play with the math what we did, and for those who did not, to introduce the idea of a year of their life.  Then I will share some of things that I am considering for "A Year Is... in my life.  I will be thinking of those this weekend.  Then the students will have some quiet time to list some thoughts, then share with their groups, then we will make a class list of ideas that will enable the students to steal from each other.  We should have some interesting ideas and discussions.  My goal for this activity is to give the students a mental break while connecting to their lives and integrating math that is meaningfully applied to a topic they are interested in.  The students will produce posters that can be displayed in their homeroom classes for our "Showcase Night" which is our schools version of Open House.

The other activity will be math art which will be some form of tessellations since that incorporates pre-algebra standards.  It again allows the students to explore math topics but gives their brains a break after testing and allows for cooperative interactions and a relaxed atmosphere.

Finally, I have one of my classes everyday because it corresponds to our lunch schedule.  For this class I am going to use the book, Creating NIM Games.  I am not sure how many of you are familiar with NIM games or the game of Poison, but it is something I love to do with my students EVERY year.  I begin by showing the students the basic NIM Game Rules, it is not a fair game and so it is a hoot watching the students play and discover strategies and collectively create moves and counter moves.  I let them practice and play each other and then we have a class "tournament".  Right when the kiddos feel confident in their ability to win, I introduce a new NIM game (the above book has a plethora of them).  If we have time the students will create their own NIM game which is the culminating activity in the book.

My goals for the week:

  • Give students a mental break while still providing learning opportunities
  • Creating an atmosphere that is relaxed, collaborative, and creative
  • Allow a brain break
  • Respecting the students' need for learning experiences that  are the opposite of the testing environment
  • Mix seriousness and fun
  • Lighten up the atmosphere during a stressful week for students
Thank you those I stole ideas from!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

My Favorite Time of the School Year, NOT!

I was not planning on blogging tonight but as I was cruising twitter, my awesome PLN shared this post by Lee Colbert and because of the events that transpired this past week, I felt compelled to write.

This past week was the worst week I have had as a teacher this year.  Teachers returned from spring break on Monday to district in-service and the students returned on Tuesday.  Our state testing starts the first week of May and so, like so many other teachers in my shoes, I am feeling the pinch of the material I have yet to "cover" before the testing begins.  I am a math teacher for those of you who did not know and I have spent this year implementing a standards based grading system that is new to me and my students.  I have also worked to make my math classes more about problem-solving and thinking rather than teaching rules for students to follow.  I work everyday to build student confidence in their ability to use their brains to think through problems.  

I fear that all of the time I have spent this year empowering students to create foundations for their mathematical thinking and understanding was demolished this week.  Even though I worked to provide discovery learning activities for the students, they were confused, frustrated, and questioning their math ability and understanding.  The culminating event was my last period of the day on Friday when one of my higher level math students was brought to tears as he struggled with the content he thought he understood and was feeling stupid and incompetent of which he is neither.  

As I consider my plan of action for the next two weeks, keeping the events of the past week in mind,  I have decided to change course.  Instead of cramming material down my students throats and causing an erosion of their confidence, I will take a different path.  

These next two weeks will consist of me reminding my students how smart they are, what great problem solvers they are, and working to build their confidence back up by reminding them that they already know so much about mathematics and mathematical thinking.  My only hope is that they still have faith in me and believe me when I tell them they can do this and anything they set their minds to.  I have to make sure my students understand 1) I trust in their ability and 2)I know and believe the last thing they as students want to do is fail.

I really HATE standardized testing because of the way it makes my students and me feel about ourselves.  Even though I will be re-planning this weekend, my heart feels lighter because my classroom will be one of celebrating and reinforcement  instead of cramming and discouragement.