Friday, February 27, 2015

My CONTINUED Frustration with Math Timed Tests

Back in September, I wrote this piece on timed math tests: Another Personal Rant...  My frustration reared it's ugly head last week while working on math with my son.  Here is some background information.  In the morning when I wake my son up I count to 30 in a variety of ways.  On Monday I count by 1's, Tuesday by 2's, Wednesday by 3's, Thursday by 4's, and Friday by 5's.  I know it is strange and I can't remember how/why it started (perhaps it has to do with the fact that I constantly count steps, etc... in my head as I go through my day - I know...).  A couple of weeks ago I changed up our counting routine.    

In Skyler's homework packet there was a list of the times tables he still needs to pass (6's, 7's, 8's, and 9's).  So instead of exploding, I decided that I would remain calm and try to figure out a meaningful way for him to "memorize" his facts.  I made the connection to change my counting routine to include skip counting his multiplication tables.  

So, I started with skip counting 6's up to 60 three times (Remember I have to count to 30) the first day, then 7's the next day, etc...

Skyler was feeling confident.  I was feeling okay because I was supporting his desire to perform and making it slightly more meaningful than straight memorization (at least with skip counting there are all sorts of patterns to explore).

Then this past Monday as soon as Skyler got into the car he stated, "Mom, I did WORSE on my 6's!"  I could feel my face turning red and the frustration boiling up.  I replied in a calm voice, "I don't care how fast you can do your multiplication facts.  If I ask you how to find 6x7, what will you say?"  Skyler replied, "I'd tell you that it is 14+14+14."  I replied, "You are proving to me that you understand what multiplication is and that you know what to do to find the answer.  I'll say it again, I don't care how quickly you can solve multiplication facts."  It was the next thing Skyler said that really got to me, "Then will you buy me ice cream?  We are having an ice cream party for everyone who passes their multiplication tables next Friday."  Here is where my frustration immediately turned  into a heavy heart and I could feel myself sink in to the seat.  I collected my thoughts and replied to my 9 year old son.  "Of course I will buy you ice cream.  But Buddy, if you want ice cream with your class, I will work with you to make that happen also.  And I will do both if that is what you want.  What do you want Skyler?"

Initially, Skyler said he didn't care if he had ice cream with his class.  He later changed his mind and told me he wanted to do both.  So, I figured out a way to use our skip counting to pass his tests.  I realized that even though he could easily skip count he was missing the other factor. 
  • We decided that the very first thing Skyler will do is skip count and write the numbers at the top of his test page.
  • Then, he will write the numbers 1 - 10 above the numbers so he knows the other factor
  • Now he will have all of the answers at the top of the page for easy reference.
1     2     3     4     5     6     7     8     9     10  (This line second)
6    12   18   24   30   36   42   48   54    60  (This line first)

Elementary teachers, please read the above link for other meaningful ways for students to learn their multiplication or any math facts.  Please start your timers at zero and count up so that students can write their times down and as runners and swimmers do, beat their best time.

I have realized as an educator and a parent that even though I have issues with this, I need to support my son and respect what he wants.  So, next Friday Skyler will have ice cream with his class and we will be going to Foster's Freeze on our way home.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Are You Asking Enough Questions?

Lindsey Lipsky @LindseyLipsky shared this quote on #satchatwc this morning.  It struck a chord with me as I consider why I do what I do as an educator.  I would like to add to the quote that not only do the best teachers not tell you what to see, but they also refuse to provide answers and only guide learning by asking questions.
I know that as educators we want to help and guide our students.  One of the most difficult things I had to teach myself was not to give students answers.  It is like the student who yells out an answer, once an answer is given, the thinking in the classroom stops.  This creates a cycle of passive learning in which students learn quickly that someone else will answer for them.  
My solution to students coming to me for answers is to respond by asking a question. 
I'm not talking about creating open-ended questions that are related to a specific lesson or unit of study.  I am talking about generic questions that you have on hand (on a clipboard as you train yourself) ready to use in ANY situation.  Here are some examples:

Mrs. Beck, how do you spell information?

  • Say the word, what does it start with? (student will hopefully say, "in"), if not I will say, "in" how do you spell that?  Write it.
  • What is next? (student will hopefully say, "for"), if not I will say, "for" how do you spell that?  Write it.
  • When I get to the "tion" I will discuss and ask the student, "what do you know about how to make the tion (shun) sound?  Are there any words around the room that can help you with this sound? 

This also works extremely well for mathematics.  I used this process in my middle school math classes.

Mrs. Beck I am stuck on this problem.
  • What do you know about this problem?
  • What have you tried or where do you think you should start?
  • What do you know about ratios?  (or whatever we are studying)
  • Can you go and work on the problem 
I  would love to give you more specific questions, but they really need to be tailored to the particular situation and/or student.  My suggestion is, DO NOT ANSWER, ONLY QUESTION.  It will teach your students that answers are found every where except from the teacher.  Teachers will guide you in your search, but ultimately it is the students' responsibility to find the answers. 

In my new role as Curriculum Coordinator, I am asking questions while working with teachers. When we work in PLC groups or leadership groups, I ask questions to move their thinking.  I model in the hope that they will question their students more. 

You know you are asking enough questions when students come to you and say, "Mrs. Beck, I know you will not tell me anything about this problem, but will you please ask me some questions so I can get my thinking started and figure this out?" 
You will also know that you are asking enough questions when your spouse and/or child say, "Kris/Mom, I am going to ask you a question and I want an answer, not a question!" (there may be a tone in their voice as they make this request).
It is easy to provide answers, the challenging thing is to take the time to ask questions which allows others to think and grow as learners.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Gift of Being a Loser - Perspective

I am a loser.  A week ago I set out on a journey to say goodbye to my mother.  As I sat in airports and boarded planes, I looked at and watched my fellow passengers.  Knowing what I was experiencing, I wondered what the others on the plane with me were carrying with them.  The loss I was experiencing provided me with a perspective that I would not normally have had with my fellow travelers.

As a traveler with emotional baggage, I put my head phones on and listened to music and watched movies rather than engage with my fellow passengers.  All the while, I wondered why my fellow travelers were making their trips.  As I traveled with a broken heart, I made sure to smile at everyone that looked at me not knowing their situation but wanting to make sure that I acknowledged their existence.  It is all about perspective and isn't it interesting when major life events significantly shift our perspective and/or remind us of the perspective we used to have.

As usual, my personal experience translates to my life as an educator.  I will ask my fellow educators to consider the following:
  • Please don't embarrass tardy students by sending them to the office
    • You do not know what his/her morning was like - did they have to get siblings ready, were they exhausted from doing homework late into the night, do his/her parents chronically run late, does he/she have negative feelings about school and walked super slowly, etc...
    • By shifting your perspective and welcoming him/her into your classroom with a smile and a sincere greeting, you may change the course of his/her day by starting it off positively.  
Do you want to "teach him/her a lesson" or build a relationship and make a connection?
  •  Please don't blame parents for not participating or caring about their child's education
    • You need to know that the vast majority of parents love their child/children even if they do not know how to show it
    • Some parents are extremely intimidated by schools because of the negative experience they had while in school
    • We all struggle with parenting and question what and how we parent.  We feel isolated, ineffective at times. 
Change the lens you use to look at parents to one of empathy and understanding that they are doing the best they can with the tools they have.  Understand that your students love and admire and worry about their parents.
  • Please support your students while they are at school, do not punish them for the environment the experience outside of school.
    • When homework is not completed respectfully ask the student why it was not completed and show empathy - here is what I really think about homework - CLICK HERE
As I stated earlier, I am a loser.  I received a SARB (Student Attendance Review Boards) letter from the district I am a Curriculum Coordinator in because my son had over 9 tardies in one trimester.  Was it his fault?  Well that is a loaded question because I could blame our morning routine on his power struggles with me (the parenting issues that EVERYONE experiences).  However, if you look at my track record I am a loser parent that makes my son adhere to my schedule and when I do not have a required time frame, he is tardy to school. (By the way, just to let you know, he has not had a tardy since I received the SARB letter in December, I have to be careful because we are on our way to court).

Perspective is such a powerful thing.  My superintendent, assistant superintendent and I (curriculum coordinator) were in our weekly meeting.  All of our kiddos go to one of the elementary schools in our district.  As we sat in the meeting, the supt. started shedding tears while telling a story of how she had felt she failed her second grade daughter as a parent.  If we "educator parents" fail our kiddos daily, weekly, monthly, etc... think for a minute about those parents who are not highly educated and the feelings they have as parents.

In closing, we need to remember that we do not know what others are experiencing at any given time.  I ask that you stop, smile, and consider the person's situation.  

So many people have aching heart, don't you want to be the person who makes their heart smile?

Saturday, February 7, 2015

What is Learning #youredustory

What is learning in 100 words or less...

Learning is taking a walk with my 8 year old son on our 7.5 acres, finding a mountain lion foot print right next to a deer print.  My son asks, "Mom, did the mountain lion catch the deer?"  Let the learning begin.  Here is the result of our search:

Mountain Lion vs. Mule Deer Thinglink

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Dreamers and the Realists

Last night while watching Modern Family with my son I heard this quote:

"Cameron Tucker: There are dreamers and there are realists in this world. You'd think the dreamers would find the dreamers and the realists would find the realists, but more often than not the opposite is true. You see, the dreamers need the realists to keep them from soaring too close to the sun. And the realists, well without the dreamers, they might not ever get off the ground. "
Modern Family Punkin Chukin Episode

This resonated with me in many ways.  I understand the logical realists and their perspective.  They keep the dreamers grounded and make sure that there is a foundation for the "out of this world thinking". Dreamers see the possibility in everything.  Their perspective is one of "why not".

After contemplating this quote, I understand that it is imperative to have balance - realists and dreamers working together for the good and learning of the students in our districts, schools, and classrooms.  

Are you a dreamer or a realist?