Month: March 2014

It’s Game Time.

I’ve reached the point of my Teacher Assisting career where I am wrapping up my final unit. I was fortunate enough to have a CT that allowed me to take the reigns and teach two full units this semester, so it is crazy that it is coming to an end. However, I am reaching this point feeling extremely accomplished. This also means that this week is Test Week. I had to squeeze in my final observation with  my content-area professor, so I had him observe on Monday when we were reviewing. I had designed my very own review game for the students to play, and even as we were approaching the day-of, I was a little unsure of how I felt about it. I had mixed-feelings about review games, as I’m sure many teachers do. It seems a lot of times students focus more on winning than they do on the content, or the students who aren’t getting it just sit back and let the students who are do all the work. So, one of my goals was to have the students actually gain knowledge from the game that would help them prepare for the test the next day, while also making sure every student was working. My idea was to have them get into the groups that their seating arrangements already had them divided into, after which I would number them off 1-4 in their groups. After they had their number, they had to keep this number the whole game. Each round of the game, a chart would pop up that had 4 different problems numbered 1-4. Each person was responsible for completing whatever problem matched their own number. Once every person in the group had completed their problem, the designated “number” for each group would report each teammates’ answer on the board. After the answers were revealed, we tallied up each groups points.

As I mentioned before, one of my main goals of this lesson was to make sure that every student was engaged during the game. That was the main reason I designed the game the way I did, with having each person complete a designated problem. Overall, I thought it went really well. Each student seemed to be really into the game and doing their own problem every time that a new round started. We had a few issues with a team “perfectionist,” if you will, doing everyone’s problems for them, but after explaining that we needed to let everyone solve their own problem and only help if they needed it, all was well. The game produced the kind of energy in the room I was hoping for; excitement, focus, and a competitive spirit. As my professor pointed out, this kind of game works really well for middle-schoolers because it allows them to release their energy by getting up and writing their answers on the board, celebrating if their answers are right, and then focus all that energy back in to concentrate on the next problem. It was really awesome to see something I came up with on my own come to life (and not be a complete bust). When I asked for honest feedback, I got some really great tips. One thing I wished I had done that my professor pointed out was that my students didn’t have anything to bring home with them or look back on from the activity. If they got any questions wrong during the game, they just moved on and never were able to go back and see why or what the problem was because they weren’t provided with a hard copy of the problems. If I were to do this again, I would definitely give the students a hard copy of all the problems at the end of the game for some type of review before the test the next day. Although the majority of my students were engaged during the game like I’d hoped for, there was one student that seemed to be the outlier. She was sitting off to the side not participating 100% of the time, kind of off in her own world. This made me wonder what I could do to make this activity more engaging to her or what I could have done to help her better understand what was going on if she was lost. So even though the majority of the class was engaged, it was still my goal to make sure the entire class was participating. For next time, I will try to be more alert and aware of what I can do to make sure this happens.

Here is my review game:

“If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.”

Ignacio Estrada



Time Management

Over the course of the past month a half or so that I have been teaching, it has become clear that I tend to spend more time on things than my TA partner. There have been a couple times where I am pressed for time towards the end of the lesson and find myself trying to squeeze the last piece of information in before I let the students burst out of the classroom. When my content-seminar professor was coming in to observe me and asked what I would like him to focus on, I decided this would be perfect. I had him time how long I spent on individual tasks throughout my lesson. It was extremely interesting to get the data back and see where I dedicated my time throughout the lesson, and perhaps where some of that time could have been better spent.

After my observation, my professor and I took part in a coaching session where he really helped me dig into how I felt the lesson went and especially with what I wanted him to focus on, in this case, time management. The data he collected showed that I spent a pretty even amount of time on each task throughout the lesson, with the majority of the time being spent on the more complex example of the lesson (which I was okay with). However, there was one time where I spent a couple minutes with a student who was struggling with a concept. On this particular day, I was extremely pressed for time and was trying to fit a lot in, so these two minutes were very crucial and could have been better utilized with whole class discussion. It’s not that it wasn’t important that I talked with this student, but there might have been a more appropriate time where he could have gotten help and the rest of the class could have benefited. I also noticed how if I would have just spent maybe 30-45 seconds less on each task, I would have had 4-5 extra minutes left at the end of class instead of being pressed for time like I was.

So what does this all mean? I’ve been trying to look at what’s best for the class as a whole rather than just seeing individual students in need. This might sound a little bit harsh at first, and that’s exactly what my problem has been. I have been so worried about making sure every single student gets it that I’ve ignored the fact that the majority of the class has moved on which in turn causes my classroom management to flounder because they have nothing else to do. It’s hard to find that magic number of students that you want to understand a concept before you can move on, but I’m not sure there is a universal number. You have to assess what is best for your students, as well as what material you have to cover before the year is up. This is going to be different for every classroom, and unfortunately, hardly ever will this mean that all of your students understand every concept. Of course, you still need to make accommodations for students who need extra help, this just sometimes needs to happen outside of class time.

This was extremely helpful for me to reflect on and really get down to the root of why I seem to spend a little extra time on my lessons. My yearn to have every student understand is something I value about myself as a teacher, and I will implement this into my teaching. This also helped me to think about what is truly important in a lesson. If I’m running out of time during a lesson and this is the only day I can spend on it, what things do I absolutely need to cover? These are things I will definitely be conscious of when planning a lesson from now on. By using differentiated instruction as well as simply continuing to improve my instruction as a whole I hope to cut down on the number of students who struggle all together and hope that this will be less of an issue. I will also explore other instructional techniques that allow me to meet and work with those struggling students while still allowing the excelling students to work and further their learning. Overall, this was a very helpful experience in allowing me to analyze how I manage my time in the classroom and how to better myself as a teacher.

“Teaching kids to count is fine, but teaching them what counts is best.”

-Bob Talbert


Math and Chocolate Go Hand in Hand

As I was sitting in class on Tuesday, I began to look at the calendar. This isn’t something I’ve had a chance to do much this semester, as I usually focus on what’s happening week to week rather than looking at the bigger picture (and let’s be honest, I’m avoiding the giant projects due at the end of the semester). So as I’m sitting in class filling in my planner with all of my assignment due dates, I decide to count up the number of weeks we have left. FOUR. FOUR WEEKS. THAT’S IT. Excluding Spring Break, we only have four weeks of classes left. That is terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. I am also extremely sad to be leaving my students in such a short period of time. Although I have only been with them for two and a half months, I have grown very attached. Anyway, that’s not what this blog post is supposed to be about and I’m getting all sentimental, so let’s move on. The point is, the semester has flown by, and without even realizing it I have compiled a collection of awesome activities that I can’t wait to use in my future classroom. I decided to create one this week that dealt with exploring the Pythagorean Theorem. I had heard about a jelly bean activity on Pinterest, so I decided to tweak it a little to fit my classroom setting. It went really well, and the students thought it was pretty cool. Plus, they got candy, and what middle-schooler doesn’t love that?

My goal behind this activity was to get the students to derive the formula for the Pythagorean Theorem on their own, and by doing this, extend their retention rate of the formula. The activity allows them to see the formula visually represented as well as numerically. By using multiple representations, my goal was to allow diverse learners to all get something out of the lesson and understand the formula as well as its application. Here are some pictures from the activity:

image-2photo-3 - Copy

I asked the students to see how many whole M&Ms fit on the sides of each triangle. I labeled the sides a, b, and c. I then had the students find the squares of a, b, and c, as well as the sum a2 + b2 . The students recognized that this was equal to c2, so it was easy for them to derive the formula from this.

We have done quite a few “quick-proofs,” as I like to call them, at my placement and I can not stress enough how beneficial I believe it has been for the students. When they come up with formulas on their own, they are so much more likely to not only remember the formulas but also understand the underlying concepts and the actual math that these formulas come from. I will continue to do this in my future classroom to help my students get a deeper conceptual understanding of the math they are doing before they become procedurally fluent. If I can throw some chocolate in here and there, even better.

“Teaching should be full of ideas instead of stuffed with the facts.”

-Author Unknown