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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Using "The Hunger Games" to Manage Behavior



Walk into a Kindergarten class, and you will believe in magic. How one lady manages to get 20 5-year-olds to snake quietly through the halls with only her smile and a charming, "Follow me, boys and girls", will amaze you. Elementary teachers are masters of patience and classroom management. Even the most troublesome of these babies will animately express their love for their mistress of learning.

Some of these teachers get really creative with their classroom management programs. Have lunch in an elementary school, and you will see what I mean. The kids will be all too eager to share with you whose clip was changed to orange, what prize they got out of the treasure box, how many Mrs.-Random-Teacher's Bucks they have, how many days it will be until they are the star student, how they are the luckiest person ever because they got to be the line leader twice in one week because the substitute didn't know...

What happens to all this greatness as the kids get older? When do we shift from positive reinforcement to negative consequences? Why has it become acceptable to yell at children to force their compliance?

I work with a sub-population of students, many of whom exhibit quite challenging behaviors. Piling them all into one room makes for a very interesting environment. One solution I have for this is implementing a more mature version of the elementary classroom management systems.

I introduce my plan as a lesson in probability by showing this clip from The Hunger Games. We discuss experimental vs. theoretical probability, how it was unlikely for Prim to be chosen, and what it means to have 0% chance of being picked.





Then I begin handing out these "Good Job" tickets as a physical reinforcement of their positive choices.


In the beginning, I hand out LOTS and LOTS of these tickets. Students get tickets for: being in their seat when the bell rings, bringing supplies to class, helping other students, answering questions during group discussion. During the first few weeks, I give out tickets every 5-10 minutes for students working independently. The students decide this is an "opposite-reaping", because unlike the movie, they want to get tickets.

I have this really cool bowl where I keep the tickets, and the students love peeking through them to count how many tickets they have. 



Each Friday we list all the students and the number of tickets they earned, and we calculate each student's chance of being "reaped." The kids are eager to learn the math lessons that are tied into this, but I also have an ulterior motive. By listing out all the tickets, I can see which students I have not acknowledged much that week. Those students become my focus the next week.

Finding prizes for weekly drawings can be tricky, as middle schoolers aren't as interested in trinkets and Texas doesn't allow teachers to give candy as prizes. It definitely requires a little more out-of-the-box thinking to find something students will be motivated to earn. Perhaps I should write a post sharing some of my ideas?

Later, as students begin to manage their behavior, the tickets lessen, and I begin giving them out for other accomplishments. Tickets can be earned for getting a 100% on a paper or quiz, for coming in for tutorials, or for posting a homework question on Edmodo. This sign hangs on our classroom door. 

In time my students understand my expectations and they begin to wean themselves off the tickets. The weekly drawings become bi-weekly, then monthly. 

By using a positive motivation system, I model the kindness and patience I expect from my students. I gain their trust and build authentic relationships with them, which will later turn into academic trust. I show students how we can have fun with math. A classroom environment that supports learning is created. 


RELATED POSTS

Gamification One of the newest buzzwords of education is GAMIFICATION. Put shortly, gamification means using game principles to engage and motivate students. Gamification is NOT putting a student in front of a computer all day, every day.

Classroom Management with At-Risk Students The root of the word, “discipline” is “disciple,” meaning, “to teach.” When faced with problem behaviors in the classroom, management strategies should be used rather than punishment.

My Discipline Policy At-risk students can be some of the most difficult and challenging students to work with. They often exhibit very disruptive behavior, and many times these students do not respond well to authority.

The AD/HD Whisperer I have a gift for working with students with AD/HD. I don't say this to boast, but as an expression of humility for the journey that has led me here. I understand my students, I connect with them, and sometimes, though certainly not always, I am able to inspire their learning in a meaningful way. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The AD/HD Whisperer



I have a gift for working with students with AD/HD. I don't say this to boast, but as an expression of humility for the journey that has led me here. I understand my students, I connect with them, and sometimes, though certainly not always, I am able to inspire their learning in a meaningful way. I say this with the same sort of false pride as one who won the lottery - it was only by luck, probability, and circumstance that I walk this path.

Unlike other "whisperers" though, I can truly relate, because I am just like them. Growing up I didn't realize I had attention difficulties. In the 1980's only the kids who climbed on desks were diagnosed. It was only by reflecting my students' mirrors upon myself that I began to understand how my attention deficits affect my life.

Many of you reading this probably know someone with AD/HD, and you may know quite a bit about it. One thing that's important to understand about attention deficits is that they can manifest in three different ways. Some people deal with hyperactivity and impulsivity, others manage inattentiveness, and the majority have a combination of the two. In schools, typically only those with hyperactivity/impulsivity are identified.

Those with inattentiveness, like myself, are often overlooked. We don't act up in class and often our silence and compliance is mistaken for engagement. It's hard to see how this could be problematic or how it could even be labeled as AD/HD.

I am coming to understand that I am in an amazing position to be a voice for my students and for others who are just now learning to manage their attention difficulties. AD/HD tends to peak during adolescence, leaving children and their families confused and looking for answers. Teenagers in general struggle with communicating, without the difficult of understanding how their AD/HD impacts them.


So that you may begin to understand their journey, I invite you into mine:

- Sometimes my legs get filled with so much energy that they become painful.

- I text my husband when in the same room. Thankfully he understands.

- Even when I really want to pay attention to some things, I can't.

- My brain wakes up at 10 pm and doesn't turn off until 2 am. It has been this way since I was a child. I often hide this from others by not leaving a digital stamp after 11.

- I have a one-track mind, and it's very difficult to get me off that track.

- Sometimes my AD/HD conflicts with my values.

- Starting new projects brings me far more satisfaction than completing one.

- I can't understand you when you talk to me. I wish I could, but I can't. I need it written down.

- Sitting through something boring (to me) is actually physically painful.

- I am an avid reader, but I can't read things that don't interest me.

- Technology allows me to be exceptionally organized. Without it, I would be a mess.

- I hate to complete small, trivial tasks. 

- I work best under a deadline.

- I don't want any accommodations. I want to be held to the same expectations as everyone else.

- I am educated to know better, but it still embarrasses me. 


RELATED POSTS

Motivation The most important part of any math intervention is finding a way to motivate students so they want to try.

15 Practical Tips for Dealing with "Difficult" Students Praise often. All the time. With over-the top, ridiculous compliments. Your student completed half an assignment after several 0's? Compliment them!

Breaking the Child Teachers and parents constantly lament over some child's willfulness. Certainly teachers need to be in charge of the classroom, but I wonder: How far would you go to gain control of a child?

From Fractions to Felonies (Part 1) Juvenile detention may seem like an odd topic for a math blog, but from my perspective, there is a direct correlation. To illustrate this, let's trace the path for a typical juvenile offender backwards.

Using "The Hunger Games to Manage Behavior" Walk into a Kindergarten class, and you will believe in magic. How one lady manages to get 20 5-year-olds to snake quietly through the halls with only her smile and a charming, "Follow me, boys and girls", is an amazing thing to see.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The "S-Word" - Don't Call Kids "Smart"!



Over the past decade, I've happened across several articles/people/instances urging adults to stop calling children "smart."  They warn that by labeling them "smart," students will become lazy. Children will begin to believe they are somehow intrinsically better than "non-smart" kids, and their self-value will come from labels rather than actions. And if a child believes himself to be dumb, calling him otherwise will violate his trust.

Teachers woefully express their regret and challenge themselves to never use the S-word. They offer suggestions, though, such as emphasizing a child's efforts and accomplishments. When a child gets a 100 on a spelling test, you should say, "Wow! You really studied hard" rather than "You are so smart!"

The logic behind this argument makes sense, and I have wrestled with this idea when interacting with my own children and students. This is not entirely bad advice: questioning our words and their impact is always important. I have certainly increased the amount of effort-based compliments I give, and I make a point to acknowledge hard work....but still I willingly, regularly, and purposely call students "smart."

Let me tell you why:

1. If you don't call them smart, who will?
Your AP and GT students are acknowledged often, probably daily, for their intelligence. They are being groomed for success; they are being told they are the best of the best - they are the future- they are the brightest. And they believe they are! What about the others? How often are they called smart?

2. How often do you think they are told they are stupid?
All kids are told they are stupid. Kids call each other stupid all the time, and they don't use teacher-friendly, politically-correct terms when they do it. They don't say things like, "I think you're a great person, but I'm not happy with your choices." They use words like "stupid," "idiot," and "retard." Wouldn't it be nice if we could balance that out for them?

3. Nobody believes they are dumb more than they do.
Kids who struggle will be the first to say they are stupid. They will be quick to label themselves when making even a little mistake.

4. If a child can believe they are their label, why not let that label be "smart"?
If being labeled smart makes kids lazy, believing they are stupid makes them quit.

5. If they believe they are stupid, why should they even try?
If being labeled "smart" leads students to believe their worth is internally-based on something outside of their control, wouldn't being labeled "stupid" do the same thing?

6. Absence speaks loudly.
I acknowledge that adults aren't calling children "stupid" with any sort of regularity. But children still hear the absence of positive labels. They may recognize that nobody calls them "dumb," but they also notice that nobody calls them "smart."

7. They like it.
Some students never hear it, and many won't believe it. But they all like to hear it. Even if it's just once, they can know somebody, at some point in time, believed in them


Caveat:
If you want to change a student's self-belief: Don't throw the word around meaninglessly. Wait until he has accomplished something significant. It doesn't have to be monumental, just a significant achievement for him. Then look directly at him and tell him emphatically, "I knew you could do it! You are really smart. I always knew you had it in you."

Challenge: 
This week, I challenge you to find a child who is struggling. Wait for the moment when she does something great. Use the "S-word." Now watch. Can you physically see her confidence? Did her lips curl up in something resembling a smile? Does she have more energy? A little bounce in her step? Is she willing to try just a little harder? 

Let her believe, even if just for a moment, that she is absolutely brilliant!


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What If We Could Choose Our Schools Like We Do Our Restaurants? What if we stopped trying to find the best, most-researched, proven-effective, one-size-fits-all program for education?

Breaking the Child Teachers and parents constantly lament over some child's willfulness. Certainly teachers need to be in charge of the classroom, but I wonder: How far would you go to gain control of a child?

Motivation The most important part of any math intervention is finding a way to motivate students so they want to try.

Learning Gaps One of the most common frustrations heard from secondary math teachers: HE SHOULD ALREADY KNOW THIS! HOW CAN I TEACH HIM MATH IF HE DOESN'T KNOW HIS BASIC SKILLS?!?!

Why Do So Many Students Have Math Learning Gaps? The blame for these gaps tends to get placed in two ways: 1. Elementary teachers are incompetent in math, and, because of this, they have not adequately prepared their students for higher math.

Student Cell Phones: Beat 'Em or Join 'Em?

Those who follow me regularly know that when it comes to students, I subscribe to the "Join 'Em" philosophy more often than not. Not just digitally, either. Walk into my classroom and you may see me sitting on the floor working a problem, or checking out a student's YouTube channel after school. Education is about students getting what they need for their lives. My life and my schooling is already outdated and irrelevant.

When it comes to cell phones in class, though, the issue extends far beyond "beating 'em vs. joining 'em." I truly believe in the transformative powers of technology. Not only does technology have magical powers for increasing student engagement, but it also possesses the ability to create individualized learning experiences for our students. All that we dream of when imagining the ideal classroom (students working collaboratively on authentic, creative, meaningful projects) is possible through the device students carry in their pockets.

I am fortunate to work in a school and district that recognizes this, and teachers are encouraged to capitalize on the digital capacities students bring. With "Bring Your Own Device" policies being so new, teachers and students are bound to face several frustrations. Student wireless is often slow and overly restrictive. Some students don't have a device, so lessons must be designed with this in mind. Many educational games and programs use Flash and can't be accessed through phones. Cell phone batteries tend to die quickly, especially with students who text often and flood their memory with music and apps.

Our school librarian/media specialist offers a great solution for dying batteries!


The sign lets the students know - this is a place where technology is accepted and embraced!


I love how inviting this feels for studying, reading, or collaboration! 21st century learning right here!



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Outgame Your Online Learners My high school years were the beginning of the end of the paper-age. I first searched for a digital image at 15 (Remember Dan's Gallery of the Grotesque, anyone?),

Learning vs. Laundry: 12 Ways to Engage the Online Learner The power of online education extends far beyond providing access to non-traditional students -those who are limited by time, location, or expense. It has the power to transform and revitalize the educational experience for the learner.

Schools in The Apple Revolution: The User Experience What if we could design a program that allowed students to choose their best learning mode?In the Apple-inspired world, they can.

Digitally Illiterate Parents  I realized that many of our parents do not have the technology literacy for this type of communication. This made me wonder: What responsibility do we have in educating our families about technology?

How Not to Use Technology in the Classroom Technology should be used to engage and enhance, not to distract and ignore.

Gamification One of the newest buzzwords of education is GAMIFICATION. Put shortly, gamification means using game principles to engage and motivate students. Gamification is NOT putting a student in front of a computer all day, every day.

The Flipped-Then-Re-Flipped Classroom As exciting as flipped classrooms are, the question is always asked, "What about the students who don't have the technology?"

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Digitally Illiterate Parents

Parent communication hits my self-improvement goal list every year. I wholeheartedly believe in the power of family-school connections. Having taught in Montessori elementary schools, I know first-hand the wonderful things parents can bring to a small community school. Moving to a public middle school, then high school, then back to middle school, I know how difficult it is to get parents involved in secondary public schools. Or...more accurately, I know how easy it is to dismiss them.


Certainly it's gotten better over the years, but I am still a long way from the true partnership in education that I envision. I send the bi-weekly emails and updates as needed, I call parents when there is a concern, I send home assessment information, and occasionally (and not nearly as often as I'd like) I send the "positive email home." Even so, I recognize that these are merely tokens that do little to build authentic relationships. It could be so much better!

This year I decided to be more proactive in reaching my parents during state testing. I held two parent nights, one in person and the other through Google Hangouts. This was my first step to building these connections that I know are so important. The in-person night was a great success, and I know the parents left feeling more comfortable, connected, and informed. We became allies for the students.

Unfortunately, the Google Hangouts was not quite the success I was hoping it to be. To prepare my parents for this event, I had sent them a list of instructions, including a couple of YouTube links, showing how to use Google Hangouts. Six parents registered for it, but I was only able to connect with two. I realized that many of our parents do not have the technology literacy for this type of communication. This made me wonder: What responsibility do we have in educating our families about technology? 

What I pictured - Notice all the participants - all the engagement through the chat window.
What it was more like.

Though I only connected with two parents, the great conversations and transformations in relationships, left me encouraged to try harder. This is not something to give up on!

I have been fortunate to witness amazing high-poverty schools who engage parents through English language and literacy classes. These schools know how important this connection is and they actively work to break down barriers to communication and culture.

Educators often talk about technology in terms of literacy, communication, and culture. Is a technologically illiterate parent much different from a parent who speaks little English? Parents are emailed, newsletters are posted on websites, student projects are digital, and grades can only be accessed digitally. Do you see the similarities?

As schools embrace technology, are they creating a divide between parents and children? Are we destroying the home-school connection or are we enhancing it? I think we are doing both. Certainly there are parents like me, who love and embrace technology, who can engage more fully through digital communication. But what about the others? How do we meet their needs, to ensure they are not left behind?

Sure, we could return to paper, but I don't think that is the answer. I think solutions will be similar to those schools that beat the odds, those high-performing high-poverty schools. Schools that are proactive and successful in building relationships will hold technology courses for parents. Digital summits will become the norms in these schools. Parents will teach parents, and kids will teach teachers.

Do you know of anyone building partnerships through technology? Schools that are teaching parents? Share their stories with us!


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The Flipped-Then-Re-Flipped Classroom As exciting as flipped classrooms are, the question is always asked, "What about the students who don't have the technology?"

How Not to Use Technology in the Classroom Technology should be used to engage and enhance, not to distract and ignore.

Student Cell Phones: Beat' Em or Join 'Em? When it comes to cell phones in class, though, the issue extends far beyond "beating 'em vs. joining 'em." I truly believe in the transformative powers of technology.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Breaking the Child


A few months ago my daughters and I went horseback riding for the first time. The instructor emphasized the importance of becoming the master of our horses. If we told our horse to do something, we had to MAKE them do it. Otherwise, the horse would become our master.

One of my daughters was a natural and had no problem taking control of the horse. But for me and my other girl, this was quite a struggle.

This experience made me reflect on my years in education and the number of times I've heard adults (teachers and parents) talk about the best way to control a child or a classroom. These conversations typically entail some form of breaking a child, like a horse. Teachers and parents constantly lament over some child's willfulness. Certainly teachers need to be in charge of the classroom, but I wonder: How far would you go to gain control of a child?

I don't know that I have the answer to this question, and certainly this is a personal journey for all of us. Most children are quite compliant and teacher-pleasing. Others can be coerced with just a little push. But, what about those who are exceptionally defiant? Those who fight back? How far should we push for compliance?

Perhaps I'm not the best person to ask. My students often tell me I'm too nice. Am I? I work very hard to create a classroom environment of acceptance. I want my students to feel comfortable enough to make mistakes and ask questions. I know that my relaxed atmosphere makes some teachers feel uncomfortable. My students sit on top of desks or on the floor - some even sit under tables. They listen to music while they work. They push desks together and pull them apart, as they see fit. I've even had kids who walk around with a clipboard and roam the room as they work. I respect other teachers who need more order, but this works for me and it works for my kids. I tell my students, "You can hang from the ceiling, as long as you're working and not distracting others." I prefer to think of this as good practice (for me) - a methodical and purposeful choice to getting my students to perform; this is not the same as being a push-over.

The downside of this, naturally, comes from my students mistaking this for weakness. I rarely send students to the office, mostly because I believe the best place to learn appropriate classroom behavior - is - in the classroom. This throws them off, though, because they are conditioned to an opposite response for misbehavior. They are looking for us to get angry, to yell, to threaten, to call their parents, to send them to the office....and some will push hard until they get it. How do we teach them self-discipline when we are offering a system of teacher-enforcement and punishment?



During our riding lesson, the instructor introduced us to each horse individually. Each day we rode, we took the time to get to know them. We brushed the horses, and talked with them, and even cleaned their shoes, because, as we learned, a horse will yield to us if they are comfortable, if they know us and trust us, if we show them kindness.

Our instructor showed us each horse's sensitive spots and told us to never touch them. These were the results of mistrust - of some child-rider or previous owner abusing them. Once, I forgot and brushed over the horse's sensitive area, to which he responded by kicking. He was nervous around me the rest of the day, and getting him to yield was far more difficult.

This made me think: What are our students' sensitive spots? How did we create them? How often do we touch on those?

I'm not asking how to break the child. I'm asking, should we?


RELATED POSTS

The "S-Word" - Don't Call Kids "Smart"! Over the past decade, I've happened across several articles/people/instances urging adults to stop calling children "smart."  They warn that by labeling them "smart," students will become lazy.

What If We Could Choose Our Schools Like We Do Our Restaurants? What if we stopped trying to find the best, most-researched, proven-effective, one-size-fits-all program for education?

Why Educators Should Listen to Pharrell Recently I heard Pharell summarize my entire educational philosophy in one profound statement. When asked where he went to school, Pharrell replied: The universe is my university.

15 Practical Tips for Dealing with Difficult Students Praise often. All the time. With over-the top, ridiculous compliments. Your student completed half an assignment after several 0's? Compliment them!

Classroom Management with At-Risk Students The root of the word, “discipline” is “disciple,” meaning, “to teach.” When faced with problem behaviors in the classroom, management strategies should be used rather than punishment.

My Discipline Policy At-risk students can be some of the most difficult and challenging students to work with. They often exhibit very disruptive behavior, and many times these students do not respond well to authority.

From Fractions to Felonies (Part 1) Juvenile detention may seem like an odd topic for a math blog, but from my perspective, there is a direct correlation. To illustrate this, let's trace the path for a typical juvenile offender backwards.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Flipped-Then-Re-Flipped Classroom

Flipping the classroom is all the rage these days, and it seems teachers can't go to a professional development without hearing the term at least once. For those unfamiliar, "flipping the classroom" means that teachers provide the lecture as homework (usually through a video), and then students do the traditional homework in the classroom. This is a great idea, especially for math, since students really need support while they work their problems. I can testify that a flipped math class made all the difference for my daughter in 5th grade! As exciting as flipped classrooms are, the question is always asked, "What about the students who don't have the technology?"




Here is my response: THEY DO! THEY HAVE THE TECHNOLOGY! Each year I begin my class with a math activity where the students are collecting data from their classmates. They discover which sites are used by their peers (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, SnapChat) and how often. My students see this as a math activity, but, really this allows me to see, without embarrassing any students, who has reliable internet access. What I find, year after year, is that ALL (except 1 or 2) have access. Those without it, find it.

1 or 2! Why would I keep all of my other students from an exceptionally enriching program because of 1 or 2 students? That makes no sense.

If you can't bear to leave behind 1 or 2 students, hear this:
I have found that for each of my students, the parents have risen to the occasion. They WANT their kid to succeed, and if they know technology is necessary, they WILL make provisions. One parent was so new to the internet experience, that she called me and I walked her through how to find an internet service provider.

It's time to move beyond this conversation, because access really is not the issue. The true difficulty in flipped classrooms is in students who don't do their homework - they are not watching the videos at home. When they come to class, they are unprepared to work on their assignment.

This is why I introduce the Flipped-Then-Re-Flipped Classroom.

I work with a set of students who often do not complete homework. I accept this as reality, and this is a battle I'm not willing to fight. Instead, my students watch these flipped videos in class and then work on the assignment.

I find this beneficial in many ways:

1. I have streamlined my lecture.
I tend to be long-winded, but by writing my script ahead of time, I can teach exactly what I want to teach in a shorter amount of time. What might have taken me 15 minutes might now take me 3 or 4.

2. My students can replay the video over and over.
When they are working on their assignment, they can go back and re-watch the video. This significantly reduces the number of students waiting for my help.

3. My students become responsible for their own learning.
I tell my students their job is to understand what is being taught in the video. We talk about how these videos can be boring, and it is natural to tune them out. After the video, they need to ask themselves, "What was the video about?" If they don't know, they re-watch.

4. My students become responsible for their own learning (Part 2).
When students forget something learned a few days ago, they know to go back to the videos.

5. Students become their own self-advocates.
In the beginning, I hand all the videos to my students. But throughout the year, I relinquish this, so my students learn to search for videos themselves. They begin to see all the resources they have available. Saying "I don't know how to do it" no longer becomes acceptable.


If you are a math teacher interested in flipping your classroom, I encourage you to try this approach and see what works for you.

If you are a parent, help your student learn to access all the amazing FREE resources. Don't let them say, "I don't know how to do it."


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Schools in The Apple Revolution: The User Experience What if we could design a program that allowed students to choose their best learning mode?In the Apple-inspired world, they can.

Outgame Your Online Learners My high school years were the beginning of the end of the paper-age. I first searched for a digital image at 15 (Remember Dan's Gallery of the Grotesque, anyone?),

Learning Gaps One of the most common frustrations heard from secondary math teachers: HE SHOULD ALREADY KNOW THIS! HOW CAN I TEACH HIM MATH IF HE DOESN'T KNOW HIS BASIC SKILLS?!?!

Gamification One of the newest buzzwords of education is GAMIFICATION. Put shortly, gamification means using game principles to engage and motivate students. Gamification is NOT putting a student in front of a computer all day, every day.

How Not to Use Technology in the Classroom Technology should be used to engage and enhance, not to distract and ignore.

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Digitally Illiterate Parents I realized that many of our parents do not have the technology literacy for this type of communication. This made me wonder: What responsibility do we have in educating our families about technology?

Monday, February 17, 2014

Grades vs. Experience-Points

Last week I had the opportunity to discuss gamification with a team of professors at Texas A&M University. As I presented my understanding of this concept, I came to an important realization on the negative impact of grades.

I've never really been a fan of grades, even as a child. No matter how systematic we try to make the grades, they will always be arbitrary: what quiz we decide to give, what questions we ask, how we weight homework vs. classwork vs. tests, etc. What is the point? Do grades accurately measure what we want them to measure? Do they tell the story we want told? I don't believe they do.

What are we even measuring? Achievement? Ability? Completion? Aptitude? Perseverance? Compliance?

If they aren't accurate measuring tools, why have them? Some might argue grades motivate students. Having taught in Montessori schools where there are no grades, I can say, that the vast majority of students will work for the sake of learning and for the satisfaction of completion, with or without grades. But what about those few that don't work? Students who don't work are simply not motivated by grades nor are they motivated by learning for learning's sake.

So, if most students are motivated without grades, and a few are not motivated either way, why do we continue to use them? Not only do I believe grades are pointless, I also feel they are detrimental to the majority of students, but particularly to those who struggle the most.

Because kids spend the majority of their day in school, their identity in school shapes who they are. Placing an F on a paper marks that student as a failure. Repeatedly marking F's seals their fate. How can a student overcome failure after failure, and why would they want to?

My students, having experienced significant educational failures, are exceptionally sensitive to poor grades. Conversely, A's and B's positively affect them much more so than the average student. Some of my students are so sensitive that I do not EVER mark problems wrong. Instead, I always and only mark problems they got right. Do you see the difference between the two? Instead of marking 15/20 problems wrong - I've checked 5/20 right. A little, yet very significant difference.


It is time to stop tearing students down and start building them up instead.

Even before gamifying my classroom, I have been marking "correct answers" instead of "wrong answers." The only difference is that I now call these check marks "experience points." So, how does this affect my students? If I were to mark my students' problems wrong, they would believe they had failed, greatly decreasing their motivation to try again. But by gaining points, the students already feel a sense of completion. Now, they are motivated to earn more points. They WANT to go back and try again.

Just like in a video game, I expect my students to master each level before moving on. If a student gets 5/20 on an assignment, they go back and try again. If a student gets 19/20, they fix the one they missed. On each level, my students work until they get 100%.

I have not changed their work in any way, nor have I changed my expectations. All I have done is changed their perception.


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Gamification One of the newest buzzwords of education is GAMIFICATION. Put shortly, gamification means using game principles to engage and motivate students. Gamification is NOT putting a student in front of a computer all day, every day.

Gamification Mistake #1: Fair Play I titled this post Mistake #1, because I am certain that I will make many more mistakes while gamifying my class.One thing I've been learning about is the aspect of "Fair Play," which basically just means making sure the game is fair for the players.

The Magical Leaderboard As many of you know, this is my first experience with gamifying my classroom, and there is certainly a lot for me to learn! As a teacher, my focus is on the content/curriculum, and game design comes second.

So You Want to Gamify? Based on the popularity and interest of my last blog, Gamification, I decided to create a list of resources, for those brave enough to embark on this journey.

Schools in The Apple Revolution: The User Experience What if we could design a program that allowed students to choose their best learning mode?In the Apple-inspired world, they can.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Easing Parent Anxiety

Last year, as our state test approached, my parents' level of anxiety increased tremendously. The closer the date came, the more emails and phone calls I received. The parents were concerned. They were worried, and some of my 8th grade parents were panicking. (In Texas, 5th and 8th graders have to pass their math and reading tests to move to the next grade level.)

The parents passed their anxiety onto their students, who were already filled with worry.


This year, I decided to take a more proactive approach to easing my parents' anxiety. A couple of days ago, I hosted a parent night. The intentions of this night were to create an open forum for discussion, so that their questions could be answered and their concerns could be heard. I arranged my seats in a half-circle to create an atmosphere of comfort and to promote discussion.

As parents came in, I told them specifically how much I enjoy their child. I wanted the parents to see how much I value their child.

I started the night by discussing their student's assessment report. These are reports I create twice a year, based on the various assessments I take. Educators tend to throw data, scores, and vocabulary that is too unfamiliar to parents for them to understand them in any meaningful way. These reports are no different. Throwing data at parents is a disservice and thoroughly disrupts the school-family connection.

I took the parents through each piece of data, explaining each different score. I get really excited about data, but I understand not everyone shares my enthusiasm. I had planned to give just a brief overview, but the parents pleasantly surprised me with all their questions. They really wanted to know what this data meant!


We talked about Tiers....


And Grade Equivalents....



We broke apart the bell curve....




And we talked about mastery of skills....



They had a lot of questions, and I was so impressed with their commitment to their children!

We moved on to the state assessment, and these parents were worried! They needed real answers.  We talked about my expectations, how I was preparing them, what their student needed to do, and how they could help.
 


We talked about their child's feelings - about what it is like to try your hardest and fail. About how hard it is to try again.About feelings of defeat. And embarrassment. And failure.



The important thing to understand about this night was that it was all about heart. I wanted the parents to understand that I use this data, these numbers, to get us to our goal. This goal is never and will never be: to pass a state test. Passing the test is just a means to an end.

My students are more than numbers.
They are not scores.
They are not labels.

They are children.
With heart and conviction.
With fears.
With great senses of humor.
 They are human


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Intervention, Remediation, Special Education...What is the Difference? Intervention is not reteaching or special education. It is the intentional instruction of targeted skills. This is for the student who is multiple grade-levels below. 

Learning Gaps One of the most common frustrations heard from secondary math teachers: HE SHOULD ALREADY KNOW THIS! HOW CAN I TEACH HIM MATH IF HE DOESN'T KNOW HIS BASIC SKILLS?!?!

Why Do So Many Students Have Math Learning Gaps? The blame for these gaps tends to get placed in two ways: 1. Elementary teachers are incompetent in math, and, because of this, they have not adequately prepared their students for higher math.

Remediation vs. Intervention (In Practical Terms) In a previous post, I discussed how remediation and intervention are different. The difference between these two concepts is so great and so important that I feel it necessary to explain why this difference matters.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Gamification Mistake #1: Fair Play

I titled this post Mistake #1, because I am certain that I will make many more mistakes while gamifying my class.

One thing I've been learning about is the aspect of "Fair Play," which basically just means making sure the game is fair for the players. This is quite intuitive: of course, we all want to play a game that is fair. If we have no chance of winning, if the game is way too easy, or if the opponent cannot be beat, we will give up. Obviously! But I'm a teacher, not a gamer, and I didn't really think about this very, very important aspect, when designing my STAAR Wars app.


I knew I wanted to divide each class period into two teams, but I hadn't thought much about how to make it fair. I let the students decide whether they wanted to be on the "Dark Side" or the "Rebel Forces." When the teams ended up uneven, I gave the disadvantaged side a multiplier.

I made this worksheet worth 5 points. So, for the disadvantaged team, I gave them a multiplier of x3, so their worksheet was worth 15 points. Even with this, the game was still unfair. One team could still earn more points than the other.

I thought I could sneak by without the kids noticing. 

But, THEY DID THE MATH!!! And they figured out, that it wasn't fair! As impressed as I was (my kids hate math), they were starting to lose motivation.

I thought we'd be able to work this out, since video games usually have some sort of "boss level" or reward that benefits one player more than another. What I didn't realize was that the game needed to start out fair.

Next week, I will introduce these multiplier cards, for any student to earn. We will start the class with some problems for students to answer on their dry-erase boards. Students who get 3-in-a-row will get the multiplier card. Hoping this will increase the motivation.



RELATED POSTS

Gamification One of the newest buzzwords of education is GAMIFICATION. Put shortly, gamification means using game principles to engage and motivate students. Gamification is NOT putting a student in front of a computer all day, every day.

Grades vs. Experience Points Last week I had the opportunity to discuss gamification with a team of professors at Texas A&M University. As I presented my understanding of this concept, I came to an important realization on the negative impact of grades.

How (and Why) to Level Assignments One of the most important practices I keep is "leveling assignments." I do this with nearly every concept I teach.

So You Want to Gamify? Based on the popularity and interest of my last blog, Gamification, I decided to create a list of resources, for those brave enough to embark on this journey.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Magical Leaderboard

As many of you know, this is my first experience with gamifying my classroom, and there is certainly a lot for me to learn! As a teacher, my focus is on the content/curriculum, and game design comes second. My first app (STAAR Wars) is far from polished and I'm building as I go, but being pressed for time (hey, I'm in grad school) and needing to get my students started, I had to just throw it out there for them.

I cannot stress enough how new this journey is for me, how much I am learning, and how much I still have to learn.

Today, I want to talk about the leaderboard. For you non-gaming folks, this is basically just the scoreboard that lets you know how you score against the other teams. I knew I was going to add this element, but again I was focused on getting the content out there. Also, I was struggling with the how of building the leaderboard.

My students, though, live in a game world, and they were not allowing me to skip this fundamental gaming principle. I threw something simple together using Google Docs, so that they would at least have something. Here is what it looks like.


Because it is web-based, I only used the student's initials (which I changed for this post). I inserted a formula so that it automatically adds the points for each team. I keep this leaderboard up on the overhead throughout the class, adding points as each student scores.

Some amazing things have happened since posting this leaderboard:

1. The student's level of motivation has increased even MORE! Holy engagement, Batman!

2. The students are deciding for themselves to complete missions (aka assignments/activities). They do not like to lose!

3. Students are TRULY working together (naturally), because they recognize the importance of each member's contributions.

4. I was concerned about embarrassment (I am the ultimate soft-heart and would never want a student to feel embarrassed).....but the most AMAZING thing happened...the students use this leaderboard to see who needs help. The struggling students want the help, because they want to score points.

5. I am hearing the students say to each other, "Here, let me show you. You have to understand it, or you won't be able to do this in the big battle."

6. Students are eager to try the hard problems, because they want the points. Previously, I'd hear, "I can still pass if I don't do this one."

7. Students are rushing to class to get a head start! What?!?!

8. Two students emailed me from home, asking for the website, so they could work ahead. Ummm....yes, please!

I am truly floored at how motivating and positive this leaderboard is. What a simple thing!


RELATED POSTS

Gamification One of the newest buzzwords of education is GAMIFICATION. Put shortly, gamification means using game principles to engage and motivate students. Gamification is NOT putting a student in front of a computer all day, every day.

Gamification Mistake #1: Fair Play I titled this post Mistake #1, because I am certain that I will make many more mistakes while gamifying my class.One thing I've been learning about is the aspect of "Fair Play," which basically just means making sure the game is fair for the players.

So You Want to Gamify? Based on the popularity and interest of my last blog, Gamification, I decided to create a list of resources, for those brave enough to embark on this journey.

How Not to Use Technology in the Classroom Technology should be used to engage and enhance, not to distract and ignore.

Monday, February 3, 2014

From Fractions to Felonies (Part 1)


FROM FRACTIONS TO FELONIES?!?!?

Dramatic?
Yes.

Accurate?
YES!

This post is the first in a series, where we will explore this connection of repeated math failures and juvenile delinquency. The intention is to create awareness and to open discussion of this topic.

Juvenile detention may seem like an odd topic for a math blog, but from my perspective, there is a direct correlation. To illustrate this, let's trace the path for a typical juvenile offender backwards.



Now, I would agree that there should probably be many steps added below "Failure in School." What would you add?

  • Learning disabilities?
  • Poverty?
  • Language barriers?
  • Trouble-making behavior?
  • Poor parenting?
  • Cultural differences?

No doubt there are a variety of factors that contribute to students' failures in schools, but that is far beyond the scope of this blog. There is little (outside of early intervention advocacy) that teachers can do to prevent students from reaching that stage of "failure in school." Even 1st and 2nd grade teachers will receive students with multiple failures in school and academics.

For some students, this failure repeats year after year. They will try all sorts of tactics to avoid the resulting embarrassment and humiliation. Feigning ill, "forgetting" homework, distracting themselves, distracting others, withdrawing......

The list goes on.....

Teachers know (realistically), these issues are handed into our loving arms, so that we can somehow magically fix this. We know the public expects us to perform some sort of Jaime Escalante, Dangerous Minds miracle. As if rapping the Pythagorean Theorem along to Tupac will somehow fix this. We are jaded, and we know that this kid's failure is not our fault. And we know the insane heroic measures it will take to turn this kid around. It is so easy to pass the blame. On the parents. On last year's teacher. On society. On technology. On the kid......

But here is what I am suggesting.....

What if?
What if we use this step "Failure in School" as our filter?
What if we decide that we will not allow a single student to continue on this path?
What if we, as math teachers, decide to be life teachers?

Tell me your thoughts. Leave a comment or Tweet me @VenegasKeller.
Is this possible? Am I a dreamer?


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Breaking the Child Teachers and parents constantly lament over some child's willfulness. Certainly teachers need to be in charge of the classroom, but I wonder: How far would you go to gain control of a child?

Easing Parent Anxiety Last year, as our state test approached, my parents' level of anxiety increased tremendously. The closer the date came, the more emails and phone calls I received.

How (and Why) to Level Assignments One of the most important practices I keep is "leveling assignments." I do this with nearly every concept I teach.

15 Practical Tips for Dealing with Difficult Students Praise often. All the time. With over-the top, ridiculous compliments. Your student completed half an assignment after several 0's? Compliment them!

How (and Why) to Level Assignments

One of the most important practices I keep is "leveling assignments." I do this with nearly every concept I teach. Because I teach intervention, this is easy to do, but it can still be done with major concepts in a general ed classroom.

Here is why I find this SO important:

1. People are intrinsically motivated to "level up".

2. Students will work quickly through assignments which are too easy, providing a natural review.

3. Success breeds success. Completing the first level leads students to believe they can complete the next. Conversely, if a student fails at the first couple of problems on a non-leveled assignment, they will likely give up.

4. This allows me to identify the EXACT area of confusion.

5. Students can get the help they need before becoming frustrated.

Think of this as a video game. The ultimate goal is the worksheet/assignment that you want them to complete, and the levels are easier precursor work that gets them there. This is similar to unit planning, which breaks a very large concept into smaller pieces. I am simply taking that smaller piece and breaking it down even further.

To illustrate, let's look at an Order of Operations lesson in my classroom. My end goal is for my students to solve a problem like this:

For students with math difficulties, there are many opportunities for them to get lost along the way.
1. Adding/subtracting wrong
2. Multiplying/dividing wrong
3. Mistaking exponents for multiplication. 4^2 =8
4. Unsure of the nested parentheses
5. Forgetting to use PEMDAS
6. Forgetting to compute multiplication/division and addition/subtraction from left to right

If I were to give my students this problem, even with an outstanding lesson, chances are their work would be riddled with errors.

So, instead, I present this worksheet as "Level 10," while providing 9 previous levels for them to complete.

Level 1
Four Numbers, Add/Subtract/Multiply/Divide Only
This level helps them understand the importance of left to right



Level 5
4 Numbers, Parentheses and Exponents
Now working with all parts of PEMDAS


Level 10
5 Numbers, All Parts of PEMDAS
While both Levels 5 and 10 require all parts of PEMDAS, Level 10 is significantly more challenging


Do all my students reach Level 10 in the allotted amount of time? No.

The students who do not reach Level 10 have such significant issues, making it difficult for them to reach this stage. However, I can say with certainty, that they would not have been able to complete this assignment independently without the leveling system.

The leveling system does take time, and I have to accept that not all my students will make it to the level that I want. I would much rather, though, that my student make it to Level 7 than to fail at Level 10. He still may not be where I want - where he needs to be.

This is FAR better than being at 0!


Click here to create your own leveled Order of Operations worksheets from math-aids.com.


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Gamification One of the newest buzzwords of education is GAMIFICATION. Put shortly, gamification means using game principles to engage and motivate students. Gamification is NOT putting a student in front of a computer all day, every day.

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From Fractions to Felonies (Part 1) Juvenile detention may seem like an odd topic for a math blog, but from my perspective, there is a direct correlation. To illustrate this, let's trace the path for a typical juvenile offender backwards.

The Flipped-Then-Re-Flipped Classroom As exciting as flipped classrooms are, the question is always asked, "What about the students who don't have the technology?"

Learning Gaps One of the most common frustrations heard from secondary math teachers: HE SHOULD ALREADY KNOW THIS! HOW CAN I TEACH HIM MATH IF HE DOESN'T KNOW HIS BASIC SKILLS?!?!

Why Do So Many Students Have Math Learning Gaps? The blame for these gaps tends to get placed in two ways: 1. Elementary teachers are incompetent in math, and, because of this, they have not adequately prepared their students for higher math.