Unruly fifth period

Brief excerpt of what happened in fifth period Math Lab today.

Me: <explaining about the importance of working together and that employers see teamwork as an important skill, which is why I am randomly assigning students into groups of four>

Students: <grumble grumble grumble>

After one or two minutes, students are finally getting to their seats, except for a few.

Me to Student A: Student B is waiting to sit down because you are in her seat. Would you please move to your seat?

Student A: No.

Me to Student A: Your team needs your cooperation, please move to your seat.

Student A: No.

Me to Student A: This isn’t a choice. Everyone has to sit in their assigned seat.

Student A: No.

While this is going on, Student C goes to my computer and messes up the seating chart so now no one knows where they are seated. I am so furious but have to control myself. I send Student C out of the room. More chaos ensues as I now have to make a new seating chart and everyone has to move again. It takes more than 10 minutes for students to get settled in their assigned seats.

Many students are upset at being moved from their friends and refuse to work with each other, a few openly criticize their team mates, saying things like “I don’t want to work with him, he’s boring.”

The thing that upsets me the most is that I can’t seem to win over a critical number of students to make the class run well, as I have been able to in other classes. Instead, the ones that were previously on task are being drawn off task by others. This is my most challenging class by far. Students in this class aren’t taking the tasks that I give them seriously, even though I’ve tried to think very hard about what to give them that would be fun, interesting, and mathematically meaningful. (Today I tried to use the Disc-Ness activity from Balanced Assessment in Mathematics.)

Success with polynomials

A flurry of short updates today:

1. Algebra 1 class seemed to go well today. By the end of class, I was able to observe almost every student correctly adding and subtracting polynomials, even when there were negative numbers involved. I didn’t see much of 3x2+2x=5x2 today, and I think the algebra tiles had much to do with that. Most students were on task a good part of the time, and I’m starting to build more rapport with some of them.

2. I co-teach third period Algebra 1 class with a resource teacher. He has 9 students in the class, I have about 19. We are working together to fully include all of his students with learning disabilities. I absolutely love working with this teacher. It is so incredibly helpful to have another adult in the room.

3. In my geometry class, I asked students to design a parking lot to maximize the number of parking spots given a number of constraints. Students were on task most of the time and did well given the difficulty of the task, but I noticed that some students who had previously been diligent in class before were now goofing off because of the individuals in their group. Peer pressure is such a powerful force, I’m noticing. Also, small details such as how many copies of instructions are handed out, how the copies are distributed, how instructions are conveyed have such a huge impact on students’ products and learning. Complex instruction, indeed.

4. I now have textbooks for nearly all of my Algebra 1 students, but still no textbooks for my geometry students.

5. It seems weird to me that teachers don’t have keys to the office where we make copies. The office is locked during certain parts of the day. I guess we’re not supposed to make copies during those times (for example, during lunch).

6. High school kids are so filthy! It’s hard to imagine how they are able to get so much dirt, markings, pieces of trash everywhere so quickly. The classrooms get cleaned every three days, but we have to sweep the floor ourselves more frequently if we want the room to be presentable.

7. My class enrollments have been pretty stable for the last few days. Hooray!


Wondering today if I made the right choice to teach this year. The monotony of teaching everyday is already setting in and it’s only October. I hope I’m only thinking this because I had a rough day with unruly students today.

Today, I hope that the algebra tiles helped students see that x+x=2x and not x2. We’ll see…

Norm day

Tomorrow is “norm day” for our district. That’s the day when classes are supposed to be balanced and administrators get a final count of students, which is to determine the number of teachers that should be employed at a school. Some of my colleagues wondered aloud whether our administration will change enrollment figures around to make them look “good” or to demonstrate needs to the district and then change them around some more to meet the realities of students’ needs and our resources. I’m trying not to be cynical or get (too) frustrated, but I am expecting more enrollment changes this week.

Algebra tiles, graph theory disaster

I’ve seen Algebra Tiles used, but never used them myself until today.

2009-10-05 algtiles3(This arrangement of tiles has area 4x^2+4x+1.)

Again, I was surprised by how much trouble students have with the concepts of area and perimeter. Going to try to address that tomorrow and then try the algebra tiles again. I’m using the algebra tiles to help students understand addition and subtraction of polynomials.

My fifth period Math Lab was a complete disaster today. Based on their performance on the graph theory activities last Friday, I overestimated the students’ readiness for today’s activity. Today’s activity was way too vague and open-ended; I didn’t provide enough scaffolding for the task and instead got a lot of blank stares and goofing off. Even the students that seem quite diligent were twiddling their thumbs, bored and confused. It was a huge disaster. One student blamed me publicly for giving confusing instructions–and he’s right. I’m not as concerned about them not completing the task as I am them feeling like this class is a joke. What’s more, there was a new student today who didn’t speak much English and no one in the class spoke Armenian. I didn’t know how to communicate with this student and felt bad about that.

What now? I think I will need to swallow my pride and put off the rest of the activity rather than keep forging ahead. Even if I could figure out the right scaffolding to give, I think I killed any budding interest in the topic. Also, I have a feeling that my enrollment on this class is going to change quite a bit again this week.

Adaptation #3: Paper management skills

With so many more kids turning in more pieces of paper so much more frequently, my paper management skills are stretched to the breaking point. This includes paper that I give to students and paper that students give to me. I’m trying not to collect homework on separate pieces of paper, but instead students finish their homework in composition books. That has been a boon so far. The problem is that classwork has generally been done on loose sheets of paper and I want to collect them and give feedback on them so students take the work seriously. My organizational problems are compounded by the fact that I am shuttling between two rooms since I don’t have a room of my own, so I have to lug the papers around and it’s easy to get things mixed up.

Coordinate plane activity

Coordinate plane on floor

Last Thursday, my third period Algebra 1 seemed to need some more help with locating points on the coordinate plane so we used an activity suggested to me by a veteran math teacher. I used blue painters’ tape to mark off x- and y-axes, and took advantage of the tile floor in the school hallway. Each student was given one coordinate and the students were asked to stand at their coordinate.

The activity revealed who understood how to locate a point on the coordinate plane using coordinates, and who did not. Some who did not know asked their friends, others stood on the side lines and I helped them find their spot. Next time, I need to be more careful not to “out” students who don’t understand a task.