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updates for 04.30.2012

3 new posts today


Ideas for Group Work (NCTM Takeaway 2)

By popular demand (and because I need somewhere to organize this for myself), I’m going to put up a series of posts about what I learned at the NCTM conference. If you’re a math teacher, I hope this is as valuable for you as it is for me! (If you’re not a math teacher, I promise I’ll include “NCTM Takeaway” in all the titles so you’re warned in advance. These are posts you definitely don’t have to be reading. I also promise I’ll return to regular posts soon enough.)   Below are some new ideas to spice up group work and help keep kids actually on task and learning. These come from Juliana Rohrlack and Liz Gates (you can find Liz's blog, which includes more details on this, here.)   Ideas for Group Roles *Surveyor - Makes sure all students' papers are the same as they work (I like this so much better than "recorder"... this seems like everyone would have to stay on task more.) *Interrogator - Makes sure all students can explain all parts of the group's work. (As you practice this, the kids should eventually get a good idea of the types of questions you'll ask, and start parroting those to make sure the group will be ready for them.) *Directions Checker - Makes sure the directions are written down and being followed. (I bet this could also be extended in problem solving to making sure that the right question is being answered.) *Peace Keeper - Settles mathematical disagreements (could they settle personal ones, too?) *Spy - When group is stuck, they can go look at other group's papers to get ideas. (This doesn't have to be it's own job... someone could have this as a second job) *Huddler - Meets with teacher to gather information to share with group (This could be a great job in problem solving if you are willing to give hints as groups get stuck)   Change roles as often as possible (daily is best) so that kids don't get accustomed to them. Also, assign them randomly (by height, by having everyone in the group pick a color, by seat placement, etc.) so that kids can't always claim their favorite jobs.   Ensuring Good Group Work *Have a small token (marble, paper clip, etc.) that you can give groups every time you see them doing something good. I especially like the idea of specifically recognizing correct performance of group roles. Make sure to precisely explain what the group did to earn the token. Have periodic rewards (group picture with a special trophy to hang on the wall, fun pencils, donut breakfast, participation grades) for group with most tokens. *To make sure all team members are fully participating, take all papers and shuffle them when the group is done. Randomly select a paper, and then randomly pick a kid to explain part of it. If they can't explain it well (and hold up under good questioning), then send the group back to keep working and make sure everyone understands. Frame your response as, "I'm sorry your group let you down and didn't make sure everyone was properly prepared. Take a minute to get back together and make sure you're all on the same page" so that it's a group failure, not an individual student failure. *The more you get involved in group problems/questions, the less your groups will function. Be a broken record and ask, "Have you asked your group yet?" every time a kid tries to get your help.   Good Group Work Activities *Prepare an activity with group roles in mind, especially at the beginning. *Have groups for things that involve multiple solutions or that promote discussion and debate. (If your groups come up with a variety of answers, put them all up on the board and let kids "Defend or Destroy" any answer, even their own, that they see up there.) *They shared a great idea for something called Silent Conversations (hello, dream classroom!) but Liz has done a phenomenal job of explaining it on her blog already and I can't compete. Check it out here.




The beginning of the end.....of the first year

It seems crazy, my entire first year of teaching is almost over. My summative is on Tuesday and Wednesday. Since I teach foreign language, we did the speaking portion of the summative last week. One of my classes scored above 90%. The lowest was around 78%. So, we are on track to do pretty well! But, I'm still nervous. I think it's just my personality. I'm an overachieving perfectionist. I want my kids to do so well so they will be confident in themselves. I want them to see that they CAN learn a foreign language, and to that fact they HAVE learned quite a bit about a foreign language. I want them to feel successful on this new endeavor and that is continues. And for myself, I want to know that I taught them SOMETHING. I often find myself just stopping and thinking: wow, have I actually taught my kids anything? Because I feel like we just started the year. Tuesday and Wednesday are when we "strut out stuff on paper." Fingers crossed - I think we can pull of some pretty amazing grades because I teach some amazing kids who really have learned a lot of Spanish this year :)




Not All Speed is [a] Movement…

“In democratic countries, knowledge of how to combine is the mother of all other forms of knowledge; on its progress depends that of all the others”
–Alexis de Tocqueville
Originally, I was going to write about my final week of school before state testing begins, but I wanted to instead reflect on a great day of professional development through Leadership for Educational Equity (LEE), a closely-affiliated partner organization with Teach For America.  Through this partnership, LEE was able to offer a full-day training on organizing and advocacy at Delta State University. Regardless of how one feels about TFA’s leadership pipeline strategy, it’s hard to argue against the benefits of providing opportunities to empower educators, especially in the Mississippi Delta. I came into this training with some background knowledge having taken Marshall Ganz’s course on organizing (People, Power, and Change) at the Harvard Kennedy School during my junior year of college. I learned a lot about myself through this course in which I was the youngest participant. Through LEE, it was neat to reflect on how far I’ve come as a leader. Compared to three years ago (wow, I’m getting old), I’m much more opinionated and less hesitant to voice my perspective about various issues. That said, I’m still an introvert at heart and have a ways to go. Being able to craft and share one’s “Story of Self” is extremely difficult but at the same time very empowering when perfected as a skill. If anything, my corps experience has helped me to understand and to articulate my own background. This deeper understanding is a fundamental step as I seek to figure out my future path. We also worked on Root Cause Analysis, which is a technique I’ve practiced on a number of occasions in different settings.  Too often, our policy solutions take aim at symptoms rather than truly targeting the underlying causes of  issues. This strategy has never really made sense to me. Anyone who plays video games knows this to be true; take for example the zombie-killing game Dead Nation:   [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption=""I'm Going To Need a Bigger Gun""][/caption] The objective of this game is to make it to the hospital by cutting your way through swarms of brain-eating zombies. Often, you’ll encounter a “Zerg-Rush” of sorts (Google it) where a single hive will continually spawn new zombies until you destroy it. To defeat it, you can either attack the hive directly, or simply reload your gun continually to fight off the new zombies.  If I used the strategy of current reform, I’d merely buy a bigger, costlier gun and throw some grenades to kill the zombies at a higher rate. These tactics work splendidly until I exhaust my ammo and run out of money, which leaves me with my default, unlimited ammo handgun. Am I better off than where I started? No. To actually defeat these attackers, I have to skillfully kill just enough zombies to get to the root cause of the problem, the hive which creates them, and destroy it using the diverse arsenal of weapons at my disposal. The logic dictating this method [attacking the source] as anything other than the most effective solution perplexes me. Clearly, our policymakers need to play more video games. Anyhow, our training session spelled out 20+ problems plaguing the Mississippi Delta, but from sharing stories through one-on-one meetings to power mapping and messaging, I felt inspired by the tools we equipped ourselves with to affect change. I think the critical piece going forward is to ensure we make the right kind of change; that’s my two cents on the matter. Note: for more information and resources on Organizing, check out The New Organizing Institute - http://neworganizing.com/toolbox/ SN- I think I'm going to start a new trend; #reformreloaded, more on that later...



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