Friday, August 3, 2018

The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker

I just finished reading The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker.

Check it out here:  The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker.

There were so many great tidbits of information and I couldn't help but think about my classroom while reading.  Here are some of the ideas I will be taking back to my lessons this fall:

1) Decide why you're really gathering.  
  • Once you have an answer, ask 'why' again, and again, until you get down to the real reason you are all there.  For some students, they're there because they were forced to show up.  But why are you there?  And why are you there on this particular day?  I like to think of this as our objectives for the day/period.  Go deep people, deeper.  Why are you and your students gathering today?

2) Don't be a chill host.  
  • I've been working on this for some time at school.  It's actually the most stressful part of teaching for me.  In a nutshell this means that if you don't take control of the classroom, someone will.  And we all know that it won't be pretty.  I love her quote in the book, "Chill is selfishness disguised as kindness".  Yes, the students describe me as kind, but in the beginning of my career they did not describe me as being in control.  How are you going to be in control?

3) Create a temporary alternative world.  

  • In this part of the book, the author goes into a section about etiquette vs. pop-up rules; and this is where a light bulb when on for me.  I knew this, but it never sank in.  Etiquette is a way for people to behave within a certain region in order to help life run smoothly.  Pop-up rules are rules that are created for that event only; once the event is over, the rules are gone too.  I need to think of the classroom just full of pop-up rules.  Etiquette cannot be assumed anymore.  For example: talking while the teacher is talking.  During my upbringing it was rude if a person interrupted someone else (my mom called us but-in-skis) or talked during a presentation, however, many of students (and I'll admit colleagues) don't see this as rude.  

  • The other take-away I got from this section of the book was to totally immerse the students in the day's lesson.  Is there a way to get my students to forget about the outside world and be completely here?

4) Never Start a Funeral with Logistics.

  • The main idea here is that the opening and closing of your class are opportunities to capture your students' attention.  Keep announcements out of there.  Can announcements be address at a different part of your lesson?
  • Your gathering doesn't begin when it begins when the guests first hear about it.  Is there a way to get your students excited about your class before it actually begins?
  • Can you name your class?  And I don't mean 'Algebra 1', how about something like, "Cans vs. Soda Stream"?
  • Ushering.  What should your students be doing while they are waiting for class to begin?  If you don't have something for them to do, they will find something to do and you may not like it.
  • Go above and beyond.  Parker gave an example of a teacher who learned all the students names before school started.  He (or she) knew all of their names and faces from the files given to them by the school district and knew each student by name as they entered his (or her) class.  
5) Keep your best self out of my gathering.

  • This one is perfect for the classroom.  It is basically asking attendees to leave their egos at home.  She suggests that we can get more accomplished if we let down our guard and stop trying too hard to impress each other.  How can you create an environment where students feel safe taking chances and making mistakes?

6) Accept that there is an end.

  • Remember to create a bridge for you students from your classroom to the real world.  Especially at the end of the year.  I made a huge mistake with that this year...I never said goodbye to my students.  Our schedule for finals was strange this year and the year ended, but yet it didn't.  I didn't realize that that day was the last that I would see my students until the day was over.  I actually felt sick to my stomach that the year ended and I didn't even acknowledge it.  How can you make the end of the year special and memorable for your students?

I really enjoyed this book.  If you get the opportunity to read it, I recommend that you do so.  

Friday, May 18, 2018

Why Students are Constantly Testing Teachers (and other adults)

A few weeks ago this video came across my Facebook feed (at least I think it was Facebook) and it really hit home with me.  It explains why teenagers test adults.  I immediately thought about my own children, and then my students.

My perspective has changed.  Now when a student tests me, it isn't a's an opportunity to show them my support.


Like The Lap Bar on a Roller Coaster

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Calculus Students in Algebra Class

I've had this idea for a few years now, but it never seems to go over well with others in the school.  I would like to see upper level students assigned to Algebra 1 classes.   

When I taught Pre-Calculus or Calculus, one of the things that really slowed a lesson down was the students' Algebra 1 skills.  We constantly had to review topics I believe they should have mastered.  For the past few years I have solely taught Algebra 1.  What I'm seeing in these courses is the number of students who need one-on-one assistance, maturity redirection, and frankly a mentor. 

Here is where I see an opportunity....assign mature upper level students to Algebra 1 classes.  The older students would be required to take notes and pay attention in class, but act as teaching assistants..  I picture them sitting among the younger students, helping individuals when they have trouble comprehending, all while they are honing their own Algebra 1 skills.  And dare I say, even teach a lesson to the whole class???

The younger students have the opportunity to see the maturity level and math skills of students in their own school.  They could serve as a positive role models for the younger students to look up to. 

I have had a small introduction to this during the current semester.  In my school, each teacher is permitted to have 1 student aide.  The students has to be either a Junior or a Senior and they receive no credit for the class.  Basically, it's a student who acts as your secretary.  They can make copies for you, grade multiple choice assessments, and run errands around the school.

The student aide I have this semester, let's call her Jane, is proving my idea worthy.  One day she saw that I was struggling with helping all the students as they were working on a worksheet.  She walked up to me and said, "Mrs. Oswald, I'm comfortable with this material, do you want me to help the students too?"  uhhh, YEAH!  Every day Jane helps me collect the entrance cards and help students who are struggling with those, she works individually with students, and has taken the time to learn all of their names. 

The one day I was teaching a lesson that I felt was boring.  I announced this to the students and asked, "Does anyone know how we can make this less dull?"  Jane raised her hand and offered to teach the class.  Yes, be jealous.  She did a fantastic job too!

And the students are comfortable with her too.  If they see I'm busy, they call her over to help.  I really wish I could give her an elective credit for all the work she's been doing.  My sincere 'thank you' will have to do. 

Do any of you have experience with this?  Anyone want to play devil's advocate and see if there's something I haven't considered? 

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Solving Equations Escape Room - Zombies Attack

I sell this escape room on Teachers pay Teachers, but I want to share it will you all for free. 

Click here to get the escape room!

Click here to get the answer key!

Click here to watch a video explanation!

Here is the description that I put on Teachers pay Teachers:

Have your students practice solving multi-step equations the fun way: with an escape room. Don't worry, I know that creating escape rooms can be expensive, but not this one. The only additional items you will need are letter size envelopes and maybe 3 8x10 acrylic frames. 

The story:
Your students are tucked away safely in a compound far away from the zombies. But are they? Turns out the watch tower sees zombies coming from EVERY DIRECTION!! There is no where to run. But then someone from your group remembers that the compound has an underground tunnel that will lead them to safety. The problem? There are three doors along the way and they are all locked. Can your students survive? Will they make it out alive?

For this escape room you will want to break your students into teams of 3-4 survivors each. 

To successfully escape the zombies the students will need to solve:
* Two-Step Equations
* Equations with Combining Like Terms
* Equations with Distributive Property

Materials in Packet:
Envelope covers.
Three hint cards for each group.
Direction cards for each envelope.
Equation cards for each envelope.
Answer Key

Monday, April 9, 2018

Am I really starting to get this classroom management thing down?!?!?

This year I have a new para-educator in my room.  She's not new to the district, she's new to my classes.  I believe she and I started in this district around the same time (like 18 years ago, sheesh!).  Anyway, she was complimenting me on my control over the classroom and I was really taken aback by her comments because I've always felt that discipline was my weakest area.

I wanted to reflect on what might have changed over the years to have someone who sits in my class daily feel comfortable, where before I'm not so sure that was the case.  If I really do have any advice to offer to my younger, new-teacher self, this is what I would say:

It's not personal. 
The students are not misbehaving because they have a personal vendetta against you, it's because they are kids and kids need to test the limits.  It's also not personal when you follow through with the corresponding consequence.  My first few years, I had a lot of difficulty following through with the consequences with the "nice" kids.  Not only does this create a classroom control issue, you also risk these students thinking that you're friends.

Establish rules that you will carry out.  
Don't create a rule that you are not comfortable enforcing.  And don't make your rules too complicated or something that requires a lot of bookkeeping.  

Be consistent.  
You have to enforce all your rules all the time.  You slip up once and the students will call you on it.  Reread how it's not personal.

Get experience.
Okay, this isn't something you can just pick up at the store.  It takes time.  The first years, you'll be using rules and consequences based on your own schooling experience, the advice of other teachers, and your good old common sense.  After a while you'll find out what works best for you and your students.  

Remember to be nice.
This is the same as "It's Not Personal".  The students need to know that you didn't take their behavior personal either.  You still like them as a person.  You still respect them as a human being.  BUT you are going to provide safe boundaries for them.  Remove all your emotions from classroom management.  I repeat:  Remove all your emotions from classroom management.

Do not debate with the students.  
Oh, and they will want to debate, negotiate, beg, and plead.  Be ready for the sob stories, "But my mom said that I won't be able to go on the family vacation this summer if I get one more detention."  Remember: Remove all your emotions from classroom management.  Always follow through with your consequences.  I have wasted so much classroom time getting sucked into classroom rule debates.  

Don't ask questions, give direction.
Instead of "Would you like to take your seat now?"  say "Take your seat, please."  One thing I've learned is to not ask questions I don't want to know the answers to.  If I ask a student to take their seat, it sounds like I'm giving them an option, but if I politely remind them that it's time to take their seat, it sounds like I'm in charge.

Don't start your lesson until you have their attention and none of the students are talking.
If you start your lesson before the students settle down, the message you are sending is that you are okay with this.  If you wait until you have their attention, it lets them know that you will take control of this situation.  It also lets them know that what you are about to say is important and that you think they are important enough to hear it.

Sarcasm Doesn't Work
How do you feel when someone uses sarcasm on you?  Personally, I feel stupid and it makes me not want to try.

Never yell, unless someone's safety is at stake. 
Save yelling for when you really need to make a statement, like someone is about to be injured.  If you yell everyday, you never make a statement.

I still feel that I have a lot to learn about managing a classroom full of teenagers.  I can't honestly say that I do all of these all the time.  Do I still use sarcasm without thinking?  Sadly, yes.  Am I always nice?  No, not always.  But I'm working on it.  These are a few of the things that seem to be working for me with my classroom management.  What would you add to this list?

Monday, March 19, 2018

Ten Cent Notebooks Keep Me Sane - Lists, lists, and more lists

At the beginning of the school year, Walmart sells their 70-page spiral notebooks for $0.10 and I purchase about 50 of them.  I figure at 10 cents a notebook, I'll find a use for them even if that use is giving them to my students.

I started this year very disorganized.  Between school, family, being a business owner (thank God for my partners), Sunday School teacher, and just life in general, my thoughts were always scattered.  I wasn't utilizing my prep period to full capacity and spent most of my time running around starting one project, then realizing there is a more important item I should be working on.

Here are some of the things I forgot to do on a regular basis:

  • filling out student behavior forms.  
  • checking my own children's homework.
  • grocery shopping.
  • getting materials together for Sunday School.
  • ordering certain items for the cafe.
  • unlocking assignments for the students. 

I really started to notice my disorganization during the block periods.  This year our school has adopted a fusion schedule where 3 days of the week we have traditional-length classes (45 minutes) and two days of the week are block-length classes (90 minutes).  On those block days I was bored, and so were the students, because I was neglecting to plan.  Fail to plan = plan to fail, as they say.  I was failing....and frustrated....and bored....

One day I was mentally running through my to-do list but it was so long that I couldn't remember it all.  That's when I went to my cabinet and grabbed one of my 50 notebooks, opened it to the first page and wrote "TO-DO" at the top.  Then I took a few minutes to write down everything that needed to get done at school. You know what?  By the end of the day the entire page was full of things.  Every. Single. Line.  But do you also know what?  I was able to finish most of it by the end of the day.  I even had an interesting lesson plan ready to go for the next time I had a block class.

But here is where the real change my mental dialogue to myself.  Once I wrote down something I needed to do, it was as if my subconscious was given permission to "let it go".  My mind was no longer cluttered with mental to-do lists.  Every time throughout the day when I had a free minute, I would refer to my checklist and DO SOMETHING. 

Rereading this post I realize how obvious this sounds, but I'm hoping that it helps at least one other teacher.  Something as simple as writing down what you need to do can clear you mind to focus at the task on hand and be awesome!

Friday, February 16, 2018

Absolute Value Inequalities: Error Analysis (Printable)

I created an error analysis activity for my students that includes the most common errors that I've seen throughout my duration as a teacher....for Absolute Value Inequalities.

Here is a link to the file if you are interested.  It's a link to Teachers pay Teachers, but don't worry....its free.

Absolute Value Inequalities: Error Analysis