Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The plan

Teaching 2.5 hours of SAT prep after being up until 3 am at a bachelorette party, waking up at 7 am to drive 3 hours home, preparing for the class and then going right there to find that there is no board space, just a small easel with chart paper and magic markers and 15 kids in the class? Not the best day ever.

However, the kids did laugh at all (ok, most) of my hilarious jokes, so that made it better. I try to make my SAT classes as fun as possible because I know how miserable the kids are to be there – forced by their parents to lose a precious 2.5 weekend hours to take a class – during the summer (ugh!) It’s much different that the GRE classes that I teach, where the students are paying for the expensive class themselves and are highly motivated to do well/do all the homework.

Lately I’ve been thinking about having fun in the classroom. Harry Wong talks a lot about starting the year by procedur-ing students to death (my words obviously, not his). You’re supposed to spend the whole first day teaching the students all the rules and procedures of the classroom, and then you’re supposed to repeat all this throughout the first few weeks. He scares new teachers, telling them “What happens on the first days of school will be an accurate indicator of your success for the rest of the school year.” AHHHHH!!!! Like I’m not under enough pressure, right?

Anyway, you’re not supposed to do anything fun the first days because it gives kids the wrong idea or something. I completely bought into this my first year because I was scared to death of not being in control of my classroom. Really, I bought into everything that people told me, because I wanted something, ANYTHING to cling to.

Now that I have a year of teaching under my belt, I have a plan – but it’s my own plan that has to do with my students. Baltimore has a major attendance problem. I want my kids to want to come to school. I want them to leave on the first day and think that their math class was their favorite class – and I want them to keep that attitude throughout the year. Of course I don’t want discipline problems in my classroom, and of course I want there to be certain procedures that we follow, but I don’t think you need to shove that down kids’ throats the first day of school. Especially in high school, when students are shuffling from one class to another to hear teacher after teacher drone on about rules and procedures.

My plan this year is to give my kids a brief overview of the course and go over my one big rule (respecting yourself and others). But then we’re going to do an activity. As things come up, then I’ll introduce the procedures (what to do if you need a pass, calculator usage, etc), but I want to start off with an engaging activity so that kids are into being there.

So, that’s my plan. You know what my other plan is? To never, ever, sign up to teach an SAT prep class on a day after a bachelorette party. Ever.


A BCPSS Parent said...

Sounds like a good plan to me. From a parent's perspective (which is really a second hand version of a kid's perspective), I've thought that these really harsh "lay down the law" first days of school are over the top. Admitedly we haven't done high school yet, but the shock of the middle school transistion, along with some fairly cruel words lead to tears on the first day of schools for one of mine. That's something that sets a bad tone for the whole year and certainly doesn't endear parents.

jackie said...

I agree with you-- also, I don't think kids are necessarily ready to absorb all those rules and facts on the first day or two of school, you know? Still too much summer sunshine in their heads. They need to be eased in a bit more, I think.

Smallest Twine said...

Well then, that settles it. My plan is a good one. I'll report back on how it goes.

Laura said...

I agree! I always do a fun activity the first day. Something that is real, easy to get, but that offers a challenge. I think the best way to get my 5th graders in the classroom everyday is by creating an environment where everyone matters and has a personality that is allowed to come out. I always seem to get the whackos in my class -- I think like attracts like!

Anonymous said...

I think you have absolutely the right idea! The first day surely sets the tone for the year and kids are already nervous about their new teacher, new classes, new school... why not make sure they know learning in your class will be enjoyable and engaging?

I have two girls in the BCPS right now and I would be thrilled to have them come home and tell me how exciting their first day was because they played a game (they don't have to know they were learning too)!

Learning is SUPPOSED to be fun. That's why humans have done it willingly for thousands of years. OK, off my soapbox.

A local guy, Steve Sugar, http://www.thegamegroup.com, has written a lot about teaching through games. (I do adult training for a management consulting company - this is why I know about him). One game I am implementing in a class is called Bingo Hunt. He writes about it in his book Training Games. It's a book worth reading.

You can read about Bingo Hunt and other games at http://www.citehr.com/43813-icebreakers-astd.html - I have copied the Bingo Hunt story here for your convenience. You can see how it might be helpful when covering a dry topic and you could modify it for a shorter duration (one class) and just use silly prizes.

The Bingo Hunt

It was almost time for the Engineer’s Annual Conference, a dreary three-day event filled with tired lecture-and-learn symposiums. Although the scientific updates were vital, the event was a double-pronged nightmare: First, administration had to convince engineers to set aside their busy schedule to attend, and second, it was becoming
more difficult to locate experts willing and able to deliver credible training.

Suzanne, the new training specialist, was tasked with livening up the conference.
After two weeks of interviews with previous instructors and attendees, she presented her
plan—a daily luncheon activity that would require participants to use their lecture information
to solve clues. The committee was dubious, pointing out that engineers “never played games.” But after much discussion, and perhaps out of desperation, the committee gave Suzanne the go-ahead.

Preparation: Suzanne asked each presenter to submit the three most important facts in her or
his presentation. From this collection of details, she prepared several short clues concerning each presentation or lecturer. When she had developed a total of 25 clues, Suzanne placed the clues into the squares of her 5 x 5 bingo-style game sheet.

Day 1: Engineers arrived at their luncheon tables to find a Bingo Hunt game sheet containing
25 clues that related to the morning lectures and presenters. Suzanne briefly went over the rules, explaining that the team (identified as all the people at any one table) who solved the
most clues on the Bingo Hunt sheet would receive “valuable” prizes. Intrigued by the game
sheet—or perhaps the prize list—people at each table immediately began matching the clues
to the morning’s sessions. When Suzanne called time, seven of the 12 table-teams had submitted
their game sheets, and the time submitted was noted on each one. She tallied the sheets
and awarded prizes to the team who had solved the most clues.

Day 2: There was a long queue of engineers waiting to enter the luncheon hall—and ready to play another round! Before they even ate, the men and women at each table met around the
game sheets, sharing information about the presentations of the previous afternoon and that
morning. With a wise eye to the clock, they rushed their lists to Suzanne. Again, time was called,
the lists were reviewed, and prizes were awarded to the team with the most solved clues.

Day 3: The Bingo Hunt game sheets were hot items. Conference feedback forms indicated not
only that Bingo Hunt was the favorite activity but that attendance was higher at each lecture after the first day’s lunch.

For all the information you need to prepare, play, and debrief Bingo Hunt, see chapter 8.

Cindy R