Saturday, September 20, 2008

Real life students!

My geometry students are performing phenomenally well. As I look around after I’ve assigned a problem, I see a real classroom – almost every child working hard on getting the answer – asking each other how they got their answers, and then listening alertly as I go over the problem, or even better, listening alertly and politely as another student goes to the board and reviews the problem.

Last year, I cried after I graded the first unit test. The test was easy and yet, so many students failed it. This year, the test was significantly more difficult – with algebra problems that the students had to set up and solve – and covered more content. And yet, only 5 students, out of the 31 who took it, failed. And those students have very spotty attendance. In my first period class, five students earned a 99%.

There are a number of things that are different this year – I have a year of teaching (and classroom management!) under my belt, we’re on a semester schedule, so I have the kids for 60 minutes every day instead of 80 minutes every other day, I’m giving them partially filled in Cornell notes – which include the geometry figures already on the page so we don’t waste time drawing them, I’m assigning homework every night, I have a system for passing out/turning in papers that saves time, and I’m teaching study skills (like the Cornell notes and flashcards). But it’s definitely not just me and my amazing teaching skills (though I’d love to take all the credit).

Our students just seem more like students this year. They are doing their homework (for the most part) and they are really engaged and interested in doing well. I have had kids at coach class during lunch and after school every day. Attendance is much better (although 1st period continues to be a problem). They are studying for their quizzes and tests. When we played Geometry Jeopardy, they told me that the questions that I made up were too easy and that I had to make them harder next time.

I’ve raised my expectations and the students are not only rising to meet them, they’re asking me to raise them even more. Damn, maybe the first test will make me cry this year too – but I’ll take that kind of crying.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Crazy Day

Today was not a usual day at school. At the end of 2nd period, there was a "fire drill" announcement. Turns out it wasn't actually a fire drill -- it was a gas leak in the building. We stood outside with the kids for a little more than hour (all during my planning period -- I really have the worst luck!), then the kids went to lunch, and then school resumed as usual.

I was expecting my kids to be totally off the wall when they came to 5th period. Instead, we got right down to work, and even the kid who came in saying "I ain't doing any work today," later told me "I changed my mind" and handed in a perfect worksheet. I was impressed. In fact, I'd say that my kids worked even better today than usual -- my 5th period tends to be a little crazy, in part because it is right after lunch.

I tried something new today, and I was really happy with how it worked. I wanted my students to review finding missing angles, so I created three worksheets, each harder than the last one (I think this is called a "tiered" assignment -- but whatever). I told the kids that when they finished the first worksheet, they had to bring it to me at my desk, I would check it, and if everything was right they would get a 100 and then move on to the next worksheet. If they had mistakes they had to fix them to earn the 100.

The kids were really into it, and they wanted to get at least two 100's for the day (no one got the third possible 100 -- the last worksheet was very difficult -- and it kept those upper level kids really engaged). I think all but one student got at least one 100, so I was really happy with that.

Also, I picked up something from Artscape this summer that I think helped the process. There was a booth with a trash can and a recycling can in front of it that had a bunch of young men in suits standing around it. Every time a passerby correctly recycled something, the guys would start cheering like crazy. We stood there for a while, waiting for a friend to meet us, so I got to see this happen a bunch of times -- and the guys' enthusiasm never faded.

So every time a student handed me a worksheet that earned a 100% -- I would yell (I mean, really yell) "WE GOT A 100!!! WOOOOOO!!!" I think the kids thought it was fun -- and they are now sure that I'm insane.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

More complaining! YAY!

Sorry for my lack of posting – I’m trying to get myself together and have not yet figured out how to work less than 12 hour days (although maybe I’m not the only one). I was in my school building for 11 hours yesterday – from 7 am to 6 pm, then went to Hopkins from 6:45-8:45, then went home and graded for a bit. I’m complaining, it’s true, but I have to admit that I loved almost every moment of the very busy day (minus the grading). But I would also have liked to watch the convention speeches – but I just don’t have the time. I have a mentor this year, and I asked to help me not work as much – we’ll see how that goes. Also, starting next week, I’ll have another planning period to get some work done.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m teaching AP Statistics. This is the first year that my school has offered AP classes and our students do NOT understand the rigor, workload, and difficulty that are an integral part of Advanced Placement classes. My students are complaining that they have to bring their textbook home and back to school everyday, that they have homework (and reading!) to do every night, that they have to take a lot of notes and long term projects, etc. etc. Part of me wants to say, “Welcome to High School!” I sometimes really wish that I could bring my students into my Massachusetts, pretty-normal, suburban high school so that they could see what I did when I was their age (damn, I’m getting old – “when I was your age… blah blah blah complain”). It’s so frustrating that they don’t even KNOW that a lot of their education has sucked.

They all failed their first quiz pretty miserably. When I asked how many of them had studied for the quiz, one hand went up (out of 15 students). That one student got a 60% (ok, so not all of the kids failed, but close enough). The rest admitted that they hadn’t studied. When I asked how many students were used to not studying and still getting A’s – all hands went up. When I asked how many kids now understand that that won’t fly in an AP course, all hands were reluctantly raised. I hope that means I’ll see a change. I should also admit that I think that part of the terrible grades was my not-so-great teaching last week; this week has been much better.

I’m very worried. While about 60% of Americans pass the AP Statistics exam, only 25% of Black Americans pass. Read that again, seriously, because it is ridiculous and beyond appalling. I would love for all of my students to pass the exam, but even more, I want my students to experience the type of workload and expectations that they are likely to see in college and that they SHOULD have seen throughout high school. My school is moving in the right direction, and I’m really glad to be a part of the movement.

Finally, I would like to say that I hit ALL THE GREEN LIGHTS on the way to school again today. I am awesome.

P.S. I promise to write a positive post soon :) I really am very happy, though you probably can't tell. I really heart my students.