Monday, September 29, 2014

Stop the Insanity!

Do you remember the diet/exercise guru who had the ad campaign "Stop the Insanity!"  I do, and I thought of her a several times this first month of school as I'd pause to watch my students.  Yes, I've read Teeny's letter to herself about how every September the kids are this noisy and in need of constant redirection.  There were times when I would begin to give directions and then just stop.  And look around.  At the kids.  Who were all talking and playing as if I wasn't even in the room.  And this was happening a LOT.  Another issue: I'd give directions, say, "Off you go!" and they'd go off to their desks and NOT GET STARTED!  Everything was taking forever!

Until last Monday, when I started using this on-line timer.  As part of my school's PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) plan, each class is focusing on improving a specific behavior. I told my class we needed to work on transitions, including getting started on our work right away. We were going nowhere fast, until the timer.  Thank you, thank you, online timer!  I give my class 60 seconds to make their transitions, and I show the timer on the SmartBoard.  I leave the Chrome tab to this website open all day, so I can use it in a flash.  It has made a world of difference!  Funny how turning it into a game makes it more fun. Hmm, how Mary Poppins of me.

Each time a teacher observes the desired behavior by her class, she puts a "kibble" in her classroom dog dish.  Yeah, we're the Huskies.  Our mascot is known as "Top Dog," which works out really well for me, being such a dog person.  Anyway, When my class gets 35 "kibbles" (brown pompoms) we will take our "class bone" (made of construction paper) to the office.  The next morning our principal will tell the whole school about our Top Dog class on the announcements.  Then he will bring one of our adorable husky puppets to our room and tell us how proud he is of our hard work.  The husky will get to spend the day, and I'll get to wear a blue cape with a capital T (for Top Dog) on the back whenever I walk in the halls.  Or in my classroom.  Or to lunch, or to the copier, or to the grocery store on my way home from work.  Okay, maybe not.

Anyway, it's going to be so exciting!  My students have heard many classes announced already and seen several teachers in the halls wearing their special cape.  It's very motivating.  They like everything to have a "game" feel to it, so the timer really pumps them up.  It won't be long now.  As soon as every class has made it, our whole school will get an extra recess.  Another motivator!  Yes!

Such a simple thing has made our class much more productive.  We're wasting less time and enjoying our day so much more.  We've even had time to play a game before dismissal.  It feels to good to end on a positive note.

How do you keep your class motivated and on task during transitions?  Do you use a timer too?

Saturday, September 13, 2014

I'm Trying Math Workshop! Are you?

I went to a class led by teachers in my district who teach math using a workshop method.  At first I thought, why? Well, it works a lot like reading workshop.  You teach a mini lesson to the whole class, and then break into groups.This allows you to differentiate for different kids.  I'm doing three groups.  Here is the wheel I created for us to keep track of who goes where.
The blue part is stapled to the wall.  The yellow part is attached to the blue part with a brad, so the yellow part spins.  I laminated both pieces.  The yellow wheel had the three pics on it, and the blue wheel was plain.  I only laminated the blue part so that I could rearrange student names when I need to .  They are attached with blue poster putty, which works great on laminated poster board.

After the mini lesson, the first group comes to me.  I can zero in on what they need help with, add manipulatives, and basically cater to their math needs.  Meanwhile, another group is playing math games I selected for the day (usually practicing/reviewing skills I'm teaching) with partners, and the third group is completing their independent work, usually in our workbook.  After the first round, I ring my bell and say, "Clean up, stand up!" Then I check on them as I walk over to the wheel and spin the yellow section clockwise.  Now the kids who were with me are doing their independent work. The kids who played games are now with me, and the independent kids are playing the games.

The teachers who led my class recommend having advanced students start with independent work, move to the game, and finish with the teacher.  I've been able to show them more advanced skills when we meet.  They also recommend having the kids that struggle with math meet with the teacher first.  That way they get the mini lesson and the small group instruction before trying to do the independent work.  I found it to be good advice.

Of course there are many other considerations in a successful math workshop.  Where will kids meet with the teacher, do independent work, and play the games?  So far I've been meeting with my groups at our kidney table and having kids do independent work at their own desks.  Game partners spread out in the classroom library or the meeting area.

I've done five math lessons so far, three of them workshop style.  I'm not sure which way I prefer to teach math.  Sometimes it's just easier to do things as a whole group.  I have a feeling that once we get up and running with math routines, I'll just pick and choose which style best fits the lesson and the needs of the children. Then I'll announce if we're doing whole group or workshop.  I have a feeling they might groan when it's NOT workshop.  I'll let you know.

If you're trying math workshop, how do you organize your groups?