Friday, September 25, 2009

The Blitz!

This past weekend the New York Jets did not let up on Mr. Wonderful, Tom Brady!  The kept up the blitz. They kept coming with the pressure all the way until the clock hit zero. Mr. Brady was rattled, bruised, and bewildered.  He was shaking his head.  His coach Mr. Bill Belichick couldn't bare to watch.
They were once so confident.  Now they looked so confused!

Chances are they will look at the game film, figure out the problems, and come back stronger and more knowledgeable for the next contest.  They will work it out on the practice field in their New England facility.  They will not make the same mistakes. They will double check each formation.  They will adapt their blocking schemes to protect their prince.  Success will follow. That is certain.

The new Jet philosophy brought by Rex Ryan got me thinking.

I needed to borrow his approach and apply it to Math!  I needed to put the blitz on these students.  I needed to not let up until each and every one had analyzed the problems they were having with standard multi-digit multiplication and long division.  I needed to keep the pressure on until they changed their thinking and let go of past math issues.  I needed to force them to practice, practice, practice.  This is the only way we can move on and have a successful year.

These kids had the same confused look of Brady and Belichick.

It worked!  They did the work.  They practiced.  They changed their mindsets.  They became confident.

Thank you Mr. Ryan.

Multiplication and Division Quiz:  Class Average 94!

Maybe this week Brady and Belichick can learn from the sixth graders.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Key to Unlocking Math Confusion...All of Those Words

After teaching for 13 years I think I have finally found one of the main confusing culprits for students in mathematics...all of that vocabulary.  Factors, products, addends, sums, minuends, subtrahends, quotient, dividend, divisor, greater than, less than, greatest common factor, least common multiple, acute, obtuse, supplementary, etc etc etc...

Teaching sixth grade it has finally hit me.  They need to know these words . They need to hear them, use them, become comfortable with them.  They need to be part of every lesson.  Every day they need to hear the old ones, the new ones, and even some crazy ones.  They need to be challenged to find out what perfect, deficient, and abundant numbers are.  Prime numbers, composite, even and odd need to be ingrained in their brains.

The thing is, I needed to learn all of these terms.  The school of education didn't cover them.  New teacher training skipped this section. Even if I was told, I'm sure there were more pressing matters. It took some independent reading and classroom discovery to realize this fact.   I didn't know.  In reading we have learned to front load vocabulary.  Teaching math I always felt I needed to jump in and teach. Vocabulary was an afterthought.  I knew students were getting confused with Least Common Multiples and Greatest Common Factors,  but I needed to push on!

Now we stop and take the time.  We stop and study these words.  They are part of our daily routine.

I need to go study now.  Tomorrow: Factors in multiplication and how they are visually represented along with composing and decomposing higher value units.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

BIG NUMBERS small numbers: A trip to Yale University's Peabody Museum of Natural History

Today I went to the Peabody Museum of Natural History in New Haven with my family.  What an impressive place to visit.  They have a giant apatosaurs, good old T-Rex, a large assortment of mammals, and a new collection of rocks and minerals.  The children's discovery room was fun for the kids...and me too!

A man in the elevator said that he had not been there in fifty years (1959).  My wife said she had not been there in 30 years (1979).  My kids hadn't been there in one year (2008).  I had never been there before today.

That man who visited 50 years earlier said that not much had changed there in 50 years.  Some exhibits still had handwritten explanations in pen.  The expeditions headed by O.C. Marsh in the 1870's were still the main focus of the entire museum.   The building itself almost takes you back in time.  The old glass doors, brick facade, and dark entry way bring you back to a time before blogs, the internet, and television for that matter.

One thing I was struck by were the numbers throughout the museum.  Numbers that told how long ago these animals lived.  Numbers that stated the years in which they were found, the weights in tons of the massive mastodons, and the ounces that tiny birds and mammals measured.  There were lengths, speeds at which they moved, years spent tediously uncovering their remains.  I can't accurately remember any of them. ( We left 5 hours ago.)

I had a very difficult time comprehending the numbers that I was exposed to.  The large numbers were almost incomprehensible.  One dinosaur was from 66 million years ago.  Another mammal was from 11,000 years ago. Another was from a period I couldn't pronounce 12 million years ago.  The leaf cutter ants were from today, found in a place around the world I can't remember.

What is my point?  As a teacher of math, my job is to help students understand these vast and miniscule numbers they will come across in the world. They need to be able to compare them to help gain a perspective of the past and the world today.  This is quite difficult.  I left perplexed trying to put these things into perspective.  I have serious work cut out for me.  Serious reading to do. I need help from other teachers of mathematics as well.

I will accept any ideas! Please help me!

If you haven't been to The Peabody Museum of Natural History, go.  It is a wonderful day in New Haven.  A walk to Archie Moore's for lunch tops it off too!

Next time I go back I am bringing a timeline, ruler, and maybe an old school abacus to help figure all this out.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

What's in a Name?

I was pleasantly surprised in today's lesson when we were doing a little number discovery.  The students needed to count the letters in their last name.  They then needed to write all of the things they knew about that number.  So for example if your name is Jones, your last name has 5 letters.  What do you know about 5?  Well I got the usual "It's odd." "It's the number on a five dollar bill." "It's double is 10."    But then something unusual happened, I continued to call on students and they said things like: "It is a prime number."  "Its factors are 1 and 5 only."  "The multiples of 5 all end in 0 or 5"  With even number last names students were telling me about composite numbers.  The were discussing squares and square roots.  What a handle they seem to have on basic number concepts.  This will make for a great start to the year.  I can't wait to delve into place value, big and very small numbers.  This should be fun!

The one thing missing from this discussion...Baseball.  I always relate the numbers to baseball player numbers.  Five is David Wright!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Summer Rust!

I heard it today. The first sign that the kids are back in the swing of school and starting to think about the year ahead of them.

I gave them a test. No, not one for the grade book. Just a test to see what they know and remember. This was your basic multi-digit multiplication and long division, a bit of decimals, fractions, and percents. Then some basic word problems.

As I was picking up the papers I heard those words..."I'm a bit rusty on this stuff."
The boy in the back was clearly serious and the nervous chuckles resonated throughout the room. I then posed this question to the class: "Who else felt a bit rusty on this stuff?" Three-fourths (seventy-five percent or .75) of the students raised their hand.

Of course I told them this was okay. It is the beginning of the year. This undoubtedly reassured those with the nervous chuckles.

Why is it alright to be rusty? Shouldn't the students come in as strong as they left. Their Connecticut Mastery Test scores show they are bright, able, and they showed mastery in March.

Those students who did do some work over the summer clearly stand out. They are the ones who felt quite confident and competent this week. A little bit each week for eight weeks seems to be all it takes.

The students I tutored over the summer felt this confidence and were able to master this task. They had one hour per week of instruction with maybe one extra hour of homework.

My thinking is we should make a little bit of math work mandatory over the summer. Students are expected to come into school having read from a summer reading list. How about a summer math packet. Not one just geared for the CMT's filled with multiple choice questions, but one that builds on skills that they use in the real world such as estimation strategies, tricks to multiply and divide large numbers mentally, and adding large groups of numbers quickly and efficiently.

This is an area in education we probably need to look closely at for the benefit of our students. We need to turn that rust into shine.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

President Obama's Speech to Children...What's All the Fuss?

A quick stroll around the web will get you angry and angrier. President Obama is planning on giving a speech on Tuesday, September 8, 2009 at 1:00 pm to the students of America.

What a wonderful idea.

His goal is to: "challenge students to work hard, set educational goals and take responsibility for their learning", and calls for a "shared responsibility" among students, parents and educators to maximize learning potential.

So why will a quick stroll around the web make you angry and angrier. Well, there are legions of people calling their local superintendents throughout the country to not have their children see this; not have their child hear a motivational speech about the wonderful opportunities that a good education can bring you.

This New York Times article from September 3, 2009 summarizes some of the thinking that I am referring to.

It wouldn't matter to me who the President of the United States was. If the President makes a speech to the country about the virtues of a good education, hard work, and setting goals, the students must listen. What better person to hear this from, the one who holds the highest office in the land. The one who himself, and hopefully one day herself holds degrees and advanced degrees. One who has spent a good portion of their lives trying to help others in some way.

If this was George W. Bush...we would listen.
If this was FDR...we would listen by the fire.
Since this is Barack Obama...we must listen and watch live...streaming on the internet and televisions of our classrooms.

Our students best interests will only be served if they hear this message of being the best they can be. Maybe we all can take a little something from this. Sometimes a new voice is all it takes.

Here is a link to the speech information.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

About Face, About Sleep!

A colleague of mine and I were talking yesterday about the topic of naptime in school. He read an article about the benefits of having students, yes students in sixth grade taking power naps in school.

I thought this was a crazy, wacky, preposterous idea. Even first graders never got naps. If a student fell asleep when I taught first grade it certainly wouldn't last for long. We had curriculum to cover. We had knowledge to gain. You get the point.

My colleague approached one of our bosses on the topic. They said if it can be backed up by data it is fine.



I take back all that I said in the last post. Let's have a designated time to nap. Let's rejuvenate our brains and bodies for the afternoon. Let's try it out! What is the most we can lose?

I am now furiously on the hunt for MORE studies and data so if someone walks in and asks what in the world we are doing, I can wake from my slumber in the comfy computer chair and hand them the study hanging on the wall. If you find any studies please pass them along.

Good Night.

The National Sleep Foundation has this article along with many others.

Here is one study in Connecticut.

Here is another by The Institute of Mental Health.