Recognition.  No matter how vague or discreet the recognition is, we all love it. My Curriculum Director actually sent my name to two different districts this week in response to inquiries about a state sponsored math project.  This may not sound like a big deal, but I’ve been openly critical of our local curriculum.  Here and here (recent examples).  As an example of why I’m critical, just this past week I was handed 5 weeks worth of lessons for my reading students.   Obviously, because I don’t know the standards that need to be covered before our state assessment.

Math standards though are somehow less demanding (I guess?), because I was just recommended to advise two other districts in their assessment prep!



Had a bad afternoon. It happens.

Saved it the last two days by knocking them out of the park.

Great Morning, Terrible Afternoon

Yesterday we had a couple of inches of snow falling all day.  Obviously, the students start thinking snow day (as do teachers).  We weren’t that lucky. Now, I understand the students are worked up and not exactly engaged.  Set up a lesson with a math game to introduce coordinates for my math class, went great.  Students loved it and they understood the concept.  Reading follows math, started a book on the Solar System.  Again, engaged discussion and questions.  All is well with the world.  Then…

We derailed.  Badly.

Science follows lunch and we have been using a website to research various ecosystems around the world.  The students are working in partners and have been doing a good job of reading and finding the information needed.  BUT, today the website was down.  I found another website that has similar information, but it was a different.  The students didn’t handle this well at all.  Frustration for them and me.   Science ends and my writing class enters.

Speed is out of control.  Heading for the derailment.

We’re working on a research paper and just finished up peer revisions.  Before we write final drafts, I give them a quick glance to make sure we actually did the peer revisions.  Two students did nothing yesterday on their revisions.  Guess what guys?  You get to try again. Another student has been sitting on rough draft for 3 days.  Today, I warned him that if he didn’t get started on the last paragraph that he would be removed from class (student is on a behavior IEP).  He sat there for 5 minutes.  Gone.

One more student decided he was going to throw his notes (wadded up) at a student who was working to start his final draft.  See ya!

So, science lesson went to crap and I failed to have a backup plan, but we made it through it ok.  Writing, not so much.  It’s so hard to get elementary students who range from 2nd-7th grade reading levels working together on writing.  I let it get to me.  Damn it.  I failed this afternoon.

Two students removed from class between 2 and 3!  Three for the year.

How many more days until Christmas Break?

Results Based Pay

School policy and educational policy are two very hot topics in the United States at this time. There are many reasons why and I don’t have to say much more than testing or accountability to name a few. However, before I begin I will say a large part of the controversy is the white OR black that everyone paints as the opposite. This is not any different from politics. No matter what side of the aisle you are on, the other side is evil and full of hypocrites. It is easy and convenient to paint with one color. It becomes much harder when you allow blending of colors. Hell, the colors don’t even have to blend. Some people can be all black in one area and all white in another. Very few things are black OR white.

After reading through the comments at Dean Shareski’s Ideas and Thoughts about Michelle Rhee, I came across another post that has me confused and is a perfect example of the “black OR white” I am talking about. That would be a post titled “Top 10 Reasons Why Teaching Jobs Based on Test Scores is a Bad Idea“. I take issue with a few of the reasons.

9. Teaching jobs based on test scores will attract only the most desperate teachers to the poorest schools.

Wouldn’t poorest schools be where you would want to go? If I was getting a bonus for raising scores, why would I want to go someplace that isn’t going to grow? It’d be like taking over for Pete Carroll at USC, that’s going to be a tough job. However, a “poor” school would have room to grow. Higher chance of a bonus for me! Raising the scores wouldn’t be easy, but I refuse to believe it cannot be accomplished.

7. Teaching jobs based on test scores will decimate teamwork and collaboration among teachers.

Really? Why? If I can help out a teacher and collaborate with them to become more efficient, shouldn’t I do that? Collaboration and teamwork should be improved in a place that rewards for higher test scores. Educators struggle with collaboration now because there is very little incentive to do anything different. Put a little pressure on those who are not improving and they will be more than happy to collaborate.

5. Teaching jobs based on test scores will further poison the educational climate in schools that is now almost unbreathable.

By challenging our teachers? We ask our students to accept challenges everyday, we should demand the same from our teachers. If challenging our teachers to change and do something different is poison, sign me up.

2. Teaching jobs based on test scores will extend the view of children as raw material to be exploited for their monetary worth.

Once again, really? Improving test scores exploits our students!

It’s really clear to me. Accountability and testing falls into whichever category is marked “bad”. But, it is only in that category. We teach our students to use Venn Diagrams so they can see how many things can fit into more than one category. Shouldn’t we follow the same principles?

Not a textbook, but just as bad…

My school doesn’t use a textbook for math, so I’m not quite in the same boat as Dan.  Mine might be worse, it’s a scripted program that actually has quotes that teachers are supposed to use during instruction.  Luckily we’re not held to that if we understand 5th grade math (some of the co-workers need the quotes).  The homework and parent sheets though are supposed to be used.  I understand that, if we are going to say we use that program, we should use their materials.  However, errors like the one below makes it incredibly hard to use.


Good picture that shows different triangles and how polygons can be cut into triangles, right?  Then, they go and screw it up by trying to identify the triangles.  Here is the word for word on triangle B:

Triangle B is known as an isosceles acute triangle because it has two equal sides and all angles are less than 90 degrees.

Well, is there any way possible that triangle B is an isosceles triangle?  I know it’s only one mistake and they get missed occasionally, but this is on the parent information sheet.  How can I send that home?

Learning How to Search

One of the things that shocks me with each new group of students is the lack of ability to search the web for information. I’m sure this is widespread and not limited to 5th graders at my school. This is a problem that stems from a few causes. First, a lot of the information given by Google is written above reading level for many of my students. The students lack the ability to scan for relevance and judge whether a website is appropriate for answering their question. Second, I think it has a little bit to do with laziness. I can’t count the number of times a student has said they can’t find the information. Even on websites that I have selected and are grade appropriate, the students do not read the information. They look for the answer at the top of the page. If the answer isn’t flashing and in big bold letters, they assume it is not on the page. With some prodding and pushing, they eventually give in and start reading. The third reason I think they struggle with this is that it is not modeled for them by teachers.

Anyone reading this will know how to find the information they need, but think of your colleagues. How many of them do not understand how to do a basic search for information? For example, my classroom has 10 student computers, so I use a lot of various web-based games to support our math curriculum. Every new game I find, I email it out to our staff. There is usually a couple of “thank you” emails, but the majority is “how do you find this stuff?”. We have teachers that don’t understand how to find information on the Internet. It is hard for me to believe, but it’s true.

Anyway, something I’m going to try is posting 10 questions that can be found using tools found on the Internet. My objective is to get the students familiar with the tools available. Here are a few examples of questions I’m going to use:

  • What is the capital of Sweden?
  • What is the weather forecast for Portland on Friday?
  • Convert 14 cm to inches.

A few of my colleagues will tell the students to grab an encyclopedia or a calculator, but is that what we need to teach our students? We have these tools, when and how do we teach them? I’m going to try 5th grade and in this manner. I’d love to know how other teachers attack this problem.

Update: On second thought, do questions like these help reinforce the belief that finding information online is easy and doesn’t take a little bit of work?

Does THIS help my students? I hope so…

The day before any break is always a tricky day for teachers. Some handle these days by showing movies, some keep on plowing through material, some reviewing previous material, and some enrich or extend the material. Hopefully the following activities have educational benefits. If not, at least I’m not showing a movie.

The National Library of Virtual Manipulatives gave us our activity for math. Ladybug Mazes from the geometry section. The Ladybug Maze is really a very simple programming exercise. A ladybug has to travel through a maze and you decide where it goes by telling it to go forwards or backwards and when to turn.


MOST (I will get to this at the end of the post) of the students loved it. That might not be the most important thing, but it does count.

Math was taken care of, now what to do with science? What did we do?

Fantastic Contraption (Disclaimer: I can’t click on that link and leave the site within 30 minutes.)


For those unfamiliar with this game, you have to move the pink wheel on the left to the big pink square on the right. Your tools are wheels that turn both ways and axles. Get as creative as you want in solving the puzzles, but some can be solved in very elementary ways. My science students absolutely loved this today. Even had two teachers say “I don’t know what you did in science today, but the students loved it”. At least I have somebody convinced.

Earlier I had mentioned that most of my students loved the maze activity, any guesses on the two students that did not enjoy it all? My two highest achieving students in math. No lie. They know their math facts from any direction. They have learned anything new I have taught this year. They are also terrified of getting the wrong answer. After seeing their disgusted reaction with this activity, I couldn’t help but think of the Red/Green Knowledge post from dy/dan. These two students are red knowledge All-Stars. But, they were so distraught after not having the answer right away, they could not figure out the mistakes in their program. Some of my lower achieving students had zero problems with the maze, it was a video game to them. They had no problems seeing where the ladybug needed to go and how to get it there.

Result: Pushed my top students out of their comfort zone and allowed some of my lower achieving students a chance to shine. Success, right?