Saturday, September 8, 2007

Awesome and Amazing by the Numbers

Thirty bottles of pop on the wall,
Thirty bottles of pop.
Take five down
And pass them around...
Twenty-five bottles of pop on the wall.
(and so on, counting down, by 5's to zero)

This was a particularly popular song in the third grade class I had yesterday. They were studying multiplying by two and five, the commutative property and "repetitive addition". Counting up by 5's was too easy, but counting down...even my two's...that was harder and I had to pause in the song longer for them to think ahead of what number came next. Otherwise, Math, as a school subject, has just degenerated in to duplicated fill-in sheets that most need help on. (my observations so far) And then, of course, that prepares them for the paper and pencil tests that the State/District mandates.

This particular school was a "Title I Award Winner" last year and is going for it again. Key to that is test-savy kids not only in Math but in Reading and Writing. So I'm seeing an awful lot of fill-in-the-blanks, stem questions, proper answers etc. These were third graders and some of their work was already on the fourth grade level from my recent experience. This is an "ideal school" if you look at the leadership and attitudes promoted. You would be amazed and awed by the "positive talk", mottos and expressions on the public walls and even in the teacher's lounge. The principal is very personable and is out meeting and greeting more than any other I've met recently. This particular day she was leading the Friday A.M. before class patriotic celebrations and announcements. She got the kids to cheer because there was 97% attendance the day before. She only came on the intercom, apologetically, to announce some major room/teacher switches, which is bound to happen almost every year from a lack of fore knowledge about how many, at what level would actually be attending after a week. Yes, kids were disappointed to lose a favorite, looked-forward-to, teacher or a group of friends they had been with from K. These kids all just love their school, their teachers and their principal. She has brought in a Vice Principal, new this year and he probably is her opposite, although he is tall too.

Instead of the "lesson planned" quiet reading I decided to teach them a new song. They loved it:

You are my sunshine,

My only sunshine.

You make me happy,

When skies are blue.

You'll never know kids,

How much I'm learning

'Til I share my sunshine with you.

Of course, I replaced the sunshine with the school name. Familiar tune so no problem to have one kid at a time come up and using a pointer, helping the class focus on the words. Then he/she was asked to erase two or more words not side-by-side and then pick another student to do the same as we sang it again. Pretty soon we had no words on the board and, I pointed out, that the lyrics were all inside their heads and that that was "learning"...rote learning made fun.
Friday spelling tests were the same as other places except there was an attempt to give harder words to a few. I suggested they also try to write them in cursive and use them in a sentence. Immediate protests, "We don't do that yet." My response, "Why not try it? I won't mark you off if it is wrong." Only one or two did. They were rewarded. Part of the problem, was the newsprint paper passed out to take the test was cut to narrow to accomodate sentences. What a shame. Written and Verbal Responsiveness and Recreation has to start somewhere.
At my old school, that I retired from, there were some giant, sculpted numbers 0 through 9. Kids loved them and climbed on them. One time, our 6th grade project was to paint them each the different colors of the rainbow (ROY G. BIV) with a white and black too. Unfortunately, I see no opportunities like that here at this "super school". Before school, all the kids are crowded on a small blacktop area with 4 tetherball poll and 4-Square lines and a couple of basket ball courts. Right behind them is this beautifully green and gigantic "city park" field...THAT I HAVE NEVER SEEN ANYBODY USING! Some of it is lower like a drainage catch basin for rain run-off...but we haven't had any rain for years now. (perfect draught) It is all fenced off and there are no backstops or soccer goals that I can see. What a shame! Kids learn and interrelate so differently on that kind of a playground. They were frantically playing jump rope with the ropes almost touching each other and the boys getting scolded for rough-housing and group-jumping to where someone got bumped in the head. "Back to single file lines," ala V.P.
Because the school is so big with lots of classrooms in and out of hallways, kids are asked to line up and stay in line as they move from/to playground and classroom. They are asked to "Zip and Flip." This means to close their mouths and fold their arms on their chests so they don't touch each other or the walls as they pass. Problem with this is, they are all carrying backpacks of overwhelming size and they are busy lugging those. Some are allowed to put them by their classroom doors if they access the outside, but not in the interior halls. No lockers anymore anywhere.
Another new custom is the massive parental pickup after school at the "locked gates". Cars and trucks, SUV and Vans all over the place and kids frantically greeting and hugging their parental units and or step units with "long-time-no-see" glee. Teachers are asked to stay and "supervise" until all have been picked up or taken to "daycare" which is now called "Connections". I had one, with a note saying her real mother was going to pick her up for the weekend with her boyfriend. My, was this child nervous and on edge...why hadn't they showed up yet, what car would they be in? Finally, after a half hour, they appear and apologize. They were waiting at the old "lower grade gate"..."Oh Mom, don't you know, I'm in third grade now."
The teacher I was subbing for must've been a "pro". First time there's been a lettter on the board to the class telling them to show the "sub" what an "Awesome and Amazing" third graders they really are. I liked that. She had everything organized and monitors rotating for every task. Third grade is perfect for this, they are so "bossy" and "routine loving" I decided to depart again from the lesson plan with alittle P.E. indoors (...but we never have P.E. on Fridays...) and alittle "Twenty Questions". They loved them both. P.E. indoors is sometimes called "Silent Ball, Hush Ball or Shhhsh Ball" The hardest part is being quiet as you toss around a sponge ball or balloon. "20 Q", as it is called commercially is an electronic game with a remote that tries to guess what a group/individual is thinking with only using 20+ questions. It is really fun because it teaches question-asking, logic producing skills. i.e. Animal? Vegetable? Mineral? Size? Use? Feel? etc. Are we even teaching "QUESTION ASKING" OR "LOGICAL THINKING/PROBLEM SOLVING" anymore? It is not used just with numbers ya know. Where will our future lawyers come from? RRR

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