Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Setting Limits in the Classroom

One of the most practical books I have ever read is Setting Limits in the Classroom: A Complete Guide to Effective Classroom Management with a School-wide Discipline Plan (3rd Edition) by Robert J. Mackenzie.  This year, many of our local schools are making it a require read and school wide book study.  It will be used for daily group discussions as well as for application in the “real” classroom. 

It is easy reading and contains many practical, no nonsense methods for classroom management that actually work.  No theory here; just real life examples that can easily be applied in the classroom.  Many of the chapters give effective ways to encourage the unmotivated child.  (I'm sure that each year you have one or two sitting in your class.)  It is a book worth purchasing, reading, and sharing.  AND many of the suggestions carry over into managing your own children.

The paperback book can be purchased on Amazon.com for about $10.00.  Mackenzie has written several books, one entitled: Setting Limits with Your Strong-Willed Child: Eliminating Conflict by Establishing Clear, Firm, and Respectful Boundaries.  I haven't read this one, but I wish it had been available when I was raising my first son!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Six Common Classroom Irritations

Have you noticed that the same old problems keep resurfacing year after year in your classroom?  Isn’t it funny how the little things sometime put us over the edge?  I can always deal with that “special” child, but the continuous line at my desk about drives me crazy.  Here are six different classroom irritations which I find to be the most annoying plus some possible solutions to think about before school starts.

A.  Children Who Are Always at the Teacher’s Desk

1)    Give the student “question coupons or tickets.”  Three is a good number.  The child must give you one coupon each time s/he comes to your desk.  When the child uses up all of her/his tickets, s/he can no longer come up to to your desk.  The students soon learn to “think about” what questions they truly need to ask the teacher.
2)    Stack three cups on each child’s desk which the children change as needed.  Green (or whatever color you chose) means the student is on task and has no questions.  Yellow means the student needs to ask the teacher a brief question.  Red means the student has no idea of what they are doing and needs help.  This color requires that the teacher goes and assists the child.

B.    Getting a Drink; Using the Restroom

1)   Try permitting this only during non-instructional time.
2)   Set the number of times each student may go per the week.
3)   Allow water bottles in the classroom.  Research has proven that a hydrated mind works best.
4)   Have a restroom pass so only one student is out of the classroom at a time.
5)   Have a sign out sheet to monitor the time a student is gone and the number of times a student goes.
6)   Have a special hand signal the children use to indicate they need to use the restroom; so, all the teacher has to do is nod her/his head.
7)   Count when the children are getting a drink at the drinking fountain such as 1-2-3.  This way everyone is given the same amount to time.
8)   Keep a bottle of hand sanitizer by the door so children may use it before lunch to clean their hands.  (Unfortunately, not all children wash their hands after using the restroom.)

C.    The Pencil Sharpener

1)    Have a box of presharpened pencils that all the children may use.
2)    Make a designated time when students may sharpen pencils.  If you have an electric pencil sharpener, unplug it during the off limits time.
3)    Designate an individual to be the “pencil sharpener.”  This can be a daily job in your classroom.  This person performs the task of sharpening pencils before school, after school, or during any other designated time.
4)    Place a file card with a very short pencil attached to it by the pencil sharpener.  On the card, write, “If your pencil is shorter than this pencil, you may NOT sharpen it.” The children are to hold up their pencil and match it to the one on the card.  If it is longer than the one on the card, they may sharpen it; if it is the same length or shorter, they should throw the pencil away as it is too short to sharpen.
5)    Have two cups of pencils near the pencil sharpener, one for dull pencils and one for sharpened pencils.  When a child’s pencil is dull, s/he places the pencil in the dull cup and takes one from the sharp cup.
6)    If students have a “special” pencil (such as a gift from someone), they must have their own sharpener at their desk.  This avoids claiming that the pencil sharpener “ate” their special pencil which may create drama as well as tears.

D.   Stress – Especially at Test Time

1)   Have a “stress spot” in the room where a student may go and sit quietly.  You might have a Pilate’s ball there (a large ball on which a student sits and balances themselves) for the student to use.
2)   Always have stress balls available.  These are inexpensive and come in all different shapes and sizes.  In my classroom, I provide a basket of apple stress balls which my students (college age) may take and use at any time.  Many use them during test time.
3)  Walk around the room placing your hand on the student’s shoulder.  Give them a word of encouragement such as: “You are doing a great job.”

E.  Tattling

1)   Clarify the difference between tattling and telling so the children can recognize each.
2)   Explain when students should come and tell:  emergencies, when someone is hurt; when someone is being harmed.
3)   Teach students to be responsible for themselves.
4)  Teach the students to use “I” sentences with others.  (Example: “I” do not like it when you take my crayons.”)
5)   A good teacher response is: “Oh, well!”  This keeps you out of the situation without showing partiality to any child.
6)   Have the students write their complaints on a small sheet of paper (the larger the paper, the more room there is to complain) and submit them to you.  Or place a jar or container in the room in which the students can place their complaints.  Be sure the student writes his/her name on the complaint.  Check them often.  If the same complaint keeps reoccurring, it is probably time to have a one-on-one conference with that child.

A.  Teasing

1)   Ask the student, “Is what is being said true?”
2)   Separate the students.
3)   Read a story about teasing to the whole class.
4)   Have the “teasers” hold hands, look each other in the eye, and apologize.
5)   At the beginning of year, establish a rule of “No Teasing.”  Teach it, refer to it, and create an environment that fosters it.
6)   Have the students give out “warm fuzzies” to each other.  You can participate also. Create a bulletin board or similar space where each child’s name is written. Hang a small paper bag under their name.  During the day, each student may write something nice about someone who helped or encouraged them or someone else and put it in the child’s bag.  At the end of the week, each child checks their paper bag for “warm fuzzies”.    Key:  Check to make sure each child gets a “warm fuzzy” each week.

Now it's your turn.
Leave a comment explaining your greatest classroom irritation. 
 If possible, give a suggestion on how to solve the problem.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Aliens and Trapezoids

I am always looking for ways to help my students remember things.  For example, when we learn about the properties of one, I sing (yes I do, and a little off key) One is the Loneliest Number.  Since there are so many quadrilaterals to learn (*7 in all), I create quadrilateral stories.  Here is one of my students' favorites.  (Keep in mind, these are college students.)

Once upon a time, I planted a broccoli garden in my backyard.  Since I love geometry, I placed triangle statues all around my garden.  Every morning I would go out to my garden to weed, hoe, fertilize, and water my precious broccoli plants.  One morning, I noticed several of my plants had been eaten.  I was one upset lady; so, I decided to stay up all night and watch to see which critters had the nerve to venture into my garden for a broccoli feast.

That night, I sat at my bedroom window watching the garden.  All of a sudden, out of the sky, came a UFO which landed in my backyard.  As I watched, the door of the UFO opened (I use my arms to imitate the opening door while I say, S-q-e-a-k!) and out came some little aliens.  As they approached my broccoli, they repeated, "Zoid, zoid, zoid".  (I use a high alien like voice.) Sure enough, they ate several of my plants!  They then proceeded back to their spaceship and flew away. 

The same thing happened the following night and the night after that; so, I knew something had to be done.  I went to my garage, and got out my trusty chain saw to cut off the top of each of my triangles.  (I imitate the noise of a chain saw.)  Inside each cut off triangle I placed a bunch of broccoli to entice my visitors.  I knew if those aliens got inside, they would never get out because of the slanting sides.  I went back into my house to wait.

Sure enough, like clockwork, the UFO returned.  Again, the door of the UFO opened (s-q-e-a-k!) and out came the same little aliens. They proceeded to my cut off triangles, and perched on the edge peering down at the broccoli, all the while saying, "Zoid, zoid, zoid".  One by one they leaped inside to eat the broccoli, and guess what.  I trapped-a-zoid!  Okay, you may not be laughing, but I swear this story does help my students to remember what a trapezoid is. 

Let's discuss a couple of important math things about trapezoids that you may not be aware of.   In my story, the trapezoid is an isosceles trapezoid or as sometimes called, a regular trapezoid.  Not only does it have one set of opposite sides parallel, but it also has one set of opposite sides equal (marked with the black line segments).  It also has one line of symmetry which cuts the trapezoid in half (the blue dotted line).  This special trapezoid is usually the one taught by most teachers, but it is really a special kind of trapezoid. 

trapezoid & isosceles trapezoid
 For a quadrilateral to be classified as a trapezoid, the shape only needs to have one set of opposite sides parallel as seen in figure one.  This is the one that sometimes appears on tests to "trick" our students. 

In figure two (the isosceles or regular trapezoid), the sides that are not parallel are equal in length and both angles coming from a parallel side are equal (shown on the right).  Lucky for me that I used figure two for my trap or my zoids would have been long gone, and with my entire crop of broccoli, too!

*square, rectangle, rhombus, parallelogram, trapezoid, kite, trapezium

Friday, July 1, 2011

Unlocking Fractions for the Confused and Bewildered

Adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing fractions are something that every student should learn, but often numerous students are left behind in the mathematical dust when a math textbook is followed page by page. Finding the lowest common denominator, changing denominators, not changing denominators, finding a reciprocal, and reducing to lowest terms are complex issues and often very difficult for many students.

I presently teach at a community college, and my students are mathphobics whose mathematical anxiety is hard to hide. One of my classes entitled, Decimals, Fractions and Percents, is geared to those undergraduates who have never grasped fractions. This article encompasses how I teach adding fractions so these students can be successful. Specifically, let's look at adding fractions using the Cross Over Method.
Here is a typical fraction addition problem.
After writing the problem on the board, rewrite it with the common denominator of 6.


1) Ask the students if they see any way to multiply and make a 3 using only the numbers in this problem.

2) Now ask if there is a way to multiply and make 2 using just the numbers in the problem.

 3) Finally, ask them to find a way to multiply the numbers in the problem to make 6 the denominator.

4) Instruct the students to cross their arms. This is the cross of cross over and means we do this by cross multiplying in the problem.
5) Multiply the 3 and 1, then write the answer in the numerator.

*Note: Always start with the right denominator or subtraction will not work.
6) Next multiply the 2 and 1 and write the answer in the numerator. Don’t forget to write the + sign. *Note: One line is drawn under both numbers. This is to prevent the students from adding the denominators (a very common mistake).
7) Now have the students uncross their arms and point to the right using their right hand. This is the over part of cross over. It means to multiply the two denominators and write the product as the new denominator.

8) Add the numerators only to find the correct answer.

9) Reduce to lowest terms when necessary.

It is important that students know the divisibility rules for 2, 3, 5, 6, 9 and 10. In this way, they can readily reduce any problem. In addition, it is extremely important that the students physically do the motions while they learn. This not only targets the kinesthetic learner but also gives the students something physical that will make it easier for them to remember. The pictures or illustrations for each technique benefit the visual/spatial learner. Of course, the auditory student listens and learns as you teach each method.

Fractions for the Confused

I have found these unconventional techniques work with most students, and I trust you will endeavor to give them a try in your classroom. A resource handout on how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide fractions is available by clicking on the yelling guy with fraction math phobia on your right.