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Taking A Summer Break


Since my husband and I are both teachers (80+ years together), we usually have the same time off. Since we will both be attending the Teachers Pay Teachers Conference in Nashville (my first time) and then coming home to relax, for the next three weeks, I am setting aside all technology to focus on my family and friends.  In the meantime, if you really want something to read, choose one of my older posts. My blog posts will return on Wednesday, August 1st.


Common Classroom Irritations

Have you ever 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 two different classroom irritations which I find to be the most annoying plus some possible solutions to think about before school starts.

A. Getting a Drink; Using the Restroom

1)  Set the number of times each student may go per the week.

2)  Have a restroom pass so only one student is out of the classroom at a time.

3)  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.
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4)  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.)

B. The Pencil Sharpener

1)   Have a box of pre-sharpened 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)   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 it in the dull cup and takes one from the sharp cup.

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Do you want additional ideas on how to solve common classroom irritations plus more ideas for the ones mentioned above? Check out the complete resource that fully discusses:

           1)  Children Who Are Always at Your Desk
           2)  The Pencil Sharpener
           3)  Getting a Drink; Using the Restroom
           4)  Tattling
           5)  Stress – Especially at Test Time
           6)  Teasing
           7)  Unmotivated Students


Is Extra Credit a Worthwhile Option?

Among teachers, extra credit work has its supporters and its critics, and there are a large number of "undecideds" as well. (Sounds like a political poll!) The range of viewpoints is understandable because the whats, when, whys and hows of extra-credit assignments really matter. Many instructors can't determine whether extra credit is a benefit or a liability, whether it is a point of contention or a headache. In other words, often it is a controversial practice.

When considering extra credit, think about these questions.

1) Does extra credit urge the students to spend less effort on their main assignments?

2) Are extra credit assignments meaningful or mere busy work?

3) Will extra credit encourage student behaviors that will not serve them well in the real world?

4) Should extra credit opportunities be extended to every student or be offered only to certain students on a case-by-case basis?

5) Can extra credit work contribute to grade inflation?

Teaching on the college level, I find that particular instructors never offer extra credit under any circumstances. (That’s me!) Others embrace it as a way to help students learn the course material or improve an unacceptable test score. A small minority, if pushed, will confess they only offer it when students wear them down until they finally give in to it. Most instructors understand that if there are too many opportunities for extra credit, it could possibly outweigh the required course assignments to the point where a student could pass the class without meeting all the standards. (YIKES!!)

I have always been anti-extra credit, the central reason being that it can inflate grades and allow students to receive grades that truly do not reflect their abilities or understanding of a subject. (Remember, I teach math.)  This is the way I view it.
  • Extra credit reinforces students’ beliefs that they don’t need to work hard because whatever they miss or choose not to do, they can make up with extra credit. 
  • Often, students who ask for extra credit tend to be those who aren’t succeeding or those who hope they won’t have to work hard because some easy extra credit opportunities will be available to them. 
  • It is an unintended chance to make up for low scores on earlier exams or missed assignments. (I would NEVER create extra credit assignments at the end of a grading period for students who needed a boost in their grades.) 
  • Time spent on extra credit means less time spent on regular assignments. 
  • Extra credit (especially if it is easy) lowers academic standards for everyone in the class. 
  • It is basically unfair to students who work hard and get it done the first time or turned in when it is due. 
  • Extra credit means more work for me in that it has to be graded! 
So after all of my rambling about extra credit work, my question to you is:

"What are your thoughts (pros and cons) about extra credit?" 
Leave a comment to participate in the discussion.


Drill or Practice? They Are NOT the Same!


When I was a kid, one of the things I dreaded most was going to the dentist. Even though we were poor, my Mom took my brother and me every six months for a check-up.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have fluoridated water or toothpaste that enhanced our breath, made our teeth whiter, or prevented cavities.  I remember sitting in the waiting room hearing the drill buzzing, humming, and droning while the patient whined or moaned.  Needless to say, I did not find it a pleasant experience.

I am troubled that, as math teachers, we have carried over this idea of drill into the classroom. Math has become a “drill and kill” activity instead of a “drill and thrill” endeavor.  Because of timed tests or practicing math the same way over and over, many students whine and moan when it is math time.  So how can we get student to those “necessary” skills without continually resorting to monotonous drill?

First we must understand the difference between drill and practice.  In math drill refers to repetitive, non-problematic exercises which are designed to improve skills (memorizing basic math facts) or procedures the student already has acquired. It provides:

1)   Increased proficiency with one strategy to a predetermined level of mastery. To be important to learners, the skills built through drill must become the building blocks for more meaningful learning. Used in small doses, drill can be effective and valuable.

2)   A focus on a singular procedure executed the same way as opposed to understanding.  (i.e. lots of similar problems on many worksheets)  I have often wondered why some math teachers assign more than 15 homework problems.  For the student who understands the process, they only need 10-15 problems to demonstrate that.  For students who have no idea what they are doing, they get to practice incorrectly more than 15 times!

Unfortunately, drill also provides:


  3) A false appearance of understanding.  Because a student can add 50 problems in one minute does not mean s/he understands the idea of grouping sets.

 4) A rule orientated view of math.  There is only one way to work a problem, and the reason why is not important!  (Just invert and multiply but never ask the reason why.)

5)   A fear, avoidance, and a general dislike of mathematics. A constant use of math drills often leaves students uninterested.

On the other hand, practice is a series of different problem-based tasks or experiences, learned over numerous class periods, each addressing the same basic ideas. (ex. different ways to multiply)  It provides:

1)   Increased opportunity to develop concepts and make connections to other mathematical ideas.  (i.e. A fraction is a decimal is a percent is a ratio.)

2)   A focus on providing and developing alternative strategies.  My philosophy, which hangs in my classroom, is: “It is better to solve one problem five ways than to solve five problems the same way.”  (George Polya)

3)   A variety of ways to review a math concept.  (ex. games, crosswords, puzzles, group work)

4)   A chance for all students to understand math and to ask why. (Why do we invert and multiply when dividing fractions?) 

5)   An opportunity for all students to participate and explain how they arrived at the answer. Some may draw a picture, others may rely on a number line, or a few may use manipulatives. Good practice provides feedback to the students, and explains ways to get the correct answer.

Let’s look at it this way. A good baseball coach may have his players swing again and again in the batting cage. This drill will help, but by itself it will not make a strong baseball player whereas practicing hitting a ball with a pitcher requires reacting to the different pitches with thought, flexibility, and skill.
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I am of the opinion that drill should not be omitted from the math classroom altogether.  Basic math skills should be automatic because being fluent in the basics makes advanced math easier to grasp.  There is a place for drill; however, its use should be kept to situations where the teacher is certain that is the most appropriate form of instruction.  Even though practice is essential, for math it isn't enough. If understanding doesn't come, practice and drill will only leave a student with disjointed skills. If we want to produce strong mathematicians, we must focus on the BIG conceptual ideas through practice in problem-based lessons. We must present ideas in as many forms as we can so that students will go beyond rote drill to insight.

If you are interested in sharing this with your staff, colleagues or parents, check out the power point entitled: Drill vs. Practice