Everyday Math

Everyday MathOne of the most rewarding experiences of my job as a first-year teacher was encouraging kids to write. One of my professors gave us an assignment called, Daily Warm-Ups. I chose to turn this into a math/literacy assignment which I will refer to as, Everyday Math. The idea of daily warm-ups is to engage students with short activities that require reading and writing at the beginning of every lesson, each day of the week.  These daily warm-ups can be based on any subject. I chose math as my subject because it coordinated with my alternative licensing unit plan for my Colorado Work Sample and Portfolio requirements. This also happened to tie-in very nicely with my Math Literacy assignment which I wrote about earlier this week.

My professor’s motivation behind daily warm-ups is that each day of the week, there is a quick lesson activity to help students get engaged with reading, writing and putting actual, real-life learning behind each lesson. My professor also required that a challenge problem be included at least once during the week. An everyday math warm-up was perfect for my daily plan which already included daily math problems at the start of each math lesson.

Using Everyday Math with Story Problems

To tell you the truth, the everyday routine of assigning raw numbers, adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing, fractions, etc., was getting a little bit stale in the class room. What really brought this to light, though, was how my students struggled with story problems. Even some of the brightest, most ambitious students struggled to solve math when it involved literacy and a story. I found it rather alarming that the mathematics rules, calculations and formulas I was teaching were not making any practical sense for most of my students. I was too quick to assume that they were understanding the actual purpose of the math problems they were asked to do everyday. The word problems often proved that they didn’t know when to divide or when to multiply or when to subtract or when to add. Learning the algorithms is only one tool in learning the use of mathematics in a practical way. For this reason, I continued to add real-life story problems into their daily, every day math routine. This is when I began to notice a very positive flip-side to this whole dilemma. The story problems were helping kids who previously struggled with the calculations. Literacy is the not only the key to making practical sense out of everyday math, but helps enforce the formulas and calculations by teaching how, why, and when they are used. Bringing this all to light, made me all the more anxious to put forth some extra effort and creativity into our daily math routine. Unfortunately, our old routine was making the daily math seem more like a routine chore to students rather  than a fresh learning experience. I was faced with a new challenge where I had to not only increasing interest and motivation of the students, but make it seem interesting, fresh and new. 

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Logical Consequences

Logical ConsequencesIn the midst of my very hectic first year of school, I was given a rather intimidating assignment from one of my professors at Regis University: I was to construct not just one, but two brochures on the topic of behavior management programs and philosophies. With my hands already full trying to manage two different classes of 43 students and masses of papers to grade on the weekend, you can probably guess that I wasn’t real thrilled with the additional burden of constructing a couple of brochures from scratch.  As I began thumbing through endless web literature on behavior management programs, I found one that made very good sense to me: Logical Consequences by, Rudolf Dreikurs. When raising my own children, I learned some valuable lessons the hard way. As with teaching, there is no substitute for parental experience. I think most of us made the same mistakes early-on in wanting to do everything for our children. When they weren’t doing what they were told we often interrupted their behavior and inflicted some type of punishment which had absolutely nothing to do with the consequences of their own actions. Obviously, there are situations when it would be dangerous to do otherwise and we need to intervene for the physical and/or psychological well-being of the child. I quickly saw, however, that I let many harmless opportunities go by to teach my own kids a valuable lesson by allowing them to experience the consequences of their own actions.
Is it any different in the classroom? As I read the literature by Rudolf Dreikurs, I began reflecting on some of the behavior problems with my two fourth grade classes. When undesirable behavior occurred, who was the one paying the consequences? Clearly, me. In an effort, to right their wrongs, I was the one who was doing all the work. This was not always about correcting wrong behavior, but putting forth the energy to stop it before it even happened. I was constantly raising my voice to get them to line-up, threatening to take privileges away, and expounding countless minutes making sure they didn’t do the wrong thing. I was allowing my own stress and anxiety to be their only consequence. They were only too happy to let me continue carrying-on like a frantic and paranoid rookie while knowing how desperately concerned I was about their own welfare. Why should they worry when I was worrying for them? What was once a burdensome teaching assignment became a blessed learning experience, and a turning point for how I would manage my own class the rest of the year.

 

I designed mLogical Consequences Four Mistaken Goalsy brochure using a tri-fold brochure template in Microsoft Word. I used our Notre Dame school colors and wrote the brochure as if this was going to be send out to all of the parents. One of the important aspects of a teacher carrying out such a behavior philosophy is to engage in completely honest communication and cooperation with the parents. Logical consequences need to be followed both at home and at school. Below are excerpts from my brochure. I’ve attached snip-its of the actual brochure, since the tri-fold format does not lend itself well to a blog format.

 

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First Day of School

First Day of SchoolThe most valuable lesson that I learned from all of my classroom management strategies last year was that none of them are as important as what a teacher does on the first day of school.  This did not come as a surprise to me. As a first year teacher, I was told countless times by numerous, experienced teachers, principals, and trusted family members, that the first day of school is the most critical time for establishing effective Classroom Management. There is even a  very popular book written with the title,  First Days of School, by Harry Wong. While I took this advice seriously, it rings more true to me now than ever. Now that I have had a year to reflect on my effectiveness at managing the behavior of two fourth-grade classes, I can see how my classroom management plan was rather vague, at best. I am not disappointed in myself for a lack of effort or for not taking the message and topic seriously enough. On the contrary, I took all of this information very seriously and did everything possible to put a classroom management plan in place for the first day of school. Now, I can see, only one thing was lacking: experience.  The reason that virtually all first-year teachers struggle to manage behavior effectively is that there is no substitute for experience.  There is nothing wrong with the advice I got as a first year teacher. I simply lacked the experienced vision to design an effective classroom management plan.

My First Day of School

Prior to the first day of school, I was not familiar with the environment of my own work-place. Consequently, I learned the every-day routines, procedures, and transitions right along with my students for the first-time. It is impossible to have a plan in place for the unknown. Most of the advice we new teachers receive doesn’t come in the form of such specific details. As a first-year teacher, I had no idea what questions to even ask of my school and principal. I remember the work and detail I put into classroom management prior to my first day of school. I put together a blueprint for how kids were expected to behave in the hallways, classroom and at lunch. I put together a behavior plan with a golden rule at the very top of the chart that said, Serve God. I explained to the students that serving God is the most important thing we can do each and every day and by following this rule we could do no wrong. Obeying the golden rule includes a lengthy list of do’s and don’ts. Some of the don’ts include, talking while teacher is talking,  talking while another student is talking, blurting-out answers. Some of the do’s are, raising your hand to be called-on, silence in the hallways, addressing the principal and priest politely, and appropriately, and treating other classmates with respect.  I also made it clear that when I raise my hand with five fingers, there needs to be complete silence in the room. While we practiced implementing our golden rule on the first days and week of school, I soon learned that my classroom behavior plan was not nearly specific enough about addressing specific events, situations and circumstances of the typical school day. I came to realize that my own initial expectations fell well short of  reality. The biggest mistake I made, however, was how I allowed kids to enter the room on the very first day of school. Later, as I watched videos of other effective teachers on the first day of school, I began to see a very amusing, if not fitting,  analogy:  A teachers is like the conductor of an orchestra.

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