Saturday, October 22, 2011

Paying your dues

I was talking to a mentor the other day about my future prospects, oh and another miserable excuse for an interview. Honestly, I’m not very good at interviews.
Anyway, the point I want to make concerns some of the advice she gave me. It seems that many districts expect a new administrative candidate to go through the Assistant Principal position first. It is possible to skip that step, but it will often make life difficult down the road.
This doesn’t sound too bad. I would expect that a person be able to be an assistant first, but that is assuming that the assistant position is similar to the principal position just a jr. It isn’t. The job description in wikimedia lists a wide variety of duties.
They are primarily responsible for scheduling student classes, ordering textbooks and supplies, and coordinating transportation, custodial, cafeteria, and other support services. They usually handle student discipline and attendance problems, social and recreational programs, and health and safety matters. They also may counsel students on personal, educational, or vocational matters. With the advent of site-based management, assistant principals are playing a greater role in ensuring the academic success of students by helping to develop new curricula, evaluating teachers, and dealing with school-community relations—responsibilities previously assumed solely by the principal.
This description actually sounds pretty good. However, in many schools the assistant principal is the dean of discipline. When I studied for my administrative certificate I don’t remember a single course on discipline. There was leadership, budgets, law, curriculum, and supervision, but no discipline.
So I wonder why is it that we expect our administrators to be masters of discipline? (Not that they shouldn’t be able to handle some of the most serious cases, but why are they the end all be all that goes wrong in school?)
The dean of discipline seems to spend most of his time dealing with piddly stuff. Dress code violations, class disruptions, disrespect, and such. Yes, he spends a good amount of time on more serious issues, but honestly why do we have to pay our dues dealing with stuff that shouldn’t even be a problem.
I’ll be the first to admit that my classrooms tended to be a bit loud. It drove me crazy because my personal active engagement tends to make me more quiet, which seems to be the opposite of the norm. So as the noise level increased in my classroom I would naturally either tune it out; In which case I’m sure there was probably a lot of social interaction happening with my students that I missed. Or if I didn’t tune it out I would try to restore piece and quiet (so I could hear myself think you know). If I forgot that I meant for this to happen I might have even raised my voice once or twice, (one of the 10 ways to be a terrible teacher).
The thing is I encouraged this behavior (not the yelling part), even if it sometimes drove me crazy. I wanted my students to be engaged. I wanted them to talk to each other. So I rarely had a student who got into trouble for talking, moving, doodling, or any one of a number of actions that seem to add up to detentions, referrals, and trips to the Assistant Principal’s Office.
Now my point is: Why do we need to pay our dues by enforcing silly, counter productive rules? Why don’t we pay our dues by working with teachers to create a positive engaging atmosphere in the school? One where students learn to appreciate and perhaps even enjoy school.
For more of an idea of what I am talking about I would suggest reading Vicki Davis’ post below.
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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Material-less math and questions

Playing PianoImage by dendari via Flickr

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As a support person I often find myself with a class for a day, or a period, or even just a few minutes while the teacher is gone. I need something to keep the students occupied with something other than gossip. So when the question came up "Need games children can play without any material to improve mathematical skills for thousands of slum area's children." I paid attention.
The first suggestions were games of NIM, which is a game played with stones. Any sort of counter will do and they don’t have to be uniform. Basically the game is played by making a pile of stones then picking up a number of stones in turn eventually forcing your opponent to pick up the last stone. Rules can include putting the stones in various sized groups and picking from one group at a time. Having a minimum and maximum number of stones that can be picked up, or really anything you can think of.
The second suggestion was playing “20 questions”. The answer can be as simple as a number and increase in difficulty such as rules or functions, to equations of lines, or just about any sort of concept in math. Imagine guessing a number but not being allowed to ask if it is higher or lower.
When I teach 8th grade math I basically like to make sure my students can recognize each function from the graph, the equations, and the table. So this fits in nicely. Actually anything we define in terms of properties should, theoretically, be a good answer for a 20 questions game. The game can and should be a vehicle for teaching students how to think critically about the properties of an object.
The last suggestion was Bizz Buzz. I’ve played Buzz a lot, which is a simple game. The rules are: students line up or sit in a circle and count up saying Buzz when they reach the number or its multiple. Bizz Buzz is a variation using two numbers and their multiples. Too add even more difficulty try using numbers from different bases. After playing this in the classroom a few times I increased the difficulty one my time by asking students to say Bang when they reach a number that is a common multiple. Playing with factors and common factors should also work.
I might also recommend ideas such as which I think is a great method to learn math. Creating patterns of dance or stomps with your feet.
I was also talking to a music teacher a few weeks ago. He was trying to teach his students the relationship between fractions and notes using the old pizza method. I suggested he stay with what is natural and use the timing of the notes. Whole notes, half notes, quarter and eights are fractions of time not pizza. Sustained notes are simply adding fractions. Students would obviously practice with their instruments, but drums can be easily created. I would assume that difficulty could be increased with various time measures.
If you have any other suggestions please add them to the comments below.

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