The Lull

Wow its been a while since I wrote…or reflected.

The truth is I feel a bit of a lull and I am indulging in it.  School is not stressful right now.  It feel good and fine and under control.  But it’s not like I am not working…so what am I working on?

1) The Panda Problem

We have been studying various problem solving strategies, working on algebraic reasoning, and writing word problems.  The next phase of our year long problem solving curriculum is the Exemplars.   Before Thanksgiving I introduced the Panda Problem which has us thinking deeply and mathematically about panda reproduction.  It also supports our social studies unit on endangered animals and our writing unit on research reports.  It went really well with all students feeling like they could access and understand the problem, as well as find a path to a reasonable solution.  This particular problem does not have an exact answer.  I figured out that the range of answers is 36-124 and I will be satisfied with any justifiable answer in that ranger.   The nice thing about exemplars is that the point in the justification.  In justifying their answer properly students tend to self correct.

I broke this rollout into three parts:  Finding the Solution, Explaining the Solution, and Evaluating the Solution.  Monday I will model building a solid explanation with the hope that student will be able to replicate the building blocks we go over in future problems.  The Exemplars come with rubrics and so we will spend the following Monday evaluating our solutions and making any final corrections.  Then I have a geometry problem I will send home with them to be completed over the break.

2) Geometry Unit

Last year we found through assessment that student were not remembering geometry vocabulary or the difference between area and perimeter.  This year I need to take a slower approach to geometry and not make any assumptions about the difficulty of the material.  I have been trying to break down the concepts I want to go over and match them up with a variety of hands on activities.  I am still searching for some sort of culminating geometry activity that will allow us to use learned vocabulary and concepts in a meaningful way, like pattern making or model building.  I am not sure yet what to work on.  It needs to be artistic too.  I should probably go on pinterest.  In the meantime I have some good activities lined up to support the understanding goals I have identified.  I hope that by going slower we will increase retention and understanding.

3) Blogging

Blogging is going okay for some of my students and terribly for others.  There is a project management piece that some of them just can’t handle independently and some are not buoyed enough by the concept of blogging to work these issues out.  Others are blogging day and night and at home and love it.  These seem to be kids who are technologically proficient and who enjoy writing.  If they are hesitant in either of those areas, it seems to slow them down.  Also some of them are not strong typists in general, and others are not sure how to transfer confident keyboard typing skills to the iPad.

With my “mandatory” blog posts, I seem to be creating some stress.  I have removed that word from the categories as it did not seem to generate interest or motivation in actually completing them.  It was just stressing them out.  I am going to keep working on how to give them more time to complete these tasks. I totally see the value in doing the blogs, but we have a wide range of ability in this area.   Since it’s our first year, I think I will pay close attention to the true successes and the abject failures.  If there is a middle group that can mostly get it done independently – great.  The successes can show me what is truly interesting, inspirational, and possible with this platform.  The failures can show me what is truly challenging and in need of support so I know what lessons to build in.  I am going to have to cut some of them slack with this particular experiment.  But I need to remember that this is an experiment.

4) Supporting Animals.

I am teaching some writing/research lessons while E leads for her first time.  This is my third year with this unit and we have been pushing the idea of being an advanced researcher and really tackling some of the concrete skills that some children infer, but that all students can do if taught.  Our students run the risk of being too surface and resting on ability that is really “fine” for fourth grade.  However if we can push them to think more deeply we should.  Two lessons that are rocking their world in terms of animal research are the idea of general topic research and working with numbers.

I taught both of these lessons for the first time this year and have been amazed that they really do need them!  The general research lesson was about not becoming too focused on just their animal – that there was value in learning about that animals genus and family too.  Students often skip over resources because they don’t mention their specific animal.  But all genus and family information applies and thus they are missing key info.  The research numbers lessons encouraged them  to really investigate what different measurements and time periods given mean by making comparisons,  to do math problems around given numbers so they can write information in their own, interesting ways, and to make charts with information that is other wise confusing.  They grasped these ideas right way and were having many wow moments over their numerical information once they really got down to thinking about it.

The best part of team teaching is that you don’t have to do all of the work.  Right now my partner is taking on a lot of the work while running the reading and writing program.  I am okay with that because it is giving me time to think about my passion projects (above) more deeply.  My attention is not being dragged in too many directions and I really have time to think.   I also have time at home to relax which has been really nice.  I am enjoying this little lull as a luxury!

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