Category: Classroom Culture

This (blank) in Math

Students say interesting things. No matter what they’re talking about, students have so many insightful, thoughtful, funny, or just plain awesome thoughts to share. Because I so greatly enjoy reading what my students have to say, because students love the chance to express themselves, and because reflecting on math and life has so many benefits, I decided to have students regularly complete the “This (blank) in Math” reflection sheet.

In August 2016, I started using “This Week in Math” with five minutes to go every Friday. It wasn’t a failure by any means, but it didn’t work the way I had hoped it would. Many students rushed to complete it so they could leave, but even if they had spent a lot of time on it, the prompts simply didn’t lend themselves to the sort of thought that I wanted my students to give. Don’t get me wrong: I still like “This Week in Math,” and if I hadn’t found a better Friday routine (The Finale…which I’ll blog about eventually), I’d still be using it. What I really wanted was something bigger, better, and more awesome. I found it.

On the last day of the first quarter, we completed two main tasks. First, I announced first quarter awards, which are essentially Shout-outs covering the entire quarter. Second, students filled out “This Quarter in Math.” On the last day of the first semester, I did something similar: first semester awards and “This Semester in Math.” And as you’d expect, I repeated this – awards included – at the end of the third quarter (a different version of “This Quarter in Math”) and at the end of the year (“This Year in Math”). I read every single one of my students’ responses, and I tried to write at least two comments for each student. I actually ended up scanning the sheets so that I’d still have a copy even after I returned them to the students. The whole process, though time-consuming, was amazing.

I attribute the success of the quarterly reflections to a few factors. First, because we completed these longer reflections only once per quarter, students treated them as more important than the shorter, weekly ones. Second, because I gave the students much of the class period to complete their reflections (don’t worry – we still did math!), they had time to respond thoughtfully (even if they didn’t always do so). Third, because the reflections included as many non-math prompts as math prompts, students viewed them as less of a chore and more of an interesting way to end the term. Finally, because I valued my students’ thought and opinions – and I did so in a noticeable way – students felt comfortable genuinely expressing themselves, knowing full well that I actually wanted to read what they had to say.

I will absolutely use “This (blank) in Math” again this coming school year. I truly look forward to reading these reflections, so much so that I’m considering doing a sort of pre-reflection at the beginning of the year. I have an old student information sheet that I can tidy up to serve this purpose. The real question is if I’ll start using weekly reflections again. I don’t have a firm answer yet, but I’m leaning toward replacing them with something else. I plan, for example, to build some sort of “self-assessment” into each assessment I give (e.g. “confident, fuzzy, or no idea?”), and I’d very much like to find ways to regularly meet with students and discuss their progress in the course. Time might not allow this, but it’s a goal to work toward. Regardless of how I do it, having students reflect on math and on life will continue to play a prominent role in my teaching.

Interested in seeing the reflection sheets? Head over to the Documents page. Feel free to use or modify them as you see fit. Enjoy!

The Quote Board

The Quote Board

I was tellingĀ Sam Shah about my Quote Board, and he asked me to blog about it. This one’s for you, Sam!

The Quote Board is not an original idea. One of my colleagues has a whiteboard near the back of her room on which she writes student quotes. For the most part, actually, she includes words or short phrases her students used. I haven’t counted to say for sure, but I feel like the vast majority of her quotes are humorous. I’ve been in her classroom a few times when she stopped class because of something someone said. It was quite an event when a student earned his/her spot on the board!

Although I certainly liked what she was doing, it took a year-and-a-half for me to make my own version. I grew tired of looking at a blank bulletin board near the entrance to my room, so I decided to put something on it. My colleague’s idea certainly floated around somewhere in my head, as did memories of interesting quotes from the previous year (e.g. a student responding to the question “What is 8?” with “an S and another backward S” and another student responding to my question about what he’d do if I passed out by telling me he’d “slap me awake”). Ultimately, however, it was the insistence of my mother (yes, my mother!) that spurred me to make the Quote Board happen.

Here’s how it started. After hearing something interesting during the day, I went home, typed it up, printed it, and laminated it. Then, I stapled it to the bulletin board. The first quote came during Fawn Nguyen’s Hotel Snap activity when a member of Math Club said:

“So the floor doesn’t count as a window?”

The student and I both laughed about what he’d said, so it became the first quote on the board. For the initial quotes, I used a fairly large font so I could cover more of the board. I soon realized that I’d need all the space I could get! Why? Because the Quote Board took off! Once I started posting quotes, I started hearing more and more interesting comments and questions. Sometimes they were funny:

Student 1: “We’re neighbors.”
Student 2: “Our dogs are dating!”

Sometimes they were cute:

“I was so smart this morning. I knew my braces would hurt, so I cut up my carrots nice and tiny.”

Sometimes they were reflective:

“I had so much time to think while I was falling. I was like ‘Not again.'”

Sometimes they were short:

“He was practicing sleeping in his dreams.”

Sometimes they were long:

Me: “My dog has nine lives.”
Student 1: “That’s cats!”
Me: “My dog is half cat.”
Student 2: “Then he only has four-and-a-half lives!”

Sometimes they were catchy:

“Boom, bam, chicken and ham.”

Sometimes they were confusing:

Student 1: “I hate tennis. I was so bad at it.”
Student 2: “Are you doing it again?”
Student 1: “Probably.”

And sometimes they were just plain weird:

‘Onion’ is one of the Which One Doesn’t Belong? choices.
Student: “‘Onion’ is the only one that has Ohio in it kind of.”

Here are a few important points. First, I actually used the students’ names on the quotes (but not here for privacy). Second, I cleared the quote with the student to ensure he/she wouldn’t be embarrassed or otherwise upset when I posted it. Third, I always had two students cut out the laminated quotes and choose where to staple them on the board. Fourth, once I started running low on room, I started posting quotes on a long, thin bulletin board above the chalk/whiteboards at the back of the classroom.

Shortly after the school year ended, I decided to recognize my favorite quotes and the most quotable students by hanging a framed list called “The Year in Quotes 2016-17” on one of my classroom’s walls. The students don’t know about this, but once I get back in my classroom, I will hang the list and send them a picture. I hope they’re as excited about this as I am!

The Quote Board has been one of the most important ways I’ve transformed my classroom culture. It’s about laughing at ourselves and accepting that sometimes we all say funny/weird/embarrassing things, but it’s also about building a collective memory – a classroom history! – together. For the rest of my career, students will see the names and quotes of other students who passed through my classroom, knowing full well that they too will soon become alumni of Room 224.

The Year in Quotes 2016-17