Tic-Tac-Toe for Content Discussion

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On Wednesday, I tried this activity with the 5th and 6th grade gifted science class I was subbing for. The teacher asked me if there was any teaching activity I wanted to try with them, especially one that lent itself more to science or history content that I hadn’t been able to use in my Language Arts classroom.

I wrote down a list of key terms from the chapter on gravity and motion on the board (e.g., free fall, gravity, acceleration, mass, air resistance, friction) With older students, especially in a history class, you could have them find the words or phrases themselves. Then they made a tic-tac-toe grid on poster paper and wrote one term in each space. After that we numbered each space and they were to write one sentence that contained 3 terms in a row, either down, across, or diagonal. I actually mapped out the rows and we labeled them A-F. The kids had a good time working out their ideas about each term, sometimes realizing their misconceptions about them, and trying to write a sentence that used them correctly. When they were done, each group presented two of their “harder” sentences. An example: “Aristotle thought that two falling objects of different masses would hit the ground at the same time, but he was wrong.”

I think this is a great activity after students have read content to have them grapple with the ideas and discuss them in a small group. I learned this in a conference session at my university and we tried it with history content. Not sure how I could use this in an English class, but you may be able to adapt it to the plot of a short story or terms of fiction.

Classroom Twitter as an Exit Card

Through Pinterest, I found this idea for using Twitter as an exit card to have kids reflect on the lesson that day or a project for that week. I’m not sure how one would use it in a middle school classroom with 160 kids, but I like the idea of having exit cards be visible to everyone, not just something that each student writers to the teacher. (From http://classroomsimple.blogspot.com) Will put this one in the hopper and think on it for awhile.

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Into the world of subbing

I’m still planning on using this blog to post teaching ideas; however, most of my time these days is dealing with learning the subbing game and weighing the pros and cons of .4 and .1 teaching gigs and long-term sub jobs. (A .4 job–for those of you not familiar with the jargon–usually means teaching 2 classes instead of  a normal 5 classes and being paid 40% of a normal salary. A .1 position–in my experience–is teaching one 50 minute class.)

My first week of subbing in 2012 was pretty paltry; I got a day-long gig on Friday after several days of no calls or getting called for kindergarten, which I just didn’t feel up for teaching, since I haven’t been in a kindergarten since I was 6 myself. For my first subbing gig, I was at the high school in the district where I student-taught, subbing for history classes that were largely self-motivated and well-behaved. Therefore, I had very little to do. I didn’t talk to a single other teacher during the day, since there was no centralized staff office like there is at the middle school. At the end of the day (which happened to be my birthday), I decided that subbing is to teaching like standing in one place is to salsa dancing. All of the stuff that I love about teaching–connecting with students, getting to know them, crafting lessons to get them motivated, working with them in small groups–is not part of subbing, at least not when you pop into a classroom for one day and then leave.

The next week, after three days of no subbing jobs, I got a job subbing for 8th grade in the school where I student-taught. I subbed for one math teacher in the morning and another in the afternoon, since they both were observing at the high school that day. One girl in the morning was confused about the lesson, so I walked her through the lesson (graphing a line and figure out the slope), which I actually remembered well enough to explain in a few different ways; I started to feel more like a teacher again. I also asked to cover 8th grade gym during my prep, which I was prepared to hate, but actually found not too bad. At lunch, I was mobbed by my 7th graders near the locker bay, who I hadn’t seen since November. I’m planning on subbing for my cooperating teacher in April, when she goes on maternity leave, and the kids keep asking me if I’m coming back for that.

Mrs C.–who I subbed for in the morning–told me that she still had an opening for the following Tuesday that no one had picked up, which I found strange since I had seen no job openings when I logged into the sub system that day. Over lunch, one of the veteran subs mentioned several sub jobs still open at the school and made me log into the system so I could show her that these jobs didn’t show up for me. I soon found out that I need to be on the preferred list for the middle school in order to see any job more than 24 hours in advanced. And if I’m not on a teacher’s preferred list, then I won’t see his/her job until 3 days before. After talking with the school secretary, she signed me up for a 5th grade position the next Wednesday and Mrs. C’s opening the next Tuesday. And after that, I was lucky to get a 4-day position filling in for the Gifted and Talented teacher.

All of this is to say that, for me,  not knowing whether I will be working one day a week or five is nervewracking. I understand that the job market is horrible and I understand that I could have it much worse. I was lucky to get a call from my old employer this week to work evenings after school for a short-term project. Then my retail job called on Friday afternoon and asked if I could work Friday evening. So in all, I ended up working 7 days in a row including three 13-hour days in a row, but probably will barely cover my expenses this month. Welcome to 2012!

Education Books to Read

  • A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America, by Ronald Takaki
  • Having of Wonderful Ideas: and Other Essays on Teaching and Learning by Eleanor Duckworth
  • Homework: A New Direction, by Neila Connors
  • Silent Language, by E.T. Hall
  • Teacher as Cultural Workers, by Pablo Freire
  • Teaching as a Subversive Activity, by Postman and Weingartner (1971)
  • The Battle Over Homework, by Cooper Harris

Reading: Sticky Notes

Since kids can’t write in textbooks these days, have students post sticky notes in the text where they’re confused or where they lost interest in the reading. Good readers will note where they’re confused and employ strategies to correct their confusion. Work with students to reread these confusing or boring passages and find ways to work through them.

–From Laura Robb’s Teaching Reading in the Middle School

Quote: Motivation

“Students’ belief in their ability to learn to read proficiently, and to set specific, short-term goals for an assignment motivates them to work hard, become involved in an assignment and successfully complete it.” –Laura Robb, from Teaching Reading in the Middle School, Scholastic, 2000, p. 19, based on research from Schunk and Zimmerman