Thursday, November 19, 2009

24 can arrays

Yesterday I worked in two of my classrooms. My other two classrooms I didn't make it to because of some miscommunications, but I went after school and talked to the teachers about what had happened. Although I couldn't make it to the volunteering session, I think it was important for me to contact them personally and let them know what's up. I also asked about next Wednesday. BPS is on half day schedule for the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, so I checked and made sure if I was going in to class.

My last class was extremely productive and continues to be the exemplar of what Math Rules! should be. I'm going to start calling this class the Horseshoe class because we have our separate space to work during math. My four kids were working on fractions, percents, and decimals. We played a number line game that puts fraction cards in order next to each other. I think the kids enjoyed a hands on game, getting to review what they had learned the previous day, and taking turns in different roles in the game. We rotated who got to go first, who got to shuffle the cards (the kids were very impressed I could riffle shuffle and do the card bridge), who got to deal, and who got to tally up points at the end. Having my students take ownership and responsibility was good, and the kids realized it and pointed out who hadn't gotten a chance to do different roles.

My other class unfortunately had a substitute because our teacher was out. Although this blog is supposed to be positive and student focused, I felt so bad for the kids for having this substitute. He really upset some of the children and I was helpless in the situation. Despite this, the students broke apart and worked on math in several different groups. This made working with my four kids very difficult. I got to touch base with two of them and worked with them on part of their work. One of my students was absent, and the last student I still don't recognize his face. This is really unfortunate but I'll talk to my teacher about this the next time I see her. I did work with one student very briefly on his arrays and thinking about different ways to arrange 24 cans. After I finished helping him, I circulated the room a bit, and when I came back to him, he said "Thank you for helping me with the arrays." It was awesome to hear this from a student. It was the smallest amount of effort on my part, I guided him through what he already knew, but knowing that he appreciated my time and 2 minutes of attention was amazing.

After talking to Wendy on this topic, I think it's difficult to work with the same four students on a regular basis depending on the lesson of the day and also the format of the classroom. Getting your teacher to understand the program makes everything easier on the volunteer. It's also tough to assert yourself, as a volunteer, in the classroom and say no to whatever your teacher asks. Getting this perspective of how the program works (or doesn't quite work) is important for personal reasons, but also for improvements and suggestions for the program's future.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Volunteer surveys

We're working on getting volunteer surveys out sometime this week. This year we're trying to get more feedback from all involved parties in Math Rules! (students, teachers, volunteers, site coordinators, schools, and staff) so we're trying out more surveys. We're hoping for a significant response rate so we can continually improve the program.

I want to start promoting the blog as soon as possible so we can reach our volunteers and possibly even get other volunteers to blog as well, but I think we'll have to wait until survey activity dies down a bit before we can start promoting the blog.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Catching up

Hi there, I've been working on the logistics of the blog. I'm trying to get it cleaned up and ready to be put up for people to actually comment and give input.

Last Wednesday I went to two of my schools and worked with small groups again. I got a first hand experience of frustration and another experience of groups not working well together.

At my first school, small groups were reviewing for a quiz by doing Jeopardy-style team work problems on regular polygons. At first it was hard to insert myself into a group and assume that the kids knew what they were doing, but I found myself giving small hints that would prompt them along. Some of the groups responded well to my hints and I even challenged a group's answer. Asking them to clarify the question helped them see if their answer was right or wrong. The question was similar to: "Draw a quadrilateral that has four right angles." Asking the group "What's a right angle?" and "What has to happen with the lines for an angle to be a right angle?" are leading questions I asked them.

One group didn't work as well together as a group because none of the students were listening to each other. I tried to get them to listen to each other, but as the game progressed this group got more and more frustrated they weren't getting the right answers. It was certainly tough to convince them they just needed to keep trying and to work more as a team to get points. I tried positive reinforcement "You guys got this, you were close last time, just keep trying" but when it was time for me to leave, the group was still struggling.

Like I've said before, some competition is healthy for students to have something to work towards, but often, I wonder if competition is detrimental to learning.

At my second school, I was working with my small group of kids. We started off well, I asked them how things were going or if they had a good story to share. We jumped into unit reviews of multiplication and division. Some of the questions asked to show work for two approaches to the same problem. For example: "Solve two ways: 35 x 27"

Not being raised on different approaches to multiplication or division (long form was all I was taught) I had to rely on the students to help each other. Some of the students started with a box method that I suggested to the others, and I walked through long form multiplication and division for the kids. I would also like to argue that estimation is a valid solution for division.

One of my kids got really frustrated with a second solution for a division problem and shut down. I felt really bad that I couldn't get him to refocus on his work. I suggested he skip the problem and continue on to the next problem, but it took a quick word from his teacher to snap him out of it.

If anyone's reading this later on: suggestions?

Monday, November 2, 2009

1st week

After emailing the Math Rules! volunteers, I've gotten a few responses on how the first few sessions/first week went. Most of the responses I've gotten were positive, things going as smoothly as first days go. Many of our volunteers will be starting this current week so I can put up more responses of 1st sessions next week.

One of our volunteers did have a question about keeping students focused in their session. Here are excerpts from my reply. Please keep in mind I'm not a professional tutor/educator and only offered advice based on my previous tutoring experiences.
"Keeping kids focused is definitely a big part of the volunteer experience. I have found that a little bit of competition is healthy to keep them focused. And if competition is not quite what you're looking for, you can ask them to help each other out. For example, "Mary could you help Joe put his shapes together?" You could also try refocusing the entire group together, "Let's all look at Annie's tetromino."

The great thing about the math curriculum now is that it focuses on group work and building off other students' ideas to help them with their work. Make sure you ask open ended questions that build off of the previous one. I've learned that these questions are called spiraling questions that start off with very basic questions that make sure everyone is on the same page. Sometimes these basic questions may frustrate more advanced students, but math terminology is important to understanding math concepts.

I think that it takes some time for [the tutor] to understand how best to motivate your kids. It also depends on their personalities quite a bit. It's hard to prepare everyone for real-world volunteering during [Math Rules!] training. If focusing becomes a bigger problem throughout the year, I would ask your teachers for ideas and suggestions."