Smile

This is a crazy time in the world. Coronavirus has brought much of the world to a screeching halt. During all this uncertainty, it is important to try to find some lighthearted content to bring a smile to your face. Here are a few posts I’ve seen that are sure to lift your spirits during these challenging times.

Learning At Home

Many schools around the country are closing for extended periods of time. My state, Pennsylvania, is closed for at least two weeks. Washington state has already cancelled and the governor of Ohio said there’s a good chance schools in that state might not open again this academic year.

This has caused many educators and parents to wonder what learning at home will look like. There are some challenges to online learning, and I think the challenges we’re facing right now are going to make us take a long look at equity with regards to internet access. Those, however, are discussions for another time and another post.

With many trying to determine what learning will look like at home, there is a wonderful Google Doc shared by Katie Novak. It is a great resource for families at home, and could be a great starting point for teachers looking to create an online learning setup for their students.

Real Men Teach

I’m huge believer in education. The power of education can literally change somebody’s life. It can help move somebody out of poverty, solve injustices in the world, and find solutions to a multitude of problems facing humanity.

As important as learning is, the education system in the United States struggles with staff diversity. Statistics show that female elementary teachers outnumber their male counterparts 89% to 11%. Why does diversity matter? One report found that having at least one African American teacher in third through fifth grades reduced an African American student’s probability of dropping out of school by 29%.

This week, I saw a tweet from Nicholas Ferroni that mentions the need for more male teachers, and especially male teachers of color. When I started teaching I was the only male fourth grade teacher not just in my building but in my entire school district. I often attend elementary meetings and am the only male in the room.

Mr. Ferroni asks a great question: Dear Male Educators/Teachers, why did you become a teacher and why do you believe we need more men in teaching?

Another important question: Men, how do we get more of you to become teachers?

Three for the Week

Saturdays are my time to reflect on what I read, heard, and discussed throughout the week. It is my “exit ticket” for the last seven days. So here are three ideas that made me think this week. (They are not in any particular order.)

1 – Not only is today Pi Day, but it also my daughter’s 11th birthday. This really made me think about how quickly time passes. Make every moment of every day count!

2 – Creating situations where students can “see” math in action helps build conceptual understanding. This should be one of the goals of math education. I saw this tweet, and it is a great example of how bar models can show variables and unknowns in algebra.

3 – Get the tissues ready. A 16-year-old boy died in a car accident. His organs were donated. The recipient of his heart sent a teddy bear to the boy’s father. The teddy bear had a recording of the deceased boy’s heartbeat.

Accountability Partners

Accountability partners are a great way to keep you motivated and ensure that you are working out, reading, losing weight, saving money, or meeting any other goals.

When I need to decompress a quick walk around the block is a great way to reset my mind. There are so many times when I find other things that are “more important” than taking this time for myself. That’s when my accountability partner Max comes into play.

He’s always up for a walk no matter what the weather is like or what time of day it is. We will walk anywhere from a half mile to two miles. That time outside, away from computers, phones, and email, is usually what I need to get me in a good mindset. It is just Max and me with our thoughts. The best part about Max is his schedule is always open. Of course, that’s what happens when you’re a five-year-old Labradoodle.

Max is always ready for a walk.
Max leading the way on a one mile walk in our neighborhood.

Max is a great accountability partner. If we don’t go for a walk one day, I start to feel bad that he’s not getting enough exercise. I’ve walked more in the last five years than I did in the 15 years prior to getting Max. While you might not have a canine who loves to walk, there’s a friend, colleague, significant other, or somebody else in your life who would love to help you. When you have an accountability partner the fear of letting them down will often get you going. So go find somebody to keep you motivated. Be the best you and good luck!

Conferences

Spring conferences were tonight. That made me think of this list of from Scholastic. It is their five ground rules for successful conferences with parents.

  1. Begin the year by explaining how and when you’ll keep in touch with them. 
  2. Never feel pressured to make an important decision, evaluation, or assessment during a parent conference or conversation. 
  3. Let parents know they can trust you. Be discrete: Avoid discussing students with other parents or engaging in any negative faculty-room talk. I also make this a rule for par
  4. Assure parents that you will inform them immediately about any concerns you might have with regard to their child. 
  5. When presenting a concern to parents, ALWAYS be ready to explain what strategies you’ve already used to address the issue and what new strategies you are considering. 

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William Penn and Chocolate Ice Cream

My social studies lessons were loaded with dates and names my first few years teaching. While there are some dates and names which every student should learn, my thinking shifted a few years ago. Instead of focusing on dates and names, I wanted students to better understand big concepts and themes in history.

Since I teach in Pennsylvania, students learn about William Penn, a quaker, who founded Pennsylvania, in part, to escape religious persecution in England. The big theme I want my students to gain from this is that people have been treated poorly because of their beliefs, and at times find ways to escape that persecution. This is a big theme that is not only applicable to William Penn but so many other areas of history.

The trouble was how do I help 10-year-olds better understand the injustices William Penn and others faced in England because of the King? As usual, when I’m at a loss, I turn to ice cream. It is usually Ben and Jerry’s The Tonight Dough, but I digress.

Every year when I teach William Penn, I write two different types of ice cream on the board. Students write their name under the flavor they prefer. Then anybody who did not chose “my” favorite flavor is given less homework that night. Fourth graders get passionate about ice cream and homework. (Don’t worry, students who do not have to do the homework, do it the next night.)

The next day we do a four corner activity. I give students a paper with four boxes. The boxes are:

  1. I benefited and it was fair because…
  2. I benefited and it was unfair because…
  3. I did not benefit and it was fair because…
  4. I did not benefit and it was unfair because…

Students are given a few minutes to write in one of the boxes based on whether they benefited from the ice cream/homework activity and whether they thought it was fair or unfair. Then they move to a corner of the room which corresponds with their box. Almost every year, there are students at three of the corners but nobody at the “I did not benefit and it was fair” corner. They talk to the other people at their corner, and then we share out and have a class discussion.

One student who had extra homework explained why this system is unfair.

For a few years, the activity would then move into the lesson about William Penn. We would read about him in our social studies books, answer some questions, etc. This year, however, I did something different. After our class discussion, I asked students to go back and write in red pencil any changes or additions they would make to their original thoughts. It was a way for them to reflect on any new ideas they had based on the class discussion.

Some students stayed in the box they originally chose, while others decided that what they originally thought was fair was unfair. I asked one student why he moved from “I benefited and it was fair” to “I benefited and it was unfair.” He told me that he changed his mind after hearing one of his classmates talk about how it was unfair to do homework simply because his favorite ice cream isn’t vanilla. He said, “Mr. Rashid, hearing him say how unfair it was really made me think. I had only thought about how it affected me. Now I’m thinking about the people who had to do more homework. It doesn’t seem fair anymore.” It was a bit of empathy in the middle of the lesson that will help him relate to William Penn’s struggles.

Here is a student who changed from “fair” to “unfair” after our class discussion.

This has worked so much better than simply reading a text about William Penn and having students memorize dates and names. Students are invested and have some background knowledge of injustice. They are using reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills.

Every lesson can improve, but I feel this is a really great way to introduce a pretty deep concept to fourth graders. Although, it could be better if we actually ate ice cream during the lesson. Heck, maybe Ben and Jerry’s can make a William Penn flavor sometime soon. An ice cream loving teacher can dream, can’t he?

Air High Five

My students love high fives. We high five when they go to lunch. We high five when they leave at the end of the day. We high five when students work hard in class. It’s just something we do in our classroom.

Of course, with concerns over Coronavirus, we’ve had to adjust our high five policies. My primary goal as a teacher is to keep my students safe. That includes creating and maintaining a classroom environment that is as free as a fourth grade classroom can be from germs. So, we’ve moved from high fives to air high fives. We keep our hands a good apart and simply try to make the best of a tough situation.

We will keep the air high fives going until we know more about this virus. Until then… air high five!

Number Sense Activities

There are two things I love in math – activities which build number sense and puzzles. There is a great need to promote number sense in our classrooms – especially at the elementary level.

British researchers studied low, middle, and high achieving math students solving problems. What was the difference between the low and high achieving students? High achieving students used number sense to understand and solve problems.

Kwame Sarfo-Mensah shared three great numeracy activities in a recent Edutopia post which are great.

  1. The Hundred Challenge – Students use four given numbers (i.e. 1, 4, 6, 8) to create equations which equal each of the numbers from 0 to 100.
  2. Do Now: Equation or Expression of the Day – Students solve an equation which represents that day’s date.
  3. Cryptarithmetic Puzzles – Digits are replaced by letters, and students have to solve the letter/number puzzle.

I’m excited to try some of these with my class. They might need to be adjusted a bit for elementary students, but they’re too good not to try.

Classroom Impact of “Springing Forward”

I woke up this morning at 8:00 and was very pleased that I got a full eight hours of sleep. This rarely happens for me. Despite a full night’s rest I was still a little groggy and unsure why. Then I realized it was really 7:00, and I’d only gotten seven hours of sleep. Or was it 8:00, and I did get eight hours of sleep? I couldn’t remember whether I adjusted my alarm clock.

A similar scenario probably played out in houses across the country today as we moved the clocks ahead one hour for daylight savings. We lost an hour of sleep, and this afternoon it felt like an entire day of lost sleep. If you’re like me, it takes a couple days for your body to get back to normal after the time shift.

This happens to our students as well. According to a 2016 article in The Denver Post, sleep expert Lisa Meltzer says, “We have tons of evidence showing even small differences in sleep make a lot of difference in behavior.” And who doesn’t have at least a small difference in sleep after moving the clocks ahead one full hour?

In fact, some research shows that students who have even a minimal disruption in their sleep routine can test a full letter grade below their normal performance when properly rested. So that A students might get a B on an assessment when they’re not fully rested.

Teenagers need eight to 10 hours of sleep a night, which might be hard when they “lost” an hour over the weekend. The concern for students getting an adequate amount of sleep has some school systems across the country reevaluating their start times. In fact, California recently mandated later start times for secondary students.

So, tomorrow, the day after we moved the clocks forward, might not be the best day to give that big assessment. Students’ internal clocks might still be an hour behind and their performance might be a letter grade behind as well.