Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Summer School Reflections

Summer School wrapped up 3 hours ago, and I've debated whether to wait a day or two before blogging, but I decided I wanted to clear my head of anything school-related for a few days, so here goes....

I've taught summer school for 5 years. It's something I feel called to. It's always challenging.

This year was TOUGH. Maybe one of the toughest months of my professional life. I can identify several reasons for the difficulties, but I decided that was not the point of this post.

I approached summer school differently this year (more problem-solving and less skill-based) and had a few things I experimented with, and those are the things I want to talk about.

Number Talks - I read the book Number Talks Matter in the week between the end of the school year and the beginning of summer school and started each day for the first two and a half weeks with a number talk. We did dot cards, then addition, and one day of subtraction. The kids seemed to enjoy the number talks. They picked up on new strategies quickly. It was good to see their number sense develop. I loved hearing, "I want to justify!" coming from multiple students. A few were stuck on algorithms, but I think almost all of them were seeing ways to find answers without resorting to "carry the 1" as their strategy. Subtraction is where the rubber hit the road (and, unfortunately, I did not spend a lot of time on subtraction). I've known this from working with students for years, but they do not understand subtraction.
Number talks are definitely going to be a part of my classroom routine this coming year.

Multiplication Facts - I always want to work on multiplication facts during summer school and usually approach it through timed tests and sometimes some sort of fact practice.  I decided to ditch the timed tests, and - since we had done the dot card number talks - made a set of subitizing multiplication cards for students to use as flash cards. I liked the cards, but I wasn't able to get the kids to be as productive with them as I would have liked.

EngageNY - We began working through an EngageNY 6th grade module on ratios. We talked about the definition of a ratio and how to find equivalent ratios through tape diagrams and a common multiplier. The EngageNY lessons ask good questions. And I liked the conceptual foundation that is laid. But I find them boring (OK...there. I said it). They are very teacher-driven and teacher-centered. With a group of struggling, less-than-motivated students, it's like pulling teeth. I tried to bookcase lessons with kid-centered activities, but I still found the lessons hard to get through. I need to figure out to take what I like about the lessons and make them more my style.

Mathalicious - I signed up for a free trial month of Mathalicious. They have created suggestions for units that have an introductory, middle, and end lesson, with "conceptual understanding and procedural fluency" in between. That was sort of the approach I took. I did three Mathalicious lessons with the students: "Jen Ratio," "Downside Up," and "Leonardo Numbers." "Jen Ratio" and "Leonardo Numbers" were both ratio-related; "Downside Up" dealt with integers but was a short, accessible lesson to build conceptual understanding.

Looking through newspapers to determine the number of positive and negative headlines.
I like the Mathalicious lessons. They give students context. They connect to students' interests (they were so excited to see a clip from "Family Guy" in one of the activities!). They do a great job of providing practice with mathematical skills but making it just part of the process and not a "Here's 20 problems; do them" sort of experience.

To finish up summer school, I took "Leonardo Numbers" and combined it with some other resources, and we looked at the Fibonacci Sequence and the Golden Ratio.

Measuring the faces of celebrities to see who is the most mathematically beautiful.
Measuring each others' hands and faces to see who is the most "golden."
I liked the Mathalicious lessons. The kids seemed interested (most of the time), if a little harder to manage (mostly because of the mixture and number of kids). A year-long subscription is pretty pricey, so I plan to write a grant in the fall to have access to all the lessons (they have a few lessons available for free).

It was a tough month. But I did see evidences here and there that learning was taking place. Vocabulary was being used correctly. New strategies were being applied. Hopefully foundations were being laid and connections were being made.

I want to take several of the things I tried in summer school and use them next school year.

For now, it's time to sign off and give this tired ol' teacher brain a break. I wrote before summer school that the teacher side of my brain rarely shuts down. This month has succeeded in allowing that to happen. Not only is the switch off, I think the power has been disconnected.

I'm going to take a couple of weeks off, and I'm sure by then I'll be ready to begin planning and gearing up for the start of a new school year. But I really don't want to think about how close that is right now.

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