Post 11 – Integers, Rational Numbers, & Sumo Remote Controls

It is Monday of Thanksgiving holiday and as my wife is working Mon-Wed, I’m looking to get all my holiday work done these first few days.  I also realized I missed a week of reflections so thought I’d look over the last couple weeks in my classes.


We finished up our integer unit.  Overall it seems students have a great grasp on how to work with integers even in problems where order of operations is needed.  Looking over the assessment data, my 1st and 3rd periods generally perform about the same.  Class size is similar and a mix of both 6th graders and 7th graders who had me last year.  3rd period historically has been a more challenging period to teach math as it’s after lunch and that post-lunch slump kicks in for both the students and myself, but that hasn’t really been as much of an issue this year.  I found on this last test, 3rd period out performed 1st period by quite a bit.  The mean was 94 for 3rd period and 78 for 1st period.  Why?

I have a clipboard for each class where I document fines for off-task behavior, missing supplies, etc.  1st period has a much more filled up clipboard than 3rd period.  Perhaps the climate of 1st period just isn’t as conducive with consistent off-task behavior and many students being unprepared.  There are a lot more close friend groups in 1st period.  I thought about how to talk to my 1st period about this without sound like ‘3rd period is better than you guys.’  I told them that generally both periods perform similarly on exams but I noticed that their period seemed to have a lot more lower scores than normal.  I then showed them both clipboards and told them when I redirect them to keep their conversation focused on the math, it isn’t because I’m trying to be a kill-joy, but because I want all of them to get as much meaningful time to engage with the problems and think about the math and that just can’t happen when every 10 minutes the conversation goes to gossip about their friends or what’s happening over the weekend or funny things they saw on YouTube.  Not sure if the message stuck but I did put a limit on how many students could work in the hallway (no more than 3) and I’ll probably say it can’t be the same 3 each day.  I thought about just keeping everyone in the classroom but then it kind of gets loud and crowded with folks working on the floors and tables.

I would say that I’ve got a couple of challenging personalities in 1st period but I also have a couple challenging personalities in 3rd period as well.  3rd period doesn’t have as many friend groups in there though.

Also, I usually assign a math reflection blog at the end of each unit but I made the integer unit reflection optional.  Students could do the reflection blog INSTEAD of the test or they could do it for extra point on their test (up to 15).  Only one student chose to do it instead of the test.  I gave her the test to take home and just said I won’t grade her but she was still expected to know the content.  I’m not too worried about her.  3rd period has more students who did the reflection for extra points than 1st period (4 vs 2) so that impacted the mean as well.

I will plan a new seating chart for when they get back from break which will hopefully help out 1st period.  I need to be more attune with students who are off-task during work and just send them immediately back to their seat.  The challenge there is some students would do just fine working by themselves and still get work done, other students who struggle will go back to their seats and just stare at their paper and not really have anyone to help them if I’m working with someone else.  The ones who I do find off task aren’t off-task all the time, I really do hear meaningful discussions and explanations between them.  Hmm…

I worked outside with 3rd period on our last day before the break.  It was the first time I went out with a class to work this year.  It was a beautiful day and everyone got a lot of work done.

We started rational number operations the week before the break.  We spent most of the time doing positive fraction & decimal review.  We’ll see how adding/subtracting/multiplying/dividing goes when we get back.


Robotics has been exciting.  I’ve been doing a new project (kind of) called Sumo Bot Soccer.  It’s what it sounds like.  Students build a sumo bot and compete on a field with a tennis ball as a soccer ball.  A bracket was developed and you score a point by either pushing the bot out of the arena, flipping it over, or getting the soccer ball in the goal (which was worth 2 pts).  Some students focused on the soccer aspect, others just focused on the pushing and flipping aspect.  I used an online bracket maker which was a lot more convenient than trying to create a double-elimination bracket off the top of my head in the moment.

Just about everyone learned how to use one brick to control their robot like a remote control via bluetooth.  One student who very much loves programming created his own remote control out of an Arduino, a breadboard, and a couple PS3 joysticks.  It was impressive and I don’t really know how he did it (I didn’t study computer science) but his dad is a computer scientist and he worked a lot at home.  He was able to explain the code and troubleshoot every issue he came across when working on it in class so that sort of cleared up how much was him and how much help he got from his dad.

They’re going to do presentations on their process when we get back from the holiday.  Got a lot of positive feedback from them though and some who have been in robotics a few times said it was their favorite project they’ve done.  We will start our final project when we get back from break.


In other news, I just finished all my China vlogs.  I created 8 of them.  I’ll probably post the playlist as a new post on this blog since I didn’t really post them as I completed them on the blog.  I went to China for 12 days over the summer for those who were unaware.

Also, I joined a Jiu Jitsu club.  I’ve wanted to learn a martial art since I was a kid and getting mildly beat up a few times in school.  Jiu Jitsu seems to be the one to learn first according to quite a few folks.  It’s practical for self-defense sense so much of it is learning how to fight while on the ground by using joint locks and choke holds to put your opponent in submission.  Real world fights end up on the ground most of the time.  Just about everyone in MMA has to know Jiu Jitsu or they’re done once the fight goes to the ground.  Also the place is 5 min from my house and has a 6am class.  I like going in the morning and I still have enough time to shower up and be at school for my 8:30 classes.  I am also a lot more motivated when I see guys that have started maybe a week before me going a lot and I don’t want them getting better at it faster than me.  It’s been a lot of fun even though I don’t really know what I’m doing.

This video was posted on their Facebook page on the first day of class when we were doing drills.  I try the hold on the guy and then he does it on me without either of us really resisting, we’re just practicing the motions.

Since I’m doing this about 4 times a week, it’s replaced just about all of my running.  I am doing some shoulder rehab work after the class a couple times a week with some deadlifting in there as well but that’s about the extent of the weightlifting.  I’m excited to get better 🙂

By Thom H Gibson

I help middle school STEM teachers create meaningful & memorable experiences for their students. Teacher, podcaster, YouTuber. Two-time teacher of the year

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