Week 15 – Hooked Them On A Tuesday, Lost Them On A Thursday

Week 15 – Hooked Them On A Tuesday, Lost Them On A Thursday

It was our first week back from Thanksgiving break.  After this week, we have one more week of class left and a week of mid-terms.  Had some pretty significant high points this week as well as some points of pretty stark disengagement on the students parts, which was partially my fault.  Also had a professional in the robotics world come to Robotics class!


Students in Pre-Algebra were discussing the following:

Screen Shot 2015-12-05 at 11.14.51 AM

In some classes, the discussions went on for like 20-30 minutes.  Students coming up, explaining how if you think about it as division and incorporate your division of integers rules, it’ll be negative no matter what.  They were reminding themselves of equivalent fractions in the process.  During debrief, one student said:

“Sometimes we move kind of quickly through these topics; it was nice to really stop, think, break it down, and discuss it in depth before moving on because now we REALLY know it.”



I took my advisory to lunch on Friday and it was the most enjoyable lunch we’ve had so far.  I’ve only done a advisory lunch a small handful of times.  Some teachers take their students once a month.  We usually go to the Whole Foods down the road because it’s just easier for everyone to get what they want and we don’t have to deal with all the hassle of everyone paying at the end of the meal with 14 different credit cards and then us being late to get back to the school.  Combining our advisory and lunch time gives about an hour and a half for a lunch outing.  This time we went to a burger restaurant right down the road.  After talking with a colleague who took her students out to restaurants a lot, I had a game plan.

  • I would call the place first to try and set a reservation.
  • I would then share the menu pdf with the students and create a spreadsheet with all their names on it where they would put the order.
  • I’d set it up so that students could get an estimated cost of their meal, which included tax and a 20% tip.
  • We would fill out the spreadsheet in class the day before the lunch.
  • I would students to bring cash to pay.
  • I’d hand the spreadsheet to the restaurant staff right when we got there.
  • I’d ask if we could pay before we received our food, and then we’d enjoy a nice un-rushed, non-stressful meal together.

Everything went according to plan 🙂


I met a professional in the robotics world a couple months ago; Philip Courtois, owner of Thinkbot Solutions.  I asked if he’d want to come by our robotics class near the end of the semester to help kids work through their final projects.  He came on Friday.  He was so excited about everything the kids were doing and really impressed with the progress they had made in a weeks time on their projects.  He helped out some of the more advanced students take their ideas and try things that I hadn’t even thought to try (or knew you even could!)  One of my students was telling me that building his robot has been taking over his life; it’s all he’s been thinking about and has been working on it during lunch everyday.


A third of my 6th grade math class is struggling with solving one-step equations.  They can do it intuitively, but are thrown off when I ask them to show it algebraically, particularly with solving one-step multiplication and division problems.  If they see 4x = 24, they say “I just know that 4 x 6 is 24.”  They understood the ‘balancing’ of the equation when we did adding and subtracting, but look at me a big confused when I say that what they’re actually doing is dividing by 4 and that we want to be able to show that we’re doing it to both sides of the equation.  They started to see the need for it when they got something like 4x = 5.  WHAT!?  NOTHING TIMES 4 WILL GIVE YOU 5! 🙂


The Pre-Algebra lesson after the whole negative fraction lesson was sort of a bust.  This is kind of a review unit of operations with fractions and decimals, except now we’re incorporating negative numbers into it.  I gave them what I thought would be a rich opening problem that would spark great conversation and learning opportunities.  I presented them with this:

4/6 – 1.25 + (-3/9) – (-23.4)

The part where they were working on it together went really well.  They were reminding each other of the rules for integers, how to convert between decimals and fractions, and finding common denominators.  Few of them were coming out with the correct result.  Our class discussion of it is where it all sort of went downhill.  I wanted to have someone share how they did it with fractions and someone share how they did it with decimals.  The first period that didn’t wasn’t too bad; it ended up being all of them sort of figuring it out together.  Awesome.  The later two periods were where it all sort of went downhill.  In my class period that usually has the richest conversations, it ended up turning into a student up at the board sharing how he did it with fractions and having much of the class sort of disengage as he walked through it for the next 30 minutes.

I tried to interject with questions like ‘is there anything here we can simplify before moving on’ or ‘what would be something we could do here to make it really easy on ourselves (such as adding the two fractions that already have a common denominator before turning every fraction into one with a common denominator of 64).’  I found myself getting frustrated that it wasn’t going well, that it was taking so long, and that the rest of the class wasn’t engaged.  I could feel myself getting frustrated with the other students as they checked out, especially the ones that were like ‘but I used decimals so I can’t even compare what I did to what he did.’  I don’t blame them; the student who was working so diligently at the board ended up with a fraction like 478 / 2046 or something.

I realized I should have just given them simpler fractions / smaller numbers to work with.  It was hard to assess what they did and didn’t know because they were getting lost in the larger numbers.


Sara’s back on nights this week.  Has given me time to hang out with friends around town instead of staying at home by myself.  Also given me time to really work through some of my GibsonEdu brand identity stuff, but I’ll save that for another blog.

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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  • The style of questions that lead to varied student responses are always the hardest for me. As you said, getting one student to share may lead to lots of disengagement since there is no comparison to their own work. I find this really evident when working with power laws. SO MANY different ways to start the problem that students get confused. And comparing to my neighbour generally doesnt help! Have you encountered other instances like this? How can we model best practices in these cases?

    • Thanks for reading Bryan 🙂

      I’ve had more success with students comparing answers and methods; it’s easier to stay engaged when you’re just talking with one person. I will ask them to see if they did the same thing and if they didn’t, to explain why they did it the way they did. If their final answers are different, that usually leads to them investigating who is incorrect.

      Good, concise problems with multiple entry points can lead to awesome discussions; dull, lengthy, redundant problems make me end up wanting to just go up there and do it myself to just get it over with.

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