Week 3 – 9/11, Slow Start, Math Rapping, and PE

Week 3 – 9/11, Slow Start, Math Rapping, and PE

It’s Friday and my advisory is working on their Weekly Updates.  It’s where they send an email to their parents and me and answer a few questions I have for them, usually around reflections on the week.  Here’s what I posed to them this week:

Write about two meaningful and engaging discussions or activities you had in class this week. What were they about? Why were they interesting? What aha moments did you have? Do at least a paragraph for each of the discussions.

Do you ever have any recurring dreams? Describe them in detail. If you don’t have any recurring dreams, share the last dream you remember in detail.

What’s your favorite game to play? Could be board game, group game, video game, anything. Tell us what makes it so awesome.

Ask your parents to share with you where they were on September 11, 2001. Even if they’ve told you before, ask again. I’ll have you share in next weeks weekly update.

It’s weird to think that even my 8th graders were born after 9/11.  One student asked what 9/11 was.  In my email response to them, I plan on sharing with them where I was; sitting in study hall freshman year of high school.  Our teacher turned the TV on.  I lived in upstate NY.  I watched as the first tower fell.  I remember feeling really disconnected from it.  I didn’t have much of an emotional response and wondered why after school sports were cancelled for something that happened so far away (seems I was a pretty insensitive 9th grader).  My dad was deployed to Bosnia at the time and he shared how they had heightened security.  What’s interesting is that when I shared this story with my 5th grade class a few years ago, I actually became emotional talking about it.  I’m more emotional now about it than I was as a teenager.  As a teenager I didn’t really have an understanding of impact or significance of the lives lost that day.  I look forward to hearing what the students say in their responses next week where they share how those conversations with their parents went.


IMG_2798So I’m finally finishing up the first actual lesson with all my classes at the end of the third week.  We’ve been doing a lot of engaging pattern seeking sort of math activities from YouCubed that have gotten the kids really excited about math and used to collaborating, sharing thinking, convincing one another, and being OK with being wrong.  On top of that, I like to have rich discussions during our lessons but it takes time.  We sometimes go on rabbit trails that have value.  I know this is better than just rushing through with a shallow understanding of a lot of stuff, but I’m always having to make sure I’m not crossing that line.  There is such thing as spending too much time on one concept.  I know once the classroom economy is a well-oiled machine and now that we’re done with ‘setting the tone’ lessons, we’ll move through the lessons a little quicker.

IMG_2805I reflected on my 6th grade Math Skills class being that I ended last week feeling the lesson was sort of a bust.  I came back and gave them guided notes, something I never really do because I’d rather have all their notes in their journal and not half in their journal and half in a folder.  I know you can interactive notebooks and all but that’s not really my thing.  On top of that, there were a lot of visuals I didn’t want to spend class time having them try to draw (like a base 10 cube broken up into 1000 pieces).  They said it seemed to help.  The conversations were a little more engaging.  Still had a few unsure about the idea of decimals and ordering them on a number line, but we’ll get there.

My Pre-Algebra lessons on the number sets (up through rational) went well.  We talked about Russian nesting dolls, made sets and subsets of students in the city, and then I presented them with the following images and they had to share how they were similar and how they connected to the Russian nesting dolls.  It was great to hear them say things like “integers are a subset of rational numbers but not a subset of whole numbers or natural numbers” and be able to justify what they meant by that.


IMG_2800I sent out emails with job proposals and the students have begun their jobs.  I have students writing the agendas at the beginning of the day, making class posters, taking attendance, checking homework, writing a bi-monthly newsletter, setting up the online bank accounts, restocking class supplies, taking leftover items to lost & found (my room is also the middle school boys changing room for PE and stuff gets left behind), and straightening out the desks each day.  It’s pretty nice.  I’m trying to do a better job of holding them to high expectations from the get go so I don’t have to continually correct it throughout the year.  They keep asking about bonus money, auctions, and payday, which I plan on talking about when we get to them, so I keep saying ‘we will talk about that later.’  One student called me out on it and was like ‘well…when exactly is later…you keep saying we’ll talk about it later.”  I said that was fair, and that later would be near the end of the month.  I may talk about some of it next week just to keep their enthusiasm high.  Perhaps I’ll talk about the auction at the end of the month and encourage them to bring items so they can get a deduction on their taxes in April 🙂  (all resources to set up a classroom economy can be found at myclassroomeconomy.org)


The recording with Mark Rogers went really well.  I felt nervous beforehand.  I had heard podcasts with him and followed his ‘math rapping career’ for a little while.  Felt like I was meeting a mini-celebrity in the world of math education.  It was great to share stories on how we got started in teaching and thoughts on math education.  He’s got a pretty fascinating idea on the topic of looping (students having the same teacher for more than one year in a row).  There’s been a bit of research that’s shown how students in a looping classroom perform better than those who aren’t (one study had a teacher with a class of students she previously taught and students having her for the first time- the looped students seemed to continue to perform better than the new students).  He wants to write a grant to pursue a 13 year project where he would follow students from K-12, being their only teacher in elementary school and then their math teacher through middle and high school, all while having a film crew come in every three or four months to document the process.  I think that would be an awesome endeavor.

We recorded a song he wrote on integration for his high school students.  It was the first time I had used my little home recording booth for something other than my own voice overs.  I’ll share the song once he makes a video for it.


2015-09-11 15.56.37I will be joining in on the PE fun this year.  PE is a little different at our school.  We’re a private school in downtown Austin made up of a bunch of old Victorian houses so there isn’t a gym.  On Tues-Thurs, we rent out a local rec center with a gym that’s about a 10 min walk from the school.  We do warm up activities / yoga for 20 min and then they have a choice of a high intensity activity (like dodgeball) and a low intensity activity (like volleying back and forth).  On Monday and Friday, we take all the middle school students to a nearby park and it’s about an hour of glorified recess.  It’s pretty fun.  I enjoy getting to hang out with the kids in a context outside of the classroom.  Last year, I did PE on Tues, Thurs, and Fri.  This year since I already have a full schedule, I’m only doing PE every other Friday.  It’s a pretty good deal; getting paid to go play outside for the last period of the day on a Friday.

A good end to the four-day week.

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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