Week 34 – Good Teaching Is Hard

Week 34 – Good Teaching Is Hard

So my last update talked about how I started teaching circles at the end of last week and into this week.  Did a few things that worked and few things that really didn’t.


This YouCubed activity was sort of a bust with all three classes.  First class cut out their own circles and that took forever.  The other two classes just cut out circles that I had already printed out for them.  The general idea was that they cut them into fourths, arrange them into a rectangle, and find the area of the rectangle.  They would then cut them into eighths and try it again.  It’s a pretty imprecise area but as the pieces get smaller, the idea is that the rectangle is supposed to get more and more precise.  It didn’t work out that way with most students.  Granted, in the original instructions, it says to glue the pieces down so it’s easier to measure but then the students have to cut out a whole new circle.  I had them just place them down and carefully draw a rectangle around them (working in pairs, one person holding down the pieces and the other drawing them.)

Even when we watched THIS video to try and tie it back together, I felt the activity just wasn’t super valuable.  Perhaps the glueing and seeing each new rectangle made next to the previous one would add value?  I don’t know, seems like that would take over an hour for most classes to do.  Most of them got it when they watched the video and we talked about how the length of the rectangle is the radius and the width is half the circumference, but I feel those moments could have come from just watching the video and asking more probing questions.

During debrief, I asked students for feedback on the activity and most of them said it wasn’t really helpful in understanding the whole area of a circle.  You know an activity is a bust when student’s aren’t even that excited about cutting paper up and arranging shapes.


I did a 3-Act problem that was pretty juicy.  Students had to find out how many tickets were in this roll:

I asked them what they would need to figure it out and we made a list.  I then gave them the information (diameter of the whole thing, diameter of the center circle, and dimensions of 1 ticket).  Some students wanted to just subtract the diameter of the center circle from the diameter of the larger circle and then find the area of the ‘remaining diameter.’  I wasn’t prepared to really know how to explain why that wouldn’t work (except to see that it wouldn’t result in the same area).  We found the area of the larger circle and subtracted the area of the smaller circle and divided the tiny little area of the side of one ticket.

What tripped up a lot of people were the large numbers (area of the green part was like 21,000 square millimeters) and most of them were using the pi button on their calculators for the first time.  Some of their calculators were in radian mode as well.  A lot of them were forgetting to do the radius and just squared the diameter.  It was a struggle, but not as productive of a struggle as I try to aim for.  And it took a long time :/


They really liked the videos I showed (this TED-ED one, this cool comic one, and this very visual explanation of area of a circle).

It stinks when you’re really working to try more inquiry based work and it doesn’t pay off in the way you hoped.  But what’s to say that just telling them how to do it would be any better.  I think the real rub is that when the inquiry-based stuff takes so much time, you tell yourself ‘IT WILL BE WORTH IT!’ and then it feels like it isn’t and you feel you sort of wasted 2 class periods.  Well, we know for next year.  Unless of course I never read this blog again and forget 😐


I don’t normally reflect on robotics here since I have the weekly vlog, but since I won’t have one this week, thought I’d share.  They get so much more work done when they’re working on their own project.  Some students take 2 weeks to complete projects that literally should take a class period, maybe two.  Granted, I let them work through a lot of their own technical difficulties, telling them what to google, having them go back and rebuild bots they didn’t build right the first time, and generally letting them be pretty autonomous.  That ends up taking quite a bit of time; especially since I never really say ‘program it like this.’

Sometimes a student will be working for a class period and then I go check in with them and their code is just an absolute disaster and I don’t even know where to start with how to help them.  Do we abandon this code?  Do we try to make it work?  Do I just tell him how to do it using 5 simple blocks of code?

middle school roboticsI wonder how to keep them accountable.  I give them deadlines for projects but in reality, they can just turn them in later.  They need to finish one project before beginning the next (as the skills tend to build on each other), and if I want the grade to be a true reflection of their ability to program the robot to perform the task, do I give them an 80% if they showed 100% comprehension two weeks after it was due?  Being that it’s an elective, I’m a lot more liberal with my grading.  I like the freeform vibe of the classroom and just trying to figure out how to maintain that but with more accountability.  Hm.

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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