WE HAVE (ANOTHER) SNOW DAY HERE IN NORTHERN NEW JERSEY, SO I FIGURED I WOULD TAKE A FEW MINUTES TO SHARE SOMETHING I DO IN MY CLASSROOM THAT I LOVE! i teach 6th grade math, and while there are endless standards to teach, i find a lot of value in incorporating quarterly projects. here's an overview of what the four projects entail:
"million dollar project": students have $1,000,000 to spend on a house, college education, car, vacation, and any extras they would like. they need to keep track of their budget on their expense tracking sheet, where they show the subtraction and any remaining money. students submit their project (with pictures of everything) on either a poster, packet, or google slides presentation.
"math in every career": students choose a career they would love to have. if they're not sure, i encourage them to take this free career test to give them ideas! then, they need to find (and cite!) their average annual salary and do a salary breakdown, which deducts taxes and determines how much they make each month. they must include a summary explaining what their career is and why they want it. lastly, they need to come up with five detailed ways math is used in their jobs!
"design it": this project comes after our unit on area and perimeter. in this project, they must create either a mall, amusement park, or zoo and include the area and perimeter of everything. (my rubric includes specifics...and students have the option to work with a partner, which means they have higher expectations!) they also need to come up with the way their guests will pay, whether it's per ride/animal attraction/food court restaurant or if they will pay a base cost at the entrance. students love this project because they can be super creative!
"sell it": okay, i admit, i don't always get to this one because the end of the year is nuts with all of the trips, field days, etc. but..."sell it" is a group project where everyone has a specific job. they need to come up with an inventive item and figure out ways to sell it! the project incorporates supply and demand, accurate pricing, salesman techniques, and a creative design aspect.
to check out my project explanations, rubrics, and more, visit my teachers pay teachers store here!
Q: how much time do you give the students to work on the projects?
A: generally about 3-4 weeks, normally with only a few days spent in class working. one major part of utilizing these projects is to teach my students time management skills. normally, they have a hard time with this concept during the first marking period, but make improvements as the year goes on. having these projects is also super helpful if i need to call out last minute! it makes for easy substitute plans because the students already know what the requirements are!
Q: the curriculum is so rigorous and there are so many standards to teach. how do you feel like there's time to do projects?
A: i think it's a balance, really. as i mentioned, we only spend a couple of days in class working on projects; the rest is completed at home. i've also found a really effective way of presenting projects, which i will talk about below. the biggest reason i love doing these four projects is because of the transferable skills it teaches the kids. they learn time management, collaboration, creativity, higher order thinking skills, organization, presentation skills, the ability to advocate for themself if they need help, and punctuality. one other huge reason why i'm okay utilizing projects is because they include a lot of the standards! for example, the career project is done after our unit on ratios and rates, which is focused on in the project when calculating how much they make per year, per month, and how much they lose for taxes. it also incorporates computing with decimals throughout the salary breakdown! lots of benefits to including projects :)
Q: i want to do projects too, but my students don't have access to a computer at home. what should i do?
A; many of mine don't either! i teach in a school where approximately 60% of our students are living in poverty, which means they might not have technological resources at home. here's the thing, though: with the amount of time given in class, they should have time to get everything they need from the computers. the rest can be done on a poster or packet! i purposely don't require the projects to be submitted via computer because of this hurdle.
Q: how do you present the projects?
A: i do a gallery walk! read on!...
when i started teaching, i would have my students present their projects in front of the class, one by one. while this teaches solid presentation skills, i felt like the cons outweighed the pros. too often, it would take upwards of a week to get through all of the projects and it just seemed repetitive. so, i started incorporating gallery walks! here's how i do it:
i explain to my students what my definition of a gallery walk is and what my expectations are. my gallery walks mean that on the first day of presentations, half of the class will be "presenters"; the other half will be "viewers". the presenters set up their station around the perimeter of the classroom. if they have a packet or poster, they set it up. if they have a slides presentation, they simply log into a computer and open it up! the first day, the presenters share their projects, while the viewers go around to learn about them. the second day, the roles are reversed.
i understand that this is giving up a lot of my control, so we have a little prep work. as part of their grading rubric, their behavior as a presenter and viewer are both incorporated. as a presenter, they need to maintain eye contact, speak with an appropriate volume level, and welcome questions or comments at the end. as a viewer, they actually evaluate themselves at the end of each day based on three components: attentiveness, respect, and questioning techniques. we review a rubric for them to take around with them with specifics about what it means to be a respectful audience member, to have effective questioning techniques, etc. the viewer is also responsible for completing their "station visit" sheet, which include information they learned about each presentation they visited.
ultimately, i am really happy with how the gallery walks have worked recently. as always, there will be some students who frustrate me and some students who really impress me with their work. as the year goes on, the projects seem to get better and the gallery walks go smoother and smoother with practice.
one of my favorite things is when i see previous students and they say, "ms. sienrukos, are you still doing the million dollar project!? i loved that!" there's been many times students mention remembering the projects they did in 6th grade math, and that's what makes it all worth it. we did something in class that made an impact.
for more information, rubrics, etc, feel free to comment! i'd love to hear from you!
SUMMER CAME AND WENT FASTER THAN I HAD EXPECTED. AS THE LAST BELL RANG ON JUNE 14TH, I HEADED OUT OF THE DOORS TO FINISH THE SECOND YEAR AT HALSTED MIDDLE SCHOOL AND HEADED DOWN THE SHORE TO MEET RYAN AND SOME FRIENDS FOR THE WEEK. IT WAS THE START OF A GREAT SUMMER. I RELAXED AT LONG BEACH ISLAND IN JUNE, I WORKED A SUMMER MATH PROGRAM IN JULY, AND I WENT TO DISNEY WITH RYAN AND MY FAMILY EARLY IN AUGUST. THEN IN THE MIDDLE OF AUGUST, RYAN PROPOSED!!! (MAYBE THAT STORY WILL BE FOR ANOTHER BLOG POST...) NEEDLESS TO SAY, IT WAS A WONDERFUL, WONDERFUL SUMMER.
AND JUST LIKE THAT, SEPTEMBER CAME BACK AROUND AND SCHOOL WAS BACK IN SESSION! A FEW WEEKS BEFORE THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL, I ASKED MY MOM TO COME HELP ME (AGAIN) WITH MY CLASSROOM. WE WORKED HARD FOR 4.5 HOURS ON A FRIDAY AND MY CLASSROOM WAS FINISHED! I ALWAYS LOVE DECORATING MY ROOM AND MAKING IT WELCOMING FOR THE KIDS, SO I FIGURED IT WOULD BE GREAT TO SHARE IT ON MY SITE AS WELL!
THANKS FOR CHECKING IT OUT! ENJOY!
Last year, I used a lot of competition and graphs with data and LOVED how it worked. We graph the percentage of students who complete their homework in each period. Last year, we had an average of 98% of students completing their homework each day! So, I'm excited to use this with the kids this year - it really motivates them and creates some fun competition. Above the Homework Competition and SmartBoard is a bunch of Kid President quotes my students and I decorated last year!
Here's a few more examples of our classroom competitions! The first one is the Class Averages Competition, where I graph the averages of each assessment. It's useful for the students to be able to see how they measure up against the students in their class as well as the grade. Next is the Multiplication Minute 60 Club. These four names are the students from last year who completed 60 multiplication facts in one minute. The students this year are striving to add their names to the list!
The Fridge is a place students can display the work they are proud of! The jars beneath it is my individual incentive program. Throughout the marking periods, students earn tickets based on superior academic work or positive examples of their character. Every few weeks, I pick a few names from the jar. Those students earn a homework pass!
IT'S VERY EXCITING TO START BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS WITH A NEW GROUP OF SIXTH GRADERS, AND IT'S AWESOME TO SEE THE FAMILIAR FACES FROM PREVIOUS YEARS. THE YEAR SEEMS TO BE OFF TO A VERY POSITIVE START!
HERE'S TO ANOTHER SUCCESSFUL AND FUN SCHOOL YEAR. HOPE ALL OF THE TEACHERS OUT THERE HAD A GREAT BEGINNING! GOOD LUCK, ALL!
Before leaving school on Friday, one of my 6th graders told me I was her best friend.
Earlier on Friday, I was aggravated with some of my students because they struggled on a ten question quiz that I thought would be easy. Cue: (teacher voice) "We went over this, guys! There's no reason why you can't do this."
Earlier on Thursday, I was upset by the fact that a couple of my students didn't complete their project that they had a month to work on.
But on Friday, a little girl told me I was her best friend.
It's so easy for teachers to get wrapped up in the negatives. If there were 19 kids who got an A on a test, I promise we will go home wondering why number 20 couldn't do the same. We will fixate on it and needless to say, our blood pressure will rise. Maybe it's that we think we can never do enough, in our minds at least. Or maybe it's just human nature to focus on the negative instead of the positive. We need to change this way of thinking.
We are enough. We are making a difference. Whether it's on one girl or an entire class, teachers are forever remembered for our impact. We need to focus on the good instead of the bad and realize that it is a privilege to be able to influence so many people every single day.
Today, I made my students get up and jump around. .
Literally jump around.
With more enthusiasm than most Disney World employees, I shouted "OKAY NOW JUMP FIVE TIMES AND SPIN IN A CIRCLE. OKAY, NOW JUMP AS HIGH AS YOU CAN AND TOUCH YOUR KNEES. DO TEN JUMPING JACKS! GO GO GO!"
This was after I was trying to get at least the slightest bit of reaction out of them asking what they thought "inverse operations" might mean. I'm sure you can sense my 6th graders unwavering excitement for solving algebraic equations using addition and subtraction. (Not.) After asking once (really probably closer to three times without an answer), I started hopping around exclaiming, "COME ON GUYS, ALGEBRA IS FUN! THIS STUFF IS GREAT!" This quickly led to the Richard Simmon's pump-up class. Once our mini workout session concluded, the majority of them regained consciousness and the minority of them thought their teacher was insane.
Still, I got their attention and got a reaction. It wasn't easy though.
I remember a story one of my college professors told us. She told us how one day, she asked her students a question. After what felt like hours of no one answering, she literally threw herself to the ground and waited for someone to say something. Think about this. Like, really. Imagine your teacher literally falling to the ground. I think it's pretty funny.
This is kind of how I felt today. But instead of throwing myself to the ground, I engaged myself and my students in an 80's aerobics and step class.
My point is that I don't think a classroom needs to be a stuffy place. I think it's the teacher's responsibility to do WHATEVER it takes to get the students to listen, regardless of how stupid you look. The way I see it, if we as teachers can find any way (even the crazy ways) to get to our students, we need to do that.
However, next time, maybe I'll wear more supportive shoes.
I teach sixth grade math.
Sixth grade is middle school.
Middle schoolers are bizarre.
Once upon a time in a 6th grade classroom, I wore glasses for the first and 65% of my students were confused who I was.
Once upon a time in a 6th grade classroom, I asked a girl why she was drawing massive Hershey Kisses all over her math project when she was supposed to be writing algebraic expressions.
Once upon a time in a 6th grade classroom, there was a honking noise outside and my student excused himself for eating too much Mexican food.
Once upon a time in a 6th grade classroom, I waited for 15 minutes for a boy to solve a problem because he insisted he do it in his head instead of writing it on paper.
Once upon a time, I had to remind a student NOT to penguin dive back to his desk on his stomach and to walk on his two feet instead.
Once upon a time, I had to walk outside, down the hill, and around the corner to retrieve the ball my student accidentally threw out the window during a game of Multiple Ball.
Once upon a time, I was explaining a project to one of my students and she responded by flailing her nostrils.
Once upon a time, I received an entire vase filled with Swedish Fish from my students on my birthday as they sung to me in the hall.
Once upon a time, my students were proud to hang up their good grades under the "Our Mathematicians" bulletin board to show off.
Once upon a time, I consoled a girl in the hall who was nervous about her mother's reaction to her test grade.
Once upon a time, I was exhausted, all of the time.
Once upon a time, I questioned if it would be easier to just have another job, one where I didn't need to get 80 kids to be focused, polite, and learn something.
Once upon a time, I recalled the day I got the job and how proud my dad was of me.
Once upon a time, I realized that I don't say, "I'm going to work". Instead, "I'm going to school."
Once upon a time in a 6th grade classroom, I realized teaching was tough, but definitely worth it.
Every single day in every single school, there is a teacher working overtime, without pay.
With about a month until the first PARCC test begins, it's as though we're sitting in a line of traffic, approaching a car crash. We, meaning students, teachers, administration, and parents, are all slowly (and anxiously) awaiting what will be a disastrous week.
Over the last few weeks, it's been a major topic of discussion at school and at home. I've come away with a few general realizations:
1. Is the value of teaching declining? My co-workers and I were discussing how we feel as though we need to prepare our students the best we can for the PARCC test (obviously). This means showing them a little bit of everything in hopes that nothing will be out of the ordinary to them. But, since we feel as though we want them to see a bit of everything, that means less time doing engaging projects or activities (aka valuable teaching). Instead, we "go go go" so they will "know know know." But, that brings up the question: if they only saw a bit of it, how will they be able to work through the challenging nature of PARCC questions? There's just not enough time to prepare them.
2. Even the smartest students are overwhelmed. Yesterday, another teacher told me how her class was doing PARCC practice. The top student in the grade sat at his seat with tears in his eyes. TEARS. And this was a PRACTICE test. If the most advanced students in our classes feel this overwhelmed, imagine the stress of other students, of students who don't fully speak English, of students who have anxiety, of students whose parents put pressure on them. It's too much to ask from a child.
3. "Can't we just learn normal math instead of doing all of this PARCC stuff?" As my students worked on their "do-now" yesterday, this came from one girl's mouth. She was frustrated. It's no secret that PARCC has been on teacher's minds because it's supposed to be a reflection of our teaching effectiveness. So of course we are going to expose our students to these questions. But, this girl said it best. Is it making us teach for the test instead of teach for the students?
In the past, testing has caused anxiety, but never like this. Now, entire districts are 'opting out' of the test. There has been an uproar over the expectations of this test. How does this prove how effective a teacher is? Why do we need to take so much time to prepare for an uphill battle?
Have you ever seen a PARCC sample question? Click the link and have fun. Now, imagine an 11-year-old working on the same questions.
Thinking of all the teachers and students over the next couple of weeks. Just know we are all in the same boat and we will all get through it!
Around this time, we've all been receiving our W2's in the mail for our taxes. Okay, I'll admit it, I don't do my taxes. My mom is a CPA (and basically a super hero) so obviously she does it for me. But, since I'm an adult with a job, which just happens to be a math educator, I figured it was about time to be somewhat educated on what it means to "do taxes". Yuck, right?
Here's a few things to remember (or to remind someone who is doing them FOR YOU):
1. $250 Educator Expense Deduction - we can deduct this from our income so we can get more money back on our Tax Returns!!
2. To my friends who worked half a year, don't forget the Retirement Savings Contribution Credit - for people who save into a qualified retirement plan (like a 403b or 401k), but who don't make tons of moolah.
I hope this helps! We all know teachers deserve as much as they can get!! :)
Here I am. It's currently 1:30 in the morning. Today we had a snow day, and I actually didn't spend it sleeping in, so there's really no good reason why I should be awake. But, here I am. 1:30 in the morning.
There's something to be said about the schedule of a teacher. We spend Monday-Friday waking up early and being "on" all day. Then, the weekend comes and we bum out and relax (at least I do). Then, Sunday night comes and insomnia hits. I'm counting today, Monday, as Sunday because of the snow day. You know what I'm saying right?
Anyway - insomnia. We, as I'm sure many many other people do of many many other jobs, lay here and don't sleep.
It's not that I have too much on my brain about school.
It's not that I'm worried I don't have my lesson plans straight.
It's not that I'm wondering if I made enough copies for 4th period.
It's just that I'm not tired.
So, instead of forcing our eyelids closed, in what seems to be a rather painful experience, we find something else to do. And then all of a sudden, an hour flies by and you're looking at an even later time on the clock, making you really wish you just fell asleep in the first place.
Oh, the struggles of Sunday (Monday) night. Hope you all are having sweet dreams while I'm sitting here, eyes wide open.