Help! I'm BORING!!!

Discussion in 'Secondary Education' started by robinsky, Jan 5, 2010.

  1. robinsky

    robinsky Rookie

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    Jan 5, 2010

    I'm a new middle school math teacher, and although my classes are going fairly well and my kids seem to be learning, I'm still working on classroom management. My kids are hard to keep quiet, and I feel like part of the problem is that my classes are dull. I can think of fun activities to do, but whenever I use them, they take up so much time that I can't fit the curriculum in!

    Here's my routine: when the kids come in, they have warm-ups to do for about 10 - 15 minutes, while I check their homework. Then we go over the homework, which can take anywhere from 10 - 20 minutes, or even more if they had a lot of problems. My periods are 50 minutes long, so that should leave about 20 minutes for the lesson. And there's a lesson every day; I'm in a high-achieving district so it's a very full curriculum - new material almost every day.

    Whenever I try a more interesting activity, it takes so long that they don't learn what they need to.

    I use games and such when I'm doing a review (no new material), but when I do it seems like I'm lucky if I get 10 - 15 questions done. Whereas if I have them work on a practice test, they get a whole lot more done.

    I welcome any suggestions!
     
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  3. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

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    Jan 6, 2010

    Wow, 10-15 minutes to check homework? Why?

    Our classes are large-- mid 30's to low 40's. I walk around the room with my book as the kids are doing their Do Now problem(s). Either you have it or you don't, so it reallly doesn't take long-- 3-4 minutes tops.

    I don't go over EVERY homework, just the requests. I have a friend who puts up all the homework answers on the projector, then asks which ones need to be gone over.

    I'm not big into games (translation: never.) But I do try to inject humor where ever I can, and I think the kids enjoy my classes.
     
  4. mmswm

    mmswm Moderator

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    Jan 6, 2010

    I agree with Alice. You're spending far too long on warm ups and homework. Those things together shouldn't take more than 10 minutes. A quick check of homework should tell you what you need to know about student understanding and going over a few homework problems should be enough for most of the class.

    As for games and activities, I'm all for activities, but not so much for games. There are a few review type games I like, but have only used those on review days. I've found that I can lecture more often than not, and keep the students' attention simply by making the material relavent to their lives. The phrase "so why do we care?" was common in my classroom.
     
  5. Cerek

    Cerek Aficionado

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    Jan 6, 2010

    I just finished my internship in a middle school math class and I understand the concern of keeping the students interested. I also agree with Alice and mmswm that you are spending too much time on warm-up and homework. I suggest combining the two.

    Our class routine went like this....

    I wrote a bonus problem on the board before class as a warm-up activity and checked attendance while the students did the problem. Then I asked if there were questions on the homework and offered to do 2-3 problems on the board before homework was checked. Students could change their answers on these problems if they got them wrong. Then I had students exchange papers and we went over the answers to the homework problems.

    Sometimes, we (CT and I) would let students work the problems on the board and explain them to the class, sometimes I would have students just tell the answer for each problem. For both of these activities, we went down each row so everyone participated. If I was pressed for time, I would read the answers myself. When we finished, the students wrote the grade on the papers they had and returned them to the owners, who then passed their papers to the front where I collected them. This whole process took about 15 minutes, but it served as review for the homework and the papers were already graded when I got them. All I had to do was record the grades, saving a LOT of time that could be used for lesson or activity planning.

    My CT was very good at keeping the kids attention and keeping them involved. She had a box of white boards marked with coordinate planes in the room and often used these during her presentation. Students would go over new content, then have each student work a sample problem on their whiteboard and hold it up for her to see. This kept the students engaged and also gave her a very quick assessment of who was understanding the lesson and who wasn't.

    I presented most of my material through lecture and often felt I was being boring too, so I came up with ways to "entertain" the kids during while I was lecturing. One of my favorite techniques was to suddenly start talking in a British accent. That never failed to get the kids attention. Towards the end of my internship, I was explaining to the class the need to practice their academic skills the same way they practice physical skills. As I was talking, I rolled the sleeve of my shirt up past my elbow. I folded my arm and held it shoulder height, so my elbow was pointing towards the students. Then (still talking about practicing skills), I placed a quarter on my elbow and said "Once you practice skills long enough, they become automatic". As I said the word "automatic", I dropped my arm and "snatched" the quarter in my hand. THAT definitely got their attention. Actually, they all began looking at me as I started rolling up my sleeve and putting the coin on my elbow, wondering what in the world I was going to do. Of course, several of them wanted to try it themselves, but I told them they could work on that skill after they finished working on their assignment for the day.

    You should have seen how fast some of them tried to get their work done that day. :lol:
     
  6. robinsky

    robinsky Rookie

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    Jan 6, 2010

    Okay, this is great feedback. Alice, how do you check in such a short time that the kids really did the work? I like to look at each paper and scan down to make sure they did all the problems (I'm not checking for accuracy, just completion). During that time, too, kids will ask me questions, and I need to check older homework for kids who were absent (which is a lot lately!).

    After I do the check, I project the homework answers on the overhead, so kids get to check their own work. I only check for accuracy with a homework check every week or two (Like a quiz - one problem from each assignment. This part works well).

    I don't go over every problem, just problems kids suggest. But in the whole class, there are many problems which someone has missed. And sometimes going over the homework becomes a reteach of the lesson for a couple of kids. Meanwhile the kids who DID understand from the day before are bored and antsy.

    I also invested in a class set of whiteboards (tile board at home depot). When I use these, though, the kids love them, but they tend to doodle like crazy on the boards instead of listening.

    Keep the advice coming! This is great! Thanks!
     
  7. mmswm

    mmswm Moderator

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    Jan 6, 2010

    Do the assignment yourself so you know what it looks like :D. I can glance at a paper and tell you if everything is done. I actually had the kids put their homework in a basket on my desk while they came into the room. I could have 90% of it done and handed back before the bell rang. You could have them sit down and pull their homework out and start checking it as they come into the room. Do it with your attendence/gradbook in hand and do both things at once.
     
  8. Mr. A

    Mr. A Rookie

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    Jan 6, 2010

    Your kids aren't hard to keep quiet because your class is "dull."

    Not everything in life is exciting.

    Specify when it is time for absolutely no talking without hands raised, etc.

    The very first night, pick three kids who talked without raising their hands.

    Call their parents.

    See what happens the next day.
     
  9. Deeena

    Deeena Cohort

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    Jan 6, 2010

    I have a few suggestions, although some may not be useful to you as I teach primary students. I used to teach upper grade elementary and could relate to a few things that you said...

    First, be consistent. I had the same problem with whiteboards with my students. I finally told them that the whiteboards are a learning tool, not a toy and they were not to doodle on them. The minute I caught a kid doodling, I took their whiteboard away. The students see that you're serious and I never had any further problems with doodling after that.

    Is there any way to pull some kids in a small group toward the end of the period if they're missing problems on the homework? You could give the rest of the class an independent assignment while you spend 10 minutes or so reviewing with the small group that wasn't getting it.

    Another easy way to see if students are grasping the concepts you're teaching is through exit cards. At the end of the period, give the class a note card and have them answer 2 questions relating to what you taught. You can quickly flip through them to see if they're understanding. If the majority of the class is getting it, move on... if not you can do a whole class reteach lesson.

    You mentioned that your games take too long. If they are teaching the standards, then I say go ahead with the games. Perhaps you can have the class earn a game day. There are tons of Jeopardy games that you can download for free.

    There are other "fun" ways to teach math that are quick and simple. For example, once you finish teaching a lesson, have the students work with a partner for a quick "pair/share" activity. Give the students a problem. One student will coach their partner on how to solve the problem (I usually use the whiteboards for this) Give them a certain amount of time to do this, then call on students to see if they got it right. This allows them to at least do some talking.

    If your math lessons lend themselves to projects, you could occasionally assign group projects. Students love to work together. This also gives you some time to pull students who may need a little extra assistance.

    I hope these suggestions help.
     
  10. Peachyness

    Peachyness Virtuoso

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    Jan 6, 2010

    I'm not sure if this will help you, but one thing I do in regards to white boards is that I set up the timer for 1 minute. During this minute, they can doodle on their white board. As soon as that minute goes off, they have to erase their doodles and there is absolutely no doodling for the rest of class. I use this minute to set up my lesson/activity.

    In regards to games/activities, if you explain a game/activity in the beginning well, then afterwards for the rest of the year, it should be simple to play the game without much time wasted. I tend to do a lot of hands on activities/games with my kids as they need more hands on stuff, but I only have 20 minutes with them. I break down the rules in chunks, and I model, and I usually have enough time to do the game and then a quick mini-lesson based on the game.
     
  11. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

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    Jan 6, 2010


    I have a 20 minute rule; you need to spend 20 minutes on the homework, and then you're done, whether it's complete or not. (Of course, if you're the only one who couldn't finish, I expect to see you at extra help!)

    As mm said, I generally have a good idea of what the homework should look like. Last night my frosh had 9 algebraic fractions to factor and reduce, my sophs had 5 coordinate geometry problems to do. It's pretty easy to eyeball them and see that the work is done.

    If you're going to put up the answers, why not do it as you're checking? If they need to show work, just the answers won't count as having done the homework, so you can combine the 2 tasks that way.

    If the majority of the kids understood the work, I'll go over only 1 or 2 typical problems. The few kids who are lost will have to see me after school for extra help.
     
  12. Terrence

    Terrence Comrade

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    Jan 6, 2010

    I only assign about 5 to 10 problems, and the majority of the answers are in the back of the book. I require my students to check their answers and I encourage them to ask questions if they can't figure out how the book got the answer. It is THEIR responsibility to ask. I have a warm-up, and I give them 5 minutes to work on it while I walk around with a stamp and stamp their planners if it looks like they did the work. Next year, I am going to actually collect it and grade it on a rubric, but I will still assign the problems with the answers. That way I never have to spend time giving them the answers. I do not do games either because frankly, I have no time. I use white boards that I made out of card stock and page protectors. Students are required to bring their own white board markers. I like the page protectors because you can insert things like coordinate planes, graphic organizers, number lines, and other templates that you may need. You wanna break your lessons up into chunks and then have them process what they have just taken notes on. For example, once you have explained how to solve an equation for a couple minutes, have them work one with you on their white board, ask them to show you the next step, or stand up and turn to the person behind them to explain to that person the next step,etc. It's still not "exciting" and bells and whistles, but they need to get used to the fact that life isn't all fun and games.
     
  13. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

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    Jan 6, 2010

    Something else I do that helps:

    When I'm checking homework, I run a line through it with a highlighter.

    That way, I don't see the same assignment later in the day from a friend in another class, but the student can still see what he or she has written.
     
  14. Terrence

    Terrence Comrade

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    Jan 6, 2010

    Smart idea!
     
  15. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

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    Jan 6, 2010

    I wish I could claim credit.

    Someone else in my department started it, I'm not sure where she got it from!
     
  16. robinsky

    robinsky Rookie

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    Jan 6, 2010

    I actually make them keep their homework in their spiral notebooks. It never comes out of that, so they can't share, and in addition it keeps all their work at hand and in order. I walk around and check it, then give them a homework check every week or two.

    There are great suggestions. I guess I get bogged down with the few who don't understand the homework. It's so hard for me to go on when there's a kid or three (and always the SAME kids) who are saying, NO! Don't go on! I still don't get it! But you're all right, I need to tell those kids to come to me for extra help, instead of holding the whole class back.

    It looks like my biggest problem is my time management, and that is leading into my classroom management. I need to get my time management under control.
     
  17. mmswm

    mmswm Moderator

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    Jan 6, 2010

    A very wise professor explained it this way. In each course, you have a specific amount of material to cover in a specific amount of time. So, lets say, in algebra I, you have to cover points A-L and in Algebra II you have to cover points M-Z. If you slow down and wait for all the students to "get it", then maybe you only cover A-H. Now, those students go onto algebra II, and their teacher starts at M, but NONE of your students have any knowledge of points I, J, and K. They start off at an extreme disadvantage. So, in which way do you hurt the least number of students? Plowing ahead and telling the few not getting it to come for extra help, or slow down until they do get it and ensure an entire class is not properly prepared for the next class.

    Puts it into prespective, doesn't it?
     
  18. Lotte

    Lotte Companion

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    Jan 7, 2010

    mmswm: I totally get your point.
    In my school, apparently the teachers each year drop a topic or two from the syllabus to rather make sure the kids know the chosen topics well.. But it has worried me that they miss out on a lot of topics -which will give them problems later, as you have mentioned.
    I think I must try to persuade them to change their practise. I'll make it a personal project ;)
    Thanks for reminding me.
     
  19. wrice

    wrice Habitué

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    Jan 7, 2010

    I think good projects are important to students to show that math has real world appications, to get students to express creativity and personality, and to hold them more responsible for thier own learning.

    Our math teacher has the kids do a BINGO math projects each month. She has a board with a variety of nine little projects laid out, and the kids have to do three of them (up down or diagonal) across the board to earn a Bingo. There's a variety of difficulties in those proojects, and a variety of expression styles, but to fill out a row or column the kids would have to stretch their abilities in one way or another.

    If appropriate, run a mock stock market contest or something neat like that. Current events are another application, finding news stories that relate to math and summarizing and presenting those.
     
  20. swigardanne

    swigardanne New Member

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    Jan 9, 2010

    I think you should attend a workshop on teacher training. Today lots of organizations are accessible which organize Professional Development Workshops for Teachers. I hope you will get benefit of it. :thumb:
     

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