Quiet Mouse Experiment

I've had a lot of problems with students constantly talking in my Geometry class. I have 25 students and it's just not a good combination. I've tried lecturing and guilt tripping them about respect. I've tried holding them late after class. My most recent strategy was to add a homework problem every time they get loud. For example, if I wanted them to do 8 problems, I'd make a worksheet of 16 and write an 8 on the board. If they get loud, I walk over to the board, cross out the 8, and write a 9. I like it because it's nonverbal and doesn't interrupt the class. Also, they can't argue with it. If I start walking near the board, they try to quiet everyone down. It's helped some but it hasn't changed the fact that they don't respect me and ignore what I say.

So I decided to experiment. I've wanted to do this since my first year of teaching but was never sure I could pull it off. I did not talk. I went through the entire class without speaking. It was so fun!

I stood at the door and talked to students as they came in. When class started, I started the timer for 4 minutes to signal students to work on the bell ringer. When students called me over to ask questions, I spoke to them individually. From then on, I didn't speak. When the timer went off, I worked out the problems on the board so students could check their work. Normally I would explain the problem and call on students to tell me what to write. This time I wrote in silence and they magically did the same.

Our lesson was on the midpoint formula. I had a worksheet and corresponding PowerPoint but in a tragic turn of events, the worksheet pictures were different from the PowerPoint. Oh no! So instead of the worksheet, I held up a blank piece of paper. They got the hint and got out paper. I showed a horizontal line on the coordinate plane and the PowerPoint asked, How could we find the midpoint? A couple students figured out that we could just count the squares and then take half of that. The next picture showed a slanted line so that their method no longer worked. I pointed at the endpoints of the line and they gave me the coordinates.  Then I showed them the formula and they told me what to write. We went through several problems that way. I pointed to students when they needed to write. When they asked questions, I redirected it back to the class and other students explained. I walked around to monitor their progress.

I was amazed at my own ability to communicate without speaking.

Some students were really angry at me. Which I still haven't figured out. Some were very helpful interpreters. There were two students who I don't think have truly understood anything we've done all year that were completely engaged, did their homework, and actually enjoyed class.

I asked them three questions at the end of class as an exit slip.

  1. Did you learn better or worse?
  2. What was the point of this experiment?
  3. Did you have any questions that were not answered?

The responses to number one were 8 better, 6 worse, 5 the same, 2 no answer.

The responses to number 3 were 13 no, 5 yes, 3 no answer.

The response to number 2 were incredibly valuable. Here are some of their comments:

-To make us do more work
-To see if we an learn without you talking
-Learn to be quiet
-To see if it would help us learn
-To have our friends try and teach us
-To see if we could learn without your help
-To show you can teach and we can learn without talking. It's about paying attention and reading directions. Making us think more.
-I learnt better today somewhat because it was us learning.
-To learn in a different way

The next day I showed them the results and put up the following quote:

"If students could learn math by just listening, teachers would have been replaced by tape recorders a long time ago."

I asked them what this meant. They commented that you need to do more than hear it, you need to see it and actually do it.

Then I asked them how I could talk less so that they could learn more. Some of their suggestions were that I talk 2 days a week and not talk 3 days a week, not talk until they asked me a question, and only talk 5 times a period.

I haven't really decided what I'm going to do but I have been really noticing how much unnecessary talking I do and I hope I'm doing a good job of cutting it out.

My biggest takeaway from this experiment is that my students do not listen to what I say. As soon as I start talking, they tune out. They know I will repeat it or that it does not matter. This is a part of my issue with respect but I haven't  figured out how to master that yet.

By not talking, I forced them to watch me and pay attention. I forced them to listen to each other, not talk over each other, and try to understand on their own.

I forced myself to communicate only what matters.

I think I made them think.

Shh. Don't say a word.


Todd Whitaker- What Great Teachers Do Differently

Today was our regional teacher's institute and our speaker was Todd Whitaker, author of What Great Teachers Do Differently.  I read the book a couple years ago and posted the main points.

He was a great speaker: funny, interacted with the audience, easy to understand.

Here are my main takeaways:

  1. Negative people have no power. We give power to them. Pouters pout and whiners whine because it works. Who is not on any committee, doesn't do any extra curricular activities, has the easiest load, and the smallest classes? The people who complain. It is easier to avoid, ignore, or give in then to face them head on and deal with it. But pouters will pout and whiners will whine until it doesn't work anymore.

  2. Treat everyone as if they're good. Good people deserve it and crummy people can't stand it. The example he gave is when you are in a grocery store and see a parent freaking out and yelling at their kid. The parent is not uncomfortable. We are. We have a problem with the behavior but the child has the bigger problem. Our normal reaction would be to ignore or go down a different aisle. He said, what if we went up to the parent and (treating them as if they are good) asked them a normal question, like where is the coffee? For a moment, it shifts the situation. Will the parent yell at you? Maybe. But you already knew they were an idiot the moment you walked down the aisle. Don't let troublemakers, whiners, and pouters be invisible.

  3. What's great about teaching is that it matters. What's hard about teaching is that it matters every day. Ten days out of ten we should never yell, never argue, and never use sarcasm. Ten days out of ten we should treat students with respect and dignity because we never know which day it's going to make a difference for them.

  4. What great teachers do differently is know how they come across.


Literacy in the Math Classroom: Journal Prompts

Our big push for the year is literacy across the curriculum.

I'm excited about two new ideas I'm trying.

First of all, I have a first hour achievement period which is comparable to a homeroom or advisory. We've done a lot of different things. We watch Channel One news and have discussions, we have a silent reading day each week, we have regular study halls, etc etc. This year we got a bunch of new posters that line the hallway entrance. They are the ones with black borders that focus on a character trait like honesty, integrity and so on. Each student had to pick a quote. Then they had to find a picture on the Internet that went along with the quote. They had to write a one page reflection on why they chose this quote, how it relates to their life, and how their picture describes the quote. I didn't give them a due date, they just worked until they were done and then took turns presenting to the class. Then I had students vote on the best paper, best presentation, and funniest presentation. This sparked the idea to have students write and present more and more until we get to a point where students can self-assess and asses each other using a rubric. I'll be interested to see how the quality of what they create changes during the process.

I found these super amazeball notebooks at Wal-Mart. They are black and white and covered with designs and you can doodle on them and design them however you want. Slightly reminiscent of comic books. They come in a pack of 3 and cost $1. My students love them!

The part they don't know is that they only have 56 pages of paper. Ok, well they can read, so they do know that. But what they don't suspect is that once we run out of paper, I want to transition them to blogging. :) But how can I do that when I don't have enough computers. Enter Project iPad. I've decided that right now while we have the grant is the prime time to start a 1:1 iPad program at our school. So I've neatly tied that into our literacy project by having the students research and write papers in support of the idea, complete with main evidence, supporting arguments, and so on. The students are greatly intrigued. We started by doing a bubble/web/concept map graphic organizer on benefits of an iPad. Monday we are going to list the potential downfalls. Our literacy coach came in and talked to them about public speaking and gave them a graphic organizer that outlines a speech. We are going to use our webs to prioritize what should go in our outline and build our paper around that. I'm trying to get other teachers and classes involved so that every student has a say in it. How powerful will that be? And I'm hoping that the administration won't be able to deny every single student who has researched, written, and presented a well-thought out argument.

I also planned to do a lot of creative writing prompts to hopefully hook them into writing, thinking outside the box, and better expressing themselves. I found two great sites for prompts: creativewritingprompts.com and http://writingprompts.tumblr.com/ I went through the first site and picked the ones I liked best and made a pretty PowerPoint to use in my classroom. I like the second website too because it adds the visual piece. I will definitely be adding to this but it is a fantastic way to start.

My second idea takes place in my eighth hour class. The class is a supplemental Geometry class for students who did not meet or exceed in their standardized test scores. There is no real curriculum and no one can tell me what I should be doing. So far, I've been doing a mixture of extra help with geometry, reviewing stuff from the end of algebra, and teaching new stuff that I didn't quite get to in algebra. I bought the same amazeball notebooks for them too but their writing prompts will be focused on math instead of creative writing. Earlier I had posted a list of algebra writing prompts and now I am slowly transitioning that into another pretty Powerpoint. My thinking is to start class with journal time because my next door neighbor English teacher does that with them already. In all my other classes, I start off with a bell ringer. But by eighth hour, I'm usually tired and winging it. This is definitely a better solution. I think it is also a healthy break for the students who have me two hours in a row. It gives them a chance to be quiet, think, write, and discuss. My thinking is that the writing prompt will drive the material we learn/practice/review that day. Eventually, I want to have stations that students rotate through (that's another post entirely) so I'm wondering if it would work to have a writing station, board work station, and online (ALEKS) station. It would give students about 15 minutes per station. More on that later.

Some students have me for first and eighth hour and have my next door neighbor for English so that is at least 3 times a day that they will be writing and ultimately engaging in critical thinking. I'm excited about the prospects!

Oh, you probably want to know how I'm going to grade. For now, I think I will just be giving participation points. Friday I had everyone read their answers out loud. I may glance at them weekly to make sure they are actually writing and not just spouting off at the mouth. In the future, I hope to have students self-assess or assess each other. Our literacy team came up with a fantastic rubric but in my opinion, it is too much for my students' short journal writings. Seems way more appropriate for papers, not necessarily a paragraph or so. But then that just means me and my students will have to create our own. More team work and collaboration.



Naming Basic Geometry Terms Pt II

I previously posted about my students coming up with the idea to do a hands-on geometry activity with pipe cleaners, fuzzy balls, construction paper, and letters to review points, lines planes, and such. Each student had their own packet. They used a piece of construction paper for their plane.

This Powerpoint was posted up front, which gave them directions on something to create. This relied heavily on their ability to read and understand the terms and labels posted. See example.

PowerPoint slide:


As they arranged, I walked around and checked students' work but I did choose to create a mock example on the following Powerpoint slide. This way, if I did overlook some students, they were still able to self-assess and gauge their own understanding. This also created good opportunities for students to tell how they did it differently and discuss different ways of getting the right answer.

I thought this was a worthwhile activity and I would like to do more things like this, I'm not sure how much I believe in learning styles, but I do believe in connecting ideas with students in as many ways as possible.

As I mentioned before, what I am most proud of is that my students came up with the idea, put the supplies together, participated, and then as a class we reflected and discussed the results. This has been the best and most realistic example of team work and collaboration that we have accomplished yet.