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Welcome to my teaching blog

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Hi. I recently got around to doing something I’ve been thinking about for several years.

Sitting behind the desk

Me at ease behind my desk with my samurai yardstick. My son took this picture while he was with me on a Saturday morning working in the classroom. Otherwise, you would not be seeing me here chilled out. I rarely sat down during the school day. I was on my feet , either at the board, roaming the room or monitoring the hallway. Effective classroom management requires a vigorous physical presence – especially in the middle school.  IMHO, teachers who operate behind their desk make the job tougher.

I started teaching middle school math after 20 years in the Marine Corps and fresh out of graduate school and the Troops to Teacher program.  I taught middle school math for five years, freelanced as a Microsoft Certified Trainer and substitute teacher for five years then returned to a different middle school for five more years. At various times, I also taught social studies, study skills and substituted as a Spanish teacher.  While I was doing all that, I had an opportunity to be an adjunct instructor at a local community college, so I did that too. I had a good run and a big part of me is still in the classroom, but 15 years were enough.  In 2008, I got re-married and we retired together from everything.

Teaching in the middle school was the hardest I ever worked. At times it was more stressful than combat. I had a lot of success in the classroom and was nominated for the Who’s Who of American Teachers three times. Teaching is first and foremost a leadership challenge. Running a classroom is a lot like commanding a military unit or coaching a team. You have to lead by example, establish routines, make your standards known and enforce them firmly but fairly.  You also have to have a plan for everything and be adept at “winging it” when it blows up.

Airborne jump

That’s me doing a static line parachute jump when I was in recon. One of the hurdles I had to overcome in getting hired as a teacher was this notion that a Marine Corps paratrooper would be a lunatic in the classroom. I don’t know where they ever got that idea. In the end, the Marine Mafia came through. At my first school, one of the teachers on the interview team was the nephew of a Colonel I had worked with years before. Neither one of us knew that until we were making small talk after the interview.  My second posting came through because the assistant principal’s son was an Annapolis graduate and Marine officer. So it works both ways. Ex-military do very well in the classroom and schools love having them – once they get over the fear factor.

When a classroom is firing on all cylinders, there’s nothing quite like it. I found it to be very rewarding and satisfying.

Like most teachers, I was a pack rat and never threw anything away. I left with years of accumulated ideas, opinions, forms, sheets, letters, exercises and evaluations that had been gathering dust on my hard drive and taking up space in my closets. I decided to give it a new lease on life and put it on the Internet for others to use, hence this blog. If it gives one idea to one teacher, it will have been worth it. I’ll keep adding things until I run out.

In my other blogs and websites, I like to use lots of pictures along with informative captions to tell the story another way.  You won’t see any pictures of me teaching in the classroom because there aren’t that many and the ones that are around clearly show the faces of students.  When you publish pictures of people who can be recognized in a photo, it becomes a legal minefield.  To insulate yourself from lawsuits or worse, you have to get releases from everyone involved or their parents if they are minors.  I’m not about to publish pictures of minors in any way, shape or form in this litigious wired 24×7  society.   Instead you’ll find pictures of me or things I’ve used or places I’ve been.  My guest lecturers Sgt. Blogger, Count Cachula and others will make occasional appearances  to emphasize important points or just to liven things up a bit.

You’ll find some opinions and reflections on this blog which you may or may not agree with. There are several issues in particular that I wrestled with for years without a good resolution. I created a category called Classroom Capers where I free write about anything that comes to mind. I hope you find something of interest or value somewhere on the site.

One last thought – You’ll see me frequently refer to myself as Mister L.  That’s what my middle school students called me.  In the middle school environment, this kind of shorthand is used quite a bit and almost always with male teachers.  It’s kind of a mark that you’ve been accepted and the students think you’re OK and they trust you.  That makes the job a lot easier and lot more fun.

In addition to Mister L, I was also known to students in the primary grades as “the mean guy on the second floor” .  More on that in another post.

Enjoy … Dan aka Mister L aka Alpha6 aka The Mean Guy

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Make Short Work of Long Division

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The Count

This is one slick teaching method. Ah ah ah.

Long division. Those two little words evoke more groans out of students and parents than any other mathematical algorithm. It can be painful, that’s for sure. Those of us who grew up before calculators remember doing those gawd-awful problems, trying to figure out how many times this guzinta that. We ended up erasing our work when we guessed wrong until we had nothing but a big black smudge where once there had been a division problem. And heaven forbid that we should have any scratch work around the problem.

Now that everybody has a calculator, many people say division is obsolete. I lost count of the number of students and parents who simply couldn’t understand why it was even in the curriculum. There is a lot of institutional resistance to teaching and practicing long division, so much so that I’ve known some math teachers in the primary grades who didn’t teach it. I got many students in the 6th grade who couldn’t have done a long division problem if their life had depended on it. By the time they left me in the 8th grade, they were experts.

Here’s how I did it.  (Quick note:  Some of the alignment is off below.  The free WordPress Themes and HTML  seem to have a few limitations in that regard.  Here’s a link to a classroom-ready MS Word version of this lesson.)

The difference in this algorithm is that you don’t have to nail the number the first time, then go back and erase it if you guessed wrong. Instead, we use a series of estimates to whittle the problem down to size. These estimates are written down the right side of the problem. At the end, those estimates are added together along with any remainders and the final answer can be written on top of the box. The scratch work is done along side the problem, keeping it clean for the answer. The only thing written on the top of the box is the final answer.

First, I’ll show a real simple one to demonstrate the mechanics. By using small numbers that we already know the answer to, we are using a problem solving strategy called Modeling.

For teaching purposes,  I use the arithmetic form of division problems.  Its the only way to write out a long division problem and work on it.   A later learning point is to convert other forms into this arithmetic version so they can do the problem

Here’s the problem:

Step 1: Think – How many 4’s are there in 9? Let’s say the student says there’s 1 of them.
Step 2: Write – The student writes a 1 off to the right of the problem indicating that they have estimated that there is one 4 in 9.
Step 3: Multiply 1 x 4, which equals 4
Step 4: Subtract the 4 from 9 to get 5.
Step 5: Think – Can I take another 4 out of the 5? Yes
Step 6: Write – The student writes a 1 off to the right of the problem indicating that they have estimated that there is one more 4 in 5.
Step 7: Multiply 1 x 4, which equals 4
Step 8: Subtract the 4 from 5 to get 1
Step 9: Think – 1 is less than 4, so I have a piece of a 4 but not the whole thing. I have a remainder, which we can express a number of ways. We’ll use fractions for remainders right now. So I have a remainder of 1 out of the 4 or ¼. (NOT 1/9th)
Step 10: Add the estimates. 1 + 1 = 2 plus the leftover ¼ = 2¼
Step 11: Write the final answer in the assigned space


Here’s the problem using the above steps.

  • -4   Estimate there’s one four in 9. Write down 1 next to the problem = 1
  • 5    Subtract 9 – 4 = 5. Estimate there’s one more 4 left in 5. Write it down = 1
  • -4   Subtract 5 – 4 = 1. Leaves 1 leftover.  Can’t use any more 4’s.
  • 1      1 is less than 4  =  remainder of 1 out of 4 = ¼    (Not 1/9)                                               
  • Add estimates and remainder: 1 +1 + 1/4 = 2 ¼

 

Johnny Bravo

This looks like a lot of steps for a simple problem but if you look, there’s a pattern. Success in mathematics is all about recognizing patterns and this system has them.

THINK > WRITE > MULTIPLY > SUBTRACT

You keep doing that until the remainder inside the problem is less than the divisor outside the problem. In this case, we went until we ended up with a 1 inside the box and 4 outside. Then we calculate the remainder, put it in proper format, add the estimates to the remainder then write the final answer where indicated.

When we get to the remainder, this is the sequence. You only do it one time.

THINK > CONVERT > ADD > FINISH

This system is flexible and self-correcting. It’s also scalable for different grades and academic levels. With a little number sense, anyone can do this, even if they don’t have their times tables or place value down cold. Eventually they will. If they don’t hit the numbers right the first time, they make another estimate instead of erasing everything and starting over. If a student had recognized right off the bat that there were two 4’s in 9, their first estimate would have been 2 and they would have gone straight to the remainder.

This is also a great tool for diagnosing error patterns. They have to show their work as part of doing the problem. Arithmetic errors? Clerical errors? Basic facts? Number concepts? Place value? Fractions? Decimals? Terminology? Algorithms? Sequencing? Pattern recognition? I don’t need a big day long standardized test to tell me where a student is with their math. I can do it in a couple of long division problems, especially if they do them while I’m watching. Are they talking to themselves? Counting on their fingers? Facial expression? Body language? A math problem like this with an observant teacher will tell all.

Here’s another sample problem with bigger numbers. Now there are some place value considerations. Instead of going the traditional route where we have to determine whether to start with 3 or 30 or 301, just use the whole number. Start estimating how many 14’s there are in 301 right off the bat. That’s how we estimate in real life anyway. They’ll get there eventually, some faster than others.

If the students had no idea where to begin, I taught them to start by multiplying the divisor by 10. 14 becomes 140. Keep doing multiples of 10 until they get too big. Then you’re down to single digits and much smaller numbers. Pretty soon, if they don’t know already, they figure out that to multiply any number by 10, just put a zero on the end of it.

Problem:

First have them write it out in words so they understand what they are to do.
For example: “three hundred one divided by fourteen” or “fourteen goes into 301 how many times?”

At times, I also had them identify, in writing, the different parts of the problem – divisor, dividend and quotient. Since there are many ways to write division problems, I also had them identify these parts on problems written in different forms.  This introduces a writing and explanation element into the process which I believe is very important in math and as a life skill.

Then they have to put it in arithmetic form to do the problem.

301/14 (fraction)

or

301 ÷ 14 (algebraic)

or

301:14 (ratio)

becomes


Here we go…..

                  5     (THINK: Student estimates there are five 14’s in 301. WRITE: 5 )
-70                       (MULTIPLY: 5 x 14 = 70. SUBTRACT 70 from 301 leaving 231)
231              10   (THINK: Realizes 5 was way low. Estimates  10 more. WRITE: 10 )
140                       (MULTIPLY: 10 x 14 = 140. SUBTRACT 140 from 231 leaving 91)
91               5     (THINK: I used 5 before and it was 70. Use it again. WRITE: 5 )
-70                       (MULTIPLY: 5 x 14 = 70. SUBTRACT: 70 from 91 leaving 21)
21              1      (THINK: There’s one more 14 in 21. WRITE: 1)
-14                         (MULTIPLY: 1 x 14 = 14. SUBTRACT: 14 from 21 leaving 7)
7               ½              

(THINK: 7 is less than 14 but not zero so I have a remainder.)
(CONVERT: I have 7 leftover out of 14 which equals 7/14 = 1/2)
(ADD: Estimates and the remainder: 5 + 10 + 5 + 1 + ½ = 21 ½)
(FINISH: Clearly write the final answer in the correct place.)

A variation I used was to give a completed problem with a mistake in it. They had to find the mistake, correct it and then explain the mistake and the correction in writing. To make it even more challenging, you can put in multiple mistakes or no mistakes. Then just tell them to evaluate the problem and correct it if necessary.  Verbal and/or written explanations can enhance the learning curve.

This is a great system. Not only does it simplify long division, it exercises every other math operation. Add, subtract, multiply, divide, estimate, round, fractions, decimals, conversions, place value and more are all contained in every problem. They also have to show their work, whether they want to or not, which means they are working on their clerical skills, one of the biggest sources of errors in all of mathematics. It’s a great diagnostic tool for teachers.  Lastly, it has cross-curriculum elements with the writing of explanations. Do spelling, syntax and grammar count?  Of course.

Long division problems were a staple in my classroom and it really paid off. Confidence went up, test scores went up and when my 8th graders got to the high school, they ran circles around everyone else.

For assessments, warm ups, bonus points, quick classroom fillers and review, you can’t beat long division problems. Just two or three at a time will work wonders. Give this system a try. You’ll never dread long division again.

ah ah ah….Mister L.

Powers of 10 Chart

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JohnnyBravo

Yeah, I got lots more where this came from.

This one of many cool little documents I used when teaching math. I’m not sure where I got them but they have been very useful over the years.   I’ll be posting lots more as I go.

This chart is a great visual reference for combining and comparing numbers in exponential form, standard form, decimals and words.  It exposes students to unfamiliar terms and concepts, such as negative exponents, fractional exponents and the word form of amazingly large and small numbers.

(Note: The WordPress theme cut off the numbers in the first and last cell of the decimal column.  The septillion decimal should have  one more zero at the end.  The septillionth decimal should have  another  zero and a one at the end.)

It also came in handy for my computer classes.

Note the numbers in the “Since” column, which get more recent as the numbers get bigger and smaller.  If you’re wondering where those weird prefixes come from, my next post will be an Origin of Units page.

Here’s a copy of the original chart in MS Word.

It’s also great for some  hilarious math jokes, like “That’s sure is a yotta stuff.”  Somebody stop me.

1000m

10n

Prefix

Symbol

Since

Word form

Decimal

10008

1024

yotta

Y

1991

Septillion

1000000000000000000000000

10007

1021

zetta

Z

1991

Sextillion

1000000000000000000000

10006

1018

exa

E

1975

Quintillion

1000000000000000000

10005

1015

peta

P

1975

Quadrillion

1000000000000000

10004

1012

tera

T

1960

Trillion

1000000000000

10003

109

giga

G

1960

Billion

1000000000

10002

106

mega

M

1960

Million

1000000

10001

103

kilo

k

1795

Thousand

1000

10002⁄3

102

hecto

h

1795

Hundred

100

10001⁄3

101

deca

da

1795

Ten

10

10000

100

(none)

(none)

NA

One

1

1000−1⁄3

10−1

deci

d

1795

Tenth

0.1

1000−2⁄3

10−2

centi

c

1795

Hundredth

0.01

1000−1

10−3

milli

m

1795

Thousandth

0.001

1000−2

10−6

micro

µ

1960

Millionth

0.000001

1000−3

10−9

nano

n

1960

Billionth

0.000000001

1000−4

10−12

pico

p

1960

Trillionth

0.000000000001

1000−5

10−15

femto

f

1964

Quadrillionth

0.000000000000001

1000−6

10−18

atto

a

1964

Quintillionth

0.000000000000000001

1000−7

10−21

zepto

z

1991

Sextillionth

0.000000000000000000001

1000−8

10−24

yocto

y

1991

Septillionth

0.000000000000000000000001

Enjoy.  You have to admit that reading this is more exciting than The Bachelorette … Mister L

The Homework Ate My Family

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Time magazine cover

This topic isn’t new. This is the Time magazine cover from January 25, 1999.

Homework is a topic that I wrestled with for years, both as a parent and a teacher.  Actually agonized would be a better word and in a very personal way.  My oldest son was ADD back in the early 80’s when that diagnosis didn’t exist yet.  And of all the problems that ADD can cause, family disruption brought on by homework is the worst.  Every night was a battle.  We lived for weekends, holidays and summers.  Even one night without homework was a blessing. And contrary to popular opinion, ADD kids don’t “grow out of it.”  We dealt with it every day until he graduated from high school.

We got little help or sympathy from anybody in the school system.  There were a few individual teachers who worked with us to modify assignments, but homework is ingrained into education’s DNA.  Few educators were willing to concede that homework had unintended consequences and nobody questioned its need or effectiveness.

I entered the teaching profession in 1993 with that background as a parent but had also been thoroughly indoctrinated in graduate school about teaching “best practices.”  One of the major ones is to give homework.  I soon found out that the reality of homework for teachers was  at least as stressful as that experienced by families.  The difference was that as teachers, we did it to ourselves.

If you ask people what the purpose of homework is, they will tell you it’s to improve the students’ understanding of a topic.  Besides, in the eyes of many, the hallmark of a “tough” teacher or a “good” teacher is one who gives lots of homework.  I used to buy into that, but not anymore.

Homework poster

Ya gotta love this poster. It pretty much nails it.

If a student understands the material taught in class, then homework simply becomes “busy work” with no discernible or concrete objective other than it’s the generally accepted norm.  If a student doesn’t understand the material when they leave the class, how are they expected to understand the homework?  This leads to frustration, anger and further dysfunction.

Then there is the concept of differentiation, i.e., tailoring an assignment to a student’s capabilities.  This is the latest in a long line of great ideas brought forth by people who don’t have to implement them in the classroom.

Differentiation leads to homework theories like ” 10 minutes per night per grade number.”  So 1st graders get 10 minutes, 3rd graders get 30, etc.  The trouble is that 10 minutes for one student could be two minutes for one and two hours for another. 

“Aha!” say the experts.  “You’ve got to differentiate your assignments to the ability of each student.”

Here’s the problem with that.

If we apply the concept of differentiation to homework, then the most capable students should get more homework or harder homework in order to challenge them.  Conversely, a student who struggles in math should get less homework. But if homework really improves student performance like its adherents claim, shouldn’t it be the other way around?  Students who understand it should get less; students who don’t understand should get more.   The way I see it, homework and differentiation are at complete odds with each other.

I always thought it was ironic that the same people who say we should individualize our learning plans also think we should have a 100% passing rate on a one-size-fits-all high stakes standardized test.  Go figure.

Then there are practical considerations.  When my daughter was in high school, she routinely got 30-40 math problems a night for homework.  You know how many times they got collected or checked in any way?  None. If something is worth doing, it’s worth checking. That’s  a basic leadership principle. If students do their work and put some effort into it, doesn’t it rate at least a look?

So we’ll just collect it up and grade 1,000 math problems every night.  Or we’ll take 15 minutes out of a 45 minute class every day to check homework.  Besides, what student is going to knock themselves out to do quality work if their reward is more work? Especially if it never gets checked or acknowledged?  There’s no win-win scenario here.

Family doing homework

Look familiar? Don’t do this to parents. It breeds resentment, conflict and anger.

Still not convinced? There’s a lot more going against homework.   Life in this 24×7 wired world is fast-paced and homework competes with many other outside activities.  It’s a low priority among families, many of whom view homework as an unwelcome intrusion into their limited time together.  Family resistance to homework is one of the single biggest causes of parent-teacher conflict.  I got many e-mails and notes from families asking me to excuse homework for some  inane reason, like getting home late from the hockey tournament.  Other parents just flat out tell their kids not to do it.  Still others try to do it for them, with disastrous results. (It’s easy to spot.)

When I went to school in the late 1950’s and through the 60’s, we wouldn’t have dared show up in class without doing our homework.  In some places, like  Japan, Korea and Singapore, it’s still like that.  But it’s not that way here any more.  And let’s face it, what can you do to a student who doesn’t do their homework?  The reality is nothing and they all know it.  So why set up a conflict and a power struggle that you can’t win?

Additionally, homework cheating is rampant, enabled by Internet technology to which the students all have access.  Cheating across the board is so bad that any work done outside the classroom is suspect.   If you are using that material for grades, you run the risk of meaningless marks recorded from a compromised system as students will freely exchange work to get the points.

If they aren’t copying from each other, they’re plagiarizing  Wikipedia.  There are even math sites that will do the problems for you – everything from single digit arithmetic to calculus differentials.

This results in perfect homework scores and bombed tests.  The only work that can be trusted is that done in the classroom with the teacher.  These trends have accelerated since I left the classroom. If you include outside work, you have to be prepared to play homework detective to determine its validity. Don’t you have enough to do already?

Lastly, there is the hard reality that a significant number of students simply don’t do their homework – for whatever reason or no reason at all.  Then what?

The bottom line for me is this – I’ve never seen a struggling student become a good student or a good student become a better student because they had lots of homework.  Students improve as a direct result of good teaching in an efficient classroom and all that goes with it.  I would much rather give my students 10 minutes to do five problems at the end of class.  That way, they have to do the work and I know it’s their own.  I can watch them work.  I can spot problems early and correct them.  I can gauge the effectiveness of how well I taught them.  It restores the integrity of the system and gives me an accurate picture of where people are at both individually and as a class.

Student doing homework

Granted students can get frustrated and they need to work through it. But it shouldn’t be this way night after night after night.

I started teaching with the traditional view of homework and tried to keep the faith.  However, upon reflection over the years I reluctantly concluded that homework has outlived its usefulness.  Improvements in technology and changes in our culture have nullified it. Its origin is suspect.  It takes time to assign it, collect it, check it and go over it.  That’s time that could be used to actually teach – or eat and sleep.

Happily, there is a growing concern that homework is not all it’s cracked up to be and may in fact do more harm than good.  I’m proud to say I was one of the original proponents of that theory.  I found that homework consumed far too much time for far too few benefits, so years ago, I said the hell with it.  My students, my families, my grade book and I were all happier for it.

Your assignment for tonight is to read this blog post 100 times …Mister L

Calculator Spelling

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This is one of my favorites.  It’s one of those nifty little activities that belong in every math teacher’s bag of tricks.  The basic idea is to solve a math problem with a calculator, then turn the display upside down.  The correct answer should spell out a word. It’s easy to do, a lot of fun and the kids love it.  In addition to building keyboarding skills, it rolls in a number of other topics, such as place value, properties of zero and one, order of operations, exponents, parenthetical expressions, integers, spelling and vocabulary.  It all depends how creative you want to get with it.

I used calculator spelling questions for warm-ups, bonus questions and time fillers. I always kept a dozen or so on hand that I could whip on the board in a hurry. It lends itself well to round robin activities. It’s particularly good for those high energy days like the day after Halloween or the day before Christmas break when everybody is wired. This is typically a noisy, active session with lots of LOL and OMG.

This is simple to set up and there are a lot of web sites that cover it.  Here it is in a nutshell.

The digits 0-9 can all be used as a letter when turned upside down.

0 = o or O

1 = l or i or I (big I, Little i, little L)

2 = z or Z

3 = E

4 = h

5 = s or S

6 = G

7 = L

8 = B

9 = g

Calculator display

A TI-34 display showing the problem worked. The answer is circled for demonstration purposes. This is what we read when we turn it upside down.

So the word BELL would be 8377.  But remember, that’s what it looks like upside down, so the answer to the problem has to be 7738.  Then it’s just a matter of inventing a math problem that equals 7738.  It can be as simple or complex as you want to make it.  This is easily tailored to individual or class levels. I taught grades 6, 7 and 8. I could use the same answers to get the same words but the problem to get there would be different.

A variation is to have a question with a two or three word answer, which requires the students to correctly interpret and separate the words.  For instance, the answer 71077345 turned upside down becomes 54377017 or ShELLOiL.

Another variation is to use parentheses to get your answer but leave them out of the problem.  The students then have to place the (   ) in the correct place to get the correct answer.  It raises the challenge level and is self-checking – very cool.

Calculator display turned upside down.

No need to do anything else. Just turn it upside down and read/interpret the answer.

Still another variant – have the students create their own questions and answers.

Be careful with leading zeroes.  Most displays drop them.  So 07734 ( 43770 – HeLLO) becomes 7734 (4377 – HeLL).  To fix it, include a decimal point to fix the zero in the answer.

So how many words are there?  That’s a moving target.  Here’s the best list I’ve been able to find.  You can make any word plural by adding -s or  -es to the end.  You can create a descriptive word by adding -ish at the end.  Also, don’t forget abbreviations, nicknames and acronyms.

The variations and innovations you can do with this simple activity are almost limitless.  It’s not the kind of thing you can do all the time, but when pulled out of your bag of tricks, it can be most productive.

Here are some links to other related resources.

NCTM Standards  (so you can show your principal when they ask why you aren’t teaching the test)

Calculator Spelling 1

Calculator Spelling 2

Sometimes on the exercises, students will come up with the right word just from the clue.  That’s good, but they still need to do the problem and write the solution.

It also goes much smoother if everyone uses the same kind of calculator. If you are fortunate enough to have classroom calculators, this is a good time to use them.  That way, you know the little quirks of the displays and functions and can plan accordingly.  It’s also easier to correct keyboarding mistakes and make learning points to the whole class if they have the same box. 

If that’s not possible, then be prepared to answer student questions on “their” calculator. My standard response was “What exactly won’t it do?”  Or “Where are you getting stuck?”  Or I’ll watch them while they run through the problem again. 

Count Cachula

s’tahT eno looc tsop. ha ha ha

If they keep trying without success, I’ll talk them through it and give some hints.  I can also steer them towards the Internet for a user’s guide.  I do not give out answers.  Depending on the situation, I’ll walk right up to the line of giving it up, but the student has to finish it.

This is a good exercise for wringing out all those new calculators at the beginning of the year.  Better to be confused here than at the next standardized test.

Feel free to copy and/or use any of the posted or linked material.

Hey Count .  You need to get out more.  This is what happens when you grade papers all night and all weekend. 

I hope it’s ton gnihctac.

hu ho  … LretsiM

My Classroom Rules of the Road

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Down below, you’ll find my classroom “Rules of the Road”. I believe in keeping them few and simple as opposed to writing a whole penal code. Then we post them prominently and reinforce them constantly.  They get sent home to parents in letters at the beginning of the year and become a basis for student counseling and remediation.

Sgt. Blogger

Listen up! Sgt. Blogger here. Your objective is to complete the day’s instruction.  Don’t let minor distractions get in the way. Determine which classroom management goals are most important to accomplish that. Then build a few short simple rules around them. Practice and reinforce them until they become second nature to everyone. Then you can really start teaching. Don’t write a whole penal code. You’ll get challenged at every turn. Mister L’s rules are good to go.  If he can do this, anyone can.  Wait, that last part came out wrong. Can I have a Mulligan?

Here they are:

Classroom Expectations for All

1. Come to class on time and prepared

2. Go to your assigned seat and begin the day’s work

3.  Listen when the teacher is talking.

4. Raise your hand if you have a question, an answer or a comment.

5. Help clean up and sit quietly for dismissal.

And now a few words from our guest speaker…

Carry on then … Mister L


Our geocaching and exploring blog

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This blog is linked to our other blog  Geocaching (and More) Off the Beaten Path.  From an educational standpoint, the two areas have a lot in common, but I felt is was best to separate them for two different audiences.  However, our vision for the two is the same  –  a family friendly blog that promotes interest in outdoor activities, curiosity about the world around us and lifelong learning.

Maps, compasses, GPS devices and computer apps are all very valuable in the classroom. They can easily cross the boundaries of subject areas and make up the core of that  elusive “cross-curricular activity” that everyone is looking for. Here’s a couple of examples of that.

Labeled view of a compas.

This simple photo has many learning points associated with it. Nomenclature, scale, distance, direction, unit conversion and estimation are all topics that can be launched from here, either planned or as a teachable moment. How does a compass work? How can you tell direction without one? How can you make a compass? Those are all things we did in my classes. It lends itself well to group work, can be scaled to many levels and burns up some of that middle school energy. In the process, they are also learning to think, evaluate and make decisions. Just don’t tell them that.

Math, science, social studies, language arts and art can all utilize the tools used by outdoors enthusiasts all the time.  Academic standards at all levels specify enabling and terminal learning objectives that can easily be taught and practiced with these tools.  The difficulty is that most schools don’t have them and most teachers don’t know how to use them.  Hopefully, our two blogs will help solve both those problems.

A screenshot of Map Server.

Do you want to incorporate technology into the curriculum? Are you kidding? Of course you do. This is a great way to do it. Almost all outdoor activities have a tech component now. In fact, all of our geohunting and stashing adventures begin and end on a computer. In this blog, we’ll guide you to some resources that will have you and your students scheming and tracking like pros. My favorite – Google Earth. And it’s free.

There’s much more. Like most teachers, I was a pack rat and never threw anything away.  I’ve got years of accumulated ideas, opinions, forms, sheets, letters, exercises and evaluations.  Some of it is on paper, some is on my hard drive and some is in my head.  It seemed like a shame to toss it or forget about it, so I decided to give it a new lease on life and blog it.  Most, if not all, of the content in my teaching blog will be useful to parents, coaches, youth leaders and even grandparents (whose ranks I have now entered.) If it gives one good idea to one person, it will have been worth it.

I’ll keep adding stuff until I run out, which will probably never happen.  Where appropriate, I’ll cross-link things.  I welcome your feedback and ideas.

Enjoy … Dan aka Alpha6 aka Mister L


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