Sunday, January 21, 2018

THE CPR of Discipline... and Bob Ross

When I meet someone and they ask, "What do you do?" I usually say I'm a middle school teacher.  That usually draws some interesting looks.  When they ask what subjects and I say "math, science, and reading" that draws even more looks. 

  • Wow. you must have the patience of a saint. 
  • I could never do that.  Those kids are so rude!
  • Really? Kids that age are so bratty/spoiled/undisciplined/etc.

I understand that most people don't choose to spend their time with a couple dozen early-teenage adolescents on a daily basis.  They don't see their passion to want to know why, their questioning nature, the beauty of their squirrel-like attention.  Each day each student can have one of five different personalities show up, and I love that.

Discipline seems to be the one thing on most people's minds when I mention my profession.   People also ask, "how do you control so many kids in such a small space?"  This quote guides many of my philosophies regarding discipline:

Students do not come to school looking to get in trouble. They don't wake up, get dressed, then think about, "hmmm, how will I get myself in trouble today? Maybe I'll just shout some curse words during math class. That sounds good!"

Students come to school and are asked to do things that are extremely uncomfortable and not intrinsic to them. Each day they are asked to sit through multiple subjects of content, most of which they have never seen or heard about before.  They are asked to learn facts, do homework, and take tests in subjects they may not enjoy... And they are asked to do it by someone who may think that their class is the MOST IMPORTANT CLASS EVER.

It is so important to remember perspective.  The student that just called out or yelled at you or grumbled under her voice or threw a pencil across a room did it for a reason.  It is important that teachers look at that situation as "this student is struggling now... how can I help?" and stay away from, "that student is misbehaving, how can I punish her into submission? MUHAHAHA!"

My discipline style is similar to the steps of CPR.  The first part of CPR is making sure "the scene safe."  With discipline I ask a similar question - are any students (including the one in question) in any immediate physical or emotional danger?  Can I handle this in the classroom or should we step outside?  Once that is taken care of, I can move to give the student individual care (CPR: are you ok?)

I like starting off conversations with, "Are you angry at something I did today?" or "Are you upset at me?"  This does a number of things right off the bat.  First, it establishes that I'm not upset at the student. I am looking to get information. Second, it helps me figure out why the student is having some difficulty. Many times discipline problems are a result of something that happened minutes, hours, or days earlier.  By asking this one question I also am able to (usually) calm the student down both physically and emotionally.  This calms down the amygdala and opens up some more rational thinking. With the neural pathways more open, I can ask more mindful questions instead of rhetorical ones with negative connotation (why did you do that?) and get more insightful answers from the student. 

Coming from a perspective of a coach looking to improve a student, not a cop looking to write a ticket (detention slip), allows students to express their feelings and lets me offer solutions to help the student be more successful in similar situations in the future.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Who Knew Rice Could Be SO Powerful?

Exponents are a fascinating topic to me.  They rank up there with probability in the category of "unexpected answers that make no sense." With exponents students are amazed at how big numbers get and how fast they get there.  I have a number of activities I do to hook them in, but the first one I do involves some rice...

I started with an ancient parable of a farmer in Ancient China.  The parable has many different origins, most commonly in India, but I chose Ancient China because the students just finished a unit on this region and I felt it would be a great way to review the vocabulary and geography of the area. 

The story goes like this...

Once upon a time a farmer found a way to vastly increase the amount of rice produced on his farm.  He shared this information with his Noble who in turn told the Emperor.  The Emperor was very happy, for growing rice was one of the ways to get wealthy in ancient times.  It wasn't like they could just go to Kroger and buy rice, you know.

The Emperor insisted on an audience from the farmer, who showed the next day.  The farmer, being only a peasant, approached his Emperor with his head bowed the entire time.  The Emperor commended his subject and said as a reward he would grant him a reward of a pound of rice a day, every day, for a year.  This was an astronomical amount of food.

We then measured what a pound of rice looked like.  I always keep tupperwares of rice in the classroom - they come in handy for many different activities.  I also got out our science beakers and digital scale.  The pound of rice we measured had just more than 500 ml of volume.  We also estimated there were between 7,000 and 10,000 grains of rice in that pound.  Looking at a serving size, we learned that this would be between 8 and 10 servings of rice by today's standards. 

Doing some more math revealed that at the end of 30 days the farmer would have about 300,000 grains of rice. 

... Then the story continued...

Being a humble peasant, the farmer refused the reward.  Instead, he said, he wished for merely one grain of rice, doubled each day for the 30 day period. 

The Emperor laughed, but was impressed by his subject's modesty.  He granted his wish.

Students then discussed if this was a good plan.  Many of them had heard this story before, and so knew that the farmer made a good choice, but the challenge was to estimate how many grains of rice he would end up with after 30 days.  Estimates ranged from "a few hundred" (from students that had never heard the story) to "about a million." 

So to emphasize the deal I got out the rice again and said, "OK, day 1... ONE grain of rice" and I put the grain of rice on a random student's desk.  "Whew... ok... day TWOOOO.... two grains of rice..." (another student) "day three... four grains! that looks SO FILLING!" (another student.)  I do this through the first 5 days getting up to 16 grains.

Students were then challenged with proving which deal was better.  To do this we decided to use chess boards and post its to help organize our thinking and planning.  Students were put in groups of two or three students to record the results. 

The numbers started small...

... but they started growing...

and kept growing...

Students were shocked at how large the final answer was (over 500 million grains of rice on day 30 alone!)  At the end we did some reflection on exponents. Here are some responses from the closing:

  • The numbers start off really small, but got big REALLY fast after like day 20.
  • The emperor must have been really upset!
  • It didn't seem like a good deal, but on day 19 he already had more than all 30 days from the other deal. 
  • That was WAY more than I thought it would be. 
  • How many pounds of rice is that??? 
The last part of the assignment was for them to write how the story ends.  What happened to the farmer? Ideally they would use their knowledge of social structures to answer the question (would the Emperor kill the farmer? Honor the agreement? something else?) 

It was a very fun lesson and really emphasized the power of exponents!  

Monday, January 8, 2018

The Amazing (Review) Race

For a final review in term two I decided to host an Amazing Race activity.  This review would use the TV show as inspiration to review concepts in the major content areas.

The students walked in to a dimmed room with the opening theme to The Amazing Race playing on repeat.  We watched a quick clip to help orient students that have never seen the show before and then I explained how it was going to work today.

  • Students were on teams of three or four. 
  • Each team was assigned a color and symbol.
  • Clues for each team were in envelopes with their symbol. 
The Teams

Unlike the actual amazing race, the goal wasn't necessarily to be the first team to finish. Instead it was a point-based game where you can earn points for various tasks:

  • Completing a route: 20 points
  • Completing a road block: 15 points + points for creativity, quality, and originality
  • Bonus points: 5 points each (given at the end of the match, similar to Mario Party)
Students were also told there were ways to lose points.  I really wanted to focus on them working together and using each other as a resource:
  • Getting help from an adult or other team: -5 points
  • Running or unexpected hallway behavior: -5 points
  • If your group is split up / not together: -10 points
  • Opening the wrong envelope: -10 points
We also talked about 'sabotage' and how it wasn't allowed (for instance, seeing someone else's envelope and moving or otherwise interfering with other teams.) 

That is a great haiku about China - but you didn't talk about the government... ROAD BLOCKED

After that I put them in their groups and said their first clue was in the commons.  They left the classroom, found their clue and the game began.  

We played a total of 4 route cards and one road block.  The route cards reviewed skills from all the major subjects that my partner teacher and I presented in term two.  To add to the game I bought some programmable padlocks from amazon.  Certain route cards led you to a locker number with a lock. The clue also had the combination to that lock embedded in the clue.  A few groups came up to me for clarification, but when I used the phrase, "is this an official asking for help question?" many of them chose to figure it out as a group rather than lose the five points. 

$10 on Amazon. Great purchase.

After the game was finished, students completed a reflection / feedback survey.  The results were very positive.  Students rated their partner's helpfulness at 3.2 out of 4, Fun rated a 3.3 out of 4 and 93% of students said they'd want to do this again.  It took quite some time to create this, so I'm glad that it went so well!

I really enjoyed this activity for a number of reasons. Students were encouraged to ask each other for help rather than asking a teacher. Only two groups asked a teacher for help throughout the entire game, and that was after they realized they all were stuck.  I got to incorporate a mix of topics - science, social studies, math, and language arts were all represented.  On top of academics, the social pieces - communication, team building, and all the skills that go with that were also emphasized.  I'll be excited to try this again in term three!

Saturday, December 30, 2017

2017 reflection: teaching

This school year marks my 20th as a classroom teacher.  That has not really sunk in - there are times when I feel like I am that fresh-out-of-college kid with a couple dozen 3rd graders staring at me waiting for me to lead, all the while I'm waiting for a supervisor to come in to observe me.

I remember my first year of teaching well.  I was hired to teach third grade in Cathedral City, California at a school called Landau Elementary.  The school had a year-round schedule where there were four blocks of students that rotated one month off.  My schedule had me starting in July, taking off August, working September through Thanksgiving then off until New Years.  From there I worked January through March, had April off, then returned to finish the year in May and June.  There was a one week "reset" at the end of June and beginning of July, then the new school year started.

This system had pros and cons - but that's for another blog.

It was a very unique system.  It enabled the school to house 25% more students without needing to expand the campus.  The downside from an educator point of view is after each break you were in a new classroom for those three months.

I still remember my principal that year, the music teacher, my co-teachers... I remember my students and my first class photo.  I remember how I arranged the classroom and where I set up my two desktop computers...

Those students - those third graders - are just about 30 years old today.

I wonder if those students or I went back to Landau how similar it would look.  What has changed?

Here is a pop-quiz.  What year was this photo taken?

You might say 2012? 2006? 1998?

What about this one?

Could've been from my first year of teaching... Could be the classroom across the hall from you today.

Let's contrast that to another hobby of mine: video games...

Here is a video game I played in 1997:

Final Fantasy VII

And here is the game in 2017:

I don't own this game system. Accepting donations.

There is no mistaking the game of yesteryear to the game of today.  The same can be said of nearly every other profession. I know that a dentist office from 20 years ago doesn't look like the one I go to currently.  Yet there are classrooms that exist today that look and feel like it is still 1998.

So this leads to my word of 2018: Evolve.

As a veteran teacher (that feels so strange to write) it is easy for me to fall back into routines and previous lessons that 'worked well.' It is easy to fall into 'old habits.'   It is easy for me to have a bunch of 'traditional' lessons with a once-a-month "lookie at what I did" lesson so that I pat myself on the back. It is harder to create lessons, set up a classroom, and develop relationships that engage all students while focus on best practices.  Now is the time to reflect on previous teachings and evolve my lessons.

It is also time for me to evolve as a leader within the education community, both locally and globally. 
And yes, evolve will also apply to my running goals in 2018 as well.  Stay tuned!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

2017 Year In Review: Running

If I had one word to categorize and describe my 2017 year of running it would be "Believe." There were major accomplishments (my first 50 miler finish, new PRs in both my half and full marathon distances) as well as runs that... didn't go as planned.  However belief from my friends led to belief in myself.

Didn't plan on the flood during Tie Dye this year

Early in the year I was given a challenge (some would say I was called out by my Colorado bestie) to run 50 miles at once (well I didn't RUN all 50, but you get me.)  I signed up for Not Your Momma's Old School 50 miler and made it about 38ish miles before my mind said "no mas!"

That night while recovering this bestie did what any bestie coach would do.  She kicked my virtual mind in the virtual butt. She laid into me about my mental game, about leaving hours on the clock, and how she KNEW I could finish a 50-mile event.  She called me out because she knew I could answer the bell. It was why I went back at it a few weeks later at Highbanks Park.


On top of my accomplishments, I got to help others reach theirs as well.  This year I helped people run their first 5k, paced people to personal records (PRs) in 5k, 10k, and half marathon distances, and ..umm... ... encouraged... people to sign up for their first half and full marathons.

What does 2018 hold? I'll be at the Mohican 50k (dubbed Forget the PR) in April and will be pacing Erika at the Burning River 100 miler. No doubt I'll be signing up for at least the possum30k in March,  as well as some other events... maybe a 24-hour race? Who knows. I've learned nothing is off the table.

Nearly-Official 2017 Numbers: 

Total miles run in 2017: 1393 total miles (as of 12/27/17)
Total runs: 198 (as of 12/27/17)

Yes I'll hit nice round numbers there by the end of the year :)

Mostly-Official events: 

January: Winter Warmup Half Marathon
February: Frostbite 5 miler
March: Little Miami 10 miler, Washington DC Marathon
April: ORRRC Marathon (PR!!!), Let Me Run 5k
May: Salt Fork, Tie Dye 16 miler (DNF 32 miler due to weather) New Moon Quarter Marathon
June: Another Dam 50k
August: Beaver Chase Marathon, Emerald City Half Marathon (PR!!!), Darby Creek 10k
September: Night Glow Half Marathon, Air Force Half Marathon
October: Not Yo Momma's Old school (DNF'ed 50 miler) Spirit Sprint 5k,
November: Hot Chocolate 15k, Highbanks Park (solo 50 miler!), New Albany 4 miler, Left Over 5k, Hungry Turkey 5k
December: Run Santa Run 5k, The Boney Gnome Half Marathon

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Escape the Math Classroom

This I made my first attempt at an 'escape room', but I decided to do it digital style.  Students came in and saw an on the front board with the message that said, "Escape the Math Classroom." 

We had a quick talk about "escape rooms" and I asked if anyone had experience with these. To my surprise a number of students have done these activities.  I asked what qualities escape rooms had.  Students answered with "puzzles, clues, a time limit, and teamwork."  I agreed with all of those.

I explained that today would be a little different than a traditional escape room.  Today's would be all digital.  Clues and answers would be solely on the computer.  Students would still have to figure out clues and work with a partner to solve the puzzles to move on, and they would only have until the end of class to finish the room. 

This escape room was designed around a math review for integers and the coordinate plane.  Each clue was designed on Google forms. Using the response validation option when I set it up, students had to correctly answer each question before being allowed to move on to the next response. 

Students were excited to get started and were engaged from the start.  It was fascinating to watch them work together to solve each review question - there were levels of frustration and perseverance, and absolute excitement when they finally moved on to the next clue. 

Some students finished before others and went on to other academic choices, but all groups ended up solving the room by the end of class.  For homework students had to complete a reflection survey to help me get some feedback as to how well they felt it went.  Overall they enjoyed it and were looking forward to doing it again (with more clues than just digital.)   Here is the survey they had to complete: Reflection Survey. (TTQA = turn the question around)

I plan on expanding this activity soon to include many more multi-sensory activities.  I purchased programmable combination locks and plan on storing some clues in lockers throughout the division.  Also, the next one will be multi-class and incorporate many clues from language arts as well as science and social studies.  I'm excited to team up with my teaching partner to create this game!

Here is the room for those of you that want to try it out! Escape the Math Room

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Getting the Monkey Off My Back.

On Saturday November 18th I decided to spend a day at my favorite Metro Park with one goal - finish a 50-mile run. I had attempted the 50-mile distance twice before, coming up short both times (finishing 41 and 38 miles, respectively.) I showed up at just past 6:30 in the morning and started off shortly there after.

The first few miles set the tone for the day - rain, thunder, and lightning. I had my headlamp, but in the downpour, it did little good. Still, I had a great water proof jacket on and enjoyed the start of the run. I passed a park ranger and I was worried that he was going to tell me to seek shelter. Instead, he just gave me a wave and I waved back as I passed. As the sun rose (or more accurately as it got lighter out) the temperature started rising and I returned to my car after about 4 miles to ditch my sweater and long pants for shorts and a t-shirt, keeping the water proof jacket.

OK - maybe more water resistant than water proof

It was also then that I realized something key - I left my bag of Gu and honey stinger waffles at home. I spent the next loop doing some math. I had three PBJ sandwiches (400 calories each), 3 protein bars (230 calories each), two Zone perfect bars (200 calories each), and two Gatorade bottles (200 calories each) in my car. I also had a bag of mini Three Musketeers and a bag of Swedish fish. All in all, this was well over 3500 calories. My goal was 150 calories at the aid (car) station and another 50-75 during each of the 4~ish mile loops. This added up to about 2500 calories. I figured things would be as fine as they could be. Besides, I’ve attempted two fifty-milers on gu and waffles and those didn’t exactly end as planned. Worse case scenario, if I really wanted (or needed) more traditional fuel, FrontRunner Worthington was a (scary) four-mile run down highway 23.

It was all of this math and thinking of contingency plans that got me through laps two and three.

There were three main loops throughout the park that I had planned: One that took me down to the observation deck via the overlook path, one that lead out to big meadows via Dripping Rock path, and one that headed to big meadows via the multi-use path. Each lap was between 4 and 6 miles long. I figured if I did each separate loop 3 times I wouldn’t repeat anything too often.

map of the park

Honestly, I felt my first 50k (31 miles) was pretty solid. My nutrition plan, though off from what I had prepped for, was right on. I had a quarter of a PBJ with some Gatorade each time I got to the car, then a quarter of a protein bar during the lap with some candy thrown in for fun. This turned into about 150-200 calories every hour-ish.

I finished the first 50k in about 7 hours and 20 minutes, just over 14-minute pace. This was nearly perfect as my goal for the first 50k was a 14:30 pace. With the time I had left before the park closed, I would need to pace at about 19:30-minute miles to finish before getting kicked out.

Things started to slow down after 50k. Miles were definitely taking longer. 15-minute pace turned into 16-minute miles. Still … I was moving forward. Mentally I was just trying to get to mile 37 in about 9 hours. That was when I would pick up a pacer… My very good friend / coach / running partner Erika was back in town and said she’d put a few miles in with me.  Mentally I just had to keep moving until she got there.

It was so amazing to have someone there to share the really crappy of the suckiest miles. She spent about 2 hours with me and made sure I got through to about mile 43. I’m so thankful for that time - it got me through the absolute worst miles and certainly helped me complete my mission. She had to leave as the rain started picking up again, and I was left with a bit more than a 10k to go.

By this point, I had been moving for 11 hours. I had 7 miles to go and could pace at 20-minute miles to finish by 7:45 pm (sunset was at 5:15 pm, the park closed at 8:00 pm.)

Not that I saw the sun at all... This was the weather for my last few miles.

The rain became a deluge for the final stretch. The temperature had dropped, and I was out of gloves. I used a spare pair of socks for my hands. At mile 47 my Garmin indicated low battery. I had prepared for this with a charging block and cable, but with the storm using this was not an option. I got back to my car at mile 48, stopped my watch, and did my last two with my phone tracking my distance. Not that I needed it - I knew the one mile out and back mark. I finished with an overall distance of 50.02 miles in 12 hours, 43 minutes, and 22 seconds, pacing overall at 15 minutes and 16 seconds per mile. This was by far the most ALL THE FEELS run I have ever done. On my feet for nearly 13 hours (earning nearly 100,000 steps along the way) was like nothing else in my history. I can think of preciously few things I have done for 13 hours straight.

The “why” of this run is a whole different post. Feel free to get in touch with me and I’ll gladly share my thoughts on that… until then time to rest, refuel and see what is in my future. I have three weeks of downtime for sure, then who knows what I’ll throw onto the schedule!

Thanks for reading.