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Friday, April 18, 2014

Counting Down or Counting Out?

There are less than 30 school days remaining in our 2013-14 school year. We are half-way through the last nine week reporting period. High stakes testing will begin in just over a week. What is happening to our learners? To our educators?

As the weather has improved and the days have become longer it seems there is a correlation to the memories getting shorter and the focus getting more and more cloudy.  As teachers there is a tendency to push and push, shoving more and more facts, figures, learning into an already saturated and sometimes exhausted mind of a young learner.  As I was talking to an educator (not at my school, thankfully), she stated that she was "counting down the days." Then she smiled and gave me that "I-can't-wait-until-Summer-break" facial look. Had she given up? Was she counting out her students? Had she thrown in the towel?

In preparation for our state's annual standardize testing, I am tutoring a group of seven third graders in math. They weren't ready for what we did. Using techniques from Dave Burgess's Teach Like A Pirate (@burgessdave #TLAP) along with ideas from Richard Byrne's websites and these third graders began to experience math in an entirely different way.

The first day my seven learners (all third grade girls) were waiting at the assigned point in the school with the other learners that were participating for nine hours of interventions over three weeks in preparation for the standardized tests.

They knew who I was. Evidently I have a reputation. (Thanks, PIRATE DAVE!) I announced in my strong teacher voice, "Mr Don's Math Scholars! Please, form a triangle."

Quickly they struggled to awaken from their after school coma as they tried to comprehend. "What? Form a triangle? Huh?"  One girl even stated, "Mr. Don, I'm not a math scholar, sir. I'm not really that good at math." To which I looked at her and whispering, corrected her, "I'm not good at math, YET!"

Breaking into a typical drill sergeant cadence. We marched from the meeting spot (as a triangle) to my room chanting,
"I may not know, but I believe, 
mathematics is for me! 
We will study, we will learn,
not just facts but skills we earn.
Math is everywhere we see
I can do it, You will see
Math is great and math's for me!"

As we marched down the hallway I ask questions about triangles, vertices, obtuse, acute, etc. They were answering quietly. I smiled and said, "I can't hear you!"  Then I smiled and at that they realized this was not going to be a typical math session.

We chanted down the hallway, now we were looking for triangles and identifying the types of triangles we could find all around us. We then continued the learning inside the room with activities, tech tools (iPads, Elmo, Projection systems) not by themselves, but as teams, as collaborators. We did this until we returned an hour later with a new chant exiting back to where parents were waiting to pick up their young mathematicians. No pencils. No paper. Math skills being enhanced by using our brains, powers of observation and using the tools we carry with us every day (yes, some had to user their fingers, but that's is a good purpose for them!)

We are now half-way through the intervention time. We continue to form geometric shapes as we cadence to the room. Yet, now, they are leading the cadence, calling out the geometric forms, identifying lengths/widths, and giving me formulas for finding area, circumferences, putting fractions into ascending and descending order all as we constantly move for the entire hour. No sitting (if at all possible) and continuously checking in with each other for understanding. We are noisy. We are learning. We are having fun, too!

The benefit to me has been enormous. I am just as rejuvenated at the end of the session as they are. We are making the time count not just counting the time.

We realize we have testing strategies as well as math skills to work on improving.

How do I know that learners should not be counted out as we approach the end of the school year? That young mathematician who "wasn't very good at math" celebrated yesterday with her team as she was able to solve a complex logic problem. Everyone in the room could hear her brain "click" and then see the light turn on as she "got it!" We all celebrated.

Let's keep counting down for events and stop counting out. Let's keep providing that hope of "Yet!" and not leaving learners in the ring thinking that they have been counted out and their match was lost, returning to their corner without hope.

"Yes, I know and I believe, all learners are extraordinary!"  (Their favorite chant as we end!)