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Friday Club March 25, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
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The first year I taught I realized I needed to find a way to reward students who work hard and complete their homework each week. “Friday Club” was born.  Unlike Fight Club, (“the first rule of Fight Club is – Do not to talk about Fight Club“), EVERYBODY talks about Friday Club.  It’s the place to be a quarter ’til three on a Friday afternoon. Are you in?

I lay out the membership qualifications for Friday Club in a letter home to parents on Week 1.  A student cannot participate in Friday Club if 1) I’ve had to call home because of their behavior; 2) another teacher or staff member talked to me about the student’s behavior; 3) A student has incomplete homework that was not completed on the bench, or 4) a student has unfinished classwork or has not met their AR reading weekly point goal.

I let all students participate the first week (even those with less than stellar behavior), as I want them so all see how much fun it is.  But after that first fight (er, Friday), the gloves are off.  I write “Friday Club” on the board with the universal NO symbol over it, and if you mess up during the week that’s where your name goes.

So what do kids DO during Friday Club?  In years past, I’ve had two computers with two versions of “I Spy” on them.  I set the timer for 10 minutes so two kids can play at a time and then rotate. For my English Language Learners, just trying to locate the “tong-goo” is a challenge. When they invariably ask me what it is, I ask them to stick out their tongues. When they do, I say, “That’s your “ton-goo.” They never make THAT mistake again.

Students can draw on the whiteboard, but if it gets out of hand, I set a limit. They love to take turns playing “teacher” and mimic everything I do. If you want to see what your teaching looks like, just sit back and watch your students do the most amazing impression of you. (And you thought they weren’t paying attention!)

I’ve got a bin of board games.  The two mancala boards are the hands-down favorites. Students are also allowed to bring board games or puzzles to share.

This year I’ve got a group of boys who love to play with the math pattern blocks. I’d like to think they’re solving complex mathematical problems, but I know they’re really building forts and dungeons. There’s usually a couple of chess masters who sit locked in a mental battle while all this activity swirls round them.

And there are always those artsy craftsy girls who are happy to just glue beads and bend pipe cleaners to make butterflies.  If I’m lucky, I’ve got one student who can do origami and teach it to the rest. I’ve cut squares of newsprint so they can practice. I’ve got lots of “How to…” books that kids love to go through – How to make hand shadows, puppets, draw monsters…

Last year I had two boys who designed elaborate marble chutes using paper towel tubes. I took to dragging in boxes for them which they fashioned into half-pipes and jumps. I liked to think they were destined to be engineers or architects, but then I’m prone to optimism.

I’ve always let one child walk around and pass out ONE red licorice whip. This is the first year my students have been so sweet, I haven’t bothered to break the seal on the licorice. (But, I’ve seen the students coming up from the second grade, so I’m already stockpiling licorice.)

Some days, with all the direct instruction, I feel like I’m teaching junior college. What I love about Friday Club is my kids get to act like kids. And that 30-minutes gives me time to clean up and prepare for Monday, or just go around and talk to kids one-on-one – something that’s often hard to do during the regular school day.

I used to have the kids who weren’t in Friday Club sit at their desk and write standards, e.g.,” I will do my personal best.” (No one is allowed to “distract” them). Sometimes I had them write the standards in cursive as that seemed less draconian. (And yes, some kids can write standards until the cows come home and they’ll still misbehave and be writing the same old standards the following week.)

This year I’ve had a terrific class, so when a kid sits Friday Club out, I have them write me a letter about what’s going on in their life or they can tell me their plan for improving their behavior. (I’m big on telling kids you’ve got to have a plan, or you plan to fail.)

I have a student who missed Friday Club a while back. He hadn’t been returning his homework and when he did, it was sloppily done. I told him to write me a letter. He wrote he was upset since his dad left. (I found out his father had been deported). Knowing this, I was able to sit and talk to him. I’ve found that the kids who aren’t eligible for Friday Club are often the very ones who need someone to talk to.

During Friday Club, some of my former students invariably stop by. They’re supposed to be en route to the bathroom, but I know they’re taking a trip down Memory Lane. “Ah, Friday Club,” they say wistfully. There’s always a collective groan when I tell students it’s time to start cleaning up. When I ding the bell, the kids have to clean up EVERYTHING. (One of my students loves to tell visitors, “Ms. M is a horrible maid – Just ask her husband!”)

But I’ve got to get my students out the door cause I’ve got my own Friday Club to go to. It’s called Happy Hour.

Multiplication Rocks October 12, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
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I’m going to go out on a limb here and say the dreaded words. Drill and kill. Yes, you heard me right. Drill and kill. Unlike a certain vice-presidential candidate, I’m not talking about the solution to end our dependence on foreign oil, or my weekend plans to pick off wildlife with a high-powered rifle from low-flying aircraft. No, what I have in the cross hairs of my scope is a more elusive target – multiplication.

Third grade is the beachhead for mastering multiplication. Students who are promoted to fourth grade and haven’t memorized their times tables should prepare to hunker down in the trenches of “And would you like fries with that?” Study after study has shown that the majority of students who struggle with math in middle and high school never learned their multiplication facts.

I attended a week-long math training last summer and the trainer taught all sorts of alternatives to the dreaded drill and kill technique. She demonstrated ways to calculate facts by contorting your hands and fingers so that you ultimately came up with the answer, while also getting a vigorous physical workout. These alternatives fell somewhere between throwing up gang signs and cheerleading. Hello? 3×7 is 21!  I knew that, and I didn’t even have to slap my thighs and yodel the answer!

By the end of third grade, students should be able to complete 100 multiplication facts in five minutes. One fact I know is that they haven’t really memorized the facts unless they can do them in three minutes. That’s why I have “The 3-Minute Club.”  Last year, 18 out of my 20 students were proud members. The remaining two could do their facts in five minutes, but I saw some secretive finger counting under the table. (I’ve been known to make them sit on one hand when they do fact practice, math meanie that I am!)

Some people call it drill and kill, but my students call it FUN!  They literally salivate at the chance to practice math facts. It wasn’t always like that. Five years ago I attended a New Management Seminar given by Rick Morris, who has lots of creative ideas on classroom management. That’s where I learned about the TeachTimer, which can be used on any standard overhead projector. It functions as a clock and a timer, and can count up or down. It costs around $40 (divide by $3.75 to calculate the number of lattes this equals). I’ve only had to replace the battery once, which makes it one of the best investments I’ve made.

Here’s how I do it.  My friend, Jen, gave me sheets of 100 math facts – various levels of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. My students drill daily and by introducing the timer on Day 1, they get over their fear of being timed.

The rules are simple. No one gets to shout, “Yes!” or dramatically flip their paper over to let the entire class know they’ve already finished. The great thing about the TeachTimer is I can set it to count down, so those students who finish early can write the time remaining. Once they’ve written 2:00, they know they’re “in the club.”

I give students the same facts every day for a week. On Monday they write M-5, as they have five minutes. Tuesday is also T-5.  But then we speed things up, so Wednesday is W-4, and Thursday is R-3 (yes, I have to explain why I use R instead of Th, but they quickly catch on). On Friday, they once again take the same test in five minutes (F-5). That’s the one I grade. When the timer beeps, I say, “Pencils down, correcting crayons out.”

And here’s the best part. The students correct it them themselves!  Those who’ve finished the row raise their hands and I call on one.  “Einstein, Row A,” and Einstein ticks off the answers. Row B!  Row C! Most of my students are ELLs (English Language Learners), so this also gives them the opportunity to speak.  Most ELLs are more comfortable with math and saying numbers aloud.

At the beginning of the year, I have students practice reading the answers at just the right pace, and how to project their voice. If someone gives a wrong answer, there’s an incredulous chorus of “Huhs?” and the mistake is rectified. Students put a tick mark next to each correct answer (no stars!) as they correct. If they get an answer wrong, they just circle it, as there’s no time to write the correct answer. After practicing last year, we timed ourselves. It took SEVEN MINUTES to do a five-minute drill AND correct it!

Last Friday I put one of my students in charge of correcting. He called on students and they rattled off the answers. This gave me TWO WHOLE MINUTES to do something productive like figure out where I’d put my brain. Do you know how many teachers would kill for just two extra minutes?  It was bliss, and the kids were totally running the show.

The drawing above was done by one of my students who was a crackerjack reader, but was flirting with early arthritis from chronic finger counting. He drew the picture at the end of the year after his confidence had soared 100 times (and yes, he could calculate x 100 using that neato zero trick). Drill and kill?  Just ask my students. They’ll tell you multiplication rocks!

For free math fact practice sheets, you can go to mathfactcafe.com