Day 5: The One Where We Learn Ken Ken and Imagine the 10th Figure

First week Friday! Woooo! I am planning to sleep and not grade this weekend, which will be the opposite of all the rest of my weekends until June.

Photo #1: Ken Ken

Ken Ken




A while ago, my curriculum partner found a Japanese math puzzle game called Ken Ken. It only has 3 rules, so it’s a simple, repeatable structure. It builds on basic math skills (adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing). It is challenging enough that some of my students with higher levels of prior math get stumped, but no one ever really gives up. I can specifically name at least 2 times when classroom management disasters were imminent and I got the class to calm down by playing Ken Ken.

I taught it for the first time last year, which was nerve-racking since I had just learned how to play the day before. It felt easier to teach this year, after a year of practice (which I told students who were struggling this year). At least one student, who I had last year, said they finally understood how to play, while another student (also from last year) left their thoughts on my whiteboard after class in the photo above (sigh).

Photo #2: More Patterns

More Patterns

We’re still looking at patterns and how they grow. This lesson, which was supposed to end with presentations, is actually flowing over until Monday. Classes struggled with drawing the 100th figure in a sequence of patterns, so we asked students to instead find the 10th figure. For students who could find the 10th figure, we then asked them to find the 100th figure. We’re moving towards the idea of representing big blocks with numbers instead of drawing every individual block (upper right photo). Some students still insist on trying to draw 100 squares, then look at me bewildered, as if to say, “Mister, how in the world do you expect me to draw 100 tiny squares?”

Photo #3: The Big Honkin’ Stack of HomeworkNext Week's Homework

All of next week’s homework (4 pages of math and one reflective paragraph per class). To be handed out Monday, due back Friday. Read it and weep. Because that’s what I’ll be doing on Friday. #ImNotSorry

Questions for the Floor

1. Have you played Ken Ken? Which of the 3 rules is the hardest for you?

2. Any guesses as to homework completion rates for the first week?

3. Are you smarter than a 9th or 10th grader? Go to this pattern from Visual Patterns, the site where we get our patterns (it’s by an amazing math teacher named Fawn Nguyen). The 1st, 2nd and 3rd figure are shown. Can you draw the 4th pattern? The 5th pattern? The 0th pattern? The 100th pattern?

Days 1, 2, 3 and 4: The One with the School Values, String Shapes, Patterns and the Selfish Shellfish Selfie

Survived Day One. Survived Days One through Four, in fact.

Photo One: Values (Day One)

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Since almost all of our students are newcomers, we spend the first two days of school in orientation, where teachers lead sessions on topics that help our students be successful in school. In talking to other teachers, I am thankful that our school values and takes the time to do this. One of the activities I taught in my class (on our four school values) involved sorting words into “good” and “bad” categories. Admittedly, “good” and “bad” are super polar (as some of our kiddos pointed out), but it’s a start. 

It´s interesting to see which words are tricky for our kiddos and why. Almost every class asked what “liar” and “caring” meant, but understood as soon as they heard them pronounced. Kiddos at various points thought “selfish” was “a type of fish” and “when you take a photo of yourself”. At any rate, they were generally able to make sense of what the words meant. 

Photo #2: School Values Posters (Day 2)

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Having talked about good and bad values, we transitioned into our four school values. The kiddos cut out photos from magazines that they thought represented (or didn’t represent) each school value. Note: I had first period draw their pictures. Giving them magazines was probably a better idea. They were super thoughtful about the pictures they found.

Photo #3: The String Shapes (Day 3)

Students making string shapes

Yesterday was the first “official” day of content. To reenforce groupwork norms, we had students work together to make 2D and 3D shapes out of string. It’s more challenging than it seems. It was interesting to see that groups that talked together while they were building tended to build more shapes. Success rate of groups that tried to plan out shapes before actually touching the string was mixed. Side note: students were very into having photos of the finished project taken. Perhaps a future motivational tool? I wish I’d gotten more photos of the process…(except for that whole “teaching thing”)

Photo #4: The Patterns (Day 4)

Students show how figures in a pattern change

In moving towards our first unit on linear relationships, we’re asking the kiddos to look at patterns (many teachers and the CPM curriculum refer to them as “pile patterns”, though this extra language is probably a bit much for our crowd) and then show the pattern, using colors, words, numbers and arrows. Note: I chose quite a few of these photos to showcase growth, either in students from last year or from students who were ready to give up at the beginning of class but with a little (lot?) of coaxing, were able to make progress. Not that you could really tell without knowing the students, but…

Photo #5: The Dot Talk(s) (Day 3)

Dot talks

One of the members of our teaching team has experience giving number talks, a strategy designed by Jo Boaler to develop number sense by asking students to think in many ways about seemingly easy problems involving basic computations or drawings that can be pulled apart and thought about in many ways. This was the first time that most of us gave a dot talk in front of students (I theoretically did this in grad school, which is a hazy shade of two summers ago). Students were able to share the different ways they saw dots in a picture. Lots of room for growth when we continue next week, though.

Photo #6: The Selfish Shellfish Selfie (Day 2)

When I wrote "selfie" on the board

Evidence that, in building language skills, we did talk about selfish versus shellfish versus selfie (and penguins, which were in one of the videos we watched). I just had to share (…because to do otherwise would be shellfish).

Days -2 and -1: The One Where I’m Ready (or Not)…

Kiddos are back in school tomorrow, or rather, today. Two days of orientation, then we’re right into content.

Photo #1: Working Norms

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At our school, we talk a lot about norms. This helps set clear expectations for everyone involved. There are norms for classes, for students, for teachers, for everyone. This is a list of initial norms for one of the groups I work with. We then discussed our individual norms to build a list of group norms.

Photo #2: The Room

2014-08-15 17.45.16Every year, I consistently try (and fail) at getting the whole 360 degrees of my room into one photo. Maybe next year? I stayed 2 hours later than I intended to and the room still doesn’t feel quite 100%. I’d put it at 85%, which is functional for now.

What I’m Working On

One of the things I’m trying to do this year is focus what I’m working on. I could try and get better at everything, but I think that’s too overwhelming. So here are the big 3 (for now):

  • Support students who struggle by identifying and then supporting gaps in prior knowledge.
  • Strengthen classroom management by being clear about consequences, recognizing positive behavior and knowing and communicating what the boundary is for when a student deserves to be sent out.
  • Push students to speak English. One of my prouder moments last year was when one of the kiddos looked at me and said: “Mr., you speak a lot less Spanish this semester.”

One of my friends is fond of saying “You can only do year one once.” I’d counter with “I spent all year wishing I’d known what I know now on the first day of school.” I guess tomorrow (today) will test if that is true or not.


Days -4 and -3: The One with the Before and Afters (and the PB&J)

We’re halfway through our planning week, which is hard to imagine. We’ve gotten into grade level teams, we’re beginning to figure out our roles on our teams and we’ve planned a bit of next week’s orientation (given the large number of newcomers at our school, we spend the first two days of school orienting students to expectations, school values, groupwork and other things that our school holds dear). Curriculum Partner and I also turned in a draft (our third revision) of our scope and sequence, which outlines the standards and content we aspire to cover this year as well as the academic and language skills we hope to teach.

Photo #1: The Desks: Before and After

Tables: Before and AfterCurriculum Partner and I both realized we had extra tables in our rooms since furniture was shuffled around due to summer floor waxing. I didn’t realize this until quite a bit into the week, which makes me question how well I really know my classroom. I also realized last year that the trapezoidal tables in my room, which a colleague at another school refers to as “totally grad school-like” (paraphrased; they meant it in a positive way) were a bit too big, making it hard for students to talk to each and work together, hard for me to circulate, and easier for students to distract each other. So I randomly shoved everything into my room (Tuesday photo; above) and have mostly arranged rectangular tables (in the more crowded part of the room) to my liking. This brings back memories of freshman year in college when Roommate and I rearranged our furniture on a pretty much weekly basis.

Photo #2: The Number Line: Before and After

Number Line: Before and After
There’s a number line in my room from last year, but the screen that I use for my projector (which I use most days) covers it. I’ve also noticed that students are sometimes confused by negative numbers (especially with adding and subtracting) and by the way we say our numbers in English (eg “negative five” versus “cinco negativo” in Spanish, where the adjectives come last). Curriculum Partner and I have theories on how this affects students’ understanding of expressions with adding and subtracting negative numbers and my hope is that the new number line (featuring both numbers and words) will help remedy this. #MathTeacherProblem: I printed the numbers too big, but was (somewhat) able to fix this by putting the negative numbers to one side of the corner and the positive numbers on the other side. I do worry that students will now assume that zero is a positive number. Veamos.

Photo 3: The Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich
Party Butter Jelly Time
A former colleague (who I trust immensely) was always amused when I ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich basically every day for two and a half years (budget, yo). I may or may not have texted them this photo of the first peanut butter and jelly sandwich of the 2014-2015 school year. For reasons I don’t entirely understand, this picture has become relatively popular on Instagram. Go figure.

Questions for the Floor:

  • Given that I’m probably about 60% done setting up my room, how far along do you think I’ll be by 4pm Friday? (I’ve been known to go backwards at times, unfortunately)

Day -5: The One With the Reading Brainstorm, the Desk and the Run

First day back at school for teachers. Kiddos report next week. So good (truly) to see so many old and new faces.

Photo #1: Reading Brainstorm

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As a school, one of our (many) foci this year is reading. Among other things, we brainstormed what it means to be a teacher of reading and the implications it has for us.

Some reading thoughts:

  • I can read, but I couldn’t tell you the steps, strategies or problem areas. Pedagogical Content Knowledge? Content Knowledge for Teaching? Bueller?
  • “Fanfare” has come up repeatedly to describe celebrating around the joy of reading.
  • We’ll be reading “Hatchet” as a school. I’ve never actually read this book. Hello summer homework.

Photo #2: The Desk

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Spent about 2 hours trying to get my room in order. Today’s objective was to get my desk clean. Still working on it. Main takeaway: I need to put things in boxes (or bags) and contain the mess to one drawer.

Photo #3: The Run

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Made myself get up early (twice) to go running today as part of my ongoing struggle to achieve work/life balance. I did run for about half an hour and made it to school on time, so yay me?

I wonder:

  • What book(s) are y’all reading?
  • What books should I recommend to my students (9th and 10th graders, but all range of languages and abilities)?
  • Will this running before school thing last?
  • How long can I keep my desk clean? Will the kiddos even notice?
  • When I say “Book It”, you say “_____________”?
  • Did I totally fail as an adolescent by never reading “The Hatchet”?