Saturday, June 6, 2015

2014-2015 Reflections

Wow! I haven't blogged since last summer. I thought I would share a few of my reflections from this year.

I teach in a Christian school, and I had the privilege of sharing devotions with my 8th graders 3 mornings a week. On Mondays, I read from a book. In the fall, I read parts of The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. I don't think I'd use this book again. It's an easy read, but it makes Brother Lawrence sound too perfect with too little effort. The kids had trouble relating. In the spring, I read parts of Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. This had the opposite problem. It was a bit too intellectual for Monday mornings. Next year, I think I will try something in the middle, like a good missionary biography.

On Thursdays, I usually gave a devotion that either tied in with Wednesday's chapel or with the season of year---or both. I plan to continue doing this, unless next year's class is more eager to volunteer to lead devotions.

On Fridays, we prayed for a country every week using Operation World. I'm not sure I'd do this again. Some of the kids didn't want to pray for "rich" countries because they thought they didn't need prayer. I tried telling them rich countries need just as much prayer as poor countries, but it fell on deaf ears. I had to read from the book, because the kids didn't understand all the words. It might say something similar to "the dominant political party incarcerates dissidents," and the kids would stare at me like I had two heads until I translated that into plain English. Next year, I think we will do some Scripture memory instead, and maybe throw in some fun games I've had the upcoming 8th graders for the past 2 years for math, so I know that they like to show off.

Math 7:
I'm not teaching Math 7 again next year. If I was, I'd go a bit slower on simplifying algebraic expressions. This idea is not at all intuitive for students, and some of them struggled with it all year. I made a foldable that helped somewhat.

One thing I did that I liked was my coordinate graphing stations. For the first station, they did a slope of lines cut-and-past activity that  I found online. (Unfortunately, this took way longer than the other stations, and the students asked if they could write in the answers instead of cutting and pasting. I let them).  The second station graphed a coordinate picture. To save on copies, I printed out one direction sheet and had each group do it on their own graph paper. To save time, each group only did one picture. If I did this activity again, I would print out a coordinate picture with a coordinate plane for each group member. Saving paper is not all it's cracked up to be. The third station did "hit or miss": they had a worksheet of lines to graph by plotting points. For each one, one person filled in the table and graphed the line (I used a worksheet generated from Then the other members of the group took turns flipping two counters (the yellow side was positive, and the red side was negative) and rolling two dice to make a coordinate pair. If that coordinate pair was on the line, they got a point, Otherwise, the person who graphed the line got a point. (I modified this idea from a game in an old 8th grade textbook I had lying around).

The last station was the "function game," as described at I had introduced this game last year, with a couple of extra rules: no more than two steps, no fractions or decimals in the function rule itself, and no numbers bigger than 10 or smaller than negative ten in the function rule itself. The person who made the rule got a point for each incorrect guess (to discourage random guessing) and the person who guessed the rule got a point and got to make the next rule.

These stations ran longer than I had intended---about a class period per station. However, the kids enjoyed it, and they scored better on that unit test than any other test of the year (although that may be just because they found the material easier.)

Math 10:
Math 10 is rather odd, because our curriculum only gives a few new topics, and the rest of the year is review. The review section has no actual instruction, however, and the problems are way too hard for most students without explicit instructionI used a lot of materials from, Henrico Geometry Online, and, along with other internet resources, to do the review units. Next year, I think I will make quadratic functions into 2 units rather than one. Solving quadratics was review (I know they had done it before because I had them for ninth grade), but the students did not remember it very well at all. They needed a lot more explicit instruction and practice on the basics than I had planned. To make more time for that next year, I think I'll remove the surface area and volume unit. I know for a fact that the upcoming 10th graders covered this thoroughly in 8th grade with a fantastic teacher. (I observed some of his classes).

Science 8:
Teaching science was really fun. However, I have to remind myself that this is middle school, and not add in too much stuff. Fortunately, we have new textbooks for next year. (The ones we had this year were awful). One thing I learned by teaching this class is that the average 8th grader is not responsible enough to be trusted to light and manage their own  bunsen burner. They play around too much. (We were fortunate not to have any accidents, but I have no desire to push my luck.) Toward the end of the year, I did the more dangerous labs as demonstrations. The kids could come up and try if they wanted, but I was right there, and that made it easier to ensure that they were following safety rules. Non-dangerous labs can be done in small groups. I found that the students behaved much better if they were in pairs than in 3's or 4's, so I'll try to do that next year when possible.

Every class:
I tried grading using a notebook approach for this unit. I don't think I'll do that again. The kids were always losing worksheets and handouts, and I felt like I was grading them more on their organizational skills than on what they had learned.

Next year, I'm teaching Science 7, Science 8, and Math 10. If anyone has suggestions for these classes, I'd love to hear them!

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