Closed Doors Open Minds

We live in a world where we are constantly plastered with the accomplishments of other people (thanks, social media!).  Now, don’t get me wrong, I love to celebrate accomplishments but I do think this creates a false sense of reality.  Pictures of a recent vacation don’t show the months of late nights at work which were spent earning enough money for the trip.  The sparkling engagement ring doesn’t show last year’s tear-inducing argument.  Small bundles of joy, swaddled tightly in beaming parents’ arms, don’t show the heartbreak of failed attempts to get pregnant.  If you aren’t careful you will be disillusioned by the same fallacy when it comes to your own dreams.  Things aren’t always as they seem and not all dreams actually do come true.

Just imagine yourself facing an unrealized dream, a closed door if you will, with a ring of keys as big as the one your head custodian carries (you can always tell when she’s coming down the hallway!).  It takes work to try each key as you stand at the locked door.  As you get towards the end of the ring, you start to realize that no one guaranteed that any of those keys would actually open the door.  This may be a door that stays locked, closed, and what seems like slammed in your face despite tireless effort to open it.  You’re not one to make excuses so you look inward and tell yourself it’s you who fell short.  Maybe you missed a key on the ring or maybe you didn’t jiggle the handle of the door the right way to make it open.  Perhaps if you keep trying the keys, someone on the other side will finally open the door and your dream will be realized.

Sometimes, though, you must surrender.  You tried the keys and none of them opened that door.  Your heart can keep telling your mind that this door is one that has just not opened yet but in reality your mind knows that this door will never be opened.  It isn’t easy to admit it to yourself because you are surrounded by others who keep opening doors.  But deep down inside you know it might be time to take those same keys and refocus your energy.  Face reality. Carry your keys to a new door.  Your keys do open doors.  You might just be trying to open the wrong door or follow the wrong dream.

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Shh… Don’t Talk While You Teach!

Last week I tried something for the first time.  I taught an entire math lesson without speaking.  The students were allowed to speak to each other but I did not say a word.  Gosh, was it a neat thing to witness!  My students pretty much run the classroom without me as is so I wasn’t worried about the management of this at all.  I seriously think if I had an emergency in the morning and didn’t make it to school on time no one would know because my class would just start their chants and figure out work to do without me.

On this particular day in math, the students were learning how to divide whole numbers by unit fractions which is by no means a small task.  I started by drawing tons and tons of models and then matched the equations and math tricks to the models.  I made sure to pause at appropriate times to allow my students to process the most important pieces and I gave the students ample opportunity to share their observations with one another.  Here are some of my observations from this experience, some of which I already knew (but this lesson solidified them in my mind)…

  • 100% of students got 100% of the questions right on the exit ticket at the end of the lesson.
  • When this concept appeared on their test, the work was outstanding, across the board.
  • Many concepts can be learned strictly through observation.  I teach having students uncover understandings frequently but have never taken it to the extreme of complete silence.
  • The students paid very careful attention. They had to!
  • There was much less room for misinterpretation in the lesson.
  • I had to express myself using my eyes, hands and body language.  This improves teaching even when you are speaking.
  • *The students had to lean on each other instead of me to find answers.
  • *The students took total ownership of their learning. They uncovered all of the understandings in the lesson.

*Both of these reasons are also why I have students teach a lot in my classroom.

If you haven’t tried this, I highly recommend giving it a shot.  Besides the fact that the students were worried that I had suddenly become ill while they were at recess, all went well.  So the next time you think to “shhh” your students during a lesson (cringe), maybe it’s you that should hush up!

Mustache Smash

Mustache Smash

Recently I purchased the game Boom Boom Balloon.  While perusing on Amazon, I came across a few other games that I thought would be fun to bring into the classroom.  I was unfamiliar with one, called Mustache Smash, but for $9 I couldn’t resist taking a chance.  You win some, you lose some, right?

When Mustache Smash arrived, I decided to pilot it with a group of students from my class who I tutor after school.  This turned out to be a good decision because it made explaining the rules to the class much easier since some students already knew how to play.

First of all, I’d like to note that this game is flat out hysterical.  It starts a bit slowly but don’t let that fool you!  It gets crazy quickly.  It also does not take much time to play a full game.  This is how we played the first time.

  • I taught the math lesson on fraction rainbows, complete with a remixed version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow.
  • The students began their partner work based on the lesson.
  • The first six people (three teams of two) who finished all of their work correctly earned a seat at the “Smash Table.”
  • Six students played the first round of Mustache Smash while the other students continued working.
  • The first group of smashers began extension work while a new group of students who finished their work earned the chance to play.
  • We had time for one last championship round.

The same student who won after school also won in math.  So, naturally, we had many students who wanted the most friendly competition form of Mustache Smash revenge.  As a result, I planned a grammar lesson for a few days later.  Here’s how we played.

  • In Mustache Smash there are three different colored mustaches (brown, black and yellow). We were working with the present, past and future perfect verb tenses so I created a sheet for each verb tense and wrote a corresponding mustache color on the top of each sheet.
  • Every house sent a representative to the Smash Table, filling four of the six seats.
  • The house members who were not at the table looked at their teammate’s mustache color at the Smash Table and answered questions about the corresponding verb tense while the students at the table played Mustache Smash.
  • When, in the game, a student smashed when he/she wasn’t supposed to, a new player from that house got to switch and jump into the game (which took a lot of coordination and teamwork since we didn’t stop to wait for them).
  • Every time the mustache pass happened, the students had to switch the verb tense page they were working on and start the new tense based on their teammate’s new colored mustache (which required communication from the table back to the team).
  • Finally, the house that won the Mustache Smash checked which mustache color they had when they won. Only the winning team counted up how many questions they answered correctly on that particular verb tense page and that’s how many points that house earned.  *This worked well because it gave the students who were doing the grammar work added incentive to work hard and not get distracted by the game.  They were equally valuable in the win.*
  • If any house finished a verb tense page before the game was done, they earned one of the two empty seats at the table and their house would then have a greater chance of winning.

This game has endless possibilities in the classroom.  I have to admit, I liked it so much that I bought another copy of the game.  If you decide to play, be prepared to laugh with your students and have them beg you to play again.  Happy Smashing!

*Additional fun fact- After viewing the game’s box, questioning my own spelling abilities and then doing some quick research, this game also taught me something new.  Apparently most English speakers outside of the U.S. spell mustache as moustache!  Who knew?