Monthly Archives: December 2012

Solve / Crumble / Toss

A colleague of mine told me about this activity, and it has been a lot of fun for the class.

The Description

The basics are that the students are in pairs and do one problem on a whiteboard.  I check all their answers.  Then they crumble that problem up and throw it across the room. When I say stop, they all stop throwing, and pick up a new problem.  They uncrumble their new problem, do it on the whiteboard, and the process starts over again.

Each problem has a number, and it’s important that each group puts the number of the problem on the whiteboard, so I can know which problem they did when they hold up their whiteboards.  I have the answer key in front of me so I can quickly check if they are right or wrong.

I generally use about 8 different problems.  There is a chance that students will pick up a problem they have already done, so if that happens, I just tell them to pick up a new one.  At the end of the activity I like to give them a worksheet that has all of the problems from the activity on it.

I use colored paper to make sure that only the problems are getting thrown.  I use two colors, and make one color for easier problems, and the other color for more challenging problems.

The Advice

– I let the student throw paper back and forth, which gets hectic, but they love it.  If you want a more controlled scenario, only allow them one throw.

– Make it clear – they must stop throwing exactly when you say “Stop”, and cannot throw until you say “Throw”.

– Use colored paper, and make sure no white paper is thrown.

– A full sheet of paper can be thrown to hard, so be sure to use a half sheet for each problem.  Some students may try to crumble a couple of problems together to make a larger ball – big time no no.

– I arrange the desks so that half of the class is facing the other half of the class.  Let the students know the back row is the safest place.

– The problems can be hard to read when crumbled a lot, so use a large font.

The Goods

Here is the one I did for a review on Inequalities in algebra 1.



The Update 1

– Yesterday (at the advice of a colleague) at the end of class I stood in front of the recycle bin and told the students to all throw their papers at me.  It has two great benefits:  The students love it.  It makes cleanup easier because all the paper ends up in the same general area.

– I like to handout fresh problems (meaning problems on paper that has not been crumbled) for the first round of each class because the problems get harder to read the more the paper is crumbled.  It also allows me to intentally differentiate by ensuring that high achieving students get the more difficult problems.

The Disciplined Discipline Discussion

The discipline discussions I have with students are fundamental to the success of my  Long / Short Forms.   I’m going to keep coming back to this topic, but here are some of the important things I try to do when I talk to a student after class who received a Long / Short Form.  By the way, for most students this converstion is straightforward, but for the most disrputive students it can be a bit tricky, so the details of it become very important.

The key to discipline discussions is to remember that the goal of them is not to convince the student that you are right and they are wrong.  The goal is for you to let the student know why they received the Long / Short form, and why that behavior is not acceptable to you.  This goal allows you to stay focused on what is important, and also avoid getting into an argument.  Never get into a back and forth with a student on why they received the discipline.

Strike a positive tone.   If the student appears upset, I will say something like this:  “Don’t think of this form as a ‘I hate you, shut up, stop talking’, but rather think of this as ‘Mr. Miller wants me to be successful, and thinks that my behavior at this moment is not allowing me to be at my full potential'”.   Remind the student that you want them in the class, you enjoy their personality, but it is this or that behavior that you will not accept.    The behavior is separate from the person.  Because don’t forget – you’re not mad at them.

Here’s the basic scenario:  Tell the student why they received the Long / Short Form.  Ask them if they understand, and if they believe you are being reasonable.  Hear what they say.  If they agree, then it’s all good.  If they argue about why they should not have received the form, or how it was not their fault, then repeat back their point to them – tell them why it seems like a reasonable idea, but you can not have them do that for this or that reason.  Conversation on topic ends.  Do not get into a debate about what happened or what the rules are.  If at the end of the discussion the student does not agree with you, that is fine.  They just need to know why you gave them the form and that they should expect the form again if they repeat the behavior in the future.

Oh yeah, and if the student is correct, and you did make a mistake – maybe you gave them a form too quickly because you were angry for some reason, here’s what you do:  Apologize.

Math Hospital Remix

I decided to remix the Math Hospital.  All the steps are the same that I outline in my original post about the activity, which can be found here.   The only difference is the handout, where I now embed the problem that we are fixing into the worksheet.  This allows students to circle and point to the things that they like, or believe are right or wrong.  I also have them fix the patient (correct the problem) right there on the worksheet.

MathHospital2The Advice

Sell the hospital.  To have them quite down, tell them the patient is sleeping.  If correcting the problem becomes homework, say “I want to have this patient looking healthy by tomorrow”.  And so forth…

I’ve done this in groups of four, but typically it is done individually.

My Best Days Are My Happy Days

It occurred to me that my best days teaching are often my happiest days.  And the cause and effect there is important – it’s not my best day that caused me to be happy, it’s that fact that I’m the happy, which caused me to have my best day.  Classroom management can often hinge on how energized and happy we are.  So as far as preparation goes, Tolle’s The Power of Now becomes just as important to read as Marzano’s Classroom Management That Works.

This post thus far might make it sound like I’m bipolar, coming to school depressed some days, happy others.  But what I’m really talking about here is the difference between being in a good mood, and being in a great mood.  The difference between having disruptive students leave you frustrated, and having them not affect you negativiely.  The difference between going through the motions, and pausing to appreciate the moments.  This corner of classroom management takes us deep into self-reflection, but it is a place we need to go into if we are to be the teacher we want to be.

I have written about some of the things I do to stay positive and energized here and here.