Where the Time Goes, Part 2

So the next day the kids are coming in, having found the areas for all rectangles with a perimeter of 56 units. They had all drawn and counted out the squares. We went through answers together, and then one student pipes up and says,
“Hey. I think I found a shortcut for finding how much space they take up. You can multiply the two numbers together.”
“Hmm,” I say. “Are you saying that you can multiply the two dimensions, and it will give you the space it takes up – its area?”
I’m doing jumping jacks inside with this “discovery,” but I play it cool.
“Kids, take out calculators and see if his theory is correct.”
Sure enough, wouldn’t you believe it!?
Well, then, we can take a look at how we write dimensions in the first place: 3×5, 6×8.
“HEY! That’s the multiplication sign!!”

Why yes, it is, she thinks with a sly grin.

Where the Time Goes

So now that the school year has hit, my schedule and routine has slowly gotten back to its rhythm.

Which means that so many of the things I made time for during the summer have just gone away.

Today, I was just thinking how disappointed I was in myself. After all, over the summer I became a full-fledged Tweeter, networking with others in both tech and gifted education. I joined Diigo, sharing math and other educational links with colleagues on the Internet. I kept up with Google Reader, searching out blogs and websites that would be of benefit to my teaching.

Where all is my time going? What exactly am I doing? How am I working to develop as a teacher?

All my haven’ts and my shouldn’ts were starting to pile up in my mind like papers on my desk waiting to be filed.


Enter my fourth graders, who are working through a unit on measurement. Let the record stand that the teaching of measurement puzzles me. Kids – even accelerated ones – still lack essential foundations needed to truly understand concepts of area and perimeter. I’ve been working for the past year or two to tease it out. And when I do, I’m going to shout it from the rooftops.

But I digress.

The kids came in today with their homework. They had to create animal “pens” on graph paper with perimeters of 56 feet. I was all excited to let them compare the rectangles they had drawn so we could move on with the next part of the lesson: comparing dimensions and looking for patterns.

But here’s the kicker. Obviously, I didn’t spend enough time telling students to draw RECTANGLES. We had all sorts of 56-foot long fences, only about a third of which were actual rectangles. Some of them were pretty wacky, if I say so myself. My heart sank. I couldn’t tell the kids they did the assignment wrong. Because they didn’t. Time to think fast.

And then I realized those crazy shapes would fit right into our discussion later this week about how to most efficiently use that fencing to create pens of the greatest area. Of course they could make crazy fences, but they’d sacrifice space.

Whew! One down. Score one for Mrs. Levin.  And I didn’t even have to claim my mess-up on the assignment.

I thought I was coasting along pretty well until the kids had to take the dimensions of rectangles we recorded on the board, put them in order and point out patterns. We had four rectangles to consider: 14×14, 20×8, 10×18, and 8×20. It was obvious to me they were supposed to arrange with the dimensions going from smallest to largest. Then they were supposed to notice that as one dimension got bigger, the other one got smaller. I did everything I could to steer them down that path.

Then came a couple of stubborn ones who decided that no, they would arrange the dimensions by the DIFFERENCE between the two. They could write down the order, and they could describe how they figured it out. But patterns? They couldn’t find any. Because on their lists, the dimensions didn’t go in order.

And then it hit me. The patterns wouldn’t show up for them. At least, not today. But when we start comparing the areas of these arrays later this week? That’s when it gets good! These kids found a way to arrange the rectangles from most to least square. Some pretty sophisticated thinking from ten-year olds, if I say so myself. And patterns? Judge for yourself. Look at the areas of these rectangles with the same perimeter:

1×9=9 square units

2×8=16 square units  (7 more than above)

3×7=21 square units (5 more than above)

4×6=24 square units (3 more than above)

5×5=25 square units. (1 more than above)

See the differences? Notice how they are odd numbers going down? 7,5,3,1? You can try that with any group of rectangles. It will work. (I’d like to think that I could take credit for this discovery, but I have to thank another fourth grader for sparking the same investigation three years ago.) I can’t wait to lead this year’s fourth graders down this path. Maybe they’ll have another fork in the road for me.


Where all is my time going? What exactly am I doing? How am I working to develop as a teacher?

Oh yeah. I’m teaching. More importantly, I’m learning.


It’s a familiar sight during the holidays: wrapping paper strewn about the floor, children shouting with joy as they open each of their new presents. It’s exciting to remember what it was like to be a kid. Imagine all these new toys. What do we play with first? How can we possibly decide? How great it would be to play with all of them all day long.

It’s also a familiar memory just after the holidays: About a week after the joy and excitement comes the apathy. Most toys go to the corner of the room, the back of the closet, under the bed. Somehow all of those amazing, wonderful discoveries of a week ago have lost their luster.

Not that they’re bad toys. Not that we couldn’t have fun playing with them. But there are so many things that compete for our focus. There are toys, games, instruments, stuffed animals, sports – not to mention all of the electronic media which beckons for our attention nowadays.

Which brings me to my point. While I have to be careful *not* to call technology tools “toys,” I can’t help but draw comparisons. Each great new site, each cool new application makes me feel like it’s the holidays all over again. I get so excited when I see the cool stuff I can do now. I get giddy with each new skill I learn.

I e-mail. I facebook. I wiki. I moodle. I wordle. I scratch. I diigo. I deli.cio.us. I RSS feed. I voice thread. I google read. I blog. I chat. I tweet. I Jing. I podcast. I ning. The list goes on.

With all of these incredible tools (and more!) my attention becomes more and more fragmented. No sooner do I catch on to a new technology and start loving it than something new comes along to take my breath away.

For a classroom that can be good, in a way. I can keep up with the latest tools and tricks to create a collaborative community of learners.

At the same time, I have to be careful not to let my focus stray too far. If our class has begun blogging, we need to keep it up, even when there are other great sites or applications we can spend our time on. If the students have created a wiki, they’ll need to pay attention and nurture it, even if their attention is drawn to online textbooks and moodle discussions. I owe students the opportunity to keep their focus on a project, even when there are many tech tools competing for their time and attention.

New is fun. New is good. I owe it to my students to keep up with the latest trends. At the same time, I owe it to my students to provide the most meaningful experiences with technology, not just the newest ones.

So bring on the wrapping paper and the ribbons. I’m up for opening up the latest round. Still, I’m keeping the stuff I’ve got on the shelf.

The Most Important Thing

How often does life reward us for being the smartest one in the room? TV trivia show prizes aside, how many things in life come to us because we know more than anyone else?

Will it assure us entrance into a good college?

Will it find us a life partner?

Will it advance our career?

No, no, and no.

The fact is, intelligence alone is almost never the measuring stick for success. Don’t get me wrong – it’s good to be smart. We need quick learners and strong thinkers in this world. But the ones who go farthest in life are those who can work with others and communicate their ideas clearly. That can be hard news for a kid who’s labeled gifted or talented, or “GT.” After all, if I define myself by my intellectual ability, where does that put me once it’s no longer such an big deal?

While it’s an adjustment, this shift in attitude is also a relief. Without the pressure to be the smartest one in a group, children can take risks and make mistakes. It also eases the feelings of competition that often surface when “GT” kids are placed together. Students can focus on creating partnerships in a learning community. As a teacher, I take the job of teaching concepts very seriously.

But life is about so much more.

This is How it Should Work…

…with differentiated instruction across the board, all under one umbrella. Needs are needs, people. Whether a child requires services because he has dyslexia, anxiety disorder, intellectual gifts – you name it. It’s time for us all to look at the services we provide as schools and bring them all together.


This I Believe

At the very heart of things, I am a classroom teacher. My vision for schools is firmly rooted in my core beliefs about  education.

I believe in public schooling as a cornerstone of American society.

I believe that teaching is the greatest job in the world, and that children are the best co-workers in the world.

I believe that 90% of teaching is providing for the social and emotional safety of children. The rest will fall into place if those needs are met.

I believe that great teachers and principals do not construct a school community; rather, they facilitate its creation with staff, students and families by uniting them towards a common vision and purpose.

I believe a strong school community is a parallel of a strong classroom community. Many of the principles that build effective classrooms also build strong schools.

I believe that people have immeasurable potential. The motivation and power to achieve lies within; it’s merely my job to help discover it and let it fly.

I believe that a learning community extends beyond the classroom, that students, staff, and parents alike deserve the joy and unique rewards that challenge can provide.

I believe that a healthy school classroom and school culture are the product of respect, mutual trust, collaboration and shared power.

I believe that outstanding teachers and administrators balance decisiveness and action with patience and perspective.

I believe I have more to learn from others than they have to learn from me.