Posted tagged ‘8th grade’

Dictionary Education

November 3, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     November 3, 2018

                          

It has been a full week of substitute teaching- one day of 7th Grade Language Arts and then the last four days in 8th Grade Social Studies. I love teaching in a class for a number of days in a row. Next week I’ll have the same 8th Grade Social Studies for four more days.

8th Graders crack me up! They are as diverse as “Jelly Belly” jelly beans, but also with many similarities. They want to be liked and kinda’ cool without having to announce to everyone that they ARE cool! Most come to class not expecting to receive anything but homework and in-class assignments. So I like to do the unexpected with them!

For the 8th Graders on one day we closed class with a quest to find who could create the most stupid question with the answer being “Cream Cheese”. Call it “Dumbed-Down Jeopardy!” The winning stupidest question received a roll of Smarties! 

On another day this week a few students were finishing their classroom work early. 

“Mr. Wolfe, I’m done. What can I do now?”

“You can study for the test you’ll be taking next Wednesday.” (To tell an 8th Grader that he can study for a test that is a week away is like telling him that he can start preparing for the Graduate Record Exam to get accepted into Grad School.)

A non-verbal facial expression communicates that my idea is lame! 

“Or you could read a book.”

“I don’t have a book with me.”

“I’ll take care of that!” Twenty seconds later I come back to his table and put a dictionary in front of him. “Here.”

Confused eyes dart back and forth. “It’s a dictionary!”
“Yes, it is! A mind is a terrible thing to waste…especially the mind of an intelligent 8th grade student like you. Here’s what I want you to do! Start with the “J’s”! I think we may be “J-deficient” in our vocabulary, so expand your understanding for the next few minutes and tell me one word that is like a new discovery for you…okay?” I help him find “J” just in case!

His mouth is wide open and nothing is coming out of it. The other two students at his table who are still working on the classroom assignment are snickering.

Two minutes later another student falsely believes that he’s going to camp-out for the rest of the class period and pop Sweet Tarts as he does nothing. 

“All done?”
“Yes, Mr. Wolfe.”

“Okay, well…you can study for the test or read a book that you have.”
“Ahhh, I don’t have a book and I’ve done all the studying I need.”

“Well, that is awesome about the studying aspect of things, but since you’re so advanced I have something else for you to read.”

“Ahhh!”

“I’ll be right back!” A few seconds later I return with the Geographical Dictionary. “Here you go! Start with the ‘K’s’! I don’t think there are many places that we’re familiar with that begin with the letter ‘K’!”

“Huh?”

“An 8th Grade mind is a terrible thing to waste!”

Later on in the day a couple of other students discovered the treasures in “Q” and “X”. 

“Mr. Wolfe!” says the boy who is immersed in the letter ‘X’.

“Yes!”
“The word ‘xylo’ indicates something made of wood.”

“Really!”

“Yes! Like xylophone has the different keys made of wood.”

“Wow! I didn’t know that!” He seemed excited by the fact that he shared something with an old guy that wasn’t known.”

The next day another student asked if she could READ the dictionary! And I stood there with my mouth wide open!

A 3 Year Old and 8th Grade Girls

May 25, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        May 25, 2018

                              

She met me in the driveway. Her mom (our daughter) was heading to her next to last day of school, teaching fourth graders, and her brother and sister were heading to the same school for their education. 

But she was staying!

“Hi, Granddad!” 

Corin, our three year old granddaughter, was ready. We blew and chased bubbles for thirty minutes and then pursued an imaginary creature she referred to as the beast. I made the mistake of calling the beast “her”, and was quickly corrected on the gender! A few minutes later I had to share an imaginary Happy Meal with Chicken McNuggets with the beast. 

We took a walk…a long walk!

Not once did she have to look at her cell phone. Her imagination and grandfather were enough to occupy her time and keep her attention.

The day before I had substitute taught 8th Grade Science for a third straight day. Thus, 8th Grade girls! The differences between the three year old and the girls in my Wednesday classroom are more than just eleven years of life and size. They are also worlds apart.

A three year old’s life is uncomplicated. 8th Grade girls are complicated! Corin’s decisions included what kind of juice she wanted to drink and whether we should play inside or outside. 8th Grade girls make decisions on which path to go down. Many of them choose the path of wisdom and common sense. Some choose the narrow path of uncertainty, where a wind or a sudden stumble can send them falling in one direction or the other. But there are others who have chosen the path that leads to destruction. It is a way that often features defiance and drama, a deafness to reason and a blindness to consequences. 

Before cell phones and social media it seems that deciding which path an adolescent would take came a couple of years later, but life has sped up to a scary pace of change. 

The girls in my science classes this week, that I had also taught last year in an awesome long-term substitute teaching experience of 7th Grade Social Studies, listened to me, talked to me, and remembered the January journey we had walked together. Many of the ones that didn’t know me blew me off as irrelevant and, since I’m “old”, uncool!

The paths are as different as east is from west. The distance between them results in a lack of hearing or, more accurately, an unwillingness to hear someone who is going in the other direction. 

And I had a growing yearning for my three year old “play buddy” to stay that age! I longed for her to stay at that point of deciding on what kind of juice she was going to drink and what imaginary creature Granddad was going to share a Happy meal with.

Adventures In Substitute Teaching: The Questionnaire

May 3, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                        May 3, 2017

                

Dear Teacher and Students,

I am scheduled to substitute teach the 8th Grade Science classes next Monday. In preparation for the class I’d like to get an understanding of class expectations and boundaries…what is allowed and what isn’t! Please answer the following questions to help me facilitate an academic day that is similar to other days.

Q. 1- Is there an assigned seating system for the class?

Teacher: Yes, I will have each class charted for you indicating where each student is to be sitting. In several situations a student is seated at a certain desk/table for specific reasons.

Students: No, there is no assigned seating. Our teacher believes that students learn best when they are sitting with their friends. It promotes a class environment that is more relaxed and stress-free.

Q. 2- Are students allowed to eat food during class?

T: When they are involved in individual work, snacks are allowed. Do not allow snacks during class discussions, tests, or quizzes.

S: Absolutely! In fact, our teacher encourages it. His motto is “Food for the mind and food for the stomach!” Students pass snacks around to each other to promote a sense of classroom community. Once a month, in fact, the teacher orders Jimmy John’s for the class. Coincidentally that day comes next week when the guest teacher is here!

Q. 3- Are their any class restrictions on the use of electronic devices?

T: Yes! Students are allowed to use their devices when doing research that is dealing with the class subject matter. When doing individual work they may also use their devices to listen to music that they have their own set of earbuds for. Otherwise, devices are to be facedown on their deck or in their backpack.

S: Our teacher understands how “connected” his students are. Our smart phones can be used not only for research, but also to communicate to our friends. Once again, our teacher is more concerned with promoting a sense of community, and believes that restrictions on devices leads to isolation and ignorance. It shows his students that he totally understands us and our needs!

Q. 4- Does class end a few minutes early or the time posted?

T: At the assigned time and not a minute sooner!

S: Our teacher usually dismisses five minutes early to allow the students to visit the restroom, fill their water bottles, and get to their next class. Some of our classes are a long distance away, totally impossible to reach is we aren’t dismissed early! So if a class is scheduled to end at 9:30 he dismisses us at 9:25, and on snowy days 9:20.

Thank you for your time in answering these questions. It will help immensely in facilitating a calm and orderly class that is similar to what the students are accustomed to.

Adventures In Substitute Teaching: The Cell Phones

April 30, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             April 30, 2017

           

I was driving to school last week for a day of substitute teaching. I’m like an educational handyman…science class one day, language arts the next, physical education the day after, and social studies right before those. On this day I was headed for another day of language arts. As I approached the school I noticed one student crossing the street while looking at his cell phone. My first thought was “That kid could get hit and he wouldn’t even know it!” My second thought was “What is so urgent that it needs to be texted by a middle school kid at 7:00 in the morning as he’s crossing the street in heavy traffic?”

I’ve noticed it quite often. Students walking to school with their eyes focused on their cell phones. Cell phones have become what could best to described as “technological alcohol!” They are tech crack! People can’t live without them, but more than that, they can’t live without them for the next five minutes.

The school I mostly substitute teach at has a program called “Face Up/Face Down.” Students know that “face down” time means their devices are face down on their desks. When it’s ‘face up” time they can use their devices to look up information for class assignments or view relevant videos connected to their study focus.

But, you guessed it, the addiction to their electronic devices has resulted in “sneakiness” as a developed student skill. One young lady was sitting at her desk with her backpack in her lap trying to look studious whenever I looked at her. But I wasn’t born yesterday. Her backpack was in her lap, for crying out loud! I knew she was using the backpack to shield her cell phone from view. I let it slide for a few minutes and then in one practiced move she simultaneously put her backpack on the floor and slid her cell phone into her pocket. She asked if she could go to the restroom, and I said yes. In essence, she probably had to text someone about where they were going to sit at lunchtime in the cafeteria. When she came back and started to place her backpack on her lap again I told her to put her cell phone away…that, even though I’m old I’m not entirely clueless. I didn’t just fall off a turnip truck! In fact, I was once gifted in the art of sneakiness!

In a different class I confiscated three cell phones- placed them on the teacher’s desk for the rest of class- because one was posting on Facebook and two others were playing video games. Here’s the thing about a student using his cell phone to play a video game in class! Others become interested in watching him play the game. There becomes this little audience behind the student! It’s not bad behavior, just behavior that students know is not allowed in class.

The two students who were playing video games ratted out the girl who was posting on Facebook. I hadn’t noticed her!

A study conducted by the psychology department of UCLA on a group of sixth graders concluded that students who were deprived of all digital media for a few days did much better in recognizing emotions than students who were allowed access of digital media. One researcher made the comment that a student can’t learn emotional cues from a screen like he can from face-to-face interaction.

Digital media has its benefits, but, like anything that is consumed too much, it has become destructive. It’s like Lay’s Potato Chips…you can’t eat just one…and suddenly you real;ize that half the bag is gone! MIT sociologist Sherry Turkle agrees with how our digital addiction effects other things. In her 2015 book Reclaiming Conversation she makes the argument that cell phones are greatly affecting people’s ability to have deep conversations. She says that 89% of Americans took out a cell phone during their last social interaction, and 82% say that it resulted in a deteriorating of the conversation they were in.

A friend of mine who manages a hair salon told me that she instituted a digital devices ban for her employees when they are working. She had noticed that their focus wasn’t on the customer entering the store, but rather on their cell phones. They fought her tooth and nail on the ban, but now are realizing how much more interaction they are having with the person whose business they need in order for the store to stay in business and continue handing them pay checks.

Back to middle school! Let me tell you! Students think that substitute teachers are essentially clueless and won’t pick up on their device activity. But you know something? I’ve been there many, many years ago. Oh, it wasn’t a cell phone used in forbidden ways, but rather “the passing of notes” in class. I could pass notes with the best of them and not be discovered. Back in the day this Wolfe was a sly fox!

Adventures in Substitute Teaching: The Hot Sauce

April 29, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        April 29, 2017

                           

The students slowly entered the classroom, uninspired examples of adolescence. It was Wednesday…”hump day”, as they say, and they resembled marathon runners who have already run thirteen miles, but realize they have another thirteen to go. Weariness was setting in.

The lesson plan had them listening to a chapter of the book they were running through as they followed along page by page. I took attendance and started getting my bearings. It’s always interesting to me that I can figure out who the “suspects” are in the first five minutes of class even before we begin studying the material for the day. After all, they are thirteen year old adolescents who are prone to test the limits and explore the dangers, like a kid who has just learned to swim and is standing at the deep end of the pool…considering!

“Mr. Wolfe, can I go fill my water bottle?” asks a young lady who looks like she is wilting.

“Sure!”

Water bottles are part of the middle school student essentials now. Companies realize that and have made them stylish. When I was growing up our water bottle was a thermos with that cup on top that you unscrewed, poured the beverage into, and then sipped from. I don’t remember ever carrying a thermos of water with me, but most students lug their water bottles around all day…because it’s cool! They are the name brand jeans of the water world!

“Mr. Wolfe!” The voice comes from my right and I look around to see one of my basketball players standing there with tears streaming down his face.

“You all right?”

“Yes,  but could I go get a drink of water?”

“Sure!”

I notice a couple of students snickering, a sure sign that some non-curriculum activity is developing. Students don’t snicker at novels! Snickering is a reaction to their actions. It’s a hypothesis that has been proven!

Two minutes later two other students ask to be allowed to hydrate. I recognize that some of these students have just come from physical education class, but since I’ve subbed in that class I’m familiar with the physical inactivity that is prevalent.

When student #5 and #6 ask for water relief I decide to investigate a bit more as soon as we get done reading the chapter in the novel.

“Hey! Before we go on, who has the Flaming Hot Cheetos?” All eyes zoom in on one young man. He plays “the innocent card!”

“Where’s the Cheetos?” He gives me the shoulder shrug, but I watched a lot of Perry Mason episodes in my younger days and I recognize that look. He’s still proclaiming his innocence when the Assistant Principal walks in and puts the heat on! The pressure gets to him and the bag of Cheetos emerges from his backpack. Not a snack size bag, mind you, but the family size bag, or in this case the school size bag. He’s reluctant to part ways with them and his heightened sense of ownership results in him having to follow the Assistant Principal back to the office. The last words of the condemned are a lamentation of injustice. “I’m going to get in trouble because of Cheetos!” he wails as his classmates suppress their laughter.

“So…tell me the rest of the story here. Why didn’t he want to give up his bag of Flaming Hot Cheetos?” I’m looking at the class, inviting them to fill in the gaps for me.

One young lady’s hand goes up.

“Yes.”

“Mr. Wolfe, it wasn’t just Flaming Hot Cheetos. He had doused them with “Devil’s Blood.”

“Devil’s Blood?” I ask cluelessly.

“Yes, it’s an extremely hot hot sauce.”

I turn to my basketball player whose eyes are still steamy. “And you ate them?” I look at the whole class. “Why would you eat something like that?” The shoulder shrugs pop up around the room. The answer is clear! They would eat something like that because they are kids who have just recently arrived at being teenagers…and if Flaming Hot Cheetos were around when I was growing up I probably would have done the same thing…and cried like a baby!

Lessons I’ve Learned From a Week of Substitute Teaching

April 30, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             APRIL 30, 2016

             

It is April 30! That means there are a lot of school teachers who have reached the teaching equivalent of the Boston Marathon’s “Heartbreak Hill”, a torturous climb at of about a half-mile between miles 20 and 21 of the race. A lot of teachers are “looking at the hill” right now and wondering if they can make it.

Thus, the number of calls to substitute teach have increased substantially! This week I spent two days with first graders, one day in junior high physical education, and one day in a high school strength and conditioning class. I could write a book…or at least a blog…on what I’ve learned, good and bad. Here’s a few:

1) First grade girls think having man for a substitute is like having one of the Disney characters visit the class. Although I resembled Goofy, they thought it was awesome!

2) When you play dodgeball with a class of 7th and 8th graders you become the target! I visited my optometrist after school to get my glasses readjusted as a result of getting hit…several times!

3) Being the substitute teacher in a strength and conditioning class is the equivalent of being a lame-duck elected official. They know your time is short so they just wait you out. (Personal note: Never ever ever sub for this class again! Lame!)

4) In junior high physical education the boy who says he can’t participate because of an injury…is the student to keep your eye on! Who brings suckers to PE class to pass out to those playing dodgeball?

5) In first grade there are “helpers” who will always willingly come to your rescue. You just have to keep an eye on two helpers who are both pushing on one another in order to be the first one to come to your rescue.

6) Being educated in the 60’s and 70’s means that there will always be concepts and terms used in today’s classroom that you will be totally clueless about!

7) First grade PE is the classroom teacher’s best friend!

8) Strength and conditioning class is a microcosm of today’s work force. There are those who will do as much as they can…and there are those who will do as little as possible…and those who will look busy when the boss looks their way.

9) First grade girls already have their eyes on who “the boys” are! They are already in pre-relationship mode! On the other hand, the boys are totally clueless. They are willing to show interest in the girls, but only after the soccer ball has become totally deflated and there is nothing else to do.

10) Dismissal at the end of a first grade day begins with a high five from the teacher as each student is leaving the classroom.

11) Each junior high PE class has at least one student who took a double dose of “obnoxious medicine” that morning.

12) I eat healthier when I substitute teach. Instead of being coerced by my granddaughter to go out to lunch at Chick-fil-a, I sit in my classroom eating raw vegetables.

13) At the end of the day first grade students are almost sad to leave you, junior high students will willingly trample over you if you don’t move, and high school students are focused on their cell phones as they walk obliviously towards the chaotic parking lot.

14) BUT when the substitute teacher leaves at the end of the day…he has no papers to take home to grade! Awesome!