Keeping my mouth shut…

I posted last week about my success with my very first Socratic Circle.  It was so successful that I couldn’t just take one day for the discussion, we had to use the next day as well.  The lesson I used was from Robert Kaplinsky’s site which has some great real world problems that are engaging and thought provoking.  The problem we used was deciding between a 20% off coupon or a $5 off $15 or more purchase at Bed, Bath, and Beyond.  Wednesday I had the kids do Robert’s activity and prepare for the circle using the inner circle page.  Thursday we went over all of the answers to the problems and then started to discuss the big question- Which coupon is best?  By the end of the day on Thursday, I knew we were on to something good, we just weren’t quite there yet, so we continued on Friday.

The hardest part for me during this whole process was deciding how much I was supposed to/should say to get them started.  And this definitely depended on the class.  By Friday, my 3rd hour was almost to the end of their discussion.  About 15 minutes into class, they had clearly all reached the same (correct) conclusion and I presented them with a challenge problem to discuss.  My 5th hour needed some more direction.  There were a few students who presented some ideas and I used those ideas to ask a few guiding questions to get the students on track.  By the end of class, I felt good about how we left things, but would love to see them asking the questions in the future.

Enter my 6th hour.

I did my intro, this is where we left off, this is the big question… and asked who wanted to start.  Five students joined the inner circle and I told them to go.  So they had a general discussion that ended in the conclusion that the 20% off coupon was best for high prices and the $5 off coupon was best for low prices.  Now the questions I want to ask are “What are high and low prices?” and “What about the $5 not being used under $15?”  But as I am getting to the point where the group is stalling and I am feeling like I need to get them on track, a 6th student from the outside circle stood up and walked to the center.  She sat down and said, “I am wondering what you mean by high and low?  Like can you be more specific?”  So I’m thinking, ok, great, that’s what we need!  So they discuss a little more, start to narrow down the ranges for when the coupons are best, and I switch out the center circle.  New 5 students.  Same situation.  They pick up from where the other group left off.  Again, they got to a point where I am just about to open my mouth… and a 6th student joins the group and asks exactly the right leading question.  Again, and again, and again.  Until it is now 45 minutes later and I have just watched in delight as they got closed in on exactly where they needed to be!  It was a thing of beauty.  Had I talked, I would have ruined it all!


And it all makes sense…

I just finished my post about my amazing day doing a Socratic Circle and decided to leave out another detail about why my day was so great, which was a letter I received from a former student thanking me for everything I did for him last year.  Hands down the most amazing and touching letter anyone has ever written to me.  As I pushed the publish button, I see that my last post was post 100.  So I guess everything all came together for me today!  A great lesson, a great affirmation, and a great milestone in the world of blogging for me.

Entering the world of blogging has made such a difference in my teaching and I can’t wait to see where it will take me!

Socratic Circle

Today was just one of those days… that makes every single hard moment so so so worth it. 

Is all because of the Socratic Circle.  This is a new thing going around that I have also seen called a Socratic Seminar.  We were introduced to this concept back near the beginning of the year and there are about five teachers from across the school (K-8) who have tried to do this.  The main example we saw was from a language arts classroom, and it seemed to work best with language arts or social studies where there could be two sides to an argument and the kids had to pick one of the sides.  But I was determined to find a way to make this work in my room.  Then I read Robert Kaplinsky’s post and checked out his amazing website.  Man, are there some awesome lessons on there!  I found this lesson and decided to try it for a Socratic Circle.  The basic idea of the lesson is to figure out which Bed, Bath, and Beyond coupon is best- 20% off one single item or $5 off a $15 purchase. 

We began in class yesterday.  I had the kids do some review on how to find a percent discount of a number.  This is when I started to really regret my choice to do this.  While the basic idea of a discount was no problem, they couldn’t round to save their lives, they asked me a million times why we rounded to two decimal places, they tried to round every single problem to a whole number… After the review I had them do Robert’s activity.  I really hung back and did not answer a lot of questions, because I wanted the Socratic Circle to help iron out any problems.  This is when I found huge problem #2… or 3 or 4 or 5.  I was very frustrated at this point.  They were so good at finding the percent discount after our review that they wrote a percent sign after the $5 and treated it just a like a percent.  Sigh.  I left with a blog post written in my head entitled “Stupid Questions?” about why America’s children lack common sense and where we failed them along the line.  But I was busy last night, so you don’t get that downer post, you get this one!

Today I came in super nervous and convinced that I was going to spend my 75 minute classes having the kids stare at each other in misery all having no clue what the purpose of the activity was.  In walks my first class…

So now a basic overview of what happens during a Socratic Circle.  Preparation is done by the teacher and kids before hand.  I only needed one day, but it could also be an end of unit assessment type of thing.  There needs to be a big question that the kids have to write an answer to at the end of the activity.  The kids should come to the Circle with their opinion in their minds as well as reasons to support that opinion.  In class, 6 desks are put in a group in the center and everyone else is in a large circle around the outside.  5 kids sit in the inner circle, leaving the 6th desk open for someone who has something they want to say to jump in.  We walk through the questions that they have answered the day before.  Everyone in the outer circle should be taking notes and writing down points they want to bring up, but they aren’t allowed to comment outloud.  Every few questions, the inner circle people go to the outer circle and new students go in.  At the end, students have to write an essay answering the big question.  Our language arts teacher will be using the essay for an ELA grade as well.

So here is my first class, we are all set up and ready and I begin with the first questions on the page… Question 1- What is the price with the 20% off coupon.  I ask it, one kid answers it, all kids in the class look at me like, “Really?  You set all of this up for THIS??” And I start to get nervous.  So we trudge on through the first several questions, switching inner circle kids every once in a while and suffering.  Then we get to the big question- What is the best coupon?  A student says “20% off is always best”.  They all nod and stare at me again.  So I say, “Always?” and slowly an outer circle kid stands up and takes the 6th seat.  And away we went!

From then on, they were fighting to get to the 6th seat, proposing situations where 20% would be best, would be worst, begging me to switch inner circle kids so they can get in.  And then I found myself one minute before the end of the hour and I just couldn’t bring myself to stop them.  So I told them we would continue tomorrow and to think of what other points they wanted to bring up for tomorrow’s discussion.  Then I walked into the hall to overhear them talking about it, bring up points, using our respectful disagreement phrases…  Sigh of relief…

Same in my next two classes.  Up until the very last minute, groaning and yelling NOOOOOO! When I had them clean up and hurry to their next class.  I even had one girl clearly use a phrase that our ELA teacher uses with them as she asked a classmate to “formulate a bold thesis statement with supporting evidence”.

So while today went amazing, I do feel like the beginning math stuff made this Circle different than ELA/Social Studies ones since I wanted to clarify the math answers first, so I may have to think about how to change this in the future.  And it clearly can’t be done with a topic where there is one single clear answer, but this activity worked perfectly.  I did feel like I had to cut them off in the middle of the good stuff, and I definitely don’t feel like they could write the essay at this point, we still have work to do tomorrow, but it was so great to hear them discussing math!  They posed questions, they argued respectfully, they fought to participate.  And all I did was ask a few leading questions when they needed to get started.  I feel like this could only get better since they haven’t done anything like this before.

I will post the files I used, but I left my flash drive at school and I just had to blog about this tonight!

Combining Like Terms/Whiteboards

This week, we continued with our fast food theme and I used the same hamburgers, fries, and pop pictures to create a combining like terms activity.


I really think the best feeling ever is teaching a lesson where students have always struggled when I have taught it in the past, and then a new idea suddenly makes it make sense to them.  I heard one of my kids say quietly, “This is awesome.”  WOW.  That’s a good feeling.

We also have used whiteboards a lot this week, and they have been amazing.  There is something magic about kids being able to write on whiteboards that seems to motivate even the most stubborn students.  I can also monitor so much better when I sit in the front of the room and I can easily see everyone’s work and answers and make any corrections that I need to.  I am also easily able to differentiate this way, because I can see which kids are moving fast and doing well and then assign them harder problems while I work with students who are struggling.  Yay!