Saturday, January 26, 2013

Word Problems

            I hate math word problems.

            Mrs. Kincaid has 375 square inches of paper that she wants to use to cover a box.  Her box measures 10 inches wide, 9 inches tall, and 6 inches deep.  Does she have enough paper to cover her box?  Justify your answer.

            Six students were sitting at desks scattered around my room, heads bent over, working on a math test.  I strolled among them hoping to be the helpful support, but feeling more like a guard in a prison yard.    

            “Good job putting your unit reminder at the top Landon.”  At the top of his paper he had written, “Area = square = 2, Volume = cube = 3.”

            “Remember you can lose half a point on your answer if you have the wrong label,” I said walking by Ramon.  He quickly wrote his area/volume reminder below his name.

            “Good job showing your work Cassie.”  She was busily writing the three box dimensions in a triangle and drawing loops around the numbers just like we had practiced.

            As I passed Jeremy’s desk, I watched him punch the “x” button on his calculator instead of “+.”   

            Jeremy’s head snapped back as “291,600” was displayed.  “What?”

            “Everyone, take your time and double check your work.”

            Jeremy punched the numbers in again, but hit the plus sign this time.  “204” came up.

            “Can I get another calculator?  This one’s acting weird.”


            I passed Cassie’s desk again.

            Way to go girl. 

            Cassie was circling “408 square inches,” but she started to flip the page to the next problem.

            “Cassie, get your marker and highlight the question you have to answer.”

            She picked up her neon pink highlighter, studied her paper, colored, “Does she have enough paper to cover her box?  Justify your answer,” and flipped the page to the next problem.

            I bent over and whispered, “Cassie.  You haven’t answered the question.  You have to write out an answer and give the reason for your answer.”

            She looked at her test again and then looked at me questioningly. 

            I whispered, “What did you do to answer this question?”

            Her eyes strayed up to her left, then back to me as she whispered, “I found the surface area.”

            “Highlight what you found.”

            408 square inches soon glowed pink, but her puzzled face turned back to me again. 

            “How much paper does Mrs. Kincaid have?”

            Cassie studied her paper then silently pointed to “375 square inches.”

            “Highlight that number.”

            Presently 375 glowed pink.

            I slowly whisper-enunciated, “Read – the – question - again.”

            Cassie’s whisper had risen to a hiss as she slowly enunciated, “Does she have enough paper to cover her box?  Justify your answer.”

            “How much paper does she have, Cassie?” 

            She touched the pink 375.   

            “What is the surface area of the box?”

            Now she touched the pink 408.   

            I waited while Cassie stared at her paper.  Suddenly she whipped her head towards me.  Her eyes were wide and she was smiling.

            “I get it now!” she hissed. 

            I straightened up and continued walking the room.

            Despite our confidential whispered exchange, other students had been listening.  Highlighters were picked up all around the room and questions and numbers began to glow yellow, green, orange, and pink. 

            Thirty minutes passed, and everyone finished their tests and placed them on my desk before they left the room.   I did a quick scan to make sure everyone had answered all the questions. 

            Four of the six, including Cassie, had answered - Yes, Mrs. Kincaid has enough paper because 408 is bigger than 375.

            I hate word problems.

Uh Oh.


This isn't exactly how I show the kids to do surface area, but it's close.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Initial Placement - Part 2

            “I have a draft of a program that we think will give Amy the support she needs to be successful in school.  I think this plan will help her make appropriate progress.”

            Mr. and Mrs. Sanderson agreed that Amy had a Specific Learning Disability and that she needed additional help in school.  Now they wanted to know what kind of help we could give her.

            “The plan that I’m going to go over is called an IEP,” I explained.  “That stands for Individual Education Plan.  If you agree for Amy to have an IEP, we will put this into effect for a year.  If you have concerns or are unhappy about how anything is going, you can reconvene this meeting at any time so we can discuss changes.”

            Mr. Sanderson began thumbing through the pages of the IEP I handed him.  I had written “Draft” on the front page in big letters with a neon green highlighter.  In the next 20 minutes I went over the first parts of the IEP and the reading and math goals for the next year.  

            “Amy has an extra person in her Social Studies and Science classes,” I said as I turned to the Services page on the draft.

            “Isn’t that a Mrs. Alvarez?” Mrs. Sanderson asked.  “Amy really likes having the extra teacher in those classes.

            “Mrs. Alvarez is a special education para.  She’s in there for some other students who have IEP’s.  Mrs. Alvarez helps all the students, but she especially makes sure that the students with IEP’s are getting any help they need.”

            I noticed that the Sandersons had become more and more relaxed, but I wondered if the next part might change that.

            “Amy should be in an English and Math class that also has a special education para.  The extra help in those classes will go a long way to help Amy be successful.  To get her into one of those classes, we need to change her schedule.”

            Mrs. Sanderson’s face fell.  “Why can’t you just assign Mrs. Alvarez into Amy’s English and Math classes?”

            The principal leaned forward.  “We would love to be able to do that,” she said, “But there are several students we’re trying to give support to and we have to schedule our special ed paras so that we can make the best use of their time.”

            Mr. Sanderson stared down at the service page.  I noticed he was slowly nodding his head, but Mrs. Sanderson was still frowning.

            I’ll bet she’s thinking about telling Amy that her schedule is going to change.

            “We will make sure she stays with the same teacher,” I added, “But we just couldn’t make this work without changing her schedule.

            I wasn’t done yet.

            “There’s one more thing we need to add to Amy’s schedule.”

            Both parents looked up warily.

            “As we discussed earlier, Amy is over two years behind grade level in reading and math.  We need to add a class that will help Amy close that gap in her skills.  The time for that class has to come from somewhere, and I’m recommending that Amy trade out one of her current classes to come to the Learning Center every day to work on those skills.”

            “Which class does she have to drop?” asked Mr. Sanderson.

            “We have several options.  There’s Science, Social Studies, Art, or Spanish.”

            “She hates Spanish,” Mrs. Sanderson said quickly.  “She failed it last semester.”

            Of course she’s struggling with Spanish.  She’s struggling with English.  Spanish isn’t a conversational class in Middle School.  She’s being asked to read and write in Spanish now.

            “We’d like her to keep all of her core classes,” I continued.  “And I think it’s important for Amy to be in a class that she’s strong in.  Her Art teacher is constantly bragging about her work.”

            “So you think she should drop Spanish?” Mr. Sanderson asked.

            He doesn’t look all that upset.

            “I think it would be the least disruptive to her day,” I said.

            Both parents looked at each other and nodded.

            In the next 10 minutes I reviewed everything we had covered in the last hour, and the Sandersons signed permission for the IEP.

            “Thank you for all your help,” Mr. Sanderson said holding out his hand as he walked out.

            “You’re welcome.  I look forward to working with Amy.  She’s a sweet girl, and I’m sure  she’s going to grow into an amazing young woman.” 

            I watched the Sandersons walk out smiling.  I gathered up my endless stack of papers and felt the muscles in the back of my neck begin to relax.  New placements are always a little tricky in middle school. 

            It’s nice when everyone leaves happy.  

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Initial Placement

            “Our testing shows that your daughter has a disability and is in need of additional services.”  The school psychologist turned to the last page of her report.  “Do you have any questions?”

            I looked to my right at Amy’s mother, Mrs. Sanderson.  She appeared bewildered and began slowly turning the pages of the report backwards staring at the tables of data.  Mr. Sanderson sat next to his wife, but he was leaning back in his chair, his arms folded tightly in front of him.  The muscles in his jaw tightened, but he didn’t say anything. 

            I’ve been reading these reports for 25 years and I still think they’re confusing.  How do we expect parents to absorb it all in 30 minutes?

            The room was quiet and we waited as Mrs. Sanderson turned to the last page again.  It contained several blank lines.  At the end of each line it read “Agree / Disagree.”

            “We need to complete this last page,” the psych said holding up her copy of the report.  “If you agree with our findings, sign your name here and circle that you agree.  If you don’t agree with the findings, sign you name and circle that you disagree.” 

            The school psych picked up her pen and signed her name on the first line, circled “Agree,” and handed the page to the principal sitting to her left at the end of the table.  The principal signed, circled “Agree,” and then handed it to Mrs. Sanderson.  Mrs. Sanderson took the page, but made no move to sign.  We all waited quietly again.  Finally, Mr. Sanderson unfolded his arms, leaned forward, and took the document from his wife.  I watched as his jaw tightened again.  He stared at the pages as though a foul stench was emanating from them.

            Out of the corner of my eye, I saw both the school psych and principal looking at me.

            My turn to speak.

            “Mr. and Mrs. Sanderson, let me explain what your signature means on this,” I said leaning forward.  “You’re not giving permission for any change whatsoever in Amy’s school day. Our tests show that Amy is struggling with reading comprehension and math.  We believe she’s struggling because she has a learning disability.  Agreement on this document would make Amy eligible to get some extra services.”

            “Special Ed services,” Mr. Sanderson snapped.  “You want to put her in special ed.”

            I paused a minute.  No sense playing around with words.

            “Yes, we are talking about special education services,” I said.  “I have a draft of an individual  program outlining some additional services we can give Amy to help with her reading and math.”

            “What if I don’t like your services?”

            “If, after I present the program, you don’t want it, then you shouldn’t sign the document that I’ll be giving you that says you give permission for Amy to get the services.”   

            “Well what’s this document then?” Mr. Sanderson said shaking the half-filled signature page. 

            The school psychologist took over again.  “This document is saying whether or not you agree that Amy has a learning disability and needs additional help in school.  Before we discuss an individual program for Amy, we need to know if, based on the information we’ve given you, you and Mrs. Sanderson also believe Amy has a learning disability and needs extra help.   

            Mr. Sanderson's jaw and fist were clinched now.

            “Jack,” Mrs. Sanderson said softly, “Amy’s having a terrible time in school.  She needs help.”  Mrs. Sanderson picked up the pen on the table next to her. 

            Mr. Sanderson took a deep breath in and slowly blew it out.  “I know,” he said handing the document back to his wife.  “I know she does.”


Friday, January 4, 2013


            What am I going to write for my blog when I get home?  Nothing has happened this week.  Absolutely nothing.  Sure, I had to come back to work on Wednesday, but all the kids were just dragging this week.  Me included. 

            I shut the computer down and pulled my purse out of the desk drawer.

            “Hi Mrs. Jones.  Do you want to check my homework pack?” 

            Landon walked in the room, hefted his backpack on to the table, and pulled out a big binder.

            “I finished all my math in class today so I won’t have to do it at home this weekend”

            “Let me see it.”

            Landon flipped to the front of his binder and pulled the math worksheet out of the front pocket.

            “This looks good,” I said scanning it.  “What did you do in English this afternoon?  Weren’t you starting the new unit on folktales?”

            “Yeah.  I just have to read a story.”  Landon dove back in his backpack and pulled out his literature book.

            “What story do you have to read?”

            He flipped through the book to page 187 and pointed to the picture.  “Paul Bunyon.”

            “Oh that’s a fun story!  I’ll bet you already know about him.  Have you ever seen a cartoon or picture book on him?  Once when I was in Oregon, they had a big statue.  He's all over the place.”

            “I know about him,” Landon nodded his head enthusiastically.  “My mom had that kind of surgery last summer.”

            I stared blankly at Landon.    

            “Your mom had surgery?”

            “Yeah she had Paul Bunyon surgery on her foot,” Landon packed his binder and book back in his backpack.  He shrugged the pack on and walked towards the door.  “Have a good weekend Mrs. Jones.”

            “You too Landon.”  And thank you.