Today we visited GMS again. This time to observe what 7th graders are learning and doing. We started off the morning in Mr. Brenton Fish’s Pre-Algebra class. We knew we were in Mr. Fish’s class because of the big wooden fish in the room (below)!
There were also a couple of signs on the wall made by New Tech students. The signs appropriately show the level of excitement Mr. Fish displays for math, as his students were engaged and attentive as he taught.
The students were watching as Mr. Fish worked on this math problem: What is the distance between -13 1/4 and 2 3/5 on a number line? Mr. Fish was walking around with some sort of technology/pad and as he wrote, the information showed up on the screen. As he talked about the problem and walked around, he worked out the whole math problem. (The answer: the distance is 15 17/20.) At one point he asked the class, “How many of you are having difficulty understanding what we are doing? Be honest.” When about 1/3 of the class raised their hands, he went over the problem again, and explained how to break the problem down and how to organize the work. “You need to keep your work organized. As you get into more difficult math, you will need to show your organization in order to help you figure problems out.”
Next, the class worked on a partner activity. Mr. Fish explained that the students would work together, with one person writing out the answer for the odd problems and one person writing out the answer for the even problems. When the students had a problem completed, they would go to the front of the room and have it checked by Mr. Fish. If it was correct, they would move on to the next math problem. If it was not correct, he would give them feedback and have them watch a short video that explained how to work the math problem, and then they would go back to Mr. Fish and explain to him what they did wrong and tell him exactly where they made their mistake.
When the students came up to Mr. Fish to check their work, he said things like: “Nice job….If you can’t name you mistake, you can’t learn from it…..I will give you the key code to watch a video so you can figure out what you did wrong….Where was the error in your thinking?…I agree with the value, but is that simplified?…When you watch the video, what is taking place in the process?…Good work.”
When we commented to Mr. Fish that this type of math probably used to be taught in about 9th grade, he agreed. “Oh yes, things have definitely changed. I have also had to change the way I teach math now.”
In teaching the students how to work the math problems, Mr. Fish shared one last example with us of a student he had last year. “The student was a good student, but not in the High Ability classes. He used to turn in his work and he would be correct, but he wouldn’t show his work. I told him he had to be more organized and show his work because his math classes would only get more difficult as he continued through school, and he would eventually come to a point where he couldn’t get the answer without working the problem in an organized fashion. In other words, if a student is smart but he doesn’t know how to work, it will eventually catch up with him. The student started showing his work in class, and he ended up getting the 5th highest score on the ISTEP test!”
Below are a couple of examples of the problems the students were working on in their partner exercise.
When we left Pre-Algebra, we went next door to Mrs. Kelly Shoup-Hill’s English class. The first thing one notices upon entering Mrs. Shoup-Hill’s classroom is her extensive library. She said that she has been teaching for 18 years, and she just keeps buying books for students to borrow.
The first thing Mrs. Shoup-Hill did was to take attendance and ask each student to tell her how many pages they had read toward their weekly goal. One student said they had met their goal, so she asked the student what he was reading now. When the student told Mrs. Shoup-Hill the name of the book, she said “I will let you read that book this time, but you need to read harder books, that is written for elementary students, you are in 7th grade.”
Mrs. Shoup-Hill stated that the students had just finished up a project entitled “Readers Wear Many Hats”. Along with the hats that the students had made, they had written reflections about their different books. She indicated that the hats and their reflections were going to be sent to the public library and the elementary schools. However, she told the students that “you still need to do some refining on your projects and your reflections. We need them to be great before we send them out to the library or to other schools.” Their hats are pictured below.
After Mrs. Shoup-Hill gathered the information about their reading goals, she had the students switch to new seats. “New project, new seats”. She introduced a new book that they would use in their new project entitled REFUGEE by Alan Gratz. She told the class, “I read this book over the summer and chose it for my classes this year. Now, I found out that the book is the 2018 book chosen for the Global Read Aloud in October. So that means we will be reading this book with classrooms around the world. Now how smart was I to choose this book?!!” When one student clapped for her, she laughingly thanked the student for acknowledging her forethought.
She then told the students that they were going to be analyzing how a book’s setting impacts a story, and she talked to them about questions that they would be answering. “The questions are guiding you, to find the evidence to support and/or explain your answers.” She handed them a copy of the front cover of the book, and asked them to look at the book’s cover and write down (on the copy) every single thing they noticed about the cover….”This exercise helps us start thinking before we even open the book.”
After spending three minutes making their own observations, they shared them with the class: There is light that could perhaps indicate hope; the water is black, like a storm is coming; is it an actual storm, or a metaphor?; it looks like the boys is trying to reach an island where he is hoping to find safety; the boys is really gripping onto the boat; the boat is red, what does that mean?; red could symbolize blood, or safety like the Red Cross; everything is purposeful and thought-out if it is put on the cover of a book; there is a rope in the boat, why is it there?; it is raining; it is a young boy in the boat; the boat is made of wood and doesn’t look very sturdy; the boy’s clothes look dirty like he has been in the boat for a long time; he doesn’t have any food or drinking water. At that, Mrs. Shoup-Hill stated “very good, it is good to notice what you don’t see, as well as what you do see.”
The students watched a 90 second video trailer about the book, and then Mrs. Shoup-Hill asked them to discuss the trailer with the other students at their table group.
Lastly, Mrs. Shoup-Hill discussed with the students the fact that there have continued to be refugees from countries around the globe throughout history. “What haven’t we learned? What could we do to make a small dent in the current refugee crisis?” Then she introduced two questions to lead into their next project:
What responsibility do individuals have to respond to the needs of refugees? What can an individual do to help?
What can we do in 7th grade to make a difference?
Wow, what impressive students these 7th graders are! There was a noticeable difference in their classroom behavior, their attention span, and their participation in class discussions; something that perhaps 6th graders are still learning as they move from class to class in their first year at GMS. But aside from their behavior, the students are learning from a very rigorous curriculum, and are seemingly doing just fine. As much as the students have increased the difficulty in their instruction with each grade, we cannot even begin to imagine what the high school students must be studying! But stayed tuned, we’ll get there.
Thank you to Mr. Fish and Mrs. Shoup-Hill, it was an extreme pleasure to visit your classrooms today. And thank you to the 7th graders for showing the Goshen community once again how much learning and growing is taking place within the walls of Goshen school buildings.