Do you remember the days of bringing home a good report card to Mom and Dad? Do you remember when they took it, slapped a souvenir magnet on it and then put it on the refrigerator? That was great. Or do you even remember when your Kindergarten teacher gave you a sticker on your work or put a stamp on it? Wasn't that awesome? Remember how that made you feel? Remember the joy of getting that sticker or seeing your grades up on the fridge? What happened to that?

I teach high school math, a subject nobody would ever imagine seeing a sticker on a test paper. One would think that giving out stickers in a high school math class is too childish and stickers only belong in the elementary schools. Why? What about a sticker makes it not relevant for a high school student? What message is a sticker sending?

I adopted a new policy this year. If a student achieves a 95% or above on a test, then the students' test paper gets a sticker on it. Also I have put up what I call "Fiscina's Fridge." Its a few pieces of poster board put together and drawn on to resemble a household refrigerator. When a student gets the 95% or above, then the test gets posted to "Fiscina's Fridge" to recognize the student's achievement and celebrate their excellence on that test.

We celebrate excellence in our culture in many ways. Athletes receive MVP awards and other similar recognition. Singers and actors have award shows to celebrate what they have accomplished. But students achieving excellence seems to be left out of that celebration. There will be press conferences for the student athlete who decides to commit to a big time college, but nothing for the valedictorian who made his or her choice of schools to attend. I am not trying to downplay the success of any student athlete and others, but there should be celebration for excellence across the board. Students who do well in school should be recognized for what they accomplish. And not just once a year or once in their academic careers, but should be celebrated more often.

What I have noticed with implementing "Fiscina's Fridge" this year is that students are striving to get their test paper up there. They want their test to be posted for everyone to see and celebrate their accomplishment. Also what I have noticed is that the students who are receiving A's are more excited about their grades. Students used to get their test back with an A on it and be content. But now, students are practically jumping for joy when they see their name up on the fridge.

It has been an exciting year so far with "Fiscina's Fridge" and I hope it continues to make students strive to be better and celebrate those who excel. Recognition for accomplishing something goes a long way. And celebrating the students has an impact that you can not believe.

## Tuesday, December 4, 2012

## Friday, November 9, 2012

### Learn by Doing

All through high school and college, my favorite type of
mathematics was Geometry. Whether it was
writing proofs, figuring out missing measurements, or classifying something, I
was always eager and excited to do so.
When I became a teacher and saw that the majority of my classes were
Geometry, you can understand how excited I was.
Not that I don’t enjoy teaching Algebra or Calculus, but there’s that
special connection I have with Geometry.

I figured that I would teach Geometry the same way I was
taught. I figured good old lectures and
lots of note taking would be sufficient.
I found out real quick that I was wrong.
My students were not able to grasp the material in the same way I did
when I went through school. What was I
going to do?

Well after calming down first and collecting my thoughts, I
looked through my textbook,

*Discovering Geometry*, and found tons of activities to do with the kids. Instead of lecturing, we were now going to learn by discovery and inquiry. Students will complete an activity, take note of what they see, and then complete a conjecture or theorem from their observations.
My favorite activities include what is known as patty
paper. It’s a 6 inch by 6 inch piece of
thin transparent paper. Students can
fold to find midpoints, trace polygons and segments, and perform
transformations with it. There are books
out there with specific patty paper activities to explain further what you can
do with it. But, what the best part
about using patty paper is that the students are learning in a tactile
fashion. They are holding onto concrete
things and being able to see what they are learning. I use my SMART board simply to model what
they are supposed to be doing. But once
the students are able to make observations, I stop teaching and they start
learning. We collect all our thoughts
and put them into concisely written conjectures and theorems.

Everyone says, including the research, that we learn best by
doing. You learn how to drive by going
for driving lessons, you learn how to play sports by practicing, and you learn
how to play an instrument by playing it over and over again. So why do we learn in school by being told? The one place where learning is the biggest
priority seems to steer away from the “learning by doing” philosophy. As educators, let’s step back a little
bit. Be a facilitator as opposed to an
instructor. Have students come up with
their own ideas and thoughts from observation.
Let them learn it by doing.

## Thursday, October 18, 2012

### Making Connections

Hello everyone. This is my first
blog...ever. I have been contemplating writing a blog for a long time
now, and I finally felt like taking the dive. Many ideas have gone
through my head on what my first blog would be about. My thoughts were
blogging about my life, about my journey becoming a teacher, or something else
to introduce myself and provide background. However, I have decided to go
in a different direction.

But aren't stories supposed to be the
other way around? Shouldn't you give some background information first in
order to understand what is happening later? Well, I challenge that
theory and say, “Let’s turn it around.” Let's get right to it, and then
discuss the background info later. This is exactly the teaching style
that I am bringing into my Algebra 1 classes this year.

Earlier this week in my Algebra 1 classes,
we were learning about ratios and proportions. This is normally a
difficult topic for students because it includes what I like to call the
"f-word" in math, fractions. So I decided to take a different
approach. Instead of putting numbers on
the board and showing examples of what ratios are and then doing problems 1-10
in the textbook, we just defined what a ratio was and went right to work.
Students had to use the numbers 1 through 10 and make ratios for
different scenarios (i.e. prime numbers to composite numbers, multiples of
numbers, factors, sums, products, etc.). To assist in the learning
process students received index cards with the numbers 1 through 10. This benefited tactile learners by having
concrete examples in front of them. Students can pile the cards according
to the description and count how many they have in order to make their ratios.
Then students went on to make ratios using different types of measurements
(feet to yards, centimeters to meters, hours to days, quarts to gallons, etc.)
The students not only learned about ratios, but reviewed math vocabulary and
measurement conversions without even knowing it. Students were encouraged
to use their mobile learning devices in order to look up conversions as well as
using their agenda they were given by the school in the beginning of the year.
Now students were practicing how to use their available resources. It
was a great day for learning all around.

After learning about ratios, we moved onto
proportions. Again, without showing example after example and lecturing
the students about proportions and cross products, we just simply defined what
a proportion is and went to work. Students were given a worksheet called
"What's Cooking." Problems on the work sheet were all about
cooking recipes. In each problem students would be given equivalences, such
as 8 slices of cooked bacon was equal to 1/2 cup of crumbled bacon. Then
students had to figure out how much 12 slices of cooked bacon was equal to.
Once the worksheets were handed out, teacher assistance was not
available. The only thing I did was let the students know if they were correct
or not. Students were able to implement their own strategies, come up with
proportions on their own, and work together to develop answers. Learning,
collaboration, and discovery was happening the whole class. It was
wonderful!

Most math classes would wait until the end
of a lesson or the next day to work on word problems or make connections to
real life. Why? Why not start with the word problems and then go
into how you would solve mathematically? Students have a tough time
understanding the abstractness of math. There is no connection made when
they see two fractions equal to each other and using the cross products
property to solve. However, when students come up with their own
strategies and make their own connections, then they will get a better grasp of
the topic.

Is this done for every topic? No.
There are going to be times where the teacher needs to teach and the
students need to learn. But, for those opportunities when a student can
make their own connections first, before being taught how to do something, it
makes the material so much more relevant. Not only that, it is more fun
for the students to learn and more fun for me as a teacher.

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