Resolving Dissonance

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Math Lab – a.k.a. Study Hall.

on February 5, 2013

My last period of the day is now a Math Lab.  The class consists mostly of students who either 1) have decided they don’t want to do math homework, 2) they don’t understand it, or 3) they are too distracted by everything and anything to get it done.

My biggest struggle with the class right now: how do I make it meaningful for the students in there? With that class I feel like I’m a babysitter more than teacher.

About half the students are from my math classes, and about half of them are from the other teacher. The class is 6th through 9th grade, WIDE range of abilities.  The class has 15 students. 12 boys and 3 girls.  2 of the girls are there just because they didn’t know what else to take, but don’t need help in math at all.  They often go help other teachers or help the students in my math lab who need help and actually have something to do.  The third girl seems to fall into the “doesn’t want to do it” group, but I think a part of that is that she doesn’t get it and doesn’t want to admit that.

The class structure involves about 5-10 minutes at the beginning of class talking about something to do with organization, test taking strategies, basic facts review, etc.  Then they get homework time.  It’s pretty easy for me to make sure my students have something to do.  I know what they need help on.  Not so easy for students from the other math class.  They always tell me they have nothing to do.  Every day.

One of the other difficulties with this class is that many of the students are very… very, VERY easily distracted.  The tiniest little noise, or comment, anything, is enough to distract them from what they were doing.  And with half of the class (at least) falling into the easily distracted  group, it’s like chain reaction anytime one of them gets distracted.  My solution to that has been to allow headphones and music.  It DEFINITELY has helped, for the ones who bring them.

I’m now also making a sort of  “wall of remediation” but in hanging files.  Then there will never be any excuse for not having anything to do.

I think I’m also going to a no talking rule 😦  I hate doing it because I think being able to talk about math is SO beneficial… but in this environment?  it doesn’t seem to work to allow it.  Maybe once they are used to working quietly and can show me they know how I can have them earn the privilege of talking?

So to summarize… no more talking, available math practice, and headphones.  Hope that all helps the class be more productive for the students.  And helps my head not hurt by the end of it 🙂


5 responses to “Math Lab – a.k.a. Study Hall.

  1. Heather Threlkeld says:

    Sometimes quiet music (Pandora?) has helped my students when they are loud…

    • Misty says:

      Might help to have some background noise – then the other tiny noises won’t distract them once I finally get them all (or most at least) working on something. I haven’t used Pandora before, it is easy to moderate and make sure the music is appropriate? Or I could play classical 🙂

      Of course for either of those two options I’d need speakers for the computer. I think I have some at home I can bring… just need to find them.

  2. Interesting situation. I hope you indulge my questions and comments.

    Do they get a grade in this class? If so maybe you can give group quizzes or give a pre-test then post-test after they complete some work.

    Can you ask the other teachers to send the homework assignments? Maybe you can call the parents and coordinate getting the homework assignments. Maybe they can have rewards like free time for completing their work.

    Do they like puzzles, maybe math related puzzles or critical thinking games? Maybe the winner gets a reward.

    As you probably know from psychology, reinforcers can be used to shape desired behavior.

    Good luck with your efforts.


    • Misty says:

      Yes they get a grade. It’s mostly participation, but I can have some assignments. I’m limited to a max of 10 minutes for the whole class to work on anything together. It’s supposed to be to help with their current class rather than add on extra work.

      I asked the other teacher to give me things for her math students to work on and she said they should know what they need to do… but that’s not working. I should talk with her again though. On the way home I was thinking that maybe I could have her give me their tests instead of giving them back to the students? Then they can work on fixing problems they missed.

      Right now the free time reward is that if they have no missing work, and all the tests are above 80% they get free time. That hasn’t seemed to motivate most of them. It has for a few. But then when I have a few students with free time, it distracts the ones who don’t have free time.

      I do also have a points system where they compete with other classes. It hasn’t helped much for this class. I think part of the problem there is that they don’t get reinforcement very often from the game. They rarely make it to 5 points. I’ve been thinking about modifying the game rules for their class since the structure of the class is just so different from all of my other ones. And maybe if they get some success with it the game will become more motivating.

      Allowing math puzzles would be a really good idea for those who are done with their work! Or maybe I can do puzzles on Friday for anyone who was productive the other 4 days of the week? I really like that idea as an individual reward. I could also get the mobile lab and let them play online math games. That would also solve the problem of individual free time on the other days causing a distraction.

      Thanks for the suggestions 🙂

  3. I hope you don’t get too frustrated. I’m impressed with all your efforts and how you reflect and seek to get better.

    From special education I learned a couple key things about reinforcers (rewards). You can do a reinforcer survey to see what each kid likes. I had a student with depression. One day I overheard him tell another student that he loved Milky Ways. I had a bag of fun size bars the next day. I’ve also allowed headphones as a reward – for the kids that cared about that.

    The other thing is that the have to be achievable. The idea is to start with maybe 2 points to win the reinforcer then work up to 5 or even more.

    Please keep us informed. I would love to hear how it plays out. Good luck!


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