Boiling Point

Do you remember that old reality show on MTV where people were subjected to Candid Camera style situations and rewarded money based on how long they could endure? I have a low threshold for obnoxious behavior, but I'm also pretty non-confrontational so I think most situations I'd be able to keep my cool. On the other hand, if MTV ever wanted to keep their money they could film me trying to teach a small group of 3rd graders how to tell time and find elapsed time.

A recurring theme of this school year has been the large gaps in fundamentals. Whether it's students who don't know the sounds of the alphabet or how to quickly solve single digit addition and subtraction problems, I've been constantly flummoxed mid-lesson. Today was no exception as I struggled through an Everyday Math lesson on elapsed time.

A small victory took place when I realized that more than half of the class was nowhere close to ready for the independent task. I sent eight students to work in pairs and set to work on a "back to basics" lesson on time. The burst of enthusiasm that came from this decision hit a brick wall when I seemed to be making no progress.

"It's 9:04 now. What time will it be in 1 hour?"
"Let's take a look at this again. Which number is the hour? Good. Which number is the minutes? Good. So what time will it be in 1 hour?"

I attacked the math from every direction I could think of. I backtracked and tried to make connections to basic math the kids already knew - place value, counting by 1's - but nothing seemed to work. Time ran out, and there were no signs of progress.

Worst of all was my visible frustration. Key to helping any student learn is creating a "risk-free environment." Sighs of exasperation and barely contained, "Are you kidding me"-s don't exactly cultivate that kind of atmosphere.

I guess there will always be lessons like this. Best laid plans and good intentions aren't always enough for success. As I get to know my kids more completely and understand their strengths and weaknesses I expect this will happen less frequently. For now it's time for a new game plan, one that addresses the basic skills my kids need, but are missing.


Ms. Peace said…
I have these moments in first grade too. We are supposed to be doing complements of 10 using pennies and I am always frustrated that my students cannot count 5 let alone 10 pennies accurately. It is so hard to make up for their gaps in learning, even in early childhood. I always have to take a deep breath and gently but with all seriousness teach them the basics over and over again as many times as it takes.
Ellen Brosbe said…
have you asked them what they know about time? I suspect they know when their lunch is... recess.. dismissal or favorite t.v. show?

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