We Can Work It Out

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howmuchisamillion.jpgLife is very short, and there’s no time for fussing and fighting, my friend. I have always thought that it’s a crime, so I will ask you once again.

In my classroom, I’m trying to build a sense of community within my classroom. My classroom setup, my classroom management, and the messages I deliver through my diatribes and lessons usually spells out team for the kids. Unfortunately, many children aren’t accustomed to thinking like that, and that’s fine … for now. For instance, last Friday, I put up my students of the month, and one of the kids wondered why another student got student of the week and not him.

I knew he was distraught because he probably thought he was going to get it, and justifiably so. Yet, he didn’t seem happy at all for the girl and fellow classmate. His class in general is full of “student of the week” candidates so I really could have picked anyone at random. It’s just that she got the highest score on the test, and her work has been excellent since day 1.

Then, something just came to me, as if I was talking to a former self: “Remember to stay humble. I recognize your efforts, and appreciate the work you do. Keep working at it and eventually you’ll get there too. Everyone gets the opportunity to make it on that list.” It was weird to have to tell that to a kid who reminds me a little of self when I was his age.

Last Friday, I did a read-aloud with the book How Much Is A Million, by David M. Schwartz (illustrations by Steven Kellogg, who I’m about 30% sure was on LSD when he drew this book because it’s hilarious). It’s a fantastic book when giving children a true understanding of what a million feels and looks like. Unfortunately, we don’t do enough to incorporate those type of stories into our curriculum, even when the state standards ask us to. (In the 6th Grade NYS Math Standards, one of the main objectives is to get students to know their places until the trillions.)

I read it aloud to them in a circle. Some of the students chose to sit in the middle so they can see all the pictures. They were thoroughly excited to have a read aloud in the sixth grade. In part of the book, Marvelosissimo the Magician takes the kids on a hot air balloon through space (I told you), and they start counting page after page of stars.

Of course, the ambitious teacher that I am, I decided to create the “Million Stars Project,” based on that very section. I calculated that if all my 80 students each made one sheet with 12,500 stars, we could feasibly make the 1 million stars, which would be the first time in my school’s history anyone’s taken on such an ambitious project. The responses to the project went from “OH MY G_D!!!” to “Can’t we just print it out or something?” I almost did back flips as it felt like everyone was with me when I told them about this very ambitious project. A couple whined, but it was an amazingly small group of kids that felt that way (3-4 to be exact).

The secret is that I’m pretty sure we won’t get to a million stars. Children’s interests are as ambitious as an adult’s, but more fleeting. Of course, they have an incentive i.e. a good grade in my class and the ability to make history. It’s really more about the sense of accomplishment and pride in what they do than anything else. And we get to do it across the board, as a floor, not just one class. We can work it out if we really try.

jose, who’s glad he doesn’t have to go through any red tape to do things like this

About Jose Vilson

José Luis Vilson is a math educator, blogger, speaker, and activist. For more of my writing, buy my book This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education, on sale now.

Comments 11

  1. BK Teaching Fellow

    please brother- check out my blog and my most recent post as well as the comments that followed. i am getting hot!! i don’t even want to address the comments on my blog. i dont know where to begin.. am i buggin?

  2. Laura

    I like that project, and I love that you’ve worked the children’s books in! I do it less when I’m not teaching English, but you’ve given me a bit of a nudge in the right direction at least.

  3. Post
    Author
    Jose

    @ laura: that’s the thing. a lot of the kids didn’t really understand what they were reading when they first heard it, so when I went over it, it was like a revelation for them. It’s similar to what Blue’s Clues does with their episodes: once they have that repetition throughout the week, the viewers understand what’s about to happen and they understand it better. You’re more literacy-oriented, so you should definitely go for it.

  4. Frumteacher

    Wow, what an amazing idea! 6th graders LOVE stories. It’s what makes them tick. It reminds them of elementary school and gives them an opportunity to feel safe. I love the idea of the stars on the floor. Reading about your project made me sad for the first time in my life that I am not a math teacher. And I don’t even know maths.

  5. Pingback: Evolution » Carnival of Education

  6. Post
    Author
    Jose

    @ frumteacher: Yeah they really do love that kind of stuff. On Friday, we’re doing the sequel, “How Do You Make a Million?” Should be cool.

    @ Laniza: yeah that should be hot. I’ll do my best.

    @ Bam: :: bows::

  7. Pingback: The Jose Vilson » Why My Kids Can’t Count To A Million

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