Sunday, October 9, 2011


We are entering the mid-trimester week of our fall semester! I cannot believe how fast it has gone by. It sounds like a broken record, I say that every year; but, this year especially, I feel that I have lived every second possible over the last five weeks to its fullest. 

Many firsts have taken place in my classroom: first Barbie Bungee, first graphing performance assessment, first 5-paragraph essay IN math class, and tomorrow, another first! The dreaded "peanut butter and jelly sandwich" lab moves from the science classroom into the math classroom. 

Why, you might ask? Well, because the number one, biggest issue that I saw from students in their five-paragraph essays, was an inability to articulate precise meaning and directions. Great, you know how to make a graph, but specifically how do you get to a coordinate on the grid? What is it used for? How can you use a graph to understand change in math? The essay topic was describing linear patterns in graphs, tables, equations and words. While the class average was 80% in my regular classes and 90% in my accelerated class, the inattention to specifics in language and procedures was a major red flag in nearly every essay. 

Hence the PB&J lab... though with nut allergies in today's classroom, we will be using "Sun Butter", (short for sunflower butter) instead. Same concept, new twist. And I have NO idea how it will taste! Neither does my kitty Toby, but he sure was willing to sniff it out! (I hope that doesn't invoke pet allergies now)

So what exactly is the point of the PB&J or SFB&J lab? Whatever you want to call it? The point, which I referred to in my "Ghosts of Zombie Teachers Past" blog, is to master the skill of giving specific, exact, step-by-step instructions on how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. You can't say non-specific things like "put the peanut butter on the bread" because you probably forgot to tell the lab rat to open the jar, or to open the bag of bread, or to open the lid to the peanut butter jar, or to take a piece of bread out, or to put it on a plate, or to pick up the knife, or to put the peanut butter on the knife.... get what I mean? Or what I meant to say? D'oh! Do what I mean, not what I say.

The main objective for students is to sit down and stare at the materials, and to work in their heads, breaking down a seemingly easy task into its components. The best reward for correct completion of the procedure... is that you get to eat the sandwich! More likely, it will be a big mess of sunbutter on the desk, bread on top of the bag, jelly on fingers, and so on and so forth. 

Students will have the image engrained in their brains forever that there is a reason for precision and accuracy in life. Especially in math and science.

I am hoping that after this activity, our next attempt at writing for meaning in math class will demonstrate much more thoughtful reflection into the individual steps and procedures we do in our brains, to solve mathematical problems. It is NOT good enough to be able to solve a problem, if you can't explain how you solved it, or why it is the correct answer, or even if it is the correct answer. And most importantly, what it means in real-life terms. 

Isn't that the whole purpose of math? Of school in general? Of LIFE in general? 

Peace out, PB&J zombies.

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