Saturday, December 19, 2009

How Kids Surprise You...

I was going to rant about how a newspaper in this state hasn't the foggiest idea of how the K-12 educational system works. You know the old saying, "Keep your mouth shut so that no one will know you're a fool." They wrote an editorial that shows they have no idea of what the problems facing public (and private for that matter) education in this state. Sloppy work, editorial board.

But instead, given the fact that this is the holiday season, I decided to write about some efforts on my part to teach fifth graders how arithmetic was important to them personally......and how I learned about giving.

My school at the time probably would have been classified as a low economics area school. People were struggling to make ends meet. Hard workers, many of them working at Boeings in various jobs but not management. But good people all. I really admired and had a lot of respect for my kids' parents. So with that in the back of my head, I wanted my class to understand the use of money as well as the importance of being accurate. Most of my kids could add, subtract, divide and multiply but there were times when they got lazy. I wanted to increase their perfection ratio. More "A's" thank you.

So how could I show the importance of accuracy, money and numbers--let's throw in neatness as well. One afternoon in October I came home after school was out to find the latest Sears, Roebuck and Company catalog at my door. Back in those days this massive catalog would be delivered and families would pour over it making a wish list for Christmas. You could still fill out forms in the middle of the catalog and with a check send in your order....and within weeks your order would arrive. Kids in my class were always talking about something in the Sears catalog.

Well, if we were getting the newest catalogs, old ones must be surplused. On a whim I called the Sears main office in our state and asked if I could have 35 of the old catalogs for use in my classroom. "Hey, not a problem--just come over to South Seattle and pick them up. Happy to help out." So I did. One slight problem. I at that time drove a Volkswagen Bug--one of the early ones in my neighborhood. It didn't have a big engine in those days and when we put 35 plus Sears large catalogs in the Bug, it took a while to get up to speed and it looked like it was about to break an axle or two. People pointed at me as I drove slowly by. I did get all those catalogs to the school the next day and the kids enjoyed unloading my car. I never did know if I had done it any damage.

So now everyone had a catalog and I could give out the assignment. I wanted them to fill out an order form and attach the correct amount of money to the top of the form. WHAT MONEY? Aha! I had that figured out. I had designed on a ditto "Blackwell Money, Room 6. I had one's, five's and ten's on the sheet. I think there must of been maybe twenty five dollars on a sheet and I cranked out two sheets of money for each student. I had drawn a boarder around the money and a circle in the center with what I though was a drawing of a person. Much discussion as to what was in the center of the circle on the money. Anyway, every student in my class got a certain amount of money so they could "buy" something in the catalog. I was proud of myself. Great assignment--concret teaching going on here.

I think it was Alister who first turn in his order form--he always wanted to be first. I looked at it and took the "money" off and chucked the form into the waste paper can. "Why did you do that? Mr. Blackwell." "I can't read it. This is so sloppy that the Sears office would just put it in a lost file." My how that got the rest of the class' attention. I could see erasers flying all over the place. Suddenly neat handwriting and printing became important. Hot damn. Those that were neat but didn't have the correct amount of money (we had all agreed to round off which was a skill I wanted to work on anyway) I put the entire form in the lost file. Accuracy shot up. To say I had a big head might be an understatement.

I do remember going down to the teachers room during recess and spouting off how good the arithmetic assignment was going. Smirk, smirk. But on my way back to my room I came around the corner to see some of the kids with the ditto machine cranking out more money. Whoa up here. You just don't print money when you need it. Still it just made sense to the kids that if you didn't have enough money to get more..... "Someone took money off my desk, Mr. Blackwell!" Another problem. Suddenly, I was teaching things I hadn't planned on like you can't steal money--it's wrong and you can't just print money. It's also wrong. We did have some good discussions about right and wrong that was never in the state curriculum guide.

I solved the printing of money by getting an out of date embossing device from the school library. Then I embossed all the money. Soon we had so much money going around that I decided to teach the kids how to write checks. So we printed out checks for each person. They could write a check as long as they had enough money in their desk. I was surprised how much this excited my kids. Not sure why, but they enjoyed and took an effort to write a proper check. We also had a discussion about banks and savings. Overall I was pleased with them and myself.

But there was a surprise in the works for me. The assignment was to fill out an order form, attached the correct amount of money (or check during the latter part of the project) and turn it in to me--the big kahuna of the ordering department. It was either approved, or put in the lost box and sent back. Pretty soon they had the assignment down pat.

And I was in for a surprise as I read the forms. I had suspected that the kids would order toys, air rifles, go carts, dolls, toy stoves, etc. all from the children's section of the catalog. But no, that is not what they ordered. There were forms fill out for new refrigerators, new couches or a recliner chair for Mom or Dad. New dishes were on a couple of the orders. Tools for Dad was also popular. By and large those kids ordered things for the family. I was surprised and to some degree humbled. I had underestimated those children. Ten to twelve year olds with a maturity much older. They and I knew that this was a big make believe assignment but I wished so much that I could have been like Oprah and make their dreams come true. That would have been fun.

Some of the kids never wanted to get rid of their catalogs when we moved on to other arithmetic assignments. But I will admit their penmanship improved. I was pleased with that result especially, except for Alister. Alister's penmanship was always terrible. I never knew why. Someday I'll tell you what I did to that poor kid.

Did you have a teacher that encourage you to be better? In your penmanship? Or with money? If so, you need to thank that teacher for going beyond the state and local curriculum guidelines.

Happy holidays to you all. And to Mr. Fransham. Thanks for encouraging me in music.

No comments:

Post a Comment