Sunday, August 24, 2014

Kagan Structures

     I am so excited! Two weeks ago, my school finished its first all day training on how to use Kagan Structures in our classrooms. The entire school is participating in three training sessions throughout year. I have been teaching for a long time and didn't ever think there would be any training I could receive that would improve my students behavior during group work. Well, I was so wrong. When Kagan instructors say, "It's all about engagement," they are so right. In the past when my classes have worked in groups there were always those students who just did nothing, while others would just hide from me. Some students would work hard and others would be talking and off task. It was hard to keep them all engaged. So here are a few things that I learned and started using with my classes this week.
    The first thing I needed to change was how to get my classes to be quiet and listen. I have always used the 3-2-1 countdown, given them the stare or said, "Shhh, shhh, shhh." I became very frustrated that I had to waste so much time on this. Our trainer said that simply saying, "Signal Please,"  then raise your hand and have all the students raise there hand and look at you. You say nothing else, just sit and wait. When everyone is quiet and looking at you say, "thank you," and then continue with what you want to say. Now this seemed very elementary to me but I saw it work with the 50 middle school teachers in my building during our training. Now if you can get middle school teachers to stop talking that is quite a feat! I started using the quiet signal this week with my students from day one. These were actually the first words out of my mouth in all of my classes. I am here to tell you that I am shocked that it is taking less than 5 seconds to get everyone looking at me and quiet. We also had our first assembly Friday and the teacher leading the assembly used this quiet signal and over 700 students became quiet and attentive. All of our teachers are using this quiet signal so the kiddos know exactly what to do. So simple, how come I didn't know to do this years ago?
     The next thing I changed was how my classroom was arranged. All of the tables or desks are now in groups of four and at an angle so that everyone can see the teacher without turning around. In the center of each of the tables are Kagan mats.Click here to see Kagan Mats from the Kagan catalog. I am still in the process of placing the finishing touches on my room. Pictures of my classroom will be posted later this week. (Our open house is Thursday so you know it will be finished by then!) A teacher at my school made mats that are similar and I cut them into four parts placing one on each desk. Unfortunately, my desks do not make a flat surface so the mat won't stay put. Cutting the sections apart and securing them with packing tape should work for awhile.
     The next step was to keep the kids engaged and accountable for their learning. Every ten minutes you need to change your engagement to keep their attention. The first day consisted of getting to know you activities. The next day the problems were math based. I wanted the kids to understand that there are many ways to solve a problem and that some problems can have multiple answers. I guess the easiest way to explain this is to give you an example of some of the problems we did in class last week. 

     Warm up #1

Which number does not belong and why:
36     81     9     25     72

Teacher: I am going to give you 1 minute of quiet think time to find the number in the list that does not belong. Write the number you found with an explanation of why it does not belong with the other 4 numbers.

     I put on my timer, click here for an Online stopwatch, and let them work. After the timer went off I said this:

     Teacher: You will be working with your shoulder partner and explaining what number you chose and why that number does not belong with the others. If your partner has a different number than you write down their number they along with their reason. You will have one minute  to share. Partner A will start and Partner B will listen. Ready, go.

   It is important to give the instructions first and save who is going to begin til last. That way everyone is listening to the directions. I put the timer on and walked around the room while students shared. Then we did the same thing with partner B explaining the number they wrote down. Next, we shared as a group with the student 1 (look at the mats) explaining what their partner had and going around the table. The group created a group list that we shared as a class when they were finished. I gave them 3 minutes to do this.
    As you can see, everything is timed, and anywhere from 25% to 50% of the students are talking and explaining during the activity. Instead of me explaining everything, the students are explaining and learning from each other. There are no more students hiding and not participating. The activities we started with this week have no right or wrong answers so I am creating an environment where they feel safe sharing with each other. ( I of course thought that 72 didn't belong because it was not a square number. Other possibilities, 9 is the only single digit number, 25 is not divisible by 3 or 9, and 25 because the sum is not = to 9.) Any other answers that you see?

                                                   Warm up #2

                                         How many squares do you see?

     This was a puzzle I found on Facebook a couple of years ago. The kids love this one and there is a short video that shows the best answer for this problem. Again, I stressed that the question is, "how many squares so YOU see?" There are many different answers, none are wrong, but one answer that is the highest number of squares. Click here for a video that shows the best answer for How many squares?

                                                  Warm up #3
        Find a word worth $0.60 when A=$0.01, B=$0.02, C=$0.03,etc.

     The last problem that the kids work on last week was the = 0.60 cents problem. It was so much fun watching the groups work to try to find a word that would = a sum of 0.60 cents. Watching the kids, I realized that I need to work on problem solving strategies with them. I thought the very first thing the groups would do was to make a list of the alphabet with the corresponding numerical value next to each letter. They didn't! Most of them were counting through the alphabet for every single letter. Using the guess and check strategy most groups did come up with a word. They loved this problem and my Algebra classes wanted more time to work on it the next day.
     One of my students was excited because he found that the word, yes, added to make 60 cents. However, he had the letter s as being worth 20 points when it should have been 19. When I looked at his list of the alphabet the letters were in this order; m, n, o, p, q, U, r, s, t .... At first I laughed to myself and explained to the student that q is followed by u in words but not in the alphabet. I was also sad because it reminded me of how much background knowledge I think my second language students have but may be missing.
     The structures I have used so far are the rally robin, round robin and stand up-touch down. I am also using random grouping until I have some test scores for my classes. I will explain how to create groups and what these structures look like in a later post. I need to go through it on my own first. 

Til next time,

 Disclaimer: I am not a certified Kagan instructor. All of the information given are my thoughts and reflections of the training I attended, as well as activities that I decided to implement.

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