Planets, Slaves, Chalkboards, and Jump Ropes

The sensational, earthshaking newsflash of the day was the advent of the math fact chart. This is how it works: Every time you practice your multiplication flashcards at home for ten minutes, you get your mom or dad to sign a math “ticket.” Then you bring the ticket to school the next day and exchange it for a sticker to place on the chart. When all the spaces on the chart are full of stickers, there will be a fun reward for the whole class. When you are nine years old, this is quite a thrill.

Some other years I used to do a math worm. When a student brought a math ticket to school, they could put up a construction paper segment of the “worm.” The goal was to make the worm reach all the way around the room. But it was time-consuming to cut all those worm segments, and they tended to fall off the wall and make a general nuisance of themselves. So when I was contemplating a motivational math worm this year, I thought about the teaching strategy that my wise teacher friend Tina once mentioned: KISS (Keep It Simple, Silly). And I thought to myself, Stickers on a chart would be so much easier and would accomplish the same purpose. I found some outer space stickers in my desk that a previous teacher had left. Score! This is the perfect thing because we are learning about the solar system in science. I designated a different sticker for each student so that we could easily keep track of how many stickers each person put on the chart. Then I posted the student’s names with the chart and put the designated stickers beside the names.

Excitement reigned as soon as the children saw the chart. Who knew that something so simple could be so enthralling?

“Hey, I’m a star! What are you?”

“I think I’m Neptune. Let me look in my science book. . . Yeah—looks like Neptune.”

“That one must be Jupiter because it has a red spot on it.”

“Hey, Miss Beiler! You should have made S____ be Jupiter because she’s the biggest person in our class!”

“Look, I’m the sun! I’m going to burn you up!

A chase ensues, in which the fleeing victim runs to hide behind the teacher while yelling, “Save me! She’s the sun, and she’s going to burn me up.” The “sun” comes along shouting, “Burn, burn, burn!”

Someone else yells, “KA-BOOM!” pretending to be a spaceship taking off.

What can I say? At least I taught them a few things in science class. Plus, this seems to be generating some good levels of enthusiasm for practicing math facts.

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We played “Slaves” at recess, which is the latest thing. None of the previous classes I taught loved imaginative play like this class does. Back when we were studying about medieval times in history, they organized a whole feudal system of lords, knights, serfs, etc. and played “Castle.” Recently we studied colonial times and learned about slavery, so now they play Slaves.

“Miss Beiler, you should be the slave master,” someone said.

“Yeah!!!!!” a dozen voices chorused.

“Um. I think I will be the newspaper reporter,” I said. (What makes them think I would make a good slave master?)

So I walked around and interviewed the workers and made sure that the slave masters did not inflict any actual harm.

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Later in the day I was reading students’ spelling journal entries and writing responses when I came across this gem (They were supposed to write about who they would be if they could be a different person for a day):

“Dear Miss Beiler,
If I would be anyone else I would be you. I would love being a teacher. I would like being a teacher because I like writing on chalkboads. I also like erasing chalk boads. And I like spinning jumprope.”

Yup. That’s definitely why I love this profession. I get to write on chalkboards and spin jump ropes.