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I pound the idea of the application of skills and concepts into my students on a daily basis. I always tell them that is no use learning material if they don’t know how or when to use it. Therefore I’m always looking for times where I can show my kids that all of this ‘school stuff’ is really ‘life stuff’; they just need to be able to recognize the opportunity when it presents itself.
Enter my intern for the next two weeks. (Bless her heart. She never saw it coming)
I’ve written before about how important basic math fact skills are and that I give my students timed tests over these facts every week. They take four separate ‘tests’: 100 addition, 100 subtraction, 100 multiplication and 100 division. They have five minutes to finish each assessment.
Now, I’ve told my students from the beginning that I am not going to give them anything to do independently that they are not ready for or time them on something that I couldn’t do myself. And yes, I can do all four tests in under three minutes each. I think I’ll slap that on my next resume.
Anyhow, now that we have done these skills tests ad nauseam, several of my older kids are whining about how they don’t understand why they have to keep taking it if they can already do the facts in under five minutes. (I have several students who can do the addition and multiplication facts in a minute and a half!) My response: If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. And this is where my intern comes in.
Our local Technology Center sends me interns who are looking at going into college for teaching, counseling or business. The interns are usually juniors in high school and serve in my class for two weeks. Since they are looking at what the actual career of teaching or owning a business entails, I put them to work right off. This young lady made her appearance on Monday and when Thursday rolled around it was time to put her to the test. I explained to her that it’s important to keep skills fresh and that I wanted her to take the skills tests with my students. She agreed to be a good sport, however I didn’t really explain to her the teachable moment I knew would happen at the end.
I handed out the subtraction test first and started the timer. My students started handing in their papers in a steady stream after two and a half minutes. Five minutes later and she hadn’t finished it. The same happened with the next tests. My students whizzed through the skills tests and well, she didn’t. She finished the multiplication facts test with 17 seconds to spare. She was shocked at how quickly my kids could go through those facts!
So this where the teachable moment came into play. I thanked her for being a good sport and told her that we had been doing these facts every week since school started in August. I could feel the pride that my students had knowing they, first through sixth graders, had performed better on these facts tests than an eleventh grader! They were pumped! I asked our intern about having a job and what kinds of items she was responsible for paying. She told us that yes, she worked and that she had to pay for her gasoline, lunches and a couple of other items. I then explained to them that our intern used these math skills on a daily basis outside of school. She had to total up her work hours (add) and figure out how much she was going to get on her work paycheck (multiplication). She then had to pay for gas for her car and figure out how much she was going to have left after she bought gas (subtraction). She also had to figure out how much money she could spend each week in her budget (division). It makes so much more sense to the kids when I had a real-life person there to confirm how important something so simple is, especially when they could ask her questions and get answers from someone they could view as a peer.
How do you try to instill within your students real-life application of skills and concepts?