Chalking it up

My Algebra I kids are learning to graph inequalities on a number line. To teach them effectively, I needed a tool that would allow them to graph several problems in rapid succession, with answers big enough that I could see them from halfway across the room. After some thought, I came up with a number line written on a yardstick that had been coated on one side with chalkboard paint. I used the inch markings — which were stamped into the wood — as guides to keep the spacing even. They were cheap (less than $30 worth of materials for the whole project) and worked really well.

The picture above shows one of the number lines and another little tool I made for the classroom: I took cardboard cutouts of robots (available from Michael’s for $1.99 a dozen) and sprayed them with the chalkboard paint. The kids will use them to show me their answers to problems they work in class.

Here are some closeups of my handiwork:

I like the robots. They’re kind of like those dry-erase paddles you get at teachers’ stores, except they’re a lot cheaper ($5 for a class set instead of $105) and a lot cuter. I’m hoping they’ll overcome some of the kids’ shyness about sharing answers in class. Calling out an answer is scary, but holding up a cardboard robot with the answer written on it is just funny.

The other cool thing about using homemade items in class is that they make the kids feel loved. My kids always get really excited when they find out I made something for them myself: “You made that? Really? How long did that take? I can’t believe you spent all that time making that just for us!”

Handmade means something to them. My mentor/saboteur at my first teaching job understood that. She had her faults, but her classroom was a very warm, inviting space, with handmade valances at the windows and little craft-show decorations everywhere. It felt more like a friend’s kitchen than a gritty urban classroom, and that really resonated with the kids.

It occurs to me that I have spent 12 years hoarding my bad experiences with this woman and dismissing the good. Until this minute, I don’t think it ever occurred to me to acknowledge what she was doing right or to consider that she might have loved her kids as much as I love mine. There’s another blog entry in that, but I’ll save it for tomorrow, as it’s getting late tonight.

For now, I’ll just bask in the knowledge that I am healing, be it ever so slowly.

Emily

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