Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Bonding Over Video Games Brings a Breakthrough With a Difficult Student!

This week I had the opportunity to teach a sixth grade math class at a middle school in San Francisco. I enjoyed it! We were working on ratios and proportions and geometry (finding the area of shapes). The students were lively and loud, but they took the work seriously - except for one - who challenged me from the moment he walked in. I'll say his name was Sam.

Sam made it clear to me right away that he wasn't going to do the work. In the first fifteen minutes of class, I tried various strategies to get him to focus. Nothing worked. He wasn't overtly rude or disruptive, but he was willfully resistant to doing anything academic. Some of the other students even confided in me that "Sam doesn't do the work."

That first day, Sam was a little disruptive, but nothing serious. The second day, things got a little worse. He threw a pencil eraser which hit me. I am tolerant, but I have limits, and so I called the office and Sam spent the rest of the period in the dean's office.

On the third day, as we were working with rates and unit rates, I used an example from the popular strategy game Clash of Clans. "It takes 30 minutes to train a level 2 dragon. How many dragons can be trained in one hour. Write it as a unit rate" Easy, but it got the kids attention. Turns out that many of them, including Sam, were Clash of Clans players.

A little while later, when students were working independently, Sam approached me at the front of the class. He took an iPad out of his backpack and started showing me some of the games he played. Boom Beach, Clash of Clans, and something called PixelGun. I asked him about his grades. He said, somewhat sheepishly, that he had straight D's. I told him, "If you were my kid, with grades like that, there's NO WAY you would have an iPad." He smiled at this comment. He KNEW he was getting away with bad behavior, and he KNEW he shouldn't be. We talked some more about grades and games until the bell rang. As he was packing up, he said to me, "Sorry for the way I behaved yesterday, Mr. G."

I found this refreshing of course and interesting because, on the surface he seemed like an "unreachable" kid with a massive chip on his shoulder, but in reality he was just a pain in the rear because he knew he could get away with it and not face any real consequences at home. The common ground of video games helped to open things up and help Sam and I get to know each other.

P.S. teaching 6th grade math gave me an opportunity to us my 6th Grade math essential question posters for ratios and proportions and finding area.