In its third year (2009-2010), Rocketship Mateo Sheedy achieved a stunning 925 (out of 1000) API score . This ranked us #5 in the state of California for our category of elementary schools, as we far surpassed San Jose public schools and the California average. This year, our goal is a 950, and all the students and teachers are hugely invested in achieving this goal. Nevertheless, there is a distinct difference between elite public schools in California and Rocketship- while Rocketship is still obsessed with the content that is tested and how testing works, elite public school systems that are used to performing well on testing can focus on conceptual and philosophical thinking in the classroom. Instead of rote memorization, students can learn to discover and explore concepts before they are directly introduced to standards. My goal this year is bring my second grade math classroom into the elite by allowing my students to discover concepts before I directly teach them.
Last week, we started our first content unit. We are tackling one of the Rocketship Top Ten standards for 2nd grade math: “I can use words, models, and expanded forms to represent numbers to 1,000.” (California NS 1.2) I chose to introduce place value with a game called “Buzz.” (Credits: Math Their Way and Rafe Esquith) I outlawed the number 10, replaced it with “buzz,” and proceeded to count to “buzz.” (1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. Buzz!) The students joined me, and we counted objects around the room, using the word “buzz” for the number 10. Then, I used counting cubes and “buzz cups” to illustrate “buzz” and multiple “buzzes” with manipulatives. Finally, I drew a traditional ones and tens chart on the whiteboard, replacing “tens” with “buzzes.” “Buzzes” are shown as stars, and ones are shown as dots.
“Buzz” demonstrates the base-ten place value system as a “base-buzz” counting system. When students eventually use place value counting charts, they will notice that “tens” has replaced “buzzes.” Eventually, “hundreds” will replace “buzz buzzes.” This brilliant nonsense word game allows students to think about place value before stressing over its memorization. The students’ favorite part is standing in a circle, counting to “buzz,” and sitting when “buzz” lands on them. Students play enough rounds to find a winner. My favorite part was the moment when they realized that groups of ten are predictable, rather than random. They started counting ahead to see who would sit next.
I was fortunate enough to be observed by Teach for America founder Wendy Kopp and Symantec CEO Enrique Salem while we learned place value through “Buzz.” While our incredible observers were only present for about ten minutes, I hope it was clear that students at Rocketship are quickly becoming students who are capable of critical thinking and analysis, as well as excellent test performance. (For the record, I was [barely] able to maintain composure while these giants of education reform were in the classroom. What a privilege to have them!)
For the Kids,