Typically, the Teaching Tips I share on this site feature information and strategies that I have used with my students for many years. Every now and then, however, I like to present new ideas that I'm currently in the process of developing and that are still a bit raw. In these cases I welcome your feedback, and perhaps we can collaborate to strengthen the original idea. This past Tuesday I had a brainstorm, and since this idea happened to connect to the world of professional football, I thought this would be the perfect week to post it.
Broncos fans, please don't be alarmed. I come in peace. Though this tip does refer to an aspect of the Seattle Seahawks franchise, I am not promoting one team over the other. (In fact, Peyton Manning is one of my favorite players of all time.) If you follow professional football, you may know that over the past couple seasons Seattle has had the best home record in the NFL, and a huge part of this home-field advantage stems from the fact that Seahawk fans are incredibly loud during the games and make it very difficult for the visiting players to communicate with one another. Because of the advantage the fans provide, the crowd has been dubbed the "12th man." In other words, the fans are so important to the team's success and have such a strong presence, it's almost as if the Seahawks are fielding 12 players versus the other team's 11. There's even a "12th man" flag that flies over the field during the games.
Back to last Tuesday. My students had just started learning how to add and subtract fractions with unlike denominators. In order to do this, of course, they need to find a common denominator. We were about to close out the day's lesson and head to recess. We had about three minutes left in the period. As I was working through one last problem on the board, I told them that finding a common denominator is also a helpful strategy when comparing and ordering fractions. Being new to teaching fourth grade this year, it dawned on me that this single skill of finding a common denominator has multiple uses and is an indispensable asset for young math students to possess. I wanted to make a big deal about just how important this skill was. I wanted to give it extra attention. A light bulb went off in my mind, and I stopped the lesson. Immediately, my mind traveled to Seattle, and I thought about the 12th man. Quickly, I told my kids a story about the meaning of the 12th man to the Seattle Seahawks organization, and I decided that our class needed its own version.
I then declared, dramatically, that the ability to find a common denominator is so valuable and will have such a strong presence in our classroom in the coming weeks that it's almost like having another person with us. That strategy is, you guessed it, our 31st student. The kids immediately liked this idea. My goal in establishing the "31st student" was to get kids' attention and call their attention to an important idea, and that's what it did. I learned a few years ago from my friend Jeff Haebig that emotions drive attention, and attention drives learning. The concept of the "31st student" created an emotional connection with my students and caused them to pay more attention to this week's math lessons. Of course, the kids still need to practice and master the ability to find a common denominator, but the stage had been set for that learning, and enthusiasm increased because of the novelty of the "31st student" concept.
After school that day, I realized that the "31st student" idea has the potential to help us all year because every few weeks we can change it to keep it fresh and focused on our current learning. Once our study of fractions concludes, I can pick another core academic skill to be our new 31st student. I could also make kindness, honesty, or another habit of character our 31st student anytime the need arises. The concept is flexible enough to meet a variety of needs that may present themselves over the remainder of the school year. We can even have a designated place on the wall to post that week's 31st student as a visual reminder.
I will keep you updated as the "31st student" idea grows. If you have any suggestions, please let me know. In the meantime, I need to find a website where I can purchase our "31" classroom flag.