Post CAS Panic

By Amanda Jonas April 30th, 2014 5:30 PM

One of my favorite movie scenes of all time is from Dumb and Dumber, when Harry and Lloyd come back to their ransacked apartment to find out that their bird Petey has “died of old age” (we all really know what happened to poor Petey though). Completely fed up his life and apartment, Lloyd starts screaming, “That’s it! I’ve had it with this dump! We’ve got no food, we’ve got no jobs, our pets heads are falling off!”

What I love about this clip is not only that Harry and Lloyd think that their bird’s head just fell off, but how honest Lloyd’s complete frustration feels. In all honestly, Lloyd’s speech reminds me of similar emotions I was feeling after the DC CAS, just before spring break. In order to make sure my scholars were as well prepared as possible for the CAS, I covered every fifth grade standard before the beginning of testing. When the test wrapped up during that second week of April, I felt excited and proud of my students. Then, all of the sudden, I felt as confused as Lloyd from Dumb and Dumber.

In my head, I was thinking, “Wait. Spring break is next week. When we come back…Wait. How? What will I teach my kids when I’ve already covered everything?” It also hit me that, when my kids came back to school, it would have been almost 3 weeks since they had normal classes. What was I going to do to keep them motivated?

At a loss at how I was going to keep students engaged, excited, and learning until that last day before summer break, I met with my math coach Mikel (any of you who have read any of my previous blogs know how fantastic she is) to try and figure out a plan. Mikel told me, “Listen. You’ve finished the CAS. Loosen up, get creative, get your kids ready for middle school.” I think her best advice was that the classroom should feel different post CAS for testing grades. Now, I’m not saying stop teaching, but what I am saying is stop teaching the way you’ve taught.

Mikel and I came up with the following solutions:

  • We picked out three sixth grade math objectives that I knew would interest my kids: probability, ratios and proportions. We then problem solved around creative ways to teach them. For example, my students would give out surveys to younger grades, exploring the odds of gambling and creating their own ratios based on data they collected themselves.
  • We decided that on Wednesdays we would have “Mathematical History” days where my City Year, Mr. Brendan, and I facilitated lessons on famous mathematicians and math discoveries throughout time (this week Mr. Brendan showed them how to find pi using string and a cut out of a circle).
  • I also started to partner with the second grade classes for a pretty intense unit on multiplication. I’m teaching my fifth graders new tutorial strategies, like how to create centers and help another student find the answer without telling it. In a few weeks, my kiddos and I are going to help the second graders become multiplication rock stars.
  • I’ve branched out of my comfort zone a bit to try new centers that I previously found too time consuming. That’s the best part of our post CAS classrooms; we have more time to do what we didn’t think we had time for before! Instead of being filled with panic, I was suddenly excited at the possibilities that the next test free weeks held in store for my classroom. I realized that, as long as I was teaching my students things that I was excited about, they would be too. Lets be honest, we teachers can all use a little more fun and excitement in the classroom too!

Are you in a testing grade? Are you done with the CAS? Are you unsure about what to do next? Here are some helpful tips from Mikel and I on how to beat those post- CAS blues…

  1. Look ahead! Check out next year’s standards, or better yet, chat with a teacher who teaches the grade ahead of you and find what the priority standards are. Start your kids on those this year and make sure they know what a competitive edge they’ll have on their peers when they start the next grade.
  2. Play! If you can, make it into a game. I have my kids make “word problem mad libs,” where they create or copy a bunch of word problems, leave a few blanks, and tell other students to insert funny nouns or adjectives (blended learning anyone?) to see who can make the silliest problem.
  3. Projects. Now is the perfect time to implement project based learning. Remember teaching that unit on area? Now you can have your students use what they know about area to build their “dream houses” using graph paper and a whole lot of imagination.
  4. Expand your students’ horizons! Why not buddy with a lower or higher grade and peer tutor? Not only does it help your students build valuable social skills, but they are gaining confidence in their academic abilities and reinforcing things they have already learned. Nothing helps students retain information more than having them teach it themselves.

Whatever you decide to do after the CAS, remember one thing: your students see the value of education through your eyes. If you see these last several weeks as frustrating, they will as well. But, if you show them that learning doesn’t stop when the big tests are over, then your students will keep on adding and subtracting and reading and writing until that last dismissal bell rings on June 20th.