Seventh-graders are tweens not children, but not quite teenagers yet, either.
The seventh-grade students at Sherman Central School are funny and intelligent. They don't mind tackling an in-class project and sprawling out on the floor, but they also are all right with sitting at a desk for an entire period while they learn.
Sherman Central School is unique, because the building is home to all grade levels - from pre-kindergarten up to 12th grade. For the 2010-11 school year, the school saw 437 students come through its doors on any given day.
Greg Eckwahl's class takes part in an Ace Builder Competition
Greg Eckwahl teaches math 7, 8 and 9 at Sherman Central School. Over the last several months, his math 7 students have been learning things such as graphing, writing an equation from a table, the Pythagorean Theorem, solving equations and unit rate.
Recently, Eckwahl's seventh-grade students took part in three days of New York state exams. To celebrate the end of the exams and to learn about unit rate, Eckwahl hosted the Ace Builder Competition.
Students analyze results in Greg Eckwahl’s math class at Sherman Central School.
P-J photo by Liz Skoczylas
Students filter into his classroom and take a seat at their desks, which are arranged into pairs. They had already chosen partners and team names in a previous class. Additionally, they had learned the definitions of rate and unit rate. They had also already practiced building card houses.
"I left out one important piece of information last week, and that's that you are going to put pennies on your card house," Eckwahl says to his students.
He reviews the rules for the Ace Builder Competition. The goal is to use a low number of cards to build a structure, and then pile a large number of pennies on top of it - without having the structure collapse. Then, at the end of the 20-minute competition, the students will figure out their unit rate.
A Day In The Classroom
As the students work on their structures, occasionally calls of "I need more pennies!" or "I forgot to count how many cards I used," ring out. Meanwhile, Eckwahl explains that this is the seventh annual Ace Builder Competition.
"I actually learned it from one of my professors at Fredonia," Eckwahl said, adding that he tweaked it to fit his students.
"I do it after the state exams every year for something fun for them to do. It's a great way to jump into next year early, when they will have to really know unit rates," he said.
This activity helps students to associate unit rate when dealing with miles per hour or miles per gallon, showing them that unit rate has other applications.
Eckwahl reminds his students that they are going for the best unit rate - cards to pennies - not just the highest number of pennies.
"Can we put a card on the ground and call that a house, and just put pennies on top of it?" calls out Kyle Carpenter. Unfortunately for Kyle's team, that would be breaking the rules.
At the end of 20 minutes, the teams head up to the SmartBoard and fill in the number of pennies, cards and the ratio of pennies to cards on a graph. Together, the class finds the unit rate for each team, by dividing the number of pennies by the number of cards.
In the end, The Deadly Dealers, cousins Cassie and Shelby Kopta take first place, with their structure of 11 cards holding 226 pennies. Their efforts are rewarded with a free homework pass.
Team Pair of Aces, Kyle and his partner, Korey Ayers, take second place. Their structure of 22 cards held 140 pennies. They were rewarded with Swiss Cake Rolls.
Like Eckwahl, English teacher Aaron Jessey doesn't only teach seventh-graders. He has English 7, English 9 and English 11 to teach at Sherman Central School.
Jessey also co-teaches his English 7 class with Kristy Collver.
Once his students are seated, Jessey begins the class by telling them to clear their desks, and asking what symbolism is.
"It's a picture that represents something," Dakota answers.
When Jessey asks the class for examples of symbolism, they come up with the Nazi symbol, hearts and the American flag. Jessey pushes them further, asking the class about symbols that represent colleges and professional sports teams.
The class has recently finished reading "The Giver" by Lois Lowry, and has been learning about sociograms. Sociograms are charts with pictures symbolizing each character, focusing on a story's main character. Once the main character is drawn, other characters are given symbols, and various arrows or lines are used to show relationships.
"Last week, we looked at a sociogram for 'Hamlet.' Even though it's 11th-grade reading, they were able to figure out the story with sociograms," Jessey said.
The class has five of the main characters of "The Giver" written on different slips of paper. Jessey has the students put the name of the main character, Jonas, in the middle of the desk, and then arrange the other character's names around it, based on their relationships.
"When you feel that you have it, raise your hand," Jessey says to the class.
He and Ms. Collver go around to each of the students to see what they have come up with as a layout for their sociogram. Each take time to discuss the symbols with each student, before giving them a large piece of paper to draw out the actual sociogram.
"This is the first time that we are using co-teaching for a class, and I think that it works out really well. We can both attend to the students," Jessey said.
To draw symbols for the characters, some students take one of several iPads in the classroom to look up pictures to copy. When finished with their symbol, they easily pass off the iPads to share with other students.
Jessey, who has taught at Jamestown High School and Southwestern Central School in the past, said that this is the first time that he's tried sociograms with his students at Sherman Central School, although he has done them in the past.
"The kids here love it," he said.
As class winds down, the students begin putting their sociograms away. With a few minutes until the end of class, Jessey begins asking students "ticket-out-the-door questions" - questions that they must correctly answer about sociograms before leaving his classroom.
At about 12:30, the bell rings, and the Sherman seventh-graders are on their way to their next class.