Friday, October 7, 2011

Ups and downs 9 weeks in

Balance.  It seems most times in our lives we are struggling to find balance.  For instance the last time I blogged it was with one day to go before students arrived to school. Now time has flown and I found myself struggling to find time to reflect and blog even once let alone regularly.  The normal hectic school schedule has set in.  And before I know it, we are ending the first 9 weeks!
However, I do really want to share how the year has gone so far with the balls. This year I have 123 students 41 freshmen and 82 sophomores and the balls have gone over pretty well.  On the whole students seem to like them.  The balls are more colorful and invite more movement.  It is natural to allow yourself to roll with the ball and stretch out at times rather than constantly fight the movement of the ball and remain upright.  Especially if you are someone who is flexible, has any nervous energy, or are 15-16 years old!  Honestly, most of the time the movement doesn't bother me as long as students return upright and it is a one-time movement while I am teaching.  If it is an obvious distraction then redirection is necessary.  At times there is some pretty regular, rhythmic bouncing by a number of students during class.  It isn't really all that distracting as long as it doesn't seem to spread.  At times it does spread,...kind of like a yawn.  One student will start with a small bounce, then will gradually bounce a little higher, so then the students around him/her will begin their own bouncing.  So, I do have to stop occasionally and ask students to settle down.  Sometimes though I will see their bouncing as a que that they need to physically move, so I will tell them all to take 5 big bounces so we can expel some of that nervous energy and move on with the lesson.  This seems to work well and they quiet down again as we continue class.
In conjunction with the minor distractions I noticed that for the first four weeks, the only time I saw a student use a chair was in a few classes where I had to have three students at a table.  A chair is necessary at those times because three balls are just too wide to fit at one table.  And so that was the way it went for a few weeks.  Everyone sitting on balls except for a few students in a few larger classes.
Now though, some students have begun to switch out the balls for the chairs when they come into the room.  I think the old adage is true that people want what they don't have.  The classroom seems to be no different. For instance in another classroom at Norris a fellow high school teacher has all chairs and only one ball, so the students fight for who gets to sit on the ball.  Recently in my class it seems that the opposite has started.  Some students want to sit on the chairs rather than the balls.  I know for a select few there are injuries that make the chairs much more comfortable than the balls.  The balls do require your core muscles to work more and you need to maintain posture yourself rather than relying on the back support of a chair.  This constant muscle tightening can be uncomfortable if you have a pre-existing back injury.  Freshmen and sophomores seem like they would be too young for back problems, but a few of them do have daily back pain. this point I am debating on where to go from here.  There is not enough room for both the balls and the chairs, so taking out 5-6 chairs each period and the shuffling that has started to happen between periods of both the balls and the chairs has become a bit of a disruption and has made it more difficult for students to walk around the room.  The room is already crowded with the large tables and the balls, so to add extra chairs just compounds the problem.  I do not want to move the chairs out though, as I know if will be more difficult to move them again and get them back should the balls not work out for the full year.  At this point I have a feeling I will be placing more rules on allowing students to pull out chairs prior to class.  The disruption and pulling out of chairs and the rolling around of the balls has become more than it needs to be.

On another note it is rather interesting when people enter the room and see the balls on the tables.  Some people have a tendency to lean on them or flop on them chest first and roll on the table top.  It is funny to watch students react this way to the balls, but it is even better when it is a well respected high school teacher.  I don't know what it is about the round shape of the balls but it is as if they are inviting people to give them a hug.  These 'hugs' while humorous to watch tend to demolish the feeble foam plate holding the ball in place on the table.  Inevitably when the person leaves the ball then slowly rolls off the table and I am left looking at what is left of the plate now flattened to a pancake.  So rather than replenishing the supply of ball stands and tossing foam plates into the landfill each week, I was trying to do my civic part and recycle them for as long as I could.   At first I was using masking tape to tape the plates back together.  These repairs would typically happen about once a week, usually on Friday afternoon so the ball stands were standing tall for Monday morning.  However, these repairs were obviously not a long term fix.  Some of the luckier plates only required a few strips of tape, but at times the worst casualties required tape all the way around the plate and even stacking two of them together when one was too far broken to hold up the ball on its own.

 Okay, so at what point is it more cost effective to replace the plates than purchase the tape it takes to maintain them?  Then, the idea of what to do with all the ice cream bucket lids I have in my cupboard came to me!  Those would work perfectly for the balls rather than the now downtrodden taped foam plates.  So, now, the ice cream bucket lids with exotic titles such as Chocolate Chip and Cookies and Cream are the official ball stands for room S-8.  The balls continue to be 'hugged' when newcomers enter the room, but the rather sickening crunch of the foam is gone and so is the constant triage with the masking tape.  The ball huggers leave and the balls stay neatly balanced in the lid on the table top!

Plus those ice cream bucket lids are so much classier than taped foam plates!  =)