Classroom of the Week | In Kelsey Falkowski's 6th-grade classroom, math and kids matter
PITTSFIELD — It might have been barely 8 a.m., but on Tuesday morning, the students in Kelsey Falkowski's sixth-grade math class at Reid Middle School were on point. They walked in, took their seats in groups of three, pulled out their work folders and got down to business with what are known as "do now" worksheets.
Falkowski said schoolwide, each class starts with five minutes of "warm-up activities" related to the subject of study. In her class, she uses a digital projector to display a countdown clock on the white board. When the timer's up, she checks on each individual student's work then reviews the problems and the process of figuring the answers with the students as a group before moving on to another activity.
"I try not to do more than 15 minutes of direct instruction. If it's more than that, I lose them," Falkowski said of keeping her students engaged. "So I try to have them interact as much as possible with each other so they can help each other out."
This week included an introduction to geometry and statistics. She focused on teaching students how to use their addition, subtraction, multiplication and division skills to calculate angles and areas of shapes and presenting their solutions in decimals and fractions.
To help them practice, Falkowski and her teaching assistant, Jennifer White, gave students sets of math problems printed on neon green "task cards" with pictures of shapes and labels of measurement on them. The students had to work together to figure out the correct formulas to use to calculate the area of the given shapes then each write out their work using handheld dry erase boards and markers.
Occasionally, other non-numerical works of art would appear on the boards. But Falkowski and White, who continuously circulated between the student groups to check work and offer help, weren't ones to reprimand the students for doodling, so long as the correct math kept appearing on the boards as well.
"Excellent," she told one student who held up their work. "Genius," she told another who had correctly calculated the area of a rhombus.
Falkowski smiled when she saw that Kayden Haring wrote on his board, "Math is fun and Mrs. Falkowski is the best."
"Do you know that grades are closing soon?" the teacher teased.
But Haring told a reporter his message was honest.
"Math is hard for me," he said. But sometimes, he explained, it's presented in a fun and occasionally edible way, like when they did an activity that involved doing fractions with Froot Loops cereal.
"When we're going over problems on the board together, [Falkowski's] actually helping us," said Tanner White. "She doesn't yell at us and she's really relaxed."
"She treats us like human beings," Dominic Messer said.
In nominating the class for recognition, Tanner's mother, April White, writes, "She is just an amazing teacher all around. She knows if something is bothering the kids or if they aren't feeling so well. She takes the time to talk to them and listen. I always feel confident sending my son to school knowing she is there for him and will do anything in her power to help him."
In turn, the students treat their math teacher with respect. On a few occasions this school year, when Falkowski's day care coverage was canceled, she had to briefly bring her 1-year-old daughter to class until a relative could pick her up. She said her students were quick to offer their help with the toddler, talking in gentle voices and sitting next to the child on her blanket.
"This is such a nice group of kids," Falkowski said.
One group of students, including Emma Daly and sisters Latavia and Taviona Hawkins, blazed through Tuesday's task cards with lightning speed and accuracy. Then, they offered to help collect the materials and tidy the classroom.
Asked by a reporter about what was motivating them to be so productive, Taviona, shrugged and smiled. "I don't know. Sometimes I talk a lot. But this was fun."
Latavia simply said, "I was focused. And I like helping out."
Then, the bell rang and they dashed to their next class.
But Falkowski took a moment to brag about the sisters.
"Those girls work so hard. They volunteer. They help out at the food pantry all the time," she said.
She knows personal details about all of her students, from who struggles with confidence and who has issues getting to school on time, to who's good at art and who's good with spelling.
"Some of them have a hard time, but there's good in every single one of these kids. You just have to look for it and bring it out in them," Falkowski said.
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