West Middle School students watch as math teacher Shawn Huffman receives a mohawk haircut earlier today. L&T photo/Robert Pierce
Teacher uses haircut as motivator
By ROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times
This morning, Shawn Huffman got a mohawk hairdo – in front of an entire audience in a gymnasium.
The makeover was part of a motivation the West Middle School math teacher used to help his students improve scores on the recently completed Kansas State Math Assessment.
Huffman made a wager with his 7th grade math students that stated if they got 80 percent as a class on the test, they would be able to cut his hair in a mohawk. Not only that, but the students were also allowed to dye his hair any color – except pink.
Huffman said the inspiration worked, as the class came in at 79.8 percent, a number which was rounded up to 80.
“They did very well,” he said.
Huffman said the idea for the motivation started at Christmas time.
“We do MAPS testing,” he said. “We do them throughout the year just to see how they’re progressing. It’s the same test. They just take it at different times during the year to see if they’ve grown at anything.”
In December, Huffman said some of the kids in his class were testing below 7th grade level on the practice tests, and this is when he went to work.
“I said if you get over 220, I’ll give you your favorite candy bar,” he said. “I was getting people that were scoring 25, 30 points more than what they did at the beginning of the year. They just put forth the effort, believed that they could do it. They just did a great job.”
So much so that Huffman actually got the majority of the class scoring at the 7th grade level.
“I asked them afterwards, ‘What motivated you guys to do that?’” he said. “They said the candy bar. It was just kind of a joke. I said, ‘What if I was to give you guys a king size candy bar?’ They said, ‘Oh, we would’ve scored better.’”
Huffman said he got the inspiration to use the mohawk as a motivating technique from his youth.
“It’s just one of the things where I’ve always wanted to see one of my teachers in a mohawk back in the day when I was a kid,” he said. “I said let’s put a little wager down for the Kansas state assessment.”
Huffman said other approaches to making his students better were considered, and some of those are still in place. One such strategy was allowing kids who passed the assessment to skip the final exam in his class.
“I have 80 percent of my kids who don’t have to take the final exam,” he said. “Only about 19 to 20 kids have to take it, so that day, a lot of them get to take the day off, while the rest of them have to suffer through a final.
Huffman said even higher expectations were in place for the assessments.
“I put down 90 percent passing, we would not have homework throughout the rest of the year,” he said. “We would have classwork, but no homework. If we had 100 percent passing, which is a very lofty goal, that was when we were going to have pizza for lunch on Fridays.”
As for the style of the hairdo, Huffman said the students had several to choose from.
“I had about 11 different types of mohawks, and I was kind of hoping they would choose a cool one,” he said. “They’ve decided to kind of humiliate me. They’ve given me a pretty bad one.”
The KSMA is divided into four types of questions from four different standards. Huffman explained the arrangement of the tests.
“One’s numbers computation – can they add, subtract, multiply and divide? Can they understand how to put an equation together?” he said. “Another one is algebra – can you solve an equation? Can you set up an equation? Third one is geometry dealing with shapes, and the fourth one is data.”
Huffman said the assessments not only determine where the students are at academically, but they also keep teachers and schools accountable for what youth learn, in addition to helping the school meet that year’s level for Adequate Yearly Progress standards.
The teacher said his students don’t always need motivation, but when it is needed, he will use it.
“I really want them to reach their full potential,” he said. “I want to motivate them to reach a little bit further. They may have not needed the motivation. It was just a tactic that I tried, and it worked.”
And Huffman said his students got plenty of practice for the assessments throughout the year.
“We did weekly tests,” he said. “We looked at questions that were previously on the Kansas state assessment. They were pretty well prepared. This is probably one of the most prepared classes I’ve had.”
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