Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Giving Ourselves a Break

Have you ever watched a performance, music / dance / theater / gymnastics , as a non-expert in that area and just been impressed with what was appealing to you whether or not it was "hard"? Then you think about someone with lots of knowledge in that arena watching the same performance, and they are probably having a different experience. They may be thinking, "Wow! Look at that difficult move they just executed! Amazing!". You may have missed the impressiveness of it, but you knew what resonated with you. And the performer has a third version of the events thinking, "ooooh, I hope I pull off that triple-quadruple-back-slide doohicky perfectly!" and you may not even have known to be impressed with the challenge of the doohicky.

I'm thinking it's the same with our kids. We may be all impressed with our various ways of presenting/teaching a topic, but it may be hit or miss whether it works or not with the students. I'm thinking that they mostly only care about knowing that you care and that you have their backs and that if they are struggling with the learning, you will be there for them. They are not sitting back and thinking, "hmmmm, look at that student-centered stunt she just pulled off!" ... or, "wow, that's master teaching skills right there!".

So I'm thinking that, yes, we should strive to do our best with all our teaching skills, but maybe the most important thing that trumps the whizbang lessons is the fact that the kids see you caring about their learning and pausing enough and waiting for them to process and keeping your questioning and explaining processes churning to make sure they know you have a safety net for them in their learning journey.

I guess this is all to say that it's okay if I don't kill myself all the time worrying about presenting a lesson "just right" because as long as I honestly care during the lesson and am tuned in to what and how the students are learning, then I am doing fine.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Inverse Trig Graphing

Teaching Inverse Trig Functions, Take 10 (??). Okay, patty paper to the rescue*. I'm hoping THIS year, since we are taking time to construct and ask questions and have a physical thing in our hands that we can flip over and analyze that the students will more readily be able to reconstruct their knowledge of inverse trig graphs.

We started by making an envelope for their notebooks.

 Then we SLOWLY with lots of back and forth questioning created this sheet for sine:

We had to refresh our memory on Inverse Functions in general from previous knowledge. Then we flipped the paper over (after we discussed the "x and y switch roles") by keeping our thumb (positive x) and index finger (positive y) attached to the paper:

And we had a discussion on what part we should restrict the domain of the sine graph to to make this inverse function a function. THEN we shaded the right graph part with a sharpie. 

We did the same with the cosine graph the next day. Then because of a discussion with some students AND the fact that even though we stress that ONLY ONE output is possible, they still are confused with a problem such as:

Without a calculator, find  arccos ( cos ( 200 °) ). 

So after the patty paper, I had them explore with this sheet:

 Let's see if THIS is the year the information better sticks to their brain cells.

* Funny note: when we were making the graphs and free-style drawing, a student said, "hey, they should make patty paper lined with a graph/grid". I flipped the patty paper box over and showed her that it really was paper meant to be put between meat patties or some such food.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Clip Art and Thoughts as a Whitey

I periodically like to put clip art on the worksheets I create for my students. I've never thought much about it, I just Google Search for "free clip art _____" where the blank is replaced by my topic of choice. Then I pick the cutest or most appropriate picture. Most times it's an animal or inanimate object, but sometimes the clip art is a person. 

With all the dialog going around about "white privilege" and "what kinds of images do you see" and "what types of people are chosen to be actors in various shows" and "how are people being represented" and "do you ever see a ______ computer scientist", etc., I started to notice my clip art. 

When I scan the images, I look for "girl student" for example, and then pick from some of the choices. I guess either all/most of the images are of "white" cartoons, ..... I just stopped typing and did that search. Out of the first 22 pictures, 1 was a black student. Then I kept counting to 56 - maybe 1 or 2 more non-white kids. Also, no Asian, Hispanic .....

Sheesh. Being a harried, time-strapped teacher, I guess then most frequently I would just go with "white". Lately, (okay, last couple of worksheets), I deliberately kept searching until I found a non-white clip. I then mentioned this to a co-worker, and she asked about "Indian" clip art kids .... Nope, haven't seen them.

Then I started to think, well, if I have ___% of various ethnicities in my class, do I keep a tally of what type of images I project? Am I overthinking? Is this situation just part of the invisible problem that I was not aware of as a whitey? Do my students even notice? Some kids? All kids? Are they desensitized, too, because that's how it's been?

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Two Truths and a Lie

I remember when I taught in NJ years and years ago, we had 41 minute classes and saw every one of our 8 classes every day*. Now that I have block schedule and see only 4 classes a day for 90 minutes each, I marvel at how much we used to get accomplished.

I am thinking back on this because tomorrow when we go back to school, we will have a "C" day, and see all our 8 classes for 45 minutes each. Scandalous! And, as a connoisseur (thank you spell check) of last minute creating, but intermittent (again, thanks) thinking, here is what I will do with my calculus class (link):

Side Note: The year I left NJ, they were planning on having a rotating schedule the following year: 8 classes, but only 6 met each day, something to the tune of:

M - 1,2,3 ... 5,6,7
T - 2,3,4 ...  6,7,8
W - 3,4,1 ... 7,8,5
Th- 4,1,2 ... 8,5,6

Or something to that effect. Yeesh, how do you wrap your mind around that schedule. On the plus side, you would see kids in different situations, so they wouldn't all be sleepy or whatever all the time.

Monday, December 22, 2014


Hello vacation. I have a love/hate thing going with time off. 
* Love the 9 hours of sleep each night. 
* Hate not having so many people to interact with. 
* Love being able to read good books. 
* Hate that at the end of a day I sat too much ("worse than smoking" is now a thing). 
* Love that I have time to cook non-frozen things. 
* Hate that the refrigerator is right there. All the time. Waiting. Calling.

Last week of school. There is a student that hangs out in my room before school starts each day (to talk with her other friends who I actually have in class). I was chatting with the kid, and she was groaning, "I shouldn't have come today. It's going to be so boring. We're watching movies all day." It reminds me of a great piece of advice I got from my math supervisor in NJ long ago, "you need to give students a reason to be here. Otherwise, who could blame them for staying home." She mentioned this around vacation times, and it always stuck with me. Even when the kids groan, "what?! you're making us work?" I think they're just yapping and are secretly glad to have something productive to do. That's what I tell myself anyway. 

Goals for break:
* Map out how I'm going to use my SparkFun Redboards in CS and DE. 
* Try acupuncture. Have always been curious, and I saw a discount for teachers.
* Do yoga daily.
* Not sit all day.
* Be a movie matinee glutton.
* Continue drinking my 16 glasses of water a day. (link to what got me)

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Crack Kids....

I was not in my classroom some time two weeks ago, and for whatever reason, I had various kids come up to me that I had to record their names. It was a mix of kids I teach and don't teach. I don't know about you, but in those situations, I panic and for the QUIET kids in my class, those who NEVER speak or never engage me in side conversations or never disrupt class or never cause a ripple and fall through the cracks of my attention, I feel time pressured and blank and either can't remember if they look familiar because I've seen them in the halls or if I actually teach them.

I mean, sure, if they are in my class, and quietly in their seats, and in a context my mind links with their names, GREAT! I remember their names. Otherwise, it's a 50-50 shot.

So I was recording names after looking at their faces, and for the ones I didn't know who were just standing there, I said, "who are you?". Well, of course, this one student got all wide-eyed, and her friend who I also taught looked at me, and there was red egg on my face as I slowly realized who she was. I made a joke about it, "well, you are SO quiet! Your homework is now to talk to me in class."

But then I festered on this situation later. Here is what I did in my classes this past week (when I remembered). If time and lessons allowed, I walked up to the ripple-free student in my class and said, "tell me 3 Laura facts" .... or "tell me a Judy fact". That opened up a short conversation and I actually heard their voices that I would not recognize ... yet.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Calculus f and f Prime graph information

Surprise! This is a hard topic for my students. I have adjusted some things and through various conversations I've had and pondering I've done, I came up with this activity that I tried today. This is after a couple of days of activity and discussions and problems related to:

If you see THIS on ____ graph, what does it mean about ______ function?

Here's what we did today for a while. I took it problem by problem and then we discussed it and for each problem I had them draw the "eggnog height vs time" graph after they had ruminated for a while. I also then introduced up and down arrows under the curve to represent "magnitude of rate of change".

In one class, we had a heated discussion about whether when you start or stop pouring, if it's an immediate leap to some rate of change or gradual.