Tuesday, January 31, 2006


* I have now spilled my FULL cup of milky tea in 3 of my 5 classes. Today it splashed on a student's (new) tennis shoe.

* I get to take a road trip after school on Friday to go to a calculus workshop for Saturday. Of course I've spent inordinate amounts of time on the internet finding good places for breakfast and lunch.

* Friday is an inservice day, so it seems like a light week.

* I love the Monday yoga class I attend because my muscles shake, and it's challenging, and it feels like something to aspire to (to be able to actually do the poses).

* I started reading the 20 applications of the students that want to go to the northeast college trip over spring break. (We get to choose 8-10). This is really just a piece of it. Next year these same kids are supposed to be mentors in the college-applying process for everyone else. I have mixed feelings about this. The adults that are now doing their (great) job will not be there next year, and so they are basically getting free (cheap) labor. On the other hand, I think it will be a good experience for the kids. ... It's interesting comparing the various applications. In their statement as to why they want to do this for next year, some just comment on why it would benefit them. Others comment on why they want to help others. Some (very nice & smart) kids did not follow the directions. Others went above and beyond what was asked. ... Enlightening.

Saturday, January 28, 2006


David Johnson has these 3 great (small) books about teaching math that I reread (or at least skim) every summer to remind myself of good teaching practices. One of his suggestions is to make sure that every day by the end of the period you know where each of your students stands in terms of understanding the current material. This is a great idea. This is a great idea that gets lost in the tons of other things that I'm keeping in my mind to get done each day. This is a great idea that I have to keep reminding myself of.

I gave a short 10,000 point quiz the other day before we got started on the new material (okay, no points, but they always ask if it will be graded and such, so I told them that it was worth 10,000 points) . I handed out 1/2 sheets of scratch paper, and on the overhead put 3 basic questions all about the same technique/concept we had been studying with the 1st being simple, the 2nd a slight upgrade, and the 3rd an even bigger upgrade. It only took 5 minutes, and I collected them and graded them after class in various free "pockets of time".

This was enlightening, and I was able to make comments on papers of students who had varying degrees of misunderstanding. This is especially helpful because I only grade homework on completion (collected every day), and kids slip through the cracks. Note to self. Keep this up.

I also just gave the finals retest in calculus. In December, they bombed their final, which I had retooled from old released AP exams. I still want them to master the material. I didn't think that test corrections would be helpful this time because I wouldn't know if the kids understood the topics or if they got help from others and understood the explanation of OTHERS doing the problems. SO. I handed the tests back (multiple choice). I told them all the correct answers. I gave them 3 weeks to study and said that they would be having a test with the exact same questions (a shortened version) and that they would have to show work. I'm crossing my fingers on them doing well.

I did have various students within that 3 weeks come and ask for help on various questions, so that's a positive note. I also had 3-4 students cut my class the day of the exam. Negative note. Boogers. I'm deciding what to do for/to them.

Thursday, January 26, 2006


Some of my classes are mildly chatty. And because of that, I use the same theme joke all the time ... by just substituting in the word, "shhhh", into a sentence:

"You know what my favorite word is?" .... "shhhhhh"
"Today is brought to you by the letter, shhhhhhhh"

... when the noise level is rising.

Well. Today the noise level was rising, and I'm about to make my shhhh joke, and spontaneously I latch onto the sentence a kid just said about an odor in class. So (obviously, without thinking) I blurt, "it smells like shhhhhhhh in here."


Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Seat Changes

I FINALLY changed seats for my precalculus regulars class and my calculus class. ... I usually change their seats every 6 weeks, but for some reason for these 2 classes I kept putting it off and putting it off.

Results? The first couple of days in calculus, a member of one of the previously chatty/back-of-the-room groups who is now in a front group with productive people, spontaneously says to me (while they're working on some concepts together), "wow, I'm getting so much done now". ... In precalculus, ... they were mostly always working anyway, and the ones that weren't opted to transfer out, so .... it's just a nice change of pace. The funny thing is, though, that this one boy who was in a group with 2 other girls was basically always by himself: both girls had serious trouble making it to class on time, and we have a lock out policy. So I thought I was doing him a favor by seating him near another guy who works really well. Well. This other guy has not shown up for the last 2 days, so my poor little kiddie is STILL sitting by himself. ... We chuckled over that.

Veering From Curriculum

Because on the last precalculus quiz I gave in which I put a seemingly innocuous word problem on there that needed a *basic* set up and the use of the quadratic formula and which most of the kiddies could not do ... I have decided to give them 4 word problems that we will work on periodically in class and on which they must complete them all correctly and *earn* four stamps of approval (a birthday present stamp this time, and not the coveted ballerina stamp of days gone by).

It's taking a bit of class time, but I think it's time well spent as they have trouble seeing the equation given to them and deciphering specifically what the variables are and what to do with the given information. And even after solving .... say for "seconds it takes to do something", they have no problem with boxing their 2 answers "-3 seconds" and "5 seconds". Apparently, negative time is fine in a teenager's world :).

And in calculus ... what's mostly tripping some students up is NOT the calculus content, but the manipulation of equations and of the use of complicated and messy fraction expressions. I try to think of why I have no problems with this while they do, and maybe, just MAYBE it's because my teachers made us do a bazzillion such problems and it's ingrained in our heads. Now I don't remember this drilling, but maybe I'm doing my students a disservice by not doing this periodically. I think I have to come up with a *fun* way to drill my calculus students on fraction manipulation and such.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The World is My Trashcan

On Saturday we went to 2 parties: a housewarming party and a wedding reception party. This is what I don't understand: people who finish their plates of food or cups filled with drinks and just leave them any-old-where. Walk to the trash can, people. Help the host(ess) with his/her chores by not making more work for them. The world is NOT your trashcan.

Okay, off of my soapbox, for now.

Today, (un)fortunately, I discovered a (new to me) most excellent place in town for breakfast. The food was scrumptious, and I'm secretly making plans to go there before school/work some day REAL soon.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Funny Friday

Two funny things happened Friday.

Funny1: For my 7th period class I was rushing to get their grades printed out, so that they could see what they were missing and make it up. Half the class was gone for various reasons, so it was a sparse turn out, and I had them working on a rational graphs discovery assignment where they could basically be left on their own. I trust this class, so I told them that I was just going to run down the hall to get the grade printout to show them, and to not burn the school down (ar ar). They're a chatty class, so when I left and returned, on first glance, something seemed off kilter because they were all quiet with their heads down furiously working away. On second glance, I had to giggle. They had all gotten up while I was gone and switched groups/seats. Tee Hee. They thought that was the funniest thing. .... And even funnier, when we had all gotten over our laughs, they got up and moved back to their seats saying it just didn't FEEL right. What creatures of habit.

Funny2: Okay, call me Howard Hughs, but I *hate* when people borrow my pens and such that I use. I'm picturing heaps of sticky fingers and germs and cooties and leftover boogers from nose picking, bathroom residue from not washing their hands and all sorts of other goodies left over on my pens. Yes, I know, freak. But anyway, I bring this up for this story. This seemed to be "let's borrow all her favorite pens for a quick jot" week. Then in my last class of the day, I'm walking around helping students, and I notice this one girl (who sits near my desk) is using a pen that looks suspiciously like one of my FAVORITE pink gel pens (ZEBRA GEL PENS, I love you). I say something like, "oh, you have a pen like mine". Then she says that she's lost her pen, so she saw it on my desk and was borrowing it (I knew she'd give it back, but .... you know, the icky factor was rearing its psycho head in my brain). This girl has strawberry blonde hair and it was pulled back in a bunched up "bun". I start to help the kid behind her, and I glance at her hair, and glance closer, and see a pen stuck in there. "What's that?" I ask. She feels back in her hair and gasps, "ach, I thought I lost my pen 2nd period". She had forgotten where she put it. We all had a good laugh at that.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Fun Stuff

On Tuesday, I rushed home to sign on/in for an online workshop from College Board using the "Elluminate" software. How cool was that? I was a bit bummed because we didn't get to use our microphones to ask questions, but I guess text-messaging the questions allowed them to be shorter and more efficient. Our presenter had tons of great ideas to differentiate instruction for calculus.

Also, yesterday I received an e-mail from another teacher that's organizing a possible trip to the northeast over spring break with some students to look at colleges, and he asked if I wanted to help chaperone. Are you kidding me? The kid list is great (all sweeties), I get to visit my old stomping ground, AND (I'm guessing/hoping) FREE-ish for me. Woo Hoo.

Finally, I looked at the school calendar, and TONS of (in essence) 4 day work weeks coming up due to: inservice, workshops, chaperoning. ... In my 9 years of teaching, I've only taken days off for workshops and work-related activities. Ever. Except for ONE time 2 years ago when my husband had a bad accident, and I had to be at the hospital. Other than that, no personal days. Woot, woot. .... BUT that doesn't mean I'm not looking forward to a wee bit of a break now and then in addition to the weekends.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Teaching Reading

This is my 9th year teaching high school math, and I must say, I am now one of the converted. I believe that teaching "reading" is every teacher's job. I didn't always think that way, or more accurately, give it a thought.

In that past few years I've consistently seen some kids start to read a word problem, or try to read their math textbook and IMMEDIATELY give up and declare, "I don't understand" and then wait for me to explain and decipher the gobbledygook. I guess they are used to reading novels or fiction or magazine stories where you basically get it on the first pass through.

Our school just received a big grant to promote/push/enhance literacy throughout our curriculum, and with it came a large floppy text of ideas and thoughts and reasons. We also had some uppy-ups visit our school to see if we are on the right starting track. I also thus had visitors to my 1st period class. So then since we were reviewing for a quiz the next day, I made up a review sheet that was filled with READING and words words words that asked them to explain everything and basically justify their reasoning on why the processes that we were learning worked and meant what they meant.

Oh my. It's a good thing the visitors were there BEFORE we started that, and so they got to see the "good" part of class where we were going over homework, and I asked them to explain things orally. (As one of my students said after the visitors left in 10 minutes: we made you look good, huh, miss?) because ..... the SECOND they saw the review sheet, they immediately froze up and felt like they couldn't do anything. After some coaxing, they worked through most of it, but this told me that we HAVE to, have to, have to do more of this throughout the lessons, and not just every so often.

Sheesh, must keep this in the forefront of my mental to-do list while preparing classes.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

"Faking It"

I must have really looked as frazzled as I felt today (full moon coming?), because by my last period, at the start of class while we were reviewing for tomorrow's quiz, as I was talking and trying to get a point across to my chatty bunch of spaz cookies ..... one of my students said,"Ms. ___. ... smile."

That was a nice little wake up call as to how I was coming across. So for the rest of the class, I put on my happy (and not too fake) smile and kidded around with them and helped them through the review.

Another reminder I needed ..... it's so easy to get caught up in my routine of preparing for class and grading and passing back homework and thinking about what comes next and getting too easily convinced that everyone knows how to do the math we're doing when a few pipe up with the answers, that .... I was totally floored the other day when one of my students couldn't do a "simple" thing we had learned months ago. This was apparent when I was walking around checking on homework.

I knew she wasn't the "quickest" in class, but I didn't know she had THAT much difficulty. Now that I see it in writing here, it seems obvious, but what I guess I'm trying to say is that I was ASSUMING (and you know what that means) that if she was having that much difficulty, she would come in for help (hasn't).

So I've been making a concerted effort to make more comments on her homework (and ditto for another few students that I've now noticed are "faking it"), and I now see her (and them) paying more attention in class. Hope it lasts in their case and in mine.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Cheap Laugh

Yes, in an instantaneous decision while discussing zeros of polynomials today, I went for the cheap laugh. We were discussing a 5th degree polynomial (most have 5 "wiggles") and they can have at most 5 distinct places they cross the x-axis. We were discussing one that touched/crossed the x-axis only 3 times. There's bad picture above.

I was trying to get them to notice that the last 2 places were "alike" and the first one was different, so that they could generate an equation. ... I hummed (badly) the Sesame Street song, "One of these things, is not like the others. One of these things, just doesn't belong...". I paused, they didn't get it. Then I asked them to notice how the graph was "touching" the x-axis, so I said, "one of them is touching it inappropriately." They finally got it.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

I love Winplot

Dear Winplot creator/maintainer/genius at Exeter Academy. Thank you for creating such an excellent graphing tool that is easy to use and free and ever so helpful. You have helped me out of numerous graphing binds. You have allowed me to create JUST the graph to help me get my point across. I can easily paste my graphs into text files. I can use it at home and at school. Thank you thank you thank you.

An ardent admirer,


Monday, January 09, 2006

how old ARE you?

I took part in a great calculus workshop this summer where the instructor used beans to fill in the area between a curve and the x-axis and went on to use this tool to describe/explain the average value of a function. Great! What a terrific change for my students from our usual day.


You would THINK that juniors and seniors in an AP Calculus class could refrain from "beaning" each other in the head with their little pile of black beans. Well, you'd be thinking wrong. "We" stopped class a wee bit early to all pick up the beans that "we" tossed on the floor.


In other surreal news. I got invited to a baby shower for one of my favorite students.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Too Sleepy

What is it? I kept waking up at 4am, 3:30am, 4:30am all this week. Towards Thursday I was getting "sleepy stupid". Here's an instance. I gave my kids an assignment to read their calculus book to find interviews with people who use math and famous "dead people who did math". So what did I put on the board, even though at full alert capacity I know better, and even though it looked funny, but I was too sleepy to complete the thought that maybe I should check it? .... MATHEMATITION. Very embarrassing.

I wonder how many of our kids would be "smarter" if they actually got more sleep.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

A sea of rusted orange

It took me a whole period and a few extra minutes yesterday to figure out why a LARGE portion of our students were all wearing burnt orange tee-shirts with the name of a university. Hmph. Apparently, I'm not a big sports fan. I had one student (senior) inform me that if a certain team won, downtown would be "crazy", and please don't expect him to be alert on Thursday in class. Oh my.

Oh! Cat-pee-cell-phone girl has dropped my precalculus class. Less stress ...

Wednesday, January 04, 2006


I (more than) survived the first students' day back. Lots of hugs and stories of what happened over break. A wee bit-o-whining because I made them work AND gave "homework" (which if they worked hard they could have finished in class) on the "FIRST DAY BACK". I forgot to mention that on Monday when we were at staff development, and I was in a room with about 50 or so other teachers from various departments, a question was posed to everyone. The speaker asked, "who assigns homework every day?". ... And who were the only teachers to raise their hands? Math teachers.

Some of the comments that came back were, "I used to assign homework, but they never did it, so I stopped", "they don't do homework" ... I can't imagine that we're not doing the students a disservice by this happening. Someone else's comment was that he heard a statistic that 80% of our students who go to a local community college after high school fail in the first year. Yikes. Then someone else asked if they determined how many of those kids had to work full time and were not supported at home. ... A very complicated situation at our more than 50% free and reduced lunch school where, yes, some/many of these kids are working from 5pm until at least 10pm nightly. No, I wouldn't want to come home and do homework after that either. ... There has to be an answer.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Professional Development & Yoga

Today was our first day back, sans students, for a full day of development. One useful topic of the day was interdisciplinary teaching. Our presenter broke it down into a continuum of 8 possibilities, ranging from working by yourself on your topic, to working by yourself on your topic but incorporating a theme that brings in other topics, to ... , to working with several other teachers on a theme for a specified unit or amount of time. It sounded intriguing and something that I might want to try this semester in precalculus where I have a dearth of "projects" (read: none).

I also went to a full-on Ashtanga yoga class as opposed to my normal Hatha Flow class. Can I just tell you that for 90 minutes in the "heated room" I was a dripping noodle? It was fun, and I attempted all poses and even got a few. It was awe-inspiring to watch the more advanced noodles twisting and bending and doing all sorts of contortion-looking type moves. ... Maybe this is something I want to take a workshop in to learn more about (since it wasn't a beginner's class and there was no in-depth instruction).

Okay, kiddies tomorrow. Yippee. It will be fun to see some of their cute faces and hear what they did over break. It'll also zip by, so I'll have to remind myself to "be present" and enjoy the moments as they happen and not be thinking about a billion other things.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy New Year

2006 2006 2006

We're back from our 10 day trip to visit the in-laws. Whew! A lot of sitting around and doing nothing. We DID, though, get to see a Canadian Brass concert (excellent), go sledding (a first for me), meet an in-laws new girlfriend (very nice), and feel majorly sucky for our pathetic gift giving skills.

I tried to get everyone to just donate to charity or accept as a gift a donation to charity. Apparently, I was the only one who thought this was a good idea. On a positive note, due to my suggestion, I got: a llama, clean water for a family, a goat, and a share in 2 goats. Woo Hoo. So at least something good came of this.

I feel uncomfortable opening gifts or watching others open gifts. Half the time, they have a fake smile of thanks on and seem to say something not quite thankful: "oh, some more ______" ... "aNOther ______" ... "oh..... thanks", to name a few. We don't need more THINGS. Buy your own things. Blach. Whatever, it's over (until next time).

Now I have loads of laundry calling to me and lantana that has to be cut for brush collection and school work to be done and the last day of vacation to savor. Yippee.