Saturday, September 30, 2006

Feeling Bad, but not THAT Bad

In Texas, football is BIG. Football, football, football. Last Thursday night, our school team had a game against a town rival. Apparently, the team members don't get home until after midnight or so. So when they came into my math class on Thursday and looked at the homework board, some of them cried, "homework?! on a game night?!". Part of me feels bad for them, but the other part of me says, no, learn to balance your priorities. There's no way I'm going to not give them an extra opportunity to practice their skills because of football.

On Friday, I had a lot of sleepy kids. Some had stayed up doing homework. Some players did not turn in their homework. So am I doing them a service or a disservice if I allow them to turn it in late without penalty? I didn't mention it to them, but if/when I get their late homework on Monday, I'll have to think on this.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Progress but not Perfection

I've been "teaching" related rates in my BC calculus class for the last 3 days, and I did change it up from last year since I saw the struggles they had with the topic. I made some improvements, but I guess there's still more to make. Finally today after watching my mixed level class stare back at me for 2 days with a wide variety of looks, from, "yea, yea, I get it already", to "great! another topic I can struggle with to add to my ever-growing pile", to "related whats? related whos?", I had an epiphany.

As they walked into class, I moved the "yea, yeas" to the back (about 1/2 the class of 19) to quietly work on old AP exam questions on related rates. My other 1/2 I moved right up front by me, and I handed out a sheet with 4 problems. I left BIG space between the problems, and under each I had 4 categories: Picture, List of variables, Equation, Solve. I walked them through each, gradually weaning them off, and then I had to cover my eyes from all the light bulbs going off by the 3rd problem with "ohhhhhh! is THAT how you do it" looks.

As one kid said, "why didn't we do this in the first place?" Why indeed. I had to be honest with him and say, "well it's a learning process for all of us. I'm also learning what works with you all".

Monday, September 25, 2006

Spaghetti Sine Curves

I heard of a great way to get the graph of y = sin x to "stick" in students' heads, so today I tried it out. You're supposed to link the graph of the function to its value on the unit circle. Most sites I searched had the students either gluing the spaghetti lengths to the paper (too messy for me), or had the students use protractors to get exact angle measurements around the unit circle to use (not necessary and too time consuming in my opinion). So, I made up my own sheet.

I taught it for 3 periods, and by the last period :) I liked how it ran. For the first 2 periods I verbally gave instructions, and then pointed to the instructions on the back and had them "make sure you follow the instructions carefully". It seemed like I mostly wasted my breath because they still had questions, and it seemed like too many kids were zoning out with the "ach, there's the teacher blabbing again. I can tune out until we have to do something" face.

I also feel I lost an opportunity for the students to learn how to read math .... and read lots of words and follow them without giving up. For the 3rd period, I just started them on their way by mentioning the instructions. I gave a little spiel about how reading math is not like reading a novel or magazine. They worked beautifully. I also used a little trick I read on someone else's blog. I kept reiterating, "the instructions are VERY clear and EASY to understand". Tee Hee.

Their graphs turned out great. If anyone wants a copy send e-mail, and I'll pass it along. Or download it here.

Friday, September 22, 2006


I was taken aback this week. Four students have been diligently coming in for tutoring for the past few weeks, and I wanted to let their parents know how hard they've been working. Before school started I bought these pretty marble "stock" cards from the scrapbook section at Michael's. My idea was to make postcards out of them for quick notes to parents.

While 3 of the boys were in for a "retest", I got a card for each and drew a line down the middle "postcard" style and asked them one by one to address them to their parents. The first boy wrote the address first and then their names and left out the city, state and zip entirely. The second boy wrote the correct information but 90 degrees rotated. The 3rd boy did it perfectly. The next day when the 4th was in for tutoring, I asked him to address the postcard, and I prompted him with "name" first, then street address. Then he asked me if he had to put down the city and state. I asked him if he would have known what to do if I hadn't told him, and he said no.

Hmmmm, this was just a skill I thought everyone had, but I guess if you've never written a letter, then how would you know? I learned when I went away to summer camp as a kid. I do remember messing up in the following way, though, so I'll get off my letter-addressing-high-horse. At home my parents sent and received letters from relatives in other countries, so there was always "air mail" written somewhere on the front. So when I went to camp 3 hours away from home and wrote home, I also wrote "air mail".

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Insomniac Math Teacher Thoughts

Whew! I finally got that last riddle, though I'm not sure if I like my husband's hint. I thought and thought and couldn't get it, and I broke down and asked for a hint after a few days and asked how he got it. (we'd already established the first letter and the last 3 letters of the "singular" word). He said, well I was thinking of you, and the word came to me. Hmmmm, is that in a good way?

Then this morning I couldn't sleep, and I thought of this variation of an oldie:
You have an unmarked 5 cup container and an unmarked 9 cup container and unlimited water and a sink. Using only these containers and being able to fill up and pour out in the sink, how could you measure out exactly: 1C, 2C, 3C, ...., 12C, 13C, and 14C?

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Mastering Skills

I did something in all my classes on Friday that I think I'll do periodically. Everyone got a half sheet (to turn in at the end of the period) that said basically:
What "skill" are you struggling with currently?
What did you do in class to make progress on your knowledge?
Who (besides me) did you get help from?
What specifically are you going to do this weekend to deepen your understanding?
How will you show progress to me next week?
What would you like to tell me?

Most kids worked hard (some chose to goof off, of course). I had many verbal and written comments about how this session helped. For my calculus classes, I had "reteaching" sheets written out for 3 topics (all I could come up with on my short time schedule from when I had this idea to when I implemented it). These sheets had worked out examples and then practice problems with answers on the bottom of the page.

Riddle posed by one student this week (and I'm still working on the answer), but I thought I'd share: What word is plural, but when you add an "s" to the end becomes singular?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

A Giggle & a Quandary

I'm going to have a "word wall" for calculus, and I've never had one before, so it's going up a wee bit at a time. Apparently, they're all the rage in English (ahem, language arts) classes. Well, it's going pretty slowly, and I had my student aide be artsy with the words. She got one word done: "derivative", and I thought I'd put it up instead of waiting for all the other words to be done. The next day in calculus class, I proudly pointed to what was going to be the word wall, and the students said, upon looking at the one word up there, "oh! is that the "word" on your word wall?".

I have yet to think of an effective response to students who claim: I knew all the stuff in class and when I did homework, I just choked on the test. .... or .... I understand perfectly well in class, but then when I get home, I don't know how to do things. ... or ... I just don't "test" well.

I want to say, that well, then you really DON'T understand and you're just fooling yourself. I have to think of a constructive way of saying that. I also question effective study habits. Or effective note/text reading and processing.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Reviewing Angst

Since I've started teaching older students (ones that I picture closer to college age than middle school age), I've become more reluctant to use a whole class period to review material for an upcoming assessment. My thinking is that I warn them a week in advance. I tell them what will be covered. I expect them to study at home and ask me questions if they have them. I've even started NOT handing out review sheets for them to do at home. Right. Apparently, I live in an ideal world where everything goes as it should, and all students are well-rested and don't work jobs and do their homework consistently, etc.

I still feel a time crunch and want to use class time for practice and new material. But on the other hand, I can think of a "review" day as just an extra practice day. I could even think of a "review sheet" with answers provided as extra practice. I wouldn't even have to refer to the sheet unless a student was proactive and asked questions about it. Maybe that's what I'll do in the future. Provide practice/review sheets with answers a few days before the test. ..... I still think of it as enabling, but maybe that's MY problem.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Homework Checking System

I started to leave this as a comment of my last post, but then it seemed to be getting to long (who's the babbler?).

Hi Dan,

On an ideal day I have the homework answers on the overhead (which I turn on before the class starts for the early arrivers). The minute the bell rings, I set the 5 minute timer, and they have until the beeps to correct their papers in a different color. I grade on completion because I think homework is their time to practice. I also walk around during this time to make sure no one is blatantly copying only. I also grade on work shown and header (name, date, page and problem #s listed, corrections, attempt of all problems).

During the 5 minutes, they can also ask each other or me questions. Then I turn off the overhead, and ask for more questions. I answer the popular questions (5 more minutes). If I don't cover their particular question another 5 minutes, I tell them to mark their questions very visibly on their papers, and I'll answer them when I'm checking their papers later (out of class in any pockets of time I find).

I have my student aid (or me) stamp the papers in some goofy rubber stamp. This way later on if I've accidently marked them a zero, they can prove they've turned in their paper. And visa versa, if they claim they had already turned in their papers, I can check for a stamp. I also go through each paper and check for my list of homework musts (see above) and enter the grades.

It's been the case lately that MOST of the time it doesn't take the full 10 minutes. This has been a great improvement over the BT (before timer) days when they dawdled getting out their materials and talking to their friends and then "wait! wait! I'm not finished correcting" while everyone else was politely and patiently waiting because they had done what they were supposed to do. The timer seems to focus them and curb their overchatting, and they're motivated to correct since they know they're graded on corrections.

I don't know if it's an ideal system (I still spend too much cherished time carefully going over the papers for header, attempt, questions, and maybe I'm not catching all the copying), but it seems to work best for me so far. I also figure that if someone is not using the system correctly (copying, etc), they'll pay for it on tests and such when they don't know the material.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Changing Impressions

School has been in session for 3 weeks now, and I find it interesting how my impressions change as I get to know the kids. For the first week it's all a frenzy, and I'm a bit overwhelmed with all these new faces in class that I don't know. I already start to form some impressions (chatty, lazy, depressed, good-natured...) some right and some way off base.

Then the second week comes along and I get a better sense of the kids, and I know most (or all) of their names. They're more comfortable, and hence some are more chatty in class. I keep meaning to change seats (and I have some) but I need to wait until the 4th week when I can remove some extra desks from my class. (In hind sight, I could have just left the seats but not assigned anyone to them).

Now after 3 weeks have passed, I *almost* have my classroom the way I want it. I had a day or 2 where I could walk around most of the period to help the students while they practiced on a "puzzle" sheet of trig problems (How do you make chicken napoleon? Use only the bony parts! ar ar ar ... thanks pizzazz company). I have my homework correcting system in place (with the timer it takes at most 8 minutes or so after I answer questions).

Grades are due tomorrow, so I'm now in a frenzy of checking homework I've collected and such. With all this, I'm still not fully applying some of the teaching knowledge I wanted to test out yet. Soon. Soon.