Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Holiday School Holiday Sandwich

We went to Idaho Falls, Idaho and Jackson Hole, Wyoming over Thanksgiving break. Here is a picture taken after the "lighting of the elk arches" in the town square of Jackson Hole. Apparently, there are vast numbers of elk that migrate around the area, and their antlers just drop off like matchsticks, and people collect them, and, hey, let's build 4 arches made of elk antlers to welcome people into the square.

We also hiked around the Grand Tetons for 3.5 hours, the first 2 hours of which were great, but then (no names mentioned) someone started getting hungry and cranky and did NOT want to hike to the 2nd lake because it impeded their eating schedule.

Now it's back to school, and I was cranky about that - just the rush rush rush feelings of "am I going to get everything done" and "will they successfully learn what I want them to learn", but then I get to school, and the kids are funny and it's good to see them and talk with them.

They are learning my annual fraction song, and today I quizzed them on it, and maybe we'll put it on YouTube because I think it would be a riot. I don't know if that's kosher to tape them and put it on there, but it's not kiddie porn or anything, and the students think it'll be a hoot, so we'll see.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Nonmath Moment

Last Monday in one of my classes a student asked, "if my dad dies in debt, am I responsible for paying everything off?". She was worried because apparently he has never sent child support and apparently has debt, and she didn't want to have to pay. Then my other students started piping up with, "yes you have to pay" in so many ways and how they were so sure that was the case and they'd discussed it with so-and-so and basically you were responsible.

Ew. I didn't know the answer, and we went on with our math. After class I looked it up, and no, you are not responsible, so I sent out a quick e-mail note to my students with the links just so they wouldn't stay under the false impression.

Well, I sent this via our gradebook program that allows you to just send notes, and one of the parents sends back: What are you doing looking into our debt? You shouldn't be teaching this! ...... So I sent back a note explaining the situation, and he calmed down, with no apology of snapping at me and assuming we were all going online and doing credit checks on parents and making big charts to show to the class. Oh my.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Continuity...(it never ends)

Blach! I'm having the hardest time getting the bulk of my calculus students to follow a (seemingly simple) recipe for proving continuity. Come on people, it's 3 steps. I've given you worked out examples. We've drawn pictures. We've modeled it with our hands. We've talked ad naseum about it. I made you write about it. Three steps! It's all I ask. Don't make me hurt you.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Identifying Coasters

I know I have kids in class that are polite and quiet and pay attention (or look like they do) in class, and attempt the homework, and yet are just not getting it. They don't come in for help. They don't ask questions in class. It's easy for them to just not be actively involved in the learning in class and coast and "pass" (though maybe not on tests).

I have various strategies when students answer questions in class to get everyone to participate: talk to someone next to you quietly about ..., help someone or have someone help you with ..., give me a thumb vote on the answer to ..., write down your answer to ____ and I'll walk around and check.

But as I'm walking around or waiting for them to talk to each other or ask questions, there are still kids "fake" doing it. So I debate whether to call them on it or not. I don't think I can do this every time and reach every student because the lesson has to go on and that seems like it would take too much time and maybe have a negative effect. Students can just look busy or look like they're working, and maybe they are, but they're not done by the time most others are done with the current task.

Today I was starting the calculus class, and we were going over homework on the "1st derivative test" to identify maxes and mins. I asked the class as a whole, what were the steps of doing the "test". The usual suspects started to answer, and I stopped them and did something I hardly ever do. I picked on a random student by name. "I don't know". I picked on another (making sure not to pick the kids that got it). "I don't know". So I stopped class and said, "look over your notes from last class, and I'll pick on random people to answer various questions about this topic". Well. That got the motivation up. Everyone was looking through their notes and discussing things with their neighbors and one student was so excited, "I GET it, it's this and this and this". Then I picked by name random students to answer the remaining questions.

I don't do that enough. I've gotten set in my ways and rely on the strategies I mentioned way above, thinking that everyone would get a chance to discuss and learn things before someone called out the answer, and I failed to notice that there are kids not participating too many times, and that it was easy to just sit and vegetate.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Helicopter Parents

I just read this term the other day, and then had an experience with it myself soon after. Apparently, these are parents that hover over their children and are super involved in their school and other activities and help run the kids' lives without letting the kids figure things out for themselves and make mistakes and learn and fend for themselves.

I just gave a 2 question, short quiz in calculus. I thought it was doable. The related rates problem involved a right triangle, so I expected the students to look at it and think, "hmmmm, right triangle, what sorts of equations do I know about right triangles" and then go from there. Well, oh my god, you'd have thought I asked them to prove Fermat's last theorem. One girl immediately started hounding me about it. Then after class she hovered and said that I shouldn't count that question as a grade. Then 20 minutes later I notice my message light is on for my phone, and it's her mother saying that E. was upset about the test and didn't feel prepared and could I please call her. Ewww. It creeped me out.

Sunday, November 04, 2007


I want my precalculus students to know (at least) sine, cosine, and tangent of all the special angles (at least) in the 1st and 2nd quadrants by heart and quickly. Therefore, I told them early last week that they will have a daily timed quiz with 14 questions that they know in advance, and they have to answer ALL correctly in a set amount of time. I took the 1st one with them and told them I'd double my time and that would be their time. It turns out they have 2 minutes for 14 questions. Doable. I keep giving them a pep talk. You can do it. It's not brain surgery. I'm not smarter than you, I've just been doing it longer. Study. You only need to be able to do each question in just under 10 seconds each. And so on.

They get a 0% until they get all right in 2 minutes, then they get 100%, and they can take it as many times as they need to in the remaining weeks of the 6 weeks. I've already had 3 kids pass in the first few days, and many are close.

Then there are those that seem to make no progress. They don't study for it, and they don't memorize (yet?).

Then there are the 2 boys I caught cheating with the weird "oh, let me look at my palm while I'm taking the test. What a fascinating life line I have." ... or "oh, let me look down at my lap, what a great leg I have.". I stared hard at the boys. I stood by the boys. I didn't say anything directly to the boys. They did not pass, and were nervous while I was standing near or looking at them. Why didn't I say something? But now I can no longer trust them. I also mentioned to my OTHER 2 classes about the cheating without naming names, and discussed how that was trust lost and very hard to earn back.

Blach. I should have a palm check before the quiz, or a stand up and let me look at your lap check. But how silly and weird.