Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Surveying the Students

We're supposed to survey our students at the end of the year to get feedback on how class went. I've seen in the blogging world that others do this, and I've done it periodically in the past on my own. At school I asked if there was a standard document, and there wasn't so I made up the following and have since passed it out to 3 of my 4 "real" math classes.

Before I let them quietly work on it for about 10 minutes, I had a discussion about how in life it's a useful skill to be able to give constructive feedback. I said that they'd be bosses or employees or students or teachers or whatever, and they wanted to help "improve" or "praise" someone else's work effectively, and we talked about good and bad ways of doing that. Anyway, I liked their comments. Some things that were good for me to know:

* "Don't just always joke around with 1 or 2 students; make sure you joke around with everyone to make them feel special.". This was good for me to hear. Usually, I just engage with kids that engage with me, and then I feel comfortable continuing that "razzing" throughout the year. I can see how it would feel exclusionary to others instead of, ha ha, I'm a part of this if only as an observer.

* "I like that you just take homework for a completion grade. That way I don't feel pressured when I'm trying to learn." Hmmmmm, that was my intent, but it has its flip side for some students and some years when they slack off because they think it doesn't count.

* "I like when you provided answer banks on the homework. That gave me instant feedback." me, too.

* and various other comments that reaffirmed what I thought didn't go well or did.

Here is the download of this sheet: (p.s. thank you to the commenter who taught me about Screen Print. I'm ALL about Screen Print these days :))

Quadratic Formula Dialog Update

Well, the kids are starting to come in to take their "test" of the dialog I mentioned a few posts ago. They're doing that AND multitasking by whining in various ways about why they have to do it. I good-naturedly hold my ground and explain to them why (the dialog has lines that address 3 key sources of mistakes for them; the memorization and repetitive stress of remembering it will allow it to potentially stick in their heads).

I've had about 8 students do the dialogue, so far. I've also given them "inspiration" by putting a temporary "msg" in the electronic grade book. This is "missing" and has the same effect on their grade as a zero. Whew you should have seen the grades plummet.

Anyway, I've also had some kids in one class tell me they're nervous and can they do the whole dialog by themselves or can they do it with another student while I watch (because apparently I'm intimidating ... who knew). So I made up a FAQ and mass e-mailed it to them:

1. When is it due?
Let's say by this Friday, so that if you don't finish it, I have time to nag you next week (2 days only!)

2. I'm nervous and Ms. Cookie is intimidating, can I do the dialog with someone else and we switch roles?

Yes, and you can get full credit if there are no major mistakes.

3. Can I do the WHOLE dialog by myself playing both parts?
Yes, but Ms. Cookie will have to take off some points (can still earn in the high 90's)

4. Ooh, I don't know the whole thing really well, but I know most of it, so I don't want to come do it.
Well, Ms. Cookie can prompt you .... she'll take off some points depending on how well you do, but it'll be a WAY better grade than a zero.

5. EEK! Nervous.
Well, the lowest grade you'll get is a 70% if Ms. Cookie feels you don't know it THAT well (but most of it), or a 0% if you never come in.
Do the math :)

6. Why do we have to do this dialog?
The dialog has some key points on things students mess up on. Also, when you memorize something and have to do it over and over again, it sticks in your head. Thus, using my professional judgment, it's good for you and your quadratic formula use knowledge (like math vitamins) even though it's stressful. AND you'll be proud of yourself for doing something you thought was not possible.

7. Has anyone taken it yet?
As of 1:30pm Monday, 5/24/10, 8 people have taken and passed it (lowest score 80%).

Best Interpretation of the Dialog: J./M. & G.
First Done: D. W.
Person Who Overcame Their Most Stress So Far: C. J.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Final Review For Algebra Finals. Finally.

I can't believe finals start this week for our freshmen. Let's see, so far this semester they've had the LTF tests (Laying the Foundation), the EOC tests (end of course), the TAKS test ("exit" exam test), and now finals! I know they're excited and will be going through test withdrawals this summer. Maybe I can pay home visits and test them on various things.

Anyhow, here's the review I'll give them this week:

Saturday, May 22, 2010

All About Me.....

Every year without fail one or 20 students will ask me what kind of music I listen to. I'm always stuck for an answer because I like a ton of different kind of music depending on the mood I'm in ... maybe that's the way for everyone. Also, I don't listen to music much other than the odd time in the car when I'm not listening to my books on CD (Love you Simply Audiobooks), or when I'm cooking dinner and need to rock out to Amy Winehouse. I don't have an iPod. I run early in the morning when it's still dark, so I'm more listening to the sound of deer that may crash into me or the stray car that may or the other runners going in the opposite direction who, like me, aren't wearing reflective gear. But I digress.

Well, must be a slow learner, since I should know this question is coming up every time I meet/teach new kids. Anyway, that leads me to my idea I just implemented that will allow me to send the students away and answer their questions at the same time. And as a bonus, I have a music play list in case my ears are ever hungry for tunes while I'm on the computer.

I have a website for my students where I post the homework using GoogleCalendar and I have a recap of what we learned that week with links to various helpful websites or practice problems or tutoring sites that are related to the topics. In addition, I have a little click/link on my weebly site that sums up my life in a few paragraphs (another question from the kids). So anyway, on this last link, I just created a short list, that I can add to later, of songs/artists I like that are links to YouTube videos. It looks like this, and it was a ton of fun to make.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Time to Review

I'm having fun looking up all these crazy facts to use for my review sheets. It gives the kids maybe a wee bit more motivation to actually review. I'm also trying something new. For each question, I've referred them back to a helpful page in the book. Maybe that will cure the, "I didn't know how to do it" syndrome, and the "oh! I didn't THINK to look in my notes" malady.

Okay, first stop: review of lines and slopes. Also, does ANYONE know how to stop there from being a 2nd page in a word document if you create a table at the bottom of the page. My version seems to want to start a new page, and I can't get rid of it. I remember I fixed it in the past, and I know I can browse and probably find the answer myself, but ....

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Ahhhh Finals Time

There's no better way to spend your Sunday than getting finals and final reviews and final review study ideas written at the last minute. Good Times. Of course now that I know you can watch Netflix movies (or seasons of TV shows) on line, maybe I need little breaks in between. You know, to refresh my brain and be more productive.

Anyway, here's what I'm handing my algebra students tomorrow. Hopefully, they'll look at all the topics and be motivated to study (after they want to curl up in a little ball and rock back and forth). Also, hopefully when they do the calculations of their grades on the 2nd page, that will be another incentive to work hard.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Gush Alert...

I am a lucky teacher. There is such a gi-normous difference between my teaching experience last year at my old school and my time this year at my current school. Sure I had a rough 1st semester getting on board with all the new ways of doing things and all the higher expectations and all the students sort of eying you to see what type of person/teacher you are before they decide to like you and play along with learning. Sure I've had many times this year (in the last couple of weeks especially) when I'm asking myself, they want me to do WHAT now in addition to the other 5 bazillion things I'm doing??? Sure I've been tossed into the pool and told to swim and figure things out and then jump back out, dry off, and assess how things went and make notes for the next time we do something new we haven't done before.


I'm loving it. Maybe it's analogous to life experiences in that you ultimately are more satisfied with something you've had to work hard for. Maybe you're more proud of yourself when you've agreed to try new things and not come out any worse for wear. Maybe I just work with phenomenal people that push me every day to be a better teacher/person/employee. In any case. Gush. Gush. Gush. Okay, hope you're through being queasy.

And 3 more off-this-topic observations I've been mulling around in my head.

1. A while ago I blogged about a student cheater. I don't know if I mentioned it, but this student was caught cheating on another test. This was last semester. I never mentioned anything to her, and things settled down, and I'm in general very present during tests and walk around and check up on students. Anyway. Can I just tell you I'm glad I didn't severely damage my relations with this kid by saying something that would stick in both of our minds. She has turned out to be a joy and is one of my favorites now. She makes me laugh constantly, and I'm always happy to see her. Another instance where things are not black and white, and are ever-shifting.

2. A shorter while ago I blogged about a student who had attendance issues and was frustrating me with her lack of math progress. Well, this is a poised kid who excels at other things, and I've had opportunities to see her in action and was impressed and told her so. So I guess this is an instance to remind me that I'm not just teaching math robots who only exist to come to my class and churn out math; they are well-rounded and just like the rest of us are trying to juggle many things and growing up (keep reminding myself that they're only 14-15 years old) and learning how to do things and do them successfully.

3. There are the types of people who feel they have to ask permission for everything (not talking etiquette here), and there are the types of people who just push on ahead and do things with the mindset that no one's the boss of them. Example, some of our teachers went to a meeting the other week where there were people from various schools. This one teacher was asking for help and suggestions on how to set up field trips and transportation and logistics of visiting various colleges. She seemed to be flustered by the whole idea. Our teachers just looked at each other because we had just done that with a set of our kids. Hey! we just contacted people and transportation and figured out the logistics on our own. Just get it done. Most likely your common sense or perseverance will allow you to figure things out. And if not, you'll learn from it and do better next time.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Shifting of Parabola Functions

I don't know how your school year is ending up, but at our school it's CRAZY CRAZY CRAZY. Practically every day the schedule is altered in some way, and we're all just practicing our deep breaths and our focus of just thinking of one wacky day at a time. Because of this I wanted a lesson that discussed shifting of graphs so that the kids could work independently in case I saw different classes for different amounts of time. Now I'm thinking I should do this more often. I really know I should, but other things get in the way.

Anyway, I like how this worked out. I told the kids I wouldn't help them and they had to work in their groups to figure things out while I walked around. I told them they could ONLY work on the 1st page and we'd talk before they went on. I walked around and cleared up misconceptions. We got through about 3 pages in a wacky 75 minute class after doing homework checks and such.

Here's the 1st & 4th pages: (and here is the whole packet of 4 pages)

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Adding & Subtracting Radicals

I teach 3 different classes of algebra 1 preAP. My poor 1st class gets all my mistakes and things I test out. My 2nd class gets the refinement, but still not "the best" I'm going to offer this round. By my 3rd class, I've had time to mull over ideas and see what works and doesn't work and anticipate their problems. So... Here's the 1st page of what my 3rd class is going to get on Monday when we learn adding and subtracting radicals. You don't even want to SEE what I subjected my 1st period to. (here's the whole 2 pages).

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Circles and Tangents and Horizons

We're on the "tangents to circles" section in geometry, and I'd assigned a standard problem of "the satellite is ____ miles from the earth ... how far is it from the horizon?" Too many kids drew goofy pictures and didn't get the concept, so I started class on Friday with the following task.

1. We had a discussion about how when you're at the (ocean) beach, and you can see the horizon, maybe you wonder how far away it is .... any guesses? And do you think tall people and short people will see the same distance away?

2. Then I had them draw the "circle" earth, and we discussed drawing them standing on the earth (as a math stick figure with a big eyeball dot on top) and made sure they were standing up straight (an extension to the radius of the earth).

3. Then I asked them to just PLACE their ruler as if it was their line of sight to the horizon and walked around to make sure they knew what they were doing and corrected some misconceptions.

4. After they drew the line of sight to the horizon, they had "AH!"s of the right triangle possibility of finding the answer.

5. I asked them what information they knew or could find out, and we looked up the radius of the earth in miles on the Internet, and we recalled the number of feet in a mile.

6. Then before I set them on their way, I asked that if I was 5'4", how many feet tall am I and show me on your calculator as I walk around. I heard good conversations and them correcting each other. Then I got another kid to tell her height, and we did the same thing to make sure everyone got it.

7. Then I set them on their way to find how far each of them individually with THEIR OWN HEIGHT could see to the horizon. As I walked around, I saw too many kids doing everything in feet (because "I don't know HOW TO DO IT in miles")... they converted the radius of the earth (about 3960 miles) to feet!!! We had a discussion about how these are too large of numbers.

8. I stopped the class temporarily and did a mini-lesson. Let's say I have 53", how many feet is that. What about 38 feet, how many yards is that. Okay, let's say I have 5.25 feet, how many miles is that? They caught on. Then we had to have another mini-lesson on using our store button on the calculator instead of rounding early or writing EVERY BLESSES DIGIT out on paper and then retyping it in.

9. THEN when they'd calculated the length from their eyeball to the horizon, we asked the shortest kid what their answer was, and the tallest kid their answer. And we had to fix some kids' work and computation until they did it correctly.

10. Interesting span of possibilities of how far we all could see .... which I won't divulge in case you want to try it.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Graphing Parabolas

I had really good luck with this sheet when we were practicing graphing parabolas today. I apparently haven't been doing enough graphing in class because I still got a handful of questions during class, "how do I find points on the graph". Scary. Anyway, I'm not too worried because with other topics earlier in the year that they couldn't do, now they're great at them (like terms, solving for x, ...). We only got through this front side because of all the other extra administrative stuff we needed to take care of.

What I like about having a preprinted sheet is that I can stop them at each step and have a discussion: why is it called the axis of symmetry? how do you know what x value to plug in for the vertex? what kind of shape is the axis of symmetry (a point or a line or other?), how do you know how to find the y-intercept? why? does every parabola have a y-intercept? (that brought surprising answers when I asked for thumbs up for yes and down for no) ....

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Rote Memorization

I was reading this post the other day, and flashed back to my 7th and 8th grade German class where we had to memorize dialogs and play both parts with the teacher for a grade. Now, I'm not saying I'm old, but this was in the late 70's. The thing is, I still remember parts of the conversations in some of these cheesy dialogs.

That got me thinking that maybe I could make up a cheese-ball conversation for my algebra 1 students to memorize and have to perform for me. In this way maybe when they're solving a quadratic equation in the future that's not all prettied up and ready for them, they'll break into a cold sweat and remember this dialog and solve it properly.

Here's what I have (and the version I'll hand out):