Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Workshop Thoughts

Okay, it's Wednesday, and Friday is the last day of our 2 week workshop. Here are random teaching thoughts that have floated around in my head while it's being crammed with electronic information:

1. Hey workshop participant, you don't have to voice every thought that passes through your brain. ALL the way through our class from 8am - 5pm.

2. Linking new information to a good story or visual is a great latch. For example, on certain IC chips (details not relevant to the story), there are two inputs that serve a certain purpose. If they're "activated" they basically take over in a certain way. So our cool teacher spun this tale about Zeus and Hades and said that the gods don't "follow the clock", so when they wake up, whatever they want goes, and Zeus is "higher" so things change to 1 whenever he wakes up, and Hades is "lower", so things change to 0 whenever he wakes up. They're gods, and do what they want. When they go back to sleep, the IC chip pattern follows the clock again. So now whenever I come across these certain "pins" in my homework, DING, I think back to Zeus and Hades, and the information of how to proceed is immediately available to my head.

3. Perseverance is key. My table mate and I were pushing through and seeming to struggle with breadboards for the LONGEST time. Note: we finally and successfully completed the assignment, but the thing that sticks in my mind is somewhere after 4 days, one of the teachers said, "well, you know, you can use this OTHER automated breadboard and don't have to continue to fiddle with these ones". What I HEARD was, "hey, dummy, now that you can't handle the hard stuff, here's the baby version that may be more your speed." Well, that put additional light under my butt and I refused and was ultimately successful and proud of myself, versus if I gave up and settled for the easy way out. Also note to self, don't make the same suggestions of any sort to my students. DO mention that overcoming something hard will make you better.

4. ROCKS .... especially at 12:30am when you're finishing your homework, and yes, I'm late to the game.

5. I love meeting new people and hearing various cool things about their lives or experiences and occasionally meeting new friends and laughing so hard I have to pee.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Ignorant vs Stupid

And not that you'd call anyone "stupid".

Maybe I haven't mentioned it more than 5 baZILLION times, but I'm SO excited to be at a 2 week training for "Digital Electronics" in the PLTW curriculum. I've been through 3 actual days of class time now (Thursday at 11pm), and it's intense but loads of fun.

Let's just throw around some terms that I've bantered about and slowly become acquainted with in the last few days: ohm, resistor, digital logic board, capacitor, analog, digital, light emitting diode, power source, switch, TTL, Boolean algebra, sequential logic, SOL, AOI, DE, valence shell, soldering, tinning, oscillator circuit, frequency, duty cycle (tee hee), time high, time low (hee and hee), breadboard, .....

If I could go back in time and read those words (say before last Sunday), you'd see this glazed look over my eyes combined with a fight or flight response of, "ackh! others know more than me, and I should know this, and they're saying it's obvious and oh no, let's switch the subject..."

Now, peshaw! I'm totally going to be throwing those words out at my next math party and be the hit of the evening, right?

But anyway, a typical day so far has been: get up at 4:30am in a panic because I didn't finish the homework from the last class(es). Do as much as I can before I hit the gym at 6am. Shower and have breakfast. Class from 8am - 5ish pm (with lunch). Dinner and unwinding for a couple of hours. Homework until 11:30pm until I crash, and repeat all over again the next day.

Anyway, tonight I had to create a "Voting Machine" logically on paper and in a simulation program before I took it to actual DLB to work. (so if you know what I'm talking about great; if not, you're me 4 days ago). One of the instructors was down in the common room helping us (8pm - 9:30pm). I was apparently doing something TOTALLY ridiculous on the simulation program. Sure, the theory I have down pat; it's logic and math. My paper version was all correct. The electronics .... (wait for it), I'm "ignorant on" at this point. Well, sheesh, that's why I'm here, to learn. I'm not stupid .... (obnoxious and anonymous brag alert) ... I have 4 math/applied math degrees .... (end of alert). But I am IGNORANT about electronics. Please don't treat me as if I'm stupid. Just explain it to me and answer my actual questions so that I can internalize and process the information (shout out to my instructor). ... To give him credit, in the end, I finally understood the issue (I think) .... hint: for a circuit to work that has an LED in it you have to ..... okay, you don't care.

The point is, "note to self", don't treat my students as stupid, and be sensitive about when you may be making them feel stupid when really they're just ignorant on the current topics. AND be very careful to answer the questions they ask, not the ones you think they're asking with all your filters of assumptions on what they get or don't get or can get or can't get.

Okay, what am I doing blogging when I have homework to do .....

Monday, June 20, 2011

Fun Problems

A few days ago, Allison posted a problem you could really sink your teeth into and enjoy the puzzle of it all. It reminded me that it's been a while since I did this sort of brain challenge type problem just for the heck of it. Many years ago, I came across this problem:

Consider a square cake that's frosted on the top and sides. How do you cut it into 5 pieces so that everyone gets the same amount of cake AND the same amount of frosting? You must serve the whole cake. (be able to prove why it works) (added bonus: what if it's a rectangular cake?)

Now as a selfish person, I'm wondering if anyone has links to other cool such problems that make you think and tinker for a longer while than usual. Share! Share!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Fun Crafts

We're soon visiting my husband's brother's wife's sister's two little girls, and I wanted to make some knitted or crocheted toys for them. I didn't have a ton of time, and I like really fast projects, so I altered and eyeballed and shrunk down visually from a doll pattern and came up with these two beauties that are about 3 to 4 inches tall. Woot Woo!

The alien baby dolls. Or maybe they can be the Einstein Dolls and the girls can play pretend relativity theory. I still have bits and pieces of 2 weeks left, so maybe I'll make dogs and leashes and beakers and microscopes and such to go with them.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Education Experts

Did you ever think up this really cool idea for one of your lessons. You were really excited! This was going to be so clear and fun and educational and work perfectly. Of course, you spent time working out the details and thinking through all the THEORETICAL issues that could come up. You launched it.

Most often it didn't work as planned. Various things came up. REALITY set in, and you had to think on your feet. You fixed what you could. If it seemed MORE usable than not, you made notes and adjustments for next time. For me, it usually takes about 3 times through before I work out *most* of the bugs.

But the deal is, it really didn't work as you had planned. But being a teacher, and as important, just being one of you, and knowing you're the expert of your classroom you could adjust quickly and on the fly. And no one has to throw it back in your face and say, "ha! you messed up! double ha!"

But I want to get back to the "didn't work as you had theoretically planned" business. I'm thinking that this is what happened and is happening with all the uppy ups telling us how to teach and what to teach and shoving state assessments down our throats and strategic compensation and whatnot. Because theoretically, that sounds so true and good and seems to make sense: hold people accountable. Hold teachers accountable. Hold students accountable. What could go wrong? People will rise up to the high level of expectation and perform better.

Hah! Reality could go wrong, apparently. Theory is all well and good, but reality is what you have to deal with in the end. And they're such a huge bureaucracy, and they have a "ton more students and classrooms", that how long does it take to adjust their strategy? And how easy/hard is it to admit you've made a mistake when so many people are watching you.

Or maybe I have it all wrong, and "they" are still sitting "up there" saying, "it's all the teachers' faults. If only they'd be better and do what we ask, we'd fix education! A pox on the teachers. Slackers the lot of them. And they get the summers off!"

Monday, June 13, 2011

Stories and Pictures

I'm going to a 2-week Digital Electronics workshop soon, and since I didn't want to show up with no remembrance of anything electricity, I thought I'd better brush up. I didn't want my "brushing" to be too painful, so I found this book to help me, "The Manga Guide to Electricity".

Super cheesy, right? I'm not a "manga" person at all, but I figured it would be a "fun" (?) way to review.

Well, what do you know. It works! I think part of the effectiveness, for me anyway, is that when one of the characters is explaining various aspects of electricity, he links it to a picture and/or something I know. Now later on in the book when that aspect is referred back to, I conjure up that picture in my head and can see the story line and know what he's talking about. I can keep things straight instead of just plowing through various equations and thinking, now what equaled what?

Then I got to thinking, wouldn't it be fun/interesting (possible?) to have a running storyline (or a few) in, say, geometry. Then when you're teaching a new topic, there's pictures the kids can refer back to or some link that connects it to what they know. I guess ideally it shouldn't just be random things because maybe that adds to the memory retrieval problem.

What would it look like? Would they each develop their own story, sort of like that "here's a sentence and let's pass it around and everyone add another sentence and let's create a story" type of deal. Oh, maybe that's it. Every night someone new would be responsible for adding to the story. We could have an online geometry story that would be a work in progress all year. The kids could go back to it whenever they wanted to review.

Logistics: Would each class have their own story? Would we have one total? What if a kid flakes and doesn't do their part, how is that remediated? Blog? GoogleDoc? Other? Homework grade? Extra quiz grade? No grade? How many times a year will a student have to add to the story? Is there a way where they can sign up for a schedule?

It's just crazy enough for me to want to try it next year.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Summer Math Packet

Our math department decided to give summer math work for students, the same way they get summer reading. I'm of mixed minds about this, but I'm doing it anyway. And since I came late to the game (try LAST 3 DAYS OF SCHOOL) (don't ask) (and maybe I would do it in this manner anyway), I'm going to make it more of an online "packet". My idea is to pick some topics I want them to review or refresh their memories on using YouTube or other online links. Then I'll use my proprofs account to quiz them.

I don't know if I'll have them try various quizzes until they reach a certain score or what. I also don't know how they'll be held accountable come school time. I'm batting these ideas around in my head: bonus points, homework passes, quiz the first week or 2 of school, homework grade,...

I will be doing this for rising geometry students and rising precalculus students. I'm also thinking of having various packets sent out and "due" every 2 or 3 weeks, so they don't leave it all to the end .... incentive for them to do it in a timely manner? More "points"?

Precalculus Topics: right triangle trig, special triangles, function notation, ... any other suggestions?

Geometry Topics: solving equations, graphing lines, factoring, working with fractions, ... any other suggestions?

Soooooo, I'd better get my butt in gear and actually send out the "packet" information.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Too Cool Not To Share...

As I was culling through my work e-mail today in my quest of cleaning EVERYTHING up this summer, I came across one from our excellent librarian. She shared this link. Holy Cow! It's mesmerizing, and I want to watch it over and over to see how many patterns emerge. Also, I'm sure there's math that's accessible to high school students as to when they "converge" or "meet up" or how many times they meet up. Or we could all just watch over and over again like little 2-year-olds and their movies.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Kids' Chairs

Here are some pictures of my students' cardboard chairs. They are in various stages of completion and of success. We only had time to finish prototypes, so I don't really know how people actually had time to THEN go make the final version. Maybe they had more students on each team. Maybe they could dedicate more time during the school day to the project. Maybe they were just faster than us. Anyway. Most of them supported weight (as long as you didn't move around too much). They presented their chairs on the day of their finals, and we had interesting discussions as to what worked and what didn't work and WHY and what could be tested to improve the chairs.

I also handed out a questionnaire that I found informative. The prompts were something along the lines of (because of the project):
* what did you learn about yourself?
* what did you learn about engineering?
* what did you learn about chairs?
* what do you like about your chair?
* what could be improved?
* and various questions where they graded themselves on each aspect of the project.

I liked this last section. Instead of letting them choose a 0% - 100% grading scale, I worded it as follows. I think it then was clear for the students to decided on their grade:

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Last Day of School

Sort Of. I've become more relaxed about making sure EVERYTHING is done before the last bell on the last day. You know. "The Check Out List". Make sure you: turn in your keys, box everything up, turn in all technology, do a complete inventory of all PLTW items on a new system on the computer, have finals graded and packaged up and stored, ....

Yes, I still do those things, but I'm not too worried about them getting done by ___. Now maybe that makes me the jerk to work with, but here are my thoughts. I know I'm ethical, and I know I need to do those things, and I know I will do them. BUT. I'm not going to kill myself doing them by a certain time frame when more pressing things need to be done: grading the finals thoughtfully, entering the grades and making sure kids get the grades that will serve them best, talking with kids that either will not be back or just I'll miss or they'll miss me over the summer. Also, I don't mind going in partial days for those first 2 weeks of summer, it'll break up my day from my potential slouching on the couch sessions interspersed with trips to the refrigerator.

Today was the last day for kids, but tomorrow the staff has to go in and work and have a year-end review. I can do some packing then and on Friday and next week.

Phew! Over! Done! Sort of. Then as usual, there's the summer plans I have: go to D.E. training for PLTW for 2 weeks (ooh, acronym city), learn TI-Inspire and make worksheets for beginning teacher/student users, make activities for TI-Inspire, learn electronics before above-stated workshop, learn/practice computer programming, relearn and revamp my precalculus curriculum, revamp geometry and potentially teach it to a potentially new geometry teacher, read/have fun/relax/see movies/purge my house of more stuff that's just sitting there/knit-crochet 3 baby gifts ....