Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Bless Your Heart Award

My rookie FTC Robotics kids and I keep joking around that next weekend at our first qualifier, we do NOT want to get the "Bless Your Heart" award. We will go in and do our best and be happy with it, and if we make improvement from the scrimmage before, then we will consider it a success. We have learned a ton and will be way better next year. We actually have a working robot, but things are still in pieces and kids are busy and bla bla bla. So, we'll see. And, no, we don't need your pity, judges, thank you very much. We rock!

I don't know if they even give such awards, but I feel they do. You know, the "good job" and "you've come a long way considering ...." and "best looking design" and such. Maybe their hearts are in the right place, but in my mind, the subtext is, "oh, you poor things, here's something just for showing up with all you sad sack ways and don't feel bad for being such a loser".

Then that started me thinking about how I approach my students. I was JUST grading some IR quizzes for calculus (immediate recall quizzes ... things I want them to know like the alphabet .... thank you AP Summer Institute for the idea). One student has been struggling a ton with life things and managing her studying and such. I know she's smart, and I know she can do it, and I know she's been struggling. 

I THOUGHT I was grading her paper, and the person was doing really well, and they just missed a problem because they didn't hear it right. I started to write on the paper and finished writing: "you WOULD have gotten it right if that was the problem". Then I'm glancing at the name on the paper, and it's another kid, an uber smart kid, and I found myself thinking, "oh if I'd have known it was her, I would have just marked it wrong, and she would have figured out what happened." 

Ackh! Here I was handing out a "Bless Your Heart" Award. And I'm sure the recipients probably react just the same way I do. I'm basically patting the kid on the head and implying that she can't handle it.

Oy! Need to self monitor better and treat everyone like the rock stars I know they are and can be.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Computer Science MatchMaking Project

I did the Match Making Project again with my Computer Science 1 students this year, and I added a new component that just makes me giggle.

First I have them run this code to show them how a basic init/paint/action graphics program may work in Java. Then they get the task of creating a program to simulate "match making" HERE. They ask the user a series of questions about dating a boy/girl ... hair color .... and some questions of their choosing.

This lets them practice IF statements and nested IF statements, and it's fun.

Then after they are done with the program, we did a gallery walk around the various programs and ran them and left nice comments on a paper about the program for the coder.

Then here is the new component. They had to make an advertisement for their matchmaking services by copying some of the pictures of the "dates" and selling the company. Here are the specs.

And voila! Here are my creative students:


Tuesday, November 19, 2013


I happened to be in the car at the right time a while ago, and heard an interview with Aisha Tyler. I don't remember if this was the interview, but it'll do. She seems like a kick-angle-side-side kind of person.

Anyway, she had this quote that resonated with me, and I wanted to share it with my students, so I went through many iterations of how that would happen, and I came upon the following idea.

I counted up the number and type of letters in the quote. It happened to have 68 - the EXACT same number as a total of 3 of my math classes. Sorry, people who have to cram more students in their classes. Anyway, 

* I cut into 4, enough colored 8.5" x 11" pieces of paper
* The students selected a paper
* I assigned each person a letter
* I had a discussion about wanting to put a quote up
* And, no, I won't tell you the quote until it's up
* And, no, I don't want slop and last minute jobs
* And, be artsy
* And it's due next class
* And they should be capital letters
* Facing Portrait, NOT Landscape

And then I hung it in the hallway ..... voila:


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Jumping in the Pool Dogpaddling!

This year I am coaching an FTC Robotics team for the first time (for me and our school). Here are some of my students at our first scrimmage. We were so nervous and being all "girly" and judging ourselves harshly, me included.

Things going through our minds:
* We'll embarrass ourselves.
* Everyone else is better.
* We won't know what we're doing.
* We're nervous.
* We don't know the process and aren't ready.
* Our robot is not finished yet.

But that (obviously) is ridiculous, even though it still streams through our thoughts. STILL. If we stifle ourselves with self doubt and angst, we'll never try anything new, and we'll never improve, and we'll never have the thrill of learning and experiencing new things.

Thoughts that got us through:
* Everyone has to start somewhere.
* We're a rookie team. Other teams have had more years of experience.
* Let's give ourselves a break, we're WAY further than we were in September.
* People are here to help us.
* This is a learning experience. 
* We can do it.

Ultimately, we had a blast, though we were super tired from the adrenaline and stress and lack of sleep and worry. We learned a ton. We met nice people. We can make progress. We had cool t-shirts. We're on our way to more robotics challenges. Our pit area rocked:


Friday, November 08, 2013

Yay! End of the Six Weeks ... And We Know What That Means.

The joys of students scrambling to take care of business on the LAST minute of the LAST day of the LAST week of the grading term. What's that? You say ... why didn't they do things the other 4 to 5 weeks? Good Question.

I just had a math student literally wait until AFTER the last minute to try to turn things in. For any other student who I'd seen trying throughout the grading period, YES I would have accepted the work. For this student who has not turned in 7 of 10 homework assignments and has come in maybe 10% of the available time for help? Not so much.

Yes, I know it's for the student's own good. Yes, I know that they won't step it up until they don't get any free rides any more. But yes I also know that it scrambles up my insides and I'm having angry conversations with the kid in my mind.

To maybe detox, I just sent this e-mail to her and cc-ed the counselor and her mom. I am crossing my fingers that she figures things out.

Dear You,
I'm concerned about your work ethic this year in math. As it stands, there have been 10 homework assignments on the grade book. I see that you have not turned in 7 of them. That is part of the reason you are failing, but it is not the whole picture. Because you do not do the homework, you then do poorly on the Section Quizzes (based on homework). It also seems that you don't do the rote memorization skills necessary for the IR quizzes.

There have been 5 weeks of time for you to come in and reconcile your misunderstandings. I have barely seen you for tutoring. I am available every morning from 7am until 9:15. I am in my room at lunch every day. I am there after school M-Th. You have come in for a scattered amount of tutoring, but not enough to take care of business. I frequently see you in the halls talking with friends, and I have to bite my tongue when I want to ask you why you are not doing make up work. Yes, friends and socializing ARE important, and they are a vital part of life. However, there has to be a balance of taking care of business, and enjoying your free time.

In advisory, which is a prime time to seek help ... a FREE 30 minutes at least 3 times a week in MY advisory, with me willing to answer your questions, you have not been doing any calculus work.
It worries me that you scramble at the last minute and try to turn in extremely late work, and it is still not on time, and yet you say that it is.
More importantly, I see you being exposed to challenging work and then not stepping up to the plate. You say you don't want to turn in the homework because you don't understand it. Great. And yet I do not see you taking the necessary steps to make progress. I do not see you putting in the brain work and the hard work and the thinking work to make it happen.
I'm wondering how you are watching the flipped videos. Are you just going through the motions when you do watch them, or are you taking the required (at least) 40 minutes of time to absorb and think?

I have been filling out college recommendations this year for seniors, and these are some of the questions asked by the colleges (i.e. things they want to see in prospective students):
* How does this student behave when faced with challenges?
* How does this student react when confronted by setbacks?
* What are this student's "disciplined habits"?
* How is this student's initiative?
This is the 3rd math class I have had you in. I know you have a very capable brain. I am wondering if you will rise to the work necessary to comprehend topics that don't come easily to you.

I care about you and your school experience, and I hope you don't squander it away because it requires work you are not willing to do.
Ms. D

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Big Sighs

Just a reminder to myself and others about the various EXTRA things kids may be going through in addition to doing/not-doing my math homework (taken from separate things I've heard lately in my town/school, but I'm guessing could be just about anywhere):

* Parents just divorced last month. Student still angry at absent parent and not fully functioning yet.
* Thrown out of the house and now scrambling to keep it together.
* Single parent too poor to pay bills. Kid must find other means of functioning for studying purposes.
* Came out to parents. Got kicked out of the house.
* Temporary housing due to recent weather occurrence.
* Clinically depressed.
* Health issues due to poverty and lack of proper nutrition.

Lately, I think that we just need a big daily hug fest to let kids know we love them and are rooting for them.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Related Rates and Crowd Sourcing

Year Six of teaching this pickle of a topic in Calculus. I keep changing it up hoping I'll happen upon the magic elixir that will allow students to eagerly gobble up the problems and spit out the correct answers with joy and understanding oozing out of their pores.

* Finding problems that aren't the Wisconsin of all Cheese Balls.
* Reading and interpreting the problem.
* Being able to translate known information and subtly given information into Math Speak.
* Finding the right equation that links all the variables together.
* Navigating the Dangerous Path of Implicit Differentiation.
* Plugging back in at JUST the right time.
* Finishing things up with a tidy bow.

I have a good feeling about this year! And yes, I say and mean that every year, so I am allowing my bubble to remain floating blissfully in the air yet again.

First of all, cheesy problems: ladders sliding down walls, circles mysteriously expanding and contracting, lots of liquids being poured into and leaked out of cylinders/cones/prisms, cars passing in the night at some perpendicular intersection.

I started off this year's spiel with just a blathering of why this topic is important:

BP oil spill, how fast is it spreading? How will they know how much resources to devote to the problem?

The rain recently in Austin, TX, people's houses were ruined, water was rising at various rates, what could that mean for drainage capabilities and emergency personnel?

Fires in Bastrop, containment, speed of spreading vs speed of dousing ....

The amusement park problem on some previous AP exam about rates of people in park and number of employees needed ...

But then alas, we had to start on the cheeseball problems. But I prefaced it with, "no one really cares about a balloon being expanded or contracted, but as with all math modeling, we may have to start with a simplified version of reality just so we can gain understanding and maybe add difficulty and more accuracy later. Think about some real life things that could be modeled by a malleable sphere."

That was about as far as I got on that THEN. Wait for it .....

Also, I spent a class period JUST setting up problems with the students, and their homework was to differentiate and solve. I found Bowman's set up with the table for variables very nice and tidy and useful. I'm a convert. In the past, I just set the students on their merry ways to attempting each problem on their own. This year I was uber bossy and said I wanted things set up in a specific way - enter the drawing and table and something new I added: a highlighted box or equation that I labeled SUBTLE information. There are some things that are not specifically mentioned in the problem, but you can figure needed information out like a detective. I wanted the students to be on the lookout for such things and to know that they exist.

I think this is the NEW component I'm adding to the homework next time. They will get the goofy circle/square/car problems, but with EACH problem or maybe just one, they have to do extra. This is where my crowd surfing comes in. I want them to think of a NEW specific real life situation that (say) could be modeled by this simplified version or expanded upon, and discuss what rates are needed and why anyone would care.

I'm looking forward to seeing their responses.