Saturday, October 27, 2018

Calculus Extras...

One of the fun things about learning calculus in high school is that as a student you get to refresh your memory and pull from your memory and create sweat droplets from all the extra work in juggling the things you have to know in addition to the new crazy great topics you are learning at a breakneck speed.

There's algebra! geometry! trigonometry! rational functions! ln x! fractions! It's like all your years bundled up into one. 

My students this year do not as a whole instantaneously remember the trig values in any quadrant of any of the 6 special angles. I am also not doing my daily "IR" quizzes this year (immediate retrieval) because of the other things I am implementing, and I just don't have the time. I am trying to put basic trig questions on many homework sets, but that is not always possible or enough. So, my next attempt is the following: (can download HERE).

 I have created a practice sheet for them to use at home. All triangles are such that they can be reference triangles in Q1. I am hoping that the repetitive nature will help. Then on the back, I have the same set up, but the side values are omitted. 

My thinking is that after this is perfected (maybe I should have a quiz they must answer in a set amount of time), then the next installment is a picture of the xy-plane with a terminal side marked in Q1 with the angle given. Then the final installment is just the statement given.

Hopefully, this will work to keep things stuck in their brains.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Make It Stick Changes

I finally had life/brain/school space to read this game-changing book (Make It Stick). The fuss is now crystal clear. Because of this, I am changing how I do homework and flipped lessons and tests and reviewing in my Calculus class. I will also change other classes, but this is the one I am most worried about right now. 

tldr: there is a linked document above the first picture with next year's baggy problems and a notebook insert.

I felt I was doing a good job teaching them, and maybe I was, but after my results on the AP exam this year, that were DRASTICALLY poorer than the previous years, I reflected on what I did differently. I know I had a different population of kids. I know they had life issues that were so enormous, it's a wonder they still came to school and functioned semi-normally. I know their time was pulled in all sorts of different ways. I know all that. I also know I am a good teacher, so I am not fishing for praise (hah! or maybe I am one of those people who thinks they are one way but are really not). I just also know that this year's results were a big suckfest. Boo. The one thing I did change was that I made a copy of the homework key all worked out, every period, for every kid. I was trying to be helpful. 

I wanted them to see how the problems were worked and be able to learn from examples and skip happily into the sunset in their new-found calculus knowledge. Homework doesn't count for much of a percentage in my class, and my thinking has always been that homework is for practice and students shouldn't be penalized for trying or for making mistakes. I know there are a ton of different theories and ways teachers approach homework, and obviously, everyone should do what feels best for them and their students. I see now that potentially a certain portion of my students did not use the key as intended. 

There are always those students who do the right thing and have an effective way of "studenting", and they used the system wisely. They also passed the AP exam. I also know that there are students who half-heartedly (that wasn't the first body part that came to mind for that adverb) "attempted" each problem and put something down all in the mistaken belief that, "oh, Dadmehr will just show me how to do it next class. I don't have time for this calculus nonsense."

Rinse that and repeat all year, and you have a math student who does not know how to solve problems. Sure this isn't the first time I thought that's how they were attempting some (all?) problems, but I thought that the incentive of test grades would lead them on the right path. Silly me. 

Also, I always knew that I should do cumulative or spiraling of concepts both in review and on homework, but I could never make myself adhere to this consistently.

Fast forward to now. I will change my world. All things will now work perfectly and all students will get 5's and I will be continually doing a happy dance. Thank you "making it stick" and AP Conference. ... Or maybe not, but I have high hopes about these changes.

My first thought was how to effectively (for me) get the students to do interleaved practice (as they call it) so that they can interrupt forgetting of concepts from long ago. The following is what I have latched onto. I will have a large baggy that stays in the class. Students will each buy and keep in the baggy some index cards (2 packs?). I will have them put the shown insert in the bag, copied on pretty paper (that will make all the difference), and they will put their name on one side largely on the inserted instructions: (can download here: word pdf).

Each class day, or every new concept day, I will have them create at least one new problem. They can follow the examples I have given, but the numbers or something should be different. They will follow the format from the insert. I want only the problem on the front (nothing about the answer or what unit it is from). Then on the back, they will work it out, and on the top will list the answer and the concept.

I will collect it at the door and correct and hand it back next class, and put the baggy back in our storing place. Eventually, they will have a wide range of practice problems. Now, periodically, in class, I will say, pull out 3 (2? whatever) cards and BY YOURSELF WITHOUT NOTES OR HELP do the problems on a separate paper (notebook?). Also, put a check mark on the top to indicate you have done this. Then check your work and/or refer back to the appropriate notes to fix your weaknesses in this topic.  I feel like this will interrupt their forgetting. It will also give them a hint as to what they need to work on.

I also see that potentially, they could swap temporarily the cards or they can search for certain topics or they can see if they haven't done any of the problems since there are no check marks and then attempt those. They also are working blind and potentially don't know what topic it is, so this mimics the AP exam, and helps them distinguish key words/phrases that will help with recall. A thing I still need to think about: how can I make them have a variety of easy/medium/hard problems?

Also, I am still not finalizing how I will do homework. Based on the book, I see that certain students were not struggling effectively with the content, so it wasn't sticking in their memories. I will no longer provide any key. They can come in for tutoring. I will have worked out examples available. I always have an answer bank at the bottom, so they know if they did it right mostly. I need to take this worked-out key crutch away from them so that they use their brains more. I will also mix up the work and not just have it on the current content. So this was all my plan before I went to the Houston conference. Now I have some different ideas rolling around in my mind that I haven't solidified yet, but anyway, here is the insert for their notebooks (see above the other picture for the links):

I want to go over this with them and discuss learning and all the reasons why I am teaching this way. I want them to have this to refer back to. I will also start moving my videos to edPuzzle, based on something else I learned in Houston! Apparently, on edPuzzle, you can insert questions for the students all through the video, and, get this (!), the video will not progress until they answer them, AND apparently, the students can't go to another tab or whatever and pretend to watch the video because it will stop. So excited to try this! 

This will make it a more active learning process when they are taking notes.

I am excited to try these things this year and hopefully make my students learn more effectively.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Functions and Rates of Change

Some students in calculus get confused when you are comparing a function and its derivative and second derivative. I get various creative answers of "if a function is positive, then its derivative is positive" .... "if a function is increasing, then its derivative is increasing". I am hoping that this activity will make things gel for more students. Who knows. Not me, but I am willing to try. 

Here's to wishing me luck. One day I will have more perfect moments than not-completely-successful topic teaching and EVERYONE will get it. And cute puppies will bark and wait to be pet and flowers will bloom and I will get enough sleep.

Here is a link to the PDF. 

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Blogging Not Blogging

Well apparently I don't blog anymore. I've reflected on why this is, and I guess it's a mix of a ton of different things. I remember in the past I would come home from teaching and be all bustling to dissect my day and thoughts and school experiences on this blog. Now? Not so much. 

Reasons (in no particular order):

1. I am (still) grieving, and most of my non-school effort is about self-care. I go to kickboxing 3 nights a week when other things don't interfere. I am not staying late at school on any day and choose instead to tutor during the mornings and lunchtimes. I am trying to get to bed at 8:30 pm so that my 4:30 am wake up alarm to go running or stretching is not so jarring. It seems to take all my energy to not be a puddle of tears these days. I am one of those annoying people that if before my husband died I had heard about someone else grieving "still" after 2 years, I would think they would "just need to move on" or something else ridiculous. I would like to go kick myself in the younger, non-widowed ass. 

2. I am teaching 4 different subjects and most of my work time and more weekends than I would like are spent in prepping for them. I like the variety of challenges, but whew it's draining sometimes. Still trying to work out the APCS A bugs and getting my first-time-ever programming kids up to speed in a fun and effective way.

3. Too many people that know me in "real life" know about my blog, so it seems weirder now to just blather on than if it was just "strangers" reading this. The same thing happened with my Instagram "exercise" account. I really don't appreciate whoever programs those things for the fact that they probably scrub through all your data and friends and find links and then "suggest" you to people. Now I have former students looking at my exercise-clothed body and that is just too weird, so I have stopped posting there, too. 

4. Most of my "new" things I am trying in my classes this year have more to do with "the whole kid" as opposed to my subjects. I am trying more mindfulness things and more connecting with the kids things and more cheerleading them on to trying challenging problems things.

Anyway. All this to say that I now lift the guilt of not blogging off my shoulders. I still love learning from the MTBoS and twitter and other blogs, so I appreciate everyone else that steps up to the contributing plate and shares with us. 

Sunday, October 01, 2017

People Skills

Poof! Just like that, 1/6 of the school year is over. AND I am almost prepared for school to start (one day I will finish all the beginning of the year chores ... or not). 

What are my new things this year? I want my AP Calculus students to succeed in spite of themselves. Some of them get into the senior mode or life gets in their way or they drop the ball on putting in the needed effort to truly understand things. So I have implemented 3 new things in class.

First, I want their whole minds to be on math during class. It's probably unrealistic, but a teacher has to try. To this end, I want them to ideally rid their thoughts of all the other stress and junk that has built up during the day. So one day early on, we took 8 (?) pieces of colored paper and stapled them together, and folded them to make a "book". On the front we titled it, "Toxic Dump". Now every day at the start of class all of us do a silent timed writing (3 minutes) where we just empty out anything that is occupying our heads or stressing us out or making us angry or whatever. In this way, I hope to create more brain space for them to learn. Nobody sees their books but them, so they are free to vent.

I had one kid say (at the beginning), "are we going to do this every class?" I said yes, but then asked her why she was asking, since she then had a funny look on her face. She mentioned that she didn't think she would always be so stressed and frazzled. Hah! I said that I hoped not, and that on those days she could write about the great things that happened or doodle. And I have also had one student ask me at the start of every class, "are we going to Toxic Dump today?". When I asked why she was asking, she said, "I just didn't want you to forget." Finally, I have heard different students mutter, "whew! I have a lot to write about today." 

The second thing I am doing is daily (or frequent) warm ups that involve a deeper and active analysis of what they just learned or that involve writing or explaining ... basically thinking and processing. This takes about 5 or so minutes. I was caught unaware many times last year when I THOUGHT they got stuff if they never asked or came for tutoring, but then on the rare occasion (and usually too late) when I scratched the surface with a kid or two later, I found out that, nope, didn't understand some basics. I guess they get into the mode of "hiding" or "smiling and nodding" because everyone else seems to get it, or maybe they are just too overwhelmed and have too many other balls to juggle that they don't address their misunderstandings. I am sure that there are still those kids, but maybe with a more frequent revisiting of important things, they will do better. 

Now that I am writing this, I guess I don't know how I am assessing this daily. There never seems to be time to check in with each kid. I just go on the assumption that if they don't ask questions and don't come in to tutoring then .... I will have to think on this more.

The last thing I am doing is a frequent shout out during class of various forms:
"You're doing great"
"I hope you are impressed with the fact that you are doing challenging things"
"Be proud of yourselves for being willing to struggle"
I teach at an All-Girls Public School with a variety of skill levels. That and knowing that girls are more likely to be hard on themselves and maybe sabotage their own efforts because of self-doubt makes me try harder to boost them up. There is also a wide range of abilities in my class(es) and I think also the girls that don't feel the smartest, in comparison to the others who seem to get it faster, will also sabotage their pursuit of understanding.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Algebra 1 Eclipse Day 1 Activity

It's one day before the little kidlets come back. I am excited to be teaching Algebra 1 again this year, and my teaching friend and I have come up with an in-class activity that reviews the coordinate plane, symmetry, reflecting, and has an eclipse theme. We are hoping that our pinhole glasses will show us which students' graphing skills are eclipsed by faulty memory. Hah! They will be doing this sheet while we are doing first-day administrative tasks, and we will collect at the end.

We saw that last year, some of the 9th graders were a wee bit shaky on their (x, y) knowledge (and fractions and integer operations and .....). Hoo boy! Hello scaffolding and reviewing. 

You can find the sheet HERE


Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Truths I Want to Remember This Year

I have had a great summer. It's been a mix of awesome PD (art in non art classrooms, LOGO CS training, BLEND training (a CANVAS-type LMS we are using this year)), lots of sleep (who knew you could look/feel so healthy and well rested from more than 6 hours of sleep a night), kickboxing (punching and kicking the sh*t out of bags AND with wraps and gloves!), breakfasts out, friends, fun, life. I am also eager to get back into the swing of teaching soon. Kids show up August 21st. This year I will be teaching Algebra 1, Digital Electronics, AP Calculus AB, and AP Computer Science A. Woot! Down to 4 preps. 

My awesome teacher friend and I had a blast teaching Algebra 1 last year to 9th graders (I am still in that honeymoon stage of thinking they are precious and hilarious ... check in with me in June to see if I am at the 7-year-itch-divorce-stage yet) and are excited to go another round this year. I think we are going to do a mix of CPM-type stuff and Bootstrap Algebra. Should be a fun ride. 

Though my PD was phenomenal, there was one presenter that rubbed me the wrong way sometimes. But I guess, as with all things, that comes from me experiencing life through my experiences and my lens. He was a college professor. He had this habit of assuming we did not know anything. For example, I overheard him trying to help another teacher out through a programming problem in Scratch (a programming tool). He basically proceeded to basically tell her how to teach and explain why he was helping her the way he was. "So you see, if you link things to what the students know from previous experience, it will stick better" ..... was one of his statements. Of course this is true, but him basically assuming we don't know how to teach ... unpalatable. 

Anyway, this got me to thinking if I ever do this in some sense with my students. I feel that what you think inside about who you are talking to, shines through in how you talk to students (people), so even if you think your intentions are not known, they probably are, no matter what words you use or how discrete you think you are being. So that is one truth I want to continually remind myself of this year. Treat everyone as a genius and work from there. Assume nothing.

My next truth is that "tinkering is powerful/useful/necessary/fun". I have had the privilege of delving into engineering teaching and CS teaching. My M.O. for both have been to mostly say to the kids, "you will figure it out" or "play around with it and see what happens". I want them to not shy away from exploring just because they are passively waiting for someone else to give them the answers. That is not empowering. That is not a good life skill. Of course I guide them and check in on their path, but I do NOT want to be "that" teacher that says, "so here is how you do this". Then the poor little humans just think that they need some expert to always be there to show them the way. Not true. Even if they don't at first always solve their problems on their own, eventually, they have the gumption to at least try various things and not be afraid of failing or making mistakes (gasp! the horror!).

My last truth is that "they are not finished products". Just because they are a certain way today or this year or in high school, does not necessarily mean that they will always be that way. Also, "it takes a village", so any words of wisdom imparted to them may not at the time seem to help, but, mark my words, they could potentially think about them and use them and adapt in the future. 

Here is how I know that is true. I was not always the best student. Sure, I got A's and B's, but I did the bare minimum to maintain that. I never went above and beyond. I was not the smartest kid in class in any of the schools I went to. I probably complained too much (reference to a remark a 10th grade teacher made to me that I still remember to this day). I may have cheated (making no claims here), I probably was a jerk to my friends. But here were the circumstances of me at that time. My parents, though they did the best with what they knew, also complained, also tried to bilk the system, also potentially did not act in the best human way possible. Am I blaming them? No, just indicating what I was around and what I knew. 

I grew up. I moved away. I met other people and saw how they lived and what their values were. I became a better person. I even went on to get a PhD in Computational and Applied Math (still not the smartest person in my program .... but stubborn and determined). I worked for 2 years in industry, did not think I was contributing in a good way to society and did not want to spend my days that way, and decided I wanted to teach, and here I am, starting my 21st year and loving it. So I know from experience that the person I was in ES, MS, and HS is totally not the person I am today. I met wonderful people that showed me what it meant to be a good and compassionate and ethical human (not that I am this all the time, but I know what it looks like and I strive for it). 

So I will try to keep these three truths in the forefront of my brain as I interact with the students this year.

I think my Algebra teacher/friend and I have worked out what we want as our first HW assignment. We were having breakfast out (yay! .... or was it nachos and drinks?), and we talked about how there were so many broken people walking around. They "seemed" normal, but maybe on the inside they were hurting in some sense and just needed more friend/human love. We thought of the care labels you see on clothes, and thought that humans should come with care labels. Thus THIS activity: