Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Inservice Choices

Monday we had an inservice. We had discussions with our "smaller learning communities". We were treated to a performance by our drumline and had our memories refreshed about emergency procedures (lock down vs. freeze "drill"). Then we spent the rest of the afternoon planning a unit to ultimately do but for today to present for a gallery walk (you write 2 questions you want other teachers to comment on, and they walk around and make suggestions and such about those 2 things).

It was useful, and for me, isolated. Usually most of our department goes out for lunch, and lunch is usually 1.5 hours (very nice when compared to our usual 45 minutes in which 15 minutes is used up for a duty). But. On Monday, I was feeling like I could better spend that time finishing up chores and making homework sheets and printing out grades for advisory and such. I went to get a quick sandwich (yum, veggie delight with cream cheese and avocado and veggies) to bring back and worked through lunch. Man did I get a lot done. Then in the afternoon when we were planning our lessons, I happened again to be working alone. I finished early and spent the rest of the time again doing chores.

On the one hand, I like going out to lunch with teacher friends. It helps build a cohesive department and it's stress relief and it's fun. On the other hand, I just saved myself (all day) about 1.5 hours of work I'd have to make up at some other point (usually in a rush and stressed about finishing on time). Hmmmm, tough call.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

"Jealousy" as Impetus

When I taught in NJ, there was a large Jewish segment of the population, and thus we had several 3 or 4 day weekends sprinkled throughout the school year. There was also a teacher's convention weekend, and a long president's day weekend, so we were looking a tons of opportunities to take off and travel somewhere. It also didn't hurt that Newark was a hub and flying somewhere usually meant just one plane flight to your destination. I remember one holiday weekend I traveled solo to Seattle, stayed at a B&B, wandered around town, and had the best time.

This is not the case down here. Most of our weeks are 5 day, and once a month the kids get off while we have inservice. I'M GOING THROUGH TRAVEL WITHDRAWAL. To top it off, my husband travels a ton for work, and he has no desire to hop on a plane for a weekend somewhere. To doubly top it off, "hopping on a plane" on Friday after school is infeasible as there are most likely always connecting flights. ... In addition lately I seem to be hearing of everyone taking a vacation somewhere (that doesn't include visiting family or going to conferences). Just plain travel (HAH!, I almost typed "plane travel"). I've also just happened upon Rick Steve's travel show on Saturday mornings while he tempts me with Denmark and Spain and such. ... I have travel envy; refine that; I have "solo" travel envy.

Here's my vow to myself. This summer, I will travel (alone) to somewhere that I've never been before. Europe or US? Europe or US? Hmmmmm, a fun thing to think about for the next few months.

Thursday, February 23, 2006


I like to make my classes roll their eyes, so today I told a joke I'd just read that had a good effect:

What's the difference between boogers and brussel sprouts? ... Kids will eat boogers.

Or another of my favorites ... whenever we're doing a problem involving x and y, and I prompt them for an answer, and the answer happens to be y ..... when they respond, "y" to my question, I reply, "because I asked you!".

Or when they're finished with whatever they're practicing, and someone calls out, "I'm done" .... I call back, "Stop it. You're not dumb" .... and then they say, "no, I'm finished" .... to which I HAVE to say, "oh, I thought you were American."

Ar ar ar. A wee bit of humor to get through the stressful times.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Moneyed & Not Moneyed

We have a diverse school - racially and economically. On the one hand I feel like a broken record sometimes: "put that cell phone away". "turn off your cell phone". "give me your cell phone". ... Now, I have to give a disclaimer. I don't have a cell phone. I don't want a cell phone. I hardly like to talk on the phone as it is, so I really don't want to be available ALL the time for people to reach me. So ... maybe I'm a bit biased, but what IS it about cell phones that make the students think that they HAVE to make whatever call/message it is RIGHT NOW? Everything turns into an instant emergency that has to be taken care of at this instant.

Then on the other hand I have students that drop various conversational tidbits into our everyday discussions that inform me that they're poor and sometimes don't have enough to eat, or at least enough to eat healthily. I just want to give them a grocery store gift card and say, "here, here take it and eat and be well". I mean, maybe I should (and I don't or haven't), ... how culpable are we if we know a person is suffering, and we have the means to stop it at least temporarily and yet we don't.

I can "hear" the rationalizations of why not to .... you can't help everyone, it's not your job/place/duty... but if I have the means, ...?

Anyhow, onto math (everyone's FAVORITE subject), my precal classes have now entered a simple (saved) program into their calculators that they'll build on tomorrow to "move" a line with the arrow keys. WooHoo. ... AND, a fraction success story. Some of the kids I had last year (to whom I taught a fraction song), that I have again this year TOTALLY did not complain, and TOTALLY got right to work on a hairy fraction problem I gave them today that involved variables and fractions within fractions and such where you had to solve for x. I'm so proud of them.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Vector Application

I'm in the middle of showing my precalculus students how vectors are used to move objects in programming to make (say) a video game (or maybe that's "old school" and so what should I say, "xbox game"? ...).

Last week I had them work through a word problem that stepped them through the basics. So here we have the reading skills come into play again. They had to really work at parsing through information to see what a diagram meant and what was meant by notation. Then today we did some basic programming on the graphing calculator. They're so psyched when a message they coded to be displayed actually gets displayed. WooHoo. ... So far we're having fun.

Of course Tuesday is our ELA TAKS test, so most/all teaching gets put on hold. This is our state test for graduation/NCLB.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Calculus Cubed

I have a crazy suspicion that I'm becoming one of those annoying people that has to insert a particular word/experience/fill-in-the-blank into several conversations every day. My word is "calculus". I think I may be getting tired of listening to myself. Note to self: you may not utter the "c" word all weekend. ... I guess I'm just obsessing about it because it's new and is giving my brain a great workout and is a nice challenge. (okay, weekend starts NOW, ..(calculus)... no NOW!)

I had one student come for help after school and another to make up a quiz. The one who had to make up the quiz is in my 1st period class, and she's hit or miss on whether she makes it to class every day. Well. It turns out that she's responsible for getting her brother up and out of the house, and he's super sleepy, and so some days she misses the bus and has to walk the 30 minutes to school and doesn't make it in time. Ackh. The things these kiddies have to go through.

The other student was coming for help with vectors, which we're studying in precal_ _ _ _ _. She had a breakthrough in her comprehension. And then she started talking about how they had "learned" this in physics earlier on in the year and how she was having a hard time then, so she was a little worried when we started covering it.

I loved what she said ... and I want to keep it fresh in my mind so that I can be mindful in my classes. She said that in her physics class there are these "geniuses", so every time the teacher would ask a question, they would quickly blurt out the answer, and then (her impression) the teacher would think that the whole class must have understood, so he would move on.

I try to have different ways of kids answering questions:
"think to yourself about the answer"
"let others think about it"
"wait 15 seconds before you answer"
"quietly tell your neighbor the answer so that spies from other groups can't hear you"
"let me see a show of thumbs, up for yes, down for no ..."

Hopefully, I don't fall into the same trap (too often??) as who she was talking about.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

It Was the Best/Worst of Times...

Today it seemed like fight upon fight broke out at lunch time (full moon? or I thought that was a few nights ago...). Apparently, it got so ridiculous that we went on lock down and extra cops were called and we made the news. Blach. Bad press for our school due to some goofballs.

This evening I went to a performance by our precision dance team. They were spectacular. Apparently, at a recent citywide (?) competition, they brought home heaps of awards. Yay.

Today was a good "differentiating instruction" day for me. I polled my calculus students individually (the ones that were really struggling, and the ones that were finished way before anyone else) to see how they want to proceed. I made appointments with 3 of the strugglers to basically get an individualized plan going for them to reteach them everything. ... One of the "breezers" said he was fine with the pace and didn't want extra stuff piled on him. My other "breezer" said he'd like to learn about matrices. That was from left field. After a wee bit of prodding, I found out he wants to do computer animation, and it involves matrices. Yay. Good thing I've worked with matrices and with programming. I'll have something to offer him.

Great tip from one of the recent workshops I've been to. Make a "group" of e-mail addresses from the parents of your students in a class, and then you can keep them all informed by sending one e-mail periodically to let them know when tests/quizzes/projects are coming up and such. This seems like it would be an effective idea as I already get help in getting late homeworks in from my periodic e-mailing home of progress reports.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

I heart Valentine's Day

H.S. Math Teacher's Equation:
2.14 + chocolate^6 + teens + high school hormones + bell schedule not working correctly = LOTS OF DEEP BREATHS BY TEACHER

Advisory Student's Question to said (known to be married) teacher:
"Does it get boring sleeping in the same bed with the same person for 11 years, miss?"

Said teacher's reaction to another class when one of my students put up their 2 ft. "dancing monkey" on my overhead and pushed the button so that the monkey started swiveling its hips and singing to the song "I'm too sexy for my shoes":
uncontrolled laughter

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Math Workshop

I've been so lucky this year to be able to attend a variety of workshops. This past Friday and Saturday I went to one in San Antonio given by the College Board. It's amazing to be surrounded by such excellence in teaching. It invigorates me and makes me strive to always improve.

Interesting notes:

One woman was obviously much loved and sought after for her teaching advice and talks (and it's obvious why). But. It was highly awkward when I was sitting there before one of her talks, and another teacher went up to her and was gushing about how she loved EVERYTHING this woman did. Gush, gush, gush. eek.

We were staying on the 19th floor of the hotel, and at 4:44am, a loud voice comes over the intercom indicating an alarm had been sounded and to stay calm and await further instructions. Then a loud alarm went off. These 2 things happened about 20 times each. My roommate and I were of the mind, "great, a false alarm", and waited for it to go off. Apparently, others started the trek down the stairs to the first floor only to come back up again. Hmmmm, who knows who was "right".

I'm not much of a teacher for "games" in the classroom. I can't manage it so that I think they're learning at the same time as just goofing off. I went to a "games" talk, and now I'm a convert. She explained it such that her "games" ... (one example is a polar coordinate version of Battleship) had the students doing basically 48 problems (or so) and having the information stick in their heads and having them remember it for the quiz and beyond.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

TMI (times four)

TMI #1: I was doing my "tardy student sitting in the cafeteria" duty and circulating and glancing at what the kids were doing as I was walking. One student was reading a book. As an avid bookworm and an avid nosey person, I peeked at the heading on one of the pages (looked like a novel), and I was about to engage him in conversation to see if he liked the book, when I read it: G-Spot. Okay, walk on by, walk on by.

TMI #2: 1st question a student asks me in class before the bell rings, "what does copulate mean?". Ahem. "Why are you asking? ... and are you serious?" ... "well, some student said a bad word in my last class, and the teacher said, 'oh, you must mean copulate.' "

TMI #3: A great student has been absent a heap in my class, and comes back today to say (s)he was having heaps of doctor's appointments and just found out (s)he was bipolar and ..... heaping on more TMI. la la la la la la la

TMI #4: I was helping a junior (senior?) after school to prepare for our state exit exam, and as the hour went on, I realized he had no clue on how to solve simple equations, but could be a whiz on the calculator and "finding the answer" (though not knowing what it means). Boo! Now that's scary.


This is my 3rd year of teaching at this school, and I've taught a variety of math levels, so there are some students I'm teaching for the 3rd year (or 2nd year). I have some "3rd year" kids in calculus, and I have some "3rd year" kids in precalculus. Don't get me wrong, I like my calculus group of kids, but I seem to have a better rapport with the group of kids that I now have in precalculus (even last year with the same basic sets of kids ... one level down).

We get off on these goofy tangents, and they find the corny jokes I tell them funny, and they even share goofy ones with me. I'm wondering what it is. It can't be the age level (because of last year's experience), it can't be the content level (ditto). Maybe it's just what it is. But I know I'll miss this particular set of kids when they graduate.

Okay, a shared example:

(put your index fingers up in the air, and twirl them continuously throughout this "joke")
me: knock knock
you: who's there
me: woo
you: ____________

(see what I mean? corny)

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Two Updates

The weekend workshop was hmmmmm. It was a college professor talking at us the whole 3 hours (with slides of photocopies of a paper he wrote, i.e. small print) discussing the fact that to be good teachers, we should talk with the students or assess in some way, to see where their level of (mis)understanding is, so that we can know how to proceed. ... And I don't want to sound snarky, but ... we already know that. Maybe this is new to college professors because they're not so much taught how to teach as how to do research. Oh well, I did get 3 good things out of the talk.

We picked the 10 students to go on the spring break field trip and to be mentors next year for seniors applying to colleges. It was a tough choice as you had to balance out who would benefit from the trip to who would be a good mentor to who actually put out a concerted effort in their application.

Thursday, February 02, 2006


On Wednesday I tutored an Algebra 1 student who was just starting to learn how to solve 2 step equations (solve: 5x + 3 = 13). ... I've taught older kids for so long, and I just daily take it for granted that "my" kids can do that without thinking, that I forget how much they know and how hard it must have been when they first started out learning such things. It was refreshing and a nice reminder that everyone has to start somewhere, and it doesn't just come naturally.

Of course my precalculus kiddies were struggling today with:
Solve sqrt(x-5) - sqrt(x) = 7

Everyone is struggling at a different level. ... except for us perfect people (cough cough).

Yap Yap Yap

Sometimes I realize that I talk too much. For example, every couple of weeks or so I hand around a grade sheet (with student #s, not names) for them to see what they're missing or where they're currently at gradewise. Then before I hand it out I always go into my spiel about, "I'm passing around the grade sheet ... look for your zeros .... time is running out ... look quickly and pass it on ... make sure everyone in your group sees it before you ...".

Oh my goodness, I've just realized. Be quiet and just pass it around. They can figure it out. That's what I "accidently" did yesterday, and then realized that was ideal.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

New Seats

The seats in my classroom are arranged in groups of 4, and, of course, periodically I change their seating assignments. When I do so, they talk for about 3-4 minutes, and they have to learn everyone's name, and I throw out another question they're to pursue. Afterwards, we go around the class, and a group representative has to share with the class.

Past questions have been about: favorite ice cream, places they've visited, etc. Yesterday's question (which I think that now is my all-time favorite) was, "what's your earliest childhood memory?" There were some funny ones. One student said that he started a food fight in 1st grade and told us the circumstances behind that. Another girl said that when she was 4, she told her brother that he was adopted and made him cry. Another boy remembers being cold and pressing his hand against a hot iron. Hmmmm, I'm noticing a bad theme here.