Sunday, April 30, 2006


I had a great time with my coworkers in St. Louis at the NCTM conference. I went to talks on assessment, questioning, struggling learners, fun math, challenging brain stretchers .... I'm revitalized to end our school year.

Here's one puzzle I got from a presenter. She puts up a new line every day, and her students have to guess the pattern (and/or guess the next row of numbers). I'll put up a few, but of course it goes up in stages and can go on forever (and lead to interesting follow up questions).


Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Pool Tables are Ready

My sweet husband cut out the 3 elliptical pool tables from our left over shelving material. I wasn't home when he did them.

The first one went fine. He just cut along the outline my 1st period made. He also did the 2nd one, but felt the outline was too close to the edge (within an inch), but cut it anyway. On the 3rd one, he decided to cut uniformly about 1/2" in from the outline of the ellipse because again, he felt it was too close to the edge.

Well, unexpected, but a great question for the students: is this new shape still an ellipse by definition? I posed it to them on Tuesday without resolving the issue. I'll let them stew over it (or in most likelyhood forget about it) while I'm gone for 3 days .......... to the NCTM conference in St. Louis.

When I get back, we'll try out the tables and see how accurately we can shoot from one focal point anywhere along the edge to see if it bounces back to the other focal point. Tres exciting.

I guess I'd better go pack since I'm leaving for the airport in 45 minutes!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Expectations of Students

I gave my practice AP Calculus AB exam this past weekend. The students had to show up at 8:30 in the morning and sit for about 3.5 hours and take the "mock" exam. Of course they whined about coming in, but I just put on my stern teacher face and just went on like, "of course you'll come in. Why would you NOT come and sit for an exam? (on the weekend, early in the morning, using your brain before it has woken up?)" ... on the inside I was wondering how many would show up. Well, 23 of the 28 showed up (woot woot).

They did not do as well as I would have liked, but on the bright side, they made silly mistakes that if they could fix, they would have boosted their scores to passing and getting college credit. They'll be working on that this week. I felt like I had to walk a fine line on Monday cheering them on to step up to the plate, and admonishing them for not studying harder before. It seems to be the culture of this particular school for most (but definitely not all) students to just do the bare minimum and not put out any extra effort to excel.

I had a discussion in the work room with a teacher who said, "no student is a competitor any more". He basically seemed to think that it's pointless to try to get them to work hard. I can't believe that. You can't just discount a whole generation of people, and say that they'll never improve. There has to be a magic combination of things that you do as a teacher such that various actions on your part will affect various students to do better. I've seen it. I haven't seen it consistently, but that's my battle to overcome, to "do better and to improve".

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Cool Facts

We found a great way of getting a sense of relative sizes of BIG things today. One of my students told me that she was reading her math text the other night. First I thought she was joking, like, "I was sooooo bored, I actually read my math book". But she was serious (woot woot). She mentioned a cool thing she learned.

In our text they compare a million (10^6), a billion (10^9), and a trillion (10^12) with the following questions. Now, I couldn't figure out a fast way of putting a drop down menu with the answers here, so I'll put the answers in the comment section.

1. How much time is encompassed in a million seconds? (in hours or days or years) ..... don't use a calculator, just go by gut feeling.

2. How much time is encompassed in a billion seconds? (again, no calculator ....)

3. How much time is encompassed in a trillion seconds? (drop that calculator!)

How cool is THAT .... and how mind bending.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Two Nice Surprises

In the last 2 days I have "had to" be present at things I was not too sure were going to be worth the time (and or money). .... But having reached the ripe old age of 41 and having been in these situations before, I always hold a glimmer of hope that I'll either learn something or be pleasantly surprised or something good will come of it (since this always seems to happen). Well. It happened twice in the last 2 days.

On Tuesday, our 11th graders were not testing for TAKS, so we had a motivational speaker come to the gym to try to hold their attention for a good part of 90 minutes. If you've ever been around high schoolers, you know that's quite a challenge. We've had "motivational" speakers in the past, and I've been disappointed in the kids' behavior and had to search hard myself for the motivation in the speech. Not so this time. Joseph Jennings came and had their undivided attention for as long as he chose to speak. He's a former gang member, and now he travels the country talking to kids. He was articulate, real, honest, and carried a lot of good messages for the kids. He discussed what it meant to be a "man" or a "woman". He talked about respect. He talked about choices. LOVED. HIM.

And tonight we had a substitute for tap dancing. Part of me wanted to sneak out, but then the more mature part of me kicked that part in the butt and stayed for class. What fun. We laughed; we learned; we swiveled our hips to do double pull backs. A nice way to end a great day.

On a side note. A student said to me today, "you should write a blog". Hmmmm. I said something noncommittal. Actually, I've told nobody that I blog. Not even my husband (though I've hinted at it). I guess when I started, I figured it wasn't worth mentioning because I felt like a poser. Now, after a year and change, part of me feels like if I DID tell someone, and they knew me, and I knew they were reading, I'd start self-editing and not be "true". Who knows.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Questioning & Learning

I love when you are teaching and the students are not getting it (okay, THAT'S not the part I love) and then through some encounter with a student you realize what their misconception is. ... Then you totally revamp how you are presenting the concept, and they then all say, "Ohhhhhhh!".

For example, we (they) are learning sequences and have to deal with subscripted variables: an, an+1, an-1 ... I kept mentioning that the "n's" just indicate where you are in the sequence, but once they tried to apply it, they'd mess up. So .... "n" is the place you are (1st, 2nd, 3rd, ...) and "an" is the number in that place.

Well, I finally saw today that a student was mixing up things like an+1 and an +1 **, and then worked around to clear up THAT with the class. Ohhhhhhhh.

** let's say your sequence is:
n: 1,2,3,4,.....
an: 5,10,15,20,.....

Then a1 = 5, a2 = 10, if n = 4 then an = 20 and an-1 = 15 and an-1 = 19.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

From the TMI Department

Friday we were off from school, so I scheduled 2 doctor's appointments - a mammogram and a skin check. I was actually surprised they were open on Good Friday, this being a fairly religious region of the country.

I've never had a mammogram before, so I was a wee bit hesitant based on what I've heard. Some woman had mentioned a funny article on how to prepare for the experience: slam your breast between the refridgerator door a few times / roll over it with your car in the garage ...

It wasn't so bad, except for in the beginning when I was trying to make conversation with the person while she was visually checking out my breasts and then switching out plates on the machine. There were 2 different black plates, and she made a decision to switch them out. I asked what the difference was, and she said, "that one (the one she took out) is for larger breasted women. This one (the one she'd use on me) is for .... medium sized breasts (hmmmm, maybe small was the adjective she wanted?)".

Then on to the skin doctor. I've had this little scab on my nose and under my eye for about a year or more and they never go away, so I'm thinking "skin cancer" in a it-can't-really-be scenario. Turns out it's kitosis (?) and IF skin cancer develops, that's where it would manifest, so he recommended me freezing them off. He had a canister of liquid nitrogen (?) and did some spurts on my face, and that was that. WELL. I guess it takes a while for them to slough off. After a couple of days, now I look like I have small boils on my face. .... Oh yes, that's my wife/teacher/friend .... the one with the boils.

Friday, April 14, 2006


I guess it comes in ALL forms and at all ages. I usually associate bullying with elementary or middle school and with some toughie kid amassing a crowd of sheep and being mouthy and mean to a smaller kid. Not so, apparently. I have a senior boy in class (have had him for 3 years in various levels) who's thin, has curly, longish hair, plays the guitar, and always wears old rock band tee-shirts. Apparently, he'd had enough of some kid harrassing him and (as I was told) tripping him in this other class, that he took a ruler and whacked the bully. A fight ensued (I can't see this kid fighting) .... the big burly teacher wrestled the bully off "my" kid. The bully allegedly BIT the teacher's forearm ..... and so on.

A part of me is all adult about it (you should just walk away .... the kid's a jerk, ignore him ...), and a part of me is rooting for the little kid (good for you for standing up for yourself). Then I also see that these 2 kids are still in the same class for the rest of the year, so .... how's that going to work in the aftermath.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Comes Around / Goes Around

I'm part of a scholarship committee at school where we look at a list of candidates for various scholarships and pick a recipient. This past week the list included a person who is a BIG whiner in my class. Everything needs to be complained about. There's too much homework. It's too hard. I expect too much. I never help. Help me. Help me. Help me. ... Most of the time I'm pretty patient, though the other day I told this student that they complained too much, and they were "shocked", and said that it wasn't true. Hmmmm.

Well, this student's name came up for a scholarship. With a wee bit of hesitation, I mentioned the situation and also said that I didn't know if that should be a factor. There were also a handful of other kids on the list, all of whom were wonderful. Another teacher's reaction to my statement was, "yes, I've heard that a lot about this student". .... This student was not the recipient of the scholarship.

How does one distinguish between doing the kid a favor and telling them that their behavior is atrocious and just being "mean spirited" when telling the kid they're annoying? I mean, it's still a learning process to them. If no one tells them things are "wrong", then they'll just go on acting like they do because they don't know any better.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Elliptical Pool Table Update

Sheesh, it's so chaotic this project thing .... Today my goal for the class was to get a template for our pool table (one template for each of 3 classes). We discussed strategies, I had groups experiment on large paper, we voted as a class on best template. ... This took all period. In my mind, I thought it would only take part of the period. ... I guess I'm a slow learner. Meanwhile there was a lot of down time of them just goofing off (some of them). That's the part I dislike. I guess that's what you learn from after you do it the first time, and then you improve upon it the next time. Maybe written instructions with some pointed questions for them to finish if they are not participating in the template making?

We did get one template per class, so now the transferring of the pattern will be next. ... Other than that, rush rush rush as usual.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Asking Nicely

We STILL (shocking!) have problems with students whipping out their cell phones willy-nilly throughout the school day with nary a concern about the "rule" not to. It's a case of picking your battles, but most likely that contributes to the problem because the kids most likely see the inconsistency.

The rule is that if we see your cell phone, we take it away and at the end of the day you can pick it up. If it happens more than once, then your parents have to come pick it up. It's challenging to enforce in the hallways with students you don't know who ignore your "request" to give you their phone, and they just walk away. Whatever.

Yesterday, as a "good" student was walking into my class, I see him text messaging. "Put your cell phone away, please". Usually that's enough. But then I see him a minute later still on his phone, so I picked it up.

"Can I have it back at the end of class?"
"You can pick it up at the end of the day."
Class resumes.
At the end of class, he comes up to me in a fake (maybe my take on things) contrite voice, "I'm sorry I was text messaging. Can I please have my phone back?"

And this is the problem I have. I REEEEEEEEEEEEEeeaaaaaallllly dislike that type of manipulation. Just because you ask nicely for something, does not mean you should get it ("I really like your necklace. Can I please have it?") I also dislike that he thinks it should work. Ew. Needless to say (or is it?) that I kept his phone until the end of the day. ... With the state of techno-teens these days, I'm guessing that I caused some short-term DTs (shaking, wandering thoughts, anxiety,...)

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Ouch on 2 Counts

We went to a movie last night .... on a school night .... I feel so decadent. "V for Vendetta", and it was excellent, though I felt like an old lady because I kept plugging my ears at the LOUD parts. I think they were blasting the sound, and my already-deafish ears were protesting. (or maybe it was the logarithm activities we've done in the past where we discussed decibels and how they are related to logs, and I was remembering tidbits of information).

In other Texas school news: TAKS TAKS TAKS TAKS TAKS TAKS TAKS TAKS TAKS TAKS. (It's soon time for our 4 day exit-exam fiesta. Ey yi yi yi yi yi).

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Count Down

I can't believe there's only 7 1/2 weeks left of school. Too exciting, and at the same time, I wonder how we'll fit all the curriculum in. I guess it all works out usually.

My eyes hit upon excess 3/4" shelving left over from our (okay my husband's) shelf making of 2 weekends ago. Hmmmmm. Elliptical pool table material. Now I'm thinking we (they) can figure out how to draw a "perfect" ellipse on it. We cut it out with a jigsaw (okay, someone jigsaw-savvy does). Pop out the center, and voila, pool table for marbles or such. Sheesh. After all this, I hope it works. Maybe if we make the foci BIG ENOUGH :) ...

I'm SUPER excited about planning a solo trip to Europe for this June. I don't know how excited my husband is. He's not that thrilled with traveling too much since he does it for work, but he kept saying he'd come with me. But I don't want to have a non-excited companion. We'll see how it all works out. The current plan is: London, Brussels, Netherlands, Home in about 7-8 days. Who knows what the final plan will be, but I'm having fun reading books about it and looking on the web.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Elliptical Pool Table

We're learning conic sections in precalculus, and so far it's just been 2 days on each (circles, ellipses, parabolas, hyperbolas). We've covered the first 3. That was the bulk of how I was going to present it: create the conics with either paper folding or strings and pencils, and then get to the equation and then "work them to death". THEN. I kept reading about these elliptical pool tables where if a ball is at one focus, then any where you hit it, it will bounce off the wall and pass through the other focus. I think that's the coolest thing. I mentioned it to my 3 classes, and they got excited, so I think we're going to try and make one for each class to test this thing out. I told them that then we could be pool sharks and place bets with nonsuspecting non-mathies.

My latest idea is a thick wood piece left over from shelves, the inside part hollowed out in an ellipse shape, and then the thickness can be the "walls" of the table and we can use a marble as a pool ball. I'm so curious to see if this will work out.

On a funny side note. When I started the conic sections, I mentioned the properties of a parabola where if you put a microphone at the focus or a light bulb at the focus it has special "powers" because everthing "bounces" through there. Then on Friday one of my students had mentioned that he was at an electronics store and he saw this music contraption where it had a dome (I guess in the shape of a paraboloid) and a person would be the only one to hear the music. He said he was then thinking about what we talked about in class, and he joked that he called people over and gave them a lesson on parabolas.