Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Difficulty vs Rigor

We had an interesting math department meeting yesterday to discuss ways to bring rigor into our classrooms. One activity was to look at a series of math tasks and deem them "high rigor" or "low rigor". For example: "Find a smallest integer that has exactly 13 factors". (note: we weren't supposed to solve the problems, just determine their rigorousness ... though being the math geeks that we are, we had to discuss solutions and attempt some problems).

Different people had different perspectives (shocking :) !). We had discussions on, "well, if you just taught the concept for some of these problems, they are low rigor" ... "if a child sees this problem a couple of years after it was taught, it will be hard for them .... does that make it rigorous or just difficult?" ... "is there a set definition of rigor?" ... "can you have a rigorous problem that is accessible to all levels of students in one class?" ...

Saturday, December 16, 2006

One More Week (yippee!)

It's all over except for the "tired lady making and grading the finals" for next week. Most of my kiddies have been really good about using class time and homework time to study. Most of my homework has been of the "go through old tests, reviews, book work and redo 10 problems that are challenging for you from a mixture of topics" variety.

I'm also about to get the last batch of cards from my 2 calculus classes to bundle up into books. I had everyone in class write on an index card something nice about every other person in class and decorate the card. They also had to write a card for themselves in which they list memories of this year and things they're proud of themselves for. Then on finals day, everyone will get their own book of memories from the class. There are some great cards that have been turned in (lots of thought and effort), and there are some "eh!" cards .... I guess it represents the different types of people in class.

I've also had my precalculus kiddies make a "cheat book" out of colored paper that they can write formulas in for their final: fold an 8.5" x 11" paper hot dog, hamburger, and twice more in the hamburger direction to get 8 squares when unfolded (4 down and 2 across). Then you strategically cut the middle 2 folds (fold in a hamburger fold and cut from the folded part up to the middle so that when opened and held in a "regular paper" direction you have a vertical cut in the middle through the middle 2 "squares"). Then fold paper into hot dog, holding out at the ends, and "squish" in, so that a + sign appears when looking at the paper. Then while looking at the + sign, fold all the segments of the + sign up, and voila you have a booklet ... "sharp creases are your friends".

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Three Student Interactions

Act 1: I have a stacked AB / BC Calculus class with about 13 BC students (and those with a mix of kids that took AB last year and some that haven't) and 6 AB students. We've all done the best we can (well, most of us), and I'm differentiating up the wazoo, and today was a topic I'd covered for some of the kids last year. So. I had a worksheet with 16 problems and let the "oldies" get started on it independently. I taught the "newbies" what's what, and we worked through 3-4 examples from the sheet. The rest of the worksheet was for homework. One of the "oldies" comes up to me after class and says, "I just wanted you to know that we only got through 6 problems, so if WE can't do it, don't expect the new people to finish their homework tonight", in a patronizing sort of way. Oh my. Get over yourself, is what I say.

Act 2: In that same class, at the end, I made the announcement that next semester, if they still want the AB designation, they may think of switching to the other period which is ALL AB and goes at a much slower pace (as it's designed to do). Something for them to think about. Also, if they wanted to stay in this period, they'd go on independent study and just review while I moved on with the BC students. So. Later on, a friend of some of the students in that class who does not have me for math this year, but comes by to visit as I've had her before, comes and says to me (in what I think of her ever so helpful voice), "I wish your BC class wasn't so hard that people had to switch down to AB". OH MY. What was today? Give advice to teacher day?

Act 3: I guess my speech the other day about passive learning actually sunk in to some students. A kid that is bright but has been coasting (and not to well) on his former success in math by just breathing, is not doing so well in calculus with his old ways. We had a discussion about his notes and about how he could use them more effectively and such, and he seemed genuinely surprised at the suggestions, like it had never occurred to him to read over his notes every night to refresh his memory ... or to go back and look at examples in his notes for suggestions on how to do problems. He mentioned something about, "well, hmmmm, maybe I'm being a passive learner like you had said." Hopefully, this will spur him to action.

Friday, December 08, 2006

"What are finals?"

I have a German exchange student in one of precalculus classes, and this was her question. Soon to be followed by, "are they hard?" after I'd answered the first one.

I'm trying to promote less passive learning since I see the trend at this school is: what's on the test? are you going to give us a review packet? oh! SATs on Saturday? Did I study with a workbook or online? No, why would I do that?

My first review assignment last week was: create a list of at least 20 topics that we've studied so far (I prompted them for suggestions on where they could find such crazy information: book, notes, test, homework...). Number the list, and by each topic write 2 things: approximate date "learned" (tee hee), and E/M/H for the difficulty level you experienced then and/or now on topic.

My next review assignment: choose 10 of the most challenging topics for you, and on an index card on the front write topic and a representative problem. On the back write a correct, worked out solution and maybe some hints to yourself. "make it worthwhile for yourself. don't just do it to complete this assignment."

I talked with them about passive learning and gave them a pep talk about, "you could probably write the final because think about what I'm going to do: make a list, pick some representative problems ....". I guess I just want them to reflect on the topics, and even just the act of writing the 10 index card problems will jog something in their memory. I'm also hoping that this will give them an idea of how they can study independently in other classes/schools/college/SAT...

This weekend I want them to practice their cards ... and yes, I'll have some review material next week and spend some class time ... I don't know what else I'll have them do with their cards and such, but I should do something.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Parent Contact

I got chewed out through a string of e-mail messages with a parent yesterday. ... But first a little background. I teach juniors and seniors, and if there are problems, I mostly deal with the kids. I figure that it's time to snip the apron strings and have them take more ownership for their learning. It's worked for me so far, and I mostly have students step up to the plate. I still have parent contact, and I keep them informed of the grades regularly by e-mail. But... -

head on desk? make them sit up/find out they're working 40 hours a week or not sleeping/feel bad for them/keep prompting them to sit up.

cussing in class? stongly discourage it with humor/stern looks/constant reminder until it stops.

Not turning in homework? highlighting the fact to them/sending their grades via our grading program and e-mail to all available addresses/prompting them to come in for help/accepting late work/tutoring.

And if a parent initiates contact with me, I'll make sure they're on the e-mail contact list, and keep them updated.

So. This child is failing my class. She turns in her homework late, in a rush, during the last weeks of the grading periods. She has come in for help maybe 3 times during the year. She never turns in her test corrections. She "yeses" me about coming for help, but doesn't follow through. I still send home grades and progress reports every week and a half or so. I have never heard from the parent. Well, unknown to me, somehow her mother's e-mail address got "unchecked" in the grading program, and she hasn't been receiving this child's grade updates. The only way I guess she found out her current grade was to check her daughter's e-mail. (after thinking about it, I remember that the girl had come in one day and told me that her e-mail address had changed and gave me the new one. I didn't think anything about it, since we have many parents that don't have e-mail, and I had no reason to doubt her, and so I changed it. Bad move.)

Well. ...oh my god you're a horrible teacher...why didn't you contact me if her grades were so bad ... I see you've given up on her ... I'll be speaking to her counselor ... I'm not your average parent, I care about my child's grades ... and back and forth.

Note to self: Make SURE you have some working e-mail address for any potentially failing student.