Saturday, January 27, 2007

Eye Contact

Last Wednesday I was at an all-day textbook adoption meeting listening to the publishers promote their wares. Interesting, tiring and enlightening all at once. There was one lady who talked very fast. I wouldn't have noticed it (maybe) if she hadn't been in a group of other speakers to compare to. But, sheesh, I found myself shutting down soon because I didn't have enough time to process her words before she moved on without a break. Then that got me to thinking about my teaching. I think I'm guilty of talking at that speed at times, and now I can see the effect it has on listeners. SLOW DOWN for processing purposes.

Another gentleman turned me off almost immediately. He was a professor and very engaging but seemed to be full of himself and at one point rudely shushed his co-speaker so that he could continue. Ick. Then I couldn't look at him for the rest of the time he was speaking. I listened to him, but I felt uncomfortable looking at him because of my distaste for his actions.

Other times at other talks I was so tired from sitting all day that I seemed to need to stare down at one inanimate object while listening to the speakers. That way I didn't have more stimuli than I could handle in the afternoon.

Of course, then this made me start thinking about my students and their eye contact with me in class. Sometimes I think they're not listening to me because they're staring off as I'm speaking, but then if I ask them about what I was just saying, they can repeat the information accurately.

The book(s) I loved were the ones with fascinating math history vignettes. There was love and duels and theft and all sorts of "non dry" tidbits for the kids (and me). I'll have to bring more of those into my lessons.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Sleepy (take 2,146)

Sheesh ... deprive me of more than 2 hours of my 8 hour sleep, and my patience goes out the window the next school day. I guess I'm used to it now, so about 60% of the time when I'm just about to snap at a kid, I realize that I'm a sleep-deprived zombie with no impulse control on the sarcastic comments, and I can stop them (the comments 60% of the time / the kids the other 40%) . I think I was okay about 62% today.

One funny thing. My kids sit in groups of 4, and when I pass out homework, I put them all on one person's desk in the group for them to pass out. And when I collect homework, I ask them to put them on one person's desk to be more efficiently collected. So I'm walking around while they're working on a calculator activity, after I've passed out returned homework and after we've gone over the current night's homework (but before I've collected it). I see a pile on one student's desk, and I assume he forgot to turn his homework back to his group. He's a funny kid that I like, and I jokingly reprimand him as I point to the pile, "hey! you've got DUTIES, mister." We look at the pile and then I realize that it's the homework I had yet to collect, and he turns to me and says, "no. YOU'VE got duties." Oops.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Student Insights

One of my students came in before school last Thursday just to use my room as a study place for her vocabulary quiz that day. She was mildly grimacing about a variety of things such as:

"I don't get the students who say their AP classes aren't preparing them for college. I'm studying to learn and honing my skills in the process. Whereas they're just doing enough to pass the tests."

(commenting on the fact that I'm there at 7:30am even though I don't teach my first class until 11:00am) "Some teachers wouldn't be here until 10:30 even though they should, and they talk to us about responsibility and work ethic. It makes me sad for the world."

Another student in my precalculus class refering to the upcoming test:

"I don't think a lot of us know how to study for math (tests) because up to now we haven't had to, so we don't have the skills."

Another student at the end of the period after I had moved him for constantly chatting with this other boy:

"I think you should permanently move me so that I can learn better and not have to be rude to this person that talks to me ALL the time."

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Snow in Central Texas

For the 2nd time since we moved here 3.5 years ago, it snowed in our city. Okay, snow, sleet, rain, pellets, snow. I guess the whole city shut down over 1/4 inch accumulation. On the one hand that makes me smile coming from NJ where we still would have had school today, on the other hand, I know they don't have the infastructure down here to deal with 1/4" of snow to have business as usual (and why should they).

On my 3rd hand (or 1st foot), school was cancelled today AND tomorrow. Woot woot for a 5 day weekend. Boo Hoo for at least 2 extra days tacked onto the school year now. On my 2nd foot, I'm going stir crazy since I can't go driving anywhere. There is quilting and knitting and web surfing and reading and puzzles .... oh yea, and schoolwork that's sitting lonely in the corner (LiC), and AP calculus audit work (LiC), and textbook committee work (LiC). Hey, they should get together and complete themselves, so that I don't feel too guilty for choosing crafts over work. Tomorrow I'll work more .... yesssssssss, that's it.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Blocks & Pieces


Well, it looks like we're going to block schedule next year. Blach for 3 reasons.

1. "Higher Ups" kept up the pretense of asking for our opinions, but those never seemed to be addressed, and then suddenly the decision seemed to be made.

2. I'd love it if someone would prove me wrong, but now I teach 5 classes of students, and so have approximately 25 students per class (and more often more than that). With block, I'll have 6 classes of students, and so will have 20% more students/papers-to-grade in the same amount of time for the same amount of money. Texas is going towards (to) 4 years of math per student, and now POOF they will have more teacher hours in essence for free. I do NOT mind hard work. I WORK hard to make sure I'm doing a good/great/acceptable-to-high-standards job. I DO mind being taken advantage of.

3. I think students need daily math practice. I think they need time to absorb material, so I can't necessarily cover 2 topics in one day and expect it to be successful.


I just introduced piecewise functions to my precalculus classes on Friday. The first year I taught it, I was surprised it wasn't a "gimme" topic. Students were confused by the notation and couldn't always successfully graph/analyze/use such functions. The second year, I tried a different way of teaching it, and still I had more confusion than I was comfortable with. This year, I think I nailed it. (famous last words??)

I started with an electric company example where they charge 10 cents per ___ for the first 500 ___ of electricity per month and 15 cents per ___ for anything more. We talk about why it may be structured that way. I stress the company charges per partial ____ too (continuous). They get to the point where they see the shape of the graph. Then I keep alluding back to this example later to make the connection.

Then I make sure they have colored pencils and a fresh sheet of paper. On the top (as I do on the overhead), I make them draw a number line across the page from -5 to 4, say, (spanning the whole page). I break it into 3 regions and 3 colors and talk about neighborhoods and if x is in one neighborhood, f(x) is ___. Then in the appropriate colors RIGHT under the number line in the correct neighborhoods, we define f, and make a table (all in the right color). Then on the bottom 3rd of the page, we make a coordinate plane, where the x-axis lines up directly with the one at the top of the page and graph the pieces in the right colors.

Then I say, that's too much work to explain this way every time, and we're "lazy/efficient", so here's the shorthand way of writing a piecewise function, and with the same pieces, write it as normal and make the connection with what each piece means. Hopefully, this year, it will be a "gimme" topic.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Vacation's Over

It was a nice long one. One great thing about Texas is we consistently get 2 weeks off for the holidays. I had a chance to sleep in about 8.5 - 9 hours. Luxury.

Things I want to concentrate on this semester (or make further progress on):
1. I'm trying to assemble a workable plan for getting the kids to keep track of their grades. I know as a human it's always easier to sit back and let things be done for you: how many homework assignments are you missing? what's your current average? My rough plan is to make a blank skeleton sheet with room to write each assignment as it's given and turned in and returned. This sheet will be turned in weekly for a grade ... how feasible is it that I will check its accuracy? Maybe that's a quick scan on the grading program. Maybe it will also have room for a parent's signature and comments.

2. I keep thinking about but never actually doing this: teaching kids some simple ways on how to effectively use their notes. Sticking points for me: how do I get them to buy into it, how do I assess their attempts?

3. Okay, my baby step is to read my brain-based learning and teaching for memory books at least 30 minutes once a week, and by the end of this next 6 weeks incorporate one new strategy until it's a habit for me.