Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Multiple Choice Idea

An AP English teacher passed on this idea from a conference she attended, and I thought it sounded effective and cool and will try it soon. Give the kids a sheet of good multiple choice problems (the non answers are based on common mistakes). Say there are 4 choices. White out the correct answer choice for each question and leave the 3 non answers (the kids know what you've done ahead of time). This way, the students work through the problem, and if they see their answer there, they know they made a mistake, and work harder at figuring out what's what.

I tried something a bit different last week - something I thought would work well. Well, it worked in that it gave me insight into what the kids DON'T know.

I had a sheet with 3 AP calculus questions. Stuff we've just covered. Stuff I thought they would be great at - integral of e^(-4x), derivative of (x^2)(sin(2x)), setting up a u-substitution integral. There were 5 answer choices. I gave all answer choices. I picked 3 of the letters (one being correct). I told them for each of the 3, either indicate it's the correct answer, or describe what mistake the student made if they picked that answer.

Well, talk about a stressful time in class. First of all, things they nod at you at when you're teaching, things they do homework on, and you think they know, things you've seen them do successfully. Out the window. Don't trust it until it comes down to proving it without any aids or support or notes or hints or prestudying for a test. So, it basically worked well in that it taught me to be careful and be more thorough in checking and rechecking their understanding individually NOT in a test situation. Second of all, it was fascinating how needy some of them were: am I right? can you just tell me if I'm on the right track? can I work with so-and-so? ... I kept telling them no to all questions, that that wouldn't help me know what they know. It was very hard not to help them, but I think that's what got us into this in the first place.

Whew. I have some work to do. But better to know that now than when it's too late.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

parent homework

About a week ago I assigned my precalculus students the following homework: teach your parents something about either polar graphing or complex numbers, and have them send me e-mail explaining the experience. I've started getting e-mail back, and while some of them are simply, "yes, my son taught me," others are more elaborate and even funny "I was a willing student", "hope there's not a quiz", "thanks for this experience", "I didn't know there were such things as imaginary numbers", "I remembered how to FOIL", etc.

I'm glad I did it, and I'll add it to my notes to do next year.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Wonders of Seat Changes

In both my calculus classes, I started dreading teaching, because invariably - yap yap yap yap - basically from 1 to 2 boys, but it would affect the whole class in some way. In BC, I sat 2 smart boys together thinking they would work well together. Well, they REALLY worked well together. They started discussing the problems loudly while I was teaching. They would outdo each other to call out the answers really quickly before anyone else had a chance to think - regardless of my constant, "think to yourself quietly / wait 10 seconds before you answer / etc". And when I would speak to them separately, they replied, "but we're learning". They didn't think it bothered anyone else. After numerous complaints, I separated them. Peace. Learning. They still don't think they did anything wrong, regardless of my, "you're not being homeschooled / you're not giving others a chance to learn" comments.

In my other class, the class clown got 3 - 4 other boys yapping, and they're pretty funny (in a nonclassroom situation) and I do like them. However. NOT IN CLASS. Today I moved the clown to the back away from the other boys. Now he's around some studious girls, and for today at least. Whew.

I can put aside my dartboard with their pictures on it for now.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Following a Rubric

At times in the past when I've included a rubric with my projects, I'm amazed that there are students that turn in something that explicitly do not include something that was clearly stated as part of the grade. For example, I may give requirements for "color" or "citing a source" or such.

Now I see it's either because I'm just like the kids, or because we're all human, or I don't know what. I'm writing a paper based on my teaching (national board) and following their format of answering specific questions, and it's a bunch of work, and I'm trying to do a good job, and I'm reading and rereading the questions to make sure I answer them, and I'm patting myself on the back because I'm "answering their questions". I breathe a sigh of relief when I'm "done".

Wait. Now I go back and reread ALL the instructions, and there, clearly labeled is a rubric on how we'll be graded. This is in addition to answering their questions. So this means I will go back after I think I'm done and reread my words with an eye for how it will be graded. But I can so easily see how a student might just think he/she is done because they've done the assignment and they're sick of doing the assignment and they wish for the assignment to go away and they may not want to go back and check on how that assignment might be judged.

Maybe we have to have an extra day built into the assignment, and once they bring it to class to turn in, they have to spend some time reading the rubric and honestly judging if they did what they needed to do. Maybe looking at someone else's and judging constructively. Basically teaching them how to use a rubric.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Unclear on the Concept

Once a week we have a 30 minute advisory where we meet with one group of kids and are basically their mom/dad on campus making sure they don't slip through the cracks. We have the same kids for 10th - 12th grades. This week I printed out their progress reports in all their classes and as I was checking in with each kid, I saw that two 11th grade boys who were sitting next to each other were both failing math, and they had the same teacher. I asked what the deal was.

One boy shrugged and said, "I don't know. He puts these problems on the board, and we're supposed to copy them and then he gives us problems to do at home." The other boy piped up with, "I think it's because he's a first year teacher." I was not understanding what they were implying, so I asked for clarification. Then one boy said, "well, then the next day he just puts more examples on the board, and then he assigns us more problems."

Oh my! The nerve of this teacher assigning homework. AND. expecting it to get done and giving a grade. I'm calling Amnesty International.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

New Kids

In the past 2 weeks I got 2 new kids from different states. They're both juniors. One's in my advisory, so I don't really "teach" him. The other is in my precalculus class. I had just handed out a survey to the kids the previous class and among other questions, I asked them to "tell me something good in your lives" and "is there anything bothering you (y/n) no details needed" and "if you answered yes above, is there someone you can talk to about it (y/n)".

Well before I read them, I saw the new student in the halls one morning this week and after hellos, I asked him if he did his homework just by way of conversation. No. Well, are you going to? I'll try. Well, try and do. Okay. I noticed that he was looking a little glum, but I didn't mention it. Later I read his survey response, and he went on about how he really missed his old friends and he has no one to talk to and he is not making new friends and such.

Of course here comes big mean teacher me: What? You're sad/depressed? I don't care! Do your math homework!

I later sent him e-mail mentioning that he could come to my class after school or during lunch as there's always some kids in there. That way I figure he doesn't have to wander around aimlessly looking/being alone while everyone else seems to be having a good time. I'm wondering how many other kids there are just dreading lunch or after school because of a big vast empty space of time with no one to talk to.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Class Statistics Continued ...

I taught my 2nd 2 "box & whisker" classes today (we're on block schedule), and after some of your comments, I polled my class and mentioned that we already did hours of sleep, and we also did TV watched. Did they want to do cell phone contacts or text messages? They liked that idea, but then other ideas started popping up, and we voted. Number of songs on your ipod or mp3 player eeked out front. I don't have a cell phone or a music player, so I didn't know what type of numbers I was in for. Sheesh. Our numbers ranged from 44 to 3100.

In my next class we took a poll again, and I thought this would be not so exciting, but their choice of number of shoes they have was interesting. We decided flip flops and slippers and cleats would count. I thought boys wouldn't have as many, but some did. The numbers ranged from 5 to 80 (now, the 80 girl had a sister with the same size foot, so they shared, that was her story and she was sticking to it). One guy had 60 (I guess tons of fancy shmancy sneakers). A girl with 5 pairs widened her eyes at the larger numbers.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

On the Fly Lesson

I planned to teach vectors on Friday, and I must have been super sleepy as I prepared earlier, because when all was said and done, it took less than an hour to cover what I needed to, and then I had 30 minutes left to fill with no plans.

Box and Whisker Plots to the rescue. We'd just discussed (as a department) how these will be on our state exit exam for the students and how they hadn't seen it since 8th grade. I cobbled together a lesson to show them what's what and how do do things on the graphing calculator. In my first class, we gathered number of hours slept last night, and worked with that data. I didn't like it so much since the numbers only ranged from 4 to 10. I polled my next class about what they wanted to count that had a wide range, and after some mis-starts, they came up with number of hours of T.V. watched in a week. Sheesh, that was illuminating. The numbers spanned from 3 to 30. I had to keep reminding them and myself to make no judgmental noises or facial expressions when someone called out their number.

As I still had time left, I asked them to figure out how to change the data without adding more data so that the box was wider. That got their minds working.