Monday, March 31, 2008

Fun vs. Effective

Last year from a workshop I learned of a fun activity with which to introduce volumes of revolution to my class. It involved candy, the kids seemed to get it. They loved it. We all walked away with smiles on our faces. But then they got home and couldn't do homework involving revolving regions about various axes. Granted in class, we only went through 3 examples, I talked them through it all the while giving them a chance to process it. But still, no.

This year, I was looking through my files and came across another way to introduce volumes of revolution. It's (free) from . And there are TONS of calculus AB and BC (did I mention free) worksheets there. I'd hesitated using it before because it looked TOO LONG to get through in class. Then the homework was TOO LONG. Hey genius :), just because all the problems are there, it doesn't mean you have to use them all.

I used this sheet this time. I slowly walked them through the 6 parts of example 1. I kept stressing the questions to ask yourself, and I weaned them off my help so that by the 6th problem they could do it by themselves. Then for homework I assigned them examples 2 and examples 3 (12 problems) from the class work worksheet. Wouldn't you know it. They all got it right. AND they could then go on and do more challenging problems. Success.

I keep having to teach myself that not every student can get by on just one to two examples to teach a concept. Some students need 5 or more examples. But then there's always the time factor and the other kids in class that can get it with just one example. Anyhow. I'm now excited because I've found a new effective way of teaching this topic.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Seeing Pink

Well honestly, seeing Red, but since I'm not doing anything about it other than losing sleep last night, it's been downgraded.

Apparently, our algebra, geometry, and algebra 2 teachers have been told to stop teaching the curriculum and start teaching to THE TEST. The state-mandated, must-pass in junior year to graduate, must-pass in sophomore year to make our school "acceptable", must pass in freshman year or else the uppy-ups start to panic and worry you won't pass in 10th or 11th grade ... TEST. And for how long are they to teach to this test? FOR 3 MONTHS. That's 3 months of math knowledge they won't have the next year, and the next and the next. Oh my god that is so short-sighted.

Honestly, if I was teaching one of those classes, I don't know what I'd do. Would I refuse? Would I teach part of my class to the canned activities that they all must follow and then teach the curriculum? Would I raise a big stink and even go so far as to quit in protest? And why am I not doing something now? Just because it doesn't directly affect me (it will when they're in precal and calculus)? If you know something is wrong, and you keep letting it continue, aren't you just as guilty for it perpetuating? Argh.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

People Watching

I was out with my friend this weekend, and we went to a tea house in an upscale, outdoor mall. It was fun to people watch, and there were all types - pregnant moms with little kids in tow, glamour teens with their high-price accessories, vogue 20-somethings, everyday people in shorts, lots of girls in sundresses. I started thinking about the things that go through your head when you watch people.

I'm wondering if a lot of the mind chatter is like - oh I wish I had abs/legs/arms/etc like that, or I wish my hair swung like that, or I wish I looked like that .... and I'm wondering about how much that affects how you live out your life or the choices you make.

What if the mind chatter went more like - oh I wish I was as generous as that, or I wish I could forgive like that, or I wish I could contribute to my community in that way like that, or I wish I was as good a person as that ... more inside stuff than outside appearances.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Counting To Ten

I know we hear that once you ask a question of a class, you should "count to 10" to wait for the students to think about it quietly before you proceed to ask for an answer. And I guess when we're tutoring students, and trying to walk them through a process, you "count to 10" after you prompt them for a piece, so again they can process the information.

I literally "count to 10" in my head, and sometimes twice. Now not 1,2,3, ...., 19, 20, but 1, 2, 3, ..., 10 then 1, 2, 3 ...., 10. I'm wondering if other people do the literal counting in their heads while they wait.

Then again, I count the stairs in my house when I'm going down or up them (5, 8, and 6). I count the "bumps" in one piece of the highway on my way to work (10).

I think the counting is good. I sometimes count to 10 after I am "giving them notes", after short bursts of speech, so that they have time to process what I just said before I burst some more (I'm sure they're on pins and needles waiting for the pearls to fall from my mouth instead of thinking about boys or girls or prom or music).

I'm thinking of this one reporter on NPR. He always sounds different from the others. He's the one in Florida, and he talks really fast (compared to the other reporters) and it just sounds different and noticeable and you just want him to slow down. I don't want to be that "reporter" teacher, but I know I talk fast, so hopefully I'll keep counting to remind myself to slow down.

Monday, March 17, 2008


A while ago I got into the habit of keeping snacks in my classroom in a big plastic (dark, non see-through mouse resistant) tub. I like to keep, graham crackers, pretzels, cheddar bunnies, Newman cookies, CheezIts, cereal, etc. It seems to be an incentive for kids to come in for tutoring at the end of the day, or at least to have them stave off their hunger (or ruin their appetite for dinner) as they're getting extra math help. I found that baby wipes and extra napkins and maybe small paper cups for pouring treats into are helpful.

There have been some incidents. Once during first period, a student mentioned she hadn't had breakfast and wondered if she could have a snack. I said sure, and envisioned her quickly taking something, closing the tub, and getting back to work. After I continue with my lesson, I glance over at her, and there she is in all her glory, open tub next to her, and an array of snacks on her desk. We quickly fixed that, and I made a mental note: no "tub" during class time.

Another time a student asked (during class) to have a snack. I said, no, that it was only for after school. Then she tries on her pleading voice, "but I really like them, pleaaaaaaasssssse". Ew. No means no. I'm reminded of a TV talk show I once saw where the message was, just because someone asks for something nicely, it doesn't mean you should give it to them, their example was: "oh I LOVE your diamond necklace. It's so beautiful and elegant. Can I please have it?"

Then there are the "vacuum" kids after school - not many of them, but, sheesh. All snacks inhaled, and thank you very much.

But mostly it has been something I think I'll continue.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Spring Break

WooHoo! Nine days off to relax and catch up and stuff. I went to Portland, OR for a few days just to wander around, and the rain gods must have been busy elsewhere because it only rained on the night I came in and on the night I left. Note to self: red-eye flights bad, but made better due to the fact that I had a whole glorious row all to myself to "stretch" out in for 4 hours of interrupted sleep.

As I was wandering around and needing a caffeine fix, I started looking for either the *green* popular coffee shop circle/emblem or the *red* one. Then I got to thinking how that's so ingrained in our brains, and we now have instant recognition of logos and various signs even if they're too far away to read, we've memorized them. Then that got me to thinking about various things I want/need my calculus students to know: derivatives/integrals related to e^x, ln(x), trig functions, etc.

My thought before spring break was to have various posters around the room with "need to know" things on them. Maybe in different colors or styles, and just the fact that the kids have to stare at them every day may help them when the AP exam comes around, and they can close their eyes (maybe) and "see" what they need to know. Then I thought I'd force the issue and periodically (daily?) have us recite the posters. Then after my trip, I thought maybe we can design some sort of logos for these things. Anything to make facts stick in their heads when they have SO much to memorize.

Must think about this some more.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The Old Days

Today in precalculus we went over / reviewed / saw again / learned Long Division of Polynomials and Synthetic Division of Polynomials. I told the kids that I had mixed feelings about teaching the L.D. because I thought it was on its way out due to graphing calculators but I still thought it was worthwhile because it was cool and it allowed them to practice their algebra skills and solidify their knowledge of factoring.

Anyway, I mentioned that I had a friend that was about 10 years older than me (so she probably graduated high school in early 1970s), and she mentioned that she had to learn how to calculate square roots by hand, and these days we don't teach that anymore.

Another student asked, "didn't you all have to look up the sine and cosine and stuff in tables?" And that got me thinking. Yes we looked them up in tables every time we did trig, and so that visual memory was there, and we had constant reminders that you took sines of angles and the result was a number and all those numbers seemed to be between -1 and 1. (now I don't remember if it was between 0 and 1, and we had to think or not).

I seem to have too many instances now where in a situation, students don't intuitively know in sin x = y which is the angle and which is the number/ratio of sides. It seems like maybe we've/they've lost something from not having that table to help.

Saturday, March 01, 2008


Well, I tried the "blank out the correct answer on a multiple choice question" idea. None of us liked it. I asked for feedback from the kids after they worked on 5 problems, and they said, "well, it's okay if you get one of the wrong answers, but if you don't, then you don't know if you're not doing something ELSE wrong or if you're correct." I think I agree with them.

I went to "math camp" today (calculus teachers sharing materials), and I have a new appreciation for Winplot. It's a free software you can download from Exeter acadamy, and I've only used it for creating graphs for handouts in the past. BUT. One of the teachers showed how he used it for demonstrations in class and such. I'm by no means even close to being an expert, but it gave me motivation to learn more skills in the program. Apparently, they also have WinGeom, and WinStat ... or something like that. I haven't looked into it.