Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Winter of Discontent

Phew, a few days into the holidays, and I think I've finally caught up on sleep. It's lovely to nap when you want and to sleep past 5am. My mind keeps returning to how down and sour and stressed out I've been for this past semester. Most of it comes from policies "from up above" that are not sitting well with me.

For example, we have a huge tardy issue at school. They've tried various things with no great success, and "they" have to get the numbers lower. What do they do now? Let's ring the 6 minute warning bell as usual, but then let's start school and ring the "late" bell 1 to 1.5 minutes AFTER it should ring. Voila! Number of tardies has magically decreased (for now). And in response to teachers' indignation and concern about this bad precedent? "Teachers should trust the administration".

Another example, not-too-newish teacher is at her wits end with disruptive students and goes to administration for some extra suggestions on what to do. Response? Let's put the teacher on a "growth plan", which I think is akin to warning the teacher about possible teacher consequences, ultimately.

Another (biggest) example, let's make all the math teachers implement a disruptive TAKS remediation/pre-emptive teach-to-the-test strategy where students practice the 1st part of class and the last part of class and get taught the regular class material in between. Let's not test this process out for bugs or to see if the timing is appropriate. Let's not be open to any suggestions.

Arghhhh. In the past I've strongly believed in the public school system since it seemed most democratic (sorry I know that sounds judgmental about private and charter schools). But lately I can see the draw to teach at non public schools. I'm wondering if policies are implemented more sanely there and administration and teachers are not as badgered by the NCLB mandates.

Anyway, bla bla bla. Grumperina must go out now and spread her cheer on the human race during this last-minute-shopping time of year.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Finals Week

Tuesday we'll be into the 2nd day of finals. That's one of the (many) things to love about Texas. We consistently get 2 weeks off for Christmas break. Thursday is our last day with the kids, and Friday is just a minimal "check grade print out" sort of morning.

This year, I did something different for my precalculus final. In the past, at this school, it's been all multiple choice. Mostly because that's what the tradition had been and also because we are in such a rush to finish grades and turn them in. For example, our last test ends on Thursday at 1:10, and ALL grades are due by 3pm that day. Whew. Also, the finals are worth 25% of the semester grade, for however THAT fits into the equation.

Anyway, it never sat right with me, this multiple choice test, and this year, I made it a "fill in the box with your answer and show your work on a separate sheet" sort of test. This way, the kids are not overtly guessing at answers, and I can see more of what they know (or don't know as the case may be). I guess a time comsuming part of tests in general is hunting through all their work to find their answer, and even if they box it on regular tests, the boxes are all over the place. On my final, I placed the boxes, and there were only answers to dig through, and the grading went very fast. I finished up one set (33 tests) while I was monitoring another final ... and by monitoring I mean I was walking around and looking up every 10 seconds and answering questions and such.

Anyway, I'm REALLY looking forward to this break. It's been a stressful semester, and I've had to work with people I don't respect and whose focus is the ever-dreaded TAKS test at the expense of lots of other important issues. It's so bad, I'm wavering about coming back next year. Stress, stress, stress. Come ONNNNNNNNNNN holidays.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

New Things On the Radar

It's been a busy year, and I don't know if I've mentioned yet (to everyone I know and strangers on the street) that I have 4 preps this year. So maybe it doesn't seem too surprising that unlike the past, I haven't found the time to make new seating charts and change the students' seats every 6-8 weeks or so. Finally, they were getting SO chatty and comfortable with each other, something needed to be done.

I made little slips of paper that I handed to them as they walked into class, and I made them choose their seats. These slips basically said:

You are (mostly) in charge of your seating destiny.
Pick a NEW seat by following these rules:

1. Sit in a new section of the classroom.
2. You may NOT sit by anyone you’ve sat by before (front/back/side).
3. Find a seat that will allow you to learn effectively.
4. Be flexible and willing to move (a wee bit) if doing so allows someone else to satisfy these conditions.

Good Luck, and Go to it.

I was nicely surprised, and only had to move a few seats after they were all settled. Some kids moved themselves after class started and they noticed their chosen seat wasn't effective. Anyway. Whew. That chore done for now.

The second thing I think I'll start trying has to do with implicit differentiation in calculus. ONE of the issues the kids have is incorrectly slapping down "dy/dx" in the wrong places and wrong times or forgetting it all together.

I noticed one student was always successful, and when I looked at her work more carefully, I noticed she did the following. When taking the derivative of an "x" terms she adjoined "dx/dx", and with the "y" terms, "dy/dx". Then she later canceled out the "dx/dx" term since it equals 1 and it's always multiplied. This way, she puts everything in the right place, and she doesn't forget that she has to use this "extra" appendage. I think this is the way I'll start teaching implicit differentiation now.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Spread the Warm Fuzzies

Last year a teacher started something at our school that I thought was so cool, I had to do it to. I've done it a few times, and this last time I got a great response from one of my students.

I've done it in advisory (we meet once a week for 30 minutes), but I've also used it when I've had an extra 5-10 minutes in math class. I ask my students to write a thank you note (on paper I provide, with markers I provide) to a teacher in school which I then put in the appropriate mailboxes. I mention that it shouldn't just be, "thank you". It should be genuine and indicate something they appreciate about the teacher, and it doesn't have to be "saga long".

Anyway. This last time I did it in advisory, a couple of students were balking. I tried to persuade them with, "it really feels good when you get an unexpected positive note or compliment or such from someone. Think about how you're making someone feel." One student finally, grudgingly wrote a note.

The next time in class, he talked to me about it and said (with a grin on his face) that that teacher had come up to him and said she was having a horrible day, and then she got his note and it cheered her up immensely.