Wednesday, April 29, 2009

School Schedule Craziness

Whew! It's TAKS week in TEXAS high schools. Four days of altered schedules and proctoring not-your-kids and not being able to teach "real" classes for most sections because otherwise the other classes would be off whack. AND to top it all off, thank goodness, we got the go ahead to hold some AP prep sessions during TAKS, so our seniors wouldn't miss a whole week of learning right before the AP exams. AND the schedule was such that I still have my 2 calculus classes all week. AND I'm holding an AP Blitz after school every day from 4:30 to 6pm to "rah rah rah" and tutor my calculus kiddies. Whew! (a "whew" sandwich).

I also see one of my 3 precalculus preAP classes this week, so I can't teach new stuff, but I don't want to have them just sit there, so I did a fun topic. I also gave them a quiz they were sure to get 100% on at the end of class, so that the "good kids" who actually showed up to class would be rewarded for doing the right thing and not skipping class.

I taught a topic I love that can be done in any amount of time. I had about an hour, so I covered: counting numbers in different bases. Then converting between base 10 and other bases (back and forth). Then adding in different bases. Then subtracting in different bases. THEN multiplying in different bases. I liked their wide-eye understanding of what it means to "carry" the 1 now in base 10 and how to "carry" in other bases. I also love what happened with one student. She has been struggling ALL year. She is never completely comfortable with a concept. She feels stupid. She's failing, and yet she shows up to class every day and pays attention and does not quit.

Anyway. This topic started out much the same for her. She sat there all frustrated, but she kept asking questions. Then. BLING. She got it, and she was whizzing through all the things we did. Then she was helping others. Then she truly got 100% on the end-of-period quiz. She walked out a happy camper.

Anyway. I present it by talking about how we can think of numbers in base ten as filling up bins from right to left. Each "chip" or "1" in a bin means I have "1" of that type of number. Once the bin reaches 9, and I try to add one more chip, then I am overflowing in that bin, and I have to scoop all 10 chips in my hand and put a "1" or chip in the next bin over to the left. The bins are:

... 10^4, 10^3,10^2,10^1,10^0 (and so on to the left)

So in (say) base 4, the capacity of each bin is 3 (one less than the base number),

... 4^4, 4^3, 4^2, 4^1, 4^0.

For example, 231 in base 4 means you have 2 16's, 3 4's, and 1 1's, so your base 10 number that means the same thing is 2x16 + 3x4 + 1x1, or 45.

I also peaked their curiosity about what decimals would mean in different bases.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Two Funny Incidents

Some of my precalculus students were staying after school to (gasp) study for a test coming up in a couple of days (new behavior). Anyway, they were working through logarithm and natural log problems, and one of the students muttered, "what are these used for (good for) anyway?". Then another students quickly pipes up with, "shhhhh, she'll assign us a project!".

This made me laugh. Throughout the year, I've given them various small "projects" to research things like:
* how do the conic sections show up in real life (what is it about their properties that lends them to the use).
* who uses imaginary numbers
* how is trigonometry used and find one fact you find interesting about it.
* what are fractals and what's one use of them.

These are usually small posters (8.5 x 11) or just handed in on paper. They have to cite their sources and have a good presentation. This way, I make them do the work, and sometimes, I have nice posters to hang around my room.

The other funny incident happened while they were reacquainting themselves with log and ln and "e" and their calculators. After a bit, I asked them to look on their calculators and notice the positioning as a pair of ln & e ... and log & 10^x ... and linked it to the positioning of x^2 & sqrt(x), and cos x & arccos x. I made the connection that they are all inverse operations of each other, and that's why they're placed that way. Then a student comes up with another example of inverse operations: "oh like the positioning of the ON & OFF keys".

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Since it's the end of the 6 weeks, shockingly a hoard of students are now just realizing they better get their act in gear and turn in late work or do "retests" to bump up their smelly grades. Because of that, I ping-pong back and forth after school from one kid to another reteaching or helping and such.

Yesterday, two kids wanted their memory refreshed on old topics so they could understand their homework or take a test. I was just about to sit down and talk with each of them, when I thought to show them the textbook in one case and some copied notes in another case. I made one kid look in the index for his topic (solving systems of inequalities), and I showed him how to look through the examples and try to understand it. I told him to ask me when and if he had questions. With the other child, I gave him the same instructions with the notes (on graphing polynomials and finding their zeros). I told him to look at his old test and find similar problems on the notes and to ask me questions when he had them.

Whew. That worked out great. They both diligently poured over the texts and worked things out for themselves. I guess this is one skill they need to practice/learn: how to learn for themselves without thinking someone else is the ONLY source of knowledge.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

High School Kids

Two funny incidents happened within the last week. In one class I was giving a polynomial test, and allotted an hour. Some kids were done early and put their heads down to nap. This is the ONLY time I allow this. At the same time I'm back at my computer taking roll.

We hear a key in the lock and see the door open, and the principal comes in. He frequently does this visiting of classroom thing. I instantly feel guilty being back at the computer. Then my brain kicks into gear, and I quickly glance over at the 2 kids I knew were sleeping. Their heads were up, and they were studiously pouring over their tests. I laughed on the inside. Boy do they know how to play the game. As a class after he left, and the test was over, they mentioned it and laughed about it, and I had to thank them for not getting us in trouble.

In my second class, I have a periodic visit from another man who basically oversees a math program at various schools. I like to talk with him, and we have many conversations about the state of affairs in education. I consider him a friend. Anyway, he left after a brief visit to discuss something during one of my precalculus classes, and a few girls started giggling. "Ooooh, he likes you. Is he your boyfriend? He's cute." etc. Oh my.

Well, yesterday he stopped by again to give me some information. It happened to be during that same class while they were practicing some problems. Though happy to see him, on the inside I was groaning because I knew the kids were on full alert. A third of me is listening to him, a third is keeping my ears open for my kids to see what they're doing, and a third is hoping he'd leave quickly, so we wouldn't have an "incident". RIGHT after he left, the kids stopped pretending they were working and started teasing me again about him being my boyfriend and gently mimicking things we were saying but in a sappy sweet tone of voice. Oh my goodness. I had to laughingly admonish them and say thanks because every time I see him now, I simultaneously see my class saying, "ooooooh".

I'm going to miss these kids next year.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Students With Issues

My algebra 1 preAP class started out horribly 2 days ago. It's the first period of the day, and as I'm herding kids in, I notice one girl with big sunglasses on. I asked her to please take them off. She ignored me. I waited to see what she would do before asking again about 30 seconds later. Again with the nonanswer. The bell has rung now. I don't want to make a big issue of it, but I can't ignore it and have any credibility with my students. She's a touchy, edgy kid I've gently butted heads with before. I stand right in front of her and ask her again. She refuses. I ask her to step outside and that I will talk with her in a bit. I start my kids on checking their homework, and go outside.

No she does not want to take them off. No she won't tell me why.
"I don't want to."
"Not the issue," I reply.
"I don't want people to look at me"
I can sort of see through the glasses and nothing seems to be wrong. This goes on for a few seconds. I indicate that now she has taken it to the next level. She's directly disobeying me, and if she continues to keep them on, I'll have to send her to the AP. I tell her I'll give her 3 minutes to decide and go back inside.

All the time while I'm teaching my other 20-some kids my mind is racing:
-ackh. I hate calling the office
-what's the office number?
-what's the procedure?
-how long will it take to fill out the paperwork and what a waste of instructional time.
-take OFF your glasses for the love of pete and just come inside
-heyyyyy, her bag and her beloved cell phone are still in the room.
-maybe I'll just let her sit out there all period.
-ackh I hate this.

She never decided to come in, and I never sent her to the AP. I like to deal with my own discipline problems whenever possible unless they're skipping or doing harmful things. The 1.5 hour class ended. I felt bad. I called her mom and left a message. Her mom called me later because the girl had texted her. Apparently, they'd had a HUGE fight that morning about my class and her mom wanted her to get tutoring and the girl is all frustrated because she's not used to not getting concepts immediately, and she's struggling this year. So I'm guessing the girl had red eyes from crying and didn't want to attract notice. Can you have just TOLD me that somehow! I'm so glad I didn't send her to the office.

Then later I sent home an e-mail about a calculus student who I haven't seen in a bit. His attendance has been spotty, and I'm worried about his grades and AP exam outcome. My class is the only class he has on campus one day, and it's at the end of the day. My cynical mind is thinking he's just finding it hard to make it back from the community college.

Hmph to me and my cynicism. Apparently, he's had this soap opera existence for the last little while, his mom wrote me. People and animals have died lately, and she's been gone a lot, and he's been sick tons, and and and. Today I saw him, and on the positive side, he's very smart, so he can quickly catch up.

A 3rd student has had horrible attendance in another 1st period class of the day. Starting around Thanksgiving she's been gone more than she's been here. Another teacher gave me the heads up that she was going through some personal issues. On one of the days I saw the girl (who I like), I asked if she was okay and did she have someone to talk to. She did. But then again with the hit and miss attendance. Today I saw the other teacher again and said I was worried about the girl and did she know if she was okay. Okay, TMI time. The teacher told me what was going on. Ahhhhhhh. But still. Come to class, don't fail. You're too smart. And now I have this other knowledge running around in my head.

Then there's the kids I know of who have moved out or have been kicked out of home. There's the super poor ones that have to ride the bus 2 hours each way to come to school. There are the ones that go on crying jags during advisory.

I'm sending out big hugs to all of them for just continuing to plug away and *mostly* take care of business.