Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Wrapping Up the Year and School

Technically I have 4 school days left with children. I teach 5 of 6 classes that have seniors in them, and since seniors are having some finals early, I have NO FINALS ON THE LAST DAY. Woo Hoo. That will give me a huge chunk of time to pack up all my stuff and do "leaving chores".

I have to say that in my 12 years of teaching, this fall counted as my worst ever. This was not kid-related but adult-related, so in January I decided to look for a new school to teach at for next year. I found one, and based on several e-mails and encounters with my soon-to-be coworkers, I think it'll be a great place to work.

That doesn't mean it's not sad leaving a place I've worked at for 6 years, leaving students I've grown to love and would have been teaching calculus to next year, leaving many other teachers that I respect and enjoy being around, leaving a comfort zone of routines that I know, leaving a place where students know me.

And then there's the constant battle of thoughts in my head:
- you're jumping ship when you should have stayed and fought for what's right
- you can't work for people you don't respect
- you're moving to a functional place
- you're deserting the kids
- you'll have better mental health next year and more to share with the kids
- you'll never see these teachers again
- change is good
- change is scary
- will it be weird
- will it be better

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Crabby Pants Cookie

Raowr! It's really quite shocking that students would rather text with their friends or chit chat or stare of into space lately than learn super cool math (redundant, obviously). I'm shocked, I tell you. I do have some kids showing snippets of interest and other kids showing tons of interest, and I'm most likely at the end of my patience with this particular class because of year-long behavior of a handful of students.

Cases in point:

One student flitters in and out on attendance, and has missed some classes lately and all of a sudden (1 week before the end of his school year ... seniors take finals early) wants to make up a grade from 6 months ago, and can you please show me what I missed and can you please make copies of it for me and thank you so much.

One student after constantly coming in all year and starting every other class with, "oh miss, I was going to skip today, but I decided to come," has been absent the last 3 classes (one was valid, the other 2 shady). I gave her a zero for the quiz she missed on her shady day. Her current average is now a 25%. She suddenly shows up and has an interest in class and wants to please know what she can do to make up the grade. I question her about the validity of her absence. Oh, I went home sick. Cough cough. Oh, I'll get my mom to write a note. Oh please reteach me EVERYTHING I missed oh and thank you very much.

Two other girls start "maam-ing" me when they know they're getting on my nerves from disruptive behavior. "Yes, maam. No maam."

Deep breaths. They're just kids. They're still pushing buttons and learning how to act. It's spring. Repeat.

On positive notes: various students come up to talk to me after class about what we did and wanted to talk through further thoughts on the matter. Many students mentioned they'll be sad I'm not teaching at this school next year. Handfuls of students stop by periodically and chat about life and such. A student who got pregnant with twins her senior year 3-4 years ago and still managed to graduate now has cute little girls and comes to visit periodically and is going to school to become a nurse. A student I had last year who was so edgy and ADHD and rudely violent in the hallways last year has turned out to be one of my favorite students this year. She's pleasant (still edgy) and interesting and humorous.

A cool fact a student shared with me in calculus today while we talked about breaking the sound barrier: The 1st man-made object to break the sound barrier was ........ the whip. Cool.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Post AP Exam

After the AP Calculus exam every year (of the 4 I've taught it), I've done different things. The first year I did a volumes of cross section project with foam and hot glue and a ton of grief. That was the year I had a screaming match with a student outside of class. The 2nd year I took a break from that and did various other snippets of math topics with mini quizzes. No screaming matches. The 3rd year I revamped the volumes project and tossed in a volumes of revolution project with foam and hot glue and stricter guidelines. That year I had a child sit in class with his pants unzipped and then tell me later that HE WILL DECIDE what is socially acceptable.

This year I'm teaching snippets of advanced calculus to my 2 classes with "easy" quizzes at the end of each class that should be ace-able if they simply pay attention. So far I have one class being good about it, and I've even had one student finally perk up and get out of his morose I-suck-at-math state and pay attention to be able to pass the quiz. The other class was great for one day (when the loud students were gone for other AP exams).

There are students in that 2nd class though that are enjoying things. They come up to me after class to discuss the topics some more.

So far we've "covered" (just given them a taste of) double integrals used for calculating volumes of weirder shapes, surface area calculations, and Gabriel's Horn Paradox. I think I also want to do Fourier Series with my BC class and centers of mass and .... who knows what else. I have a great resource ... the Smith calculus book. It's the THICK blue one, and it has amazing problems and historical snippets and ideas. Anyhow, busy busy busy trying to learn things right before I teach them.

I was also intrigued by the Hubble Telescope news of late, so I assigned my precalculus class an assignment of bringing back 3 facts in their own words about anything to do with "Hubble". I told them that I wanted to learn about it, too, since I didn't know much about it, and I would also do the homework. I told them that we couldn't just exist in our own little bubble of everyday existence. We had to be informed about the world. Then a student said, "we'll bring Hubble into our bubble."

I told them to explore the "what,when,where,who,why, & math" of the situation. Anyway, I went on a particular website, and WOW, the pictures it sent back from space are breath-taking. Can't wait to see what they find out.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Surprising Gap of Knowledge

My teacher friend was having her advisory class address envelopes to their parents the other week to send out invitations to an acadamy picnic. She quickly realized that more than 75% of the class did not know how to do this and was shocked. After she relayed the story to me, I asked my freshman class and my mixed class of juniors and seniors if they knew how to address envelopes. I basically had the same result. We went through a quick lesson. In my freshman algebra class I wondered out loud when I had learned it and why it was useful (because they think they can just text and e-mail their way through life). I told them that it was fun to get letters in the mail, and when I was a kid, I had pen pals in different states. They then wanted to get pen pals with "littler kids" in other math classes. Hmmmmm, I think it's too late in the year, but maybe it's an idea for next year.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

NCTM goodies

I went to NCTM in Washington D.C. last week and learned and bought some useful things.

One talk I went to was about how to incorporate web tools into your class. They mentioned a great website, "Everything 2.0", that lists techy websites the blog author finds. There's a phenomenally easy-to-use graphing site that you can use and then save as a document or such to put on your worksheets. You can find this by scanning the list on the left of the page and clicking on calculator 2.0.

There was also a session about "Visual Thinking Activities" that had some great ideas. Two ideas were:

"talking graph". He gives them a graph (say of a line). They have to verbalize some (any) information regarding the graph; they have to make a table; they have to symbolize (equation) the graph.

He gives a picture of the xy plane and plots the point (1,1) without any scale on the axes. Then he randomly puts another point somewhere and asks the students to estimate the point. He spends time with each answer and does not stomp on any estimate. Just through discussion, the student may either stand by their answer if it's reasonable, or self correct if necessary. The point (1,1) may or not result from identical scales on the x and y axis, so that was cool. He does the same idea with the (1,1) but has it on a line and asks them to estimate the equation of the line.

I also went to a useful talk about "jump starting" your class - basically activities related to your topic of the day that take about 5-8 minutes or so. They gave a link that lists all their ideas in a word document. I liked the culling through foreign math textbooks and presenting a page covering your same topic. They suggested going online to search or finding YouTube links to show to class.

There was also a funny guy presenting various math related humor and activities. One example: "Algebra - an intense study of the last 3 letters of the alphabet."

Finally, I bought some books:
"Managing Your Classroom with Heart" good ideas from a high school teacher about relating to students
"The Inspired Teacher" discussing ways "unaware" and "aware" teachers handle various situations that inevitably come up in the teaching day/year.
"Geometry Teacher's Activities Kit" because I have their Algebra book, and it has some good resources to copy immediately and use, and because in my NEW SCHOOL next year, I'll be teaching geometry.
"Math Games: ..." more of thinking activities for the students.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Inappropriate Religious Jokes

Whew! TAKS is over, and today we resumed our regularly scheduled program of classes. I taught the basics of sequences and series in my precalculus preAP class 1st period. I had lunch. On my way back to my classroom after lunch, I ran into a student who walked and talked with me down the hall to my classroom. She was gabbing at me once we got into my class, and then all of a sudden she half shouts, "Jesus!". I quickly turned around to see where she was looking, half expecting to see a mouse or rat or bat or some such thing.

But, no, she literally meant, "Jesus". There was a 1.5 inch doll / flashlight in the form of Jesus on the floor. She proceeded to put sticky notes on him and hang him on my overhead. The notes said, "Math Jesus" and (being a calculus student) "integral of f(x) dx".

Oh my. In the remainder of the day, I had to make reference to the Jesus on my overhead:

Jesus wants you to stop chatting and do your work.
Jesus says to study this weekend for your AP Calculus exam.

Boo Hiss.