Monday, September 28, 2009

Memorable Classes

I started thinking about this when a *way* former student (2001-2002 school year) "friended" me on Facebook yesterday. I immediately knew who he was and what class he was in and what year and most all of the other students in that class.

Then I started thinking that this wouldn't be true with many other students and classes. Sure, some stand out and I can remember their names and faces, but ... let's see, roughly 12 years times an average of 6 classes times roughly 25 kids per class (and by "roughly" I mean I'm blotting out the recent years of 38, 40, 36, .... and 25 is easy to multiply by ... and I'm ignoring the fact that I had some students for more than one class) ... so ... 1800 students????? Is that right? Holy Moly.

So, I'm guessing it's a good bet that I wouldn't remember the bulk of them. And, I've been "attempt friended" recently by recent grads, and it feels weird, and I ignore it and move on. But back to the student in question. He's graduated from college now I guess and is working in a tech field. ...

Here are the reasons this class was memorable. It was a gifted & talented class of juniors, and they were smart as a whip. They started out kind of wary of me and the class, and were resistant, but we grew on each other. I would just throw the most obscure problems at them and put on my "game face" of "what? of COURSE I expect you to solve this .... what? you don't think you can?" and then I'd wait, and sure enough, they would come back with answers. It was also one of my smaller classes ... 14 or so. We also had a ton of laughs together over the silliest things. And ... well, after that year was over, right before their senior year started, one of the nicest, sweetest, kindest, most honorable girls from that class (and from the school) died in a car wreck on a rainy night. I'm choking up just thinking about it, and it happened, what, 7 years ago. Boy did I cry during her memorial. Their senior year was a bit more somber because of that, and the valedictorian was a girl in my former class, and her graduation speech wove that event in through her talk and about how it altered her thoughts and actions of that year.

I'm guessing that the most traumatic things are the most memorable. Like when you try to remember your earliest memory from childhood, and invariable it seems to be of some injury or something scary that happened. ...

Anyway, it's nice to see/hear about the kids that are now "adults" and having their next part of their lives. ... Maybe if I stay in one school long enough, I'll have the kids of my current kids?! Yeesh. Or at my advanced years ... maybe I'd be in dentures and Depends by then and too old to terrorize the little kiddies any more.

Friday, September 25, 2009


Argh! The dreaded number for a high school teacher. And what is it, that if you just make a problem up on the fly ... out of the infinite possible results that could come out, THIS one does.

Anyway, at my "new" school (when will I stop starting a sentence with that?), the kids are pretty well-behaved, and I don't really have many situations where I either inwardly or outwardly roll my eyes at their adolescent-ness. In one class, I have some 2 girls that are classified for special ed because of learning disabilities. Once or twice in the past when I'm making up problems on the fly, to "engage" them more in the process, I ask generally, "what is your favorite number?", and the first one to call one out, gets that number in the current part of the problem. This one particular girl shouted out as her favorite number, "69" amongst the other one digit numbers I was hearing. I didn't make a big deal of it then and just moved on, but I thought at home about an effective way I could address it.

In the past it was boys that did it, and I would just roll my eyes in front of the class and say, "high school boys!" and move on. Here .... girl yelling out .... weird. I couldn't get a grasp on whether she was doing it for effect or if she actually knew what it meant or was just cognizent of the fact that it got a reaction. Anyhow ... it happened again today, and I was ready. I turned to her and said, "you need to stop calling out this number. You probably don't realize it, but you are making yourself out to be a person you REALLY don't want to be mistaken for." or something to that effect and moved on. ... Let's see if this works in the future.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

New Kid on the Block

Blach! I think last Thursday and Friday were the 1st 2 days in a row that I had a completely good day. All the other days have been filled with either snippy looks from certain students because I dared move their seats, or second guessing myself because all the other teachers seem to be clicking and I'm not chatting with them, or rush rush rushing to get all my things ready to teach my 3 different preps and not feeling as prepared as I'd like to be and semi-winging it. And just general "blahness".

On Thursday I decided to kill my students with kindness. Instead of just scanning their homework for completeness, I wrote little notes on them ... something positive: "great work", "you really get it", "your handwriting is so neat and easy to read", that sort of thing. That was in my snippy student class with the seat changes. Well, miracle of miracles, we had a good day together. They actually worked and laughed at my lame jokes, and nary a snippy look passed.

Then another teacher sat down with me and we mapped out the algebra course we're teaching and that was good and I felt like I belonged. Then I actually had time to think things through about how I'd teach a concept (the dreaded "5-2(x-3)" type of situation where they DON'T want to distribute the negative (or subtraction) in front of the 2.

Then there was teenage girl drama on Friday, and I happened to walk in on it, and I think I was part of their solution. This was with a group of friends that were clashing, and some of the girls were my snippy students, so maybe we've made progress towards forming a better relationship.

So, WooHoo, I'm on the up part of the inevitable rollercoaster.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Absent Students on Test Day

I got my first taste on how things work at my new school in the cases where kids are absent on a test day. In my old school after I'd been there a while, I found what the culture of the school was and what it would take for the kids to finally make up a test (so that a week or so hasn't passed and they then finally meander in after school to make it up). I announced firmly at the start of school and frequently after that (right before test day) that if they were absent during a test, then I would put them in the hall the next class and they would finish/take the test. This stopped people from being spontaneously sick during test day. It also stopped people from taking forever and 2 days to make it up.

Well, at my new school, I just gave my first test. To be fair, a ton of kids have been out with the flu and such. So basically I had about 2 kids per class that missed a test over the span of 2 block days. Hmmm, I was told the kids were pretty good about coming in and being proactive about taking care of business. Supposedly, they were to come to me of their own initiative and make up the tests. Did not happen. Then the next class day I asked them separately when they could come in after school. Hmmm, mumble mumble. Still did not come in. Finally, I entered a 0 in the electronic gradebook for the absentees' test columns, and it brought their averages WAY down.

Our students and their parents have access to the gradebook. The advisory classes were also to check grades today. And magically, 3 students showed up after school today to make up their tests without any extra prompting from me. Coincidence? Well, either that, or I don't have to keep nagging. If they choose to keep the zero, okay. .... Well, what if later on after TOO much time passes, THEN they want to make it up. I guess I'll wait and see what happens to see if I'll change my strategy.

On another note. One of my classes was getting TOO chatty, and I was crabby in class because of it. New seating today. Poof! Quiet class (for now!) and poof poof: happy teacher that could actually crack some jokes because she wasn't monitoring their rude behavior. I even threw in some off-topic math that they actually found cool (who knew). I was making up problems and asking for numbers, at one point someone called "6". Then I had to say, "you know, 6 is a perfect number". Then went on to tell them what the definition of a perfect number is. Then shockingly (I guess it shouldn't be, but remember, this was my trouble class), they started to wonder out loud about other numbers and their perfectness. Ahhhh, I'll take this one bright spot with this class as it was our best time together since the start of school. Hopefully, it will happen more often.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Algebra 1 Surprises

This is only the 2nd year I've taught algebra 1 as a one-year course (in New Jersey we had a slower paced 2 year course of which 1 taught the 1st year). Recently, some interesting things have come to my attention that I'll be aware of the next time I teach it.

We've just started "baby graphing" ... I give them an equation, and x values, and then they find the y values and plot the points. They're still at the stage where they don't know if they should connect the points or not. When I prompted them on a linear graph as to whether they should connect them or not, I got "yes because they go up at a constant rate" or "yes, they follow a pattern". We'll fix that later. But here are some more immediate things that I need to address.

On the 2nd day we were doing this, I then did NOT give them x values. Oh HOLD THE PHONE! What should we do???? Oh no!!! We got that straightened out with the "rule of thumb" (then I had to tell them the origin of that phrase). Then here's the problem, sometimes I had given them a preset grid, and OH NO, the points they chose did not fit. They didn't figure out that they could change the scale, or NOT plot that particular point. So ... new buggaboos that I'm learning to address in the course of this unit.

Then, here's the more interesting one. I saw with alarming frequency that apparently, 10 divided by 20 is 2. I know. Who knew?! Then I realized, they did not know that if they saw "10 div 20" (where the div is the division sign) that that was the same as 10/20 or 20 into 10 (under the long division symbol). They didn't know what went where.

And finally, I'll have to come up with a clever way to make stick that if you're given: y = -x^2, and you plug in x=3, then that's NOT (-3)(-3). or similarly, if you plug in x=-5, then that's not (--5)^2 or 25. I'm thinking "x box": put a box around the x physically and follow PEMDAS. ... Another teacher today said that a student of hers suggested, "oh! y=-x^2 can just be written as y = 0 - x^2". Then they would follow PEMDAS more easily. Maybe I should try that.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Sitting at Tables

This is the 1st time in my teaching career that the students sit 4 at a table. I've always had desks that have been arranged in groups of 4 (facing forward). Now the kids are 2 on each side facing each other, and the tables are angled towards the front, so that everyone can see the board.

Well, this past week I gave my 1st quizzes, and I was pondering what to do about wandering eyes. I didn't have enough time to make a big table divider, and doing nothing didn't sit well with me since I can't monitor all students at all times. So I remembered what I'd heard about manila folders propped up in front of each student.

I was passing out the folders to my 9th graders, and some of them started to act offended. I don't know if it was a show or real offense, but the comments were, "we haven't done this since the 6th grade", "this is so childish", etc. Hmph. I've SEEN 9th grade eyes wandering. I presented it as, "humor me. This is so I don't wrongly accuse you of cheating, and it makes me feel better." But seriously, the seats/papers are too close together to not have issues. I wonder what other people do? I guess I'll ask at my school.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Answer Banks

Still loving the new school, but not loving the last minute scrambling to get everything together. Guess I'll figure it out soon (or it will be June and a moot point). The school philosophy sort of discourages the use of textbooks for homework problems, and we're to create our own thing. I'm fine with that because mostly that's what I do, but this year with basically 3 classes to get materials ready for, it's a challenge.

Anyway, wa wa wa. What I am pleased about is how my algebra 1 homeworks are going. I know when I'm learning something new, I like to have immediate feedback on my correctness. At the same time, if I'm a high school student that may quickly look at the answer without struggling with the problem first, that wouldn't benefit me. Therefore, I've been giving about 10 problems per homework and then putting an extra box on the bottom of the sheet with all the answers in mixed order. So they have to do all problems and cross them all off and will know soon if something is amiss.

I had feedback today as I was handing out the next assignment. One girl looked at the sheet and whooped, "YES! Thank you for the answer bank!".

I guess for algebra (not the line graphing) it'll be pretty easy to keep this up, but the geometry ... hmmmm, will have to think about it.