Friday, November 27, 2009

Music & Computer Work

Frequently my IED (engineering) class is on the computer all period working on the CAD program (Inventor). Several of the students daily ask me if they can listen to music while they work. I always say no. BUT it's "Pandora", they say, there's no talking, they say, it helps me concentrate, they say. Ms./Mr. So-And-So let's me in THEIR class, they say. No, I say.

I had a bunch of reasons all jumbled up in my brain, and I didn't sort it out as to the real reason I was such a grinch until the other day. Here's my main reason. More and more I see people in society all plugged in and earbudded into isolation and in their own little worlds not interacting with the people in the present and around them. I guess I want my students to see and be with the students around them at the current time and learn to interact with them - whether it's talking with them about what they're doing, chatting about various things, or learning to focus with the outside noise potentially disturbing them. You know, being part of our community.

And also because I'm a grinch.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


It's almost time for finals, and I scurried around last minute as is my nature to make a review for algebra and geometry. While I was doing so, I remembered various conversations I'd had with my algebra students this semester whenever test time rolled around.

I want them to be active learners and to take the initiative to think of what's going to be tested, go over problems of a type, come in for help if needed, etc, etc. Yea, I know, maybe it's all pipe dreams and wishful thinking, but how do you get them there. I tried with a study guide (not a review sheet), and after some tweaking, used it the few remaining times I had tests. I never went back and surveyed the students on paper to see if it changed their study habits. Maybe they just found it one more chore to do, but maybe it put a seed in their heads about how to study.

Or maybe not. Right after another test, we were discussing it in class, and some students raised their hands:
"other teachers give us a review sheet with questions to practice"
"other teachers give us points when we turn in the review sheet"

Yeesh. They think there's something magic about the extra review problems I could come up with. And THEN they want someone else to give them motivation to actually review. I said as much (in nice teacher talk words) to them in response to these questions. I don't know who I sold, or who still thinks, "meanie. give us the review!"

Monday, November 16, 2009

Treadmill Year

I teach 4 different preps this year, and always feel rushed to get done what I need to get done. I want to do a good job (obviously), and always go over and over in my mind what I'm teaching, how I'm teaching it, how it could be better, etc. Three of my preps are single classes, and one prep I teach 3 times per lesson. That's the lucky prep (algebra 1) because I can refine it by the 3rd time. Or maybe I should say that my 3rd class of algebra 1 is my lucky class, and the other 2 are my guinea pigs (squea squea). Why am I mentioning this? Because like maybe all teachers I'm a world-class self-beater-upper in that I'm always thinking I could have taught it better or given better problems or better something. I finally have started saying to myself, "you're doing the best you can. do it and move on." Who knows how long I'll listen to myself. What I am loving is my GoogleDocs account. I'm doing my lesson plans on there this year, and I like that the documents are available no matter what computer I use and where I am (home or school). What's going on so far: geometry - we just learned CPCTC. I'm following the curriculum I taught in New Jersey, and we're doing flow proofs. I think those are more logical than 2 column proofs, and it shows me and the students what statements are needed and how for what conclusions. algebra 1 - we have just covered patterns and linking them to tables, graphs, rules, and descriptions using tiles. I moved away from tiles the 2nd day, and wanted them to find rules and use the rules without drawing pictures, and I like the problems I gave them. Sample: Suppose 13 15 17 19 21 ... is a sequence of "tiles. a. Let "13" be the 1st figure in the sequence, write the rule. b. Let "13" be the 5th figure in the sequence, write the rule. c. Let "13" be the 20th figure in the sequence, without counting backwards, write the rule. d. Let "13" be the 100th figure in the sequence, write the rule. e. For "a.", suppose you have used 51 tiles, what figure number are you at? f. For "a.", suppose you have 200 tiles to use, what's the maximum figure number you can create? And for each of these (a-d), I made them write what each variable and each # represented. Then we moved on to other "tile" like problems: A cell phone company charges $29.95 per month with a 3cent per minute fee, (after a bunch of leading questions to link to tiles): write the rule. This one was interesting because of the units issue. Many kids started with b = 29.95 + 3m .... we had a discussion about units and got it to b = 29.95 + 0.03m etc. engineering - we've talked about dial calipers and statistics and geometry. Lots of good discussion about how statistics is used in engineering. TAKS math class - we've taken a LOT of deep breaths because of behavior issues and just plowed on. Today we learned how to count. After some snarky comments, they kind of got into it. I gave them 4 different colored snap cubes and we learned how to count "choosing 2 for a team" then "choosing a president and a vp" then choosing 3 for a team, etc.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Hall Conversations

Last week was not a good week. I was crabby and in a funk to begin with (perimenopause anyone? ... or maybe I just want to place a reason to this cloud that goes by periodically lately). Then in my TAKS help class, on Thursday, I had to deal with outrageous rudeness. The kids are usually pretty good, save for the "I'd rather talk to my friends than do math" behavior. Two particular students were in the chatty mood. One had already come into class with an attitude. About 20 minutes into class, I said, "when we start our next activity, one of you needs to move tables", and I walked away to let them process that. The next activity started, and neither had moved, I asked again, and here came the craziness. One girl gets a big attitude on her face, crosses her arms and says, "I'm not moving".

Excuse me? Step out into the hall, I need to talk to you. I got the other students started on their work, and so began the conversation in the hall. She would not let up. Finally, she's all in a snit and states she's ready to come back in and work. I don't think so. I brought out a chair, and she remained in the hall doing her work for the next hour. Oh my.

Then on Friday in my last class of the day on student mentioned she left her work in another teacher's class, and could she go get it. No, not right now. She was not happy, but she continued to work. Then about 20 minutes later, she asked to go to the bathroom. I was thinking she wanted to go roam the halls and find her homework in the meantime, but she was jiggling in her seat, and she's generally a good kid, so I said, "go quickly and come back".

Twenty minutes later she shows up. Oh my was I angry. Again I started the kids on an activity, and talked to her in the hall. I mentioned why I was upset, and asked where she'd gone (to a counselor), and why she hadn't asked (you asked me in front of the class, and I didn't want to say it out loud), and how she could possibly handle it in the future (come up and whisper your request in my ear or call me over).

Anyway, she was near tears, and I was angry and yuk, not a good way to end the day/week (wooHOO for margaritas with friends after work to decompress). Today I asked the counselor if she'd been in to see her, and she said yes, she'd been having family issues and all sorts of sad things and we should be on the lookout to support her. Great! Big Ogre Teacher with the angry face berating a poor child.

Deep Breaths and Fresh Starts this week.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Algebra Algebra Algebra

Phew! That's what seems to be consuming my thoughts these days. I like teaching it for the 2nd year, and also I like that I know what's coming up on the horizon in the higher level math classes for the kids, so I can know what skills to focus on. For example, we just covered solving proportions, and I had some problems with the variable in the denominator. Well. The kids learned from 8th grade that you can just change the equation by taking the reciprocal of both sides and then solve.

So 12/5 = 7/x becomes 5/12 = x/7.

This is all well and good, and sometimes that's the simplest way to solve, but what if in algebra 2 or above you come across:

3x/(x+1) = (3x-2)/x.

Then "flipping" does not get you any closer to the answer.

Oh. Then someone mentioned "cross multiplying". Well, I didn't even want to go there because of all the misuse of that I've seen later on: OH! magically any time I see 2 fractions together involving variables whether or not there's an equal sign, I'm going to cross multiply without knowing why it works or even IF it works. Voila!

Anyway .... tons of algebra fun. I did have a discussion with my coworker, and she had this brilliant idea that I tried with solving absolute value equations ... but it can work with solving any equation. Write down the equation. On top of it, write numbers in circles in the order of operation of what would be done to x if you were to plug in a number. Then on the side I listed PEMDAS and the circled numbers in order and wrote in words what that was:
1. multiply by 3
2. subtract 4
3. take absolute value
4. add 10

Then under that sidebar, I wrote "to solve: undo in backwards order SADMEP"
4. subtract 10
3. 2 cases
2. add 4
1. divide by 3

Then the kids had a road map of what to do, and they didn't do weird things like get rid of stuff inside the absolute value symbols before taking care of them.