Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Teaching Resolutions

Okay, so New Year for teachers is really August/September, but it's never bad to reflect on how the year has gone so far and what things I could work on for the 2nd half of the school year. Also, by now I have some sort of groove going with the kids (good or bad), and that gives me more to work with.

1. I'm still not happy with my homework I assign. Ideally I would like it to be 80% or so new material, and 20% mixed review. That's always in the back of my mind, and it seems to have taken up permanent residence there. My issue is that I'm scrambling to create or assign homework at my favorite minute - the last one, so ... Now I'm old enough to know that this is the way I work, so I need to think of something I can do within my limitations.

Idea: While I'm creating the current homework or while I'm entering it in GradeSpeed, jot down 2 similar problems to that night's homework along with topic covered while it's fresh in my mind. If I do this for a while, then I'll build up a store of problems ready-made, and then in my future last minute, I can hunt and peck around this list and just add them to the homework. Better yet, type in or scan in the problems onto my school website, and then just point the students in that direction and tell them which additional problems to do each night.

2. At the end of each class, I really only have a good sense of how a portion of my students understand the current material. There are still too many ways in class to pretend like you're listening and comprehending, but really tuning out in the myriad of teenage ways. I'd like to have a quick easy take on everyone, and have them understand if they get it or not. Problem: I'm usually bell-to-bell, and feel 5 minutes of something else won't happen without squeezing out important content.


Hmmm, no immediate ideas. My original idea was to have them do a problem by themselves similar to what they just learned (with? without notes?), but then I'm sitting here thinking about how I learn best, and maybe like everyone else, part of the process is to go back over what you just learned and try to rephrase it or think about it a piece at a time: what were the important points, what did this or that mean, what would happen in such a situation, etc. Maybe a starting idea to see how it works would be to force myself to stop class 5 minutes early, and have a standard set of prompts related to my thoughts above, and the kids have to silently go over their notes and work and brains and answer the questions/prompts about the topic, not solving a problem, but thinking about what was learned. No talking to others, because then I wouldn't know what they know (even though you learn by discussing, but I see this short 5 minutes as not amenable to this).

3. There are still some students who I basically never talk to. You know how it is. A handful of students in each class seem to dominate the time or attention or are the boisterous ones that always engage you in conversation. Then there are the quiet ones who sit there and behave and, well, are quiet. Sure I'll call on them, and they'll answer the question, but that's the extent of our interaction.

Idea: List such kids, and make it a point to engage in conversation with them before class starts at least____ times a 6 weeks. I don't know, I'd have to make a list of all such kids and cross them off or "check" them when I converse with them, then I could probably engage, say 2 per class, so 4-6 per week (block schedule), and then see how many such cycles I could go through. Hmmm, seems calculated. Well I guess it is, but that's what I've got.

Okay, those are not my only concerns, but let's not get carried away and have too much on our plates and end up doing nothing. Happy last day of the year to all of us. Hope 2010 holds all sorts of joy and hope and an enjoyment of at least parts of every day.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Winter Trip

Just this past weekend we went to Santa Fe and stayed at a nice B&B just south of town. We also went snowshoeing for the 1st time, and now I'm a convert. It was easy to rent equipment from REI and fun to trudge through the snow for a couple of days. We lasted about 2-3 hours each day, with much resting on the way up, and a quick scurrying downhill with the promise of lunch to spur us on. I liked the partial packed snow better than the much-trampled on road/paths that were available. I also liked hanging out at the Santa Fe Baking Co. & Cafe and people watching and checking my e-mail and blogs. Here are some pictures of our outing and of our B&B place and of a funny bird that was snuffling around in the snow on one of our breaks.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Discussions About High School

Ahhhh vacation. Time of 9-10 hours of sleep a night, of eating too much, of drinking more than needed, of talking with various people about high school.

Today I had lunch with another math teacher that I used to work with. We were discussing kids who didn't persevere and didn't have a good work ethic .... you know, "kids these days". Then we started talking about when we were in high school, and she mentioned that she wasn't such a hot student back then. Then I mentioned that as a student I wasn't that "student-y". I did what I needed to do to get good grades, but I don't remember really being engaged about topics or thinking hard or being any of the things I want for my students these days. Then I look at how we turned out as adults. My friend is a conscientious teacher who really thinks about what and how she teaches, and I want to believe I'm the same way, and I didn't really learn how to be a good student until I was in grad school and saw how other students worked. So, really, in the end, even though our high school performance wouldn't have predicted it, we turned out okay.

Then that leads me to think that even though some of the kids we teach these days don't do what we want them to do, they still are absorbing the lessons we teach them either formally (math math math) or informally (be a good person, do the right thing, think about what you're learning). And that ultimately, in the end, most likely they'll turn out to be productive adults that end up having a good work ethic or end up having a strong moral compass. Just because they're one way now, when they're 14, that doesn't mean that's how they're destined to be forever. And even though they don't seem to be absorbing what we're telling them, maybe they are at some level, and if not now, then maybe later.

Then this evening we were at an open house for Christmas Eve at our neighbors' home. They have 3 children that have graduated from high school and are now out in the world. I talked with one of the girls (20's) about high school, and she mentioned how she HATED it. "The kids were so mean." We also talked about whether or not we remembered teachers' names. Now even though she's been out for only a few years, she doesn't remember many. I've been out for more than 20, and I don't either. But I do remember 2 teacher's names. What made them different? One was a "public speaking" teacher. That was the most useful class I took. I guess I remember his name because the class had such an impact on me. Another was my freshman English teacher's name. He was all "cool" and wore jeans (in the late 70's), and had a shag rug (ooh aah), and our desks were in a circle, and I still remember his lessons on: effect/affect ... it's/its ... their/they're and so on.

I guess all this is to give myself a little pep talk to remind myself that how my students are today may not be the perfect indication of how they'll ultimately turn out.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Hellooooo Holidays

After the longest week ever and the most emotional, it's finally break time. And by break I mean that now I have time to catch up on my engineering curriculum, so that I have something to teach when I return in 2 weeks. But by break I also mean sleeping past 5am and not being stressed out and in a hurry all day long to make sure I do everything and do it well.

I made 3 finals up from (mostly) scratch, and I like some of the questions I came up with or adjusted from other sources. They also spawned ideas for future lessons.


Let s=the amount of suger you ingest (in mg)
Let c=the number of cavities you have

the independent variable is ___________
the dependent variable is ____________
_____ is a function of _______
The correct function notation is s(c) or c(s) (circle one).

This got me to thinking that the next time I am at the first day of teaching functions, after we go through some like this, I'm going to have the students each come up with a scenario and work it through and then we'll share out. That way they'll spend more time processing the concept and figure out what it takes to be dependent and independent and how things relate to each other and what functions are.

In engineering, part of the test was on statistics, so one question I adjusted from something I found on line was:

In a certain neighborhood, the following are household incomes:
$40000, $46000,$54000, ... (and 4 more like this), then $250000000

Find the mean______
Find the median_____
Your engineering firm wants a good sense of the income level for marketing purposes. Which number better represents the neighborhood income and why?

The median came out as something like $51000, and the mean came out roughly $230000000. It was interesting to me that not everyone got it right. More discussion in class next time.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Stressed Out 9th Graders

Phew what a week. It was the last week before finals. Highlights included getting cussed out by a student in a "joking" manner who then subsequently skipped another of the classes she had with me. Being treated to tales of my extremely stressed out students who said they went to their rooms the previous night and started laughing and crying simultaneously without being able to stop. Watching a hugfest take place in my room comprised of various students who were trying to pacify each other. Oh my.

I guess part of it is that my freshman are the oldest kids in this school. We're "growing" a full high school and will have 12th graders at the start of the 2012 school year. At the start of one class, after I'd heard the laughing/crying story, I had a spontaneous idea. I had colored paper in my room, so I had them each take a sheet; I took one, too. I then told them that we all were going to get our stress out on the paper for 5 minutes, and I wouldn't collect their papers. It was for their eyes only, and they could write whatever they wanted to. I told them that at the end they could crumple it up or tear it to bits or take it home and burn it or whatever. I set the timer, and we all wrote away. At the end, we "put our stress away" and moved on with our review. It seemed to calm them down (temporarily?), and we were able to get some work done.

On a positive note, my cussing student was suspended for the remainder of the week, and the class she was in (my most challenging class personality-wise) went better on Friday. On another positive note, all this work stress and other related stress has brought a few of us together, and I've actually talked more with other teachers than I have in the previous two 6 weeks. Here's to finally feeling like I belong to this new school.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Checking Your Work

It recently came to my attention that there are students who don't FULLY understand how to check their work. During this past semester in algebra 1, we solved equations and inequalities and such. To force them to check their work, periodically I would assign it point value on their homework, so they could get at most 80% if they didn't check their work.

Here are various things I noticed. Sometimes students would start checking their work at the 2nd step or the simplified step of the original problem. We discussed why that was a bad idea (potential mistake at the 1st step, and even though your answer looks correct, it's not for the original problem).

Sometimes students would "check" their work, plugging in their answer, and at the end get some number that had nothing to do with the original equation, and then place a check mark at the end. CHECK. I've checked my work. Done. Not correct, but I don't get it, I think just going through the process and the ever-important check mark at the end is good.

And finally, sometimes students would check their work. It wouldn't pan out. But then they wouldn't take it from there. Oh well, it didn't work. I'm stopping. I don't think to go back and follow my work process to see where my mistake was.

Ideas for next time (or later this year?): write out various problems all worked out, and then have students analyze the situation: is the problem correct? how do you know. If the checking didn't work out, where is the mistake? Find it (and have some mistakes in the problem and some in the checking). Have some problems where everything seems to work out, and the problem has the checking occur from the 2nd step on of the problem and "look" correct but in reality not solve the original problem.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Interpreting Functions

I think the kids get functions this year. After we looked at graphs and tables and mappings and saw what functions looked like for these situations (one day) and got a formal definition of functions, the next block day, I started by giving them pairs of objects like: rainfall and tulips. I asked which one depends on the other one? Which one is the input? Which one would be "x" and which one would be "y"? And, the new one for them: which one is a function of the other one? (we discussed what that means). We did that for 3 pairs of things.

Then I noted that THAT was a ton of writing, and we assigned variables to things like r and t, and I showed them t(r) and noted that the input, r, was INSIDE the parentheses, and the output, t, was OUTSIDE the parentheses, and if you were talking to your math boyfriend over the phone, you'd say, "t of r" or "t is a function of r".

Then we got to things like B(h) where B is your tutoring bill and h is the hours of tutoring. I asked them to interpret: B(3) = 120. We did this for 4 problems or so. I liked those types of questions, and we took them to graphs and tables the next day where I made them interpret v(5) or m(10) where there was context around the problems.

Next up, studying for finals and finals and a LONG BREAK to get more than 6.something hours of sleep each weeknight.