Sunday, October 31, 2010

Computer Programming...

As I was teaching the logic unit in geometry a few weeks ago, one student asked where this was used. In addition to other examples, I mentioned that logic is heavily used in computer programming and gave some examples. Then they asked why we didn't have such a class at our school. Good question. I've been looking around at resources, and other high schools in our district, and it seems that computer programming is only taught at one school.

"Back in the day" in NJ in the late 90's I taught programming. Back then (and maybe in that state), you didn't need extra certification to teach it. I taught the introductory class, and, horror of horrors, it was taught in QBasic. Gasp. But I actually found it to be cool and friendly for the students. We could create graphics (that were "cool" for those days before all the whizzy bang stuff they've seen today). We created games and questionnaires and such and all the basics (ar ar ar) were taught: loops, sorting, if statements,...

Well, it seems in Texas (and today) I'd need an extra certification, but that would just require taking another test since I already have a certificate. Then there's the question of what language to teach it in. It seems that AP Computer Programming is in JAVA. But in my (old school?) mind I'm thinking that a "non object-oriented language" would be the way to start for a 1st year student. I still think that if you learn the basics well in any language, then transferring your skills to a new language would be doable.

Anyway, hopefully it'll be put on the choice sheets in January, and maybe next year I get to have fun with programming. Of course now that I've jinxed it, it'll not come to pass. I guess that doesn't prevent me from learning JAVA (in my spare time) and learning enough to pass the certification test this summer. Does anyone teach a 1st year programming course in HS and have tips on what language works? I'd greatly appreciate any extra knowledge.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Schooling Behavior...

This past Monday we had a school-wide assembly in the morning, and the speakers were discussing an event we'd have on Friday for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Our students could show their support by wearing pink on the Friday. During this short presentation, various students were listening, and various students were quietly giggling or talking with their friends. I noticed one teacher mill around the students and appear to sternly look at them to settle them down. This went on for the whole 5 minute presentation.

At the end of the presentation. This particular teacher got up in front of the school and gave an impassioned reprimand to the "10% that were not respectfully listening to the speakers." You could hear a pin drop as she talked angrily from her heart: if you were joking and talking with your friends, you're basically saying that you don't care about this issue, and you're not considering that maybe your friend or a student you know or a teacher you know has a relative or knows someone going through this disease. You were talking with your friend and basically being disrespectful of people that are going through a devastating situation in their lives and turning your back on your peers.

This was the gist of her reprimand. It was powerful for a few reasons. She's a respected teacher, she has had experience in one way or another with cancer, and the students know it, and she wasn't harping on them, but they could hear the emotion in her voice that this was something she cared deeply about and that she was very upset with their behavior.

I'm so impressed that she stood up and said something, and I think it's something the kids will remember the next time a situation like this occurs (I know I will). They're still kids and still learning how to behave in various instances, and it's easy for me to forget that they still need guidance in what's right and wrong from ALL sorts of sources in addition to their parents ... as opposed to adults just shaking their heads and saying, "kids these days".

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Test Question

For my last 2 tests, I've tacked on an extra question at the end. Partly because it's fun to read what the kids say, and partly to get a better insight into them, and partly to have them think about things.

My current question was: If you could learn one challenging skill in life, what would it be and why?

Various Responses:
* I would learn how to skydive.
* I would be fluent in another language.
* I would learn how to crack codes.
* I would learn to always be confident.
* I would learn how to always win at crane machines.
* I would learn how to keep stuff clean.
* I would learn how to remember EVERYTHING I learned.
* I would learn how to cook everything well.
* I would learn how to do a cartwheel.
* I would learn how to be more patient.
* I would learn how to use a bow and arrow.
* I would learn how to survive in the wilderness.
* I would learn how to tightrope walk.
* I would learn how to fly.
* I would learn how to see in the future.
* I would learn how to become unnoticeable when it was necessary.
* I would learn how to sing in public.
* I would learn how to be funny.
* I would learn how to tame a lion.
* I would learn how to handle stress.

p.s. I've also thought about it, and mine would be to learn how to do those floor gymnastics where I could just take off at a flying run and jump into the air and flip over a few times and land gracefully on my feet. Ta Da! THAT would be awesome. Then when I'm bored or if I see an empty hallway, I could start my trot and go flippy doodle all up in the air, then keep walking. You?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Logic Proof Projects...

I collected the Logic Proof projects the other day. Actually, I just called it a "homework" and assigned homework credit. They had class time to work on it, and they checked with me as to the correctness of their setup and proof before they committed to poster board. And even with that, some students made mistakes, or didn't check with me, so some aspects of the project/homework were not satisfied. I guess that's par for the course. Here are 5 that passed muster and were clever.

Did I tell you the wonders of hot glue. A teacher at my school swears by it, and puts up all her posters and such with hot glue. I guess as long as it's on painted cinder block walls it's okay .... I guess I'll find out in June (ahem).

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Angle Pairs

We're starting geometric proofs now, and yesterday we did two activities to prep for this. First, I wanted the students to be familiar with some basic definitions and to know that they are biconditionals, and see how they're used as reasons for proofs. Second, I wanted the students to look at partial pieces of proofs and fill in the blanks with reasons, or steps if given the reasons.

Here's an activity I did to get them thinking about adjacent angles, linear pairs of angles, and vertical angles:

We first looked at the definition of adjacent angles. Then I had them go down that column and either indicate YES, or if NO, then list the parts of the definition it violated. Then we did the same with linear pair. Then I just had them write on the LHS which one(s) were vertical angles.

Next we took notes on how theorems, definitions, postulates, properties could be used as proof reasons, and I had them refer to a print out of our basic ones so far (along with definitions), and do the following:

The pesky bell rang, and we ran out of time, so I'll have to see how they did next class.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Potential Slope Memory Tool

Let me start by saying that I am not in the least bit a religious person. I do watch movies and TV and live in the world, so I think I know how certain religious people do the "sign of the cross".

Today I was trying to get some geometry kids I was tutoring to remember how to calculate slope when given 2 points. In various states of nonknowing, they either didn't remember at all, or they only knew how to do it on a graph, or they kept messing up and calculating, m = (x2-x1)/(y2-y1).

We got out the graph paper, and they remembered "rise over run". So I (again) linked that to "what changes when you rise?", "when you run?". And I tried to link that to m = (y2-y1)/(x2-x1). Anyway, as I was gesturing with my hands: rise (and my hands were moving up and down and up and down) over run (and my hands were moving side to side etc), I reminded myself of making "the sign of the cross". I double checked with the kids, and yes, the up down motion comes before the left right motion, so I said, "well if you want to remember which is which, then think of making this sign, and and the up/down is first, so that's (y2-y1) change, .....".

Then a kid joked that you also want to say your prayers before you do math (or take the math test).

In other weird/new-to-me tidbits. For various reasons, today I briefly mentioned congruent in geometry, and said that soon we'll think of shapes as being congruent when they .... . And the kids said, "same shape and same size." Then one kid raised her hand (and others confirmed) and wondered out loud why when she learned "congruent" in elementary school, she learned "same shape, same size, and same color". ????? I've never heard of this. Have you? Why stop there .... same: smell, texture, .... There must be something else that was going on that I'm not aware of.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Logic Culmination

We're almost finished with our logic unit, and soon we'll be moving on to actual geometry flow proofs. To cap it off, I assigned my students the following:

I made sure to have them check with me before they thought they were done (we had class time to work on it). The first draft of many of them either didn't work, or had too few steps or whatnot. They were really excited and seemed to have fun making up weird problems. Here's a sneak preview .... and I'll post some final products later.


"If vampire bunnies drink our blood, then we die out.
If we die out, then vampire bunnies will take over.
Vampire bunnies drink our blood or the butterflies will save us.
Vampire bunnies don't take over.
Therefore, the butterflies will save us."

Let B stand for "vampire bunnies drink our blood"
Let D stand for "we die out"
Let T stand for "vampire bunnies take over"
Let S stand for "butterflies save us"

B implies D
D implies T
B or S
not T
therefore, S

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Game Day...

I am SO not a "game teacher". I have never fully worked it out, so that all the kids are involved, and I'm not stressing that there's more "fun" than learning (heaven forbid), and .....

Well, today we gave the PSAT, and so our schedule ended up being 40 minute classes. Being so used to 1.5 hour classes, I was wondering what to do. Poof! Inspiration! Now, I'm sure I'm reinventing the wheel, but I was so excited that it actually worked, and all the kids were working and time flew, and I heard good conversations going around.

Before the geometry kids got to class, I put my 5 tables in a large circle formation (for ease of movement). I put small whiteboards (thank you home depot shower board cutting idea from someone) and dry erase markers and cut up napkins to erase on each table with enough for each kid. When they walked in the room, I had them immediately put their stuff to the side of the room and just find a seat. (side note: this is SO NOT ME, that as I was directing the kids to put their stuff aside and have a seat, one kid asked me, "are we in trouble?")

I told them we were going to play musical chairs and practice for our logic exam coming up soon. I told them why I hardly ever did this (my distraction with them NOT CAPPING THEIR PENS and not being able to help them when they ask a question because all I'm thinking is CAP THE PEN! CAP THE PEN!...). I also modeled with another student that we would NOT BE "slyly" following around our REAL friends, so that we could sit by them EVERY TIME.

Then I turned on the music (I had an Amadeus CD and that was fun in many ways). They got up and wandered. I stopped the music, and they picked the nearest seat. Then I put a problem on the overhead (write the basic truth table for conjunction ... or a conditional is "if it's Wednesday, then I don't get enough sleep" and you write the contrapositive ... or factor 2x^2 + 13x - 7 ... or such). Then they could work with their current table quietly and get the answer on their board. I walked around and gave suggestions if I felt they needed a nudge, but I made them help themselves. After we went over the answers, on came the music and up they moved.

We got through about 7-9 problems in 40 minutes, and I think it ran its course, but I'm glad I did it, and it gave the kids some awareness of what they still don't know or do know for the following test.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Block Period Break

I teach on a 1.5 hour per class block, and lately (this year), I've just been plowing right through a concept for the whole class. I tried something different yesterday that maybe I'll keep doing (or doing periodically).

Various comments and glances at tests have reiterated the fact that basic math skills are not as fresh and exciting as they could be: adding and subtracting positive/negative numbers, factoring, FOILing, etc. I don't want to stop class and reteach these things for a large block of time, but I don't want to ignore it. A few days ago, I discussed the +/- issue briefly. I showed them a potentially new trick. Then yesterday I wanted to see if it stuck.

Right in the middle of class I announced, "Pop Quiz" and handed out quarter sheets of scratch paper. Now my pop quizzes are just for their/my knowledge, and I don't record it. I put up 6 +/- problems, and they did it and they graded their own papers. I asked for a show of fingers on how many they got wrong. We moved on back to our regularly scheduled program, since there were low "wrong" numbers. This took all of 3 minutes (?), and it provided their brains a break from logic and proofs for a bit, and I'm SURE they were refreshed and ready to go again afterward :).

Maybe next time it will be a factoring break of 2 problems.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Freedom To Go On A Tangent

I don't mention my IED class much (Introduction to Engineering Design), that's a PLTW class, but I love it. It's a nice change of pace from the math courses I teach. The kids get to do hands-on things. We get to play with Inventor (an AutoCad program), AND best of all, I have the freedom to add my own things to the curriculum if they fit or if we have time.

For example, our first few units were on brainstorming and inventions vs. innovations and technical sketching and drawing and such. During our innovations unit, a student asked what patents were and what would qualify as something you could patent and if you invented toothpaste, does that mean no one else could make toothpaste or if they made it a different flavor, THEN could they market it? And so on. I told her the little I knew about patents, and we went on with what we were doing, but that kept niggling at my mind.

Enter our new mini unit that we're going to sprinkle throughout the year and see how far we can take. Their first homework assignment was to find 3 new-to-them facts about patents, and then to brainstorm a 1/2 page of questions they had about patents. I'm doing all their homework with them this year, so I did it too. The following class we shared out our questions. There were some good ones: how long does the application process take? How do they decide who is the patent "winner" if 2 people submit an application at the same time? What qualifies you to work at the patent office? etc.

Their next homework is to pick 3 of their questions and become an "expert" at the answers. My ultimate vision (naive? doable?) is for us to try and patent something. They're freshman (so I'll be "near" them for 4 years), and who knows how far we'll take it, but I thought it would force us to learn what it's all about. If a 5 year old can get a patent, I'm thinking our chances are okay.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Wednesday Mistakes

Case 1:

Here is one major difference between my 10th grade geometry students and my 8th/9th grade geometry students. A couple of times I've had the wrong answer on an answer key that I'm projecting on the document camera. My 10th graders just quietly assume they're wrong, and mark it wrong and put my (incorrect) answer on their pages without mentioning anything to me. Are they just on autopilot? Do they just assume they don't know anything? Do they just not try to figure out their/my mistake? Do they think I'm god(dess) and can do no wrong? Three periods later, at least one of my 8th/9th graders when checking their homework, will raise their hand and politely ask how I got such an answer, and when I rework it out, I see my mistake. Yeesh!

Case 2:

I'd called on a girl to answer a question, and she had the "deer/headlights" look, and said, "don't call on me. I'm having a really bad day." Feeling sorry for her, I called to the class, "does anyone have a joke that we can cheer her up with?". No one answered, so I pulled out the 1st I could think of:

Why don't blind people like to skydive?
It scares the dog.

Pause. Laughter when it sinks in for various people in the class.

Then the original girl pipes up, "my dog just died".


Time for bed.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Studying for Tests

I recently had a conversation with a math teacher friend. She teaches 7th grade, and we were lamenting about the fact that too many students don't know how to study for a math test. Even with guidelines and verbal discussions and such, it does not really occur to some students to whip out the old homework and book and notes and redo problems from scratch and put yourself in a testing situation.

She said something that I may have to try in the future. She said she no longer tells them to "study" for the upcoming math tests. She says she tells them to "practice" for the upcoming math test. In this way, maybe the light bulb may go off in their heads and they may just redo problems instead of reading over notes and nodding their heads to themselves that, yes, they get what is being done.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Three More Updates

At my high school we have tables instead of desks, and all last year, I put up manila folders when the students were taking tests. I was never happy with that solution, but I never found/had the time/whatever to change it. This year, this is my second version. These are just LARGE poster boards cut in half (the white part) with a slit up/down the center. Then I took other board (they'd run out of white by the time I went back), and cut accordingly:

It mostly works okay. I like it WAY better than the manila folders. They're still a bit floppy towards the outsides, but I think I can fix that with some sort of teeny stands or something on the bottoms.

Another goal I had was for the students to be more reflective, so periodically on one of their homework assignments (I've only done it twice this past 6 weeks), I assign as one of the problems a "how are things going" question. Then when test time comes around, I collect their notebooks to check that they're taking notes properly and to see their responses. Wooo, glad I asked. Here's one entry:

This student is so NOT stupid, and she doesn't put on an air of feeling stupid, so if I hadn't asked, I wouldn't have known this was going on.

Finally, I had my students make their 2nd foldable to eventually glue into their notebooks. We took 4 1/2 sheets of paper (8.5" x 5.5") and offset them a bit and folded them over and stapled at the top and voila:

The middle "same colored" flaps REALLY bothered me for 4 classes (OCD anyone?), so by the 5th time I did this with my last geometry class of this topic, I figured out a way to fix it. I took the middle folded paper, and folded another one the same way, and cut out a 3rd color and just shoved it in instead of the same color, and the magic stapling fixed things. Disaster averted.

Retesting Update

At the beginning of the year I decided to have my 10th graders be guinea pigs with a retesting scheme. I had read many books and blogs over the summer and reflected on learning, and finally settled on something I was willing to try. I discussed it with my students and with my AP, and had my 1st test ... my first test that was right before the progress reports went out ... my first test in which more than 60-70% of my students ended up with a failing grade for the progress reports ... my first test in which I lost sleep afterward trying to figure out a way to stop the rush of panicked angry parent phone calls and student tears.

Here's how I set up my first test. I separated it into 5 sections, and each section was worth 10 points (no matter how many problems per section). The concepts were
A. matching geometry diagrams of lines points rays to notation
B. using the definition of distance to find coordinates of points on a number line
C. segment addition postulate
D. T/F & A/S/N on visualizing geometry
E. naming conventions of points lines planes

I was firm with myself in grading: have they convinced me of their knowledge? and/or am I just being nice "because they tried". I was firm. There were MANY zeros per section. There was no final TOTAL grade, just 5 grades entered into my gradebook.

I sent home the following letter:

There were 3 weeks until the end of the grading period. Students started to slowly trickle in after school and during lunch to study with me and to retest. I made hand printed/copied versions daily of new tests for each section (there were only 2 problems average per section ... except matching which had 6 pictures and 8 notations ... and T/F which had 5 questions). I started to get worried because there were still some students that never talked to me and never came in.

Flash forward to the 2nd to last day of the 6 weeks. An AP e-mail reminder of calling parents for potentially failing students prompted me to send home a generic e-mail (I do NOT like phone calls: they take too long and are inefficient and I have to talk to people :o ). I sent the e-mail to the parent, student, and my AP. This got a majority of the laggers to come in on the last day.

Final tally: only 1-2 students never made the effort to improve their grades out of about 50 students.

I'm a grudging "retest" convert ... or SBG as it seems to be called around these parts. It's a ton more work, but I've had students thank me for allowing them to retest and learn. My AP likes it, and she mentioned that her daughter who goes to another high school in town has a math teacher doing the same thing. ... I just gave my 2nd geometry test Friday ... bring ON the RETESTERS.