Friday, December 28, 2012

*THAT* School.....

Are you "that" school? When people ask you where you work, and you tell them, do they get a knowing look in their eye as if, "oh yes, I know ALL about your school". They know what they've heard and what they assume and what conclusions they draw without ever having stepped inside your school.

I work at "that" school. In fact, all 3 of the schools I've taught at have been "that" school in some way or the other. In fact, I'm now coming to realize that maybe ALL schools are "that" school. Just like everyone (it seems) knows exactly what it means to be a teacher (those lounging summers off and that too-much pay and the paltry knowledge we hold in our heads). It seems everyone has a bead on just exactly what your work environment must be like.

In fact, I think I'm guilty of thinking "that" school when I hear of other teachers at other schools in our area. Maybe it's human nature. "Oh!" we think, "they must have it so _______ over there" .... or "Oh! THAT'S the rich/poor/smart/entitled/ethnic..... type of school it is." When in reality, I'm guessing that all schools have their problems. All schools most likely have drugs and fights and bullying and parents who _____ and parents who don't ______ and depressed kids and happy kids and excelling kids and struggling kids and just plain kids. I need to be more aware of my jumping to conclusions about other situations.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Warm Fuzzy...

A long while ago, the students (that happened to be) in my calculus class were all up in a tizzy and stressed out and flustered and frazzled with school. It seemed daily that there were melt downs. I tried to think of things that would be helpful and not take too much time that would ease their situation. I did few things, including this activity.

I didn't know if the following thing would work (and it actually took some time), but since that day, I've seen the students file this sheet in the plastic sheet on their binders, so they can look at it when they need to. I just saw one the other day, and it reminded me about it.

Now, I'm guessing it will only work with students who know each other well and have some history with each other. My students, for example, have been in math classes together for at least 4 years. They're the epitome of the dysfunctional siblings ... in a good way ... mostly.

I copied this sheet onto pretty paper:

Then each kid wrote their name in the box at the top. Then each kid had to write something nice about themselves (a memory or a compliment) on the first line.

Then we rotated the papers in one direction, and then each kid had to write something nice (memory/compliment/...) about the named kid at the top of the paper. Then we kept rotating in this fashion until the paper made it back to the original student.

Now this is something the student can keep forever and look back on when they need a boost.

Of course, I had to preface the activity with some time where each person had to scan the room and reflect on memories. They were also reminded about "bad" "mundane" sentences: (you are very nice) versus awesome statements (I love that you helped me with ____ when I was feeling ____).

I have 22 kids in class, and it probably took that long. So I'm guessing it has to be on a day when you can afford that time. Don't know if/when I'll do it for another class, but at the time, it seemed needed for my little stress buckets.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Finals Week

It's Here! It's Here! I'm sure the kids are super thrilled to last-minute cram a whole semester's worth of knowledge into their heads. I know I'M THRILLED to see how they fare (fingers crossed). I also know it's time to sit back and reflect on the semester and what I can do to improve and encourage for the next round.

The student surveys for each class revealed some good tips for me. Some of them were of the hit myself on the forehead for the "why didn't I think of that" variety. For example, we've been using Haiku as a school to post our flipped lessons and such. We also have a separate homework calendar. I also have a third website where I sometimes post links to helpful websites. Hmmmmmm, combine them all on particular Haiku pages so the students only have to look in one place. Of course!

They also clamored for more examples, more examples. Haiku to the rescue. I always run out of time in class and only get in one or 2 examples. I could scan and post extras on the site.

They (AP Calculus AB) also reminded me to keep up with the pep talks. A large part of their success is just knowing they can do it and them keeping the faith that they are capable. I know they can do it ... I just have to keep reminding myself that they need reminders that THEY can do it. DO IT! It's easy to forget sometimes that they're little kids (and humans) and their insecurities cram into their brains and mess with them and make them more susceptible to giving up and not pushing through. Sheesh! Humans!

I also need to revamp my attitude. The five preps and extra school related activities and insomnia and life have been messing with my mind and personality. I found I'm more apt to blurt out a sarcastic comment or suggestion instead of a helpful one to students. Who put the crabby into my pants? Hmmmm, not a nice visual. I have to fake the nice until I make the nice attitude. I. Can. Do. It. Go Me! Viva La Math!

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Trig Graph Project

This Fall our math department went to the Dallas Regional NCTM conference, and there was a pair of precalculus teachers discussing various projects they did. Great talk, and I took one of their projects and altered it to this:

I only wanted them to use ONE EACH of the 6 trig functions; they could restrict the domain; they were NOT supposed to restrict the range; they couldn't use any other functions; and then the were to color it. Here are some students that followed the directions.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Calculus & Calculators

I realized I've been remiss on practicing calculator skills with my AP Calculus AB students, so on my flipped lesson video, I walked through finding a numerical derivative, and through solving an equation. Their assignment was then this sheet:

I've been away at college field trips for 3 days, so we'll see how it works out when classes resume on Monday.

And on that note, can I just gripe a little? Of course I can, you'll be too late to stop me. Almost to a person, every guide we had on the 4 colleges we visited had this answer, "oh, I don't know about that, I'm a business major."

What's with that? Here were some of the questions that stumped them:
Do you have a _____ engineering program?
Do you have ______ degree program?
Can you tell me about classes offered in ______?

I understand that they're just college students that are earning extra money shuttling high school students around the campus, but I would think that would be part of the training. What about an answer such as:

Great question! I don't know that answer, but here's a website link, and I think you can find the answer. (or for the case of the guide near a computer, maybe they could look up the answer).

Also, the guides should have a test on projecting their voices past 10 feet, so the students in the back can hear them.

Also, most HS students are not interested in "here's this building, and here's that building". What about comments from the guides such as:
* here is what I love about my school
* here are some fun memories
* here is how I made friends
* here are the cool classes I took at my school
* here are great things I love about my professors or major or ______

Okay, griping done.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Deep Breaths & Mantras

* They're still children.

* They must be allowed to fail if that's the path they're on, and they're not taking any of the multiple opportunities to get help.

* They don't get answers wrong to annoy me.

* What do you MEAN math's not the end all of your joyous tasks???

* Every day is a fresh start.

* Homework in calculus is only worth 10%. I should not get my panties in a twist because they are trying to find loopholes to "doing the right thing".

* They are people and not grades.

Breathe innnnnnnn, breathe outttttttt.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Flipping Idea

A couple of weeks ago, when I was starting my calculus class, it turned out that about 6 of the students hadn't watched the video. Out of 22 students, that's not good. I was so frustrated and grumpy and chided them and mumbled that now I'd have to babysit them and actually take their notes as a homework grade and yada yada yada. One of my finer moments.

Yes, I have started taking the notes for a grade (it's only been one class! success! :))

But then after I learned about screencast-o-matic and also movie maker in which I can splice together different screen shots or different videos, I had an idea yesterday, and I implemented it. We happened to have a club meeting on Saturday, and one of my calculus students was at the club. I had her make 2 short video clips, and I spliced them into my flipped lesson in addition to splicing in a goofy photo bomb picture of myself.

My thoughts are that maybe I can have stealth students quickly record a short applicable webcam video (periodically? always?) and then put them in randomly. Then the students will be CLAMORING to watch their flipped videos. Right? Right?????

This lesson happened to be about related rates problems involving cones. There's invariably an upside down cone filling or draining of liquid. One of my student's clips was, "why would you have a cone-shaped tank?". Her other one was, "how does this cone keep from falling down?". My goofy face was plugged in after I made some mistake in writing my notes (shocker!), and then I popped my face in there and then continued.

Ahhhhh, at least I keep myself amused.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Creating Quick Graphs for Documents

I'm playing around with screencast-o-matic that I found out about from an awesome colleague, so I thought I'd make a video on how to make a quick xy-plane of any size you want for your documents:

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Grading Exams...

I'm grading my 6 weeks calculus exam. On one implicit differentiation problem, I stated it as: show that dy/dx = ...... , so the kids HAVE the answer they're shooting for. They need to do the differentiation and get to the answer.

I love how the Magic Math Fairy sprinkles dust on some of their work and 10's become 6's or negative numbers *POOF* turn positive just because they have to.

They're so cute.....

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Classes & Objects in Java

I didn't find a satisfactory way to teach this without yapping at the kids and having them take notes and zone out and such. I knew I wanted to make analogies to link it to what they know. I didn't have time to create something.

Luckily, I came across this website. And I made up this sheet:

It took them all block period, and MOST who were on task finished. There was good discussion on what classes and objects and subclasses were. I think I'd like to add to the sheet (maybe for homework or a follow up). The add on would be more questions about them creating classes and subclasses and objects going along with this analogy.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Intermediate Value Theorem

In Calculus we've "learned" the IVTh a bit ago, but as in all things, once we come back to it, students seem to have a hard time explaining what the theorem was. As I was talking to a kid today doing corrections on a section quiz, I gave her an example and asked her to match up my scenario with the terms of the theorem.

This seemed to help her (but then I did that at the start of the topic also), so I decided to make the following worksheet for the rest of the class. I think this will be different than me just relating a story because the students actually have to go in and match up what goes with what. Here's the sheet.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Back in the Day .... Dinosaurs....

That's what I felt like today.

In precalculus, like all teachers, I want them to memorize and have a quick recall of (eventually all 6 functions and all 4 quadrants but for now...) sine/cosine/tangent of all special angles in the 1st 2 quadrants. I do timed quizzes where they have to get 100% or they get a 0% ... and they can take it as many times as they want.

I think the repetition is good for them. Also, I tell them, "hey! Make flashcards! Study!" we made a foldable (2 circles with a radius cut out and them sandwiching the other and the bottom is the unit circle with stuff around it).

Anyway, a student was waiting for a friend to do test corrections after school today, and she said, "hey ...", while she was fiddling with her iPhone. "Look what app I bought." She showed me the "unit circle app" that she bought for $0.99. You do something and a random graphical image of a reference triangle shows up on the unit circle and the sine and cosine values are shown.


Dinosaurs, I'm telling you. Rawr.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Teaching Methods in Java

I'm going to be teaching methods this week in Java, so I made up the following packet for the task. I'm still feeling my way around the best way to do things. Next year (cross my fingers the class will make), I'll teach methods sooner.

Currently, my students are working on a "Match Making" graphics program. I found some code online, that will make text boxes and allow use of the user input for "painting". I played around with it a bit and had the kids practice via a guided packet. Now they're to prompt the user for boy/girl, eye color, and 2 traits they decide. Then they're to draw the "dream date" based on the input. Can't wait to see their results.

Friday, November 02, 2012


I just learned of NACLO, and thought I'd share it with people. This is the North American Computational Linguistics Olympiad, and it's a FREE contest that's held in late January next year (2013). This seems like a cool career path (computational linguistics) that students may not have been aware of.

Here's a link to past contests. And there look to be super fun problems.

Some things that Computational Linguists think about and work on:
* speech recognition
* detection of deception
* search engines
* spam detection
* how (and why) do languages change?
* what do human languages have in common?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Patty Paper & Precalculus

I have used transparencies in the past for what I FINALLY figured out today. Sheesh! I feel slow, but at least I now have a new tool to use.

Here's a link to a 2 minute video.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Overcoming *current* Bad Habit...

I'd noticed lately (again!) that I'm treating my students like math robots. They are there to do my math homework. If I see them in the halls, my brain immediately scans through their work ethic and things they may or may not have done and tasks they have to take care of, and the FIRST thing to pop out of my mouth seems to be, "come in for tutoring" ... or "you need to make up your homework" ... or "why haven't you made up your absent work" .... or "what are you doing wandering the halls? you should be doing work".

Who invited Crabby Pants to the party?

Once I noticed that, I tried to just shove all those thoughts aside and settle on just a simple, "hello ... how are you?" type of greeting accompanied by a smile and a wait for an answer. I've taken a vow of "NICE". Don't know how long it will last. Also, I am NOT including my salty sailor mouth in the "nice" restrictions. I'm simply going to recognize these human kidlets as actual humans ... or try to anyway. Crossing my fingers that I can keep it up (until the next time I realize I've fallen off the "Nice" wagon).

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


I'm totally sure this has been done to death, but I liked how this project turned out. We are doing a unit on transformations, and for the reflections portion, one of their homework assignments was this. In essence, they had to draw the x and y axes. They also had to draw the lines y=x and y=-x. Then they had to draw a word that was at least 4 letters long in the "first slice" (between the line y=x and the x-axis in the 1st quadrant). Then they had to reflect that word ALL around the lines and show some key points that they/I could check for accuracy.

I liked the "Reflection on the Reflection" piece I had them do in class when it was due (after they did a gallery walk). I asked them to write what they liked and disliked about the project and about their final product and if anything was challenging or easy or other such thoughts. It was enlightening to read their comments.

I didn't like that a ton of the final projects were such that their original word was "horizontal". That made it easier to reflect, I think. Maybe if I did this again, I'd say they had to do a "tilted word". I also think block letters may be a future requirement (for the challenge). I also think I may say that some letters have to have curves in them. Anyway, voila:

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Calculator Shortcuts!

I just got back from the Dallas Regional NCTM conference. Amazing. I've only ever been to the national one in April, but we haven't been able to go for the last 3 years since it's right around state-wide-testing time. Now I actually think I enjoyed this Fall conference just as much. It was less headache to get to (other than the scrambling at the last minute to do lesson plans). It still had great talks. And it was in the beginning of the year, so I feel I could implement stuff I learned.

We went to great talks on brain research and precal projects and transformations in geometry. I bought some terrific books on formative assessment and other things. More later when I have time to process.


One seemingly little thing that is BIG ... but maybe people already know it ... is regarding the TI-84-ish calculators. I've always done the VARS, Y-vars, bla bla bla to get to the Y1, Y2, etc. functions when I need them. Oh. No. There are shortcut menus. Who's been hiding the shortcut menus from me? I want names!

Apparently, when you enter: Alpha F4, then you get a whole range of shortcuts and can just chose Y1 or Y2 at your whim's desire. Here's a video, too.

What else have you been keeping from me?

Monday, October 08, 2012

Goofy Idea

I was finishing up my flipped lesson taping tonight when I saw the web cam and decided to take a picture to send to my husband who's on a trip. I added a goofy message and was done with it.

Then I got to thinking on my drive home, that I could totally use this on tests or worksheets for an extra added goofy factor. I can add mustaches or weird eyes with editing tools. I don't know how things will turn out in black and white, but here are some brief things to get the ball rolling:

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Student Conversation

I was helping a calculus student with her test corrections, and we were chatting while she was writing things up. She said 2 interesting things. The first was:

Don't take this the wrong way ..... (that never ends well, does it?) .... but you make me feel stupid and smart at the same time.

She explained that when I look at some work she does to check it, I scrunch up my face in such a way that she interprets it as me internally saying, "what type of idiot would put this chicken scratch down and call it math." Then when I'm finished scrunching, I turn to her to explain with a bright cheery look on my face explaining the correct things she did and guiding her to fix certain things.

Sheesh. Little does she know that my face scrunching is just me thinking and squinting my eyes to see better without having to worry about how I look on the outside. Apparently, now it is true that LOOKS MATTER.

The second thing she said was that math makes her feel stupid.

Again with the SHEESH. She did have a good explanation, though, that she knows theoretically, but I don't think it translates to her heart of hearts.

She mentioned that (and she cutely says, "I don't mean to sound egotistical, but....") in other classes, she doesn't have to put out much effort to get good grades. Things come naturally to her, and it's just a matter of putting in the time. But with math, she has to actually think and if things don't come instantaneously to her, then it makes her feel stupid because of the experiences she has with other classes.

She also mentioned that even though she feels stupid in math class (now this is a girl that gets high B's and could get A's), inevitably on SATs and other standard tests, math is always her highest score. We thought about it for a bit. I'm not sure, but I think it's because in math class, it's new stuff that students are struggling with, but on standardized tests, it's more like a puzzle, and it's stuff they've seen before.

Anyway ..... here's to me making kids feel stupid .... yet smart at the same time. Woot! Just another job perk.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Trig Derivatives in Calculus

I find it fascinating that once you ask a student to find the equation of the tangent line to a trig-type function (say y = x*sin x) at x = pi, they completely blank out on finding a point on the line. What? I plug in pi? That's outrageous! Whoever heard of such a thing? Craziness. I vow to keep hammering away at equations of tangent lines this year. File...

Monday, October 01, 2012

Snips & Snippets

Okay, this 5 different preps thing and the club after school and the InvenTeam meetings and the NHS co-advising and the other start-of-the-year shenanigans is starting to make my eye twitch. I need to remember to take deep breaths and do my best and not worry about wanting everything to be perfect. I have to embrace a constant state of frantic-ness. I keep picturing myself with horse blinders on and JUST worrying about the present moment and juggling at most 2 or 3 other things in the back of my mind.

It's going to be great. It'll ALL be fine.

On a positive note. Love my students. Even though some of them are a pain in the patootie, they're still fun pains, and we've known each other for at least 2 years, so we can banter back and forth about our "loathing of each other". Ultimately, at my school, everyone really is trying to do their best, and we don't have to worry about sneaky, mean-spirited behavior, so I know I'm very fortunate in that respect.

And when there is bad behavior, I/we have to remember that the behavior ISN'T the person. It's just one aspect of the person. I kept scrunching my face and shaking my fist at the kid (in my mind) with a "what are you thinking?" and a "do you know what horrible behavior that is?" and a "what kind of upbringing did you HAVE?" and all that.

Then I just redefined the whole kid as THE PERSON WHO THINKS THAT IS OKAY TO DO. I have to remember (and it's a struggle, and it took me a while this time, and I don't know if I can keep it in mind consistently) that this is just ONE aspect of this student. They have many good qualities, and this was just one thing. They need to be called on the rug for it, but if no one does it, then they maybe don't realize how bad they've made others feel. I shouldn't write off the student. MUST. Keep. Remembering. This.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Computer Science Activities

I'm still finding my sea legs on how to best teach the material. I want the students to learn by doing, so we explore a ton. I haven't perfected a way for them to have easy, ready access to past information, though (without searching through tons of worksheets or old programs).

A student suggested a "goals" portion on each sheet, and I think it's a great idea, so I incorporated that. Also, through Haiku (an online teacher-type site our school purchased for us), I put some practice quizzes. I like it because I can see who and how they did. We JUST had our first quiz on strings and math, so I'll see how it's sticking.

Here are three recent activities on random numbers, a Math Quiz Project (that I've had good feedback on), and for loops:

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Chugging Along

I'm still trying to get my groove going for my AP Calculus flipped class. I love it because the kids actually have time and energy now to do hard problems since they're doing them in class. I also like that I've had conversations that clarify things for the students. BUT. Here's an enlightening conversation I had on Friday. The kids had watched videos and took notes on the product rule and on the quotient rule. There was a day of practicing the product rule. Then then next time they were practicing the quotient rule.

My basic flipped calculus class structure is:
Take the IR quiz (fast immediate recall type questions).
Get started on the new practice problems to reinforce what you "learned" on the video.
I walk around and answer questions and make sure they are getting it.


The students were working on these problems:

A student calls me over and asks: so how do we know when to use what rule ... product rule or the quotient rule.


I guess I was making assumptions with this particular group of students that EVERYONE would clearly see when to use what.

I think writing this out has made me want to change up the class structure.

Possible New Structure:
Take the IR quiz (fast immediate recall type questions).
Use my guiding questions to have a discussion with your table about various key important parts of what you learned from the video and how it ties in to previous learning. (I think I also want to use this as an opportunity for students to talk with students OTHER than the ones at their table)
Journal about your understanding for about 3 minutes in your ISN.
Get started on the new practice problems to reinforce what you "learned" on the video. (possibly have less problems since they seem to be having a hard time finishing the ones I give)
I walk around and answer questions and make sure they are getting it.

Now that I write that, it seems obvious. Oh well, it's a learning process for me, too. I still like the flipped structure, but it's a work in progress for me.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Funnies of the Week...

* In Digital Electronics, we're working with resistors. In case you don't know, they're color coded with these TEENY TINY bands of color where red looks like orange and brown could be black or it could be brown. A student was needing a particular resistor strength, and I couldn't read the colors with my aging (47) eyes. A kid asked me why I wasn't wearing glasses. I mentioned that it was vanity, and if I got new glasses I'd have to get bifocals, and I wasn't ready. One kid asked, "what are bifocals?" Another kids started being helpful .... "it's these glasses you'll see old people ....." and she stopped ... and we all laughed ... some less genuinely than others.

* After school, another student was in for tutoring. I've had her for 5 different classes, so I've known her for a long time. She's Hispanic. She wanted help, and after I was resisting going over to help her, she jokingly said, "bring your big booty over here." Hah. .... "no! That's a compliment!". ..... (okay, 2 for 2 .... old and fat)

* Another kid in precalculus was lamenting the fact that I called a homework sheet, "Quadratic Quirkiness". "Please don't ever use the word 'quirky' again" she pleaded. Huh? Why? "Quirky sounds like Quaid, and I hate Dennis Quaid." Okay ..... Then she listed reasons. Okay then. Of course I had to mention 'Quaid' a few times in class that day. Her friends also ratted her out, so "J Lo, Paltrow, ...." are also on the list.

Sunday, September 16, 2012


I guess I should periodically look at my old files. I know what I'm doing tomorrow in calculus (after a brief intro for "easier" problems).

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Group Projects

I'm not so good at assigning group projects (mostly because I side with student opinions of them and mostly because I'm a control freak and like to do things myself, so I don't like working in groups). But. I realize I may be doing the students a disservice by not allowing them the periodic struggle of working with others.

I've come up with this sheet that I think I'll add to my next group project. I'm SURE I'll assign one. Soon. This year. Some time.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


School is in its third week, and now the lack of sleep is taking its toll (that bell .... it's tolling for me). Today I left "early" (6pm) and treated myself to frozen yogurt and Sudoku and bad guitar playing (from lack of practice and wonky strings). I'm a wee bit more revived, and I guess extra sleep will be the cherry on top.

I went to an NHS 2-day weekend workshop this past Saturday and Sunday, and hmmmmm. Now my co-sponsor and I know all the things we SHOULD have done last year :). That's okay, we kept hearing that the first year is a throw-away year in terms of how effective you are. There were sponsors there that had been at it for up to 30 years. We got tons of great ideas to implement this year (service project every month; little service projects; leadership skills; laws and handbooks and by-laws; ...).

There was one great speaker. He said several great things, but here were some that resonated with me:

* Don't wait for opportunities. Create opportunities.
* You're never going to be paid enough or have enough time. Create good perks for yourself in spite of that.
* Take 10% of the time you have and make someone else's day at work. Make them feel appreciated.
* Kids say thank you in ways without saying, "thank you" .... coming back to visit ... asking for your advice ... changing their behavior because of something you said ... hugs ...

Oh, where does that "relationships" thing come in? We have seniors for the 1st time this year, and BOY are they stressed. There have been tears and anger and wan looks. They're taking about 4 AP classes. They are dealing with adjusting to newness of new-to-the-school teachers. They're dealing with the fact that they'll be leaving home soon. They're dealing with applying to college.

I've tried to make time to just shoot the breeze with them (though I'm thinking of all the things I should be doing) .... people before paper ..... We did our "stress write" ... we made funny pictures of stressed out characters and stapled them to our bulletin board. .... It's GOING TO BE FINE.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

First CS Project Results

Love my students. Their first Computer Science project was due this past Friday, and here are samples of the things they did after just 2 weeks of learning CS (their first time ever).

I don't even know why I bothered to put any constraints on the project (at least 2 of these, at least 4 of these ....).

This past week we started working on Strings. Here is a worksheet I had them do:

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Second Computer Science Task

Can anyone say "whirlwind week"? If you're a teacher I bet you can. I guess it's getting cliche to be all, "oh no, I'm so busy!". Anyway.

My computer science kidlets will turn in their first project tomorrow. Exciting. They're thrilled with their pictures they drew. Last class we started talking about Strings in Java. I didn't want to go the power point route - one, I didn't prepare; two, I think they'd just half listen and maybe take notes and then not learn until they were doing it.

So, we all opened our laptops, and I guided them through Strings and declaring and assigning and getting user input. Then I had them do a Google search on mad libs examples. There's a free Mad Libs generator that we walked through. After the giggles (and refresher on what an adverb or noun is *sigh*), I told them that their next task is to create a Mad Libs. Only about 10 minutes was remaining in class at this point, so I said, "start with a 2 sentence one.".

Also, instead of text book assigning and yapping, I assigned this homework for the "extras" I have to teach:

Good Times.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Funny Story That Made My Day

In my harried existence as a teacher at the start of the school year, I don't have all my "routines" in perfect place yet. For example, I don't yet make time for a snack between breakfast and lunch (or maybe it's just my tapeworm gobbling up all my food). Anyway, by lunch time I was literally clutching my stomach in the cavernous pain of hunger. I was "hangry" as they say.

As I was coming back from washing my hands and on my way to my classroom to eat lunch, I yet again clutched my stomach (wah wah wah). I happened to see 3 former students and a teacher friend walking towards me. The students asked if I was okay or if I was pregnant (note: I'm in my late 40's and the kids know I'm not having kids). My teacher friend mentioned that yes, I was pregnant with triplets, and we all mentioned that we should "spread the rumor". We chuckled about it, and I forgot the conversation.

After-school tutoring comes about. A student I hadn't seen that day comes in to work on her computer programming and asked if I was pregnant. She mentioned that she JUST got a text from a friend (and former student) that now lives in West West Texas asking if I was pregnant. Woot! Rumor spreads like wildfire!

Funny way to end the day.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Flipped Calculus Lessons

Well, I dove in from day 1 and started flipping my lessons. Thanks to the nice gentleman that discussed how "exploring" fits in here, and I think I found something that worked. In my previous thinking it seemed to be all or nothing: ALL of class was spent on practice, and NOTHING else. Hah! There's nothing that says you can't break it up and do some exploring and some practice and such .... even a quiz.

After my APSI workshop, I decided to do what the presenter recommended, and part of their grade is based on daily quizzes for things they need to know down pat. I call them IR quizzes (immediate recall), and there are about 15 every grading period (every day quizzes), and I drop the lowest 3 grades.

Here's how the first 2 days went.

Day 1:
intro, syllabus, bla bla bla.
Start immediately with showing them the zoomed in graph of y = sin x. And we bound off from there talking about local linearity (ala my summer workshop). Then they each got a special number to explore on y=x^2 to zoom in so much to make it look linear. We gathered everyone's information and plotted on my calculator. Then class was over.

So. Now it was time for me to flip. Lots of starts and stops. Computer at home didn't accept the new webcam. Made video at school the next day. SchoolTube never successfully loaded video. Neither did YouTube. Then I tried my weebly account. Eh. Then my nice teacher friend made a suggestion, and voila, I uploaded them to my google docs and sent the links to the kids.

Day 2:
On that flipped lesson, they were supposed to start their ISNs and then explore y=x^3, y=x^4, y= sin x. So in class: IR quiz. Then after a brief prep, they just practiced finding secant slopes and tangent slopes ala 2.1 Stewart. Simultaneously, I passed around my calculator and they entered their hwk information of slopes at their points. Meanwhile, I graded the quizzes (sine and cosine 10 problems 1st 2 quadrants). I handed back the quizzes. Then I stopped them working and we looked at the results on the calculator of their hwk and saw patterns (y=x^3 ..... slopes form y=3x^2....). Then class ended.

The flipped lesson I recorded for their new homework is just summarizing all this information. I love the format.

No longer do I have to wait for them to draw the graphs I'm drawing (they can just pause the video). My tonight's videos were about 16mins and 8 minutes (?). Send me e-mail if you want a sample of me babbling through the discussion, and I'll send you the link.

I also like the Interactive Student Notebook: my stuff on the right, their stuff on the left. I'm doing it on the videos as a guide.

Monday, August 27, 2012


It sure was a fun first day back. We do a big assembly production to start the day, and there are lots of smiles and hugs and confusion and new kids and old kids and new teachers and oldies. We put out small fires and remember how to juggle a bazillion things in our head at the same time. We don't sleep well the night before. We worry about the students who haven't shown up and hope they're okay. We wrap up the day and start worrying about prepping again. Loved it.

I've decided to be picky about homework structure for all my math classes this year, so I'm handing them out this (copied in the obvious way to save paper):

They're going to tape it in their notebooks, and I'll make a poster and be a stickler. I liked the phrase: the final number is not your answer, the WHOLE PROCESS is your answer.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Mini Vacations...

In order to be proactive, I want to generate a list and keep it fresh in my mind of routines of things I do to make the stress palatable. I know things are going to come around in work, and I'll have no control over them, but I will have control (hah!) over my reactions and memories of all the little things I do to make life fun and keep in mind as a "happy place" to go to in stressful times.

Here are current small things that make me happy:

* I listen to books on CD in the car to and from work. So as I'm stressing about the workday ahead I sometimes find myself looking forward to the drive just so I can be read to (currently on the 3rd listen through of the Harry Potter books).

* I don't know why, but the saying, "how do you eat an elephant? one bite at a time." always makes me smile. I know that the HUGE thing I'm facing just gets chipped away at and eventually gets done. Don't see the WHOLE elephant, just your current nibble.

* I keep a foot massage rolly thing in the bathroom at home, so I vow to roll each foot across it 12 times for each visit.

* every Thursday during the school year, I go out to breakfast as a treat. It's something to look forward to and to see as a light at the end of the week's tunnel.

* I chant the mantra, "It's going to be great. It's going to work out fine." accompanied by a deep breath when I am getting stressed.

* On the mornings I exercise on the treadmill, I have a book/magazine rack on it, so I can read through my latest things and that will be motivation to get on it and sweat. So I'm not really exercising, I'm reading.

* It's helpful to kvetch with friends and make the problem sound ridiculous, so that you don't feel so alone in your apparently HUGE problems. Laughing always helps.

Okay. And I'm not really that stressed just yet (though maybe I should be because my room still is a shambles). But ..... I'm guessing it's coming soon.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Beehive in the Brain

Today was our first day back for the week before students officially arrive, and I know this will be a shocker, but there are a bazillion things floating around my brain. Stressed. Here, look at a pretty picture (as someone once said):

This is where I was this past week. Lots of sleeping and sitting and eating and visiting with a new niece ..... who was a recipient of one of these cuties that I finished JUST in time:

The person who made the pattern is so creative. Must make more. I smile every time I look at them.

And here is me staring out and probably thinking school thoughts:

And, as I was going over calculus stuff to prepare, I read over my APSI notes and remembered that the teacher said something about Texas being great about sending kids to college but not so good about having them graduate. I did a search and found this site. You can scroll to the graph at the bottom of the page and if you scroll over the bar that's your state, that page will pop up, and you'll get more numbers.

Okay, off to practice with the TI-nspire.

Monday, August 13, 2012

CS week one DONE and CHECK

Okay, now I can rest a wee bit easier since my first week of computer science planning is done (mostly). Next up is finishing my syllabi and day 1 / week 1 for my other classes. Here's what my kiddies are doing in CS class for the first week.

Of course I haven't tried this on real humans yet, so I'm expecting to have to work out some bugs and clarify as I go. I will keep stressing to my students to discuss with each other and to make sure they understand what their experiments tell them.

In other news, I'm batting around a homework idea in my head (for all classes) that I haven't completely formalized yet. It's something to the effect of having the students write a little pledge at the bottom of each homework (that will be required to earn full credit on the homework). The statement will be something like:

By signing below, I vow that I gave my (best/average/below average/medium ....) effort on this assignment. *signature*

I will have the discussion with my students that they are not graded on the actual TYPE of effort, simply on fessing up to it. I want it to be an awareness thing for them. We will have a discussion on the importance of always striving to do your best no matter what the situation and that sometimes that is not possible for whatever reason, but I'd like them to develop having that automatic internal discussion for everything.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

First CS homework

I finished my AP Audit Syllabus, and feel like I have a huge weight off my shoulders. Yip! Now, I'm working on their first day's/week's program (I'll share when it's done), and I just finished their homework for the first night:

I'm also wondering if I'll actually get around to planning/prepping for geometry and precal and calculus and DE. Who's going to get the short end of the stick? Maybe it'll be like a baton, and I'll pass around the "phoning it in" lesson each day to various classes.

In other news of progress:

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Waning Summer Days...

My goal is to finish my AP Computer Science syllabus before this Friday. I've been pecking away at it and trying to wrap my mind around the structure all summer basically. It's ALMOST there. I ended up really enjoying my APSI workshop, but there seems to be a trend in computer science (and by trend, I mean 2 cases!). The gentleman that was teaching us had a ton of experience and a ton of ideas, and he gave us resources to learn from, but the bulk of his stuff was copyrighted because he sells his textbook and labs and such. I've also found this with one other "package" that seems to be popular.

I'm used to the math world, I guess, where we seem to just put it out there and share freely. I'm feeling judgy and don't like that feeling, and the stubborn part of me says, "no, I will not buy your stuff". I've also heard various things about, "just get a syllabus online and don't stress about it". That doesn't work ideally for me, since if I don't jump in and get my hands dirty, I feel I'm missing an opportunity to justify all my syllabus choices of what to teach when and why and how much, and get a deep understanding of the year, etc.

I've been cutting and pasting and moving around the various topics to meet my goals of engaging the students and having a logical flow and such. It also feels like a wee bit of a fairy tale because in all honesty, I don't know how much time it will take for each concept to sink in to their brains. My take is that you "dab and go and keep coming back to it". Exposure and constant revisiting seems to be the key.

I'm also making 3 of these for my trip next week to Canada/in-laws for the last vacation of the summer and the first sight of a new niece and a visit with 2 other little nieces-something-removed.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

APSI day 2 notes

Day 2 was just as intense as day 1. Here are things I took away from our session:

* There are lots of opinions floating around. You want a good teaching approach, but don't let ANYONE tell you that there is only one way to do things ... that THEIR way is perfect because they've had success. Unless they've been at your school with your kids, they don't know your situation. A great teacher can have good and bad years in various ways that "success" is determined. Listen to things and absorb and intelligently decide your best approach for your situation.

* Repetition is useful. There are certain skills you just have to practice over and over again, not in the sake of doing "hard math/computer science", but for the sake of getting a fluency with mechanics and basic skills.

* Kids most likely won't completely understand things the first time (all humans for that matter). Frequent revisiting and exposure is the key.

* He does these "80 point Free Response" tests to practice getting ready for the FR section of the AP exam. He picks a specific reasonable amount of time (3 minutes for an easier problem or 8-10 for a more involved one) and the kids go. The second they're done they can walk the test up to him for grading. When times done, you need to be done. You have 2 possible grades on the test: 80 or 100. He wants the kids to start practicing and getting it down and being comfortable with timed portions and with FR format and skills. Also, he checks handwriting in terms of neatness and legibility and such and comments on it. Only people with perfect answers done in time get 100. Everyone else gets 80. ... I like this and will modify it to suit my situation.

* Your overconfidence on the exam could be your worst enemy. He's had valedictorians and smart kids get a 1 on the AP CS exam because they made judgments about the ease of a question and quickly skimmed and answered and missed the subtle points of what was being asked. I found myself doing that (as a smart kid, ar ar ar) on some of the practice problems. I was "being a human" and part of my brain was doing the problem, and part of my brain was analyzing their intent, and then I would get the problem wrong. I think you have to train yourself to THINK LIKE THE COMPUTER and just make diagrams and fill memory and change values based on the instructions given. I had most success when I remembered that.

* Sprinkle GridWorld skills throughout your whole year. Keep coming back to it. This goes with the repetition thing. If you cover the last skill right at the end of your teaching phase, the kids haven't had enough contact with it and won't do well with it. This goes with something someone else said in Lincoln. She pretty much finishes all the content the first semester, and then spends the next semester on projects and practicing the skills (is this possible? check.).

* LOVE that geometry comes back into play on the Boolean portion of the class. Yay De Morgan's Law!

Wednesday, August 01, 2012


I'm at my 4th of four workshops (and dorms) this summer. Apparently, I'm going for the seasoned professional dorm dweller award. This one is an APSI on computer science, and there are only 9 people in the class. Sheesh, it could be the reason there is the NSF 10K Project:

"The CS 10K Project aims to have rigorous, academic curricula incorporated into computing courses in 10,000 high schools, taught by 10,000 well-trained teachers."

or it could be like our teacher said, "I was told that the whole APSI was closed for further enrollment because they had the maximum total people they could handle, so we couldn't get more in our section."

Either way, here are some tidbits I learned/heard already:

* "Students will be 8 different people for 8 different teachers."

* The first lab assignment he gave us was differentiated. We were working with methods and objects, and he said, "if you are new to APCS, do this one. If you're in the middle of your grasp, do this one. If you're seasoned, do this one." The first was graphical in nature, so there was an easy visual on if you were right or not. The next 2 were related, so if you started with "medium", and it was easier than you expected for you, then you could extend it to the more challenging one.

I like this idea and want to remember it for my assignments.

* He said, "students get really good at programming on the computer in class. Unfortunately, the AP exam is based on non computing skills. You need to intertwine theory and practice of the theory throughout the course in addition to programming."

* His WHOLE class is paperless, down to assignments and quizzes. I don't know if I can go that far, but maybe I'll start with more things they save online. One idea I am toying with is an Excel spreadsheet of vocabulary of a certain structure. Maybe columns for type of word and hints on remembering or anchors to past learning and topic the word is related to in addition to the columns for word and definition. That way, the kids can sort as they need in various situations. (I'm also toying with the idea of those big binder rings and vocab words so that they are more portable).

Monday, July 30, 2012

Fun Problem...

In my insomnia, I was cruising the Internet and came across this problem:

2+3 = 10
6+5 = 66
8+4 = 96
7+2 = 63

9 + 5 = ?????

I thought that could be a fun "filler" problem or such. And maybe the follow up is to have the students write about the pattern and then make up their own.

I also bought this pattern on Etsy for a future trip I have that involves little girls to make things for.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Flipped Class Letter To Class

Here is the letter I'll hand to my calculus students the first day of class. It outlines that we're going to flip our class and talks about the benefits. The more I think about flipping, the more I like it.

I still haven't worked out how I want to do "explore learning" lessons. There are times I want them to try things and test them out and learn that way. It seems useful if they're with other students while they're doing that. But I guess my thoughts are that I'll simulate class and tell them what to attempt on the video lesson and keep prompting them to pause the video while they try things. Then I may or may not continue the video with possible things they did. Good: time saver for class time when they'll be practicing concepts. Bad: they may find the loop hole and not try things and fake it and just copy down what I do.

Another thing I could do is just give them the exploring instructions and then extra instructions on talking with another student about their results and instructions on jotting down their findings. Then we take class time to discuss results and such.

Maybe I'll try both or do both and see what's what as time goes on.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Bookmarks on the Cloud

I finally found a "cloud" bookmark application that I like. I have my Google reader for all the blogs I read, and I thought I could use that, but you can't have folders (or I haven't found them anyway). I guess it's a reader and not a bookmarker (thus the name Google READER, silly).

I found "marklet", and maybe you know about it, but if you don't, I'd recommend it. Benefits so far:

* I can have visual folders for my different things (computer science, teaching resources, fitness ideas, etc).
* I can put a "button" (is it called an extension?) at the top of my browser (like the "Pin It" button from Pinterest. That way, when I come across a site I want to bookmark on any computer I frequently use (and have "extended"), I can just click on the button and it's put into my "clouded bookmarks".
* It's free.
* You can import your already existing bookmarks.
* I can have easy access to all my bookmarks all in one place no matter what computer I'm using.
* Now I don't have to suffer the agony of not having my home bookmarks available when I'm at work and visa versa.
* I get to say marklet, which just rolls off the tongue.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Stereotype Threat

I'm on day 3 of the three day workshop on how to recruit and keep more women and underrepresented students into computer science classes. And yet again I learned some cool/useful things. Now you may be thinking, "I don't teach CS, I teach math, not that interested". Well, it could be that you would be an advocate for students to actually try CS. It's not just for people you stereotypically think may be interested. You solve interesting problems and interact with interesting people.

One point is that studies show that by about 2020, roughly 30% of jobs will involve fluency with computer science. This doesn't mean that people will just need to know how to use technology, but to understand it in order to do their job. This may be programming or altering programs or algorithmic thinking, etc. The trouble is, currently, only about 5% of freshmen are saying that they will major in CS.

You may be like me and think, okay, what could, say, Journalism have to do with CS. Don't they just type in their stories and send it through? What could be farther from CS? An example one of the professors gave us was a particular journalist that wrote code to automatically search various types of news stories from particular types of places (either countries or companies or governments) about particular topics. Then overnight (say) the program would gather all these sources, and in the morning, the journalist had all his facts and data available to him to write his story. He saved countless hours of researching and surfing the web and potentially missing a source. I thought that was enlightening.

Anyway, this post is about "stereotype threat" which I'd never heard of before. The professor discussed stereotypes and the good and bad of them.

GOOD: people need a way to categorize the world so that every new input into their brains is not NEW and unrelated to other things they know. It allows for shortcuts to process information.

BAD: because maybe one person makes a mistake, some people could stereotype a whole segment of the population as "bad" .... girls suck at math .... purple people are lazy .... citizens of green country are evil ....

Stereotype Threat is a person's fear of confirming a negative belief about that person's group. Say a common stereotype is that girls don't do computer science. Then if a girl actually wants to do CS, and if stereotype threat is in her mind (even though she may not call it that), then she hinders herself and her brain power by worrying that she won't "be good", she'll "validate others' opinion of girls in CS". She'll have harsher personal standards for herself and her performance will be diminished because she's spending so much brain power on worrying.

Apparently, this is a hot research topic currently. Okay, off to the last few sessions.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Bits/Bytes of Computer Science Information*

*(See what I did there?)

I'm currently at a Tapestry Workshop in Lincoln, NE, and on this first day have already learned about a ton of computer science resources I can use next year. One of the interesting facts I learned was about AP classes and AP tests given and the representation of women in the Computer Science tests/classes. Apparently, in statistics and biology and calculus, it's a roughly 50/50 male/female ratio. Guess what it is in CS? 81m/19f. There are probably also similar statistics for underrepresented segments of the population. Their point was that there is power in diversity, and everyone wins when an endeavor is diverse. Also, there's money in CS type jobs. Also, even the most basic jobs of the future will require understanding computational thinking; their example was a job ad for a dog catcher that required the applicant to not just be able to use technology, but to understand it.

Here are some resources I've learned of so far. I don't know how I'll incorporate them yet, but there is great potential.
Dot Diva (for girls in computing)
Bits & Bytes newsletter (scroll to the bottom for issues) (interesting articles about cs in the world)
CS Unplugged (cs activities you can do to introduce lessons or to take to non cs classes that don't need a computer)
Google in Education (who knew?)
Java Bat (good practice for the AP exam)
NCWIT (for getting more women in computing)

We've had 4 different speakers so far, and each has brought something to the table. Can't wait for tomorrow.

*Line stolen from this hysterically funny potty-mouthed lady.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Calculus and TI-nspire

To add to the craziness of my next year (4 preps, first time flipping, possible teacher mentor, math club sponsor, InvenTeam cosponsor, NHS cosponsor, drinker....), I think I want to use "my" class set of TI-nspire calculators for my one calculus class as opposed to the TI-83/84's that I'm comfortable with.

I just got out of a Web Meeting of Calculus TI-nspire users, and there were some cool links and information (I didn't know slope fields were so easy on the nspire).

What I really want is a basic primer document of:
If you do this for calculus on the TI-83, do THIS on the TI-nspire. I know there are documents of walking you through stuff (I saw a 12 page document on Sean Bird's site), which are great for their purpose. But I want a more, two column, easy to sift through, "there there, it's totally possible and you don't have to read through a ton of stuff to find the specific function you want" document. You know, for the many times when I'll be a last minute user of remembering that I need to know how to do "this" right before I teach the class. I don't even mind if the 2 column document has some links to specific instructions on other documents. Does anyone know of such a document? Unfortunately, I don't remember all the stuff I have to do for calculus, but I guess i will this year. Maybe I'll create such a file.

I did learn one cool feature of the TI-nspire for calculus that's totally easy: slope fields! With the 83/84, you had to download a program. With the nspire (not even the CAS, it's just there): under graph > menu > graph type > DiffEqn ... and then just type in your eqn .... remembering to use y1 or y2, etc instead of "y" if you need it. Super cool!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

AP Computer Science Prep...

I just got back from my AP Calculus AB workshop, so I feel good about that course. Now it's time to focus more on the Computer Science prep. I still wanted to get a good sense of the order of topics. I know I could just look on someone else's syllabus, but I wanted to make sense of it myself and then check against how others did it. I guess that's "constructivist" thinking. Anyway, I feel better about it now. I first used "pretty girly" stock paper (used for scrapbooking) and cut each page up into smaller index card sized pieces. Then I just went over the AP Curriculum and textbook and such and listed topics and things I think the kids should know.

Then I first separated them into big ideas that went together.

Then I put the piles in order of how I think they could be taught. Then I checked against how my online course textbook presented things last year, and I checked it against other syllabi. I like it. Some of the things I think I'll sprinkle throughout the course instead of teaching first (as is done in my old text). For example, I don't think the kids IMMEDIATELY need to know about ethics and safety and binary/hexadecimal, etc. I can introduce that after I "hook them".

The awesome teacher I went to last week for calculus mentioned that at her school, the AP teachers have about 3 weeks to get the kids to buy into their course. The kids can't drop the 1st 3 weeks. Then they can (with a ton of paperwork to discourage the practice). I have to win over my students and show them the fun and value of computer programming. So I think I'll start with some sort of graphics (super scaffolded) or some sort of game (again super scaffolded) that introduces some of the other concepts I want them to know (variables, primatives, loops...) with the warning to them that they won't understand the WHOLE picture at first, but they get to see the power of programming and the capabilities.

I'm also going to a summer workshop for computer science late July. I don't want to feel so behind and slow, so I'm going over this book chapter by chapter to refresh my memory. I think I also want the kids to have a copy of it this year. It was recommended on the AP Central Electronic Discussion Group for Computer Science, which I also highly recommend.

Other than that ...

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Math Libs...

Remember Mad Libs from childhood? I thought I could piggy back off that idea for a math activity. I'm thinking either a part of the first day of school, or a day before a holiday, or some other such time. It wouldn't take all period. My guess is 15-20 minutes (longer if they do the "homework" in class). Here's a sample of one of two I want to make. I envision a "BAT" version and a "___" version with a different storyline on the back. Students should keep their version hidden from people with the other version.

Edited to note:
This idea is not affiliated with MathLibs(R), a brand used in commerce for over a decade (link to:  ).

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Splish Splash Musings...

As I was swishing my feet in the warm waters at these past few days (SO RELAXING and FUN), I was obviously thinking about school. I'd just been looking at a book that contained one of those ink drawings that fascinates me. Something like this.

I'm awed that you can create something with just different lines that are closer or farther or hatched or such. Then my next thought was that I could never do that. Then my next next thought was, ah HAH I'm being just like the kids and don't want to even attempt something because I immediately don't know how to do it right off the bat. I didn't want to tinker.

Then I came up with "Tinker Time". I haven't fleshed it all out yet, but I'm thinking of creating about 12 little 5 minute activities for the kids to do at the start of math class. The activities don't necessarily have to be about math, and the object is not to perfect some skill, but the point is to dive in and get your hands dirty and try something and then reflect on what happened. Ultimately, getting the students to not be afraid to tinker, basically, and hopefully that will translate into applying those brave skills to tinkering with math problems. I thought we could do them once a week, and then cycle around to the same activity 2 more times during the school year.

Some of my ideas were:
* show them a pen/ink drawing and have them just explore doing it and seeing what's what
* some challenging maze puzzle that is recreated about 5 times and they can just practice
* maybe some legos tossed around and they have to explore creating something
* given a prompt of an object, they have to draw it using only triangles or only circles or something

And for all of these, again, I'll keep stressing the goal of just tinkering to take the pressure off (in their minds), but to nefariously get them to get comfortable with just diving in and doing and trying. Mwa ha ha ha.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

classroom ideas....

As I'm idling away the summer, I'm wondering what I can do to make my classroom more "homey" next year. I did a little better this year with being harsh with myself and tossing stuff I hadn't unpacked or use for a year. But then all the dreaded engineering boxes took up a bunch of room, and they never quite made it out of the cardboard boxes. My excuse was that I didn't want to buy an organization system on the fly without trying the year out and seeing what would make sense. That or I'm a lazy procrastinator. I'm picking the former.

Some of my ideas so far (don't know if they'll pan out) are:

* the teeny white Christmasy type lights strung around somehow.
* painting the ceiling tiles somehow.
* bringing in a metal porch swing (LOVE them and have 2 at home, one on the porch and one in my office)
* extra "calm" decorative lighting as opposed to the overhead stuff.
* painting the cinder block walls (I'm thinking I'm not motivated to make that happen, though)
* less tables (we don't have desks) and more students around the tables. This year I had 10 large tables in class, and there was hardly room to move around. I've also heard that I'll be most likely having a class of 30 or so, so I'd need at least 8 tables anyway if I had 4 2 a table. Ugh.
* I'd like a wall or board dedicated to articles I've found in my magazines or on the web. Stuff about cool jobs kids may not have heard about or things about inventors or students making a difference or inspiring stories.
* I loved having the mobiles from the last summer project hanging up all year, but those are coming down. Maybe I can have the students in class make other types of mobiles that are topic related.
* This craft gave me some ideas. Maybe I can make a BIG jigsaw puzzle template with 30 pieces (or more, one for each class .... eeeek), and then the students decorate the piece to reflect their personality, and then we hang the finished product all together. But if I have 120 students .... have to think about this one.
* I have a big wall of windows in my room, and we're on the 1st floor. I'm thinking of the students making things that would face out and the passers-by would have art work or math work to gaze at.

Okay, must think some more about this ...

Monday, June 25, 2012

Great Opportunity

These past few days, a colleague and I were at MIT for EurekaFest. You can read about it here. Holy Cow was it an inspiring few days. There were many high school teams that spent all last year inventing something. They presented their inventions in a variety of ways (talks and booths and discussions). There were "adult" and "college" inventors that were also happy to discuss their experience. There were MIT professors that actually taught invention classes where the whole class invented something throughout the year (semester?). There was this inspiring gentleman. There was this mind-blowing invention.

I'm mentioning it here because we only learned about it from one of our students doing research and asking us if we could do this. To a student at this event, the one thing we kept hearing was that they were changed by their experience of going through the process. I know my colleague and I were inspired. So, if it sounds intriguing, I think you should think about applying for NEXT year. The initial process/application is due in April, so there's plenty of time to get organized.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


I had a conversation with friends the other day about writing in general (no mention of blogs). They asked if I liked to write or if I found it challenging. I thought about it and said that I did not find it painful. I usually just blurted stuff out on the paper in a stream of consciousness type of way and then went back and adjusted later. My thought is that you basically have an idea of what you want to say, and if you start out by nitpicking every sentence, then that whole picture is lost in the effort of perfection. Anyway, it works for me ... for writing anyway.

For the last 5 days I've been gathering site links and ideas and such to start mapping out my computer programming curriculum. I found many helpful people and ideas and opinions including my own. Then apparently, I found all my baggage about teaching the class. And ..... I have not put down one sentence of how I want the year to proceed. What works for me in writing apparently got lost in translation when I had to carry it over to mapping out a whole new class. My idea of being (nearly) perfect is getting in the way of me actually doing anything to make progress. I keep having these "but ... but ... but ..." thoughts taking up residence in my head.

So my epiphany is just that. BLURT IT DOWN to at least have a starting place with which to work! If you don't start, you can't finish. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time! Rah, rah, rah. Okay, that's my goal for this afternoon: get a broad brush stroke down on paper.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Summer Time...

Ahhhh, the joys of getting enough sleep. That's basically in the top 5 treats of summer vacation. That and the feeling that I have PLENTY of time to organize how I want to teach my 2 new preps next year. Hah! Knowing me, I'll put it off until the last minute and then scramble around wondering what happened to my carefree days.

I did pull out my old calculus bins, and I actually organized them chronologically. I recycled TONS of dated things from them. Now I'm pushing that topic to the back of my mind to gnaw on at odd moments. I'm still thinking of flipping that class daily, and am tossing around ideas to make it doable in the time frame I'll have. It makes me giddy to think I can actually assign problems for class practice (formerly known as homework) that involve "a" and "b" instead of actual numbers. You know, there's a piecewise function with, say, 3 pieces and instead of "3x + 7", one part has "3x + a", and the question is of the sort: find "a" so that the function is continuous. In the past, it's assigned, kids struggle, they come to class, then I walk through how to do it. Besides not being the best way for them, it also ate up class time. NOW I envision myself skipping through class with a goofy grin on my face and just feeding them little hints. POOF! More time in class and more challenging problems. We'll see what the reality really is like, but I'm willing to try it for one year.

This calculus class is also the class that will be through the ropes with me as a teacher for the 3rd time (geometry, precal, calc). To say we're like a dysfunctional family at this point basically sums it up.

My current project is the AP Computer Science class. I have 13 students that have signed up, and they have basically never programmed before. I've heard various theories about how I should use Alice or Scratch or something drag and droppy. I may be naive, and that will certainly come out as the school year happens, but I think that at the end of the day, the students still have to be able to write code and be careful with syntax and find their bugs and such. I think they're up to it. I'm forging ahead and introducing Java immediately. I feel that if I start with another type package then somewhere deep down I'm saying to the students: you can't handle Java. Here's a warm fuzzy puppy that bounces around the screen. Weeeeeee.

Saying that, I think I want to start immediately with the first class. In some form, I want them to write code that day (heavily scaffolded), possibly doing graphics. I have a long term first project in mind, but I have to work out the bugs.

Okay, that's me setting it down in stone. Let's see what happens as the year progresses.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Flipped AP Calculus Class

Curses on my principal! This year she's been on the "flipped classroom" train. She sends us e-mails. She "gently" suggests we just try it once. She sends more e-mails containing articles raving about flippin' flipping. I kept my head low. I had conversations with myself: What's she thinking! That's too much! I have other things that I'm juggling! I can't see how it would work with students that don't have computers. What if they don't watch at home? What if they come in and either didn't watch and say I didn't get it, or watch and say I didn't get it? Do I do it for every lesson? Every subject?

Then she sent a portion of an article by this teacher, who did this with AP Calculus, which I'm teaching next year. I've also been reflecting and brooding on all those students I had this year in precalculus who perfected the art of "playing school" by pretending to be taking notes and paying attention while they were just going through the motions. Passive "learning". I had no effective consequences for that, not in the "shame on you" way, but in the catch it and make them tune in way. By flipping, and some effective way I can give points or assess that they watched, then I can do the practice problems in class. I totally agreed with this teacher's statement that by the time the kids get home (and ours get home pretty late), their brains are fried, and they may not be giving their mental "all" to the math homework.

Anyway, I'm batting around the idea of doing this for next year for calculus. Teacher Tube? Other? There seem to be a ton of resources in the above link. .... I'll THINK about it.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Nice To Meet You...

When I started this blog in January of 2005, I didn't know the what's/how's/why's of how this would transpire. I wanted to keep most (all?) of my privacy just in case there were repercussions. Within the last year or so, I've only JUST started mentioning to people I know that I blog, and THAT took me 6 years. Now it feels kind of stilted and phony to me to just keep signing e-mails or blog responses as "Ms. Cookie". I completely understand the reasoning for everyone doing it, but it started to feel "un-right" somehow for me. By the way, why that name? I like cookies. Really logical.

I've also been mentioning blogs as a great resource to other teachers, and again if feels phony when I fail to mention mine. So what if they come upon it and recognize my picture. Do they mention it to me? Do they not? Do I mention it? ARGH!

So, hello, nice to meet you. I'm Shireen D. I never started out wanting to be a teacher. Now I can't think of anything else I would rather spend my time doing. Blogging and reading blogs have been such great experiences that allow me to get advice and resources and camaraderie and hear other teachers' ideas, and I'm able to think out loud on what has worked and not worked for me. I'm less in a teaching vacuum because of the generosity and availability of other teachers that are processing their work for the rest of us to share.

Case in point today. We have a new teacher that will be teaching AP Statistics next year, and we quickly went online with various search phrases and were able to find blogs, activities, syllabi, outlines, etc. Now this teacher will be affecting 15 or more kids and will have great resources to do so. The inevitable question: WHAT DID WE DO BEFORE THE INTERNET?!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Last Day Reflections

Like something that still doesn't feel quite done, THE SCHOOL YEAR IS OVER! I gave my last 2 finals. I marveled that my Digital Electronics students actually learned something. I turned in my last grades with literally seconds to spare (over the ceiling intercom, "Ms. ____ are you done yet?"). I contemplated packing up my room and decided to do it later. I went to a last shindig with our juniors who were thanking industry partners for their week-long internship. I celebrated with a dinner out and a reading of a funny book. And now blogging. Woot!

Things I learned or was reminded of again this year:
* people before paper (if someone is vying for your time and you're trapped in your busy work, stop and talk with them; paper can usually wait).
* like all people, kids remember how you make them feel, not how stellar your knowledge was of a particular topic.
* being physically around a group of negative people too much is not healthy for anyone; it feeds on itself.
* change is inevitable.
* kids are still kids, and no matter how mature they act; there are still things they don't know and may appreciate hearing a different perspective on.
* people usually aren't doing the things they do to annoy you; everyone is mostly trying to get by the best way they currently know how; react accordingly.
* no school is perfect; warts happen; you have to know what your deal-breakers are and how to work healthily around things/situations if you can.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Final Exams......

This morning I happened to read some teacher suggestions (a union teacher journal) on writing in the classroom. One teacher mentioned that as she handed out tests to her class, she instructed the students to write an inspiring message on their test. She mentions that they would roll their eyes but do it anyway. Then if she forgot to mention the message on later, future tests, the students reminded her.

I gave some geometry finals today, and as they got ready, I told them to write inspiring messages on their scratch paper. I mentioned that they'd do great, and they have to free up their brain cells from stressing, so they can concentrate on doing math.

I read through their messages after the test:

* Don't overthink it! Relax and everything will be okay.
* Kick butt!
* You are the smartest person in the world!
* You know things .... just try your hardest.
* I'm proud of you.

Feet Cubed....

As every high school student OBVIOUSLY knows, "3 feet cubed" is "3x12 inches cubed". Duh! You know, you just multiply by 12 because there are 12 inches in a foot.

Like everyone else, I've tried various ways to dispel this rumor: we've drawn models, we've used models, we've discussed. Seemingly to no avail. This year, I tried yet again with a different tactic.

We started out with a rectangular prism 3' x 2' x 4'. They found the volume in feet cubed. Then I asked them to find the volume in inches cubed, and to a person, they all wrote the wrong answer (24 x 12 = 288). Then without saying they were wrong I had them go back and redraw the prism into the inches equivalent and recalculate the volume, and OH NO, they were wrong with their first "288". Hmmmmm. So, this is stuff I've tried before. Now for the "new" attempt that MAYBE will work.

I had them write: 5 ft^3
Then change to: 5 * ft * ft * ft
Then EACH foot had to be converted to inches, so

= 5 * ft * ft * ft
= 5 * 12in * 12in * 12in
= 8640 in*in*in
= 8640 in^3

Let's see if this one sticks.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Solar Eclipse Video

Over at this site I found cool information about tonight's solar eclipse.

There was also a NASA video ...

Goal: do more planetary topics in precalculus next year.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Slow Learner

Today in discussing Surface Area and Volume of 3D figures, I found out why textbooks choose to flatten out a cylinder in this way:

as opposed to this way:

I was "not on the ball" when I was talking while simultaneously drawing it the "bad" way.


Second, I think I've jumped on the "be bossy in how you accept homework" wagon. I strongly suggested in the past that students show work neatly when they do their homework or tests. I never went further than that. I've seen too many instances now where they or I can't follow their work and when there's a mistake, you have to do extra work to track it down.

Because we're doing SA and LA and V of 3D figures today, and because I've seen so many mistakes in the past (and made them!) just from sloppiness, I laid down the law today. I had a small discussion about how they're not just doing a problem, but they're communicating a process. If the reader has to question you about what you're doing, then you've failed as a communicator. If you have to track down your work later on, and it takes you longer because you're jumping around all the work and can't follow the thought process, then you've failed as a communicator.

I'm making them write things DOWN IN COLUMNS and drawing and labeling neat pictures and indicating what they're finding for each step. With lots of (good-natured) grumbling (see, I'm in denial), they got to work and the beginnings of things looked promising.

I think I want to start off next year as BOSSY PANTS in this manner.

Also, SO excited! I found out what I'm teaching next year (95% sure):
Precalculus preAP
AP Calculus AB
AP Computer Science
Digital Electronics

Woot! Who's going to be busy this summer? I'm going to miss the enthusiastic 8th and 9th graders, but I'll be excited to challenge my brain in a different way.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Stacks & Queues

In Computer Programming we learned something about various data structures, two being "stacks" and "queues".

Stacks can be thought of like a pile of plates. You keep adding to your list (or plates that are stacked on a table), and when you want to remove one, you remove the top-most one (or the last thing you put on). You can liken it to "last on first out".

Queues are like movie lines - first one in is the first one out. So you can add to the end of a list, and then when things are removed, they peel off from the start of the list.

I thought about that today when I was teaching for two reasons. There are all these "extra" things we have to remember in addition to teaching our content:
* put kids on "mandatorials" if they fail for a grading period
* check in and make sure they're coming to tutorials
* don't forget to update your money log if you're a sponsor of a club
* check in with kids emotionally to see if anyone is acting "off" from their normal selves
* if you're a team leader, check in with other people teaching in your grade level
* do your 5? 6? observations of other teachers throughout the year
* have you planned for an interdisciplinary unit?
* what about a flipped class?
* check in before every test you give to make sure kids know how to study for tests or need extra help
* kids stressed? don't forget that extra activity you did that was short and sweet and was a temporary relief for them
* make sure you connect with the students
* there are no stupid questions, so get that look off your face and answer patiently (it's the FIRST time this kid is asking)


So this came to light today when I realized that I'd totally forgotten to do one of those things (more?) that should have been ingrained in my mind - the "check that they know how to set up a study schedule for learning" .... (because most of them have never learned how to study for math tests before). Then I thought, I'm like a "queue". I have so many more things popping onto my to-do list, that the old/first stuff falls off my radar while I'm concentrating on the "new fires".

Maybe I need a bunch of charts hanging around my room or somewhere I can see them and the kids can't. That way I can take a quick glance and see if anything needs to be addressed currently. ..... But then I'm thinking, the list would probably be SO long I wouldn't have space to hang it :).