Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Ice Day!

Yeesh, at this rate, school will be out in July or something. We had sleety drippy cold 27F weather this morning, and it started out as a two hour delay. Yay! I could go to school and torture teach children. I left early anyway to treat myself to breakfast out. Also, I live about 24 miles or so from school, so I wanted to leave with PLENTY of time for the icy road conditions. I did see some slipping and sliding, and here are my car tires when I arrived.

Then, what's this? School is canceled. Yeesh. Now I am killing time by surfing and blogging.

On a positive note, LOVE my mini iPad and the local natural foods place with free wifi and friends I can chat with on Facebook. I think it is almost warm enough to make the trek "back north" without fear of accidents. Maybe there is lunch out in my future. Must keep up the energy to come up with more teaching techniques ( and by teaching techniques, I mean gentle ribbing of the kidlets ).

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Seniors, Workload, Responsibility

I'm mulling over recent events and trying to decide how to handle this next year if it comes up again. 

Background story. At our school, we do push the students to take full course loads every year. They get a little slack their senior year and maybe can have a flex period or such. But since our intention is to get them to college and to succeed in college and to look good on college applications, we push. Also, in Texas, our students basically have enough credits to graduate their junior year ... give or take some requirements. So basically they're hard workers.

The flip side of this is that depending on what courses the students take their senior year, and how they approach their scholarship applications and college applications, and what sports they play, and how far their daily commute is, the amount of time they have for homework and sleep and life fluctuates. Needless to say, there are stressed out little bundles of walking sleepless zombies.

Okay, back to me, which, of course it's TOTALLY about. I have (had) 3 seniors in Computer Science 1 along with juniors. So far this past week or so, 2 have stressed out and decided they needed the time during the school day to do their homework, so they dropped out of CS1. I didn't complain too much, just gave them the stink eye, but I go back and forth as to what's best for the student, and how I want to handle this in the future.

One part of me thinks, "you signed for a class ... or you made a commitment to something (anything in general), then you should follow through even if it gets tough. This is what defines your character."

Another part of me thinks, "there are times when you have to cut your losses and maybe decisions you made are not the best."

A third part of me thinks, "I don't want this to be a precedent. Kids will then just sign up willy nilly to look good on their college applications, and then drop the ball when things pile up too much."

A fourth part of me thinks, "if students get in the habit of quitting things when they get too hard, then they are teaching themselves the wrong lessons and are not letting themselves get the satisfaction of knowing they can do things or figure things out when things don't go so easily."

Oy! I have some ideas on how to broach this next year, but I can still stew about this year.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Related Rates Update

A while ago I mentioned that I wanted to get the students to create some more realistic related rates scenarios for calculus. I made up a sheet last semester and had them do just that. We talked a bit about how the "simple" and "cheesy" problems they see in the book are just SIMPLIFIED stand-ins for actual problems people really want to solve. I gave some examples. Here is the sheet with their assignment.

We talked about the "cheese" factor. And by "we" I mean "me". Apparently, that was not enough, because about 1/3 of the samples I got back were still "edible and fermented". Next year more "we" and less "me". (hah! as if!)

I made sure to share the wealth and divide the types of problems "evenly" by birthday.

I made sure to get them to talk to someone who is NOT from calculus about the problem and ask if it was something that looked like someone would care if it was solved.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

AP Calculus Wall

Last year or so I saw our AP English teacher had pictures (with AP Exam score) up of previous kids who had passed the AP exam. I thought it was a great idea and could be an archive of our history and an incentive and reminder for the "current" students. My issue was that I couldn't see how she managed to get pictures of the students after July. Nothing seemed efficient or manageable. Yes, I could have asked her, but there it is.

My vision is that after each exam is finished, the following year the "Wall of Fame" is added to with new pictures and new scores. I know this is not a new idea, and I'm sure I saw this idea somewhere before.

I'm thinking that the following may work for me. Some time in the beginning of each year school year, when students are still well rested and fresh, and we're not too into curriculum, I take everyone's picture with a blank placard, something like this:

Then after I see who passed the exam, I print those pictures and write their score with a sharpie .... or HOLD THE PHONES ... I could even edit the pictures, so not everyone has a white ball face (joke). 

Anyway, I'm excited about this, and soon the little cherubs will be in my camera roll.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Calculus Graphical Organizer

Okay little Calculus Kidlets, maybe THIS will settle things in your mind.

After reading my end-of-semester surveys, too many students were mixing up what to do when and why when finding the maximums and minimums of functions. I created this graphical organizer to put in their notebooks. This is how I picture it in my head and how I remember it, so maybe it will help some students.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

End of Semester Surveys

Our administration reminds us every semester that every class must give a survey to every student and then share the responses with our department chair. I think this is a great idea, and I love to sift through the student reflections, and I'm SO HAPPY the admin reminds me WAY ahead of time. This is because without fail, I always forget to give the survey, and then I'm scrambling to hand them out on paper to the students either on a finals review day or GASP maybe even one time during the final (no! that can't be true can it?).

Anyway, my clever department chair mentioned doing the surveys online, and I tried that this semester. We did it in class, since I have laptops. I don't know if I would have had 100% responses if it was a homework assignment. SOLD! I think the students took more time to answer the questions, and I couldn't distinguish their handwriting, so it was pretty anonymous (though some revealed themselves on purpose), so maybe that helped. I do take some time, though, no matter how I give them out, to talk about the great life skill of giving constructive criticism versus negative feedback that is not helpful.

Blah blah blah. Dear Google Docs Forms, Thank you for being easy to create and send out and read anytime anywhere.

Here were my AP Calculus Questions for the Form, and some of the answers with my thoughts.


1. Things you liked/disliked about calculus and class in general (think about daily activities or the class as a whole).

I liked being able to discuss with peers while doing homework because it gave us the opportunity to work together on harder problems instead of giving up. The ability for me to be motivated and actually have intriguing discussions completely depended on who I was seated with. For this last section of the semester, I was next to two people who generally got the concepts so if I was stuck on a homework or didn't understand a concept I didn't feel like I would ask them about it.

This is a problem I haven't mastered yet. I totally get not feeling comfortable asking your table mates  for help because you feel stupid. Part of me wants to say, "figure out a solution" and part of me wants to jump in and spend lots of time on seating arrangements and part of me wants to do a warm fuzzy table bonding activity so there is love spread all around. 
Some questions on flipped lessons (good/bad) and improving the Haiku experience.

5. What surprised you about calculus?

It is nothing like Pre- Calculus. Although it is math Pre-Calc is like the thinnest base ever for what you do in calculus.
Agreed! It does seem to me that labeling the class we teach as "precalculus" is a misnomer. I mean basically everything then would be precalculus because it comes before calculus. I love precal, and maybe a better name would be "all the cool stuff that you haven't learned in the other math classes and you won't see in calculus but we want you to be exposed to math", though I guess that wouldn't fit on the schedule box size.

I was surprised at how difficult calculus was for me. Previously, I was able to succeed in math by putting in extra work effort and simply working hard. In calculus, though, it doesn't seem to be enough - I don't understand why most of it is used or when to use it until several weeks after the class, when we've moved on to other subjects. Because of this, calculus has been a class I really struggle with. 

Oy, part of me is feeling like I dropped the ball here because, HELLO! I do mention why people would need to know about rates of change and how they're useful. But I guess I do it only a smattering of times at the beginning of a unit and then we go over all the various derivative rules and maybe the students don't realize that it's still all based on the cool stuff. I guess I could keep mentioning this every other class and change some problems to be application problems (now that I think about it, I don't have many. eek!). 


6. What topic(s), if any, do you think I need to change my strategy on AND HOW/WHY? (see your table of contents)

This was revealing. Many people answered about jumbling up some concepts because we went through them "so fast". Good to know.  

7. General suggestions you may have for my teaching of this class in the future.

Not so many abstract hand motions, more drawings and patty paper. The hand motions just confuse me.

Hah! And here I was patting myself on the back for using CLEAR hand motions. Who knew.  


8. If you could give yourself advice for the 2nd semester, what would that advice be?
Shockingly, they give themselves the same advice I'd give them. Imagine that :).

9. What are some things you feel you’ve learned really well (and why do you think you did)?

Interesting answers and mixed. Some felt they learned some things well where those were the very things other kids felt they suffered with. Hmmmm. 

10. Anything else you think I should know.   

If I had one hour left to live, I'd spend in this class because it feels like an eternity ................................... I'm just kidding I love this class and math loves me (most of the time) but also maybe more AP question exposure?  

Best answer yet!


Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Calculus: f and f ' graphs

Happy New Year! Happy New Calculus Activity. 

I'm not 100% (okay, even 60%) sure my students fully grasp the challenging topic of how y = f(x) and y = f ' (x) graphs can be looked at to give you information about the "other" graph, so I just made this activity to welcome them back to the first day of Second Semester. 

I'm all for using technology, but I think (maybe everyone does and is rolling their eyes now) that putting their chubby little hands on pencil and paper and manually creating things will take the "magic" out of things and allow the kidlets time to process what's happening and what it means.

Also: Dear Spaghetti, thank you for being an awesome math tool that I can use over and over for a cheap cost and effective tool not only for math but for bad jokes about eating the tools afterward and such.