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Friday, September 24, 2010

Teaching: Jazz or Stand-Up Comedy?

Either way - there is nothing like stepping into the unscripted and ending up in "The Zone".  It happened to me yesterday.  I was working a contrived word problem in my Algebra I book.  Basically, there was a library which just received a monetary donation allowing it to double the number of books on the shelves.  After this, it received 4,028 books which brought the total number of books to 51,514.  How many books did the library have prior to the monetary donation?  I walked my standard Algebra I students through the problem the intuitive way.  We took 51,514 and subtracted 4,028 from it.  That left us with 47,486 books.  We then divided by 2 to get the original number, 23,743.

They seemed to follow this.  And it was at this point I almost went on to the next problem.  But something didn't seem right.  I showed them how to solve a problem and there were no variables.  No one got lost.  I started to feel like I cheated them.  And then IT happened.....

I asked them to start over and put what happened in an algebraic equation.  I asked them to tell me what we should use to represent the unknown number of books we have at the beginning.  They told me "X" would be a logical choice.  Great.  Now, what happens when we receive the cash donation?  "The number of books doubles," they respond.  Excellent.  Now what happens?  "More books are donated and we need to add that to the doubled number."  So I wrote the equation 2x + 4,028 = 51,514.  Keep in mind, I am on the other end of the board now.  I asked them what we must first do to solve for x.  The overwhelming response was to subtract 4,028 from each side.  I walked over to where we solved using the intuitive method and showed them our first step was to subtract 4,028 from the final amount of 51, 514.  I walked back over to the algebraic equation and showed them it was now 2x = 47,486.  What is the next step?  Divide both sides by two.  I took one more trip back to the intuitive side of the board and showed them where we had done the same thing.

I allowed myself to stay on the unscripted path - I was really feeling it.  "How many of you play a musical instrument?" I mused.  A few students raised their hands and I asked the guitarist how easily she can pick up a guitar and start playing something.  Easy.  I then asked her, "How easy is it to put what you are playing on paper so later on you will know what you played?"  She told me that was much more difficult.  I told them that's why they find Algebra I so difficult.  They know how to do the math, it's just a matter of translating it to equations on a piece of paper.  I was really disappointed the bell rang.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

I have how many students?

This was my response to the fact my combined rosters show a total of 183 students in my 6 classes that I teach.  I thought 115 last year was a bit much!

On the positive side, I have a classroom this year and I will no longer have to roam.  I can greet the students as they come into the room and I also already have my things set up, so I don't have to scurry around digging for things out of my briefcase.

I have reflected on goals I want to accomplish.  The list is incomplete, but here are a few in no particular order.
1. Give periodic homework quizzes instead of grading every homework assignment.
2. Incorporate more web-based content into the class.
3. Use newspaper articles as a springboard for math discussions
4. Primarily use the Interwrite pad, projector and Geometer's Sketchpad rather than just writing on the whiteboard.
5. MAKE MATH INTERESTING.

I am really looking forward to Year 2.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Brand New Year

Well, the summer flew by and I am staring my 2nd year of teaching in the face.  I lucked into teaching second semester Geometry during Summer School, so I hope that helps to ease me back into the Fall semester.

It will be good to occupy my mind again.  Sometimes work can be a welcome distraction to the reality that is our life.

I have reflected on my assessment system I adopted last Spring and I have decided to go back to a more traditional style of testing.  I worked about five times as hard as any of my students and they did not take advantage of the system like I thought they would.  I still had students give up, even though they could still bring their semester grade up as late as the last week of school.  Once again, the students who scored well on the old system scored well on the new system.  Students that performed poorly in the traditional system still gave up with the new one.

I was looking forward to teaching Algebra I and Algebra II this year until my Department Head informed me on the last day that my Algebra II classes were replaced with Geometry classes.  I was devastated at first, but my summer school class helped me to see Geometry in a better light.

So, it's one more day of vacation and then the teacher work days start on Monday.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Snow Day in the South and Grade Recovery

Our second snow day in a row for a "dusting of snow" provides me with an excellent 4-day weekend.  That gives me time today to put together a plan with which I have been contemplating.

I happened upon a fabulous blog over the Christmas Break called dy/dan where he talks about math assessment.  While it would be a major task to throw out my traditional assessment method and replace it with his for the second semester, I want to run a pilot using Dan's system.  I think I have found my answer.

My school district mandates teachers provide grade recovery.  On the surface this seems like a great idea.  Someone was absent a lot due to sickness or perhaps they tried really hard to understand the subject matter, but their best efforts landed them a failing grade.  Now they come see me during Directed Studies, lunch, before school, or after school and focus on those topics they failed.  However, it also includes slackers that do as little as possible the entire six weeks and then are able to come by to get a passing grade.  I am hoping that I at least have some discretion as to who can participate and who cannot.

I will compile a list of the skills they lack (somewhat ambiguous, yet can be determined looking at their old quizzes and tests) and use this as a checklist for what to work on.  It will build self-confidence (as Dan suggests) when the student sees a mounting list of skills they can perform and a dwindling list of weak skills.  It is the same as this snowball effect

I can't wait!!