Thursday, October 28, 2010

And the winners are. . .

Remind me never to assign a project again to be due on the last day of the quarter.  I thought that with my honors precalc kids it would be ok and it might've been if there hadn't been technology involved.

The project that I'm referring to is my Polynomials Photo Project using Geogebra (I first talked about it here).  The basic gist (jist?) of the problem was that the kids were to take an original picture (not from the internet, anyway) and fit a polynomial to it.  At the time we were talking degrees, end behavior, zeros, etc.  Then they were to upload the picture to geogebra, plot some points on it, and find a polynomial to fit. These are the requirements that I gave the kids.  That all worked fine and the kids had a good time with it.

The problems that we ran into were when it came time to turn it in.  I wanted both a hard copy (I posted some on the wall in my room just in time for my former-art-teacher-now-assistant-principal to come to my room this week to observe - score!) and an electronic copy.  Geogebra has a wiki on their website where you can set up an account and upload files to it that I thought we'd take advantage of.  I didn't want all the kids to have to set one up, so I made an account and a folder then gave the kids the username and password to it so they could upload their projects.  The majority of uploads were problem-free, but some kids just couldn't get it to work; I don't know if there's some sort of storage limit or what, but I tried for them, too, and couldn't get some files to upload.  It really ended up being a hassle - I told some kids not to worry about it after they'd tried and tried but then forgot I told them and docked them points.  Some kids got frustrated and then had to have their hands held through the process.  Yuck.  I'm thinking that when I do this again (and I'd like to do it in Algebra 2 next semester) I'll just tell the kids to e-mail me a copy of their word document that they're pasting their picture, equation, and caption on.  Keeping track of the e-mails will probably be easier.

Without further ado, here are several of my favorites.

My #1 favorite.  This was a door in this kid's house.  I wonder if he's ever seen it mathematically before?

I've never really liked hostas before.  Maybe now I will.

A picture of the Taj Mahal from a family vacation.  I wouldn't have thought it was an original picture unless I saw the date stamp in the corner.

This one I just thought was super cool.

One of the neatest things about this project was that I really learned a lot about my students.  One girl took a picture of a horse at her mom's farm - who would've known?  One boy had a picture of himself riding a dirt bike... I saw a lot of travel pictures... several of Niagara Falls.... one of her mom's "frog obsession". 

The other neatest thing was that my kids started looking around and seeing math in things they look at every day.  I've done my job.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Fear on a Monday.... kinda.

I walked into school this morning to discover two unpleasant surprises.

1.  Neither of our copiers are working.  I vaguely remember on Friday leaving with today's precalc worksheet un-copied thinking that I would just do them this morning.  So much for that!  I know that going paperless is a great goal, but not when it's thrust upon you at the last moment.  I ended up projecting the worksheet and printed 5 - 6 copies that I spread around the room.  I also told the kids that I'd put the worksheet up on the blog so they could get to the problems at home/later.

2.  There was a note from one of our assistant principals in my mailbox. "I plan to observe your class on Wednesday, October 27th during period 3."  Ack.  I know it'll be fine (as long as the kids don't go crazy like they did when Lisa was here!) and for goodness sake, the guy's an art teacher.  He really won't have a clue as to what's going on.  He observed me once several years ago - I didn't have much of a plan that day; we were just looking at some polar graphs on our calculators.  I threw some equations at them, had them graph, and we looked for patterns.  I felt so unorganized and random, but he absolutely loved it...  I think it was the artistic nature of the math and the "cool pictures".

My plan for Wednesday is to graph rational functions.  We'll discuss asymptotes and such tomorrow but not really get into much graphing.  I'm thinking I'll pull out the whiteboards for the kids to use in class as we practice - I think he'll (and they'll) like that.

The observation conference is scheduled for Thursday 2nd period.  At least I don't have to wait in suspense for long.  But until then I'm sure I'll be nervous and anxious!  And I'm totally not an anxious type of person.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

9 weeks down....

I can't believe we're already a quarter of the way through the school year!  Honestly, every year goes faster and faster.

I posted a survey to the my precalc class webpage yesterday - haven't told the kids about it yet, but I already have had 3 kids take it. 

PC 1st Quarter Feedback                                                                                                                                   

So far things have been good, but I would've suspected that for 3 kids who checked the blog on their own and decided to fill it out. :)  What I thought was very interesting was that 2/3 said that their favorite activity so far was "dividing polynomials" (we did a quick review one day)  and the other one mentioned the photo project.  All three of them said they didn't like what we did with vectors (the only "new" topic we've done so far this year!) - I wonder what they'll think when we actually get to do some trig?!

My last question on the survey was just to ask if they had anything they "wanted to get off of their chest".  One didn't answer, and the other two mentioned how much they like my class and the way I run it.  Nice to know!  (Especially unprompted!)  All three left their results anonymous.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A visitor!

A month or so ago, Lisa Henry sent me a tweet saying that she was going to be in Cincinnati on the weekend of Oct 15th and would like to visit at school.  Although it makes me nervous to meet new people (especially those who have a clue what I'm talking about and can tell me how badly I'm doing things), I agreed and was looking forward to her visit.

We got details arranged, decided to wear our Twitter t-shirts (we also had matching long-sleeve shirts on!), and Friday morning she showed up to hang out for a while.  We had a chance to chat for a little bit before my precalc showed up (whose behavior was the worst they've ever been, I might say), then she went down with me to my tutoring period in the library (where she was able to help a calc student with some problems I would've struggled with), we ventured into the cafeteria to find lunch, and she stayed for my first Algebra 2 class of the day.

I normally hate hate hate having other adults in my room observing me.  I get self-conscious, my face turns pink, and I doubt everything that I say.  But it really wasn't like that at all with Lisa here.  I felt like I had a kindred spirit here to talk through ideas with.  I was also able to ask her about the whole SBG thing (which I toyed with over the summer) and talk about her new adventure with the smart board.

It was a fun day.  I was exhausted Friday night.  But it was so totally worth it!

(If you can't tell from the picture, I'm having hair issues.  It's been super short and I'm in the "should I get it cut again" stage right now.  Awkward.)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Diigo Updates (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

There's more to life than UC

I teach at a school just outside Cincinnati where a ton of the kids end up at area colleges.  Not that that's bad (I went to a school around here, too) but I wonder sometimes if the kids area aware of the possibilities.

Today the juniors took the PSAT in the morning (which cut out my precalc classes) and I figured that my Algebra 2 kids wouldn't be in the mood to start a new topic after quizzing yesterday.  I brought them down to the media center (luckily there were no other classes signed up) to get on the College Board website to do some college searching.  Ann Gregson sent me the activity last year and I used it with my precalc kids one day when the seniors were out but wished that I'd done it with the college prep kids, too.  (I actually couldn't find the activity this morning when I was trying to get organized so I ended up typing up my own.  Then Ann sent me the link on google docs.  Duh.)

It's been fun to see what the kids have came up with.  Some ended up with 0 possible colleges while some had 14.  One kid told me that he had several schools in mind (none of which showed up in his results) but his parents were pushing him to think about another.  It just so happened that the other showed up on his list.  I told him to write it really big on the chart I'd given them to fill in.  He said he was going to highlight it. :)

Another girl told me that all of her results were from Christian colleges and she's atheist.  

I know college isn't just about numbers.  It's also about the atmosphere at a school and how comfortable you feel there.  But a lot of these kids were shocked when they saw tuition at a certain school or that it didn't have a program that they wanted.

I have an older cousin who was doing her college search when I was probably in junior high.  What I remember about it was that she was looking for a college whose name would look good on a sweatshirt.  She ended up at Bowling Green and did great, but you have to wonder what else she could've done if she had known her options.

Just sayin'.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

New precalc project... (why do I do this to myself?)

As an end-of-quarter project I'm thinking of assigning something like this.  I'll have the kids take a picture (maybe offer the option of working in pairs, but then they have to do 2) then using Geogebra come up with a equation that fits it.

So for the past 14 hours or so I've been trying to figure out how to use Geogebra.  To say that I'm not fluent with it is a massive understatement.  I figured a couple of things out, but I ended up e-mailing Steve Phelps (a Madeira High School teacher who runs Geogebra workshops) to help me out.  He was amazing.  Within 10 minutes he'd e-mailed me directions to use the regression capability plus two screencasts on how to adjust the picture. 

So I think I have the basic idea of the project down.  Now I'm just trying to figure out how I can get the kids to turn it in.  I'd like a hard copy, but I'd also like an electronic copy so I can put some on the class blog.

And thus begins my new challenge.

Oh, did I mention that I want to give them the assignment on Thursday and have it due sometime next week?  The end of the quarter is next Friday.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A step....

I actually got my 1st period class laughing with (at?) me on Friday.  It was quite an accomplishment. :)  I have to admit that it was me being dumb... but what's new?  We'd been talking about quadratic functions - I gave them f(x) = ax2 + bx + c and asked for it in standard (vertex) form, axis of symmetry, and x-intercepts.  After letting them muddle through the completing the square bit I stepped in to help out.  It's sad how many kids just sat and stared at it... will definitely have to keep this question in mind for the quiz!  It was when we were solving for x-intercepts that the lightbulb finally went off for me - we should end up with the quadratic formula!  How fun!  I guess I was acting kinda dumb about it, but it really got me excited.  They thought it was pretty funny, but then some of the kids actually agreed with me that it was kinda cool.

We're reviewing today in Algebra 2 - I'd planned on giving them a graphing linear equations/inequalities quiz on Friday, but the piecewise functions bit is really tripping some of them up.  Ended up doing an extra day of review on Friday.  I hate Monday quizzes and avoid them if possible, so the quiz is tomorrow instead.  I didn't want to just give them another worksheet today, so I worked yesterday and came up with some review stations (a la @JackieB's post).  If I can, I'd like to split the kids up into groups of 3 making sure that each group has a kid that I know can graph the piecewise functions.... 

Here ( link) are the problems I came up with.

A2 Graphing Equations Review Stations                                                                                                                                   

I'm trying to figure out how to get them the answers for each of the problems so they can check their work.  The stations shouldn't take the whole class period, so I may just project the answers after everyone's done.  We'll see.  I'd also thought about getting out the little dry erase boards and having a station where they graph on the board, but I want to be able to see what they've done, too.  Guess I'll stick with the paper.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Homework questions

We had a new arrangement for parent conferences this year.  Usually half of the teachers sit in the cafeteria and half in the media center at individual table,  parents wander around and talk to who they need to talk to.  It can get noisy and there's little privacy.  Also, most of the time is spent on "walk-ins", so you have no idea who is approaching your table.

Yesterday they tried something new.  We were all in our individual rooms and most of our time (4:30 to 7) was appointments only.  The last hour was walk-ins.  I was pretty excited about it because I'm usually not all that busy and have time to get work done.  I thought being in my room would help me get even more work done.

I was wrong about getting work done - I had a pretty constant flow of parents all night on.  I'm not sure if it was due to the new arrangement or what, but I had 7 appointments set up (usually have 1 or 2) and someone always waiting at my door during the last hour for walk-ins.

The good news is that I actually talked to a few parents that I needed to talk to.  Usually it's my Honors Precalc parents whose kids have 95+ .  I saw them, too, but also saw some parents of Algebra 2 kids who are struggling.

One mom really got me thinking.  Her son is a sophomore in Algebra 2 and has a middle B. Not too shabby.  When I looked at the breakdown of his grades, though, it really got me thinking.  His homework average (checked on completion) is a 69%.  There was a week where he didn't do anything.  When you look at his test and quiz averages, though, both are in the 90s (A and A-).

At this point, for this kid, not doing his homework is obviously hurting his grade.  But he's shown on assessments that he knows the material.  In the past I would have said that he's not fulfilling the requirements of the class and his grade is reflecting that.  Now, though, after seeing all this talk on twitter about people not giving points for assignments and grading using sbg, I'm at a point where I'm not sure which way to go. 

I was thinking about this on the way home last night.  Is there a solution?  What if I told the kids that I would drop all of their missing assignments for a chapter if they got an A on the test?  But then what if they don't do anything and fail the test?  What if I don't check homework at all?  Then I'm afraid that so many kids wouldn't even give it a shot - especially the CP and below kids.

What to do, what to do.

The Worst Day Ever

All kinds of stuff happened yesterday... I'm just so glad the day is over!

The good (?) news is that most of it had nothing to do with school.
  1. My little girl got sick at school (well, she had a tummy ache) and I made bunches of phone calls to get people to pick her up and watch her for the afternoon only to hear back from her teacher that she was now feeling fine.  Calls then had to be reversed.
  2. We had conferences at school, so I rushed home to get the kids from the babysitter to take to a friend's only to hear from my husband that he'd gotten off of work early and was just about home.  Basically, I wasted 20 minutes or so in the car.
  3. Made it back to school to find out that I couldn't get logged into my online gradebook. Panic ensued.  Turned out that it wasn't just me, so our assistant principal made some phone calls and got things figured out.  Luckily, I still had time to get some grade reports printed for parents.
  4. Conferences were fine (except for one mom who kept saying that "that one project" in precalc (which I looove) was keeping her son from an A+... said she was "just kidding".... but she kept saying it over and over).  More on conferences later.
  5. Got home around 9:00 to discover my 1st grade son's homework not done and both kids still up -  normal bedtime is 8:00.  I took both kids up to bed while hubby watched tv (!) and got head-butted in the nose by my son who didn't want a bedtime kiss because he was mad that I wouldn't give him any ice cream.  Thought I was going to die.  Ran downstairs crying and let hubby deal with now crying son.
  6. Did I mention that the Reds were no-hit in their first play-off game?  Ouch.  I had the tv on in my classroom (muted)... my principal walked in while I was talking to a parent and turned it off.
Glad that day's over.  Nose still hurts.

Friday, October 1, 2010


I think my first period class hates me.

Ok, this might be a little strong.  But every day I do my little song-and-dance routine and they just sit and stare at me.  No reaction.  You all realize, I hope, that I don't actually sing and dance (usually), but I try and liven things up with jokes and questions and such.  No reaction.  Trying to get answers out of them is like pulling teeth.

I'm trying to attribute it to the fact that it's 7:30 in the morning and they're really not awake yet, but it's starting to get me down.  I also haven't had a first period class for 7 years, so I really don't remember what it's like.  Is it this way everywhere?  Does your school day start so annoyingly early?

(The kids just asked me if I was a former Army sniper because I keep "shooting them down" and spotting their phones.  This is obviously not 1st period.  It's 7th period on Homecoming Friday... crazy time!!)

This makes me realize how much I rely on the kids for input and reaction.  I enjoy being here and being with the kids, but it's gotta be a reciprocal relationship.  I want the kids to have fun and look forward to coming to class.  Not getting any sort of reaction from them bothers me.

Are they learning?  Yep.  Is that enough for me?  It might have to be.