Monday, January 28, 2013

No Hatin'!

I've had a great year so far. I've been super busy with school work and trying to change how I do things on a daily basis (which if you read this ever, hopefully you've seen that). My classes are good; I'm really enjoying my precalc kids and the Algebra 1 classes have their ups and downs (don't all freshmen?).

I'm normally laid back - unless kids are disrespectful - and like to have a good time in class. I think the kids see that. I've formed good relationships and the kids feel comfortable in here. But I'm not a pushover.  At least that's how I see it.

I use pizza boxes to set up barriers between the kids while they take tests and quizzes. They're not big fans and say it always makes them hungry to stare at the pizza.  The kids have taken to write little comments on the boxes (grrr). The other day while I was putting them away I saw this:

Honestly, that bothered me. Is treating the kids like humans a bad thing? Should I not show interest in their lives? Should I not ask how their weekend was or what plans they have for their birthday? Should I not try and laugh and joke and basically make my day more enjoyable?

And then, of course, I tried to figure out who would've written it.  It's a girl. It's probably one of my precalc kids (because the Algebra kids love the attention).  That narrows it down to about 35.  But then, it doesn't really matter. It's not going to change who I am or how I deal in my classroom. If me saying hi and asking how someone's day has been makes one person feel better, then it's worth it to me.

I ain't gonna worry about the haters out there. 


Saturday, January 26, 2013

My Weekly Tags (weekly)

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

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Update on Quote Board

So two weeks ago (during exam week) I re-did the boards at the side of my room.

Here's the before and after:

I decided that I was going to put up a quote every week and give the kids a chance to give me feedback. Here are the options I gave them:
1.  What do you think this means?
2.  Do you agree? Disagree?
3.  How could this apply to your life?
4.  Find something out about the source.

They were to write their response on a post-it and stick it to the board. To help encourage some participation I offered one "bonus buck" per week.  That's quite a motivator for these grade-hungry kids.

The results?  They love it. Here's this week's board after one class.

I also created a "Tweet Me" board just for fun. I'm putting up a prompt for them to respond to -  this week's is #ILoveWinterBecause.  And they definitely had some opinions!  (I'm going to take down the one that a boy put up about girls wearing yoga pants.)

So that's a good thing.

Monday, January 21, 2013

#Made4Math Monday

So this isn't too mathy, but it's a cute AND EASY way to make a scarf!  (Plus, it's called an infinity scarf, so that counts, right?)

I saw a friend of mine at church wearing a green scarf yesterday that I loved... she said that she had made it (and she's not crafty) and had found the directions on #pinterest.  So this morning I rounded up a couple of old tshirts that I knew would never be worn again and gave it a shot.  (Just so you know, I chose not to use my favorite NKOTB shirt from high school. Gotta save it for 80s day at school!  Or 90s.)

It's really easy. You cut across the shirt to cut off the arms and cut along the bottom to get rid of the hem. Then it's just a matter of cutting horizontal strips about 1" wide, leaving a margin of an inch or so.

Once you've done this you pull on each loop, which stretches it out and curls it up. Gather the non-cut section together, tie it with a piece of the shirt (I cut it from a sleeve) and voila!  Done.  These directions might help you out a little more.

Here's my girl with a finished product:

And because we had time, we ran over to the closest Goodwill store to buy a few more shirts (pink, orange, green, and blue). Can't wait until they get out of the dryer so I can make some more!  (I've got this one in mind, too.)

I'm not a scarf-wearing girl, but I think they look so cute when other people have them on!  I think it's all about having the confidence to pull it off.  I'm going to give it a shot tomorrow!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

My Weekly Tags (weekly)

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

Friday, January 18, 2013

New Students

A new girl moved to school and started school this week. It was actually pretty good timing because this is the first week of the semester, so we were starting new notebooks and the transition was pretty easy.

She moved to Ohio from Texas, although from what I understand she's originally from Louisville (her grandma is an art teacher at my school and gave me a little background info).  This girl was taking pre-AP classes at her old school and has been placed in our honors level courses. Seemed appropriate.

We were finishing up our Linear Systems chapter this week; before exams we got through solving via graphing and substitution, so all we had left was elimination and inequalities.

The girl didn't have her homework on Monday, which didn't give me the best first impression. Now don't get me wrong; she seems very nice and is pleasant (and quiet, which is a nice change from some of the kiddos in here!) but it didn't get her off on the right foot work-wise.  On Tuesday it seemed that some of the kids were having issues with the elimination (a lot of it due to those pesky negatives) and I gave them some more practice.  With just a short amount of time left in class she approached me and said, "I don't get this. Can you walk me through it again?"  I understand that she's new to school and just getting used to us, but I really wished she'd spoken up earlier and had more time to get help.  The girls she was sitting with did help her out some, so at least that was a good thing.

On Wednesday we graphed systems of inequalities. Because we've already graphed inequalities, this was just the next step of comparing two on the graph to identify the doubly-shaded region. I went through a couple with the kids and let them start practicing. Again, near the end of class she approached me and told me she hadn't graphed equations of lines so wasn't sure what to do to graph the inequalities.

This surprised me. After finishing the first semester of Algebra 1, she hadn't graphed lines?  I'd love to see the curriculum she was working with this fall.  She'd only left me a couple of minutes, so I showed her how to graph something in slope-intercept form, talked about when to use dotted vs solid lines, how to know what to shade, and when to flip the inequality.

I didn't check homework yesterday so I don't know if she persisted in it or not.  But at the end of class yesterday she asked where she could get some extra help. (We have math teachers every period of the day as tutors, plus an after-school thing on Tues/Thurs.) She sounded interested in the after-school sessions, though she's an aide for her grandma and could use that time also.

So, today was our quiz.  Right before we started, she came up to me and asked if she could take it on Tuesday instead. She said that with moving and starting school this week she didn't have a chance to study last night.  I'm not one to give kids extra time like that, but I have a feeling it was more academically-based than what she told me. I told her yes, but this is the only time I'd allow it.

I'm wondering if this girl's been placed in the correct class.  Aside from missing some material in the move from state to state, I'm wondering if she's the type of kid that is going to do something about it.  I guess time will tell!

Thursday, January 17, 2013


We started simplifying trig expressions this week in precalc. This is only my favorite stuff all year.  I know it starts out difficult for many of the kids (especially because they're just learning their identities) but after a couple of days in I've been really happy with the discussion I've heard.  They work SO WELL in their groups that I'm ticked I didn't do this last year.  And a few of the kids have even admitted to me that they kinda like these kinds of problems!

(When we went over the first assignment, I asked the class what we should do for a particular problem.  At the exact same time, two girls said, "Cry."  I had to admit it was pretty funny.)

I think some of the kids get frustrated with simplifying because they see that it's so easy for me, so the first day I tell them why. Aside from the fact that I think these types of problems are fun, I also have spent two weeks a year, three times a day, for the last 15 years working these problems. I would hope they'd be easy!

Today one of the kids decided I needed a challenge so he found a problem online to give me.  Here it is:
I admit to having no clue where to begin. I thought about power-reducing formulas and half-angle formulas and got nowhere. Then I tweeted the problem and got some help from a bunch of people who decided that it wasn't actually an identity. After tweeting at the student, he gave me the link to the problem where I discovered that you're given that a + b + c = 180.  So that changes things.  (I'll use that as my excuse tomorrow).  But many thanks to Steve, Glenn, Marshall, Nik, Matt, and David for trying to help a girl out!

It led me to an idea, though. I'm thinking maybe I'll have the precalc kids come up with what they think is a tough identity to simplify and see if they can stump me.  I tried something like it last year and got some good results, but I didn't incorporate the "Stump the Teacher" challenge.  We'll see.

The best moment of the day came in my general Algebra 1 course 7th period. There's a girl in there who is from Cambodia, and she's honestly amazing. She knew very very very little English when she started in August, but her math skills were (luckily) great and she did awesome. She's the perfect student: she does her homework every night (and usually does extra problems), she is always concerned about why she gets a problem wrong, and she is able to laugh at herself when she does something silly.  (Actually, it's usually an "Oh my goodness!" reaction.)  But today she walked into class as I was talking to the special ed teacher who's in here with me. The girl said something to me that I didn't catch, so I asked her to repeat it. Her comment?  "Mrs. Fouss, you look beautiful today!"  Oh my gosh, how sweet!

(This is what she did for our last homework problem today... think anyone else in this class would've had an inkling of what she was doing?! I felt bad because it was just  "read the graph" problem and she went way beyond. That would certainly be a language issue.)

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Guilty Pleasures

There are three things I really like about being a teacher.
1.  Pens.  I love buying new pens in the summer! But I must've done a stinky job of it this past year because I don't have any that I like right now. Time to go shopping!

2.  Laminating.  I don't know what it is about the laminator but it makes everything so nice and shiny. I spent some time with it today. :)  (And will probably have more to do tomorrow!)

3.  Fonts.  Oh my gosh, have you seen  Thousands of them for free!  I just spent some time there, too. :)

Aside from the pen fetish, I really had a point to make in relationship with laminating and fonts... I swear.  We're in the midst of exam week, which is one of my favorite weeks all year. It's like a lot of stuff around here - there's a ton of prep work to get ready (exam reviews, exams, etc.) but once it's here it's all on the kids. Yesterday we had our first period exam (prefaced with a 40? minute review where the kids crammed like crazy!) then 35 minute review periods for the rest of the day. By 2:15 I was bored to death. I'd gotten stuff organized and copied for the next couple of weeks, I did a couple of sudoku puzzles, I read a book for a little while, and played online. Whatever I could do to keep myself occupied!

Today hasn't been any better timewise. We have a 2-hour optional review time first thing in the morning (Yes, optional. I'm sure you can imagine how many students are here studying! Ha.) followed by a 100 minute exam which was my plan period, followed by another 100 minute exam (they're working right now). This schedule will repeat for the next two days... and then we have a work day on Friday on which I'll have sooooo much to do. Not. (Not that I'm complaining!)

One thing I did actually do yesterday was look up some new quotes to put on my side board. I've had the same ones up there all year and need a change.  I found a website called BrainyQuote that I took some from, copied them on word documents with some cute fonts (ahem), and colored and laminated them this morning. My original plan was to post them like I did first semester, but now I've found so many good ones that I'm thinking bigger.

Several weeks ago I read a blog post where Rebeckah Peterson described how she put the name of a mathematician on their board when they start a new unit. The kids fill in information about that mathematician as they find it for extra credit. I loved the idea and thought about starting it next year, but it also got me thinking about doing the same thing with quotes.  So now I'm considering posting a quote each week (?) and asking the kids to post their thoughts on it. Do they agree/disagree? How is it relative to their life? And what can you find out about the person who wrote it?

If I do this, a couple of details I need to work out....
1.  Do I do one per course? Or one for everyone?
2.  I've got bulletin board paper covering my chalk board right now. Do I let the kids write on it and recover it often? Or do I take it off and just let them write on the chalkboard? (Yuck. Hate chalkboards.)  But I could keep up my cute boarder.
3. We also have an online portal I could use to let the kids give me feedback. Do I just do it instead? But it would be nicer to be able to see what other people are doing in class. OTOH, this way I see the results by class (because I have 3 precalc classes of kids).

I use this blog a lot to just get my thoughts down "on paper". I hadn't even considered using the chalkboards until I typed it, and I think that's they way I'm leaning right now. But if you have any input, I'd love to know it!

ETA:  Trever Reeh suggested I try Wallwisher. I think I could embed it on Schoology.  Thoughts?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Find the area of. . .

I hope everyone had a nice restful holiday break. I did, but I also spent quite a few days sacked out on the couch with what I think was the flu. Is it sad that I was happy not to have to do sub plans while I was sick?

We (along with most of the area, it seems) headed back to school today. We have 3 days of regular classes to finish up the semester and then exams next week. You know how kids have trouble remembering things over a weekend?  Try a 2-week break and then an exam over a semester's worth of material. Sometimes it gets ugly.

With three days this week, I didn't want to give my precalc kids that much free time to work on exam reviews. We'd finished up before our break with law of sines/cosines, so I'm taking two of these days to work on area of triangles. It's a nice way to ease back into school, I think.

I started out by giving them these two triangles and asked them to find the area.
They whipped through the first one easily and most kids automatically drew an altitude for triangle #2, found its length, and used that for the area of the triangle.

In 3rd period (my second time through) I then gave them this and asked them to find the area. (Assuming that A, b, and c were known values)
Despite having just done this (with numbers) some of them were a little unsure. I advised them to repeat what they'd done in #2 but leave the letters.  I have to admit - I'd never done this myself before to derive the area formula. I'm embarrassed at how easy it was and how I should've made them do this years ago!

If you work through it, the altitude has length of csinA, so when you plug it in to the 1/2bh formula, you get an area of 1/2 bcsinA.  Voila!

The second area formula (Heron's) isn't so easily derivable (though I tried on my own). But at least we got one in!

I usually like to spend a few days working on some area problems after we talk about the formulas, but with my limited time for the next couple of days I can't do that this year. Instead, I'm going to give the kids the 6 problems I normally hand out for them to work individually and have them work them as table groups. I don't want to take a lot of time to grade them, so I copied a spinner with 7 sections (because I threw in a toughie at the end) and am going to have them write their answer in the 7 blocks. That way I'll be able to see all of their answers at a quick glance.

I'm wondering if I can get even lazier and make this even easier on myself. :)