Thursday, March 31, 2011

#nctm11 tweetup

If you're heading to Indianapolis in a couple of weeks for #nctm11, there's a tweetup scheduled for Thursday evening.  Check out this link for more info.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Take it to the limit!

I skipped enough review stuff in Precalc this year that we're actually going to have a good chunk of time to introduce some limits.  I haven't gotten to this point for several years and am looking for ideas.

How do you introduce the idea of a limit?  I found Shawn's idea of using rolly chairs and stop watches to find speed and steer them towards the idea of a rate... which leads to slope... which leads to a limit.

I honestly don't know if I could pull that off (especially the rolly chairs thing).

Any other ideas?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Going to #nctm11?

I set up a google spreadsheet to see who's all going to NCTM in Indianapolis in a couple of weeks and what sessions they're planning on attending.  If you're going, feel free to add your agenda!

Here's the link.

New phone for a day :(

I ordered a new android phone last week and was super excited when it arrived at my house on Friday afternoon.  Actually, it's not a new phone - it's a refurbished one (but it's new to me!) and I got it for free from my phone company.  I had a lot of fun playing with it and organizing it and downloading stuff (hello, Angry Birds!).  That fun lasted approximately 24 hours.

I was pumped about how well it fit into my back pocket (it's nice and slim) until I had to go potty.  Stood up, heard a splash.  Seriously?!

So now I'm trying to dry it out.  It's been in a bag of rice for a while, but the former white dots have turned pink (on both the phone and the battery) which, from my research, means that there's been water damage.  I'm hoping that the rice will fix the phone - I'd be ok with just having to buy a new battery for it.

The good thing is that I still have my old phone and it works fine, so if the new one's not salvageable, I still have a phone.  But I feel like the cell phone gods were just teasing me.....

Friday, March 25, 2011


The last 2.5 hours has seemed like 2.5 years.

Fortunately, it's finally 2:15 on Friday, March 25th.

Happy spring break!

(I'm getting my quarter grades turned in before I leave... we have a new policy that no one may receive less than a 55% for a quarter average (which I think stinks bigtime).  I just had to give a boy 219 extra credit points so he had a 55%.  Sound fair?)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

I love trig!

I gave my precalc kids this worksheet that is a summary of all of the trig we've done this year.  (This was instead of moving on to something new for the last couple of days before spring break... probably a good move on my part.)

It's nothing fancy (got it out of the book and altered it a bit) but it's been nice to hear the kids talking and working and reviewing together.  Makes me feel good about everything they've learned in the last few months.

I even told them that... I was like, "Doesn't it make you feel good about how much you've learned about trig?  A couple of months ago you didn't know any of this."

Them:  "No."

Oh well. :)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Three more days!

Only three more days until spring break!  (Can you all say it with me?  Ahhhhhhh.....)

I gave a quiz yesterday in Precalc over the law of sines, cosines, and oblique area formulas.  That's typically the last triggy thing we do and I was planning to move on to sequences and series today.

But with three days left before a week off?  And who knows how many absences on Friday?  No thanks.

Instead, I decided to give them an all-encompassing trig review (because you can never have too much trig!) and  an extra credit opportunity on Friday.  I found this "Finding your pot of gold" assignment a couple of years ago and haven't really ever used it - but it looks like fun!

(BTW, I just found this link from Richard Byrne over at Free Technology for Teachers that talked about a new feature from Microsoft where you can sync your documents to google docs.  It's called Cloud Connect.  Love it!)

I'm going to admit that the thing I'm looking forward to the most about being on spring break is not seeing my Algebra 1 class for a week.  They're driving me crazy.  At this point less than half of the class is passing (average is a 60.7%) and I told them today that if they don't want to pass the rest of the year, that's fine.  Just sit and be quiet.  The loud ones who don't care are being disrespectful, disruptive, and interfering with those students who are trying to learn.

I'm giving them this today so they can calculate what their final grade will be if they keep this up.  Maybe it'll open some eyes.

Nine more weeks....

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Why Teachers Like Me Support Unions

I'm sure you've heard the news.
Unions are being attacked in Wisconsin and Ohio... and yep, I live in Ohio. (Born and raised!  Except for a couple of years when I was really little and my parents moved to Florida.  But I digress.)  

It's an uncertain time to be a teacher.  My school (along with many others) is facing some big financial difficulties.  We've cut teachers in the past with more cuts promised for next year.  Levies have failed.  The money's just not there.

Yeah, I get that.  I know that a lot of people are hurting financially right now.  But to hear that our unions are being attacked is a scary thing.

We were talking at lunch the other day about the comradery that we now have that could be affected by this.  We all share ideas and resources and are helpful when someone asks.  It's a great place to be.  But what happens now when you think the school doesn't need two precalculus teachers?  Then you'd better do a better job than the girl next door.  She asks you for help?  Ha!  I sincerely hope that doesn't happen.... and I'm pretty sure it wouldn't happen around here (at least with the people I hang with).  But I can imagine that at another school with different personalities you could have some big problems.

Another couple of things that worry me:
1.  Class sizes will not be capped.  My biggest classes in the past few years were right around 30.  Not only is it a pain to grade that many papers (when you have several classes that big and are trying to grade proofy things) but I feel like I don't get a chance to get to know a lot of the quieter kids.
2.  Merit pay?  How exactly is that going to work? How is a value going to be determined?  Annually?  What about teachers whose classes don't take a standardized test?   I have yet to see something concrete that describes it.  Until then, anything I hear is a rumor (Like a board member stating that they'd like to cap salaries at $50,000... I read yesterday that the average Ohio teacher's salary is around $57,000.  And that's the average.)

So who gets hurt the most in all of this?  The kids.  Good teachers will leave or not even become a teacher at all.  A friend of mine who is currently taking classes to become certified asked me the other day about whether I thought she should continue on with it or try a different career.

I'm not a great writer (a big reason that I'm a math teacher!), so here are some other people's posts that are much better than mine:  (I'll add to this list as I find them.)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Just finished up with one class making their own quads to find area.  I want to jot down some thoughts while I still have them!

This is what I assigned them:

Task #1:
1.  Cut one your first half-sheet of paper into a convex quadrilateral with only one right angle.
2.  Measure three sides of the quadrilateral and one angle (in addition to the right angle).
(Plan first - which sides/angle do you want to know?)
3.  On the back of your quadrilateral, list the measurements that you made.
4.  Find the area of the quadrilateral.

Task #2:
1.  Cut your second half-sheet into a convex quadrilateral with no right angles.
2.  Measure three sides and two angles.
(Plan first - which sides/angles do you want to know?)
3.  On the back of your quadrilateral, list the measurements that you made.
4.  Find the area of the quadrilateral.

My observations:
1.  Kids struggled with this more than I thought they would.  But it was a good struggle - I was watching them just sit and stare at their shapes and (hopefully) think about what measurements they needed.  They needed the moment to plan and didn't just jump in.
2.  A couple of kids finished up and I was able to spot some mistakes....
           1.  One girl used the Area = 1/2 absinC formula and thought it was the area of her whole quadrilateral.          (I couldn't figure out how she'd finished both tasks so quickly until I spotted her mistake.)
           2.  Another girl drew a diagonal through her quadrilateral and made two (incorrect) assumptions:
                 First, because one of the triangles had a right angle in it, it was automatically a 30-60-90.    Second, the angle that was intersected by the diagonal was automatically bisected.
           3.  The first boy who was done didn't find the area of the quadrilateral.  He found all sides/angles, but didn't do the area.  Then when he went back to compute the area he used Heron's formula instead of the one I mentioned earlier (which probably would've been easier).

I'm hoping that the kids having to do this planning and visualize how they're going to solve the problem of finding the area will help tomorrow when I give them the application problems.  Nevermind that hopefully we'll avoid making some of these silly mistakes, too!

After just this one class I'll consider this a success!  Thanks, Mimi!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Law of sines ambiguous case. What a pain.

I'm currently suffering through day 3 of solving systems by substitution in Algebra 1.  Oh the pain.  I'm thinking I may skip it next year.

Thought of something funny today in Precalc.  We did the law of sines yesterday - kids always get confused about the ambiguous case.  How do you figure out if there are two solutions?  I've normally tell them that if they're only given one angle and they're using the law of sines to check for a second answer.

Here's my new thought:  What are we given?  An angle and two sides (ASS).  What kind of problem is it?  A pain in the. . .

The kids appreciated it. :)

Monday, March 14, 2011

OGT testing... oh the fun.

Day 1 of our statewide testing was today.  It makes for a weird week - especially since I have a sophomore homeroom that has to take the test every day.

We adjust our schedule to give the sophomores (and freshmen, who are taking a practice test) 2 hours every morning before school starts for the test.  The juniors and seniors get to come in a couple of hours late - I'm sure you realize that this is something they look forward to all year!

I think it's a great solution, especially because it keeps the kids testing from missing any classes.  Unfortunately, because we've lost 2 hours in our day it shortens all of our other classes to 31 minutes.  I literally feel like a chicken with my head cut off running around during class and trying to get everything done that I want to do.

Today, though, I got it all done.  I think.
1.  Taught the Law of Sines in precalc.  I couldn't do a discovery-type thing because of my time limit, but I was able to get through a couple of examples (including the ambiguous case).  I was actually down to 25 minutes in my first period class because the test always runs over the first day.
2.  Re-taught solving systems using substitution in Algebra 1.  I think there may actually be a couple of kids (out of 10) that know how to do it now.  Slowly but surely....
3.  Reviewed nth roots with Algebra 2, answered lots of questions (especially involving those pesky absolute values!)

Tomorrow's plan:
1.  Law of Cosines (we actually did it earlier in the year when talking vectors, so it should be a review).
2.  Solving by substitution.  Again.  I may pull out some notecards and try Elissa Miller's idea.
3.  Review of combinations of functions (add, subtract, multiply, divide, compositions), inverse functions, and nth roots for a quiz on Weds.

31 minutes.  Phew.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The end of days...

I hate to say it, but we've come to the time of year that I dislike the most.... the end of trig in precalc.  Actually, I'm normally ready to be done with it (all good things must come to an end) but I've been happy with how most of my kids have done this year.  (We'll leave out the girl who started crying today as soon as she saw the quiz.)

Just a couple of things left to cover - Law of Sines, Law of Cosines, and the area of oblique triangles.  I have a packet of problems that I give the kids (my favorite assignment of the year, I admit...I blogged about it last year!) a couple of days to work on.  This year will be a little more challenging for them because we have our state testing next week and our classes are only 30 minutes long each day.  Guess that means they'll need to work more outside of class!

Anyway, Mimi over at I Hope This Old Train Breaks Down found my problems and gave them to her Honors Geo kids to work through.  (I'm impressed - makes my precalc kids look like dummies! :)  )  She also blogged about having them draw an irregular quadrilateral on a piece of paper, measuring a few sides, and having them find the area.  The past few years I've done a little activity where we watch a clip from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace and then done a worksheet finding different values from the podracing scene (got it here from  I think I'll try the paper thing instead this year!

Thanks, Mimi!

Monday, March 7, 2011

No more Debbie Downer!

I'm moving on.  (From my previous posts, I mean.... not from my school.)

I'm going to get back to what I enjoy doing - teaching, finding fun stuff to do in class, getting kids excited about coming to class.  Ok, maybe they don't get excited, but hopefully they don't groan at the thought of coming to math class. :)

Today in precalc we talked about the sum and difference formulas for sine and cosine.  The AP Calc teacher at school told me a story that she tells her kids to help them remember the formulas; a couple of years ago I had a student teacher and actually had a little bit of free time during the day, so I came up with this powerpoint.  (I actually got a few chuckles out of my first period class... they're slowly lightening up!)

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Fork in the Road

Have you heard of Ohio's Senate Bill 5?

If you haven't, I'm sure you've heard of the anti-union business going on in Wisconsin.  Basically, SB5 is Ohio's version of it.

Now I try to stay out of politics.  Really, I do.  A friend of mine is big-time into politics and he drives me absolutely crazy.

But SB 5 is something that could greatly affect my career.  These are some summary points:

·         State employees and K-12 school employees may bargain wages, hours and terms and conditions of employees.  HOWEVER, the bill still outlines extensive matters prohibited from bargaining.  E.g. “no affects bargaining”

·         Salaries can be bargained but must be based on the following performance measures:
o   Level of teacher license; whether the teacher is a “highly qualified teacher” under law; the value-added measure the board uses to determine the performance of the students assigned to the teacher’s classroom; the results of the teacher’s performance evaluations, any peer review program created by an agreement between the board and teachers association, or another system of evaluation used by that board; any other criteria established by the board.

·         An initial limited contract for a classroom teacher, entered into on or after the effective date of the bill, shall not exceed three years.  Any subsequent limited contract: not less than 2 years and not more than 5 years.

·         No public employee or employee organization shall engage in a strike.  Whenever a strike occurs, the public employer may seek an injunction against the strike in the court of common pleas. 

·         Any person engaged in a strike is subject to removal, shall have deducted an amount equal to twice their daily rate of pay for each day on strike and the penalty for violation of a court injunction against a strike is a fine of $1,000 and up to 30 days imprisonment, or both.Further penalty for willfully disobeying a court.

These are the amendments made to the bill late last week.  

A couple things stick out to me as worrisome.  First, the salary thing.  They're taking away salaries based on years of service and education and changing it to merit-based pay.  What we're all wondering about is how this is to be done. Will it change annually?  What if you get a bad group of kids?  (And you all know what I mean.)  Are these based on test scores?  What if you have a class of students that don't have a standardized test to take (like my freshmen, juniors, and seniors)?  How is a gym/art/music/non-cores teacher going to be rated?  I was told by someone at school that one of our school board members said that s/he would like to cap salaries at $50,000.  I know that teachers don't make much, but I'll admit to being quite a bit over that level.  To have my salary adjusted downward so much would be quite a shock.  (Especially when you throw in an increase in insurance rates... also a part of SB5.)

I've seriously been thinking about other career options.  I love what I do. I've never wanted to be anything but a teacher (except for my astronaut phase when I was in elementary school... but I get motion sick pretty easily :) ).  With two small kids I can't imagine not having the time during the summer to spend with them.  Unless I can find something that would pay me well and give me the time off I think I'm stuck.

But I hate to say "stuck" in something that I love to do.

A couple of videos...

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Crisis in Dairyland - For Richer and Poorer - Teachers and Wall Street
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


I think I get senioritis about this time every year.  Is there a cure?

I wrote two e-mails today to parents of seniors in my Honors Precalculus class who are not doing well.  (And when I say not doing well, I mean not doing well.)  Attendance is an issue.  Completing assignments is an issue. I hate to get the parents involved because they're seniors, but I want to make sure the parents know that I know.  And who knows if they know?

It's a good thing they don't need this class to graduate.  But next year in college I don't think their professor will be calling/e-mailing mom and dad because they're failing a class.

I must remember these are still high school kids.  Even though they should know better.

And now I'm off to call the mom of a freshman boy who just can't keep his mouth shut.  (And my tolerance is high.)  I'd take juniors any day.

Thankful for failure

I had a change of heart after a discussion at my book club on Sunday afternoon (BTW, we read Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter which was ok but definitely didn't live up to the hype).  Mackenzie, one of the girls, is younger and is currently in a Master's Program to become an English teacher.  She said that she's had a lot of trouble passing the Praxis for her content knowledge and basically feels defeated and that she'll never get it passed.  At this point she's going into the test thinking she won't pass (which we all know doesn't help).

One of my friends pointed out that although it doesn't feel good now, the struggles she's having with this test will help her to be a better teacher.    Mackenzie will be able to empathize and relate with the kids who have test anxiety or who struggle with taking tests.

I was thinking during this discussion that I was missing out because I didn't have that experience in school.  Everything came pretty easily to me and I honestly didn't work hard at all.  Every summer before school started my dad would say, "Now this is the year you'll have to start working."  And then I didn't.  I wasn't at the top of my class but ended up at the college that I wanted to go to and received an academic scholarship to boot.

Yesterday one of my Algebra 2 classes asked me if I'd always been good at math.  We're working through solving and graphing polynomials now and some of them are really struggling with it (not that they're working very hard at it, but that's another post).  I think they wanted to know that this didn't always seem so easy for me.  Fortunately, I was able to tell them about the time that I failed a math test in 6th grade on multiplying and dividing decimals; I think that made me seem more human.  (Let me just say, though, that I'd missed days in class because of an Enrichment class I attended and didn't get the whole "move the decimal" thing before the test.  I can multiply and divide decimals now. :)  )  I almost wished that I could tell them that I didn't do well in high school or struggled with this topic in Algebra 2 and was able to work through it...

I've always been bitter about failing that test.  But yesterday I realized that it helped me, at least in their eyes.