Thursday, May 26, 2011

Conic Cards (a summarization)

My first Algebra 2 class just took their quiz on Conics (which they learned from using the conic cards... see here and here and here).  I thought it went pretty well - the kids acclimated quickly to working and learning on their own.  I enjoyed hearing them learn and discuss and figure things out.

All in all, a great couple of weeks.  (But we'll see when I grade the quizzes, too!)

I gave them a half-sheet to write down some feedback/suggestions on after they took their quiz.  Here are some of the comments I received:
1.  What did you think about using the conic cards to learn about conics?  (What was good?  What was bad?)
  • I thought it helped for the most part. At times I wished we would've had written notes to look back at.
  • It was good that we had to learn somewhat independently. Somewhat bad because we are not used to learning this way.
  • I liked it forced group work and made it really simple.
  • It was good I learned quickly and easily.
  • It was great. I learned because I had to. Math is typically very boring for me and I can't help but fall asleep during lessons no matter how much I fight it, but the cards kept me focused.
  • I liked it b/c we were in groups and it was something different.
  • It was harder to learn that way, but it was okay.
  • It was in between. I liked working in groups but I always feel like I learn better from teachers.
  • I didn't like the fact that we basically taught ourselves.
  • The cards were confusing at first but they helped me see what each category needed and what they look like.
  • I didn't like it at first but after the 2nd day I understood and got used to the pattern.  I think it worked well.
  • I liked them. It was something different than notes everyday.
  • I liked it I think it really helped me get the information.
  • It was a good way to switch it up. The only bad part was not really having notes.
  • I thought it was a good idea. I understood how to deal with conics using the cards. I also like how it was more visual learning.
  • I liked them. It helped to show the similarities and differences between all the equations.
  • Visual learning and somewhat kinetic, more teamwork
  • I liked using them because it made me pay more attention. It was great practice, too.
2.  Do you think I should use this lesson again next year?  Are there any changes you would make to it?
  • All yes's for the first question.
  • Review with you teaching at the end of each class making sure everyone knows what they are doing.
  • Change groups each day.
  • Although you seemed stressed running around it worked well. 
  • I think you should just maybe help a little more. (I'll consider that one a success! :)  )
  • I would spend a bit more time on hyperbolas.
  • It made more sense to me when my peers were explaining it than when we went over it as a class.
  • I think that it would be nice to use the last 10 minutes of class to review the topics to make sure everyone understood.
  • Explain it more before we start, it was a little confusing in the beginning.
  • Yes but with notes.
  • Maybe a little more time explaining it.
  • Add a sheet with actual formulas to keep, not just on a card.
So I definitely will be doing this again. I think giving a formula sheet for them to fill out is a great idea, as is a little summarizing at the end of each class.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Things I've Tagged (weekly)

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

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Conic Cards

A month or so ago I was reading Square Root of Negative One Teach Math where she referred to using something called Conics Cards in class with her Algebra 2 classes.  (Here's her original post and here's a follow up.)  I'm not a big fan of conics (zzzzzzzz.....) and seeing as how we have 10 days left of school, I wanted to find something to spice 'em up.

So I e-mailed Cindy Johnson, the lady who Amy gave all credit to for making the cards.  She was kind enough to e-mail me lots of documents:  the cards, the assignments, the NCTM description.  Amy helped out with even more information.  I copied, laminated, cut, assembled, and typed.

And yesterday it began.

The idea is that the kids are given a deck of cards with equations, graphs, and "information" about the four types of conics.  They use their reasoning powers (and a little guidance from a packet) to match up an equation with its graph with its information.  It's a great idea (I thought) and put a lot more of the learning on the kids.

It didn't go that great.  See that last sentence I wrote?  It put a lot more of the learning on the kids.  Some of them had some big issues with that.  They're so used to being spoonfed what they're learning that they didn't even know where to start.  I did a lot of walking around to groups and explaining things.  (And I freely admit to the spoonfeeding...that's definitely something I need to work on early next year. Be less helpful.)  Today they came in; we reviewed the idea of the parabola and how everything fits into the equation, and everyone was happy.  Today's lesson was on circles and everyone knew what they needed to do.  They were able to match up the parabolas and then worked on the circles with no problems.

Much much happier today - them and me.

(Let's not talk about the one boy who sat and played with my rubber band the whole time.)

Friday, May 13, 2011

EOCs. Boo.

(Warning:  I'm whining here.. just need to get it out.)

My district decided this year that we were going to give EOC tests this year in Algebra 1, Geometry, and Algebra 2.  Ok, that's fine.  But here are my problems with it: we're giving the tests in the beginning of May (our last day of school is June 3), we're giving it in addition to our final exam, and the test itself basically means nothing.  Sure, I can count it as a grade, but there's nothing high-stakes about it to really make the kids care.  For the kids who care about their overall grades, that's fine.... but in my general-level Algebra 1, it's basically a day of torture for me.

I noticed on the Algebra I test that there were several topics that we actually didn't cover during the year (like simplifying radicals and probability) so this week we did a review each day of different topics.  I spent a couple of days on probability (we rolled dice, flipped coins, and played Deal or No Deal), one day on graphing lines/inequalities, one day on writing equations of lines.  I worked hard each day to come up with some review problems to go through in class and for the kids to practice with.

So today is test day.  First, a bunch of the kids (and I only have 9 students here to take it) were surprised to hear that we were taking a test.  ("What?  You didn't tell us!  We have to take a test?")  Then they were mad because it was scantron and 48 whole problems.... even though I told them to take as long as they needed and I would give them more time to work on Monday.

I passed out the test in sections.  The first section is non-calculator... which is great except that I've let them use calculators all year (because quite a few of the kids can't work with positives and negatives).  Two of the students finished the test in approximately 5 minutes.  They tried to turn it in and I refused.  I sent them back to their desks and told them to actually work on some of the problems.  (One girl insisted that she had.  Uh huh.)  When I finally gave them part 2 (after a couple of other kids who seemed to be legitimately working finished the first part) they both sat with their heads down, didn't open the book, and turned it in a few minutes later.  One student "didn't hear" me say three times that they could write on the test and also "didn't hear" me say that the first part was non-calculator.

The one thing that I do appreciate right now is that there are two boys still working.  These two boys are the smartest ones in the room but some of the laziest.  (One of them dropped down from College Prep for 2nd semester because of his behavior (but that's a whole different whining session) and the other insists that he's going to take an Honors level math class next year... I offered him college prep but I don't know that he's going to go for it.)

My one savior is my autistic OCD student who is currently down in a special ed classroom working on the test.  It will probably take him a week to do it (even though I cut out some problems) because he's so meticulous and feels the need to do things over and over until he feels like they're right.  And he'll score the highest.

Fourteen more days.  Fourteen more days.

Friday, May 6, 2011

10' x 20' paper.... #WCYDWT?

I have the paper. (See blog post here.) It traveled around in my Flex for almost a week... barely fit from back to front, but the important thing was that it did fit even with the windows shut. We've had crazy rain here lately and I didn't want to be driving around with open windows! I had a couple of kids bring it into school yesterday so they could get an idea of exactly what it is we're dealing with.

I have one class that's really excited about this crazy paper - they've been asking every day if I have the paper, where it is, and when we're going to use it. I didn't want to go outside, though, without some tasks to do with it. Our main goal is to determine how many times we can fold this paper. But I'm sure that there's some other math "stuff" we can do too. So I left it up to them. Yesterday I asked the class to give me 2 - 3 ideas that we could choose from.

Ideas for our 10’ x 20’ piece of paper:
1.  How many times can it be folded?  (submitted 10 times)
2.  How many “normal” pieces of paper would fit on the paper?
3.  What’s your words with friends name? (This boy's been bugging me about that for a while now... I told him if he got a 100% on our next quiz I'd play him.)
4.  If we trace our hands all over it, how many hands can we fit?
5.  How many times can you fold the paper long ways?
6.  How many times do you have to fold it to be the size of a normal piece of paper?
7.  We can draw pictures on it.
8.  We can make a cootie catcher or push paper.
9.  We should fold it and run across it to flatten it out.
10.  What will the surface area be/how much it grows or decays?
11.  How many normal notebook papers could fit on this big piece of paper?
12.  What is the area of the paper?
13.  Decorate the paper, keep it in the room for future generations to see.
14.  Can we make an airplane that can take flight?
15.  How thick will it be after folding it as many times as possible?
16.  What is the circumference of the fully folded paper?
17.  How thick would it get if we folded it 8 times?
18.  Make a paper airplane and see how far it can fly.
19.  What is the surface area of the paper?
20.  How many Mrs. Fouss’s can fit along the paper?
21.  What’s the area?
22.  What’s the perimeter?
23. How big of a cootie catcher could we make?
24.  Does width and length affect how many times you can fold it?
25.  How many people can we fit on the piece of paper?
26.  Make a paper airplane it throw it off the roof.
27.  Find the area.
28.  How many sections will it break up into?
29.  Is it possible to make a giant origami shape?
30.  Giant cootie catcher!!!!!!
31.   How many pieces of paper it could make.

My weekend task is to narrow this down and decide what it is that we will be doing...

Again, big big big thanks to the kind people at SMART Papers who donated this giant piece of paper to us. :)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


I just sent an e-mail of the like I've never sent before.  I have a senior in one of my honors precalculus classes that has done just about nothing this quarter.

Dear Mrs. Anonymous - 
(Your student) decided not to take today's quiz and is sitting with her/his head down.  S/He hasn't done an assignment in approximately a month and currently has a 23.5%.  We started a unit on calculus a week or so ago, so it's really a shame that s/he's not working along to try and get a head start on what s/he'll be learning next year.  

With about 3.5 weeks left in the school year and considering that (your student) earned the minimum of 55% last quarter, please consider this e-mail my notice that s/he will not be passing the semester.  I hope s/he takes the opportunity this summer to review a lot of the knowledge that s/he'll be expected to enter a calculus course with.

I've dealt with this student all year in actually doing assignments.  S/He was in my college prep Algebra 2 class last year and while they're very bright, doesn't do any "unnecessary" work.  S/He got into this class against my recommendation and has definitely shown why I thought it was a bad idea. S/He has yet to complete any projects that we did in class (and isn't that the fun stuff?!) and assignments are iffy.  I've been in touch with mom before... this is what I got last time:

I had encouraged her/him to drop the class, but s/he is considering staying to learn what s/he can because s/he will be taking Calc in college next year.

I think the seniors are already admitted in their colleges and get senior itis the last semester, it must be hard to keep them motivated.  Hopefully everything works out as it should.  (Name) is an adult, 18 years old, going off to the Marines and college in the fall so I certainly don't want to battle anything with her/him in her/his senior year.  I am confident s/he is a smart (wo)man and will be able to do whatever s/he applies her/himself too, that is her/his only difficulty, applying her/himself.

I hope that when my children are this age I can be the parent that runs the middle road.... not the helicopter, hovering parent but not the total hands-off, it's totally up to them parent.  It's sad to me that this kid has no guidance about what s/he should be doing right now.