Sunday, February 26, 2012

Second grade will be the death of me. Or my son.

I am blessed to have a freshly-turned 8-year old son. He's happy, bright, friendly, energetic, and curious.  He loves legos, playing with his sister (even if he doesn't admit it), riding his bike, and is starting to love to read.

Unfortunately, some of those qualities don't translate well in his classroom right now. His energy is a tough thing to tame. He has a lot of trouble sitting still; there's something always moving.  He also has a lot of trouble concentrating on assignments when there's other stuff going on. And in a 2nd grade class, I'd expect that there's always something going on.

His teacher is a very nice soft-spoken woman (I've spoken with her several times on an informal basis at our church). At our first parent conference this fall I was shocked to hear that things weren't going well. His grades were ok (not as good as we thought they should be) but she emphasized his lack of attention in class.  He was constantly moving around the room (which has since been quelled, I think) and she was having issues with him "rocking" in his chair.  (I told him I'm ok with it as long as he isn't disturbing the kids around him.)  She told us that she didn't think he was paying any attention in class, though she's since told me she knows he is paying attention, he's just not looking at her when she's speaking (again, something we've been working on).

It's been a rough year. Part of the problem is that he had an awesome (male) teacher last year who pushed the kids academically and was able to keep them controlled, too. I think my boy is somewhat bored with what they're doing in class and is able to mess around some at school and still pick up immediately with whatever topic it is they're doing in class (and for homework).

Today I checked his updated grades on the computer and was happy to see all E's (90%+) in everything. except social studies. His grade there?  A 66.3% U. Basically, he's failing.  His past 3 grades were 77%, 35%, and 50%.  The 35% was an in-class 100 point packet on Abraham Lincoln. My first thought was that she entered the numbers wrong. My second thought was to ask him about it.

After several "I forget"s about what the assignment was, he told me that it was a bunch of questions they had to answer about Abraham Lincoln. I asked him if he'd finished. "I forget." I asked him if he knew all of the questions. "I forget."  My hunch is that he sat at his desk and stared at that assignment, thinking about anything but Abraham Lincoln. Or someone next to him was doing something else and he was totally engrossed in watching that person.  I really don't think he was messing around (his stoplight color for most of the week was green, which is good) but just wasn't doing what he was supposed to be doing at that moment.  If I asked him about Abraham Lincoln I'm sure he could tell me a lot.

So here's my query. Should his social studies grade reflect the fact that he wasn't working when he was supposed to be?  Or should it reflect his knowledge of the subject matter?

I'm not sure how to deal with it. I sent his teacher an email asking if she could tell me what had happened on those assignments.  Although I know his 3rd quarter 2nd grade social studies grade means squat in the whole school thing, I hate to see a U on his report card.  I'd love for her to send the assignment home so I could make him do it... either that or have him stay after school to finish it on his own. I honestly don't care if she changes his grade or not (thought it would be nice to see it changed) as long as he knows he's responsible for getting his assignments done.

Short term?  No TV and no legos.  Long term?  We'll see.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Things I've Tagged (weekly)

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

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Things I've Tagged (weekly)

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

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The results

Today was our viewing today for the precalc projects.  At last count I had 12 games, 9 glogs and xtranormal videos, 2 prezis, 8 self-made videos, and a live skit in class.

When the kids came in the room I had about 7 laptops out on one side and the homemade games out on the other side.  The kids with the computers were to go to our class blog and check out the livebinder that I'd assembled with all of the turned-in projects (glogs, prezis, xtranormal vids, and one jeopardy powerpoint).  I gave them each 2 evaluation pages to report back on what they thought of the different products.

The kids with the games were asked to play the game for a few minutes and rate what they thought of the directions, formulas, construction, and whether the game was fun or not.  After 10 minutes or so the students switched sides so everyone would have a chance to check out both types of projects.

Then we all came back together and I started showing the videos that had been made.  It was an interesting collection - a western (which had basically nothing to do with math), a couple of videos showing the Sinbad/Cosette story I'd told them to help with the sum & difference formulas, and several song parodies.  (One was to the song "I Just Had Sex" which I'd never heard... not sure it was the best choice. They changed it to "I Just Did Math.")  Although none of the videos were what I would call awesome, I'm still amazed at what these kids can do with a video camera!  Amazing.  A couple of groups put their videos on youtube (check out this one and this one) and I uploaded another one because it was so big I didn't want to save it to my computer.

What did I learn?  A few things.
1.  I saw a lot of the kids work harder in the past few days because they had a choice of what to do.  And they enjoyed it.

2.  The amount of creativity that was shown was impressive.

3.  You still have those kids that would rather do a worksheet and take a quiz.  But I was one of those kids in high school, so I don't blame 'em.

4.  Some kids will go all out in anything they do.

5.  Some won't.

I made them update me each day with a google form I put on the class blog. That was really helpful and it helped them to know they were accountable for making progress!  I also asked them to give me some feedback on the overall project. Everyone said they enjoyed it; most said they learned their formulas more. Of course there were some naysayers (but there always are). I honestly wonder if they know the formulas any better, but from some of the work that was turned in, there was some definite learning going on.  Some not so much.

Oh, and I made it as a contestant in the Game of Life. (changed to The Math of Life) I don't know if they're calling me a nerd or trying to show how much of a nerd I'm not. I'll go for #2. :)

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

New projects!

Still working on those quizzes. How embarrassing.

I gave my precalc kids a project today:  present some of the trig angle formulas in an interesting way.  I offered several mediums to use (glog, prezi, song/video, board game, xtranormal) and let them choose which formulas to do. Options are sum/difference, half-angle, double-angle, and power reducing.

It was fun to hear them get started today!  There were a lot of fun ideas being thrown around that I hope are followed up on.  Some of these kids did some projects last year in Algebra 2 that were really impressive, so I know it's possible!

One thing I dislike the most about giving time to work on projects is that people don't use the time I give them. Lots of down time, lots of time just chatting. I'm hoping to avoid this by making them check in every day.  Today I set up a google form so they could submit their group members, topic, and how they're going to do it.  For every other day (tomorrow and Friday) I'm going to set one up so that they have to enter exactly what it is they've done for the day and what they still need to get done.  Basically, make them justify their use of 47 minutes.

Hopefully that'll help at least a little bit.

And while they're working I'm hoping to grade.  Bleh.

(Also, one of our tech gurus at school sent me a link to a Cool Tools for Schools website with lots of presentation ideas!)

Friday, February 3, 2012


I have been a blogging fool this week.  Want to know why?  I have 93 trig identity quizzes to grade... and I don't want to.

Some fun things I've done in class lately that I hope to remember for the future...

1.  In Precalc today I told the kids I was taking a day off.  Yesterday we talked about Angle Sum and Difference Formulas.  I actually made a fun powerpoint a few years ago from a story our calc teacher told me.  It's really helped the kids remember what goes where.  Here it is!

But today, after going over homework questions from last night, I gave them a sheet that basically said "Using our formulas from yesterday, find a formula for each of the following:  sin 2x, cos 2x, tan 2x."  And then it has some problems at the bottom for them to work out.

It was interesting to see who started to try and figure things out and who waited for me to tell them what the answers were (which I didn't do).  Some of the latter kids gave up on me and got the formula from their friends.  Some actually started thinking (imagine that!).  I made it around to each of the groups that had formed and checked formulas and work... by the end of class everyone had the correct formulas and were on their way (if not finished) with the example problems.  Now I just wonder if I could do that with the half-angles, too.  Hmm.

2.  In Algebra 2, things have gotten a touch better.  Yesterday was a much more productive day - it seems that they've stopped fighting me a bit on learning new stuff that takes some work.  Today could be interesting - we're going to start graphing polynomials (after determining degree, LC, zeros, y-ints).  On a Friday?!?  I must be crazy.

One fun thing we did in Algebra 2 last week was play Simon Says.  We had just finished talking about what the different polynomials look like when they're graphed (based on degree and leading coefficient) and I was throwing questions at them so they could show me with their arms what the graph would resemble.  Someone brought up the idea of Simon Says, and off we went!  I stood on a stool in the front (so I could see over everyone... I'm not very tall!) and had the kids stand up. Once they were wrong (or if I didn't say Simon Says) they sat.  Of course there were the kids who were wrong on purpose (I hope) the very first call so they could sit, but we went for quite a while until I called a tie.

3.  In Algebra 1 we've spent several days talking about Exponential Growth and Decay.  I started out giving them the Million Dollar Question and then asked another one about the number of mice created by a four mice who double in population after 2 years.  Then we were able to come up with a formula to use and did some graphing.  Yesterday I showed them a clip of Mythbusters in which the myth that a paper can be folded only 7 times is addressed... I gave them each a 6" x 6" piece of patty paper and had them fold it (one boy had 8 folds), then had them chart the area and number of layers after each fold. We were able to see the exponential decay of the area and the growth of the number of layers.  Last year I did this same thing with my Algebra 2 class (talked about it here and here) and had saved the big piece of paper. Today, because it's a crazy 50 degrees on February 3, I took the kids out to the football field so we could see how many times they could fold a something x 39' piece of paper. (They ended up with 10!)  This is a picture of my goofy group and their 1024-layer paper.... see the 4 boys in the front?  And the 16 girls in the back?  Oh my.

Anyway, it was fun.
And now for some graphing with Algebra 2....

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Parents. Can't live with 'em...

I don't hear from parents often.  I'm more than happy to email/call when necessary, but it's honestly few and far between. All of our assignments are posted online along with all of the kids' grades, so parent contact has really diminished in the past several years.

Today, however, was a major aberration.  I had contact from four different families.  And all of them were weird.

The first was in regards to one of my new Algebra 2 students who has some gaps as a result of the move. (Kid #2 from yesterday's post!  The "nice, hard-working kid".) We'd discussed how to get him caught up and I thought things were good... until today when he told me his mom had told him to drop down to General Algebra 2.  Just a bit later I had an email from the counselor asking if I had told him he needed to drop; apparently she'd been called by his mom and he told her that I said he needed to make the move.  Tomorrow I'll give the mom a call and see if we can weave through his lies.  I just emailed his former teacher (a friend of mine) to see what he thinks of the boy's abilities.

We had a trig identity quiz today in precalc (simplifying, verifying, solving) - apparently one of my students had a "panic attack" during the quiz and was only able to complete 6 out of the 11 problems.  I didn't find this out from her; one of her friends came in after school to ask if the girl could get extra time... then I got an email from her mom all concerned about the quiz and why her daughter would've frozen up and why the quiz was nothing like the review sheet.  That'll be a fun phone call tomorrow, too!  (This is a mom that called me unprofessional last week over another issue.  Sigh.)

Number three was a meeting I attended after school with counselors, teachers, and a student and her mom. This girl is very bright, interested in doing something mathy for a career, and a good student.  Mom wants to figure out why she has "issues with test-taking".... and was wanting to get her tested for an IEP.  Seriously?  The only problem she has had with tests in my class was the semester exam, which she totally blew off and subsequently bombed.

So now for #4. This evening I received an email from a mom of another precalc girl who is concerned about how much time her daughter is spending on the subject.  Let me tell you that this girl is a major overachiever; she actually printed off all of the trig identities that the kids made up for extra credit and verified them all (if you go and look, there are 58 of them).  Today she was concerned because some of them didn't work... she asked if she could see the work that was used to create the equations to check her work and I said yes. Because of my parent meeting after school she couldn't stay with me; I told her she could take the papers home and look through them there.  Mom found her doing that this evening (in the 2 hours she had at home before church) and is concerned about the number of hours she's spending doing math.  You know what?  I totally agree. This girl has gone waaaay overboard with trying to do it all, and apparently her other grades are suffering.  I'm hoping to be able to dissuade her a bit from being so perfectionist in her assignments (she actually re-writes notes to make them "prettier"... does homework in different colors to color-code it). OCD anyone?

Tomorrow's going to bring some interesting conversations!