Archive | September, 2013

Technology, circa 1995?

14 Sep

After spending 4 hours this morning getting my required webpages for Algebra 2/Trig and Functions/Trig up, I know there must a better, faster, more efficient way! Really, the sites are so clunky to look at and uploading files requires such an old version of Java that my computer yells at me daily to update! Loading java means I can get a cup of tea and still have to wait, the actual file upload is fairly fast depending on the time of day. The site has a Facebook-esque feel (and I don’t Facebook) and the Administrative team is “grading” us! Grading rubric includes

  • Having a picture related to the subject
  • Course description and course syllabus
  • Announcements created at least weekly
  • Upcoming events posted
  • Use of Web 2.0 tools

Most of this is just fine, it is what I do anyway. We are a sort-of technological school. Well, we at least have Project Lead the Way and a kick-butt Robotics Club. But we are also the School for the Performing Arts (we are getting a new auditorium after 40 years!) and the top-rated high school football player goes here. But looking at the list of requirements, is it what is important to students, and will they use it? I think the most important items for students to have electronically are class notes and class handouts (for when they lose ’em). Our Web 2.0 tools consist of a blog option, online quizzes, and a discussion board. I have tried all three to a huge flop. So, why spend my time working on “check-box” items that the students will not use? I am not.

Speaking of sort-of technological … how about my classroom?


Yep, that is my wanna-be SmartBoard you see. One of my students said it was a ghetto-SmartBoard.  And a parent at Back to School Night asked if I was going to get a real one?  I had one and I was good with it. Colleagues came to me for help. And then I had an opportunity to move to a bigger room downstairs tucked away in a corner out of the fracas. I was supposed to get a portable SmartBoard, but it, like quite a few in our school, was broken. So improvisation. What you see is 3 pieces of white paper with a purple-duct-tape border. I use my laptop, which has SmartNotebook, and a Watcom Bamboo tablet and off we go. I also have a document camera.

Not writing on a board is challenging, but being able to move around the room is awesome! Usually I perch on a stool upfront with my seating chart (I don’t know names yet), but I have been known to wander and lean against the back wall. Being flexible is just part of the job of being a teacher (thank you Honest Soul Yoga)!


#TMC13 in the Classroom

8 Sep

At TMC13 I was a member of the PreCalculus morning session that worked on Inverse Trig Functions. You can read about the fruits of our labor on Sam Shah’s blog.

For the very first day of learning and first task in Functions/Trig (our pre-calc for A/B) my class tackled the first portion of what the group developed at TMC13. Here is what I gave the students: Analyzing Circles On The Coordinate Plane formatted to be taped into the composition book students will used for their notes and classwork.

After a brief discussion on how to use a protractor and going through the directions that set up the rotational system, I set students to work and collaborate in their groups. For the next 75 minutes I circulated around the classroom showing how to use the protractor (again), reviewing how to estimate,  working with students whose answers were WAY off, and clarifying directions.  Most students were comfortable on the “forward problems” but questions began to fly when it came to the “backwards problems”.  Most common misunderstandings were x=0.30 is a vertical line and slope = 1 can be turned into a fraction. Once students had these clues, they were able to complete the “backwards problems”. The sixteen problems presented took most students a full 75 minutes. Only a few completed the reflection questions, so that became their homework for next class. Of those that did answer the questions, very few noticed anything, and the wondering was mostly “why are we doing this?”

We will revisit this activity in a few classes once we learn about the trigonometric functions on the unit circle. At that time we will compare their estimated values to the actual and see if any noticing, wondering, or “ah-ha moments” can be gleaned. I think there will also be a non-candy prize for the student with the closest estimations … any suggestions??

DayOne-ish & Mathalicious

7 Sep

Day 1 of school … do all the administrative crap stuff and with what remaining time left in the class, do math, well. Mathalicious! In my Algebra 2/Trig class I decided to start off the year with the Mathalicious’ PEMDASurvior lesson. In the remaining time after reading the Student Handbook pages xx-xx (specified by period), going over syllabus and supplies, and taking roll, the class began working on the lesson. 

To preview, we looked at the calculator problems and tried to answer without using calculators. This was a great reminder/review that the TI calculators “know” order of operations. In one (of three) class it lead to a discussion that not all calculators, especially the four-function and scientific, have this capability so students need to understand their tools. In every class I managed to stumble into the wrong answer of 24 for “8+4*2” first by randomly calling on a student. I did not say it was wrong, rather I asked if anyone had a different answer, which I had also done for the previous problems with no challenges. That problem our reminder of order of operations and the first student usually wanted to change their answer. When I asked their reasoning for changing their answer, they referred to forgetting to use PEMDAS in every case.

I then had students work on Acts 1 and 2 in their groups. I used this activity as an opportunity to get students to start talking to each other about math, something the higher level students I have are not used to doing. I did not intervene except to clarify directions and I spent most of the time listening to groups discuss (and praising them for it) or prodding the silent ones to talk. I found out that talking in a math class and talking about math is very uncomfortable for many; something we will have to continue to work on! We came back together as a class after about 15 minutes and went over the answers to the right/wrong calculations. Students generally did well with using the order of operations, but struggled a bit when they were expected to work left to right, regardless of the operations presented. Students worked on the rest of the worksheet at their own pace, most finished but some did not. 

The highlight of the activity is the Survivor video clip. I didn’t find if very funny but every class was laughing at the inability of one of the contestants to get across the balance beam. In two classes I paused the video before it was done to have the students work the final problem. I did have to read the operations to them as most were so focused on the video that they forgot to scribe the operations. I turned this into a contest for the first with the correct answer. I had some questions about whether they should use PEMDAS (what have we been studying?) which was a great review of calculating with fractions. Only a handful in each class got the correct solution using ordering of operations. The prize was a composition book, a required supply for class. After 5 minutes of telling students “that is not correct” we watched the rest of the video. The best response was from one of my freshman “Since I did it the right way (using order of operation), I just lost a million dollars?”

For me, looking at the students’ response to whether PEMDAS is a good way to remember order of operations was the most enlightening aspect. Quite a few students proposed “GEMS” … Grouping, Exponents, Multiplication, Subtraction. I had never heard this acronym and found it interesting. I shared it with my colleagues which sparked discussion about  Division and Addition missing and will students be confused if we change to GEMS when they have heard PEMDAS for the past few years. I also made sure I gave some feedback to every student to get them to realize that I am going to read what they write.

I liked starting my school year off with Mathalicious. It made planning for the first day painless and the activities were structured such that if I had 20 minutes or 90 minutes, this activity was still do-able. Even though the lesson is geared towards 6th/7th grade, it was a great way to ease into math for a more advanced class and sparked great discussions.