Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Try, try again.

Do you ever read blogs and twitter and be in awe with the awesome teachers whose class you want to be in?

Me too.

And can't they also be intimidating?  Like nothing ever goes wrong for them?

At least those are my thoughts. And my insecurities raising their ugly heads.  So today I'm going to be an illustration of how things can go terribly wrong.

I decided to try something I'd never done in class to review operations with rational expressions. I've read a lot of people describing how they've used Speed Dating (K8's description was the first I'd seen) in class so I decided to give it a shot.

Class #1:  Ouch.
So many problems.
1.  Rational expressions (aka fractions) aren't easy for a lot of kids. And the problems that I used were too hard to do in a short-ish amount of time.
2.  In creating the problems and answer cards yesterday I did a super bad job. Lots of mistakes in the answers. Ugh.  (But there was celebrating when they got something right that I messed up.)
3. I didn't think through the physical arrangement of the room. I was asking kids to move their desks, but then we didn't have enough room and had to move more, etc. And to add to that, we have concrete floors so every time a chair (or desk) moves, it makes a horrible screeching sound.  I was really feeling bad for my downstairs neighbor because I know they can hear everything.
4. We didn't have a whole lot of time, especially considering the previous 3 statements.

I was seriously tempted to scrap it.  But I didn't.  Instead, I took my free period (which thankfully was right after that horrible episode) and tried to fix things. I simplified the problems, I corrected the answers.  I thought about how to arrange the room.

Class #2:  Much better
And so thankfully this time many of the issues had been worked out. The kids weren't a big fan of actually getting up to move (they would have rather just traded problems) and didn't use the "expert" as much as I would have liked, but things were much smoother.  Doing the activity felt justified to me.

Class #3:  Perfection (if there is such a thing)
I was happy to end my day with this group.  I decided that, instead of moving desks, we'd just flip the chairs around so I didn't have to hear the desks screeching (and put back the room afterwards).  The kids did a great job of working through the problems, checking answers, and asking questions if they needed to.  They still didn't want to move and groaned about it, but it worked out ok.

Will I do this in the future?  Maybe.  I think it would be better for simpler problems in which we could rotate every minute (or set time amount).

Did the kids get better practice than they normally would have?  I don't know about that. We got at most 4 problems done, but they had a chance to check answers and ask questions on a specific skill.  Some of those kids would have just skipped a problem on a worksheet that they didn't know how to do; today they didn't have that option.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Exams are coming!

A few years ago the district I teach in moved semester exams from January to December. Not that the end of the semester actually changed, but the thought was that it would be good to have them before a two-week(ish) winter break.

I guess.

For my year-long classes, the change of weeks doesn't affect me much. But my colleagues who teach a semester-long class give their exam in December, have the break, then come back for 2 weeks before the class ends. Seems pretty awkward to me!

So this coming week is the last week of real classes we'll have before our (short!) winter break. Exams are Dec 19 - 22.

Anyway, every year I struggle with how to deal with the exam review days.  I'm more of the mindset that I want the students to practice what they personally need to. I don't lead a whole-class review (unless they request it) and I like to give them time to work/ask questions. I give a packet of review problems and post the answers (or have them available).

And every year I wonder how to "grade" these problems.
1. I don't want to grade for correctness.  It's practice for the exam.  And besides, I'm posting the answers.  And another besides, I don't want to take the time to do that.
2. I don't want to grade for completion.
      a.  If a student feels like they need to spend more time on a certain section than another, then I want them to go for it.
      b. Copying is running rampant through my school right now. So the probability is great that students who aren't working on the problems during class are just going to leave my room and copy it from a friend who has actually done it.  I refuse to reward the copy-ers.
3. If I choose not to grade anything at all, I feel like I'm babysitting in class for several days in a row. I can only imagine the number of Snapchats that will be sent around the school.

So I'm toying with the idea of just giving points to students who are actually working on the packet in my classroom.  Basically, those kids not wasting the 3 days in class I'm giving them to review.

I don't want to give these points on their quarter grade (because what does it show they learned?) and am thinking about adding it as a portion of their exam grade.  Because, really, it is showing if they worked on reviewing for the exam.

So my thought is checking to see if they are working for 3 days and add 3 - 5 points/day as part of their exam grade. If the students decide not to work then they know they are affecting their exam grade. And with these extra points built into the exam grade I wouldn't feel like I'd have to curve the grades.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Polynomial Hand Turkeys

One of my students asked last week if we could just make hand turkeys in class tomorrow (our last day before Thanksgiving break). And first I was just like, "No."

But then I thought about it.
1. We have Grandparent's Day in the morning (students are pulled out of class) and a Student/Faculty basketball game during our last class.
2. We had a quiz today.
3. It's the day before a long break.

So hand turkeys it is!

But of course I'm going to make them do some math, too.  Here's what I came up with:

I created a table of 24 different sets of polynomials for the kids to use.  They're all cubics and linears, very similar but with some different signs and coefficients.

So hopefully this will be a fun little activity that will get the kids working, coloring, and enjoying the last day before a much-needed break. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Conics and the Super Moon

Earlier this year we talked about conics in Precalc. One day for a warm up I gave them this problem:

It was a fun little way to talk about a real-life ellipse.

And then last night, I saw this tweet from NASA:

So cool! My only complaint is that I didn't have this to show when we did the original warm up. (And someone asked in one class if the moon actually grew by 14%. Um, no.)

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Random Observations

A few things that are scattered throughout my brain today:

1. I used Plickers to review some content in both Math 3 and Precalc. I really like the site except when it freezes up. And then it annoys me. Luckily it wasn't something that I couldn't fix by restarting my phone, but who has time for that in the middle of class?  And I really wish they'd include the possibility of mathtype in their answers. It's awkward to try and include square roots.

2. We're quizzing in Math 3 over solving quadratics tomorrow. Technically it's a Math 2 topic but the kids don't remember a lot (anything?) about factoring or solving and I feel like it's such an important thing to be able to do that I spend a good amount of time on it. Today I gave them a worksheet to practice solving equations (I emphasize the importance of choosing the best method to solve and not just the quadratic formula each time); the worked-out answers were on the back of the paper. My advice was to work through a problem then flip and check. I told them I wasn't going to collect the assignment tomorrow but to do what they felt they needed to do to prepare themselves for the quiz. In all 3 of my Math 3 classes I noted that the students who struggle immediately pulled out their phones once they heard the worksheet was optional. The students who do well immediately started working on it and checking their answers.

  • Are the lower-performing students that way because they don't work?  Or are they trying to avoid showing what they don't know and hoping it will go away?  (My vote is a mixture of the two.)
3. In Precalc we're reviewing Rational Functions. We've spent a couple of days practicing finding the zeros, asymptotes, etc, and graphing and seemed to be doing ok with it. Today I gave them graphs and asked them to write the functions.  It's amazing how much harder it is to work backwards through a problem. But it definitely shows what they know!  Instead of a quiz I created a Desmos Activity that I'm going to have the kids work through tomorrow.

4. I stayed up way too late last night watching election results. Honestly, I think the election of either candidate would have created a scary situation. A few kids mentioned it in class today but it didn't seem to be a big deal but unfortunately that's not how a lot of the country is dealing with the president-elect. I feel so badly for those kids who will basically be viewing the new president as an enemy (and vice versa). The next 4 years are definitely going to be a roller coaster.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Desmos and Conics

I was sitting during a break in my parent conferences last Thursday evening trying to decide what to do the next day in Precalc. I had a review packet for polynomials ready (because I refuse to teach them again to a group of honors kids who learned it last year) but I wanted to take a little break to do something fun.

And what's more fun than Desmos?!

We just finished a unit on conics (added in this year because it got lost in the common core transition) and I thought it might be a good time to play with the equations. I remembered Bob Lochel doing something with conics and desmos, so I checked out his blog and found his conics project posted.

I read through his requirements and made a few changes. Here's what I came up with:

The students' task:  Create a picture using conics
1. Use at least one of each type of conic (hyperbola, parabola, ellipse, circle)
2. Incorporate color
3. Turn in both a digital copy and a hard copy

That's it!  I was a little nervous about not giving them more guidelines but I wanted the students to be able to really play and create on their own.  The projects are due on Friday but I've already gotten a few submissions, and I am super impressed!

Some of the students are going above and beyond what I expected - my current favorite is an owl whose wings flap. It definitely took some learning on the student's part (and mine!) to figure out how to tilt the wings [ellipses] so that they weren't just vertical or horizontal. And then she figured out the animation.

I started creating a google slideshow with images of the kids' work... I'm going to post it below. Right now there are only a few images, but remember this isn't due for 3 more days!  As I add to the slideshow it should update below.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Quadratics & Twitter: FTW

I won't see 2 of my 3 Math 3 classes tomorrow because all of the juniors are taking a practice ACT, so last night I was trying to think of something I could do with my last period class.

Today I showed them how to create a scatterplot and perform a linear regression using the TI calculator and I thought it might be fun to do a regression with data that we gather ourselves. I did a little googling and wasn't able to come up with any good ideas, so I went to twitter.

And, oh, the responses:

I totally agree with Scott Leverentz:

Now I just need to make a decision!