Thursday, December 23, 2010

The way he thinks. . .

I was driving home this afternoon with my kids after a playdate at McDonald's and a trip to Target.  My son is in 1st grade and likes to do math problems while riding in the car (and who am I to stop him?!).  It's usually something to the tune of. . .

me:  What's 5 + 7?
him: 12
me: What's 7 + 5?
him: 12
me: What's 12 - 7?
him: 5
me:  What's 12 - 5?
him: 7

Good practice, right?

Then I gave him 9 + 6.  There was a pause, so I assumed that he was counting 6 fingers up from 9.  But then I heard him saying "19, 18, 17, 16" before he gave an answer of "15".

So I asked him how he'd gotten to that answer.  I was amazed (and pretty happy) with his response.

He told me he started at 20.  (Because he knew 10 + 10.)  Then he counted back 5.  Why? I asked.  Because he knew that 9 was 1 away from 10 and 6 was 4 away from 10.  That made 5.

Isn't that awesome?

Now, keep in mind that I'm a high school teacher, so I don't know how 6-year old are supposed to think through these problems.  But I doubt that many go about it that way.  I don't think many of my high schoolers would think through it like that!

I can't wait to see what he'll do in the coming years!

Now back to wrapping presents.  I'm almost done (finally).

Merry Christmas to everyone!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Bah humbug!

Oh, I'm soooo not in the mood for today.

It's the last day of school before Christmas (ahem, Winter) break.  Typically this day is a crazy one and I feel like I'm babysitting.  This year, though, things have worked out pretty well so that the kids actually have stuff to do.  It's so hard to deal with a short (2-day) week when you're not going to be back for almost 2 weeks.

Anyway, right now my precalculus kids are taking a quiz.  It was supposed to be on Friday, but we had a snow day on Thursday so I pushed the quiz to yesterday.  However, yesterday we didn't have this class because of a holiday assembly, so on Friday I told them if they weren't going to be here today they needed to see me to take the quiz early.   (Get that?  Quiz was moved from Friday to Monday to Tuesday in this class.)

Two senior boys were out on Friday.  Guess who I saw standing at my desk just as the bell rang to start class!  Those two boys!  And guess what they were saying!  "Do we have to take this quiz?"

I'm tired, I'm grumpy, I'm sick of dealing with kids who won't do what they're supposed to be doing.

You were at school yesterday even though I didn't see you.  If you had questions you could've stopped by.  Yes, you're taking the quiz.  Sit down.  Start working. 

(I was a bit grumpy yesterday, too, so I gave my Algebra 1 kids some non-planned homework when they couldn't control themselves after finishing a quiz.  I'm guessing the completion percentage of the assignment - 5 slope problems - will be in the teens.)

Did I mention that it's Grandparents Day?  So 5 of the kids in class just left to meet their grandparents.

Bah humbug.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

An adventure!

Back in August (the day before the first day of school, I think), I received an e-mail from Tom Sallee, a professor at the University of California-Davis.  (I referenced it here.)  He asked if I would be interested in being a part of a panel that he was trying to put together on behalf of the College Preparatory Mathematics book company to try and figure out the future of math involving technology.


He mentioned Dan Meyer in the e-mail, so I checked with Dan on twitter and discovered that this was a legit (and amazing) offer.  I called Tom, we discussed a little more of what he was thinking of, and I told him I'd love to be there.

The meeting's been set for the first weekend in February in Sacramento, California. (I've never been to California before!)  Tom e-mailed me the draft agenda so I could see what all was going to happen and also asked me to bring some student work to present.

I'll give you all some of the topics later so you can tell me the right answers, but for now, here's what I threw together to show my student work.

Any thoughts?  Good or bad, please.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Diigo Updates (weekly)

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

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Snow unit circle

Just because I think it's awesome....

From twitter this morning:

So then I just had to offer that (in addition to some other options)!

I just got this in an e-mail.
 The accompanying e-mail said this:
I wrote in the coordinates and radian values, because once I started walking through them to get a good picture, my snow writing became illegible.

You gotta love these kids!  I really need to remember to give them opportunities to be creative.

Happy snow day!

It started snowing sometime overnight and we received the long-anticipated calls early this morning.  First the call saying that my kids didn't have school, then a call saying that I was on a 2-hour delay (just prolonging the inevitable), then a third call about 45 minutes later canceling my school day, too.

There's nothing better than a snow day!

I told my classes yesterday that if we did indeed get today off they should check their class blogs for any extra opportunities to learn.  ("You're going to give us an assignment?" some whined... while some other good listeners caught the word "extra" in there.)  I've read a few articles lately about schools requiring some online activities on what would otherwise be a snow day so that it doesn't count as a snow day... wouldn't that be nice?  But I can see the issues with the students who don't have internet access (although they're very few now).

Anyway, I posted a couple of assignments around 10 AM (after my kids dragged me out of bed close to 9).  Right now it's 1:27; there have been 28 visits to the Algebra 2 blog (out of 49 students) and 30 to the Precalc blog (out of 57 students). Basically, over half of the kids have checked out what I posted.  I think that's pretty cool.

I've already had one girl e-mail me her answers for the Algebra 2 assignment.  She's a bit of an over-achiever.

If you're interested to see what I posted for them, here are links to the Precalc and the Algebra 2 blogs.

Photo from Flickr user musicmuse_ca.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Diigo Updates (weekly)

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

Have you seen this?

I just watched this TED talk from Conrad Wolfram about using computers in math.  Have you seen it?

I was watching thinking, "Great!  But what about the test when they have to compute?  And what about when they get to AP Calc but they can't do the computation they need to solve the problems that they'll have to do on the AP Test?"  Wolfram addressed this near the end of his talk, but even he doesn't have a good solution.  He's basically saying that we need a complete overhaul of the whole system.  Everything needs to change.  I can't imagine that'll happen any time soon!


Friday, December 10, 2010

Flashback to Elementary School

Do you remember playing games in elementary school?  Like Heads Up Seven Up and Around the World?

I remember playing Around the World while reviewing the multiplication tables.  I always did really well on the hard ones (like 7 x 8 and 9 x 6) but would blank on the easy ones (like 1 x 5 or 0 x 3).  But it was always fun.

Last year when working on the unit circle values in precalc I was trying to think of some fun ways to review.  What's better than playing a game?  I used Microsoft Ink to make some flash cards with all of the unit circle angles and trig values. The program is great - I was able to flag the cards I wanted to use in the game (like just the first quadrant angles or just the sines or whatever) and it will play them in a random order.

If you don't have a tablet (because I was able to write mine, which was wonderful), there are several different options in making flashcards.  Check out FlashcardExchange and Flashcard Machine!

We played Around the World today in 3rd period (which is always a little wild and crazy) and had a lot of fun.  We'll see how it goes with 1st period on Monday (if they decide to speak out loud!).

A sidenote - A few of my kids in my 3rd period class told me that they haven't "done stuff" in math class since elementary school.  I guess they've just become accustomed to sitting and listening to the teacher and are enjoying actually being active and learning different ways.  Kinda sad, don't you think?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Links Updated!

I'm home again today with my girl and had some free time (ignoring the baskets of laundry upstairs that need to be put away!).  I just finished going through my links on diigo - most of them, anyway - and updating my Algebra 2 and Algebra 1 tabs above. 

Nothing's organized, but there's some good stuff there!

Algebra 2 links
Algebra 1 links 

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Home again!

My little girl told me last night that it hurt to do this.  (And then she swallowed.)  I'm not an alarmist and I usually err on the side of "Shake it off, you'll be fine" but she didn't eat dinner and then fell asleep on the couch.  It was a long night of her waking up in her bed and crying until I laid down with her.  I'd sleep for a little bit then head back to my bed, only to repeat that process 30 - 60 minutes later.  At 4:45 she woke me up because she'd wet the bed and we needed to change the sheets.  It was then that I decided I should stay home with her today.  I actually took her to the doctor this afternoon when she wasn't feeling any better; turns out that they think she has strep throat (has all 4 of the classic signs) and needs to stay home again tomorrow.

Normally that's not a problem.  My in-laws live close and are retired and jump at the chance to stay with the kids.  Unfortunately this week they're 2 hours away with my sister-in-law, who just had a baby.

Now what?

I'm trying to get some activities together for staying home a second day in a row from school.  Today was easy - everything was prepped and ready (I was actually feeling proud of myself at school yesterday for having stuff planned out for a few days!  Assuming I'd be there, of course.).  But now?  Hmm.

I've been doing some searching - I checked out, Sam Shah's virtual filing cabinet, and NCTM's illuminations site.  These are a couple of things I tagged to use in the future.

1.  Another virtual filing cabinet from the blog Take it to the Limit.  I've never seen this one before and added it to my reader!

2.  An idea for introducing the unit circle from Riley Lark.  We just did this in precalc, but I'm trying to make the unit circle more of a discovery thing for the kids (as opposed to the idea of I show, they learn).

3.  Some resources for teaching Algebra 2 kids to graph parabolas on Math Stories.  Again, we just finished these (the plan was to quiz on Friday) but they could be nice little reinforcement ideas as long as he fixes the links.  (Edited to add:  It's fixed!  Just click on the image.)

So here's what I'm thinking for tomorrow.
1.  In Precalc, the kids did a review sheet today for a quiz that was supposed to be tomorrow (and I said in my sub notes that we'd postpone until Thursday).  I'm thinking that I'll write up the answers to the review sheets, ask one of my wonderful colleagues to make copies for me, and then have the kids do a trig cut up in class.

2.  In Algebra 2...  still undecided.  Maybe a review of graphing parabolas and factoring to solve?  Basically, probably just a boring worksheet.  Boo.  I'll keep looking.

3.  In Algebra 1, the kids took a test today on solving equations.  In our next chapter we'll be graphing equations of lines, talking slope, ordered pairs, etc.  I'm going to use one of Dan Meyer's activities for creating a picture from plotting points (they should all know how to plot points, right?) that I found on his Algebra 1 resources (week 10).  Then I'll provide some graph paper and they can make their own design. 

Right now, I'm watching an episode of Hoarders.  I've never seen it before, and I just have one thing to say.  Eww.  (But you have to love the instant streaming from Netflix!)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

A few weeks ago a friend of mine at my church talked me into running the Thanksgiving Day 10k with her in Cincinnati.  I started running last January and have done a couple of 5ks but running more than 3 miles at a time wasn't part of my training process.  After talking with her about it, though, I tried to up my miles and got to 6+ a couple of times so I figured I could do the race today.  (She actually had to back out last week due to some health issues, but I ended up running with some other friends.)

I bought a Nike+ watch this summer that helps me to keep track of my mileage/time/pace.  Once I got it calibrated it's been pretty spot-on with the distance, so I was shocked when I checked it after the race and it showed me that I'd run 6.5 miles (instead of the 6.2 that a 10k consists of).  Honestly, I was a little disappointed.  That throws off all of my runs for the past 4 months or so!

This is what I get from nike:

I was just looking online, though, and found a google website called Gmap Pedometer.  I know google has all kinds of sites out there that I don't know about, but this one's pretty cool.  You can enter in your route and it gives you your distance.  What I think is the coolest is that it will also show you the elevation change in your route.  Here's the link for the race route today. 

Know what?  Google said it was a 6.5 mile run, too.  I'm glad to know that my whole running career hasn't been built on a lie! :)

(And then I came home, ate Thanksgiving dinner, and took a nap.  Ahhhhhh.)

Monday, November 22, 2010


I know I don't have quite the readership that Sean and Kate do (but I'm amazed that people actually read my ramblings!) but I just wanted to let you all know that they've put together a survey about math blogging/tweeting/ commenting/whatever-ing.  This is the link to Sean's post about it, and here's a link to the survey itself.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Dipping my toes in the water

The SBG water, that is.

It's all over the twitterverse - teachers using SBG in the classroom to assess/grade differently.  I thought about it this summer but then decided I wasn't ready for it.

After all of the factoring nonsense that has been going on in precalc, though,  I decided to give it a shot.  Yesterday in my 3rd period class I gave them a 16-question factoring quiz that covered five types of factoring that I felt were important to know:  GCF, trinomials with a = 1, trinomials with a not =1, grouping, and differences of squares. The kids pretty much freaked out when I told them they were taking a quiz but were reassured to hear that they had the opportunity to make up the missing points on future quizzes.  I graded the quizzes and made a note on which type of factoring they were having trouble with. 

I based their grade on how many of the types they did well on the quiz.  There were only 2 students (out of 29) that got all of the problems correct;  everyone else has 1 - 2 (or 3 or 4) types of factoring methods to brush up on. 

My plan is to give them 4 factoring problems every few days.  If a student only needs to re-do the GCF part, then that's what they'll get.  If they're good with the GCF then they'll no longer have to quiz on that method.  At the end of the quarter (hopefully) every student should have a perfect score for this grade.  If they don't, I'll just continue this on until they do get it.

We'll see how it goes!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Factoring, Schmactoring.

So it turns out that a great deal of my Honors Precalc students can't factor.  Sure, they can do a GCF or a quadratic with a leading coefficient of 1, but throw in a value for a and they're sunk.


We got new books for last year and the Honors Algebra 2 book was supposed to be really tough.  It's a college text that the HA2 teachers were excited about teaching out of and thought the kids were really learning a lot more, which excited me as a precalc teacher.  That could cut out half of my curriculum!  What freedom that gives me!

Until I find out that they can't factor.

I refuse to spend class time re-teaching factoring, but it's something they have to know.  Someone at school reminded me the other day of Livebinders, so I collected some resources and put one together for factoring ax^2 + bx + c.  Hopefully that'll help me from having to re-teach.

I'm thinking that I'm going to start giving them short factoring quizzes.  Once they get 100%, they're done.  We'll keep re-doing them until everyone has 100%.  Now I just need to find some good factoring practice for them.

To be totally off topic, my precalc kids are currently working on a dot-to-dot puzzle from this site.  It's a nice change of pace!  And the simplifying logs one is really challenging for them.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

How long is too long?

We met on Tuesday (election day) with some of the math teachers from the other high school in my district.  Part of the time was spent looking at the new standards that are coming out (Ohio is adopting the Common Core State Standards) and part was spent playing with the TI-NSpire  (that was fun!).

What really struck me from that day was a comment that an Algebra 2 teacher from the other school made.  We were talking about the differences between General, College Prep, and Honors and how we could differentiate using the new standards.

What she said was this:

"The only difference between my general and my college prep is that they get to use notes on their tests and quizzes.  Oh, and they only have 20 homework problems assigned per night while the college prep gets 40."

I was like, What?!  (In my head... I wasn't going to say it out loud.  She's an imposing figure.)  I think 40 problems per night is outrageous.  I figure these kids fit one of two categories:
1.  They know what they're doing.  40 problems isn't going to change that and it just becomes a major chore.
2.  They don't know what they're doing.  40 problems isn't going to change that and could just reinforce bad habits.

Am I totally off base here?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

My comeback

I was a little irritated yesterday with the number of students that were out.

In thinking of the excuses that my absent Algebra 2 kids would offer in trying to get out of taking our quiz tomorrow, I decided that if they weren't at school to receive their review worksheet, I'd send it to them.

At the beginning of the school year I had all of the kids fill out a survey for me (using gdocs) that included their e-mail addresses and their parents' email addresses.  I downloaded the info into an excel spreadsheet and it's been invaluable in quickly accessing information about the kids.

So yesterday afternoon, after seeing who was absent, I sent each one of those students (and their parents!) the following e-mail:

Hi everyone!

I thought since maybe you all were sick today that you'd like the review assignment to work on before Wednesday's quiz.  I'd hate for you not to have the review done before taking the quiz. :)  If you're having trouble opening the attachment, I'll put a blank copy on the blog, too - just look under the Documents tab.

(I'm sending this to your parents, too, just in case you don't check your e-mail in the next 24 hours or so.)

I will post all of the answers to the blog, so please check them!  (

Mrs. Fouss

I attached the worksheet to it and also put a link to it on the class blog.

Now they have no excuse.


Monday, November 1, 2010

Monday blahs.

So it's Monday  morning and I'm a little irritated.

1.  My kids were in sloooooow motion this morning which made us run late.  Not like I-walked-in-school-after-the-bell late, but we missed my goal departure time of 6:33 by 6 minutes.  Whatever.  (Yes, 6:33 a.m..  That should be against the law.)

2.  My son forgot his pop-tart breakfast at home and I had to give him some of my lunch (banana and granola bar) to eat.  They normally eat at the sitter's.  Who cares that he ate a healthier breakfast than he'd planned;  I'm now missing half of my lunch.

3.  I was curious about the 8 empty desks in my room first period (normally there's only one) and asked what was going on.  Turns out it's senior skip day.  Really?  In November?  C'mon.  The kids have tomorrow off (teachers have inservice) for Election Day, so I guess they decided to take a 4-day weekend.  Irritating.  The kids that need to be here the most in precalc weren't.  The test on Thursday should be fun.  I'd planned to play Jeopardy with them on Wednesday...  now I don't wanna.  And I feel like I'm acting like a teenager in pouting.  Bleh.  Oh, and it's not like the kids are actually "skipping" - they've all been called in by Mom or Dad.  Mark my words - I WILL NOT DO THAT WHEN MY KIDS ARE SENIORS.  You skip, you pay the consequences.  Go to school, darnit!

4.  That beautiful sun that I enjoy so much is shining right in my eyes, but I'm too lazy to get up and close the blinds.

5.  My radio is officially dead so I've been listening to a great local radio station online ( if you're interested) but today it's not loading.  (I had to resort to my Bon Jovi pandora station.)

6.  I'm really not looking forward to this evening.  My daughter has her first dance class (which she's so so so excited about) but that means I get to sit and wait with my first grader for an hour.  Then we go to his karate class for half an hour.  Then I get to take them to get their flu shots.  Not looking forward to the crying/whining about that!

This may be a 2 Cherry Coke Zero day.  I normally limit myself to one.

Is it Tuesday yet?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

And the winners are. . .

Remind me never to assign a project again to be due on the last day of the quarter.  I thought that with my honors precalc kids it would be ok and it might've been if there hadn't been technology involved.

The project that I'm referring to is my Polynomials Photo Project using Geogebra (I first talked about it here).  The basic gist (jist?) of the problem was that the kids were to take an original picture (not from the internet, anyway) and fit a polynomial to it.  At the time we were talking degrees, end behavior, zeros, etc.  Then they were to upload the picture to geogebra, plot some points on it, and find a polynomial to fit. These are the requirements that I gave the kids.  That all worked fine and the kids had a good time with it.

The problems that we ran into were when it came time to turn it in.  I wanted both a hard copy (I posted some on the wall in my room just in time for my former-art-teacher-now-assistant-principal to come to my room this week to observe - score!) and an electronic copy.  Geogebra has a wiki on their website where you can set up an account and upload files to it that I thought we'd take advantage of.  I didn't want all the kids to have to set one up, so I made an account and a folder then gave the kids the username and password to it so they could upload their projects.  The majority of uploads were problem-free, but some kids just couldn't get it to work; I don't know if there's some sort of storage limit or what, but I tried for them, too, and couldn't get some files to upload.  It really ended up being a hassle - I told some kids not to worry about it after they'd tried and tried but then forgot I told them and docked them points.  Some kids got frustrated and then had to have their hands held through the process.  Yuck.  I'm thinking that when I do this again (and I'd like to do it in Algebra 2 next semester) I'll just tell the kids to e-mail me a copy of their word document that they're pasting their picture, equation, and caption on.  Keeping track of the e-mails will probably be easier.

Without further ado, here are several of my favorites.

My #1 favorite.  This was a door in this kid's house.  I wonder if he's ever seen it mathematically before?

I've never really liked hostas before.  Maybe now I will.

A picture of the Taj Mahal from a family vacation.  I wouldn't have thought it was an original picture unless I saw the date stamp in the corner.

This one I just thought was super cool.

One of the neatest things about this project was that I really learned a lot about my students.  One girl took a picture of a horse at her mom's farm - who would've known?  One boy had a picture of himself riding a dirt bike... I saw a lot of travel pictures... several of Niagara Falls.... one of her mom's "frog obsession". 

The other neatest thing was that my kids started looking around and seeing math in things they look at every day.  I've done my job.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Fear on a Monday.... kinda.

I walked into school this morning to discover two unpleasant surprises.

1.  Neither of our copiers are working.  I vaguely remember on Friday leaving with today's precalc worksheet un-copied thinking that I would just do them this morning.  So much for that!  I know that going paperless is a great goal, but not when it's thrust upon you at the last moment.  I ended up projecting the worksheet and printed 5 - 6 copies that I spread around the room.  I also told the kids that I'd put the worksheet up on the blog so they could get to the problems at home/later.

2.  There was a note from one of our assistant principals in my mailbox. "I plan to observe your class on Wednesday, October 27th during period 3."  Ack.  I know it'll be fine (as long as the kids don't go crazy like they did when Lisa was here!) and for goodness sake, the guy's an art teacher.  He really won't have a clue as to what's going on.  He observed me once several years ago - I didn't have much of a plan that day; we were just looking at some polar graphs on our calculators.  I threw some equations at them, had them graph, and we looked for patterns.  I felt so unorganized and random, but he absolutely loved it...  I think it was the artistic nature of the math and the "cool pictures".

My plan for Wednesday is to graph rational functions.  We'll discuss asymptotes and such tomorrow but not really get into much graphing.  I'm thinking I'll pull out the whiteboards for the kids to use in class as we practice - I think he'll (and they'll) like that.

The observation conference is scheduled for Thursday 2nd period.  At least I don't have to wait in suspense for long.  But until then I'm sure I'll be nervous and anxious!  And I'm totally not an anxious type of person.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

9 weeks down....

I can't believe we're already a quarter of the way through the school year!  Honestly, every year goes faster and faster.

I posted a survey to the my precalc class webpage yesterday - haven't told the kids about it yet, but I already have had 3 kids take it. 

PC 1st Quarter Feedback                                                                                                                                   

So far things have been good, but I would've suspected that for 3 kids who checked the blog on their own and decided to fill it out. :)  What I thought was very interesting was that 2/3 said that their favorite activity so far was "dividing polynomials" (we did a quick review one day)  and the other one mentioned the photo project.  All three of them said they didn't like what we did with vectors (the only "new" topic we've done so far this year!) - I wonder what they'll think when we actually get to do some trig?!

My last question on the survey was just to ask if they had anything they "wanted to get off of their chest".  One didn't answer, and the other two mentioned how much they like my class and the way I run it.  Nice to know!  (Especially unprompted!)  All three left their results anonymous.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A visitor!

A month or so ago, Lisa Henry sent me a tweet saying that she was going to be in Cincinnati on the weekend of Oct 15th and would like to visit at school.  Although it makes me nervous to meet new people (especially those who have a clue what I'm talking about and can tell me how badly I'm doing things), I agreed and was looking forward to her visit.

We got details arranged, decided to wear our Twitter t-shirts (we also had matching long-sleeve shirts on!), and Friday morning she showed up to hang out for a while.  We had a chance to chat for a little bit before my precalc showed up (whose behavior was the worst they've ever been, I might say), then she went down with me to my tutoring period in the library (where she was able to help a calc student with some problems I would've struggled with), we ventured into the cafeteria to find lunch, and she stayed for my first Algebra 2 class of the day.

I normally hate hate hate having other adults in my room observing me.  I get self-conscious, my face turns pink, and I doubt everything that I say.  But it really wasn't like that at all with Lisa here.  I felt like I had a kindred spirit here to talk through ideas with.  I was also able to ask her about the whole SBG thing (which I toyed with over the summer) and talk about her new adventure with the smart board.

It was a fun day.  I was exhausted Friday night.  But it was so totally worth it!

(If you can't tell from the picture, I'm having hair issues.  It's been super short and I'm in the "should I get it cut again" stage right now.  Awkward.)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Diigo Updates (weekly)

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