Thursday, December 29, 2005

Blogging from home, on vacation

Yes, folks, that's right.....we have internet at home, finally. Just dial-up, but it seems to be pretty fast.

Anyway, I have 5 days left until I return to school, and the break has been wonderful. I feel as though I have myself back - the motivated, energetic, looking-forward-to-work self. Yesterday was the first day since Dec 15 that I did any schoolwork at all, and I actually enjoyed correcting my level II geometry tests - lots of comments, summarizing where a lot of my kids are still missing some of the basics. It probably helped that most of them did very well. Because I was so burned out before break, I simply used a book test and crossed out the sections that didn't pertain. As I was correcting, though, I realized it is actually a pretty decent assessment. I may look more towards the book tests from here on out.

I also made a list of all the kids that did not do very well, and for each of them tried to figure out why. For the vast majority, it was because they lack the following prerequisite skills:

  • ability to apply the Triangle Angle Sum Theorem (the sum of the measures of a triangle adds to 180 - countless kids are only using 2 angles instead of three, or taking angles from two different triangles)
  • Seeing and using linear pairs (two adjacent angles that form a straight line. Their measures always add to 180. Often the kids use non-adjacent angles along a straight line)
  • Less often, but still a problem, recognizing vertical angles and then realizing they are congruent
  • Using correct symbols to write about lines, segements, polygons and angles. There is no such thing as angle BC, line E, or point ST. You cannot talk about angle H if there are four different angles at vertex H
  • Breaking down a complex figure into more manageable, simpler figures. They do not see the little triangles that make up the bigger figures.
  • Also, some kids still do not get the idea that if two geometric figures are congruent, you can set their measures equal, and write an algebraic equation.

I do not have time to go over this again in class, and I do not think that that would help, anyway. Really what a lot of these kids need is individual tutoring, yet I do not have the time for that. This is a problem in all my classes - some kids really do need individual instruction with immediate feedback. I am thinking of combing the Web for sites where the kids can practice these skills. Once they have mastered them using the Web, I plan on giving them a simple assessment that they must pass, after which they can re-take a similar test on the current topics. We may also have some tutorial CD's the kids can take home and use - I need to see if they're any good and if so, if I can make copies.

Time Management

The above topic leads me to another one, which I have been thinking about a lot lately. There is so much I would like to do as a teacher, but there just isn't enough time to do all the things I would like to do well. One of the things I have been trying to do is set manageable goals, recognizing that as I master more and more skills and gain more experience, I can do more. I think I became so burnt out before break, in part because I had no catch up plan. I felt torn in all directions - as a new mother, as a wife and as a teacher - there just wasn't enough of me to go around. Never mind about time for self.

I have realized that at some point, for each and every aspect of my life, I need to say enough is enough - and this is good enough. I have felt torn about not being with my son during the day - aren't I supposed to be the one raising him? And so every day I make it a point to leave school as soon as possible so that I can pick him up and spend time with him. But schoolwork fell by the wayside a little too much and consequently, I was becoming more and more stressed. A stressed out mother is not good for a child.

So the new plan is this: 2 days a week will be catch up days. I stay after school on Wednesdays anyway for extra help, and so that will be the day to finish any and all correcting that I have accumulated. Hopefully it is possible to get all of it done by 6:30, 7 pm so that I still get enough sleep. My husband will pick up the boy and have dinner with his folks while I am working late. This means that on Wednesdays I do not see my son hardly at all, but I will be more attentive and relaxed when I am with him. (It all sounds very reasonable, and it is the best decision, and yet the guilt and anxiety can creep up. I have to keep telling myself that sharing the boy is a good thing, he is perfectly fine with his dad and grandparents, I give him plenty of time with me otherwise, etc. )

Well, anyway....the other day I will catch up will be Sunday afternoons. I'll correct any papers from Thursday and Friday, and also plan lessons and units. The boy will be spending one-on-one time with his dad, which I strongly believe is a very good thing for both of them. Saturdays is our family day - J will no longer work on Saturdays and I will do no schoolwork on Saturdays. It is our day to spend as we please, without guilt.

This blog was originally going to be simply a reflective journal for teaching, but what I do and how I do things as a teacher is intimately tied up with the other aspects of my life. It would be impossible to separate them, and so there may be more posts similar to this.

The Big To-Do List

Make up midterm review sheet for level 3 Alg II

Make up midterm for level 3 Alg II

Make up midterm for level 2 Geom

(Hope that B. is making up midterm for level 3 Geom)

Correct each and every stitch of paper in bags (it's best not to list these separately as I would likely run from the room screaming, newly relaxed and energetic self notwithstanding)

Record all corrected grades in gradebook

Record all grades in Excel and calculate current student averages

Get lesson plans outlined for last two weeks of semester

Search web for geometry tutoring sites and make up assessment for lagging students

Wish me luck.....5 days and counting.....

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Other Teacher's Stories

My sister T is a middle school teacher out West. I am certain that in the future I will be telling many a story that she shares with me regarding teaching. First off, I thank Whomever that I work at a school with an excellent administration - they are extremely supportive of teachers, and quite competent. (Note that I work in a private school - the administration does NOT have to deal with a Board of Ed, Governmentally mandated anything, etc......which presumably makes their job easier.) But still.... T's school, the administration is decidedly incompetent. On the first day of school this year (T's first year there), there were no faculty procedures in place for things such as lunch duty, recess, getting on and off the busses, a detention or discipline policy....when asked about these things, the principal stated that everyone should just "pitch in". WHAT??!!! T at one point was the only teacher supervising about 120 students outside during recess. During said recess, a group of boys were playing tackle football on a grassy area surrounded on three sides by concrete walls. T told them to stop, whereupon the students informed her that the principal said it was okay "until someone got hurt." WHAT??!! (Happily, the school nurse vetoed that call as "unsafe". You think?)

T has a friend who is also currently a teacher. T's friend is working at a school that is attempting to move away from the use of textbooks, to the point where the friend's students do not have a textbook. I am certainly not against limited use of textbooks (I am attempting to move inthat direction myself.) It does however make it more difficult and time consuming to prepare lessons, especially for a first year teacher, which T's friend is. What bothered me, and what I would take issue with, is the fact that T's friend received a reprimand for using an example from a textbook. A learning example is not inherently bad simply because it appears in a textbook. One of the main reasons schools and or teachers move away from the use of textbooks is the lack of flexibility in content, in style, in examples. By reprimanding a teacher simply for using a good example from a textbook, the administration is exhibiting the same lack of flexibilty they presumably want their teachers to move away from.


Blogging in general this week

On a different note .....I am on vacation this week. We get over two weeks off this year, and I could not wait!!! I was worse than the kids so far as lack of focus. Next year, when doing my lesson planning, I am definitely going to take into account the lack of energy on my part and the lack of focus on the kids' parts during the 2-3 weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Next year I would like to do more long-term problems (similar to the Problems of the Week we are doing in the Baker's Choice unit) and I think during the last week I will designate that time for problem presentations by the kids.

T (who is home for Christmas) needs to get on the computer so I gotta go....I'll try and get more blogging done ionbreak, but we'll see.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

More Baker's Choice...

Today went alright with the Baker's Choice - the kids are finishing up their graphs of one of the constraints. Some of the main ideas I was hoping they would discover were:

  • reinforce the idea that a graph is a picture of solutions
  • see that there is a boundary on the graph of an inequality and that this boundary is the graph of the associated equation
OK.....I guess there were only two main ideas. My first section actually went better than my second section today - most of the groups got a straight line as the boundary and when I asked them to draw the graph of another constraint, they were able to do it by drawing the boundary and filling in the appropriate side (as opposed to plotting a bunch of different points) In my second section I think only one of the groups really got the ideas.

I really enjoy teaching (or guiding might be a better word) this way. There is more discussion and the kids seem to think more on their own. But there is still a lot of unrelated discussions going on, and it seems as if every group got to the point where one person was working (plotting points) and the others were just waiting and/or talking about other things. I am not sure if that is okay, or what I could change if it is not. Something to think about...

I am also considering trying to integrate a lot more technology into my teaching, particularly at this level. At this point, I want them to see the big picture of algebra. It would have been faster today if the kids could have used a simple spreadsheet and then done a simple scatterplot to get their graphs done. I am thinking about teaching a mini-unit on Excel, so that we can do a lot more graphing. Would teaching them Excel cancel out the time saved by using Excel? Will they understand the mathematics behind the technology? Will they understand the mathematics better because they will be able to do a lot more applications using Excel? I don't know, but I guess these are the things I need to think about.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Yay...we did get that snow day. About 12 inches altogether. By March I'll probably be sick of it, but I do like living in New England for the four distinct seasons.

I've also figured out how to do a couple of the questions from the previous post. I'll add my favorite teacher's links as I have the time.

Today is Saturday and I've been working terribly hard at procrastinating.....but reading through my previous posts has given me a small measure of motivation to tackle the 12 inch stack of papers that awaits me.



Here I go.

I'll post later just to say what I got done......hopefully that motivates me to get more done.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Random Blog Questions That I Do Not Have Time to Figure Out Today

How do I make the above statement the title of this post (like I did for "First Entry"?
How do I create links to other blogs right in my blog?
How do I edit my profile?
How do I add words below "Tha Daily Chalk Talk" that will briefly explain what sort of blog this is?

Also...please, please, please, please let us have a snow day tomorrow. Please.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

More Baker's Choice..

Today was Day 2 of the Baker's Choice unit. It went terrible , or mostly terrible with my first section. In general, they are less focussed, less interested and less responsible than my second section. I wrote many things on the board (doing a lot more chalk-and-talk type teaching than I should be), and most of them, even after I said "You should write this down", chose not to. My teaching was also less organized than it could have been. The kids were just not engaging in the task.

Second section went a little better. Lately I've been cracking down on both sections of this class for not doing sufficient work outside of class. Some of them choose to do nothing at all outside of class; others merely go through the motions. A previous assignment that I had given them was a group of graphs (scatterplots) that they were to do using linear equations. After we learned how to do scatterplots, they were to write the equation of the "best fit" line, find the slope, etc. We went over in class how to do it, they had a quiz on how to write the equations....and the vast majority still chose not to do it for homework, even though that was the assignment. I gave them a very very stern lecture last week, explained that I would not answer any questions on it in class until they showed me the work they had done, and gave them the rest of the class to finish what they should have done for homework. Furthermore, they now had to answer the extension questions on their own, instead of as a class.

Altogether, it was a major, 30 point assignment. Extension questions were to be answered in complete sentences, all work was to be neatly shown in an organized manner, graphs were to be complete and include axes labels, appropriate scales, etc. It was due on Monday.

Well, most of them turned something in on Monday, but it was obvious they had pretty much just scribbled down whatever looked good during homeroom or on the bus. Some students left 3/4 of the packet entirely blank. So, today, they got another assignment. They need to do it again, it is now worth half a test (50 points), etc. I gave them an example of exactly what I consider A+ work. Now it must be typed...all in all, both of my sections got a another very stern lecture,and I let them know that most of them were now earning F's in my class. Needless to say, after this, my second section was very subdued, but hopefully it results in the students working hard outside of class as well as in class.

Anywho, back to Baker's Choice....second section was more organized on my part and in general the kids are usually more engaged. We accomplished getting all of the constraints written down as inequalities, and most if not all seemed to really make the connection between the symbolic representation and the actual situation. We didn't make the charts to post, but I am going to have them do that next class as a review of what we did today. We also didn't get to the homework 2 or 3, but I think I will just skip them - they are still working on the POW and now they are also redoing the Activities packet.

As an aside, I am feeling extrememly bad that I am VERY strict about getting work in on time with my kids, and yet I have stacks of papers to record and/or grade that go back weeks. I did work yesterday on the sticky note idea, but am still putting it together. Once I catch up, it will hopefully be easier to keep caught up (everything- back- within- a- week plan)

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

I'm blogging this from work (hello, school computer person!). I debated about whether or not I should. It's an appropriate use of school resources, as I use this space to reflect upon and improve my teaching, but its possible, and maybe even likely that it is not really so anonymous. (I don't have internet at home and so wanted to get this down before I forget)

Level 3 algebra II-
I've started the new problem centered unit (Baker's Choice, a stand-alone unit from the Interactive Mathematics Program). I started it yesterday and it went fantastic!

ALL the kids were working - the ones who find my class too easy said the problem was "hard". The ones who find my class boring seemed to like having something to sink their teeth into.
The ones who often find my class difficult had parts of the problem that they understood and could even explain to others. These are level three kids ("standard" in other schools) that in general hate math. It went so well that about half of my second section chose to work on the problem through their break. Unheard of.

Another advantage was that I was MUCH less tired at the end of the day yesterday, as this time the kids did all the work. It s a very non-traditional way of teaching. You start with a real world situation. They "play around" until they have a great understanding of exactly what's happening. Then we apply the math, or describe the situation symbollically. The "traditional" approach often gives a symbolic statement first, and then tries to apply the real world situation. My kids tune out at the first hint of symbolism, and so forget about applications.

The challenge will be to ensure they truly get the same content overall, taught to the same standards. (i.e. do they understand the different methods for solving systems of linear equations, and can they use each effectively?) So, we'll see how it goes.

That was yesterday. Today has not gone so well. I had 3 sections of geometry today. I wasn't so prepared for the first section. (They were supposed to take a test that I have not even made up yet.) All I had them do was 5 problems on the board that covered everything that would have been on their test. They self-scored it, and only one third of the class got above 80%. Maybe its a good thing I wasn't prepared. After that I let them work on their projects, the rough draft of which is due Thursday.

In my other two sections we were reviewing triangle midsegments, medians and altitudes. it was obvious the kids had not reviewed their notes at home, and so I gave them, in addition to the regular quiz on isosceles triangles, a pop quiz on medians, altitudes and midsegments. Then we began triangle inequalities. I have been having a very blah day, and so of course the lesson did not go so well. We were breaking up uncooked spaghetti, trying first to form triangles with the segments and then NOT form triangles. My teaching and explanations were just not very clear, partly because I didn't review and/or prepare enough, and partly because I am just so worn out. (Teaching with a new baby at home is CRAZY!!!)

Tonight and this weekend my goal is merely to catch up. I kid you not, I have a 12 inch stack of homework, tests and quizzes that need correcting. I still have stuff from first quarter that I keep forgetting to give back. One of my main, though uninteresting goals as a teacher will soon be to have nothing from the kids for more than a week. Give everything back within one week. Maybe I will do that (a week sounds like a long time, but I am VERY bad at this). Every stack of papers I collect I'll put a sticky note on with the day I collected it and the day it is "due" to give back. Eventually I would try to work up to giving it back the next class day (Each class meets every other school day).

Ahh. What a dream.

Friday, December 02, 2005

First Entry

I've been trying something new with my level 3 geometry. We were doing triangle inequalities and I was adapting a lesson I read about in The Mathematics Teacher, using uncooked spaghetti as the side lengths of the triangle. You have the kids break the spaghetti into pieces, first to try and make a triangle, and next break it into pieces that will not form a triangle. The author said that about half of his kids were able to determine the breaks that would make a triangle impossible in the time he had allotted for it. All of my kids managed to figure it out in less than three minutes, which I wasn't expecting. (Although maybe some of them were looking around and seeing how their classmates did it. )

We then discussed what the relationship between the sides needed to be in order for a triangle to be possible (i.e. the sum of the two shorter sides must be greater than the longest side). After a couple of simple problems determining whether a triangle would be possible given three lengths, I gave them two lengths. I asked them to determine what the third side could be. They began by calling out a few possibilities. After they had manged to determine the possible whole numbers it could be, I asked if that was all the possibilities. Thay said yes. I asked if it could be a decimal ("Are you saying that we cannot have a side that is 45.5?") One student said we couldn't use decimals because there would be too many possibilities that way. I replied that if we used decimals, there would indeed be a lot of possibilities - an infinite number, in fact.

I asked if there was a way we could show all the possibilities, it being obvious to them that we could not in fact list individual numbers. One of my students (lets call her Erin) said we could graph them. Alleluia!!!! Erin is also in my level 3 algebra II class, and often purports to be lost. I had not thought of graphing as a way to show all the possibilities - I had been looking for the students to say "write an inequality". But graphing was even better - we had recently done graphing compound inequalities in algebra II and here was an honest to God application of them. Not only that, but a student thought of the way to apply it. I had the students describe for me exactly how I should do it - it took a little while, but we eventually had everything right - 2 open circles and a line connecting them. The discussion (I think) led to a better understanding of compound inequalities for all. We then wrote the inequalities from the graph, and it was good practice for moving between different mathematical representations.

Anyway, the point is, I was excited about how the lesson went. The students really got into figuring the spaghetti triangles out, and even got into how we could show all the possible side lengths in the last problem. It was much, much better than a lecture. And it was reinforcing earlier concepts that they had learned.