Saturday, February 26, 2011

Why on earth IS Geometry inserted between Algebra 1 and Algebra 2?

Maybe only mathematicians and math teachers would understand this but it still might be a good read if you are at all interested one person's opinion of why American mathematics education is full of crap.

I would take it with a grain of salt though. It IS important for students to know math facts - just as important as the discovery of mathematical relationships. I don't know any math person who can't tell you what the square root of 144 is. Instantly - off the top of their heads.

This same math person should also be able to explain, in simple terms, why the square root of 144 is 12 too.

And thus, the conundrum.

Friday, February 25, 2011

That's not my job

My 4th period class is my Waterloo this year. They drive me insane. So I took away their privilege of choosing their own seats. There was an up roar from certain students - which I expected.

Always Asking For One More Chance Kid: But Miss! Give us one more chance!

Me: No.

AAFOMCK: I'm not happy with this, Miss.

Me: My job isn't to do things that make you happy.

WTGHOWK: This is different Miss. You've changed.

Me: And so too shall you, if I have anything to do with it.

WTGHOWK better make a change. He is pulling a D right now, when he can do so much better than that. It's not even a D due to laziness (which is part of his problem). He's pulling a D because he's getting distracted and not engaging in the math we do daily.

I also made a bit of a break through - well, it feels like a break through right now. It might not actually turn out to be a true break through. But I've finally identified the one thing that makes 4th period the source of all my ulcers this year. And it is Alpha Male Boy.

Alpha Male Boy is very popular, very behind-the-scenes-grandstanding, and very, very charismatic. I had him leave the room to do his work in a different classroom at the top of the class period...and I did my teaching as planned, as I had practiced and adjusted and readjusted...AND I HAD COMPLETE CONTROL AND PARTICIPATION FROM EVERYONE ELSE. I taught the best lesson I had EVER taught to 4th period. I am not even using all caps for hyperbole. It was THAT great of a lesson.

Alpha Male Boy came back about halfway through the class period and the moment he walked back in, I knew it. It was instantaneous. The entire class' attention was back on him. The change was PALPABLE. Even the students who normally pay attention in class without any intervention from me - even THEIR attentions were back on him.

I had never realized just how much this kid had a hold on his peers before. Not until today. I wouldn't be surprised if some of my 4th period class heard my mind being blown away. I cannot fight a magnetic personality like that. It's a power struggle in which I won't win - in which I will drain myself of all energy and life-affirming beliefs if I even try. I just won't win; not at the middle school level, nor with the demographics and individual personalities of my 4th period class.

So I'm not going to fight it. I'm going to manipulate it. I have to make Alpha Male Boy my ally.

And I knew what I had to do. I pulled Alpha Male Boy aside after class and talked to him about leadership. When I asked, he told me he realized he can command his peer's attention. He admitted that he liked it. I told him that his natural talent to hold people in awe isn't a bad thing. That liking it isn't a bad thing either. But the way he uses this power determines not only his own direction in life, but other people's as well. And his direction in life right now, is a direction that was most definitely NOT good.

He had this smirk on his face the whole time. I didn't even have to ask him if he cared, I knew the answer to that already - it was written all over his smirk. I just told him point-blank that he probably doesn't care all that much about where he is going, or what he wants out of his education. I told him that's normal - many 8th graders don't care and don't know.

But I told him that I cared, and I know, and that's all the matters to me because it's my job to make sure he DOES care and DOES know - maybe not now, maybe not by the time he graduates 8th grade and leaves my classroom, but definitely when he's grown up and fully independent.

At this point, I asked him if he thought this was too much pressure. He said no. Knowing him, I guessed as much.

So I told him that he has to exhibit proper leadership qualities that benefit himself and others. That he could come up with his own incentive if he achieves that much (with my approval of course). He said he didn't know what would motivate him (his father had told me all of Alpha Male Boy's privileges at home have been taken away, but it hasn't worked, obviously).

Thus, I'm going unconventional. I'm pretty sure Alpha Male Boy will turn up Monday with no better idea of what he would like as in incentive to be a good leader than today. So I'm going to set up some independent study projects for him including but not limited to:

- mentoring younger students in a buddy classroom (most likely a 6th grade classroom, have to get a 6th grade math teacher in on this plan though, but I have an idea of who I can ask)

- some sort of tech-rich project where he has to create something, like a blog or a video, and share it with the whole of the internet (with parent permission)

These projects will replace the day-to-day assignments that I normally give. He will still have to take the tests and quizzes, but essentially his homework assignments are not practice problems, but a differentiated, guided independent study.

I better get some admin backing on this.

I should also run the idea by the parents.

But my initial gut feeling on this plan is: it'll work. Because throughout our conversation, his smirk slowly but surely drifted away. It came back right at the very end when I let him go - I don't know what that means right now, but I'll figure that out too.

I hope to the good Lord Almighty that it works. Please, let it work.

Student vs. Faculty BBall Challenge!

Why The Faculty Will Always Lose, Reason #212:

Student From The Top Of The Stands: (shouts at me during the warm up pre-game) Miss!! Go for a 3-pointer!

Me: What's a 3-pointer?

SFTOTS: It's where you shoot from the line!

Me: (looks at the crisscrossed gym floor) Which line?

SFTOTS: That one! No, THAT ONE!

Me: Kid, you've got to be more specific!

SFTOTS did eventually tell me which line was the 3-point line. Needless to say, I did not make the basket. Faculty lost, 51-30. It was awesome.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

4-day weekends should happen more often

Sometimes, it's better to rest than to work.

Sometimes, it's healthier to relax than to stress.

Sometimes, it takes a lot of reminding to remember that it's ok to turn your back to all the demands (i.e. from students, parents, admin, the world, yourself, etc) and just face the sun.

Because the sun doesn't demand anything out of you.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Overheard on the front lines 2

Where's the innocence? Where's the wonder?

::As I was passing out test papers::

Boy Wonder 1: (whispers to his friend) Man, this is going to be hard.

Boy Wonder 2: (whispers back) That's what she said.

::Me - ><::

I no longer wonder HOW 8th graders know these kinds of jokes - I consume too much of the internet to be naive enough to wonder that anymore. But it doesn't seem like they should be developmentally able to UNDERSTAND these jokes. That's what makes me wonder.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

A truer word never said

Presenter at a district training I went to recently:

"Why do we still persist in teaching students to look for 'key' words in word problems? It's a WORD PROBLEM. All the words are important!"

Thursday, February 17, 2011

In terms of grading

I give myself a treat every so often, like the one above, too.

Several weeks ago, I caught a glimpse of Dept. Chair's grade book on her monitor and was kind of shocked to notice that over a third of one of her classes were getting Fs. She had more F's in one class than I had F/D students in ALL my classes.

I thought it was me - I didn't organize my class rigorously enough, I was being too easy on students, I wasn't properly teaching them.

But I knew that can't be right - at least not completely. I require a lot out of my students. They need to have excellent math syntax, they need to use the vocab correctly, they have a lot of homework, and their tests are the same as Dept. Chair's tests.

Still, it didn't occur to me that something else was going on until I had my mid-year review with my principal. He said that I was among only three 7th/8th grade math teachers with low D/F numbers. Which, to him, is a good thing. He didn't think I was being any less rigorous with grading and academic expectations, but there wasn't a lot of other commentary on it either.

So I took some time to analyze it myself. Here's the break down:

Algebra 1
Period 1: 1 F only, out of 35 students. This kid was absent for an entire week. I have every confidence that he'll catch up.

Period 2: 2 Ds only, out of 33 students. Both students do well on tests, however they have refused to turn in any sort of homework assignment since the first week of the 3rd quarter. I attribute their grade to their own choices, which are well deserved, especially since I allow late work and have been reminding both of them to turn in their stuff.

Period 6: 1 D only, out of 32 students. Kid was absent for a week and a half; is catching up and I'm making sure of it.

Algebra Readiness
Period 3: 1 D+ only, out of 33 students. Also due to many absences. Future absences predicted, since mother informed me this kid has a high chance of being in and out of the hospital in the near future. Preparing material for student's independent study.

Period 4: 3 Fs and 2 Ds, out of 33 students. 2 of the Fs have been getting themselves suspended every other week since January. 1 of the Fs has been in school only on Fridays - literally, her other teachers and I now call her Our Girl Friday - since December. Both Ds are boys being distracted with everything under the sun - with girls, with drama, with girls, with the fact that they won't be at this school next year, with girls, with rivalry with other boys, with girls, etc. Have yet to find a solution outside of suggesting to their parents to send them to a monastery, which may not even work that well for these two gentlemen.

Me thinks it to be fair and awesome, if my two classes with the solo Ds can pull themselves up and out, to reward them with a treat for working hard and letting the hard work pay off. Perhaps brownies would be suitable.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

From here.

It's posts like the picture above that make me want to switch over to Tumblr permanently.

In reality, I just need to work on the content of this blog. It doesn't matter which blogging platform I use - crap will still be crap on either side of the fence.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Yearning to breathe free

From here.
Couldn't say it better.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

I am 8th grader, hear me ask weird questions

A question of hair.

KoreanKid is in my 3rd period class. He is super smart, super clingy, and super weird. He has lived in this country for less than a year. His English vocabulary, especially when it comes to math terms, is limited, so whenever he asks questions, he becomes rather long winded and I've lost most of the class by the time he finishes asking.

I try not to call on him too often when he wants to ask a question during whole class teaching. This does not deter him from asking his long winded questions anyway.

Today, when he walked into the room, before the bell, he had this doozy of a question for me:

KoreanKid: Ms., is your hair magic?

Me: *gigantic*pause*trying*to*understand*what*he*means*

KoreanKid: Like, how come your hair is short one day and the next day it's long again?

Me: ...Um, probably because I tie my hair up some days, and leave it down other days.

Monday, February 7, 2011


There is nothing to do here today, but laugh.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Values, part 2

A perfectly valid reason: being able to put food on the table.

Awhile ago, I commented about wanting to perform this experiment on my Algebra Readiness students.

Well, this past Friday, I did. A mini version, that is. Most of the quizzes we give fro Algebra Readiness are written by one of my co-workers, who is an excellent teacher. She likes to put random "Starter Questions" for students to answer in the space directly under where they are supposed to write their names. Some sample questions from the past quizzes this year were:

What is your favorite color?
Pepsi or Coke?
What is your favorite candy?
Where would you like to travel?

The students like answering these questions - or I assume they do, since nearly everyone always writes something down pertaining to the Starter Question. It's pretty fun to read them.

The quiz this past Friday was an unplanned quiz that I ended up doing because the math instructional consultant for my school district asked to do a demo lesson for me on Thursday, and she mentioned a quiz to the students. I hadn't told her we would be doing a quiz. I think she just assumed because the lesson she demo-ed on was a mid-chapter review. However the current chapter is so short - only 4 sections - that all the AR teachers just agreed to skip the quiz, even though we all did a mid-chapter review lesson.

Anyway, we had a quiz. I didn't want to back out on that since I had the time and it was a good idea to quiz them before moving on to the next section's material anyway. Most did decently well, which is good.

But since this quiz didn't exist in the first place, I had to write it up myself. As I was writing it, I also took the opportunity to make my own Starter Question.

That is how the story finally comes full circle and relates back to the Scientific American article about students and their values. My question was:

What is your reason for doing well in school?

I did a little number crunching while grading these quizzes. Out of the 49 students who took the quiz, here were their answers:

3 said I don't know
3 said they just wanted to work hard/liked working
3 said they were doing it for the grades
4 wanted good jobs/money
4 wanted to be on sports teams and go to field trips (which require a certain GPA, as well as other things, at my school)
4 said they wanted to succeed/be somebody in life
5 said they wanted to please their parents OR to get their parents off their backs
7 said they wanted to go to college

If you are counting, that's 33 students with one of those above answers so far.

The remaining 16 left it blank.

As I said earlier, nearly all students write something when it comes to these Starter Questions. It's rare to have more than a handful who don't write anything at all. So why 16?

Possible reason #1: They don't know what their reason is, so left it blank.
Possible reason #2: They felt rushed on the quiz (I only gave them 15 minutes on 10 questions - unplanned quizzes are rushed, that's a lesson for me) and skipped it.
Possible reason #3: They don't really care about doing well in school, which is similar to the "I don't know" answer.

Weirdly, most students finished the quiz well within the time limit. So for the purpose of my experiment, I'm going to assume that these 16 blank answers are "I don't knows," making a total of 19 "I don't knows." This assumption may or may not be valid. Further study needs to be done - quite possibly in a more systematic and scientific way than this little mini experiment turned out to be.

19 out of 49 of my 8th graders say they don't know their reason for doing well in school. That's almost 39%.


Friday, February 4, 2011

Overheard on the front lines

I have two legs, what am I?

Actual test question: A farm as chickens and pigs. There are 13 animals in all. Altogether there are 40 legs. How many chickens are there? How many pigs?

Student says: Ms. B, how many legs does a chicken have?