Friday, May 22, 2015

Day 168: A Naked Room


We have 9 student days left and 12 staff days.  Since, regardless of my employment situation in the fall, I will not be working in my current building, EVERYTHING MUST GO!

 I've discovered that the items in my room fall into 1 of 3 categories.

"What is this scrap of paper with a random expression doing on my counter?"  TRASH!
"Why do I have 14 copies of the chapter 2 test from 4 years ago?" TRASH!
"Here's an unclaimed test for a student who was on my roster for 4 days." TRASH!

Anything graded, or shaded, or dusty.
Anything ragged, or shredded or rusty!

This is my favorite category.

2) Personal Items
These are the posters, supplies, activities that I paid for myself or were donated to me from good friends and colleagues.  I have BOXES of dry erase markers, manipulatives, toys and games.  I have stacks of dry erase board.  I'll have to make MANY trips to get all of this home.

3) School Items
I have 2 district issued laptops which, if I can revive the octogenarian hamsters inside, will go back to the district for summer storage.  My projector and Promethean board will remain with the room.  I'm supposed to pack all of our textbooks into boxes, but since I haven't used them at all this year, I'm not sure why.

I like sorting things, but my room is looking very bare...

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Day 167: Movie Bux

As we continued our foray into scatter plots with Math 8, I pulled out an awesome and timely activity from Yummy Math.  The students were given the opening weekend gross earning of 15 movies along with the lifetime theater earnings of those movies.  The students created a scatter and analyzed the data to determine if the opening weekend was a predictor of future income.  The ultimate goal was to, using the opening weekend gross, predict the future earnings of Avengers 2: Age of Ultron.

We had a good conversation about toys and clothes that they were SUPER excited to get, but quickly lost their novelty versus ones that stayed fun or cool for years. The discussion was excellent and they put forth several idea about where certain movies would fall.

Then they got started on the activity.

And things fell apart.

A large percentage of the students seemed to have forgotten how to graph.  It may have been because of the scale of the numbers but there was terrible confusion.  When I did the lesson the second time with 8th period, I spent more effort examining the scale and how to graph specific points.  The second group did much better with it and, interestingly, were MUCH more interested in talking about the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

I should develop an entirely comic book-based math course.

"How much does Mjolnir weigh?"
"What would happen if Superman punched you as hard as he could?"
"Could Superman fly against the rotation of the Earth and turn back time?"

You know, the important questions!

Most of these can be found online in the form of videos or article from smart nerds, but it would be pretty amazing to turn them into a course the covered robust and interesting mathematical concepts.

We touched a bit upon this in geometry today when, in talking about tangent lines, I got to discuss roller coasters, the Gravitron and using a stop watch to determine the radius of the Earth.  The majority of the class was enthralled and it reminded me that I've been doing things wrong.

This is the kind of stuff that should be the norm in my class, not the exception.

Well, I'm not quitting teaching yet, so there's still time to get better!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Day 166: Storm Clouds

"When it rains, it pours."

It's not raining yet, but I see dark clouds on the horizon.  There are some interesting opportunities that may be presenting themselves in the next few weeks and I'm very excited about them.  I'm not, however, taking out a second mortgage on my house to buy flood insurance.

I made a deal with my Math 8 students today.  If they paid SUPER close attention to the lesson on scatter plots, we could go to the computer lab for the second period.  They did a great job and I held up my end.

Normally when we go to the computer lab, they "work" on the mathematical remediation software that the school has purchased.  It's not bad, but can get tedious.  Instead I introduced them to the puzzles on Solve Me.  They seemed to really enjoy working on them and I overheard several helping each other to solve particularly complicated puzzle.

There were even a few who made their own and challenged me.

The geometry class has a week left until the playable versions of their games are due.  I took most of them into the computer lab and helped them navigate Word and Publisher so they could start creating boards and cards.  The school network only crashed and erased their progress twice during the class, so I consider that a win.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Day 165: Distracting Myself

My throat hurts, I'm slightly light-headed and I'm still exhausted.

Last night, I took an hour long nap from 8 to 9, went to sleep at 10:15 and hit my snooze this morning.  When I got to work and prepped for the day, I dozed off for another 30 minutes.  None of that helped.

One of the things that I've always found fascinating is that when I'm feeling generally under the weather, my students' behavior drastically improves.  They seem to understand illness much more than annoyance.

As a result, I was able to do a fairly uninterrupted lesson on scatter plots.

I find it slightly distressing and confusing that when I am subdued, the students do what I expect of them, but when I'm energetic and passionate, they are disruptive or just tune me out.  I wonder how I can reverse these trends, or, better yet, maintain their passion and energy all the time.

A few weeks ago, a good friend asked me if there were days when I hated writing this blog.  I told her that no, I don't ever hate writing it.  There are, however, days when I don't want to write.  These days usually fall into 2 categories:

1) I don't think I did anything worth writing about.

This usually means we spent the day doing notes, taking tests or otherwise playing school.  I don't like writing posts that only read "we did notes."  This leads me to try to avoid notes as much as possible.  Knowing that I'm going to writing about my day has changed how and what I teach because I'm almost constantly thinking "I'm going to write about this later. Do I really want to do/say this?"

It's like constantly having someone observe my teaching.  There are benefits and drawbacks, but I think this is a major one.

2) I'm angry or frustrated by external things.

I want this blog to be about me.  This is partially true because I'm a narcissist.  It's mostly true because I can't improve my teaching by complaining about things over which I have no control.  When administration makes decisions that I don't like, or student behavior is horrible, I could go on for pages and pages.  I could fill the internet with the things that annoy or infuriate me, but are outside of my control.

Those would be rants.  Ranting isn't the goal or purpose of this blog.  Do I talk about the things that annoy me? Absolutely.  But that isn't the centerpiece of my writing (I hope.)

I write here to reflect on my teaching in the hopes of being a better teacher. When students fail to live up to my expectations, I try to look at what I could do differently to change that, rather than falling back on the old stand-by of "these kids are lazy."

Sadly, and probably understandably, I have days when I'm not able to make that distinction.  I have days where all I can think to write is "these kids are lazy" or some variation.  Those days are hard days to write.

I would imagine that English teachers sometimes feel the same when they are grading essays.  I imagine that a well constructed argument with solid points can be derailed by poor grammar and spelling.  How difficult would it be to NOT correct every capital letter, misplaced comma, dangling participle or sentence fragment?

Generally, on days that fall into either of these categories, I write more abstractly, focusing on philosophy or long-term goals.

If you couldn't tell by now, today was one of those days.  The district mailed out our building assignments for the 2015-2016 school year.  Whatever complaints I may have are overshadowed by the fact that I'm just glad to be employed when so many others are not.

Dwelling on my concerns and complaints will not help me to be a better teacher.  Instead, I need to start focusing on what I can do next year to provide my students with the best education that I can.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Day 164: Exhausted

Over this past weekend, I, as well as 5 other chaperones and 39 8th graders, walked almost 30 miles around Washington D.C.  We saw some amazing sights and I had a great time bonding with the students.

But now, I'm exhausted and possibly dehydrated.  It doesn't help that my classroom is 85 degrees.  One of my geometry students found herself as the proud recipient of a heat-induced bloody nose.

In any event, with low energy, high body temperature and a sore throat, I tried to take it a bit easy today.

In geometry, the students presented the drawings of their games as the next step in the process.  Next week, playable versions will be ready for testing.  There are several that have me very excited and I'm looking forward to seeing how they turn out.

We spent the rest of that period casually working on practice problems about circles.  I suppose that many of the students who went on the trip felt the same way that I did as my attendance was sparse today.

In Math 8, we're starting a section on statistics, beginning with scatter plots.  We talked about different types of variable that may or may not be related and what those associations mean.  I really want to do a data collection activity with them, but I don't think I can trust them.  I'll have to play it by ear.

I'm going to pick my kids up from day care and then take a nap.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Day 162: Prepping for DC

Today was a day of wrapping up topics before I head to DC tomorrow morning with the 8th grade field trip.

For 3 days, I will walk around our nation's capitol with 30 8th graders, showing them historical and cultural landmarks, telling stories about history, war, peace, science, math and government.  We will visit museums, the capitol building, the white house, the Kennedy center, Arlington Cemetery, Old Alexandia, and at least one McDonald's.

This is the fourth year that I've gone on this trip and, as usual, I will be the only non-history teacher to go.  The first year, I was invited as the heavy, the leg-breaker, the threat to keep kids in line.

"If you step out of line, you will spend your entire trip attached to Mr. Aion's hip."

This has happened at least once on every trip, for varying lengths of time, from an hour up to an entire afternoon.  Inevitably, the punished student starts by sulking.  They are upset that they have to hang out with me instead of, say, setting fire to the Lincoln Memorial or running up the down escalator in the Air and Space Museum.

However, after the initial sullenness has worn off, they realize that I'm a pretty awesome tour guide, especially in DC, a city that I love to visit.  I know all sorts of random facts that kids love and, as long as they stay within the designated radius, I don't remind them that they are in trouble.  I treat them as though I am their personal guide rather than their probation officer/escort.

All of the students that I have escorted on the various trips have said later that they learned more with me than the rest of the trip together.

The warm fuzzies add to the feeling of warm that comes along with wandering around DC in May.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Day 161: Play Myst-y For Me

We had a nice, productive day of note-taking!  The Math 8 kids are taking a unit test tomorrow so we spent the class going over the unit review and answering questions that they had about anything.  Several students broke off into small groups and worked through some practice problems to prepare.

In Geometry, we started the guided notes on circles.

I LOVE me some circles.
"I like turtles." "I know you do, kid. It's not a contest!"

I think high school level geometry can be completely boiled down to the relationships of  triangles and circles with all properties stemming from them.

I also like the video game series Metroid.  The game play in this series is non-linear.  You move along a certain path, exploring the map as much as you can.  You find doors and pathways that you can't open yet because you don't possess the correct weapon or gear.  As you gain upgrades, previously locked pathways open up, allowing for further exploration.
Also, a great action series with a female lead? Yes, please!

The same principle plays out in the Myst video game series (as well as 7th Guest and others) except that instead of weapons, you need to find puzzle clues to open new areas.
This stupid dome...

I love when an idea clicks into place, unlocking a puzzle with which I've been struggling.  I imagine that this is the feeling that detectives get when the clues start falling into place.

I was able to see this today when we started talking about chords of circles.  Since we had already discussed right triangles and their properties, my students started using those to talk about arc length and chords.

I think that, too often, the curriculum sequence is unconnected and doesn't allow students to fit the pieces together.  Often, it is left up to the teacher to make those connections for them, saying things like "remember when we talked about this? Well, this is why you needed to learn it."

It's much more satisfying to hear students say "we can use the right triangle stuff that we talked about" without teacher prompting.
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