Friday, March 14, 2014

Day 120: Buffon and A Quiz

I honestly have no idea why the numbers in my world are so violent...

I managed to only spend 20 minutes of geometry talking about space-time and the nature of the universe.

I planned to do Buffon's Needle with all of my classes today.  I wanted to use frozen hotdogs just so that I could have that be the title of the blog.  It is, however, to know our students and, upon some serious reflection, I decided that frozen hotdogs would be more of a liability than an asset.

So I used chalk.

The geometry kids got really into it and we had a good discussion about statistical anomalies and the value of multiple trials.

I am still missing assignments from MANY of those kids and their parents are starting to notice the zeroes on their online grades.  The Chapter 5 solution guides were due three weeks ago and more than half of them still haven't come in.  I don't mind work coming in late, provided they are using that time to improve the quality.  From what I've seen, that has not been the case.

The pre-algebra kids took a quiz today before moving on to the next section.  They were allowed to work in groups, but each person had to turn in their own.

7 students decided it would be a better use of their time to not do the quiz.  It sure made it easy to grade!

I think that, after the horrible day I had on Wednesday, my mind is overcompensating and swung me hard into indifference.  This is not a good place to be for a teacher, especially one who cares about improving their craft.

It feels very much like a defense mechanism.  I have been trying for 120 days to get these kids to care about their futures, their learning, their effort, their...anything.  I have come to a conclusion.

I don't know how to make kids care.

The ones who do, I can be a very effective teacher.  I can work with anyone who wants to learn something and I can use personal interests to bring in those on the fence.

As far as I can tell, there are four major motivations for students working:

  1. I want to learn
  2. I want the approval/respect of my parents/teachers
  3. I want good grades for me
  4. I don't want to get yelled at for bad grades

I think a great teacher can spark curiosity in their students, moving them from numbers 3 or 4 to number 1, or at least number 2.

I can't even identify where some of my students are on this list, so my ability to move them is minimal.

On a more content-related note, I think I have successfully cured my pre-algebra students of using "cross-multiply."  When we started proportions, I heard it with every other problem.  Now, I don't think I've heard it in over a week.  What I'm hearing instead is "don't we multiply 15 to both sides?"

If nothing else, I consider this a massive victory.  If you don't know why, check out Nix The Tricks.

I have noticed that they head towards specific tactics, not just as individuals, but as a class.

Students: "We don't want the x on the bottom.  So let's take the reciprocal of both sides."
Me: "Do we have to do that?"
S: "No.  We could multiply x on both sides, but it's easier to flip them."

Then the interesting stuff started showing up.

S: "Can I move the x to the other side?"
Me: "What do you mean?"
S: "It's easier for me if the x is on the right instead of the left."
Me: "Show me."

Me: "Why can you do this?"
S: "The equal sign is a balance and both sides are the same so we can switch them if we want."
Me: "Fair enough.  What's next?"
S: "Then we multiply by 6 on both sides so the 6's cancel out and simplify."

They get the concepts and, from what I can tell, they understand the underlying math.  What I don't understand is why they (as a class) feel the need to move the variable to right side of the equation.


  1. Because traditionally, the answer is on the right. I'd have written x=9. Just saying.

    1. That's my thought also. Plus, when we say "the answer" we usually word it as "x equals 9" instead of "9 equals x." This is why I am so baffled as to why they want it reversed.

  2. Have you worked much with inequalities with them? I am pretty consistent about writing mine in order, so I'll always write 6 < x rather than writing x > 6. This seems to drive my students batty.

    I LOVE the discussion of the rational equation to solve there. I'm especially impressed that they took the lead on talking about reciprocating both sides. I often find my older students surprised when I do this. They quickly agree that it can be done but don't do it on there own.

    Regarding the kids who don't seem to care. It's not an original thought, but just try and take solace in being as patient and caring a role model as you can stand to be. At some point, they will appreciate having had an adult who was willing to try and ride it out with them. I'm convinced that this is true, otherwise I'd run out of the motivation to keep waking up early and doing this job day to day.

    1. We haven't talked about inequalities at all. We've been moving so slowly this year that there is no way we are going to get anywhere close to where we have to be...

      I think you're right about that last paragraph too. I can't stress out about them learning the math when I should be focusing on providing a stable environment for them. I'll admit that it does drive me nuts to think that they think they're "getting one over on me."

      I want my class to be a fun and safe place for the students who are learning, but only a safe place for those who aren't. I don't want them thinking they can just show up and have play time because I'm not angrily leaning on them like other teachers do.

      It may be short-sighted of me, but I can't shake it. I have no problem doing it for the quiet non-learners because they aren't disrupting the learning of the rest of the class, but the ones who think my class is recess...

  3. I came to a lightbulb lately about working with the kids that are really struggling at this time in the school year. You'll eat yourself alive focusing on the students that aren't being reached at all. Think of the ones who are *almost* there. The ones who are almost understanding what you're teaching. The ones who are ready to start owning more responsibility and need only a nudge and not a huge leap. There are more of them than you think. Give them some positive energy, praise for their effort, notice when they're making progress and when they've almost got something. Choose to notice a few positives every day. You'll feel more productive putting your energy there.

    1. I have been doing lots of this and I've seen excellent success. The issue that I'm having is the level of inherent selfishness possessed by many of the students. What I mean is that they will participate if I treat them as though they are the only ones in the class, but as soon as my attention is on another student, even for a second, they start yelling across the room at other kids.

      If they can't do a problem with me on the board, they either shout out the answers over the student who IS doing the problem, or they simply tune out the class until it's their turn. They also get FURIOUSLY angry when I don't call on them every time their hands are up, regardless of how many people are in the class or how many questions they've answered.

      "You're doing a great job! Can you write down your work/answers/thoughts." is consistently met with "No. I'm not writing anything down. That's too much,"

  4. Wow, I think that the desire to move the variable to the right-hand side is a very cheap price to pay for all that persuasive mathematical language justifying what they are doing and why it is a valid mathematical move.

    I have no ideas for you today about how to make students care more than they do, but I wanted to witness a Great Moment in Mathematical Language and Justification.

    - Elizabeth (@cheesemonkeysf)

    1. I don't even consider it a price to pay. I just find it fascinating since I tend to want to do it the other way. I'm not sure how it came about except that MAYBE one kid did it, or we had a few examples set up that way, and now they have it locked in their heads.

      I don't mind it at all. Just found it interesting.


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