A new school year


No excuses, just a fresh start.

Our district is proudly touting itself as #2 in someone’s rating for most efficient districts in the US. Easy to do if you pay your teachers 20% less than everyone else in the area and put 48 kids in a classroom that is supposed to be no more than 29. I have 184 kids listed for 5 sections. Even I can do that math!

My daughter suggested we get them ready for college- just put 200 students in the auditorium, I’ll lecture to them all at once. All that silly group work and hands-on learning can be done in a lab with some teaching assistants. I’ll have an hour of lecture every day, and an hour of office hours. The rest of the time I’ll spend honing my powerpoints for lectures.


I guess we’ll see if they change it by Tuesday. How come it’s always a shock to the district that the first day of school is here?

I blame the government for requiring an opening of school.


Just try – not to get totally depressed


It seems there are more people in blogland honestly considering whether students want to struggle. All the time. sisyphus-happy

I just completed the “game theory” Coursera course. And I decided I didn’t. There’s scant satisfaction in pushing a boulder uphill  and then starting over the next day/week/section. Consider behavior when teachers are faced with 87 ways they can be graded as “unsatisfactory” on a subjective rubric: I am telling teachers to ignore it, because if someone wants to mark you as unsatisfactory, they will.

Now consider that students in my high school are doing this in 6 subjects a day, relentlessly, whether they like those subjects or not. Why would anyone think that this is how people thrive? I know that when I learn something, I like time to do it over and over again, until I get really good. And if I don’t get good, I like to be able to give up. I certainly wouldn’t like to have someone who is good tell me “oh, this is easy, just keep going.” Ridiculous. Students get 540 times a semester that they can be judged a failure. I gave up at 87.

Oh the shame.


https://i2.wp.com/media-cache-ak2.pinimg.com/736x/11/b0/49/11b049f3634e8de8b43c2cee804ae3e2.jpgMy daughter moved back home ( yes she and her boyfriend have jobs, but in this economy…). She grew up in this house. She knows that every big bag of M&Ms, all the Skittles, every box of pink tissues, every load of spaghetti and tiny marshmallows, is going to school. Her boyfriend does not.

Last week he opened the giant bag of mini Snickers. Two days later, they were wondering where the giant bag went. And then Naomi found this, from somewhere in her memory.

Yep, that’s her life.  Sorry, kids.

Oops: it must have been a bad month.


I struggle with grades. First, I hate ‘grading.’ I just want kids to  have a go and learn something. If kids don’t want to learn, I want them to go and get a job or something. I don’t want them to sit and waste their lives doing things they hate. We only have a limited number of days, why would we use them up on something we find repugnant?

So now I have to try and reconcile my “grades” with “just try it.” Since I have observed that a D- is “passing” so that you can leave the rest behind, I will keep taking late work until January – thanks to spreadsheets I can keep track. I tried this last year, and students responded well. I’ll give it another go!


Slowing it down… maybe the wrong move?


Film Title: Despicable MeWalking with kids on a field trip, I observed that they will always be 20 steps behind you. I urged the leader to speed up, as he was walking at a snail’s pace and clearly was frustrated (being the fit and healthy guy that he is). Sure enough, the kids sped up, but were always 20 paces behind.

I wonder whether we slow down and cover less material only to have the kids slow down too. Will they always be 20 paces behind? I plan to have the same argument as last year with my principal, when I continue to accept work from the first marking period after they close out the district grade-book ( because I know how to run a spreadsheet). He did not seem to understand the argument that I don’t mind if the kids learn it in September or December, as long as they learn it. It seems to fly in the face of U.S. High School philosophy.

Meanwhile, I have started the Corusera “game theory” course that was sent as an advertisement after Jo Boaler’s course. I’m drowning. Clearly, I am not about to become a master manipulator. Drat. I have already given up any idea of getting at least 70%, and that’s only after the first problem set.

If it is math, then it must be my fault.


Next week we are starting the logic part of Geometry. Thanks to Direct TV ads, everyone has seen syllogisms. So my plan is to have kids make their own. Honestly, I wanted to see this – I made it as a project, but I can’t get anyone to do projects, they all want book-based work. Our principal is an English teacher, and he wants everyone to do a writing project. So I plan to use this as my writing project.  And  video-creation project. I hope thereby to avoid the usual whining about why we have to write in Math.

We shall see.

Last week we had the first test using Webwork. I was introduced to this by a math professor. The advantage for me was that it gets students used to working on complex problems from the computer, writing out their work. Since we’re going to have to do that next year for common core, ti seems like a good plan to use this format. The grading is easy, retakes are easy (for me!) and my students liked that I included the feature that they could grade their work and then fix their errors.

I also see that the calculators for smarter balanced are available to use, so I will try and get my students to use these too.

In the last week, we have had 2 teachers collapse with stress-related symptoms. Somehow this has to stop!

English for all – where is the math?


Yes, the little kidlets need to know how to read and write.  But they are 5 grades behind in math. Are we really going to have to give up 5 of our 180 math days to teach 5-paragraph essays? They why are the English teachers not having 5 days of problem-solving from math problems?  Fewer than 10% of our kids pass the 11th grade test – many of them pass the English part, very few pass math. It would seem to me that we would improve their lot in life if we improved their math skills.  Just a thought.

I think the big whiteboards are working well – individual think, followed by group think, followed by share seems to be improving. Some students are willing to learn from others. And then students are working on the boards in the class time. Now that i have students willing to work together, some students are noticing that I say they can work in groups to turn in work – hey we don’t all have to write down the same thing. Yes! Work together, figure it out! So I think we can start to work on “big problems.” A little scary, but I’m going there. with no support from the principal. Sigh.