Monthly Archives: November 2012

A student shows interest


Today a student asked me,”Why can’t we have projects that are interesting to us?” I asked her what she would find interesting, and she told me “Pets.” So I told her that her next project is to come up with a project on pets, and then we’ll look at it and make it into a math project,and then, yes she can do it.

We’ll see how it goes, but I’m excited. It’s the first time this student has shown any interest in math,and it also means she’s confident enough to spread her wings. The next subject is volume. I can’t wait.

I blame the learning.


Taking stock


American Thanksgiving. We had 3 days off.  The run from September to now is too long in school – student stopped paying attention by the end of October, but we move on relentlessly (and complain about their behaviour, even as teachers begin to take time off every week because they feel low).

So it’s still time to stop and think about where we are. It’s good that nobody in the family is in hospital, as they were  2 years ago. It’s good that my son has a great new job. It’s good that my daughter has a doggy for herself. It’s good that the house is still standing, and that I still get paid for doing something that is a positive contribution to society.

It’s good that I’ve taught about 60 out of 70 math students how to make charts on Excel, and how to write equations in Word. It’s good that I’ve taught about 50 out of 70 math students how to solve proportions and what it means. It’s good that I’ve taught about 30 out of 50 other students how to read an ACT test, and what it means to replace parts in a sentence. It’s even good that students have learned that in my class they will fail if they do no work, and to fail is their choice.

Oh, and so many thanks to Mike Pershan at math  mistakes. He’s given my students something that everyone can look at and find out “what’s wrong.” And once we assess that they don’t understand 3rd grade work, we can tackle it as a group. We can make many more examples of ratios and proportions.

I could choose to concentrate on the negatives associated with each positive, but I’m trying not to. I move forward, and try to ignore what I can’t fix.  Most of my students are willing to try.

I blame the turkey – he’s got it coming, after all.


A day in the life…


It was Thursday 15th November, 2012

5:30am alarm goes off, and the heat comes on.

5:39am alarm goes off again, time to get up. Washed, dressed, downstairs by

6:05am sending an email to my son, who moved to CA, and has just (emailed me last night) been told by his insurance company that (we) have to do some work on his house here to keep the insurance. By December 7th.

6:15am Tea and toast for breakfast, while watching the morning news.

6:35am leave to walk to school.

6:45 arrive at school. Walk around to get computer carts.

7:00am student teacher arrived. She is upset because she’s working with the Chemistry teacher and had a lesson planned today, but all the Chemistry students are taking the PLAN test today, so her plans have gone out the widow, and she’s being evaluated in Chemistry tomorrow. We figure out what to do.

7:15am Go to stand in the hallway for 10 minutes while students go to their lockers and get ready for school

7:25 am bell rings to start school. I put out the laptops, then go to photocopier to make some copies for next week’s Algebra. Some students might finish the current project soon, so I have to be ready. I load up the warmup powerpoint ( Math Mistakes) and start up the projector. (My prep hour is 7:25 to 8:25am)

8:25am 9th grade students arrive for the second hour, Algebra lab. They are working on projects, some still on the first project, others are on #4. The student teacher and I walk around the room helping students in small groups. I put attendance into the computer, one set of 5 students at a time – there’s something wrong with the computer system, and it’s taking about 10 minutes to upload each screen. I get the attendance in by the end of the hour. I use my fabulous replacement remote to turn off the ceiling-mounted projector ( it cost me $40 but it’s way better than the 10 foot pole).We are working in understanding proportions, and what slopes mean. We’re helping students learn to measure and to create charts in Excel. We’re showing students how to read a rubric and self-grade. Some students have sent work to me, and are correcting their mistakes, which I sent back on email last night. We love this group of students. They are all working.

9:30am The first group of students leave. I turn on the projector, and I stand in the hallway for 5 minutes between classes. The second group arrive. These are 11th grade students who will take the state test in March, and plan on going to college in 2 years’ time. Student teacher leaves for Chemistry. My third hour (second group of the day) are in Academic Strategies. I have them do the same warmup as the math classes, then I give out a passage from a Science ACT test review. They read and answer the questions. After 15 minutes, we go over the answers. We talk about not second-guessing yourself if you are fairly certain when you choose your answer the first time. Then I give out 6 ACT math preview questions. After 20 minutes, I give out the solutions for these problems. Most of these students ignore this section. I collect the sheets of papers, to be graded for completion not correctness. 6/10 for a full name on a paper…

I turn on the projector with my fabulous remote. I stand in the hallway for 5 minutes.

10:40am. My 4th hour comes in. The group is older, 11th grade or repeating 10th grade, but is doing the same work in my class, and having the same struggles as my second hour. They are in Algebra II, even though they may not have passed Algebra 1. Another of the vageries of our school system. My student teacher shows up at 10:50am, because she has been talking with the Chemistry teacher about what to do tomorrow.

11:40am Lunch time. I turn off the projector, and I go across the hall to another math teacher’s room, and actually sit for the first time today. We chat to our student teachers for 10 minutes, and they leave. We talk about the new orders to do more ACT prep questions, that are now being supplied by our school district, and whether there is any point in ACT questions for students who are functionally at the 4th grade level. I eat yogurt, a piece of fruit, and drink a Fresca. I have added a piece of string cheese to my school lunch that I have eaten every teaching day for the last 11 years.

12:05 A student interrupts us, as he does every day. Every day we tell him we are at lunch, and he is supposed to be elsewhere, and every day he ignores us and carries on talking. He has some sort of undiagnosed disability, probably a result of his childhood in a famine area in Africa. I leave and go to the bathroom. Then I go down to my room and turn on the projector

12:10 I stand in the hallway for 5 minutes until students go to class. Students are pushing and shoving each other, throwing bags of chips at each other.

12:15 This group of 9th grade students are reluctant workers, doing the same work as my second hour. I decide to ignore the loud, bullying girl who always complains and does no work. No students in this group have completed the first project (I told the stduent teacher it’s because she’s not there). I block face book and twitter using lanschool. Students can get around this block, but they have to do so deliberately. I have one more student decide to start working on the first project, so I spend a lot of time working with her to remind her how to create a histogram, how to find the data on my website, etc. We went through all his in the first 2 weeks of school, but for students who are “reluctant learners,” it has been several weeks since they did any work in class. I am hopeful that they will now begin working.

At 1:20pm I send a message to the computer department that 3 of my laptops have stopped working, and I look up their serial numbers to document which ones. I attach sticky notes,a nd pile them on the cart. I get about 8 that fail over 2 days, and then a technician comes and fixes them. We have been unable to diagnose the cause of the problem, we just deal with the symptom. During this hour, I also scramble around with power cords for laptops, as the batteries no longer last all day. New batteries are $100 for each laptop, which buys a lot of extension cords. Our room looks like a spider’s web.

1:10 fifth hour leaves. I breathe a sigh of relief.

I turn on the projector (hooray!) and stand in the hallway

1:15 I have the second group for academic strategies. This group has some third-year 9th graders. We are doing ACT prep. I do wonder what to do to help them. I have one student come in from another classroom, where he is having difficulties not thumping another student. His teacher and I have decided that we can at least keep him from being suspended if he comes in to my room, even if he does no work. I talk to him a little about the robotics and science Olympiad clubs, which met on Wednesday, and he has decided to join. I promise him that next week when hw comes in during 6th hour I will make a place for him to work on robotics. I tell him that if we go to Science Olympiad on a Saturday we will pick him up because he can’t get to school on a Saturday morning before 7am. He’s got no support at home.

2:10pm end of the day. I put the laptops back in their carts, and tidy up the power cords. I drive the carts back to their safe nest.

2:45pm I talk to another math teacher about plans for next week.

3:00pm I enter my attendance data for the day. The on-line attendance is now working as usual. I put in the participation grades for the two academic strategies classes. I return two calls from other teachers, and respond to emails from school. I write an email to a local bike shop asking for their help with an upcoming project.

4:00pm I go home.

4:10pm. I put on water for tea, and sit down at the computer. My daughter texts me to email me that we are going out to dinner, but she will be late because her boyfriend’s car has broken down. I email back and suggest that he has run out of gas. She sends back a message that it is much worse than this, it has stopped for no reason. This the third disaster of the week ( daughter lost job, son has to get house fixed, now boyfriend-in-law has busted car. But nobody’s sick, nobody’s dead. All okay!)

I drink tea, listen to BBC radio 4 on the computer, and read Education Week and math bloggers updates. I wonder what it’s like to have time to document my day.

5:45pm I go back to school, in case they need help with Family Movie night. I find 2 people who have just started heating hot dogs, and I am given a bag of movies and am told to make the projector work. The projector has a DVD, but no remote, and has not been set up in advance. I find a place to plug it in, I get the projector working, but cannot get the DVD to run. The science teacher comes in and gets it working. He asks, “Doesn’t anyone ever beta test this stuff before we set it up for the public?” Heck, no.

6:30pm Looks like nobody needs me. There are 8 staff members eating popcorn, and 2 people heating hotdogs. The principal is missing in action – I have no idea where he is. I go home.

6:40pm. I get home. Daughter and BIL are there. He had his car towed to his aunt’s auto shop – it was out of gas. I roll my eyes. I tell my daughter I am at the end of my rope re. son’s house, and she persuades me to call my daughter-in-law’s father. I do, and he proceeds to tell me that it is easy to fix, all I have to do is… I tell him I know what has to be done, I just can’t see my way to getting it done by December 7th, and I’m worn out trying to keep up with everything. He says he will help, and will look at it at the weekend.

I take daughter and BIL to eat at a local healthy foods restaurant.

8:30pm Daughter drives me home (she has the car, at least there’s only one car payment now that she’s unemployed), and I go to the desktop computer, turn on BBC radio 4+ and find a story to play, then go on-line and begin to put in corrections and grade the papers that have been sent to me on email. I am pleased that using comments on Word and PowerPoint results in students redoing their work 90% of the time. It’s not a waste of my time. I make correction comments, save the file, and then send the file back as an attachment to the students, so they can fix it the next day. I enter grades on gradebook and in my own excel file.

I send an email to a parent who wants to know the grade of their child on the work they are competing from last marking period – our grade book does not allow us to show that, so I keep track via Excel at home. I get another email backfrom the parent, and send information about tutoring at school.

I have 2 more cups of tea during this time, most of which becomes cold, and I throw them away. This is now a joke in my family.

10:50pm I turn off the computers, and head to bed. The “squatter,” a friend of my daughter’s who lives in my house (as opposed to a box down by the river), arrives, and I say good night. I go to bed and complete a logic puzzle, before I make sure the alarm is set for the morning, and then I go to sleep. It’s about 11:10pm.

“I don’t have to know how many inches in a foot.”


Good to know, kid. Thanks.

We used 101qs (thanks, Dan) for our warmups last marking period – students had to come up with a question. One of the pictures was of people tiling the floor with pennies . We noticed that students had no clue about ratios, so my student teacher (bless her) created an activity for the students to do today, to estimate how many pennies it would take to tile our lovely room. We linked it to the tattoo artist who claimed that tiling with pennies was cheaper (real life, you know) and asked the kids to figure out if it was really cheaper.

So ourkids had to figure out what area means. Did we really want them to lay out pennies to make one square foot ( if we had to!) or could they find another way… multiplication? What is a square foot? What is a foot? is it that long stick ( meter stick)?

Then they had to measure the room dimensions.After we explained what dimensions were. Thus we discovered that students did not have to know there are 12 inches in a foot. We were amazed.

Finally, we asked what the value of the floor would be in dollars. And there we found that many students did not know how many cents in a dollar. (Or how to move the decimal point to divide by 100.) Many of our 17 year olds. Oddly, they are not doing well on the state tests. Clearly, the state test makers are unaware of what students do not have to know.

I blame the Romans ( or whoever invented inches).

math is physics


We have the Discovery series of math books. We’re discovering them too. The teacher who runs the real algebra 1 classes likes to run a tight ship, and eschews hands-on work. To be honest, as an experimental physicist, I don’t have much in common with this philosophy, so I decided to run my algebra lab independently of what’s going on in the algebra class. The Algebra 2 lab ( for struggling math students) is doing exactly the same as Algebra 1 lab, and the results are about the same (or a bit worse).

Last week  we did the spaghetti strand experiment. How many pennies does it take to break a spaghetti strand? 2? 3? 4? 5? Then we used this data to crate an xy plot in Excel, and also in geometer’s sketchpad. We did a best fit line, and we’ll teach them how to do that same thing on the calculator.

The students in two of my 3 lab classes enjoyed this hands-on activity, working all at once. They liked being able to see other students working on their work too. They liked seeing what they got for results as well as the others. This is the down side of  “work at your own pace” – the whole class camaraderie is gone.

They hoped that if they didn’t finish, it would go away, but no! it just got added to their work pile.

The additional use of Excel, and piling on of GSP spurred many kids on to working on completion of our first project, which they were hoping would go away if they just waited.

What we teach kids – if they refuse the work, we’ll give them other stuff, and they’ll never have to learn anything new. If they work slowly enough, they can just quit. And math has nothing to do with science or technology. Everything in separate niches.  And no connection from week 1 to week 11 to week 21. No wonder they have such difficulty with math!

Oh, the third group? They have totally taken on board the idea, from the previous 8 years, that if they all do no work, then I’ll have to pass them all. But our new administration has received the message (finally) that passing students on doesn’t help them. Last year we had zero students pass the state test, and the new superintendent gets the message that we’re assessed as a district on the state test, not on how many fake passing grades we give out. It only took 10 years. The adults are no better than the kids. There’s hope yet.

Anyway, I have promised them a hands-on activity each week. Now I have to supply materials for them. Sigh.

I blame the schedulers for thinking that physics and math are separate subjects.

Fresh marking period, fresh warmups


After 8 weeks of questions, and looking at other people’s questions (“Didn’t you tell us to ask questions we could figure out the answers to?”) we have moved on. Some students learned to ask questions. Most students said it was “too hard.” Wow, how can asking any one question be beyond someone’s skill level? We have really destroyed souls.

I have moved on to math mistakes. We started with elementary level. It was nice that several students have become comfortable enough to say – um, isn’t that upside down?

Although today I had students argue that there is no mistake. I told them to write down for me why there is no mistake, and I had groups of children vociferously discussing what makes a pattern. Yay!!

We’ll see how fractions go down tomorrow.

Definitely I blame the soul-sucking grind of school. Especially for the low functioning kids, who get less fun and more soul-sucking grind than anyone else.