Monthly Archives: December 2012

They know, they really know!


book coverA few years ago, one of our reformer curriculum guides bought the book “A Bridge to Algebra 2.” This is a book for students who did not “get” Algebra 1, in a state that was about to, or just had, implemented a required Algebra 2 credit for graduation. It’s got a lot of applications, and is heavily into applied math.

One of what I considered to be the easiest (most accessible to students) experiments was to use large graduated cylinderPlastic_graduated_cylinder-1000mls, and add in film canisters weighted with pennies.

When we first got these books, I was overjoyed. I was so excited to do hands-on. It was so resisted by everyone else (mostly because the district provided no supplies) that it died an early death – only one year of the trial, and the books were retired. I bought 6 graduated cylinders. I collected film canisters. I had kids work this – measure the volume of the water as you plop in a cylinder, what could make more sense? the slope of the line gives you the size of a cylinder.

What did we get? The slope of the line is the number of pennies in the cylinder. The number of pennies is the most important thing. Nobody, nobody at all, could come up with the increase in volume being due to the volume of the film canister. I was stunned.

Fast forward 4? 5? years. The state requires Algebra 2 . The state is switching 9th graders to CCSS and assessment in 2014/15. A bunch of us joined a 4 year long study to improve science teaching for 8th graders (I sneaked in). I have a non-class math class. I want projects. I use this as a project.

Almost every kid gets that the cylinder provides the volume. Almost every kid gets that the number of pennies is unimportant (as long as the cylinder sinks) – and if they don’t, they’re willing to experiment to prove it to themselves. Everyone gets that the y-intercept is the amount of water we started with, that the amount of water does not go up, but the level does.

OMG maybe we can go back to the hands-on fun book. I am sooo happy!!

Whoops, better blame being ahead of our time in doing hands-on work.


Be nice


I so rarely take sick days. I had 2 in one week this week. And I even got the free ‘flu shot when offered! I deserve to not be sick!

Meanwhile this month I have noticed that I have been writing less and less, and other people have been writing more and more. As Science Olympiad ramped up, and more of my students kicked in to “work” mode, I got more and more introspective, less focused on articulating my thoughts. Other people’s mileage apparently varies. I stopped asking for help, and input, concentrating on survival.

Today I sent a note to the principal, because a number of teachers had complained about an email he sent out. Turns out he doesn’t receive criticism any better than anyone else. I thought it better to bring it up with him than have it fester, but he was just miffed. All these incidents really teach me the following:

1) W hen kids are out, even if they aren’t sick, it’s probably not their fault. Don’t make them even more miserable.

2) When kids complain about something in your class, look for the meat in the feedback, don’t be so defensive. I have been known to be wrong.

3) When kids ask for help, don’t tell them they should know that already. They know you think they should know it already. Just help them with what they need. They probably haven’t done it as often as you.

4) Let’s all be nicer to each other. Assume people mean the best, not the worst.

I’m blaming the viruses, because even though biology says they’re not animals or vegetables, they aren’t minerals, and they just want to survive too.

ACT day


On Saturday, we had several students take the ACT early. Since the thinking is that students do better the second time around,  I persuaded some of them to take it early, so that in March, when the school is assessed on their performance, it’s their second go, not their first.

Although it’s a self-selecting group, there’s a sufficient number of kids at different academic levels that we should be able to to track whether this improves their performance in the “test that counts.”

snacksI gave snacks, supplied calculators and pencils, and even raced home to print a ticket for a student who forgot his ( one advantage of living near school, which is near the test center.) Why did you have to meet at 7:15am? Now you know – someone will always need extra rescue.

One of the things I learned is that State testing has lulled our students into complacency. Because we give the ACT as part of the school tests, students are not learning to provide their own materials. They did see students who were sent away because they did not have an ID ( hooray, at least mine all brought IDs), and turned way for being late. We don’t do that in school. We provide everything. Getting there, with all your stuff, is easier for a kid whose mom brings him, comes back in to bring the calculator he forgot, and who is there at the end to pick him up. Our kids ride the bus, and had to leave home at 6am to get there. Nobody was there to collect them at the end.

I admire foster parents. They do this all day every day. I guess I can kick in for 20 kids one morning a year.

I blame ACT, who added in one more thing ( upload a photo) this year. And who then did not provide on-line tickets for the test administrators to check. What’s the point, people?

Real life models


…is tracking flu incidence in the US. I can only hope for an epidemic. Note the graph, you can slide along and save the data if you like. If we get a nice epidemic, like we did a couple of years ago, we’ll get some lovely graphs for data analysis. ( Yes I did get the vaccine, if I have to take 5 days off,  I’d darn well better be enjoying them!)

It occurs to me that I am immensely impressed with sunscreen. I wonder whether there is an experiment that I can devise with sunscreen, UV light, and something (bacon?) to show how well it works. I must ponder this.

I blame vaccines. Destroying diseases everywhere.