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Thursday, November 26th, 2009  8:24 am 
The challenges of chapter 5
The 5th chapter of Glencoe's Algebra 2 is a jumble of related topics, which are all critical to this class. My challenge here is to make the students understand the connections between all the topics, rather than learning them as a rote collection of isolated mechanical symbol manipulations. And, simultaneously, I need to ensure that my students have the prerequisite skills as we go along. Yes, you would have hoped they already knew how to plot points, square negative numbers, or multiply binomials by FOIL by the time they get to Junior year, but a startling number of them either never "got" the skill, or have forgotten it. I get theatrically exasperated in class whenever a student punches "5^2" into the calculator and dutifully reports that the square of negative 5 is negative 25. Graphing quadratic functions, solving quadratics by graphing, solving factoring ... These are all connected. The zeros of a quadratic function (Say, f(x)=x^2x6) are the values of x making the function evaluate to zero. (x=2, and x=3, in this case) These are also the points at which the graph of the function cross the x axis. And furthermore, if you factor the function and get = x^2x6 = 0 > (x+2)(x3) = 0, you can see that either x = 2 or x = 3 will make either the left or right term evaluate to zero, and make the whole equation true. How do I make students see the connection between all of these topics? It seems like one good picture could show them ... and then I could close the loop with a sort of "factorbygraphing" calculator activity where they graph equations, find the zero crossings, and then show that they can reproduce the original original by doing FOIL on the zeros of the function. And once these are done, we're barely a third of the way into chapter 5. Next come two related topics (completing the square and the quadratic formula), three nominally related topics (the discriminant, parabolas in the form y = a(xh)^2 + k, and graphing quadratic inequalities), and a topic which seems to come out of the left nullspace. Complex numbers? What are they doing here? Don't we already have enough to deal with in chapter 5? I think I'll make up a "evergreen" presentation on complex numbers, run off the worksheets in advance, and keep it around in my classroom for a day when I find myself not completely prepared and want to essentially sub in my own class.  Wednesday, October 28th, 2009  9:20 pm 
A lowprep class which worked out very well.
Wow, this improvised class worked out very well ... students even commented that they liked it! And part of it was just laziness on my part because I didn't bother to make an extra presentation last night. I had homework sheets I didn't pass out yesterday. I had covered the basics of solving simultaneous equations by substitution, and had the students try two or three problems. I could tell that a few had gotten it, but many were still befuddled, so I didn't assign the homework I had planned. So today I just handed out the worksheets and did a sample problem on the overhead. Then I set students loose to work together on the worksheets while I circulated around. At the end of the class I put up the answers and students who got them right could present the problems. Low effort on my part, and they enjoyed it! It really got students up and out of their seats, and they were clustering around the students who had "gotten" it the previous day. The worksheet turned out to be exactly the right level of challenge to do inclass with help. Now if I can replicate this experience over and over again...  Saturday, October 24th, 2009  12:40 am 
Visiting Canobie Lake for their "Screemfest"
Spedgrad and I left Eva with grandma, and joined another couple for a "double date" at Canobie Lake's Halloween version of itself. (Beware, website makes noise). It was a fun evening! $20 for admission (with discount tickets) and we certainly got our money's worth. Virtually all the rides were running, with very short lines, and they had installed three haunted attractions, and added Halloween theming to many of the games and refreshment stands (knock over a candelabra to win an overpriced stuffed animal, pay $7 for a special Erlenmeyer flask and get 0.50 refills all night). They had a bunch of roaming characters, and also sold $5 "MonsterBGone" pendants for the timid. All in all, quite well done! One haunt was an outdoor redress of the walkways around the log flume and haunted mine train, and although if you tried, you could see the basketball toss game or the kiddie canoes in the background, it was generally allencompassing. Two others were indoor walkthroughs set up in the theatre/old dance pavilion, with "Evil Clown" and "Slaughterhouse" themes. Both pretty good, although "Slaughterhouse" came to a sudden end and dropped you off backstage, leaving you to wander through the backside of blackpainted flats until you made it to the exit. I wonder what happened there? Happy to be in my element again ...  Saturday, October 10th, 2009  8:55 am 
And she's off!
Eva can walk now! Zoom! This happened, essentially, last week, when spedgrad was off for a week visiting a friend of hers. Eva went from being able to briefly stand unsupported and take one or two steps, where she'd been for months, to walking back and forth four or five steps between us. Then a few days later, she's able to toddle in a straight line, and turn a little bit while standing. Crawling is her preferred method of locomotion, but she's so happy to be able to walk ... we don't have a baby anymore; we have a toddler!  Monday, September 28th, 2009  10:45 am 
Home sick today.
With no 5:30 alarm clock, I slept to the luxurious hour of 7:00 AM. I'm honestly sick, and my students (and teaching!) will be much better for my taking the day off. This is gonna be an annoying few weeks in Robotics. I need to split the classes into two different tracks, because I only have enough robot kits for a single class. So Robotics Blue gets gear ratios and an introduction to the Vex kits and Squarebots, while Robotics Yellow gets an introduction to power tools, scope statements, and the Mousetrap Cars project. I'll have to do double preps through October, and then my life simplifies as the class tracks cross over and Blue and Yellow switch projects, while I just rerun the earlier presentations. Algebra? No problem. Just starting chapter 2 now. I graded the Chapter 1 tests; average score was a pathetic 11.6 out of 20. 4option multiple choice test; you would expect 5/20 just from random chance. But the good news is that this class average is exactly the same as last year's. The change this time? Last year we had 1:20 blocks, and this year it's 0:55 periods. Evidently that last 20 minutes was just wasted anyway, and onehour classes fit student attention spans much better.  Saturday, September 5th, 2009  7:15 pm 
Ramping up for the school year...
Three of my four classes have rosters now. One Algebra 2 class looks like good news; it's all 10th and 11th graders. 11th graders are ontrack, and 10th graders are accelerated. The other class is an even mix of 10, 11, and 12. 12th graders in Algebra 2 are a mixed bag; they're typically there because they failed the class last year, but on the other hand, they realize that Algebra 2 is the last math class they need to graduate, so they apply themselves a bit harder. Looks like I'll have two very different robotics classes this year. One is all 11th and 12th graders, and the other ... I've been told, pending schedule rearrangements ... is all freshmen! It'll be interesting to see how this develops. One advantage of being a "small school" is that I know many of the students. And now that I'm in my 4th year at this school ... I've known the Seniors since they were Freshmen. And they think I've been teaching there forever, while in actuality their freshmen year was my first year as a teacher, and I was scrambling madly to have a presentation on the board every day. Wow.  Saturday, August 1st, 2009  12:49 pm 
Cat! Cat! Cat!
We hereby declare that Eva's first word was "Cat!", at about 12:30 on Saturday, August 1st. She was having lunch in her high chair and Click walked by. Eva started waving at her and kept repeating "Cat! Cat! Cat!" Yep, no accidental conjunction of syllables this time, and no ambiguity about the word or what she meant by it. Off we go ...  Friday, July 17th, 2009  7:15 am 
Halfway through summer school, and liking it.
I like summer school. It gives structure to my weeks and days. Without it, summer vacation might just turn into a tedious swamp of undifferentiated days. But now every weekend is a threeday weekend, and I'm home by 1:00, with no grading to do, and only minimal prep. It's a bestcase scenario for teaching. Right now, I'm enjoying a quiet morning with my coffee and breakfast sandwich while the girls sleep downstairs. Four days a week, I'd be writing up the "Do Now" on my overhead and getting ready for the 7:30  9:30 class, which makes this morning feel special in a way it wouldn't if EVERY day were like this. And the students actually seem to be engaged by the preview they're getting of geometry for next year. I'll try to keep track of them to see how their firstquarter grades are. We don't have a control, in that there isn't another class who's getting an algebra review instead of a geometry preview, but I have a general good feeling about it. This doesn't excuse the lastminute switcharoo that the district played by suddenly having everybody teach one year ahead, but I at least understand the theory behind it.  Saturday, July 4th, 2009  10:34 am 
Minor summer school annoyances
The BPS email system has been down since yesterday, and will be down until Monday, it appears. So although I now have an improved pacing guide (14 days of instruction, one day review, one final exam) I don't have the entrance or exit exams yet. And those $15 books I paid $20 secondday shipping on? Back on Tuesday? Not in sight. At least I made it to school so I now have a book to work from. I got my temporary classroom set up. And it looks like I'll have fewer than 20 students between two classes, so I may be able to merge them into one class and use the rest of the time as grading and prep, so school will NOT leak into hometime. $3500 for 16 short days. It's worth it.  Tuesday, June 30th, 2009  8:40 pm 
Bureaucratic ineptness continues into the summer...
I'm signed up for the "Summer transition program", a sort of juniorleague summer school. Sixteen days; four weeks of four days each. The goal is to get lagging students prepped for their upcoming year. I was signed up to teach a quick algebra refresher to our incoming 9th graders so they'd be ready for geometry, and there were similar programs for grades 6 through 8. But our new director of mathematics has different ideas. He's taking the whole concept of "summer transition" and redirecting it. Instead of spending 16 days trying to teach students what they didn't learn in 180 days, he wants to just write off the previous year, and focus on giving students a preview of what they'll be having the upcoming year. Now, this theory has merits. We'll be using a lowpressure environment to set up students for early successes the next year, and the thought is that their fear of mathematics will be reduced if, when they come into their new classroom, they're already familiar with the material. This should set students up with a positive attitude, good selfesteem, and (we hope) better grades in math through the year. But they didn't tell the teachers what they were doing until our orientation meeting. Nobody is teaching what they signed up for. We're all teaching one year ahead. So I, who had taken all the Algebra 1 materials home last week, find myself teaching Geometry. The middle school teachers are teaching Algebra 1. And so on down the line. We're all teaching material we're probably unfamiliar with, and none of the students will be getting teachers who are particularly comfortable with the material. Double loss. And this sort of wholesale change takes a long time to shepherd through administration. They must have known about the new direction during signup time...did they deliberately withhold this information, or did it just never cross their minds that teachers might prefer to choose what they will be teaching? Now, Spedgrad suggested we just reassign teachers to match up with the material. Great idea ... but it's only possible if they had told us from the start. At this point, teachers are already matched up with specific schools, and many of them have chosen schools because either they already teach at the school, or because the location is convenient. So you'd need to do the application process all over again, or just do wholesale arbitrary reassignments. And minor annoyances throughout the day. They had sample materials for us to look at ... I've now held a Glencoe Geometry book in my hand ... But we couldn't take them home. Materials are supposed to be available at our schools, so we need to figure out how, in the next three days, to get our hands on our new textbooks, workbooks, or whathaveyou. But for now, no planning is possible. They provided me with a Geometry pacing guide I could take home ... but it assumes a 24day schedule, not a 16day one. I have an entrance exam and an exit exam to take home. Both, oddly, are identical, but one can make the case that you get a more accurate measure of student progress that way. However, the questions are drawn entirely from chapters 6 and 10 of the text. First, this makes for a very unbalanced test under any circumstances, and second, according to the pacing guide, we don't even cover chapters 6 and 10. Sixteen days. It's not long. I can get through this. I bet the kids are thinking the same thing.  Friday, June 26th, 2009  7:26 pm 
Yay! I'm on vacation!
Remember the scene in High School Musical X where the bell rings at the end of the last school day, and all the kids pour outside and start a big song and dance number? Or Alice Cooper's "School's Out For Summer??" The end of the year was nothing like that. It never is. Our year had basically ended last week, as originally scheduled. We had a few students trickling in ... I had one fellow, "Legolas", who did enough missing work to get his grade up to passing for the quarter. He was already passing for the year, but had slacked off at the end. I gave a call to his stepfather to let him know that he was now okay for the quarter as well, and I think he wins a trip home to Puerto Rico or something. Another girl was up to date on homeworks, and made an extra credit poster on matrix arithmetic to bump her grade from a C+ to a B so she'll be on honor roll. Hurray for initiative! And those two students actually made an otherwise tedious week quite worthwhile. We share a building with three other schools ... our students were the only ones in the building. I'm not sure how the other schools justified it, but apparently they had just called it quits at the originally scheduled date. And this extended year was a pain in the butt for many different reasons, one of which was that the city had scheduled a whole bunch of "professional development" sessions for the week after school ended ... and those didn't move after the school year got extended. So we were missing about a third of our teachers on any particular day of the entire week. The students showing up this week were the ones who either needed to be there, or wanted to be. In fact, there were some we couldn't kick out the door! They were playing spades, or Yougioh, or helping teachers disassemble their classrooms. I can't say I blame them. It's a comfortable environment; they have adults who care about them; there's free food, even if they complain about it and it's all assembled from USDA surplus crap; their friends are there; and they won't get randomly shot dead on the street. Or, in the case of "Zardoz", his parole officer expects him to be there.  Wednesday, June 24th, 2009  8:50 pm 
Paradigm shift for Eva's food.
Spedgrad and I went to a pediatrician visit after work. Eva's doing just fine in all aspects. Socialization, mobility, weight, length, and head diameter. Yay! And it's time for her meals to undergo a paradigm shift. We can stop feeding her. Our job is just to put a variety of foods in front of her and let her eat them. Yay for growing independence! So we took her out for dinner and ordered a kids' meal for her. French fries, chicken nuggets, and green beans. Plus some of my chili and nachos and Spedgrad's garlic mashed potatoes. (Blllleeh! She oozed them out.) But she was a chickennugget eating MACHINE! Here's the first occasion where Eva's growing independence makes life easier for us. Soon, I'm sure, it'll make things harder. But for now, yay, we can just give her food and let her go. But how long until she can change her own diapers?  Wednesday, June 17th, 2009  7:04 am 
Enjoying Bunker Hill Day off!
It's 7:00 AM, and I'm just sipping coffee and watching Eva play, thanks to this bizarre Bostononly holiday, "Bunker Hill Day". I'm parentonduty for the day while Spedgrad works on her portfolio ... but right now, she's working on her sleeping! I stay "late" every Tuesday and Thursday to work with students who want extra help. I tell them I'll go home if nobody shows up by 2:00, but otherwise I stay as long as I have students. In the recent past (coming up on, say, senior signout) I've been there until they fly out for the 3:30 bus. One student ... call her "Baloney" ... is far behind on work and promises me, weekafterweek, that she'll come by to do the missing worksheets, but every day, there's a different excuse. So yesterday, she and a friend appear at about 2:10. Baloney insists that she's been working hard, that she has a bunch of completed worksheets with her, but she wants to give everything to me all at once. And she'll be right back to work with me on the other ones. She ... and the friend ... disappear and are never seen again. Why do I think she was expecting that I would have left promptly at 2:00, and brought her friend along as her witness that she had "tried to find me but I was already gone?" And the reason I was staying late on yesterday afternoon was kinda neat. The BTR new teacher coordinator had a new math teacher with her, starting next year at the O'Bryant, and she thought that some of my classroom techniques were good ones that deserved to be recognized and passed along to other teachers! I've come up with a typical classroom cycle through my presentations, student work, and then student presentations which, at least, works well for me! A typical class goes like so:  students enter, see Do Now on my Powerpoint projector, start work on as it as I take attendance and stamp homeworks (which are put into table folders). The Do Now is a piece of math I know they're familiar with, and acts as either a refresher of what we've done the previous class, or an introduction to the day's new topic. (Eg: DIstance between points)  MARK: I introduce topic for the day on Powerpoint, and often put up something (a formula or some definitions) for them to copy into their notebooks. (Eg: Equation of a circle centered at (0,0))  On the oldschool overhead projector, I work a sample problem. (Eg: Use distance formula to find equation of a circle centered at (0,0) passing through a given point)  With the sample problem still displayed on the overhead, I put up classwork problems on the powerpoint. Students work for 3 to 15 minutes on classwork problems as I cycle through desks and help. Last problem is usually a more difficult one as a time eater for students who work quickly.  I draw calling sticks to see who's got the problems. Students with the right answers work them out on little (approx 2' x 3') whiteboards at their desks and present them to the class.  Return to me on the powerpoint, introducing more complexity to the topic (Eg: Equation of a circle with center (h,k) , or a new one. Goto MARK. Lather, rinse, repeat.  Finish with homework assignment.  Monday, June 15th, 2009  9:23 pm 
We're just marching zombies now.
I've called an end to the school year. I'm just showing movies from now until next Friday. Our original endofyear schedule had finals last week, with this week being two days of makeup exams, a random holiday in the middle, and two halfdays to clean up our classrooms. But the BPS's decision to extend the school year by a week has turned us all into zombies. The kids don't want to be here, and neither do the teachers. I got  count 'em  four students in my first algebra class. And to their credit, the students all worked hard on makeup work, and got themselves up a halfgrade or so with a single day of focused work. The goofs who are failing anyway, or have gotten themselves up to passing and don't give a damn about the difference between a C and a C, apparently went to the gym and played basketball for an hour. Second algebra class had a better turnout ... about threequarters of the students. Robotics was similar. And when the students ask, "Mister, are we doing anything today?", they're quite relieved to hear me answer, for the first time all year, "No."  Saturday, June 13th, 2009  6:49 am 
Hurray, graduation done!
We had a nice graduation last night. About 40 seniors, which is honestly embarrassing if you consider that the school has about 350 students and you would expect roughly a quarter of them to graduate each year. But accounting for the ones we've lost along the way during their four years of high school, the ones who got held back for a year or two, and the three or four who can finish up if they go to summer school, that brings us to something over a 50% fouryear graduation rate. ... which, sadly, is completely typical for black and Latino inner city students. A disappointing turnout of teachers, although better than last time. Eight of us showed up....The french teacher, one science, three math, one humanities, one special ed, and the guy who keeps the laptops going and teaches one class. That's less than half. For me, although attending graduation isn't mandatory, the ceremony signifies the ultimate goal of this whole beingateacher lifestyle! But evidently other teachers have other thing to do. And then the principal took us out for dinner, and Spedgrad and I had a little "date night" while we rolled sleeping Eva around the Christian Scientist reflecting pool and enjoyed a lovely summer evening.  Wednesday, June 10th, 2009  3:55 pm 
Aren't we supposed to plan our lessons in units?
And not be wondering, from day to day, whether we'll be teaching a class tomorrow? Aren't we supposed to have continuing threads and multiday units? Not any longer, not at this school. Each day stands alone. Gee, no surprise. The finals week schedule has changed. Again. Tomorrow was SUPPOSED to be science finals, when ... we thought ... students would sit for their exams in the morning, and then go to a study hall in the afternoon where their math teachers would give them review packets for Friday's math final. The principal, midway through period 2 this morning, walked into my classroom to tell me the new plan. We'll have the regular schedule tomorrow, and the students will take their science final during their normal class period. Okay, sure. Whatever. So I have classes tomorrow after all, and I need to prep lessons. I'm flexible, I can deal, and at this point in the year, I just don't give a damn. I think I'll do the sum of an infinite geometric series. Zeno's paradox is something the kids can understand, it's a topic we haven't covered yet, and there's a question about it on the city math final. But I had hoped that tonight was a complete day off...  Saturday, June 6th, 2009  4:50 pm 
Improvements in the latest version of Glencoe Algebra 2
This version of the textbook and worksheets makes some additional numeric assumptions explicit. For example, they tell you how many cards are in a standard deck (52). The earlier version assumed you knew that. However, it still assumes you know how many numbersletters are in the alphabet, which at least one of my seniors had trouble with. And if you don't know that there are 26 letters in the alphabet, you can't even start the problem. (correction made, 11:00 PM Saturday!)  3:13 pm 
If this were industry, heads would roll.
Finals week has been juggled around ... as announced in email Friday after school. Gee, anybody who doesn't check their school email during the weekends is gonna be a little surprised. Particularly if you thought you were administering a final on Monday and didn't think you needed to prepare lessons for those dates. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday: Regular classes, although a field trip on Wednesday will take a few students out of circulation. So I need to prep six lessons this weekend; three each for Algebra and Robotics. I can deal with that; it'll be fine and kinda fun. Thursday, Friday, and NEXT Monday and Tuesday: Finals for Science, Math, Humanities, and Electives respectively. Wednesday is an odd Bostononly holiday; Bunker Hill day, I think. And then the odd gulf between Thursday the 18th and Friday the 26th ... what will we do then? File paperwork, clean up our classrooms, and show movies to the odd students who happen to show up after finals, I suppose. What a waste of time. One would have thought we would have followed those habits of productive people and calculated backwards from the end of the year. No matter; I'm fried enough that it doesn't really matter to me.  Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009  5:53 pm 
Random happenings from the end of the year.
Tuesday, at the end of Robotics, a knife fell out of the back pocket of one of my freshmen ("Fayong") while she was picking up her robot. I didn't move or think quickly enough, and I didn't confiscate it. I reported the event to my principal about 6:55 this morning. Period 1, I found her in the principal's office along with another student. The principal asked me, "Is this the knife you saw?" And no, it wasn't. Student 2 had a different, bigger, bluer, knife. Both students are being suspended. Student 2 will be sent for two weeks to an alternative school for students found with weapons, and Fayong ... because I didn't have the presence of mind to confiscate the weapon, and she spun a conkamami story about happening to find the knife and putting it in her pocket while on her way to the trash can to throw it out ... for three days. In the middle of period 2, the school police came into my classroom to take one of my students out. She seemed to expect it, and just packed up her stuff and left. Checking with our disciplinarian after school, it develops that this student had apparently stolen another student's cell phone. Then, for jollies, she had taken a picture of herself. She didn't realize that Verizon can remotely pull down the contents of a cell phone. When the victim student got a new phone and reinitialized it from a remote download, her picture showed up and administration recognized her. She evidently denied everything ... but then completely changed her story when the school police showed her video of the theft. We've got 24/7 cameras around the building, and they record into a 2week digital buffer. We still don't know what's happening for finals week next week. It MIGHT be one final per day, and no other classes. Maybe it's regular schedule and students take their exams during regular class time, like the seniors did. And there's a field trip on Wednesday, right in the middle of exam week. One of my fellow teachers went ballistic when he got email announcing the halfformed plans, and stormed around declaring, "If this were industry, and we were organized this badly, heads would roll!" Our principal seems oddly detached. Gossip in the staff room holds that the four schools will be merged back into one large school next year for costcutting purposes. But nobody's told us. Over the course of the day, I signed out five seniors, who had all completed their requirements for my classes. I shook their right hand and handed them the signout sheet over the handshake with my left, saying, "Consider this practice for the diploma." That was nice. On my way out, I ran into one of our departing teachers. She's a "Provisional" humanities teacher, who had been bumped for next year by a "Permanent" teacher from another school who would otherwise have been laid off. She's finally found a new job ... at a private school, back home in the midwest. She's a little bitter about the whole teachinginBoston experience, and our parking lot conversation concluded with, "I can't teach these children."  Saturday, May 30th, 2009  8:51 am 
And the year trickles to an end.
Looks like we won't be shut down for Swine Flu. Despite low attendance (in the 65%  75% range) last week, the city's evidently keeping us open for next week. Hurrah; that's the week of science MCAS and the week that seniors check out. The seniors really would have been screwed if we shut down for next week, because either 1) they would have closed out the year with their current grades, not including any final exams or projects, or 2) if they were failing (and virtually all of them would have been) they would need to keep coming to school until they finished whatever work they needed to complete. My upcoming week is an easy one. Monday, I give my algebra students last year's city final exam, which acts as a practice exam for my underclassmen (but still a test grade) and my senior final. Tuesday and Wednesday, we'll review the exam. Thursday is senior signout ... any failing seniors will need to retake a different exam. Also, science MCAS is Thursday and Friday, which apparently EVERYBODY takes. So I don't need to teach those days; I'll just be working with the failing seniors. The week after that is finals week. The departing selfimportant administrator, despite a flurry of emails, hasn't told us what the format of finals week will be like. But I'll assume that one day is math final day, and I just administer the city final, while I won't see my students any other days and maybe just help proctor other exams. Nobody knows. And then, oddly, comes the strange void between finals and the end of the year ... June 26th; extended a week because of snow days. I'm not sure what I'll be doing those days; probably mostly cleaning up the classroom and possibly showing movies to any students who happen to wander into the building. We're basically done now, except for the administration annoyances like filing grades... 
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