Sunday, December 21, 2014

Unaccustomed territory

This post has little to do about teaching - and is associated more with the "other matters" part of the title for this blog.

College basketball, especially mid-major college basketball is something I enjoy quite a bit. (I suppose at times, it could be argued that it becomes an obsession of mine during the winter months). In many ways, it has served as a bond for my daughter and I. We have both liked rooting for the UConn programs over the years and when she chose to attend UConn for her college education, it cemented her bond with the basketball program.

I attended the University of Albany for both undergraduate and graduate school for my training as a meteorologist. Back in those days, they were a strong Division III program which helped fuel my attachment to mid-major basketball. They have remained one of "my teams" as only college teams can be throughout.

Yesterday, for the first time in my memory since we had been following college basketball together, UAlbany beat a common opponent that UConn had lost to. (Yale - a solid Ivy league team this year). In addition, my daughter happened to be in town for some pre-holiday celebrating so I got to share the news of UAlbany's win and the "UAlbany must be better than UConn this year since we beat Yale at Yale and you lost to them at Storrs" joshing that goes along with being fans of disparate teams. Of course, UConn, the defending national champ from last year, is head and shoulders better than UAlbany but it was fun to go back and forth for awhile and rekindle the bonds we share with college basketball and the differences we have for the type of teams we root for most.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Holiday Break Approaching

Two more school days until our Holiday Break. The energy level was high this week as can be expected with the anticipation of Christmas and time off from school. It can be a challenging time for a teacher but it also reminds me what it felt like for me back when I was young.

Teaching is tiring for me but it also keeps me connected to youth and feeling younger. With my children fully grown, I think I would feel older, (maybe a bit less tired), and definitely be less connected with the changes that are occurring with the younger segment of our society, social media, and the like if I were still working as a meteorologist.

I am glad to still have the chance to experience the excitement that children provide at this time of the year and have the exposure to the changes in the way they see and experience the world.


Monday, December 15, 2014

Contributing

Twitter can be a pretty cool thing. Last evening, Dan Meyer, sent out a request to 7th and 8th grade math teachers for help regarding his PhD research. I have benefited from Dan's work so many times the past few years that I was happy to offer.

The task was fairly straightforward. My classes were to answer a question and I was to scan their answers and get them to him for his research. The question involved a picture of a graph and gave a worded description of the graph giving specific information regarding its period and amplitude and asked the student what was an amplitude. The material was a bit above the level of seventh grade, which Dan mentioned when he sent the question.

I was able to have two of my Blocks work on the question and was quite pleased with the way they attempted to answer the question - even though the terms and type of graph were unfamiliar to them. I told them we were helping out one of my Twitter contacts - they like to make fun of my Twitter "friends" that I mention in class at times, especially when we use material from Estimation 180.com or visualpatterns.org.

Overall, they seemed happy to have been asked to take part in the research. It showed in their approach and answers to the question. It was nice for me to have been able to help Dan as well.













Sunday, December 14, 2014

Negative mixed numbers

One of the things I like about teaching is learning from my students.

We have started our work with rational numbers. Simplifying fractions and comparing the size of improper fractions and mixed numbers is one of the topics we study in class first. The concept of negative mixed numbers and the requirement that both the whole number and the fraction are both negative is difficult to remember for many students, particularly when we get to combining them through addition and subtraction.

While discussing negative mixed numbers with my classes on Friday, and reminding them that a negative sign in front of a number is really asking for the opposite of what follows it, one of my students said - "oh. so it would be like writing the mixed number in parentheses". What my student meant was that another way of writing -6 3/4 would be like this -(6 3/4); finding the opposite of a positive number.

Such a great insight. I know I had always thought of it like that but never articulated it to my class in that simple but powerful way. I think this will help me explain why both parts of the mixed number are negative much better than using a number line or the distributive property - (things I have tried in the past). I thanked my student profusely. It did not seem like my student fully understood my excitement.

Pretty cool.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Blogging

My intention when starting this blog a few years ago was to post something at least every week, hopefully 2-3 times per week that touched on aspects of teaching but also other items and topics that interested me. As one can see by the lack of posts in the archive section, that is not nearly how things have turned out - so far.

I think it is good for the soul to write but often felt that I did not have enough important things to say and would wait until I did. That type of procrastination is not productive - at least as far as contributing to a blog is concerned. So I have decided to dial back on my expectations and definitions on what is important enough to write about and simply attempt to write as frequently and cogently as is possible.

The posts will likely be shorter, not solely related to teaching but should be more frequent and hopefully not too rambling. I am grateful to anyone who actually reads any of these posts - so thank you in advance.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Homework - Still (an Update)

One of the things I attempted to do during the last school year was to assign homework but not include it in my students' grade. The thought at the time was that those students that chose to do the homework would be serious about it and gain full benefit from the practice that the assignment was intended to give.

In theory, the plan sounded good but also failed its intent miserably; so much so that I decided to abandon it before the year was over and re-institute the old grading paradigm where the completion of homework counted towards a portion, (15% or so), of a term grade.

I grossly underestimated the maturity level of middle school students. Once my students figured out, during the middle of the first term, that homework was not being counted towards their grade, homework participation rates dropped immediately and precipitously. I had anticipated this. What I did not anticipate - Despite obvious negative impacts on many student's quiz grades and learning for the second half of the first term and the second term; a paltry few of those students were mature enough to make the connection between the necessary practice that the homework provided them and how well they learned the material and performed on assessments. Most never started doing the homework again.

Thus, the homework "cure" that I had instituted became worse than the disease. I still feel that my original goal had merit and was worth a try. It is also something I am unlikely to implement again any time soon.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Nine years

Teaching is an interesting profession. Tuesday I completed my ninth year of teaching 7th grade mathematics and in many ways, it was the most challenging year I have experienced in my teaching career. When I worked as a meteorologist for the same length of time, that was not the case at all.

I find summer a welcome and necessary time to assess what changes I implemented during the year went well, what did not, what needs to be scrapped, what needs to be altered and what new things to consider for next year. The difficulty in doing this is to know how to assess why things truly went awry. Did they go awry because of my implementation or because the synergy of the class that particular year just would not allow things to work well. And what percent combinations of these factors existed? I find that this self-reflection process can lead to more zig-zagging than is useful at times. I guess this is where my experience teaching comes into play - to eliminate too much zig-zagging.

I read somewhere, I think in a blog post but I do not remember where so I apologize that there is no attribution, that if the experience of teaching becomes easier each year, you are doing it wrong. I guess I should take some solace in that.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Spring Ahead....Fall back

Even though it is not really Spring yet. (The deep snow cover and tall snow banks in shaded areas emphasize the point this year).

Despite the "extra hour" of daylight that Daylight Savings Time provides, I have never been a fan. Maybe it is because I am an early riser. I prefer to wake up shortly before or after sunrise rather than when it is dark. When the initiation time for DST was pushed ahead/delayed by 4-5 weeks a few years ago, it surprised me that people that live on the western half of the time zones, particularly in the Eastern Time Zone, did not complain very loudly. Elementary children must be waiting for school buses when it is still dark well into late April/early May in those areas.

And we do not really gain an extra hour of sunlight - we just mess with the clocks. Mark me down as one who would prefer to keep it in Standard Time all year 'round.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Google Forms and Flubaroo

I had used Google Forms in my classroom, a 1-1 Ipad environment, a few times during this school year as an aid to help with formative assessment. While it did help me focus on identifying patterns of misconceptions and errors my students were having, it did not help me get information to them in any more timely manner than I had not been doing before with more traditional pencil and paper methods so I only used them sporadically.

This week, I decided to try to combine short Google Forms assessment tasks with Flubaroo, a grading script tool that can be installed in a Google Form response spreadsheet. While this brings some limitations to the assessments, what I liked about this combination was the ability to get very timely information to individual students via e-mail on errors that they had made that day and at the same time, get a very quick overview on common errors that my classes were having so I could address those class-wide misconceptions the next day.

It is not a perfect process, especially for a mathematics class. Google Forms does not have an equation editor like Google Docs does, (why not?), so symbols like fraction bars have to be entered with a slash - example 12/35. This in turn can confuse the Flubaroo reporting tool in thinking that the numbers separated by a slash are dates. I also do not get a look at all the work my students did with each problem that I got with pencil and paper. But I feel the ability to get very timely information to them, and to me, outweighs the negatives. I will continue to tweak the process during the rest of the year to hopefully improve the quality of feedback they get and that is transmitted to me.

A link to one of the Forms I used this week is here.

A link to the what a student e-mail report looks like is here. - Note that the slash in the answer gave some incorrect responses as to what the answers were. The actual grading of the results was fine, but the reporting of the errors was confused by the slash.