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Vito Prosciutto: Teaching community college math on the road to a PhD.

Monday, November 24, 2003

14:56
Leave no teeth behind 

American Association of School Administrators has this (old) guest column which does a good job of explaining just what's wrong with the way NCLB measures improvement. Thanks to Eric Zorn for the link.

14:43
Done with supervised teaching 

Yay, it's finally over. It's not that I didn't enjoy it (if it were, I should reconsider my career path), but it's just a bit exhausting to do two preps daily and deal with the work for 17 hours of classes, two TA sections and my Saturday teaching job.

I spent some time after school offering additional assistance to one of my students. I think that his biggest problem is language, he doesn't seem comfortable with English, but talking with him and watching him work through problems, he's really amazingly smart. This is a kid who should definitely be going to college, but I'm afraid that it won't happen. Linguistic issues and tracking have him well off the college prep curriculum, I fear.

After school another student amused himself by repeatedly saying, "Mr Prosciutto! Do we have homework?" to which I always responded, "There's always homework!" It amused him to no end.

My gym class is officially over as of today. I've got my 98 points so the class is passed. The only real difference in my life is that the one class of the three remaining for the semester that I wasn't planning on skipping, I can now skip.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

23:00
I Am A Teacher is back! 

I Am A Teacher has returned. I decided to stop in and see if his retirement from blogging stuck. It didn't. He's decided to blog only when he has something interesting to say.

Which leave me wondering whether what I have to say is always interesting. I hope so. But I can see a time when things become sufficiently routine that writing about my teaching day won't be that interesting to me or anyone else.

Tomorrow (today, actually), is my last day of supervised teaching. I'm done with the geometry class, but the algebra kids have their unit running until Wednesday. Since I'm going out of town starting Tuesday (I have to help my fiancée move into our new place), I'll be handing the class back to their regular teacher for the review and test.

After that it's the last week of regular classes, then finals week (although I only have one actual final scheduled for that time, although I'm proctoring the college algebra final as well). Christmas break will be much welcomed.

20:42
Geometry test results 

I finally finished grading the geometry tests from my supervised teaching. Not too bad:
A6
B3
C8
D5
F1
absent5
I really like that only one person failed the test. There was one question that asked the students to fill in a table with the characteristics of each of the triangle lines that was a huge predictor of the student's grade.

The question where students did the worst was distinguishing between altitudes and perpendicular bisectors. Best question performance: All students correctly identified that an equilateral triangle had 3 60o angles.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

20:05
Saturday teaching 

Today seemed to go reasonably well. Only a handful of students took the extra credit opportunity, though, and one of my students is depressingly not living up to his potential.

Friday, November 21, 2003

21:08
How to get over depression while having stress of teaching 

Was one of the search terms that brought visitors to my blog. I don't know that I have any good answers for that myself. I've got my fiancée to give me support.

Once upon a time I had considered becoming a psychologist so I've done a bit more reading than most have on this sort of topic. One thing that I found (through a footnote in Listening to Prozac) was a study done at UCLA where they found that in treatment of OCD, cognitive behavioral therapy resulted in nearly identical changes to brain chemistry (as measured through PET scans) as did treatment through medication (fluoxetine).

With depression, studies have repeatedly shown that nearly all treatments are equally effective, whether its traditional psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, medication or even just talking. Another successful treatment was physical activity. A study done with college freshmen found that daily aerobic exercise was highly effective at reducing and preventing depression. This is probably a key thing for teachers as it's a career that tends to lead towards a sedentary lifestyle. It's hard to get the energy at the end of a day of teaching to go for a 30 minute walk in the evening, but it may well be a vital thing for our sanity.

19:53
Oh and I taught at the high school too 

I think that the algebra kids are finally beginning to get graphing parabolas. I really actively dislike the book that we use. It makes everything seem so arbitrary the way the information is presented. I think that I would graph parabolas before I talked about solving them. In fact, when I taught this material on Saturday last year, that's exactly what we did. In that case, we set up as our motivation finding the points on a line that were a particular distance from a third point not on the line. We did some graphing to find solutions in that manner, then I went into what I called a digression, and looked at polynomial multiplication and factoring, but just enough of that students saw perfect square factors and difference of squares. From there, we moved to completing the square and derived the quadratic formula. Here, everything is completely wrong.

Geometry had their unit test. The students tore through the exam (although I had a lot of absences). Since there was about 15 minutes left over before the end of the day, I plugged in my mac to the monitor and showed them a few things about centers of triangles that we didn't cover in class, but that might have been interesting things to see. I think they were more entertained by the animation in Geometer's Sketchpad then by the amazing qualities of the Euler line, but it was a start.

13:16
My first student giving up on a test 

I had a student at the college algebra exam this morning give up on the test 5 minutes in. He only tried to attempt two problems. If I'm really generous, I can give him 1 point (and I will, because I prefer not to have 0 points given for anyone who shows up for a quiz or a test... only once before did I have to strain credibility to give a student 0.5/25 on a quiz).

Before he left, I pointed out to him that he could still pass the class with a C if he scores 80.2% on the final (the lowest test score is dropped). Afterwards, I thought about this, and I'm not entirely sure that it would be a good thing for him to do this. I have no doubt that he could cram and do well enough on the final to get the C, but would he really be prepared to move on to the next math class then? After all, the reason that we require a C to move on at the university is that the classes are meant to build on each other.

For that matter, why do high schools allow students to advance to the next class in a sequence with a D? I think that this is really doing students a disservice. On the flip side, if we required a C to move on, I fear that this could result in a bit of grade inflation.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

20:04
Today seems to be behavior management day 

The discussion at lunch was largely around student behavior and performance. Many of the teachers seemed to be a bit depressed about this today. During the break in the middle of Algebra, my mentor teacher offered me some advice on dealing with the discipline level with that class. It's a little harder each day with them it seems. I have a much easier time with the older geometry kids.

It does relieve me to think that this teaching assignment is almost at an end. With Geometry, I'm giving them a test tomorrow and that'll be it for me. Algebra I'm teaching tomorrow and Monday, then handing them back to the teacher for review on Tuesday and a test on Wednesday (I'll be out of town early for Thanksgiving and to help my fiancée move to our new apartment).

I decided today that when I start teaching next year, I'm not going to do anything else for the first semester at least. No music ministry, no night classes, no band, nothing that obligates me to commit any time. It'll be rough enough doing all the teaching stuff that will be necessary. I want to have some time to spend with my wife too.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

21:27
Leave No Teacher Behind 

Dialectic Journal links to a WaPo editorial proposing that teachers not pay income tax. It's a nice idea although it would result in some oddities like single teachers having a higher effective income level than married teachers with children.

My view is that teacher salaries should be tied to the median home price in the district where they work. I would require that the median teacher salary would be high enough so that a teacher making the median salary could purchase a median-priced home in the district. In some areas, this is already the case, but in most districts (urban districts especially), the salary would need to be increased quite a bit. In the areas where I'm doing job search investigations, the median salary would need to be where the current maximum salary is.

14:08
Tuesday teaching 

Exhausting as usual. I need to be stricter with the algebra kids. There's too much talking happening in class.

With geometry we did some computer exercises. I gave them an 8 page worksheet to do some constructions with Geometer's Sketchpad. It was intentionally too long for them to complete so I wouldn't have to worry about anyone finishing up at 2:00 and not having anything to do. There were some difficulties because of differences in the versions.

Tomorrow is a half day with no instruction time so I get a break from daily lesson plan writing. I'll be happy for the break, although I still have a lot of work to do today and tomorrow.

Monday, November 17, 2003

13:51
Not my best day, but it'll have to do. 

I was rather disappointed to see that a large portion of the class failed to get the simplifying square roots lesson last week. I still don't feel like they get it. Plus, I'm realizing that it's not connected to anything for the students. It's not essential for the rest of the unit, in fact, I only covered this material because we had some extra time because other material went well.

Geometry went a bit better, although students were not correctly drawing altitudes. More inert knowledge. I hope that tomorrow's computer-based lesson will help a great deal.

Saturday, November 15, 2003

13:56
Saturday teaching - starting the second half of the semester 

So having graded I decided that the second half of the semester of my classes on Saturdays would be structured to try and remedy the first half problems. This meant, first, that I would try to structure the learning so that students would not be overly handicapped if they completely blew the first part of the lesson. For Geometry, I can move onwards and upwards reasonably well, partly because a significant fraction of the class did well on the first test, partly because of how I'm focusing the proof portions of the class. Other than some basic understanding of some of the postulates that we've had thusfar, the main thing is to understand proof-writing. I can start that from scratch with the triangle theorems and I think that this is probably where I should have started to begin with.

Trig, on the other hand, requires that we have to go back and re-learn a lot of the material. I've decided to dramatically scale back the scope of the class from where we started. We spent the day focusing on trig identities. By connecting some of what we need to do explicitly with algebra that they already know, we're getting a better understanding of this. I had hoped that the students could have engaged in self-directed learning as part of the homework, but that wasn't happening. I guess my expectations were too high. Still, I think that it's better to have too high of expectations than too low.

Friday, November 14, 2003

23:55
Science hoaxes 

The Guardian comes up with another great list. This time, it's the top ten science hoaxes. It's a bit England-centered in some cases, but still a good read.

19:54
Saturday class grading 

I've finished one class's grading for my saturday class. Oh God, it's been a disappointment. There were 42 points and after grading the class I had a high score of 25.5 points. I modified the total points by scoring each question by the highest grade I gave on that question rather than my original weighting, which revealed an interesting thing: Even though all students did poorly, they all did poorly on different things. By doing this weighting, I brought the total down to 37.5 points. And my high score is still not passing.

So I went over the questions and picked those for which the class average was 70% or more. Those were covering material that the class as a whole apparently learned. I gave extra credit for each of those questions equal to the points that each student learned (so students who didn't learn the basics that everyone else did were effectively punished in their point total). Then I took those questions which had a class average under 20% and added the points earned for those questions as extra credit to reward those students who had learned material that their classmates had not. This improved the distribution although it was still not where I wanted it to be: My final grade distribution for the first class:

A2
B2
C3
D3
F4
But the thing that annoys me the most is that the highest scoring student is one who consistently did not do homework or the journal assignment. He could have an A. He should have an A. But instead he's failing.

15:22
Friday's teaching experience 

Well, after yesterday, it had to go downhill a bit, and it did. The algebra kids were really unruly today. I think it was the whole Friday thing perhaps.

The teaching itself went reasonably well. The one problem that I did run into was when I realized I'd forgotten to print the geometry worksheets at the university this morning. No problem, I figured. I'll just burn a CD and print them off on the classroom computer.

Oops: The classroom computer doesn't have adobe acrobat. No problem, I'll download and install it.

Oops: Windows 2000 won't let me do that because I'm not the administrator.

So then it was run down and find the technology people and have them take me to a computer with Acrobat installed on it. Fortunately, I was able to do that and get it copied in the 25 minute lunch period I had available to do the copying.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

14:39
Good day teaching 

Algebra was the best I've taught, period. I'm still not entirely happy with the classroom layout. I have no blackboard space at all, just the overhead, so I can't have a principle displayed and easily demonstrate it. But I've got a pretty good sense of how to organize the class with the limitations. My happiest moment was when one of the students expressed displeasure with doing math as a sophomore that people she knew had done as an 8th grader. It reinforces part of what I believe: That a two-year Algebra I sequence is a mistake.

Geometry, my Ed professor came in to observe me and for the first time in 6 classes that I taught at the high school I had too little material rather than too much. Oops. Class ended at 2:20 and the students had all largely finished their homework by 2:05. So I improvised a bit. We were learning about perpendicular bisectors, so I linked what we did with the perpendiculars today with yesterday's medians and Tuesday's isosceles triangles, plus last week's right angle trig. Since they haven't had triangle congruence yet, I was able to show them that we can see that a median is only a perpendicular bisector if the triangle is isosceles as well as the converse.

The professor was very pleased with my teaching. It was a nice remedy to yesterday's despair.

I'm thinking that if I were to come up with the alternative version of this course where the lowest-level math students still did proofs, my curricular materials would start with the triangle congruences and work their way into more interesting proofs from there.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

21:19
Good for me 

Writing up a formal lesson plan for tomorrow's algebra class, I ended up deciding that it made the most sense to scrap the transparencies I had made yesterday which I had put off for tomorrow's lesson. There's no point being wed to them if they're not the right tool for the task. Writing the lesson plan first makes me think about the teaching more rigorously than when I'm just hurriedly assembling materials. The new transparencies are a great improvement.

19:10
I'm so lucky... 

... to have my fiancée. I had been feeling stressed and depressed earlier today, with the stress and depression metastasizing into actual physical illness. It was bad enough that I left my ed class early, and that's the one class this semester that I go to because I enjoy it. But driving home, my sweety-pie did a good job of cheering me up and helping me keep my perspective. Before I talked to her, I was almost ready to drop out of school and go work at McDonald's until my three score and ten years are up. Needless to say, I will be going to school tomorrow.

18:53
Lesson Planning thoughts 

Curiously enough, tonight's ed class was on just the sort of thing I talked about in the last blog post, the relation between assessment and objectives. As I'm working on tomorrow's lesson plans (and ideally Friday's as well), I'm employing a lot of this. The way the classroom that I'm teaching in is set up, it's difficult for me to do some of the evaluation that I'd like. I go to individual students' desks at the beginning of class to check their work and I have a few questions that I use as sort of touchstone to check on progress.

I think that the algebra kids are doing ok, despite my failing to keep my planning where I wanted it to be. I'm actually a touch ahead, assuming that they do as well with today's homework as they did with yesterday's. I think that I may re-insert a section which I had pulled on simplifying radicals since it seems like we're in pretty good shape and actually a day ahead of schedule.

Geometry, I'm still struggling with making it all a coherent whole. Part of that was a result of my being very disorganized with the start of class. Doing a paper-folding exercise while I was checking homework turned out to not be a good idea. Tomorrow, I think that we'll do some reinforcement of some ideas with fractions that were evidently weak in today's exercise. They weren't sure how to find, for example, 1/3 of 12. But how to write that in a lesson plan? Perhaps we can do that at the review time later in the unit? But that's no good, it seems then like I'm letting the lesson plan be too much of a dictator of what I'm going to do in the class. I'm not even sure what section I'm doing tomorrow. Probably bisectors since I can do more with the fraction stuff at that point. I'll put it in a worksheet for homework.

14:08
Wednesday teaching reflections 

Geometry has been a bit of a mess for me: I didn't spend the time that I wanted to spend prepping last night (I really rather wasted that time, I felt). If I felt that I could, I'd skip class tonight to really work on prepping for tomorrow. Prepping is generally being a problem. I should do the homework that I'm assigning the students before I start putting together the lesson so that I have a better sense of what the students will need to do the work. I'm not that fond of that approach because it makes the homework assignment the determinant of the lesson rather than the other way around.

I feel awfully stressed right now. I should have done much more work over the weekend.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

16:49
The 100 greatest novels of all time 

The Observer has a list of what they credit as the top 100 novels of all time. I've read 39 2/7 of them (the 2/7 being Rememberance of Things Past of which I've only read two of the seven volumes). I do pretty well if I stick to the top part of the list only, with the only top ten novel I've never read being Frankenstein. If I read all the books on my to-be-read shelf, I think I'll knock off another 3 1/7 books or so.

13:16
At last some real teaching 

Today was my first day of teaching a regular high school class (two actually). Having just read the Jones chapter of Classroom Management, I've got "Say See Do" on the brain and I implemented it in class. It wasn't 100% effective in keeping students on track, but it helped (and a bit of being conscious of what was happening and checking in with the students helped). The Algebra kids, I think, did very well on getting the new material, but some of the Geometry kids are still struggling. Using pre-made transparencies helped quite a bit because it allowed me to move around the classroom as I talked about what we were doing, but I need to break down the activity time into smaller pieces so that we can avoid having long stretches where the kids aren't doing anything while waiting for their peers to finish. I'm way behind on planning though. I had hoped to have all of this week's and next week's lesson plans written over the weekend.

06:46
An interesting article on teacher certification tests 

The Chicago Sun-Times ran "What I learned after the testing was finished " at some indeterminate time in the past. Not sure when as they don't give any sort of date, but it's an entertaining first-person account of Illinois' testing. There are links on the right to some more articles on teacher testing.

Monday, November 10, 2003

22:04
Sleep? Never mind 

I really should have done more school work while I was gone for the weekend. I need to make transparencies for my classes tomorrow, finish write-ups for my math teaching class, and that's not even considering the unfinished grading. Sigh. Perhaps I'll pull an all-nighter.

21:59
Fredric Jones's Positive Classroom Discipline 

The primary text for Jones's system is a Fred Jones's Tools for Teachers. Jones's philosophy can, I think be effectively summarized as "keep 'em busy." He calls his teaching approach "Say, See, Do" which quite accurately summarizes how a classroom is run. Say how to do something, show it, have the students do it. Avoid long stretches of lecture, in favor of having the students active in class. This can, I think be difficult to implement in some subject areas. What exactly is "done" in a history class, for example? But for me as a math teacher, I can see this being a very effective approach.

There are some rather startling observations in Jones's teaching. The one which catches my attention most immediately is the "hopeless hand raiser." That student who requires the teacher's attention during seatwork and effectively gets the teacher to re-teach the less on to him individually. I hadn't looked at it this way, but that is an issue. Jones's advice: "Be positive, be brief, and be gone."

Jones's approach to discouraging misbehavior:

Jones moves from this to limit-setting through body language: i.e., eye contact, physical proximity, body carriage, facial expressions.

"Say, see, do" teaching is used to keep students actively involved in the class.

Responsibility training is managed through incentive systems. The reward is generally in the form of preferred activity time (PAT) and must follow the requested behavior. For chronically misbehaving students, Jones suggests omission training in which a misbehaving student can earn PAT for the class as a whole by omitting the undesirable behavior.

There are last resort back-up systems for when the PAT incentive system doesn't work, with backups ranging from low-key whispered messages to those punishments we all remember from our school days (loss of privileges, detentions, suspensions, etc.)

The final matter, and, I think, one of Jones's most valuable contributions, is in the handling of one-on-one interactions with students. I think this an area where many teachers (myself included) fail and think that they're succeeding. He suggests the following three-point approach to working with students:

  1. (Optional) praise the student for anything positive in the work thusfar.
  2. Give a straightforward response that will enable the student to get to the next step. It's probably a good idea to have some sort of set of instructions or guidelines that students can use on the task at hand so that students can be directed to this.
  3. Move on. Jones has an optimal goal of 10 seconds at a student's side giving assistance. One could go up to a maximum of 20 seconds if necessary.
This is a really compelling model of classroom management for me (although only the second I've read so far). I'd love to get comments from non-math teachers about the sort of seatwork that happens in your classes, and what sort of assistance you give. Does the Jones system seem like it would work for you?

Sunday, November 09, 2003

08:16
Lee and Marlene Canter's Assertive Discipline 

When I first investigated classroom discipline on the internet last summer the Canters were names that popped up a lot. One thing that appealed to me was the idea of using scaffolding in teaching proper behavior to students.

The primary text for the Canter discipline system is Assertive Discipline but this is just the tip of the iceberg. I do find myself a bit put off by how much of an industry the Canters seem to have developed around their ideas, although perhaps that's just a sign of how much demand there is for this sort of thing.

But on to the system (and apologies for being a bit disorganized): The Canters have built their system on humane behavior management through attending to student needs, formalized classroom rules, positive attention for students, talking helpfully with misbehaving students and establishing an atmosphere of trust and respect.

The Canters divide teachers into three broad categories:

One of the most valuable things I see in the Canter philosophy is the idea that proper classroom behavior must be taught. Ideally this should be happening at the primary level, but if it's not, that doesn't mean that I, as a secondary teacher, can ignore that. Much like if I have students who don't know how to work with fractions, then I need to remedy that problem.

The fact that different teachers have different discipline expectations means that even if students have been taught proper behavior, a teachers' expectations must still be taught to the students. After all, if hand-raising is required in some classrooms and not others, it needs to be made clear that in this classroom, hand-raising is expected.

The Canters have good ideas on redirecting off-task behavior, and ideas that I've used myself: "The look", moving towards the misbehaving student, and mentioning the student's name have all been strategies that I've used. Proximity praise, where on-task students near the off-task student are praised for their behavior is something that I've not tried, and I think might be a bit less effective at the secondary level where praising students by name for appropriate behavior could be an embarrassment rather than an incentive.

Dealing with difficult students is the topic of another book by the Canters. Their strategy can be summarized as identifying students' needs and working to meet them. Needs are identified by examining how students react to your responses to their behavior (or lack of work) and using that as a basis for evaluation.

Charles indicates that the Canter system can be implemented fairly easily. The system evolves in response to feedback from users so it's probably worth getting the current editions of books rather than trying to save a few dollars and getting previous editions.

06:03
Building Classroom Discipline 

This is the first in a series of posts on C. M. Charles' Building Classroom Discipline. This is not a book for deciding the specifics of your classroom discipline plan, but rather is focused on providing a high-level overview of a number of different authors' takes on classroom discipline. At $49 it's a bit steeply priced although Amazon has some used copies for as little as $25 and the previous edition for only $12.50.

The bulk of the book is a set of chapters on each of a number of different classroom discipline systems:

The book opens with some interesting background in psychology and history of classroom discipline. My own orientation in psychological thought tends to be a mix of behavioralism and cognitive psych. I mention this primarily because as I talk about each of the above chapters, it's worth revealing where my own biases lie (and knowing that I'm a math teacher may be inadequate towards that end).

05:45
Another newish teacher blog 

I've been meaning to point out the existence of Apple Core for a while. As soon as I figure out what my blogrolling password is, I'll get her up on the links list. Suze teaches GATE (gifted and talented education for those not up on alphabet-speak) classes. I had a vague notion that she was doing English/History but I can't find any subject info at the moment (not to mention that it's way early in the morning.

05:32
What biological molecule are you 

Courtesy of Miss Frizzle is this quiz. As for me:

mRNAYou are mRNA. You're brilliant, full of important,
interesting information and you're a great
friend to the people you care about. You may
have sides to you that no one understands. But
while you understand more than most people,
you're only half-there most of the time.

Which Biological Molecule Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

05:22
Eric Gjovaag retires from blogging 

Eric Gjovaag has decided to hang up his I Am A Teacher blog. Worse still, because enrollment at his district is down, he may be out a job... one would hope that since the district has a contract with him and has to pay him whether he has his own classes or not, they'd keep him in a classroom full time anyway and take advantage of the fact that they can offer smaller math classes at the junior high. I'm hoping he'll be able to offer occasional updates as the situation develops even if he's not regularly blogging.

04:57
I'm on vacation so blogging is a bit sporadic 

Taking advantage of the four day weekend to spend some time with my sweety-pie... circumstance has us separated while I finish school. We did go apartment hunting today and I don't think it will compromise my anonymity to reveal that the apartment that we picked is on a great street for a geometry teacher to live on: Euclid!

Friday, November 07, 2003

06:27
Deaf teachers 

Our narrator at Up the down staircase, it turns out, is deaf. Wow, that really changes my perspective on her discipline problems. She's currently seeking any other deaf teachers out there (who are in front of hearing classrooms). If you know of any, drop by her blog and leave her a shout out.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

14:24
Geometry without proofs, it's just so wrong. 

Damn this geometry without proofs. I think we're going to do a proof in class anyway. The state standards say that geometry is supposed to cover proofs. I've not looked very long and hard, but I suspect that this is true of every state's standards.

So why is there geometry without proofs? The ACT and SAT I imagine. You can't test proofs with a multiple choice test. And as we all know, knowledge that can't be tested with a multiple choice test does not exist.

I've found my mission in life: To eliminate, always and forever, the teaching of geometry without proofs in all schools. And if I succeed, my next step will be to reincorporate proofs into calculus (at both the secondary and college level).

14:13
Some more notes from observation 

I've got my class outlines for the next two weeks sketched out. My big concern is that what I'm doing with geometry (based on the teacher's topic list) doesn't form a cohesive whole. It's a mish-mash of topics that have a connection from the perspective of someone who knows geometry, but that are going to look horrible from the students' perspective. Here's what I've got to work with: This is my tentative ordering, but I might want to move things around some more. I think that one thing that we may want to do is point out that the four lines that we can draw from a vertex to a side (or from a side potentially to a vertex) will only coincide if we have an isosceles triangle.

What too many educators realize is that Dewey's question, "is this learning vital" doesn't necessarily require that the learning connect to something outside the classroom. But it does have to connect to something.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

19:40
Hey, I did learn something in my math teaching class after all 

And that is that a poorly-thought out manipulative is worse than no manipulative at all.

And that there's a tendency for math ed people to get a little over-focused on manipulatives. When we were prepping for my group's lesson last week, there was this struggle to find manipulatives to illustrate rational and irrational numbers. What we did were, I think, a bit of a disaster. Some times there's no need for a manipulative. As I'm prepping for my teaching next week and the week after, the geometry classes will have a paper-folding exercise to begin nearly every class (except for one where we'll be doing computer work). But the algebra classes will be manipulative-free (although I think I will use Geometer's Sketchpad to put some graphs on the big monitor at the front of the room when we get to graphing.

19:34
Another day of observations 

Nothing particularly dramatic. I got copies of the seating chart which I used to create index cards with the students' names and seating location on them. This way, I can call on someone and look in the correct direction when I do it. The cards work really nicely with assigned seating because it makes it easier to do attendence as well.

It was kind of gratifying to see that the students that I helped yesterday during seatwork time managed to retain the help long enough to correctly complete their homework.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do about student work product since my mentor teacher's normal protocol is to not collect homework. Fortunately there's a scanner in the room, so I may just scan a few homework assignments while the students are in the room. I would prefer scanned assignments since those can be more easily duplicated. I would like to be able to leave copies of my portfolio with principals at schools where I'm interviewing.

Monday, November 03, 2003

14:31
Let River Flow, or Let It Grow?  

You gotta love people in Orange County:
Earl Gunnerson, a Huntington Beach resident, said he has tried to find out why the trees and other vegetation have been allowed to grow on the riverbanks. "The birds? Well, let me ask you, where were the birds before all this? Let them fly back to where they came from," he said.

14:25
A question for veteran teachers 

(Answer in the comments or send me an e-mail).

What would make you change the way that you teach your class? That is, if some new educational idea comes along about how a class that you teach should be taught, what would it take for you to adopt that idea? Does it matter who presents the idea? How it's presented?

This is mostly to satisfy my own curiosity. If you respond, please indicate your subject area and how long you've been teaching.

13:28
Observations 

I'm becoming a bit more active with the classes that I observe now, during the seatwork time, I'm joining the teacher in helping students with questions.

I'm not sure I really approve of how seatwork is handled by my mentor teacher: For most students it's a chance to try and finish the homework so that they don't have to do homework at home (but then, it's not actually homework, is it).

The other problem I have is that she has a tendency to just not teach things that the kids aren't getting. For example, the class was looking at graphs for exponential decay (ax where a<1). She wanted them to put the bases in ascending order, but decided that since they were all expressed as fractions, that since they had difficulty ordering fractions, she'd have them convert to decimals.

Argggh! If they have difficulty ordering fractions, then they need to do it more, not less! She actually had a day to fill in her schedule, so if she slipped by a day, then it wasn't going to be a problem.

Then there was the issue of the crappy ordering of information in the book. I spent some time looking at the book and determined that doing the chapters out of order wasn't really a big problem: We could do chapter 10, slip in graphing quadratics from 9.3 part way through, then after 10 was finished, go back to chapter 9.

But the official school curriculum puts chapter 9 in the fall semester and 10 in the spring. We can't do the switch. What kind of idiocy is that?

Geometry? It's geometry without proofs. This should be banned to the deepest pits of hell. You may as well have English class without writing assignments. Or science class without experiments. But we play the hands we're dealt, I suppose.

Saturday, November 01, 2003

19:46
To Kill a Mockingbird 

Was on TMC this evening. I love this film, although I realized watching it that I've seen it and read the book enough that I had no idea which aspects of the story I had gained my memory of from the book and which from the book. I'm going to name all of my children Atticus.

11:11
Parent conference day 

Today was parent conference day for the saturday teaching job. These are good parents who are actively involved with their students' education. The parents of the 3rd period kids are going to come to class with their students to make sure that they're behaving properly, which should help.

3rd period today spent the whole class period arguing class policy with me. Arg. It was a shortened period to begin with so we didn't have that much time to go over this week's homework. In 2nd period (same class, different kids), we managed to do some group work going over the proofs but the planned quiz had to be cancelled. I'll give it to them in two weeks (after the test) instead.

The trig kids disappointed me by not getting the homework assignment at all. I had hoped that they would be able to use their graphing calculators to do things like graphic sinθ without too much difficulty, but apparently it just escaped them. It doesn't help that they have teachers telling them that this is beyond them. The hell it is. Sophomores, especially sophomores taking algebra/trig at one of the prime college prep schools, should be able to use their calculators to do function graphs.

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