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

Monday, December 22, 2003

The spring Saturday teaching plan 

The students didn't have a fall math class. I've got a wide variety of students (hopefully, not as stratified between the two classes as this time around). I get them for an hour a week, but no homework! Yikes. How do I deal with this? I've got some real challenges in lesson planning coming up.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Change in Saturday teaching 

I got word today that my assignment is changing in the spring from teaching 3 sections with 2 preps to 2 sections with 1 prep. And the course material is a bit more age-appropriate, I think. It'll be college algebra taught to 12th graders. In a way I'm a bit disappointed to lose the classes that I had since I think I was finally beginning to make some headway with them, but it's nice to get the reduced assignment. I had been contemplating resigning in anticipation of the amount of time that I would have to spend preparing for student teaching, not to mention that I can anticipate having to miss at least 3 classes in the spring for testing and interview trips.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Algebra Rock 

To be sung to the tune of "Jingle Bell Rock":
Algebra, algebra, algebra rock
Algebra hip and algebra hop
Learning equations as big as the sun
Now that alge' class has begun

Algebra, algebra, algebra rock,
Intersecting points on intersecting lines
Laughing and graphing
All at the same time
Algebra is divine

Problem solving so involving
To pass the time away
Operations, variations
Keep me busy all throughout the day

Right angles, triangles all have degrees
Someday and so will I
Adding and subtracting using TI-83
That's the algebra, that's the algebra
That's the algebra rock

written by Notre Dame High School (Niles, Illinois) students Joe Casey and Jeff Ramirez. Found courtesy of Eric Zorn.

My options for the spring 

I got to the school a bit late and then had a hard time finding my contact who was supposed to show me what room I was heading to.

So I got to see the classrooms where I'll be teaching. The exact student list won't necessarily be available right away: There is an expectation of significant numbers of failures and transfers (very different from my own experience in high school, where the track that I was in had pretty consistent enrollment). I do get a choice of when I'll have my prep period, it looks like. The Algebra teacher, Ms R, has three sections of Algebra, in periods 1, 2 and 5. Geometry will be periods 4 and 6 with Ms C. I'm guessing that the determination of when I'll have my prep will be at least partly determined by what advanced class I'll teach and when it's offered, but I believe that it will be during 3rd period.

I had lunch at a different time period, and I have to say that I like this group. It's largely the young male math teacher group at the math table in the teacher cafe at this lunch, which is a milieu I fit in with better than I did the older married female math teacher demographic who made up the bulk of the folks at the math table at the lunch period that I went to earlier in the fall.

Here's what I'm thinking will be my schedule for the spring (with some gaps here and there):

  1. Algebra
  2. Algebra
  3. Trig (prep for roughly the first 6 weeks)
  4. Geometry
  5. Prep
  6. Geometry
I was offered the chance to actually teach the last period Geometry class tomorrow, but I think that I'll pass. Or perhaps not. It depends on how much progress I make with my getting ready for Christmas tonight.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

A bit more of a preview of my student teaching 

I know now the names of the two teachers with whom I'll be doing the bulk of my student teaching. One I had observed for my Ed class, so I'll have to check back on those notes (plus I'll stop in and watch again this week, while I have the chance). The other is new to me. I'll have something interesting to write tomorrow and Thursday. After Saturday, not likely to have anything to write (unles I get back to writing the very long multi-part review of Charles' classroom discipline book).

Saturday, December 13, 2003

Saturday teaching 

Well, the kids were a bit rambunctious today, but there were also some bright spots. It took a great deal of re-teaching, but I think that the trig kids got the diagrams for sin a+b and cos a+b derivations (I'll see when I look over their quizzes). With geometry there was a very positive reaction to this puzzler:
The sum of two numbers is 5
Their product is 7
What is the sum of their reciprocals?
(I'll leave the answering of this one to the commenters). When I showed some of the kids how we can turn some of the problems from geometry into algebra, they also got excited about that. I've got a big fat stack of grading to do, though, and finals to write for next Saturday.

Friday, December 12, 2003

I'll bet you never saw this one coming 

My personality type according to TheSpark.com's personality test is "Artist (Dominant Introvert Abstract Feeler )"
Like just 4% of the population you are an ARTIST (DIAF)--creative, adventurous, and deep. Although you are an introvert, your dominant ideas lead you to assert yourself often--especially through your work. You actively put your creativity to constructive use, and because you are ruled by your heart you are less likely to be inhibited by logic.

You have an intuitive understanding of emotion and know how evoke it in others, but the real world can be a prison of foolishness and embarrassment if you don't get your head out of the clouds a little more. Also, you are 87% likely to write poetry. Please, for the love of God, stop now.

Thanks to Ms Frizzle for the link.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

And then I was done 

I took my only in-class final of the semester, for my math teaching class. What a waste of 45 hours of my life this has been. Out of 100 points on the final, only one question (20 pts) had any relevance to the subject matter of the course as dictated by the catalog description. The course in general was a waste.

There are two math teaching courses in the credential sequence. This one is the only one with any math prerequisites. And yet the math that we're doing is often at the junior high level. The teacher herself doesn't seem comfortable with writing proofs and is a poor grader. The bulk of the test consisted of recall of fact questions. Even though I did nothing to prepare for the final, I still know I aced it (not to mention finished first). I even sketched out a bonus proof of the pythagorean theorem at the end of the test. Like the midterm, it wasn't just that I could answer every question on the test easily, but I could answer every question on the test before I took the class. I truly hope they don't allow this professor to teach this class again.

Monday, December 08, 2003

I'm Charles the Mad 

Which Historical Lunatic Are You?
From the fecund loins of Rum and Monkey.

I've got my student teaching assignment 

It's at the same school where I did my pre-student teaching this fall. Not a surprise, but it's nice to get some official information on this.

Friday, December 05, 2003

I can't take it anymore 

I'm really frustrated with what's happening in the Saturday teaching class. I had such great expectations for these classes and it feels like a complete failure.

I just got the following e-mail:

I want to tell you that I don't understand any of the things you have been teaching us since I got transferred into your class. I haven't told this to you earlier because I thought that I can catch up on the proofs and everything else, but I found out now that I can't because today I tried doing the homework you assigned to us, but I'm having a lot of trouble with it and I can't do any of the problems.
Now to the students credit, she asked for extra help, but the big problem here is that it's been two weeks since the assignment was given. The homework has a short assignment listed for each day. So, she should have been doing a little something EVERY day. Instead she sends me this e-mail after midnight the morning of class. And this is typical of the class. I don't know where to begin in determining what's gone so wrong here.

I've decided to skip new material for tomorrow and we're going to try to consolildate the learning so far. Re-teach re-teach re-teach. I know it's not all my fault, but it still leaves me feeling like a failure that these kids are not learning. Frankly I'm almost ready to say that I'll not do this next semester. I just don't think that the goals of the program and the structure of the program are compatible and I'm not getting anywhere it seems. I'm a better teacher than the results I'm getting. These are better students than the results they're getting.

Contemporary Physics Education Project (CPEP) 

Ms Frizzle had been asked a question about why the protons in the nucleus don't fly apart, and I remembered spotting a poster on the topic of subatomic particles etc. in the halls of the university. I retraced my path and found the poster which had a URL for The Contemporary Physics Education Project (CPEP). They actually have a number of interesting posters available. The one that I saw is "Fundamental particles and interactions."

It's a pity that the math people don't have anything quite so compelling.

Do I expect too much? 

One of the things that I find in talking with my fellow teacher candidates is a lack of genuine curiosity and enjoyment of their subject matter. Not universally, but wide enough that it disturbs me. I really think that if you're going to teach, you really need to enjoy the subject area that you teach. You should be about learning about your subject area for the shear joy of learning about it. In short (apologies in advance for being a bit vague on some areas where my own experiences are limited): Sure you can be an adequate teacher without doing this, but why settle for adequate?

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Wow, classes are almost over for the semester... 

Tonight was the last meeting for my Education class. The instructor invited a few former students back to talk briefly about their experiences. There were a couple people who are in their student teaching semester and some who are in their teaching careers. The tales of job hunting were a bit scary as some of the teachers talked about the timing of when hiring decisions tend to be made. I'm glad that I'm math and not English or history, although apparently the flood of alternative certification programs have resulted in the job market for math teachers being a bit tighter. I do still remember the comments from the AP when I first went to the high school for my observations. The English and history people were greeted with suggestions to get other endorsements. I, as the lone math person, was simply told, "bless you."

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

No royal road to geometry? 

Catholic School Blogger approvingly quotes a Newsweek article which makes a case for the chalk and talk approach to teaching math. The problem is that while many reforms have been failures, it doesn't change the fact that the way that we've always taught math just doesn't work for a lot of students. The more I teach, the more I think that math teaching isn't appropriately responding to technology like computers and calculators. I think that what's happening is that the traditionalists are drilling the wrong stuff (loads of arithmetic) while the reformers aren't understanding how to approach the deficiencies in instruction. (e.g., attempting to make problems "easier" in ways that invite mindless button pushing on the calculator rather than playing around with the actual mathematical ideas).

There's a lot of mathematics that we teach which, in the real world, is put off onto calculators and computers. No one should be proud of, for example, filing their taxes without using a calculator, if not actual tax software. And I doubt anyone would hire an accountant who insisted on doing all his calculations by hand. And I doubt that anyone really wants to trust their loved ones to a car whose engineers felt that it was better to do all calculations on the computer.

Back from Thanksgiving 

and I've got a pile of tests to grade still, but no energy to deal with them. I feel like I've let down my students this semester. I took an attitude that they were smarter kids in the algebra II remedial class and better able to take care of themselves, which is true, but they still needed more from me than I gave. But this will be my last semester TAing so there isn't a next time. I will take this lesson with me into my teaching, however.

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