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

Thursday, September 30, 2004

20:54
So this blog might be coming to an end 

Because I had another incident today. This time, after a number of provocations, I told a student in 6th period to f herself. Really stupid. But if they fire me, they fire me.

And of course because this happened on back to school night, all the parents who came in had heard about it. What was nice, and not that surprising in retrospect, was that the parents were supportive of me. (It shouldn't have been surprising because it's the kids who are getting As and Bs whose parents show up for these things.)

I wasn't as prepared as I'd hoped to be. I didn't have all of my props, and I didn't get things set up so that I could do my fancy powerpoint presentation. Oh well.

So to paraphrase one of the greatest movies ever made,

Good night, good job, they'll most likely kill me in the morning.

18:54
Back to school night 

Is in progress. I'm in my room waiting for angry parents to arrive with pitchforks and torches.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

22:06
A good day and then 

Despite still feeling weary and sick all day, my teaching actually went reasonably well. Between a seating change, an absence and getting one of the troublemaking kids out of the classroom for the period, 5th hour was actually reasonably sane. 6th hour took sending two kids out of the room (one of whom had to be escorted because he refused to leave), but once that was accomplished, the class was on task and I think did a decent job of learning.

And at the end of the day, as I'm beginning to feel better about myself, I find a note in my mailbox. I have a meeting with one of the APs on Friday morning, which is "disciplinary" and that I can bring a union rep if I choose.

I'm thinking not. I have no real expectation of what will happen, but I figure that either they'll fire me, and my life will be better, or we'll come up with a plan to improve my classroom and my life will be better, or they'll impose some irritating sanction on me and my life won't be appreciably different.

I've been researching PhD programs in case I decide to get out of 9-12 education. I should be able to teach community college with my master's, but I'm thinking that teaching preteachers is the most appealing idea. There don't appear to be any math ed doctoral programs in these parts, instead I've found 4 pure math PhD programs (the one that best fits what my research interests would be is of course the most selective one of the lot and the one that rejected me as an undergrad so I've got a bit of an inferiority complex about it). There are also some possibilities in Education PhDs, although I'm less convinced that this is what I would want. If I did the college education thing, my idea would be to teach an advanced Euclidean geometry class and perhaps a methods of teaching for math (intellectually, I know what to do, it's in the execution that I fail... much like intellectually, I know how to play the trumpet, but in practice, I'd be unlikely to make something resembling music from a trumpet).

I should register for the GRE.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

19:30
Mean Girls 

[warning some heavy math content appears below] Kevin Drum at The Washington Monthly mentioned the movie Mean Girls today, and I have to say that the scene that he mentioned thrilled me too (not to mention that it's nice to see a movie in which the cool teacher is the math teacher). He mentions this problem which appears at the climax of the film:

I have to admit that when the question came up on the screen when I was watching the movie, I was trying to solve the problem.

What's distressing is how many of the commenters on this post got the math wrong.

As a math geek, I see a limit of a rational expression, and my first thought is L'Hopital's rule. Since the numerator and denominator are both 0 at x=0, we can find the limit by taking the derivative of the numerator and denominator. Lot's of important special derivatives to employ, plus the chain rule. Where some people go wrong is that when they get to this stage, and get the limit of the numerator as -2 and the limit of the denominator as 0, they do another derivative. This is only valid if the numerator and denominator are both 0 (or both infinity). Once we've done the first derivatives, we're done.

Prehaps more interesting is NPCurmudgeon's solution where he rewrites the function using series expansions and arrives at the solution quickly and elegantly.

On a vaguely related note, I found myself contemplating some function that was described by my Calc teacher in high school as being unintegrable (in that there wasn't any simply defined function for which g'(x)=f(x)). I had one of those moments of inspiration where I realized that this could probably be dealt with through taylor expansions. You'd end up with a nasty looking infinite series, but it would at least allow for easier estimations of the definite integral than using the trapezoid method or one of its close relatives. I probably learned this in one of the many calc classes that I took all those years ago, but it was a nice revelation as I was thinking about it. Now all I need is one of those unintegrable functions so I can tackle the matter.

Monday, September 27, 2004

22:38
What if games 

I'm really hoping that things get better, because I can't keep this up for 9 more months.

It's not merely that I seem to always be working on school stuff, but that I'm feeling like I'm not making an impact with too many of my students. The thought of my two post-lunch classes makes me feel a bit ill. Physically. Add in a propensity towards depression and today was just miserable for me.

Add in the fact that I've not had time to do anything else that has been of value to me. I don't play piano or guitar or flute or bass or sing. I don't read books or the newspaper. I don't go to the movies. I don't even watch DVDs at home.

I've been toying with other options. Perhaps I can go back to school again and go ahead and get the PhD. Teaching at the university level won't have many of the stresses that I have with the high school kids. Hell, even if I were teaching the same classes at the junior college level, I'd be better off. Perhaps that's what I should pursue. And then there's all the google ads talking about careers as an actuary. That seems like something I could do well: I can do math better than most people, and would certainly be a lower stress career. Looking at one site's chart of salaries, I'd also be making a lot more money than I am now, and it would also be a job that wouldn't follow me home.

I remember about this time last year, girlonthescape was expressing many of the same concerns. I'm not quite at the point of just calling in sick, but I feel pretty close to it.

And sure enough, it's just about October:

(I had a fear over the weekend that I was still on the part of the curve that has me continuing to plummet. If it gets worse than this, I don't think I'll make it to the end of the semester, let alone the year.)

Sunday, September 26, 2004

10:21
Oh dear 

My wife was looking at the stack of just-graded tests and noticed that one of my students misspelled her name. The scary part: She's one of my best students.

I've got to figure out what to do with my Algebra class where about 60% of the students failed the test. I'm thinking that I might end up effectively splitting the class into two, with a lot of remedial lessons for the bulk of the class and some self-directed enrichment activities for the smaller group of kids who are doing well in the class. Any ideas from the peanut gallery?

09:13
Sunday Search: wealthy math teacher 

One of two odd "teacher" searches this week (the other being "my sexy teacher"). One thing is certain, there are better ways to become wealthy than to teach math. I'm thinking that if I wanted to be wealthy, the way to do it is to write some über-popular classroom management book series (like say the Canters have done) and build up a whole publishing empire around that. Even The First Days of School has doubtless been a major financial boon for the Wongs. Me, the best I think that I can offer would be a good math textbook, and I doubt that would make me wealthy. I suppose I should buy a lotto ticket and let that be my ticket to fortune.

Friday, September 24, 2004

15:58
Sick day 

Whether it was a genuine virus or simply exhaustion, I ended up taking a sick day today. I slept until 3, and I'll probably go back to bed soon. The worst part was that because I needed to get quizzes and tests to students today, I was still up until 2 last night getting everything together/copied and had my wife drop off the stuff at the school this morning. I really hope that the substitute got the materials.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

20:15
There's a solution to phone phear 

Many of my students' parents are more comfortable speaking in Spanish than English. My wife is Mexican. So I can just tell her what needs to say and she makes the call. How convenient.

It would actually be nice if the school had someone who could make all the calls for the teachers. I'd take a $500/year pay cut to make that happen.

20:15
Teaching proof 

I've started looking for materials for the next chapter. I think that I'm going to go about this section a lot differently than chapter 1. I've always been a bit wary of going off-book, but I'm becoming increasingly disillusioned with the Glencoe texts. They introduce concepts in problems without any preparation in the chapter (for example, the tick notation for congruent segments in a diagram), and the section on inductive reasoning doesn't appear to cover anything of the sort. A quick google search on "teaching proofs" turned up an article, "Proof, Thought and Aesthetics" that looks like a good start towards what I want to do. It actually teaches inductive reasoning, which the text does not. I'll have to see if I can find any good problems for homework in the text if I go with these lessons.

17:45
A student wants to leave 

but I'm not sure I want to let him go. He's concerned that the course will be too hard, but aside from falling behind in his homework, which he's made good progress on catching up with, he's doing OK. He's currently at a C, and I can see him doing well enough on the test to pull that up to at least a B if not an A.

To help him see what was ahead, I showed him the rudiments of the proof of why the segment bisector construction worked. He was able to follow it, and then I pointed out to him, that there's actually three chapters between where we are now, and where the class will be when we get there, and it's still more of a proof than we'll likely see in this class (actually, when we reach that point, I'll probably show the proof to the class, it's not too hard and the same diagram also gives us the proof of an angle bisector, as well as constructions of perpendicular lines.

But my bottom line is that I really don't want this student to sell himself short.

17:40
How'd the teaching go today? 

Pretty good. I'm working on trying to make sure that what I write on the board is a bit better organized. However, we had a very tight schedule, so it was a bit more of a lecture than I really wanted to do: I had 10 minutes at the beginning of class that I'd promised the kids to finish the group quiz (not that it necessarily helped some of them), and I also had to return the last quiz, distribute the notebook grading rubrics (so that they know how I'm going to grade the notebooks) and get the actual lesson in. I had more planned than would fit, but the morning kids seemed to lap it up. Fifth hour was a bit more chaotic, and I'm thinking that what I might need to do is start reorganizing my lessons to fit in with the strengths of the fifth and sixth hour classes. It'll be a bit easier with the Algebra kids than the geometry, but I need to figure this out. In geometry, we're starting with the introduction to proofs chapter next week, so I'll have to see what resources I can dig up to make this go well...

17:25
Have I become curriculum? 

I noticed that 20% of my traffic is currently coming from the Blackboard website at William and Mary College. The link doesn't let me see what's there, but I'm left very curious what class has provided a link to me and what people think.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

19:59
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18:29
My mornings are good, but my afternoons make me want to quit 

Today, we spent the day on constructions, which culminated in a group quiz: Everyone has to complete the quiz, but only one quiz for the group is graded (the students work together on the quiz). There wasn't enough time to complete everything, so I allowed them to take it home, and we'll have 10 minutes tomorrow (perhaps a bit less). My morning classes went great, and I felt really good about my teaching, until the afternoon classes came along. I think that perhaps next year, if I'm still at this school, I'll try to get 5th and 6th hour free so I don't deal with the kids post-lunch. It will, however, mean that I need to get myself up quite a bit earlier in the morning to be at the school by 7a...

Monday, September 20, 2004

19:54
Calling home 

At times I wonder whether I'm cut out to be a teacher. One thing is that I tend to be a bit social phobic, and calling people on the phone is a very difficult thing to do. But I have one student for whom this is no longer optional: He's been consistently coming to class without materials and hasn't completed one homework assignment in the last two weeks. It took me about ten minutes to work up the energy for the call, but once I placed it and spoke to my student's mother, she was quite receptive. Apparently mine was the second call she received from the school today. I let her know that her son would be asked to stay after school every day until he caught up on the homework.

In other news, passing out grade reports made the geometry kids a bit more concerned about their grades. The algebra kids, on the other hand were almost completely out of control. That class, I think will be required to take their progress report next week home and have it signed by their parents and returned.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

19:04
Sunday Search: how do I know if Id be a good math teacher? 

Now there's the crux of the question. There are some programs that dump you right into the teaching after a meager summer's training, others you spend 2+ years learning the rudiments of education, but you don't really know for sure until you're in the classroom. After seeing my last quiz scores, I'm starting to question myself.

But there are some things that you need:

08:40
CSET English 

So yesterday afternoon, I went to a local high school and spent 3 and a half hours taking the CSET English exam. I tend to be a good standardized test taker, so I don't worry too much about these sorts of things, so take that into consideration in my comments on the test: Bottom line, I expect that I passed all four subtests, although I'm probably borderline on IV. Worst case scenario is I'll spend another $54 to take subtest IV at some point in the future. If tests intimidate you or you're a slow writer, you might want to break the tests into two days: My recommendation would be I and IV on one day and II and III on the other.

Friday, September 17, 2004

22:36
Disappointing quiz results 

I've graded one section's worth of geometry quizzes from Thursday this evening. I'm depressed. My high score is a C. 27 out of 33 students failed. I clearly need to reteach.

But the result that really mystifies me was question 4: It reads: "Identify each of the following as a line, segment, point or distance" There followed a list of five choices such as RM for the students to identify. I had not one but two students write next to some of their options, "plane". How does that happen? I can understand not being able to correctly identify m as a line, or correctly identify any, but what on earth is going through a student's mind when they give me an answer that isn't even one of the choices?

16:40
Needles, pep and another day of teaching 

With a few exceptions, my 5th period class was much better behaved today, although I had one student who'd been absent yesterday who kept trying to throw off the class by asking about what happened yesterday. Sixth hour is continuing to be a bit more chaotic, but I can see some hope there.

I've not heard any more about what's going on with the incident yesterday. I'm not going to lose my job over that, and in the short term my TB test is a greater concern. I'd hoped to get it taken care of this morning during 1st hour, but there was an accident on the freeway that turned my normal 36 minute drive into a 65 minute drive. I ended up getting my shot for the TB test after school (I managed to be off the school groups by only 3.30!).

With the shortened schedule this morning because of a pep rally, I only had some ten minutes when I arrived at school to get myself together for my first class. Fortunately, I had planned as if I wasn't going to be in the classroom at all, so everything was lined up. I think that the lesson went very well, and I'll see what comes of it when I check in homework on Monday.

The detention policy has worked very well so far for getting students to complete missing homework. I do have a couple students who still are missing homeworks, but I wasn't able to do their detentions yesterday because of the incident meeting.

The pep rally was rather interesting, and I was pleased to see how well most of the students got into the whole school spirit thing. Especially given the heat of the sun. I ended up ducking under the bleachers about 45 minutes in, and only poked my head out periodically to check on one of my students who was in one of the competitions.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

17:21
I fucked up today. 

Forget using the n-word in an educational context, I let a student bring me to the point where I lost my temper and I grabbed his arm when he tried to walk away from me, and I ended up in a conference with the student a parent and an AP. This is the sort of thing that could have gotten me fired, I've been told.

The long version of the story: Student X is being disruptive in class, and after being told he can't go to the bathroom walks out of class. He does eventually return, but I have him down for defiance and am planning to write him a referral. Then his cell phone rings. This is against state law, and I ask him to hand me the phone. He refuses, and gets out of his seat to walk away, I grab him on the arm, he wrenches himself away and walks out of the classroom. I call up campus security to have them pick him up. After that it's incident reports, the aforementioned meeting. It left me more than a little shaken up and when I came back to my room after the meeting, I just sat at my desk for a while and cried. To add insult to injury, between a late hire, scheduling conflicts and procrastination, I've not gotten my TB test yet. I've been told that I might be pulled from my classroom tomorrow. I'm hoping that I can avoid that, just because I don't want any students to think that this is related to today's incident.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

19:10
Homework is getting done 

Well, a stern warning got many of the geometry students' butts in gear and they've been getting caught up on their work. I do, however, have about 2 students in each class who do not have textbooks. I'm going to start bothering every person who I can about at least getting photocopies of chapter 1 available for each student who doesn't have the book.

On the other hand homework check-in took far too long today. In most classes I didn't have time to do all of the lesson, and in Algebra 1, I actually ended up doing a mini-review instead of a new lesson today because of the shortened time. It does give me a chance to get caught up on planning though.

I had an extra 6 kids come in for the CAHSEE review (there, I've done it, I've admitted I'm in California! Oh no, my anonymity is almost blown!) today. We spent the hour primarily on scientific notation and started fractions. The CAHSEE actually expects students to do prime factorizations so I moved from doing some fraction problems into prime factorizations which I described as the keys to the kingdom.

At home, I found an invitation to become a sustaining member of the California Republican Party. Did I check the wrong box on my voter registration? I'll become a sustaining member of the CRP shortly after I go insane and decide that I would like to sacrifice my country's future so that the rich can get richer. The dems are not always better, but at least it's a move in the right direction. Most years I just vote communist.

Monday, September 13, 2004

19:53
The after-school Exit Exam class 

Had all of three students show up. It actually was kind of nice after having 36-39 students in each class all day. We sat in a small group and had a chance to go over how to do the problems. There are some mental math exercises which I used as a warm-up before the class began. Not sure that they're all that helpful. Some of these kids really need to just practice basic arithmetic skills.

19:10
And then it's Monday again 

5th hour was under control today (I think the fact that I didn't give them any slack helped), but 6th hour got a bit wild. It was a bit chaotic because I was slow getting things started (curse the new seating chart). I'll have it all worked out by next week.

A few notes:

If you don't allow students to go to the bathroom, they'll stop asking. If you mark students tardy if they're not in their seats when the bell rings, they'll start showing up on time. When I student taught, my two mentor teachers had somewhat different discipline philosophies. One teacher was free about bathroom passes and allowed students to run to their locker and be late if they checked in first. Lots of kids wanted to go to the bathroom and were late as a consequence. On the other hand, she was much stricter about classroom noise, and as a result, I didn't have a problem with that when I took over her class. The other mentor was stingy with bathroom passes and stricter about tardies. I don't think that I had a single tardy while I had her class, but because the talking wasn't well-controlled by her, that was a big problem in the class.

I think I've got the behavior part of classroom management down.

I've got a lot of students who've not been doing homework. When they have their detention slips, they'll start to realize that I mean it. I hope to eliminate the undone homework problem by the end of this week.

I need to do the homework before I write the lesson plan. It seems pretty obvious that this is essential.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

10:50
Sunday Search: algebra with pizzazz! answers 

I've seen more than a couple math teachers who like these. I'm still not crazy about them, if not a bit hostile. For the teacher using such a worksheet, one thing that's important to emphasize is what the objective is in doing the worksheet. The answers are not the objective! What's important is practicing the particular skill. Some of your brighter students will be able to come up with the answers without doing a single problem.

So if one of these worksheets are assigned, students should be required to show their work on the problems and the work is what should be checked, not the worksheet answers. Better still after giving the students some time to work on the worksheets (perhaps in groups), have them individually do 3 problems and collect those so that you have an accurate measure of the learning. Remember, that the purpose of a worksheet is to foster learning, not to fill time.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

21:38
A couple additions to the blogroll 

Keep checking the blogroll, I've found a couple more teacher bloggers. New to the list are puddledog and Counting Down in San Jose, who are a pair of middle school teachers in San Jose (I think in the same school as Post-Hip Chick... well at least one of them is definitely in that school). I'm sure there are more out there, and I'll keep tracking them down.

08:57
I'm only working 16 hours a day, what's another hour? 

I got a call yesterday during lunch from one of the APs asking if I could do some extra duty next week, teaching an after-school exit exam math workshop. This is actually something that I'm think is very important, so I'm happy to do it. Plus they're paying double time for this so it'll be an extra $300 this month. That's always a good thing.

08:28
1 down, 37 to go. 

The first week of school has come to an end. I'm quite a bit exhausted, and I have a fair bit more work to do. Quizzes from Algebra are sitting on the table waiting to be graded. I have a quiz to write for Geometry on Monday. And planning planning planning. I've decided that the best course for planning each lesson is to do the homework first, which will help me catch what will need to be covered/emphasized in the lesson. If I can get a little ahead, then I'll be able to get the chapter 2 lessons written a bit more completely in advance. Next chapter, I'm not going to just blindly follow the book's suggested homework assignments.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

19:07
English Language Learners 

One other note: I've got a few students with limited or no English. One of them, was supposed to have her class changed (which I managed to determine after a brief conversation in my broken Spanish) but is still in my class not understanding. I need to go through the student questionnaires and see who I can identify as ELL and make sure that I get them a quality education as well.

18:59
The students are starting to test me 

We're starting to do normal days now: My students had no quiz and homework due. There's a bit of training required to get them to follow my procedures, and fifth hour is being a bit of a pain: I had 3 tardy students and a fair amount of stalling which prevented us from covering everything that I wanted to on the lesson. That it's the first class after lunch really doesn't help. I'm realizing that I was a bit spoiled with student teaching last year because I didn't have a class immediately after lunch. I think that, while it's probably not going to be easy to get, I'm going to ask for 5th period prep next year.

Copying onto colored paper looks to be a bit of a pain at this school. I need to track down a paper supply. I did find out that the high speed copier isn't accounted like the other copier, so I think I'll have to get a card for it, so I can copy for free, at least onto white paper.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

20:44
Day 2 

This really can't go on. I realized that my time on campus today was a bit over 10 hours. I need to become a bit more efficient in my use of time. leaving the apartment at 6.30 and getting home at 6p is not a good idea.

Last night I looked over the students' questionnaires and it was clearly a well worth-it exercise. I've learned about Filipino languages, gotten a chance for students to let me know a little about themselves (sometimes things that they weren't necessarily intending to, like their linguistic abilities).

Today we had a bit more academic content: I'm realizing that I really rather despise the Glencoe Algebra text's organization. I think that I'm going to need to employ my copious spare time in writing a new algebra text book. I think something that was actually written based on the state standards rather than paying minimal lip service to them would be a good start.

I have stacks of quizzes to grade (yes, I quizzed them on note taking skills, plus the dress code and even a couple questions about math), so not much more to say tonight.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

18:06
First day 

It's been a long exhausting day, and frighteningly enough, it's not yet over.

6.01 The alarm goes off, and I resist the temptation to hit snooze. Instead, I climb out of bed. My closet is in the guest bedroom, and I'm sufficiently sleep-deprived that opening the door is a challenge. I manage to get through, complete my daily lavations, dress myself and get out the door. I don't realize that my second period handouts are sitting in the dining room. I do realize that lunch was not made.

6.32 I'm on the road. NPR is all back-to-school themed for the most part. I stop off and pick up a breakfast burrito and orange juice to eat in the car since lunch is an improbability.

7.08 No matter what time I leave it's a 36 minute drive to work. I've got some photocopying to do, but first, I want to drop stuff off in my room. I get to the room and notice that the room is arranged in rows. Surprise! There's a note on my desk from Ms C, my classroommate: She keeps the students in rows the first week so she can get a good seating chart (huh?) OK, that's nice, but I have a seating chart. I'll live. But my getting the kids used to their assigned seats plan is spoiled for the week. I'm hoping that she follows through and we have groups next week.

8.00 After waiting in line at the copier, I get my copies for the day made. That's a relief. I wait outside the department chair's room and let him know about the schedule being incorrect. He tells me that I should be switching 6th period classes with Ms N. I run to her room before first period starts and find out that she doesn't have the class that I'm supposed to get. I run back and let the chair know and he lets me know that he'll get it to me later. I finally get my class list 4th period, just before lunch.

2nd period comes along, but not before I realize that I left the handouts at home. I end up taking my blank 6th hour handouts and writing names on those, trying to get them all made before the students arrive. I succeed but at the price that I have no blanks for 6th hour. And no printer.

The lesson goes pretty well. I went over Cornell notes, SQ4R and classroom rules and expectations. My one contribution to pedagogical technique: I require students to use two notebooks for my class. One is exclusively for classroom/reading notes, one is exclusively for homework. I point out that by doing this, they will be able to consult their notes when they're working on homework. It also means that while they're working on a warm-up problem, they can have their homework notebook open to the correct page.

Third hour I refine the lesson and abandon my suit coat. It's much too hot today for this (yahoo weather claims the high was 95o, but I don't really believe that.

At lunch, I caught Ms J and gave her the journalism stuff I had and offered any assistance. She said she didn't think she needed any help, so I'm not going to press the issue. I think that I will put together a journalism portfolio and start networking in November to see if I can't land a journalism position somewhere else next year.

My highlight for the day was a student stopping me after school to check on details for the reading assignment tonight. It's going to be a good year.

Mr Prosciutto's self-grading for day 1:

OrganizationCThe materials left behind were symptomatic of larger organization issues. This must get fixed.
EnergyBGood, but impaired by organizational issues
LearningBGood, but impaired by organizational issues

Monday, September 06, 2004

15:11
Revised blogroll 

Instead of doing work that matters, I decided to go through my bookmarks folder and update my blogroll. I've given up on blogroll.com because I could never remember the password to get in there. Instead I'm going with old fashioned HTML code hand-typed into the blogger template (yeah, whatever).

The big thing coming out of this, is that I've categorized everyone by grade level (with a special section for the one preteacher blog, which presumably will move into a teacher section at some point in the future). I've also identified (as best I can), everyone's subject area(s). International bloggers are identified by country.

It was kind of interesting going through the blogs trying to learn the teachers' subject areas. In some cases, I ended up guessing because they were surprisingly silent on that front.

If you see any unfamiliar names at the right, I encourage you to go stop by. I promise, it will be worth your time.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

17:22
To do 

In case you hadn't noticed, I'm not so much camping this weekend. My wife got a promotion on Wednesday and was told not to go anywhere this weekend, plus I've got plenty of my own work to do: Viz:

10:00
Sunday Search: mp3 durufle requiem -amazon -buy 

Interesting, someone came to my blog apparently looking for free MP3s of the Durufle Requiem. This post comes up as number three on that search. I can't claim to be much of an authority on the Durufle Requiem although I did once perform it three times in one year (twice as a choir member in the organ+choir arrangement and once as an orchestra member in the organ+orchestra+choir arrangement). I've not performed the full orchestra version.

But a visit to that post reveals that it was part of the following challenge:

Step 1: Open your mp3 player.
Step 2: Put all of your music on random.
Step 3: List the first ten songs it plays, no matter how embarrassing.
with no further commentary, here is the current first ten songs that come up:
  1. "Ain't no Christmas in Hell", soos, Train of Love
  2. Darktown (Live), Steve Hackett, mp3.com
  3. Biko, Peter Gabriel, Biko (CD single)
  4. The Sensual World (Instrumental Version), Kate Bush, Aspects of the Sensual Reworld
  5. This Must be the Place (Naive Melody), Steve Ball Roadshow, LIVE at Pitcairn Art Gallery
  6. You (The Game, Part III), Roy Harper, Kate Bush Collaborations
  7. Immature Tomboy, Terry Devin, Three, Two, One, It's Alive From Studio A
  8. (Night Time Is) The Right Time, Ray Charles, The Best of Ray Charles: The Atlantic Years
  9. Ride of the Valkyries, Gary Lucas, Street of Lost Brothers
  10. Connection (Voice on the Line)

Saturday, September 04, 2004

23:36
An Easy Grade Pro endorsement 

I found a minor bug in Easy Grade Pro (it doesn't like it when OS X has the display century flag turned on in the custom date panel), so being the conscientious type that I am, I reported the bug. I got a reply within half an hour, on Saturday night, confirming my find and letting me know that the next release would fix the bug! Now that's service!

19:13
A bit more work today 

I spent a surprising amount of time on campus today given that my primary objectives were to arrange the desks (if necessary) and put some meagre decorations in the room to put a bit of my own personality in the room. I ended up staying until almost 3. I did get my class rosters (at least one of which is incorrect) and discovered that the evaluation version of Easy Grade Pro wouldn't let me do my seating charts so I've since bought a downloadable copy so I can get to work with that sort of thing. Students are seated in groups of 3 which will be heterogeneous Each group is arranged with two students seated facing each other and about 90o from the main board. I set up the basic arrangement so that while students are largely arranged alphabetically, I've dispersed them so that the first student alphabetically gets to sit in group 1, the next in group 2, etc. When I was in high school, it seemed like every class had alphabetical seating so I was always stuck between Priscilla Porcino and Archibald Quigley. I expect a bit of the same.

One thing I did notice is that the classes are quite clearly mixed levels. I have about half of my students for geometry in 9th grade (a surprising percentage, I thought), but each class also includes a handful of 11th and 12th graders. I'm busily typing names into EGP and keeping an eye open for duplicated names. So far I've found one class with three Alejandras. I also think that I've got a pair of twins (although in different classes).

The school uses a convenient coding system for duplicated names: They append + to duplicated names so that in records there will be Maria+ Lopez, Maria++ Lopez, Maria+++ Lopez, etc. They also put * after the last names of some students. No one in the office could explain any of this to me. I figured out the +'s by spotting two students with similar names and different number of +'s, but the *s area a mystery. Whatever they mean, I won't put two in the same group at the beginning of the school year.

10:18
A first day of school anxiety dream 

Dreamt that I had the students arriving in a flood on the first day of school and I wasn't even close to being ready for them. I had half sheets of paper on desks, but not a different colored sheet for each desk in a group of three. And the students kept rearranging the desks into rows from the groups of three. Quite the mess. So I'm taking this as a warning to be extra-prepared for my first day of school. Since I'm planning on having assigned seats, I'm going to have my students' names on their assigned desks which means that somehow I'll have to get a hold of the class rosters early (they've not promised them before Tuesday morning!)

Friday, September 03, 2004

16:41
Just a little work today 

My classroommate was actually in today and she gave me some cabinets and desk space. I've still got a lot to do to get my part of the classroom finished, so I'll be going back tomorrow. I started working on my classroom rules and expectations, but I need to dig up the ones that I had for student teaching to make sure that I cover everything.

Still no luck in finding the journalism teacher (who I'll call Ms J in this blog). Given that she has the day after lunch free, I have my doubts as to whether she has any intent of doing anything with the newspaper beyond the class, but I'll see. It's interesting how many teachers I've spoken to have said that they wished I'd been given the newspaper. My view: I'm going to offer to support her in any way that she wants and do what I can for her to succeed. I'm not going to sit by and watch her fail so I can take her job because that would be a shitty thing to do. We'll see how that unfolds.

I'll go back to the school tomorrow and get things a bit more organized and hopefully get a chance to speak with a few of the teachers on my community of positivity list. One teacher that I was looking for wasn't on campus today but her room was also not yet habitable so that's probably a bit related. But the other math teacher I've been getting friendly with (I'll call him Mr S) was around and we talked a bit about Cornell notes. He told me that he liked my idea of having separate notebooks for homework and notes so that students can have the notes open to the right page while they're working on their homework.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

17:24
A community of positivity 

As the workshops this week drew to a close, I've made a point of making sure that I know the names and room numbers of the people that I've met who have a positive attitude towards the various bits of training that we've received this week. I'm hoping that this will be the beginnings of building a community of teachers based on our dedication to teaching students rather than carping about the students or the administration or the curriculum.

16:45
Thinking Maps ® 

Today's inservice began with a rather good workshop on Thinking Maps®. This is a district-wide initiative, and looking at this I can see so many ways that I can use this in my classroom to help students organize their thinking processes. Some of the ideas are rather language-arts centered, but others can be used to great effect accros the curriculum. The presentation was well-designed and fortunately, the designated group that I had did not include the inservice whiners (although I got some of those when we broke into different subgroups for the jigsaw... even when I pointed out how some of the materials could be used in one teacher's subject area, and he agreed with the value, he chose to ignore it.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

22:35
Mission accomplished 

I've got my plan for the fall semester laid out. There are doubtless going to be changes to the details (my plan for a computer lab in week 3 will likely not happen courtesy of construction delays), but it's at least mapped out. Next up, the course syllabus, lesson plan objectives for the first chapter, the chapter test, quizzes and detailed lesson plans for the first week of classes.

20:30
So what teachers are being sought? 

One more quick post before I get back to my semester planning. I've not gotten around to eliminating the state job posting site from my daily bookmark set (I use Safari's open in tabs to open big sets of web pages all at once, which I often end up reading much later depending on my schedule). I present, without comment, a summary of the jobs posted this week:

19:56
Inservices? Who needs em?  

My answer would be, everybody. I had an anonymous coward offer the following sage advice:
Truthfully, there was probably very little worth hearing. You'll find that over time the sort of remarks people make at these silly orientation meetings tend to become quite predictable.

If you stick to your guns, and are still teaching in the same place in three to five years, I'll bet you'll be one of the people who sit and talk during the meeting.

Either that, or you'll be sitting in the back, reading the paper, doing anything but listening to the speaker.

I refuse to become that teacher.

It's important enough that I think I'll say it again.

I refuse to become that teacher.

First off, there were some very important things that were being said. I think that teachers damn well better know school policies on tardies, dress code, etc. This is stuff that the faculty had better know. Similarly with this morning's presentation on school performance data. I know, for example, that having heard some of the information on language arts performance, that I'll pay special attention to questions of vocabulary (particularly meanings of words in context).

As for the nonsensical inservices (and I know they exist, I've been to some), I think that it's very much the responsibilty of teachers to demand better. If someone wastes my time, that time is gone forever. Personally, I plan to write a letter to the principal with a couple suggestions on ways to improve the presentation of the information (in particular, I think that instead of presenting to all 85 teachers at once, much of the information should be done in smaller groups (ideally no larger than 30). We can work things in shifts so that some teachers are hearing information A while others hear B and others hear C.

19:33
Today's theme 

Is GAP analysis. Why "GAP" is typed in all caps is indeterminate, but it appears to be done consistently. What it seems to mean is the performance gap between where our students are and where they should be. Somewhat contrary to yesterday's good news, perhaps we're not doing so well after all. It seems that we match up well to similar schools, but ultimately the similar schools all suck.

So from my somewhat naïve perspective, my view of this is, you find out what skills your students are lacking, and teach them those skills. You don't complain that students don't like to think, or don't have this or don't have that, you teach. Isn't that what our job description says?

Then there's analyzing the data. For Geometry, we're consistently below the state level for logic and proof. For surface area and volume we see a one-time drop below the state standard level of 14% which sounds really bad until you look at this in terms of the number of items in this category (11) and realize that we're really talking about a 1.5 question difference. One more question correct and our students would be meeting the state level.

And which one do the geometry teachers want to tackle? Surface area and volume. Actually, I made some headroom into this by pointing out the above, so there's hope.

And I finally got a teacher's edition (or, for that matter, any edition) of the geometry text. So now I can start working on my own semester plan for the class.

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