Monday, May 4, 2009

Deep Breaths

After going to bed last night I realized that I have probably posted the whinyest post ever. See I can explain. For the last couple weeks I have been trying to teach 61 sophomores who are refusing to learn. It's highly frustrating and takes up a disproportionate amount of time. For example, I spent the weekend grading tests where I was desperately trying to give as much partial credit as I could. If I hadn't pulled the questions right from their homework, I would question whether my test was too tricky.

Then, while the instructer says that we should have known to be formulating a portfolio of our class work throughout the course, I must not have seen that directive. In theory that's a good idea, except that we had something due almost every Sunday at midnight and frequently the directions on how to do them were incomplete. For example, the portfolio due last night had a link to the website of a woman who develops portfolios. I didn't see a link anywhere on there on HOW to make a portfolio. I'm sure portfolios are useful to someone, but that doesn't help when I'm trying to make one.

So in the frantic few minutes before midnight last night I let some of my frustration leak into my post. I'm sorry.

As to this class, I really didn't learn that much. Perhaps I started at a higher level than most. I was already blogging. I've done tons of power point presentations. I've planned my wedding in excel. I've done extensive work in Word. I may have picked up a finer point, but overall, there was very little new.

Although I did like the video.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Finally it's Almost Over

This has been a difficult semester. Substituting full time and taking 4 graduate classes is exhausting. Finally I am finishing up though. Unfortunately, I'm a little rushed. See, I'm making lesson plans and working on end of the semester Power Point presentations for my other classes and my job and then to top it off, I have to spend time searching online help to figure out how to link to a word file. It seems to me that might be something helpful to include in the instructions for the online class. But what do I know? I'm just the student. And here I am trying to get this done by midnight when its due.

And I'm teaching seven classes of history tomorrow. So not much sleep for me tonight. I'm overextended and frustrated.

I did learn some important things in this class. I learned how to make a webquest. And I learned how to make a website. And my electronic portfolio may come in handy (but I'm sorta doubtful). But I do think that now that I know how to make a video and upload it to Teacher Tube, that I probably will do it again. Good thing my stepdad could answer my questions and help me when I ran into trouble!

Check it out. I'm pretty proud of it.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Integrating Technology

I have mixed feelings about my Instructional Technology class. On the one hand, technology is very important and I think it is a good idea to expose students to various modes of technology in the classroom. On the other hand, the technology that I am asked to work with for my Instructional Technology class is at best a mismatch for the kind of classes that I most likely will be teaching.

For example, there have been several assignments that would be more useful for an elementary or middle school age group and a subject far less abstract and exact as math. One example would be the storyboard/ visual learning tool that I blogged about here. In this particular assignment we were supposed to have at least two (apparently) hyperlinks. For a math class, I hesitate to have hyperlinks because if students are given permission to go off on the Internet, what is to stop them from merely looking up the answer to the math question rather than figure it out themselves? How would that be different than handing a student a calculator to teach them how to add, multiply, subtract, and divide?

This man starved himself to death because he was afraid of being poisoned!

We also had an assignment to create an interactive PowerPoint presentation. This was actually a fairly enjoyable exercise for me. Although, I'm not sure if it was enjoyable because I was able to go searching for photos and illustrations of famous mathematicians (click on the photo for the hyperlink to take you away!) and I got to make text spin around. It took me a long time to come up with an application for such a PowerPoint though. I created a study quiz for a group of high school students preparing to go to the OCTM Math Tournament. Because there is no way to track which questions a student would get right it couldn't be used for a regular quiz or something that the student would receive a grade for. And again I had to include hyperlinks. Did you know that you can Google most math problems and come up with an answer? So in summary, an interactive PowerPoint, while fun to create, would only be useful in limited applications.

What about excel? Excel has thousands of applications in math classes. Excel can show students how to use formulas, how to create formulas, how changing variables can affect outcomes. I was really excited to go wild with Excel. And here it should be noted that I am a fairly large geek and I have bought and played with excel formula and function books for fun. But our assignment was disappointing to say the least. We had to make a grade book and have three graphs for three different classes scores in the grade book. I have three problems with this. 1) If I am employed at a school where I will have access to computers for all of my students on an as desired basis, it would be odd that the school would not have enough funding to purchase a grade book software program. 2) For any set of data there is only one graph that will best display the data. For example, if you were going to graph the actions of the stock market based on the daily closing numbers, a trendline line graph would be best. A pie chart, or a bar graph would be odd and difficult to read. 3) Out of all the beautiful things that excel can do, a grade book is what's assigned? Excel isn't just about math. I personally used excel to keep track of the 430 guests invited to my wedding. Excel was used to track wedding expenses (which were graphed), timelines for completion of tasks, who gave what and whether thank you notes were written. I think excel is the most versatile of all the Windows functions and I was saddened that the assignment was to create something that we wouldn't need.

A right triangle inscribed in a circle!

On a more positive note, this week I learned how to use Geometer's Sketchpad. This is one computer application that I will most definitely use when I get hired to teach. Even though I'm fairly well versed in the ins and outs of Geometry, I had a revelation, an epiphany, an Oprah A-HA! moment when I had a triangle inscribed in a circle so that the two of the vertices of the triangle were on the diameter of the circle and I moved the third vertex along the arc. By theorem, the angle of the vertex formed by the point on the arc is a 90° angle. Up until I wiggled that triangle around, I have to admit it was something I memorized, but was skeptical about. Using Geometer's Sketchpad it became a concrete knowledge for me. Imagine the possibilities of incorporating such software into my classroom! I think this would be far more useful than a storyboard. Even though they both are visual learning techniques. The difference is that a storyboard is geared towards stories, and Geometer's Sketchpad is geared towards math (and maybe science).

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Wacky Adventures of Johnny Derivitive and Olivia Integral

By far the most frustrating thing about taking education classes to become a math teacher is that my classes and assignments don't have an understanding of math itself. I spoke with the math department at my school and they informed me that there are no "math people" in the education department. Why should that be a problem? English and History and Library Sciences are all important and necessary fields. Believe me I get that. The problem comes along in the assignments and unfortunately the grading.

For example, in my Content Literacy class I had to come up with a reading guide with specific types of questions on it; i.e. questions the students could look up the answer, questions that required critical thinking, etc. Now I think content literacy is very important. I think it's important that students know how to read. I think it's important that students know how to write well. I think that students today need to understand that they will use reading and writing in everything they do. With one tiny little exception. There's no reading in math class. Yeah, sorry. To be honest, I didn't even use the text book for anything in class than to have the students do homework problems. Yes, I could have the students read from some fine books about math. Or I could assign reports on great mathematicians. The problem is that there is precious little extra time in the school year and the books and reports don't meet any of the math content standards. My Content Literacy professor understood the challenge I faced and when my reading guide looked more like a quiz, she didn't complain because she saw that I had the asked for types of questions.

(When I taught the 7th graders from December through February, I did make them write to express themselves. They hated it, but I still made them do it. Because content literacy is important and should be included in teaching all subjects. Even math.)

And now, in this Instructional Technology class, I've been asked to use specific software to create a story board. What stories are there in math? The story of Pythagoras? All about Benoit Mandelbrot and his fancy fractals? So, I did what the math department suggested and I made a concept map. A concept map is a diagram that shows relationships between concepts. I used the concept map to teach my 7th grade class how to classify quadrilaterals. Believe it or not, this is a hard concept for 7th graders to get. It's also really important for the students to understand how to classify the quadrilaterals before teaching them things like area and perimeter. SO I created this concept map to teach the algorithm for how they should think when faced with a quadrilateral. It was more than three levels, included a hyperlink to a dictionary of math definitions in case the students forgot what congruent or parallel meant, and it was geared toward the appropriate age group.

Unfortunately, I had points taken off because I only covered one concept. One really fairly BIG (and important) concept. And in most classes I didn't cover an entire concept. Math is like that. Books, BIG books, have been written on the single concept of pi. But perhaps I should have paid more attention to the example we were given before we started. It was a storyboard about the conflicts in the Harry Potter series. Silly me, that's far more complicated.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Why Are There Green Beans in an Area Project?

My 6 weeks of teaching little brilliant, hormonal, over dramatic, hilarious, 7th graders has ended. I assigned 6 Homework Violations, 2 Detentions, and made 3 kids cry. I'd say it was productive. And really, one of the kids cried because she was sad I was leaving. I was startled and didn't really know what to say. Another kid came to me crying because he got a detention from another teacher who was going to give him one anyway, but had heard that he had argued with me earlier in the day. In all fairness then, I wasn't the one to make him cry. He was the obnoxiously gifted kid who had argued that I didn't understand how to find the area of his shape, a simple octagon. He's a sweet kid and he understood why I graded him harshly after I showed him some of the other kids' work. The third kid burst into tears when I gave him a detention, but after that we were cool. In fact he's the one who put the green beans in the area project.
What am I talking about?

Well, about 3 weeks ago after the students had taken a test, I decided to try an experiment that I had learned about in my Differentiated Instruction class (my favorite class so far). I had the students write down 3 things they were proud of in math class, 3 specific things they were going to work on over the next two weeks, and 3 suggestions they had for making their learning experience better. While the entire 3rd period class felt their learning experience would be better if I threw candy at them and didn't assign any homework, they had some really great ideas. One of those ideas was to have a bright and colorful room.

So I searched online and found this website. Under Chapter 9.1 is an area poster project in Microsoft Publisher. I printed it off with a rubric. Basically, I asked the students to create a complicated shape that could be broken down into smaller shapes that we already know how to find the area for. The shape had to be colorful, complicated, take more than half the size of the poster, and the problem had to be stated in words. Then on a separate sheet of paper the student had to find the area of their shape, neatly showing all their work, and state in words how they found the area. For an additional 5 bonus points they could find the perimeter.

Kids are creative.

And some kids are overachievers.

Naming the shape seemed to cause some problems.
I thought the dumpster was a hilarious illustration of how one girl felt about the project.
And perhaps I may have worn my purple sweater a few times too many...
On my last day, I hung the area posters around the room. Now, the children are back with their regular teacher in a room full of colorful posters.

But what are the green beans? Well, the students were having a hard time understanding that just because the length of the side of the trapezoid is given doesn't mean that that number is used to find area. If you'll remember the area of the trapezoid is found by ½·h·(a+b) where a and b are the bases (the parallel lines) and h is the height (indicated by either being perpendicular to the bases or by a dotted line).
So that side length kept confusing the kids because they felt that if there was a number it should be used. I asked them if they were baking cookies and they had sugar, flour, and butter, what would they do with the can of green beans? They'd leave them in the pantry. The term green beans caught on and it worked to help them figure out area.

Ironically, I love green beans.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Extra Extra?

A little while ago, we had an assignment to write a newsletter for my Instructional Technology class. Because I'm a long term substitute, I've been teaching the same class of 7th graders for 6 weeks. We also are just coming to the end of a unit on area, perimeter, and circumference so I knew adding a table would be easy. I would create a little cheat sheet of sorts.

The problem is, who was I supposed to write the newsletter for? I aimed mine towards the parents to facilitate a discussion at home about how area is used in everyday life. I had just given the students a quiz and one of the bonus questions was to give an example of a practical application of area, or why they had to learn it. So I included a couple of the best answers from the students. I also introduced myself to the parents.

The problem that I had with this particular assignment was that I just couldn't shake the feeling that this would be better received in a larger city at maybe a public school. I think newsletters to the parents are an excellent way to keep the parents involved in their students learning, but at a private school in a small town, I am confident that the parents are already fairly involved. And I wasn't sure they wouldn't just scratch their head at what the new teacher was doing.

And as for introducing myself, I was torn. I am an outsider to my pleasant little town. I was born in Michigan, which one of the students thought was similar to his mom being born in Argentina. The small town culture eludes me on most days. But I do know that the great majority of my students know that my father in law is the local veterinarian. And some of them know that my husband's law firm is across the street from the post office. Introducing myself then seems sort of silly. Most parents already know who I am.

In the end, although I packed up the hard copy of the newsletter that I had printed up the night before and took it to school with me, I never did make copies for the students. I lost my nerve.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Try to Stay in a Group

In my Curriculum Development class tonight I learned that Aristotle and Plato and Socrates taught their students by walking along while lecturing and the students followed along behind them. In the midst of learning about this I couldn't help but break into a giggle. I imagine that if I were to walk along lecturing about how to find the area of parallelograms to my happy 7th graders that a couple things might happen: Some kids would wander off in groups and get distracted by things like icicles or mud puddles or any kind of wild critter. One boy would push another boy and eventually all the boys except for the obnoxiously gifted boy would be entwined together in punching wrestling arms and legs. Or, the students (especially if the boys were not intent on strangling each other just because it's cool) would be running around wildly. I think the theme music to a 7th grade math class taught this way would have to either be The Flight of the Bumblebees or perhaps the 1812 Overture.

Because I am truly a dork, I would probably have a hard time learning this way as I would either trip and need yet another knee surgery, or I'd be completely stressed out that my notes are incomplete. Yet another reason why incorporating technology in the classroom is a good idea. There could be no strolling with laptops...

And why is it so hard for little boys to keep their hands to themselves? I suppose I should be grateful they aren't seething masses of hormones yet and they're only touching other boys and not the little girls.