Random Ideas for Next Year

June 21, 2015

I want to put this stuff in one place so I don’t lose it!

  • Figure out the setup I want for Canvas
  • Instead of math journals – have them make flip charts!

Been Away, But Now I’m Back — Reflections on 2014-2015

June 7, 2015

One of the reasons that I haven’t posted anything this year is directly related to one of my favorite tools this year: planbook.com. One of my main purposes for writing this blog is to allow me to reflect on lessons that I have taught, and with planbook, I set up a tab called “Reflection”, that allowed me to do that and have all of the lesson information right there. As far as a year-end overall reflection, I felt that a blogpost would be more helpful, so thus…

In almost every way, this school year was a lot of fun. I had four PAP Geometry classes and two Astronomy classes. My PAP kids were great (I also had about 16 8th graders who were generally adorable), and it was a blast finally being able to teach Astronomy. My schedule even worked out so that I did not have to have “Freshmen Lunch” (35 minutes). With that being the case, I will mention the few minor annoyances just to get them out of my system, and then go on to what I think worked, and what I’m changing for next year.

To summarize:

  • Astronomy is great!
  • Not just a flipped classroom, but a flipped-mastery learning classroom!
  • Canvas is a really good tool for the aforementioned classroom.
  • Having students make a Kahoot quiz for their presentations is a great way to ensure engagement.

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#MTBoS Challenge: Sunday Summary

August 31, 2014


This was our first week of school, and overall, I’d have to say it went pretty well.

3 Days Done

Because we are on a block schedule, I had my A-day classes three times this week.

  • While my first day “Penny Floor” lesson wasn’t quite as engrossing as last year, I think it still went well enough. I definitely liked having all of my links for both my PAP Geometry and Astronomy classes on one page. With all of the various account setups we did in Astronomy, it made things very handy.
  • The math department lucked out on our part of Freshmen Orientation–we just had to take our classes to the auditorium for the three freshmen assistant principals to go through everything they needed to know about being a freshman and staying out of trouble. In my Astronomy classes, I had set up a Blendspace assignment that they were to write a one-paragraph summary over and then take an Edmodo quiz. They were a little shaky getting started (and it didn’t help that on Wednesday youtube wasn’t blocked, but on Thursday, it was), but eventually everyone got done.
  • On Friday, we had our first geometry lesson. Because I am doing a flipped classroom, they had (mostly) all done their notes over Points, Lines, and Planes, so I gave each pair of students a stack of cards.

    Draw What I Say

    The students alternated drawing a card and reading the description to their partner who had to draw what was being described (I stole the idea from Kagan, but I added more cards). There were some great conversations!

2 Things I Wish Had Gone Better

  • One of my students is blind, which I found out about on the Thursday before school started. I generally think things went well, but I have got to get ahead so I can get her material to her Braillist in time for the lessons. As it stands, I’m going to have to improvise something for the next couple of classes and hope that the material I’m going to send in makes it back by Friday.
  • I haven’t really gotten to know much of anything about my students yet. Maybe it’s this way every year, but it sure seems as if I should recognize more of them by now.

1 Thing I’m Looking Forward to This Week

  • After a week of introductory stuff, we are finally going to be starting astronomy lessons! The plan is for them to spend about three class periods researching an ancient civilization’s astronomy and then make a presentation to the class. This is the first time I have had a class doing presentations, so I’m a little nervous.


#MTBoS Challenge: Classroom Photo

August 31, 2014


This is my 1st period PAP Geometry class working on a “Draw What I Say” activity for points, lines, and planes. I think it’s going to be a fun group–it’s a mixture of 8th and 9th graders.

1st Period

My room hasn’t changed a lot since I moved in last year, so here is a better photo that I took then:


This is my Sierpinski triangle of student Sierpinski triangles. My plan (if I ever get any spare time) is to do an even bigger one on my back wall.



Automaticity in Music and Math

August 31, 2014

From a recent post by @cheesemonkeysf:

As music, the technical patterns are boring — up and down, back and forth, crossing and uncrossing, stretching and shifting. But they’re necessary to develop a foundation of muscle memory and motor skills, as well as the habits of mind and of practice you will need as you gain proficiency and advance to building the finer and finer skills of musicianship.

I completely agree (although I come at it from a flute standpoint rather than a piano). There aren’t many things in life more boring than practicing scales and arpeggios, unless it’s sitting beside a tuner and practicing getting every note in tune. The payoff is when you see something like this:


and your fingers realize that it’s mainly arpeggios. (And the version by Jethro Tull sounds really cool!)

Muscle memory is a huge thing–at least for me. When I was taking the picture above, I got out my flute and attempted to play it for the first time in at least five years. This was an All-Region piece that I played over and over back in 1980-ish, and while my playing was really rough, I could tell that my fingers basically remembered the runs.

All of which gets me back to Elizabeth’s point about our students needing to learn the fundamentals. I totally agree with her that, like Bach, we need to create rich points of entry for our students that can give them a payoff for the skills that they have developed. I’m still working on that.

I do have a story about muscle memory and math, though. I spent 20-odd years as a programmer before I decided to get my teaching certification. Since I was applying to a certification program, I didn’t have to take the GRE, but I did have to take the Texas Academic Skills Program test because they considered my SAT scores to be out of date.

I was studying for the Algebra portion of the test when I hit binomial multiplication. Now this was around 17 years after I graduated from college with a B.A. in math, but I could not remember how to do the problems! Then, I noticed that my hand kept wanting to make tapping motions between the terms–the two first terms, then the two last terms, then the outer terms, then the middle terms. I finally realized what I was supposed to do! My Algebra I teacher, Ms. Prendergast, had drilled us so much on these problems (we didn’t have a cutesy name like FOIL, but it was the same idea — essentially the distributive property), that my hand remembered how to do the problems even when I couldn’t!

Last year, I started out the year trying to teach the skills by using problem-solving, and I don’t think I was successful at either teaching the skills or teaching problem-solving. My approach for this year is something like learning to play an instrument–practice our skills, then try to bring in some rich problems that make use of those skills. The funny part, is that I hadn’t really realized that’s what I was doing until I read Elizabeth’s post. So thank you for giving me a metaphor to hang my teaching on!


#mtbosChallenge – Sunday Summary

August 17, 2014


Okey-dokey, I’ll give this one a shot too.

3 Things That Happened This Week

  • I helped my friend S move into her new classroom and new school (sniff!). It was a long, exhausting day, but I was glad we got to spend some time together before school starts. She used to be my co-teacher, and we would joke that we spent more hours together than she spent with her husband. I was very proud of her for getting her math certification, but I’m really sorry that she decided to change schools.
  • I found a new song that has been haunting me all week: The Long Grass by Remodeled Music.
  • Since I needed to go up to school for a few hours, I decided to combine several things at once: I needed to fog my house, which means my cat has to go somewhere for two hours, so he came up to school with me (he mainly hid behind my shelves). Since I had to use my car to transport my cat, I loaded up everything that was going back to school except for the astronomy stuff. This means that next week, I can ride my scooter every day. Bringing things back up made me really glad that, for the first year, I didn’t cart a bunch of stuff home. At school, I was able to get the top of my desk cleared off and cleaned; I also got some other things put back in place before I had to leave.

2 Things I’m Nervous About

  • My Astronomy classes. While I am excited about teaching them, I fully realize that most of the students are taking it because it sounds like an easier class than any of the other science options for seniors. This situation means that if I can’t engage them, I’m likely to have some behavior problems because these classes are both pretty big, 31 and 34, respectively. I’m also nervous because this is my first time teaching a science class, and I don’t have that same depth of knowledge that I have in my math classes. It also feels weird to be planning a class where I can’t just make up a bunch of new problems around a given topic the way I can with, say, the Pythagorean Theorem.
  • I started off last year really wanting to focus on learning through problem-solving. I met with a lot of pushback from my students, and, more importantly, they didn’t seem to be learning the math. This year, I really want to do a hybrid approach: spend time doing skill practice, but then spend time solving related problems. The issue is that it’s going to take more time, and since I have no spare time in my schedule, something’s got to give. So I’m nervous about a) what to cut out and b) remaining firm in the face of the pushback from students who aren’t used to being challenged.

1 Thing I’m Looking Forward To This Week

  • I get to see people I haven’t seen since June, and I get to meet our new math teachers.


Happiness is Playing With Circles

August 17, 2014

When I saw this puzzle by Curmudgeon, I was seriously intrigued.

The circles have radius 1, and the seven lettered regions are of equal area. The question is, what is the area of the pentagon?

After doing some algebra, I figured out that the area of the regions had to be \frac{\pi}{4}, but the problem is figuring out the height of the pentagon. Not knowing what else to do, I set it up in Geometer’s Sketchpad. I’m trying to get used to using Geogebra, but I figured I would work it out first in Sketchpad. I’ll put my solution after the “more” in case you want to work it out for yourself.
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