Archive for July 1st, 2014


Ideas for 2014-2015

July 1, 2014

My big focus this summer will be on Astronomy.

My school district is finally offering a course in astronomy, and I have been bugging my principal about letting me teach this for about three years. The decision finally came down that yes, I could teach the class as long as I passed the 8-12 Science certification test. This test covers physics, chemistry, biology, ecology, geology, and astronomy (none of which I have really looked at since 1986). Joy. So, for around six weeks, I spent just about every spare moment studying science. The physics and chemistry didn’t bother me too much (math!), but the biology, ecology, and geology drove me crazy with all of the vocabulary. Fortunately, I passed the test, and in a few days I will be officially certified to teach science in the state of Texas. If I get to teach all of the students who have signed up (there’s some doubt as to whether we have enough teachers for all of the sections of Geometry we need), I will have two classes of Astronomy!

It looks like there are some really nice online resources for the astronomy textbook, so I will probably start out using those until I get more comfortable with the material. The big decision I have to make is what kind of structure I want for the class. After last year, I really want to keep flipping my classes, so I want them to take notes for their homework, but I haven’t decided whether I just want them to take notes over the book or whether I want to make powerpoints/pdfs of some sort. I am supposed to be getting a class set of Chromebooks, so I’m thinking of having the online assignments be self-paced, and periodically have the classes do some sort of exploration/lab/project sort of thing. I have been gathering materials together for years, but now that I actually have to put stuff together, I’m getting a little nervous. I do know I want to do some type of big projecty thing for the planets.

As far as Geometry goes, I’m toying with the idea of radically cutting back on the topics I cover in order to spend more time on the important ones. Based on how last year went, if a topic warrants it, I’d like to spend one class day doing skill practice (worksheets) and one day doing problem-solving. Once I figure out what I’m doing in astronomy, I’m going to take a look at my calendar. I’d also like to record more narrations for my notes, because I think that would be very helpful.

I originally asked for Astronomy, PAP Geometry, and AP Calculus AB (yes, I am crazy). I was scheduled for all of that, when a scheduling error was discovered and I lost Calculus. What I’d like to do next year, though, is see if I can observe the teacher who’s currently teaching BC because he’s been a phenomenal teacher and he’s thinking of retiring soon. In theory, I may end up with some regular Geometry classes, but I have put in a request that I have only PAP. I’ll have to see how my schedule plays out.


2013-2014 In Review

July 1, 2014

Man, this was a crazy year! In addition to the stuff listed below, I had a house fire on Sept. 16th, and I was out of my house until Thanksgiving!

The Freshman Center

  • My 9-12 high school decided that the freshmen needed to be segregated as much as possible from the rest of the student population. Since the district wasn’t going to build us a separate building, we moved all of the freshmen teachers to one end of the building (for the most part). This meant that a school which had been organized around departments was now organized around grade levels. I’d say about 80% of the school had to change rooms. Fun.
  • Trying to force a separate freshmen center on a system designed for 9-12 created some interesting challenges. Our poor counselors ended up having to toss out the computer-generated course schedules and schedule about 800 freshmen manually about two days before school started.
  • Because I wanted the opportunity to teach Pre-AP Geometry, I volunteered to join the freshmen center to teach PAP and Regular Geometry. I ended up with three PAP classes and three regular classes, with all 9th graders.
  • For various reasons, my new room wasn’t with all of the other freshmen teachers. At first, this bugged me, but upon reflection, I decided I didn’t mind being downstairs in what amounted to the senior hall.
  • Everything was working fairly well until a school board member was upset that the biology students were in a regular classroom and not in a lab. Because of this school board member, all of the biology teachers (except one who refused to move because of the mold in the old part of the building where the labs were) moved back to their old rooms and traded places with the teachers who had moved there. The worst part was that our nice little 9th grade enclave was now broken.

PAP Geometry

  • Failures
    • I know Dr. Epperson insists that students can learn skills through problem-solving, but I have not yet figured out how to do it. As the year progressed, I stopped trying to force them to work on problems, and instead we did a lot of worksheets.
    • While I really liked my homework and my homework policy this year (see “Successes”), I did not follow through on the online homework that I assigned. The students figured out pretty quickly that they didn’t have to do it, and they generally weren’t mature enough to realize that they needed to do it.
    • Because I got in a rut of using worksheets for skill practice, we almost never got to spend the time to really develop the conceptual knowledge that I had wanted to. That’s probably my biggest disappointment.
    • Our school district has decided on a “BYOT” policy for electronic devices, but my freshmen cannot handle free access to their cell phones in class.
  • Successes
    • I flipped my classroom, and it was wonderful! In order to make things simple, I just decided to upload pdfs of my existing PowerPoint slides. I first was using, and while they were nice, they were a little clunky to use and their format was more designed for portrait files than landscape. I eventually found, which worked out really well. Slideshare will also let you upload and sync audio files, which I did a few times.
    • After I had uploaded my powerpoint pdf, I pasted the url in my school blog ( Students were required to take notes over the powerpoint for homework. For the first semester, I also assigned problems from Khan Academy or As I said above, I didn’t check on whether students were doing them, which was a big mistake.
    • I decided to take the meaning of “Geometry” to heart, and I took my kids outside the class for several measuring projects. I plan to do separate posts on these:
      • Proportional Measuring — I broke them up into teams, gave them mirrors and rulers, and had them measure tall things around the school. It was a little disconcerting to have a student try to tell me that the hallway was only 6 feet tall, but overall, I think it went well. The only drawback was that it was very cold outside, so we couldn’t measure outdoors as much as I wanted.
      • Inclinometers — During our trig unit, I came up with a printable inclinometer that I had them make, and we went out and measured tall things again. This time the weather was nicer, so we were able to measure goal posts and flag poles.
      • Eratosthenes Experiment — I got permission to take my students out of their last period classes on March 21st, and we calculated our latitude and the circumference of the Earth. In a moment of inspiration, I realized I could have them use their phones and a Google form to collect the data, so that worked out really well.

Regular Geometry

  • I ended up following the same schedule for my regular kids as for the PAP kids. The only differences were in how I weighted the grades and that the regular kids could re-assess up to a 4 (100%) as opposed to a 3 (75%).
  • For the most part, I liked my regular classes, but I had one class that combined the worst of being below-level and being freshmen. We went round-and-round all year. In fact, I had seven (7!) students in that class cheat on their final exam.
  • If my PAP kids couldn’t handle access to their cell phones, the regular kids really weren’t mature enough. This was enough of an wide-spread phenomenon that we have already decided that freshmen may not “BYOT” next year.

Now That It’s Summer …

July 1, 2014

**sigh** Every year I tell myself that I will blog during the school year, and every year something comes up that derails me. This year it was a combination of a house fire, trying to create a problem-based, SBG Honors Geometry course, and finding out I could teach Astronomy next year if I passed the Science 8-12 certification test.

As per usual, I plan to blog more often this summer to help me collect my thoughts from this past year and make plans for the upcoming year. Coming up: Year-end Reflections.