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 scribd.com, 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 slideshare.net, 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 (mathblog.wordpress.com). Students were required to take notes over the powerpoint for homework. For the first semester, I also assigned problems from Khan Academy or IXL.com. 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.


  1. I noticed that you had planned to use Exeter problems for classwork for your Geometry classes. Are those the problems that you listed that you gave up on working on? Did you use the curriculum from Exeter or did you modify it? Did you use other materials or strictly the Exeter problems? I would like to incorporate some of those problems into my curriculum but am unsure how to get started. I am curious why you discontinued using them. Thanks!

    • I started out using the Exeter problems, but I found that two big problems arose: (1) Because Math 2 isn’t a geometry course as such, I couldn’t really use their sequencing, which meant that prior knowledge bit me big time; (2) their course is really heavy into parametric equations, which aren’t in my state standards until Precalculus. I tossed around the idea of introducing them, so I could do the problems (and I may still try that next year), but I had to toss out a lot of problems because they would take too much setup.

      I still love the Exeter problems, so I’m not giving up on them completely.

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