Friday, April 27, 2007

Something I Tried Today...

...that didn't work out as I'd hoped, but that's ok because you've got to experiment. One of my goals this year has been to increase the efficiency with which I use class time, especially for review (going over homework, preparing for assessments, etc.). Today's lesson was the last before the STAR tests, so I decided to use all of the time for a final full-on STAR question review. Of course, for any given concept, there are some students who know it and some who don't. Some students need direct modeling from me, some need to work with their notes, some need coaching from a peer, and some need god only knows what. So I am always trying to design new activities to increase the overall value of the class time to the students.

Here was the plan today: students had a quiz of 25 STAR type questions to answer, due by the end of class. On the tables, I placed labels with the numbers 1 - 25. Students were told that they should start anywhere in the quiz that they felt they needed help on, and go to that table number. Students were only allowed to talk with other students at the same table as them, working on the same problem. If everyone at a table was stuck, they were told to call me over to explain. As students finished each problem, they were supposed to move on to another problem at another table. What didn't work about this is that students began to clump up immediately and then just didn't bother moving around. Essentially, they just formed work groups and then stayed with them for the rest of class. They were working, so the lesson wasn't time wasted. But there was no increased pay-off either (I was really hoping that I was on to something). I have some ideas about modifying this for the future, so if I end up trying them, I'll write about it more.

Has anyone tried anything like this, or have any ideas about efficient reviewing techniques or activities?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Staying on top of blogging is like solving a greased Log

Or something. Ok, I haven't posted in a while about what's going on in class. So a summary:

1) The STAR Search(tm) treasure hunt is in effect. The idea of giving away puzzle pieces for each correct answer on the daily 10-minute 5-question warmup has worked really well. Most of the teams are nearly complete with their puzzles, and a few have worked it out already. It was the smiling face of another teacher (photoshopped to make him a bit harder to recognize) with the text "Find Me!" and "Make my noise of disgust." (He has a patented barf-noise he makes whenever PDA is observed in the halls). So a couple teams have done this, and are now working on puzzle #1. I'll post them all eventually, but this one has them reviewing concepts of the real number system from unit 1. There are a bunch of true false questions that they convert to 1s and 0s, and then must research binary to figure out what number is being represented, which will lead them to the next teacher based on a look-up list. An insight into DCP student critical thinking: one student asked me today what to do, because he got the 1s and 0s, but didn't understand how to get any of the numbers. I asked him to read me the title of the puzzle. "There are only 10 people in the world: those who know binary and those who don't." He looked at me. I asked him if there were any words in the title that he didn't understand. He said, "binary". I suggested that finding out what that means might be a good place to start.

2) In Algebra 2, aside from the treasure hunt, I am now desperately trying to get them to grasp logarithms before the STAR test next week. The proximity of the test has forced me to teach the unit totally out of order, and it bums me out. On the test, they only need to be able to evaluate basic logs, change the base, use the log properties, and spot incorrect lines in a log simplification problem. There is nothing about the log function and its domain, the inverse relationship with exponentials, solving real log or exponential equations, and so forth. The order I would have preferred would have been:

  1. introduce the concept of exponentials with a "trick" problem like a lottery or the grains of rice on a chessboard type thing
  2. develop an understanding of exponential functions - growth and decay, and maybe some translations and transformations
  3. present word problems (population growth, interest, depreciation, carbon dating, etc.) and model them with exponential functions
  4. use these models to help students realize that we don't have a tool for finding the x when we know the y, and why we need one - springboard to the logarithm operation
  5. develop a feel for how logs work, by estimating their value to being between a pair of consecutive integers; compare the log operation to the nth-root operation
  6. convert back and forth between log and exponential form, and solve basic log and exponential equations
  7. learn how to change the base of logs
  8. go back and use logs to answer the questions in the word problems that we previously couldn't
  9. derive and learn the properties of logs, drawing parallels with the properties of exponents
  10. use the properties to solve more complex log equations, including discussion of domain and extraneous solutions
  11. explore the graphs of log functions
  12. use that as a lead in to a brief unit on inverse functions
So instead, I jumped in at 5 and continued with 6, 7, and 9. Then, after the test next week, we'll go back to 1 and move forward.

3) I have a student teacher now, and he is taking over the instruction, as of today. It's really cool to work with someone like that, and help them learn how to become a teacher. But I didn't realize how hard it would be to change my own work habits (I can't just plan where and when I want to), and it's difficult to know how much to do versus how much to let him do, knowing that he's got to try things on his own, yet also wanting to make sure that my students learn the material. He's got a great natural patience and rapport with the students, and once he gets the teachable stuff down, he'll be on fire.

4) We're in Spirit Week now. Yesterday was boy-dress-like-girl-girl-dress-like-boy-day (umm... student council came up with the themes...) and today was dress-like-your-culture-day. Lots of sombreros and mariachis walking around, and apparently "hoochie" and "jeans and t-shirt" are cultures too. I abstained yesterday, but today I wore my bar-mitzvah talit and kipah, which always leads to the expected questions: "You're Jewish? Really? Do you speak Jewish? What's Jewish? etc." Today, a freshman took one look at me and said, "What race are you supposed to be?" Tomorrow is class color day (Go purple! Sophomores! Wise Fools!) and the Numeracy Project will be playing; I'll be doing my world-premiere version of "Slope Is Rise Over Run" (The Animals). That will lead into "y = mx + b" (borrowed from Semisonic), and then the ever popular standard "Sweet Home Alameda".

Thursday, April 05, 2007

0% APR!

My algebra 2 students today marketed their credit cards to the Freshmen during lunch. We set up tables outside of the cafeteria, and my students had copies of fliers with their advertisement on front and their disclosure on back (which I photocopied from a real solicitation, used white out on the card names, fees, and APRs, and then filled in with the information they chose). As the freshmen came by, my little salesmen and saleswomen began shouting out the virtues of their card, while slandering those of their competitors. I heard things like "No, don't go over there! They'll just raise the rate on you later. Come to us - we have 0% interest and no minimum monthly payments!"

Some Freshmen made the mistake of signing up for the first offer they saw, and then wanted to change later. I told them they couldn't - once their name is signed on a contract, they can't just say "oops, just kidding!". One girl was really mad ("There was a back side? I didn't even know! That's not fair!"), and I told her she should go talk to the company and try to work out a deal. I listened, impressed, as they worked it out: she was given the choice to switch to the company's other plan, or to keep her original card and then cancel it without charge after a month.

Overall, the Freshmen took the whole exercise very seriously. Many were concerned about getting the best deal, and came to me asking which they should pick. I told them that I didn't know - they had to ask the companies if they had any questions - and they did! My favorite sales pitch: "Hey - you were at my quince! Come sign up with us!".

If you're interested, here are some of the names of the cards my students offered:

Mexican Express
Paiza Express
The Green Card
Viso (Platinum)
Viso (Gold)
Smart Latino
Red Foxx
High Five