Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Lost Treasure, Found! (a fun way to start class)

Most of my teaching career has taken place at my current school, but my husband's job took us away for a couple of years. During that time, I taught at Bulldog High.

There was a really great chemistry teacher at Bulldog High, Mr. S. He was a tough teacher, but the students loved him. He opened every class period with an enthusiastic class chant. If the classroom door was open, you could hear it all the way down the hall.

It started like this:
Mr. S:  Good morning Bulldogs!!!
Students:  Good morning Mr. S!!!
Mr. S:  How are you today?
Students:  Super great and getting better!

The chant when on and on for awhile. Over the years, students had suggested additions and it became a tradition in Mr. S's class. The students loved it!

Anyway, I really wanted my own chant for my class -- but that was Mr. S's thing and I didn't want to take away from its uniqueness. When I left that school, I asked Mr. S to write down the entire chant. I thought I would modify it for myself and start using it, since I'd be in a different school. I was super excited to do this!!!

Sadly, I lost my copy of the chant. Then I forgot it existed . . . until today! The hubs and I are packing up for another move. I found a small box, never unpacked, full of personal stuff I'd packed up from my Bulldog classroom. The chant was in that box!! Woo Hoo!

I am already thinking of how I can use it next year.

Here is the entire chemistry cheer, as written by Mr. S:

Mr. S:  Good morning bulldogs!
Students:  Good Morning Mr. S!
Mr. S: How are you today?
Students:  Super great and getting better!
Mr. S:  How far?
Students:  All the way.
Mr. S:  How much?
Students:  All of it.
Mr. S:  How many?
Students:  6.022 times 10 to the 23rd particles per mole
Mr. S:  What's our favorite class?
Students:  We love chemistry!
Mr. S:  What's our motto?
Students:  Can do!
Mr. S:  What's the truth of the matter?
Students:  The impossible takes a little longer.
Mr. S:  What's the platinum rule?
Students:  If you mess it up, clean it up.
Mr. S:  What's our philosophy of life?
Students:  WE NEVER GIVE UP!!!

So fun! Thank you, Mr. S!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Color Coding: For Sketching Piecewise

I tried a new (for me) approach for introducing piecewise functions in my Algebra 2 class, and it went over pretty well.  There is nothing really earth-shattering about this method, but it does involve color-coding -- and that is totally on my list of favorite things!

First of all, I am using only basic parent functions and their transformations that my students are already familiar with (linear, quadratic, and absolute value).  They do not need to plot points, because they already know how to sketch these graphs. I spent some time reviewing these before the lesson.

I start out with the idea of a restricted domain.  Students sketch the function, using the entire coordinate plane . . .

Then we worry about this "if" that comes after the function. Students color the restricted domain, and the corresponding portion of the x-axis.

Then they draw vertical lines to enclose the restricted area and shade it in completely.

And then they erase everything that is not in the restricted area.

We practiced these for a while before moving on to piecewise.

For piecewise, we shaded each restricted domain with a different color. Then shade in the corresponding restricted areas.

By the time we reached this point, most students could draw the graphs within the restricted areas without drawing the entire graph and erasing.

I've taught this lesson before, but pairing it with colored pencils was a first for me. I am pretty happy with the results, especially considering that a bunch of them are *DONE* and have started to shut down for summer.

Secret to motivating students this time of year, anyone?

Or, to get everyone to at least bring a pencil?

Monday, May 9, 2011


I have narrowed my list of things to focus on for 2011-2012 to just three. This new list isn't elephant-sized at all. I am feeling much more optimistic, now that I have a plan.

1.  Making videos:  I am still completely intrigued by the concept of the inverted classroom, but I just can't wrap my brain around how that will work for my high school students. And I am not convinced that the payoff is there. I am not trashing the idea forever, but I have decided to postpone it in order to focus on higher priorities. In the mean time, I am going to be diligent about recording all of my direct instruction LIVE. This means I won't be spending any extra time outside of class making videos. I will be able to make these videos immediately available to students who were absent or who want to review the material. As an extra added bonus, I should end the year with a bank of videos for future use -- voila!

2.  Common Core:  One of the biggest concerns for myself and my colleagues is our state's adoption of Common Core standards. We are in a comfort zone with our current standards. We know how to prepare our students for our state assessment, and we are nervous about the transition to a new one. I am hoping to gather as much information as possible over the summer, so that we can start getting ready for the changeover. I am attending a 2-day conference, and I've enrolled in an online class through a local university. I am hoping that my colleagues and I can use our PLC time next year to do concept lists for our classes. I don't plan on making any major changes until then. One step at a time, right?

3.  Physics:  I have decided to let my growth as a physics teacher happen more naturally. I have added some physics blogs to my reader. I have started to tag some videos, demos, and lesson ideas as I find them. In general, I am looking for ways to enhance what I am already doing vs. a complete overhaul.

Speaking of three, that is how many weeks until summer!  13 school days, to be exact.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Gosh Darn It (A Cheesy Pep Talk To Myself)

To say that I am a perfectionist would be a ginormous understatement. Lately, I have been thinking about how I am probably way too hard on myself.

For example, our state assessment results were awesome this year -- 97% of our junior class was proficient! While I was ecstatic about those results, I kept thinking about the one student in my math strategies class whose score actually decreased from the first time he took the test. I felt responsible for that student, and I felt like I had failed with him. Never mind that I did all that I could, and this student made some choices that were out of my control.

Second example, at the end of every school year I am always looking back over the year for what things I want to do differently in the future. This always results in a list that is way too long for one human to complete, because I end up thinking that almost everything I am doing could be a little better.

I don't think that I am alone. I have read plenty of blogs, written by amazing teachers, talking about how they suck and how this lesson or that one was crap. I know it is just their way of saying "I am frustrated, and that lesson didn't go the way I wanted", and they are being honest about what that feels like. 

Obviously, there is nobody out there who has attained perfection. We all know that that we have strengths and weaknesses. We all have lessons that play out in less than perfect fashion.

So, here is a reminder to myself:  I don't suck. Really. Also, I wouldn't allow my students to say that about themselves. So I should try not to say that either, right? I know that there is always someone who is doing something better than me. I learn from that person. I teach because I care about kids, and I want the best for them.  I love the subjects I teach, and I am committed to continually learning. I love my job, and gosh darn it, I am good at what I do!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Improvement Overload: I'm There

I've been reading math blogs for about a year now. At first, it was a treasure trove of resources I never knew existed. I loved reading so many new thoughts and ideas. I tried some new things and a bunch of them went really well. It was fun. I wanted more and more!

But recently, my blogospheric bliss has turned into desire-to-improve overload.

I want to improve my this or that, or figure out a better way to do this other thing, and add more of x, and rearrange the order of how I teach such and such, and start getting ready for my state's new test . . .

I made a list, and the list is haunting me. I try to think about something on the list, and I just hit a wall.

Improvement is what we all strive for, right? But right now I am not feeling like I want to improve. Right now, I want to think that what I am already doing is okay the way that it is.

I am sure that I will get out of this funk, and figure out a balance. I will narrow my list to 2 or 3 things, and I will accept the rest 'as is' for now.

In the mean time, I need a break.

And then I need some motivation.