Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Three things...

I managed to sign myself up for a How to write a better blog online course. Because, dear reader, this blog isn't just for you... no, this is to teach me how to be a better writer and a better reflecter (I'll bet that's not even the right use of the word... but I'm going to pull a you can do anything on the internet, grammar and spelling don't count)
So my task today to improve said blog is to provide a list. Totally open-ended. The rest of the 10,000 participants in this online course are mostly marketers, trying to sell something (not necessarily material but also opinion). That's not my goal so my list then is this, right off the cuff. I have to get this done because I have planning to do for tomorrow. I want to use Google Sketchup in my MPM1D Geometry class and that will take a little time.

Three things that will make me a better teacher:

  1. Reflection. Reflection. Reflection. Reflection on what I am teaching, how I am teaching it, how it was received, how it can be improved. The issue, of course, is time. But, as is constantly mentioned, if you find it important, you'll make time.
  2. Patience. As has been previously noted, I'm not particularly patient. Surprisingly, that has no effect in the classroom... I'll quite happily sit with a student to go over mathematics for hours. It's what I love to discuss so I have no problem spending the time or effort. What I am impatient with is bureaucracy. Stupid rules. Rules that are there only to make things fit into neat little forms. I will be a better teacher when I get over the fact that I can't change this. Stop tilting a windmills and do what I can.
  3. Be more of a out-front leader. Previously, I've opted for the sit-back-and-lead-from-behind. Doesn't work. A decade has taught me a lot. Those who push and get themselves out there (and not always in a bad, back-stabbing, conniving way -- which, unfortunately does seem successful for some -- but in an open and sharing fashion) are those that are leading nowadays. Waiting for someone to notice what I'm doing is useless. I have to publish. I have to share.
So that's my list. I'm sure my students would have a completely different one. Hmm... I think I'll make up a Google Form and ask them.
Oh... and I figure a blog posting is better with pictures.
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Monday, April 6, 2009

Parents...

I had a great conversation with some parents the other day. When they first emailed, they mentioned they wanted to talk about their students' math. My first thought was why? Very bright kid, very self-motivated, always at the top of the class - I figured they wanted information on his continued acceleration.
No... they wanted to discuss assessment and grading practices. We had a great conversation, mainly because they have a daughter in the same course taught by another teacher. Now, I have to admit my approach to teaching in my non-Calculus classes is non-traditional for an independent high school. I'm very much a constructivist, I don't like to be the one talking in the class and, most important to the parents' discussion, I refuse to just average scores for tests throughout the year. I patiently track the students' progress through all our assessments and adjust scores as they exhibit understanding (thank god for spreadsheets). It may take all year before a student gets the hang of factoring anything I give to them... but if they finally get it, their scores increase. It also means my students at the end of the year have higher grades but if they understand what I've asked them to learn I think that's what the grade should indicate. And, they've had to work throughout the year to get a grip on things -- I don't have a unit test and then close the book on it.
The parents wanted to know why the rest of the teachers didn't do the same. I didn't have an answer for them.

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Thursday, April 2, 2009

KenKen

Over the March Break (when I had some unstructured down time) I ran into a new puzzle form -- the KenKen. While it has a superficial similarity to Sodoku in that the numbers can't be repeated in a column or row that's where the similarity ends. In KenKen, the large grid has been broken up into cages - highlighted areas that have to be filled in with an arithmetic expression to hit the target number written at the top of the cage. There is also an arithmetic operation at the top of each cage. So, for example, if 24 x is at the top of the cage, the cage would have to be filled with as many numbers as cells in the cage and those numbers would have to multiply to 24 (so it could be 2x3x4 or 4x6 depending on the number of cells in the cage and the restriction against repetition, of course). As an exercise in class, it's a good reinforcer of basic skills (no calculator, of course). Once my students have the hang of completing the puzzle, we're going to move on to constructing our own. As always, it's harder to create.
My only concern about KenKen is that it treats subtraction and division as commutative. That is, it treats 6-4 and 4-6 as the same answer, 2. I wish the KenKen authors would use Polish (or pre-fix) notation so that it would avoid this issue. Plus it would allow us to talk to the students about Polish notation. When I went off to university I bought my HP28 ... it was one of the first graphing calculators and, as all good HP calculators did, worked in Reverse Polish Notation. That is, when adding 2 + 3 you entered it 2 3 +. The operation would always go at the end. It means you don't have to use brackets to avoid order of operations. A great little calculator I used until I became one of the testers for the TI82. But that's a story for another day.
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