Friday, October 26, 2012

Knee/Online Sub Plans

I am getting major knee surgery today.  It's called a Maquet procedure.  If I was older I'd get a full knee replacement, and if I hadn't lucked into a very skilled doctor I'd be getting a partial knee replacement today.  At 33.

When the doc told me about this procedure for the first time a couple of years ago, the first thing he said was, "Do you remember vectors from your high school or college math class?"

Obviously I was hooked.

The short explanation is that this procedure is designed to change the direction of the force onto the knee.  Instead of the kneecap pushing hard directly on my knee (and my bad cartilage), it will push in a higher spot.

Cool stuff, huh?

So I'll be out a week and a half (and blogging more, probably).  Last year I went to all online sub plans and am loving it.  It's great, especially for those unplanned absences.  No more running into school sick early in the morning to write a quick scribble for my sub.  I just send her (and our secretary) the link.  I've got all seating charts and working documents I use synced in Google Drive so if I change the seat of a student that change is automatically in my plans.

Check them out HERE.  That's pretty cool too I'd say.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Virtual Study Groups: Forums

I have been progressively preparing my students for a week and a half when I will be at home recuperating from knee surgery.  The work needs to be independent because, well, there are very few substitute teachers in the world that can teach advanced math topics with any level of competency.  If you know of any in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, let me know.

I have a decent sub lined up who is very comfortable with most Algebra 1 and Geometry concepts.  She knows the kids and is always there for me when I need her, so I am grateful to her.  But she's not going to be able to teach mathematical induction or the binomial theorem.  It's just not going to happen.

I have given them a lot of independent work in class, tried to help them get comfortable with reading the textbook, and facilitate as much online collaboration as possible.  A major piece of this is our online forums.

Early on, I required one question and one answer per week.  I gave them examples of what good and bad forum posts look like.  Although some have not met that requirement, many post much more than that.  And it's inherently helpful to their learning.  This sort of online collaboration is exactly what I envisioned!

I have opened up our HL Math moodle page to guests so my sub can access it while I'm out.  I'll share it with you too.

Take a look at the forums.  Some of the processing and learning going on is pretty great:
Chapter 4
Chapter 3
Chapter 2
Chapter 1

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Good Plan

I'm knee deep in systems in four out of the five hours I teach.  And I have been pondering this tweet all week:

It's true: it seems a lot tougher for Algebra 2.  I'd suggest, however, that 3 Act math lessons are not better or worse suited for lower or higher levels.  Rather, I believe those 3 Act pioneers like Dan Meyer & Andrew Stadel teach or taught at a middle school, so we have many more great junior high lessons at our disposal.  Also, because the math is more basic, it's easier to make efficient lessons at this level.

So back to systems.  Seems to me that systems of equations should be fertile ground for some good Algebra 2 three acts.  I went to my textbook for ideas and all I could find were problems like this:

I gave up on getting ideas from my textbook.

As I thought about it more, it occured to me that the most contextually natural application of systems lies with what our textbooks call the "break-even point."  The point at which two lines intersect and it becomes better to follow one path than the other.  Which brought me to cell phone plans.

And this image became the starting point of my lesson, Good Plan.

Seems great.  Very naturally transitions into discussions of systems, domains, and piecewise functions, which for whatever reason give most upper-level high school math students fits.

But, sadly, what was originally crafted to be a three act math lesson may not qualify!  Is the image above perplexing enough to be a legitimate Act 1?  Is it fair that the only information they'll decide they need in Act 2 is how many minutes they talk on the phone?

It was defensibly suggested by a couple of good Twitter friends that I somehow could make Act 1 into a video or perhaps cover up some of the information in the plan options.  I'm going to say right now that I don't like the idea.  Manipulating this situation so it fits into the three act framework seems almost as dirty as manipulating it so it can go into a textbook.

That's not to say that there isn't a great lesson to be made that begins with a video.  Just not this one.  This feels pretty natural to me, and isn't that the ultimate goal?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


I found it odd that while Standards Based Grading takes off here in the US, the International Baccalaureate people seem to be oblivious. My colleague and I went to Higher Level Mathematics Level 2 training over the summer, and when we asked how to best align IB assessment principles with SBG, the response from our very knowledgeable & impressive presenter was, "what's that?"

Good news! I think I have a system that works. And I'd like to share it with the world.

The plan is to lump compatible topics together into IB style learning targets (LT's). It looks as if there will be about 10-15 LT's per trimester. Because this is a class for very advanced math students, students will be required to get at least a 3 (out of 4) on the first test, otherwise they'll need to retake it.

On the second attempt, I will grade it on the full 0-4 spectrum. They will only be allowed to retake once.

We will also incorporate trimester finals that will be more pressurized. IB exams are designed to expose both the high and low ends; that means unless you are the very best there is not enough time to complete the exam. This final will be a different measuring stick and these trimester finals will better prepare our kids for the tests they will actually take.  We'll have to convert their mark scores to 0-4, details on that yet to come.

As I create these resources (for year one, non-calculus topics only) I will share them with you. Some things I don't want out there for everyone to see (read: students), so if you'd like access to those particular files, just request access or email me at and I will hook you up!

Go HERE for all of my HL Math resources as they are created.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Big Smiles & Beers

Ohhhhh, today was annoying.  One of those days where I was inches away from going off the deep end.  At times I think I did.  Seems like a blog could be a form of catharsis so let me just give you a blow-by-blow overview of my day and why it was so damn annoying.  If you're not into reading about other peoples' problems, scroll down in your reader.

Woke up well rested with 8 hours of sleep under my belt.  Fed the baby girl, kissed her a bunch, and got a jump on the day.

Arrived at school a bit early because I forgot the tests I was going to correct on Friday.  The first thing I walked into was a note from the custodians.  It was the second of its kind that I have received this year.  It read
You will need to empty your recycling yourself.  We will put out the barrels to empty your recycling on Wednesdays.
I have been pushing back against this since this first note a few weeks ago.  When a custodian decides to drop in and teach a lesson, I will consider doing their job.  BUT NOT SOONER!  Do your damn job and I'll do mine!

So since suddenly I am expected to add custodial duties to my job description, I figured I would go steal a giant recycling barrel and put it in my room by the door.  Problem solved.

Meeting.  IB Collaborative Team AKA PLC AKA Data Team.  Because of my recycling issues I didn't have the data I wanted to have.  Got some yummy cinnamon rolls though so that was awesome.

1st period.  Starting class immediately after a meeting is never a good idea.  Taught kids about graphing lines.  Kid in front row refuses to work.  Always nice.  Generally kind girl decides she's going to talk to her friend in the hallway in the middle of class.  Told her, "You just can't do that!"  Also, "If you do it again I'll have to write you up."  Her response: "Go ahead."

I wrote her up after she did it again.

HL Math.  Rational functions.  I said, "Here are three problems.  I'll work through one of them as an example.  Which one would you like."  Kid in the back: "All three."

Part of me wishes I cared about my job just a little bit less so I could punch this kid in the face.  Not really, but sort of.

Lunch.  Spicy chicken strips in all three lines.  Suck.  That texture is just plain gross.

Algebra II.  Friday we had a pepfest and a few kids were gone, so OF COURSE they all wanted me to reteach them the lesson today.  Perhaps "FIGURE IT OUT" wasn't the best thing for me to say, but it was the first thing that came out of my mouth.  If you make the choice to be gone, you are responsible for your own learning, no?

Also was blessed with a girl who wanted to go to the bathroom with 5 minutes left in the period.  I told her no, and that was met with a, "this is fucking ridiculous."  Get out of my classroom.

Follow up with Assistant Principal regarding the recycling.  I told him I had solved the problem but he was skeptical.

Tennis practice.  Trying to find fun in this game for a bunch of girls who are burned out can be a bit challenging.  We had some odd fun, but the game of tennis should be fun without effort.  At least it was 75 degrees today.

Home with wife and daughter.  "Big Smiles and Beers" is the name of my country album, if I ever move to Nashville and cultivate a singing voice.  Drank Summit Saga and hung out with Callista until she went to bed about 6:30.  Still a bit annoyed with the day, but it doesn't sting as much as it did 6 hours ago.

How could this girl not knock all of the negative energy out of your body??!

OK, poopy pants, but besides that?