Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Lessons from Behind the Microphone

I've talked before about the connections between my current and previous professions (teaching & radio).  Recently (through my old boss Bob Wood who was a terrific inspiration and mentor BTW), I stumbled upon this post from Doug Erickson.  Erickson is a guy who often says very profound things about what makes radio and radio talent great.  I'd love to completely plagiarize him, but instead I'll settle for a long quote, where he identifies characteristics of great radio talent in the context of The Intouchables, a french film:
Here's the coaching points worth noting:
  • It is exuberant. Like some of the best air talent I've known (Bobby Rich, Dr. Don Rose, the exuberance of the main personality in this film makes it impossible not to like him, not to root for his success.
  • It is unpredictable, sprinkling in enough surprises to keep your interest.
  • It is emotional, but not sad or depressing. A little sad goes a long way.
  • It is believable. It never seems to be something untrue or less than authentic, perhaps because it's based on a true story.
  • It is full of rich characters, but the stars command your attention and the vast majority of the "air time."
  • It makes you laugh at times but it is not a comedy, nor is it trying to be. It's more complex entertainment than that.
  • It makes you think by drawing you to places you don't normally go on your own.
  • It is warm, meaning you feel better not only while watching it, but afterwards too. The glow persists and you remember why.
I highly suggest you watch the movie trailer and read Erickson's full post.

Just as he uses the movie as a lens through which radio talent can look, I'll use both as a lens through which teachers can look.

Exuberant.  That enthusiasm about content which for teachers needs to be infectious.

Unpredictable.  Important both for content and for the medium by which we deliver instruction.

Emotional.  Students cannot be indifferent to mathematical success.  We need to invoke emotion in our students.  As Erickson suggests, a little sad goes a long way.  Students should carry just enough sadness or disgust for failure to motivate them toward success.  Certainly successes need to be celebrated religiously to offset that sadness.  Apathy is our enemy.

Believable.  Where forced context needs to be avoided.

Stars command attention.  Here our "stars" are our most critical standards.  Math can take us all over the place, but we need to remain focused on those ideas that are most important.

Makes you laugh but not a comedy.  Too many teachers try too hard. Focus on the content and sprinkle in the jokes.  Not the other way around.

Makes you think.  The 3 Act structure is one way to approach this, but there are others.

Warm.  Our classrooms need to be inviting, non-threatening places.

Admittedly, I feel like I'm pretty horrible at most of these.  But I'm working all the time to become better, as most of us are.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

How to Get What You Want

My students were annoying the crap out of me yesterday, whining again about having the test on a particular day.

"Can we move it to Thursday?"

"Can we move it to Friday?"

"Wahhh wahhh wahhh waahhhhhh."

You know.

The truth is I was contemplating shifting it a day - it kind of made sense - but now that they've started whining about it I can't give in, can I?

But then it hit me: they really have no idea how to get what they want.  So today I stopped and for 15 minutes we talked about strategies they can use to get what they want.

Hopefully it will make them think about how to approach begging for extensions.  These really are useful tips for anyone who wants to get what they want.

I moved the test to Thursday, by the way.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Why I Hate Pi Day

I don't like dogs or hamburgers either so if you're gonna brand me as a freedom-hating commie, now is the time.

Here are all of the reasons I hate Pi Day.

1. 3.14 is not Pi, it's a mere approximation.  If you're anything like me (and let's hope not), you feel a little bit dirty every time you approximate.  When a kid asks if he can write 1.1 or 1.13 instead of 1.125, there's a small (very violent) part of me that wishes I had Jeff Guiluli's tire iron so I could smash the kid's knee Nancy Kerrigan-style & scream...


Luckily the calm part of my brain takes over at that point and I tell him very nicely that exact is always preferred and rounding error is a real thing.  And unless approximating adds meaning to the number, DON'T DO IT!

The point here it that approximating Pi Day to 3/14 makes me feel a little queazy inside.

I like Pi-poclaypse a little better, but we are still rounding and it still makes me sad:
I should probably get over it, but it's hard.  Also, I don't see you people celebrating the square root of 2 on January fourth.  So cut it out!

2. Pi and pie are not the same thing.  Trust me, I love pie as much as the next guy, and I like a good excuse to eat it, but again there is a disconnect that eats at my soul.  Some bakeries try to make some hay on that day, but most don't even recognize it.  Baker's Square, the kings of pie, have a count down for EASTER but no mention of Pi Day as far as I can tell.

I will admit, it is a neat coincidence that pies are round.  And the homophonal evidence is compelling.  But it's not enough for me.

3. Math teachers are already geeky enough; we really need to add this too?  It's tough to be the "cool" math teacher with all of you nerdy people running around celebrating irrational numbers.  There are a zillion things you do that make me look uncool.  You dress like it's 1993 with on open flannel shirt; you watch The Big Bang Theory like these people are your weird version of Tony Robbins, and you post stuff like this on the internet:

And this:

Stop it!  Stop stop stop!  I am trying to be cool over here.  I listen to Deadmau5 and Metric so I can stay hip.  I intentionally have not gotten Lasik just so I can keep wearing my very stylish glasses.  I drive a very fuel efficient car because it's trendy to do that right now.  And I blog.  What could be cooler than that?

Shoot, I even grew a mustache recently because it's a well-established fact that mustaches are cool.

I've been watching Magnum P.I. lately...if Thomas Magnum is that cool, I'm pretty sure I will be too.  That is, unless your nerdiness contaminates my image because you can't help but have parties in honor of some old Greek letter.

So stop celebrating Pi Day.  Have pie for pie's sake if you want to, but don't cheapen Pi through approximation and DON'T make me look bad.

Finally, you should know, just for the record, if I DID celebrate Pi day it would be on July 22nd.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

An Argument for Larger Class Sizes

Let's just say, for argument's sake, that I have 5 classes of 30 kids each.  150 kids total.  If I split those kids over four hours, that would be 37.5 kids in each class.

To me, the extra prep time is more valuable than a smaller class.

Let's pack 'em in.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

How to Grade a Final

My colleagues are fighting again.  This time it's over how to grade the final test.  We're on trimesters here and it's finals week.

If you've read my rants, you know we're on a 0-4 scale here in our district.  So the challenge is to create a mechanism to convert a 0-50 multiple choice test score to a 0-4 score.

The Two Proposals

Proposal #1: Use a linear regression with (25,0) and (50,4) to convert the score.  This gives us the function converted score = 0.16 x total correct - 4.  All negatives would result in a zero.

Proposal #2: Entice students to study by making the 4 much more reachable.  Set up bands:

43-50 4
35-42 3
30-34 2
25-29 1
below 25        0

Here's my take.

The second they start that final the learning is basically over.  So who really cares how you score it.  As long as it's in a fair way and not done capriciously, does it really matter?

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Drugs & Alcohol

It seems I'm most famous for lessons involving booze.  Well I figure, why not add drugs to the mix too?

I took the above picture when getting my remicade treatment.  I need to get infusions every eight weeks or so to treat Ulcerative Colitis.

I'm not quite sure what could be done with the above schedule, but there's quite a bit of math involved!

Also, I'm thinking I better upload the next picture to

Alrighty.  Just did.  I have so many questions.  The one currently in my head is, on average, how many pints would I need to drink to win the gift card?

Finally, I have a lesson floating around in my head that stems from an experience I had after having too much fun at a friend's wedding over the summer.

Don't worry, I was not stopped by the cops.  My wife bought me a breathalyzer a couple of years ago and I use it from time to time for fun or so I make good choices.

What I would like to do is take 4 shots an hour for a couple of hours and see how my blood alcohol content would be affected over time.  It could be very interesting (and fun)!