Tuesday, December 17, 2013

a long winter's nap

Sometimes the best part about working hard for a long time is the moment when you take a break and get some rest.

In the first four months of writing this blog, I have been blessed with 10,000+ visits from all of you.  I am so grateful.  Please accept my thanks. 

I am going to take some time to be with my family and friends and indulge in that long winter's nap I so desperately need.  I hope you will find time to do the same. 

Best wishes to you and yours for a restful and relaxing vacation and a joyous and peaceful new year.

Please enjoy this holiday greeting from my Trinity Prep family by clicking here. 

See you in the New Year.  Sweet Dreams. 

Photo Credit

Friday, December 13, 2013

lessons and carols

The Christmas spirit is everywhere on campus these days. Our students are festively sporting Santa hats and Christmas sweaters, Secret Santa exchanges abound, and Thursday was my favorite chapel, our lovely Lessons and Carols service.  Faculty and students tell the story through readings from the gospels, our musicians perform, our choirs sing, and our students join in the carols.  It is a wonderfully beautiful hour. 
You can listen to one of my favorite songs, the annual conclusion to the service.  Christmas in Sarajevo is performed by our Wind Ensemble and directed by my colleague, Brian Beute.  I have included the link is to last year's performance, as this year's is not quite ready yet.  Every year is truly wonderful.  Pour yourself a cup of coffee, sit back, and enjoy a couple of lovely minutes.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

building walls

This week in all of our classes we are reviewing for exams.  I decided to try a free online tool called Padlet that would allow students to collaboratively build review sheets (like posting stuff on a bulletin board or wall) that could contain text, images, links and videos.  The students were assigned to groups and given guidelines as to how many posts, what was expected, and how they were going to be evaluated.  They took to the project like ducks to water and didn't look up for 40 minutes. 

You can see one such wall built  in progress here

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

love and math

This book has been sitting on the left corner of my desk since September, mocking me.  I mentioned that I thought it looked interesting, and our awesome librarian got it for me to read.  I see it every day, but have yet to find time to read even a page or two.  To be honest, I'm afraid to start it for fear that it's really good and I won't be able to put it down.

I used to have the time to read hundreds of books.  When I was single and childless, I really had summers off and could read a book almost every day.  Now I'm working on Nate Silver's, The Signal and the Noise.  I manage about two pages right before falling asleep at night.  I can't remember what I've read from one day to the next, so I've been working on the same two pages for a couple of months. 

I'm hoping that I find time to read over the holiday break, but you know that goes.  My priorities are pretty clear.

Spending time with family and friends
Reclaiming and cleaning my house after the holidays
Sleeping for about a week
Finding my way back to the gym
Preparing for second semester
Reading Love and Math

If you would like to recommend a great book that can hold down the left corner of my desk for second semester, I would love to hear about it! 

Monday, December 9, 2013

monday night blues

In class on Monday we were reviewing for the last test in calculus before we take exams next week.  We started looking at questions on Friday and continued today. Students drew me pictures illustrating the upcoming evening's review process in various ways.  Two are pictured here. 

In case you were wondering what we were working on, the problem is shownbelow.

the neverending story

What if you lived life on a hamster wheel? 

Think about a big project you've worked on in your life, something you sweated over for a long time.  Maybe it's a paper you wrote, the degree you earned, a relationship you developed, a painting completed, a car restored, a job attained, a home built.  What if instead of finishing and knowing how it turned out, you finished and then it disappeared?  You wrote the paper but it was never graded.  You finished your course work, but didn't get a degree.  You dated for years, but you never married.  You completed the painting but it was never hung.  The car was never started, no paycheck ever came, the house stood empty.  How long would you keep working if you never found out if your work mattered? 

This is how teaching works for a lot of us.  Students finish our classes and literally disappear.  Many teachers have no idea whether anything they ever said, did, or taught was useful or meaningful. 

I have been really lucky in that a lot of my students have come back into my life in recent years through the power of social media.  I have been teaching for 27 years and have kept in touch with fewer than ten students from my first five years.  But I have spoken to literally hundreds from the last ten through Facebook. This post isn't a ploy to get you to say nice things to me.  I'm good.  Thank you to every alum that has contacted me over the years.  You are awesome. 

What matters is that we are fast reaching a crisis point in education where new teachers don't last much more than a couple of years before they walk.  There are a lot of reasons for this, but most people will put up with a lot of nonsense if they know that what they are doing matters.  Let's be clear.  Students are the reason we teach. I challenge you to track down a teacher who was meaningful in your life and express your feelings.  You can't change everything that is wrong in a teacher's world, but you just might make today right. 

Thank you. 

You can read about teacher attrition here. 

Photo credit

Friday, December 6, 2013

happy teacher

It's 2:51 on a Thursday.  I have nineteen students in my last class of the day, one that ended at 2:40.  Eight of these students are still here working.

"Is it OK if we stay and finish?"

Yes...  it's definitely OK...   

Photo credit

Thursday, December 5, 2013

toys for tots

In December our school continues to serve our Central Florida community as best we can.  In the middle school, advisory groups adopt children and families from the Orlando Union Rescue Mission, providing Christmas toys, clothes, and gift cards for the homeless.  Our high school students participate in Toys for Tots, donating literally hundreds of toys to help the Marines serve more than 30,000 children in Central Florida alone.  I am always so proud of our students and their families at this time of year. 

I would love to hear about your school's efforts to serve in their communities! 

Happy holidays to all!

rolling the dice

At the start of school a colleague asked me, "Can you use these?" and handed me a box of dice.  They weren't regular 6-sided dice.  They were crazy dice with 8, 10, 12, or 20 sides.  They were a dozen different colors, beautiful and unique.  I spent some time thinking about them and considering whether I could use them to help students learn something about probability.  I asked my students, "How can we figure out if any of these dice are 'loaded?'"  Together we built a project where they rolled the dice many times and attempted to determine whether the dice were loaded, whether a certain number came up more often than was statistically likely. 

Each student chose two different die and calculated the theoretical probability of each roll.  Then they rolled the pair 300 times and calculated the experimental probabilities.  Finally they commented on whether they thought any differences were significant.

In hindsight, I probably should have waited until later in the year when we study how to determine the statistical significance of differences in data, but I am pretty satisfied with how this went.  We got a chance to practice using excel, the students did something they'd never done before, and I got to take advantage of a lucky windfall. 

This is what I love about teaching, the opportunity to take a chance, try new ideas, and evaluate their effectiveness.  I encourage my fellow teachers to go ahead and roll the dice. 

Just for fun, consider a pair of dice, one with 8 sides, one with 12.  If the sides are numbered 1-8 and 1-12, what is the probability that you will roll a lucky 7 on this pair of dice? 

(The probability of rolling a lucky seven on a pair of six-sided dice is about 16.7%)

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

global intelligence

Yesterday the results of an international standardized test were released and surprising to no one, the U.S. did not fair well in the comparison.  You can read a brief summary of the findings here

There are a lot of questions inherent in such tests.

  • How were the students selected?
  • Who wrote the questions?
  • Did the students prepare for the test?
  • Is the sample of students from each country similar?
  • How can we compare ourselves to countries where not all students attend school?
  • Was the test controlled for cultural bias?
  • Does the test actually assess something we care about?

My list can go on and on.  I attempted to research some of these questions, but the website is not as helpful as I would like.  I don't have answers, just more questions.

I think the last question is especially important, so before we once again start beating up on our 15-year-olds, our teachers, and our educational system, why don't we take a look at the problems.  Try them yourself.  There's only 6.  I answered them in about 10 minutes, but I am a math teacher.  Can you do them all?  Presumably everyone older than fifteen should get them correct.  But whether you can or you cannot, I think we'd better start asking the right questions.

  • What is it that we actually want our children to learn? 
  • What kind of problems should they be able to solve? 
  • What are our goals?
  • How will we know if we've met them? 
  • What are the best means to reach these goals?
  • What do we need to be successful?
  • Are we willing to do whatever it takes to educate every child in America? 

I welcome your thoughts. 

You can find some additional commentary here

Monday, December 2, 2013

fear factor

"This is the first time I can remember that I have not been terrified about my math exam." ~student in College Algebra

I teach College Algebra.  It is populated by juniors and seniors that have struggled with math in the past.  For some, math is intellectually challenging.  They work hard, but they just don't get it.  For others, math is not interesting and so they don't do the work they need to do to get it.

The purpose of College Algebra is to give students another chance.  The goal is two-fold.  First reinforce the essential algebra skills required to move forward in a college level study of mathematics.  Second, change hearts and minds.

I think we have to ask some hard questions about how we teach math as a society.  I work in a school with 'good' students.  They want to do well.  They do their work most days.  They take notes, they ask questions, they engage.  But still they are kids.  They get distracted by football games and parties.  Say the word "cake" right before lunch and they're probably lost because they're always hungry.   

Yet in my best case scenario, we still have students who are not only struggling, but afraid.  How can you learn when you are afraid?  In our effort educate them all, we have obviously lost some.  In my school, like in most schools, we went on before they were ready, either in terms of intellectual functioning or maturity.  And as a result, they fell down, they failed.  Maybe they've been failing a long time.  And nowhere along the way did they get up.  We just left them there.

The Atlantic recently published an article discussing the myth of "I'm Bad at Math." It's an interesting read on how kids get caught in a spiral of failure.  I think it's easy to be hard-core, to come to the conclusion that kids that fail are lazy or deserve it.  But it's not about fault.  The world is already a hard place.  Schools are under no obligation to model this.  Instead we must consider our intended goals.  Education on our timetable fails some kids.  Why can't the timetable change?  As parents and educators, we need to start asking questions that don't end with a standardized test.  That's the job. 

I'm not suggesting we just pass students along by lowering our standards.  I am suggesting that we try something different.  As always, we stand on the edge of educational change.  Technology has placed the world's knowledge at our fingertips and open access sites like Khan Academy and Udacity have made tutoring and a world class education available for free.  But all of this doesn't change the need for personalization and attention to individual needs.  Kids are not cans of peas.  One size does not fit all.

Education is not a gift, it's an interaction and a responsibility.  Interaction that leads to fear is failure. 

Interestingly enough, everyone fails.  What we do next says everything about us.

Photo Credit

the world needs more hugs

A student at our school thought the world needed more hugs, so he developed a website that allows you to send people hugs.  In the spirit of the holidays, this seems like a pretty good idea.  I hope y'all send his google analytics through the roof today...  happy Monday...  send a few hugs...