Friday, May 31, 2013

How Nerds Cook Hot Dogs

Yesterday we took our Pre-Calculus students outside to test their solar cookers.  The cookers had three requirements:

1) It must be parabolic and have a quadratic equation.

2) The hot dog has to be placed at the focus point to cook.

3) The hot dog in the cooker must be hotter than the test dog
   * The test dog is just a hot dog sitting in the sun (not in a cooker).

One group of students had a hot dog up to 167 degree, while the test dog was 93!!!

While the students were creating their solar cookers, they were very skeptical.  "Mrs. Oswald, are you sure this is going to work?  It's just cardboard and tin foil!!"  Almost every day, the students felt they were wasting their time.

The students were amazed!  How about that?  Math is actually useful!!!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Too Exited To Not Share

A few posts ago, I wrote about how I use SBG with my running.  I set goals for myself dealing with running whether it's about distance, speed, weight training, weight management, etc.  I work on these small goals until I feel that I'm proficient, then set new goals.

Things have been going great in my running world.  Three weeks ago I got a PR and just yesterday I earned my first medal.  Both accomplishments felt awesome and I own both of them.  The result is that I have even more motivation to go out there and do even better.

I hope my students feel this way.  I hope that as the school year is coming to a close that they are breaking their own personal records and perhaps receiving recognition for their accomplishments.  I hope they get that boost in motivation to not give up.

A few vanity photos:

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Senior Pranks

Senior pranks can be tricky.  There is a fine line between being funny and getting in trouble.  Here are my thoughts on what the "rules" should be for senior pranks:

1) It cannot create more work for the staff.  One year, the seniors zip tied all the Freshman lockers shut. Before the students came into the building, the maintenance guys had to cut each and every zip tie.  The Freshman had no idea they had been pranked and the staff had more work to do.

2) No one can get hurt.  What about the time the students thought it would be funny to put vaseline on the floor in the doorways and tie fishing line across?  That got squashed immediately, too many bad things could happen there.  What makes matters worse is that some students couldn't think that far ahead to realize the outcome.

3) Nothing gets damaged.  How about the students who released crickets into the school?  The clean-up costs were expensive.

Here are a few examples of things that the seniors did here that I thought showed creativity, togetherness, and something special about their class.

One year the students got up super early to park their cars in all the faculty spots, so that the teachers had to park in the student lot.  I'm impressed that they got up so early.

Inserting white plastic spoons in the front lawn to spell out YOLO.  Although I'm not a fan of YOLO, it was a harmless idea.  I don't remember who cleaned up all of the spoons.

Setting all their cells phones to make noise at the same time from their lockers.  Annoying but harmless.

What have your seniors done?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Positive Attitude

It's so easy for me to fall in the trap of complaining and it happens to the best of us.  I don't know why I still have a Facebook account because it only angers me when people teacher-bash on there.  But I have to remember that I have had years of training to be a teacher, while parents have no training to be parents.  So, when parents become over-sensitive and blind to the child's actions and tall tales, I need to keep this training in mind.

Recently there was a post from one of my friends on Facebook totally putting her daughter's teacher in a bad light, without a whole lot of proof to back it up other than her daughter's word.  This morning I started writing a blog post quoting this person and all the awful comments that followed.  Then I deleted it before going public, because that's not what this blog is about.  There will always be some haters out there, but for each hater there are 100 supporters.  So I looked to my teaching scrapbook for inspiration and a pick-me-up.

If you don't have a teaching scrapbook, you should start one.  It's a place where I keep all the nice notes from my students and parents.  It helps remind me why I'm here.

I've been a teacher for 13 years, so looking back on these many years of 'love' notes, I feel confident again.  I have inspired a student to major in engineering.  Just this past week a previous student and her husband came into school to see me, me!  Seniors gave me shout-outs in the school newspaper for their good bye letters.  A student told her parents that I never make her feel dumb, she said it so often that the parents felt a need to email and pass this information on to me.  And of course for some students there are no words, just a connection.

So yes, we teachers have some haters, but we also have a lot of supporters.  If for some reason you have lost your way, send a positive message home to a parent or two.  You'll soon see how readily they'll compliment and thank you.   Print out those emails, put them in a page protector and a three-ring binder.  Next time you run into a teacher-basher, bite your tongue, and re-read your scrapbook.

Friday, May 17, 2013

This is a Nail-Biter!!!

This is what my students and I have been preparing for the entire year; The Algebra 1 Keystone Exams.  This is a high-stake exam, in that the students must pass the test in order to graduate.  The good news is that they can take the exam multiple times in order to pass.  The bad news is that their first attempt is what counts for our district's Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).

I have a secret to share.  This is not a popular opinion.  I like state tests.  Please, before you burn me at the stake, let me explain.

  • I like the challenge that they create.  There is a clear goal that my students and are working toward.  The state (PA) has become more clear on what topics are to be taught in Algebra 1 and the curriculum is no longer a mile wide and an inch deep (more like 3/4 mile wide and 6 inches deep).  

  • I like that it's something out there imposed on the students, rather than something from me.  This gives the classroom of us against them, rather than them (the students) against me.  We are in this together.  When they are successful, I am successful and vice versa.  I still give a mid-term and a final, but it also based on these state tests.  
  • It keeps me motivated.  With the test in the room like an elephant, there is no room for fluff lessons.  Every moment I spend with my students must be productive.  

There are a few things I don't like about our state tests:

  • You are punished rather than supported for being a poor performing school.  What if we did that in our classrooms?  What if the poor performing students' name were listed in the newspaper so we could point our fingers at them and laugh?  Why do we do that to the poor performing districts?  Why aren't they offered support rather than ridicule?  
  • I don't like how much instruction time is lost to the tests.  This year I am losing six days to testing.  That's over an entire week of instruction.  
  • I believe the students are over tested.  The same students are taking two days of Literature tests, two days of Algebra 1 tests, and two days of Biology tests.  All in a two week period.  
  • I'm not a big fan of figuring out the logistics of all of this.  Not that it's my responsibility, but still. The test results most likely won't come in until close to the beginning of the next school year.  Any students who failed the test the first time will need to take a remediation course in order to prepare the reassessment in December.  So a few weeks, maybe days, before school starts, student and faculty schedules will be disrupted and changed.  

So, here is sit, hoping and praying (can I do that in public school) that my students are successful.  Now I wait.....

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Hershey Park Happy!!

Last week our department took our students on the first ever, math field trip.  Relatively close to us is an amusement park called Hershey Park.  I'm sure you have all heard of Hershey candy and this is that very Hershey company.  You can even go on a tour of a fake chocolate factory (which the small kids love) and get a free piece of candy at the end.

What do Hershey Park and Math have in common?  Thanks to some great people at Hershey Park, I didn't have to make too far of a stretch on that one.  The good people there designate one day each year to a few different disciplines.  Like Math Day, or Physics Day and create a huge packet of problems that the educators can pick from.  Check this out.  55 pages of math awesomeness.

Here are a few pictures to entertain you...

The back of the shirts that we wore...

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

It Brings A Tear To Your Eye

Today there were a few minutes of class left after we completed the Green Highlighter activity, so I asked students to respond to my learning log prompt poster.  Here is a response that was totally unexpected:

"I was surprised by how I feel about math compared to math last year.  I struggled and barely passed.  I actually feel like I'm good at it now."

I'm not writing this post to brag about my students.  I'm encouraging you to ask your students to answer one of those prompts.  You never know what you'll uncover.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Soda Stream Vs. Coca-Cola

I have a confession.  I LOVE to drink soda!!!  LOVE, LOVE, LOVE it.  When an ad from Wal-Mart advertised The Soda Stream, I was intrigued.

My next thought was "Is this worth it?"  And by "worth it", I meant a few different things.  One, is it worth it financially?  Two, does it taste like the soda I love?  Three, is it worth the health benefits?  Four, is it worth it environmentally?  Five, is it more convenient?  

For the sake of keeping this post until 1,000,000 words, I will focus on the financial aspect of this.  

While I'm wondering if this is worth it, I decide that my students could benefit from my inner dialog.  

How many sodas do I need to consume for The Soda Stream to be "worth it" financially?

Act 1:  As I greet each student into my classroom, I am holding my favorite can of soda (Diet Coke) in my hand and take a sip every now and then.  I never do this, so the students know something is up.  I begin class by confessing my love of soda, and a few students chime in.  They are more than happy to share their opinions with me.  

Next, I hold up the ad from Wal-Mart.  Students again are alive an animated.  A few students' eyes light up and state they have have the machine and like it.  I don't have this machine so I let them speak.  I ask for their advice, should I buy this machine?  Then, they turn the table on me?  They want to know some things about my soda-drinking habits.
How much soda do you drink?
How much do you pay for soda?
Where do you buy your soda?
It's like they're reading my mind.....

Act 2:  I hand out this paper to all of my students.  

Little Joey:  "Did you really walking around Wal-Mart taking pictures?"
Me:  "Of course!"
Little Joey:  "Well, you probably weren't the strangest person there."

I ask students what they think.  As a class we decide that if I can get my money's worth in a few months, then I should buy The Soda Stream.  If it takes, say 7 years to get my money's worth, then I should forget about it.

I give the students all the time they need to figure this out.  I let them make guesses, and educated guesses.  They write their answers on the board.

Act 3:  Here is a link to my PowerPoint.

After we finished all three acts, I showed the students this commercial and we discussed what else should be taken into consideration when buying The Soda Stream besides financial as mentioned above.

My decision:  I will not be purchasing the soda stream.
Reason Number 1:  I have a very tiny kitchen and if I bring one more appliance into it, it just might explode.
Reason Number 2:  Convenience is a huge deal to me.  I don't feel that opening a can is that burdensome.  I don't go to the grocery store specifically for soda, therefore I'm not making a special trip just to purchase it.  It's not that heavy to carry in (especially for me, since my husband is such a gentleman to carry it in for me).  However, making the soda in The Soda Stream might be a burden to me (lazy, I know).

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Real Life Disconnect

Today I did a lesson.  A real lesson.  I started class by talking about soda and a disagreement that my husband and I are having.  My husband and I really never had said conversation, but I'm a great actress.  The students played along for a while in each class, then at least one student said, "Why are we talking about this?"  That's about the same time I felt sad about my teaching.

Why is it that when I talk about something real, in my students minds, it has nothing to do with math class?  Oh, I know.  Because I haven't been making these connections with them.  It's not math class if the students are not doing worksheets or practicing mindless procedures, right?

Here's the good news.  I'm making that shift and I know you are too.  One day the students will walk into math class, I'll talk about something "real", and they'll be hanging on my every word.

What I Learned from my High School Social Studies Teacher

Back in high school there was this Social Studies teacher (Let's call him Mr. A) that made teaching look easy....almost too easy;  like ...