Archive for the 'Anecdotes' Category

Speaking Mathanese

Kids butcher the Mathanese language.  I’m just sayin’.  We have all these kids who speak text just fine.  It seems to me that Mathanese should be right up their alley.  All we are doing is taking a bunch of words and converting it to symbols.  Should be easy, right?  Not so much. 

I find that kids have a tough time translating algebraic expressions to English and vice versa.  Am I alone? 

Yeah, didn’t think so. 

One of the things that I have been trying to focus on this year is to convey to students the universality of the things they are learning.  For example, cause/effect in language arts becomes input/output in math.  Conflict resolution is the same as problem solving.  Language arts has expressions and sentences, so does math.  Scientific method can compare to making a conjecture in geometry, testing it out and then using inductive logic to arrive at a conclusion (read: rule). 

So what happens when you tell them to translate: the product of 3 and the sum of x and 2?

You get: 3x+2, right? 

Not quite. 

Well I figured we needed to develop a mashup of English and Mathanese; Mathglish, if you will.  Here is what we came up with:

English to Mathanese:

This should read: The product of 2 and the sum of the product of 4 and x and 3.

Mathanese to English:

The key this time was to allow the mashup.  I live in a rural area where the Spanish speaking population is very large.  Many of my kids speak and understand Spanglish.  I have never done it this way before and the kids nailed it. 

How do you do it?

Update:  Just did a quick check for understanding 2nd period and  26/28 kids circled the bases.

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How They’re the Same

I’ve kind of been off the grid lately-save following a few conversations via Twitter- due to  the birth of my son.  Thanks again to everyone for all the well wishes.  Mommy and baby are doing great.  Sleep is a precious commodity but I am blessed to be able to take a few days off to enjoy the adjustment to our little one.  I always seem to compare my approach to teaching with my approach to parenting and vice versa.  Here’s the top 10:

10.  The clientele will expose your bad habits. 

9.  You can read as many “how to” books as you want, but nothing prepares you for your first real life encounter.

8.  They like it when you act goofy.

7.  Sometimes you just have to wing it. 

6.  They get grumpy before lunch time.

5.  They get sleepy after lunch time.

4. You’re gonna lose some sleep.

3. Working at one makes you better at the other.

2.  Balance is crucial.

1.  If it stinks, change it.

It Could Be Worse

Man, I am horrible right now.  No, not the tell-people-that-I’m-bad-so-they-tell-me-I’m-good kind of horrible.  I mean really horrible. I am way behind in planning, grading and have way too many ideas and no way to implement them.  Or if I do try to implement them, they’re half-baked.  It may have a little to do with a certain visitor we are expecting.  But at the end of the day I have been feeling way scattered.  It’s not a good feeling but I know it’ll pass.  I have been doing this long enough to know better.

There, I said it!  Let the healing begin.

Jose Strikes Again

During the warm up today, I asked the question:

When does the absolute value of r equal r?

I liked the way the students handled themselves during the discussion so I took out my phone and recorded the following. After a little prodding, Jose jumped in.  I’m thinking of changing his name to Q.E.D.

Thoughts I Have While Brushing My Teeth

Being organized requires a bit of planning and takes a little more work on the front end. As a result, one is more efficient and ends up doing less work in the long run. For example:

But why do I keep doing this:

What Are You Looking At?

Today I gave my classes a survey as a way to gain some feedback on how the first quarter has gone.  One of the questions was “What would make you more comfortable asking questions in class?”

Here is the response that really pushed back:

Well, this may seem silly and childish, but you want the truth, right?
Well, when a student asks a question, you seem to direct your answer to the person who asked it, which makes me feel uncomfortabe. I mean, if other people don’t understand, then why only talk to one person, instead of the whole class? It makes me feel weird, like I’m the only one who doesn’t understand, and the teacher looking at one single student seems to cause everyone to look, making the student even MORE uncomfortable. As I read over this, I feel I want to delete it, because it seems so silly and unnecessary of mentioning. I won’t delete it, I guess, because I suppose you want to know this, no matter how silly it (mine) is.

WOW! I had never really thought of that.  Yeah, I guess if I am burning a whole through a kid with my gaze while I am answering a question, it may just make them think twice about asking another one.  I don’t think I do that, but perception is reality to these kids.  So if she says I do it, I guess I do.  Need to keep a watch out for that one. 

Where do you look when you are answering a question from a student?

I’m Telling Ya, Lesson Plans are Overrated.

This year, I have kind of introduced equation solving to my 7th graders very informally.   One way I have done this is by giving  them a few balance equations like this:

Balance diagram 2

It seems like it takes the edge off when the variable isn’t there.  But today one of our warmup problems was: 5x + 1 = 2x + 7.

I have been amazed at how many of my students have been willing to attack equation solving by using a guess and check table.  I’ve never taught it that way, but some kids have just taken to it.  After today, I may start to encourage it.  One kid noticed that when you let x=1, the right side is greater than the left side.  But if you let x=10, the left side is greater.  When the balance of power shifts, you know that the answer is between your last two guesses.  Of course, typical guess and check strategy.  But the thing I like about it when dealing with these linear equations is that they are beginning to think in terms of linear systems and how the point of intersection acts as a dividing point between which equation has greater value.  They’re teaching me something. 

But Brandon took the cake.  He says, “Mr. Cox, you can tell the left side is going to be 6 because 5+1=6 and the right side is going to be 9 because 2+7=9.”

“What does x have to be for that to be true?”

“X=1.  But as we make changes to x, the other one is growing faster.”

“How fast is it growing?”

“The left side is growing by 5 and the right side is growing by 2.  So eventually, we know that the left side is going to be greater than the right side.”

“Yeah.  So when are the 1 and the 7 important?”

“Only at the beginning.”

It took all the self control I could muster to keep from talking about initial condition or rate of change at this point.  I’m glad I didn’t because I think I would have ruined an authentic learning moment for this kid.  The thing I wanted to encourage the most in him was the fact that he looked for patterns and then asked questions to help make sense of those patterns. 

One warmup which I expected to spend 5 minutes on turns into 20 minutes of slope, y-intercept, linear systems and problem solving strategies all because a few students took an approach I’ve never taught. 

Another example of the kids re-writing the lesson plan.