Archive for the 'Are You Kidding Me?' Category

Personal Responsibility vs. Learning?

Yesterday I had a few students absent and we did a lot of examples involving multiplying binomials, factoring and solving quadratics by completing the square. It was one of those lessons that “just happened.” I had one idea I wanted to nail down and it kinda morphed into a bunch of examples. I made up most of the examples on the fly because I was just gauging their reaction and taking what they gave me. So believe me when I say, “they wasn’t the pertiest lookin’ notes ya ever did see.”

Apparently, they were effective, though. The countenance of the class went from chin-on-hand-it’s-Friday-I’m-tired-here-we-are-now-entertain-us to thank-you-sir-may-we-try-another-cuz-this-is-some-cool-stuff-and-I’m-gettin’-it.

Its tough to reproduce lessons like that so I exported the notes to .pdf and emailed them to the absent students.

I just received this email from one of the recipients:

“Thanks for the notes! They will really help. I do have one question though; did you have to take time specifically out of the lesson to take the pictures or some other program that did them for you? I’m asking this because I think that if you did this every time we learned something new and posted it on your website[s], it would be a good resource.”

So I told him I slaved over my computer all of 30 seconds to export and email as an attachment. Which leads me to my question:

I have always taken a “students gotta take responsibility for their notes and review them regularly” kind of approach which has prevented my from exporting and posting the chicken-scratch covered slides from class. But if posting them is going to help them learn, should I care about the personal responsibility they take on (or don’t take on) in regards to their own note taking?

Whatdaya think?

Note: if you’re interested in what a spur-of-the-moment-ugly-as-heck-yet-equally-effective lesson in my class looks like on static slides, hit me up in the comments and I’ll update the post with a link. I’m posting this from my phone and won’t have access to the notes until Monday.


Joining the Fray

I’m sorry, I couldn’t help myself.  I can’t let Sean Sweeney have all the fun in class (see here and here).  I do, however, have to credit Sean with giving me the push I needed to actually do this with my class.  Thanks!

The Setup

I told my students that before the Fray was “The Fray”, they were called The Phray and their lead singer was a math teacher.  He wrote a song called “Solve to Save Your Life” but when they were signed they changed the name of the band and made some adjustments to the song on account of “math songs don’t make the top 40, baby.” It took some searching to find the archive of the old song, but I did it.  I also told them that OneRepublic had a song called “Rationalize.”  We’ll see if that one surfaces.

So with no further ado: The Phray performing their hit single, “Solve to Save Your Life.”

If you want the lyrics.

We’ll be releasing the official video soon. 

Reflection: This really isn’t my thing.  I was debating whether or not to scrap the whole thing even though my 4 yr. old can now solve equations.  The thing that really hit me was that me leaving my comfort zone allowed some of my students the freedom to do the same.  I made some connections with kids where I may not have otherwise been able to.  I also learned that playing guitar for 1.5 hours over 3 periods may cause tendonitis.  Advil anyone?

We’ve Had It All Wrong

There have been quite a few blog posts lately discussing how one would explain to a “non-math” person why a negative times a negative is a positive. I think the reason we have such a hard time explaining it is because it’s not true.   We need look no further than California’s own Nancy Pelosi for the explanation. (Check right around 3:50)

In an interview with CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo, Pelosi was asked if the expiration of the Bush tax cuts would amount to a tax increase. 

Her response:

“It’s not a tax increase.  It is eliminating a tax decrease that was there.”

So there you have it–eliminating a decrease does not amount to an increase.  I had better go fix those lesson plans.   Thanks for clearing things up, Ms. Pelosi.

What to do…

I have a bit of a dilemma.  Three years ago I was brought to a GATE magnet school to teach a bunch of advanced kids. 

The thought was, “Rather than ship the really smart kids to high school to take the geometry class, we’ll just bring the high school teacher to them.” 

I didn’t mind this idea.  In fact, it quickly began to grow on me.  I was teaching precalc, algebra 2 and algebra 1 at the high school and figured the change might do me some good.  The tough part was that I had no idea what to expect.  I was going from 55 minute periods to 94 minute daily blocks. 

What the heck am I going to do with a group of middle schoolers for 94 minutes? 

So after many discussions with my principal, we decided that since the 94 minute block was intended to allow for grade level instruction as well as time for intervention,  I’d just use my extra time for enrichment.  But what do you do to enrich them?  Do you accelerate the students so that they can be ready for algebra 2 as freshmen?  Do you spend the extra time doing all the cool stuff that no one else has time to do because they are worried about pacing guides and benchmarks?  We’ve decided to go ahead and accelerate them.  I’m still a bit unsettled about it, though.    Is it really that important for an 8th grader to complete geometry so she can take algebra 2 in 9th grade?  The kid is on pace to take calculus as a junior.  Is that better?  At this point, I don’t know.  In the era of “the TEST”, it seems that as long as I have the data to back up what I am doing, it doesn’t matter what we choose.  My kids have the test scores, but I am not convinced that what I am doing is the right thing. 

I am definitely in unchartered waters.  As a high school teacher, I was simply one of many.  My last year there, we had a pacing guide and all common assessments.  It was pretty lock step and I was miserable–loved the staff and the students–but hated the system.  Now I have a bunch of autonomy because I can keep the powers that be off my back with some good scores, but I am not sure what direction to go.

Last year, the decision was a bit easier because I got to hand pick the students who would move into the geometry class. I taught both advanced 7th grade classes so I knew they were ready.   This year–not so much.  I have two classes made up of kids from two different teachers.  Some are ready to be accelerated and others look like they are going to need to spend some serious time with the algebra.  My question for you all is this:  how do you plan for these classes?  Half of my students have already been through algebra, a quarter of them have been exposed to it and the rest look like they may not know what a variable is.  I’ve never been here before, so I don’t know what to expect.  If you’ve ever considered commenting on a post here, now’s the time.  Hit me up.

Dear Dan,

You are really starting to make me angry.  I was content to just do my job, help as many kids as I could, do some extra stuff to help them make it connect to their reality.  And then at 4:00pm shut it down, go home, kiss my wife, play with the kids, have a nice dinner, watch a little TV and go to bed.  But no!  You just had to start in with all this “using pictures to help kids learn math” stuff.  You couldn’t leave well enough alone.  When I couldn’t get Graphing Stories to work, you couldn’t just say “sorry dude, I am not sure why those chapters won’t play.  Better luck next time”… no you had to send me a copy and not even take the reimbursement I offered.  Who do you think you are?

Man I can’t even go to Target with my family without trying to take a picture of something.  You know how disruptive that is?  You know how hard it is to hold the baby, push the cart and snap a pic at the same time?  I am looking into having an extra arm grafted onto my torso.  You think my insurance will cover that?  Nooooo! And it is all because of YOU! 

The worst part is that I have these video cameras lying around my classroom and a blue screen in the library so I had to skip lunch the other day and take some footage that has resulted in some stills like these:






 I mean, look at that.  How can they not see that the ball is accelerating as it falls?  I don’t want that.  I want them to depend on me to tell them that gravity is an acceleration.


I'm not mad at you for this one, I actually think it's pretty cool.

What’s even worse, is I have all this raw video footage and I have no friggin’ idea what to do with it. What am I supposed to do, have students graph the height of the ball vs. time and realize that there are some relationships that aren’t linear?

My students are even getting into the taping.  They look so cute  and happy throwing the ball back and forth, but little do they know that one day this concept of math actually helping them  to interpret the world around them can consume them.  What’s next?  Are we going to start treating mathematics like a humanity and sit around discussing it as if it were a piece of literature or work or art?  Don’t you know that math is only supposed to be important  8:20-2:55 in Room 405 from September to June?  Don’t you know that math is supposed to be a set of rules that we force our kids to memorize until April 22 and then they aren’t supposed to think about it again?  Get with the program, will ya?

And no textbook?  C’mon, man!  What are you thinking?  Those things were all written by people who really care about making math matter to our children. Don’t you know that the more a student sits in front of a textbook, the more they learn?  I saw some research done by an independent agency Houghton, McGraw, Holt and Littell that says students can actually teach themselves with these things.

In closing, you have got it all wrong.  Kids want to have subjects forced upon them.  They want to be told the rules, they want to mindlessly copy exactly what the teacher says and does and they especially want to ask questions like, “I don’t get it.” 

Inquiry?  Yeah, right!



p.s. Can I make a cameo in Graphing Stories vol. 2?

p.p.s Can you all help me package this up into a series of lessons?

What Did They Do With It?

So I took a stab at letting my kids have a go at Dan’s last installment. And to say I was pleased is the understatement of the year.  The first obvious question was “will it go in the can?” But, since we have finished going over parabolas, kids started asking questions like:

  • How high was the ball at its highest point?
  • How far did it travel?
  • What was its velocity?
  • How long was the ball in the air?

The question that really opened one of those “teachable moments” was in regards to velocity.  To this point we have only covered vertical motion.  These kids understand how to model a falling object as well as an object with an initial velocity other than 0.  This led to an interesting discussion.  Does the “falling object” or “thrown object” apply here?  And that is when Lio hit the nail right on the head. 

He pipes up with, “Hey Mr. Cox, if we shoot a gun horizontally and drop a bullet from the same height instantaneously, they both hit the ground at the same time right?”


“So does the fact that it is travelling horizontally have anything to do with how fast it falls?”


“So can we use the stuff we know about falling objects here?”


“But we need heights.” 

“Well I guess we are done here.”

That is when Seth walks over to the trash can and measures how tall it is.  All these trash cans have to be the same, right?


And the rest is history.  The kids opened up the computers, dragged the images into the SmartNotebook software and here is what Group 1 came up with: 





Here is where it gets really cool.  My other Seth asks if we can find the actual distance the ball travels along the parabola.  He thinks that if we can measure the distance between the balls, then we could get a series of straight lines.  He comes to the conclusion that the closer the balls are to each other, the more accurate our approximation is. 

Wait till he gets a load of Calculus.  Did I mention he is 13?

They don't know it yet, but I have more questions than they do.

I’m dcox21 on Twitter