Friday, July 24, 2020

Student Check In Questions

One of the things I tried to prioritize this spring was getting my students online at least once a day because they were "curious" about something. Maybe once they were there, they'd get some work done or reach out to a teacher or classmate if they were in need. Most of the time, the kids reported it worked. It was small, but it gave them a laugh and a chance to be silly. I wanted to collect the questions I asked so I could reuse some this fall and figured they might be useful to others as well! 

Here are some other great resources I've come across on this idea:
Here are mine. NOTE: These were in discussion boards, so kids could see each other's answers and do some debating. We did more serious check ins privately: 
  • If forced to do so, would you rather fight 100 duck-sized horses or 1 horse-sized ducks? Explain, argue (respectfully), and keep it school appropriate! 
  • If fruit or vegetables could talk, which specific type would be the rudest? Defend your answer. 
  • Every day this week has felt like pajama day. Let's imagine we are student council and we're planning a remote learning "Spirit Week." We've thrown around some ideas so far: 
    • Brush Your Teeth Before 10 am Day
    • Cut Off Someone In Your House From Watching The News Too Much Day
    • Get Outside Day!
    • Put On Real Clothes Day! 
    Now it's your turn! Share your day ideas for the best "Remote Learning" Spirit Week EVER! The more creative (AND SCHOOL APPROPRIATE) the better! 
  • I saw this online recently:
    I started thinking about how uncomfortable this makes me EVERY. YEAR. Please explain, in detail, what you should do to make the most of when people sing happy birthday to you. 
  • You show up to college for your freshman year and you're sooooo excited. You meet your new roommate for the first time and's a middle school version of you. What's the first thing you fight about?
  • Alright people, we're writing a class story. I may publish these into actual books and give them out if they're let's rock this! Reply to the person above you with the next line of the story! Keep it going, keep it fun, and KEEP IT SCHOOL APPROPRIATE! 
  • Give us your "word of the day." Find a word that is weird, funny, uncommon, or just fun for you and give us the word and the definition! 
  • If we were making a class playlist and you could only choose 1 song to contribute, what would it it be and why? (I actually made these playlists and sent them out to students) 
  • What's the most underrated emoji and why? AS ALWAYS, KEEP IT SCHOOL APPROPRIATE! 
  • What fun new or different or interesting things have you guys been doing to stay busy?
  • I saw this on Twitter today and legitimately laughed for 3 minutes: "I challenged 1 to a fight. He brought 3, 5, 7, and 9 along with him. It was then that I knew the odds were against me." So....TELL US YOUR FAVORITE DAD JOKE! (School appropriate, of course :) )
  • If you could create any potato chip flavor, what would it be and why?
  • Post your favorite math meme! 
  • You just discovered that a distant uncle you never met left you $923594332959 in his will to start a sports franchise. We need to know the:
    1) Sport
    2) City
    3) Mascot
    But everyone else is up to you! What would you do?!
  • Would you rather be able to taste colors or see smells? Explain! 
  • You have your own late night talk show, who do you invite as your first guest and why?
  • What's one piece of good news?
  • You have to be trapped in one of these quarantine houses. Which one would you pick and why? 
  • I spent ~20 minutes this weekend watching Instagram videos of people power wash things and was cracking up, embarrassed to tell Mr. G. He yelled that he's done the same thing before and we cracked up about how weird it is that we are fascinated by it. What's the strangest IG/YouTube/Wikipedia/Reading/etc hole you've found yourself in during this quarantine? School appropriate, as usual :) 
  • What is an unwritten rule in school that everyone knows anyway? 
  • Describe your quarantine so far in 3 emojis. GO! 
  • If life were a video game, what two cheat codes would you want?
  • What’s the most generous act you’ve seen recently?
  • What 5 things would you bring to a deserted island???
  • What's the best advice someone ever gave you?
  • I have to make a grocery list today- what new meals should I absolutely be making this week??? 
  • What's the weirdest object sitting in the room where you are right now? 
  • If you could invent a new holiday, what would it be?! 
  • Would you rather eat 30 lbs of cheese in one sitting or a bucket of peanut butter with no water?
  • Weirdest food combo you love?!?!
  • What was the last song you couldn't get out of your head, no matter what you tried? Mine was this weird commercial that was literally always on the radio when we lived in NC: 

  • What is your spirit animal and why?
  • What's one thing you feel like adults have forgotten about being a teenager?  (Kids had the best, most thoughtful answers ever to this)
  • You get a choose a skill you are the best at in the world. But instead of you getting better, everyone else gets worse. What skill do you choose? 
  • How do you put on your toilet paper roll? (There is only 1 right answer)
  • Think about how remote learning has worked in your classes- any of them. What is the #1 worst/most confusing thing or thing you've liked the least? I am genuinely  interested in your feedback on what is not working, but NO TEACHER BASHING!! You do not need to mention course or teacher name. 
  • Shout out someone in our class for something (seriously)! Being a good friend, making you laugh, being the best person to sit next to, explaining things when class felt hard, whatever!! 
  • I'm trying to challenge Mr. G to a "Chopped" challenge. What ingredients should I put in the basket?!?! 
  • Oh no! A burglar broke into your house and they're going straight for......the top of your fridge? What are they stealing? (This was a personal fave- some laugh out loud answers)
  • Given Unlimited Resources, What Scientific or Medical Problem Would You Investigate?
  • If you could morph two animals to make one super animal, what two animals would you choose? Why?

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Student Feedback on Remote Learning

I gave my students an end of remote learning survey (in general, not just my class)- thanks to lots of help from you all! 
For additional context:
This year, I taught AP Calculus AB, Calculus, and standard level Algebra 2 in a large suburban high school. Only 48% of the students completed the survey, though it was a required assignment. We are not one to one with devices, but some students who did not have a device were given one on the day before we left for remote learning. Teachers also are not given school-issued devices. Final grading decisions were publicized to students in mid to late May, when students were told they would receive a comment of one of the following for their 4th quarter "grade":

  • No evidence of learning
  • Limited evidence of learning
  • Evidence of learning
  • Evidence of learning with distinction

These comments did not impact their average in any uniform way and will not appear on their transcripts. 

I've compiled their feedback below, if it's helpful to anyone! 

Comment on course organization on Canvas. What did teachers do that worked the best for you? What did teachers do that was the worst?
  • Best Practices from Kids:
    • Work organized in weekly modules, with a schedule up at the beginning of the week
    • Have one firm weekly deadline for everything, but flexible/suggested tasks throughout the week
    • Posting newest assignment at the top
    • Uploading attachments instead of embedded word documents
    • Daily announcements/check ins
    • Interactive assignments that provide quick feedback to keep students accountable
    • Timed practice for standardized test (we still had to take the AP exam!)
    • Establishing a routine early and sticking to it
    • Sort assignments by most recent
    • Keeping assignments open, even after they're due. Kids want to make up their late work but some teachers did not give them an opportunity
    • Give consistent amount of work each week
    • Asking kids to send questions to you before office hours so no one feels embarrassed asking in front of others
    • Teachers making your own videos
  • Worst Practices from Kids: 
    • "Surprises" mid week- deviations from the set schedule
    • Positing things the day they are due
    • Daily assignments makes it hard to plan around family/home obligations
    • Not setting a due date
    • Poor Communication
    • Teachers refusing to use the LMS
    • "Having things everywhere"- Canvas has so many tabs it can be overwhelming if kids can't navigate it well
    • Giving too much work, not being realistic that students are doing work for many other classes and handling responsibilities at home
    • Giving more work to "make up" for not being in the classroom
    • Using other people's videos that are not aligned to the curriculum or teaching methods
Comment on how deadlines in remote learning worked for you. Was it better to have long deadlines? Short deadlines? More freedom or more structure?

  • Better
    • Some freedom with flexible deadlines to "work around life." 
    • Consensus in AP level seemed to be one weekly deadline because they were good at structuring their own time. 
    • Consensus in Regents/Standard level seemed to be 2-3 day deadlines. Any longer and it was easy to "forget"
    • Many kids said it depended on the class, they valued some over others
      • **This scares me, because so much of this was based on relationships. If we don't have those in the fall, we lose this leverage. 
    • Posting daily announcements/funny discussion boards kept my kids checking in every day, even if things weren't due. This seemed to be popular. 
  • Worse
    • Posting things the day they were due
    • Deadlines that were too far away...too easy to procrastinate

Comment on types of assignments you received. What types of assignments worked best for you in ANY class? What types worked worst? (Videos, Khans/Castle Learning, Desmos, projects, video-making, etc)
  • Best
    • Khan Academy assignments gave quick feedback and allowed students to reattempt. Kids liked these, but not the videos. 
    • Giving students videos with embedded questions (through Canvas/EdPuzzle/etc) worked well; students liked when they were given guided notes to go with those. 
    • Teacher made videos! Kids wants to see your face
    • Desmos
      • Kids STRUGGLED with being willing to be wrong when we did ABs. I started adding a slide immediately after any questions I asked with the answers and saw that slowly change. Immediate feedback made a huge impact in this. 
    • AP Classroom
    • Quizizz
    • "Things I could do privately on my own schedule, it was hard to depend on anyone else"
  • Worst
    • "Busy Work"
    • Videos that are not teacher made
    • Videos that are too long
    • Textbook Readings with no accountability
    • Essays were "horrific"
    • Virtual labs were difficult 
    • Serious discussion posts were intimidating: "made me feel like the other kids would think i was stupid or something after reading my answers/comments."
    • Having to make videos yourself because uploading was difficult

Did you have a preference for digital vs non-digital activities? Did teachers do too much or too little of either? What type of balance worked for you?
  • Feedback on Digital
    • Difficult to type math
    • "Allows me to have everything on my computer and stay organized"
    • Digital activities made me try to do things in my head, even when I feel like I knew I needed to show work. I just didn't feel like it.
    • Hard when sharing a device with a family member or budgeting data
    • Liked the immediate feedback
    • Too much screen time
    • Easier for a teacher to make a mistake uploading and students got anxious they were falling behind
    • Many students felt more likely to complete a digital activity
  • Feedback on "Non-Digital"
    • Many would choose to handwrite math over type
    • Writing out makes many students feel like they understand better
    • Having a key available for students made it easier for them to cheat
    • Difficult if students didn't have a printer (we don't have math textbooks)
    • More of a "hassle" to upload pictures
    • Students didn't look at feedback because it took teachers a while to read through each students' work and students were not held accountable for looking at the feedback

Did you use a "key" being available for good or for evil?? (Use it to self-reflect and correct or use it to copy/cheat?)

  • Overall, kids mostly used the key for "good" - as a place to turn to when stuck and for feedback on their work
  • Kids started to use for "evil" when they felt overwhelmed to "just get things done" because they procrastinated or their overall workload was very high
  • There's some bias in this sample- the kids who didn't complete the survey may correlate to the kids who may use a key to copy instead of to check their work
  • Some students suggested having the key be made available once the work was submitted, but some said they wouldn't have looked at it then. 
  • A good learning opportunity for many: "I'm going to be honest. Especially in the beginning, I used the key to copy, instead of doing my work. Then, I had the realization that I wasn't really learning anything. I started to do my own work and actually understood what was going on. So i started to use the keys as I should've in the beginning, using it to correct myself."

What were your opinions on live group meetings? How did you feel about cameras on vs off? Mics on vs off? Being able to participate?
  • Love group meetings, but not for learning
  • For live learning, most preferred mics and cameras off for anyone but the teacher and having a chat box open for students to type in with questions
  • Were hard for kids dealing with mental health battles throughout the spring
  • Microsoft Teams will not show more than 9 people in a meeting, so group meetings were strange because there were random voices coming from off screen. Keeping teams meetings under that # of people made them less "awkward" for kids. 
  • Kids took issue with teachers who required live attendance because "life happens"
  • The word "optional" made even the most diligent students often choose to not attend
  • Students believed everyone else was attending office hours,so they often wouldn't attend because they felt intimidated. The weird reality is that most of us teachers were sitting in there alone....constantly. 
  • Students loved when I started allowing them to make individual appointments through a sign up instead of doing only drop in office hours and telling them to "let me know" if they'd like to meet. The sign up made it seem normal and also meant you could just sign up and not have specifically "ask"
Were there any things about group meetings that made you uncomfortable?

  • When one student takes over/talks too much
  • Finding a place in their houses for the background. A lot of fear of judgement there.
  • Having classmates "in my house"
  • Being put on the spot

  • People being able to see them/being forced to have their cameras on
  • Being forced to have microphones on for very shy students
If grades WERE required, what do you view as the most equitable way to handle them?
  • Many felt "there is no equitable way to assign grades right now"
    • Many students felt the intrinsic inequity lie not just in the differences in student circumstances, but the differences in teachers comfort with technology and amount of free time. For instance, I am child-less and extremely comfortable with technology and students see how different distance learning looked for my students than someone in the same course with a teacher who is overwhelmed with child care or uncomfortable with technology. I thought this second one was a really interesting point...we make a lot of arguments about differences in access and opportunity, but this was a new and important angle for me to consider. 
  • Kids felt participation and effort mattered more than ever
  • Allow unlimited retakes
  • Giving either 0%s or 100%s- nothing in between
  • Students were unsure how to quantify this thought, but many echoed it:  "I think it would be equitable to handle them in a way that acknowledges how students are accessing the material and how their home life factors into what they're doing. In addition, I think that equitable grading includes explanations of what is going on-- if there is a reason students were unable to reach out, but they still continued to do work, their grade would be higher than someone who perhaps did more quantity of work, but poorly, while they had every opportunity to seek help."
  • Change to letter grades
  • No penalties for late work

If grades WERE required, how can they be most reflective of what you ACTUALLY learned?
  • Reduce busy work
  • Give fair deadlines
  • Teachers MUST actually check that the students are doing the work! As soon as students saw their work wasn't being actually looked at by the teacher, their effort dropped off 
  • Give every student different questions so they cannot cheat, with some type of automated feedback
  • Teachers must write their own (un-google-able) questions and tasks
  • Loved this idea: "Check ins, check ins, check ins- in the beginning of the year I said that if I had an interview about calculus I would ace it. I think students could have check-ins during which they explain what they learn, to see if it is accurate, and tracks with the amount of work they've been doing!"
  • Allow retakes, BUT make each version different. The initial version can be used to study from. 
  • "Teachers can't stop cheating in this environment"
How should teachers handle offering you additional challenge if you felt the material was too easy? Share any strategies your teachers used well this spring
  • No one talked about getting different work, but students were VERY opposed to getting more work
  • "I think teachers should give extra work on a case by case basis. Some kids might be overwhelmed by the regular amount of homework, while others might use work as an escape from their family."
  • Too many optional assignments gets overwhelming

  • Understanding the "basics" was enough during a pandemic. How do we deal with that if we're out for a whole year?!
How should teachers handle offering you additional support if you felt the material was too challenging? Share any strategies your teachers used well this spring
  • Personal one-on-one office hours (student DO NOT want to ask questions in large groups!!)
  • Small group office hours with a group that trusts each other
  • Using Remind
  • Being flexible with deadlines if a student is struggling
  • Post additional videos on topics you know students typically struggle
  • If enough students ask a question, make an extra help video on it
  • Let kids request person "extra help" videos on questions
  • Time stamp videos so kids can skip to whatever they have questions about

  • Pep talks
How can we best BUILD community if we start in the fall and my classes have never met me in person??
  • This was the most confusing one for me as a teacher. Here's an example of why:
    • First answer:"I have no fricken clue how to do that but I do know that nobody will want to do a "meet and greet" thing online with everybody cause that would just be hella awkward"
    • Second answer: "Have a meet and greet on video chat!"
    • Third answer: "Uhhh bad idea"
  • Some student ideas:
    • Individually chat with students so you can get to know them
    • Make fun daily discussions worth points so kids have to do them
    • Get to know you activities
    • Also let them get to know others in the class but having small group meetings
    • Host trivia night or give other fun optional assignments
    • Do a "virtual open house" before the school year starts
    • Do lots of stuff that has nothing to do with the curriculum

    • Don't ask students to be vulnerable in front of their peers
    • Slowly build up the amount of work you give
    • Send snail mail!
    • Just wait until you get back to school
What did a teacher do that roped you back in if you’d given up during remote learning?
  • Inspirational texts on Remind
  • Check in emails to see if I was doing okay
  • Go to the student to check in before going immediately to the parent
  • Ask how students are personally
  • Extend deadlines
  • Send a daily happy text
  • Do not become passive aggressive or come from a place of anger
  • Be flexible with deadlines
  • Build genuine connections- most students kept working to try to not let their favorite teachers down
  • Teacher made videos made students feel connected to their teacher, feel cared about, and feel like they were still getting silly laughs like in class
  • "Didn't let me slip through the cracks"
What impediments did you have to learning that your teachers wouldn't think to ask about?
  • Chores at home
  • Lack of set schedule
  • Motivation
  • Too hard/shy to ask questions
  • Finding a quiet place to work
  • Sleep schedules
  • Injury and illness
  • Couldn't focus through a 30 minute video! Teachers need to shorten them
  • It's easier to get distracted at home
  • Anxiety
  • Servers crashing because everyone around the country was trying to use them at the same time
  • Family stress/fighting
  • Sharing devices
  • Unable to open file types
  • People on school devices being unable to access things since teachers do not have school devices and do not know what may be blocked
Did a teacher do anything that rubbed you the wrong way during remote learning?
  • Busy work
  • Giving too much work
  • Lack of communication
  • Not being transparent with deadlines
  • Moving too fast, not adjusting schedule for student understanding
  • Refuse to use the school's approved LMS
  • Lack of clarity in general (from the school) on how grading would work
  • Not giving enough instruction
  • Try to "make up for lost class time"
  • Not grading in a timely manner
  • Not giving feedback
  • Giving timed assignments on new material

Friday, June 26, 2020

A Tribute to "Unfinished"- Commencement Address, 2020

My husband and I were lucky enough to be asked to give the faculty address at graduation this year. This senior class has a special place in my heart....I have taught them as freshman and sophomores in Geometry and juniors and seniors in Algebra II and various levels of Calculus. A few had me for their first class on their first day of high school and again as their last class on their last day of high school. I've been so lucky to watch them grow.  I have at least 7 drafted blog posts that I could never bring myself to complete this spring, but writing the address was a form of therapy for me. Sharing here in case reading it brings anyone a small bit of the peace writing it brought me: 

Goooooooooooooood Morning, Saratoga! 

And Congratulations, Class of 2020. You made it! 
My name is Caitlyn Gironda and my name is Mark Gironda and we are honored to be the faculty speakers this year. Thank you to this incredible senior class for selecting us. At the very least, thank you to these seniors for giving us a reason to wear the most normal clothes we’ve worn in months…and that’s saying a lot because we are wearing these gowns.
On behalf of the entire faculty and staff of the Saratoga Springs City School District, we’d also like to welcome the families, friends, and community members who are watching today. Having spent so much time apart this spring, many of us understand even more deeply the village of support it took to bring your student successfully to this day. Students, please take a moment now to thank the people around you who have supported you along the way. If they are not with you at this moment, remember to thank them later.

And now, to each of you. The Blue Streaks. The Saratoga Springs High School Class of 2020. 

What we celebrate here today is an incredible accomplishment. It is a milestone on the way to your future- marking an end of the “beginning.” From here, you will set out along your unique path. You will be attending institutions of higher learning, stepping bravely into the work force, learning and mastering new trades, doing missionary work at home and abroad, taking gap years to care for family and learn about yourself, attending military academies, and even enlisting in the armed forces. We would like to extend the gratitude of each and every member of our community to those who are choosing to serve our country. 

Four years ago, a group of new faces walked into the building to begin their Blue Streak journey. They nervously tried to find their classrooms in a building that felt too big and hoped the people in their classes would be kind, funny, and help them feel welcome. You might have been one of those faces. Two more of them are looking back at you right now. We have never known the high school without the class of 2020 in its hallways. You were the students who welcomed us on our very first day at Saratoga and we feel lucky to have the opportunity to see you off today and celebrate your accomplishments. Watching you all learn, lead, and grow has helped define what it means to be a Blue Streak in our minds and you’ve set an example to which other classes should aspire.

We’ve watched you break school records (and also break some lab materials), perform in school musicals, plays, and concerts ( and in our classrooms when an impromptu singalong inevitably breaks out), win section championships, win Science Research competitions, persevere through difficult challenges in the classroom, learn to believe in the power of your own voice, and much more. We’ve watched you be leaders in inclusion, band together in support of causes that are important to you, display boundless compassion during times of loss, and truly become role models in our school community. It’s clear that you all have spent the last four years “bringing the storm.”  

However, you all have weathered many storms of your own. This spring alone, you’ve endured the pandemic. Remote learning.  The cancellation of countless events that you’ve been anticipating all year. Earthquakes (that’s right, who remembered there was an earthquake in March!?). Tornados. Health and economic crises in your own homes and community. Civil unrest around the country and world. We know the senior year you expected to have feels woefully unfinished. 

Let us tell you, life is full of interruptions. Trust us, as teachers, there will always be something that is going to interrupt what you had planned. It is easy to view the notion of “unfinished” as a void. It can be important to mourn, to grieve, and to wonder. But today, we urge you to remember this:

“Unfinished” is not to be feared. “Unfinished” can be a gift, a permission, a challenge.

First, as educators, it’s important for us to remind you that though your time in the classroom may end your education is never “complete.” One of our greatest gifts is our power to keep learning and keep growing, long after our formal education is “finished.” Explore your interests wholeheartedly and extend out of your comfort zone . Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Listen to people who don’t look like you, don’t sound like you, don’t think like you. Learn to hold their ideas in your mind simultaneously with your own and choose which ideas still feel “true” and “right” and “just” and which you’re ready to let go. 

Second, remember that though you have been formed by the world in which you were raised, your own personal growth remains unfinished as well. There will be moments when you are doing great things. But there will also be moments when you are learning hard lessons that will help you on the road to doing the next great thing in your life. This not easy. It takes courage, curiosity, vulnerability- showing up to make yourself and the world around you better, even when you don’t know what the outcome may be. It requires admitting when you are wrong and trusting that the hard lessons- and there will be hard lessons- are giving you opportunities to grow. Grant yourself permission to take life’s challenges as chances to remold, reshape, and refine.  

Third, know that though friendships may change, great loves may end, and people may pass away, the impact others have on you for good can remain unfinished throughout your life.  Whether with you for a lifetime or only a season,  the time you’ve spent together will continue to influence you for years to come. Surround yourself with a group of people who challenge and inspire you in such a way that their lessons are with you for a lifetime.  We have already seen how your class has continued to spread joy through your small actions each day, just as you learned from mentors like Mr. Flanders and Coach Bellai. We have seen you persevere when things are difficult and show boundless compassion, just as you learned from Kristen Shinebarger and Parker Hayes.  These beloved members of the SSHS family continue to shine their light through each one of you. We’d like to observe a moment of silence as we feel their presence and impact here with us today.

Lastly, remember that we live in unfinished communities, an unfinished country, an unfinished world.  Too often, things happen because “that’s the way they’ve always been.” You may feel like you are too young to impact the world in any tangible way. We are here to tell you that nothing is further from the truth. Your generation brings a new perspective the world has not yet seen. You have the power to enact change every day, through actions large and small.  We’ve already seen seeds of this power in you. Regional campaigns to unite the Class of 2020 through  t-shirt sales while benefitting charities. Fundraisers and food drives. And quietly, humbly, in a million small actions of kindness and inclusion. You are the class who sits with the student alone at lunch. You are the class who passes the ball to everyone on the team. You are the class who advocates for inclusion not just in word, but in action.

If we haven’t made it clear, you’re kind of a big deal. The world is a better place with each and every one of you in it. New problems will arise, old problems will resurface, and the world is going to NEED YOU to fix them! The world will need the person you’ve become over the past four years and the person you will continue to become throughout the rest of your life. When the world says you’re too young, push back and show your strength. When the world feels dark, fill it with brightness and positivity.  

Blue streaks, it might seem easy to see yourselves as a class marked by interruptions and disappointments. We urge you to rewrite that narrative. So little of life will be defined by the plans you make for yourselves.  Rather, it will be defined by the way you choose to respond when your plans remain “unfinished.” “Unfinished” invites you to continue learning, questioning, and refining. “Unfinished” is a permission slip for growth.

Congratulations to the class of 2020.

Keep fighting for better for yourself, for others, for our world. Keep bringing the storm

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Limits at Infinity- Understanding Dominance with "Infinity War"

I recently met with one of our Pre-Calculus teachers to talk about what else they could do make sure students were better prepared for Calculus when they get to me. Unsurprisingly, this set me on a thought path about what experiences I wish my students had before my class, in general. 

I can remediate skills, I can teach more factoring, I make you do all my goofy dances to help remember the algebra rules you may have forgotten. One thing I can't do is time travel back to when you first learned a concept and ask you to think deeply about it before you are told all the "rules" you need to play the game. So many of my students get to me with "rules" and then are surprised that they can't remember them all. They are hesitant to think about the "why," even if it might save them time and mental energy in the end. 

One of first times I encounter this is in teaching limits at infinity. Predicting end behavior is such a beautiful exercise in logic, testing your understanding of algebra and concept alike. For students who've only memorized the "top heavy" and "bottom heavy" rules, anything beyond a rational functions becomes a challenge. 

To combat that this year, I created my very own "Infinity War" (cue gifs and memes of the Avengers). 

1) Students are given a deck of function cards to be dealt and divided among the group (I am doing pairs!)

2) Each round, every student flips over 1 card. They work together to figure out which would be "dominant" as x approaches infinity. 

3) Player with the dominant card wins! 

4) Play repeats until one player has all cards OR Mrs. G panics about the amount of time left in class and calls "TIME!"

Here is the file: 

I'm hoping this helps build more conceptual understanding of why end behavior occurs the way it does and makes limits at infinity a more intuitive topic. I'll report back after I use the activity....10 hours from now in 1st block... :) 

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Composite Functions Task

One of my goals for this summer has been to rewrite a bit of my non-AP Calculus course. After so many years of teaching AP and focusing on making sure I was being challenging enough, I found that my tendency was to give tasks that were a bit too far out of my students' ZPD. I adjusted quickly and got better as I got to know their strengths and weaknesses, but any time it happened I knew it would hurt some of their trust in themselves...and maybe in me.

Many of these students were not enrolled in an honors level pre-calculus course last year, so algebraic concepts are fuzzier than you might expect at the very beginning of the year. They need more explicit practice with those background skills that AP students have mastered. One of those, I knew, would be dealing with composite functions- both their composition and decomposition. This is a key skills for the remainder of the course, with special importance to limit definition of the derivative, chain rule, optimization, and integration by u substitution. 

As both a pre-assessment and a task to get them thinking in groups, I drafted this sorting activity. It gives students notational representations of composite function and expressions to match. There are a few that don't quite match, and students must work to answer questions about those.

I also am going to be using Index Card Questions (as described here in my Necessary Conditions blog) with my students for the first time this day, so I'm having students reflect on the classroom norms we've used to emphasize them as we move into more content-centric lessons. 

This is very much in draft form, so if you have any feedback, please let me know! 

Monday, August 5, 2019

Algebra 2 Trigonometry Practice Circuit

Sharing a quick practice activity from my trigonometry unit in Algebra 2 this year!

This doesn't cover the whole unit, but you can plan to see:
  • Coterminal Angles
  • Reference Angles
  • Sine and Cosine as Coordinate Points
  • Finding Exact Trig Values of Sine/Cosine/Tangent
  • Radians
Feel free to steal or adapt! Happy Trig-ing! 

Sunday, August 4, 2019

My Favorite Last Day of School Traditions

So many people are spending #MTBoSBlaugust writing about what they'll be doing on the first day of school, but I want to talk about one of the most special days of my year- the last day of school!

I teach primarily seniors. We typically have 4-5 weeks after the AP exam and by the end of June,  class can feel a lot like this:
Actual Photo of AP Calculus Class in June
But the very last day is special- a sacred time where students can reflect on their growth as a person and be sent on their way into life after high school with love and support. The things below are some of the things that make me love it so, so much.

An Individual Card
I live for a custom card. I made my husband and dog dress up in matching pajamas last year for our christmas card. It never gets old to me- truly. 

With that in mind, I started making custom cards for my kids and writing them each personal note. Staples almost always has a Groupon to get enough cards for all my kids for $20 and I use E-Bates too, so it's not particularly costly. I include my favorite quote, a math-y pun, and my email sot hey can keep in touch. Here was this year's card:

It takes a long time, but I write each senior a card. I get so many emails in October or May of the next year, when kids come across the card in their dorm room and decide to drop a line and say of my favorite day-brighteners. 

A Keepsake
One of my middle school teachers did this for me and I continue to pay it forward. I ask all my seniors and many of my colleagues to tell me their favorite trait about each student that I teach. I put them all together anonymously and give them out to the students to keep. Here are a few of my favorites from this year:

I laminate these and hand them out to wallet-sized cards.

An Explanation 
The first thing my senior gift includes is this small note of support and an explanation of the keepsake:

"Your time at SSHS is coming to an end...your next big adventure awaits! Know that life has lots of twists and turns in store for you-some amazing and exciting, some terrifying and heart-breaking.When life gets hard, it’s easy to forget how important you are to others and how much power lies within you. I hope that this card serves as a reminder of the impact you’ve made and the amazing things others see in you, even when it’s hard to see them within yourself. Tuck it away and take it out on a day when it’s hard to remember who you are and why you’re so important. You always have a home and team of cheerleaders here at SSHS. So proud of you!-Mrs Gironda"

An Inspiration
I try to either show a video or read something that will inspire my students. This year, it was this. I think it might be this forever. I cried reading it in every. single. class. 

The ending of the reading, just like the end of the school year, just hits me right in the heart:

"Summer beckons, a great, green, gorgeous gift. We’ve already kept you far too long, so let us send you forth with just one last reminder of a truth that somehow you already understand, though school is not the place where you learned it:

Life is not a contest, and the world is not an arena. Just by being here, unique among all others, offering contributions that no one else can give, you have already won the one prize that matters most."