Saturday, December 29, 2012

A Very Fractal Christmas, Part II

Here enjoying my last (very snowy) night in the northeast before heading back to warmer weather and lesson planning tomorrow, but I had to share how well our tree came out!!

All in all, it was about 3 feet tall and the kids were so excited they offered to come in before and after school to finish it. A great end to a long first semester!

May everyone have a happy new year and enjoy the fresh start January brings with the kiddos! 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Very Fractal Christmas

Today is our last real day of classes before the break and, as would be expected, most classes have a test or quiz. Tomorrow we have the parties and the annual Christmas dance and then we'll have 10 glorious days off! One of my classes somehow got a day ahead  and took their test yesterday. I was at a loss of what to do with them until I found this great idea: build a 3-D fractal Christmas tree! I plan on introducing the idea with this video and seeing where it goes from there!

I'm looking forward to seeing how it goes, especially since this is one of my more challenging groups behaviorally. The fact that they get to do this when no other class does might just be privilege enough to motivate them!...or let's hope that, anyway!

Will update more this afternoon with pictures!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Aftermath of Sandy Hook

It's taken me 5 days to even begin to form words about what happened in Connecticut last week. As a teacher, as a person born in Connecticut, and as a human being, I have absolutely nothing but prayers and sorrow for all the families affected by the tragedy. I now live hundreds of miles away, but my school was personally touched by the tragedy and had to watch a familiar name on the nightly news reported as deceased. She was 6. Needless to say, my heart is broken.

I had been with my children the whole day on Friday and had seen nothing more than the email asking us to shelter the students from the news until they could be reunited with their parents. When the teachers were finally told the severity of what had happened, we cried together. We prayed together. We were in disbelief. 

The return to school Monday was more emotional than I ever could have expected....more tears, more prayers, but also a profound sense of gratitude. As I walked out of my weekly  staff meeting, eyes filled with tears, I was greeted with the faces of our own beautiful children. I got to see Pre-K students run and play; I got to laugh with my 8th graders about their weekend antics. It was a transcendent I was floating above all of the work and exhaustion and stress and just being with my students. I knew why those brave teachers reacted they way they did....we love our children. 

Daniel Willingham wrote a blog post this week about guns in schools, namely whether school officials still have them. While making interesting and profound points (as Willingham is wont to do), Willingham said the following:

We love to teach because we love to communicate to students the beauty of the world, and to help them see beauty they did not know was there. We love to teach because teaching is about creation: the creation of new knowledge, the creation of better minds, and yes, the creation of a better commonwealth, nation, and world. We love to teach because we want to build--to build competence, self-confidence, and character in our students. 

 And he's right. By doing what those teachers did, they did exactly that. They showed all of us the beauty of our world- the beauty of a brave few who were willing to give their lives to protect the innocent. They created a future for their students. They are truly heroes and I feel proud to be a teacher knowing I share the profession with such a passionate and selfless group of people. 

RIP to all the victims of Sandy Hook. You and your family are in our prayers. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Higher Level Confidence

Despite 4 weeks of practice and warnings over and over that I would never just give them a question like "find the slope between these 2 points," my Algebra class was still flabbergasted that I had the nerve to give them a world problem on a test. And let's just say....I gave them pretty much all word problems.  As you may have guessed, it was our first real, honest to God, Common Core aligned test. For everyone's testing pleasure- no questions below comprehension level here! And as of today, I have 26 new enemies.

The tests are graded and the students did wonderfully, but ohhhhhhhhh baby are they mad. I had 4 angry emails right after...all from the same parent....whose student got a 93% on the test. It's not that my kids don't know the material, but any challenging question shakes their confidence. They have had their hands held and been given knowledge level tests and quizzes for so long....I don't even think they know that they're capable of applying their knowledge!

Does anyone have some tips for helping to build students' confidence with higher level thinking? I always thought the challenge would be helping them be capable of it, but we've done so much practice that they've demonstrated to me that they can handle it. I know as we practice more, confidence will build. But, really, how do you break the "this should just be regurgitation" mindset? 

Giving back the tests tomorrow will be fun, though. That should help in the confidence department! 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Proofs by David Bowie

When I was in college, I felt like proofs had personality. I have no doubt this came from years of pouring over them- from intrigued amusement to hopeless despair (I'm talking to you, hyperbolic planes). They joined the list of mathematical characters friends and I would create to numb some of the mathematical stress: the Jacobian who liked going on African safaries, the data my professor loved to put in the freezer, the triangles evil cousin Cryangle. And proofs? These were just some:
  • The cute little ones which were made you giggle....toddlers, anyone?
  • The elegant ones which so effortlessly seemed to make such a profound impact. These were definitely always wearing elbow length ladies gloves and pearls.
  • The beastly ones that took up a lot of space without really saying anything. Any Planet Fitness members out there? These made my inner lunk alarm go off. I usually walked away going..."Well that's just dumb!"
  • The ones with a trick up their sleeves. These always struck me as the salesmen of the group.
  • The wise old grandfathers....proofs by induction. Figuring out what we definitely know is true. Building on that experience. These always seemed so reasonable to me. 
  • The ones that are just really, really, really annoying. 
Then there was my favorite type...the smart, sassy, sarcastic ones....indirect proofs. The let you think something was true until BAM...they proved you wrong. They had attitude. They were the Real Housewives of my mathematical world. 

My students have not spent the endless hours pouring over proofs that I have and they also haven't needed such a mental break from the stress of a 500 level math class that they would begin to understand these characters. However, I wanted to do my favorite proofs some justice and let the kids do some exploring.

I set up 2 stations:
1) A set of sudoku puzzles 
2) This video from the 1980's movie The Labyrinth

1, 2, 3....


All of this, of course, after the debate and conjecture about Jim Henson and David Bowie. Middle schoolers of 2012 cannot fathom the 1980's.

Great first day of the lesson. Wrapping it up tomorrow with discussing how we gave hypothetical conjectures, then tested them to try to see if there was a problem with them.