Friday, March 23, 2012

Learning vs Practicing, or life after the "Test"

I railed, as usual, about how much I hate having to focus on a single test, but this year my rant was based on how my (un-accelerated) middle school students are taking an "end-of-year-test" exactly 3 months before the end of the school year. On the other hand, being an essentially optimistic sort of person, I decided that this block of time (more than an entire marking period!) could be used to be a little more experimental and experiential in my classroom, at least in the two middle school math classes I teach.

So, we are dabbling in "thinking," inspired by the book "Making Thinking Visible" by Ritchhart, Church, and Morrison. I've declared a restart, and both the seventh and eighth graders are looking at patterns, one class in number patterns and the other in visual patterns with examples and work pulled, in part, from another book: "Creative Problem Solving in School Mathematics" by Lenchner (1983!).

As a bit of a confession, I spent three years teaching without a textbook (roof leaking and pack-ratting contributing to that situation) and I think I did a better job, the students learned more, and we all enjoyed it more. So...

I've got some more thinking and planning to go before we delve into some smaller problem-based learning. I'm fishing for books, blogs, resources, and ideas. We'll see how that goes.

Monday, October 25, 2010

My Life as a Mathematician

From Melanie Holtsman's Blog Challege:
When you're not at school are you still a mathematician? How do you use math to solve problems in your daily life? How did you use it today?

I am a math teacher. It's the one subject that I never really stopped teaching, in my various education incarnations at various schools. I love it. And I use it. Everyday. Really!

In college, I always got invited to go out with groups for dinner since I could calculate everyone's bill and tip contribution in my head. (Sometimes they'd pay for me too)

I estimate how much gas is in my tank, I know how many mpg my Camry gets, I estimate how far I have to go and where the nearest (cheap) gas station is.

I cook. Can't get much mathier than doubling or one-and-a-halving recipes.

I recently remodeled a bathroom. I calculated area for floor tile (still bought too much). I designed the layout for the subway-style tile for the shower stall. I bought fabric for the curtains, had to be enough for doubling the thickness.

My 14yo and I moved the furniture in the living room - definitely spatial skills.

I am now getting ready to remodel my kitchen. Today I measured the location for the refrigerator and marked the 33" and 37" sizes on the current counter-top so I could visualize it.

I don't always spend a lot of time writing down calculations, but I do spend time doing some sort of math every day.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

My Life as a Reader

I'm writing this as part of Melanie Holtsman's Blog Challenge

I can only barely remember life before reading. I specifically remember how I learned to read. It was a book called "Ann Likes Red" which, of course, was my absolute favorite and was read to me over and over and over and over (in the way of all 3 or 4 year-olds!). I really do remember the moment when I realized that those things - squiggles - on the page matched up with the sounds of the story my parents kept retelling! And then, I went over every page and added an "e" to every occurrence of the name "Ann", because it was not spelled correctly ;-)

- - As I was writing this, I searched for the book, just looking for an image, and found a fantastic background story by/about the author - Dorothy Jane Mills

Further memories of reading are like snapshots of my life. I remember getting my first library card when we lived in Kentucky. Oh bliss! I was allowed to pick out books to take home! Whole shelves of wealth! And when I went to a new school within the next year and I was told I could have *7* books at a time! I went bonkers! I know that one of those books was a copy of King Arthur stories. I also remember that I tried to put all of the books in my desk (a hinge-top) and my desk wouldn't shut.

We moved in with my grandparents for a little while later that year. Someone dug up old copies of Nancy Drew, Little Orphan Annie, and the Dana Girls mysteries. The paper in those books was crispy and a little brown around the edges. I can still smell those books in my memory. I ravened through newer Nancy Drew (oh! titian hair!) Alfred Hitchcock's Three Investigator's series, and all of Louisa May Alcott (if my second son had been a girl, he would have been named Louisa).

At some point, I started reading HGWells, which naturally led into Isaac Asimov. I every one of his books, collected the Foundation series, eventually met the great man and got his autograph on those books! I had every issue of his IA's Science Fiction magazine and the non-fiction articles fed into my love of science.

At the same time, I was working my way through Agatha Christie (even in math class, where I was reading behind my book. So was my best friend Amy). Menolly from Dragonsong became the character I most wanted to be. And then, at some point, my babysitter accidentally left behind her copy of "The Hobbit". To this day, I have read "The Hobbit" and TLOTR more than forty times through (yes. 40. sue me.) I began a ritual of reading the series every spring during college and dragged my friends into the ritual as well. 65° days in Blacksburg, VA. Sunbathing in a purple bikini outside Shanks and Rasche Halls and passing around volumes 1, 2, and 3.

Somewhere, I've left out Jane Austen. I think I was the only person in my whole high school who thought Jane Austen's books were hysterically funny. My favorite is Northanger Abbey, because poor Catherine is so deluded! An unfortunate by-product of my Austen-reading years were a collection of red-penned spelling errors on my English papers due to my habit of spelling honour, colour, favour etc. as Jane did.

Fast-forward a whole lot of years. I still love science fiction. Sheri Tepper is my favorite for thought-provoking stories. I'm re-reading the Valdemar books by Mercedes Lackey and the books by Tamara Pierce because everyone needs some mental bubble-gum in their lives ;-) I'm enjoying the Rick Riordan Percy Jackson books with my teenager, all of the Ranger's Apprentice books that my 10yo loves, laughing out loud at Stephanie Plum novels, and waiting waiting waiting for the next Amelia Peabody story along with the chemistry teacher. I'm inspired by Greg Mortenson. I look for teaching ideas in the "What Works" series of books as well as anything written by Rick Wormeli. Michael Pollan is my new favorite non-fiction author and I truly admire Barbara Kingsolver for "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle." I have a collection of Christmas books that I bring out in November. "Gift of the Magi" makes me cry every year.

Wow. I honestly cannot imagine what it would be like to never again read a book. I have not yet ventured into the realm of Kindle/Nook/whatever. It will happen, I'm sure. But, snuggling up, turning pages, losing the world - it's just the best.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sunday oddities

I am guiltily admitting that I've read (devoured?) every one of the Twilight books (thanks Jill) and then got stuck on the "House of Night" books (inspired by the phrase "vampyre finishing school") and thus felt obligated to read the article "How Twilight, other dark fiction affect Teen brains"

Probably as we all realize, current teen fiction reflects current world concerns, so I guess it shouldn't be a surprise that Strauss describes the current trend as "dystopian and dark." In a conversation with a children's media specialist, they worry about the vulnerability of characters having a negative affect on readers and that authors should "have a moral obligation to make sure that their works contain some positive ethic."

Hmm. A long time ago I read Bruno Bettelheim's "The Uses of Enchantment" and wrote a paper comparing adolescent science fiction and fantasy to younger children's reading of fairy tales - both a safe way of working through fears and dreams.

I'm trying to decide the "fears" that readers may be dealing with while reading these novels. Bella is definitely insecure enough for a dozen middle school girls. There is a conflict between good and evil, there is a dichotomy between the incredible control that the Cullens exhibit vs the other vampires in the series, there is rebellion against the corrupt authority of the vampire council...

As to whether other teen literature (not "dark") has the same sorts of themes? I have only read recent books and cannot remember some of the older ones. But "Bridge to Terabithia" is by no means fluffy, "My Brother Sam is Dead" is another one I remember reading, not light work either. "Lord of the Rings" - war. "Foundation Series" - decline of civilization.

And I just realized that I spent how long writing this post and I don't teach English/Language Arts!!

Math/Science/Technology geek strikes again...

Friday, May 14, 2010

The name says it all

Yup. That's what I am. So I am setting myself a goal. I need to blog. I need to do it to become more disciplined in my reflection on my teaching. I need to do it to decompress after a head-long rush through the tintinabulation of the school bells bells bells bells. I think I might need to do it to model how I learn, and how my "style" of learning works within the context of my life (not just my job.)

So, I'm putting it out there, and maybe even sharing with the teachers in my district (for the first time).

Goal: 2 posts per week minimum.
Goal: If I am online reading/commenting/collating, then I should be writing at the same time.
Goal: Learn more about how I learn and maybe how to teach...

Monday, August 10, 2009

Artists & Technology

Been totally out of the blog loop for so long that the world just might blow up if I blog two days in a row. Guess I'm testing fate...

I'm posting a project I did for my graduate course in Technology, Leadership & Ethics at Chestnut Hill College. It's rather long (my total presentation took almost 40 minutes). Click on Shakespeare, then move clockwise...

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Creating Textbooks

Just read Signs of a Significant Disruption in the Traditional Textbook Model from the online THE Journal. Apparently the Indiana DOE thinks the offered Social Studies textbooks are not "interesting [or] engaging." So they are changing the definition of textbook (!) to mean any "systematically organized material" and that now includes multimedia and internet materials, whether (and this is my favorite part) "packaged for them or packaged by them"

Yay!! Teachers may create their own materials! Well, truthfully, we all do it anyway. I have not ever been totally happy with everything provided for me and my classes by any textbook. In the past two years, I've actually broken away from the math textbook, though mostly for self-serving reasons (I don't have enough for my classes and they are 9 years old and shredded).

I can align my units and lessons with the state standards, compensating for individual weaknesses and playing to strengths. I can find materials online, I can adapt and create materials with the help of free internet resources (my students and I love geogebra!). I can drop in and out of online instructional resources (eNLVM, for one) and collaborate with other classes (see the Math Survey project here) .

So, even teachers can (and should?) operate at the level of "creating" in Bloom's Taxonomy.