Hockey Sticks

Stickers
Yep, that’s frost on the inside of the windows.

When you drive an old car you get used to some rough sounds.

You also get very attuned to new, strange sounds. To the point where you almost don’t need an engine light to know when something’s not right.

So it is when you teach Algebra 1 frequent fliers, or in my current position, Track 3 Algebra II students with “Junioritis“. As my math coach in a previous district once told a room full of algebra teachers: “Your students have been going to school now for what, 11 or 12 years? Don’t fool yourself. They are not going to instantly start liking math all of a sudden just because you are their teacher this year.”

Image result for math student meme


So we started a chapter on exponentials and logs last week. We kicked the whole thing off with a day of graphing exponential functions by making a table of values. How did it go, you ask?

“I didn’t get to the back page because the front page made me cry.”

Yep. Rattle-rattle-thunder-clatter…

How do we fix this? (Hint: The answer is not “Call the Car-X Man.”)

We go Back to Basics:

Opened up class with the odds of a perfect NCAA bracket, graphs included. Because, the first day of the tournament (mid-day games, yo) dominates my students’ attention like little else.

Odds of a Perfect NCAA Bracket, Graphed

Then on to the bellringer – a Would You Rather on the evergreen task: would you rather have (insert giant sum of money) for a month’s work, or would you rather get one penny the first day, two pennies the second day, four cents on the third day, and so forth, with the daily pay rate doubling each day.

Several students lowered their shoulder and did the grunt work, either on calculator or on paper. And the answer became crystal clear. They actually “justified their answer with math”. Serious “light bulb” moments. (“Woah!……..”)

Then we walk through graphing an exponential with a fractional base, from the previous day’s assignment. Once I reminded (and showed) them that a negative exponent means write the reciprocal to the positive power, things fell into place. And hey, wait a minute. The shape of that graph looks very familiar. Like, we’ve seen it before. Maybe, today even…

I Feel Like I've Seen This Graph Before
Mind. Blown.

They still freeze up any time they are asked to graph a function from an x-y table, but I think they left class that day having a little clearer view of the *concept* of an exponential function. For just one day, I’ll take it. Let’s just say I’m guardedly optimistic. We’ll do some review at the end of the week, and a partner quiz on the day before Spring Break.

Not willing to rest on my laurels, next we pave the way for Inverse Functions. With a Desmos Activity borrowed from Jonathan Schoolcraft and tricked out with some Iron Giant themes.

Inverse Function AB Screengrab
Desmos Activity Builder, grab a bat. You’re up.

Moral of the story: it’s my job to stay in tune with my students’ level of understanding, and back them up when it’s needed. Visuals, a chance to play with numbers, and a chance to manipulate graphs definitely helps.

Or I could sit in a corner and mutter H – E – Double – Hockey Sticks. Those are the options.

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Do You See The Real Me?

Image via: http://linguistics.ohio.edu/opie/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/respect-your-readers.jpg

I read. A lot. Some might say too much. I’ll snap up a few pages of whatever I’m reading in morning while brushing my teeth, or as a nightcap before turning in for good. And if find something I really like, I’ll return to it again and again. I must have read Jim Bouton’s “Ball Four” fifty times, Gerry Faust’s memoir “The Golden Dream” half that many, and I can pretty much recite “Pierced By A Sword” by Bud MacFarlane Jr. word-for-word. (It’s OK if you’ve never heard of that last one. It’s Catholic fiction, and for a book written 20 years ago, a lot of seems “ripped from the headlines” these days.)

In a note regarding the second edition of “Pierced”, McFarlane states: “I’m a Catholic (and a guy, and a Notre Dame grad, and a New Jersey native) and this book reflects that.” This week I spent a good amount of time wondering how much of my work reflects me – who I am.

Kids can smell fake a mile away. And that’s a relationship killer. I don’t think I could stand in a classroom 180 days a year, 5 classes a day, and be something I’m not. And truth be told, why would I want to put up a front all day, every day?  What’s the gain? Too much work, not enough benefit. So I find myself checking myself often – to make sure I don’t have to worry about somebody pulling back the curtain.

There is a Purdue University regional campus a few blocks from my school, so each school year we host a new class of pre-service teachers for observations. I know there is supposed to be a sharp decline in the number of students in teacher formation programs in Indiana these days, but you couldn’t tell from seeing all the PUC students in our hallways. Seriously: dozens. I’m hosting two students this semester. I told them when they came to see my Algebra 1A classes for students who have previously failed the course (some multiple times), that what they would see wouldn’t be pretty, but it would be real.

I found out a long time ago if I was going to teach that class, I’d have to teach different. I still don’t have it figured out (believe me, when I do, I’m writing a book, getting a web site, going on the speaking tour, the whole schmeer. And maybe hiring some of my teaching besties as consultants.)

So I’ve been on a quest for a while. Last week one of my observers saw Speed Dating as a review for a chapter quiz. Both guys were scheduled to come in on Friday, which I reminded my students would consist of the usual Friday Fun. “What’s Friday Fun?” you ask?

Well, let’s start here:

Guaranteed two or three of them will be going “That’s my jam!” and be up out of their seat dancing for a minute on that second one. Makes my day, every damn time.

Follow that up with a self-reflective activity, via @approx_normal.

Self Assessment EC

So we did the music, and the dancing, and the reflecting, and then we needed to hook ’em for a month-long journey through the joy of linearity. On a Friday. After Hammertime. So I eased my way into an activity lifted from Dan Meyer.

Alg 1A 5.2 Opener – pairs that add to 6

We backed that up Monday with my maiden voyage into the land of Desmos Activity Builder.

I Got Your 6 Screenshot

I’ve been dying to try it out. Gonna have to write about what I saw, I imagine.

Now look. None of this is a screaming cry for attention. I’m not sitting in my upstairs computer lab plotting ways to get my fellow teachers to notice me and think I’m tech-y and cool. Everything I’ve rolled out is designed to make learning happen. Still, my observers… did they see the real me, or am I putting on a dog and pony show? And my students… they’ve got to think this is all pretty bizarre, right? (At least I’m not alone in that regard.)

Personally, I feel like I should be ready and willing to have anyone walk through the door at any time, on any day, and not feel like “Oh God. Busted.”

Image via: http://www.houseofbombini.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Busted.jpg

Regardless: Nothing strikes fear in my heart like the term “unannounced evaluation”. Even though I know what I’m doing is good, even though I’ve been through it all a million times, even though I get in the zone when I’m in the midst of one of those 900 performances a year, I’m still that guy that gets nervous when he gets called to the principal’s office.

Then one day I read this. Yep, a teacher who told her administrator “Come see my craziest class.”

That takes cajones.

So yeah, I don’t worry too much that they (observers of any stripe) might feel like I’m putting on a show. Here I am…