People like coupons. It feels good to get a deal, like you outsmarted somebody. There are plenty of cases where this is true and I will put some effort into finding a good price here and there. People that offer services know you like deals, and there are endless coupons, rewards programs, cashback policies, etc that get pushed in order to get your business and satisfy your need to save. Most people aren't math teachers though, and most people don't calculate how your average rewards program doesn't do you any favors.

I got this coupon in the mail today from a car dealership showing me all the incredible savings they're offering me on repair work:

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No confusing percentages, they did all the work for me! Look, I could save $100! I like $100. Where do I sign up? Here's the interesting part though. It's a flat discount on a $100 (or in one case $200) range. The more you spend, the less you save.

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Now to some people, free money is free money. It's really not since a car repair isn't something you like having to do. It's not like you saved some cash and got a tv out of the deal. You get to continue to show up for work. If the total rings up $299, what was the point of this coupon?

Second example, a rewards program. Southwest is a nice airline, they invest a lot of attention into the needs of their customers. They have a rewards program. You spend money you were going to anyway, you rack up points. Points turn into flights to Hawaii, etc. What's not to like? According to the terms of the program:

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When booking flights, Southwest gives the option of seeing fares in terms of points: 

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The Houston to Dallas run is a very common flight. There's one every hour all day long. The non-refundable fare goes for as low as $49 before taxes and fees. I can get that same flight for "free" if I have 2,940 points accumulated. If you go back to the terms, that means I had to spend $2,940 dollars to earn this free ticket. Three grand! Just to get to Dallas! If my points had all been accumulated by purchasing Southwest flights, it'd only take $1,470 worth of purchases to earn this trip.

If you fly a lot or have big gas bills or lots of kids to feed and thus big grocery bills, I get it. You could earn a couple of tickets in a couple months. Me? A "free" $49 ticket to Dallas would take about 5-6 months to earn, assuming I was still willing to travel and lay out for hotel, food, etc after going on the spending spree it would've taken to earn the flight in the first place.

Cashback programs operate the same way, but often have a cap on the amount you can earn in a certain period of time. Fun example: Spend $200/day for a month. Enjoy your $60 in cashback as you stare in disbelief at your $6,000 credit card bill. But hey, math is hard, I can't be bothered with things that are hard.

Posted
AuthorJonathan Claydon

There's a lot about teaching that never comes up in an education curriculum in college. I never studied education, so even the stuff that does come up was never told to me. Mainly, you simultaneously have immense control over you classroom and no control over your classroom. Lesson design, assessment, interacting with students can be done however you want it to be done. Long ago I had a job that required three approvals to get a new box of paper clips and had a fight on my hands if I wanted change the way a process was done. Teaching is immensely liberating from a test creation, lesson design, and how you conduct business. The kids you get, the subject you teach, the size of your class and the facilities you are given are delivered with minimal input on your part, and that, is a maddening frustration. You have two choices when you teach. Enjoy what freedom you have, have fun with your students, and give the kids a reason to look forward to the hour they spend with you or zero in on what you can't control channeling your contempt with the system into contempt towards your kids until your that teacher who complains about everything and becomes upset that teaching school involves all these darn kids. My school has plenty of both. Every school does. Which teacher are you going to be?

My second observation is an interesting one. Being teacher is two parts parent with a weird part celebrity. After 2 and a half years, enough kids have come through my room to generate my brand, or something. They've told other kids about you. Other teachers have probably heard about you (my kids certainly share this information all too willingly with me, so I wonder...). I say "hi" to more kids in the hallway than I can count. With the number of kids I coach and teach combined, I'm exposed to 10% of the school regulary (that'd be 250 kids) and probably 15% of the school in general. Yes, there are tons of kids who have no idea who I am, but knowing 1.5/10 students generates more fame than you'd think. Some people don't see that as a big deal. I have never liked huge crowds. I've never had huge notoriety. I interacted with maybe 10 people regularly at my old job. So this is nuts.

Alright, anyway. The semester is over, lots of excellent things happened. Lots of frustrating things happened. There is lots of potential on the horizon and a lot lot lot I want to iterate. So some goals for the two week holiday:

  • Organize my curriculum (and put it up here)
  • Keep up the group projects
  • Find a more efficient classroom arrangement (the TV has been a hit, but created some interesting room quirks)
  • Keep raising the bar with challenging test questions
  • Integrate some type of regular oral assessment
  • Allow a couple of my highest fliers to explore extra topics on their own
  • Prepare for the coming of my class iPads
  • Don't kill myself with work

 It's a lofty list, we'll see what I get to. The last one dictates I take a couple days off before I dive into this stuff. I am really going to prioritize the first thing to make year four even simpler. The iPad thing initially makes me sigh because it reaks of a solution that doesn't really have a problem, but iCloud has really gotten my brain going on how to rise above all the people that see an iPad in the classroom and say "ok kids, you can have flash card iPad game time!!!" Differentiating the curriculum for high achievers is a challenge I gave myself a couple weeks ago, when I noticed that one class had 2-3 students that were way above the rest and could benefit from getting to learn some things that standard academic Algebra II can't get to due to time. I hope I can serve their needs.

Get excited.

Posted
AuthorJonathan Claydon

Something I'm really finding a groove for this year is writing tests. Given that I'm adapting Pre-Cal to a standards based system and that I have not done fall Algebra II in this way either, I've cranked out a lot of tests this semester. Inspired by some chemistry teachers at school that are trying to teach better conclusion writing and a nagging sense that structured writing has a place in math, I've started throwing deeper questions into the mix, where a concrete answer is the last thing I care about.

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Years from now when my Pre-Cal foundation is a little stronger, I'll probably take away all the numbers and make this totally symbolic. The prompt might also offer too many hints (you need to account for the height of the stick dude), but this is a good first attempt at this sort of thing just to see what I get. Some math teachers are content with multiple choice from a textbook test generator because it's easy to grade. It enfuriates me how lazy that is. Some math teachers brush off structured writing as typical staff development nonsense. Congrats, your students will be fabulous guessers.

Posted
AuthorJonathan Claydon

Fall semester is coming to a close and I have a general sense of winding down. There is little concerning me about the end of the semester, other than generating a couple of finals. However, the fall semester is a bit of a tease. The way our district calendar works, the spring semester is a much higher mountain to climb (the first two grading periods are each a grueling 7 weeks long). Add to that the luxury of soccer being off-season (high school runs Nov through April, 8th grade April until mid-May) and it would seem it's only tougher from here. But so much has been successful in the classroom this semester that it shouldn't be too hard to adapt to my changing schedule. Highlights:

  • Most of my time outside of school is spend planning and refining a project idea or problem set, grading is the easiest thing I do
  • Grading is a lightning fast process, and with weekly, concise assessments, they are the only papers I scrutinize, I don't sift through 100s of worksheets simply to give check grades
  • Requiring my students to sit in groups has shrunk the feel of the classroom, bursting at the seems though it may be
    • in-class work is easily divided up among the colors, reducing the number of people I can choose for a given answer
    • a student commented "this is the only class where I know people's names" thanks, I think, to regular periods where they talk to each other about math instead of listening to me
    • I have overheard so many smile-inducing conversations about math from the kids, and many groups spend a lot of time teaching one another
    • Pre-Cal kids accept the group model better than Algebra II kids
    • explicit group activities are easier to plan as I don't have to devote 30 minutes stressing over who works with who
    • five kids per group is, unfortunately, a little big but it's the best I can do right now
    • we had at least one group project a six weeks with solid results, and lots of nice posters
  • Requiring notebooks reduces the "invisible paper" problem I saw in my first year and a half, I have observed many of my mid-range students consulting their books before asking for help
  • My comfort level with the material is getting me to ask better questions, I feel like I'm being more thorough with Pre-Cal and the kind of things I expect out of Algebra II are way above what I was ok with my first year
  • Lesson planning is more efficient, last year I would open up our lesson planning website and slowly figure things out at the computer, mostly forgetting it when the week started, now:
    • I used a big, long calendar to sketch out the next 10 days
    • I explicitly write my plans out for both subjects in a notebook
    • Anything that I need to make (test, problem set, group sheets) gets sketched out in a separate notebook
    • Typing the lesson plan becomes a quick formality
  • I forced days off into my routine, two nights a week I do nothing school related at all no matter how much I want to
  • "What can you do with this?" didn't quite get where I wanted, but I pulled out some "math is everywhere" items
  • I gave the kids a chance to offer input to how their class runs
  • I spread the knowledge of my assessment system with my math department, and I think the movement is getting somewhere

There is still room to improve and I hope to dedicate a little time over the upcoming break to get some good things in place for spring:

  • I have the rare day where the lesson moves awkwardly because I didn't prepare well
  • I hand out too much assistance during tests, to a disasterous effect a couple days ago, had to reestablish protocol with the class in question
  • I still randomly oversimplify topics or flat out say something wrong, though so far it hasn't been anything major, recently I related the graphs of tan(x) and cot(x) incorrectly
  • I want more in depth group projects but don't want to write some ridiculous script they follow word for word
  • I want to force my Pre-Cal kids to start thinking about problems more by using more multi-layered items
  • I want to foster a little more group unity, a problem moreso in Algebra II where there is a subset of students that ignore their group completely even when they have to work together
  • I want to be more thorough with notebook checks, I think I'm letting a few kids off the hook with daily grades
  • I have rushed a couple topics for the sake of testing, need to be better about actively discussing something if I know I want to test it two ways
    • data collection in Algebra II revolved around an activity where we measured heights, foot sizes, and recorded birthdays and talked about any possible correlations, the first time I tested on the subject the questions were all related to the activity, the second time I focused on more abstract prediction questions that kind of came out of left field and a lot of kids didn't know what to do
    • Pre-Cal has gotten a few softballs because it can be hard to subdivide the material. I tested twice over finding complements and supplements, ugh.
    • the above examples give rise to the thought of the rare "one shot" if I have a topic that feels unnatural to test twice, but that opens the door to create other funky exceptions and I don't like that
  • I have trouble forcing myself to up the difficulty on the second attempt
  • I have to remember to show why cute shortcuts work with real, intense math definitions (ex: solutions to factoring problems are just the opposite of the factors, but why can we say that?)
  • I have midjudged how long assessments should be, Algebra II has had two instances where we had to dedicate class time to finish a test because I got a little crazy with the number of problems or underestimated how long it takes them to work

Overall, it's been a good semester and I honored most aspects of the system that I told the kids I was going to honor. That's always the biggest challenge no matter how long you've been teaching, do what you say you're going to do. You can push kids if they know that's what you expect. You can't push kids if they know you'll just do it for them.

So if you're a new teacher, keep your head up, eventually you find your groove and the insanity of developing classroom procedures, well-paced lessons, thorough lessons, finding what kids do and do not respond to, and how to set your expectations dies down to the point where you can start refining higher-order aspects to your style.

 

Posted
AuthorJonathan Claydon

I've mentioned before that I have a lot of students this year (27 per class average) making visibility a problem in the dark recesses of my room. With the kids piled on top of each other, those stuck in the last row do an awful lot of stretching to see, especially when I write on the lowest 1/5 of my board. Enter my solution:

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People who know me aren't surprised, but yes, I might be a crazy person. The setup is a 1080p 32" television that was marked "Used" on Amazon, but was brand spanking new. To enable the use of my podium, I had installed a 4-port VGA splitter already, so this screen takes up the 4th port on that splitter. A 50' VGA cable, cheap IKEA table, and cord proctector later, the back of the room isn't so terrible anymore.

The top picture was taken from a desk up against the back wall of the room. Normally this kid has to look around 4 or 5 people in front of him to see, and you can imagine how difficult it is to see anything in the bottom reaches of the main board. Now this kid only has to fight one person for a decent view. I increased the distance between the front two rows and the last two rows a bit to increase the reach of this new screen. I'm hoping it's a beneficial addition. Pretty sure the kids will flip out when they see it.

Posted
AuthorJonathan Claydon

There's this checkbox in our lesson plan system. We have been tasked with emphasizing language based activities into our curriculum (not just math, everyone) and there are all sorts of checkboxes in the lesson plan system that relate to various kind of activities. Most of them I have no idea how you implement in a math room, or what they even are. But there's one checkbox I come back to all the time that says "Divide/Debate/Discuss" which seems to me to be the ideal activity for math. But what does that look like?

Last year it was my default choice for this little class of 10 kids I had. It was an accelerated group and when there's only 10 kids in the room you get a lot of time to talk with them. So 90% of the time, I clicked that box for their daily activity. But we didn't really dive into the spirit of that box. There were no projects, just a lot of modeling with little whiteboards. It was nice, I liked it, and it was a good group. But how do you divide/debate/discuss with 28 people in the room (which is far too common this year)?

Thus, poster projects. So below was a bit of an overview, here's the meat of one poster project I did.

The subject at hand was systems of equations and we had completed discussing all three methods. For whatever reason, this is the nuclear bomb topic of Algebra II. It really lets you know who has a strong foundation because it exposes so much about your math game. So rather than photocopy a worksheet with 15 problems on it, watch the smart ones get most of the done, the middle do like 7, and the bottom end struggle to finish 2 (me answering the same question 5 times along the way), I turned to my group system. Each was given a paper with 5 systems on it. They were tasked with discussing which method would work best for a problem, dividing up the work, verifying their answers and assembling nice versions of all this on a poster. My only hint was that each method should appear at least once. The rest was up to them.

End result, they're doing all the question answering and asking of each other. I really only stepped in if the whole table was stumped. You get to answer a question for five kids instead of one and I don't feel like I'm repeating myself over and over again in a given class period.

The more fascinating thing was to see groups approach the problems different ways. Some would graph the one I didn't expect them to, or eliminate when they could have substituted, and vice versa.

One last thing about this activity is that after our first grading period I used some student feedback to figure out who felt challenged and who didn't and found them appropriate new groups. Those smart kids were given a special set all their own with the same goal.

In the end, systems are still hard, and test performance separated the haves from the have nots. But I find that the journey we took to explore them was far more engaging than some faceless problems on a worksheet.

Photos of the full set of posters and a zoom in on an individual one.

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Posted
AuthorJonathan Claydon

I remain set to being anti-worksheet and anti-talk all the time this year with emphasis on lots of time spent talking to one another about problems. A simple idea captures all of that very nicely: the poster. We have a well stocked media room with poster board and colored paper and I try to take full advantage. So instead of running off 100 worksheets with 10 problems on there, I create a small set of 5 problems for the group to discuss and present on a poster. Present is used loosely. This is wonderful for Algebra II because that subject focuses on graphing lots and lots of things. It works well for word problems in Pre-Calculus as well when you get to things like right triangle trigonometry and using trig functions inverses. Main idea: think up 5 problems that sum up everything you've done on the subject, give them to your groups, have them divide responsibility as they see fit, and have everyone produce individual work that goes on a poster. My groups are arranged by colors, so each group uses material that matches their color. White Group kind of gets the raw end of this deal.

Smaller version: require each individual to make a drawing of a given problem set. Most recently I did this with systems of inequalities. I refer to this as arts and crafts day and try to do it at least once a six weeks.

Results from Algebra II arts and crafts are on the left, a poster project from Pre-Cal on the right: 

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I had a really nice version of this for systems of equations. There are three methods to solve systems that we've discussed so far: graphing, substitution, and elimination. I gave each group five systems with no indication about the preferred solution method. Though a couple problems were written to steer them in one direction or another. They had to debate what method to use for each problem and then display the work. The only requirement was that each method had to be used at least once. The discussions I overheard during this were fascinating.

Posted
AuthorJonathan Claydon

After 10 weeks in there I have a lot of positive development on my objectives for the year. I also have a grand scheme for the how curriculum section should work. Main goal is to give me a resource to turn to when I need to remember how I approached a lesson. This year I have a lot of trouble remembering what I did previously and completely forgetting that I have quality resource X laying around as I sit there making something brand new.

Writing has been troublesome lately due to lots of projects I have on the burners and this phenomenon:

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If we can harnass whatever it is that keeps kids with their infinite supply of energy, we would solve a lot of problems.

Posted
AuthorJonathan Claydon

Ten weeks in and I have found it easier and easier to plan things with notebooks and groups involved. My kids have to have notebooks, it's part of their grade. My kids are always in groups, it's part of their grade. Knowing I can count on those two items being there opens things up. And you know what I use less of? Worksheets. This year is turning into War on Worksheets. Most textbooks will have a resource pack with worksheets for every chapter in the book. Sometimes the problems are ok, a lot of times they focus on weird specific situations that didn't align with your teaching. Plus, typical terrible textbook word problems. Worksheets lend themselves to collection which makes you feel obligated to grade. A mountain of worksheets leads to less feedback from you. Operate a loose-leaf economy like this and here's the feedback loop you create:

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Ergo, I dislike worksheets.

Posted
AuthorJonathan Claydon

Your average students thinks their teacher lives in the closet at the back of the room, and is not a real person. I take this to a different place by seeing teaching as acting. Every day I play a character named Mr. Claydon, or Coach Claydon, or Mister Coach Claydon. Who's he? A slightly arrogant, hilarious ex-engineer with five Ferraris and this house:

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How'd he get the house? Founded a rap label and sold it for $300 million, duh. He answers questions with "because I'm awesome." He'll probably make a joke about your girlfriend, or use the vertical line test as a metaphor for a prom date. When a seated student asks him to turn in a paper for them, he'll walk all the way over to their desk and point "it goes over there" walking back and forth to the spot for effect, never touching the item the student has. He won't hestitate to use a stick figure drawing of you getting eaten by a shark in a math problem. He will blast Britney Spears during free work time. He will waste you in tic-tac-toe. And on and on and on.

Why? Well, teachers are there to make impressions on kids right? Nothing makes a better impression than the genius with bad jokes. Students will perform when they know that sometimes they get to have fun along the way, or that math class is a guaranteed laugh. No need to brow beat them with speeches on responsibility and not taking things seriously. If you know what you're doing and entertain the room, you will see far fewer blank spaces on a test.

Why again? There are times Mr. Claydon gets upset. Early on, Mr. Claydon establishes that there's a time and a place for fun, but there is work to do. Mr. Claydon gets upset extremely rarely, but it happens. Does he yell, scream? Nope. But whatever assistance was being given will stop, Mr. Claydon will pack up his things and leave the room. What does he hear as he observes from next door? Dead silence. We made Mr. Claydon go away, how'd we mess that up? When he returns and sits at his desk ignoring the room? Dead silence.

Get kids to invest in your character and they will respect what happens when they offend him. Word spreads and all of a sudden Mr. Claydon's other classes are wondering how in the world he got mad at That Bad Class.

Am I anything like this in real life? Not really. Ironically, public speaking makes me nervous, I don't like being social in large groups, and my house is not that big. It's not even a house.

So start yelling at them from day one if you want to, or give them someone quirky they have the privledge of learning math from, and see which version gets better classroom management results when it counts.

Posted
AuthorJonathan Claydon