Friday, December 19, 2014

Holiday Break Approaching

Two more school days until our Holiday Break. The energy level was high this week as can be expected with the anticipation of Christmas and time off from school. It can be a challenging time for a teacher but it also reminds me what it felt like for me back when I was young.

Teaching is tiring for me but it also keeps me connected to youth and feeling younger. With my children fully grown, I think I would feel older, (maybe a bit less tired), and definitely be less connected with the changes that are occurring with the younger segment of our society, social media, and the like if I were still working as a meteorologist.

I am glad to still have the chance to experience the excitement that children provide at this time of the year and have the exposure to the changes in the way they see and experience the world.

Monday, December 15, 2014


Twitter can be a pretty cool thing. Last evening, Dan Meyer, sent out a request to 7th and 8th grade math teachers for help regarding his PhD research. I have benefited from Dan's work so many times the past few years that I was happy to offer.

The task was fairly straightforward. My classes were to answer a question and I was to scan their answers and get them to him for his research. The question involved a picture of a graph and gave a worded description of the graph giving specific information regarding its period and amplitude and asked the student what was an amplitude. The material was a bit above the level of seventh grade, which Dan mentioned when he sent the question.

I was able to have two of my Blocks work on the question and was quite pleased with the way they attempted to answer the question - even though the terms and type of graph were unfamiliar to them. I told them we were helping out one of my Twitter contacts - they like to make fun of my Twitter "friends" that I mention in class at times, especially when we use material from Estimation or

Overall, they seemed happy to have been asked to take part in the research. It showed in their approach and answers to the question. It was nice for me to have been able to help Dan as well.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Negative mixed numbers

One of the things I like about teaching is learning from my students.

We have started our work with rational numbers. Simplifying fractions and comparing the size of improper fractions and mixed numbers is one of the topics we study in class first. The concept of negative mixed numbers and the requirement that both the whole number and the fraction are both negative is difficult to remember for many students, particularly when we get to combining them through addition and subtraction.

While discussing negative mixed numbers with my classes on Friday, and reminding them that a negative sign in front of a number is really asking for the opposite of what follows it, one of my students said - "oh. so it would be like writing the mixed number in parentheses". What my student meant was that another way of writing -6 3/4 would be like this -(6 3/4); finding the opposite of a positive number.

Such a great insight. I know I had always thought of it like that but never articulated it to my class in that simple but powerful way. I think this will help me explain why both parts of the mixed number are negative much better than using a number line or the distributive property - (things I have tried in the past). I thanked my student profusely. It did not seem like my student fully understood my excitement.

Pretty cool.

Saturday, December 13, 2014


My intention when starting this blog a few years ago was to post something at least every week, hopefully 2-3 times per week that touched on aspects of teaching but also other items and topics that interested me. As one can see by the lack of posts in the archive section, that is not nearly how things have turned out - so far.

I think it is good for the soul to write but often felt that I did not have enough important things to say and would wait until I did. That type of procrastination is not productive - at least as far as contributing to a blog is concerned. So I have decided to dial back on my expectations and definitions on what is important enough to write about and simply attempt to write as frequently and cogently as is possible.

The posts will likely be shorter, not solely related to teaching but should be more frequent and hopefully not too rambling. I am grateful to anyone who actually reads any of these posts - so thank you in advance.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Homework - Still (an Update)

One of the things I attempted to do during the last school year was to assign homework but not include it in my students' grade. The thought at the time was that those students that chose to do the homework would be serious about it and gain full benefit from the practice that the assignment was intended to give.

In theory, the plan sounded good but also failed its intent miserably; so much so that I decided to abandon it before the year was over and re-institute the old grading paradigm where the completion of homework counted towards a portion, (15% or so), of a term grade.

I grossly underestimated the maturity level of middle school students. Once my students figured out, during the middle of the first term, that homework was not being counted towards their grade, homework participation rates dropped immediately and precipitously. I had anticipated this. What I did not anticipate - Despite obvious negative impacts on many student's quiz grades and learning for the second half of the first term and the second term; a paltry few of those students were mature enough to make the connection between the necessary practice that the homework provided them and how well they learned the material and performed on assessments. Most never started doing the homework again.

Thus, the homework "cure" that I had instituted became worse than the disease. I still feel that my original goal had merit and was worth a try. It is also something I am unlikely to implement again any time soon.