Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Use a Dartboard to Review Geometry and Probability

Recently, I was inspired to turn Jenga into a real life math lesson after seeing what people were doing to it at one of my local haunts. So it should come as no surprise that I found another practial mathematical application using another popular game there: playing darts.

A dartboard is a beautiful and dense geometric figure, where finding the area of of each part would involve multiple steps beyond finding the area of a circle. That's great practice for standardized tests where students are challenged to do the same thing with much simpler figures. Then, of course, there's the probability aspect of actually playing the game--and you know how much I love probability games.

The activity I designed has two parts: geometry and probability. In order to find the theoretical probability of hitting different parts of the board, you need to know the area that you're aiming for out of the total area of the board. Finding the chances of hitting a certain region of a larger figure is another typical standardized test question, but again I think it's much more challenging than anything test authors might include.

So in Part I, students find the area of the entire board, the inner and outer rings, the inner and whole bullseye, and of each numbered section of the board. I had them leave their answers in terms of pi, because when they go on to probability, it will cancel out of their fractions. I also told students to put all of their answers as fractions or mixed numbers, because in this case it is better conceptually than resorting to decimals.

In Part II, things start out relatively easy, with students finding the probability of hitting particular parts of the board with any given throw. Then, the questions move into the chances of hitting one of several parts in a given throw--such as nailing 20-15 or the bullseye in the traditional game of cricket. The final few questions deal with compound probability, such as hitting the same numbered section on three consecutive throws.

This is a challenging but not impossible assignment, and I think the real life connection of this idea will help engage students in the work. It should be appropriate for a well-prepared Algebra I class, but certainly for Algebra II, Geometry and beyond. I also think math geeks would have fun playing around with this as well--I certainly did!

If you want another hook to get your students to take on the challenge, bring in an electronic or velcro dartboard as a reward for hard work afterward. Actually, now that I think about it, I'd love to have a dartboard in class at all times, and allow students to play if they could find the probability of hitting whatever they were aiming for before throwing!

Dartboard Geometry & Probability (PDF)

You can find more ideas like this in Ten Cheap Lessons: Second Edition and the inspiration to create your own in my upcoming book, Teaching is Not a Four Letter Word: How to Stop Worrying and Love the Job.
Molly, the Classroom Manager!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

In Case The Wild Animals Attack...

The Nurse Groupie strikes again.

For those of you who don't remember (or would like to forget like I would), the Nurse Groupie is a student who wants to see the nurse every single period of the day for one thing or another. Excessive doesn't begin to describe her desire to visit the nurse. We've had two parent meetings about it - Mom requested the second one because NG is failing several classes (including mine) because she's too busy scheming for a way to get out of class or her mom has picked her up and taken her home. I have her the last period of the day and she's absent from my class on average of at least once a week. (Oh yeah, and Mom emails me before spring break and asks if I would send some extra credit worksheets home with NG so she could do those since she's failing my class. Only problem with that, as I explained to Mom, is I don't have or offer any extra credit worksheets. Oh, says Mom.)

So, after the last meeting, which included our Assistant Principal Mrs. Sparrow, Mom emails Mrs. Language (who is NG's homeroom teacher) and informs her that she agrees with us, her daughter needs to stay in class and unless she's missing a limb or throwing up (and I wouldn't put it past this one to stick her finger down her throat to do so), we do not have to let her go to the nurse or call mom. Mom would stand behind our judgment.

Except now NG is coming up with new strategies to get Mom's attention.

Yesterday she comes in, jokes around and visits with her friends in her homeroom, and then informs Mrs. Language that she needs to see the nurse as she "doesn't feel safe."

Mrs. Language pulls her outside in the hall to find out what she means by this and NG can't explain. She just doesn't feel safe. Mrs. Language sends her to see Mrs. Sparrow. Mrs. Sparrow can't get anything out of her either so calls Mom. Mom leaves work, drives to school, and parks herself in Mrs. Sparrow's office for half and hour to talk to her child. What they talked about, we have no idea. NG went back to class and Mom went back to work.

Today during planning I head up to the front office to drop off some ISS paperwork, and who should I see at the phone calling home? You got it! Nurse Groupie! So now she's getting her elective teachers (that change every quarter) to let her call home or go to the nurse since her mean core teachers are on to her game. I find out who her elective teachers are, give them a head's up and then let Mrs. Sparrow know what's going on.

Apparently she had allergies and needed to go home.

Now, let me talk a bit about allergies. I've had them my whole life. I know allergies. We're talking years and years of allergy shots, medication, you name it. And I never, ever, missed a day or work or a day of school due to allergies even when I felt like death warmed over. And this kid has never sneezed, sniffled, or so much as coughed in my presence, and she certainly doesn't have the watery red eyes that most of my allergy kids (and myself) have on those special spring and fall days then the allergens are flying. So honestly, I'm not buying the allergy story AT ALL.

Anyhow, Mrs. Sparrow is now on a mission. This kid is staying in class. So she intercepted Mom (who picked her up so the kid missed a whole day of school, a whole day of review for our VERY BIG DEAL GOVERNMENT MANDATED TEST WHICH IS IN TWO WEEKS, and hell no, I'm not giving her any freaking extra credit (which doesn't exist anyway) and I'm sorry your kid is failing but maybe if she stayed in school she'd actually pass, but I digress.) and laid it on the line for both Mom and Nurse Groupie. Mom is missing work dealing with Nurse Groupie's desire to leave school and Nurse Groupie is missing class.

Mom supposedly agreed (we'll see). The new policy basically takes us out of the decision making loop. Nurse Groupie is not to leave the room. If she needs to call home or see the nurse we are to call Mrs. Sparrow. Mrs. Sparrow will come and make a determination if she is sufficiently sick enough to see the nurse or call home. End of story.

We hope.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Hanging Out With Molly

So my mom, who hates birds (don't ask), sends me an email a few days ago with a link to an article in a San Diego newspaper about a couple with an owl box in their yard. The kick is they actually have cameras in the owl box and you can watch Molly (the female owl) and her eggs as they hatch and she raises her family, while her mate McGee, supplies her with yummy little rodents to chomp on.

Oh yeah, I didn't know what an owl box was either...they're fairly popular out where my mom lives (rural San Diego county) because if you have a family of barn owls in your yard or neighborhood, chances are the rodent population will get significantly smaller. So, people put these wooden boxes on very tall poles and hope that a family of owls takes up residence.

Anyhow, in between working on school stuff, and taxes, and all sorts of things, I've been tuning in to watch the drama unfold here.

(Be careful. This is addicting.)

There's something of the weird science nerd in me that finds it fascinating to watch an owl tear apart a rodent and feed her owlets.

But the best part is listening to the bird sounds in the background. Talk about relaxing!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Spring Break!

Well, I'm not at the beach.

I'm not skiing.

I'm not on a cruise.

I've actually been - gasp! - at school working. Because, as soon as we get back, the Very Big Deal Government Mandated Tests On Which EVERY FREAKING THING IS BASED will be on the horizon and we need to start our two week review.

And, since over half our our standards changed this year (thank you, oh dear State Department of Education), we've pretty much had to rebuild our entire review program.

So Mrs. Eagle, Mrs. Hummingbird and I have been creating, copying, and generally getting all our ducks in a row so we can hit the ground running on Monday. Honestly, there's just too much to do during our planning periods, but once it's done, next year should be a lot easier. I hope.

At least the weather has been less than ideal. Begin stuck in a building during a gorgeous spring day would just not be a good thing.

And for the record, for all those nitwits (the folks that write nasty letters to the editor and comment on-line) who seem to think that teachers do no work outside of official school thankful you can read. A teacher saw to that.

So there.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Playing With New Toys

As a science teacher, I have a pretty strange combination of things in my room. Marbles, salt, corn starch, spring scales, model cars, bowling balls, and vinegar are just a few things that come to mind. All of these things, in way way or another, can be used to teach and demonstrate a concept. Suffice it to say, that if someone in the building needs something out of the ordinary, they tend to ask the science teachers. Chances are if you need, say, a hot plate, we'll have one (I have two.)

This year, with our new standards, we have had a bit of a void when it came to cool fun things to use with some of our new units. We didn't have much for genetics (although we had a good lab on how to make a model of DNA with pasta) and we had nothing at all for forces and motion. (This was before the donation of the bowling balls last week). We had dreams, of course, especially after going to the NSTA conference a few years ago.

We wanted the Crazy Traits. And that was just the beginning of the wish list.

Unfortunately, The School didn't have the money, so we'd been scrapping together a few dollars here and there through fundraisers at the Fall Festival and the like.

And then we got our new Assistant Principal, and former science teacher, Mrs. Sparrow who has the uncanny ability to find funding for things. A few months ago she sent out an email stating she had some funds to use for teaching materials and if you wanted anything, to let her know. So, Mrs. Eagle, Mrs. Hummingbird and I decided to shoot for the moon and ask for a class set of the Crazy Traits.

And we figured, as usual, we wouldn't get it.

Not only did we get a class set, we got three! So now each of us has a complete classroom set of these things and we can play with them and teach genetics and just have a great time.

Amazing. Absolutely amazing.

And then she found us the super slinky.

We had actually pulled her in to ask for her input on our waves unit. It was a 6th grade unit last year (which she taught) and since we'd never taught that subject, we wanted a little bit of help. She gave us some great ideas (and lots of goodies such as plastic slinkys and pipe cleaners to make waves with), and then she mentioned this really cool super slinky her old school had that they used to show properties of waves.

Well, of course, we wanted one of those.

And again, we ended up with three.

They arrived on Tuesday morning, the day we were finishing up the unit and reviewing for the test. I had just enough time in each class period to lay this monster out on the floor and with some student assistance, create some wonderful longitudinal waves.

The kids were entranced. They loved it. They want to get it out every day and play with it and make compressions and rarefactions and just watch the waves jiggle back and forth.

Amazing how something so simple can be so fun.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Sorry to Run Out on You, but....

There's a really nasty stomach flu thing going around school the past few weeks which I why I haven't really posted much.

Because, you see, I ended up getting it.


Wednesday I had a headache. No big deal because I tend get headaches which is one reason I go to a chiropractor every month. In fact, I went on Tuesday, and simply thought it was the result of my doctor having to really give my neck a good tweaking. Wednesday night and Thursday morning we had a series of thunderstorms rumble through, so I didn't sleep much. So Thursday I figured I was just tired and cranky from the headache and the storm.

Then I brought back my 5th period kids from lunch and everything went bad really, really fast. I had just finished going over their homework when I got really dizzy and extremely hot and needed to get out of that room before something really ugly happened.

Rule Number 73 of Teaching Middle Schoolers: Do not barf in front of your students.

I got Mrs. Social Studies to watch my class, made it to guidance and asked Guidance Goddess if she could find someone to watch my classes the rest of the day. It was obvious I wasn't going to be able to teach. I must have looked really green because Guidance Diva and Guidance Goddess wanted to drive me home. I figured I could make it home and after laying my head down on a table for a while and a long visit to the rest room, I did just that.

And then spent the next 48 hours sicker than the proverbial dog. Thank goodness I had an easy day planned for Friday (at least easy for a sub) and Mrs. Eagle was able to help the sub with any problems. No nasty notes about how horrid my kids had been - however, it helped that many of my trouble makers are currently in ISS.

Blech. No fun. No fun at all.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Oh The Aches and Pains!

Every year we have a couple of kids who qualify for that unique title of "Nurse Groupie". These kids will find a reason, no matter how big or small, to spend some time with the school nurse.

Nurse Groupies are not that unusual in middle school, although they tend to really flourish in elementary school with its corresponding numbers of boo-boos, infectious diseases, and just overall germiness. Elementary kids tend to actually need a school nurse more. Middle school students tend to become nurse groupies as a way of Getting Out of Class.

However, this year we have a student who quite truly tops them all when it comes to a Nurse Groupie. This kid doesn't just want to see the nurse once a day (which is pretty excessive), she wants to see the nurse Every Freaking Period of The School Day.

We noticed this the first week or so of school and quickly put a plan in place to keep track of her nurse visits in her agenda. Every other student gets a "go see the nurse form" filled out and off they go - Nurse Groupie has to have her agenda checked as well so we can see if she's already been that day. Mrs. Language has become, poor thing, an email pen pal with Nurse Groupie's Mom, and we had approval from her to limit the visits to once a day.

I do have Nurse Groupie the last period of the day, so by the time she lands in my room, she's already used up her visit. But there are times she'll ask to go, and it will run like this:

"Mrs. B, I need to see the nurse," she'll whisper (I can barely hear this kid talk even on a good day).

"Well, what for?" I'll ask as we have to put a description on the nurse form.

"I have a headache," or "My side hurts," or my favorite, "I need an aspirin for my allergies."

At the last one, I tend to blink at the kid and inform her that I too, suffer from allergies, and I've never needed an aspirin for them.

In any case, we've had two parent meetings with Mom who, on one hand, wants the kid in class instead of at the nurse because she's failing. (Big surprise, she misses instruction and then is absent a lot and never makes up anything.) On the other hand, she feeds into this constant litany of aches and pains and headaches and allergies and blurry vision and stuffy noses and.....

The last parent meeting involved the nurse, an administrator, and Nurse Groupie along with Mom. We basically said that she wasn't going to be able to go see the nurse unless it was a Dire Emergency because she was, again, failing and she needed to be in class. The Nurse backed us up and said the visits were, "just a bit unnecessary." Mom said she wasn't to go to the nurse again unless it was an emergency. Nurse Groupie blinked and nodded her head.

The next day Nurse Groupie said her side hurt. The day after it was blurry vision. The day after that it was a backache.

At this point I can't wait to see how she handles her 40's when every bit of your body can ache on a bad day.

In any case, Mrs. Language emailed her best Pen Pal, Nurse Groupie's Mom and informed her that NG apparently didn't get it.

The response...surprised us. It started off with an excuse about the blurry eyes (eye drops). She then, amazingly, grew a backbone and said that unless NG was on the floor throwing up, bleeding, or generally on death's door, she was not to leave the classroom to see the nurse. And mom, bless her heart, was giving us the latitude to make our own judgments as to whether she needed to see the nurse or not.

You can bet we printed that email out and put it in her folder as well as forwarded it to the Nurse and The Principal.

An interestingly enough...two days without requesting to see the nurse. Maybe she'll survive after all.

Update 3/9/10...Well, I was wrong. She requested to go three times today. Mom emailed and said she had a headache this morning and a stuffy nose. Of course, her excuse for me was she needed "girl products". Nothing about headache, stuffy nose, the plague...Oh good gracious.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Getting Twitchy

We survived our first full week with the Snowbird schedule, where we added on 30 minutes to each day to make up for all the days we missed due to the Winter From Hell. And just in case you doubt me, local stats point to this being the coldest winter in 30 years (I believe it). Since December we have had only 4 days near our normal temperatures. We are all sick and tired of being cold, dealing with rotten weather, and just winter in general.

Of course spring means massive amounts of yard work, tornadoes, and twitchy kids.

However, they're already twitchy, so I'm not so sure how much of it is actually spring coming.

The Guidance Diva informed me the other day that we've suspended more kids this week than she has ever remembered suspending. Is it that they now have 30 extra minutes to get in trouble? Doubtful. Those 30 minutes really go by fast and the kids don't seem to really mind it much. The only time I really notice the day being longer is that I'm used to wrapping up things after school for a bit and then going to the gym around three. Now I look at the clock and it's already four!

I once had a friend who said the last few weeks of school were like a long cross-country road trip with a bunch of kids. They may start out liking each other but by the end of the trip they are sick of each other and ready to go at it.

We're on a hell of a trip, apparently.

Unfortunately, Mrs. Reading got a phone call from her day care yesterday informing her that her little one was sick and "would you please come get him?" So, she typed up some fast lesson plans and went to get a sub to take the half day.

Except there were no subs available anywhere.

(Come on, the weather is decent, it's Friday, and who in their right mind would want to do an afternoon sub gig with Seventh graders?)

So, the only option was to divide her classes up and give the three of us left about ten kids each to add to our own classes.

Which meant, in some cases, kids sitting on the floor doing their work. I only ran out of chairs for one period, which is good. However, just having about ten more kids changes the complete dynamic of the class. It's Friday, they're getting worked up about the weekend, and then all of a sudden there's an influx of other kids for whom it's also Friday and there's nothing to keep them busy but seatwork which they finish in ten minutes (yeah, and you can just guess the quality of the work) and then they want to spend the rest of the time talking to my kids.

The last three periods of the day were just annoying beyond belief.

I sometimes wonder if Friday night happy hours were invented for middle school teachers to regroup?

Monday, March 01, 2010

Snow Bird Period

Since we have had so many snow days this year (we've been out for seven days, only have three built into the schedule, so we have to make up four), the district came up with a plan to add 30 minutes to the school day to help make up the time, before we have to take the Very Big Deal Government Mandated Tests this spring. After all, there really isn't much point in adding days at the end of the year when the kids have checked out mentally and there's nothing really at stake. The District, along with a parent focus group, also didn't want to take away spring break (although we did lose Good Friday) because so many people make plans and purchase plane tickets, and that would have caused more problems than it solved.

One thing that The District did was gave each school the leeway to decide what to do with these extra thirty minutes. We had a team leader meeting a few weeks ago and the fur flew as we tossed around ideas. There was one camp that wanted to add in the extra 30 minutes as a class period so we could actually teach a lesson, do an activity, and actually cover some content we haven't had a chance to get to yet. The other camp worried that the kids would get confused, wouldn't know where to go, would have problems in the hallway and just wanted to add the time onto the end of each period.

The seventh grade teachers were firmly in the extra period camp. The sixth grade teachers were firmly in the extra minutes camp. The eighth grade teachers didn't care anymore. (I know the feeling. I had those same kids last year). The Administration took what we gave them and came up with the extra period plan (with much whining and complaining from people that didn't like the idea of coming up with another lesson for their 30 minute block). Truth be told, yeah, it would be easier to just tack on the extra time, but if the goal is to actually teach these kids, the extra period is the way to go.

So today was the first day of the Snowbird Schedule. The idea is that the first day the kids will spend the 30 minute Snowbird Period with their 1st period teacher, the next day it would be their 2nd period teacher, the third day, their 3rd period teacher, and so forth. The best thing about the whole schedule was the fact that The Principal didn't want us just twiddling our thumbs during the 30 minute block when we didn't have a class (for example, seventh grade plans during 1st and 2nd periods, so today we didn't have kids coming to us - they were going to their elective classes). We were asked to pull kids - with the full support of the elective teachers - for remediation, extra help, and what not.

This worked out great! I pulled six kids who owed me a required writing assignment, plus a lot of missing work, and was able to work with them in small groups, help them get their writing done (and turned in), and generally spend some time going over what we're working on. It was wonderful! The kids worked, they didn't complain, they got work done. Those 30 minutes flew by.

The rest of the day was pretty busy and it didn't seem to be that much longer than our regular schedule. The one complaint the kids had was that our lunch is a bit later and they're used to eating at a specific time. They were getting pretty hungry by the time lunch came by - then again, I have kids that are ready to chew on the furniture by second period anyway.

The really amazing thing? My sixth period (my very tiny class of 13) was talking about the snowbird period and mentioned how they kind of liked it. This isn't a very high class academically so most of these kids had been pulled and had spent their snowbird period with one of their core teachers doing the small group instruction thing. They all pretty much commented that they really liked the fact that they got this extra help. In fact, one of them asked if he could come to my class for extra help tomorrow. I gladly added him to the list.

So far, so good...