Power Rule Successย 

I went ahead and taught the power rule today in calculus. Every year, I’ve been disappointed at how hard the computations have been for my kids. This is supposed to be the easiest lessson of the year, I’ve thought to myself year after year. As all calculus teachers know, it’s not the calculus that trips them up; it’s the algebra.

This year I finally got my act together and before we did any calculus, we did two days of “Algebra Bootcamp” a la Sam Shah. 

Oh. My. Word. 

This lesson has never gone so smoothly. Each class was able to compute -16(4)^(-3/2) without a problem. “So what did you all get for the slope of the tangent line?” I asked, cringing, expecting to get confused and frustrated looks. Instead? “-2,” without a bit of fanfare. Like it was no big deal. Like, “Duh, Mrs. P, please stop talking and let us get on with our homework.”

I am so delighted. 

I’m thrilled that I’m still coming up with ways I can better serve my kids. I’m so thankful for a job that I’ll never master.

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We’ve been working on combined work word problems in Intermediate Algebra. I had a problem on the board, and one of my calc kids asked if it was a Calc BC question (I don’t even teach BC). I thought that was so cute though, and shows that our Intermediate kids are doing some math that impresses even my calc kids. 

Speaking of combined work problems, we watched Dan Myer’s classic “bean counting” videos yesterday. If you’re not familiar with it, Act 1 shows Dan counting beans (takes him 22.6 minutes) and Chris counting beans (takes him 5.6 minutes). After watching Act 1, I asked the kids for predictions. “How long would it take if Chris and Dan worked together?  Person with the closest time gets a cookie.”

After their predictions, I showed them how to solve the problem algebraically (takes 4.5 minutes if Dan and Chris work together). And then a winner was named. 

Then I played Act 2, which shows Dan and Chris actually counting together, and lo and behold, it takes them 4.5 minutes. 

One of my kids said, “But we already found that.”

He was basically saying that we didn’t need to watch the second video. Obviously our math was correct. 

Can’t argue. 

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The Opposite Game

Ask most 7th graders to add integers, they can do it with no problem. Ask those same 7th graders to subtract integers and they struggle. To help build understanding, I implemented a game titled Opposite Game Last Person Standing Edition.

We began by discussing what -6 means. Using students’ definition, I asked what does -(-6) mean. Some students came up with 6 by using the trick “draw a plus sign”. Others argued it was still -6. Students were introduced to the term “opposite of”.

Rules of the game

  1. If your number is the opposite of the number shown of the screen, you’re out.
  2. The last person in the game wins.
  3. Students must write any number from -10 to 10, excluding zero on a whiteboard or paper.
  4. The number must be held up until the student is out.

We played two rounds using this slideshow: Opposite Game.

Students were really excited to play the game. It also created a context to refer to as we solved problems.

Stand Up Comedian

I tried new activities today and I could barely sleep last night from thinking about them.

I used Kelly Boles idea of using Cuisenaire rods to conceptually teach segment addition. It went much better with my 10th grade Geometry class than my ninth grade Geometry class. I always forget how hard it is to teach them how to think! They were getting the hang of it toward the end of class while the other class finished and some groups had time to spare. I’m excited to do ‘regular’ problems tomorrow and see how well they do with setting up and solving on their own.


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In Algebra I we did a Desmos card sort for infinite, one, and no solution.


 It was my first time making and using a card sort. It was so easy and I didn’t even need to cut! This was probably not the nest choice for my first ever card sort with freshmen. They are not used to noticing (yet) and not used to trusting their brains way of thinking without teacher input. We battled through it but didn’t finish and I’m not sure how well it will transfer tomorrow. But here’s to trying new things, working through that feeling of uncertainty/discomfort, and struggling to make sense of things together!

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My StuCo adopted a Texas math classroom that was affected by Harvey and we are collecting supplies. I have received donations and supplies and that makes my heart happy. I asked my superintendent if the school would pay to shop the box (I can’t even lift it) and he offered to pay it out of his pocket as his donation to the cause!


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I’m working on drawing my seven first hour students out of their shells; I told them about my weekend and reenacted some funny scenes. They were laughing and for a split second I imagined my second career as a stand up comedian. It could happen y’all! 

I’m hilarious.

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A dad has really been cracking down on his daughter in our classes- he takes away her phone at night, made her move to the front in every class, and is making her carry a planner around to write down what we do in class and have us sign off on it…and it’s working. She’s asking questions and showing initiative in getting things done. If you’re a parent and you’re reading this, go all in!

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I’ve had some good moments of going over a bad quiz with the class and having a number of students retake it on the spot. The scores have shot up as well as understanding…so I’m focusing on those positives and not how long it takes and how it slows me down. ๐Ÿ˜„

AP Sets

I have my calc kids print off what I call their AP Sets for each unit. I give them points just for printing them and bringing them to class as this saves me about two thousand copies over the year. If everyone in the class has his/hers on the day they’re due, everyone gets 11 out of 10 points. This is to encourage students to watch out for each other–to print an extra set when you can; to take an extra set from a friend when you need it. 

Also, it sure makes my life easier if everyone just has his or hers on the due date. 

I asked my kids to have Unit 2’s Sets printed today. Every student in every class was able to produce a set. In second hour, two girls had printed extras, and they were both needed. They explained that for the last unit, they took someone else’s extra copies. “So we learned our lesson!” one of them said. 

*****

We looked at the limit definition of the derivative today. I’m really lucky to work at a district whose PreCalc program is quite rigorous and really preps our kids for calculus. All our kids were taught how to find derivatives using the formal definition in PreCalc. This affords me time to get to focus on the theory and not worry too much about the computations.

I derived the limit definition of the derivative for them today, and several ooohed and awwwwed as they were able to conceptualize why the formula is what is it. 

That’s one of my favorite things about teaching calc: I get to help students make sense of why they’ve been building all these skills.

LCR and Ghost Blitz

The first two hours of the day (calc) seemed hectic today. Nothing bad; I just felt rushed.  

The next two hours are my Intermediate Algebra classes. I had planned to do a make up day; Friday Fun for the kids who were all caught up. Friday Funs are always a gamble. The kids usually enjoy them, but they can sure take it out of me. Between the explaining of the rules and the classroom management issues that can ensue…I just wasn’t sure if we should tackle our first Friday Fun after all. 

But, despite my better judgment, we went for it. 

I taught them two games: LCR (a probability game) and Ghost Blitz (a game of logic and speed). 

Omg. It was so fun. 

They honestly did so well. They played with people they normally wouldn’t sit by; they were inclusive; they laughed. A lot. And loud. 

During LCR, one kid said, “How they be gettin all those dots?! It’s like one in six chances!”

“Are you sure about that?” I asked. “How many dots on one die?”

He picked one up and examined it.  “Awwwhhh! Man! There be THREE dots on one? 50/50 chance. Now that makes more sense.”

Ahhh! I love when they use math all on their own. 

And Ghost Blitz was just as much of a success. I’ve never dared explain it to a whole class at once, but I bit the bullet and attempted it today. And they loved it and understood it and had a good time just being kids. 

Which is sometimes what they need more than anything. 

Music To My Ears ๐ŸŽถ๐Ÿ‘‚๐Ÿผ

I played grudge ball with my freshmen today. As I started drawing X’s on the board, one student who had played it before said, “Oh this game ruins friendships.” ๐Ÿ˜‚

PS Why is it called grudge ball when no ball is involved? ๐Ÿค”

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My girl showed up two days in a row and I cheered her on today for showing up.

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I had some kind of hands on activity in every class today and while I felt hectic between every class getting ready, the actual implementation was smooth and I walked around admiring my students’ engagement and my own self- I have some good stuff!


One activity was my favorite activity of all time and I realized I’ve done it seven years in a row now- and the idea actually came from students!

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Seventh hour a trig student came in so I could reteach and she could retake a quiz. She did so much better, asked good questions, and we both understood where she went wrong. While this is definitely a good thing, it makes me sad that I can’t give that good thing to every student.

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One student asked me if I had talked to the new science teacher. “Not very much”, I said. They proceeded to tell me how cool he was and how good of a teacher he was and explained how he set up the class. That was music to my ears! And I just realized it would be music to his ears too- he’s a first year! I will definitely be sharing that one good thing with him tomorrow!

PSAT

My friend (English teacher) and I are attempting to teach a virtual, pass/fail, half-credit course during lunch during first quarter for PSAT prep and accountability. I say attempt because I’ve never taught a virtual or pass/fail or half-credit or lunch course ever. Let alone all those things combined. 

Last week I was pretty frustrated with how it was going. I was frustrated with myself for not being able to foresee all the challenges we would face. I was frustrated with the kids for not prioritizing their practice to the extent I feel they should. I was down about it, honestly. I had really high hopes for this course, and I just felt them crashing down on me. 

And so we decided to switch things up. We gave the kids a very concrete task to finish for this week’s check-in (as opposed to minutes worked). And it went so, so, SO much better. We don’t have the participation that was initially indicated, but you know, juggling all high school has to offer junior year is actually really very difficult, and I applaud the kids who have stuck with it/us. 

The kids are learning math, English, and study skills; I am learning patience for myself; and we’re getting better together. 

*****

I got these two lovely notes of affirmation from students I had in calculus last year. They were needed. 

And I realize that these notes are more prone to come from the high-achieving kids. If I taught Intermediate all day long, I would get few of these, if any. 

Yet, there are plenty of teachers who don’t get these words of encouragement nearly as often as they should, simply because of the population they teach. 

If that’s you, know that your work is not going unseen. Read these words from these kids and know that teachers like you make a difference…