Wrapping up With Some Social Justice

After doing our project on the X Games, and then doing some statistics lessons like our paper airplane competition, I had my students do a final project on whatever they wanted. I asked them to pick a topic and create a survey. We talked about topics related to social issues, topics for changing the school, fun topics, whatever. But giving freedom to algebra students isn’t always easy. My students have had a hard time with math, and school in general and when they are given the chance to say what they really think, it can get a little unruly. Many of them wanted to talk about immigration issues and I had to listen to some loud rants about racism, which is not normal ground for classroom discussions in math, and can be pretty dicey. Continue reading

Bare Bones Lessons: Paper Airplane Competition

We have three weeks left and my three Algebra 1 classes and I are working on a statistics project to finish off the year. More on that here. To learn about some of the stats concepts, I decided we would hold a paper airplane competition. The idea was that they would make planes that fly straight and far, we would take them outside, and throw them along a given line. It was to be a competition between my three classes. The first problem was to figure out how to make and throw the best airplanes for the competition, the second problem was to figure out which class won. Simple right? Continue reading

I’m Fried. Here’s Some Circles.

It’s the middle of May and I feel fried to a crisp. Like bacon, or fakon, or sopapillas, or beignets, or churros. I have done some research and have found that I am not the only teacher who feels this way. My students, most of whom hated school to begin with, are right there with me, and sometimes against me. I could go on and on about this but that’s what happy hour is for. Instead, I need to write about something that reminds me why I am teaching. I could talk about in-roads I am making with kids in really tough, sometimes dark situations, but let’s keep it light-hearted today and talk about something less important but fun. Here’s a math lesson: Continue reading

Ramping Up the Inquiry

Is real inquiry-based learning possible in a ninth grade algebra class full of struggling learners? If so, what does it look like? Is it rigorous? Can you cover the content?

Here are my quick answers to the respective questions: Of course it is; See below; Yes and schools don’t understand the meaning of rigor (more on that in a future post); Don’t care.

For the past 5 or 6 weeks my algebra 1 kids and I have been working on a project about the X-Games. Specifically we have looked at skateboarding and mega ramps. I chose this project because I currently teach in a school that has a set curriculum and I have to teach quadratics right now. Since the real world application for quadratics has to do with things being launched in the air, I thought the kids could explore ramps and think about what it would mean to bring the X-Games to our town. Continue reading

Listen to the Stories

 

“Mathematics ability is not real, but the trauma associated with it is” – Dr. Rochelle Gutierrez

When you teach math, this is a normal conversation:

“Where do you work?”

“I’m a teacher.”

“What do you teach?”

“High school math.”

“Math!? Woah, I could never do that! I was horrible in math.”

With that there is usually involved a period of waiting. The person you are talking with feels you out to see if you care or want to talk about that aspect of their life at all. If you do want to, they will usually tell you something interesting. Something you can maybe use in your career, something that might make you better at what you do. At the very least, you will have connected to another human being, something that math teachers are not all that famous for. Continue reading

What Tony Hawk Has to do With Factoring Trinomials

My freshman algebra kids and I are starting a new trimester and our first project is going to be about the X-Games. On Monday, we kicked it off with this video of Tony Hawk riding a new kind of corkscrew ramp. We talked about it and then I had them inventing a new structure for the X-Games to bring up ratings, and then building their structures with paper. They also needed to brainstorm some problems that would need to be solved in the construction or riding of their structures. We are going to focus on projectile motion in this project but to build up to that we are learning the stuff about polynomials and factoring.

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Everybody’s Got Their Limits, Nobody’s Found Mine

As the year winds down and I have some time to reflect, I’m thinking about my soundtrack. Particularly during the past 5 months of teaching. I can tell a lot about how a year went, just by reflecting on my soundtracks. Normally they are a weird mixtape of old stuff I listen to, new music I learn about, and music I create. This year though, only one album comes to mind, “Beat the Champ” by the Mountain Goats. Continue reading

So who is the enemy?

The following is taken out of context from a chapter taken out of a larger context from my book, which represents a piece of a life that I still don’t really understand. But whatever, it seems relevant right now. 

When I was teaching in Northern California, I was driving to a beach to take a swim at around five thirty one morning in early fall, when the street was blocked off due to a fire. I had to turn around and head back because there was no way to get around it. As I did this, I turned on the radio and heard the news: in New York City, the sky was falling. I came home and turned on the television and saw buildings I had just seen for the first time a couple years ago falling to the ground. I went to school and discussed it with the students, listening to their questions and theories, but I had little to contribute. As time went on, we were told that it had been a plot hatched by Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden and members of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Continue reading

How Food Trucks Will Save Civilization

This trimester, I am doing a project on food trucks in my algebra 1 class. We started off talking about pancakes thanks to a friend of mine, Vanessa Svihla from the University of New Mexico, who gave me a problem to pose, “How many pancakes can fit in my car?” Kids have been working on this problem and other pancake math problems such as “How many people would the biggest pancake in the world feed?” But things were too “mathy” and my classes are kids who have not been successful with math. At all. So I felt like what I was doing wasn’t really going to help them in the end and needed a place to land. It was really bothering me.

I am usually OK with these kinds of existential crisis where I feel like I’m not grounded and everything is falling apart because it usually means that I’m about to learn something great. In this case, I’m just went back to what I already knew, which is that we needed to end this three weeks with a deliverable related to our project at the end of the trimester. I had committed to have one of these every three or four weeks so before Christmas break, so I decided I want to have my kids have a business plan sketch for a pancake stand. That will give us a focus and a way to feel like we aren’t just floating around in pancake batter. So I had them design and start building custom to-go containers with a memorable logo, a menu, and a budget for a crowd.

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Aftermath

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This is what is left over at the end of the trimester. Every time I finish a big project there is a sort of crash. First I’m excited about everything that went right. For example, I had about 85 freshmen in the small gym presenting work they did about public art in our town, to judges who were art commissioners for the county, economic developers for our local performance art center, the leader for our Hispanic Heritage Foundation, other artists, teachers, parents, and a representative for a local non-profit arts foundation. But I also start to dwell a little bit on stuff I didn’t do. It’s hard not to shake the feeling that maybe you should have covered more stuff from the textbook. It’s kind of a sickness that math teachers have. We like the content, and so we think its somehow really important. It’s what we are supposed to be teaching, they can learn how to apply it later when they get enough skills right? Also, I could have gotten my kids to do better with their statistical analysis on their projects. I could have worked harder to engage that one kid, who never seems to be engaged. I could have not pissed off the janitor so much with all these messes we leave. Continue reading