Old and New

Using the old and the new clinometers. Kareem took this picture; use and copy as needed.

This last week I had a lesson in geometry on angles of elevation and angles of depression. It is the classic problem that involves angles (duh) and the tangent ratio. Simple and easy.


Three years ago I made clinometers for the classroom. Found a protractor copy on Google, taped on a straw, used a washer and some string and had (somewhat) working clinometers. This year I decided to do this activity out in the school courtyard. What was different? I told the kids to whip out their iPhones and Samsung Galaxies to find the clinometer app to use before we went outside. Almost every student had a phone. Some had phones with no data plan, so I had those with a plan create a hotspot so the app could get downloaded. In less than five minutes, I had partners ready with devices to use and had them comfortable using the app itself.


Minor feat? Yes. Fun for me and the students? Definitely.

At long last…

Section 9 of the Finnish Copyright Act specifies that no copyright exists in such material. Finnish flag.

My from-scratch unit infused with technology has finished.

I finished my video just this week. It’s posted and…it’s OK. I was very frustrated with not having internet at my apartment in order to download correct codecs to make all videos work with the same editor…so I did what I could with what I had. It works. It’s functional. I have yet to comment on other people’s videos.
Here are a few things that I promised in my video that I would share.

Unit outline. This is a basic outline with dates that I shared with students at the beginning of each class.

Polyhedron project outline. This is the introduction to the main portion of technology that was infused.

Polyhedron project rubric. Handed out to students to further reinforce what they needed to do.

Polyhedron construction hints from Mr. M. This Word file contains links to three videos that I had students take of me working on a polyhedron; many said it was handy to have as they worked on their own.

The daily homework that was assigned. This included exploring a website that allowed you to manipulate 3D drawings (11.1 WS) as well as ‘taking’ a quiz at imagequiz.co.uk (11.2-3 WS).

11.1 – Space figures and cross sections
11.2-11.3 – Surface area for pyramids, cones, prisms, cylinders
11.4-11.5 – Volume for pyramids, cones, prisms, cylinders
11.6 – Surface area and volume of spheres


Walking along canals in Brugge, Belgium. I took this picture with my iPhone. It’s a really good picture. Copy it if you like.

We had spring break not too long ago and my amazing wife was gracious enough to let me go to Belgium and Luxembourg with some friends. Yes, I owe her big.


This was the first trip taken with my fancy new iPhone and iPad which, for me, is still really cool and I am still impressed with their features. More and more I’m seeing my devices as tools. My friends all brought their devices as well and used them frequently. The exception was Chelsea who only occasionally whipped out her phone to take pictures.


Upon landing in Brussels, the first order of business was to get a SIM card with data plan for Belgium. I did not opt for this because I still wanted to be able to text my wife back in Kuwait (yes, I know about Whatsapp, I just don’t have it and neither does Sarah). So three of us five had a data plan.


I was amazed with the possibilities at our fingertips. Need a good restaurant? Let’s read some reviews. Where was that monument? Let’s check the map for directions. Which bus or train do we transfer to? Let’s download the schedule. Separated from the group? Just check in and you’ll show up on Four Square. Need help with translation? Speak into the phone.


When there was free wifi, I took full advantage of it. I’ll send that train photo to my dad, since he likes trains. I’ll change my Facebook status and upload some photos. This was the first vacation that I’ve ever been able to have in almost real time; that is, instantly share the experience with friends and family.


I still sent 15 postcards…but I had to look up 5 addresses while using the free wifi in my hotel room. :-)


Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license by Emuzesto.

As the current unit on circles wraps up, my students are turning in a project. This unit’s project requires students to take six portions of a story that already contains math problems and make the drawings themselves. It’s sorta like making your own comic strip without seeing any of the pictures first. I posted it here.

My other geometric half, Mrs. Hoden, said a student asked her about using a computer to generate the drawings. She sent me a link to the website that the student will use: http://www.pixton.com. It requires a subscription, but it already shows the potential for use in the classroom. Rates seemed reasonable for a classroom subscription.
I like this anecdotal story because 1) a student took the initiative to problem solve and 2) a student brought the use of technology to the teacher.

Another idea I had

This file is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication. Photo by Tomwsulcer.

Last week some of my students missed class to go see MacBeth. As the quarter draws to a close, I could not afford to have a review day or push back the test this week. Equations of circles can be complicated for some, but those absent were my superstar freshmen. No worries.

Next unit is my COETAIL-and-technology-infused unit on surface area and volume. I thought it would be useful for students in one class to make a two-minute (or less) synopsis video of that day’s lesson. I floated this idea to my A4 class on Sunday, and several of the stronger personalities responded positively. I can post this to Moodle and then share it with the other classes as well.

This summer I am again teaching (facilitating) summer school, and I will be looking at the whole school year for geometry to see where this could be adapted. I think it’s a great idea for the students to reflect on what they learned that day.

How much practice does someone need?

Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. Photo by zaui.

This school year I’ve been rethinking how to give homework in my math classes. This seems to be a trend in education, perhaps even a slow movement of sorts to get away from traditional homework. Do these 20 or 30 problems and then come back to class and I’ll check to see which are correct. There are two sides to this routine that some have realized.
First, students don’t like doing homework. That’s not a big revelation really. But assigning a lot of homework creates some animosity between student and teacher (ie, homework as punishment) and student and subject (ie, I’m not really good at math). A student should also feel that the opportunity cost of x minutes of homework is greater than the opportunity cost of a lower grade.

Second, the load of assignments to correct for teachers is amazing. Let me see here…105 students x 3 assignments in a week x 20 problems is 7300 problems to look at. I once worked at a school that was looking into grading by standards and benchmarks; the amount of individual grades per student was staggering.

I have started to think of each class as a sports team, such as basketball. On this team, some players are good, some OK, and some who are only there because their parents make them go. Basketball is just not their thing. Anyway, some players need more practice than others. If homework is like practice, do my star players need to spend as much time practicing layups as the third string team? No.

One evening I was having this same conversation with a guy I taught Algebra 1 with last school year. He said he’s set up one class where students are only required to do homework if they have less than a B. This seems like a good idea. He said that students are reacting differently: the smart kids like the policy but still want to keep their A’s and do the homework, the below-B kids still need to do their homework of course, and then there’s a group of kids who just do enough homework to get up to a B and then wait for their grade to fall back down again.

Any system is bound to get worked by students I suppose.

Currently, Team Geometry is handling homework through something called a homework check.* Instead of collecting assignments regularly, we collect them on quiz days. Students get 9 minutes to copy certain answers from their assignments onto a single sheet of paper. This paper is then graded and filed under homework for that unit. It happens twice per unit usually.

I like this system. It seems to be working for the time being. I can vary the checks from class to class. Students who still don’t do homework realize the consequences. The time limit works well also. Students can learn to budget their time throughout the week in case they have to study for another class or get something else done.
*This was first deemed the homework quiz. However, when you call it a quiz, everyone thinks it’s a quiz in a traditional sense. Sorta like death tax vs estate tax; both mean the same thing.

Afraid of failure? Not really.

Released to the public domain; no known copyright restrictions.

This has been one of the biggest things that I have learned through the  COETAIL courses–it’s OK to fail when we try something new. Before I started these courses, I was happy with the same regular routine. Moodle was the only thing that I needed to learn in order to infuse technology in the classroom. 
Now, with the final course wrapping up, I want to see what other things I can try in the classroom. Part of this stems from the fact that I am teaching Geometry. First, I haven’t taught Geometry in 6 years. Second, I’m working with someone new at our school and she is open to trying new things. So I am learning while teaching. I guess this is the way it really should be, lest my teaching style or creativity grow stale as I get older.

Parent-teacher conferences

With use under GNU General Public License as published by the Free Software Foundation

Last week we had parent conferences at school. I enjoy parent conferences. It’s nice to catch up with students. Rarely do I have an issue with a parent or parents, and this year my students are really good. It’s been a nice year. Last year I had one class that had 7 of 21 kids fail; this year I have maybe 7 failures total. And even those kids are not behavior issues. 

Anyway, I took my iPad down to the auditorium so I could access my desktop wirelessly via Splashtop. Wow. Talk about slick. A few parents were rather impressed that I could do this. I was able to pull up my gradebook and look at the details for each of my students. I could show parents what a grade could look like if their student had completed some work. I should thank here (and I did in person already) the IT guys who set up the wireless network for us. Several teachers took advantage and brought their laptops; my wife was able to do some of her coursework between parents also.


Technology success.

Ups and Downs of Technology

Released to the public domain by Boris23.

Recently I had a conversation with Paul, our new technology guru at school. He told me about Splashtop, an app available for remote access of my computer through my iPad. First I had the free version, and this was nice for moving around my classroom and doing things like taking attendance or finding a website for class discussion. Then I decided to get the year subscription for $16.99 (This was a big step for me; my only other purchased app is Scabble).


Since upgrading to the full version, Splashtop has been OK. Slow Internet speed really delays commands that I would want to have on my computer. It’s sorta like being at NASA and controlling a rover on Mars, since I read somewhere that those commands take 20 minutes to relay. I’m used to fast. Immediate. Now.

My plan with Splashtop is to use it during parent conferences next week. Conferences are held in the auditorium, and I think I should be able to tap into the wifi hotspot and bring up my electronic grade book. I can then look at any assignments or even walk parents through Moodle if needed.

Wednesday this week I was reminded that technology should augment parts of teaching at times and not fully supplement parts of my teaching. The smart board was less than smart, displaying the image upside down and, once fixed, was not responding to my touch. Back to the whiteboard. Fortunately the drawings were easy to make, and the technician had me up and running by late morning. The students, much to my surprise and relief, were sympathetic and supportive.

The Gist of my Course 5 Project

Released into the public domain by Tomruen.

By the end of this unit, I’d like students to have built their own polyhedron from scratch. Since this is something that will take some time to do, I’ve set up a video diary for them to record their progress / frustrations / accomplishment. This is the main technological feature. I may need to spend a few minutes in each class showing how to put together the video clips (4 in all). I also will need to figure out how to upload into Moodle. If Moodle is not cooperative, I will use googledocs. I have already created a new gmail address for this specific purpose. 

Along the way, as I get into each of the six sections, will be less exciting technological inserts. For instance, in section 11.1 the lesson covers drawing in perspective. I have found a few applets for students to try out, review, take a screen shot, and send to me. In all sections I will be using my smart board to lead the discussion.

I’ve outlined much of what I plan to do, and Mrs. Hoden (the other half of Team Geometry) has given her input and encouragement. Now I need to start filling in the details and posting videos.