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.

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.

New iPhone

I took this photo. Copy it as much as you like for whatever reasons.

This week, after hemming and hawing for quite some time, I got an iPhone. It’s a white 32GB white 4S. I know, I know.1) Yes, white. What is wrong with a guy and a white iPhone? I put a blue cover on it, so there. Less feminine?

2) No, I did not get the iPhone 5. After speaking with students, never having experienced the 4 before the 5, it did not seem to be worth it to spend extra money. Perhaps in a few years I will upgrade to iPhone 8 when it comes out, rather than getting the 7 because it’s on sale.

I must say that I’ve been pretty good about not relying heavily on this new piece of technology.  That is to say, I use more restraint than my students when it comes to constantly checking their mobile devices. However, the same students have been quick to advise me on which apps to download and all the ‘cool’ things that you can do with your phone.

Final thoughts on Course 2

Some rights reserved by Dan Diemer

The Internet

‘Oh, they have the Internet on computers now!’ is one of my favorite Homer Simpson quotes.  CompuGlobalHyperMegaNet is the name of Homer’s new ISP and latest get-rich-quick scheme until he gets bought out by Bill Gates.  (Episode 5F11, season 9)

It’s the get-rich-quick part of this episode that gets me to thinking about Internet security, safety, and responsible navigation on the information super-highway.  This week I caught parts of two episodes of Danger in the Download from BBC Radio.  It’s amazing to think that over a third of all humanity is online now.  However, not everyone who’s online is a responsible, law-abiding, friendly person.  Host Ed Butler described many of the vulnerabilities that the Internet has when it comes to security.  Besides identity theft, there’s cyber attacks against corporate sites and individuals.  Interviews with hackers reveal how susceptable we are to problems

We rely more and more on technology, and sometimes this is good because it makes our lives easier…but sometimes it’s a crutch.  I’m still frustrated when I catch kids doing single-digit multiplication on a calculator.  Danger in the Download describes a day when we’ll dial up our home appliances to prepare dinner for us while we commute from work.  This is cool and convenient.  The program also mentioned insulin users getting automated doses via the Internet, and how a hacker could wreak havoc with such information and power.


During my first year abroad, a student was found to be cyber-bullying another at my school.  I can’t remember all the details, but the bully was expelled.  I believe this may have happened while at school, and the school justified it’s actions through their Acceptable Use Policy.  I must say I was impressed; I remember the principal telling me that they just printed the pages of nasty comments when confronting the bully.  The school’s actions were justified, and I was glad that it took a side in the situation rather than 1) hemming and hawing about what to do or 2) backtracking on a clearly written policy.

I enjoyed Course 2 because I learned a lot about how to better cite sources, draft school policy, and explore ethical and moral behavior with technology.  I’m already eager to get into Course 3.

iClickers went well

So this past week I used iClickers in my classroom to review for a test on polynomials.  I have two Algebra 1 classes, and the first went quite well.  In a nutshell, iClickers are handheld devices slightly longer than a standard Nokia cell phone that allow students to vote for multiple choice questions on a MS Powerpoint presentation.  The instructor iClicker allows control for the voting window, next or previous slides, and a histogram that shows how everyone voted.  I was impressed with the features and the syncronization with MS Powerpoint.  Matt Kelsey uses them frequently in his classroom, and many of the students were already familiar with how they worked.  My afternoon class did get a little excited with them; I adjusted the review by making them write down the question and answer as an assignment.

This prompted me to start work on a review session for my AP Economics class.  The format is similar of course, but the questions are of a different level.  With this class, even multiple choice questions should produce some great discussion.

Tara Waudby stopped by to see how it went, and she suggested rearrangement of my classroom to allow students to see both the dry erase board and the back wall for the LCD projector (and eventual Smartboard).  This seems like a minor thing, but it will be a subtle reminder to me that I should start using these technological tools that are at my disposal.  Next week I’ll shift my desks around and see how the students react.

Adjusting to technology

This past week I had a grade level meeting with some of the 9th grade core teachers.  During the discussion, one teacher mentioned that she was not too keen on electronic submission or typed versions of anything.  She said that it opens the door for plagiarism.  Everything in her classroom should be written by hand, and done in class if possible.  She teaches science.

I can agree with this to a certain extent.  If I have students do an assignment electronically, I open the door up for them to forward / text the answers or the work to others in the class.  To counter that, I just need to require them to cite sources where applicable.  I can tap into sources such as Turnitin.com, which is very helpful (yes, I’ve used it even in math classes).

Since I teach math, I feel more and more that I help kids with problem-solving.  The last two years when I’ve gone through PEMDAS (order of operations: parenthesis, exponents, multiplication, etc) I’ve explained that it’s unlikely they’ll use this 20 years from now.  However I’ve explained that it’s about procedure or directions.  I gave them a map of my college campus and told them to navigate from point A to point B.  So when I look at infusing technology into my classroom, I’m going to try to aim for that bigger- picture-more-authentic-assessment sort of lesson.   About a week ago I went through how to use parts of MS Excel.  The authentic-assessment there was to find miles per gallon, cost per mile, etc. based on some gas data I had recorded.  And here’s the key: I gave little direction on how to find these items.


RSS reader set up

About a week ago I set up my RSS reader after following Jeff’s instructional video.  It was pretty straightforward and, after reading parts of his book, I think it could become quite useful.  I first thought of my wife because she maintains a blog about our adventures abroad.  Not only does she like to write, but she likes to read about her running friends or her brother & his family or others.  Frequently she will return to her blog and then link to the other blogs to see if they have been updated, visiting each one individually.  But with the RSS reader, she can just go to one place to see if anyone’s updated…and if they have, it’s all right there to read.  Since we share an email address, we’ll sort all her interests into a folder.  Convenient.

I’m going to utilize this tool more and more in my classroom.  One of my classes is titled ‘Applications of Math.’  This senior level class has always been very broadly defined, and I enjoy finding new lessons or units that connect our daily lives with math.  Next year I plan to add more financial math into the mix, and give units more of a banking and business feel.  I’ll let the RSS reader start my research by letting Google bring me the information I can use.  Jeff mentioned this process in his book Reach.

I could see this becoming useful for students who are writing papers about a certain topic or for a paper that argues a specific perspective.  Social sciences and literature and english classes.  But I could also tune my RSS feed into a search for some authentic assessments.  What’s good material teachers have used for Algebra 1 students?  I can set up for that.