Sunday, January 29, 2012

Mommy Zombie family/recipe post! (there is life outside the classroom, after all)

 Happy Sunday everyone! 2012 is going very well so far and I thought I'd take a break from anything related to work and just blog about family life.

Emerging from my sweater in this photo, Alien-style, is our new kitteh Bruce. He looks so much like our old cat Merri that it's uncanny.

Our other cat Toby and our dog Milo welcomed Bruce with open paws. After only a week, Bruce is clearly accepted as a full-fledged member of the family. He uses the litter box regularly, aside from tracking an occasional #2 present around the carpet or wearing it on his back. He eats and drinks as much as Toby. And he has the loudest, most calming purr. Ahhhhh, the life of a kitten. To be so young and free and loved, with no responsibility at all! If there is such a thing as reincarnation, God, you know exactly what animal I want to be in my next life.

In other wonderful news, my closets are finally cleaned/organized! There comes a point half-way through winter when you finally throw your hands up and decide I HAVE TO FIND THE MATES TO ALL THESE MITTENS AND BOOTS!!!! And so I did. The basement walk-in closet is re-stocked with folded sweaters and pants, and all the empty hangers have been clothed with wrinkled garmets. Even still, I did catch the elder cat Toby "hunting" my hubby's sock in the laundry room today. 

My children are napping peacefully as we speak. After an hour running around in fluffy snow and the park, sliding up and down all the ice-coated jungle gym equipment, we found a hoard of pine cones that made their way back to the living room. I am starting to wonder if bringing them into the house was the best idea, as they shed all over the carpet.

In cooking news, I spent a fortune at the grocery store on Saturday. But that money is being put to good use in the form of home-made lasagna for dinner last night, and hopefully less spent on fast food and eating out this week.

In the spirit of math and proportions, here is my easy, teacher/parent-friendly lasagna recipe that requires no hamburger browning or prior knowledge of Italian cooking to make. This recipe fills an 9x9 square baking dish. If you want to feed a crowd, make it into a math challenge and scale the ingredients up to 150%.

-one package pre-cooked pepperoni slices (I did 3 layers of 16 slices)
-one jar of your favorite spaghetti sauce (I used Ragu garlic & onion for extra nice breath)
-shredded mozzarella, 2-3 cups
-tub of cottage cheese (the medium sized one, I tossed it before I could check the oz.)
-6 pre-cooked, ready to bake lasagna noodles
-italian spices to season to taste

-Preheat the oven to 350
-Spray the pan with Pam (not sure if this is really needed, but I do it anyway)
-spread a thin layer of spaghetti sauce on the bottom of the pan

Do this for each of three layers:
-lay the first pair of noodles down side by side to cover the bottom
-spread a thin layer of cottage cheese on top of the noodles
-arrange 4 pretty rows of 4 pepperoni on top of the cottage cheese
-shake a little Italian seasoning on top of that layer
-pour and spread another thin layer of spaghetti sauce down
-shake and spread a layer of mozzarella on top

-repeat directions for two more layers, making an extra-thick top layer of cheese
-Bake covered with foil for 30 minutes
-Remove foil and bake another 15-20 minutes
-Turn the broiler on for the last 2-3 minutes and watch carefully to brown top cheese
-let stand for 5-10 minutes to thicken and cool
-enjoy! (I promise it tastes better than it looks in the picture, and makes AWESOME leftovers)

How 'bout that! You didn't know the Zombie could cook, did ya? Boo yeah. And now the children are awake. Time to put their laundry away. Boo.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

A teacher manifesto worth 2 minutes to read, and 20 hours of thought

Praise heaven! No work followed me home from the classroom on Friday. Granted, I had to stay until 5 to accomplish this, but hallelujah anyway! Naturally, that lends itself to more time to dink around on Facebook, and actually look through my friends' profiles; as opposed to simply rifling through the News Feed. 

Whilst perusing the many interesting happenings in the lives of my acquaintances, I noticed several of my teacher friends sharing and commenting on the post "In What Other Profession", shown below.

After clicking and reading, I have been sitting and thinking about the statements, and the truth behind them, and the injustice of all of it, for the last half an hour. And probably will continue to think about it for the rest of the night. 

PLEASE read the post and share it if you agree with its sentiments. It needs to go viral. If I were a crappy teacher, or a lazy or unmotivated one, I probably wouldn't be sitting at the computer in my spare (unpaid) time reading educational blogs in the first place. But clearly if you're reading mine, you're not one of those sad few anyway.

Why did politicians decide to start scapegoating teachers for the systemic problems facing education today? Haven't the majority of those same issues stemmed directly or indirectly from outside political intervention into the educational system? When did it become the job of educators, who are paid for 7.5 hours per day, 9 months of the year, to solve all of the problems (educational, social, emotional, parental, financial) of America's youth today? And how are we supposed to not only maintain, but continue to improve student test scores and graduation rates, with ever declining funding and increased poverty in our student body?

If anyone has easy answers, I'd love to hear them. But I don't think there is an easy answer! And I don't care either way. Because I love my job, and I love my school, and I love my students, and I love my coworkers, and I will continue trying to be a better teacher and person for as long as I live. (sounds kind of like wedding vows! hmmmm...)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Changing Communication in Modern Society & the Classroom

Last night was very nearly a winter apocalypse in the Bellm household. Our furnace would not blow hot air!!! AHHHH!!! After waking up partially frozen at 2:30 in the morning from repeated nightmares about teaching linear inequalities, with a shivering furry kitten tucked against my face, I had had enough. 

It took close to 20 minutes of flipping switches, resetting breakers, wiping and blowing dust off fan parts, and a lot of prayer. I finally got the heat on. By then the thermostat read a chilling 60 degrees. I have to thank Yahoo Answers and various other google help sites for giving Zombie Math Teacher the courage to continue flipping switches until the heat was restored; thus saving a ton of money on repair man visits.

What did people do even twenty, thirty years ago in similar emergencies? Simple! Spent a lot of money calling in help. Or waking up and alienating more knowledgeable family members in the dead of night for advice. Or bribing them to come over and take a look. Or getting out a hammer and banging random parts. Very unlikely would the individual have enough resources at hand to solve the problem on his/her own.

Which got me thinking... how differently we communicate and solving problems these days... in life and in school especially, due to all of the technology at our disposal. What do we do when something goes right or wrong, and we need to share it with others? Which resources do we find most effective? How do we relate to each other in our various roles in life because of the new communication that is available? And most of all, how much easier have our lives become as a direct result of technology?

Hence the first pie chart. It is a rough breakdown of the time I spent completing various communication tasks during my early teen years. The internet was in its infancy, and I rarely used it for anything educational because there wasn't much to look at. I didn't have an email, nor any friends with emails, and Webcrawler was the fastest search engine around. What did we do when we needed help with homework? How did we find out what our grades were? What did we miss at school when we were sick? We had to TALK to someone to find out! And that took a lot of time. And small talk. Think of the time wasted with the "how are you's" and the "what's the weather like" and "say hello to your mother for me" blah blah blah's.

People ask me how I keep a blog, and manage a website, and teach and complete all the prerequisite tasks associated with running a classroom, and keep a family and house, and have any time to sleep. The best answer I can give... is that I DESPISE SMALL TALK. I HATE TALKING ON THE PHONE. I probably save an hour to two hours a day because I am a really, really fast typer and reader, and because I text and email, compared to picking up the phone and making calls. Is this good or bad? Who can say?

This is not to say that any of us tech-savvy peeps have become antisocial; far from it. We just start conversations on the internet, and carry them into real life, and often times finish those conversations again in the digital world. Does that devalue the communication? I don't think so. Now turn this around for the classroom, and you will see how my communication has changed in twenty odd years.

Time that was spent in person, or on the phone twenty years ago, with probably 50-60% meaningful communication taking place, has now been transferred to the digital world. Virtually devoid of small talk. Phone conversations, with no possible way of recording the important information other than illegal phone-tapping or copious note-taking, have been nearly eliminated. This can be taken as a good or as an evil.

We all know that email chains and reply-all's can be a horrendous nuisance. There are many situations in which meetings and phone calls are easier and more effective. But for mass information posts, missing assignments and grading needs, the internet is really one of the best tools in a teacher's arsenal. Parents and occasionally administrators will often ask, "why didn't you just pick up the phone and call?"

But it is difficult to pinpoint at what point an individual student or parent is in need of this communication. Is it for a drop in a grade? Or sick/absent work? Or classroom behavior? What does the parent prefer? Is the email documentation and parental response necessary, compared to a phone log?

My prediction is that digital ethics and accountability is going to be an increasing issue of notice in classrooms in the next ten years. What older generations of parents, teachers and administrators prefer and expect, will continue to clash with what younger generations prefer and are willing to experiment with. I do not know how a balance will ever be reached, or if one is possible, with the amount of new data and technology that continues to be available every day.

What I do know, is that working in the profession, and being willing to try new things, is that I often feel like I am balancing on the tip of a knife. There are no clear boundaries for new technologies. How do you know what is acceptable or unacceptable until you have tried it? Is it worth jeopardizing your career to be an innovator, when there is no guarantee for success? There are no easy answers.

It will be interesting to look back on this post in another twenty years and to make a new pie chart for 2032. What challenges will be at the forefront then? Will still exist? Will furnaces have become self-aware and capable of fixing themselves, thus rendering all HVAC service providers jobless?

Oh wait. The world is going to end in 2012 after all. What am I talking about. Silly zombie.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Revolutionary new Zombie algorithm: the Cookie Monster inequality!!!

The best ideas come on the fly in teaching. You can't plan for it... or write an objective for it... or pre-test it... and it often negates a large portion of the lesson plan you did spend 2 hours preparing the night before. Thus was the invention of "Cookie the Inequality Monster".

My 7th graders have spent the last few weeks working on various forms of linear, exponential, simple and multi-step equations. Today we began a short interlude relating our prior knowledge to an introduction of graphing inequalities. In the midst of staring at the little open and closed dots, talking about Pac Man "eating towards the bigger meal", it dawned on me that the inequality "dot" looks an awful lot like an Oreo Cookie! Whoulda thunk it? 

I will post this blog to Cookie's Facebook page, that I just discovered, and see if I get any Cookie fans who agree with me (click the picture and log into FB to see what's crack-a-lackin' in Cookie Land). God Bless Facebook. 

While you're there, if you are a new follower, go ahead and visit my shamelessly plugged "Coordinate Graph Art for Grades 6-8" page! It has lost followers, I think, due to a lack of activity on my part. I can't help it. I've become immersed in listening to Pride & Prejudice & Zombies on my acount, in which Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy trade not only witty words of sarcasm, but many a blow with deadly weapons. 

And since I'm on a tangent anyway, let me just SHOUT FOR JOY! The book is being made into a movie to be released in 2013. Although how exactly they are going to film Ms. Bennett walking around the hall at Lady Catherine de Bourg's castle on her fingertips for an entire evening, and then slaying 3 of her ladyship's favored ninjas, I am unsure... 

Alas, I digress. Back to Cookie Math. So... think about it... look at the solution, or dot, in the middle of these inequalities. Doesn't the open dot (x<2 or x>2) resemble the cream in the Oreo Cookie? And the (x<2 or x>2) look like the top cookie on those lovely cookie sammiches Cookie loves so much?  Of course he prefers chocolate chip, but that just doesn't go along with my math plan ;)

As previously discussed, the < or > sign is "Pac Man", and he wants to eat the bigger meal. So I made up a little algorithm, deciding that Pac Man does NOT like the cream in the oreo. Hence the OPEN CIRCLE. If pac man sees the open circle cookie cream, sans cookie, he will NOT eat it. The number is NOT included in the solution, and Pac Man will start his om-nom-noming after he has exited the cookie cream's circle of doom. 

Didn't you know? Pentagons are 5-sided. Hexagons are 6-sided. Octagons are 8-sided. And Pac Man is an Omnomnomagon. Seriously, I didn't make that up. That was all my students and google or a cheeseburger site. Not sure which. Although you can click the picture at left and buy yourself a fantastic hooded sweatshirt and impress all your friends.

Back to math.... so when the inequality circle is full, such as in the example above of x < 2 , the yummy chocolate cookies are present, not just the yucky cream that Pac Man hates... so he WILL eat the cookie sammich. And not only eat it, but enjoy it so fervently, that it will leave a cute little goatee mustache under his chin, creating the < sign. 


Make sense? Now, to the cookie jar I go! Good eating to you all!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

MLK Day of Service - integrating math with "30 Days" : Minimum Wage

While many school districts opt to take Monday off, my district is celebrating our second annual day of service. Every grade level has its own project that focuses on social change and service learning. My 7th grade team is extremely fortunate to receive another visit from Mr. Allan Law. Students will make sandwiches all afternoon that Mr. Law will  pick up at the end of the day to distribute to the homeless around the Twin Cities.

Click the picture on the right to go to his organization, Project The photo is from a Kare 11 News feature on the upper right corner of the page that you can click and watch. Mr. Law is a very down-to-earth speaker, having been a Minneapolis teacher for over 30 years, and he communicates the realities of poverty and homelessness to students very effectively.

We are also watching the "Minimum Wage" episode of Morgan Spurlock's show "30 Days". He's the guy who ate McDonalds all day every day for 30 days just to see what would happen, in the movie Supersize Me!. It's quite an eye-opener, especially for kids, when they see first hand, just what minimum wage jobs actually mean for your lifestyle. I made a video guide worksheet to go with it. Sorry no key yet! I couldn't find it in my messy desk.

In this episode, Morgan and his girlfriend move to Michigan and leave their credit cards behind. They get minimum wage jobs and the only decent apartment they can afford, and try their best to survive for 30 days on what little money they can make. Since the show was made in 2005, minimum wage has increased to $7.25, but costs of basic necessities, medical treatments and public transportation have also increased substantially. Spurlock doesn't shy away from talking about the fact that minority populations and recent immigrants (both legal and illegal) make up a very high proportion of minimum-wage earners. I think even Martin Luther King Jr. himself would be proud of what we're doing, and to know that his message has not been forgotten.

Friday, January 13, 2012

No David! You don't know how to do FOIL!!!

Happy Friday the 13th everyone! We survived! 

My accelerated class is neck-deep of a unit on exponents, quadratics and factoring. We were working our way through binomial multiplication strategies when I noticed some girls in the back of the room making a really cute cartoon out of the word "FOIL", which stands for "First x First, Outside x Outside, Inside x Inside, Last x Last" terms. 

I blurted out, "that looks like David from the kids book!", and ever since, we have been drawing silly faces around all of our quadratic equations. If you are unfortunate enough to have never read the children's book, please click the picture to go to the link. My 2- and 4-year old love it. And so do my 12- and 13-year old students ;).

So you may be asking yourself, what does this have to do with math? You already knew the Zombie was crazy, but really?!? Toddler books in a middle school math class? But it does serve a function. And I'm hoping that I'll get some takers on our next math menu.

So here it is! My lovely cartoon version of David, who may be very young, but apparently has mastered the art of polynomial arithmetic. I made a sample page, in which, instead of drawing Tic-Tac-Toe on the wall, David was incorrectly expanding a trinomial x trinomial multiplication problem. We got a good laugh in class picturing an uptight mother, getting extremely angry with her 4-yr-old child, for not knowing that X^2 x X^3 = X^5. 

My Tic-Tac-Toe page has the same error demonstrated multiple times, with Mommy correcting him as to the correct rule. I thought this might be a creative way to tie in irony, humor and interdisciplinary concepts by allowing students to create a children's book with "what not to do" in regards to polynomials, as No David does for children's behavior. Only time will tell if any of my students choose this assignment on their next math menu.

So what exactly is this next math menu? Well, it's a list of choice homework assignments, mostly taken from my favorite resources (McDougal Middle School Math Course 3, and Kuta While there are two required inequality homeworks in the "free-throw" locations, the choice assignments covering the rest of the "court" allow me to differentiate between prior knowledge, interest and learning styles. 

G/T and highly motivated students often pre-test in the "challenge" level, (90% or higher); and rather than setting them loose in the back of the room to "work independently on their own", I give them structured projects, individual compacting and instruction, and the creativity to direct their own learning.

Don't get me wrong... this is EXTREMELY time-consuming. But the end results lead to much higher retention; based on levels of engagement, and dedication to completing the required amount, or more, than is assigned. I regularly have 10-15% of my high-achievers at 100+% in my class because of the extra work they choose to do. While some teachers my argue with me about the ridiculousness of this grading technique, my response is that those kids would have an A anyway, and I'd rather have some way to continue to see growth past the 100% of assigned, to document how much extra they did in fact learn.

My last blog post had a link to Alfie Kohn about the negative effects of standardized tests, I would bet a lot of money that he would personally hate the idea of rewarding students for work they'd do anyway for nothing. But sad to say, when you are a teenager in sports and music programs and church and multiple advanced classes at school, there needs to be some metaphorical carrot to justify losing sleep to write a math children's book. 

Which leads me back to the point... why doesn't David know how to do FOIL? Maybe because he had an old-school teacher who only taught him the traditional way. I am passionately AGAINST the one-way method of teaching math. That is one of the few things I stand for. Having given my students personality inventories, learning style inventories, and information processing inventories, I have enough data to know that nearly 60% of my 7th graders have Kinesthetic learning preferences. An additional 50%, including 20-30% overlap, consists of students processes information better with pictures. And only 10-20% of them are auditory learners who process by listening to the teacher give a traditional lecture. 

So while it takes longer, I try to teach 2-3 different ways to solve each problem. And I encourage students to share their strategies in class, so that their class mates can benefit from their own creativity; using strategies I could never imagine, having come from a different generation and tech-free culture. I am also not afraid to borrow free materials I find on the internet, such as McDougal's fantastic Course 3  lessons on investigation 13.4. If you are going to click the link, go to "Lesson 4, Examples 1-4" to see why I LOVE MCDOUGAL!!! There are FOUR... count 'em, 1-2-3-FOUR! strategies for multiplying binomials provided. And it's FREE. You do NOT have to have a password to use ANY of their online resources, Powerpoints, online worksheets, animated math resources, or tutoring videos. HIGHLY HIGHLY recommended. 

Method 1: The area model. Treat each part of the binomial as a wall in the house, and then multiply the "length" and "width" of each room to obtain the resulting trinomial.

By using this model, students can connect prior knowledge of length x width to find the area of each room, and then they intuitively know that the sum of the area of all the rooms is the total area needed to simplify the polynomil. In this sense, they see much easier that -16X + -12X equals -28X, leaving much less chance of arriving at an answer of -4 somehow. 

The other "rooms" in the polynomial "house" have no like terms, so they can simply be rewritten. Thus the answer is 6X squared, plus -28X, plus -32. 

Method 2: The Vertical Model! This was a major "duh" when I saw it, but no one ever bothered to teach me this strategy way back when. I think I like it nearly better than FOIL. 

As seen by the model here, each binomial is set up like a two-digit number that needs to be multiplied. The same concepts apply, except there are no situations in which you would "carry" over terms from the previous ones, since they have different exponents. 

Multiply -2 by both of the top numbers, place underneath. Then use the Distributive property and multiple 2X by both top numbers, leaving a "ones place" that will not be used, because the 2X is the second term. Then your bX form terms will line up on top of each-other and help to avoid confusion. Viola! Perfect trinomial.

Method 3: The Picture Frame Method: Using Distributive Property Twice, drawing a picture frame first, and using the frame space to find the polynomial components. This is my least favorite, but I give a few examples anyway because you never know who will prefer which method. The Picture Frame model states that (A+B)(C+D) = AC+BC+AD+BD. BUT, it can also be written as A(C+D) + B(C+D). And this is how the picture frame works. The constant term of each binomial becomes the "width" of the picture frame. And the "A" and "B" values in the binomial, become the "picture" in the frame. 

Method 4: Traditional FOIL. Still the favorite of about 60% of the students. But those who struggle, have a much easier time of getting past their errors, if they can fall back on one of the other methods. 

Time to sign off, get some Zombie ZzZzZzZzZz's. I will post again when I get student feedback on some real interest in David-Polynomial Edition children's books, as well as the status of the latest flip-lessons. 

See you on the flip-side.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Standardized testing Zombies re-animating in classrooms near you!

This past Sunday was spent gloriously tabulating data from a standardized testing pre-test, to see where gaps might exist in the year's instruction thus far. Zombie mode all day... random chick flicks on in the background, a bag of pretzels at my elbow, and a pile of raw data of incorrect answers to compile and analyze.

Anyone who knows me, knows I love data. Organize it... categorize it... process it... use the sum function in excel going down the column... use the sum function in excel going across the row... and look for patterns. That goes along also with my INFJ personality. As does the need to psychoanalyze what I'm doing as I'm doing it. And then to word vomit all over my blog to process it through my writing. Which isn't even that good.

Now that many standardized tests are computerized, the results are quickly available and students are able to take the test multiple times during the year. So how should this knowledge affect instruction? Or should it not affect anything at all? Most teachers I know like to "cover their butts", so to speak, and do a week or two of review before state tests, to refresh students on the concepts. But if the test is being offered multiple times, is that reviewing necessary? Do you do it again before the second round? 

 Based on the "gap data collection" accumulated on Sunday, I anticipate that I need to review and/or introduce roughly 3-4 new concepts each week for the next 5 weeks in order to "hit all the state standards" before the test. BUT WHY IS THIS NECESSARY? Should students realistically have mastered the entire year of goals that the state means us to teach during 7th grade, not even two thirds of the way through the year? Shouldn't an early test, compared to a later test, show a growth trend?

While pondering all this, I stumbled upon the below article by Alfie Kohn, that was published way back in 2000. It is amazing how true it remains today. Maybe truer. It's not long and is really worth the read.

I've read other works by Kohn and not really agreed with a lot of it (like his theory on Punishment vs. Rewards), but this article could have been written yesterday. I am not sure how I feel about that. Time to ponder the implications...

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

New Year, New Zombie

2012... end of the world? It has been rather warm so far.

Bad Zombie = tired and demotivated, scratching and biting and snapping at all near and far

Hungry Zombie = eating all the remaining chocolate in the house, then moving onto chocolate in teacher desk... where next chocolate? ARGH!! Mad zombie! All gone!

Zombie Teacher = lecturing on autopilot today and asking for the word for that smiley-face shape. Hand goes up... Parabola? Me says YES! How you remember? Kid says, you JUST said that like 2 minutes ago. Me say, really? When?

School full of Calendar Zombies = Is it Monday? or Tuesday? Who can tell. Tomorrow is Wednesday already? Team meeting? How did this happen? I guess because Monday was a total nothing day. Shopped in slow motion at Target for groceries and spent the last of my teacher gift cards. Zombie sad :o(

Coffee Zombie get very mad = Try to use Starbucks Coffee teacher gift card, Starbucks sign says Peppermint mocha! Overworked and zombie-slow worker says, NO PEPPERMINT LEFT!!! Zombie teacher gets angry and orders a hot chocolate instead. Starbucks coffee sucks anyway.

Math Zombie = spent 2 hours completing 2 math keys today. does it normally take that long? 75 or so problems? 120 minutes? Something is wrong here. Staring off into space and the white space on the computer, willing a negative of the American flag into existence.

Reader Zombie = HAPPY! Dust and Decay arrived this afternoon. Back to actual fictional Zombie land!!! (It's the sequel to Rot and Ruin which I've blogged about a few times now that's also awesome). What else can I do with a sick kid who is coughing out a lung, other than trying not to get sick again myself. I was going to let my student read it first but now I'm 100 pages in and minus well just finish it. Hmmm... too tired to think.

Zombie nap = zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz