Wednesday, February 9, 2011

School Starts, Blog Neglect Sets In

I see my last real post was two days before school started. That was a Saturday. On Sunday, I started having severe pain while I was trying to copy first day handouts. I've had this happen before, and have had all sorts of tests done. It could be gall bladder, ulcer, or about 3 other things. All tests come back negative (ie nothing seems to be wrong). It usually lasts about a week. This time it was 11 days. Luckily, teaching distracts me from that sort of pain, and so the best part of each day for me was while I was teaching. I'm fine now, and trying to eat better, in case it's gall bladder. It would be nice to know what's going on, but for now all is well. Meanwhile, my blog has suffered some serious neglect.

I have links I'd like to share. Like another cool math-related art site, called Algorithmic Worlds. (Thanks Dan, for your lovely post about this.) And this simple decimal game that John Golden put together.

But I'd also like to talk about how this semester is going. I knew it would be better than last semester, but I was still nervous, because of all the trouble I'd had with difficult students. It has been glorious. I am loving teaching Calc II. I am enjoying a huge Intermediate Algebra class. (I wanted to let in former students, so I had to let in the folks on the wait list too. I have over 50 students.) And I have a tiny Beginning Algebra class, where I'll have time to help each one of them. I'm doing so much I want to write about, but I haven't had time to write.

The SBG folks got me pushing myself to allow students to retake tests, and I made lots of versions of my mastery tests for Beginning Algebra last semester. With 3 different courses this semester, I wasn't sure I'd be able to do that for all 3. I promised the Intermediate Algebra students who'd had me last semester that I'd continue that, but I figured my Calculus students didn't need it so much. When more than half failed the Volume test I gave last week, I figured I'd need to let them do retakes too. Today I made two sheets that laid out what a student has to do to be allowed to retake their test (one for Intermediate Algebra and one for Calc). Here's the calc list:

Retaking the Volume Test

1. Re-do each problem. Find your mistakes and explain your old thinking and your new thinking. The hardest part is usually setting up the integral. Show a representative disk, washer, or ‘tube’, labeled.

2. Do a volume project. My first recommendation is to get a glass, measure it carefully (using a caliper), line its axis of symmetry up with the x-axis, and come up with an equation that represents the inside of the glass. Do a volume of revolution, and give the volume. Now check by measuring how much the glass holds. Come see my examples if this isn’t clear.

3. Make a sheet summarizing the differences between the two methods (disks and washers versus ‘shells’, ‘soup cans’ or ‘tubes’).

4. Do the 4 volume of revolution problems on the back of this sheet.

5. Come show me all this in my office, and I will make you a new version of the test.

When students know they can learn the material still, they're not so discouraged after doing badly on a test, and I can keep a lively atmosphere in our class.

I'm going to a conference in SF on Saturday called Escape From the Textbook (which you can watch through live stream). I'm excited about that.

I've got more to write about my classes, but my son is waiting for me to read to him.


  1. Escape the Textbook looks really,really interesting. I'm requesting a blog post when you get it back. Thanks. :)

  2. Very nice. I like how you require the students to demonstrate mastery in multiple ways before they can take the test, rather than just having them come in with their test corrections: I'm always suspicious as to who actually did the corrections; and if they did them solo with their notes in front of them, I feel that that doesn't mean they will do equally well on the re-test without their notes in front of them.

    I've been toying with the idea of having students come in after school and at the board, do the problems they got wrong on the test WITHOUT their notes in front of them. If they got one wrong, they'd have to stop, get some coaching from me, and then try again with that problem tomorrow. It might take several days for a student who failed to get through all the problems, which might get me some push back from parents of busy students, but I would feel more confident that the student wasn't going to do worse, or only marginally better, on the re-take.

  3. Glad the semester is starting off well.

    See you on Saturday!


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