Friday, September 30, 2016

Science: The Earth-Moon-Sun System (Days 32-33)

This upcoming Monday is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year. For decades, the LAUSD has observed both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur as holidays. Thus my charter school, which mostly follows the LAUSD calendar, is closed both Monday, October 3rd and Wednesday, October 12th.

I've decided that this is a great time to teach a science lesson about the earth, moon, and sun. I told my students about the earth's revolution around the sun, which leads to the seasons of winter, spring, summer, and fall. Then I moved on to the moon's revolution around the earth, which leads to the phases of new moon, waxing crescent, first quarter, waxing gibbous, full moon, waning gibbous, last quarter, and waning crescent.

Then I told my students about the calendar used by the ancient Hebrews. On this calendar, which is still used today by the Jews, the new month begins at the new moon and the new year begins near the fall equinox. I said that calculating the date of Rosh Hashanah is quite complicated, but I did show them the following link:

(I've mentioned this link in previous blog spots when trying to explain the Easter date.)

A simplified formula for the date of Rosh Hashanah on the Gregorian calendar for 1900-2099 is gotten by calculating
N + fraction = 6.057778996 + 1.554241797*Remainder(12G|19) + 0.25*Remainder(y|4) - 0.003177794*y,

where y=Y-1900. Use the same postponement rules (note that 23269/25920=0.898, and 1367/2160=0.633). This method is easier to calculate using a pocket calculator.

I showed them the calculation for this year. Here y = 116 and the Golden Number G is 3, since 114 is a multiple of 19. The first division is 36 (12 times 3) divided by 19, which has remainder 17, and the second is 116 divided by 4, which has remainder 0. So the calculation is:

6.057778996 + 1.554241797*17 + 0.25*0 - 0.003177794*116 = 32.57204557

This gives the date as September 32nd, which really means October 2nd. But October 2nd is a Sunday, and the rules given above state that Rosh Hashanah can't fall on Sunday. (The reason for this is indirectly related to the fact that Saturday is the Jewish Sabbath. Neither Rosh Hashanah nor Yom Kippur can fall on the day before or after the Sabbath.) Thus  the holiday is on Monday, October 3rd.

Then I showed the students the calculation for next year. Some students guessed that Rosh Hashanah will fall on a Tuesday next year, since October 3rd next year will be a Tuesday (that is, in analogy with their birthdays). But let's see -- the Golden Number will be 4, and the first division is 48 (12 times 4) divided by 19, which has remainder 10, and the second is 117 divided by 4, which has remainder 1. So the calculation is:

6.057778996 + 1.554241797*10 + 0.25*0 - 0.003177794*117 = 21.69314744

September 21st, 2017 is a Thursday, and so no postponement is required. Next year, Rosh Hashanah will indeed be on that Thursday, not Tuesday. (Notice that Yom Kippur will fall on a Saturday. When either high holiday falls on the Sabbath, the LAUSD does not take an extra day off.)

But how do we know that September 21st next year will be a Thursday? According to the link, the simplified Rosh Hashanah formula shown above is attributable to the British mathematician John Conway, whom I've mentioned on the blog before. And so that means Conway Doomsday.

I told my students the Conway Doomsday formula. I figured they'd get a kick out of finding out what day of the week they were born. Interestingly enough, the first birthdays I randomly selected ended up being in either June or October, where 6/6 and 10/10 are easily identified as Doomsday. But one sixth grader gave me a January birthday, which is the hardest month in the Doomsday formula.

The earth-moon-sun system is included in the Next Generation standards for eighth grade. And so after this lesson, I give my eighth graders the online science assignment for this system.

This is a Calendar-labeled blog post due to the mention of a religious holiday. I didn't tell my students the following, but it may be instructive to blog readers to figure out where all the magic numbers in the Conway formula come from:

N + fraction = 6.057778996 + 1.554241797*Remainder(12G|19) + 0.25*Remainder(y|4) - 0.003177794*y

Here are my best guesses:

-- 6.05777... means that the earliest Rosh Hashanah is September 6th. Actually, it could be on the 5th due to the minus term later in the formula (and it did fall on September 5th, 2013 -- the early Rosh Hashanah that led to "Thanksgivukkah").

-- 19 refers to the 19 years of the Metonic cycle. The significance of the 19-year cycle is that new moons link up with solar years approximately 19 years apart. For example, I was born under a new moon, and there was a new moon on my 19th birthday as well.

-- 1.55424... doesn't mean anything on its own, but 1.55424...*19 = 29.53059..., which is about the length of a lunar month.

-- Likewise, 12 doesn't mean anything on its own, but 1.55424... * 12 = 18.65090... If there is a new moon one year on September 1st, there will be a new moon the following year about 18.65 days later, which is September 19th or 20th.

-- The numbers 0.25 and 4 obviously refer to Leap Days.

-- 0.003177794 is a slight adjustment to the Metonic cycle. The author at the above link writes that the 19-year Metonic cycle isn't exact, and so this term gives a slight adjustment (though it's still not as accurate as the Gregorian calendar).

Originally, I wanted to give this lesson today, since it's the last day before the three-day weekend caused by the Rosh Hashanah holiday. But there were continued problems with the mousetrap cars, and in fact I actually gave this lesson yesterday (even though I waited until today to post it here on the blog). This gave me an extra chance to figure out how to make the cars work before having my students complete the cars today.

The problem is that the launching string is so hard to wrap around the axle (a bit like wrapping spaghetti around a fork). It is just like setting up dominoes, where placing them too close risks making them fall before you're ready, and placing them too far apart risks having them remain standing when you are ready to let them fall. If the string is loaded improperly, the mousetrap is released too early or too late for the car to move.

I don't like how difficult it is to launch the cars. The reason for the project title "What's the Best Advantage?" is that students are supposed to make changes such as adjusting the size of the wheels and seeing what effect this has on the distance the car travels. But it is so hard to make the car go even once that neither the students nor I really want to perform that experiment. If Illinois State, who provided us with the cars, really wanted students to make this investigation, then the effort required to load the string should have been trivial.

But I am able to salvage some science out of this project. I have the students consider whether the cars will travel farther on the indoor carpet or on a smoother surface, such as the tiles located near the sink or the corridor outside the room. The students figure out that the car travels a shorter distance on the carpet due to greater friction.

The seventh graders are the most successful in launching the cars. The sixth graders are too confused, and some of the eighth graders are just lazy. We take videos of some of the seventh and eighth graders who race their mousetrap cars, but again I don't post the videos on the blog in order to maintain student privacy.

Thinking about the "Day in the Life" project, there technically is a participant whose monthly posting day is the 30th -- Kevin Cormier, who is apparently a Massachusetts middle school teacher. But unfortunately, the list of participating teachers provides only Cormier's email address, not his blog. It is a shame, though, since I enjoy reading the blogs of fellow middle school teachers. (Naturally, there is no participant for the 31st, since not every month has a 31st day.)

I wish everyone who celebrates it a happy Rosh Hashanah! There will be no blog post on Monday due to the holiday, and there is no post on Tuesday as this will be my scheduled day off (since the remainder of 33 divided by 3 is zero). So the next post will be Wednesday, October 5th.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

What's the Best Advantage? Continued (Day 31)

Well, here are a few things I want to say about the new mousetrap project thus far:

First of all, it turns out that the music teacher was absent on Wednesday. Therefore I was able to perform the project with all three grades as well as have an extra period with my eighth graders for the online assignment on forces and motion. This still, of course, doesn't clear up the confusion regarding the new music schedule.

Students were confused with how to attach the string to launch the mousetraps. And so I'm definitely extending the project an extra day.

The eighth graders were also having trouble trying to figure out the online assignment on Newton's Laws. I think part of the problem is that physical science -- the main topic of the upcoming NGSS test -- is always more obscure than life science. Some students in all grades wonder whether I will give any life science projects this year. The problem is that most of my projects go back to either the NGSS physical science test or the Illinois State text -- which also appears to focus on physical science, even in the sixth and seventh grade texts.

Meanwhile, at the Common Planning meeting on Wednesday, the administrators introduced us to the new online software that we will be using to take attendance and grades -- yes, we're just now being introduced to it fully a hexter into the year. And, sure enough, the software has a built-in grading scale that we're required to use.

Remember how I once mentioned a quick-and-dirty weighting for the grades:

40% Tests
30% Quizzes
20% Classwork
10% Homework

Then I figured that with so many Illinois State projects -- such as the current mousetrap project -- the classwork section needs to be elevated:

30% Tests
30% Quizzes
30% Classwork
10% Homework

Well, here is the actual weighting that the new software will be using to calculate grades:

40% Tests & Projects
20% Quizzes
15% Homework
15% Participation
10% Classwork

Recall what I've said about previous online grading software -- it doesn't matter how many tests or homework assignments I give or how many points each it worth, because they will automatically be weighted so that tests are part of the 40% and homework part of the 15%. I've said before that this is deceptive from the students' perspective -- one homework point isn't the same as one test point.

I've already promised to circumvent this weighting simply by making the trimester 1000 points. Then I make sure that of these 1000 points, the tests add up to 400, the quizzes add up to 200, the homework up to 150, and so on. Then a point is a point no matter what, since the computer will calculate that the number of points I'm giving already fits the weighting percentages.

Earlier I wanted to include the projects as Classwork, but now I see that the projects now belong under the Tests category. This already fits my plans -- I want to give three tests per trimester (and if there's a fourth, the lowest score is dropped) for 300 points, and there will probably be about five projects per trimester worth 20 points each, for a total of 400 points.

But I will have to tone done the quizzes a little. The quizzes I've given so far are already worth 50 points each. My plan was to give three Dren Quizzes and three general quizzes for a total of 300 points (with a fourth quiz of either type to allow dropping the lowest grade). Now instead, I'll give only three quizzes of each type per trimester. This means that there will be only nine Dren Quizzes (10's, and then 2's through 9's). Scoring below an A will still result in a score of 1/50, but now it can only be made up by taking the next Dren Quiz -- for example, if a student fails the 7's, he/she will still have to take the 8's the next time.

I'm also having to differentiate between Participation and Classwork. Warm-Ups, Exit Passes, and of course Participation Points are now considered Participation, leaving Classwork (the smallest category) for worksheets only.

Here is the song I sang today:

What's the Best Advantage?

Life is full of patterns.
They show us the way.
School starts at the same
Time everyday.
What's the best advantage?
To tell us every time
We can go how far
When we build a better mousetrap...
Mousetrap car!

Life is full of patterns.
The sun and moon follow patterns.
We can use math
To learn about patterns.
What's the best advantage?
To tell us just how fast
We can be a star
When we build a better mousetrap...
Mousetrap car!

Yeah, that's right -- this is mostly the same song that I sang for "The Need for Speed," the first project where students worked on the mousetrap cars.

I did take pictures during the project, but most of these include students' faces, and so in order to protect their privacy, I will not be posting them here on the blog.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Test #2 and What's the Best Advantage? (Days 29-30)

Today the students take a test. This is for all three grade levels, now that I've changed my original assessment schedule. The eighth grade test is on rational approximations. So far, many students fare well on the test, since much of it involves approximating a square root on the calculator and rounding it off from zero to three decimal places.

Day 30 marks the midpoint of the trimester. In the past I've referred to half of a trimester by a special name -- the "hexter." This is what I wrote in the past about the name "hexter":

The name hexter is interesting indeed. But to discover the origin of this name, we must first consider the origins of the words semester and trimester.

Where does the word semester come from? Some people might recognize a prefix semi- meaning "half" -- for example, in geometry a semicircle is half of a circle. Since a semester is half of an academic year, this seems logical -- but it's wrong. As it turns out, the word semester actually means "six months" -- it comes from Latin sex-, "six," plus mes- or mens-, "month." (Notice that in Spanish, the word mes still means "month.") But a semester can't possibly last six months, since then two semesters would be twelve months, the entire year, with no time for summer vacation. As it turns out, the word semester doesn't come directly from Latin, but passed through German. In German universities, the two semesters actually are six months long -- the winter semester lasting from October to March, and the summer semester lasting from April to September. There actually are breaks corresponding to our summer break, but they're actually included as part of the semesters! So semester means "six months," sex- plus mes-, but Latin speakers often drop the letter x when it appears right before the letter m, just as emigrate is really ex- (out of) plus migrate.

Therefore, a trimester actually means "three months" -- since it comes from tri-, "three," plus mes-, which we already identified as "month." It does not mean "one-third of a year." But since the school year is approximately nine, or three-squared, months long, one-third of the year just happens to be around three months. The term of a woman's pregnancy is also around three-squared months, and so some might believe that trimester means one-third of a pregnancy, but it still means "three months."

And so what about hexter? Now hex- is Greek for six (think hexagon), but is a hexter six of something, or one-sixth of something else? This word doesn't contain mes-, so it has nothing to do with six months or one-sixth of a month. On one hand, there are six hexters in a year, so this word,hexter, appears to be one-sixth of an academic year. But a hexter is also six of something -- it is close to six weeks in length, since there are approximately 36 or six-squared weeks in a school year! The answer is that we can't be sure, since the academic term hexter, while used at some schools, doesn't appear in a dictionary where we can discover its etymology.

Finally, notice that hex- is Greek while all the other numerical prefixes for academic terms are derived from Latin. Recall what I wrote about this lack of linguistic purity in geometry, where we have both hexagons (hex-, Greek) and nonagons (non-, Latin). To be linguistically consistent, we ought to use the Latin prefix sex- and call it a "sexter." The problem is that most schools using hexters are middle schools, and students at that age will assume that this has something to do with sexuality, even though the Latin sex, "six," has nothing to do with the Latin sexus, "sex." In order to avoid trying to explain to middle schoolers how "sexter" and "sexual" come from two completely unrelated Latin roots, the schools just throw linguistic purity out the window and use Greek-based "hexter" instead.

Notice that trimesters, and therefore hexters, appear mainly at the middle school level. High schools almost always use semesters instead, as this is what the colleges expect on the transcripts. But I have seen a few high schools give report cards three times per semester -- in other words, the progress report occurs at the end of every hexter.

By the way, since I wrote the above, I found a link to an actual high school using the term "hexter":

In 10th grade, beginning at the end of the first hexter (six week period), students who have demonstrated mastery of Habits of [...]

This is at a high school in New York. I've never seen any California school use the term "hexter" -- and that includes my own middle school. But still, I will use the term "hexter" both in the classroom and on the blog as a convenient word to refer to the progress reporting period.

I've written about my plans to give four tests this trimester. Therefore, I ought to have two tests during each hexter. But as it turns out, I ended up giving only one test the first hexter, since I printed up the progress reports before grading the tests. Furthermore, the last major grade before printing the first hexter progress reports was a Dren Quiz, which was easy.

As it turns out, all of my eighth graders are earning a C or better. But there are a few students who were failing until the Dren Quiz raised their grades to a C. This might make the progress reports misleading, since the grades were artificially inflated by a Dren Quiz -- oops! As it turns out, most of my failing students are seventh graders. The first test was difficult, and no Dren Quiz can erase all the 10% and 20% scores received on the test.

Here is the song for today:


If you want to find unit rates,
There's one thing you must know.
To find a unit rate,
All you do is divide!
To see if it's proportional,
All you do is divide!
Write it as a fraction,
Reduce it then you're fine.
Graph it at (0, 0),
Then just draw a line.

If you want to find square roots,
There's one thing you must know.
To find an estimate,
4 and below, round down!
To find an estimate,
5 and above, round up!
1 place for tenths, 2 for hundredths,
3 for thousandths, you're fine.
Graph it between two values,
Right on the number line.

Tomorrow is also the beginning of a new module. Learning Module 3 of the Illinois State text is called "What's the Best Advantage?" In this module, students will finish the mousetrap cars that they started back in Module 1.

For my eighth graders, this will be an excellent opportunity to integrate science in the lesson. As I wrote earlier, the next NGSS science lesson on the computer is on motion and force. I've been delaying it until the students can learn about force and Newton's Laws. Well, as it just so happens, the students are supposed to measure the force used to launch the mousetrap cars -- in Newtons! So the idea is to have the eighth graders use the first hour to use the mousetrap cars and then the second hour to complete the online assignment.

But the problem is that our mixed-up Wednesday schedule might finally be changing. Here's how the old schedule worked: first period I would have sixth grade, then second period I'd have the eighth graders for "science" (the online assignment), and then third period I'd keep the eighth graders for STEM (which I'd use for either math or an Illinois State project). The problem with the old schedule is trying to fit music into the schedule. According to the music teacher's schedule, eighth grade music started near the end of first period and was intended to last into second period. So the eighth graders began the day in the history classroom and switched to music when the music teacher arrived -- only to have it end 15 minutes later when the sixth graders arrived to the history classroom.

The new, more logical schedule has eighth grade music line up with second period. This means, among other things, that the eighth graders won't be in my room for both an online science lesson and a STEM project, since they'll still be in music. I assume that I will begin the day with the sixth graders in my room -- but I can't send them to the history classroom after first period, since the eighth graders will still be in there for the music lesson. So I'd either keep the sixth graders an extra period or have them go to English and have the seventh graders come to my room.

Under the old schedule, the seventh graders came to my room for fourth period -- but then their music lesson took place in my room, and I didn't see them for math or science at all! Frankly, I wouldn't mind seeing the seventh graders tomorrow, and I bet they'll enjoy beginning the project. If they're in my room only for music as usual, then I'll just have them do the project on Thursday -- indeed, I suspect the project will bleed into Thursday for all the grades no matter what.

And if I do lose an hour with my eighth graders, then I'll just do the project today and have them do the online science assignment tomorrow after lunch -- that time on Thursday is usually for online math assignments, but I'll just have them do science instead.

But this is a two-day post, and I won't know what happens until tomorrow. That's right -- we received an email informing us of the new music schedule, but we were never told what to do with the students outside of music time! The English teacher has given up trying to figure out the schedule and says that she'll just give an online English assignment to whatever kids show up in her classroom! So this is what Wednesdays are like at our middle school, even one hexter into the year!

My next post will be Thursday.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Coding: Editing in Word (Day 28)

Today is a coding Monday. Obviously, I don't have much to say about math in today's post, since I spend most of today watching the coding teacher do his work.

In today's computer lesson, the teacher provides each eighth grader with a Google account, then shows the kids how to edit in Word. (As usual, this blog's focus is on the eighth graders, thus this post is titled "Editing in Word.") Some of the students already know what they are doing and attack the teacher-provided sample document with ease. Other students struggle, and the teacher warns them that they'll be in trouble if they make it to high school and don't know how to use a word processor.

I think back to the first time I used Word -- it was in a summer coding class I took in high school nearly 20 years ago. I took an exploratory computer class in middle school as well, but I don't remember whether or not the word processor we used was Word -- I suspect it wasn't.

The sixth and seventh graders had a lesson on cyberbullies and safety. Last week, the lessons were reversed -- the eighth graders learned about safety and the younger kids used Word.

Since there's no math for me to discuss today, this is a great time to catch you readers up with my year-long goal to become an ideal classroom manager. I assume that the incident that I'm about to describe are quite common in classrooms.

It begins as my eighth graders arrive. Usually, the coding teacher arrives 20-25 minutes after the block begins, so I use that time for a Warm-Up and passing out the homework for the week, and then the students can use the extra time to start on the homework until the coding teacher gets here. I pass out calculators for the Warm-Up, since it is still on square roots and irrational numbers.

But then the students continue to use the calculators on the homework. The questions on the homework (that come from a practice workbook) aren't quite dren-level questions like single-digit multiplication -- indeed, the first question is long division. But still, this is the type of question that some people (like traditionalists, for example), say should be done without a calculator.

Of course, you readers may notice that this is homework, and so there's actually nothing stopping them from using calculators at home to do the homework. Nonetheless, I'll do whatever it takes to stop them from using calculators in front of me on the homework.

So I take the calculators away. And this causes one student -- and she happens to be the lowest student in the class -- to say, "I need the calculator because I'm not smart like you are!"

I know that from a traditionalist perspective, the people who can do long division by hand are actually the normal ones and those who can't divide are on the outs! I don't bring up traditionalists in class anymore, but I do say, "I'm not smart -- I'm normal."

The girl's response is, "I need it because I'm not normal like you are!"

Keep this in mind as I discuss what happens when the eighth graders return after lunch -- a Math Intervention block that also used for an online math curriculum. The girl enters the classroom upset because someone has taken her cellphone, and so she disrupts the classroom by telling the other students to empty out their backpacks in search of the phone.

At this point I begin to yell at the students to stop the search immediately and get back to work. The problem, I tell them, is that phones are forbidden in the classroom. In theory, all phones are supposed to be confiscated at the start of the day, to be returned at the end of the day. But you can probably figure out why this is doomed to failure -- a student who turns it in is guaranteed to be without a phone for a full seven hours, while someone who keeps it can probably sneak in even just a few minutes on the phone at some point without being caught.

I tell the students that I can't make them turn in their phones, but I can enforce the rules by at least not granting any class time to search for missing phones. The student begins to cry, thinking about what her mother will say when she finds out that the phone is missing.

Then she tries to ask for a restroom pass -- but the problem is that last week, the principal told me that I can't allow restroom passes anymore either. Formerly I've been allowing students to leave during Music Break, but lately they've been taking advantage and using that time to go places other than the restroom. At this point the girl complains, "I hate this class because you care about the rules so much!"

At this point I tell her that if she leaves, I'll have to give her a detention for using the restroom during class time. (Of course she has no intention of going to the restroom -- she just wants to go out and search for the phone.) She accepts my detention and leaves the room. But then the principal shows up to the classroom, having been called in by the English teacher due to the riot in my class. The principal asks for the girl who first caused the disruption, and upon her return from the "restroom," she is forced to go to the office.

Let's step back now and think about what's happening here. The reason that I enforce the rules is that students who use the restroom only during breaks and puts their education about the entertainment of a cell phone find themselves with lots and lots of A's on their report cards. Given a choice between being bored with an A and entertained with an F, I'd always choose boredom with the A.

But let's think about this from the girl's perspective. She is at the bottom of my class -- so she's most likely failed math her entire time as a scholar. Think back to what she said earlier about calculators -- only special "smart" people like me can do math without a calculator, not those like herself. She believes that no matter how hard she works, she'll get a bad grade in math. So to her, the choice is between being bored with an F and entertained with an F -- and in that situation, she might as well choose entertainment. And in fact, she immediately puts her head down when I start talking about getting A's as a reason for following the rules -- since she believes that she'll never get A's.

I've mentioned it this here on the blog before -- this student thinks that only special "smart" people can be good at math, not ordinary people like herself. Now imagine if the Cleveland Cavaliers believed that only "special" teams like the Lakers, Celtics, or even the Warriors win championships, not ordinary teams like themselves. Or if the Chicago Cubs now assume that only special teams like the Yankees and Cardinals win World Series, not ordinary teams like themselves. Sure -- the girl has struggled in math since kindergarten, but the Cubs have struggled in baseball for a century before her troubles began.

This, of course, is all related to the "growth mindset." But unfortunately, "growth mindset" has turned into a buzzword that can mean anything the writer wants it to mean. Still, the important thing I should ask is, how can I get this girl to realize that she should work hard so her grades will rise?

So far, I've seen that endless stories about traditionalists, A's, and their futures doesn't work. And of course, yelling at her as I did today doesn't work at all. Of course, there is no simple answer -- otherwise we'd all be excellent math teachers.

Since today is the 26th, let's look at the blog of Tara Daas, whose monthly posting day is today:

Here is a link to her September 26th post:

Daas is a Georgia high school teacher who teaches mostly Algebra I. Her regular classes are learning about compound inequalities, but she also has three Accelerated Algebra I classes, which are learning about even and odd functions. When I took Algebra I as a student so many years ago, it was a regular class, so I didn't learn about even and odd functions.

Daas writes about the struggles her third period class is having. This is technically an Accelerated class, but they aren't as successful as her other classes. She points out how she tries to connect even and odd functions to the transformations (y-axis reflections and 180-degree rotations about the origin) that they learned the previous year in Common Core 8, but this doesn't help them.

Well, hopefully we'll both improve with time.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Whiteboard Lesson: Estimating Square Roots (Days 26-27)

Tonight is Back to School Night. With a long evening spent at school, it's a good thing that this is a two-day post, with no scheduled post tomorrow.

In all classes, the kids continue work in the so-called "Student Journals." Then tomorrow, the students will practice on the whiteboards. This should provide adequate preparation for the major test that all students will take on Tuesday. For eighth graders, the test will be on rational approximations to irrational numbers, particularly square roots.

During the music break, I choose a song from Square One TV: "Nine Nine Nine." The reason I chose this song is that this is one of the oldest videos on YouTube -- in fact, Monday, September 26th marks the tenth anniversary of its first posting on the web. I might have sung this song on the anniversary itself (or maybe not, since it's a coding Monday), but I decided that this would be a great song to sing for Back to School Night. (Actually, it would have made more sense to play it on the ninth anniversary since it's a song about the number 9. Well, today is the 9.99th anniversary, so there are your nines!)

Here is that old YouTube video:

Here are the lyrics to this song, courtesy Barry Carter:

Nine Nine Nine

Lead vocals by Reg E. Cathey

Backup vocals by Cynthia Darlow

Nine nine nine
Fantastic number nine
It’s perfectly consistent
It works out every time
Nine nine nine
That crazy number nine
Times any number you can find
It all comes back to nine
Two times nine is eighteen
Eight and one is nine
Three times nine is twenty-seven
Seven and two is nine
Four times nine is thirty-six
Six and three is nine
Five times nine is forty-five
Five and four is nine
Six times nine is fifty-four
Five and four is nine
Seven times nine is sixty-three
Six and three is nine
Eight times nine is seventy-two
Seven and two is nine
Nine times nine is eighty-one
Eight and one is nine
Nine nine nine
Fantastic number nine
It’s perfectly consistent
It works out every time
Nine nine nine
That crazy number nine
Times any number you can find
It all comes back to nine
Nine times ten is ninety
Just drop the zero sign
Nine times eleven is ninety-nine
Makes me rhyme with another line
Then nine and nine is eighteen
And eight and one is nine
Times any number you can find
It all comes back to nine
This work for bigger numbers, too?
Let’s try this’un: three thousand four hundred’n eighty seven
Hmm … nine times three thousand four hundred eighty seven is
Thirty-one thousand three hundred eighty-three
Three plus one plus three plus eight plus three is eighteen;
One plus eight is nine.
It always works!
Nine nine nine
Fantastic number nine
It’s perfectly consistent
And it works out every time
Nine nine nine
That crazy number nine
Times any number you can find
It all comes back to nine
It all comes back to nine
It all comes back to nine
As it turns out, a second YouTube video was posted on September 26th, 2006 -- "One Billion Is Big", which I mentioned on the blog around the time of the billion-dollar Powerball jackpot. The reason I favored Nine Nine Nine over One Billion Is Big is that Barry Carter doesn't have the lyrics to the latter song available. I'll have to play and pause the video myself to get the lyrics. I might do so within the next month or so, since there's a lesson coming up in the eighth grade Illinois State text soon about large numbers.

Meanwhile, today's song would be a great song to play around the time of the Dren Quiz for 9's, which will be during the third trimester. In many ways, the hardest digit by which to multiply in base ten is not 9, but 7. The 8's have the advantage of being all even, while the 9's follow the pattern mentioned in the song. (At the Dozenal Forum, it's mentioned that in base 12, it's the 11's times tables that follow the pattern mentioned in the song -- a pattern known as the omega rule.)

At Back to School Night I met several of the parents and sang the song for them. One parent was concerned about our school's lack of a science teacher, but many enjoyed the song. I ended up giving away my old "Meet Me in Pomona, Mona" song to the one parent who volunteered at the fair.

Here is a link to the "A Day in the Life" poster for the 22nd, Jonathan Newman:

Newman is a Maryland middle school teacher -- that's right, many of the participants in the "A Day in the Life" project are middle school teachers! So I definitely want to discuss Newman's blog in much more detail. Here is a link to his September 22nd post:

Most of Newman's classes are Common Core Math 8, but he does have one section of Algebra I. He writes that today is the end of the first quaver at his school. Even though he has only one Algebra I class, almost all of the photos in his post are from that class.

Newman writes that he gives his Algebra I students a Three-Act Lesson -- which means that it goes back to the King of the MTBoS, Dan Meyer. This activity is all about taxi fares and ultimately leads to graphing linear functions.

I admit that from my perspective, this is a bit early in Algebra I to be teaching linear functions -- that topic usually appears later in the first quarter or early in the second. Of course, my "Show Me the Numbers" activity is all about graphing what should be a linear function -- but it's more about recording and graphing data and less about the structure of a linear function.

Notice the name of Newman's blog -- Hilbert's Hotel. Back in January, I mentioned the idea of an infinite hotel, dating back to the mathematicians Georg Cantor and David Hilbert.

My next post will be Monday.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Student Journal: Rational Approximations (Day 25)

There are several things I wish to discuss in today's post. First of all, my "Day in the Life" links are now visible at the Tina Cardone's official website:

And let's celebrate my official joining of Cardone's project with a link to another participant, Wendy Menard, whose monthly posting date is today, the 21st:

Menard is a New York high school teacher. She begins her September 21st post by announcing that it's also her daughter's 25th birthday -- maybe that's why she chose the 21st:

Here are a few interesting things I found in Menard's post. First of all, she writes that she always begins the day with a math problem whose answer is -- you guessed it, the date. As it turns out, I'm not doing it that much anymore. The problems I gave were too easy when it's already known that the answer is the date, plus I'm supposed to be giving warm-up problems from the Illinois State text.

Menard teaches Algebra II, which is learning about linear systems, as well as "Discrete Math." She writes that "Discrete Math" (which is learning about "matrix logic") is considered to be a downgrade from Algebra II -- and indeed, some students are disappointed that they can't take the higher course.

The next thing I want to discuss is the school calendar. As it turns out, the LAUSD school board has just approved a new school calendar for next year. There has been a strong enough opposition to the Early Start Calendar that the board voted to start school gradually later. The first day of school will be August 22nd, 2017 and then August 28th, 2018 -- just one week before Labor Day. Recall that I work at a charter school, not LAUSD -- but since my school is co-located, there's a good chance that it will follow suit and start later as well.

I'm actually curious what will happen to Admissions Day on the new calendar. It seems awkward to have three days of school followed by a four-day weekend. Perhaps "Admissions Day" will be mysteriously moved to make Veteran's Day weekend or spring break longer, as in other districts.

Normally I'd call a calendar that starts the fourth week of August a "Middle Start" Calendar. But somehow, it's stated that first semester finals will still take place before Christmas. Notice that this year, the fall "semester" is only 79 days long -- so this means that in two years, the first semester will only be about 70 days long, unless there some other changes (such as the shortening of Thanksgiving or winter break).

No, 70 out of 180 days is not half of the year, but it is much closer to two-fifths of the year. This is why I still say that the best way to deal with the problem with trying to squeeze a full semester between Labor Day (or just before it) and Christmas is to divide the year into five "quinters" rather than four quarters. Then the second quinter can take place before Christmas, while the fourth quinter can finish before AP and SBAC testing. The fifth quinter can be reserved for testing, credit recovery, and other end-of-year activities.

I'm still a little upset that my best eighth grader is no longer a student at my school. Our English teacher saw the girl walking to school one day, but she never arrived at our school, and the next thing we hear about her is that she attends another school. I was looking forward to teaching her Algebra I and recommending her to take Geometry next year, but now she's gone. Of course, it's still possible that I might help another student with Algebra I this year -- and even before this year began, I wrote on the blog that I wanted to try teaching some Algebra I to my eighth graders -- especially during the statistics unit. But still, the obvious student to give such lessons to is no longer here.

In class today, I begin having the students work out of the so-called "Student Journals," which are really just alternate textbooks. The traditional lesson for eighth graders is on rational approximations to irrational numbers, following the standard:

Use rational approximations of irrational numbers to compare the size of irrational numbers, locate them approximately on a number line diagram, and estimate the value of expressions (e.g., π2). For example, by truncating the decimal expansion of √2, show that √2 is between 1 and 2, then between 1.4 and 1.5, and explain how to continue on to get better approximations.

I continue to use the extra Wednesday block I have with eighth graders for science. But this time, I don't give a lesson from Sarah Carter, who is still working on things like scientific notation and significant figures. The goal is to get to the computer lesson on forces and motion.

I decide to give my students guided notes as found in the following link:

Let's see whether this will help them do well on the computer lesson next week. But as it turns out, our mixed-up Wednesday schedule may finally be getting fixed. I might get to teach my seventh graders math rather than just watch them do music, but it could be at the cost of not seeing my eighth graders that extra block.

Still, I'm going to give my eighth graders the science lesson no matter what, since they'll need it for the NGSS test in May.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Dren Quiz #2 (Days 23-24)

This is a two-day post, with today a Coding Monday and tomorrow a scheduled Dren Quiz for all three grades, with most students working on the 2's. But several issues continue to surround my classes, both in academics and in behavior.

In particular, before the Dren Quiz tomorrow, the sixth graders will be working on Learning Module 2, "Show Me the Numbers." As I wrote earlier, I originally wanted to skip the project for sixth graders, but I can't because the projects are the cornerstone of the curriculum.

Not only that, but I'm required to submit photos of the projects directly to Illinois State. For the first project, I thought that the mousetrap cars were worthy enough of a photo that I took pictures -- and even posted them to the blog. On the other hand, I didn't think that I needed to take photos of just some Hot Wheels. But now I know of my obligation to take photos -- and in fact, the Tuesday project may extend into Wednesday if I'm unable to get good enough pictures on Tuesday.

Now in order to protect student privacy, I won't post photos with students' faces on the blog. Again, with the mousetrap cars, I took photos of the finished product after school, so there were no students in the pictures. With this project though, all the action is with students present, so it might be impossible to avoid identifiable student photos. I'll submit photos with students' faces to Illinois State, but not to this blog.

If I do find any photos I can post on the blog, I might actually go back and edit my blog post of Sunday, September 18th to include the pictures. I figure that readers of the "A Day in the Life" project may appreciate the photos.

Meanwhile, my seventh and eighth graders will get a different activity before the Dren Quiz -- one where we discuss the issue of fairness. Again, as I mentioned in that weekend post, my goal this year is to become the ideal classroom manager -- one in whose classroom behavior issues are settled with lots and lots of warnings but seldom anything beyond.

Sometimes it appears that students don't want to behave in my classroom because they perceive me to be an unfair teacher. Tomorrow's activity gives the students an opportunity to address the ways in which I am unfair. I'll pass out sheets of paper, and students can anonymously tell me what they think I can do to become a fairer teacher.

One fear I have is that I'm not treating the genders equally -- especially with the eighth graders. This class consists of 14 students, nine of whom are female. The top student in the class is a girl, and most of the male students are in the middle, but there are many girls struggling near the bottom. I want to make sure that the girls aren't having trouble because of some subconscious bias on my part.

If the students reveal to me that sexism is a problem in my class, it may be a good time to bring out Danica McKellar's books and remind them that girls can be great at math and science too. (This is not the same as bringing up Mark Bauerlein's book about our generation, since the focus is on what students can do, not what they can't.)

After the survey, I then reveal my own proposed fairness plan. As I've said before, under my plan, the students will earn minutes for good behavior -- and these minutes can be used for the next Illinois State project. I could tell my students my plan -- or better yet, I can sing it:


A minute for the warm-up,
If everyone will try it.
A minute for the call-up,
If everyone is quiet.
Show me the numbers!
No food, another minute.
And after P.E.,
No phones, two more minutes.
Show me the numbers!
Show me the minutes!
Show me the numbers!
Show me the minutes!

A demerit when you chase,
Someone 'round the class.
A demerit when you scream,
When you're a pain in the back.
Show me the numbers!
Demerit for your phone.
Demerit if you disrupt,
Three and then phone home.
Show me the numbers!
But don't show me demerits!
Show me the numbers!
But don't show me demerits!

Oh yes -- I know that no one actually calls them "demerits" any more, but it sounds better in song. In practice, I'll probably say "three strikes." Notice that "Show Me the Numbers" is actually the name of the current module, but the song has nothing to do with the project.

In my post over the weekend, I wrote that I wanted to focus more on positive interactions with my students rather than negative interactions. I did talk with those two misbehaving sixth graders during coding class today -- reminding the girl that if she succeed in Foldable note taking, she can do better in the class overall, and telling the boy how to pass his 10's Dren Quiz. But I'm not sure how effective my pep talks were -- after school I saw those same two students in the office. Apparently they had gotten into another heated argument and started attack each other during the after school program.

By the way, what was I doing in the office after school anyway? I was picking up more Illinois State texts, of course. I've mentioned before that I'm short a few texts for my sixth and seventh graders -- but instead of delivering the missing texts, Illinois State sent us a whole new set of books. These are labeled "Student Journals," but they look hardly any different from the traditional texts!

My next post will be Wednesday.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

MTBoS A Day in the Life Project: September Reflection

Because today, September 18th, falls on a Sunday, I am posting and responding to Tina Cardone's five reflection questions.

1) Teachers make a lot of decisions throughout the day. Sometimes we make so many it feels overwhelming. When you think about today, what is a decision/teacher move you made that you are proud of? What is one you are worried wasn’t ideal?

I think that the best decision I made during the first 22 days of school was to include a music break as part of my daily lesson. As I wrote in my First Day of School (August 16th) and August monthly posts, I try to sing a math related song three times a week. This motivates the students to want to sing along -- and by learning the words, they are learning math without realizing it. One of my most popular songs is the one I mentioned in my August monthly post, Count on It. Music break is ten minutes out of an 80-minute block -- but as an incentive, I extend the break to 15 minutes if the students are singing along.

As for the worst decision I made -- well, the field trip to the LA County Fair was two days ago, and so it's still fresh on my mind. There were a number of poor decisions I made on that trip. I know that this isn't supposed to be a Day in the Life post, but here is a brief overview of my field trip:

10:00 -- We arrived at the fair. All groups -- including mine of half a dozen sixth graders, five boys, one girl -- walked through the Jurassic Planet exhibit. My students were hungry and wanted to eat their lunch, but I tell them that all groups would eat near Mojo's Wild and Crazy Island.

12:00 -- The students eventually spent all of their money on the Extreme Thrills tickets. Since all of the other rides were now open, we walked towards the Carnival section -- only to find out that all of the rides require purchasing tickets. The kids kept walking hoping to find a free ride, but we didn't.

2:00 -- As we get ready to board the bus to leave, I met my Support Staff aide, who had a small group of sixth graders of her own. She told me that her group had taken a tram to the farm area, rode a few extreme rides, and still had money left over for the carnival rides!

At that point, one of my group members proceeded to blame me for giving them such a miserable day at the fair -- even though I wasn't the one who wouldn't let them ride. (That would be the carnies who told them that they needed tickets to ride.) On the other hand, he had a point, as there actually were a few things that I could have done to improve my group's experience at the fair.

Until I arrived, I didn't even know that there was a tram. That was something I should have looked into ahead of time -- when I was doing research for my song "Meet Me in Pomona, Mona." Finally, I should have found out that all of the rides require tickets -- perhaps if I'd told my students this, they would have saved money for the Carnival section.

2) Every person’s life is full of highs and lows. Share with us some of what that is like for a teacher. What are you looking forward to? What has been a challenge for you lately?

Well, for a while I had been looking forward to the fair. Now I am looking forward to some of the projects that I will be teaching soon. Many students enjoyed the first project from the Illinois State STEM text (that I mentioned in my PD post, August 12th) -- building mousetrap cars. In the third project, we will return to the mousetrap cars and add string to propel them forward.

As for challenges -- well, in many ways, the fair field trip is a microcosm of the problems that I've been having in the classroom. I don't have a strong teacher tone -- one that makes students think, "I'd better do what he says right now." Instead, everything I say ends up either a weak tone or a yell. So the students didn't listen to me when I told them to stop spending money on the Extreme Thrills.

Some of the things I say in the classroom invite arguments. For example, this week before I gave my seventh graders a "Dren Quiz" (basic skills quiz), I told them about Mark Bauerlein's disparaging name for our generation. One girl told her mother that I had insulted her directly, and the mother walked up to me and asked me why I would call a 12-year-old girl by that word. I informed her that I was referring to our generation, not her daughter. Still, my words led to an unwanted argument.

3) We are reminded constantly of how relational teaching is. As teachers we work to build relationships with our coworkers and students. Describe a relational moment you had with someone recently.

I'm actually thinking about the two students who had caused the most trouble at the fair. As it turns out, I actually had to call their parents the day before the fair due to problems in the classroom. And for one of the two students -- the girl -- it was the second time I'd had to call home, for a week earlier I'd caught her trying to use her Foldable notes on the general quiz. I'd forbidden notes on the sixth grade quiz because the quiz should have been so easy.

She cheated by trying to use her Foldable notes on a quiz. This means that she must have done a great job taking the Foldable notes! And indeed, she did -- many of the other students had parts of their notes missing, but this girl's notes were complete. So the positive thing I can say tomorrow is that she's a great note taker -- and when she stops chasing and hitting others and focuses in class as much as she did on her Foldable, people will like her more.

I also want to find something positive to say to the other disruptive student -- the boy. I know that this will be more of a challenge, since he didn't even pass his Dren Quiz. Perhaps I can help him prepare for his next Dren Quiz, and that will be a positive for him.

4) Teachers are always working on improving, and often have specific goals for things to work on throughout a year. What have you been doing to work toward your goal?  How do you feel you are doing?

I believe that on the ideal classroom management plan, the most important step of the discipline hierarchy is the first step -- the "Warning." The ideal classroom manager gives many warnings throughout the period, and these warning are sufficient to get the students back on task. The other steps on the hierarchy are seldom reached.

So I will stop trying to inspire my students to telling them about Bauerlein, as this leads only to heated arguments. Instead, I will just remind them only that they are taking a "Dren Quiz" -- a "dren" being a reverse-nerd (who lacks basic math skills). Only after they pass it do I tell them what they've accomplished -- how knowing basic skills will lead to future success.

In short, my goal is to become the ideal classroom manager who can get the students to follow the rules quickly without arguments.

5) What else happened this month that you would like to share?

The big thing for me to mention this month is the Illinois State text. As I wrote back in my August PD post, the Illinois State text is a project-based curriculum. We've already completed the first project, "The Need for Speed" (mousetrap cars), and this past week I allowed my seventh and eighth graders to work on the second project, "Show Me the Numbers," where students measure how far various objects with wheels, such as Hot Wheels toy cars, travel in five revolutions. I didn't do the project with the sixth graders due to bad behavior -- in particular, the students actually stole from my desk some of the Hot Wheels to be used in the project! I didn't think the sixth graders deserved to work on a project after stealing some of the materials.

Well, here's the thing -- it's not as if Illinois State simply delivered the text and project materials, and teachers can do whatever we want with them. On the contrary, representatives from Illinois State and curriculum developers (from England!) continually inspect us to see whether we are implementing the curriculum fully. We are required to submit a report every two weeks showing them which projects we've done in the classroom.

Notice that my Learning Module pacing plan mentioned in my August PD post already fits this -- I'll do projects once every ten school days, which aligns with the biweekly reports to Illinois State. The problem is that I'm not supposed to skip projects due to bad behavior -- the projects aren't the dessert, for they are the main course. Indeed, according to the curriculum developers, students are less likely to misbehave if they are doing something fun, and so my response to behavior problems should be to increase the time spent on projects, not decrease it!

I'm considering having a behavior plan where the class works towards project time -- say each class starts with 10 minutes, then I add minutes whenever the class is quiet or behaves. When the class reaches 50 minutes -- the length of a class period on Wednesday -- then the students will have that entire period to work on the third project (the return to the mousetrap cars).

But according to the curriculum developers, I must give the projects no matter what. Well, that's OK, for the minute count is rigged in the students' favor. It will be easy for the students to earn minutes, and even if they fall short of 50 minutes, I'll just give a short Warm-Up or Exit Pass that will take up the difference in time, and they can have the rest of the time for the project.

My next monthly post for "A Day in the Life" will be Tuesday, October 18th.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Field Trip to LA County Fair (Day 22)

In case you haven't figured it out by now with the song I wrote earlier this week, yes, today we go on a field trip to the LA County Fair in Pomona.

By the way, since the original song Meet Me in St. Louis has a second verse, I decided to add another verse to the song I wrote this week. Here is the full version:


First Verse:
When Mona came up to the school, as she sat,
She hung up her coat and her hat.
She gazed around, but no teacher she found,
So she said "Where can the class be at?"
She remembered the noted, she flipped,
She saw it was a permission slip.
It said, "Hear, hear, it's too slow to learn here,
So let's go on this crazy field trip.

Meet me in Pomona, Mona,
Meet me at the fair.
Don't tell me that I'll learn science,
Any place but there.
The barn will have goats and worms soon,
Kangaroos at the crazy lagoon.
Meet me in Pomona, Mona,
Meet me at the fair!

Second Verse:
To the fair Mona wanted to go,
To see the monkey named Mojo,.
Peacocks and giraffes and a whole lot of laughs,
But how to get there she didn't know.
"What, Mona," the janitor said,
"The bus will leave just ahead,
"What good is that?" Mona said, "Read that,"
And the janitor smiled as he read:

(Repeat Refrain)

Obviously, there isn't much math for me to write about today. But there is a little bit of science, since today we really do see some of the animals I mention in the song, including giraffes and Mojo the monkey, but unfortunately my group of half a dozen sixth graders never make it to the barn. As I wrote earlier this week, today's field trip provides a little bit of Life Science for my seventh graders (so I hope those groups get to see all the animals).

I might as well keep this post relatively brief, since I must prepare for my big monthly post on Sunday the 18th for "A Day in the Life." Speaking of which, here is a link to Matt Baker, who's monthly post is scheduled for today, the 16th:

Unfortunately, as of the time of this post he hadn't made his September 16th post yet. (Pythagoras was a nerd, really? Well, I guess if he was a nerd, he must have been the first nerd!)

Baker did recently make his First Day of School post:

As it turns out, Baker is a New York high school teacher. He teaches both Algebra II and a special IB (International Baccalaureate) class for seniors. He began his IB classes with a "Three Act Lesson," which refers to the ideas of Dan Meyer, the king of the MTBoS.

My next post will be my own monthly post, Sunday, September 18th, a day of reflection.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Learning Module 2: Show Me the Numbers and Quiz #1 (Days 20-21)

Learning Module 2 of the Illinois State text is called "Show Me the Numbers." Recall that the first four modules are identical in all three grade-level texts.

In this project, students are to take wheels of various sizes and shapes. They measure how far the wheel goes from one to five revolutions, and then display the information on a graph. And so just as the first module has them practicing tables, the second has them practicing their graphing.

Today I decide to do the project only with eighth graders. This is because the sixth graders are having some major behavior issues, and the seventh graders meet only for music on mixed-up Wednesdays. I have only two types of objects with wheels -- some small Hot Wheels and some larger toy cars that I purchased at the 99 cents store for a quarter each.

Again, the reason for doing projects is that it's always more interesting to record data and graph it than it is to just to graph some meaningless numbers. This is why I hope that not allowing the sixth graders to participate will be an effective punishment -- I tell them about all the fun the older students are having and they're missing because of their behavior.

As it turns out, the Hot Wheels are sized such that after five revolutions, the car will have traveled a little less than ten inches. So each revolution is about two inches, and the students end up graphing the points (1, 2), (2, 4), (3, 6), (4, 8), and (5, 10) -- in other words, the equation y = 2x. If the students are using the centimeter side, then five revolutions are almost 25 centimeters, and so the points end up being (1, 5), (2, 10), (3, 15), (4, 20), and (5, 25) -- the equation y = 5x.

The bigger cars are a little harder to measure. I believe that five revolutions are supposed to be about 35 centimeters, so the points should be (1, 7), (2, 14), (3, 21), (4, 28), and (5, 35) -- in other words, the equation y = 7x. But the problem is that the students often placed the back wheels at zero but measured the distance from the front wheels. The length of the car is about 10 cm, and so the graphed points were closer to (1, 17), (2, 24), (3, 31), (4, 38), and (5, 45). But this is no problem -- now the students are graphing linear equations like y = 7x + 10 that don't pass through the origin!

One group finishes quickly, and so I decide to have them use the mousetrap cars from Module 1 as a third set of wheels to measure. The mousetrap cars have three wheels -- one tiny wheel in front and two larger wheels in rear. I tell this group to measure using the larger rear wheels, since the front wheel will probably give a graph much like that for Hot Wheels. As it turns out, five revolutions using these larger wheels are almost two meters! So the graph ends up being (1, 40), (2, 80), (3, 120), (4, 160), and (5, 200). I tell the students to graph them on the same set of axes -- so if the graph is just large enough to graph (5, 45) from the previous car, it can barely show (1, 40).

The plan is for the seventh graders to perform the project tomorrow. The sixth graders will still make a graph -- except it's using the older kids' data, since they won't be allowed to use the toy cars.

In fact, the next page in the sixth grade traditional text after is a graph for some strange reason. Out of the blue, the students are asked to graph y = x + 5 and y = 7x. So today, I have the students graph the equation y = x + 5 as an introduction to graphing -- that is, I told them all about what the x and y-axes are as well as the origin.

I don't have time to show them y = 7x today -- but then again, tomorrow I'm giving them the data from the toy cars, and hey, isn't one of them y = 7x (if measured from zero correctly)? So in the end, I really am having them graph y = 7x from the text!

Recall that on Wednesdays, I give my eighth graders a science period. Today I decide to go to the next physical science lesson from Sarah Carter, on scientific notation:

Some students figure out the order quickly after just one hint -- when I tell them that if the exponent is positive, the number is greater than one. Oops -- I probably should have done what Carter suggested and had a second set of cards ready for them.

Today is a two-day post, so let me give my plans for tomorrow. It's an assessment day -- eighth graders get a General Quiz, seventh graders get a Dren Quiz, and sixth graders get a test (after we finish graphing). The eighth grade test will be on converting rational numbers from decimal to fraction form and back -- and includes one question where they must name an irrational number.

Each day, I will continue to link to the "A Day in the Life" poster assigned to today. Again, there are many middle school teachers participating, but the poster for the 14th is a high school teacher -- in fact, it's none other than Tina Cardone, the creator of the "A Day in the Life" challenge. Here is her post for September 14th:

Cardone writes that she gives her Honors Algebra I students a "challenging puzzle" -- it took me a while to figure out that she's referring to the famous "four fours" puzzle, where one tries to write the numbers from 1 to 100 using four fours.

Also, I think it's interesting that Cardone has even fewer students than I do -- just 60, which must be a rarity at a public high school such as hers.

My next post will be on Friday.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Student Assessment Page (Day 19)

Well, I'm officially a part of the "A Day in the Life" MTBoS blog challenge. But there are a few things that I want to point out about this challenge.

First of all, I chose the 18th as the date of my monthly post. I first stumbled onto this project on September 7th, so I was hoping that the 7th would be my date. But as it turns out, not only is the 7th already taken, but so are all dates from the 8th through the 17th. Again -- that's what I get for arriving late to the party. And so I chose the next available date after today's date -- the 18th. If I want to be included in the final project, I had to select a day that isn't already chosen.

Going back in time, this change means that August 18th -- unlike August 7th -- is past the first day of school, which means that my first monthly post should be for August 18th, not September 18th. To rectify this, I went back and edited my post in order to conform to the challenge requirements. Notice that August 18th was the third day of school -- as well as my first skipped day, since I don't post on school days that are multiples of three. So I had to go back to August 19th (Day 4) and edit in "A Day in the Life" for August 18th.

I also decided to go back to edit my August 12th post, which is supposed to satisfy the "week before students arrive (a PD day)" challenge requirement. As I wrote earlier, this post contains several pages of links (to other MTBoS members) before I finally mention the PD day. This is unacceptable for a post that's to be included in a book, so I indeed edited out all the links.

And so I submitted three posts -- August 12th (a PD day), August 16th (Day 1), and August 18th (my monthly post, which also happens to be Day 3) -- directly to Tina Cardone, the challenge leader. Here is a link to the edited versions of the three submitted posts (actually I left the post on the 16th intact):

A PD Day
Day 1
August 18th (Day 3)

Looking ahead, it turns out that the 18th is a great choice for my monthly posting day. Notice that the 18th doesn't fall on a Monday for a full year -- not until September 18th, 2017, after "A Day in the Life" is completed. Monday is my worst posting day, since the coding teacher takes over. I doubt that Cardone and the other readers want to see "8:25 -- I watch the coding teacher arrive to teach the seventh graders, 10:05 -- I watch the coding teacher arrive to teach the eighth graders," and so on.

On the other hand, notice that my next monthly posting day -- September 18th, 2016, happens to fall on a Sunday. This, at first glance, would seem to be worse than Monday, since on Sunday I won't even be watching anyone teach.

But Cardone actually provides us with five special Reflection Questions, and recommends that we answer those questions instead when our chosen day falls on the weekend. Of course, there's nothing stopping me from answering the Reflection Questions in a Monday post, but there's less time. In short, Monday is the worst of both worlds -- I don't actually teach anything, yet I must go through the motions, thus taking time away from the Reflection Questions.

Oh, and by the way, I usually don't post on the weekend, especially not during the school year. And yes, I know that my "August 18th" post is actually dated the 19th, but that was before I knew about the challenge. From now on, I want to post on the actual 18th of the month to avoid confusing the challenge readers. So expect a rare weekend post on Sunday, September 18th.

For now, let's leave the challenge with a link to one of the other participants. Since today is the 13th, here's a link to Kit Golan, the blogger who chose the 13th as his monthly posting day:

Golan teaches at a New York middle school -- that's right, middle school! Actually, a quick glance at some of the other participants reveals a few other middle school bloggers. That's what I like about these MTBoS challenges -- before them, I had all sorts of trouble finding middle school blogs.

Golan writes that for years, he taught only eighth grade, but now he has both 6th and 7th graders. He writes that he works at a small school that is co-located with another school. This sounds just like the situation with my own charter school -- except it appears the California equivalent of his school would be a magnet, not a charter. Unlike me, Golan doesn't have a support staff aide, but he does have a student teacher.

As of the time of this post, Golan hasn't written his September 13th post, but here's a link to his special First Day of School post:

In this post, Golan writes that his first day is focused on procedures, including a paper-passing procedure that comes from the Wongs and their The First Days of School book. It's a bit confusing though, since so many students arrive and leave at different times.

By the way, here is a link to where Cardone's finished project will eventually go:

So far, none of the posts I submitted have appeared here yet.

Okay, that's enough about MTBoS challenges. Today is the final day of Learning Module 1. With my younger students, I check their foldable notes. For the eighth graders, I will check the traditional texts to see how many pages they have filled in. They should have reached the last page of the current lesson in the traditional text, labeled "Student Assessment."

The main thing I want to mention in this post is my song for Music Break. Coming up with all of the various songs that I sing for music break is quite difficult. As I've written before, I first use a random number generator and convert the numbers into notes, then I come up with a song that both fits the notes and describes what we are learning in math or science.

Now consider the two songs that seem to be the most popular with the students -- Fraction Fever and Count on It. These songs were also the two easiest for me to come up with. The tune of Fraction Fever came from an old computer game -- even though the song has no lyrics and I hadn't heard the tune in over 20 years, it's still easier to add lyrics to a tune that has already been created. And of course Count on It was even simpler, as the entire song comes from Square One TV, so all I had to do was find the song on YouTube and the lyrics from a fan of the old TV show.

Because of this, there will be some days when -- rather than attempt to invent a tune and lyrics from scratch -- I will sing a parody of an established song during my Music Break.

Parodies of popular songs changed for math or science are quite popular. I've mentioned before that several artists have changed Rebecca Black's Friday to "Pi Day," and of course there are also several versions of "American Pi."

For today's parody, I have chosen the classic Meet Me in St. Louis, Louis, My version will change "St. Louis" to "Pomona," because my song will refer to the LA County Fair that takes place in the city of Pomona every September.

At first, I just wanted to repeat the last two syllables, "Meet Me in Pomona-mona," as this directly parodies "St. Louis, Louis." But as I observe the lyrics of St. Louis (in preparation for parodying them), I notice that the second "Louis" is actually a person's name. Fortunately, "Mona" is also a person's name, so the title stands at "Meet Me in Pomona, Mona." In this song, I'm telling an imaginary girl named Mona about all of the science she'll learn by going to the fair. Some of the things that Mona sees at the fair come from the following link:

And here is the parody:


When Mona came up to the school, as she sat,
She hung up her coat and her hat.
She gazed around, but no teacher she found,
So she said "Where can the class be at?"
She remembered the noted, she flipped,
She saw it was a permission slip.
It said, "Hear, hear, it's too slow to learn here,
So let's go on this crazy field trip.

Meet me in Pomona, Mona,
Meet me at the fair.
Don't tell me that I'll learn science,
Any place but there.
The barn will have goats and worms soon,
Kangaroos at the crazy lagoon.
Meet me in Pomona, Mona,
Meet me at the fair!

One thing notable about this song is that, as a science song, the focus is obviously on the animals (and plants) that people can see at the fair. This hopefully will help out my seventh graders, who ought to be focusing on Life Science this year. The science I'll teach them is limited to the projects that appear in the Illinois State text, which seem to be heavier on Physical Science than Life Science.

At the end of the lesson, I give the eighth graders an Exit Pass based on the page that comes right after the Student Assessment Page -- a repeat of the introduction about how some mathematicians were upset to find out that some numbers are irrational. And so my Exit Pass directed the students to write about the discoverer of the irrationality of sqrt(2) -- Pythagoras. One student did remember my story about how he killed the person who gave away the secret. But as the students are still struggling to convert between fractions and decimals, and so I spend more time making sure they can convert than talking about the specific Pythagoras proof.

Well, let's find out how popular my "Meet Me in Pomona" song turns out to be!