Sunday, November 18, 2018

Adventures of a High School Math Teacher

Recently I have been struggling with students working in my class, they are pre-occupied with a lot of other things, district championship football, plays, music recitals, fall break, and just about anything but Geometry.  I had the opportunity to have our new Math Coach come and visit my 4th Period classroom, and she saw students acting out at their worst while I was trying to direct instruct.  I thought the entire afternoon went horribly wrong, but she had nothing but positive things to say and assist me with her feedback.

She stated they were all distracted and she could see that in my College Prep Geometry Course.  She also said she saw a lot of the students respected me and to make it an expectation that students work properly.  It really made me feel accomplished that there was a sign of respect in my classroom, as well as her only looking at the good things in my classroom, I did not see them in my own analysis of how the class had gone.  She mentioned taking a moment to speak with them about their abilities and the future I wanted for them.  That Geometry is the content, but the ability to sit and refrain from other distractions, that practice for their future careers, the soft skills they could learn from me, were crucial.  She stated that if I just re-iterated that cell phones and talking out during the middle of a meeting would get students fired from a job, then maybe they would start to listen and practice what good active learning was supposed to look like.

Cell phones have always been an issue, and a challenge she suggested was for 15 minutes of no cell phones.  Then 20 minutes, and build up to the whole class time.  Although cell phones can sometimes be useful, putting education and professionalism first is going to be key in making sure my 4th period can learn at the level they were required to learn.  I look forward to this conversation Monday with my students and I am excited to see how they respond to my request.

Monday, October 8, 2018

CS Education

I started my Undergraduate work, at Saint Vincent College, in Computer Science and Business to teach high school students about computers.  After a round with C+ Programming, I decided that it was not for me, I did, however, enjoy my Calculus class immensely and decided to change to Mathematics Education as my Major.  Upon college graduation, I started teaching at an urban high school in 2007 and taught all Algebra 1 courses during my first three years, then Geometry, then Algebra again, Algebra 2, and now Geometry for the past 4 years.  While creating course material that I felt was relevant for my students I came upon some teaching material involving Scratch Coding.  From there I have found a love for computers and computer education again.
Saint Vincent College,
Latrobe, PA

I recently just finished coursework to complete my Plus 30 to advance the tier placement in my career, I had my Masters in 21st Century Teaching and Learning, through Wilkes University, completed in 2011, and did not realize the potential to having more credits under my belt.  I have been working hard to update my learning, and personal style to teaching, through courses in multiple ways, first through Learner's Edge where I completed a set of courses that gave me a certification (from their own personal certifications, not a PA State Cert.) in the area of Information Technology Specialist.  Through this set of courses, I decided it would be wise to get the state certification work on my Plus 30 and my eventual Plus 60 while adding more weight to my own personal learning with a second Masters in Informational Technology Specialist.

Bearcat in College
I am currently re-enrolled and going through Wilkes University where I have found the professors and learning modules very inspirational in my own teaching.  I have taken lesson plans and re-created them through use of more online and computer-based learning.   I have used Desmos, Geogebra and even Google Apps to enhance the learning in my classroom.  Through my journey, I have figured out that Computer Science is definitely going to take my own teaching and my students farther than I could have imagined.

Bearcat Teacher
I am starting this school year teaching AP Computer Science Principles and went through a training to learn how to process through the new course.  This will be a big step for me to take towards my goal of implementing more computer science in my school and will make for a huge learning opportunity for not only my students but myself.  In our building, we also created another new course using the text, Where Will I Ever Use This? Volume 1: Algebraic Modeling, using Excel to teach Algebraic Concepts.  The overall goal for our high school is to start creating learning academies within our building.  We have a Freshmen Academy, Performing Arts Academy and a Safety (First Responders) Academy, the academy I would like to start, you guessed it, Computer Science.

I would like to incorporate more courses in gaming, video game development, (since I am one of the Video Game Club advisors for my school) coding language, and possibly the AP Computer Science A one day.  I never thought that switching majors in 2004, would afford me the opportunity to still end up teaching and learning more about the passions I have in my life, computers and technology.

Personal Tech Blog

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Curve Sketching with the 1st and 2nd Derivative

I am a teacher by day, and an adjunct by night.  One evening, while looking out into the sea of college freshmen, during one of my "lectures" I noticed that their faces all had that glazed over look, they were not as engaged and all around looking miserable.  The college students humor me by laughing at my horrible jokes, and will even ask questions when they need, but I did not feel the room at all that night.  Later that week I was on Twitter scrolling through, and found an interesting Tweet by Robert Kaplinsky, "Who ever felt that lecture was the pinnacle of education?! If anything, we should be giving them our best instruction to prepare them."  Although lecturing is sometimes necessary to convey content, it should not be the sole way students of any age are taught.

Rubric: Curve Sketching Rubric
Project Example: First & Second Derivative Test Project

With that in mind, I also remembered that last year while teaching the same topic on curve sketching.  I was so excited by my examples and how to do the problems, that after I was done with the class I quickly assigned the odd problems from the text book.  Not thinking that each problem took about 15 minutes to complete, and giving 15 problems at 15 minutes a piece meant almost 4 hours worth of homework.  I did a complete disservice to those students with the assignment, and quickly had to apologize.  After reflecting on the previous year, and thinking about how I wanted this current semester to go, I figured out a new way of teaching the problem set and I feel I came up with a more interesting and collaborative way to practice the skill of curve sketching using derivatives.

Group 4's Project and Discussion were both great! 
Read below for more on the interactions of the group and the language used. 

Students were randomly assigned into 6 groups of 4.  I created a Google Drive Folder for each group and then made some adjustments to the problems from the text and my unit review.  Each group was assigned two functions to use the first and second derivative test, creating the curve sketching information that they needed.  Groups were to find the relative maxima, relative minima, any inflection points, where there was concavity up or down, and where the function was decreasing and increasing.   The groups added comments and edits, gave each other feedback and created a great collaborative final answer for their functions.  They also were to sketch the curve with Desmos, and find all of the points that they solved for mathematically on the picture instead of all by hand.  I had each group member turn in their perspective rough draft to have students show more than just participation in the online document, but the collaboration piece was key.  A lot of the discussions were really powerful with well thought out questions, leading to deeper understanding of the tables and sign charts groups created.    They learned from each other how to successfully apply the derivative tests to the function and what pieces would ultimately help them sketch the graph.  the groups also made their sign charts each in different modes through technology or taking a picture of their hand drawn chart.

Student Sign Charts were interesting and creatively made. 

Another Group's Sign Chart

After everyone had turned in their Google Doc, I also wanted to get a feel for the students' outlook from completing their group project. I created a Google Form and asked several questions about how they felt the project went. A majority of the feedback that came back said the group project was enjoyable, and it helped that students with understanding the process. I also saw a lot of good computational thinking in the form of their summative assessment following our fourth unit, and I think that I will use this project in years to come. My new goal is to create one collaborative or group project for each unit of my course to engage my college learners in a more enriching fashion. Next year I plan to facilitate another learning experience that will enhance my college course, and make the course even more engaging.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

One Hour of Code Initiative

After finishing two graduate courses on utilizing technology in the classroom, I was tasked with one for a collaborative research project.   The project consisted of classmates and I researching a technology trend in education and we chose coding in the classroom.  I was very impressed with the website and all of the resources that are available for free on the site, including their One Hour of Code Initiative.  I had students watch the five minute video from to get them excited to investigate coding.  Students then created a free account and started the process of completing the One Hour of Code initiative from December 4th through December 8th this year.

Following the One Hour of Code program, students were then given a set of Scratch coding activities that progressively increased in difficulty.  Students were tasked with creating an easy set of code that drew four different polygons.  Then they were given a second task to code a random polygon generator using some more complex coding pieces, which also had students create a block (their own code piece) to name the polygon that was generated. For the final project students were tasked with creating coding blocks to draw a Sierpinski Triangle.  (My code is attached below.)  I used these projects in my Saturday STEM Mathematics program last spring, and found that they would be great for school this year as well. 

The whole program took students about 5 days and an average of 5 hours to complete all of the coding projects.  Students were given a great opportunity to investigate coding.  To celebrate and reward their accomplishments with more than just a grade, I created a certificate of completion.  Students who successfully completed all of the projects and showed that they ran were awarded the certificate that they could then use in any resume.  My district is trying to increase the amount of experiences students are given for job and college readiness for PA State Act 339.  So the experiences in coding and computer science will give them more confidence in working on computers, and some confidence with job readiness skills.

Once students finalized the projects, they began to investigate the math and history of fractal geometry, a mathematical definition of the patterns seen in nature.  Computer science has used fractals to create more and more realistic computer generated imagery in video games and movies.  Students got to investigate logarithms to define the fractal dimension and took in-depth looks at how the math has changed how we look at the similarities in nature.  For the last four years, I have been implementing and developing this two week unit before Christmas break. Leading up to students creating a holiday Sierpinski Tree.  I hope to one day inspire my students to investigate fractals even more, because the math behind it is very interesting.