When Admin Listens

Over the last few years, there’s been a recurring discipline issue come up at school. It’s been recurring because, while the rule is clearly outlined, the enforcement mechanism has not been. Last week, enough was enough, and the administration figured out a workable enforcement mechanism.

Before calling the whole school together and telling them what was going to happen, though, they called the student leadership together and asked them what they thought. It went something like this.

Principal: “Hey, we value your input. [A] has been a recurring problem. We want to do [X] and [Y] to fix it. Here’s how that would work. What do you think?”

Various students: “[Y] is a great idea, but [X] doesn’t feel fair.”

Principal: “Hmm, ok. The logic behind [X] was this.”

Students: “We don’t think that’ll work because of these reasons.”

Principal: “Ok. I’m going to keep [X] as an option if the situation doesn’t improve, but for now we’ll just go ahead with [Y]. Any objections to that?”

Students: “No, we’re cool. But while we’re at it, can we talk about this other issue? We have some ideas on how to improve it.”

Principal: “Yeah, we’ve been thinking about that. We’re thinking of doing this.”

Students: “That’d be cool, but we have some other ideas, too!”

Principal: “Those are cool ideas. We’ll think about them, and let’s talk about them more later.”

Our students have often felt that they don’t have a voice and that their suggestions are not listened to. It was very, very refreshing to see administration actively seek out the input of the student body’s chosen leaders and then – this is the important part – change their plans based on student input. Color me impressed.


A Good Reminder

Rebekah Peterson is who I would like to be when I grow up as a teacher. I am always encouraged by the love that she has for her students and the way that she invests in them and encourages them and mentors them. I’m sure she’s a great math teacher, but she’s just a great teacher, period.

Her most recent post (here) was a good reminder, and very timely, with the start of school and a four inch stack of papers waiting to be graded. Go read it. It’ll encourage you.

One Good Thing: Senior Pictures

Today was college day. The seniors did not have to wear their uniforms; instead, they could wear a college tshirt and jeans. They were told to gather in the lobby for a group picture at lunch.

One of my fellow senior teachers and I wandered into the lobby to see them all lined up and grouped together. It occurred to us that, you know, they’re all grouped together, and they’re pretty close to being under the balcony…this would be the perfect time to prank them. But what could we come up with in 30 seconds? And are we horrible teachers because that was our first thought?

Our headmaster wandered by, and we mentioned this to him. “Oh, go get the pitchers from the work room! Fill them with water, and I’ll get them under the balcony!”

We stare at him blankly. Really? You’re encouraging us in this? There’s carpet, and you’re ok with us dousing it?

“Go, go!” he tells us.

We race to the workroom, and go for the pitchers. “Wait, I’ve got a better idea!” he shouts. We turn around and sprint to his office, where he pulls out his paper shredder, filled with tiny bits of paper. We grab it and another bagful as he’s telling us to go up the back way onto the balcony and that he’ll take care of getting them in position.

We sneak our way up, and none of the seniors notice. We back up, out of sight, as the headmaster tells the students, “Ok, for the next shot, I want you to back up and turn….a little more…ok, there. Ready?”

A shower of shredded documents flutter onto their unsuspecting heads, clinging to their hair, drifting about their feet. Screams erupt. They quickly turn into “snowball” fights. The photographer keeps snapping away.

I’m having trouble deciding the best part. A student later told me, “You betrayed me!” “Yes, I did,” I replied. “What are you going to do about it?” “Get you back, of course!” she shot back. That was good.

One or two of our senior boys voluntarily found brooms and cleaned up the mess that they did not cause. That was very good.

But our headmaster, on 30 seconds notice, aided and abetted us in pranking the seniors in a very messy way. No questions, no thinking about it, just playfulness and action. That was the best part.

It was a fun day.

One Good Thing: Outside!

Calculus meets early in the morning, but the sun is finally rising early enough that there’s light outside by the time class starts. It wasn’t raining today, and it isn’t yet an oven outdoors – in fact, today’s weather was perfect. So I told Calculus to grab their notebooks and calculators, and we had class outside. It was lovely. They also focused a lot better, which surprised me.

Oh, and a group of them positioned themselves right by the drop-off line. They showed this sign to all of their friends arriving for the day.

Calculus Outside 4

My precal classes saw them out there and wanted to know if we were going outside, too. One class voted to stay in, but the other voted to go out. It was so nice to spend two hours outside. Also, precal chose to spread out instead of working together, so I could go around one-by-one and answer questions individually and more or less privately. It worked pretty well.

In my off period, a student (who also has an off period then) chose to stay in my class and work. This is the second day in a row he’s chosen to stay. Today he mostly worked, but on Monday we talked while he worked- about video games, comic books, prom, girls, music, sports, you name it. It’s always nice to connect with kids, and I’m grateful that students trust me enough and get along with me well enough that they want to spend their off period in my room.

One Good Thing: Triangles

We’re in the middle of reviewing for the AP exam – AB Calc. We talked about area and volume and how to find the volume of shapes with cross-sections. We’ve worked a lot of problems like this before, so the kids know what to expect.

I throw up an equilateral triangle problem. They groan. “Ugh…triangles!”

“Is there, like, a formula that works for all equilateral triangles to find the area?” a student asks.

“Well, there’s one half base times height…” I reply, not sure what he’s looking for.

“Yeah, but specifically for equilateral triangles!”

“Well, sure,” I answer. I draw a triangle on the board. “What do you think we should do?”

They start discussing. “Well, we could draw in the height and make a right triangle…and use the Pythagorean Theorem…” They eventually get to this: for equilateral triangles. A = \frac{\sqrt{3}}{4} b^2 .

They’re over the moon. “I’m so excited about this!” “Why has no one ever taught us this?!” “This is so cool!”

I’m confused. Very confused. How is this new? We’ve done lots of triangle problems, and it’s the exact same process every time. “Does this surprise you?” I ask.

One student has been watching all this, as confused as I am. He shakes his head. “J, why does this not surprise you?” I ask.

“Because it’s a 30-60-90 triangle. That’s the ratio of the sides,” he answers.

“Or we could do sin(60), also. Which I did teach you, last year in Precal,” I reply.

The rest of the class doesn’t care. “Yeah, but we’ve never done this before! This is so cool! I’m so excited about this!”

There are ten minutes left in class. I decide that, clearly, we aren’t very interested in reviewing area and volume right now, so I just keep going with area of shapes. I remember Math With Bad Drawing’s Recent post on rectangles and area (see here) and go with it.

“You know you can find the area of anything with a rectangle, right?”

They’re hooked. We talk about how to turn triangles into rectangles, how to turn parallelograms into rectangles. They ask about circles, breathless. I ask them what they think. They come up with a couple of good ideas, one of which is the main idea behind polar area, a BC topic. (This is AB Calc.)

So, they learned about area. And better still, they were excited about it. I’ll take that!

One Good Thing: A Student Corrected Me

This happened on Monday.

Monday was my brother’s birthday. He turned 22. When I got to school in the wee hours of the morning, I drew a birthday cake on the board next to the date and labelled it 11000.

Wrong Birthday

As you can see, I typically make the date a puzzle or a problem to solve. Sometimes it’s math the students know, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes they ask about it, sometimes they don’t. 11000 isn’t anything that I’ve taught in class, but I thought they might ask about it.

No one in Calculus asks, or in first period precal. But in third period, Advanced Precal, they notice the birthday cake.

Student: “Who turned eleven hundred today?”

Me: “It’s not eleven hundred, it’s twenty-two.”

Students: “Huh?”

I just smile and keep walking around, letting them work on their warmup. If they were interested, they’d think about it and keep asking after the warmup. If not, they’d let it go. I wasn’t going to force it.

Eventually, a student raises her hand. This student is very tentative and doesn’t always believe in herself, but she’s almost always right. She’s also extremely sweet. “Are you sure it’s twenty-two? It’s not twenty-four?” she asks.

I look back at the board. “Oops. Yes. Thanks. It should be…”

“10110, I think,” my student finishes for me.

Right birthday

So, while I’m not thrilled that I can’t add 8 and 16 correctly, I was thrilled that a student figured out that it was binary, figured out I’d made a mistake, and had enough confidence in herself that she would point out my error.

Oh, and my younger brother is a computer scientist. Thus, binary.