I started my career as a systems engineer working on the Tomahawk Cruise Missile project for the Navy. As a young engineer, I constantly found myself working in teams to solve problems. I rarely encountered a problem that they taught me to solve in school. Almost everything I had to do had to be learned on the job from my team members. Then, I got involved in a small, manufacturing startup in which I was responsible for engineering, product testing, invoicing, accounts payable, accounts receivable, packaging, shipping, marketing and sales. I worked with a venture capitalist, a sales manager, warehouse staff and contracted numerous vendors for production. I've also spent a fair amount of time programming and doing web development. All of these things require mathematical thinking, but usually not formal algebra and certainly more rarely calculus. What all of these jobs have in common is that they required me to work as part of a team. I had to collaborate. I had to learn on the job. I had to use critical thinking and problem solving skills to solve new problems that I had never encountered before. In some cases, I was solving problems that no one had ever encountered before. You can't learn these skills by simply listening to a lecture. You learn these skills by doing. Yes, some academic knowledge is required, but what's most important is how you synthesize your academic knowledge. My hope is that in this class, I will press you, my students, to do far more than simply listen and repeat back to me what I told you to do. My number one hope for this class is that you, my students, learn how to learn. Because that is the most valuable skill that any worker or leader of the future can possess.
My Teaching Philosophy
In teaching, like any profession, there is no new tool or technique that will magically fix all of our problems or improve everything we do. However, I do believe that, in all professions, we should continually re-evaluate the way we do things and, if we believe there is a better way, then we should use it.
I believe that I am a good lecturer. I try to get my students involved in my lectures and I provide practice problems so that they can try techniques out for themselves. But there are so many students and I can't possibly appeal to everyone and each student has their own unique needs. Some students require more challenge and some students need to fill in the gaps. For years, I've read about a concept called Differentiated Instruction, but no one ever tells you how to do it in your classroom. Teachers try to differentiate, we come up with methods we think will work, we read, we go to conferences, but it's difficult for 1 teacher to differentiate for 30 to 40 students.
In the past, I have assigned students watch and take notes on video lectures as homework. This semester will be a mix of learning methodologies (both flipped and traditional) because I am piloting new materials for our district. The textbooks we were using were published in 2008 and the books were getting raggedy. The new textbooks also have more online materials available.
The flipped classroom with it's emphasis on watching videos at home (or reading the book) and taking notes then cooperative learning in class, provides some hope that more differentiated instruction can occur in the classroom. It's partially a time management thing and it's partially a control thing. For years, homework has been an issue with teachers, students, parents and the press. Traditionally, homework has been an issue of great debate. All sides can be argued including: students get too much homework, they get too little homework, they don't understand their homework, they don't have time to do their homework, etc. But, with the flipped classroom, students get a reasonable amount of homework that all students can accomplish (as long as they can watch the videos or read the book). Instead of doing a lot of thinking at home, they just need to take the notes. Here are more specific details:
On some days, students will do traditional homework, solving problems at home. On some days, students watch videos or read at home and take notes. Students are expected to pause and rewind (or read the book or search the Internet) as necessary until they get the gist of the topic of the day. The goal of the time at home is not to actively solve problems, but to familiarize oneself with concepts and vocabulary. The notes are the proof that they spent the time studying at home. If a student can't watch the video, they must read their book and take notes from the book or search the Internet for examples- and there are plenty of those these days. Students are expected to copy down vocabulary words, copy diagrams, write down rules and formulas and copy examples (in great detail). If a student is taking notes from the book, the expectation is that they read and re-read a concept (and possibly try a few examples) to attempt to get a better understanding before class the next day. Students should come to class with any questions they have from the notes.
Students bring their homework problems or notes to class and get credit for doing their homework (5 points per day). Students do get partial credit for partial notes- something is better than nothing. Students' homework and classwork grades, together, makeup 20% of their overall grade.
Homework quizzes. Most of the homework grade will be based on effort and completeness, however, there will be some homework quizzes where students must show that they understand the concepts that were learned previously. Homework quizzes will be worth less than regular homework, but they will affect the homework grade. They are intended to motivate students to try hard to understand each new concept as it is presented rather than waiting until the day before the test. Also, they are intended to provide students with feedback regarding what they understand and areas where they need improvement.
When students arrive in class, they are expected to be ready to work when the bell rings. That means pencil, paper and homework on desk and ready to work on warmup activity. Students will work in cooperative learning groups with 4 students in assigned groups. Students are assigned a set of problems from the textbook or workbooks- this would formerly be known as homework. Students are expected to stay focused on the problem assignment. I will move around the classroom and observe student activity. I will answer questions as they come up. I will provide supplemental lectures and worked out examples as necessary. Students are expected to be prepared to work right up until the bell that ends class.
These are my expectations for students:
- Arrive on time
- Bring all necessary materials
- Submit the homework that is due that day
- Be prepared to work when the bell rings (paper and pencil out, copying problems list from board)
- Stay focused and attentive during whole-class discussion and instruction Start independent or group work promptly, and stay on task
- Keep working at the end of the lesson until told to pack up
- Remain in the classroom for the entire lesson (ie. no drink or bathroom breaks)
- If students finish their work early, there will be "sponge" tasks available for them to work on to maximize learning time
Quizzes and Tests
Students will be given a limited amount of time to complete quizzes and tests. Tests will usually take 1 hour and quizzes will vary in length of time. I may or may not allow students to use calculators on tests.
With multiple choice tests, it may be more tempting to cheat, so I will be making up multiple forms of the test. However, I will design tests in such a way that all students are taking a test with the same level of complexity. I design my tests by starting with the state standards and, after I design the test, I plan the daily activities to ensure that students have been prepared for their tests.
For students that have an overall grade of C or below in my class and receive below 70% on a test, I offer the opportunity for a retake. The retake will not be multiple choice and the maximum possible score is 70%. Also, students must write out their answers to the retake study guide prior to taking the retake. Only one retake is allowed per test. I may or may not allow retakes during midterm or final week. I will not allow retakes for students that misuse their time in class on a regular basis.
Students can make up work that they missed if they have an excused absence. Students must make up any classwork that they missed for full classwork credit in Q. They must also make up any homework or tests that they missed. Students are responsible for scheduling a time to makeup their test. Tests must be made up within 1 week of the absence. Occasionally, I may allow students to work together on a quiz or test in what I call a team test. Students that are absent the day of the test may not receive the same benefit. Also, if I "curve" a test score for the entire class, I reserve the right to NOT apply the curve to makeup tests.
If students miss the day before the test and then show up the day of the test, they are still expected to take the test. If students miss the day of the test and show up the next day, they are expected to take the test.
Multiple Choice Tests and Work and Academic Dishonesty
I still expect students to show all work on multiple choice quizzes and tests. If I find that a student's work does not match up with their answers, I may deduct points from the test or ask the student to retake a different form of the test. If the test results are suspicious in any way, I reserve the right to ask the student to retake any test or a similar version of the test with or without multiple choice answers. If a student refuses this opportunity to prove their knowledge, then I will write up a referral, enter a score of zero and report the student for suspected academic dishonesty.
There will be one test for every chapter and that test will be scored out of 100 points. There will be a test every week or every other week. I may give daily quizzes occasionally. Quizzes and Tests will make up 60% of a student's overall grade.
Midterms and Final Exams
These will be multiple choice. I will be giving students review packages more than one week in advance of the midterm and the final. We will have several days of in class review for the midterm and final exams. Students are allowed to use a reference card for both the midterm and finals. Students are allowed to use a calculator for the midterm and final exam. The midterm is the final exam for the first subterm of my classes. The final is the final exam for the second subterm of my classes. The midterm is worth 20% of a student's grade for the first subterm of class. The final is worth 20% of a student's grade for the second subterm of class.
So, quizzes, tests and finals make up 80% of a student's grade. Here are some thoughts on why I use this percentage.
Q (formerly Zangle) and Grades
I post current student grades weekly- multiple choice tests help with that! Although the overall grade is important, it's the homework and classwork grades that are really important (because students that do not have good homework/classwork habits tend to do poorly on finals regardless of their chapter test grades). Parents and teachers can work together to motivate students to do better on homework and classwork, so we have some control there. We have less control over test grades.
Tutoring and Office Hours I am usually available before school, at lunch or after school if a student needs extra help. Also, I'm willing to answer questions that are emailed to me at email@example.com
Students and Technology in the Classroom
I will expect all students to abide by the district acceptable use policy for technology. I will provide a link to this policy when it is available online. In the meantime, you may contact the district office if you want specifics. For convenience, here are a few of the more important rules for my classroom:
Use technology in the classroom must not interfere with classwork for the student or classmates
Technology must not violate the rights of others students (particularly, no sexual harassment or bullying)
Inappropriate use of technology will not be accepted including: displaying videos or audio that depict violence or sexual activity (I reserve the right to determine what is appropriate)
Technology like cell phones, smartphones, music players, laptops and tablets should only be used when specifically authorized by the instructor
I strongly recommend that every student gets a calculator that would be suitable for use on the SAT. I recommend the TI-83, TI-83+ and TI-84 graphing calculators. Casio also makes a fine graphing calculator. If you can't afford a graphing calculator, then you need to get a scientific calculator that shows multiple operations on the display at the same time. Also, the appropriate calculator should be able to calculate SIN, COS, TAN and LOG. 99 cent only stores sell a fine scientific calculator for $1.99 (yes, I see the irony here).
Petitions for Honors Classes
Over the years, I have had a number of students come to me after completing my Algebra 2 class to ask if I would sign their petition to go into Math Analysis Honors. I am happy to oblige a student who has accomplished the following things while in my class: received A's on almost every test, entered into one or more of the periodic math contests held on campus and comes in outside of class to show me that they care about the math.