Sunday, November 30, 2008

Bring on the Christmas music!

Happy Thanksgiving!

In the Fort Worth stockyards, there is a cattle drive at 4:00 pm every day - pretty much amazing; all 11 of them.

Above: putting the polo on Sammie (well, Dan is checking the score.)

Here's Sammie's one and only trick! ... She kind of knows the command "sit" but she thinks it means "Run to the tv room!" If you tell her to sit in the tv room, she just kind of stares... but if you tell her to sit in the kitchen, this is what she does.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Dear Lucky One (Reflections on a pond...or high-school math course.)

Dear Lucky One,

As I have just spent fourteen weeks learning the balancing act between being a student and a teacher, an informational source and an informational dumping ground. In this letter, I provide you with some of my best insights. As you read these, note that many of them are invaluable truths of which you are already aware. You may even raise one eyebrow and think, “Really? She thinks I don’t know that?” To that, I respond with a condescending shake of the head. Take special notice of the ones that appear most obvious: those are the ones you need taped to the steering wheel or the bathroom mirror, written at your desk or on your hand. Those are the ones that I forgot about on a daily basis and remembered only after I ignored or avoided the truths somehow, so they are included in your advice.

· Believe in the students first.

No matter what experienced teachers, administration, previous report cards, or your personal beliefs may tell you, you need to believe in the students first. Believe in the students before you give up, and believe in the students even if other teachers, parents, or the students themselves do not. You may not be the only person believing in them, but if you are the only, you are the student’s first. The students may not live up to your expectations or dreams for them: do not see that as a direct consequence of you as a teacher. There is always more that one can do for the students and the course, but we will never reach perfection. Use the students who are not meeting your expectations as one source of your motivation to improve, but do not let those students dictate your attitude toward the course, the class, the teaching profession, or your outlook on life. We are attempting an impossible task – to go to the “lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 10:6), whichever students you view as the lost, discouraged, lonely, or unheard or misheard lost sheep, have them understand and perhaps even enjoy mathematics. The task is daunting, and my apex was realizing that not all students will meet my expectations. I would much rather have some students miss the mark than have no mark or expectations for those same students. Believing in the students is much more important than lowering your standards to fit the lost sheep in your classroom.

· We face a daunting task: students believe in math’s bad rap.

Times it appeared to be okay to like math:

1. As a joke – This is indicated by a smug glance around the classroom and a smattering of chuckles from around the classroom and the student himself or herself.

2. When a difficult objective is suddenly understood – This is indicated by an “OH!” or an “Aha! I like this!” almost immediately followed by a sudden self-awareness of what was just said. Then self-awareness is followed by silence, and perhaps some blushing, depending on who heard the student’s positive attitude toward math.

3. When it’s “okay.” – This only happens on your best-planned, best-enacted lesson. Hours and hours will be put into engaging activities that encompass multiple levels of Bloom’s taxonomy, stopping just shy of teaching your students to save the world. In this case, a few students may admit, even openly, that the lesson, perhaps even math in general, is “okay, I guess.”

Because math has a bad reputation, due to proofs, right answers, a certain brain that American students appear to lack, among other things, it is important for you as a teacher to be excited about math, all areas of it. Being excited for a piece of a lesson will incite students to catch onto your excitement. For example, I gave a very awful math pun at the end of a slideshow lesson. I cautioned the students to not share the answer with other classes, making a very big deal for such a small portion of the lesson. By the third class, students were walking into the class telling me bad puns and mockingly saying, “I know the answer to your joke!” If only the students had realized they were actually excited to get to class, even if it was just to know what the acorn said when he grew up. (“Gee, I’m a tree!”) Excitement is contagious, even if the students do not want to admit it. It is important to like math and to have lessons that you don’t have to pretend to enjoy, but that you actually do enjoy. The students will feed off of your energy and enthusiasm much better than they do your apathy or disinterest.

· Review past course material whenever possible.

Remember the readings you have done reporting ’80 percent of algebra material is new’ compared to ’70 percent of pre-algebra material is review’? They are true. Students are given new ideas – letters as changing numbers? Only if they’re at the end of the alphabet? Constants at the beginning? Adding and dividing and exponentially increasing the alphabet? Greek letters as one number? Greek letters? And students who understood enough to not fail algebra were still placed in geometry. Purposely creating problems that combine algebraic knowledge and geometry offer moments to re-teach and remind students about algebra, along with showing uses of algebra. I learned to go through the algebraic steps to solving geometrical problems, at least the first few times, before skipping over the steps. Students do not learn the geometric concepts if they are focused on the algebraic steps and mistakes. When finding area of a regular polygon, do not take it for granted that students know how to multiply to find perimeters, or complete the algebraic steps necessary to find a leg of a triangle with the Pythagorean Theorem.

· Use technology to your advantage.

Many teachers shy away from the internet because it might allow students to cheat and find answers: don’t succumb to that belief! Students can find answers on the internet, and they might. Use it to YOUR advantage – make the questions a little harder or a little more in-depth. Give students a website to look at; it will really throw them off. They are often shocked when you know what’s on the internet, just like they are shocked when you know the answers to the odd problems are in the back of the book. I also really recommend playing with blogs, wikis, or educational social networks ( If students are provided with time in class to prepare their sites or additions to the class sites, they will spend time learning when they do not realize they are learning. Wikis allow students to edit a main page, and have a history so the moderator can see who made which edits. Blogs are great sources of information; I designed one describing the class projects. Students can click on a “label” that interests them and see what projects fall into that category. is a social networking site, allowing each student to have an individual page and a classroom group or page that all students can edit. It is simple to post word documents, podcasts, or updates with this site, and one English teacher found that a number of students were entering in interesting discussions with their comments on other students’ profiles.

One last benefit to accepting technology: Word’s 2007 automatic formatting is a lot less annoying. Those extra spaces? Better formatting for online work.

· Emphasize that more than one road leads to Rome.

Sure, there are wrong ways to work math problems. But there is typically more than one correct way. If the students give explanations of their procedures, especially if students have differing procedures, then they will see solving math problems is not just about one procedure and one answer. Math is not as cut-and-dry as people like to believe! By pressing for “hows” instead of just an answer, you have shown students the importance of math as a constructed area of knowledge and not just something that pops magically out of the heads of those with the “math gene.”

· Be interruptable, aware, and helpful.

Jesus allowed himself to be interrupted by a man whose son was dying in John 4:43-54. The story does not say what Jesus was doing when the royal official came up to him, but one can imagine that Jesus was not sitting alone in Cana simply waiting for the official. Instead, He allowed himself to be interrupted and I assume it was even without a frustrated sigh or an “okay, but make it quick” qualifier. He was interruptable, and therefore welcoming. He was also aware of the man’s shortcomings, not fooling Himself to think that the royal official was perfect. The first thing Jesus says to the man is, “You will not believe without signs and wonders.” Jesus was honest, not na├»ve, and aware of the sin in the world around Him; that makes His approachability and interruptability even more awe-inspiring, as it does the story’s end: Jesus is helpful. He does what He can for the official, healing the son. Should we go doing everything people ask? No – notice that Jesus does not subscribe to the man’s request of returning to Capernaum in order to heal the son; Jesus heals Him in a way unexpected by the royal official. With preparation and a God-centered focus, we can consistently make judgments on our own actions to best help the students and all we interact with. It may not always be what is asked for, but at the same time, action is taken with what we see as beneficial and helpful. The issues are not forgotten, set aside, ignored, or downplayed, but we react accordingly and provide the help we are capable of giving.

Using a quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Crack-up, I conclude my pearls of wisdom with a grain of salt. After all, it is a single grain of sand irritating an oyster that creates a pearl.

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise.”[1]

[1] Fitzgerald, F. Scott. (1936). The Crack-Up. Esquire, February-April.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

You lack a lot of quality...

Today, in the LAST LESSON I teach the geometry kids, we were having a discussion as to whether I should be their sole source of information for mathematical knowledge. I said no, then gave an example of when I was wrong - (I had told them there were no known integer Pythagorean quadruples, but then we had one in the homework.) I told them I'd expected them to notice it and tell me I was wrong: they enjoyed that.
Girl: "Miss Wolfe, you're WRONG!"
My cooperating teacher: "Name, that's not a nice way to put it."
Girl: "Miss Wolfe, you lack a lot of quality."

Somehow, I don't think those quite mean the same thing. But I did have them playing with anamorphic art today, and some of the students thought it was difficult. Anamorphic art is actually pretty interesting. Click on that link to see a few different things, but you can also just search google images for anamorphic art.

I also got really excited this week about online learning tools. So, if you want to see what's been taking up my time, you can go to That's how I would do-over one lesson from this semester. Also, you can go to and see some project ideas that students could pick from. I'm hoping these sites come in handy, but they're also fun to make.

Last piece of information - a professor from MSU emailed me inviting me to a recruiting day on Monday, December 8th. I'll be able to go! That's promising, and I'm really excited for it.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A little something for everyone...

For my cat friends (and lolcats fans, and Mark especially): Click here.

For people who frequently have to "fix" my computer or use a special, magic touch to turn it on: Click here.

For people who like laughing at dumb mistakes and failblog: Here this time!

For synchronized swimmer friends (slash anyone who did not get this emailed to them by my swim coach): Fake Olympics video located here!

For the pessimists who think musicals don't happen in real life: THIS link does not lead you to Enchanted.

And, for my math friends, HERE!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Today was my last 8-10 pm practice, I think! Starting tomorrow, there is a free lane after school, so I no longer have to practice until 10, come home and eat dinner, and then wake up for school at 5:40. Yay! Swimming is going well too - I split a 59.9 on 400 medley (butterfly) which is, as much as I can remember, the first time I've ever been under 1:00 untapered (= tired).

Then, because we were already in Chicago, I stayed in Chicago for the night and got to MAKE PUMPKIN COOKIES with the Boumgarden family (graduated swimmer now doing Teach for America in St. Louis; he came to watch the meet.) It was amazing - sometimes, I forget how nice it is to relax, have fun, and just eat cookies and icing. Also, seeing John talk about his third grade classroom made me remember that I have awesome kids. Sure, there's a few that wouldn't be considered a favorite, but on the other hand, these kids are awesome. And I'm starting to (tangent here) get the question "what are you going to do?" a lot now. My answer?
"I'm a math major for secondary education."
Pitied Questioner: "oh, so you want to teach?"
"Er, well - maybe? I like a lot of things? Almost everything in my twenty-one years has pointed me directly on the path to nerdy math jokes and knitted cat- sweaters, but I know one thing: I'm pretty sure that I'm thinking I might not want to be a teacher." And a good mentor/friend of mine pointed out that I don't have to pick anything "for the rest of my life." I can just pick for a year, a few years, at a time. So my answer for the future - I am applying to a couple graduate schools for Ed Psych programs, which would prepare me for research. (Similar to what I did this summer, only leading the program instead of tagging along behind.) I am also looking at various non-profit organizations and community development programs that have educational and research-based components. Last, I am waiting until after student-teaching is over to reflect without the stressors of teaching; then I will be a little more decisive and opinionated about teaching, even just for a few years.

Oops, big tangent. Anyway, had fun in Chicago - pumpkin cookies and visited Josh's friends in Lincoln Park to watch their two little girls dedication ceremony at church.

And if you are looking for things to pray for, here's a mini-list:
- finishing up teaching - being excited about it and enjoying it; showing the kids that I love them and the subject of math.
- John teaching - patience, more love, for the kids to respond to the work he's putting into it.
- futures. they're crazy. As for this, I have a quote that I always think of - "God seems to do whatever he pleases with little regard for my schemes, and that is utterly disconcerting" -Winn Collier
- Norovirus to STAY AWAY - Hope College, our main rival, has been quarantined for 5 days due to an outbreak of the Norovirus (I think it's like a really bad case of the flu). No documented cases at Calvin yet, but we've been warned.

And if you're looking to respond, does anyone have any fun ideas about spatial relationships/ 3D geometry? Like 3D coordinates, polyhedra, etc... Short, fun activities that don't take up a whole lesson space.

Me, utterly disconcerted. (in my new glasses.)

Monday, November 3, 2008

Pin the tail on the ...

Today, we taught a lovely lesson on geometric probability. I (er, my mother) had a great idea to play "Pin the tail on the donkey." Making a donkey out of mostly non-overlapping geometric figures is much harder than one might think. But, as I told all the students, "Pin the tail on the cat" sounds much more inhumane and horrific, so we're keeping it a donkey. It went over pretty well; I even got to play once! Also, I told my students that I talked a lot over the weekend (lost a little bit of my voice) and quoted my friends who apparently said, "Miss Wolfe, quit talking!" My students responded with "... Your friends call you Miss Wolfe?" Yes, of course.

This weekend was good, between two swim meets (won one, lost one) and my mom and Grandma visiting. I swam fairly well, better than last weekend, and even went a best time in the 200 fly on Saturday. We also had the swim team Halloween party. I went with Monica, Jordan, and Allison as the Golden Girls. It was enjoyable and I really like my friends, it turns out.

My last point of interest is what I heard in church yesterday. The pastor quoted someone who said, "Mountain climbers are tied together to keep the sane ones from going home." I really liked that quote. It was not the main point of the message, but I took from it the need for friends and a church family especially who keep you moving even when everything around you seems hard. They're not just letting you give up when it looks impossible (and you feel like you're the only sane one). It was kind of a fun metaphor. REACH for the top!