Friday, January 22, 2010

A Little Friday Miracle

I have been teaching kids how to calculate the distance between two points for what probably sums up to be a couple of weeks now. I've tried going at it the intuitive way (Pythagorean Theorem) and the formulaic way (Distance Formula), but the kids that weren't getting it, still weren't getting it. Fiiiiinally, through a combination of coordinate proofs and coordinate projects (steeped in real-world application), my lowest-performing kids now "get" how to calculate distances.

It's amazing. Thank goodness for little Friday miracles.

Addendum July 2, 2010: Here is a project that worked well to give the kids some practice of calculating angles and distances. Feel free to use it! I also prefaced the lesson with a little bit of discussion about sailing, and why sailboats often zig-zag across the lake. The kids found the idea that sailboats can travel against-wind very interesting!


In other news, I found out today that I will probably not be teaching Algebra 2H next year, due to the fact that our school is experimenting with the idea of letting one teacher (Mr. C) take his cohort of honors kids for 4 years, all the way through AP Calculus. It's probably for the best, because I want to expand my teaching horizons past the comforts of Algebra 2 anyway. (Even though, to be sure, Algebra is my love.) I cannot tell you right now what I might be teaching instead, because none of it is official until it happens. But, I suspect that I will be pretty happy with the resolution, as long as I end up with fewer than 3 preps*. (A big IF, I suppose.)

Keeping those fingers crossed.

*For you non-teachers: "Preps" are the types of classes that you need to prepare for. For instance, right now I teach regular Geometry and Alg2H, so that's 2 preps. Your number of preps is inversely related to your sanity as a teacher.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Disco Party and Driving in El Salvador

I like themed parties, because I think that the people who actually participate in them take having fun "seriously", and therefore that attitude always contributes to a good party. :)

The past weekend, our friend Andrea had a Disco / "Crazy Accessories" party. Geoff and I have no disco-wear down here in San Salvador, but we decided to do our best to show up in costume anyway. To that end, we made our own disco shirts! It was pretty silly, but we just printed out a picture of floppy disks arranged in the shape of an "O", and taped that to our shirts. ("Disc-O"... get it?) We also dug up some accessories from around the apartment: Geoff's Avatar-3D glasses, my "2010" New Year's glasses, two pairs of suspenders, and my bright striped tie, and we mish-mashed everything together and showed up in good spirits.

The disco party was good times! Afterwards, some of us went on to dance the night away in Zona Rosa, at a bar next to our favorite Jungle. I got to do a lot of dancing -- to electronic music in the basement, to Spanish pop on the first floor, and Geoff and I even salsa-ed for a brief bit while waiting to be picked up. :) It was a great night out!

Next Friday, there will be an 80s party at the Marines house. I'm not sure whether we've decided to go yet, but if we do, I'll have to start planning our costumes now, since it's only 5 days away!


This morning, I drove -- for the first time in years! It was very... needlessly exciting. I already get nervous driving in the States, and here they've got steep curbs and ditches and roundabouts, not to mention impatient Central American drivers. I'm going to keep practicing with the hope that I can soon navigate myself to go to yoga lessons, to start in (hopefully) 2 weeks. Wish me luck!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Encouraging things

I've been feeling pretty discouraged about teaching Geometry. It's not my favorite sub-area in math, and teaching proofs is even less fun than it sounds. The congruence theorems are not applicable to real life, and the kids know it, so sometimes their negative energy brims over despite their niceness, and I feel terrible knowing that it's a reflection of my mediocre lessons.

Well, I'm keeping a positive outlook on it, at least. Teaching something the first time around is always difficult, because you are laboring just to get through the material. It is never until Year 2 that you can actually pick-and-choose from all the topics to make everyday the most fun / efficient that they can be. (I am, obviously, trying to make the class as lively as possible, in the meanwhile. But, it's not so easy when you are working with no Geometry experience under your belt.)

So, it was really nice recently when I got a Facebook message from an old student of mine, telling me that he is absolutely kicking butt in all his high-school math classes because of me. That made my day.

Then today, another encouraging message came from one of my current colleagues. I had taught my Algebra2H kids to sing the Quadratic Formula Song (set to the tune of Pop! Goes the Weasel), and had given them a homework assignment of singing to -- and getting signed off by -- another teacher or staffer on campus. One of the teachers emailed me and told me that he loved the singing, and that one of my kids told him that I am "the best teacher."

Goodness. I have to always remember that teaching is a craft, and that it takes 10,000 hours to get really good at something. That's about 7 years of 8-hour work days, for a teacher of 186 school days per year. I still have ways to go, and besides being patient with the kids (which is my new goal for 2010), I should also be more patient with myself.


PS. I found a really fun visual demo of math with complex numbers when I was researching on the web: in this link, click on "Dimension_6_Engl" in the chapter links on the right-hand side if you wish to check it out. :) It's SUPER FAB!

Addendum July 2, 2010: I created a transformation worksheet for complex numbers out of the concepts in the video -- and it was a hit with the kids! Afterwards, they really understood why multiplication of complex #'s is a rotation, why addition/subtraction of complex #'s is a translation, etc. Here are the thumbnails for the file (it has 2 pages), and you can leave a comment if you want the original word doc.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Winter Holidays

Geoff and I had an amazing trip back to the States for the holidays! Not only did we get to see a lot of friends and family, but we also got to spend some time in the city, revisiting our favorite restaurants and checking out the current Broadway shows -- and we even managed to swing-dance for a hot second! It made us miss being back in the States, for sure, but also helped us appreciate things back in San Salvador (ie. the ridiculously warm weather and things being reasonably priced). In any case, it will likely be a good while before we get to take another vacation to the New York area, so we cherished this opportunity to catch up with everyone.

Since it is costly to fly directly from San Salvador to the States, Geoff and I had decided a few months back to try instead to fly through Guatemala. On paper, that saves us about $200 per person round-trip, which is a kickass deal. But, in reality, the bus + extra nights in a hotel + extra food expenses just about balance out the savings we would have had. And actually, the hassle of traveling by bus through Guatemala isn't worth the savings, regardless of how comfortable and luxurious those busses may be.

Still, Geoff and I thought this particular trip through Guatemala was well worth it, because we got a chance to check out Volcano Pacaya, which had been our only regret from our previous visit to Guatemala. There is a reputable tour group that takes people up the volcano at night, camps overnight, and then hikes up to the flowing lava just before sunrise. But unfortunately, 1. they're not too flexible with their dates, since they need to rally 4 people in order to make it worth their effort to lead such a trip, 2. the boss is kind of an asshole to his employees. In the end, we booked another day trip instead. The day trip only costs $10 per person, plus about $5 for entrance fee to the park and tips for the guides. The afternoon hike, which Geoff and I had gone on, left at 2pm and was supposed to catch the sunset as we were descending the volcano. But, since our group had a few old ladies and children, the group hiked extraordinarily slowly, and it actually worked out to be to our benefit. We didn't get to the flowing lava until sunset, so we saw an amazing sunset right over the lava stream, and we got to enjoy the lava in the dark before descending the hill! (Most other day-hike groups only see the lava in daylight, which just isn't the same.)

The experience was truly phenomenal, and I would highly recommend it. Although, you definitely feel when you are up there, that you are tempting fate. Even as we were climbing the volcano, the local guide pointed out chunks of rocks where lava had flown only months -- or weeks! -- ago. He said that the lava flow changes its direction or location sometimes within a day. Then, when we got to the mini-crater about 200m from the main (top) crater, the hot river of lava was breath-taking. At one point, the rocks near where Geoff had been standing collapsed, and everyone was pretty freaked out from the keen awareness that we were standing on only a thin shell of rocks above a huge reservoir of hot lava. Later, as we got further away from the lava, and we looked back, we could see two different places where the volcano was erupting, and see heavy smoke coming from the top crater. One of the guides told us "no es normal", which only hastened our steps down the mountain.

Geoff and I spent the next couple of days just relaxing in Guatemala, getting over our sickness (which we had acquired in the below-freezing weather of New York) and easing our way back home to the tropics. I posted the complete set of vacation pictures on Flickr: , which you can watch as a slideshow.

Take care! Hope you (whoever and whereever you are) had a lovely holiday season. :)