Saturday, December 27, 2008

Good Bye Craps

Alternate title: Probability, Why Have You Forsaken Me?

Throughout my adulthood I have been an infrequent patron of casinos. As in, maybe once a year. It made me feel a little dirty, but I found a game that was fun, social, and that I could reliably win, or at least not lose much.

I had many justifications! I had math, for one. I didn't mindlessly feed my quarters into the loud, blinky machines with the terrible house advantage. I didn't sit down at a blackjack table, barely understanding the game, begging the dealer to relieve me of my chips, the sooner the better.

I played probability, not possibility. I played a game that had nothing to do with luck! Every event an independent event! The lowest house advantage in the house! Still more likely to lose my money than not, of course, but the least likely! Barely likely!

For around six years, this worked out fine. Sometimes I would lose a small amount, say less than $30, but I rationalized that a couple hours of entertainment was a fair trade. More often, I would come away ahead by $50 or $70. Soooo smug I was.

Well 2 winters ago, disaster. I walked away from Turning Stone $200 poorer. That stung. So much that I didn't go back last year.

This year I was feeling confident enough to give it another go...but...pffft. At first I wasn't going to play because the lowest table minimum was $10. I prefer $5...at least if you lose money there, you do it slowly. But, since I was there, I felt silly for not playing at all...and 45 minutes later had donated $112 to the Seneca Nation.

You win, craps. I give up.

I hope they at least support some decent schools with all that profit.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

T^3: Regents Review Done Right

(Note: This post is part of Teaching Tips Tuesday at Notes from the School Psychologist.)

The documents:
Practice Test

Part I Answer Sheet & Scoring Sheet from June 2008 Math B

Powerpoint of Solutions and Scoring Rubric


In New York they are called Regents Exams, other names in other states, but I'm just going to assume these things are the same everywhere: stressful, inevitable (at least in today's edu-accountability climate), and sharing particular features.

A major goal this year is to spend time preparing for the test itself: format, question type, environment, timing, scoring, calculator use as well as of course the content.

In the three days before winter break my Algebra 2 classes had finished Transformations, and I didn't want to delve into Trig until after break. So, I made my first foray into this explicit Regents Review. I created a practice test identical in structure to a Math B Exam: 20 multiple choice, 12 4-pointers, and 2 6-pointers. I used questions from old exams, except I only chose questions the kids would already know how to do.

Last Friday, they took a whole class period and they just completed the multiple choice. I provided each a copy of the scoring sheet from the June 2008 exam, all official-like.

Over the weekend, they were to complete the 14 extended response questions as homework. On Monday and Tuesday, we reviewed the solutions together and, and I think this is important and everyone should be doing it, I showed them the scoring rubric for each question that we use to grade the exam.

They could see that out of the 88 available points, they would lose a whole point for not reducing (8 + 6i)/2. They could also see that if they could translate a problem into a quadratic equation, they would get 2/4 points even if they couldn't solve it. If they wrote the WRONG equation and solved THAT, they would STILL get 2/4 points. If they could prove a given quadrilateral was a parallelogram, even if they couldn't do what the question asked (prove it's a rhombus but not a square), they would get 2/6 points. They could see that a correct answer with no work shown would only earn them 1/4 points.

I think this little exercise made the point far more effectively than me saying it over and over again: write down anything you can about the problem, even if you don't think you can solve it, or do so correctly.

At the end, they tallied up their points and finally, I showed them the conversion chart from last June (it's the last page in the powerpoint) - what their score would have been had they taken this exam. Students vaguely know that the Regents are curved, but they could see exactly what their 62/88 translated to, and see how many points they would need to pass.

I hope it works! I figure anything I can do to make the details of the test mechanics automatic will help them focus on just getting the math right. And also arm them with a little test-taking savvy so they can eke out a couple extra points here and there. We'll see.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

oooooOOOoo Baaaaybeeee......

My lovely and talented colleague is playing "All I Want for Christmas is You" out her door during passing time. The Mariah Carey version. On repeat. All day.

Related: Kids get ridiculously giggly about a dancing teacher in the hallway.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Flyswatter Game for Identifying Conics

I heard about this game from Rebecca Bell and immediately thought to use it for identifying the equations of conics*. We spent about 10 minutes lecturing/notetaking and then played the game.

The Preparation:
1. Buy 4 flyswatters. (At the hardware store. They are cheap.)
2. Create equations to identify and swat. I used 2 of each of the main types of conic sections.
3. Print out 2 copies and separate them with a paper cutter.
4. Tape them randomly to the whiteboard. I used 2 identical boards, playing with 4 teams, for a large class.
5. Create several rounds of things to identify. In earlier rounds I made it easy, like "a parabola" and later made it more difficult like "a parabola that opens to the left".

Setting up the Class:
1. Divide into 4 teams.
2. 2 teams play on each identical whiteboard.
3. Each team stands in a line facing the board.
4. The first person in line holds a flyswatter and stands behind a line on the floor. (I made "lanes" with the desks - careful to place the front of the lines so that the 2 teams are the same distance from the center of the board.)

The Rules:
1. Stand behind the line until I call out what you are swatting.
2. The first person to swat the correct equation gets a point for their team. Sometimes there is more than one right answer on the board, so you can both get points.
3. If 2 people go for the same equation, the swatter on the bottom wins.
4. If any team members yell out help like "top right!", the round is over and no one gets any points.
5. If you win a point, you pick up a marker and give your team a point on the whiteboard.

I found the best place for me to stand was on top of a desk behind all the lines.

The kids were engaged, had fun, and didn't want to stop playing. Success! A few got so competitive (pushing, jumping to front of line out of turn) I had to put them in time out. That's right. 16 year olds in time out.

I wish I had some pictures but my camera had an inexplicably dead battery that day. Also, if anyone knows how to get a cell phone picture onto the Internets, please enlighten me.


*because I am a big nerd.

What I Am Doing Today Instead of Playing Bioshock*

1. Writing the Level 3 OCMTA exam.
2. Filing half the papers at my desk and throwing the rest away.
3. Cleaning up the house.
4. Shoveling (after it stops snowing).

Maybe I will get to play Bioshock* after dinner, if I'm good.

*Laugh all you want, you wouldn't believe the mileage this gets me with your average 15 year old boy.