Archive | March 2014

Learning to be right-handed in a left-handed world

that MADDENing teacher

Image Mr. Left-handed contemplating how to mess with his right-handed Mama.

I know. I know. It is not a left-handed world.

It is most definitely a right-handed world.

Just ask my left-handed son, who has on more than one occasion shared his disdain for the average pair of scissors.

Last year my school district became an Apple district and provided 13″ MacBook Airs for teachers as well as the 11″ version for high school students.  When I arrived home with my prize, my left-handed son, who was visiting from college, proceeded to set up my mouse, etc. to accommodate his left-handedness.

Not having any experience with such matters, his right-handed Mama had no idea of the significance of being made a left-handed Mac-user. During the school year, the only time I knew something was “amiss” was when another right-hander would use my mousepad to help me with something and ask what…

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Percent v. percentage points

that MADDENing teacher

Educators may or may not enjoy mining through test data. Generally, though, if data shows an improvement over previous results, there should be a certain level of satisfaction found in processing the numbers. Of course, the converse is true as well.

Despite the results, once the data has been analyzed, it is time to share the information. In doing so, this math teacher has noticed too often the misuse of the word percent.

In the spirit of positivity, let’s say one year Algebra I was at 60% Advanced and Proficient and the next year the scores improved to 75%. We should all agree this is a 15 percentage point improvement.

It becomes a problem when we want to announce to our public a 15 % improvement when in fact it is a 25 % improvement, which, of course, is even better news.

For a quick review on calculating percent of…

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Riding a Pink Little Pony

This blog post is a result of much thought and introspection and comes after discussions with one of my high school students about his experiences, both positive and negative, as a young Brony

As a parent I would never knowingly or intentionally allow my child into a situation where harm, physical or mental, could or would come to them.

The above statement is one to which we can all agree. It comes to my mind every single time I read about the outrage a young child’s parents feel when their son or daughter has been subjected to peer bullying, shunning, or plain old meanness due to something as seemingly inconsequential as a backpack or lunchbox.


Yes, seriously.

First, life is not fair. If life were fair, no one would care about anyone else’s backpack, lunchbox, or flair for fashion. We would all feel as free as a bird to express ourselves as we wish without worry of negative peer reprisal.

Second, life is not fair. If life were fair, people wouldn’t be mean, especially children. I can guarantee you every single one of us has a negative memory that goes back to childhood and it involves another child.

Third, life is not fair. If I life were fair, children would not have to learn life isn’t fair because adults choose to abdicate their role as a parent and allow a child to be subjected to harm, physical or mental, because the parent thinks the child is prepared to prove a point about something as seemingly inconsequential as a backpack or lunchbox.

Schools are in the people business, if you will. They are filled with imperfect human beings who by most accounts are doing the best they can to educate and be educated. The adult human beings leading the school have enough on their plates educating students, managing the multitude of details, many minute but necessary, and dealing with the reality of keeping the bad people away from the school all while including character education, sex education, and life-in-general education without being required to deal with the preventable provocations of the dark side of human nature that even children are known to display through peer bullying, shunning, or plain old meanness.

So, when you allow your baby boy to ride a pink little pony into harm’s way be prepared for the worst.

Odds are his peers will be mean to him.

Odd are his heart will be broken.

Odds are you will become outraged.

As a parent you should never knowingly or intentionally allow your child into a situation where harm, physical or mental, could or would come to them.

But if you do, when it gets right down to it, you have only yourself to blame.


An Experiment in Learning

An Experiment in Learning

Student led learning

I recently conducted an experiment in learning and with minimal direct instruction  gave my geometry students their choice of six circle properties to present to their classmates with the goal of each student developing a basic understanding of the properties by the end of class.

The students formed teams and spent one hour preparing a presentation plan with the use of 1:1 Mac Airs. The plan could include a PowerPoint, a video, or the whiteboard as well as a detailed explanation of the property, a review question and a quiz question.

While the teams planned, I conferred with students. Most questions and comments were good and showed genuine interest in the topic. I overheard one student say how much fun it was to figure out the properties. (SCORE, right?)

Each of the six 5-10 minute presentations were made during our next class meeting. A few were excellent, most were above average but some were average with one or two leaving a little to be desired.

During each presentation, students were encouraged to take notes that could be used on the unit assessment. Using rubrics, students also assessed each team as well as one another individually. Overall scores ranged from 70%-90% and were weighted as 33% of a test grade in the grade book.

To say it was an experiment in learning is not an overstatement.

There were a lot of teachable moments. Two teams had to shift to a Plan B due to the absence of the team member in charge of the video or PowerPoint. Other teams included students who were absent on planning day but wanted to be a part of the presentation. I have no idea how it happened, but somehow one team managed to present on the wrong property.

As a silent observer, it was amusing to this teacher to hear presenters ask their classmates to be quiet and pay attention. (One presenter even asked me how I did it.)

I think most educators would agree an experiment in learning implies letting go of complete control and allowing the learning to be loud and messy.

But, as today’s learning paradigm continues to shift from direct instruction to student-led learning, the Circle Property Presentation is one experiment we will repeat.

For more information about this idea, please email me at and I will send to you the directions and rubrics.

Feel free to share your thoughts on how to improve upon this plan!