Thursday, February 28, 2013

Everyday Math

I saw someone (I honestly don't remember who) post something on Facebook about how they've gotten through another day without using algebra. Setting aside the fact that anti-intellectualism is one of my biggest pet peeves, I think this is stupid.

When is the last time someone asked you to describe the structure of the American government? Or the meaning of the word "bicameral?" Or the names of the Supreme Court justices?

When have you ever - after you finished school - had to find the slope of a line? (Remember: rise over run!)

Do you still know the types of rock? (Sedimentary... igneous...) Where the faults are in the tectonic plates? Which era trilobites lived in?

What is the chemical formula for bleach? For ammonia? What is an ion?

Does anyone care today whether you know all the plot points of Romeo and Juliet or how to interpret the imagery in The Scarlet Letter? How about whether you have dangling participles? Do you even remember what that means?

If I could go on for hours, I could find something that you learned in high school or college that you have to use on a regular basis, and everything listed above is used by somebody in their daily life.

The thing about high school (and everything leading up to it) is that it's supposed to be similar for everybody, because you don't know yet what you want to do with your life. If they didn't teach algebra to everybody, then some people would not have the option to become astronauts, snipers, graphic designers, math teachers, or anything other profession that does require daily algebra.

If you were the type of student who didn't do well in algebra, then you probably asked at some point, "Why do we have to learn this?" And if you didn't do well in algebra, you probably didn't go into a profession where you use it daily, so you think you're so smart for recognizing that no, not everybody has to use algebra every day. But chances are pretty good that you use something else (history, English, health, home economics or family life or whatever they call it now) that others don't use daily.

So just be glad that some people paid attention in math class and still use that knowledge today... Otherwise you wouldn't have things like cars and smart phones and easy-to-read signs and buildings. Yes, all of those things require some form of math higher than basic arithmetic.

Sunday, February 24, 2013


I made my first library display! The Women's Center is reading Half the Sky and needed a display to help promote the reading and a screening of the film.

Ta-da! There will be a poster on the window behind it once they bring it to us, but in the meantime, I think it looks pretty nice. Here's a close-up of the thing at the top right:

Half the Sky is about women who have undergone terrible things in Africa and Asia, but came out of the situations with a happy ending. So I found some stories that kind of fit that, and connected them with the countries they came from in the Middle East. (Iraq: there were more female candidates than ever in the 2010 elections; Iran: the first Iranian to win the Nobel Peace Prize was female lawyer Shirin Ebadi; Pakistan: Malala Yousefzai was shot for attending school and speaking out against the Taliban, but she survived and kept learning and speaking; Saudi Arabia: the first two female Olympians from Saudi Arabia competed in the 2012 London Olympics, Sarah Attar in track and field, and Wojdan Shaherkani in judo.)

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Mean Teacher

I had to be Mean Teacher last night. I don't like having to be Mean Teacher. I much prefer being Funny Teacher. Or Smart Teacher. Or Wow-I-Get-That-Reference-What-A-Cool-Teacher. I'll even take Mildly Boring Teacher over having to be Mean Teacher.

But I don't really have much of an option sometimes.

Some background information that is relevant to the story: The library classroom has a computer for each student, and a printer. On the regular library computers, you have to pay to print through a system attached to the student ID cards. On the classroom computers, though, you don't have to pay to print.

Also relevant: I'm teaching an English class where, due to a scheduling snafu, they were supposed to come in on Monday, but I'm teaching them on Wednesday, which is the night their assignment is due. What I am teaching them is essentially how to do well on this assignment. It logically follows that they tend to need major revisions to the assignment before they turn it in at the end of class.

Two or three students were printing out their assignments when I walked into the room, which is nothing new; they don't realize they'll be overhauling the entire thing before they leave.

I start teaching, and they keep printing. So I stop in the middle of explaining the wonderful world of How to Avoid Plagiarism (and my incredible PowerPoint, if I do say so myself) to tell everyone that they can print their assignments at the end of class, but now is not the time.

A few minutes later, I have to interrupt myself again to turn off the printer before I can keep going.

The best part is probably that the student who had printed the last page got up and came to the front of the room to retrieve it when it was clear that I was not happy about it. No, wait; the best part was that I had turned it off in the middle of printing his page, so it was half-in and half-out.

I'll give myself credit; my Mean Teacher face must be effective, because there was no more chatter right after that. And I recovered, and went back to being Bad Joke Making Teacher and Helpful Teacher, but still...

I don't like having to be Mean Teacher.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Review Me Twice's 100th Post

Forgive the cross-posting, but I'm excited... Today marks the 100th post on Review Me Twice!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Chalk and Yardsticks

I taught a class this morning and found myself thinking about what I thought about teaching when I was little.

I expected it to include a lot of chalkboard use. If you went to elementary school in a time where chalkboards were used quite a bit, you may recall that getting the chance to write on one was a coveted experience, even by us shy ones. If you were lucky, your teacher had one of those cool chalk holders, and if you were really lucky, you got to use it a couple times.

In middle school, we still used chalkboards for the most part. But in high school, it was all whiteboards. Also exciting, because it still had the same concept: stand in front of the class, write something on the board in different colors, get back to your seat and see what you wrote still up there. Cool. Plus, high schoolers have a thing about sniffing markers. So there's that.

But I haven't used a chalkboard in years. I don't think I've touched chalk, or even seen it, except maybe some sidewalk chalk at Target in the summer. We have a chalkboard in the classroom at the Virginia Beach campus. We won't in the new building, I'm sure of that, and Portsmouth doesn't have one. I want to use it, just once, before we move to the new building. The problem is, I have no good reason to do so. (Plus, I'd probably have to go buy my own chalk, because I'm sure there isn't any in there.)

In elementary school, we had those pull-down maps. Dozens of them, it seemed, and the teacher never pulled down the right one first. We'd be discussing the history of Virginia, and to make a point, she'd go pull down the map for Virginia... no wait, that's the world map. That one's America. Hey, someone point out Virginia. Because I totally meant to pull down this one, to ask you that. Good, it's right there. Okay, Virginia map... there we go. At least once per school year, you'd go to put the map back up, and lose your grip, and it would fly up, making a loud noise and causing the canister thing to swing back and forth well after you started talking to the class again.

Teachers would point to these maps with yardsticks. They made a pleasant, light 'thwap' sound if you pointed enthusiastically enough. You could slide it around on the map to circle an area for emphasis, or to indicate a path, and there was a little 'swish' sound.

I want to point at maps with yardsticks, and write on chalkboards. Is that so much to ask?

Friday, February 1, 2013

Eff- Words

Although they look and sound similar, effectivenessefficiency, and efficacy mean different things. So which one do you use, and when?

Effectiveness is the state of being adequate to accomplish a purpose or to produce the intended or expected result.

Efficiency is competency in performance, accomplishment of or ability to accomplish a job with minimum expenditure of time and effort.

And efficacy is the capacity for producing a desired result or effect. Ha, got you; this is actually interchangeable with effectiveness in most cases. It's the way of saying it that makes you sound smarter (because anyone can take an adjective and add "-ness" to the end to make a noun, but it takes really smart people to know the irregular version).

You can be effective without being efficient. I can cook a large, delicious, complex meal for dozens of people, which would be effective at feeding and satisfying my guests, but it would have taken me all day to prepare, and would therefore not be efficient.