Write Angles

April 16, 2006

Tax Time

Filed under: Real World Math,Taxes — Damon @ 6:16 pm

It’s probably time to start my taxes.

I just walked over to OfficeMax and, fortunately, they still had a copy of TurboTax. I used the software last year and it saved a lot of time. (If they didn’t have it I could always do the 20th century thing and fill out the papers by hand and mail them in. But I save so much money in stamps by spending $40 on TurboTax.)

I think I procrastinated a little.

I just hope I don’t run into any complications like I don’t have my W-2’s or something. I guess I could always file an extension–a beautiful thing for procrastinators. (Although penalties might apply if I owe money.) Between the state and feds the government kept over $10K of my hard earned money. (And that is just my day job.) I hope to get some of it back. (A clever student could now estimate what I make. . . . But they would need to use some algebra.)

I guess I should get started and stop procrastinating…Although since April 15 is on a Saturday, the IRS is giving us till April 17. (Hmmmm, that’s the day the Junior’s project is due…the parallels are frightening.)


April 30, 2005

Break from Blogging

Filed under: Presentations,Procrastination — Damon @ 7:49 pm

I apologize for the lack of new posts.

It has been a crazy week. My 11th grade students gave presentations to university professors on Friday. As of Wednesday they did not seem to have anything done. I knew they would pull it together but I did tell them they were giving me ulcers…

I missed school on Thursday to go to the dentist. When I returned on Friday, at 8:00 am, the students were, finally, integrating the different parts of their presentation (to be given at 9:30 am)…

The presentations went really well. One professor said that he probably would not have done such a good job when he was in high school. It’s good for my students to, occasionally, hear such praise. However, they’ll probably remind me all year that the second professor said the work was college level…

Just kidding, I was really pleased and proud of them. (But I’ll deny it if anyone quotes me.)

I should be able post more entries next week. We’re taking standardized tests and I’ll have nothing better to do…

April 24, 2005

School Choice and Diversity

Filed under: Diversity,School Choice,School Reform — Damon @ 6:12 pm

Some people seem to believe that school choice would be the end of the school system as we know it. I don’t really understand the logic behind this fear.

I teach 11th grade math at a very unique school. We teach the core subjects within the context of semester long projects. For example, last semester’s theme was revolution. Each group of students produced a magazine in which each issue dealt with a different revolution. We covered cultural, historical, and scientific revolutions. The idea is to integrate different subjects within one project. (This approach does have its problems. One is that we have difficulty covering all of the curriculum. But I’ll save that discussion for a future post.)

Our project-based approach works well with most of our students. One reason is that students have to apply to our program and be accepted. For the most part they choose to be there. We tend to get students that are natural entrepreneurs.

I don’t pretend to think our school would work well with every student. And that is my main point.

Every student person is unique and learns in different ways. Some students are linguistically intelligent while others are more mathematically inclined. There are, supposedly, 7 or 8 different intelligence types. Combine that with, supposedly, 4 different learning styles and you get 28 to 32 different intelligence/learning style combinations. And if you combine that with…

Anyway, you get the idea. Our students are a diverse group of people. It only makes sense that they should be able to choose from a diverse set of learning environments. It seems that we have moved towards creating a cookie-cutter approach that is, supposedly, good for everyone. Teacher credential programs emphasize the different learning styles, different cultural backgrounds, etc. And creating variety in your instruction makes it more interesting and enjoyable for both students and teachers.

I don’t have a problem with any of that. My concern is this. In trying to make every classroom ideal (and equal) for every possible student it seems we are leaving every real child behind.

I may not be articulating myself well. (I am, after all, a math teacher.) I may even get hate mail from liberal educators teachers’ unions. But I think we should give students, and parents, more choices in where they go to school. More students who are interested in science or math could attend pre-engineering type magnet schools. Students interested in the arts could attend artistic magnet schools, etc. I guess I don’t understand the harm in that.

Would there be schools that lose enrollment because of problems? Yes. If so, should they work to reform their programs? Probably. Does school choice solve all of the problems? No.

But I think it would help.

April 15, 2005

Disney’s Holes as a Math Movie

Filed under: Math Videos,Movies for Math Class — Damon @ 7:50 pm

I am always on the lookout for movies to show in . The history and English teachers are always watching movies. It’s only fair that math teachers get to watch something once in a while… (So if you know of any, feel free to post a comment.)

Holes, based on the book by Louis Sachar, is about Stanley Yelnats who is sent to Camp Green Lake for a crime he didn’t commit. He is really there because of his family curse brought on by his “dirty-rotten-no-good-pig-stealing great-great-grandfather.” (I think I got the quote right. My copy of the movie is at school.)

At camp he digs holes “to build character.” He also learns more about his family curse as well as the curse on Camp Green Lake…

It’s a great movie even without the math connections. But here are some ideas for practice in . (The last questions even lead into the concept of the derivative.)

One question you can ask before watching the movie:

How much dirt is in a hole that is five feet deep with a diameter of 5 feet?


None! There is no dirt in the hole after it is dug… Haha!

Here are some more serious questions to get your students thinking about algebra. If these are too difficult, specify the length of the shovel.

The character X-Ray uses a shorter shovel than the others so he gets to dig smaller holes. Each hole has a diameter of one shovel length and a depth of one shovel length.

If his shovel is 10 percent shorter than the others, how much less dirt does he have to shovel?

If his shovel is 20 percent shorter, how much less dirt does he have to shovel?

What if it is x percent shorter?

For small percentages, is there a linear approximation to the previous question?

At what percentage does the linear approximation no longer work?

As I think of additional questions I will add them. If you can think of any feel free to post them in a comment.

Update: There are other educational resources related to Holes at eduscapes and at The Hole Truth.

Update II: Here are links to Amazon’s pages for the movie:

Full Screen Edition

Wide Screen Edition

April 13, 2005

Carnival of Education

Filed under: Carnival of Education,NCTM Conference — Damon @ 4:00 pm

Yesterday, I submitted my observations about the NCTM Conference to the Carnival of Education. This morning they posted a link to my site. So far, 21 people have followed the link to visit.

It’s really cool and kind of scary that strangers are reading my thoughts. I wonder if I should have taken steps to remain anonymous… Oh well, it’s too late now.

I suppose it will be fine as long as my principal doesn’t find out that other principals want me to move to New Mexico.

By the way, what is there to do on the weekends in ?

Update: As of 10:45 California time, I’ve had 41 visitors from the Carnival of Education.

April 12, 2005

Loitering at NCTM

Filed under: NCTM Conference,Teacher Expenses — Damon @ 7:28 pm

Last week I spent my spring break loitering at the math teachers conference in Anaheim. I learned so much it’s been hard to contain it all. Here are some of my observations:.

I learned that no-one checks your badge to see if it’s counterfeit.

If you stay at the hotels, the daily parking is $16 where if you only drive in for the day it is $8. And if you park in Garden Grove and walk, it’s free. I would think the nightly hotel bill of $160 would offset some of the parking expenses.

I was pleasantly surprised when the parking attendant remembered me from my visit two days earlier.

If you buy a hot dog and soda at the Anaheim Convention Center it costs $9.50. I would think the $180 registration fee would offset some of the hot dog expenses.

I learned that $180 is actually inexpensive for a conference of this size and that the many vendors probably made up the difference.

You can get a lot of free stuff from vendors who want you to spend your school’s money on a lot of expensive stuff.

There are schools that can’t afford the expensive stuff so their teachers spend their own money on less effective substitutes.

I learned that far too many teachers spend their own money on less effective substitutes.

A cheerleading competition was scheduled next door. (I assume it was to cheer on the math teachers.)

People came as far as Australia. (To the math convention. I don’t know about the cheerleading one.)

I met a principal that wants me to move to New Mexico. (I assume it was to teach there.)

I met a teacher from Compton, California that doesn’t think merit pay based on student performance is fair when she has Algebra classes with 40 plus at-risk students while other districts have more motivated classes of thirty students or less.

She told me that she is considering quitting.

I met a surprisingly large number of people who were looking for the boat show. (They must have walked in from Garden Grove and didn’t see the directions.)

I discovered there is free wireless available on the second floor of the Anaheim Convention Center but not anywhere else.

I did learn some math teacher stuff but won’t bore you with the details.

I learned so much I am definitely going next year when it is in St. Louis.

April 7, 2005

NCTM Conference

Filed under: NCTM Conference — Damon @ 9:27 pm

Today was the first day of the NCTM conference for math teachers.

There was so much information it’s going to take me awhile to process it and adapt relevant parts for my . I was hoping to have a ton of new ideas that I could use on Monday. However, it will take some time to adapt the things I learned to my own style and procedures. (Its also kind of unfair to my students to change too much in April…especially grading assessment policies.)

I did have one idea I could begin right away. There were dozens of seminars I was unable to attend. I decided to email the speakers to see if they could email me any of their materials. I’m especially interested in seeing other teacher’s rubrics for grading notebooks, journals, presentations, group work, etc.

At first I was only interested in getting those materials to adapt for my own classroom. Then I realized I could post them on my blog–with the author’s permission of course. I’m not sure if any teachers would be willing to, but it’s worth a try.

April 5, 2005

Personal Microsoft Boycott

Filed under: Computer Software,Microsoft — Damon @ 9:13 pm

I am launching my own personal boycott of . (The lack of capitalization is intentional.)

As my loyal readers know, I’m going to a conference of math teachers this week. I decided to print some business cards. Luckily, my came with a free 30 day trial of the windows office products (Including word, excel, powerpoint, etc.) So I went to the OfficeMax across the street and bought a set of Avery business cards. The packaging cheerfully tells you to use template #8371 in ms word. (I should have known that I was in trouble when word didn’t have a template #8371.)

I finally found a template I liked at Avery’s website. I downloading it and opened it in word. I started to get frustrated as I learned that working with the template is not easy. The clipart I first loaded was not the exact match for the size allocated in the template, nor did word allow me to simply click on the corner and resize. I later learned I had to:

1) Ungroup the parts of the template;
2) Resize the picture; and
3) Adjust the ruler on the side.

This took a hell of a lot longer than it would have if I could have just clicked and dragged.

I finally got a business card I liked and decided to copy it to the rest of the positions on the page. I selected and copied it. I moved the cursor to where I wanted it to go and hit paste. The stupid software, word, pasted it over the previous copy. My blood pressure really soared when I tried dragging it to its new location and word put it somewhere else. (Sometimes it put it where I indicated and sometimes it didn’t. It seemed to follow no logical pattern whatsoever.)

It gets better. After 4 hours of pulling my teeth I finally had something worth printing and the following message appeared:



To make a long story short. It took me about 30 more minutes to figure out how to:

1) Enlarge the image of my business card to almost fill the screen.
2) Capture the image, using the Grab program (that comes FREE with the Mac) and
3) Print multiple copies using the Film Factory program that came FREE with my Epson printer.

Today I learned that I really don’t like microsoft’s Machiavellian monopolies. (Alliteration accidental.) That wouldn’t bother me so much if their software didn’t suck.

So unless I absolutely have to for my work, I am no longer buying any microsoft products.

March 26, 2005

New Powerbook

Filed under: Macintosh — Damon @ 12:26 pm

I just got a new G4 powerbook and it is wonderful. I had forgotten just how superior Macs are.

I’ve used OmniOutliner to start planning my lessons for next year. I’m using stickies to start future blog entries. (I’ve started about 20 entries about my thoughts on various topics.) My thoughts and plans are more organized than they’ve ever been.

It is true that you can do all of that with a PC. But the file management is easier on a Mac, the interface is more elegant. etcetera.

Another way to think of it is:

I drive a Geo Prizm to school. It does get me there, but I would much rather drive a Lexus.

March 25, 2005

NCTM Conference

Filed under: NCTM Conference,Networking,Problem Solving — Damon @ 2:57 pm

Last weekend I received my materials for the NCTM conference. (For the uninitiated that stands for the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics–or something like that.) It should be a wild party. You know how math teachers are when they get together. But remember, what happens in , stays in Anaheim…

I am looking forward to the networking opportunities. There are only 4 math teachers at my site and it will be good to meet additional people and see what they do in their classroom. (Who knows, I might also learn about available jobs… If my principal is reading this, I’m only kidding.)

I’m also looking forward to the seminars. We approach Math in terms of problem solving. The idea is that we give students real world problems and coach them through finding the solution. They develop their own strategies for solving the problem as well as their own understanding and appreciation of the math concepts. I think its called inquiry based learning.

Anyway, I’m still trying to figure out the best way to use this method. After all, I learned the old fashioned way with lectures followed by examples of applications when there was time. There are about 20 seminars related (in some way) to this approach. I wish I could attend all of them but I’ll have to settle for a few.

If I have time I’ll post the highlights here.

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