In which it really isn’t

Every 8th grader in the corporation takes the PSAT right around this time each year, mostly as an indicator of high-school readiness; if a kid enrolls in a high school out of district one of the things they pull as they evaluate the kid is the PSAT score. Now, we let them know early and often that this isn’t precisely the best measuring tool for this purpose (and I don’t know who made the decision to start using this test, but I’d like to have a word with them) and that, particularly on the math portion of the test, there’s gonna be some stuff they don’t know.

Now, the thing is, we’ve only been using the PSAT for a couple of years, and last year, I didn’t administer it, since I was working from home at the time. So I haven’t actually seen what the math content on the PSAT looks like since I took the PSAT, sometime in the early fuckin’ nineties. And here’s the thing: advancing your skills in reading and writing doesn’t really work the same way as it does in math. A talented 8th grader can handle a reading or language test pitched at 9th graders, because reading is still the same thing, and there really aren’t any actually novel skills taught after, like, the middle of grade school or so. Math? Math doesn’t work like that. The PSAT is basically an Algebra 1 test, and if you’re not in Algebra 1, the notation alone is going to make the thing entirely incomprehensible. Like, my kids have never seen f(x) in any capacity, and that renders even something like f(x) = X + 6 when X is 10 somewhat incomprehensible. Some of them will figure out (or, probably more accurately, correctly guess) that they can just add 10 and 6 and get 16, but the majority of them are going to look at the function notation and just fall apart, and a whole lot of the questions used function notation some way or another. There were two math tests on the PSAT, one that was meant to be done without calculators and lasted twenty minutes, and another that allowed calculators (which weren’t going to do most of my kids a bit of good) and lasted 40. I glanced through an extra copy of the test booklet (true to expectations, attendance was miserable) and found maybe three questions on the first test I thought my kids might be able to do, and perhaps 50% of the questions on the second test were possible, or at least would be by the end of the year– second- or third-quarter material, for example.

I’m not writing this to complain about the test, mind you; it’s just not going to be as useful to evaluate where an 8th grader is mathematically than it will be to evaluate where they are as readers. I’m writing this because, as a math teacher, I spent the entire test ignoring pointed glares from at least three or four students– not because they were actually mad at me, but because they decided it was funny to blame me for the math on the test being hard and a couple of them just decided they were going to spend an hour staring at me– because it’s not like they actually thought I was responsible for the questions on the Goddamned thing. I just kept telling them not to panic and didn’t worry about it’ it’s nice, for once, to have them taking something that isn’t used to evaluate me or my school in any way. All the pressure to do well was on the people actually taking the test!

Crazy, innit?

In which modernity is stupid

You may not be aware of this, if you’re not a math teacher or a middle school student: did you know you can just, like, Google any equation, and it will not only solve it for you but it’ll actually explain how to do it? I’ve talked about calculators here before, and my policy remains more or less the same: that I allow calculators on any assignment where calculation is not the point, because I don’t want a kid’s issues with basic multiplication to get in the way when they’re trying to internalize the Pythagorean theorem.

This one is … a bit more annoying. I mean, sure, it explains how to do the problem, which is an actual advantage over calculators– it’s not like the calculator is going to walk you through the multiplication algorithm or anything like that– but the Venn diagram of the types of kids who are going to Google equations rather than solving them and the types of kids who will read explanations is two completely separate circles. Also, I’m a little hamstrung right now by the fact that I need to present my assignments on computers; the easiest way to ensure that more of them do the work properly is to simply present the assignment on paper and restrict device use during those classes. I could also require them to give me answers as decimals, since Google always puts theirs as fractions, but that’s just going to add a different confounding factor to my grades, dragging down the kids who don’t know how to convert fractions to decimals and the kids who don’t read directions.

There is also the possibility of simply writing more complicated assignments than a list of fifteen equations to solve, of course; I could do word problems or any number of other things, but the problem is the specific skill I need them to have actually is solving equations. I need them to understand the logic of modifying both sides of an equation at once, the idea that constants and variables alike can be moved willy-nilly from one side of an equals sign to the other as needed, so long as you follow the rules properly … because if they don’t get this shit at this easily-Googlable level, life’s going to suddenly get much harder in high school when they hit equations that you can’t, at least yet, easily feed into Google. I think anything requiring a superscript or any actual math symbology might be a problem, for example, although I haven’t tried to test that.

I’m going to choose to ignore this particular problem, for the moment. There are ten instructional days of school left and I have two days of equations practice planned before we get back into systems, and I’ll make sure to write those assignments so that they’re not as easily Googled. Frankly, most of the kids who are cheating have grades so deep into failing territory that it barely even matters, so I’m not going to waste the energy necessary to stress about it other than maybe barking at them about it tomorrow. It will, children, actually hurt you much more than it will ever hurt me if you don’t get this stuff. You may think I’m training you to solve equations, which, true, you are unlikely to be presented with as an adult! However, mastering basic fucking logic is a life skill, as it turns out.


I’m sitting in my classroom right now, typing this on my work laptop, and trying to figure out the next nine weeks of my life. It is possible I have overscheduled myself; I got an email today from this course design thing I’m doing with IU that describes what they think the schedule is going to look like, and it’s … a lot, potentially. Then there’s the new committee I’m on at work, which is a few extra hours after school a week, then (eventually) there’s going to be National Board certification, which is just a meeting here and there right now, but soon I’m going to have to start actually doing stuff for it, and I looked up what the content area test was going to be like the other day and, well …

This is for their adolescent (11-15) Mathematics certification, which is going to be the one I’m going for. I teach Algebra, y’all, and I washed out of Calculus in high school and never looked at it again, but, like, right now I think I want to do the content area test first, and the notion that I need to relearn Geometry, Trig, Discrete Math and Calculus in the next few months when I never really learned Calculus in the first place, plus a refresher on stats?

I mean, on the one hand, at least I have something to do this summer, and on the other hand, I’ve wanted to go back and conquer Calculus, because it’s always sort of stuck in my craw that I bailed on it, and on the third hand, the one I don’t have that’s kind of a lot.

Like, I pass standardized tests. Passing standardized tests is my thing. I’ll be fine. But my studyin’ muscles haven’t really had much of a workout for the last, oh, fifteen years or so– who am I kidding, it’s longer than that, because I’m pretty sure I didn’t have to do a single second of “studying” for my M.Ed– and I’m gonna have to rediscover some skills with a quickness.

Plus, like, even just planning out how to approach all this is intimidating. I’m sure there are plenty of self-paced/free or inexpensive study guides out there, both specifically for this test and for these subjects in general, but that’s basically all of high school math that I need a refresher on plus some stuff I never really touched until college. While designing a course in Quantitative Reasoning for IU, doing whatever I need to do for this other committee, and, oh, teaching the last nine weeks of 8th grade math from school when I haven’t taught physically in my building for literally over a year and figuring out how to keep the kids who are staying home connected to everything else that’s going on.

One step at a time, I suppose.

First step: find a study guide for the test itself; Amazon probably has one. Second step: relearn all of mathematics.

It’ll be fine.

GODZILLA review, among other things

MV5BMTQ0ODgzNjg2MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDkxMzc3MDE@._V1_SY317_CR0,0,214,317_AL_It’s Sunday, so how about a grab bag post?  Sure.

  • Godzilla was exactly the movie I wanted.  I read a review yesterday that called it the best summer movie since Jaws, and while I think that’s sliiiightly higher praise than it deserves I think it’s actually a pretty good movie to compare it to.  Both films are masters of the slow build; you don’t see the shark for over an hour into Jaws and Godzilla is great about keeping the monster backgrounded until it’s time to see him.  The humans are as good as they need to be; unlike, say, Pacific Rim, which felt the need for dumbass comic relief characters.   The other thing?  There are moments– several, in fact– of genuine beauty in the film, which is not something I’ve said about a summer blockbuster type of film before.  The bit referenced in the movie poster there is the best example.
  • All that said, I think they told Ken Watanabe that they were only paying him for one facial expression for the entire movie and if he used more than that one it was just too bad.  I love Watanabe most of the time, but I think we’re going to see a memoir from him in ten or twelve years where he reveals that he doesn’t remember anything about filming Godzilla because he was high on painkillers for every second of the production. He spends the entire movie with this look of dazed shock on his face that, by the end of the film, is unintentionally hilarious.
  • That’s my biggest complaint.  Everything else?  Awesome.  If there is any chance that you will enjoy a movie called Godzilla then you should drop everything and go see this right now when you can see it with a big crowd.
  • Related:  People.  If you show up on opening weekend of a big summer movie at 7:32 when the movie is supposed to start at 7:30?  And there are tons of people in the shit seats at the front of the theater?  Don’t bother climbing the stairs to go check on that empty seat in the corner.  Some motherfucker in the bathroom has already claimed that seat, and every sumbitch in the floor seats already went and checked.  You didn’t magically spot the one empty seat that everyone missed.  Your ass is late.  Go directly to the best of the remaining crappy seats because that’s all that’s left.
  • Also:  movie theater employees!  I understand that it makes your life easier if I’ll move toward the middle.  That said, and with all due respect, the answer is no.  I didn’t show up half an hour early so that some dumb sumbitch who showed up late with a group of six can take my aisle seat at 7:35.  I am a Person of Size and it’s better for everyone if I’m on the aisle.  If you are dumb enough to show up at 7:35 for a 7:30 summer blockbuster on opening weekend you deserve shitty seats.  I’m terribly sorry.  Please don’t take it personally; I know you’re doing your job, and I ain’t mad atcha.  But the answer is still no.
  • It is not impossible that I will hit both 2700 blog followers and 200 Twitter followers today.  You’re probably already following the blog, but do you Twitter?  Hit up the timeline to the right and follow me!
  • I have to mow the front lawn today and I’m actually looking forward to it, which frightens and confuses me.  This may be a manifestation of Dear God Let School End Soon syndrome.
  • I am finished with all lesson planning for the year, a full three weeks early, which has never happened once in my entire teaching career.  That ready for the year to be over.
  • Related: End of Course Assessments (ECA’s) for my Algebra class are tomorrow and Wednesday.  All Indiana high school students are required to pass this test to graduate; the state lets the honors Algebra kids take it in eighth grade (seventh in some districts) and, well, it’s kind of a big deal.  My school has never had more than about 60% of the kids pass in a single year.  I will be pissed if I don’t get 80%.  Amazingly, I’ll know the scores by the end of the week, assuming all of my kids are present for both of the tests.  I’m actually more invested in them doing well here than I am in ISTEP scores.  We’ll see how it goes.

In which I turn into a pumpkin

ku-mediumOkay, so… the Van Damme .gif has some competition now.

I spent a few minutes yesterday talking with my artist friend about the cover for the book, which was sorta fascinating.  It entertains me that he has to read the thing now.  I have someone who has to read my book for his job.  I find that funny.  Anyway, there was talk of photo reference for certain things and he asked me if I had any strong ideas about what the characters looked like beyond what was on the page (mostly no, but I was picturing DJ Qualls every time I wrote about one of the characters).  He’s gonna read the book and then work up some sketches and we’ll go from there.

Let’s see… what happened today?  Not much out of the ordinary, actually, other than keeping a few of my Algebra kids through their seventh hour class (normally my prep) to coach them through a missed/failed test and then discovering the hard way that my brain goes directly to shit last hour on Friday.  Directly, horribly, painfully.  I am not sure I actually managed to teach anyone anything useful.  Lucky for them, I was on my game during their actual class, but the tutoring session… coulda been more tutory, I think.

I am seriously thinking about polling that class about the next book.  I’ve considered doing something with a YA tilt to it; it’s not like I don’t have access to lots of middle school students to bounce ideas off of, but on the other hand I’m self-publishing and I suspect many of them don’t do ebooks.  Which, actually, is probably something I should ask them. Hmm.  There’s also the minor detail where telling them that I’m writing a book using some of their input will probably lead to them wanting to read said book, which kinda runs counter to deliberately creating a pen name so that they can’t find me.  Probably ought not to spoil the whole point of the thing before I even do anything with it.

…yeah, that’s what I’ve got right now.  It was a long week.  I’ll try to be inspiring or at least interesting in the next post.  🙂