Sunday, October 8, 2017

Rec Letters

It's rec letter season again!

I just finished my second rec letter of the school year, and I thought I'd share what I give to students when they ask me to write a recommendation letter.  It's nothing fancy, but it (usually) gives me a lot of good info to go on.

A few notes:

  1. Students must ask me in person to write a letter.  
    • If I get an email from an outside source saying a student has request a recommendation, but the student has never talked to me, I simply wait for the student to tell me what it's about.  If the student never does, the student doesn't get a letter from me.  
    • If the student (or student's parent) emails me, I respond by saying something like, "Please see me after class.  I require all students to talk to me face-to-face if they are requesting a recommendation letter.  I also have a short form for you to fill out."
  2. I try to get these written as quickly as possible.  Weekends are my time to write them.  I limit myself to 2-3/weekend.  But, if I haven't hit that limit, I generally do write the letter that same weekend.  I don't like having these hang over me.
  3. I dread writing rec letters.  I dread it so much.  They can be very stress-inducing for teachers especially when we know our kids have incredibly lofty goals.  That said, once I start writing a letter, I have so much fun with it.  It's really enjoyable to get to brag on the amazing kids we have.  Furthermore, it's a true honor to be asked to write these, I think.
So, once a student asks me to write a rec letter, I ask him/her to send me a blank email.  Then I respond with this:

Please copy and paste these questions as well as your answers into an email (send to [my email address here]). The more details or specific examples/stories you provide, the better letter I can write for you.

· Full name as you want it in your letter
· Unweighted GPA
· Weighted GPA
· School activities and clubs (include any special recognitions, service hours, etc., if applicable)
· Non-school activities, volunteer positions, jobs, etc.
· What do you consider to be your greatest strength and why?
· What do you want to study in college and why?
· What is an obstacle you have faced in the past or are currently facing and how has it shaped you?
· Name a hero of yours (personal, historical, or fictional) and explain your answer.
· Any experiences that stand out during your time at Union?
· Anything else that would be important for me to know?

And that's it.  Again, nothing fancy, but it's the best thing that's worked for me after a few years of writing a lot of letters.

Monday, August 21, 2017

My Prayer for 2017-18


This is one of the nights I dread every year. The last night of summer. The night before school starts. In the morning, I'll meet a hundred and forty new people with whom I will share a classroom...and hopefully my heart.

The introvert in me squirms at the thought of tomorrow.

I wonder how in the world me--little me--ever got placed in this big, beautiful, bold school.

And that's when You reminded me: I was placed. I was placed here by You. This was no mistake.

So, here we are again. Year Nine. And my insecurities are basically the same. Will they like me? Will they listen to me? Will they learn from me? Will they get along? Will they feel safe? Wanted? Welcome?

Your words: Be still.

My prayer is that You would bond these kids and myself together. I pray for deep relationships, not surface-level knowledge. I pray for moments of true academic achievement and also moments of deep, uncontrollable laughter.

Grant me the energy and the enthusiasm that these Loves are worthy of. Give me grace for myself when I still fall short.

Grant me the discernment to know when a kid needs a hug. Give me grace for myself when I miss that opportunity.

Grant me the creativity necessary to make math fun and engaging.  Give me grace for myself when I'm boring as hell.

Grant me the patience needed to answer the same questions all day long. Give me grace for myself when I sigh out loud. And grant me the courage to apologize for that sigh immediately.

Help me embrace these Loves like You embrace them. Remind me daily that they are Yours--beloved, valued, and worthy of my best.

Help me be the teacher You had in mind for them. Help me learn their stories. Help me be a light.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Techniques of Integration: A Puzzle

I am way behind on posting materials for AP Calculus, but better late than never, I suppose.  Here is a Tarsia puzzle for practicing techniques of integration (specifically for AB).  The puzzle includes both definite and indefinite integrals.  I used this as an end-of-the-year review before the AP Exam.

PDF Version is here.  Word document of problems only is here.  The word document can be used as its own assignment or only for the students who were absent for the puzzle.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Get Them into Calc: A Defense of Calculus Education

I recently applied to be an AP Calculus Reader for (hopefully) next summer.  This has been a dream of mine for the past three years, so I was excited to finally be allowed to submit an application.

The application questions really got me thinking.  I realized (not for the first time) how passionate I am about calculus education.

A few months ago, I applied to begin a PhD in Mathematics Education, and I put these thoughts on paper for the first time. (I was accepted but deferred as I realized I couldn't stay away from teaching.)  Here's part of my essay for admission:

I fell in love with school from the moment I was first introduced to it.  I was the kid who would come home from school only to make her little sister pretend-play classroom until it was dinnertime.  Never was my sister allowed to be the teacher, by the way.  Being a teacher was all I ever remember wanting to be when I grew up.  [...] 
Not unexpectedly, one of the highlights of graduate school for me was teaching my own sections of College Algebra.  Because of this, I searched primarily for college teaching positions upon graduation.  I was pleased to accept a position at Tulsa Community College, teaching mostly for their EXCELerate program.  This meant that I had the privilege of teaching high school students at Union who were taking college classes for dual credit.  What I did not expect when I accepted this position was just how much I would love teaching high school students.  It should be noted that I attended only private school or homeschool through my childhood; hence, teaching at a large public school like Union High School was never on my radar.  Little did I know that I had just found one of my utmost passions in life.The following year, a position at UHS opened, and the administration asked me to apply.  With some trepidation, but mostly excitement, I accepted the position and began my journey as a high school teacher.  The past few years at UHS have been nothing short of incredible.  I accepted this job because I thought I could make a difference in the lives of young adults.  What I did not realize was what a profound impact these young adults would have on my life.  They have taught me the importance of kindness, vulnerability, patience, persistence, and love.  I adore my kids more than words can say, and I am forever in their debt for giving me a career about which I am truly passionate. My favorite class to teach is AP Calculus.  I feel this is a wonderful course that teaches so much more than mathematics.  Last year, I had an eighty-two percent pass rate on the AP Exam (one hundred percent pass rate for the students who had also had my PreCalculus course); the national pass rate was fifty-seven percent. [This year I had an eighty-seven percent pass rate; national pass rate was fifty-nine percent.]  Calculus education is a field that is somewhat under-researched, and I am excited to learn more about what can be done to promote calculus literacy and fluency at both the high school and the college level.  My goal in pursuing a PhD in Education is to one day be a teacher-leader at the district or state level to help schools vertically align their mathematics courses so that as many students who want to take calculus can do so and can experience success.  I have seen what experiencing this success can do for a child’s confidence.  I want as many students as possible to encounter this joy, and I want to help as many teachers as possible witness this.
That is my passion:  open access to calculus for all students who want to take it and who have taken the appropriate steps to acquire the necessary background knowledge.  I believe that access to calculus is vital for a school's success because a school's primary goal should be to see its students grow.  My claim is that advanced mathematics allows students this opportunity.  When students experience success in calculus, their view of themselves blossoms.  They start to see themselves as young adults who are capable of basically anything...if they will work and stick with it.  I've seen it time and time again in just a few years--calculus gives kids confidence they never had before.

Yes, calculus allows students to navigate both abstract and applied mathematics.  If done right, it teaches them how to see the world through derivatives and integrals.  It teaches them about the physics of motion and about the science of change.

But, it teaches them in many other ways...

For better or for worse, calculus is seen to many as the pinnacle of mathematics education, maybe even the pinnacle of all high school education.

I'm not saying this is right.  But I have taken advantage of this.

When the majority of my students start calculus class, they come in with a mixture of anxiety and excitement.  They've reached a point many do not reach.  They are both proud of themselves and also scared of failure.  If they fail, what does that say about them?

What I believe is vital is that--if they show up and if they try--they will not fail.

In fact, they will succeed.

And when they succeed, they soar.  Sure, they've done well in other classes before, but something unique happens when they do well in calculus.  Again, part of this is due to the way our culture glorifies calculus; but part of this is due to the fact that you really cannot BS your way through calc.  You have to know it.  You have to understand it; to apply it.

Hence, when students achieve that passing grade (ethically), they know they earned it.  They know they mastered the material.

My point is:  I believe we have to do more to (1) get more students into a high school calculus course and (2) get those students to succeed in calculus.  Because when these kids succeed in calculus, they decide they are capable of just about anything.

It's our job as educators to push our kids to greatness.  We have to believe they are capable of more than they believe they're capable of.  We have to demand more of them than they would demand of themselves.  We have to give them the tools to conquer their goals and their fears.

Get them into calculus.  It will accomplish all of this.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Rate In/Rate Out Review

The AP Exam is over! This year, I reviewed my kids very similarly as I did last year (each week we focused on a new multiple choice and free response topic, with a review quiz each Friday that the students helped write).

One free response topic that was certainly lacking in my review last year was Rate In/Rate Out questions. These have intimidated my students in the past, which is not great as they seem to be becoming a popular first question (including this year). Not a great way to start the free response section.

So, this year we spent a whole day on these types of questions. However, instead of just throwing several past AP questions at my kids, I gave them ten different questions they may be asked to answer for these free responses. Of course, the College Board can ask whatever they want, but these are questions that seem to arise frequently.

We answered these ten questions for two arbitrary functions, I(t) (the rate IN) and O(t), the rate OUT. This seemed to really help my students. I'm relieved that I finally found a way to make these questions easier to digest because these really can be fabulous questions that model real-world situations beautifully.

Below are the ten questions with answers:

And here is the student handout (the ten questions, two past AP FRQs, and two FRQs I wrote).

A great follow-up to this is to have kids create their own Rate In/Rate Out problems. Unfortunately, I don't have time for this project until after the AP Exam, but it's still one of my favorites.