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## Scheduler 2009

I’m baaaaaaaaaaaaack! After a long break, the longest I’ve had in the four summers since I began teaching it’s time to get back in the swing of things. I joined in the scheduling of my small school (110 kids in 7/8 grade). After spending time understanding the beast and more time writing macro code for the god-of-scheduling spreadsheet, I thought I’d share the outcome.

Scheduling
I found it exceptionally useful to add lots of `countif` formulas into the spreadsheet. Keeping track of the number of students in a class, the number of students scheduled for a given period, and the number of students a given teacher will be seeing provides three ways to check that the schedule is not broken. In our school, with one teacher per subject per grade, it means that each teacher’s schedule and each period’s total number of students scheduled should be exactly equal. Here’s the table that did that.

Our schedule consists of five core classes and two electives (which contain five distinct blocks on the schedule). This works out so that each student must be assigned a class for 10 different blocks. Hence the periods P1 through P5 and the five elective spots that come afterward.

The part I’m most proud of is the macro that generates class lists. Using a bit of algebra to get things properly arranged on the class lists sheet, it takes all the student schedule data and re-arranges it into class lists for teachers with first, last, and full names (so folks get their preference) as well as gender counts to help you make adjustments. It’s nice to have the class lists linked directly to the source of the data so that if you make a change to a students’ schedules you can simply click the yellow “generate class lists” button and the class lists will reflect the students schedules perfectly. In my case the button saves me from making roughly 70 individual class lists.

Resource is here. Unfortunately you’ll need Excel 2007. Make sure to enable macros.

As for a bit of reflection, having spent a lot of my time up to the first day of school working on scheduling I have a bunch of respect for everybody else who’s done it.

## Summer Plans

My summer plans do not involve much blog-oriented reflection – at least until August. I’m writing this from Paris and will be on this side of the pond until then. Freedom in the summer is a perk of the trade which I greatly appreciate and intend to take advantage of.

If anyone is interested, I uploaded a video to youtube about the process I go through in writing worksheets. It’s a silent screen capture of how I would normally create a simple worksheet with equations and graphs. There are some tricks to using emacs, but I just wanted to put out a general idea of how I use LaTeX code to generate typeset math and diagrams for worksheets and activities.

The upside to this system is its professional versatility: it can handle complex equations, diagrams, graphs and more. Also, it’s entirely free, and there is great documentation available online. The greatest downside is time. A large investment of time is required up front to understand how all the components of the system go together. I’d recommend this to anyone math teachers looking for a way to write fancy math without limitations.

## Grid love

Anybody wish they had an easier way to overlay a grid of arbitrary size over images? Maybe even plot lines/points/polygons over them? I used to wish that, but today I realized that my wish has come true. Yet another reason to love GeoGebra!

So letâ€™s say I know what a meter looks like in an image. How do I size the grid to that exact dimension and then lock it?

To get the answer I’m going to place two points A and B and use the distance[A,B] command to resize the grid. Note: the math in the background: I’m 5’8″ according to recent measurements, though on the court defenders say it feels like I’m 6′ 6″. Therefore, 5.66 feet is my height. For the grid, I’ll do my head-to-toe-distance-as-calculated-by-geogebra/5.66 to convert the grid distance into feet. Here’s a demo video I took with Cam Studio.

P.S. Has anyone else ever had trouble with the blue screen ‘o death when uploading to youtube? I’m pretty new to uploading videos to youtube, but this screencast crashed my computer three times in attempting the upload. I ended up re-recording the thing at 800 by 600 pixels so it wouldn’t get disproportionately cropped, and uploading the file as a .wmv.

## Much: a great way to make multiple versions of a test

Last year, I finally resolved to end the “wandering eyes” problem during tests. It seemed like there was no way to ensure that nobody would sneak a peek during tests, and when kids had the same test they would easily be able to cop an answer from their neighbor and it would be really really hard for me to catch/notice. Nobody wants to go around accusing kids of copying especially when it’s as flimsy as I saw you look at X’s paper. So, I figured, there must be an easier way.

Solution 1 instead of writing one test, I wrote two. It temporarily fixed the problem but it sucked my time to write two versions especially if there were going to be roughly equal in difficulty but tough to copy from with quick glances.

Solution 2 employ some software to write multiple versions for me. See an example inspired by Kate’s Perfect Challenge. I wrote 20 questions on a quick quiz for the kids to memorize the perfect squares from 1 – 20. Using a sweet piece of open source free software I then generated 20 different versions of the test. Now I can give them a different test for as long as it takes until they have it all mastered. (Obviously 20 is hopefully overoverkill, but it seems like a good demonstration of how easy it is to create multiple versions).

Googling this was not so straightforward, but I ended up with “much”. I love much. I have a test template that I use over and over again. All I must do to write a test is make a set of test questions – 1 per file

question
.

if I want them to be multiple choice they are formatted

question
.
.
fakeans 1
.
fake ans 2
.

Up to 6 possible answers work I believe. Much can shuffle around the order of the questions, and on multiple choice tests it shuffles around the order of the answers. If you make a strictly multiple choice test you can even use an output file that lists the correct answers.

Implementation I’ve been the best at keeping this thing updated for my Algebra 1 class, here’s a shot of the folder with all the questions.

The perfectsquares folder contains all the source files necessary to generate the exam.pdf test file with all the tests.

The fine print for this is that it can be hard to get comfortable with all the technology behind it. But if you know LaTeX, and are willing to dabble in commands from the command line, it’s a pretty quick process. I’ll outline the steps below in case it’s helpful to anyone (The much page has all the relevant info, and I taught myself from it, so head there if this isn’t so helpful)

1. Write a set of questions with some sort of standardized naming scheme, i.e. if I want to have 5 questions on linear equations name the files lineq-1, lineq-2, and so on.

2. Create a file named “test-info” also copy the “exam.tex” file into the current directory. These files are provided as part of the much download, here’s the test-info file I used for the perfect squares quiz and here’s my exam.tex.

3. In the “test-info” file copy the exact formatting, and set the number of tests you want to generate, and then define what goes on each test. For example, if I wanted 2 of the 5 linear equations questions on each test I’d add the line:

`use 2 from "lineq-*";`

To tell the computer to insert two questions with the file name beginning “lineq-” and the * indicates that any ending is acceptable. If I had a file named lineq-toughproblem5 it might potentially be chosen as one of the 2 lineq-* questions.

3. Once your test-info file is set up with all the questions you’d like on the test, use much to prepare the tests by typing `much create test-info` at the command line, once you’ve navigated to the folder with all your test files and test-info file.

4. Command line: `pdflatex exam`

## Python, Phi, and Portland’s own Kirby Urner

I stayed home yesterday because of and woke up again today with a sore throat. So, being the fish that I am, I swam around on the internets for a while. I don’t remember how I stumbled on it, but I ended up at Kirby Urner‘s 4d solutions and read through quite a bit of his philosophy on teaching math, geometry in particular, and his belief in the necessity of teaching programming (especially in python) with math. I’m impressed, he’s also a Portland local.

Anyway, I was inspired to brush off the ‘ol skillz and see what I could contribute. I imitated some Mathematica code I found to write the python code below. The loop finds the Golden Ratio (phi)

```a = 1 b = 1 for i in range(30):```

``` x = a + b a = b b = x print(i, x/a) ```

There were a few ideas in Kirby’s material that struck a chord for me.

So if you really want to be an effective teacher, you’ll not get in the way of students surpassing you, and understanding in ways you simply do not. Let them also teach *you*. Make it a two way street, from the get go. [cite]

That’s progress in his view. The brightest light Urner’s work set off for me is the potential value of programming in the classroom. For example, instead of pulling up the calculator I could pull up a python command line to perform basic arithmetic. Using loops, I could show students how a computer can simplify/automate long processes. ALGEBRA!! Watching computers store values in variables, and generally being able to read code that ends up looking algebraic offers nice options to extend students’ thinking. I can picture a lesson in which code similar to that above was written and then Pre-runtime: asking students the basic CS question: what’s gonna happen?

If you’re not very familiar with python, then we’ve got something in common, but this little tutorial might make it seem within reach. I used camstudio to make the capture.

phi.avi – (slightly) better quality

## Smart boarding

Wednesday morning, 8:15am: explained the activities to my sub and went to math meetings down the hall.

End of the meeting 11:20: I’m asked if there’s anything I need for my classroom. I say no, but if there’s an extra smart board laying around I’ll take it.

11:21am: Other math teacher has a smart board sitting in the room, not connected, not being used.

11:21:01am: “I’ll use it”, I say.

2:45 – 7:45pm: I play around with it and try to get it working.

Thursday: Kids go nuts for the board in every class. I give about 10-15 minute to most classes so they have a chance to write on it. Wrongly assuming this will help them get the “OMG-HUGE-TOY&^\$%^!!!” out of their system.

Friday morning: It’s still a huge toy, but I stomp multiple classes with a test, so the magical feeling is a bit subdued.

Saturday/Sunday (8:30am – present): I watch videos, read about it, plan lessons in Notebook files, and ponder how to (and if I should) use it.

Current thoughts I practiced my first geometry lesson on it before I went home, and the Notebook’s ability to endlessly expand the bottom of the page – essentially to let you keep working on the same problem without doing board olympics to keep things organized is nice – makes it feel more like actual paper than a whiteboard sometimes. I also like the ease with which I can revert to earlier notes in class, as well as the new ability to post notes for students who want ‘em. The cons land a large blow when considering the amount of time it’s taken to get this thing up, it’s imprecision and dependency on “orientation”.

I gained insights from Darren’s smart board posts and some googling.

Resources will be saved into the “smart” folder on my box.

## Mastery Learning that Works!

The title is yanked directly from this video

I’m intrigued.

## A tech trick for targeted remediation

I worked on this project last year so that I could better use the data I was generating from quizzes. I wanted a way to do targeted remediation to a large number of students in an individualized way. Getting students to teach other students was the best way to reach the largest number, so I set up this spreadsheet to make life easier. The macros I wrote eliminate the time between grade entry and targeted remediation. Instead of pouring over tests or handwriting lists, you can grade a large number of tests in very short time and use the auto-generated lists to provide individualized remediation.

• Grade multiple choice tests and split scores into an arbitrarily large number of benchmarks
• Analyze the results of a test and provide results broken out by benchmark for all students
• Process students scores for open response questions and handle questions that are open ended or multiple choice

Most of the data below was generated by the macro. The only work required on my end was to do a few clicks to setup the spreadsheet and then to enter the student’s answers.

The data entry sheet

Another click generates a list I use for strategic peer tutoring. Basically you get sorted lists of students who did well on each benchmark and students who need to review it. For all students you see every mistake. If you spend more time entering comments about the mistakes at grade time, the comments will be sorted and kept with the student on the peer review sheet.

A macro generates lists for remediation

If you’re interested in using the spreadsheets, I set up a page with the excel 2007 – which even includes a misspelling of Jack Bauer acting as John Doe #1. I hope you enjoy.

Go here for the template and a screencast.