Monthly Archives: August 2012

A Change Will Do You Good

I’m doing some things in my trig class differently from what my students are used to. For example, instead of showing them how to multiply a trinomial and a binomial, I reviewed how to multiply two binomials and then asked them to figure out how do it with a trinomial. I answered questions and gave support but did not give instructions. I did this for two reasons: first, it’s important for students to view math as a way of figuring things out, not a list of disjointed procedures. Second, in Brain Rules by John Medina, which all teachers at my school read over the summer, Medina explains that simple things are actually harder to remember, while complex things (like applying a concept to a new situation without comprehensive directions) are actually easier to remember.

Some students (I’m thinking of one in particular) are unexpectedly thriving in this new atmosphere and love the change. Others are ambivalent. Others (again, I’m thinking of one in particular) seem frustrated that the familiar math class landscape has changed, leaving them uncertain of how to proceed.

I’m crossing my fingers that I can help them appreciate this more meaningful challenge.


The trig gears were grinding clumsily today. Disappointing after a smooth(ish) and ambitious start. My problem is two-fold and self-contradictory. I both over- and under-estimated my students. In the same lesson. Using the very same slides. Then I grew impatient.

Maybe I oughta get myself a ukelele (channeling Sarcasymptote) to help us all chill out a bit.

I actually had a great time in Algebra II, working with students, bringing the math out, and having a laugh, maybe because I was working with students I’ve already taught. But the trig flop is winning the battle for preeminence in my thoughts.

Since I am teaching my very own trigonometry class this year, I get full access to a projector/whiteboard setup and will be using slides. I didn’t encounter slide-based classes until college, where I learned at first to dread them. Clearly, skilled professors knew how to engage and lead a class without the slide-show crutch, while slide-show users were boring and afraid of lecturing on their own.

I’m trying out slide-based teaching now for two reasons. First, I did later have professors who regularly used slide shows without putting anyone to sleep. Second, it takes a lot of class time to write everything on the board by hand and a lot of paper and ink to print everything out.

I’ve only prepared slides for the first two units, but it has taken a lot of time and several revisions. Here are my current guiding principals:

  • Minimize text.
  • Use the technology to animate, illustrate, represent whenever possible. That means photos, videos, and graphics — if they’re actually helpful.
  • Spreading information over several slides is usually better than putting it all on one slide, even if you can fit it all on one slide.
  • Put the starting point on the slide, then plan for live development and exploration on the white board, paper, etc.
  • Plan to be mobile and interactive during the lesson, not a human-shaped mouse button-pusher.
  • Plan to sometimes turn the projector off.