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cool stuff

New Digs and a Giveaway!

Here’s the new site! I’m still kicking the tires and sprucing it up a bit (uh, mixed metaphor much?), but feel free to take a look around.

How about a giveaway to celebrate? We’ll keep it simple. Comment on this post, and I’ll do a random-number thing to pick a winner at 10pm MDT (that’s right, Mountain Time) on Friday, May 24th.

The winner gets a $25 gift card to the book retailer of their choice. At least, the retailer of their choice to which I can easily get a gift card, in the U.S. or Canada.

Yikes, I can’t forget this! Credit for the design goes to Tessa at ipopcolor. I love it, Tessa!

Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

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To Get Kids’ Attention, Sometimes You Fast-Forward

A simple fact of life is that sometimes you have to learn basic, not-so-exciting stuff before you can move on to the really cool stuff. It’s certainly true in math class. I have to get my students used to handling variables and exponents (basics of algebra) before I can teach them cool stuff like revolving functions around an axis and finding the volume of the solid formed.

What? I totally thought that was the coolest thing ever when I was in calculus.

But just because students aren’t ready to dive into something yet doesn’t mean I can’t give them a sneak preview of things to come.

My classes recently did some activities with graphing calculators. Mostly stuff that looked like this:

Hi, we’re linear equations, and we’re a little boring.

While they were thrilled at using the calculators instead of graphing by hand, it wasn’t all that exciting. In several classes, I put something like this on the projector while they were all working on their assignment:

Flowers! Using math! So pretty!

Trust me, even the most macho teenage boys think it’s mind-blowing that you can make flowers using equations.

They’re not going to learn rose curves this year. It’s either next year or the year after (I need to check) that they’ll cover polar functions. But kids who really wanted to know, I gave them a quick overview of how the polar graphing system works.

It got their attention, and got them asking, “What else can we do with graphs?”

And when they’re asking questions, I’m happy.

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What We Learned During MindyMania 2012

This week I’ve been discussing the weekend I spent with my critique partner, Mindy McGinnis. I’ve covered the wildlife and the writing, so today I’ll just sum up a few things we learned.

Thing We Learned #1: Mindy and I really are twins separated at birth.

(And Mom was in labor for about three weeks.) We already suspected. Our birthdays are very close, down to the year. Our opinions and tastes are often the same. We complete each other’s sentences. And now we know that we use the same shampoo.

Thing We Learned #2: Fast food employees can take the “twins” idea too far.

To the girl at Wendy’s who thought Mindy was me after I’d already ordered—really? Okay, we were both wearing glasses and both tend toward the chalk-white end of “pale.” But there’s a seven- or eight-inch difference in height. My hair is mega-short; hers is long. Beyond that, the differences are what make things interesting. Mindy was ready and raring to go for the school presentations. I was freaking out about having to introduce her each time for about thirty seconds.

Thing We Learned #3: Handprint petroglyphs are the best.

I mentioned earlier in the week that we visited Petroglyph National Monument. It was very cool hiking around one of the canyons, and right on the edge of the city. All the petroglyphs were fascinating, and we had a lot of fun wondering about the meanings of different symbols, but I particularly liked this set we saw right at the end of the canyon. Strange thing, too—a few hikers had been ahead of us, and the hike is an out-and-back, not really a loop, but we never saw them coming back. Maybe the hands were warning us … ?

“Turn back! Alien abductions beyond this point!”

Thing We Learned #4: Going out of your way can really pay off.

I don’t know if any of you watch the series Breaking Bad. I don’t, but Mindy does. There’s a particular restaurant that figures prominently in one season, apparently, and we went to check out the actual restaurant that provided the front for the show. Bonus: The lot next door is where we saw the emu I posted about Monday. Double Bonus: The food was awesome.

If not for the glare, you might see the ostrich out the window.

We learned several other things, but I’ll save those for another time. 🙂

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Blowing Students’ Minds

This is one of my favorite parts of teaching—that moment when you tell kids something, and they give you that look.

“Seriously? No way!”

I teach such a wide range of kids, those jaw-dropping moments can come in a variety of ways, especially during the years when I’ve taught physics. Here are a few examples.


What are some things (from school or just life) that blew your mind when you learned about them?

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