October 2013 Posts

Can’t Win ‘Em All…

…and that’s one of the hardest parts of being a teacher.

As teachers, we invest so much in our students, that the joys of watching them succeed – even in the smallest of victories – are triumphant moments.

Conversely, it can be excruciatingly difficult to watch a kid that you’re trying your best to help push over the top… only to watch them fall a bit short.1

A wise owl once told me,

You can’t save everyone. You shouldn’t feel like a failure because of that.

I’m not a parent, but I imagine if I was, I’d be better suited in dealing with the feelings associated with knowing that you’re just not going to be able to do everything right.

One of these days, I’ll talk about the single worst day of my teaching life.2 For now, I’ll just say that as you gain experience, you learn to better take the disappointments in stride and refocus quickly on the big[ger] picture.

. . .

We are now into the tenth week of the year, and my classroom is suddenly becoming a bit more spacious — sadly though, due to some attrition, and not because the room got any bigger. My largest classes are down to 33 and 34 respectively (both were at 36 a month ago). This is about the time of the year where things start getting tight around the belt, so to speak, in AP Stat.

One of the “goals”3 I set each year is to retain 100% of my students in my Pre-AP/AP classes. You can read the footnotes if you actually want to know how that’s gone.4

For temporal context, this is the “sweet spot” of the calendar for sports fans. The World Series (baseball) is this week5, NBA season kicks off later this week,6 and both College Football and the NFL are in full swing. 7

The new iPad Airs come out on Friday.

The government shutdown came and went (ended last week, in fact).

Oh, incidentally, we just did a problem dealing with a regression analysis about using SAT scores to predict college success8. One part of the exercise led the students to use the low R-squared value to conclude that SAT scores were a poor predictor of how well students actually perform in college, which brought up all sorts of colorful discussion.9

And Halloween is this week. That’s always a fun one in our line of work.

  1. or sometimes, woefully short. []
  2. that’ll be in February, so some time to come… []
  3. I put quotation marks around this word, “goals”, because… well… []
  4. I have never come close. I’m not sure any Pre-AP/AP math teacher has — at least on our campus. But I set that as a goal because I hate conceding to the idea of “acceptable loss” in our field. []
  5. sadly the Dodgers came up two games short in the NLCS, ending my dream of a Chavez Ravine – Fenway Series that I seriously would’ve flown out for. []
  6. though if you’re a Laker fan, it’s “nothing to see here” []
  7. Hockey is going on somewhere out there, as well… []
  8. specifically, first semester college GPAs []
  9. again, much of which I cannot share via this medium — but I’ll just say that it was good to see that these kids… well… they get it. []

Bent on getting by

There’s the adage in the sports world that champions find a way to win even when they’re not playing their best. 1


Well that’s what this past week has felt like – not being anywhere near my best, but hoping that whatever I can grind out is more than just good enough.

I’m blaming it all on the lingering effects of the full moon last week. 2

Certainly, this has been one of those “ugh it’s ONLY week number 8?”3 weeks.

When you take a step back and think about it, though, it’s wild to think that we are now halfway through semester 1. And even in the midst of the discombobulated mess that this stretch has been, it still blows my mind how fast this first quarter has flown by.4

  1. or when they’re not getting their way with the refs []
  2. Getting home at around 2100 for the 3rd night in a row doesn’t help either. []
  3. as opposed to “WOW I can’t believe it’s already week number 8!” []
  4. which, truth be told, feels like it has gone by wayyy too quickly. []

Guess My Age

This is a fun one we use to kick off scatterplots and regressions – specifically in the discussion about correlation coefficients. 1


The kids number from 1 to 12 on a piece of scratch paper, and we go through a slideshow of 12 celebrities2, and the kids try to guess the age of each person/entity. Occasionally I’ll change out some of the names, but this year, the list went:

  1. Oprah
  2. George Clooney
  3. Queen Elizabeth
  4. The USA Today (the newspaper… as in, how long has it been in existence)3
  5. Mickey Mouse (including “Steamboat Willie”)
  6. Anne Hathaway4
  7. Coach Mack Brown5
  8. My baby nephew (guess his age in months, not years)6
  9. Leo DiCaprio7
  10. Carrie Underwood8
  11. Tom Hanks9
  12. Will Smith10
If you wish to see the slides and play along...
If you wish to see the slides and play along…

(If you want to try your hand… number from 1 to 12, hit the thumbnail above, and give it a shot! Here are the answers if you want to check, sans #8 — privacy concerns and all)

Once we get done, the kids get to see the actual ages, and — after gawking for a few moments — punch the numbers into our calculators and create a scatterplot of actual ages versus our guesses.

In theory, if every one of your guesses is on the dot, your r-value (aka, correlation coefficient) will be a perfect 1.0. (Of course, you could overestimate everyone’s age by a large constant and still get r = 1.0,11 but heck, this is all for kicks.) We then have students share their r-values up on the board and share a decent laugh.

Every now and then, someone really overshoots “USA Today” and ends up with a negative r-value :)

. . .

We are well into week 8, and this much is crystal clear to me: There will be no easy weeks.

Every single Friday at 4:05 feels like a trophy-ceremony-worthy moment.

But I feel like in my fourth year of teaching stat, I’m finally getting it right. 12 Not that I felt like I did anything wrong, per se in even the first year… but… if you’re a perfectionist, you understand.

  1. This is also another activity I got from Penny S. over at Westwood — again, not my concoction []
  2. MOSTLY celebrities, anyway []
  3. This is the one that universally screws people up. I once had a kid that guessed “4000”… which… well… not only predates the freaking USA, but perhaps predates the printing press? []
  4. My students tend to know her more as “Princess”… I tend to think of her as “Catwoman”. Hmmm… :) []
  5. Had to put him in this year cuz… well… he may not be our coach next year []
  6. I used to put my sister in for this one, but this inevitably leads to “Is she younger than you” which leads to “Wait HOW OLD ARE YOU?” and I prefer not to go there :) []
  7. This one always draws a collective “MMmmm yeahhh” from the females in the room… followed a bit later by a “Wait he’s HOW old?!?” []
  8. I used to have Faith Hill in this slot, but since Carrie took over the Sunday Night Football theme song duties….. []
  9. …who was excellent in “Captain Phillips”, by the way Excellent. []
  10. …who is, quite frankly, ageless. []
  11. …and there are still other ways to get everything terribly wrong and still get r = 1.0 []
  12. Maybe :) []

Amongst fellow tutors

While tutoring a student this evening at a local coffee shop, an older gentleman sitting at the table right behind me was tutoring a kid in chess (yes, chess), both of us surely overhearing the other for much of the hour.

We both got done at the same time, and while packing up, we had a brief conversation that went something like:

Him: Another tutor, huh? Was that math?
Me: Yup. Chess?
Him: Mmm hmm.
Me: You know, chess is one of those things I wish I had gotten into at a younger age…
Him: [Turns quickly at me and shakes his head] No, this stuff is only useful for future politicians and aspiring lawmakers. Math is much more practical.