Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Activities are a Problem

I've mentioned (at least in passing) that activity based lessons, involving students gathering a bunch of data to work with, makes me uncomfortable. Why is that? Thought is needed, and I'm posting so anyone else is welcome to chime in. Doing it now because I ran a couple of activity classes today, and I think I have some reasons.


One of today's periods involved four different stations where students would gather data.  At least 10-15 minutes of the time was shot trying to:
-Get calculators that actually worked with the CBL probe and CBR ranger, because the ones I'd initially selected had linking errors, and some of the other ones in the bin didn't have the appropriate program (it wouldn't load last month when I'd tried). Also one of the calculators that finally worked had trouble with the display.
-Doubling back to the equipment room for tape measures and linking cables, which I'd neglected to bring with me initially.
-Dealing with a few low battery warnings.

Part of that's on me for not taking (even more) time setting some things up. Still, part of this is the fact that the equipment is getting old. Even my SmartBoard has orientation issues, so getting students to come up and use it is problematic... they press in one place, and the dot appears 2 cm to the left.  (Or to the right, depending on if I recently tried to reorient.  Myself, I've adapted.)  None of this tech is can be replaced either, because we're spending so much money on photocopying, since textbooks do not always have the best questions.

Tech is a problem. I dislike the headaches of dealing with tech.


The other activity period involved rolling link-a-cubes to model an exponential function.  (Can't take credit for this, learned it at a conference.)  No tech here, but I got especially worried at one point when the cubes were tossed more than rolled, thinking someone was going to step on one, fall and hurt themselves.  Did it happen?  No.  Still, that doesn't stop me from worrying irrationally about stuff.

I also worry about setting groups where people end up working with those they don't get along with, or are at a level too high or low... I can lose 20 minutes just to figuring this stuff out, so between the time and the stress, end result is I now don't bother, and let them choose.  (Which worked out just as well today, when half my afternoon class was absent, so the effort would have been for nothing. Ooooh, we had 20 cm of snow fall, ooooh, means no classes, right?)

Anyway, my ability to overanalyze scenarios is a problem. (Of course, worrying about the tech breaking might be a justified fear, given what I said earlier.)


Since I don't do this sort of thing much, there's a general sense of confusion on the days when I do.  To the credit of my students, they adapt well, but little things like where the CBR Ranger is pointed and use of the Trigger is something that I guess comes with practice.  (And perhaps constant use, because they've used it in previous grades, but that was probably sometime last year...)

Also, I'm not so familiar with the format. I tend to misjudge how long certain things will take, even when I've run an activity before. And some groups invariably finish before others, and I always feel like things are at a bit of a loose end there (though not all students are tempted to play with the materials while waiting). I guess this is the sort of thing that can be cleared up with time, but I'm not feeling a huge desire to invest the time at this point.


Okay. So what it comes down to, in a way, is that I never feel like I can just sit back and let them have at it.  (I help out in drama, I know what that can be like... no, no, there I go worrying again.)  Maybe this is something that will come with time?  Still, I feel ten times more comfortable when they're working in their seats.

Oh well. On the bright side for tech, our 10 year old computers are supposed to be replaced at some point before the end of the school year.  So that's something.


  1. Considering the computers I pulled out of various government departments, you're going to be updating to five year old PCs! (Or, maybe you'll get decent ones that are inexpensive but new.)

    Tech is an... interesting area. Murphy's Laws run rampant. It sounds like you need a resource to make sure that the electronics are in working condition before your class uses them. That would mean finding space in a budget that doesn't have any for an extra salary for a non-teaching position. (Why non-teaching? If the resource taught, there'd be no time to maintain the tech.)

    Would it be possible for someone in each department to work out a usable textbook, even if the department has to write it on their own? It might save some photocopying charges, no? (Or is this more lack of time to do anything, even breathing?)

    1. In fairness, we do have flat screen monitors, and the computers for the students (in labs) are of higher quality than ours. In fact some of my ranting about tech relates to my mood... recent reading about how they're cutting back in education, like in Alberta, meanwhile the federal government throws money at advertising a Plan that ended years ago. Sigh.

      With regard to texts, the Board does have some provisions in place, like a workbook for the applied level Grade 9. There are also initiatives where teachers can come together to make resources for this sort of thing. But what it boils down to is, different instruction is needed not simply for different teachers, but different students, so there will never be one standard useable for a single course... even assuming we had the time. Which we don't.

      And tests/quizzes require photocopying too.

    2. For whatever reason, the Canadian right wing has it in for teachers. It's been going on for at least a decade or two. No one calls them on it, though.

      One size never fits all. It's a pain. You need an uber textbook that covers everything and changes as needed. It sounds like a project for an enterprising young Math Ph.D. candidate to work on. :)

      At this point, many companies, like HP and Zerox, are heavily indebted to teachers. :)