Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Snow Days Are A Myth

You heard me. Snow Days are a MYTH! They don't exist! They're like unicorns or palm trees. I will fight you on this! (I may not win, but I will fight you.)

Bear in mind that I consider a "Snow Day" to be a day when the majority of schools in an area are closed. I think the last time that happened in Ottawa, Ontario was January 2012 (which was an exam day, not an instructional day, and I think it may have been principal's discretion).

It certainly wasn't a mythical "Snow Day" today, so let's "Day in the Life" my Tuesday for your amusement.


Monday evening, Environment Canada was warning that the city could see 20cm to 40cm of snow (8-16 inches) the next day. Woke up the next morning, and sure enough, busses were cancelled, schools were open. As you do.

The procedure at this point is to head to your school, if it's safe to do so. (If it's not, I believe you proceed the nearest school you can get to safely.) There was maybe 5cm (under 2 inches) on my driveway, I cleared it, looked safe enough.

8:20am: Arrive at school. Only 10% of our students are bussed. Looks like less than 90% of students in the halls though.

8:30am: First period. There's an announcement to let students arrive without a late slip before 9am. I end up with 6 of 22 students. My backup plan for Gr 12 data management was to talk some cryptography. It relates to the probabilities we're doing, and I can make a period of that.

9:50am: Second period. I end up with 8 of 28 students. I don't have a good backup plan for Gr 11 "Functions", so I show some new trig (which I'll be going over again next unit anyway), take up some work, show another video, and end by singing "Polar Plot". (Tune of "Let It Go", you can check it out here, if you're so inclined.)

11:05am: Lunch. Enter the attendance. Fight with people on Twitter about Snow Days being a myth. (Lisgar is legit closed due to a water pipe bursting. But I maintain one or two schools closed doesn't count - our school was closed some years ago due to heavy snow on the roof. That was only us.)


11:50am: Just before end of lunch, I check in with the librarian. She's doing a presentation about human libraries for a teacher today and opened it up to other classes. I figured my smaller college level math class might be interested.

12:00pm: Third period. I have 4 of 8 students. One would prefer math, so I get him into the blue room (a quiet work space), and off to the library with the others. At least one of them saw it in the morning; I say oh well, work on your computer.

1:20pm: Fourth/Prep period. Having been able to accomplish ZILCH thus far today, I try to figure out how to manage the rest of the week. I also make a phone call, leaving a message for them to get back to me at this number.

2:00pm: Vice Principal stops into prep room. Says we can leave, it's getting pretty bad out there. But I'm now in the midst of figuring out Google Docs related to last Friday's PD day, and I'm waiting on my phone call.

2:30pm: Teacher comes in, says she was out in the parking lot. Nearly hit by a car driven by a parent, who was trying to exit the queue of cars picking up students.

(Photo by a co-worker)
2:35pm: End of school day. Snow days are a myth. On the right, you can see what the parking lot looked like.

2:40pm: I get my phone call. I give my wife a call, and head out to the parking lot. Snow is up to the base of the doors, about 30 cm (12 inches) has fallen. It's still snowing.

3:45pm: Many of us are still helping students and teachers get their cars out of the parking lot. The little plow driven by custodians is also prone to getting hung up on the snow. Speed bumps are not our friends. Posted some fun quotes to my Twitter feed this eve. (Search #SnowDaysAreAMyth)

4:00pm: I'm on the road heading home. I try to avoid what I hear is an accident on St. Joseph by taking the 174. End up stuck on the off ramp for St. Laurent for over half an hour - an accordion bus is stuck in the right hand turn lane.

I hear on the CBC that Ottawa has hit a record snowfall for a single day, beating some record set back in 1947. One could imagine that if schools don't close on a day like THIS, they NEVER close.

5:15pm: Get home. Almost. I live on a small dead end street. We're lucky to get plowed at all, let alone on a day when they're doing side streets around 8pm. I gunned it, and got stuck at the bottom of my driveway.

6:15pm: An hour of shovelling has led to progress. But despite appearances, the car is stuck. I try clearing more snow. No. Scraping snow out from underneath. No. Some sand equivalent under the wheels. No use. I have to get my wife (who is sick) to come out and help.

Still nuts.

6:30pm: With the help of a neighbour, rocking the car back and forth a bit, able to get it up my driveway and into the garage. Now I need to clear snow from the front stoop, etc.

7:00pm: I'm home. (After accomplishing a three point turn in my driveway, heyo!) I remember I haven't had anything to drink since before 8am, and have some water. About the only good thing about this day is that my step counter, at about 5000 steps when I left school, is now at 11,222 steps.


Whew, almost lost out on an instructional day there! After all, we're legally required to have 184 of them, with no flex due to weather -- that was a close one. Non-sequitur, I need to remember to put the recycling out tomorrow.

So yeah, snow days are a myth. If you don't believe that, I guess you believe in palm trees too.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Order the Fruit Salad

January is the worst month. No question. It’s three weeks until exams, everyone has forgotten everything, and you have ZERO turnaround time to prepare for Semester Two, let alone generate report cards. Yet it’s also the start of the MTBoS “Blogging Initiative”... maybe that will make it better.

The Week 4 (and final) blogging challenge is “Share a Lesson”. (For my previous weeks, see “Questioning” here, “Favourite” here and “Day in the Life” here.) We were warned about this one in advance, since depending on where you work, there might not have been teaching this past week. So I had something in the back of my mind.

That said, I did teach - namely the startup of semester two, with new classes and students, while still finalizing marks for semester one. (I did mention January was the worst month...) But with the startup, I realized I should probably blog here about how I start off my Data Management class (aka Statistics) every year. Namely by making a run to the store to get an apple.


I’ve been doing my fruit lesson for at least four years. Probably longer, though I didn’t always start the semester this way. Mainly because I didn’t always start with the counting unit. I’m also cheating a bit, because this “lesson” actually spans three days.

Day One, I don’t immediately start with the fruit. My first example is the probability of getting the correct combination for a standard locker lock. Then definitions, some other simple probability examples, and THEN the fruit comes out. A grapefruit, a lemon and an orange.

With the objects, we can no longer repeat our choice (versus having a password of all ‘a’s). Once the grapefruit is down, I only have two options left. 3x2x1 = Six options total, the students are on board. That’s when I pull out the lime, as seen below. The total arrangements is easy. The number of arrangements where the lime is first requires a bit more thought.

From there, it’s into factorials, and we call it a day. The BAD news from this year, is that this intro was on a day when the busses weren’t running. And even though only 10% of our school uses busses, the bad weather means lower attendance. (Schools are never closed. Ever. We could get 20 feet of snow and they’d still be open.) So I had to do a little rerun the following day.

Day Two, we move from factorials to permutations. Here’s where the apple is added, to make things interesting. Normally I’d get all the way through my “how many ways with lemon and lime together” example - seen below. But with the “ice day”, I had to leave it with them to think about. This picture was actually taken to start off Day Three.

Oh, I physically move the fruit around too, to emphasize. (This arrangement is fine. Not this one, not this one, but this one... *I switch the position of the lemon and lime only* ...and this is fine. *groans are heard*) And normally the apple is green, to match the lime, but my wife happened to have an apple at home, so I took that one. I don’t like apples much, this is the only time I buy them.


Once the lemon/lime example is done, I don’t advance the next slide. I pull out a second orange. And they know what’s about to happen, and someone says “Sir, why would you do that to us?” THEN I advance the next slide. And sometimes someone will try to argue that the two oranges are different enough, and so I have other examples with letters and words, and they will grudgingly capitulate.

Thus the first part of Day Three is finalizing this permutations knowledge, but of course, I have one more trick up my sleeve. I pull out the grocery bag, and announce that I’m going to take three of these home for the weekend. And I grab the grapefruit, the apple and the lime, tossing them in the bag. But wait!

Does it matter that I selected the grapefruit first? It’s coming home with me, the same way as the lime is, even though I picked it last. Of course now order doesn’t matter, and so now we have combinations, to round things out. Factorials, Permutations, and Combinations, all taught with fruit.

The inspiration was in part due to the “Shad Valley” program I went to at University of Waterloo in 1993 (when I was in high school). Ed Jernigan used fruit in his math lecture, as a way of trying to categorize “fruit” for artificial intelligence. This is, by the way, the closest I get to a "3 act" lesson.

Things to watch for: Students tend to like the visual/physical presence of the fruit - two of them remarked on that aspect this time. Students also tend to ask if they can take the fruit home with them. (Someone wanted the grapefruit this time.) I’m more leery of that, in case bad things happen. Also, I like grapefruit; if they want the apple, meh. Along the same lines, one guy wanted to be in my picture (above) but while I applauded his enthusiasm, I said I probably shouldn’t do that.

Fun fact: At one point, some of them were talking about salad. I’m not sure why (this period was right before lunch), but it was easy enough to steer that conversation back to permutations and combinations. Fruit salad, anyone?


Quick bonus, the lesson I likely would have written up if I hadn’t been buying fruit this past week is the “painted cube” problem. You paint a cube, then disassemble it - how many of the component blocks have no sides with paint? One side? Two? Three? It’s a rather elegant way of having linear, quadratic and cubic patterning in a single activity. But it’s also one that educators are liable to find more familiar - maybe you’d already heard of it?

The plan is now to have lime tilapia at some point for dinner this week. But before Monday, I need to get my personified math comic coloured and uploaded! (I hit entry #250 last week.) Thanks for reading here, if you enjoyed, know that I’m all about the writing. Feel free to check out some other posts:

-Check out the Bola Fruit in the Conic Household with “Tea Leaves”
-The math song parody “Permute” is the one I use for this Data unit
-Here’s my reminder that, even in the face of other creative ideas out there, “You’re a Good Teacher” (too)