Saturday, 30 April 2016

Math Gets Physical

This year, our school’s learning plan (SLP) wants teachers to include instructional strategies to focus on “intentional movement within a lesson”. Most of that information was discussed at the staff meeting at the start of April, with the idea that implementation of five consecutive movement days would follow before the end of the month.

The month of April. Report card month. Play month. The month where there are literally only 3 days when I am not at the school, sometimes working 12 out of 24 hours, and now I have to do unconventional lesson plans on top of everything else. Perfect. (Say that with the same inflection as Marty McFly in “Back to the Future III”... Clara? Perfect. We’re going past 60mph, I’ll never make it.)

Honestly, part of my frustration stemmed from me feeling like this is a good idea, and so I wanted to be able to do it right. Furthermore, this idea of physical activity having a positive effect was reinforced twice during the month.

Once was when I was at a teacher directed PD event, when Bruce McLaurin stated that some years ago he’d had his math class taking free throw shots in the gym (to determine where on the court one had the greatest chance of scoring). After that, the students worked quietly for half an hour without being aware of it. The second time was in talking with a colleague, who said that her first period class had seemed very tired, so she had two students lead a “body break” which included jumping jacks. Even the student who hadn’t participated had seemed more energized afterwards.

Ergo, after being at school for 25 straight days, and with only five remaining teaching days in April, I finally bent my mind towards how I could at least attempt this within the recommended time frame. Because I’m a teacher, and I think doing the impossible is in our job description. Please be understanding if the implementation is somewhat lacking.


I was giving tests in my 3U and 4U classes last week, so that meant I was trying this with my MCT 4C class. Which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, as they’re my smallest group (only 9), and I’ve been having to revamp a lot of that course material already (it’s been 4 years since I taught the course, and there’s a new text). The unit we’re currently in is Polynomial Functions. Specifically, the expectation “recognize and evaluate polynomial functions, describe key features of their graphs, and solve problems using graphs of polynomial functions”.

Sample graph. Personification not included.
So, I went into Desmos and screen captured ten different polynomial graphs, with their equations. Then I decided half of the room was for “even” functions, and the other half for “odd” functions. On the diagonals, “positive” leading coefficient and “negative” leading coefficient. Ergo, a “four corners” activity (roughly corresponding to a Cartesian Plane). I created ten slides, starting with both equation and graph, then shifting to some with only one or the other. (Current technology did make implementation easier now than it would have been four years ago.)

We were doing a quiz on Monday, last period. I did this beforehand, in the hopes that it would remind the students of what we did last week better than ten minutes of study time with their notes. I would call it a success - when I saw uncertainty in terms of where to go, I could ask for clarification. A couple students were caught by a graph in standard form, choosing odd instead of even. At the end, one student said “I think I get it now. But I would have preferred pointing.”

Moving on, Tuesday/Wednesday we were looking at difference tables, the “a” value, and the points required to define a quadratic versus a quartic, etc. My plan? Construct a line through a point. So there should be lots of variations. (Indeed, one student picked the zero slope.) Then add a second point. Now everyone has the same line. But there could be different parabolas. Now add a third point, and so on. I even worked out equations in advance, in Desmos. Here’s that link, if you want to see.

I was hoping for some discussion, and comparison of different - or not so different - graphs. But the students simply held their sheet up into the air, or shouted out a value for slope, rather than actually incorporating movement. I adapted by having people raise hands if they had “concave up” versus “concave down”, and getting a volunteer to come up to the board to draw before showing my Desmos as a possible matching equation. Repeat for cubics, and so on. So, some of them were out of their seats.


Wednesday, I gave them all graphs when they entered. (The same graphs from Monday, retooled on a different sheet that I cut out.) I asked them to try and create an equation. After a minute or two, I handed out equations at their desks, but for someone else’s graph. Most of them (six) got up and moved around to compare of their own volition, without me saying anything. (One absence, and two stayed seated.) This led into a handout on the “a” values, and finding them from the y-intercept using factored form.

I’m not quite sure how to classify that - collecting materials for an activity? Anyway, it’s something I might be able to do again, and seemed more successful than Tuesday. Thursday I went very low key - it was a requiz of Monday’s material (I take the better of the two results). After giving them time to look at solutions, I covered them, and said they could take the new quiz from my desk whenever they thought they were ready, as I circulated for any other questions. I think only one student asked his friend to bring him the quiz.

Friday... was kind of a wash. Five students would be away for a host of reasons (field trip, family trip, religious day...) and I wasn’t sure what I could do with only four present. I decided to teach the “Graph Dance” moves. (Oh, FYI, there’s Graph Dances stretching back into 2011.) But then only two students actually came, one of them not a fan of my musical efforts, the other not keen on dancing.

Well, they both had to use the washroom, and the nearest one was locked (likely due to vandalism), so I guess the trip to the other side of the school counts as a win? Even though part of the idea behind including movement was to “have fewer washroom breaks”. Alas. If I remember to, I’ll try the “Dance” thing again in the coming weeks.


As I said initially, I do think there’s something to this “intentional movement” concept. It’s the main reason I’m blogging - so that I have something I can refer back to later. The preparation time wasn’t much more than a half hour each day (Mon to Wed), but granted it was a small class. The secondary reason for this post is to see if any of you, the readers, have thoughts about this. Or improvements I could implement in the future. So feel free to comment below!

And with that, April is done. As a bonus, I had a head cold for a couple days in there too. I am starting to think that April is indeed a worse month than June, even if it can’t top January for sheer hideousness. Of course, it may not help that my own personal calendar ticks over an additional year at the end of April. My tens digit is now a perfect square! Huzzah, peace out.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Guessed Writing 2016

It happened again. Last April 1st, 2015, I wrote an ‘April Fools’ update for another serial writer, namely Jim Zoetewey at “Legion of Nothing”. (Here’s a link to that 2015 entry still on his site.) This year, the “Fools Swap” was again proposed in the “Web Fiction Guide (WFG) Forums”. Alexander Hollins again graciously organized it.

And so like last year, I’ve decided to write about my writing process. There’s spoilers here for my 2016 entry to “SyncPoint, if you wanted to read that first.


You may recall that last year, in 2015, I’d hoped to write something that wouldn’t immediately be recognized as fake. Ultimately though, I'd also decided I wanted my entry to act as a bit of a window into Jim’s universe - the main characters, the rules, that sort of thing. So those things were foremost in my mind when signing up for 2016.

I was given “SyncPoint” by J. A. Waters. When I did my initial check in on February 22nd, I noted the serial had been running for about a year, but less than 30 updates. (Of note, J. A. Waters has another serial going as well.) This time, I did not have years of backlog to consider using! So I decided to make it a project for my March Break.

I started reading on Sunday, March 13th, aiming for at least 5-6 parts per day. I quickly realized that the setting and style were up my alley, what with a “Back to the Future” reference early on. In fact, the way a multiverse played into the tale, it inspired me to re-categorize the links off my serial site - sending anyone keen on my “Epsilon Project” over to “SyncPoint” too.


Like 2015, I kept a text file to track what seemed like key details in the story. (Or even the little details, for the observant - like doilies). The funniest thing was how random “april fool” ideas I had while reading ended up being addressed by Waters himself. For instance, after Sidella left, I thought maybe I could pull her roommate back in... oh wait, he’s doing that. Actually, she’s a main character. So maybe the ex... oh, there she is.

Then Leonard showed up, and I thought, maybe I could have a scene with doubles... again, J.A. did that a few parts later, not only with the Solstons but also the Reis. Well, okay then. There were a couple little things though - like I wondered if I could get any mileage out of the fact that there were two “Greg”s, and my name is also “Greg”. Plus there was the bit with Bugsy and the “writers"... would it return later too?

I mean, I didn't worship Gadget like a
goddess... wait, this was a thing somewhere??
I ended up reading faster than I’d thought. Part 19 I was forced to walk away from the story for a while, because WOW, my character “Alice Vunderlande” and his “The General” were perhaps separated at birth and you did NOT just make a “Rescue Rangers” reference because Gadget was an idol of mine back when I was younger and I need to breathe properly. (I think that was on Tuesday.)

Incidentally, and I said this last year, it’s a good idea to read the comments on posts too - assuming they exist. Because (again) that’s the future audience, plus there’s usually extra remarks by the author. For J.A.’s Part 16, someone wrote “I literally start every chapter not knowing which version of which character I am dealing with, or when it is set”, which is great for me as far as fooling people goes. Also, I learned that J.A. had given a mini shout-out to other serials on JukePop, which was pretty cool.

At some point, the idea of a courtroom trial came to my mind. Hard to say when that was, but it stuck. I caught up completely on Thursday, March 17th, decided that idea still worked, and on Friday I started writing out the scene. Part of what I liked about that setting was how it would let me snapshot all the main characters at once - without necessarily having them at each others’ throats. And it was maybe just plausible enough to fit into the universe.


Aiming for about 2,000 words (roughly the length of J.A.’s entries and my own) I decided the first half would set up the location and key characters, and the second half would need to be Bridget, leading into a finish - likely with Bugsy. This worked well for breezing through Rena (I know nothing about Nalan, and cursory research didn’t help much) and Rippante (who swears a lot - and in my own writing, swearing is a bit of a microphone drop, so I wanted to save swears for the climax, if at all).

Alice Art
(Commission by Cherry Zong)
For other characters, having Talbot or Rebecca felt like it would be overloading the scene. At the same time, I couldn’t resist the paragraph cameo of Alice (from my “Epsilon Project”), because somehow she just FITS into that world. And I absolutely had to put in the line about Dwayne Johnson being “a pillar of the community”. (It’s actually my favourite bit, because it will be read VERY differently depending on if you know "SyncPoint" or not!)

The writing came together surprisingly quickly. I was already into editing by Sunday the 20th. I found I had to tone Sidella down from the first draft, she was a bit overly emotional. (I now wonder if I write excessively emotional characters, which is WEIRD, because at my core, I’m not that different from Sidella at all... so do I write terrible characters?) But there were only minor revisions aside from that.

The minor revisions became kind of constant over the following week (how about mushroom stools instead of regular ones!), so on Wednesday the 23rd, I send J.A. Waters a message saying I had something, in case he wanted the file. He said sure (thanking me for being timely), so I sent it to him on Friday the 25th, a week early. That stopped me revising it, and gave him time to make a little graphic, if he wanted. (He did - nice lego piece! It's below.)


I ended up being pleasantly surprised by how well my “extra” part can blend in, given how I (obviously) hadn’t read SyncPoint’s most recent Monday’s episode when I pitched this one to J.A. I also recommend you check out kaleidofish, who wrote my “Epsilon” entry here. Including link-outs! Extra props because my per-week-plot-vote caused a rather short time frame to write in. (Interestingly, kaleidofish’s regular serial also does interactive voting - find it at “Redwood Crossing”.)

So where are the doubts this year? Last year I worried about overthinking things with Jim’s entry, and whether I should have set things in the past with so many main characters. This year my doubts are on a more generic level. Such as, are my own characters interesting to anyone aside from me? Am I perhaps a better analyst than I am a fiction writer? Will anyone who finds me through this swapping actually stick around? (If anyone did last year, they’ve been shockingly silent.)

That said, I was also worried that J.A. Waters would see my entry as too irreverent. And he liked it! So, as last year, I guess it is what it is. Thanks for reading about my writing process! New voting for “Epsilon Project will occur Sunday morning, and my time travel serial will resume (on that same site) with Book 3 this summer.