A Few Thoughts As the Fall Semester Winds Down

Within the next fortnight, I expect to have a post reflecting more deeply on how my implementation of Standards Based Grading went this semester, and lay out plans for my new courses next semester. But for now, here are a couple of unrelated thoughts and descriptions of what is happening as first semester draws to a close.

  • I really like the final Handshaking project we do in Computer Integrated Manufacturing (CIM), because it ties together so many of the threads we have been learning about and provides students (and me) with a real sense of accomplishment. In that project, students work collaboratively in small groups and combine their knowledge of 1) programming the robotic arm, 2) programming the CNC mill using G&M codes, and 3) using inputs and outputs in a control system. They write two programs, for the arm and mill, that communicate via electrical signals so that the machines can work together seamlessly as one unit. Every group last year was able to successfully complete the Handshaking project, and we are on track that I believe every group will this year too!
  • We still don’t have the engineering equipment to implement the revised PLTW curricula. And now PLTW has announced the replacement of some very expensive equipment (FischerTechniks) that had been a required purchase with new equipment (VEX Robotics). Grrr.
  • Last week I got very frustrated several days in a row when students seemed not to have retained any knowledge of how to solve an equation, a process which is taught in middle school and should be solidified in high school’s Algebra I the year before they come to me for Geometry. Now I’m not talking about solving a particular oddball type of equation, but about the most basic, fundamental idea of how to solve any equation! –The idea which every algorithm or procedure for solving a particular type of equation is just a variant on (until the quadratic formula anyway)! That is, the concept that you are getting the variable all alone by undoing each distraction around it, balancing both sides as you go. While some specifics I expect to be forgotten, this to me is such a major idea, which students have seen and teachers have taught so many years in a row, so I have no clue how my students couldn’t remember something that basic. And the next day they didn’t seem to have any clue about it either even though we had just talked about it yesterday!
  • I’m wrapping up both classes with simultaneous review of prior topics (usually in the warm-up activity) and work on student portfolios. The portfolios represent work that students are proud of, and by writing a little about each piece, they are reviewing those concepts and skills too, readying for the final exam next week.
  • Monday’s date, if written in decimal but interpreted in binary, consisted of three consecutive numbers (01/10/11), while yesterday was not only another binary date but even a unary date (1/11/11)! Fun times.

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