Monthly Archives: March 2011

Sharing Student Work

As an introduction to Integration in my Calculus class, I gave them the task of determining the volume of various buildings on campus. I wanted them to get comfortable with the idea of splitting something up into much smaller pieces in order to find the area and also wanted them to get an idea of good and bad approximations. Each group was given two similarly sized buildings and was asked to figure out which one was larger. It ended up being a great project – one that is a very simple question on the outset, but still provides quite a bit of challenge, a large problem that needs to be attacked with lots of smaller ones, and something that actually spits out a fairly interesting answer at the end.

The other nice thing about student directed learning like this is that they come up with stuff that you would never expect. Most groups used the same method of determining the heights of the buildings – using something in a picture that they know the size of and then creating some sort of scale to measure everything else. One group created a really nice visual for this by stacking members of their group that has been one of my favorite pieces of student work all year. It’s nothing groundbreaking, and it’s fairly simple, but for some reason I just found it absolutely hilarious. Check it out…


The Fun Part of Correcting Exams

Correcting exams, as I mentioned before, can be fairly depressing, especially when comparing the actual percentage of retention with what I expected, but there are a few students who liven it up. One of my friends came across this in her history exam: “Women played a major role in the history of man. As we all know, women were the ones who brought men to our world.”An English teacher came across this (I believe about something in Othello): “He loved her like butter, or bones on flesh.” Since there are not really any essays on math tests, my students don’t have interesting topics to rant about, but they still manage to spice up their exams somehow. Here’s a hypothetical – you are in the middle of a five hour grading session, you have already graded the same problem dozens and dozens of times, and you come across something like this:

I’m not really sure what that means or why he felt like writing that at that point or maybe if he thought that a compliment (is that a compliment?) would get him extra points, but it totally succeeded in making me laugh out loud alone in my apartment. There’s one student who consistently writes the strangest things on his tests, especially when he doesn’t know how to do a problem. Here are three typical instances of this from our last final that happen to be of the main three types of randomness that I see from him…

1. Cursing Me
(Optimization is a type of problem in Calculus.)

2. Trevoring
(He has this obsession with randomly writing/saying/probably thinking the name Trevor. It has something to do with a kid with Tourette’s from his old school, but I still have no idea what it is all about. It’s guaranteed to come up every single test though.)


3. Drawings
(These usually occur in the bonus questions or on the back page of the exam. Often they are of me. To indicate that it is me, I’m wearing a bow-tie and have a TI-83 calculator in my pocket.)

Though this certainly earns him an A for personality, that doesn’t make up a big part of the exam grade. In fact, it’s 0%. But he definitely gets points in my head for making my life that much more interesting.

Interviewing People for ABC News

It sure is an interesting time to be living in the Middle East, especially in Jordan, which sometimes seems like a little island of stability from which we can watch what’s going on in the region. During the Egyptian Revolution, I got questions from so many people about what was going on in Jordan, and I always answered basically “not much.” To be honest, I didn’t really have much more information that someone outside of Jordan couldn’t get too, and I wasn’t really basing my pronouncement on anything but my general take on the political situation here and intuition…. until I hit the streets with ABC News.

A close friend lived in Jordan last year and moved back to the US to pursue a career in journalism (Molly Hunter), starting out in New York working the graveyard shift with ABC News. She had a trip planned to return to Jordan anyway to help out with the non-profit she ran over here (Reclaim Childhood), but she had the luck to have it coincide with the fall of Mubarak. Because of this, ABC decided to keep her in Jordan for a week and have her report a bit about what is going on here. Though Molly’s “Marhabas,” “Shukrans” and Arabic counting skills are pretty awesome, she needed someone who could speak some more Arabic to accompany her to downtown Amman to put together a piece about Egyptians living outside of Egypt and the general feelign of Jordanians. Camera in Molly’s hand, and a list of questions that I pre-translated in mine and off we went!

Now, I could literally name about 500 people who would have been better for this job, but my Arabic is good enough that I was able to ask the questions that needed to be asked, and generally understand the gist of what they were saying to ask further questions. We talked to the juice man, the keffiyeh seller, and roamed around the Tailor Souk (a little alley that is just filled with people outside of their shops sewing’mending suits). People were friendly, excited to be on camera, generally willing to talk,or at least willing to point out people who could. I asked questions about the revolution, life in Jordan, democracy in general, and  anything else I could think of that I could say in Arabic.

The general sentiment:


  • We (as Jordanians) support the people in Egypt in their revolution, but Jordan is a totally different beast. We love the King!
  • If the economic times were better, we (as Egyptians) would move back home to be with our families, though we do get to visit a few times a year. The revolution is great, but that’s not the key to me returning.

The final product: After an hour and a half or so of interviewing, we went back to Molly’s place and watched the footage to pick out the good parts so that Molly could send those to a real translator…. all for what was I guess a short 10 second clip that aired somewhat late at night on ABC news. So if you saw a random shopkeeper in Jordan speaking Arabic on ABC News around February 15th, I’m the goofy, super excited foreigner right outside of the shot asking the questions. And as another final product, my general feelings about the political state in Jordan were now supported with some nice sound bytes from real Jordanians. What’s going on in Jordan? Not much.

This was all probably pretty much “another day on the job” for Molly, but I had an absolute blast.  I think I may have found something to do if I quit my day job…

Thank God Winter is Over

Winter term ended this past week and we are midway through one of my favorite (though often depressing) weeks of the year – finals week. It’s one of my favorite because it’s pretty chill for teachers, and the daily pressure of planning class goes on hold. Correcting the exams can be really depressing though because it’s a repeated reminder to me that we as teachers have this delusion that whatever we say or do in class is absorbed by our students  – and if it’s not, then it’s their fault. A student got a 33% on the Physics exam… after the curve. I more impressed than perturbed that someone can sit in a class for an entire term and catch on to less than a fourth of what was going on.

But as you can tell from the state of the blog – this is a much needed break. I’m exhausted ,and pumped to be catching up on sleep. The other thing that I’m excited about is that now that winter is over, I can finally put ice in my drinks at the dining hall again. Check out the sage advice from our nutritionist below in the form of a sign that has been on our ice machine all winter…

Happy Spring!