Sunday, August 26, 2012

Proud to Share Algebra Boot Camp for Calculus

Each year in Calculus, I seem to make it a little farther with my students. I have been able to improve the course a little each year to the point where I feel my students were able to not only reach farther, but also get themselves deeper in the understanding of the concepts of calculus.

I am feeling even better about this year. I have a few things in store to make sure my students are able to focus on the key calculus concepts and that they are able to draw connections that will solidify their new learning even better. 

Change 1: Algebra Boot Camp
We have had just two days of school so far, and I am proud to share the first week's work of Calculus material. With the inspiration of samjshah's post "Algebra Bootcamp in Calculus"  I too made a bootcamp. I also have found those darn algebra skills causing so much grief.

Algebra could potentially take away from the calculus. Students getting held up on algebra tends to cause frustration. They triumph over defeating the algebra, but in this triumph over struggle, lost track of the new Calculus skill they were actually trying to do.

Then, there are just those algebra common errors.  Students doing things like this= AAHHHHH!!!!

I gave boot camp 1 on the first day of school and boot camp 2 on the second day of school to my calculus class. Here are those handouts:

I feel this was a great start of the year. In my calculus videos/lessons, I can refer to these boot camp skills. They have the worksheets in the binders/notes, so they can refer back to their findings and review. Plus, it was kind of fun to see them resurface these skills. I stepped back, and told them to use their resources and each other. I was pleasently surprised to see they remembered most of these! They worked in groups of 4 and bounced ideas off of each other very well to complete the worksheets. We had great follow-up discussion about answers following the completion.

Change 2: A huge collaborative concept map to link the concepts and skills of calculus. 
Now this one is not one I have done yet, so hopefully I will proudly be able to share this later as I go along. One project I plan on doing is having them make a concept map throughout the course of the year. After each unit, they will collaborate as a group to come up with key skills and concepts they have learned throughout the sections of the unit. They will be putting these skills and concepts into though bubbles (made out of construction paper maybe) and sticking them to the wall. It will be an ever-changing concept map where they can edit connections as we progress. I want to just do it on the wall using construction paper, but I was also thinking about having them do on on a Prezi. 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Yay for Blogger Initiation: A Goal for the First Week of School

Yay for blogger initiation! I think there was a time when I just did not get blogging. I did not think it was a worthy priority to dedicate time to. The thing was, I had not invested time into it to see the greatness that could come out. I said to myself I did not have time for it. Oh but how you can make time when something becomes such a clear benefit for you. The ideas I have already received, the resources, the insight, the communication, and the personal, professional growth make me so excited to become a part of the community.
This will be the start of my third year teaching, and I still exercise the dream I had for my first two years about setting the stage just right for my classes of Pre-Algebra, Algebra, Precalculus, and Calculus. My goal is to have things run smoothly for the first week of school and to get my students pumped and prepared to learn. Big goal of many little goals, I know.  Vague, I know. My first week tends to be a frenzy for me. I am not prepared to give any genius insight on it because I just do not have it down yet.
What I really want to talk about is a shiny, brand new goal for this year that goes beyond the typical first week goals and first week list of things to do. 
I am hoping to raise an interest in at least 5 students and create a team at my school to participate in the FIRST Challenge robotics building program. There is more information about this challenge at   
Newby teams in Iowa are being supported by the company Rockwell Collins. The kits to build the robots are about $1,000, but there is a grant Iowa teams can apply for through Rockwell Collins to cover these costs. (There is options for other states, but I am not keen on them. Sorry other states.) The application is at .
The requirements for this funding include:
1.        Teams will consist of 5-10 members between the ages of 14 and 18.
2.        The team will meet at least weekly throughout the season.
3.        Coaches will participate in a training session for coaches.
4.        The teams will participate in a tournament, which may be a regional or championship event.
5.        The coach will be responsible for managing the team and participating in a post-season evaluation.
I am fully ready to cover and get my group of creators and innovators through requirements 2-5. I just need a team of students who are excited to jump into robot building.
Now, I know a little about computer programming (a very little, little), but I am excited to jump into a project like this though I know I do it kind of blindly. Through this robotics club, I am hoping to create an outlet for students who may not have had that moment/opportunity in school yet to let out some of the creative and exploratory minds. I am excited to see what they can come up with and the beasts we can create. To at least gain a little more knowledge and be a somewhat knowledgeable coach, I want to tell you about my next awesome discovery.
On the radio, I listened to how elite colleges are offering FREE online courses. I went to Stanford’s offerings at And wouldn’t you know, there is a robotics course! It is a 7 week course, and takes the structure like any online course. You do not exactly get credit, but you get the knowledge and a certificate of course completion. I will most happily flaunt that Stanford certificate in a scrapbook, that I will probably never make, and I will gladly take that wealth of knowledge. There are other courses and colleges participating. For now, with the little goals and things that need to be done at the start of school, I have just signed up for the one course. But this year, I hope to be collecting the certificates of completion and gaining that wealth of knowledge.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

What I Got: DIY Wind Turbine

The motor I ended up with is nothing like what I researched about. I got carried away with the research (I am finding this to be a theme in this project). When you are working with limited resources and budget, you cannot be a picky person. I ended up with 17.2 amp, 7099 RPM, 2.5 HP, and 130 VDC (volt) motor.  Nothing like the 3 amp motor I thought I wanted. Also, I did not get the Volts to RPM ratio I wanted. In research, I found that a .035 ratio was ideal. I ended up with a .0183. Again, not quite ideal, but it will do.… When you travel  an hour and a half to pick up a free treadmill posted on Craig’s List, and you take it apart to find a 17.2 amp motor, that is kind of what you are stuck with. That, and a lot of treadmill parts to dispose of.

What does this mean? Well, the scale of my project just got bigger, significantly bigger. I kind of feel like I was just trying to hammer a nail into the wall and I accidently knocked down the entire thing. I actually got myself really worried about the whole project as I stood in Menards trying to figure out what I needed. Things will just need to be bigger. Hey, more power to me though right. Really, I know right.

Here is what I ended up with:

Here is a picture of my husband trying to help me out and taking apart an old broken down hand belt sander. It turned out to have an AC motor… oops.

Soon, I will be posting about the blades. If you are interested in making 1 meter blades, I found an already thought through blade design for using PVC piping at . He gives you tables which basically gives you an arc length to cut given how far along the length of the blade you are. I am going to research a little more on them before I decide what to do. I know research, smeesearch. It has not done a lot of good so far, but I am sure this time it will. 

By the way, we do give thanks for the treadmill and the belt sander that was sacrificed in this process. For anyone who is concerned we will hoard the parts and make good use of them one day, or else we will take in the scrap metal to salvage their worth. Hats off to you treadmill and belt sander. May your parts become great contributors to science and making this world a better place.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

What is this feeling I am feeling inside?? Excitement?

I am just going to be frank here. I have taught two years, and I have never been truly “excited” for school to start. Of course, this is contrary to what I have said when people asked me, “Are you excited for school to start?” I always gave a big, fat “Yes”. Sorry.

The first year, I was just nervous out of control to be truly excited. The second year, I had kind of a big thing going on (I got married), and when school came rolling around again, I felt completely unready. What have I learned? I learned the feeling of being ready is a rare feeling in teaching for me.  The feeling of being 100% ready is a never. I can spend hours upon hours trying to establish the ins and outs of the lesson, the demands I am making of my students, the anticipated problems and questions the students will encounter, the connections to be made … You need to jump in with the best preparation job you can muster.

This year, I can say honestly- I am excited and ready to just jump in. Here are some reasons why:

1.)    I am blogging this year. During the summer I have started to follow several awesome blogs. Today, I just read at about a BLOG INITIATION where I hope to extend my stealing and sharing web even more. I cannot speak more highly of samjshah and how he has impacted my teaching. Good bye to teaching in isolation and regular nights of labor to birth ideas and projects (graphic I know, but it can be ugly). Hello huge network of teachers to exchange ideas. I already have two great new project ideas that I took from other  blogs.

2.)    I just finished my STEM Externship experience, and we had a last get together yesterday in Des Moines. From this conference I have learned about Iowa’s FIRST Tech Challenge where students work with designing programs and building a functional robot. There is more information at If you are in Iowa, Rockwell Collins, an aerospace, communications technology, and defense company, is providing support for newby companies. There is the applications and information at  At the beginning of the year I am going to get kids on board as soon as possible, and if there is interest I will be applying for the Rockwell Collins FIRST robotics grant. My students will learn to be producers of technology. I do not think there can be anything not exciting about robots.

3.)    I get a $150 stipend for my classroom this year, a generous gift from the STEM Externship program I participated in this summer. I am thinking about using that money to purchase items for building mini wind turbines in the classroom. I was directed to Kindwind I will start looking into this. I find the idea of my students doing the work with me to figure out wind turbines a very exciting prospect.

My goals are starting to seem a bit overwhelming. I have the initiative, however, and am mentally preparing for the follow through. Gah! I have so much to do!! I definitely don’t miss this feeling. Again, there is no true feeling of “I feel ready and completely prepared,” so that only leaves excitement now.

Before I start anything, I will finish up my summer goals that ends with me creating 10 new calculus videos for my flipped classroom. This week I will focus on nothing else. Success will be mine.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Summer Project- DIY Windmill Step 1: A motor

               I created three goals in my “One Goal Accomplished…” blog. I have created two lessons out of my externship. They are posted in the “Lessons on the Loose.” What I have left to do this summer is to make a windmill and remake ten calculus videos. The windmill is something that may extend beyond the summer. I am having trouble just starting. If you are not interested in making a windmill, read no further.
                To start, I want to clarify the scale of my project for those that may have come across this blog in an attempt to do research on a DIY wind project. For now, I just want to be able to connect my turbine to the grid to counter some of the electric components we are running in the house. My husband and I would eventually like to live “off the grid”, but for now we are just exploring the possibilities and working to learn the process of moving that direction in an affordable way… “teacher- salary affordable” and “a high potential I buy these parts and mess this up affordable”. So, I am aiming for it to be pretty free. My ignorance is also far above my knowledge, so know that I am not at all a credible source. I have, however, included the very helpful links I used. Believe me, I know this research results in a web of questions.
                I began this project by researching fin design. I thought that was a good place to start because I was sure that there was a perfect mathematical design that would maximize the efficiency of my turbine. My husband actually accused me a trying to math this project to death. My mind was being boggled as I battled with aerodynamics. Then I found - another great account of someone’s experience with a DIY wind turbine. I used this as a big reference.  I think the best thing was finding the following quote at the link I mentioned above:
This process can be very educational and you can get carried away with this if you are not careful. If you are looking for the perfect design, stop right now. After 3000 years of windmill technology, there is still no perfect design. There are advantages and disadvantages to every design (in my opinion).
It was at this site I had to change the game plan because I found in this and several other readings that selecting a motor was in fact the place to start.
Motors will produce a certain amount of voltage given the rotations per minute. I was working backwards. Given that motors are already built with specified Volt-to-RPM Ratios, knowing the motor you have, you can design your blades to ensure they are capable of the desired RPM.
Here are some things I learned in my motor research:

1.)     I preferred to find a brushless motor- some motors, expecially treadmill motors have brushes on them. Brushless  motors are more weatherproof than those with brushes (
2.)    I wanted a direct current (DC) motor. You could use an AC motor, but you would need to have extra hook-ups to convert the energy correctly- I will not even pretend to understand why.  I originally had the idea of using a fan motor, but that is AC you see. (  Good DC motors would be treadmill motors, washing machine motors, moped motors,… car motors, but they would require a lot of torque to get going.
3.)    I was looking for a motor in the ball field of 3 amps given the average windspeed of 13 mph around here, and a ratio of .035 Volts-to RPM as specified at . There are excellent explanations at this website.
4.)     I wanted free or at most a $30 motor.
I did many calculations and had idealizations of the perfect type of treadmill motor I could find.  Looking though ebay, the prices of not free were a bit too high because I am a cheapo, so I resorted to searching for free treadmills on Craig’s List. The travel time and the fact that I could not know the volts, amps, and volt’s-to-rpm ratio without disassembling it first made me go back to ebay.
And so I am waiting- waiting for a treadmill to magically appear on the curb, or waiting for one of my low bids to win on ebay.
So, I have accepted this will be an ongoing project for potentially the year. I will take pictures and po
I will let you know what I end up with. In the mean time, I will be working on creating ten new calculus videos. I will post them here!