I wouldn’t be disappointed if I weren’t working so hard

Facepalm

I taught a class today that didn’t go well. Actually, it went pretty badly.

I tried to engage in a discussion with my students that required critical thinking about statistics in the media, and they mostly didn’t engage with me. It took me a long time to plan out the lesson, carefully choose my resources, and prepare everything to guide them to a deeper understanding an appreciation.

And it mostly crashed and burned. You can read the play-by-play on the class blog, if you want (link).

Each day I write a post explaining what happened during class for anyone who missed it, and for the reference of those who were there. Today I shared my frustration with their stance in the room. From that post:

You’re not here to “do school”. You’re here to develop skills and learn to think critically. Calculating medians is not a way to develop your brain. Completing tasks is not the point.

I need you to be able to analyze, interpret, draw conclusions, and make decisions based on data. Any spreadsheet can calculate medians, but Excel can’t tell you whether three minutes of exercise is enough each week or whether e-cigarettes are a good thing.

I’m fully aware that our school system tends to prioritize finishing activities over real learning. Math can be particularly vicious because of the number of discrete, technical skills required to even begin to “see the big picture” of how everything relates and works together.

But I’m trying hard to break outside of that mode. Really hard. I’m trying to make real learning the priority. And I’m not above admitting that I made a mistake here. This lesson wasn’t designed well, or I didn’t prepare my students well for this approach today, or maybe both. But here’s what I need next:

I want what’s best for each of you, and that means actual learning, not just task completion. If there’s something you need in this class to make that happen and I’m not providing it, I need you to tell me. Today didn’t work, and I don’t want a repeat performance tomorrow. None of us does, I hope. Help me out.

I really mean that. I was so much more disappointed today because of how much planning and time went into this failure. And worse: I don’t know what I’ve learned from the experience. I’m now counting on my students to tell me what they really need to meet the goals I’ve set out for them.

WotC shouldn’t put expensive cards in preconstructed products #MTG

I’ve seen a lot of commentary in the past couple of weeks about Wizards of the Coast’s decision to discontinue Clash Packs and Event Decks. While I have no particular interest in either product, I assume the people in charge have some good reasons for doing so. Lots of fans have lots of good reasons that they wish these products would still be produced.

One of those reasons that is often repeated is that it’s a way to bring down the cost of some chase cards by providing additional printings and a cheaper way to access those cards. For example, if Wizards puts a card that’s selling for $15 in a Clash Pack with an MSRP of $20 and a street price of $17, it’s going to get snapped up for financial reasons. An enterprising person could buy up a bunch of Clash Packs, crack them and sell that one expensive card from each, and then trickle out the remainder at a tidy profit (perhaps $5-10 per pack). As a result of this easy access the value of that costly card will drop, but there is another effect that is more problematic for the game:

The average customer won’t be able to walk into a store to buy the Clash Pack because it’ll already be sold out.

Who were these products for, really? From my comfortable armchair it seems these are mostly products for people who are new to the game or want to purchase a play experience, not the hardcore grinder nor investor. If that’s true, then making the cards too tempting to the latter types will be denying them to the former.

Last year I thought about buying a fat pack of Battle For Zendikar, partly for the packs and partly for the beautiful, full-art lands. Upon release, though, the price skyrocketed to about $65 USD, vastly more than the MSRP of $40 USD because the lands were desirable. The average player couldn’t get the product for its intended price at a game store, and department stores were instantly sold out. [Aside: you could still buy them at Walmart in Canada for $55 CAD, which was about $40 USD at the time. I thought about snapping them up and flipping them, or their lands, but I resisted the urge.]

If Wizards can make preconstructed products that are fun to play and easy to buy, while still being an okay value for the consumer, they’ll hit the sweet spot for those products. The new Blessed vs. Cursed Duel Deck is apparently just okay financially, but is fun to play. This is a win for Wizards because it’ll bring people into the game (for just $20 USD) but still be enticing to many existing players.

Best of all, it’ll still be on the shelf when you walk into your FLGS to buy it.

Theros Block simple [almost] Pauper cube

Before Theros rotated out I bought a playset of all of the commons in Standard, from Theros to Dragons of Tarkir (I got them from MetaGamingNW through ebay if you’re interested: http://www.ebay.ca/usr/metagamingnw*com).

I like the idea of drafting, but I don’t like the idea of spending $20 to play a couple of games of Magic. Besides, with all of these cards in the house, don’t I already have enough to play?

So I made a Cube. Apparently most people have carefully constructed Cubes – they consider which cards have good synergy, they allow for a variety of specific archetypes, and they try to include some choice cards which are exciting to play with. This is very time-consuming, popular, and probably a lot of fun.

I did something a lot simpler.

Deciding on the cards

First, I wanted a Cube with 360 cards (24 packs times 15 cards each) so I can draft nicely. Here are the number of common cards in the sets in Theros block:

  • Theros: 101
  • Born of the Gods: 60
  • Journey Into Nyx: 60

This is a total of 221. Of course, I have 4 of each common card in each set, so I have:

  • Theros: 404
  • Born of the Gods: 240
  • Journey Into Nyx: 240

This is a total of 884. These are not nice numbers. That Theros 101/404 is the problem.

By colour, though, things are interesting:

 Set  White  Blue  Black  Red  Green  Other  Total
 THS  19  19  19  19  19  6  101
 BNG  12  12  12  12  12  0  60
 JOU  12  12  12  12  12  0  60

Those “other” cards in Theros are 5 artifacts and one gold land (Unknown Shores). These aren’t nice numbers either (it would have been sweet if Theros had 24 per colour), but I had an idea to round things out without having to pick just a few cards to have doubles of within a colour.

I decided to include 2 of each card from Born of the Gods and Journey Into Nyx, and 1 of each WUBRG card from Theros. I also added in Unknown Shores to round out the numbers:

 Set  White  Blue  Black  Red  Green  Other  Total
 THS  19  19  19  19  19  1  96
 BNG  24  24  24  24  24  0  120
 JOU  24  24  24  24  24  0  120

Add ’em up and it’s 336, exactly 24 short of the 360 I wanted.

I dug into my Uncommons and found 4 of each colour from Theros block (I tried to have a mixture of types – creatures, sorceries, etc.), adding 20 and bringing me to 356 cards.

Those 5 artifacts bothered me, though. I didn’t have a way to put them in without unbalancing the colours. In the end I decided to leave them out, and instead I put in 4 uncommon artifacts from the block. This had the advantage of giving me exactly 24 uncommons, too.

Making the Boosters

After reading this post on MTG Salvation (link), I decided to do something similar with my Theros stuff to organize the boosters.

I shuffled the three sets of commons together by colour (i.e. a pile of White, a pile of Blue, etc.). The uncommon cards I spread out as starters for my 24 boosters, one uncommon per pack. It’s sort of like having a rare to choose from in the pack. Then from the shuffled commons piles, I put two of each colour in each booster (10+1=11 cards each now). To help increase the variability a bit, I shuffled each booster separately and took out one card. It’s possible the I removed the uncommon card, so maybe next time I will add the uncommon at the end. Ah well.

I now had 24 boosters with 10 cards each. I shuffled the undistributed cards all together (which included the card I just removed from each booster, the other colour piles, and Unknown Shores), and then put 5 cards from that stack in each booster pile. This brings each booster up to 15 cards.

Distribution

Because I put 2 of each colour into each pack at the beginning, there will be a good mixture of colours. For example, you couldn’t get a booster with a colour missing entirely. This does reveal a little bit of information, rarely: if you get a pack for the second pick and a colour is absent, you know that the person before you took that colour of card. It’ll happen pretty rarely, though, so I’m not worried about it. This is supposed to be casual, remember?

Also, because I may have removed uncommons and redistributed them, it’s possible to get more than 1 uncommon in a pack (up to 6, I suppose).

Packaging

I flipped half of each booster around so only the brown cardbacks are showing on each side, then jammed them into penny sleeves. 24 boosters fit nicely into a BCW 1-BX-400 box:

Now I need to put some land cards in there too. It’s going to be tough to have enough lands to work with, since my supply is kind of low. I’ll have to pick up some more sometime when I see them offered cheaply somewhere. The best I can find online is about $20 for 500 land (100 of each) or $30 for 1000 (both including shipping within/to Canada). I have a pretty good stack, but I like to keep my basic land mixed into decks I build, so having more would be awfully nice. (If anyone knows of a cheaper source I’d be grateful).

Playing

I haven’t tried it out yet, but I figure I should be able to get some kids at school to play, right?

Helpful way to summarize notes in MDM4U?

I made a little booklet for my Grade 12 Data Management students to help them organize and summarize their notes in this part of the course. It’s not exhaustive; it’s just to show them that it’s worthwhile to take time to review their learning and actually record it, and to give them a structure to try.

Skills Tracking – Combinatorics – booklet

So many students don’t really consolidate their new learning each day, and then the study by “reading over” their notes (which means flipping pages while Netflixing, I think).

Is this format helpful for reviewing and summarizing? Is it a good physical size (it’ll print on US Letter size paper and fold in half, yielding a 5.5″W by 8.5″H booklet)?

Semester change

<begin break from planning>

A new semester means new students! They’re great! They have a lot of names, though. I’ll do my best to be able to reliably distinguish them.

Finishing off a semester means that there are a ton of students I care a lot about that I will never get to teach again. That really struck me today, and it’s bittersweet for sure. I’ve poured a lot of myself into developing these young men and women, and it’s crazy-hard to watch them move on, even if most of them are still in the building with me. I already miss them a lot.

I’m teaching new courses! I get to try new stuff, which is pretty fun. And it’s also a ridiculous amount of work, particularly those courses I’ve never taught before.

I have my own classroom! That’s pretty sweet. I haven’t had that happen in a long time. I have to make it more inviting though. It’s a bit sterile for my taste. Nothing a Star Wars poster (or mural…hmmm…) can’t fix.

<end break from planning>

Off Topic On Purpose

This morning Gregory Taylor (@mathtans) tweeted to me:

We back-and-forthed once, which I hope displays properly here:

And he was right. So here I am, even though I’m tired, because I like to write. It might even relax me a little.

In a rut

I notice that my last four posts have all been about work. That can be all right, I suppose, but I try to keep this blog more varied than that. Unfortunately, when I decided to write a post tonight only work-related ideas popped into my head. Tragic. I’m living and breathing this job, and it’s consuming my entire brain.

I don’t want to be in this brainrut all the time; I don’t think it’s good for me, my brain, or my family.

Rut-jumping

My plan is to intentionally write some posts in the next while that are not related to my job in any way that I can perceive.

Therefore I’m signing off entirely for the night, even though I’m sure there are emails waiting for responses, because I’ve already worked 60 hours this week and it’s only Thursday. I’m going to escape into something I enjoy and turn off my teachermind until tomorrow morning.

Good night.

Solving quadratics – what’s most important?

I’m currently teaching MPM2D, Grade 10 Academic math, and I’ve been having conversations about what’s most important for students to master in the quadratics part of the course. We’ve learned about the different forms of quadratic equations (standard, factored, vertex) and how transformations apply to give us vertex form, and we’ve started factoring.

The expectations I’m looking at right now are summarized here:

  • expand and simplify second-degree polynomial expressions, using a variety of tools and strategies
  • factor polynomial expressions involving common factors, trinomials, and differences of squares using a variety of tools and strategies
  • determine,through investigation,and describe the connection between the factors of a quadratic expression and the x -intercepts (i.e.,the zeros) of the graph of the corresponding quadratic relation, expressed in the form y=a(x-r)(x-s)
  • interpret real and non-real roots of quadratic equations, through investigation using graphing technology, and relate the roots to the x -intercepts of the corresponding relations
  • express y = ax^2 + bx + c in the form y=a(x-h)^2+k  by completing the square in situations involving no fractions, using a variety of tools
  • sketch or graph a quadratic relation whose equation is given in the form y = ax^2 + bx + c , using a variety of methods
  • explore the algebraic development of the quadratic formula
  • solve quadratic equations that have real roots, using a variety of methods

Of all that stuff, what’s most important? There is time pressure in this course, and I’m trying to focus on what’s truly essential moving forward. I also want to make sure that my evaluation reflects the importance of each understanding and skill.

Have you taught this course (or the sequels, MCR3U and MCF3M)? What do you think?