Author Archives: Jon Oaks

About Jon Oaks

College Math Instructor. Tech Enthusiast. Visionary. Creative Genius. But above all, I enjoy what I do. That is why I am a teacher. Because I like to teach.

The Mathematics of Weight Loss

The picture below was taken in college when I was around my heaviest weight ever of 314 lbs.  I’ve always been a big person and I there is a lot that goes into why this is the case as well.  Was it the way I was raised?  Was it genetics?  Was it just me eating myself into a hole?  Well, this is not the place where I’m going to talk about that.

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What I will say, though, is that this is the most recent picture of me a little over 70 lbs lighter than I was at my highest weight.  This is a blog post about math, so I’ll let you figure out my approximate current weight on your own.

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With all of that out of the way, I’ll tell you what this blog post is really about.  I don’t really like talking about myself because I’m generally a very self-conscious person.  But this weekend I was thinking about what I might be able to do to share my weight loss journey with my students.  And the file below was created.  It’s a series of problems that I’ve created for my classes — one problem per class.

There’s problem for Linear Algebra, Calculus, Statistics, Beginning Algebra, and Math for Education.  The best part for me is that every problem asks a question about the same data set.  And it’s all based around the premise that I have a short-term weight loss goal that I’m trying to meet of 225 lbs by October 31, 2013.

Maybe this is a little bit over the top for what you might be willing to use with your own classroom, but it’s definitely a big step forward for me in talking about my weight loss publicly.  If I can’t talk about this with my students, what can I talk about, then?  Some of the fat jokes that I used to use in class don’t really work anymore.  Hey now!

The Mathematics of Weight Loss

Upcoming Conferences for 2013

I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately from people about what conferences and events I’ll be attending soon. Here is a list of them for 2013 and I’ll try to update it if I know I will be attending any other events:

Michigan MAA Annual Meeting
Friday, May 3 – Saturday, May 4
Sault Ste. Marie, MI

TedXGrandRapids
Thursday, May 9
Grand Rapids, MI

Calculus In Action
Saturday, May 18
Warren, MI
register at: bit.ly/cia2013

WebAssign User’s Group 2013
Thursday, June 27 – Friday, June 28
Raleigh, NC

MCTM Conference
Wednesday, July 31 – Thursday, August 1
Traverse City, MI

Screencast Camp 2013
Friday, August 2 – Sunday, August 4
Okemos, MI

Midwest Institute
Monday, August 5 – Friday, May 9
Kalamazoo, MI

BloggyCon
Friday, September 13 – Sunday, September 15
Sandusky, OH

MichMATYC Fall Conference
Friday, October 4 – Saturday, October 5
Farmington Hills, MI

A4EOE Conference
Friday, October 11
Rochester, MI

AMATYC Conference
Thursday, October 31 – Sunday, November 3
Anaheim, CA

I’m Not a Lazy Teacher!

I recently read a blog post by a student named Justin Strudler that has me really fired up!  In his post he explains that he thinks most students would rather be sick than go to school because they hate it so much; he then implies that many people discredit this attitude as laziness on the students’ part and calls for change in the educational system.

I’m not opposed to change at all, but I want to set the record straight on several things:

1.  I have not once cancelled a class because I was ill.  I will go into class and teach my heart out every day because I love my students and I love what I do.  Some may argue that it’s my own fault for not taking a day off to recover if I’m sick.  However, the truth of the matter is that whenever I have taken a day off of school for anything, it has been more work than it’s worth – I have to plan in advance to find a substitute, I have to write a lesson plan for the substitute, and when I come back from my day off, I have to do damage control to try to fill in the gaps that the substitute missed and I have to grade the backlog of papers that were collected by the substitute in my absence.  And by the time I am caught up with everything that happened in my absence, it’s just about time for me to take another day off.  This is a vicious cycle and it’s not worth it to me, especially just for a day off because I’m sick.  This is why I don’t ever cancel class simply because I am sick.

2.  Teachers are truly overworked.  Teachers do more than teach – outside of class I have e-mails to respond to, phone calls to make, meetings to attend, lessons to prepare, and papers to grade.  Teaching is a 24/7 job.  I try my best to prioritize and sometimes I fall short.  However, I know that I am not a lazy teacher and that I am making a difference in my students’ lives on a daily basis.  What students need to understand is that teachers know that the educational system is broken.  Teachers know that the system needs to be changed.  Teachers are trying to change the system.  However, changing a system as large as the educational system takes time.  I can already see many of the changes that have occurred since I’ve graduated high school myself.  For example, when I learned Algebra, I was given a page of 130 equations at a time to solve and I had to do that same worksheet every day until I got all of the problems correct.  A teacher wouldn’t dare do that today!  But in order to initiate change, I have to have the energy to initiate change, and many times all of these things that overwork me drain the energy right out of me.  This eventually turns into students calling me a lazy teacher and complaining that I’m not grading their papers fast enough, among other things.  But here’s the deal – just as students don’t like to be called lazy, teachers don’t like to be called lazy, either.  If you are a student who wants change, please recognize teachers for the work that they have done toward trying to make changes so far instead of simply complaining that more changes need to be made.

3.  I understand that math is difficult for many people.  Every semester I have a student, who tells me that math is their hardest subject, but they are trying their hardest and they don’t understand why their grade is so low.  Unfortunately, these are usually the students who I know are not trying very hard and are not living up to their full potential.  However, I have not once called any of my students lazy – and shame on any teacher who has called a student lazy.  The conversation usually goes like this: “So, what are you doing to try to improve your grade?”  “I’m going to tutoring a few hours a week and I’m trying my best to pay attention in class and do the homework.”  At this point I usually point out to the student that a few hours of tutoring a week is not an effective solution and that they need to come to my office hours, e-mail me throughout the week with any questions they may have if they get stuck, and try to form a study group with other student s in the class, among other things.  I actually have a list of 10 suggestions of things that students can do every week if they want help in the class that is on the front page of the syllabus, but most students don’t take it seriously on day 1 of the class and quickly forget about my suggestions since they don’t necessarily feel as if they need help from right from the beginning of the class.

I also point out to the student that not only does their behavior outside of class need to change, but their behavior in class needs to change as well – they need to start asking questions, they need to change where they are sitting in the class so that they are sitting by a different group of people, they need to stop using their phone in class, etc.  I tell the student that sometimes the only way the environment is going to change for them is if they take control and change it themselves.  See, everything isn’t just about how the educational system can be changed; it’s also about how students view the educational system.  If students view the educational system as something that they hate, of course they are going to hate it!

In the end, what I’ve learned from calling my low-performing students out on their behavior is that many times no one has ever actually told them the steps that they could do to improve their grades.  It is true that many people discredit low-performing students as simply being lazy.  Instead, maybe we should take the opportunity to explain to students that although they may think they are trying hard, it doesn’t necessarily look as if they are doing so from the teacher’s perspective.  Most of my students generally end up turning things around and often become some of the higher-performing students in the class and come back to thank me later for giving them guidance and making it such a great semester for them.  I have even had several students who started liking math so much that they’ve taken additional math courses from me, ‘just for fun!’

My point is that I’m not a lazy teacher.  I understand that that educational system is not working, but I am working every day toward making change.  And I get very angry when I hear students say that they hate school, but they don’t necessarily want to propose that they do anything to help toward the change themselves.

Free PDF Conversion Online

Recently, I learned about a relatively new website that allows for free PDF Conversion Online, www.pdfconverter.com. You can convert any file to a PDF or you can convert PDF to Word, PDF to Excel, or PDF to PowerPoint. As a math instructor, I have learned to take everything with a grain of salt when it comes to converting a PDF full of equations to a Word Document. However, knowing these tools are all available to me online for free is a big relief in situations when I am working on a computer at my college that doesn’t allow me to download the full-featured PDF Converter tools that I usually use on my home computer.

The thing I like best about the free PDF Converter tools is that is very simple and quick. You simply select the file you want to convert, enter your e-mail address, and wait for the converted file to be e-mailed to you. This is a lot more convenient than some other websites I have seen before that make you wait on the website while the file is being converted so that they can show you annoying, pesky, and sometimes misleading pop-up advertisements. PDF Converter is not like this at all and I appreciate the streamlined look and feel of their website.

Another thing I like about PDF Converter is that they have a more full-featured product available for download and purchase, if you need to be able to edit your PDF file. I have used many of the features of their product, PDF Converter Elite, such as the ability to add page numbers to existing PDF files. This has been a great convenience for me in creating the Course Pack for my Math for Elementary course in which I have files of my own notes interwoven with articles and other resources that I use in class with my students and need to have the pages numbered in a sequential manner. Before I started using PDF Converter, I always numbered the pages by hand, which was very time-consuming and very unprofessional looking. The cost of this product is currently $99.

So, why did I choose PDF Converter over all of the other products on the market? I think part of the reason is brand loyalty. I had been using the company’s free online conversion tools for a while, knew that they had a product available for purchase that would allow me to edit PDF files, and decided to give their free 15-day trial a chance. I figured, what do I have to lose? If the product didn’t work the way that I wanted to, I knew that I would be able to quickly delete it from my computer. However, as it turns out, I like the tool a lot for all of its available features and for its ease of use and nice, clean interface.

Again, depending on what your specific needs are, PDF Converter might not be the right tool for you. However, all of their free online conversion tools are still available for you to use. On the other hand, if you have the need to be able to edit your PDF files, I encourage you to take a look at this tool as a viable option.

New Factor Pair Spoons Game

The Factor Pair Spoons Game is a new game that was inspired by participants in the Professional Development Series that I’m conducting every month this semester at my college.  Last month’s topic was ‘Playing Games to Learn Math’ and I asked the participants to come up with a game for a topic that they felt was a difficult topic for students.  This game is a variation on what they came up with.  The spoons game was one of their suggestions, but they ended up turning it into more of a rummy-style game because they thought that the spoons might become too chaotic for some students in the classroom.

Factor Pair Spoons Game

New Logarithm Mania Game

Logarithm Mania is a new game for students to practice solving logarithmic equations when the base, the argument, or the value is missing.  I have always struggled with teaching this concept because although the basic equations included in this game are easy to solve, if they are not mastered, then solving more complex logarithmic equations becomes extremely difficult (you know, the ones where we ask students to do factoring and apply the properties of logarithms).  I hope that someone finds this game useful.  As always, any feedback would be greatly appreciated!

Logarithm Mania Game

Spring Break 2013

I will be using this post to document my Spring Break 2013 activities from Friday, March 1 to Sunday, March 11 and Tuesday, March 26 to Sunday, March 31.

Friday, March 8, 2013

11:30am – 12:30pm Dentist appointment and lunch at the newly opened “Ken’s Country Kitchen” down the road from where I live.  Going to this restaurant was a major mistake.  The portions were huge, just like I like them.  However, the food was awful – especially the hashbrowns.  They were burnt and crispy on the outside and mushy and absolutely horrible on the inside.

12:30pm – 1:30pm Worked on typing up new ‘Factor Pairs Spoons’ Game that was based off of the ideas that the participants at one of my recent professional development workshops came up with.  I’m very proud of them that they came up with such a fun game in the limited amount of time that I gave them to do it.

3:30pm – 8:30pm Worked on getting some of the smaller tasks off my check list, such as making an offline recording of an Adobe Connect recording from a few weeks ago and setting up the registration for the upcoming Calculus in Action workshop on Saturday, May 18.  By the way, registration is open if you know a calculus teacher in Detroit area who might be interested in attending:  http://bit.ly/cia2013

Thursday, March 7, 2013

2:30pm – 3:30pm Worked on typing up new ‘Logarithm Mania’ Game.  I am very excited about this game because I haven’t been able to find many logarithm games on the Internet even after searching for several years.

3:30pm – 12:30am Went to the Red Wings vs. Oilers game at The Joe.  It was my first time ever going to a Red Wings game.  I had a lot of fun at the game (despite the fact that I like baseball more) because I went with someone who actually knows something about hockey and was able to explain a few things to me about how hockey actually works.  After the game the person I went with wanted to go to Hooters.  I had never been to Hooters before and I doubt that I will ever want to go back.  The food and service was very sub-par compared to the high prices.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

2:00pm – 6:00pm Picked up some packages from the front office at my apartment complex – including the Monopoly Golden Ticket game I ordered online from Target and 40 customized refrigerator magnets I ordered with my college’s name on them (they were free).  Went to the bank to get the ATM card replaced that I accidentally shredded.  Had lunch at a new restaurant — I went there expecting another restaurant, but the new place that was there was OK.  Went shopping at Five Below because I wanted to pick up some new board games and they always have really good board games at really good prices.  Walked around Barnes and Noble and almost bought some books, but I realized I would never have time to actually read them.  Ended my afternoon with a haircut.  My hair was getting really long, itchy, and uncomfortable.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

2:30pm – 6:30pm Typed out textbook listing for the next academic year, read through a grant proposal, held a training session for an upcoming AMATYC Webinar speaker, and lowered my Natural Gas bill.

6:30pm – 8:00pm Picked up Detroit Tigers Season Tickets from the FedEx Facility and had some excellent Del Taco food.  I like Del Taco a whole lot more than Taco Bell because I always feel like I’m getting my money’s worth when I go to Del Taco.

Monday, March 4, 2013

8:00am – 4:30pm Went on Historic Houses of Worship Tour in Detroit.  I wasn’t sure where the tour was going because the brochure wasn’t very clear.  I enjoyed the tour, but there was a lot more down time than I needed because it was designed for the primarily older crowd that was on the tour.    I would have preferred a more fast paced tour where I would have either seen more things or it would have ended earlier.

4:30pm – 5:30pm Went to Olive Garden for dinner.  I really wanted some Zuppa Toscana.  I also decided I wanted to try the Herb-Grilled Salmon from their new ‘Lighter Italian Fare’ menu, but I didn’t want broccoli as the side.  The server was new and didn’t know how to substitute for the side that I wanted.  I felt bad because she went to the manger to ask for help, but she explained it wrong to the manager, so she was told that she couldn’t do the substitution that I wanted.  So, I ended up just ordering a side of spaghetti and meat sauce.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

12:00pm – 5:00pm Went to The Bridge Connection in Southfield to learn how to play Bridge.  Most of the people who signed up for the event signed up in groups of 2 or 3, so I volunteered to move to a table with 3 older women.  I initially signed up for this because I have always been curious about how to play bridge since I remember always seeing the bridge column in the newspaper as a kid.  I also thought that I might learn a new game that I could modify to use in my math classes.  Well, the fact of the matter is that Bridge is a very difficult game to play.

6:30pm – 7:30pm Ate Dinner at Noodles and Company.  It was the first time I had been at a Noodles and Company since they served me raw chicken.  They have some new appetizers that were really good.

7:00pm – 9:00pm Checked e-mails.  Since I didn’t check e-mails on Saturday, I thought that it was time to catch up before they stacked up too much and I got overwhelmed.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

10:30am – 2:30pm Had lunch with my mom and went grocery shopping at Kroger.  I hadn’t went grocery shopping in a while, so I needed a lot of food.  I bought an assortment of frozen fish and chicken products.

2:30pm – 4:30pm Played Dr. Seuss’ Oh The Places You’ll Go Board Game with my parents.  The game was a rough mixture of ‘Would You Rather?’ questions and what seemed sort of like Trivial Pursuit.  I did not like this game at all and would not recommend it to anyone.

4:30pm – 5:30pm Took a nap.  I told you that spring break was no different than any other time, right?

7:30pm – 11:00pm ‘The Lion King’ at the Detroit Opera House.  The first half of this show was excellent, but the second half left a very sour taste in my mouth.  I’m not sure if it was the actor who played the older Simba or the dance moves that they had him do, but I liked the kid who played the younger Simba a lot better.  My recommendation is to leave after the first half.

Friday, March 1, 2013

7:00am – 3:00pm Checked e-mails.  I find it very stressful that it took me this long to purge my inbox of all e-mails, but it’s something that definitely needed to be done before the break could go on any longer.

3:00pm – 4:00pm Took a nap.  Napping is one of my favorite things to do, even when I’m not on spring break.  So, why should spring break be any different?

5:00pm – 7:00pm Had dinner at Texas Roadhouse in Madison Heights near 12 mile and John R.  I found out that one of my students works as a server at this restaurant.  I had the pork chops.  I was very hungry since all I had really eaten all day was a box of goldfish crackers.

8:00pm – 11:00pm MOSAIC ‘Singsation’ at the DIA Theatre.  MOSAIC is a really great organization and the students always put on such a wonderful performance.  This evening was no different.  If you know of a youth who would be interested in singing, acting, etc., check out MOSAIC.  No previous experience is required.