Essential Questions

Trying to come up with essential questions for my algebra and geometry classes.

What is math?
What does math do?/What do we do with math?
Is math an invention or discovery?
How are numbers organized?
Does every number have a place?
Is that place important?

How can numbers represent change/patterns/time/space?
How can numbers be changed?/How can numbers change things?

Ok, I'm tired and that's all I got for tonight. Please please criticize and suggest more.

I Will Survive

My anti-resolution resolutions are a combination of things I want to do and not do. Of course these come naturally considering I've only been teaching for one week and a day but hey, it's a goal.

  1. I will keep a positive attitude in the classroom, regardless of circumstances outside of the classroom.
  2. I will not give up on helping my students make progress, no matter how little that progress seems.
  3. I will not kill myself this year trying to be the best, but I will strive for excellence.


5 Things I Haven't Done (and Everyone Else Has)

  1. Bought anything from Starbucks
  2. Flown on an airplane
  3. Went trick-or-treating
  4. Played Monopoly
  5. Ate a Big Mac, Whopper, or White Castle burger

List inspired by (stolen from) the Mike and Mike ESPN Radio Show.

Add your own list under comments… or create a list on your blog. Please leave the link in the comment section so the readers can take a look.


Week One, Day Five

(I really wanted to put a link to every person mentioned in this post because that would be cool but that would take so much time, which is not cool. The end)

Friday! Week One accomplished!

Today was another good day. It's going to be hard to adjust to a regular schedule after having a 2:15 schedule all week. But, now all my classes will be 50 minutes instead of some 50, some 30.

In my 50 minute classes I started by asking students to name 3 uses for a paperclip (idea credited to @paulbogush) other than holding papers together. This stumped the majority of them for awhile but eventually they started to think of ideas (or copy off of others). Answers were closing a bag of chips, picking a lock, stabbing someone, a toy sword, cleaning under your fingernails, piercing your lip, earrings, bracelet, necklace, belt, a popper thing to shoot at people, and to launch rubber bands.

After testing their creativity, I transitioned into the creative activity. Students had to make a thank you card for a teacher. It could also be to a janitor, cafeteria lady, secretary, teacher's aide, or coach. They could deliver it themselves or I would put in their mailboxes. For the most part, it turned out really well. Some kids couldn't think of anyone or anything to say and I had two students who just wouldn't do it. I didn't take a grade so what could I do? Not sure how to deal with that.

But others went right to work and even wrote paragraphs. And I did get a few cards too. =) I delivered them on my plan period and allowed some of the kids to deliver at the end of class. I had at least 3 teachers come and tell me thank you and that they appreciated the cards. It even made one teacher's heart smile (I love that phrase).

This was my personal favorite:

It reads: "Thank you for making this class as fun as you already have at the beginning of the year. I'm looking forward to the rest of this year."

This from a 16 year old freshman.

In addition, I had my students make "Help Me" signs. This went over so well. So pleased. Students had to create a sign that had some sort of confused face, question mark, hand raised, help wanted, or questioning, thing on it. The rationale behind it is that if I am teaching, a student can just throw their sign up, letting me know they aren't understanding. I hope to prevent anyone from feeling embarrassed or stupid for not understanding right away. Also, I think it will be really fun! The students got really creative with this. Everything from drawing their own, to cartoons, rappers, dirt bike riders, etc.

Let me show you.

Clockwise from top left: Lil Wayne looking puzzled, The Thinker pondering, Tennessee Volunteers basketball player Josh Tabb, both raising a hand up, and 2009 dirt bike champion James Stewart.

Clockwise from top: Handmade, graffiti skull asking 'What?', classic Wile E. Coyote help sign, and a handmade graffiti style 'Help Me' (or 'Help Ice' as some students said).

Clockwise from top left: Handmade with double sticks, Huey from The Boondocks asking for Hizzelp, a question mark made out of fireworks, and of course Stewie from Family Guy is frustrated and wants help.

Clockwise from top: rapper T.I. with a hand up, Gucci Mane making the 'ok' sign, Chris Brown looking troubled, and who else but Barney.

Don't you love it? It was a lot of fun.

The thank you cards were mainly to help promote a positive atmosphere between teachers and students as well as it was fun and needed to encourage teachers.

The help sign was my own brain child to help promote a positive atmosphere between the class as a whole. I hope that this combined with the earlier index-card-asking-questions-activity will help students realize that they can ask questions and receive help without feeling stupid or embarrassed.


Week One, Day Four

Today was a really interesting day!

First I had students do a multiple intelligence survey. I like this one because it involved simple multiplication and creating a bar graph. It also helped me to see who could follow instructions and work on their own. I gave them colored pencils so they could make it pretty too. =) I did have to define some words and phrases such as 'anagram, puns, spoonerisms', 'ducks in a row', 'the more the merrier', etc. Then I had them tell me their top one or two and explained the meaning of each. Some bought it, some didn't.

I also had students pair up. Each person is responsible when the other person is absent to take care of what they missed. I developed a What You Missed sheet that they have to fill out and make sure handouts are attached. It also has to have my signature so I can verify what they've written. As students told me their partner, I just typed it in to an Excel sheet for future reference.

And now for the exciting part....

That's my house! And I found it on Google Maps! I knew you could see a birds-eye view but I didn't know you could literally drive down the road and do a 360° and make turns and so on. I showed this to my kids every single hour and they absolutely loved it! Kids were crowding around and exclaiming and shouting directions to me. I think we found every kids house and we even visited the Eiffel Tower!

And the St. Louis Arch

It was interesting and educational! I've got to find a great way to tie this into math! I'm thinking for a mid-term project to have students pick a famous/important mathematician (thinking about making the requirement a non-white male figure to make things more interesting) and make a Glogster presentation about their life and mathematical importance instead of the usual essay/presentation. They could find different pictures of where their figure lived, grew up, worked, etc and incorporate into the presentation. I'm sure there are other good ideas to use such as parallel, perpendicular, right angles, curves, circles, etc.

The best thing for me was in seeing how excited the kids were. They wanted to know how to do it themselves and everyone was talking about it. I want to create that feeling as much as I possibly can!

It's empowering for them and for me. It makes me feel like I'm actually doing my job well.

Pretty good for my first Thursday.


Week One, Day Three

I was seriously panicking on what to do with my classes today until I talked to my PLN and had some wonderful ideas from @JenAnsbach, @jenann516, @msgregson. They were my lifesavers!

So for today I did this PowerPoint of 9 questions which came from Dan Meyer's wiki which I somehow cannot find the link to at all. It ask students about their learning in the past, how they feel about math, what makes school hard, etc.

I also went over some more procedures and did a create your own syllabus where they filled in information from the PowerPoint.

I tried the adjective game found in this book and it was alright, not real effective but at least now I know.

I had some boys in one of my classes hook up my computers and get them running and they worked well together, got the job done quickly, and problem-solved. Hmmm....this is valuable information that I'm not sure how to use! I know even more that I have to make things hands-on and doable and truly applied.

I'm having a hard time planning now and I'm doing the same thing in every class. Next week, I start to actually get into curriculum and plan things for 4 different classes! I don't know how you people do it!!! It's goin to kill me. Oh well, you gotta do what you gotta do.

And why am I sooo tired? Is 7 hours of sleep not enough?


Week One, Day Two

(I've just decided on doing a running commentary of my first week in order for me to remember this for next year, to reflect, and in case anyone out there needs some ideas to steal. Hey wait, that's what this whole blog is for. Nevermind.)

Day Two went well.

I passed out books and had kids type in their name and book number into an Excel spreadsheet so they could learn to use the SMART board. Bad news is, I accidently deleted it. Oh well, I should have had a paper back up anyway. That's one lesson I hope I don't have to learn again.

I also introduced the discipline plan and had students sign it. Their first homework assignment is to bring it back tomorrow signed by parent/guardian. I didn't have too much complaining about any of the rules although some asked me if they had to sign if they knew they were going to break the rules. Yes. Also explained the responsibility sheet and students seemed skeptical but not opposed to the idea.

Then I presented my school supplies list and explained what each particular item was used for. (My sister is the one in the pictures.)

I then went through and answered every single question that the kids asked me on their index cards from yesterday. A lot of laughs and just a good time from answering. I could tell many kids were surprised that I did answer each one but the point of this activity was to build their confidence in the fact that I can and will answer any questions they had. I plan on showing all my classes the list of the most interesting questions so they can see what other people thought of as well.

I also explained to the students how the classes would work, how I teach, how much homework they'll be assigned, what classwork will be, how I do tests, how they can make up tests so that their grades will improve, etc. I had a lot of positive feedback and a lot of students said this might be the year they actually like/do well in/pass math. And I haven't even started teaching yet. I think this is all going a long way in creating a positive classroom culture and building relationship with them.

I'm still loving it but I'm challenged with how to transition into curriculum as well as how to better engage my lower ability students. It's definitely going to be harder than I thought but I want to do things right and well and I value excellence. Hard work is worth the satisfaction of a job well done and a student well learned.

I'm optimistic so far while at the same time weighted with the amount of work and the important decisions I will need to make.

But we're talking about people's lives here. It's important enough to do right the first time.

What's highly valued isn't easily won.


First Days 2009-2010

Today was my first real day!

I did @paulbogush's Million Words for Students and @ddmeyer's Who I Am ( I created one just like it in Microsoft Word for us non-Mac people.)

At the end of Million Words, the kids get to ask me 3 questions about anything that I will answer tomorrow in class. I was surprised at how many kids couldn't think of anything to say. Seriously?

I had the expected questions about what is my phone number, when can we go on a date, do I have a boyfriend, etc but nothing inappropriate.

I wanted to share some of my favorite questions with you!

  • Would you date the principal for a million dollars?
  • Would you host a tv show if you had to wear a sombrero?
  • Who is the governor of Florida?
  • What is the fastest roller coaster in the world?
  • What is your biggest fear and why?
  • If you weren't a teacher, what would you be doing?
  • Can you cut a straight line with scissors?
  • What is the meaning of life?
  • If the USA were struck by a nuclear missile and only you survived, would you be able to live and support yourself? And why?
  • If Barack Obama called you to tutor his child, how much would you charge?
  • Can you tell if someone is crying underwater?
  • Why does a dog get angry when you blow in it's face, but when you're driving it sticks it's head out the window?
  • Do you like eggplant?
  • Do you know how to fly a kite?
  • Do you like cheesecake with strawberries?
  • Were your parents strict on you having a boyfriend?
  • Do you talk about students behind their back?
  • Why did you want to be a teacher if you knew it would be crazy as all get out?
Creative. I like it.

The most common questions were, what is your favorite subject, what made you want to be a teacher, do you give a lot of homework, how old are you, and do you like teaching.

It was pretty interesting. Some kids said they had homework already while other kids said my assignment was the first thing they had actually done all day.

I let students pick where to sit and had them fill in the seating chart with the names they wanted me to call them. Most students went right for the back row but I made them scoot up. I already know all their names so it's really just for a substitute.

I did stand at the door and greet as they come in. I had instructions on what to do on the SMART board but a lot of them either didn't notice, didn't read it, or didn't believe me. I can see this will be an important routine to start.

The day went well, I had no problems. But on the inside I was feeling so retarded and like all my ideas were silly. I kept having urges to throw everything out and start over. But, by the end of the day I just tried to plan for tomorrow and not go crazy thinking ahead.

I can't wait to read all the words my students wrote to me so I'm sure there will be something interesting to post tomorrow!


First Day

Today was my first day of teaching. Except I didn't teach. And I didn't have any students.

Our school just has homeroom for two hours while the teacher goes over all the paperwork stuff. I don't have a homeroom so basically, I just made an appearance. I haven't been nervous at all until right when they were introducing the new teachers. And I already know all the kids!

After that I just went to my room and did fun stuff. lol

So Monday will be the true test.

I think I'm ready. The whole first week I am doing intro stuff, learning about them, seating chart, book assignment, icebreakers, team building skills, etc. The next week is when it gets scary.

All my PLN playas gave me the same advice- Breathe, Smile, Relax. And take it one day at a time. If I wasn't organized, I don't know what I would do. I never understand how teachers even function without being organized.

I learned how to laminate this week and that hot glue is a teacher's best friend. The copy machine is already jammed (and it's my fault) but no one can figure it out. I checked every part possible and no success.

I forget that I'm a new teacher because I subbed and did summer school. I can't imagine what it would be like to be a new teacher and not know any kids or any teachers or anything period. Luckily, I'm very familiar with everything except the best way to teach.

Think I'll figure out this year? ;)


Video Game Learning

I was reading this post over at Clif Mims blog and it really struck me.

How does playing video games mirror learning in the classroom?

I am no expert on video games and have never really played that many. I'm an old school Nintendo and Sega player. I've played my share of Rock Band and Guitar Hero but I've never played on a Wii or done most of what's popular now.

But from my limited experience, whenever you are learning or teaching someone how to play a video game, what is the first thing you do?

Hand them a controller.

You might explain what a few buttons mean but that's it.

You jump in and start playing, clicking crazily until you finally figure out what is going on.

Then you die.


Each time you figure out new maneuvers, new places to hide, new ways to score points, new ways to stay alive. And you keep playing over and over until you master it and move on to the next level.

How does this reflect what learning in the classroom looks like?

It doesn't.

In comparing teaching math to teaching video games, here is my analogy. First, I will explain the instructions of the game to you (I might have you read some of it out loud). Then, I will attempt to tell you how this game is relevant to your daily life (because it's not interesting enough for you to care). Next, I will play the game while you watch (sitting still and not talking). Then, I will give you a controller and let you play. Before you can finish the first level, class is over and your homework is to go home and master the entire game. Have fun!

I'm not sure I'm adequately conveying my point here. I don't know how to teach math in the way I would like to, like playing a video game. I think it's similar to problem-based learning. Let's just jump in and start playing but how do you do that with math? I don't know how to make solving math problems look as interesting as playing a video game but the skill set is the same: problem solving, logical thinking, manipulation of information, strategic thinking, elimination of unnecessary information, improving on each additional attempt, critical thinking, step-by-step solutions, etc. How do you make it work so that students want to try over and over again until they master it? How can we create a support team for students to go to and get "cheat codes" or play online like with video games?

Dan Meyer on his blog has started the What Can You Do With This? Series. He uses a picture or video to display something that poses what looks like an easy to answer question. Students can easily guess an answer without risking looking stupid. The questions are practically begging to be answered and the lesson easily transitions into answering the question, almost without the students realizing it's math. I would love to do that for every lesson but first of all, finding the media that will fit every lesson is hard enough. Second of all, I'm not sure I'm smart enough to even know how to use or solve the problem myself. Third, how could you make the course cohesive and flow nicely into each other? Fourth, although the students would be incredibly engaged and learning, how does this type of teaching prepare them for standardized testing? I know that interesting/engaging lessons and scoring well on standardized testing are not mutually exclusive, but it sure seems like it. For all the curriculum planners/consultants/writers out there, this is the kind of work we need you for!! Let's take one relevant piece of media, and build it into a lesson plan while at the same time incorporating things that prepare students for testing.

Obviously, this is not my idea at all and will take people much smarter than me to develop. But I love it. I'm obsessed with thinking about it. I can't even plan anything for this school year because I know it will all suck compared to what little I've seen and what I want it to look like. I'm stumped by my perfectionism. I could start planning lessons the way I learned in college but it is lacking in so much that I can't even rationalize doing that to my students. So in response, I've done nothing. Take that.

Do we ever have to explain video games relevancy? Do they have any? Regardless of the answers to those questions, we don't have to convince students to play them, correct? Some things we do because they are fun, entertaining, or just because we want to. How do we get education to look like that? How do we get students learning again? Jesse at Math Be Brave addresses similar issues in her post, "Why Does It Matter?"

I want to build my curriculum from the student perspective of "Would I enjoy this if I didn't have to do it?"

Of course they have to do it. But, you know...


Home Visits

I was all ready to write a post about my home visits today but I don't really have anything to say.

I wasn't nervous to begin with and things went like I thought they would. I didn't have the parents sign all the right papers but I just felt like it was rude to keep interrupting the conversation to make them do paperwork. The parents were all friendly and probably would have talked for an hour or more if we would have allowed it. Not many complaints but the ones that did complain only mentioned certain people. (And I agreed on the inside with what they complained about.)

It was really interesting to find out that one shy student plants his own garden. He planted over 18 kinds of tomatoes, watermelon, and other things. I think his mom said 150 different things and he's done all the plowing, tilling, picking, everything. Amazing. Also that he likes working on lawn mowers and cars. He knows construction and how to lay carpet. Apparently he likes working with his hands and if he sees something done once, he can replicate it. Very interesting to know, especially considering he rarely speaks during class.

At another home, the girls (8th and 9th) hugged me when I got there and when I left. The mom wanted to be involved with the school even more than she already was and told us how she went to things at the school for her daughters' friends, even if her daughters weren't in it themselves.

Another grandma told us how she has 13 grandchildren and I'm under the impression that many of them have lived with her while she basically put them through school. I love to meet people like her who are pillars to their family.

So. Nothing too exciting to report besides I was encouraged by the way we were met with open arms. One lady was barbecuing and offered us pork steaks. Believe me, if I didn't have another appointment, I would have tore those up! I love steak!

In other exciting news, I met with the principal today and he informed me I will now be teaching Geometry, which gives me 15 more students and another prep. Joyous occasion. But the plus side is that in exchange, he split up my class of 21 hellions and so now I only have 10 hellions. The less hell, the better is what I always say. =)

I spent another 4 hours in my classroom and except for some posters I want to hang and this awesome clock I want to buy, I'm finished.

So without further ado...

Created with flickr slideshow.

Click here to see the before pictures.

All in all, a successful day.