In Memory

By George L. Skypeck  

I was that which others did not want to be.

I went where others feared to go, and did what others failed to do.

I asked nothing from those who gave nothing, and reluctantly accepted the thought of eternal loneliness... should I fail.

I have seen the face of terror; felt the stinging cold of fear; and enjoyed the sweet taste of a moment's love.

I have cried, pained, and hoped... but most of all, I have lived times others would say were best forgotten.

At least someday I will be able to say that I was proud of what I was ... a soldier.


Breaking the Mold: Activities

Ok, so it took me....a long while to blog this but it is more useful now in print than it was weeks before in my head.

KenKen Puzzles. I am a fan of these but I haven't tried them in the classroom yet. The new idea they mentioned was throwing variables and making these more algebra-esque. And even an extension of that, have the students create their own. It's as easy as putting in the numbers first, then the operations. Outline the cells that go together and then erase the numbers. Trade and solve. Yay! But they don't necessarily know that.

Scavenger Hunt. This can be done with any worksheet that you already use. Students get up and have to stay standing and go around and find someone to trade papers with. Each person solves one problem, initials it, and they switch back. Repeat until all problems are solved. This gets everyone up and moving and actively engaged. Because students are initialing, you can easily check and see if one person is solving the same problem over and over. I think this is great for differentiation. Students only have one problem at a time to focus on and they can choose it. They can be working on an easy problem while others can choose a more challenging problem. Either way, both students are doing math and no is singled out. If someone is struggling, you can stand beside them and help them without everyone noticing. After all, everyone is up and focused on their math problem, not on other students. Also, the order of the problems can be mixed up and students can have different versions to prevent cheating. Make sure to explain that you stay standing. you switch and do one problem, then switch with someone else.

Customized Reviews. Say there are four main topics being assessed on an upcoming quiz. Not every student needs to review every type of problem. Create 4 stations in the room. Each station contains one type of problem. Students rate themselves on how well they understand each topic. Whichever one(s) they don't understand, they go to that station. They can go to as many stations as needed, depending on their level of understanding. I think this is another great opportunity for differentiation.

My Turn Your Turn. Students have partners. One writes, one speaks. The writer cannot speak but must write whatever the speaker says. No questions asked. Then if they both agree, they initial it and move on, switching roles for each new problem. If they don't agree, they discuss and revise as necessary. Then when students turn in their paper, they have both agreed that all work is correct and complete.

Round Robin. Students are in groups in a circle facing in. Each person has a different colored pencil. (So make your groups so that no one has the same color) They do #1 and then pass their paper to the left. They do #2 on the next persons paper and then pass again. Continue until all problems done. This activity is really only useful if you assess it. When grading, you can see which 'color' got the most wrong and remediate from there. Kind of a math students anonymous. I did this activity but didn't assess it. At all. :( My bad. But I did notice that the students were more likely to talk to each other when they had problems and to look at the problems done before them to help them. I like any activity that promotes mathy conversation. And it's so pretty!

Balloon Pop. It took me about 5 minutes to realize that we weren't popping real balloons in this activity (This from the same lady who just now, today, figured out that the Blackberry symbol is two B's.) Students are in groups of at least 3. Copy 5-6 pictures of balloons onto paper and laminate it. Each group gets a paper and a dry erase marker. Each group picks a name. Write the name on the board and then hang up their balloon sheet under it.  Give them a problem. Every group solves. If the answer is correct they take their marker and 'pop' another team's balloon by marking an x through it. If a team's balloons all get popped they lose. But if they keep getting problems correct, they can use that to erase one of their x's or continue bombing other teams. Keep playing until the last balloon is left unpopped. The students will start to create their own strategies of winning. They'll form allies, work together to out other teams, and other insightful outcomes. All while doing math. =) 

After activities in class, it's important to have students summarize and debrief. Discuss topics such as: What did we learn? What was hard and why? What do we still not understand? What common mistakes did we make? What answers did we come up with? What did those answers mean? But it should be the students who present their results and thoughts. It's our turn to receive feedback from them. We need our students guidance to keep our teaching in the right direction. Debriefing gives everyone access to the answers and all the important information. We cue the questions, they inform.

Don't overuse activities. Don't use an activity more than once per unit. As you repeat activities, students already know what to do and expectations are already out there. This is where you gain instructional time.

So I totally want one of these spin wheels. You could write all these activities on the wheel and spin to randomly pick one! Yay! Fun!

But on this website it's $250.

So I was thinking...how could we make one?


Week 36

And here are my end of the year finals.

Algebra 1
Cheat Sheet
Applied Algebra 1 Final
Algebra 1 Final

Polygon Cheat Sheet

Applied Geometry Practice Problems
Applied Geometry Cheat Sheet
Applied Geometry Final
Geometry Review
Geometry Cheat Sheet
Geometry Final

Cheat sheets and reviews pretty much serve one and the same purpose.
My finals are not cumulative and covered only the second semester.


Breaking the Mold: Thrice

The Pippens compared our culture to other cultures. For example, in Japan, teachers rotate classrooms and students stay in the same rooms all day. When the teacher enters, the students stand, bow, and say "Please teach me." When the teacher leaves, they stand, bow, and say "Thank you for teaching me." In Japan, if you fail at math, it is a disgrace to your family. Also, schools do not have janitors. The students take care of the cleaning. Schools only have core classes, no electives like choir or art. Those classes are taken outside of, or in addition to the regular school day. Yes, their students may be better in science and math, but they are envious of the creative talents of our US students.

The main features of the US culture toward education are:
  • Enables helplessness
  • Believes students should not struggle
  • Expect teachers to make the work easier for students
  • Does not support thinking by students
  • Values speed and class participation – does not fit the styles or comfort of all students
  • Other cultures know that struggling is a part of learning
  • Teachers’ roles are to set the stage for thinking with appropriate tasks and discussion

The Pippens mentioned that in every country, all schools follow a script. Universally, it's not the same, but each country does have it's own script. I'm posting two of the slides (I'll post the entire powerpoint at the end of this series of posts) below to compare what it has always been like in the US (top) to what we should transition to (bottom).

Notice the first thing that is missing: Check homework. Why not check homework? Possibly because we are no longer assigning homework? Hm. More practice is meaningless if it's the same thing over and over. We should strive to make homework assignments purposeful. The goal in the new script is to practice enough during class that meaningless practice is unnecessary but if it is needed in order to understand the content, the students will be more likely to do it. In the case of homework, we obviously want to check it which can easily be done during the opener.

The opener is a good place to review yesterday's learning or to embed concepts that need to be reviewed for today's content. From there comes the hook, the picture, phrase, problem that intrigues them, makes them curious, invests them in solving the problem (aka the hardest part to create). Next is the discovery. This is where we need to let students explore and experiment and figure out on their own what we could easily tell them. Then we practice figuring it out. And we give feedback on the practice. Remediate. And we repeat. Closer: Sum up what we learned, debrief, point out errors, etc.

One thing I learned about was prime time. Prime time is where students are paying the most attention. This happens at the beginning and end. Students are paying attention because things are just starting and they want to see what's up and then at the end because they know they are almost done. By switching activities every 15 minutes or so, you are increasing the amounts of prime time, which = more engaged student. Happy dance!

So lesson planning begins to look like this:

Of course, engagements should transition into each other and not be disjointed activities. One way to transition into new activities is by doing brain breaks. I was excited to hear them mention Dave Sladkey from Naperville and his brain breaks book since I am a reader of his blog. They even showed us the ABC news video that Dave mentions in this blog post. There is so much I could say about the brain breaks but luckily, Dave has already done it. Check out his blog for ideas, descriptions, and video clips. The most important type of brain break is where students cross over the midline and back. You will notice a lot of the activities include doing the same thing forwards and backwards or left and right. This is crossing the midlines which may help improve students' math abilities. This is logical to me because math is working forwards and backwards and manipulating things left and right.

Activities. I have a whole nother post coming up on all the activities we tried and discussed. What I want to mention here though, are the characteristics of effective activities. I think I've mentioned a lot of these already, but feel free to ask questions about anything.
  • Individual accountability
  • Group interdependence
  • Feedback
  • Time limit
  • Debrief with whole class
  • Not graded
  • Pause/Stop activity at any time
  • Practice/model expectations for procedure
  • Use an activity no more than once per chapter
Wait Time. After asking a question, have students raise their hand when they think they know the answer. Then call on someone. Ask other students individually if they agree or disagree with that person's answer and why. Don't repeat the student's answers! Make them listen to each other. In the absence of your teacher voice, they will pay attention. We want to begin to develop an environment of peer pressure, not teacher pressure. Where students will begin to motivate each other to listen, think, respond. Once a students begins to answer, don't cut them off. When they are done, give students time to process what others say and formulate their own responses. Also, give students time to take notes or write things down and then time to process, they can't think and write at the same time.

When given a choice, students will almost always choose to disengage. Students choose whether or not tu tune in, answer the teacher's questions, or take notes. Don't give them a choice. Activities where students are exchanging partners, standing up, moving around the room, asking questions, trading papers, etc all make it obvious who is not participating. Again, peer pressure, not teacher pressure to keep students involved, engaged, and hopefully, learning!

To be continued...again!


Breaking the Mold Again

Continued from yesterday...

Unfortunately, the Pippens do not have website. Their e-mail is pippensconsulting@aol.com. One option that is available, is that they will do an audit of your math curriculum. They charge a flat fee of $1200 and require 18 different documents that you mail to them. They then analyze it, write a report, and make a recommendation of things to fix or change. I am curious as to what documents they require because I don't technically have a "curriculum". I have a textbook and whatever I make up to teach.

An interesting point that Sue Pippen made was that economically, the middle class is shrinking. Parents no longer want their children to do better than they did. Because higher levels of math are now required, parents use the argument that they didn't take algebra or geometry in high school and they are doing fine. Fine isn't the goal we're shooting for though. Food on the table every day is important but we want our students to be prepared for the present and future, for emergencies, for retirement, etc. Jobs that parents have now won't exist for their children. They can't expect to get by on the same solution that worked for their parents.

Another interesting discussion we talked about is strategies that teachers have and are not sharing with students. We develop ways in our head to figure out answers before our students can, but then we never teach them those strategies. At the moment, I can't exactly think of strategies I use, but I know the feeling of barely figuring out the answer before they're asking me what it is. Fortunately, the Pippens were prepared with mental math strategies to share! =)

Mental Math Strings. Start with a number such as "number of days in a week". Then add "number of dimes in a dollar" and subtract "number of ounces in a pound" . Now multiply by "number of inches in a yard" and subtract "number of millimeters in a centimeter". Finally, divide by "number of cups in a pint".What is the number?*  The idea is here is that you have all the steps listed on an overhead or Smart Board and only reveal one step at a time. By the end, all steps are shown and students can start over if they lose their place. I like what's going on here because students are mentally converting and then doing the math plus improving ability to hold things in short-term memory. They recommended starting with 4 steps in the process and no more than 7. I also like this because realistically, all students have access to it and it's also recognizing math that we actually use in real life.

Halving and Doubling. I have never noticed this but I love love love it. When you are multiplying, halve one number and double the other, then multiply. This works wonders on decimals! For example, 6 x 3.5. Half of 6 is 3 and double 3.5 to get 7. 3 x 7 = 21 which is a lot easier to figure out than the first problem. Let's do another just because it's fun! 20 x 6.5 = 10 x 13 = 130. They recommend starting this process with practice of just doubling and halving any number and then throwing in the multiplication.

Front-End Multiplication. I've never known the name of this strategy but it is one that I use a lot. It works great when multiplying bigger numbers. For example 524 x 3. First take 500 x 3 = 1500. then 20 x 3 = 60. Then 4 x 3 = 12. It's a lot easier to add 1500 + 60 + 12 in your head than to figure out 1572 with carrying and such.

Rapid-fire Warm Ups. Really like this idea as well. This idea is something you should start on Monday and continue each day throughout the week so that students can feel successful in the fact that they are improving. Say you are in geometry and are naming triangles by their side lengths. In a rapid-fire warm up, you would have students number their papers 1-8. Next, flash 8 different pictures of triangles rapid like, less than a second per picture. Then show the answers. Most students love the challenge of competition and this is a simple concept to implement.

Units. Pay attention to units because they tell you how to solve the problem. I never really noticed it but I think we all assume it. And maybe that's a key point: We can't assume that students assume what we assume. Anyway, we've talked about this in geometry. The formulas for volume and surface area of a sphere are similar and one way to distinguish is that r is squared in the area formula and cubed in the volume formula. And then when it comes to miles per hour or percentages, it becomes even more obvious (to us at least) that we need to divide.

Fractions. Obviously, I don't have much teaching experience so I've never had to teach fractions. I don't even remember how I learned them but they just come easily to me. The Pippens mentioned that in other countries, schools teach students the friendly fractions while our American textbooks are full of 17ths and 13ths and so on. I don't think students conceptualize fractions, they just attempt to follow rules. Oh wait, that's not just with fractions.

And surprisingly, even to me, I still have more to say = yet another blog post! And I haven't even started talking about the classroom activities. You're getting veeerrrrrryyy excited.



Breaking the Mold of Math Curriculum

I went to probably the best math conference I have been to all year. It was basically the blogs I read and love come to life. The presenters were a married couple, Randy and Sue Pippen. They are both retired high school middle school/ high school math teachers who now travel around Illinois presenting conferences to teachers. Practical, funny, hands-on, and in your face. Just the way I like my teachers.

I was spellbound from the first moment as I furiously began taking notes. (And by furiously I mean that it's so much that I will break this into separate posts to avoid making you furiously take notes on my furiously taken notes) And what better place to share said notes than my online-open-to-the-public-electronical-teaching diary!

The conference started with us doing math. (Similar to the way class should start maybe? Hm.) We started with KenKen puzzles and he announced that he would not be passing out papers. One person from each table had to go get enough for each person at the table and pass them out. (Which reinforces my desire to have tables and not desks!) He explained then that some students need to move and they will be the ones to get up and get the papers. Their philosophy was that teachers work less, and students work more. In a nutshell, be less helpful! That's when I knew it was going to be a magnifical day! 

We had a group discussion on the evidence that what we are currently doing is not working. Here's the list:

  • Lack of mental math, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills in students
  • Little or no work ethic
  • No dialogue between teachers and students about thinking and learning process
  • Teachers are isolated
  • Curriculum is loaded
  • Students hate math
  • No real-life applications
  • Too much review of topics that weren't truly understood the first time
  • Our students don't know how to learn on their own.
 Marzano released some research in the past few weeks that "Five years of effective teaching can close the gap between low-income students and others." Define effective.

Conversation Starter: Is the drop out rate increasing because more math is required? I haven't been around enough to know but I just came across this article (via @JackieB) a few minutes ago that suggests yes. 

It may be obvious, but Mr. Pippen pointed out that we have not been trained how to make math intriguing and applicable to our lives now. This saddens me. But there is hope people, and it's found in this amazing blogosphere. *cue touching music similar to the ending of every Full House episode*
Their policy on grading was to make it count. Don't punish them for practicing. If I collect,  then they should have the opportunity to correct. They pointed out that the United States culture has taught kids as long as it's done, I'm done. Work is not done until it's correctly done. They did mention that they thought homework was important (which I am agreeing with less and less) but that it should be recorded and reported, not graded. They hit upon the fact that we all have students in our class who cannot do math. How did they get there? They have been passed along on their inflated grades thanks to homework completion and participation points. These types of grades are not informative. Let's make grades actually mean something! Q: What informs students, teachers, and parents if learning is occurring? A: Standards Based Grading

I was inspired by their great sports analogy. In sports, do you keep score during practice? No. You're looking for progress and improvement, not a certain number. If you do keep score, does it count? No. It's a measure of your progress and improvement. In sports, is every time you play together a game? No. Repeated practice comes before the true test of your ability. Love. It.

Time Limits. Give students time limits to create a sense of urgency. Don't use 5, 10, or 15. Students don't pay attention to those amounts and we usually make them mean whatever we want. Try 7 minutes. Who is in charge of the time limits? We are! We don't have to stick to the time limits, we just have to give them. If our activity is failing, end it early. If students are doing math, keep it going.

Classroom Management. Minimize problems by giving options. If a student doesn't want to do the 10 problem activity with the rest of the class, then give them 15 problems to do on their own. The penalty for not doing something, should be doing it. The goal is doing math. Eliminate the conflict by giving choices of how to do the math. But they still have to do the math. It's easier for them to quit than to try and fail. If they choose to quit, they are control. If they try and we fail them, they are no longer in control and that's when fear sets in. Spend the first two weeks of the year making them as successful as possible. Success breeds success. Starting the year reviewing the same topics they failed at last year implies that this too will be another year of failure.

The solution to review is to embed review inside the new. Instead of taking the time out to teach order of operations, let's throw them headfirst into solving equations where, by george, we have to use order of operations! Genius I tell you. We cut out the first two to three units of review by embedding them into the material that is truly essential to the course. Then we cut off the last few units that are an intro to the next course. If they're teaching it, why should we? By trimming the first and last units out of the curriculum, we have time to slow down and focus on essentials. Present topics and assess in a variety of ways which may possibly give students time to process and learn.

Bottom line, when aligning curriculum, planning lessons, and implement new ideas, make decisions that make sense for the students.

More to come...


Week 35

The one with all the Geometry.

I don't know if I actually hate geometry or if I just intensely love Algebra but the end of the year in Geo is just a blur to me. So without further ado, here are the links sans comments.

Parts of a Circle, Quiz
Properties of Tangents, Worksheet
Arcs and Chords
Arcs and Central Angles
Inscribed Angles, Worksheet
Equation of a Circle
Properties of Chords
Circles Jeopardy Review
Circles Quiz


Quit H8n, Start Appreci8n

So it's Teacher Appreciation Week!

What is your school doing for you? We are having dippin' dots! There is pretty much nothing I like better than ice cream and dippin' dots pretty much takes the cake um, ice cream. And we are having our lunch catered, yum yum in my tum BBQ!

What are you doing for other teachers? This is my first real year in the teaching world and I would like to honor the teachers I work with. There are some I like more than most but still, we are all in the trenches together. What would be a good idea? Candy? A card? A good teacher quote or two in the mailbox?

To celebrate teachers everywhere, here's a list of 50 Incredible Books Every Educator Should Read . Honestly, I thought this list would be old school but there are quite a few I've read and quite a few I'd like to. (Just for the sake of listing, I've read # 1, 2, 6, 9, 35, 39, 44, 46, 47, 48, and 49. I'd like to read #4, 5, 11, 25, 31, 32, 33, 34)

Take two. Now go check out this list of  Top 12 Must See Teacher Movies so you can go rent the ones you haven't already seen seventy bajillion times...And now, I have something atrocious to admit. I have never seen Stand and Deliver. *gasps, eye rolling, shocked expressions* I know right? But I have seen 1, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, and 12. (This was just a deliberate ploy to enable my love-to-list syndrome.) I just enjoy knowing there are a few out there that I can look forward to seeing. Yay!

Now to give my fellow online teachers some props, go here to vote for the Top Teacher & Teaching Blogs. There are 4 pages of blogs so be sure to check out each page before you vote. There are several blogs nominated that I follow (ahem --------> see sidebar) and many people worthy of winning. So get your vote on readers!

This Saturday, May 8th, Sears Outlet stores will hold Teacher Appreciation Day, offering an extra 10% off the lowest outlet store price - this is in addition to the general savings of 20% to 60% off (merchandise and discounts vary by stores).

For more details, check out http://www.searsoutlet.com - don’t forget to bring ID to show off that you’re a teacher!

And give me some ideas for what I should do to appreciate my colleagues!