Made 4 Math #9 - The Nitty Gritty

Now that school has started, I don't have any new cutesy ideas to try so it's just down to the nitty gritty.

Since I'm starting sbg this year, I put a lot of time into creating my tracking sheets. I called them "Math to Know" and listed every concept I plan to teach. I made a column for the date but not sure if I will use that for students to write the date I taught it or the date I assessed it. Which one do you think makes more sense?

Then I made four columns labeled 1-4 for students to shade in a horizontal bar chart of their scores (which will align to my Star Wars Holistic rubric). Also, on each concept that appears on our end-of-course exam, I shaded the row gray as a reminder to me and them of what our priorities are.

Keep in mind that we are still transitioning into Common Core so some things I am teaching in Algebra II really belong in Algebra I but I am currently teaching it in both courses to help transition.

I'm sure there will be things I need to add or take out but if nothing else, I think they look really nice and functional.

Here are the downloads for Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II.

Next up, our school is really working on the RtI process. Magically, I have three students who were special ed inclusion for math and this year are in my regular classroom, my biggest class of 28, without any assistance. A fourth student failed my class last year and all year I was telling everyone that this student needed to be back in special ed (somehow had gotten out for reasons unclear to me) and is now back again.

I'm expecting issues so I decided on my own to make a progress monitoring sheet. I am going to track the grades and absences of these four particular students every two weeks. I made a list of interventions that I already do and blank spaces to write in additional interventions. I made a comments section so I can date and detail whatever goes on.

I will also use this on students when I notice a drop in behavior or grades. I went through the whole year and put down specific dates to help keep myself on track. I want the form to be very quick and efficient to use while at the same time showing sufficient data.

Best of both worlds.

Last but not least, I made a graphic organizer based on the PEELS method of summarizing that I blogged about earlier.

Last year we used an index card system that wasn't very effective so this is my 2.0 version of that idea. I will print 4 to a sheet and then we will probably only use these for the priority concepts (shaded in gray above) for now and see how it goes. Of course I want to do it for every single one but I'm not sure how realistic that  is.

I really wanted to use this picture because it cracks me up but we never want to frown on math! 

But it really does crack me up.


Patterns and Predictions

My last lesson before really delving into the curriculum was about patterns and predictions. I tweeted about this a few times looking for ideas. I really just wanted something that the students could explore and make some meaning of while building the habit of always looking for patterns, relationships, and connections.

I started the first class by giving them my handout with an unfinished Pascal's triangle and asking them to write down as many patterns as they could find.

This went over like a lead balloon. First, they just couldn't resist filling in the boxes, ignoring my directions completely. Then when they finally did get around to writing any patterns, they didn't know how to put them into words. This was what I wanted the whole point of this lesson to be but I didn't set them up for success at all. I realized later that I could have patterns written out in various colors and then they would have to find the pattern in the triangle and color in that same color. I should have done some kind of modeling rather than just throwing it out there. But in the middle of the lesson, you just have to push forward.

The next hour I set it up differently. I didn't give them the handout. I showed them the picture on the SMART board and asked them to tell me anything they noticed/wondered (Thanks Max!). Hands were going up like crazy. I called on everyone and just said thank you after whatever their response was. Then I passed out the handout and asked them to write down three of the patterns we just said out all. This went over much better. Then I gave them free reign to start filling in the rest of the pattern. You have never seen students so engaged! I truly believe it is basic human nature to want to solve puzzles. Then we started to color odd numbers one color and even numbers another color, in order to bring out Sierpinski's triangle. Unfortunately, we ran out of time.

The second part of the lesson was thanks to @aanthonya. Apparently, bees reproduce according to the Fibonacci sequence! Math is everywhere. Check out the notebook presentation and pdf handout.

I will end the lesson by reinforcing the previous concepts we learned- summarizing. I'm asking students to write a metaphor- how is finding patterns like going on a treasure hunt? Finally, I asked students to name the three patterns discussed in this lesson- Pascal's Triangle, Sierpinski's Triangle, and the Fibonacci Sequence.

We'll finish up the lesson on Monday- excited to hear their answers!

P.S. One student noticed a pattern I hadn't seen before. The sum of each row equals 2^n-1.  Hooray!


#myfavfriday Air Fresheners

I know this might seem like a silly topic but smells are important to me. I need peace in my classroom and that involves my room being clutter-free, colorful, organized, and smelling good. I think I've posted about every one of those other topics so now I'll talk about my favorite air fresheners.

First of all, every teacher needs a can of air freshener spray, especially after lunch, after gym, and in any class with boys. My favorite is Crisp Waters by Glade. I would wear this stuff as perfume if they made it- that's how much I love it! Buy it at Wal-Mart for $.98.

I have my own personal air freshener on my desk, as I always want to have good smells wherever I am breathing. My favorite is Hawaiian Breeze by Glade in the solid air freshener, also known as "that cone thingy". Also at Wal-Mart for $.98.

Finally, my all-time favorite is the wallflower from Bath and Body Works. This is what keeps my whole classroom smelling lovely.
The last promotion I saw for these were 4 for $20- so you could get a plug in and 3 bulbs. It's a pretty good deal since the plugs and bulbs are anywhere from $6.50-$8.50 normally. I tried Farmstand Apple for the first time- seemed appropriate for the beginning of school.
But my absolute favorite is Eucalyptus Mint.
It sounds weird but I swear it smells like a sexy boyfriend. And hey, that might not be your thing but I bet it definitely won't put you in a bad mood!

And that's the end of my weird, never-thought-I-would-write-about-this-on-a-teaching-blog post.


Start, Continue, Stop


  • Two nice things
  • Guided notes
  • Review Pong
  • Whiteboarding (the baby version I do anyway)
  • Birthday candy
  • Bell ringers
  • Trying to create lessons that increase student engagement and require as little talking from me as possible
  • Sorting!
  • #Made4Math
  • #myfavfriday
  • #hssunfun 
  • Blogging!
  • Asking good questions
  • Teaching bell-to-bell


I guess it's a good thing that I can't think of anything to stop but mostly I'm excited about all my ideas to start.

Comparing and Contrasting

In my writing across the curriculum class last spring, we read through Dean's Classroom Instruction That Works, 2nd Edition. Chapter 8 talks about the importance of identifying similarities and differences through comparing/contrasting, classifying, analogies, and metaphors. I do classifying through my sorting activities throughout the year so I skipped that one for today.

I started class by asking students to get in groups of 3 and then choose 3 objects. I meant to take a picture of my objects but I forgot. I used all my 3d solids, a sock, a penny, dice, eraser, screw, chalk, ruler, bean bag, etc. Just random things I found around the classroom.

Then I projected a 3-way Venn diagram and asked students to name 3 random celebrities. We went through the process of comparing each pair and then all three. I used that as a model before then asking them to do the same things with their random objects and no switching!
Also, don't forget to have students write one unique trait of each object as well.

Next I asked each group to trade with another group and check their responses for accuracy. Anyone could disagree but each group had to defend their answers.

From there, students went on to complete the analogies and metaphors section of the worksheet.

First they had to fill in the analogies based on the relationship and we discussed the relationships as well. Then they had to finish the analogy on their own that had the same relationship. Most missed was prince is to princess as hero is to heroine.

After that, students answered common metaphors and wrote the meaning behind them. This was interesting to hear everyone's different versions. Most missed was a rose between two thorns. Not the meaning, just literally students hadn't heard that metaphor although I tried to pick the most common ones I could find.

Finally, the worksheets end by asking students to develop a relationship between two seemingly unrelated objects. Definitely take the time to hear a variety of responses- it's so interesting to see how different people think. I read the first one, comparing a garden to a rainbow in the book, but the rest I made up on my own. It wasn't as easy as I thought!

I brought them back again to the question, what does this have to do with math? A few people remember my spiel from yesterday on dendrites but for the most part they seemed clueless again. I emphasized that we are always looking for way to build connections and find relationships in order to think more deeply about mathematical concepts. Again, this is a precursory introduction to a skill that will be used throughout the year. (I even made a washed out watermark of a dendrite on the worksheet!)

The activity ended with a few minutes left over so I challenged students to think of two objects that they thought had absolutely nothing in common. They tried but someone always had a quick response. Finally someone said that you could find a relationship between any two things- I definitely pounced on that remark! I said they now have no excuses during the year when we are trying to compare mathematical concepts. Classwide groan ensues.

By the end of the day, the winning two objects were whip cream and a school bus. It remains to be seen if anyone can figure out a relationship...


How to Summarize

As I've posted before, I really want to work on summarizing concepts and actually closing each lesson. I decided to start school by teaching some skills in isolation and today I taught how to summarize. I taught this lesson in every subject and I thought it went really well. My timing was amazing, down to the last minute of class. The principal even walked in my Geometry class of 28 and told me later that he didn't know what I was doing but every eye was on me. I've had a really positive day today so of course I couldn't wait to share it with you!

Here is the handout. I'll just make a list of how everything went down.

I started by asking students to do #1 and #2 and then stop.

#1 asks students to look at  a car accident and write down what they would say when they called 911.

#2 asked students to write the storyline of a Disney movie.

I asked volunteers to read their 911 calls out loud and we talked about what was important to share: the location, how bad the accident is, how many people are involved and what was not important to share: color of the car, etc. I asked volunteers to read their Disney story and then asked why #2 was longer than #1. Here is where we really started to separate explaining and summarizing.

#3 asks students to summarize their Disney story in 25 words or less. We made that a competition to see who could do it in the least amount of words. Then we discussed how a summary is the "911" version of the storyline.

Right about this time I asked the class if the thought had crossed anyone's mind "What does this have to do with math?" and it was almost an audible sigh of relief for everyone to realize they were thinking the same thing. So I threw out my 'cup of water' analogy about summarizing being a skill that helps seal knowledge into your brain. I also talked about how difficult it is to ask someone for directions who doesn't really know how to get there and the idea that if you can't explain something then you don't have a really good grasp on the concept itself.  And we continue on.

#4 asks students to compare explaining and summarizing using a Venn diagram (which will flow nicely into tomorrow's compare and contrast lesson) that fortunately, most students were familiar with.
 #5 asks students to list the steps of how to explain and how to summarize with the main difference being that an explanation describes step-by-step and a summary describes the main idea.
 #6 asks students to apply these skills to math. We explain step-by-step how to solve the problem and then write a summary of how to solve any problem like it. What we are really doing is generalizing, which is a difficult skill for students, but I felt like by separating these two skills that students really got a clear picture of how and why to do both skills.
#7 introduces a new (to me) method for summarizing, PEEL, which applies really well to math. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to @malynmawby for sharing this with me- just since reading this last night it's started to shape the way I want to teach this year.

#8 asks the students to apply this method to a problem on the board (I didn't want to put a problem on the back of the sheet so I just wrote it on the board). I used an area of a rectangle problem where the width is missing because I needed something basic that could apply to all classes. We went through each step of PEEL in the table. When we got to L for link, I explained how the brain creates new dendrites off of old ones so we are always looking for a connection to something we already know.

And that was the end. I'm sure it got boring toward the end but the first three problems really hooked them and got class off to a good start. There are skills I want students to do and do well throughout the year so I think it will greatly pay off to invest this time now in relating it to what they do in English and showing how it applies in math. Of course I will continue to model these strategies as we start digging into the math but I'm feeling really confident that the strategies I'm focusing on will pay big dividends in student learning.

Here is the accompanying PowerPoint presentation. (Does anyone else have to spell check PowerPoint so the stupid red squiggly goes away? Ugh.)

Bottom line is that I felt like I did a really solid job of teaching a useful skill, explaining the purpose behind it, and applying it. That's what every day should feel like.

Fill-in-the-Blank Procedures Activity

Today was my day for teaching procedures. I found out I had more than I realized and I didn't want to hand out another list or just stand in the front of the room reading to the class. I also wanted to do something different to "disrupt student expectations through alternative activity structures".

I created a fill-in-the blank procedure activity. I started by just creating a list of procedures. I had 40 originally but narrowed it down to 27.

Then I went through and highlighted key words so that I could create a word bank. I made sure to highlight some of the same words over again. This is what I used as my answer key.

Then I went back and erased the highlighted words and put blanks for students to write on. I also double spaced it so students would have room to write. Done! This is what I actually handed out.

I thought the activity went fabulous. Some students said it was fun (but of course there were complainers too) and it took most of the hour. The biggest benefit to me was that students were actually engaged with the material and actually thinking about what procedures made sense. I did give a few hints and it was definitely easier for students who have had me before. I read the answers at the end of class and we turned it into a competition to see who got the most right. Nobody even expected a prize! A lot of students asked me if it was worth a grade and when I said no they said 'good' but they continued working while I thought to myself 'good'. I had them turn them in to me and I am keeping them as proof that we did talk about procedures.

I've really liked my trend so far of creating things that they work on the whole hour and I don't have to talk. Although I feel very awkward and wander aimlessly around the classroom. I hope that this is setting the tone for the class and I hope I remember how nice this is as I continue to plan lessons and strive to get away from lecture and direct instruction in favor of students doing work and engaging with material.

Hopefully you can download the files and tweak them to fit your classroom. This was a bit time consuming to create but it was worthwhile. I even heard some students repeating procedures throughout the day.



Made 4 Math #8 - Posters and Markers and Clothes Pins, Oh My

Three weeks ago @druinok made her sentence starters and I had planned on doing the same. I made them a little bit different (girly version, not girly version) and added in some other questions. I laminated them and taped them to the desk. My plan is to model the questions and get students in the habit of asking these type of questions as soon as possible. Then I will take them off the desk and print out a poster to hang up as a reminder.

I bought my file organizer to use for students who are absent. I realized I needed to label the sections but how could I do that since it was fabric? I used the cute little labels I got from Target, wrote on them side ways, and stuck them to clothes pins. Then I pinned each section and presto!  It bothers me a little that the stickers are wider than the clothes pin but I'm trying not to think about it.

I made some posters that you might have seen in the pictures of my classroom. They all came from quotes I saw on Pinterest and I just modified them to fit my personality and room. We also have a poster printer at school so that helps.

(Poster PDF's if you want them: dear students, don't quit, not okay, won't give up)

I bought these washable stamp markers to use when working in class and maybe during bell ringers as a knock off of Amy Gruen's green pen idea. $1 for 6 at the Dollar Tree.

And  that's all folks!


Explaining Purpose

I've tried tons of new things over these first three years of teaching but I wonder how many times I've actually explained why I do them.

I'm going to try really hard to give explanations for things this year. I want students to see how much work and effort goes intro creating opportunities to learn. I want them to know that I am knowledgeable about learning and that they can be too.

For example, I wrote earlier about closing my lessons with exit slips or a summarizing question. Here is the analogy I came up with to explain the purpose: Imagine an empty cup sitting at your desk. I spend the entire class period filling it with water. I keep talking until the bell rings and you rush out of here to your next class, spilling water along the way. What a waste of my time spent carefully filling it up. Now imagine that I stop at the end of class to put a lid on the cup. When the bell rings, all of the water is sealed inside. No leaking! Summarizing your learning helps you to really seal the new information in your brain. (This will be handy to use during the lesson I plan to teach on analogies as well. Double threat.)

My IC told me an interesting fact about the way the brain works- new dendrites are built by making connections with dendrites that already exist. That is why it is so important to build on prior knowledge and stay within the zone of proximal development.

I always analyze things to get down to the why- it helps me process and remember things so much better. Even more than letting my students know that I know and do things on purpose, I might reach the students who are like me and really just need to know why.

As I start this week with teaching procedures and building routines, I plan to focus really hard on purposeful explanations.

Renaming Homework

I've decided to rename my homework assignments as 'practice sheets'.

I'm not going to talk about homework, grading homework, or anything related to it. I am going to introduce the 'practice quiz'. I want to get away from the negative connotations of homework and just call it what it is- it's practice and you need to do it to learn anything. Period.

These quizzes will be 5 or less problems that come straight from the 'practice sheets' throughout the week, worth 10-15 points total. I will choose the problems I think are most important- that way I can really emphasize my priorities. These quizzes will happen every Thursday. If a student does the practice throughout the week, they should do well on the quiz since they are literally the same problems, same numbers, same everything. This also takes the pressure off of me having to create something new.

I've decided not to let students use their 'practice sheets' on the 'practice quiz' for two reasons. One is that students would then be motivated to ask me how to do every single practice problem in class to ensure they have the right answers for the quiz. Two, somebody could copy someone's practice sheet on Wednesday night and then get free points on Thursday's quiz. 

If a student asks me about grading the practice sheets, I'm going to ask them if they keep score in sports during practice. I'm going to explain that the practice quiz is to hold them accountable for learning, rather than holding them accountable for the practice. Different students need different levels of practice but should be held accountable for the same amount of learning.

I'm currently debating about putting the answers directly on the practice sheet when I pass it out or showing the answers the next day at the beginning of class. I like the idea that they can self check if I give them the answers ahead of time but I had some students who were really frustrated by that when they tried over and over to get the right answer. But maybe that's a good thing? Maybe I will try a mixture of both.

Practice quizzes can not be retaken. To improve low scores on the practice quiz requires doing the practice sheet in the first place.

I'm feeling pretty confident about my system and it feels like it will solve my previous homework issues, but this is just the 1.0 version that is sure to have bugs once I start actually using it.

To be continued...


#myfavfriday Favorite Review Games

I've already written two posts about my favorite review games so there's really no need for me to create the wheel.

My favorite is Review Pong and I have used it for two years now and students still are not tired of it.

Another fun one is the Balloon Pop game where students start becoming enemies and allies.

I look forward to using my newly created ZAP! game this year as well as marshmallow shooters.


First Days 2012-2013

Illinois changed the law so that the first day of school had to last 5 hours. Normally it was two. This year we broke students into groups and they rotated throughout the school to 'learn' the expected behaviors for that part of the school. They scheduled 20 minutes for each group when it was easily done in 5-10 max. After that, students went to every class but only for 8 minutes a piece. Then they went to lunch and went home.

It seemed obvious to us that this should have been switched so that students were in class for 20 minutes. And of course we didn't even know the schedule until the end of the day before. Thank you admin.

I wanted to create something short and sweet, more for the mere fact that I wanted them to get used to coming in, immediately getting a paper, sitting down, and getting started. I happened to stumble upon @KristinABC123's #made4math post about a Class Brochure. I loved it and that's totally the kind of thing I enjoy making. But I only had 8 minutes to talk about everything on this page. I knew I wanted it to be fun looking and simple with what I thought the most important information was.

Here's what I ended up with:

 In honor of #TMC12, this slide was on the screen when they walked in:

They grabbed the paper and I asked them to read it and ask about anything they didn't understand. Questions about the Jedi stuff were the most asked by far. And every single hour knew it was Star Wars at least so all is right with the world. We had enough time to talk about everything I wanted to in 8 minutes or less. Mission accomplished.

Thursday we had our full 47 minute class period. I started by having them decorate an index card with their name and birthday, which I hang on my door during the week of their birthday. From there, I passed out decks of cards to play Sarah 's 31derful game. (notebook file, ppt file). It went great. I had only one hour where no one solved the puzzle. There was so much conversation and frustration. I explained that I was setting up them up for what they should expect in my class: you're going to have think hard, communicate with others, listen to new ideas, not give up, and use the knowledge you already have to solve problems. I would say that overall they enjoyed it, other than the typical smart aleck boys who want to do nothing at all times.

Tomorrow is Friday and we will be writing Mathographies. I googled mathography prompt and found this link which I then modified to fit me. I also wrote my own mathography. (Here's the doc, but I took out my personal information since I'm posting it here. I did answer every question.) Partly to model what I was expecting and partly so they could see how I struggled with math and why I chose to teach it. I feel pretty proud of it, I guess because I was honest and a little vulnerable in it and I'm hoping to see that reflected in their writing. I hope that it will set the tone- how I want them to take this serious and not just slap something down to try and get it done. I know it will be a struggle considering how little effort they were willing to expend to write their name and birthday on an index card.

I plan on at least having them read this again at the end of the year and possibly answering the same questions again or modified questions. 

Next week I plan to teach some specific skills: summarizing, compare/contrast, translating words into math, and analyzing errors.

Stay tuned!


2012-2013 New Year's Resolutions

First some pictures of my classroom:

I'm supposed to be getting two more white boards which will go in the big empty white spaces you see above.
Hey look up there....it's you guys!

My Resolutions
  1. Go to bed by midnight at the latest.
  2. Accept that I will have some sucky lessons. Make notes to fix them later rather than getting depressed.
  3. Really work on closing my lessons instead of letting the bell tell me when to stop.
  4. Heavily emphasize summarizing (see above).
  5. Whiteboarding!

Let the games begin.


Made 4 Math #7- Back to School Edition

Today was our first teacher institute day. I'm not very excited for this year and I don't really know why but at least I have a lot of cute stuff.

I found these silverware bins at the Dollar Tree and thought they would be perfect for supplies. I replaced my clear hanging gift bag idea with these because I think the bags would just be more trouble than they are worth. And the bins look so nice and neat. I used sticky foam letters from the Dollar Tree to label each bin because it just seemed like they should be labeled.

The bins say they are 12 inches long but they definitely are not. I put a measuring tape in the bins and decided to make my own Pringles can ruler holder. You guys didn't tell me the rulers only fit without the lid. :( I was disappointed but regardless, the can is pretty dang cute.
I found this pink glittery storage cart on wheels at a yard sale. Glittery pink is not really me but it was $2 and on wheels. You can never have too much storage. I organized a lot of my newest purchases to fit in here and that's about it.

Also, I bought a super cool clock. I like that it's big and it just seems mathy to me but the even better part is that you can customize it and put your own pictures in it! I take a lot of pictures and usually hang them up on the door to my room so I plan to customize the clock throughout the year as well. Yay for customizing.

Last but not least, I made an awesome poster for the outside of my door. I was inspired by a science poster on Pinterest but I wrote it and designed it all by myself.

It almost brings a tear to my eye.



#myfavfriday Grade Book with Progress Reports

My current trend seems to be sharing websites. Today is a little different but I'm still sharing a link. I found a really nice grade book template in Excel. We had a problem with our online grade book last year - some error in calculating the different weighted grades. It was mentioned that we would go to all points instead of having weighted categories. I just can't keep a paper grade book but I think I could use this one as a 'paper' back up.

Here's what the input area looks like:

What I really love is that you can click the Student Summary tab at the bottom and print out individual progress reports. It lists the student rank, letter grade, percentage, student points, total points, and the GPA (which can be modified). My favorite is the visual- a bar graph with a trend line.

It also has a box for teacher comments as well as a parent signature line. I changed the fonts and colors to what I like so here is the link to the original file and my customized file.

There should be little text bubbles that tell you how to change or fix things. I've only used it a little bit so I may not be much help but feel free to ask.

In other news, I spent hours upon hours of my life creating this powerpoint of daily bell ringers for all 36 weeks of school. I plan to use them three days a week so yes, a total of 108 slides. They are pre-Algebra skills with probability mixed in as well as standardized test questions. I plan to use these to start class in Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II since all students should be able to at least start if not complete the problems without assistance. I am trying to share it everywhere because it took so long to make that I wish someone else could have done it instead of me. So take it, be fruitful, and multiply.

Pun intended.