I Don't Read Directions

My first day, walk in the door activity was the classic Directions Quiz:

My teachers did this to me in elementary and being the OCD person I am, I actually did read all of the directions and sat back watching my classmates do silly things. This one is  less silly since high schoolers aren't very willing to take risks in class in front of their peers.

It really set the tone for the year and in my supply sheet I handed out, I informed them that I do not read directions for them. So far, so good.

As you can see, I also asked students to text my Remind101 app to subscribe to my classes so I can send mass messages while protecting everyone's privacy. I encouraged students to sign up and didn't receive a great response. So I sent out a text asking them to write down a math problem and bring it to me for candy. Interest seemed to increase but ironically, no one else has subscribed.

I have small classes and a good mixture of students I've had before and new students. Even after the first week they are still super quiet and kind of stare at me awkwardly when I talk to them.

More first week activities to come!

First Days 2013-2014

As one of my first week activities, I used the Marshmallow Challenge.

The website explains it all but basically students are in groups of 4 and have to build the tallest freestanding structure with a marshmallow on top out of 20 sticks of spaghetti, 1 yard of tape, and 1 yard of string in 18 minutes.

I thought this would be a great way to get them feeling more comfortable working in groups and I was right. They were all engaged and no groups quit when their towers fell over. They naturally fell into group roles which will make our next activity of creating those group roles a lot easier.

My tallest tower of the day was 21.5 inches. The average is 20 inches and the all time record is 39 inches. There is a TED talk that sums everything up but basically kids do better than adults because they play and build prototypes and use the marshmallow the whole time. Adults spend most of the time planning and use the marshmallow at the end which leaves them no time to fix it when it falls.

After the video I asked the students why they thought I chose to do this activity in a math class and I was happy with their responses: to make them think, team work, to help them communicate, help them be independent, to problem solve, etc.

I felt like it a was a great representation of the things I try to accomplish in my classroom throughout the year. It took up about 40 minutes and it was fun.

I got to be hands off while the students got to be hands on.


Bell Ringers (The Other 4/5)

In my last post I linked to my pacing guides. Those are for me. This is what I give the students:

They are called Math to Know Sheets and they list everything I hope to teach my students written in student friendly language. The rows shaded a light gray are my priorities and are the concepts that will appear on the end of course exam.

Every Friday I will randomly choose 5 concepts from these priorities to quiz students over. I've already made a powerpoint of problems that corresponds to my priority concepts.

Students will answer the questions and graph their results individually as well as a whole class and track our improvements from week to week. The three columns next to the concepts on the Math to Know sheets are where students will write a + if they got the problem correct or a - if they did not. The idea is that the students will be exposed to the priority concepts three times through the year as an informal cumulative review. We will celebrate 'all time best' scores for students and class periods.

This is called L to J if it is something you are familiar with- the idea that in the beginning the graphs will look like L shaped bell curves and over time progress to a J shaped bell curve. No longer is the bell curve acceptable but we push towards a J curve as we constantly compare ourselves only to ourselves and the progress we've made individually. That is 2/5 of my bell ringer plan (see the first 1/5 here).

Now for the other three days, I'm being a little more flexible. Referring back to my Survivor Games post, I plan to have my students seated in teams that compete all year long. Monday and Friday bell ringer activities are done on an individual basis. So that means the other three days are team time!

I've decided to use my pre-algebra bell ringer powerpoint from last year to begin with but I will present it differently.

This year I will print out each slide, one per team. I will put it in a page protector so I can reuse it for different periods. As a team, students will work the bell ringer problem(s) and write their answer on the board. The team with the most bell ringer problems answered correctly at the end of the week (in each class period) will get to draw a game piece.

I'm using a new textbook series that the publishers sent as samples- they have some good activities and vocab exercises that would also make good bell ringer activities. But the presentation will be the same.

I think there will be more buy in to work together with a team, especially if it might advance their team in the competition. Last year I noticed a big difference when I asked students for their answer and wrote all of them on the board. I'm borrowing off that idea and channeling it into team mode.

Obviously I had to create all of this stuff but at least it is already created. That means no prep work for me other than make a few copies. Students will have a pencil bag zip tied to their desk with a dry erase marker and eraser so they can work on the desk and erase.

Less paper = less waste

Less prep = happy teacher



Vocabulary Homework

I posted a while back about my Homework Brainstorm and converting homework to be more about writing and vocabulary.

At the end of the school year I made my pacing guides for next year and included essential questions, vocabulary, and CCSS math practice standards.

Here is mine for Algebra 1, Algebra 2, and Geometry.

It was great to have my vocab words all laid out but what to do with them?

I stumbled on this post on Pinterest last night and I think this is what I want to do. (Go to her post to download the template!)  I'm going to borrow her picture so you can see:

I like her idea on the right where the bottom is folded up and fits 6 on a page. Right now I'm going through and typing my vocab words from each unit in my pacing guide into the glossary template. I'm also numbering them. 

I'm thinking that I will pass out all the templates for the unit at the beginning of the unit.  They can cut them out, fold them, and paste them on paper. My students will all have binders and at first I thought I would have the vocab be a section of their binder. But after thinking about it, I want the binders to stay in the classroom at all times. 

So now I'm thinking I will ask them to have a vocab notebook. If my whole vocab idea is homework then I kind of need them to be able to take it....well, home.

I'm thinking it will be my anorexic version of an INB. I'll have students to paste the vocab words on the left hand page only and then the right hand page will be where I can ask them deeper questions or things that relate to the unit essential questions. 

Here's the plan:

At the beginning of the unit I pass out the vocab templates for all the words in that unit. Students cut apart, fold and paste on the LHP of the vocab notebook.

Each day at the end of the lesson, I will assign them the 'vocab homework". That will be to fill out the vocab templates, using their notes, oh dang...if they have to use their notes then it still can't be homework. Unless they take their binders home. Ugh.

And they will probably just copy.

Well crap. I thought I had a great plan.

To be continued.


Ok I'm back.

Thank God for mothers!

Mom suggested I give them a handout to take home with definitions on them. They can use the handout to complete the vocab template and then toss it. I don't have to worry about them bringing it back or turning it in and theoretically it's something I could make ahead of time.

I kind of hate the idea of giving them a handout with the definition on it and having them just rewrite it. I wanted them to use their notes to form their own definitions. I know rewriting it isn't the best idea but I think having to develop their own examples and non-examples will be the true test of understanding the definition.

So then should I go ahead and type in the definitions? I wouldn't have to create a handout if the definition is already there. Then the only thing they have to write is the examples and non-examples. Is that enough?

Or should I give them the definition with blanks in it? They have to fill in the blanks and write examples and non-examples?

Please comment and give me your opinion!!


Ok I'm back. Again.

Thank God for instructional coaches!

Here's my best plan:

 At the beginning of the unit I pass out the vocab templates for all the words in that unit. Students cut apart, fold and paste on the LHP of the vocab notebook.

As we go through daily lessons, I will have a cute little glossary graphic in our notes. Whenever we see those, we stop and go to our glossary and develop our definition- as a class, in class.

Their homework will be to then go home and create the examples and non-examples on the LHP. On the RHP, I will have a slide with 2-3 questions that they will have to answer that takes them more in depth. 

I will stop early enough that they can copy the questions down into their notebook. That will help me stay on track and the questions can help be a closing.

I will collect notebooks once a week to grade. We have early dismissal every Monday for students so I think I will collect them on Mondays. That gives students the whole week and weekend to complete all the vocab assignments.

Grading: I think I will give them one point for each example and non-example they write and 2-3 points for each question they answer. They will have a weekly vocab grade but the amount of points will be different each week.

The questions will help feed into the unit essential questions which I hope to give as a summative assessment and have students help create a grading rubric.


The End


Classroom Motivation: Survivor Games

I've been thinking of ways to motivate students who do not care about grades. This is foreign to me because I always care about grades. Always.

What students do care about is competition, winning, and beating their friends. How can I incorporate this into our every day classroom life?

I give you....

Here are my thoughts so far:

Students are put into tribes/districts that will last the school year. Everything they do matters to the tribe. The tribe will decorate a flag/banner to represent their tribe. How can I hang this somewhere as a marker where students can't advance themselves unfairly?

Each quiz will have three levels of questions: easy, medium, hard. Each member that gets the easy question correct gets to pull a game piece out of the food/drink category. Medium earns you a weapon. Hard earns you a luxury item. So I would literally make game pieces on three different colors of paper and have three containers for students to draw from.
Once a week there is a scenario from the faceless society/trial council/capitol such as "There is an extreme drop in temperature. All tribe members must relinquish a parka." Tribes where all members turn in the piece advance while teams who can't stay in place.

So everything that normally happens in the classroom: group work, discussion, problem solving, quizzes, tests, neatness, homework, good questions, good behavior, good attendance, etc is now a chance to win game pieces.

There could be a theme for any given time 1/2/3 weeks where we focus on one thing like 'asks good questions', 'perseveres in problem solving', 'perfect tribe attendance', 'no referrals', etc to earn luxury items.

Logistically, I need some type of game board for students to move along whether physical or technological. Something everyone can see but no one can touch. Ideas?

@heather_kohn suggested an immunity necklace for individual honors. That student may win no homework, honor of tribal leader, immunity from a scenario, sitting in the teacher, chance to randomly advance their team (dice) etc.

I haven't decided if students should move up certain levels like health levels (since I don't want any team to die out on purpose) or move around a map of perilous places (more like The Hunger Games, literally).  Or both.

@TJTerryJo suggested 'extra energy' days where students could do work to catch up and advance their tribes...sounds like reassessing in SBG right?

I also thought I could incorporate bell ringers. Give one problem to each tribe each day and the tribe with most points at the end of the week gets to choose a tool/weapon?

Is this something feasible to keep going for the whole year? I've thought of possible monthly prizes such as: go to lunch early for one week, eat lunch outside for one week, team t-shirts, free snacks for a week, lunch of their choice with the teacher, etc.

But what can I use to motivate students to last through the year? If I give monthly prizes then I have to have an end of year prize. If I don't give monthly prizes, will the idea of winning be enough to make them last the school year?

I'm teaching mostly sophomores and juniors, 15-17 year olds. I'm teaching Algebra II and Geometry. Should all tribes compete against each other regardless of class? Or should Geometry compete only with other Geometry classes and Algebra II with Algebra II? Should I hold out for one overall winner or one from each period? Each class?

I think if I plan enough to last the first semester that suggestions will naturally happen along the way and I can use student input to improve it for the second semester.

I could also offer extra credit like interesting problems for students to solve outside of class in order to earn a luxury item or advance their team.

Overall, I want to promote team work, asking good questions, and persevering in problem solving for students who don't care about grades or doing well in school.

What do you think?

Note: Some ideas came from coolmath's Survivor Algebra.


FCS in Math

So....it's been a while.

My reasoning is swinging back and forth between "I've become less co-dependent on everyone else to do my job" and "Am I closing my door and isolating myself again?"

Anyway, school has been done for so long that I don't feel the need to sum up what you've missed. Here's the short version, I finished my fourth year, heading in to my fifth, finished my Master's Degree, and for the first time in my career, am not teaching Algebra I. Algebra I is my baby so it feels quite strange to step back from the class I feel the most comfortable and most prepared for. But it feels nice to know I only have 3ish preps: Geometry, Algebra II, and RtI Math (whatever that is).

I also have a middle school class. That same class nearly made me quit my job last year. I hated it. And was dreading it again for this year. Until....Contextualizing into CTE.

This was a conference I went to with my FCS (family and consumer science) colleague. She invited me to go months to go because she couldn't go without a math teacher. I said yes in passing and then vaguely dreaded it until time to go.

It was awesome. One of the best conferences I've ever been to. FCS teachers are way more friendly and way less socially awkward than the math teachers I usually attend conferences with. They love to talk and eat! Two of my favorite things.

The conference was ran by two guys who took their geometry class and construction class and turned it into a Geometry Builds a House class. It is a double block class where about 40 kids are in one classroom with two teachers who team teach. They spend 90 minutes doing math in the classroom and then 90 minutes working on the construction site. They've been doing this project for 7 years and have built and sold 7 legit houses. They're motto is that CTE (Career and Technology Education) classes drive the project and math enhances it. Students literally go outside and apply math to the real world. On test scores, they beat out the traditional geometry class and the classes from neighboring schools, even AP classes. The outcomes they saw were increased attendance, higher homework completion rates, increased enthusiasm (student & teacher), decreased disciplinary incidents, and allies in the core areas.

Here is their powerpoint:

It's a hook for students in Algebra I to do better since it is a prerequisite. They are now wanting to develop an Algebra II Auto where they will take a standard car and convert it to electric. Basically, during the summer they travel and talk to teachers about their project.

So with us and a bunch of FCS teachers, it was a little different. We don't know how to build houses. But we do know how to build lessons. We were given time to talk and collaborate on a lesson that the FCS teacher already does and how we can enhance it with math. It's amazing, even for this math teacher, to see how much math is naturally a part of their world.

For example, we came up with the idea of converting a recipe for a class to a recipe for the whole high school. What FCS teachers call 'conversion factor' is what we call 'scale factor' in the geometry world. Each pair came up with a lesson and then attached 'naked math' to the end of it. Basically, the math taken out of the context of the lesson so students recognized the connection between the two content areas. We all presented our ideas to the group and others suggested extensions. Then we went through the whole process again.

It was a great learning experience.

Here's what I think makes a good conference/classroom experience:
  1. Set the spark 
  2. Give people time to actually do it 
  3. Share results 
  4. Discuss, debrief, think ahead
I left the conference feeling excited and satisfied...which is what I wish I could say my students feel when they leave my class. I got even more excited when me and the FCS teacher realized we both have a middle school class during the same hour. As per usual, hers is a 'fun' class and mine is supposed to be extra math. So we've decided we are going to combine our classes for that hour, team teach, and try out all the new lessons we received from the conference.

Oh yeah, we have a flash drive with all of the lessons from 20 pairs of teachers- 40 lessons already done for us. Number 5 on my list above would be 'useful free stuff'. I'm so excited to have a vision for this class and fun things already planned! You would think someone giving you a class and saying do whatever you want would be fun and the easiest thing ever...but it's incredibly hard without a vision. You never know if you are doing the right thing, if you're making a difference...we already feel that enough.

I thought that this conference was so odd for pairing math with FCS teachers but now I think we should be paired up with every teacher! Why should I search the internet for word problems when applications come to life in other content classrooms?

I am eager to try something new and different and with some resources for once! I was surprised by the higher level of math found in a lot of FCS lessons such as systems of equations, exponential functions, and exponential growth and decay.

So being the teacher that I am, I'm going to share all the lessons we made. I don't know how valuable they will be and I can't promise high quality but maybe they will help you set the spark!


Made 4 Math: Mental Math Mondays

I've been wanting to do mental math Mondays for a while now but I just found the best resource ever!

This is my plan for next year: Students will have a binder with a little zip up pencil pouch inside of it. (I know they will have it because I'm providing it). I'm going to print out this mental math answer sheet front to back with a coordinate plane on it (that could come in handy randomly throughout the year). Then I'm going to laminate it, cut it apart, and give each student one to keep in the pouch. (They will also have a dry erase marker, eraser, pencil, and pen in the pouch).

I made a powerpoint of mental math problems for every Monday, 36 in a school year, from this site. (Under Resources for Mathematics: Grade 8 under Weekly Essentials) The site has other great resources as well.

I plan to print out the slides in handout form for myself. I will write the date of each Monday on it so I can keep up and I will read the problems aloud one time only. The students can use their dry erase marker and laminated answer sheet to write down their answers. Then I will display the answers for that week on the corresponding powerpoint slide.

Students can check their answers, erase, and store it in the pouch for the next Monday.

Again, I did not create any of this material. I merely copied and pasted it into a nice powerpoint.

This is one-fifth of my bell ringer plan for next year.

To be continued...


Spring Fever: When Doing Problems Gets Boring

Earlier last week, I started to feel incredibly bored with my teaching. Especially in Algebra I. We are working on systems of equations by elimination so one day we did problems where you just add or subtract. Next where you have to multiply one equation. Then where you have to multiply both equations. Even though I disguise it by playing games or whatever, basically day after day is just doing problems all hour long.

On one hand, this could be considered a good thing because at least it means I'm not lecturing the entire hour. It could also mean that I am the only one actually bored because I'm just walking around and checking their work.

I'm also at that point in my curriculum where I feel like I have pretty solid lessons that I can reuse. So maybe I'm bored because I'm not creating anything. Which means...maybe my students are bored because they aren't creating anything.

Of course I realized this at the last second so I thought of a simple idea that's just a little bit different than working problems. I cut a worksheet into strips and asked each student to work the problem incorrectly. I asked them to be sneaky and not do something obvious. Then I would tape the strips down, make a copy, and give that as a quiz. Each student has to write a sentence explaining why the problem is wrong.

As I started class, the students asked me if they could finish the game from the day before. We were playing ZAP! with all kinds of elimination problems. They all really wanted to finish? I figured they were bored with that and so I came up with the error analysis idea. I'm sure they were more interested in playing the game than doing the problems but if my whole point in playing games is motivation for doing math then...I guess...it kind of...worked.


I guess my whole point is that I can't go by my feelings but by the student reactions (and data of course) to decide if something is successful or not.

My other point is that I need to provide more opportunities for the students to create and be creative.

Let's make a list!

Error Analysis/Mistake Game - Have students or groups work a problem incorrectly or look at an incorrect problem and find/fix the error.

Story Time- Give students a math problem and ask them to create a word problem/scenario that goes with it. Could even include pictures, skit, etc.

Sorting- Give students problems of different types on index cards or small strips of paper. Have the students sort them into piles based on what they think to create problem 'families'. Have them draw/decorate/label a 'house' for that problem family to live in that explains what they have in common.

Relay- Sit students in rows with different color markers/pencils/crayons. The first person works the first step of the problem and passes it back. The next student works the next line, etc. First row with the correct work and solution wins. (Rotate who starts the problem each time so that they aren't constantly do the same step in every problem.)

Strip Search- Work the problem out on construction paper or card stock and cut into strips. Put in a ziplock baggie. Have students put the strips in the correct order and take a picture. Mess the strips up and rotate desks so that they have a new problem and take a new picture. Make a collage of the pictures and turn in for an 'alternative' assessment or make a poster.

Fill in the Blank- Work problems out and then white out or delete parts of it so that students have to fill in the blank without doing the entire problem.

Line Up- Give each student a card/strip with part of a worked out problem on it. Students have to line themselves up in the correct order of how to solve the problem but without talking.

I just made a bunch of those up but now I'm out of ideas...

Hope that helps cool someone's spring fever too. =)


Homework Brainstorm

Currently I don't give any type of homework at all. And I love it. Homework seems like such a hassle for so little benefit. I don't feel like my students have learned any less without homework. But I will say I try to spend the majority of class with them working problems in some format- which is why I don't feel guilty about being homeworkless.

Most popular reasons that students don't do homework:
  • Don't want to take anything home
  • Forget about it
  • Don't know how to do it
  • Have no one at home who can help them
  • No time due to job/sports/family things

I've been brainstorming a way that homework can literally work and avoid these issues. My big brain child is:


What if homework assignments are based solely on vocab? Then they can't use some of those excuses. It is still math related, class related, and requires some outside thinking beyond class time. It's also a way to build academic vocabulary and writing in math. A way to increase responsibility and accountability. And I don't want them to be completely floored by the amount of homework given in college. But they aren't in college yet so I am not going to run my classroom like that.

I just came up with this idea and so this post is mostly to think things through rather than persuade you to agree with me.

I'm thinking that students will have a notebook (separate from my math binder) just for vocab. Then maybe two vocab activities a week and I'll collect notebooks once a week or once every two weeks?

By vocab activities, I'm thinking of things like Venn diagrams, drawing a picture of what the word means, writing analogies, and...okay that's all I've thought of so far.

The more I think about this idea, the more I like it.

It lends itself well to another idea I would like to try. I want to develop essential questions for each unit and then make that an open response or essay question. This is my favorite idea for naturally integrating writing into my classroom. I could have the students help create a rubric as well. Maybe even some self-assessment?

I know that there is never a huge amount of motivation for homework but I think it might hook some of the students who are creative thinkers and enjoy writing. I think it would be less intimidating than sending home a worksheet.  I also think by not collecting it every day that students would have enough time through the week, at some point, to complete it. It would also be an option for students who get done early to work on in class.

My English teacher bestie is on board and agreed to do the exact same thing that I decide to do in her class as well. I think that will go a long way toward increasing vocabulary overall and showing some unity in our school culture. And it will help train them real good. =)

I obviously need to come up with some more activities for said vocab notebook but I think I like where this is going.


Possible Resources:
FUN Ways to Teach Vocabulary
Vocab Dominoes
Math Taboo
Building Academic Vocabulary
Building Background Knowledge for Academic Achievement


Why I Choose Teaching

I've never had a special request for a blog post before but anything I can do to help convert someone to the dark side is considered a privilege.

I've always wanted to be a teacher. For my entire life. I played school by myself and with my sisters. I would write fake papers just so I could grade them and write the grade in my fake grade book. I even had a miniature chalkboard. When I was in third grade I told my mom that I wanted to be a teacher so "I could show them how to do it right". I used to stare in envy at my teachers who had their shiny metal chalk holder contraption and dream about the day it would be mine. Which is ironic considering I've never used a chalkboard in my teaching career to date.

As I got to high school and started thinking about college, it dawned on me that I had to actually pick a subject to teach. I wouldn't just get a classroom to decorate and hang out in. But how to pick what I would do for the rest of my life?

By far, my best subject is English and reading. I've been an avid reader since birth and I've always scored highest in that area. I love to read and write. I love to analyze and edit. But I just couldn't fathom how to help teach students to read or how to improve their writing or how to learn to spell words correctly. Grammar bored me to tears. I realized that even though English was my best subject, it wasn't something I could teach.

I really enjoyed art class but I only took it as a senior for an elective. I was actually decent but in no way talented enough or prepared enough in any way to teach that.

Science and social studies have always been boring to me- I attribute a lot of that to the experiences I had- a lot of worksheets, writing definitions, and memorizing facts.

But math...now math was a puzzle. I actually had straight A's in all my classes but math didn't come quite as naturally to me. It was something to figure out, to look at from a different perspective, to draw it out, to look for patterns, to calculate, predict, and find satisfaction in a correct answer. Math was actually doing something.

I think I felt like most classes were a lot of busy work and pretty passive for my brain- I could read faster than anyone in my class and my comprehension was high too. I didn't really have to think to write a paper or understand a story. Memorizing was a breeze. Math was the class where my brain felt involved, active, useful. I had to work, I had to try.

Plus I really really did not want to grade essays and research papers or listen to poor readers stumble over reading out loud. I think that everybody has enormous patience in a certain area of their lives. For me, it's math. When a student is struggling on a math problem, it's like I feel supernatural patience come over me and I can wait all day for the student to find and fix their mistakes, just anticipating that moment of satisfaction after hard work. That's where my patience lies.

After becoming a teacher, I can look back and see that talents and abilities I had in my life were really preparation for my teaching career.

I love to decorate and design things. That has come in handy with lesson plans and activities as well as powerpoints, programs, posters, t-shirt designs, etc. I never realized that could be a part of teaching.

I'm very analytical and people used to think I was so judgmental and harsh because I pointed out people's flaws or where they went wrong. Hopefully I've toned that harshness down but it's very helpful as a teacher to articulate where a student has made a mistake or has a weakness in order to remedy that.

I love to be organized and color coordinate things. And I think it must be really hard to be a teacher and not be organized. We all have our different methods of organization but to be constantly misplacing or losing things just cannot be good.

I think that my true talent is being able to explain things. I really pride myself on that and that the #1 reason I became a teacher, period. When I was in third grade math, there was a concept I didn't understand. The teacher told me I better get on the train because it was pulling out of the station. I literally imagined myself being abandoned at a train station (all that reading makes the imagination a bit overactive) with my whole class on a train pulling away from me. I had this panicky feeling where I got butterflies and wanted to cry at the same time. I was thinking, "But I don't understand!!!" And I realized that I never wanted anyone to have that feeling. Ever. Again. In life. That talent also has a bad side to it- I'm not very good at the big picture. I'm great at breaking things down into small chunks but I can't always put it back together. Sometimes I get lost.

I'm glad that I chose math but here's what I don't like. Math is a beast. I truly think it is the hardest subject to teach. It obviously has a negative stigma from the get go but it is such a spiraling subject that prior knowledge is a must. For students who miss any amount of school or class or whatever, they get behind and sometimes stay behind with a quickness. I think it's very hard to close any gaps. From my experiences with remediation and RtI there are just no good resources out there for math like there is for English and reading. They have tons of computer programs but when it comes to math, no computer program yet is helpful. I get stuck with a remediation class where I am supposed to know each student's every math weakness, create lessons/activities for each weakness, monitor progress, differentiate, etc etc etc. It just can't be done by one person.

Teaching math is often like an uphill battle. So many students think it is boring, useless, hard, and disjointed. It's like if you have one crappy class, the students are just glaring at you thinking "See, I knew math was stupid/boring/pointless/complicated." I feel like we really have to think out of the box with every lesson, more often than others.

My teacher bestie is an English teacher and sometimes I do feel like her job is easier than mine. In some ways she connects with the students on a deeper level because she gets to have discussions and read their papers and kind of get inside their minds. I think that's just harder to do in the context of a normal math classroom. She gets to connect with them emotionally and just do a lot of creative things that apply to real life. That is something really hard to do for me. I can't tell you when in your life you will need to know the difference between vertex form and intercept form of a parabola.

I hate the beast of standardized testing in math. Especially the ACT. Trying to prepare students for a norm-referenced test where they throw out the questions that everyone gets right and where the topics change from year to year is a heartbreaker. I hate that math has started to become about that. 

I love teaching math though. I like that it is a puzzle. I love patterns. I love figuring things out. I love a challenge. I love that people can do different things and arrive at the same solution. I love that deciding the best way to teach math is as much of a puzzle as the math itself. I love that each day is a new start. I love that I can constantly reinvent myself, my classroom, my teaching style, my lessons. I love finding new ideas. I love love love getting feedback from the students and trying to incorporate what they say. I love being able to go through hard work with my students and see them come out on the other side with a smile on their face.

Most of all, I love my students. I love getting to be part of their lives and wondering what they will do next. In the next minute as well as the next decade. I love our conversations and I love seeing their growth and maturity (as little as it may be) over the years that I have them. I love that I can feel I had some part of that.
I love that teaching someone something they didn't know before is even possible and I love that I get to do it.

That's why I choose teaching.


Made 4 Math: Grading Proofs Rubric

I just finished my geometry unit on proofs and at the last minute I decided to create a rubric that really detailed how I would grade the proofs. It's still not exactly what I wanted because I look at several examples and grade holistically and the wording is more for one specific proof, but you should still get the picture.

This rubric aligns to my earlier Star Wars Holistic SBG Rubric and is the way I've been converting to percentages all through this year.


Made 4 Math: Distance Formula Project

Earlier in the year I talked about teaching slope with the method somebody later tagged "stack and subtract". This worked so well for me that I decided to use the method in my geometry class for the distance formula. We did a lot of practice and I decided I wanted to a do a little project instead of a standard test to assess this concept.

We did a mock version of finding the perimeter of a figure on a coordinate plane by using a simple version of @pamjwilson's idea mentioned on her blog here.

I even created an Excel file to check their work- just plug in the ordered pairs and it will calculate the distance of each segment and the perimeter of the polygon. (To know what I'm talking about you really should go read Pam's post!)

I created my scoring guide first.

But I decided to walk my students through the requirements one at a time before giving them the guide.

We started by creating a design with no more than 4 horizontal and no more than 4 vertical lines and at least 10 slanted lines. Make sure you have plenty of extra graph paper on hand.

I checked each student's design individually before giving them the next step, which was to label each endpoint with a capital letter and find the ordered pairs. Some students wrote the ordered pairs on their designs, some wrote on a separate sheet, and some wrote in the margins. I also checked these individually- it will save you a lot of time in the long run!

Next I told students they had to find the distance of each segment and then the perimeter of their entire figure. I offered copy paper or notebook paper but they had to decide how to organize their work.

Once finished with that I asked them to completely color their design and gave them the scoring guide so they could make sure they had completed all of the steps.

Here are some samples:


I again used my Excel spreadsheet to help me check the work but I'm not gonna lie, it took me some hours to grade 23 of these.

Two common mistakes: one was just not finding the distance for every segment. Sometimes this happened because they labeled incorrectly, didn't label at all, or just completely left things out.

Second was that some students listed their ordered pairs in alphabetical order and then found the distance AB, BC, CD, etc....except when you looked at their design, some of those endpoints didn't even make segments- they weren't even connected. This was probably due to the fact that it worked out that way in our 'mock' project we did the previous day, which meant that students took it for granted that it would always be that way.

That tells me that I still missed the mark. I thought I was doing something more valuable by asking them to apply their knowledge of distance but there was still a disconnect. Students still just understand how to apply a formula to numbers without making the connection that this is the distance of an actual thing.

I avoided asking them to memorize a formula, gave them an alternative assessment, and created a project where they had to apply their knowledge...and I didn't accomplish anything more than I would have with a standard worksheet and test.

I did more work for equally or even less effective results.

Working harder but still not working smarter.


Made 4 Math: Pencil Dilemma Solved

This year I have really been working on small things. Those small things that really are trivial but that become a big deal in your mind. Things that happen over and over, get you irritated for no reason, seem completely illogical, and that no one else really gets.

For me, my biggest one throughout all four years of my teaching is the pencil dilemma. Students who will NOT bring a pencil to class.

I have been more frustrated than ever with this problem this year because I feel enraged that I provide them everything (paper, binders, calculators, and all other school supplies and even a place to store them) and they cannot bring the ONE AND ONLY thing I ask of them. They don't even have to carry a textbook, binder, or notebook to class. Just a pencil!

I know other teachers who make students buy a pencil from them, give them a personal item to trade, send them to the office, let them go without, etc. But for me, all of those solutions interrupt my teaching, their learning, and really ruin my mood for that class period. I don't want to deal.

So my solution is literally like the simplest easiest plainest idea ever....but it has worked wonders for my peace and sanity.

I start class by asking who needs to borrow a pencil (because it infuriates me when a students lets half the class go by doing nothing before asking for a pencil!) and as I hand them out, I write their name on the board under a headline that says 'Pencils'. I started this as a reminder to myself to get the pencil back from that student. But then something magical happened...seeing their name on the board made them remember to give it back to me on their own.

I have probably went through at least 7-8 dozen pencils this year but with my new 'system' I have used the same 4-5 pencils for quite a while now.

Friday, in my class of 12, I had to hand out 5 pencils. I was very close to getting angry when I stopped myself. What is my end goal here? I want teaching and learning to go uninterrupted. So I wrote their names down, handed out the pencils, and they worked hard the whole hour. And I ended up with five pencils handed back to me.

I know that I did not solve the root of the problem. I know that I probably could do something better to help teach my students accountability and responsibility.

But ultimately, I need to be the best teacher I can be and I can't do that when my blood is boiling with rage.

Simple fix = calm blooded me.


Made 4 Math: Radical Equation Stips

This year in Algebra II I taught solving radical equations for the first time. I don't really know where this idea came from but I ran with it. I have a small class of 12 students so I created 4 sets of strips and divided my students into groups of three.

I put a star * by the strip that represented the first step in the problem. Each strip represented a different step in the process of solving a radical equation. Students had to put the strips in order, check with me, and then write down what was happening in each step of the process.

Here are the strips:

I printed them on card stock and then laminated them. But I did create the file with the steps out of order in case you want to pass them out and have the students cut them out instead of you.

Last but not least, here's the worksheet I used for them to write down the process. Here's a tip, I only created four steps but that was confusing because students wanted to write 'square both sides' and then after that write 'square roots disappear' when I considered that one step in my brain. So you may want to add another step in there.

This took most of the period and the next day I gave them a worksheet of problems and wrote the answers on the board. They worked them all with very little trouble although their were two problems with fractions which I should have included in our sequencing activity.

On their assessment for radicals, this was the concept they did the best on overall.

On a side note, I thought it was cute that when I first passed out the strips they immediately started to sort them into piles. lol See, sorting pays off!!


#myfavfriday Cheap White Board Erasers

There are so many different versions of erasers but this is my new favorite: foam rollers!

I bought two 10 packs of black rollers from the Dollar Tree. I took out the plastic pieces and voila, instant erasers.

It's awesome that they are black because stains don't show up. We've been using them for a few weeks and only one student has even noticed that they are hair rollers.



Made 4 Math Clipboard Organizing

We all know how much paperwork is required for our jobs. My new favorite way to organize it is by using clip boards. I went to the dollar section in Target and found clip boards for $1 each. There were four different designs so I went ahead and bought 2 of each design.

When I got back to school, I hung up the eight clipboards on a bulletin board. This way the boards can easily come down when I need them but yet also have their own place.

I tried giving each clip board a category but some of the papers we get have no real label so that doesn't work super well.

But at least I know when I need a paper that it is somewhere up here hanging nice and neat on a clip board.

So much nicer!


Made 4 Math: Colorful Shelves

Absolutely love my new colorful shelves from Wal-Mart!

I even printed and laminated (with my new laminator I got for Christmas!) little pictures of what is inside each drawer.

I wanted something simple and cute- nothing that I have to peel or scrape off.

It's also really convenient if another teacher needs to borrow something- I can just pull out a drawer and hand it to them. Much better than the little bins I used before:

If I did more group work or my students sat at tables I probably would have used them more. Maybe I will think of a better idea for those.

Organizing makes my insides happy. =)


#myfavfriday Slope Formula

I'll go ahead and warn you that this won't be the best explanation.

I'm posting about a different way (for me) of teaching the slope formula. I transition from functions to linear functions via tables. As we learn to use a function rule to create a table, we then plot the points in the table and graph.

After we are experienced with that, I teach about slope (I should blog about that too I suppose) in context and we start counting rate of change and slope.

Once we're familiar with that concept, I take students back to tables and show them how to find the slope from a table. For the first time, I translated that to ordered pairs. When I give the student's ordered pairs, they write them in a table (t-chart) and subtract to find the slope.

Here's an example:

I like this way better because there isn't as much confusion in finding x1 and y1. It doesn't matter which ordered pair you write first anyway.

Sometimes the students do write the pairs vertically instead of horizontally but overall I am much more satisfied with this method rather than the formula.

As much as I can, I am trying to get away from memorizing formulas and trying to build things conceptually. Now you may say that students have to memorize this method as well but I would respond to that that the tables are much more of a natural progression than a random formula.

Na na boo boo.


For My #1

For my first post of the new year, I would just like to say that I did not spend any of my Christmas break thinking about students, school, math, or lesson plans...

...and it was lovely.