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.