Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Changing Everything, Using Blueprints

My Algebra 2 classes have been textbook-free since 2007. It started when my school purchased a textbook that I eventually came to hate. I started changing the order that things were taught, customizing lessons, re-doing units, adding activities, and so on. Over time I developed an "Amy Gruen" version of Algebra 2.

All was well and good until Common Core. I read the standards and I tweaked things regularly and added a few new units here and there, but I couldn't shake that "re-arranging chairs on a sinking ship" kind of feeling.

The problem is that I was planning for Common Core in the way that I think a lot of teachers are planning.  I started with the hodgepodge that was Amy Gruen's Algebra 2 curriculum on the left, and over there on the right was the pile of CCSSM. I tried to file those in where they fit, but I had some left over. And there were things in my curriculum on the left with no matches in the CCSSM.


So here I am. I am ready to pitch everything in my Algebra 2 classes and start fresh. After much thought and reading about lots of approaches, I keep coming back to a great session I attended at TMC14 . . . Blueprints*.

Blueprints are a joint project by Kate Nowak, Mathalicious, Illustrative Mathematics, and others. The Blueprints include a sequence of CCSSM that makes sense, justification for decisions, and links to activities that coincide with each standard. What draws me here above other approaches is that they have STARTED with the common core standards. None of this taking a thing that's already done and stamping it up with the words "common core".

Now I can reverse the planning process . . . starting with the CCSSM on the left and a pile of resources on the right and filing those in where they fit.


I've decided to go all in. Start from scratch. Possibly planning just a few days ahead. I am the kind of person who usually shows up August 11 with the year (somewhat) planned out, so this is a bit of a stretch for me. But it feels good and right to start each lesson plan with a standard rather than matching the standard to an already-existing lesson.

I am excited for this new adventure.

Update since I started writing this post: So far I've used the Blueprints to plan a few weeks and I am already seeing a lot of positives. I will write about those soon I hope.

*I got a sneak peak at the "almost final" version at TMC14, and I'm using that to get started. The final version is to be published this fall.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A Desmos Challenge for Everything?

Last year, I used the animation feature on Desmos a to assess students' understanding on parent functions and their transformations. This year I expanded the activity by giving students a series of animation challenges (with increasing difficulty), like so.


Then I ended the unit with a Desmos question on the assessment. I color-coded the questions from easiest to most challenging. I was so happy that most of my students selected the most difficult level. Here are the cards I used:



I still feel like there is so much more that I could do with this. I am thinking of creating a set of Desmos challenges to coincide with every unit.

For example, one of my classes is working on systems right now. I could have them create systems in Desmos with various constraints such as a given solution, a solution in quadrant 1, no solution, and so on.

I am inspired.

Desmos challenges for everything! (Or at least lots of things.)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Scenes From My Classroom

Here are a few this and thats from around my room. I have a lot more to write about, but for now this is all I can muster. I am full-on beginning-of-school exhausted.

Inspired by Glenn Waddell at TMC14, I thought I would use this progression of (h, k) forms. That might be changing (more on that later), but I still love my yellow brick road with ruby slippers to show where we are. I still want an emerald city, but at some point I needed to stop decorating and plan lessons. So that didn't happen.


(I printed a brick pattern on yellow scrapbook paper, then printed the equations on top of that).


My weekly schedule board. I felt really clever when I used a 2 for "two's day".


I downsized my supply baskets this year. Then I noticed that the red/green/yellow cups fit right on the handle. That's handy.

Red/green/yellow posters.


Pretty syllabus inspired by Sarah's post.


On the first day of school, I combined "telling them how awesome I am" with a plicker quiz. I asked the students "Which pet does Mrs. Gruen own?" and such. It turned out to be a yawner. There is nothing worse than boring the children to tears on the first day of school. I managed to make it fun by following up my quiz questions with little stories, but next time I will put the questions in a slide show and follow them up with a picture answer. When it comes to perfectly executing the first day of school, I am not there. YET.


I use an apple TV to project iPad and/or laptop in my classroom. As a security feature, I have to enter a 4-digit code each time I connect wirelessly. A different code is randomly generated by the apple TV every time, and last year I had a few students start to try and guess the code before it popped up. I thought I would start the year by having every student guess a 4-digit number for a fun on-going game. There could be a prize when someone's number comes up. I just set up a google form to collect guesses and students immediately started talking about probability! How many prizes will I need?


Finally, my buddies and I rocking our TMC shirts. Bring on the school year!


Thursday, August 7, 2014

TMC14 Take-Aways

Just a few ways TMC14 will influence my classroom in 2014-2015.

1. Re-thinking Algebra 2. I spend most of my day teaching Algebra 2. I really enjoyed our Algebra 2 morning sessions led by Glenn Waddell and Jonathan Claydon. I left with so very much to think about. There will be strong evidence of these sessions in my classes this year. So much that it will need its own post. Or ten.

2. Alex and Mary's session was a game-changer. Inspiring, I'd say. These two teachers pitched everything and teach grade 10 applied math using ONLY activities. Such bravery! Mary blogs about all 85 days of the semester course, starting here. I am not sure what I will do with this information. At the very least, I'll read through Mary's blog and steal some great activities. At the most, I could jump off that proverbial cliff that Alex talked about.


3. Routines. Though not an actual session, I am pondering what routines should take up daily or weekly space in my classroom. There was talk of so many amazing resources and how people were using them. I am thinking of daily warm-ups, estimation 180, visual patterns, talking points, fostering collaboration and growth mindset, giving students time and space to share about their personal lives, and more. There is value in every one of these things. I really want to be purposeful in how I use my class time. I have a few days to figure that out.

4. Oh, the beautiful beautiful notebooks. There were tabs, foldables, colored paper, and highlighters. Did I say tabs? TABS!! I don't know if I can attain this and I am not entirely sure that I want to try, as I am conflicted by the time spent cutting and gluing and such. Oh, but it was nice being in the same room with all of them. They were so pretty, so organized . . . so full of reference materials. The comment that lures me the most? Kids love their notebooks. They OWN them. They protect them and save them for years after your class.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

That TMC Post

If you are reading this little ole blog, then chances are you've already read multiple recaps of Twitter Math Camp 2014. I don't have anything to add in the way of expressing how amazing it was, but I'll jump in anyway and share my experience.

First of all, I traveled with my three colleagues. Yep, the entire math department from my little school was in attendance. I didn't think it was a big deal until person after person commented along the lines of "You brought people with you?! How did you do that? I mention twitter math camp and I just get an eye roll." I don't have a good answer. Full disclosure, it was only a four hour drive and our school covered expenses . . . but still. My co-workers gave up five days of summer to go to this "crazy nerd camp", and they all left saying it was the best conference ever. I am excited for all the in-house conversations that will result from this shared experience.

See what a good little MTBoS evangelist I am?


Presenting! This being my second year to attend TMC, I felt like I wanted to contribute by helping with/leading a session. TMC can't exist without people chipping in, right? Problem: I didn't feel like I had anything to share that I haven't learned from others in attendance. I ended up teaming with Jasmine Walker to share about coding projects we'd done in our classrooms, inspired by a "my favorite" she'd shared at TMC13. We spent a lot of time prepping for that session and it felt good to contribute, even in a small way. 


Another advantage to this (again, my second) TMC is that there were more familiar faces. The feeling was  family-reunion-y, in the best way possible. There were also people I knew but I'd never met. We were oddly half-friends and half-strangers. Now full-friends.


I met a few people who recognized me and thanked me for something I'd shared on my blog. (WHAT?!) They might as well have handed me a million bucks. Appreciation is currency around here. I want to remember to be more generous in saying my thank yous to the many who share so freely.

All this and I haven't even talked about the sessions and how they will affect my teaching this year. There are so many things to write about! And here I just talked about the experience, because that's what first came to mind.

What we have here is unique, for sure. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Dear Genie (A Modest List of Wishes)

Dear Genie, Some days summer prep feels overwhelming. I need your help. Please bring me these things so that I can do a better job incorporating SBG and INBs in all my classes for next school year. I will need everything on this list for each of my classes:

1.  A concise skill list with 10-ish skills per quarter. Connect the list to my state's standards. Format the list to fit in the notebooks, with space for students to record their scores.

For each skill on the list, I need all of the following:

2.  Some good learning activities. These may include lecture, inquiry, projects and such. I'd like a variety, actually. At least a portion of each activity should be formatted to fit in the notebooks. And, if it's not too much to ask, I'd like the notebook portion to be real pretty. Please used colored paper and markers.

3.  A set of differentiated practice problems with a key. Whenever possible, make the practice not look like a worksheet. Kindly make sure each set is structured to encourage cooperation and discussion within groups or between partners.

4.  Four versions of each assessment. When students need to re-assess, I will be prepared.

5.  Additional learning activities and practice (again, with a key) for when my students haven't mastered a skill.

Please deliver by August.

Thanks a bunch, Genie. I am going to bed.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

What's For Supper?

One more non-mathy post before I (hopefully) get into full next-year-prep mode.

In case it is helpful to any of my teachery friends out there, I thought I would share a system I set up to help with one of my biggest school-year stresses: Making supper.

While this won't make supper cook itself, it will at least save a ton of time when it comes to menu-planning and grocery-list-making.

First I made a list of 30-ish meals my family likes enough to eat, well, once every 30-ish meals. These are the only things I am going to cook during the school year, usually along with a salad or frozen veggies. Occasionally something might get bumped from the list and something else might get added, but this is pretty much it. There is nothing sophisticated here for sure. They are mostly simple meals with short prep time and minimal ingredients. Cooking isn't really my thing. But it is cheaper and healthier than eating out, so I try.


When it is time to "menu plan", I just need to highlight 5-ish meals on the list. Those are what I'm cooking this week. I cross off the meal once we've eaten it. When we've gone through the entire list, I will print a new one and start over. 

The next problem I've always had is grocery list making. I hate digging around for recipes and putting the ingredients on a list. I also hate trying to remember all the things we use on a regular basis and hoping I don't forget about toothpaste or toilet paper. And then I discovered this app:


You can input your own recipes, or pull them in from a variety of websites. This took me some time, but should pay off with huge time savings later. (Hint, you can skip typing the directions. Its the ingredients that matter). Now I can select the meals that I've already decided to cook, click the grocery cart (see it there in the upper right corner?), and boom! The ingredients are automatically compiled in a list.


I also added a recipe titled "staples" where the ingredients are items we always keep around like milk, bread, breakfast bars, and such so that I can easily add them to the grocery list by clicking on that recipe. And, because I am very thorough, I also created a recipe called "stuff we use" where the ingredients are toothpaste, toilet paper, and such. So I can also add those items to the list with one click. It is very easy to remove items from the list if you already have them on hand. 

Then go shopping. I haven't figured out a way to speed up that process.

I picture myself coming home from a long day of school, looking at what's highlighted on the list, and throwing something together easily since I will already have all the ingredients on hand. So no more worries about supper.

One less thing.