Monday, January 31, 2011

My State Monday

Would it be nice if we could discuss the issues that are unique to our respective states?

Or, is that way too exclusive for the blogosphere?

Maybe we are all similar enough that we don't need to worry about the variation from state to state?

I am new here, and I do not know the answers to these questions.

And, as far as I know, I might be having this conversation with myself.

Kansas High School Math teachers . . . if you are out there . . . I haven't found you yet.

If there is anyone out there, below is a set of math dominoes I created to review a few of the tested standards for the 10th grade KMA. It covers properties, solving for y, linear graphs, parallel vs. perpendicular, and steeper, flatter, higher, lower. It feels like mostly Algebra I level math to me, so maybe this would be useful to anyone.

If not, at least I figured out how to post a document on here. Yay me!

KMA Math Dominoes

Friday, January 28, 2011

Trial Run: Speed Dating

Today I test drove another fantabulous idea from f(t).  I spent the week on rational expressions and complex fractions, so I wanted to review all of that.  I won't go into all the details, because I pretty much followed the activity exactly as Kate describes it.

So here's my reflection . . .

What I liked about speed dating:  At any given moment, all the students were doing math (well, almost).  And they weren't just watching someone do math, they were actively participating by either doing a problem or helping someone else do a problem.  I love empowering the students to coach each other.

What I didn't like:  I must admit, the noise level was a little out of my comfort zone.  But I am trying to stretch myself as a teacher and I can definitely learn to adjust.  I also need to learn how to tell the difference between goofing around noise and the sound of good productive math conversations.  I would say that the noise was 90% productive today, and I think that is pretty good.  Also, the room getting loud was a really good indication that it was time to move on to the next problem.

I think I need to spend some time teaching students what good coaching looks like, but I am doing this activity again for sure.

By the way, I didn't use the term "speed dating" with my students.  However, it took about five minutes in each class before someone says "this is like speed dating".  And then they started being cute and saying "Hello, my name is ____" when they sat down with a new partner and "It was nice to meet you" as they moved on to the next partner.  Oh, I love high school students!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Math Dominoes

Here's another review activity that I like:

To create the dominoes, you set up a table in a word document and then fill in the first box with the word "START".  Put a problem in the next box, followed by the answer in the next box, and so on.  The final box will contain the word "END".  Cut them apart domino-style, and you have a puzzle for students to assemble.

It is self-checking, because students should get to the end without any extra pieces.

What I like about Math Dominoes:  Students can manipulate the pieces as they solve.  You hear things like "Wait a minute, I already used such-and-such answer", followed by students going back to find the mistake and rearrange things accordingly.  Most students like the puzzle-like nature of the activity.

What I don't like:  If students are working in pairs, it is possible for one person to dominate and the other to coast.  I sometimes accompany this with a sheet where both partners have to show calculations.  The biggest problem I have had with this in the past is the huge variation in how much time it takes to finish.  Depending on the complexity and so on, students will finish in anywhere from 5-45 minutes.  So if you are using this for the first time you will want to have something in your back pocket for the kids who finish in five.

Helpful tip:  Make sure each set of dominoes has a distinguishing feature.  Make them in different colors, or put colored dots on the backs of them or something.  That way when you see one laying on the floor after class, you won't be pulling out your hair trying to figure out to which set it belongs.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Trial Run: Add Em Up

This is a teeny tiny modification on f(t)'s Add Em Up.  By the way, I am not sure that I am going to have an original idea for awhile . . . I have found a ton of ideas over there that I can't wait to try.  So, I'm all booked for weeks with my stolen borrowed ideas from Kate Nowak.

For myself, I want to keep track of how these things go by writing about them here.

Today in physics, I had some problems straight out of the book that I wanted my students to do for practice.  My students are always sitting in pairs, so I put the problems in groups of 2.  The idea was that each partner would complete one of the problems and then they would add their answers together.

I had the sum of the answers written on the board, like this:

Partners check their sum to see if it matches.  If yes, hooray!  If no, they must examine BOTH problems to try to find the error.  And, hopefully, productive discussion happens.

What I love about Add Em Up:  The students were working harder than the teacher!  It is super easy to implement.  I didn't have to create anything new, all I needed was the set of problems that I had already planned to use for practice.  Most of all, I love how it allows the students to self check and correct without directly telling them the answer.

What I don't love about Add Em Up:  Nothing, really!  The only problem I encountered was that one student ditched his partner part way through.  He got the idea that he was only accountable for the problems in his column and he started checking with the person behind him and letting his partner (who was having trouble) fend for himself.  I blame that situation on myself, since it was more of a classroom management issue.  I realized it was happening when the ditched partner started asking me for help.  So I talked to the first student and hopefully got that straightened out.

This one is going to be a regular in my bag o' tricks.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

My New Trick: Silence.

Recently I read this post and I wondered what would happen if I stood silent in front of my class.  Yesterday I had the perfect opportunity to give it a try in my calculus class.

I had just finished introducing optimization, and I gave them a new problem.  I told them that I wasn't going to say anything, but I would write down whatever the class agreed on (easy since there are only 10 students in my calc class). 

Someone suggested a primary equation and the rest agreed, so I wrote it down.  Then someone else suggested an (incorrect) secondary equation.  Everyone agreed, so I wrote it down.  At this point I was smiling inside because I was really interested in how this would go.  They continued through the rest of the problem, and I was pleased that everyone was really into it and participating. 

Then, of course, a wrong answer at the end.  They figured out it was wrong because it didn't make sense in the context of the problem.  Someone suggested that they had done something wrong, and someone else found that it was the secondary equation.  At this point there were moans and groans, especially from the kid who had forgotten his pencil and was doing the whole thing in pen. 

They were completely shocked that I hadn't (gasp) STOPPED them at the point of the mistake and kept them from doing the ENTIRE problem WRONG!  I remained silent, smiling, and they did a bunch of erasing and correcting and fixed everything. 

Of course the experience was more meaningful because they had an opportunity to make a mistake, find it, and correct it.  And Mrs. G didn't jump right in to save the day at first glimpse of their error.

I am not sure that I would do this again in exactly the same way, and I am sure I wouldn't get entire class participation if I did it in a bigger class.  But the beauty of this whole experiment is that it got me to thinking about how often I say too much.  I am always trying to explain things really thoroughly so that they can understand, but then they miss out on the opportunity of making their own conclusions, making their own mistakes, and figuring out how to fix them.

p.s.  I have a calc student who is planning to be a high school math teacher, and he says "Silence, I am totally going to use that when I am a teacher."

Sunday, January 9, 2011


The Good:  Snow day tomorrow!  I love snow days.  My job is great, but what’s not to love about a surprise vacation?  You can go back to bed.  Or watch TV in your pajamas.  I can’t wait to watch my 17-month-old play in the snow for the first time.

The Bad:  Tomorrow was scheduled to be the first day of class in our brand new school.  We have waited so long for this day!  Students would find their new classrooms, and be the first to put their belongings in brand new lockers.  We planned to break in our new auditorium with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.  Dignitaries and media were scheduled to be in attendance.  If ever there was a day when all the students and staff were looking forward to getting up and going to school, this would be that day.  I am sure we will look back and laugh at the irony.  This all started with a single Kansas storm.  Now, Kansas weather is keeping us from getting into the new buildings as planned.

The Ugly:  I already wrote out my lesson calendar for the next two weeks.  In pen.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Anatomy of a Lesson

I love to be organized!  In a perfect world, I would always have everything students need for an entire lesson all together.  Two pages, two-sided, stapled, and hole punched.  I am just a little OCD that way.

I keep the copies right by the door. Students know to pick it up when they walk in the room.
I had to slip in a pic of our new school.  Beautiful, no?

Here's what one of those pages looks like, and a breakdown of its parts. 

1.     Unit # and Day # -- This helps students keep everything in the right order in their binders.
2.     Bell Work – I have tried to use Harry Wong’s strategies for starting class.  “I don’t start class, YOU start class”, but my students don’t always jump right in and start without me like I wish that they would.  What has worked best is to play music between classes – when the song ends they are supposed to end their conversations and get started on the bell work.
3.     Notes – Here’s the lecture notes with blanks or whatever type of progression I have planned for that day.  On this day, it is simply a couple of examples for them to follow along as I explain them.
4.     Practice Problems – I try to structure every day so that students have time to practice before they leave the room.  Some days they might do all the practice in class with no homework, but usually there is some in class and some to finish at home.
5.     Answers – These are the answers (in no particular order) to the practice problems on that page.  I do this because I think it is really important for students to be able to self-check and make corrections.  I teach them to work the problem, and then look for the answer and cross it out.  If it isn’t there, they need to find their mistake and fix it.  Steps are required to be shown for credit.  I spend a lot of time teaching them how to use the answers for good and not for evil, but that’s for another day . . . 

6.     More Notes – Whenever possible, I like to break my lessons up into small pieces.  I talk . . . they practice . . . I talk some more . . . more practice.
7.     More Practice.
8.     One Lonely “Application” Problem – When it comes to showing them how this stuff is used in real life, I have much room for improvement.
9.     Review – Most days include some review problems, some more than others.

One of my goals for this year was to incorporate more variety of practice structures and partner-type activities.  But I still try to use this format no matter what.  I want them to have something they can keep as a record of what they learned and/or practiced that day.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Visions of Hallways

Okay, this has nothing to do with math. But it has everything to do with my experience as an educator right now. I can't NOT write about it.

In the summer of 2008, the small Kansas town where I teach was struck by a tornado that left a path of destruction through the middle of town. The schools were aligned in such a way that every one of them was destroyed. A colleague of mine writes all about it here.

This is what the school where I teach looked like before June 11, 2008. 
(I'm not sure who took this picture, I got it from our journalism teacher.)

This is what it looked like on June 13, 2008.

This was my classroom. It was mostly empty because the floors were being waxed.

And these are a few of the classrooms we've used for 2 1/2 years.  

It has been a very, very, long journey.

Our new school is ready.

We move in tomorrow!

We have three days to get settled and the students will arrive on Monday.

Tonight, when I'm nestled all snug in my bed -- there will be visions of hallways dancing in my head.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

I Want To Be . . .

. . . like the best teacher I ever had.

I am not one for New Year's resolutions.  But if I am going to shoot for something, then I want to be like my elementary school PE teacher.  Strange choice for best teacher ever, I guess.  Especially since I was a super academic school-loving kid.  I loved school supplies.  I loved books.  And I loved getting A's.  I was successful at most things school related, except PE.

I was the smallest kid in my class, and I was not born with a single ounce of athletic ability.  None.  If PE involved running, I was one of the last to finish.  If it involved basketball, I could not even throw the ball high enough to reach the basket.

But Mr. Mosher understood what I was capable of, and he inspired me.  He rewarded my sustained effort.  After I finished the mile, he would say "I'm so proud of you, Amy, because you never stopped running."  He taught me to measure success by improvement, always letting me know if my time or distance or whatever was better than the time before.

He recognized when one of my accomplishments was a really big deal.  I think I was in the second or third grade when I actually threw the basketball high enough and it miraculously dropped through the hoop.  He saw it happen and came running from across the gym to congratulate me.  I had a sense that he really cared about me.

I learned some really important life lessons in his class:

1.  I learned that it was okay to not be the best at everything.
2.  I learned that it was valuable to work hard on something, even if I knew I would never be as successful as someone else.
3.  I learned how to improve by competing against myself.

I know that there are students in my class who experience math the way that I experienced PE as a child.      I also know that I am a long way from being the kind of teacher Mr. Mosher was.  In a perfect world, I would love for my students to learn those same lessons.