Sunday, November 18, 2012

Dry Erase Practice Folders: Made 4 Math

A while ago, my calculus students were working on derivative shortcuts. I was trying to think of a good way for them to practice and self-check independently. Assigning problems out of the textbook to be checked in the back doesn't work because those answers are simplified. I really want students to just practice the rules without getting distracted by algebra.

I ended up using recycled file folders and dry-erase contact paper to make these re-useable dry erase folders. They were a huge hit.

To make the folders, I cut off about 2/3 of the front flap of a file folder. The inside of the back of the folder is now exposed. I covered it with a small sheet of dry-erase contact paper. I found a big roll online for about $20. There is enough in the roll for 60 folders, so it will last a long time.

I cut the remaining portion of the front flap into tabs, one for each problem. I lifted up each tab and wrote the solution underneath. This took a long time. Next time, I will try to use a set of problems that I already have typed up. On the up side, it is a one-time thing. These can be re-used again and again and again.

Now students can work out a problem in the dry-erase area. 

When they are done, they can flip up the tab and check the answer.

Then erase and move on to the next problem.

My students really loved these. Since I had made multiple versions, they asked if they could take home an extra one for practice. 

In the future, I can envision a file crate full of these . . . labeled by skill . . . so that students can just grab  and work on whatever as needed. It hate to think about making all of those, but I it just might be worth it.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

A Story

Today is national adoption day. I would like to share a personal story. If you are not into that kind of thing, feel free to move on. I will be back to my mediocre math-ed musings in no time.

This is a story of a math teacher (that's me) and her husband, a principal of a small K-12 school. These two were struggling with infertility. There were four years of wanting to be parents, and no babies appeared.

This is the story of a courageous 16-year-old. She had an unplanned pregnancy, and she didn't know what to do. Others told her to end the pregnancy. She didn't want to. Instead, she carried that baby for nine months. She endured the judgmental stares of strangers as her stomach grew and her discomfort increased. She said no to the usual high school fun while she stayed home, ate healthy foods, and made regular doctor appointments.

She chose the principal of her little K-12 school and his math teacher wife to be adoptive parents. She went through hours (and hours) of labor. And then, she put her baby in that math teacher's arms.

Today, I am just so thankful for the gift that she gave us.
I am thinking about the sacrifices she made for the baby she wouldn't take home.

That baby is now three years old.
She's beautiful. She's smart. She's vivacious. She's hilarious.

We are pretty much head over heels.

And we were given the honor and privilege of guiding her through life.

I am feeling pretty grateful today.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Typical Tuesday

I had grandiose ideas of capturing my day in photos. The truth, as you will see, is that the dream was lost somewhere between first bell and the end of the day. But here's what I managed to capture:

5:25. I meet my "running partner" via FaceTime. I'm in my basement on the treadmill, she's at her house down the street on the elliptical.

7:15. Time to get out the door. I grab the chocolate chip cookies I made last night. They'll be doing what chocolate chip cookies do best . . . bribery. All week student council (I'm the sponsor) will be asking our students to donate so that we can buy gifts and Christmas dinner for families in need. I'll be exchanging cookies for donations.

7:25. My commute. Note to self: Clean windshield.

7:40. Deliver cute little girl to daycare.

7:48. Arrive at school. Students are waiting for me at the door. One needs to work on test corrections, another needs help catching up, a third has questions on his calculus assignment. I open my email, but there is no time to read it. A girl comes in with posters she made advertising our student council fundraiser. The student council president has a question for me, and another girl needs to take a makeup test.

8:10. My principal walks in. Would I mind attending a panel discussion this morning? Our school is having some type of efficiency/improvement review and they need teachers to talk with the visitors. I am willing, but surprised and unprepared. Thankfully, this isn't typical at all. I quickly write out some notes for my colleague who will be taking my class.

8:18. My first hour class begins. I give them quick instructions and record their assignments that were due. Thankfully the lesson involved a self-guided sheet. Students were reviewing horizontal and vertical translations of parent functions and discovering the "flip" transformation.

8:30. Off to the meeting. I grab a few items to copy in case I have time while I am in the office.

10:00. Meeting over. It lasted longer than expected and my planning period is now over. I make a few quick copies, quickly finish a student council fundraiser display in the teacher's lounge, and head to my third hour class.

10:07. Bless their hearts, they started without me! I am thrilled to find that students are already working on the bell work when I arrive. I walk around recording assignments, checking bell work, and signing off on check points on the new lesson.

10:53. Sit down at my desk. Prepare envelopes for donation collections, take my first glance at my agenda for the day, notice the email from my principal asking if I'd go to that meeting this morning . . .

10:58. Advisory class. They have AR time. I catch a breather, record some test grades, collect my thoughts, and check a couple of items off the to-do list.

11:28. Calculus class. Implicit differentiation review.

12:16. Lunch. Chef salad.

12:51. Physics class. Discuss work and kinetic energy.

1:45 - 3:25. Two more Algebra 2 classes.

3:25. School is over. Several students come in for makeup work and extra help. A few of these are regulars. I am really proud of how hard they've been working.

3:45. I count the donations collected that day and email the total for tomorrow's announcements.

4:06. I have so very much to do, but I have to pick up my daughter so it is time to call it a day.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Friday Favorite: Sound Buttons!

There are moments in the classroom that call for spontaneous applause, or canned laughter, or a drum roll.

For years I have had this urge to play sound effects in class. I never figured out how to pull it off, until recently.

I was playing with my new phone the other day when it occurred to me that there is probably an app for that. Sure enough, there is! If you search for "sound buttons" or "sound effects", you will find that there are tons of options to choose from. I have tried a few. I don't know if the one I am trying out is going to be my favorite, so I am not recommending a specific app at this point. They all look something like this:

Anyhooo . . . . imagine this:

*Gong* Bell work is over.

*Bugle call* Time to learn new math!

And there's a fraction . . . *Evil laugh* or *man screaming*

That's the right answer, Johnny! *Applause/WooHoo/Bingo!/Yes!*

I'm sorry, that's incorrect . . .*Buzz*

I am having wayyyy to much fun with this thing!

In related news, my students were smiling as they worked away on completing the square . . . with fractions . . . on a Friday . . . after losing a big football game the night before.

Factoring ax^2, Teensy Tweak

Sometimes, it is the littlest change that makes a big difference. I feel like I am splitting hairs here, but this adjustment to the airplane method helped my students tremendously this year. I've written about it before, but here it is with an ity-bity change that seemed to help:

Say you are trying to factor this . . .

You start by putting 2x in the front of each binomial. This feels wrong. It should.

So, to cancel out the extra 2, you divide by 2 right at the beginning. This was my teensy tweak. I used to have students do this at the end. It makes more sense here, and students are less likely to forget.

Then continue normally, multiply a and c. Find two numbers that multiply to get ac and add to get b. Put these at the back of each binomial.

Then, with the two already hanging out there, you just look for which binomial can be reduced by 2.

Ta daaa.

In this situation, the 6 has to be split into 3 and 2 before reducing.
Students didn't have any trouble with that.

Disclaimer:  This is not my method. I saw it first while observing another teacher. I have seen others write about it as well, so I am not sure where to give credit. 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Factoring Before You Know How

Factoring has been my nemesis for years. I don't think I have taught it entirely the same way twice. My students arrive in Algebra 2 with some experience in factoring, but I always feel like many of them are learning it from scratch.

This year's changes to the factoring extravaganza include adding in this activity, where students try to match two binomials to each quadratic:

I had students do this matching activity before I gave them any specific factoring strategies or rules (we had previously reviewed multiplying binomials). I wanted them thinking about the question "What two binomials multiply to get this polynomial?"  I wanted them to develop some intuition about factoring before I hit 'em with a specific method.

After ten minutes of this, a few groups were finished. The rest were making progress but it was a struggle. "Isn't there another way to do this, Mrs. Gruen?" Well, yes there is, I am so glad you asked! And then I showed them the airplane method, which I tweaked a tiny bit this year (I will write about that soon). And they just ate it up.

Here are the files:
Binomial Tiles Factoring Work Mat #1 Factoring Work Mat #2

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Write Your Own Word Problem. Also: Why Am I Doing This?

My Algebra 2 students are working on some word problems that set up as systems. They are finding out how many of each type of ticket was sold for the homecoming dance or how many quarters and dimes make $3.45 -- that type of thing.

I thought that students would better understand the process if they wrote their own problem, so I wrote up the sheet below. In the interest of spending less time at the front of the room blah-blah-ing away, I wrote it so that students can read the instructions and work through the process on their own. They start with a problem we've already solved, and replace its parts one at a time. They will illustrate and solve the problem when they are done.

Write Your Own WP

Here's my reflection:

Students seemed to really enjoy this activity. They all dug in and did it. I just walked around and answered a few questions here and there. I also asked each student to check in with me at a couple of different points to make sure they were on track. When they finished, they were just tickled that their problem worked out as planned. In the end, they were more confident about these problems.

I like this activity, I really do. But . . .

I am really wondering if it makes sense to keep doing these types of problems this way, or at all.  The whole process is quite hand hold-y. Students are really just learning to follow a procedure here. I am sure there is a better way to teach systems. Keep the old-school word problems, or ditch them? Replace them with what?

Conclusion: Today I accomplished exactly what I tried to accomplish. However, I am not sure if what I am accomplishing is what I really want to/should accomplish.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Friday Favorite: My Planner

I was so very excited when I received my planner, a la Sam Shah, in the mail.

I am simply not able to hold very many things in my brain at one time. If I try, I get stressed out and overwhelmed. I manage my life by putting everything on paper. I have never found a planner that meets all of my needs, so I had started trying to create my own. I was having trouble with the execution until I read Sam's post, and now here it is!

Here is a blank page.

In addition to all the usual stuff, there is a little letter representing each item that I have to check off on a daily basis:

T -- look over the lesson plans for TODAY and make sure all supplies are ready.
G -- Grades recorded for that day.
3 -- look 3 days ahead and prepare pages for my aide to copy.
S -- Summarize that lesson (specifically, what went well & what didn't)
N -- email a copy of the day's Notes
V -- upload the Video from the day's lesson
A -- Absent students' makeup work

Here's what it looks like at the beginning of the week. I have written the topic of each lesson, additional items that I need to do each day, and appointments and such.

And here's what it looks like at the end of the week.  I have written a little summary of each lesson in a different color. These are the notes I will (hopefully) use when I am planning next year. And everything is crossed off. If it doesn't get done, I cross it off anyway and re-write it on the next week's calendar. You know, because I can't turn to the next page if something isn't crossed off.

OCD, maybe, but it helps me live my life a with a lot less stress.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Happy Moment

I am so tired of myself writing about supplies, but . . .

 . . . Today I put skinny (9 oz.) plastic cups inside my supply caddies. They are much more organized now. It made me so happy I had to take a picture . . . and share it with someone.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


In addition to blogging, I reflect by making brief notes to myself in my agenda at the end of each lesson. Should I repeat that particular lesson, I will know what adjustments to make. It is very helpful. (Helpful when I actually LOOK at the notes I've written, that is).

Last year, I wrote a note to myself to be more organized about presenting all of the things students need to know at the beginning of the year. This includes the basics like grading, late work policy, supplies needed, some procedural stuff, and more.

"Make a foldable that students can keep in their binders all year long", I said to my future self.

And this is what it became . . . A booklet that slides nicely into a construction paper cover which students can decorate themselves:

A quick rundown of what's inside:

1. A little note to students, stolen straight from Miss Calcul8.
2. How to start/end class
3. Supplies needed
4. Grade breakdown
5. Absent and late work policy
6. Need help? (how to get to the notes & videos I put online)
7. How to practice
8. How to grade your practice
9. Sample practice (An extra page will be pasted here. I hope to post about this later.)
10. How to coach. I blogged about this here.
11. Binder Setup
12. A note to parents/guardians, highlighting page 6 and requesting a signature.

I am thinking of adding more to next year's booklet, like maybe these pages on learning styles or multiple intelligences from Everybody is a Genius.

I am sure your policies will be different from mine, but here is the file in case you're interested.
Syllabus Booklet

To get the layout right, I stacked a few index cards on top of each other and folded the stack in half. Then I flipped through the stack like a book and wrote the topic and page number I wanted on each page. Finally, I separated the cards so that I would know that, say, page 2 needed to be printed next to page 11 in order for the final booklet to assemble correctly.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Teaching Students to (Math) Coach

One of my goals this year is to help students learn how to support, teach, and coach each other.

I have seated students in groups of four to encourage interaction. I am not sure why it took me so long, but I know this is what it will take to get students talking about math. I envision students asking and answering each other's questions and genuinely caring about whether or not the person across the table is understanding.

I realize that getting there will be a process.

I used this video today, to introduce what good coaching looks like:

Then we made a list of evidence from the video that demonstrates good coaching:

1. Make a choice to help. You could laugh at someone's struggle, or you could choose to offer your help.

2. Don't let someone quit, even if they want to quit. Lift the microphone and insist that they keep trying.

3. Be supportive without taking over. Let the other person do the work.

4. Anyone can offer help. Don't wait until you think you understand it perfectly yourself.

5. Stay until the end. Cheer.

My students really empathized with the girl in the video, and I think this analogy hit home with them. I am hopeful it is the beginning of a coaching culture in my classroom.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Made 4 Math: Two PIzza Boxes and a Hot Glue Gun

I decided to arrange my desks into groups of four this year. It is a little out of my comfort zone, but so far I am LOVING it! Except for one thing. . . What to do on test days?

I don't want to re-arrange the desks. It takes too much time to do it myself, and I am way too OCD to trust anyone else with the lining up of straight rows. . . I decided to try out a solution I am going to call "two pizza boxes and a hot glue gun".

For each group of four, you will need:  Two pizza boxes, and a hot glue gun.

I picked up twelve large pizza boxes from my local Pizza Hut. They let me have them for free. Thank you, Pizza Hut.

See those tabs at the hinge? Those are going to be a problem. Cut them off.

Then use hot glue to attach the "spines" of two boxes.

Open the boxes, and you have four compartments for private test-taking. When not in use, you can fold 'em up and store them. (Cameo appearance by Sophie).

Here they are in action.

I used them for the first time today. The kids thought it was fun. I wish they were a bit wider, as they don't cover the entire space between students. Still, I think they provide enough privacy. Time will tell . . .

Oh, and the most fun part of this whole project? Seeing the looks on the faces of students as they watched the crazy teacher with twelve pizza boxes struggle into the building this morning. I got multiple offers to help carry and open doors. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

My Favorite Friday: My Go-To Reviews

Here are a couple of my favorite go-to reviews (not games, really). I use them each maybe 4 times a year. While not particularly original, they definitely should be in everyone's bag o' tricks because they work great every time.

Stations review was one of my very first posts. It takes some time to prep, but the actual implementation couldn't be easier. This is also a great activity to leave for a sub, since you really just have to set the timer and holler "rotate" every five minutes.

Stations Review and Practice

I also love scavenger hunts. The setup is similar to stations, but students get to search the room to find the answer. This has worked great with some of my most active classes. It is also easy to differentiate by pairing students with a helpful partner. Students typically work pretty hard with this activity.

Scavenger Hunt

Happy reviewing!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Made 4 Math: T-Shirt Wall Display

My Calculus and Physics classes often become very close. They are small classes who bond over shared experiences, shared struggles, and inside jokes. Some will decide to commemorate the year with a T-shirt.

What is a teacher to do with a closet full of outdated T-shirts that can neither be worn nor thrown away? Make a lovely wall display, of course.

A bunch of the designs came out off-centered. It really bothered me for a while, but I am so happy with the end result that I decided the off-centeredness is part of the charm. And I am sticking to that. No OCD here. None at all.

A bunch of my favorite teaching memories, right there for me to look at every day. As an extra bonus, I am hoping that my Algebra 2 students will look at these shirts, see how much fun we have, and sign up for Calculus and/or Physics. In the future, I add more shirts!

Here are the specifics, if you are interested . . .

You will need:
1.  Old T-shirts, cut off the sleeves and cut down the sides.
2.  A 4 x 8 sheet of 1/4 inch OSB. ($7 at Lowe's). They cut it down partially for me in the store. At home, the Hubs finished cutting into 24 12" x 16" rectangles for me.
3.  Quilt batting (to add dimension). Cut into 12" x 16" rectangles as well.
4.  A staple gun.
5.  Some type of wall mounting. I used industrial strength velcro.

For each rectangle, I layered one side of the t-shirt with a couple rectangles of batting and stapled it all to the back of the particle board. It is helpful to have two sets of hands for this part. (Thanks again, Hubs).

Trim the excess fabric.

Like I said, off-centered is beautiful.

Then add velcro strips and stick to the wall.

Sounds simple, but it honestly took a ridiculous amount of time. Totally worth it, though.

P.S. If you know an English teacher (and I know that you do), encourage them to check out Teacher, Teacher, I Declare! I am so excited that my former English teacher (now a colleague and friend) has started a teaching blog. Mrs. E has years of experience, but she has never stopped learning. She is always introducing the rest of us to fresh ideas and innovative ways to use technology. You know that teacher in your school who is the glue? That's her. We all love her. I know the English edublogosphere (is there one?) will, too.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Hopefully My Last Post About Supplies

My battle with supplies continues. I wrote about my success, followed by semi-failure. I have decided there is no perfect solution for supply-less students. It is a matter of preference and what works for your students in your classroom. I've tried most everything, and this is how it worked for me:

1.  Exchanging supplies for a valuable item. Works great, but I hated the disruption and felt like valuable instruction time was lost.
2.  Selling supplies. Also works great, as long as the child who doesn't have a pencil also doesn't have a quarter, which is likely. Then you have to decide if you are going to give the student a pencil or not and try to collect the quarter later. Too much hassle for me.
3.  Expecting students to borrow from another student. This also works pretty well, but I started to feel bad for the same poor students getting hit up each day.
4.  Providing supplies freely. Nice and non-disruptive, but supplies can go un-returned.

Providing supplies remains my method of choice. I try to set it up so the disappearance is minimized, and I live with replacing items occasionally in exchange for avoiding less-preferred hassles. This year, I am tweaking the location of my supplies.

Back story:  I decided to test out this classroom arrangement I read about from Mathy McMatherson. It is pretty genius, really. All students can simultaneously see the front of the room AND interact with a group of four without re-arranging desks. I hate moving desks. I wonder how many opportunities I have missed to allow students to work cooperatively because I didn't want to move the stinking desks. I am hoping I will be able to move toward a more cooperative, student-centered classroom, just by removing that barrier. I'll keep you posted . . .

Bonus! This new arrangement allows for a supply caddy right in the middle of each table:

I found the shower caddies at Walmart for $.97. Each contains:

1. Two basic operation calculators.
2.  A set of colored pencils and a pencil sharpener.
3.  Two spoon pencils. 
4.  Two knife erasers.
5.  A note card holder.

I am most excited about the note card holder. I plan to use it for any accessories that are specific to a lesson. It can hold math dominoes, puzzle cards, sorting cards, log war cards, and more. When I get to that part of the lesson, students can take them out without wasting any time on distribution.

Additional items I might include permanently or as needed:

6.  Green fork pens.
7.  Dry erase markers and erasers.
8.  Scissors and glue sticks
9.  Graphing calculators.
10. Clickers.

My hope is that I can trade a bunch of distractions and transitions for more instruction time.

Finally, I have been thinking about the inevitable. There will be broken, consumed, and lost or stolen items. How to minimize that? I have a few ideas:

1.  Don't have the caddies out on the first day of school. Wait until there is time to give students clear instructions and expectations.
2.  Have an inventory list on the side of the caddy. Part of the closing routine each day includes students double-checking to make sure everything is there.
3.  Ask students to donate consumable items. Will they?

P.S. It turns out that Sarah posted something really similar earlier today. I decided to go ahead and publish this, but I encourage you to check out her version. She uses supply baskets in conjunction with interactive notebooks. I don't do ISN's, but I don't think I would want to try without reading up on all of her good ideas. And she says she'll post pics of her supply basket, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Scenes From Summer, and What's Next

For these past eight weeks, I have thought very little about the teaching and learning of math. I spent about eight hours getting settled into my new classroom (still a ton left to do) and I have kept up with google reader (leave that thing alone for a week and it's out of control, am I right?). That is all.

But I have been doing some very important things. Like working on my flip-flop tan.

And a  family vacation in Colorado. We un-plugged for a week of hiking and relaxing. It could not have been more perfect!

And a six-day getaway, just me and the Hubs. This Kansas girl loves me some California.

As I prep for another year, I will be drawing from this inspiration:

1.  This quote from Rational Expressions' letter to a new(er) teacher, advising new teachers to toss a large part of their curriculum each year:
"Put it like this: you get smarter as you keep on at this job. If you use old materials, you're using the stuff that the stupider version of you made."
I like to think that I am always trying something new, but I will admit that way too much of my curriculum dates pre-2009 (the year that I became a parent and spare time became a distant memory). I started reading/blogging in 2010, so I am way smarter now. :) One of my goals this year is to toss lessons/units that are "just okay" to see what the smarter version of myself will do instead.

2.  Common Core conference.  I will be attending a 3-day conference with a focus on planning for implementation. I am hoping for some inspiration and direction. And fun times with my colleagues are certain to get me in the back-to-school spirit.

3.  Made4Math. This is right down my alley! I heart crafts. I have a few things up my sleeve that I hope to be rolling out in the next few weeks.

4.  Twitter Math Camp. I am sad that I won't be attending. Maybe next time. I hope there is a next time! For this year, I will be jealously waiting to hear all about it. So let's hear it, bloggers!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Happy Endings (Mostly)

Last day of school. The end is always bittersweet. I hate good-byes and generally dislike the ending of things, but I am looking forward to time at home with my 2-year-old and resting up for a fresh start next year. I have a list of things to do over the summer, both work and fun. I love how this year is ending. Mostly.

This activity went better than I hoped:  Try to write an equivalent for the numbers 1-100 using four 4's and any mathematical procedure. Autograph your solution. It was nice to see students work on this when they were otherwise ready to be done with thinking. I really loved seeing factorials and other creative solutions as they showed up.

I always get especially attached to my seniors in physics and calculus. A group of students in my physics class did a skit as part of their senior class variety show. There was Humpty Dumpty falling off of a wall, and calculations for force and final velocity. Oh, and a senior boy dressed as me, singing to the class and offering to have everyone over for meatloaf. I am not sure that the crowd understood our inside jokes, but it warmed my heart. Here they are, don't they look like a fun group?

There was a class t-shirt. "Life doesn't come with an answer book". I love to say that. It used to be true, before Google. Now I have to insert the word "always".

My algebra students worked pretty diligently on their final projects. Speaking of final projects, today I am more in love with blogging than ever. I posted about this project just a few days ago, and received some wonderful comments. Thanks to others being kind enough to read and thoughtful enough to comment, I now know how to make the project better for next time. Thank you, blogosphere! I hope that I can return the favor.

And, one not-so-happy ending . . . One of my favorite colleagues has officially announced that she is leaving. I will move to her room next year, trading my cinderblock walls for a lovely corner window. The view is street side parking and a railroad track, but I am looking forward to seeing sunshine and the first snowflakes falling next winter . . .

. . . Still, I would be much happier if she was staying! We have been through a lot together these last seven years:  Tornado recovery, a trailer classroom, celebrity sightings, and learning (the hard way) that the top shelf in the closet won’t hold a full set of textbooks. Together we conquered our state's math assessment. We shared the victory of watching our most struggling students succeed. Working with her made me a better teacher. I am going to miss you, friend in the middle. We all will.