Showing posts from November, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

(I found this here)

A Visit to the State Capitol

An annual tradition in my district is taking the 8th grade students to Springfield, IL (the state capitol).  This is my first year teaching exclusively 8th grade, so I got to go along.  We had to be at school at 5:30AM and got back to school at 9:00PM!  Those kiddos had an endless supply of candy to eat and energy to burn!  It was a long day, but fun.  We even got a tour of the state treasure's vault.

The kids seemed to really like the trip-- although they said their favorite parts were the 3 hour bus ride and dinner at The Golden Corral.  I guess if I was 13, those might be my favorites too. :)

When we were in the capitol building I took a picture of the inside of the dome.  I'm wondering if I can revisit this picture during a math lesson.  We have a unit coming up about transformations (rotations, reflections, translations).  I wonder if it could fit in somehow.  Suggestions?

Asking good questions

Asking good questions is an important way to see what your students are thinking and to get them to move forward in their ability to justify their answers.

There is a great article that was published in the NCTM journal, Teaching Mathematics in the Middle School.  It's called:

The article talks about two ways of asking questions.  Funneling (not so great) and Focusing (better!).  Here is my interpretation of the main theme of their article:

My Example of Funneling:

Teacher- What is 12 x 6 Student- I don’t know Teacher- Well, what is 6 times 2? Student- 12 Teacher- Put down the 2 and carry the one Teacher- What is 6 times 1? Student- 6 Teacher- Add 1 Student- 7 Teacher- So, what is 12 x 6?
My Example of Focusing: Teacher- How can we multiply 12 x 6? Student- I don’t know. Teacher- Well, what do you know about multiplication? Student- It’s repeated addition. Teacher- Okay, so what could you do? Student- Well, I know 5-twelves is 60. Teacher- So, tell me more about that... Student- So I guess I just need…

Irrational Numbers: A Piece of Pi

When I teach irrational numbers, of course I have to include pi! (by the way, I have memorized 30 digits and also have pi earrings)

One way for students to grasp the idea of non-repeating, never ending numbers is to actually look at a "piece" of pi.  This activity that I developed allows each student to get their own 100 digits of pi.

They color their piece and then I tape them all together for a visual representation-- we all look at it and are amazed that all of our work is only a small piece of the actual number (*mind blown*).

There are enough "pieces" for 102 students (the most I had one year when I did this activity).  Enjoy!

My Favorite Friday: Apple Pi

I bought this decal from Etsy and I get tons of compliments.  For only $2.49 plus shipping, it's a deal.  If you are a math nerd like me, you might want to check it out!

My cat, Lily, even likes it. :)

Can I take a joke?

Have you seen this or similar things on Pinterest or Facebook?  They are pretty popular.  Usually, I love a good math joke... 

One thing that bothers me about the card above is, well, it's not true!  Okay, not everyone is factoring trinomials on a daily basis... but figuring out a missing number?  That happens many times each day.  How many more times can I hit the snooze (9 mins each) before I'll be running late?  How many extra shots of espresso can I get in my latte if I have $5?  Do I need to stop and get gas this morning if I still have 1/4 of a tank of gas and I usually get about 25 mpg?  And these are just questions you might ask in the first few hours of the day... ALGEBRA!  I guess people aren't setting up complex systems of equations to solve such life problems, but still, they are finding a missing value.  They are doing algebra.

Now, I'm not here to debate if my above examples are actually just problem solving or true algebra problems.  I'm not sure if …

Transformations and Programming: Hour of Code

I just heard about something called The Hour of Code.  I am currently doing a unit with my 8th graders about transformations.  I think this topic goes along great with programming, so I'm going to try it!  I'm excited to introduce my students to programming.  If they like it, it even gives them something that they could do over Winter Break!
First of all, I am planning on doing a lesson that I found by Robert Kaplinsky about Ms. Pac Man.  Then, during the week of December 9-15, I am going to use some of the resources from "The Hour of Code."  Here are my tentative plans
Day 1: (maybe Mon Dec 9) Watch intro video

Do "unplugged" lesson. (Tie it in with transformations?!)

Day 2: (maybe Tues Dec 10) Introduction to "Scratch" and do self-guided tutorial to make holiday card.
Follow-up: Have students work with Scratch to make a ga…

You know you are a middle school math teacher when...

I love teaching middle school.  The students are a little weird, yes.  But they are also dynamic, silly, caring, and fun to teach.

That being said... there are a few things that make this job pretty unique.

You know you teach middle school math when...

1.  You tell people what you do for a living and they react with disbelief and/or sympathy... then they go into a long story recounting their math education and that mean math teacher they had in 7th grade.

2.  You change math problems so that "69" is never the answer.  Ever. (6th graders tend to discover that this word is "funny" towards the end of the school year.  7th/8th grade, it's always "funny")

3.  You dread probability problems that involve different colored balls.  What is the probability of students laughing when you ask about the probability of choosing a blue ball?  100%.

4.  You have ever had a female student write their name, not as Crystal Gonzalez, but as "Crystal Bieber."

5. …

Made 4 Math Monday: Scientific Notation Project

This year I tried a project as one way for students to show understanding of Scientific Notation.  I used the project along with their performance on the weekly quiz to determine their grade for this standard (I use standards based grading).
The students enjoyed the choice the project gave them.  I found the products they came up with entertaining as well!
Here are the instructions and rubric:

My Favorite Friday: Formative Assessment Lessons

I want to share a fantastic resource that I have been using for a few years.  They are called Formative Assessment Lessons (FALs) that are developed by the MARS Shell Center.  The lessons have detailed plans to explain how to use them in the classroom.  There is minimal prep work and it gets the kids really thinking!  It also gives the teacher a chance to see how the students are doing with a particular concept (hence the "formative" part of the name).

I tried one called Solving Linear Equations in One Variable in my classroom.  The task asked students to classify different equations into 3 categories: Always True, Sometimes True, or Never True.  Whoa, was a blown away at what my students did!  Not that students didn't make mistakes-- I was just so impressed with how engaged everyone was.  I walked by groups and heard great conversations and debates about how a equation should be solved.

These lessons are a great resource and I plan to use one per unit.

Secrets, Lies, and Algebra

A few years ago, I was sent this book to review for the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics journal, Teaching Mathematics in the Middle School.  After reading and reviewing the book, I decided to try it as a read aloud to my advanced 6th grade math class.  I made math activities to go along with each chapter.  After rediscovering the book on Pinterest, I visited the author's website.  There is an implementation guide that you can download!  There is even one for math teachers and one for Language Arts teachers.  Cross-curricular unit for math and language arts?! Exciting!

Why I Blog

Kate Nowak writes a blog called, f(t), and is presenting at the NCTM conference.  She is a featured presenter and wanted some feedback from bloggers on some questions.   So, here are my responses.

1. What hooked you on reading the blogs? Was it a particular post or person? Was it an initiative by the nice MTBoS folks? A colleague in your building got you into it? Desperation? Last summer I was looking for some new ideas for the upcoming school year.  My social media of choice was Pinterest.  I stumbled upon a few things pinned on Pinterest that led me to some blogs.  I started reading those blogs and checked out their recommended blogs.  Pretty soon, I had quite a collection of blogs that I checked regularly.
I was also interested in trying Standards Based Grading for the school year so I started checking out blogs that talked about SBG.  It has been extremely helpful!
2. What keeps you coming back? What's the biggest thing you get out of reading and/or commenting? What keeps me co…

National Board Certification

Achieving National Board Certification last year was a great moment in my teaching career.  The process is rigorous so it was something that I worked hard to do.  The process really makes you reflect on your teaching and in the end you are a better teacher.

If you have ever thought of going through this process I encourage you to look at the National Board for Professional Teaching Standard website.  Also, talk with teachers that have done it.  Having support and someone to look over your portfolio entries is key.

Standards Based Grading (SBG) vs. Another Assessment

In my district, students take an assessment by Discovery Education.  Students take "Benchmark" Assessments four times during the school year.  The assessment gives feedback about a student's performance and labels them as Level 1-4.  Levels 3 and 4 indicate meeting or exceeding standards.  Although this is just one test that students took on one particular day, I was curious to see how the results of our first Benchmark test compared to my first quarter SBG grades.

I compared them equating an "A" or "B" as Level 3-4, "C" as Level 2, and "D" or "F" as Level 1.  Here is the comparison:

I was surprised by how much the two forms of assessment have in common.  
One of the reasons that I decided to try SBG this year was that I knew it was confusing to parents to see their child do poorly on an assessment such as the Discovery Education Test or our state test (ISAT) only to be receiving a "B" in my class.  Artificially…

Made 4 Math Monday: Keep Calm and...

I created this poster for my classroom:

Have you seen other posters like this on Pinterest of Facebook?  There is a website where you can make you own keep calm poster!  

My Favorite Friday: Wacky Holidays

This post is a little more about being silly than math.  However, as a middle school math teacher, you need to realize the power of being a little silly sometimes!

Did you know that everyday there are crazy, silly, or wacky "holidays?"  For example, November 14th is National Pickle Day.  Yep, it's a thing- google it!

I have been posting a wacky holiday in my classroom each day.  The students love seeing what it is each day.  Sometimes it is an awareness about an important issue and sometimes it's just silly.  They can be great for a laugh or even a deeper conversation.   For example, "Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day" on February 21st gives me a chance to talk with some of my female students about a career they may not have considered.

This practice also adds a little something fun that creates a community in your classroom-- something I argue will lead to better success when it comes to the content.

To find these crazy holidays check out: Days of the Y…

Colorful Feedback

To give students feedback on homework and quizzes, I am using a color coded system.  The colors are: green=understanding of the standard, yellow=partial or developing understanding, and red=minimal understanding.
The way I translate this to points is I look at how much of each color is present for each standard.  If a student has most, if not all, green they receive a 10.  Green with a little yellow gets a 9 or 8.  Mostly yellow with some red is a 7.  Mostly red with a little yellow is a 6.  Finally, all red would be a 5.

10 9-8 7 6 5 Demonstrates thorough understanding of the standard Demonstrates understanding of the standard Demonstrates a developing understanding of the standard Demonstrates a partial understanding of the standard Demonstrates minimal understanding of the standard

I've even gotten to the point that my students grade their own homework using the colors!  I have this poster hanging in my room to remind them:
Here is how a quiz might look using the color system.  Notice, th…

Standards Based Grading- Year 1

So, I decided to try something new this year... standards based grading!  I'm lucky to be working with a enthusiastic 2nd year teacher that is willing to try all of my crazy ideas.

So far so good with SBG.  I plan to post more about how it's going, so check back to see how this year progresses.

For now, here is how I started the year... with a letter home to parents explaining how the system was going to work.   Here it is:

Standards Based Grading is a grading practice that involves measuring student’s proficiency on well-defined course objectives.  It allows for students to have formative control of their own progress (and grade).  It also encourages the teacher to give timely feedback and adjust instruction to the needs of students. 
Students will be graded on the standards for a unit (usually 5-12 standards) using the rubric below.  Grades should be thought of as written in “pencil” instead of “ink.”  This means that grades can be reassessed for each standard several times du…

Kind Reminders

When I have my students working in groups, there is always the inevitable bickering that can happen between kids.  Someone is being too bossy, or someone is not helping, or someone is being so a-n-n-o-y-i-n-g!  For the past few years I have introduced my students (even my 8th graders) to "kind reminders."  I tell the students that they are responsible for handling this issues as they arise in their group.

First I show them the following chart:
Next, I have them role play the different situations.   I assign one student in each group to "act lazy" while the others give that student a kind reminder such as "everyone is supposed to be helping right now."  I also tell my students that if they are ever to receive a kind reminder, they are expected to stop doing the bossy, lazy, or annoying thing they were doing.  It might sound too good to be true, but I'm telling you that more often than not, this works!  I think it is the combination of telling the expec…

Cute Desktop Backgrounds

This post really doesn't have anything to do with math or teaching... but if you like having a cute background on your computer you will want to check it out.  Isn't this cute:
Check out the blog, Going Home to Roost.  She creates a new desktop background each month that you can download for free!

Get It Together

I thought I would share another resource that I love and use often (probably at least 2 times a month).  It's called "Get It Together" by Tim Erickson.  This book is full of activities for students to work on in small groups.  I have students work in groups of four.  The activities have clue cards and the students need to work together using the clues to come up with the answer.
Each student gets at least 1 clue that they are responsible for reading to the group and making sure is true for their final answer. When students think they have the answer, they all must raise their hands for me to come to the group.  They also must all raise their hands if they have a question.  This keeps them accountable to each other and makes sure all of the students agree on their question or answer.
Has anyone else tried these activities in your classroom?  Do you like them too?

The Power of Our Words

Of all the books I've read about education, a few have made such an impact that I reread parts every year (or more often if I need inspiration).  One of those books is called The Power of Our Words by Paula Denton.

As I reflect on professional development that I have lead or attended, I realize that sometimes we math teachers are a little too focused on math.  Not that the content isn't SUPER important.  However, the culture of our classroom, structures we have in place, and the words we use have a huge impact in how our students learn that math.  If students don't feel calm, safe, and respected, they won't be willing to take risks or persevere.

This is where The Power of Our Words comes into play.  Some things I've learned from Denton is to resist voice-overs and to avoid personal approval.  A voice-over is repeating a student's answer or thought for the class.  This causes students to look to the teacher for what is important and not listen to each other.  …

Fun and Games

Getting students to be better problem solvers can be a big task.  It is important for us to give kids chances to solve non-routine problems.  One way I like to encourage problem solving is through games.  If I have stations set up for class, I usually have a teacher-led station, an independent station, and a "game" station (or as the kids call it, the fun one!).  Using games that require practice of specific skills or use strategy are best for helping build mathematical skills.

If you don't have time to teach each group how to play a game, try using the "Fishbowl" strategy.  I pick one group of students and have the rest of the class gather around and watch as I show the selected group how to play.  Then the selected group plays a round or two while the class watches as if they are looking in on fish in a fishbowl.  This way everyone knows the rules and how the game is played.

Here are some games I have used that involve using a strategy: Checkers  Snap it Up Ches…