Sunday, August 28, 2016

A New Beginning for the 22nd time

Highlights from First Week of School!

I always love the first week of school.  Well, once I get over the lack of sleep of course!  I am always so exhausted at the end of the first week- just so much to process and plan!

I teach 7th grade math- two different curriculums.  Merit/Honors follow the common core math 7 standards, and Accelerated does all of 7th common core and about half of 8th.  My day feels a bit disjointed as I teach Merit/Acc/Merit/Plan/Honors/Acc, so never the same from period to period.

Classes today were about 30 minutes long due to a longer advisory class to go over rules/drills/forms.  Love my advisory class- Introduced talking circles and the human knot and I think we'll have a great year together.  Our advisory group meets together every Wednesday for about 30 minutes.
In all of my math classes I started by introducing our daily problem solving.  This year we will be doing:
  •  "Model a Pattern Monday" ( thanks to @fawnpnyugen)
  • "Talk about Numbers Tuesday" (Making Number Talks Matter! and other places- still looking for a good source for a large number of these- suggestions welcome)
  • "Which One Doesn't Belong Wednesday" ( thanks to @marybourassa )
  • "Take your Pick Thursday" (a mixture of and debate questions inspired by @plspeak at
  • "Find the Flub Friday"- ideally these will be real student misconceptions from current content...some from

I'm using a weekly recording sheet for students to keep in their binder, with three end of the week reflection questions (I think inspired by @lisabej_Manitou )- What did you learn in math class this week?  What do you need more help on?  Share one good thing from this week (outside of math class).  I really want to work on connecting more with my students and while reading and responding each week will be time consuming I think it will be work it!

After the Model a Pattern Monday, students did the Broken Circles activity from Designing Groupwork (thanks @mathequalslove for the modified circles!).  I thought this was a great activity and led to a great reflection and discussion about group norms (used the posters from @mathequalslove too!).  Every single person "A" that had a perfect circle from the beginning just didn't want to break up their circle- but that was the only way to complete the group task!  We also did the icebreaker activity (groups agreeing to a favorite food, game, and tv show) inspired by @zimmerdiamonds to reinforce group norms. 

Today students started to set up their interactive notebooks.  We glued in a foldable for the standards for math practice from @iisanumber.  We didn't fill anything into the foldable yet. Students worked on the "Fewest Squares" activity from @joboaler 's week of inspirational math and then we closed the activity by reflecting on which SMPs they felt most applied for this activity.  Students pretty much agreed on "Perseverance" and "Attend to Precision" as they so often thought they had a square when it was really a 9x8 or 7x6 instead.  I had students work on communicators with graph paper inside, and record results as a group on a recording sheet. 

I thought this one was really interesting...she was drawing a diagonal so that she made sure that she ended up with a square without counting #attendtoprecision :)

Continued interactive notebook setup. Our school does standards based grading, and I created a chart for each term for a place for students to record their original assessment grade as well as to record corrections and retests.  I think this helps students track what they have achieved and need to work on without needing to go to the online gradebook or sort through all of their papers.  I decided not to use a table of contents this year.  An 8th grade teacher at my school decided to have students glue in tabs that have the wording of the standard on the inside and just the simplified name of the standard on the tab that sticks out of the notebook.   I loved it so I "stole" it!  It already makes me so much happier than a table of contents so we'll see how it goes.  One of my students asked if she could make a table of contents anyway- so some students will have both.  I think it's important that the notebook work for them!

Our first standard is Calculating Unit Rates (7.RP.A.1).  Students worked with calculating unit rates in 6th grade, so I wanted to preassess and activate a bit of their prior knowledge at the same time.  Here is the presentation we worked through...I really like the Partial Products lesson from @ddmeyer.  I encouraged students to try using ratio tables...while I don't require them as a strategy I find that using them to provide structure while working with any problem involving proportional reasoning really helps students!  To close out the lesson we summarized what a unit rate was, and how it could be useful when problem solving.

My accelerated students took a pretest for the term.  I create a chart for the term with all of the standards so I can differentiate.  Often with the accelerated students they don't know content for the preassessment but pick up concepts quickly.  So I always have a variety of challenges available for when students are ready!

Basically the only difference between 6th grade and 7th grade Unit Rates is the inclusion of fractions, which means fraction division!  Students were exposed to fraction division in 6th grade, but I find that most of them don't have a strong understanding of what division means and what type of answer would be a reasonable estimate for the quotient.  So I started a bit more basic with whole numbers, then whole number with a fraction quotient with this presentation.  I connected that with Fawn's graph paper fraction division.  I love this method and think it makes such a connection for visual learners! I don't require students to use it beyond the 5 problems we do in class, but think it's so important.

Accelerated set up their interactive notebooks.  Their first topic is adding and subtracting rational numbers. I wanted to use number lines so I used a Which One Doesn't Belong for adding integers on the number line that I created last year. (its #29 on this page).  After students brainstormed similarities and differences I asked them to write an addition equation that they think represented each example.  We had a good discussion about absolute values and the relevance of the length and direction of the arrows

Today we continued our exploration of fraction division to help set students up for success when calculating unit rates.  I had students try three different representations of the same division problem...graph paper rectangles, common denominator, and multiplying by the reciprocal. 

In accelerated, students tried out some addition on the number line, and then I asked them to sort into up to  four groups based on similarities on how they solved them and the sum.  While students worked on it I was able to get  around and make sure everyone was proficient with the graphing.  We had a great conversation about different ways to sort and then discussed how we could write rules for adding integers based on the different groups.  Some students didn't group in a way that helped them create the rules- but were able to sort their groups further when they realized they hadn't used a similar method to solve. (example on the side)  This is in preparation for work with rational numbers next week.  Especially after we start multiplying and dividing I find if students don't have/use a visual they start to mix up the rules they have created.

Goodness!  After looking through this post I certainly borrow a lot from pretty much everywhere!  Thanks MTBoS!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Organizing Resources (aka where's my stuff!)

Update on my flash cards- focusing on one class at a time for now...I can successfully identity 19 of 22 students 95% of the time.  Totally stuck on three of them.  And all of this is dependent on them looking like their grade 6 picture.  But I'll be better off than not doing it I think.

Today's topic: Managing resources.  There are so many great resources out there, the trick is finding a way to organize them all so you remember to use them!  I have three main locations where I've attempted to do this with varying levels of success.

First- Physical resources. I guess this is rather old school of me (after all, this will be my 22nd year of teaching so I am a bit old lol).  I still like binders for each of my units.  I keep a ton of clear page protectors handy so when I find something I'll stick a post it note on it and toss it in a binder for that unit.  I find this particularly handy for planning with others as I can just grab it and bring it along.  In addition I have sets of clear plastic drawers (one drawer for each unit- they are 12" by 12" by about 2". ). Any cards, stations, etc that doesn't fit into a binder goes in the drawer. They take up some room but it's so handy to find things.  Ideally there is a page in the binder that describes the activities in the drawers too.

Second- Digital resources.  I have two different methods for organizing digital resources.

A- Google drive- easy to find everything, but doesn't like some Microsoft stuff so you have to download to view/print.  I have this organized in folders by unit  as well.  I don't like that I have to click on most stuff to remember what it is.  It's a nice easy way to share with other teachers though.

B- I set this up long before google drive came along.  It has tons of resources for common core 7, and some for common core 8. Each standard has its own page.  What I like about wikispaces is that I can write a description of the activity/link/document and either how I've used it or how I'm thinking about using it.  Sharing resources of one thing, but what I really love about reading other blogs is hearing about how they used the resource, and then seeing others talk about different ways that resource worked for their teaching style and different learning styles of their students.  I sometimes throw in pictures here as well as links to other people's blog posts that relate to a certain concept but try to credit wherever it came from.

A few years ago at tmc 13 in Philly we had a flex session (or random meeting, can't remember) to talk about resources. I remember Fawn Nyugen talking about narrowing down to her five favorite resources for each concept.  I love that idea, and while I've gotten rid of a lot of stuff it's so hard to narrow down! I'd like to find a way of bridging my three organizational methods together as I know I've missed using a great method/activity  as it was in the wrong place!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

the Sound of Music

Writing from Brooklyn NY as we are visiting my brother, sister-in-law, and new niece!

Thinking about routines for the next school year.  I really loved the idea of musical cues from Matt Vaudrey at last years TMC.  I even bought a Bluetooth speaker for my classroom but just never got around to setting it up.  I'd like to use something for problem solving (when students enter the room). For those that do this at the beginning of class, do you start when the bell rings, or have it going when students come in.  I'm thinking I'd like it as a cue to record homework assignment, take out last nights assignment, and get started on "which one doesn't belong Wednesday" (for example). Or do you start when the other class leaves.  Maybe I could splice together 90 seconds of a have a great day song and 4 minutes of a lets get this party started type song.

I definitely want a cut/glue song as I am going back to some sort of interactive notebook this year.  I really missed it last year.  Trying to decide if I want to use a separate paper each week for warm ups.  I saw a few examples at a tmc warm up session, and I liked one that had a space for each day as well as a "how was your week?" prompt for the end of the week.  I think this will keep in line with my goal of connecting more with students in a non mathy way.  I'll post whatever I come up with (no computer on vacay- posting this from my iPhone.

I'm in the middle of reading "writing on the classroom wall" by Steve Wyborney.  I really like the section I've just finished that's about the importance of writing, and that writing is a thinking process and not just a way to summarize what you've already thought about.  So I think I'd like to have a song to strategically throw in to get students writing throughout math class as a way to think through what they have been learning.  More to come on that to as I figure out what that might look like along with my goal to have students do not discovery based learning of concepts.

For those that use music transitions, how do you set them up so they are easy to start...thinking from my iPhone or some sort of tablet?

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Learning Names

I remember having teachers who just knew everyone's names.  On the first day.  Definitely a great trait to have if you are going to be a teacher.

But not me.  I am HORRIBLE at learning names.  I have to meet someone a bunch of times, have long conversations, connect, before I can remember their names.  I also don't know names/singers of songs, actors in TV shows/movies.  No one in their right mind would want me on their trivia team.  Unless its about Disney, lol.  Or school supplies.

One It's so hard for me to learn names in our 47 minute period with 20-36 students a period, 5 periods a day.  In the past, I have done assigned seats from day one, taken pictures of the group tables, and photoshopped their names over the top so that I could "study".  This year our gradebook has photos from last year, so I decided to try something new.  I made myself flashcards using an app on my iphone :)  I put in the photo and the student name, and in the next 2,5 weeks I'm going to try to learn as many names as I can!
In the interest of getting to know students and letting them get to know me, I'm working on a couple of ideas of how I can do that while still teaching math.  First, I've been reading the book "Creating Cultures of Thinking" and I really liked one of the ideas shared about "What's Your Other Story?".  Students will obviously know me as their math teacher, but I'd like to be able to share some things from my "other story".  I love Disney, I went to "Twitter Math Camp", I'm a new aunt, I have two daughters, I struggle with learning names!, etc.  I'm also interested in hearing about their "other story".  Maybe a bulletin board? First homework assignment?

One of my favorite activities in the past was an assignment for parents/guardians called "A million words or less".  I asked them to write about things they would like to share about their child, both in an out of school (but please stick to a million words or less).  I loved the responses I got over the years, but I didn't hear back from everyone and I want to find a way to INCLUDE my students as well.

How do you get to know your students?

Monday, August 1, 2016

Always Learning

I was so fortunate to be able to attend TMC16 this year.  For me it was just so fantastic to be with a group of lifelong learners who love to talk about  learning and teaching math.  I came away with many ideas that I'd like to use this school year.

Probably the most important came in a conversation in the airport. Kathryn (@iisanumber) asked me what I love most about my classroom.  And I didn't have an answer.

This will be my 22nd year of teaching middle school math, most of it in 7th grade.  Each year I reflect on what I thought worked in my teaching, and look for ways to improve on what wasn't as successful.  I really do love my job.  I don't mind putting in long hours looking for new ideas, writing lessons, and giving students feedback on their learning.  I have lessons that I love to facilitate, especially those that allow students to discover conceptual understanding through exploration, or the learning that is motivated by an interesting/challenging task/problem/scenario.

Each year I get feedback from several students who had previously not met success in math classes but have really grown in our year together.  But I don't feel like I reach all my students, and wish I had opportunities to really get to know my students better, and for them to know me better,  and not just teach them content.  I think that has to go hand in hand with creating more opportunities to have fun with math and not be so focused on curriculum curriculum curriculum.  Which is so hard to do as I always feel like i'm under a time crunch.

I consider myself a risk taker as an educator.  Four years ago I started (independently but with approval from supportive admin) using standards based grading with my students. Two years ago I made another leap of faith and transferred to a school where the initiative was for the entire staff to do SBG.  What I love about SBG is that it improves my ability to use my gradebook to focus reteaching/relearning where it is needed and provide appropriate challenges.  I also love that students have multiple opportunities to learn at their own pace and their grades reflect their level of understanding without penalty for when they learned it.  But I still feel like students see relearning and reteaching as a punishment  rather than an opportunity.

At TMC I attended the Differentiate morning sessions with Michelle (@park_star).  I realized that I was mostly only using preassessment to identify students who already understood the content I was about to teach. When students showed learning gaps on pretests, I would look for ways to incorporate review into warm ups or early problems.  I think this is pretty common practice.  In Michelle's sessions she talked about strategic pre-teaching times before each unit so that all students entered in to the unit ready to learn the new content.  We also saw some flexible stations for student choice in practicing the areas where their learning has gaps.  I think this is the direction I'd like to go (although realistically developing this a bit each  year).

One of the biggest changes I made last year was in my warm ups- instead of traditional review of material from the day before we did things like "Which One Doesn't Belong Wednesday" (thanks !) and "Find a Pattern Friday" (thanks  I loved the risk taking I saw students at all levels take with these warm ups. But I did miss the cycle of bringing back in yesterdays learning and need to find a way to combine those two to help student make better connections.

For this year my goals will be...
a) get to know my students- find ways to have more fun and spark interest in math outside of math class time.
b) continue refining SBG process and feedback through more strategic differentiation
c) design more lessons that help students discover concepts or have built in motivation because of the hook (include building on warm ups routines started last year
d) find ways to time manage as I work on these goals as I have a 5 and 13 year old at home!

Friday, October 9, 2015

Pythagorean Theorem

I love the wide variety of resources available for exploring the Pythagorean theorem!  I decided to go pretty low tech this year although I've seen some fun explorations using Geogebra and Sketchpad.  Yesterday I started with a set of squares and had students try to form a right triangle by using 3 squares as the sides of the triangle.  We recorded all of the trios of numbers they found, and then set that list aside.

Next, we explored a 3, 4, 5 right triangle, and built squares on the three sides and looked for patterns.  Students pretty quickly identified that the sum of the areas of the squares on the two shorter sides was equal to the area of the square on the longest side.  Using this information, we were able to generalize and "discover" the Pythagorean theorem.

Going back to our list of trios of numbers, students were able to check to see if their triangles were right triangles. We developed a list of Pythagorean Triples, and then just looked for other trios of numbers that would work.

Today I brought out Dan Meyer's Taco Cart Problem.  Students did a great job of asking questions and figuring out what they needed to know, and we brought back in a lot of the vocabulary we had used yesterday when exploring right triangles.  I supplied the information for Act Two and sent them on their way to work out the problem in groups of 3 or 4 on 2ft by 3ft whiteboards.  This was the first problem they had solved with the Pythagorean Theorem, and there were some great misconceptions for us to discuss!

When I started the discussion, I asked what was the first piece of information that we needed to agree on.  Students suggested the length of the hypotenuse, as all other calculations were based on that distance.  Some misconceptions: Students squared the legs and found the sum, but left that value for the hypotenuse instead of taking the square root.  Students added the legs and recorded that value as the hypotenuse.  Students squared the legs and found the sum, but then thought that dividing by two was equivalent to taking the square root.

The next part of our discussion was how to use the rates.  Also some misconceptions here, but I love that we were able to discuss if groups had a strategy that would have worked if their hypotenuse had been right.  Common misconceptions here:  multiplying the length by the rate of 2 or 5 ft per second instead of dividing.  Forgetting that one person had part of the walk on sand and another part on the sidewalk.

Monday we'll be looking at a few more problems, including a version of the television 3 act problem from Timon Piccini.  Also really liking revising the Wizard of Oz from Robert Kaplinsky.  Also looking forward to using Tilted Squares from NCTM as an enrichment activity- I think it's from an article that you have to be a member to see, but there is an illuminations activity that is pretty similar.

What are your favorite Pythagorean Theorem tasks or explorations?

Friday, July 17, 2015

Single Riders

I noticed this sign while visiting a local amusement park this week, and as we waited for the ride I noticed that there were often several open seats for each cycle of the ride.  Now I'm a bit of a Disney fan, and even though they sometimes have long lines, there are rarely empty seats on the big ticket rides.  They do this with single rider lines, and assigning people to specific rows so that they know how many single riders they need to fill the space.  Less wait=happier park visitors!

Then the questions start. How much would it cost to add single rider lines? How many open seats are there really in an hour?  Day?  Are people actually annoyed that there are empty seats- and how much time would adding a single rider line really take off of the average wait.  Certainly Disney went through this process when they decided to add the single rider lines, but how much more volume does Disney have per day over my local amusement park?

When I think about  SMP#3- Constructing Viable Arguments and Critiquing the Reasoning of Others- I want my students to really look at the world around them and use math as a tool to prove whether something does or doesn't make sense. To do this, students really need to observe and question what they see. They need to know how to collect data and organize it in a way that can be communicated with others.

How do we as teachers help to build this capacity in our students?  How can we use SMP #3 in our classrooms to help students model their understanding of a concept and identify misconceptions that are common with that concept?  How do we build a classroom culture where students are comfortable critiquing and having their understanding critiqued.

More to come....suggestions and thoughts are welcome!