Tuesday, May 29, 2012

This Year's Top Ten

In no particular order, here are ten of my favorite things this past year.

1) Teaching Geometry:  I have never taught Geometry before.  I decided it was time that I saw/taught the entire curriculum.  I've taught everything in my school district from 7th grade pre-algebra to Calculus, but not Geometry.  I really enjoyed it.  However, I am going back to pre-calculus next year.

2) Standards-Based Assessment:  This is my second year using standards-based grading and I love it more and more every day.  I love that students get a second chance.  I love that students don't have to wait to fail the course to relearn a topic, relearn it right now, don't wait.

3) My Colleagues:  I swear that I work with the best department in the state.  Outsiders would come to do work with our department are always amazed at our closeness and willingness to work together.  Sadly, one of my colleagues is resigning to stay at home with her daughter.  Luckily, her replacement fits right in.

4) Clickers:  I know, I know....I had the clickers last year.  But, I like them even more this year.  We upgraded to the clickers where the students can answer more than just multiple choice questions.  Here's to hoping I have more time next year to create more clicker lessons.

5) Blogging:  I have stolen more than you know for the blogosphere.  Every week I'm here on my computer reading blogs to see what great ideas I can steal next.

6) Creating my own blog:  I enjoy having a voice here.  Feel free to steal from me, as I have probably stolen from you.

7) Bring your child to work:  I am quiet and shy, my husband wants to vomit at the thought of speaking in front of people, but our son.  Oh no, not him.  I brought him to work with me and he took over.  He told me how things were going to be.  He had so much confidence it was unreal.  I think I have a future leader on my hands.

8) Having a student teacher:  I told myself I was never going to have another student-teacher.  The previous student-teacher was so incredibly great that I knew she could never be topped.  When I found out that the local college was having difficulty finding placement for student-teachers I couldn't say no. What a great experience I had being a co-op.  What are the odds that the two student teachers that I have ever had would turn out to be so incredible?  Do I dare try a third?

9) NCTM Conference:  Speaking of stealing ideas, the NCTM conference is a place where people encourage this and volunteer to hand deliver their ideas into your lap.  All you have to do is show up to their presentation.  I cannot wait for the next one.

10) All the feedback I have received from the blog.  Oh wait, you haven't left a comment yet.  Please do, I could use some feedback.  How am I doing?

Saturday, May 26, 2012


I've been meaning to try stations for a while now.  But here is what happens to me a lot.  I have these ideas for my classroom that never come to fruition because I either think there's too much work involved and I won't have enough time to do it, or, I believe the students won't like the activity, or, chaos.

Deep breath....here it goes....

In an effort to review for a test on Quadrilaterals, I created seven stations.  At each station the students took a piece of paper with the current set of problems on them and got to work.  Once they got to the next station, they found an answer key for the previous station along with new problems.  I found it useful to color code the stations and answer keys.

I had the students move from station to station at my say.  I didn't want students walking around the room (hence my issue with chaos).

It was impossible to keep the amount of work in each station the same so I had a secondary assignment for the students to complete.  Before we started the stations, I showed the students how to solve a logic problem.  We did this one together as a class.  Then I handed out this more complicated logic problem without the clues.  I picked this particular problem because it had 7 clues and I had 7 stations.  I put one clue at each station.

At each station:  1 answer key in a page protector, enough copies for each student of the current problem, and enough copies of the clue for that station.

As I walked around the room, I noticed that all my students were engaged.  But here's what happened....they really like the logic problem.  A LOT.  Can you guess what they did?  That's right.  When they got to the next station, they grabbed a clue and got to work on the logic puzzle, next they checked the answer key, and finally started the current set of problems.  Those stinkers!!  Here's what I'm going to do next time.  I will keep the clues in my possession.  When a student finished the current set of problems, I will then give them the next clue.

Overall...this was a great review.  The students did well on their tests and I felt it was a success.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Hello Pinteresters!!!  I get a lot of traffic from Pinterest by what I suspect are teachers looking for games to use in their classrooms.  Many educators like this game, but be sure to check out the other games on my blog.  Click here to more games.

I don't watch much TV, but when The Big Bang Theory is on, I will be there.  It's one of the only TV shows that my students and I both watch.  From that show my Bazinga Game was born.

It's rather straight forward in that the students are in teams, I ask questions, and the students answers them.  If a team is correct they have the chance to pick a Bazinga Card and we do what it says.

There are nine pockets, each with 3 cards in them.  Here is the breakdown of the cards:

Cards about points:

- (3) Erase one1 point from all other teams.

- (3) Double your score.

- (3) Take away two points from one other random team and give them to your team.

- (6) Add two points to your score.

- (3) Erase two points from one other random team.

Action Cards:

- (2) Randomly switch one player from each of the other teams.

- (2) Randomly have a player from the winning team go to the losing team.

- (2) The team with the least points must collectively do 10 pushups.

- (2) The team with the most points must collectively do 10 pushups.

The Bazinga Card:

Take Half of Every Team's Score.

Each team starts with no points and earns one point every time they answer a question correctly.  I begin by asking Team 1 a question.  If they answer correctly they earn 1 point and choose a Bazinga card.  If they answer incorrectly, the question then goes to team 2.

I've been in the situation where all teams had an incorrect answer.  With this I ask all teams to look over the problem one more time and ask for answers from each team again.  Now the question is worth 2 points.

The random Stuff:
For each class I have each student's name on an index card (I use index card rather than popsicle sticks).  Once the teams are established, I place the index cards on piles accordingly.  When a card such as "Randomly switch one player from each of the other teams." is selected, I use the card to make this happen.
A random number generator on a calculator works just as well.

In the past I have avoided games like this because some students don't have to do any of the work.  They are on a team and their teammates will take care of them.  I know, I was one of those students (I'm not telling you which one).
Honestly, this game is no different.  If the class size is small enough, we play with teams of two.  I mean really small, like 10.  But other than that I don't know how to avoid this issue of piggy-backing students.  Suggestions?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Green Highlighter Activity

My students LOVE the green highlighter activity.  I LOVE the green highlighter activity.

This idea was completely stolen from Square Root of Negative One.

My students are already familiar with the color green.  I grade by color rather than numbers (more on that later).  So when a student sees green, he automatically feels good about his work.

The first time I did this activity I had a little discussion with my students.  I told them that I didn't want them to solely rely on me to be the source of all information.  They were responsible for their own education (which is something we talk about a lot), but the new part was that they were also responsible for their classmates' education.  Wha?!?!  I told them that I wasn't going to provide much feedback or instruction that day, it was up to them.

I had the problems all ready for class and handed out a few at a time.  When I saw that a student was correct I drew a green checkmark on their paper (the way I usually grade) then handed them the highlighter.  This meant they were correct and free to walk around the room and assist other students.  Once everyone had a green checkmark, the class answered any lingering questions and the process was repeated.


- To determine how many highlighters I need per class, I divide the number of students by 5.

- I don't allow anyone else to be standing/walking except the highlighter people.

- I don't answer any questions.  As I'm walking around the room and notice a student is wrong, I keep walking, looking for a student who is correct.

- If there are questions at the end of a problem, I don't answer them.  It's up to the students to help each other out.  Honestly, I have yet to get a question after everyone has a green check.

- I try to find a way to give my "weak" students a green highlighter.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


As if this post wasn't enough.

Check this one out.

One Question at a Time; Revisited

Percents:  Download the activity here -->  One at a Time Activity

A few weeks ago, I did my One-at-a-Time Activity.  You can read about that here.

I tried this activity again this week with more success.  Here are the changes that I made:

1) I did post a chart at the front of the board where the students would check off if they successfully completed a set of problems or not.  All the students were cooperative with this except for one.  Not sure what his story is; he wasn't talking that day.

2) The answers to the problems were used elsewhere.  If you download the activity that I did, you will see that pages 2-5 are the problems, page 1 is new problems created from the other problems.  Just download it, you'll see.  I believe this in itself was helpful in motivating students to finish.  There was an end in sight and an end product.

3) I made sure the students kept all papers, stapled them, and handed them in at the end of class.

4) I did allow students who finished first to take over my job of checking answers and providing feedback.  The students loved this.  Not only the ones who took over my job, but the remaining students liked going to their peers for feedback.

Next time:
I don't know that I will improve on this too much for next time.  It seems to be working the way I would like right now.  Another bonus to this activity is that I don't have grading outside of class time.  It's all taken care of in class.  Fist pump!!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Starbursts 3-Acts

I tried my first Three Act Math task this week and it was a good start.  I have some learning to do as well as the students.  We recently finished our outcome on probability and I thought that Dan Meyer's yellow starburst activity was an excellent choice.

Preparing the Activity:

First I bought my own bag of starbursts and counted out the colors:

I also created a PowerPoint from Mr. Meyer's activity so that the information was "seamless".

Doing the Activity:

Act 1:
I started class by asking the students what their least-favorite flavor of starbursts were.  Most said yellow.  We watched the video and I requested that the students, in pairs, discuss and write down any lingering questions they had about the video.  Here are some of the questions I got:
- What does he do with all the yellow starbursts?
- How many packs of candy are there?
- What does he have against yellow?
- Why doesn't this guy get a job?
- Do you want us to figure out probability on something?

Okay, not exactly what I was looking for.  So, I felt I needed to prompt them and it seemed like I was taking away from the activity when I forced them to think about math.

Act 2:
I do have to say that I was a little scared that the students wouldn't be able to figure out what information was necessary.  But they surprised me, both of my classes came up with exactly what was needed.
I have two classes that did this activity.  In my first class it felt dry and boring.  The kids reacted the same way as if I had given them a worksheet.  Yawn....
The second class was more engaged.

What I did differently in the second class:

- I told them we were going to do our own experiment:  Each student was going to get 2 starbursts and we would see how many of us got at least one yellow.  This piqued their interest.

- I asked them to guess how many of those packs had at least 1 yellow, and how many had 2 yellow.

The students then determine how many combinations of 2 starbursts there were.  We even had a discussions about why Orange-Red is different than Red-Orange.  BTW: This discussion would not have taken place with a worksheet.

Each set of students was assigned 2 combinations to determine it's probability.  Another conversation that took place was why Orange-Red and Red-Orange have the same probability and the Commutative Property.  I kept a running list of those probabilities on the board.

As a class we came up with an answer as to how many packs had 2 yellow and how many had 1 yellow starburst.

Act 3:
The students enjoyed seeing this.  And seeing that the math they did really worked was key.
At the end of class the students blindly picked two starbursts out the candy bag.

I showed the image of our own bag of starbursts that was in the beginning of this post.  It just so happened that my student teacher was particular about how she ate her starbursts.  She like to eat the red and pink at the same time.  Here's that file.

Other extension question thoughts:
What if starburst came in packs of three rather than two?  What is the probability that all three will be yellow?  Two will be yellow?  One will be yellow?

Definitely worth trying again.  Not just this activity, but three-act math tasks in general.  Dan Meyer does an excellent job, but I think as educators we need to put our own spin on these tasks.  I found that I was more committed when I had my own bag of starbursts, and the students were more interested when those candies were right in front of them.

Note to self:  Ask the students to guess!!!!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Miss O's Discount Store

I currently have a Student Teacher and I asked her permission to write about her discount store.  The students were about to start the outcome on percentages and we (the student teacher and I) decided that students already have somewhat of an understanding of percentages; hence the discount store.  
Miss O (the student teacher) did some virtual shopping for the students and printed out a picture of the item along with it's price.  The blue papers are the percent discount.  She placed the items around the room and allowed the students to go on a shopping spree.

Here are the "rules" that she gave the students:

1) Each student has $350 to spend.
2) The student must try to have as little money remaining as possible.
3) They may only buy up to 3 of any one item.  
4) When a student decides to purchase something, they must take a copy of the item to staple to their work.  
5) All work and items were to be handed in at the end of the activity.

What went right:
- Some of the students really got into this.  Some were competing to see who get the closest to $0.
- We found some misconceptions that we wouldn't have noticed otherwise.  For instance, some students rounded to the nearest dollar.  What stores do that?  Some didn't even know how to round.
- Once a student was getting low on money, you could hear them thinking aloud, "I only have $20 left and those jean cost $40 with a 35% discount, is that enough?"  Perfect!  Just how we wanted them to be thinking.

What went wrong:
Nothing went horribly wrong, just a few bumps along the way.
- Set up and take down was a little time consuming (totally worth it though).
- One student refused to buy things because he didn't like what was for sale.
- Grading was a nightmare (although, I didn't have to do it, but Miss O did).

Next time:
I may have the students earn their money.  They may earn $25 for each exit ticket they pass in a previous outcome.  Hm...what about the students who don't pass any of the exit tickets?  Well, I could give an automatic $100 to each student.
One problem I see with this is the students who will probably need the most practice will have the least amount of money.  On the other hand, the timing may work out better for me because those students work slower and will have a better chance of finishing the activity before the end of the period.

Does anyone else have conversations with themselves like this?

Miss O's departments:
- Electronics
- Food Court (my favorite!!)
- Shoes
- Sporting Goods
- Men's Clothing
- Women's Clothing

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Smokey Bones

One of our favorite restaurants is Smokey Bones.  This past weekend, in an effort to celebrate Mothers' Day early, we headed to our local Smokey Bones (only 25 miles away).  There's this strange phenomenon that occurs every time my step-daughter and I eat out...we order the same thing.  At one point my husband started laughing and noted that she and I were studying the same part of the menu "Build-a-Burger".

His next question:  I wonder what the odds are of the two of you ordering the same burger.  I wondered whose would cost less.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Maybe He had no Paper....

Here is the commercial for Scott Toilet Paper.

Here are two images that I would like to present to my classes:

I want them to fill in the blanks.  My intention is to start by bringing in a roll with the tube and a roll without.  See what discussions arise.  Does a little TP roll make that much of a difference?  Then I will show the images above.  

This is where I will need to students to decide what information they need.  Either I will provide this information, or send them to the internet for some research.

At the end of class, the following images will be displayed:

Friday, May 4, 2012

M&Ms Activity and Google Forms

Every year I like to do an activity with M&Ms; such as probability and odds, or percentages.  The sorting of all the classes data is a _itch though.  Then it dawned on me; GOOGLE FORMS!!  Why didn't I think of this before?  

Here's my thought.  Keep in mind, I didn't actually try this with my students yet, and your feedback is appreciated.  

On my class website will be a link to a google form (it looks like a survey) where the students just enter how many of each color M&M they have in their bag.  They go about their activity finding whatever it is that I ask them to find.  

After the students are done with their work, as a class we could take a look at the information and have whatever discussions we need to have.  

Should we try it?

Go buy a bag of plain M&Ms.  I don't care what size.

Click here to review the results.

Don't forget to scroll down in the results to see the pie chart.

Your thoughts and suggestions are always welcome!!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Dan Meyer

If you are not already a reader of Dan Meyer's Blog, you should check that out right now.  At the NCTM conference last week, I attended his presentation.  Yep, that's me next to Mr. Meyer...

By the way, I'm 5'4".

In his presentation he spoke about his 3-Act Math Tasks and 5 Rules of Thumb.
Here are the notes that I took and would love to share with you.

3-Act Math Tasks:

Act 1 - This is where you get the students' attention.  Try to make things obvious without words.

Act 2 - This is where students gather the information they need to solve the problem presented in Act 1.  Try to not tell students what is important, let that up to them.  Sometimes a lecture is necessary and sometimes it's not.  This is where you have conversations with the students, such as; What does this number mean?  etc.

Act 3 - Give the answer.

Sequel - Supply extension questions, especially for the students who finish first.  A good practice is to flip the question.  If the original question is "How much oxygen will be used in x minutes?"  ask, "Describe a situation with y amount of oxygen."

5 Rules of Thumb:

1) Get to the hook QUICKLY.  Ask the question first rather than last.

2) Make the first act visual whenever possible.  This makes math accessible to everyone.  Ask the students to guess.

3) Separate the first two acts.  Don't ask the question and give the tools at the same time.

4) Ask students to help create Act 2.

5) Make the 3rd act visual whenever possible.

Need some ideas?  Here, check out Dan Meyer's spreadsheet of 3-Act Math Tasks.

One Question at a Time, Please!

Usually I like to collect students' work at the end of class, look over what they need more work with, then make my plans for the next day.  The problem: Those students who make the same mistake on every problem.  If I had only noticed this with their first question, I could have redirected them.  But I didn't.  And I need to.

Here is how I modified it:  I give the students one problem at a time and the problems get progressively more challenging.  Here's how it works.  I give the students a problem and they work on it at their seats.  When they are finished they bring the problem to me.  If they are correct I hand them the next problem.  If they were incorrect, I clear up any misconceptions and send them back to their seat to make corrections.

I correct any misconceptions before they practice it the wrong way multiple times.
Students may get a little competitive and want to be the person who did the most problems.

Some students get lost in the shuffle.  I'm so busy that I don't notice if some students get past the first problem or not.
At the end of class, I don't have anything tangible as a way of knowing what they know.
Some students finish all the problems and have nothing to do.
I'm too busy!!!

Possible solutions to my cons:
Students lost in the shuffle:  One possibility is to have a chart on the board and students place a check mark next to their name when they get a problem correct.  Any thoughts here?

Any why am I so busy?  One thing I brought back with me from the conference "The person doing all the work is doing all the learning".  

Nothing Tangible:  I have the chart to see who finished and who fell behind.

Students who finish early:  The students could take over my job when they complete all the problems.

I will give this another try and see what happens.  Stay posted for an update.  Anyone try this?  Have any suggestions?

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Factor This!!

I now know 3 different way to factor a trinomial where the lead co-efficient is not 1.

Method 1 - Trial and Error (Guess and Check) (Hope and Pray)

Method 2 - Factor by Grouping

Method 3 - The I-Don't-Know-What-to-Call-This-Method Method

What I Learned from my High School Social Studies Teacher

Back in high school there was this Social Studies teacher (Let's call him Mr. A) that made teaching look easy....almost too easy;  like ...