Why? Part 2

Or “The Dark Side of the Mathtwitterblogosphere

I haven’t written anything on here in a very long time … life doesn’t always go exactly the way you plan. A few years ago I was prepared to dive head first into the new paradigm of teaching mathematics in the age of the internet.

My initial efforts to flip my classroom were a flop; seeing the innovative practices that other teachers were able to implement in their own classrooms made me reflect on my own practice to the point of being critical. Instead of committing to continuous incremental improvement, I tried to change too many things all at once. I couldn’t keep up the intensity for much more than about a 9 weeks. The remainder of the school year was fairly traditional. I backed away from following the internet superstars of math education that I had been rabidly consuming as it was a reminder of what I could be offering to my own students.

The next year I realized that I was already mentally done with that school year and those students as a group (but not as individuals) by the end of first 9 weeks. I was burning out fast, and the sudden realization that I wasn’t really trying very hard anymore escalated the depression that had been smoldering for who knows how long. I even had students who had known me a while saying things like “Mr X, you’re not yourself anymore – is everything all right?” …

I spiraled further and further downward; it was not just impacting my students but also my family. I would get home and have no patience left for my own children a lot of days even though I hadn’t exactly been putting forth by best effort at work either – what once had been a passion, was just a job (and I was doing a pretty shitty one at that). By winter break, I asked my wife (who is also a teacher) if I could just give up and not go back to work, I would find something else while I figured out a better option. “NO”

My wife and a co-teacher eventually convinced me to not completely give up on my career around half-way through. There was also just enough occasional positive reinforcement from students to make me feel like I was doing some good in the big picture of things. However, I believed there was no reason to be medicated or in therapy to teach.

I finished the school year on a slight upswing and realized that I didn’t want to change schools or careers. For all of the negatives, this was my school, my students … some of them would be fine without me, but there are some that hopefully need me. I started a serotonin re-uptake inhibitor that summer and therapy this spring when I decided the medication alone wasn’t going to get me all the way back to where I wanted to be … guess I’m a liar.

I’ve had some setbacks this year; I’ve only wanted to quit a couple times, but I hung in there. It wasn’t a perfect year, but it was definitely worth it even if only for one simple reason. Not too long ago, I had a freshman girl preface a private conversation with me with the words no teacher ever wants to hear “I don’t know who else …” – it was the sort of thing that made me sad/sick/angry, and I had to convince her to talk to other adults about it including her mother … I guess that’s why I went to work this year for those of you who believe in fate or that sort of thing.

Then earlier this week, I was given a gift by a former student on social media … this student did not do well in my class despite being very intelligent … math and sometimes motivation just weren’t her thing:

For Teacher Appreciation Week, I’d like to say thank you to [X] for being the best teacher and non-family mentor I’ve ever had. Even though you taught my least favorite subject and I never paid attention to it, you helped me to grow as an individual more than any other teacher ever has.
On my bad days when I just needed a moment to clear my mind, your room was always open and I can’t tell you how much that meant to me.
You’re so intelligent and kind hearted and I’m sorry for any trouble I ever gave you in class. Thank you for helping me to expand my mind and begin to look on the brighter side of things,

Keep what you do up, [X]. I know you have a lot of rotten kiddos in your classes, but I promise you that you change lives. The kids who really listen learn so much from you. Everyday I use a lot of what you taught me. Well, not the algebra stuff, but whatever.

Hope the rest of you had a great Teacher Appreciation Week … the grind is real, but I finally am starting to believe the promise that it’s worth it again …




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I haven’t posted in a while because … I’m behind at school … I’m busy … I’m spending my spare time on other hobbies … et cetera

the recent tragic events at a school that could’ve been my own or my children’s makes everything else seem pretty insignificant in the grand scheme of things – thinking empathetic thoughts for the parents, students, and community in Newtown, Connecticut


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Talk Nerdy

Been a while (busy busy busy), I happened to check out this TEDtalk. It made me even more self-conscious about how I use PowerPoint as a means to present information and how much jargon there is in both education and mathematics.

I literally stopped it temporarily at:

When presenting your work, drop the bullet points. … Bullets kill, and they will kill your presentation.

and just let that comment simmer in my mind for a few minutes. I was mentally comparing a typical slide that I might use as part of a presentation to her example of a ‘boring’ slide. I can remember when I first started teaching that some supervisors would mark “use of technology” on a walk-through (or other observation) if I happened to use the projector during class to show a transparency. At the time, I kind of thought to myself that an overhead projector isn’t even really technology anymore. In retrospect, this was opinion was largely due to the fact that I am from a different generation of learner. Flash forward approximately a decade, a PC running PowerPoint through a projector is not technology to my students; they’ve been around it their entire lives.

In my opinion, the entire presentation also affirms the efforts of Dan Meyer and others to being with a striking visual that prompts questions and discussion before you bring the math jargon into it. At this point, I should probably admit of all the changes I’m trying to make this year; I’m definitely the least far along on incorporating more authentic problem-solving. Oh well, no one is perfect, but we keep trying anyway.

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Sneaky Worksheets!

One of the things I’m trying to do this year is trick students into spending more time working with content. I could lecture for most of the period (definitions, examples, questions, answers, etc.) and then hand out a worksheet for students to start with whatever time remains and finish homework. You probably know about how well this works as you’ve probably done something similar at some point in your teaching career. Replace this structure that barely works if at all with my new paradigm: students watch a video on their own taking notes and complete some sort of activity during class time. Here are my last three activities; you’ll notice each one is basically a worksheet in disguise.

Working with Variables (Combining Like Terms & Distributive Property)

Students match an expression with its simplified form.

Students were much more engaged than they would have been with a traditional worksheet. An important visitor to my classroom seemed to agree!

Properties of Real Numbers

Students assemble a hexagonal Tarsia puzzle by matching equivalent expressions and then color code.


I’m not a 100% sure where I first saw posts about these. I’m going to pretend it was here. (It was a starred entry in my Google Reader about Tarsia and could use an excuse to link to this blog) Students thought this was much harder than simply finding matches – you might notice I was a little vicious and included three instances of “0” and two each of “1” and “x” as simplified forms. We actually spent much more than a single class period on this one.

Solving Easier Linear Equations

Students wager points on their ability to solve certain types of equations. The PowerPoint is set up to automatically advance. Students whiteboard their work, share their work/answers during the blank slide, then the answer is revealed. Students update their score and make their next wager before the next equation pops up.

Some students got into this more than others of course, but it was a hit overall. I’ll definitely use the format again in the future with factoring or something. A few students had a lot of trouble at first with the fact it was ‘automatic’ – they wanted to chat between rounds but didn’t really have time. I told them if you don’t wager before the next equation pops up then your bid is automatically zero. It might have helped some that we were playing for a little candy …

These activities all became a left-hand side entry in my students’ not-quite-interactive notebooks. (At least I’m trying!)

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Small things …

Tonight, two former students randomly contacted me to ask for help with math. They both graduated high school at least five years ago but apparently thought of me when they needed help. One still lives locally wants to meet me at school tomorrow during my planning to help prepare for the GRE math section. The other called me once from the Super Bowl to thank me for helping get him there; he had gotten a job a few years after high school graduation that used basic/minimal math (redesigning the layout of large retail stores or something like that) and was doing well enough that his boss gave him tickets as a reward. Several years later we reconnected again via social networking, he thanked me again for helping him earn his ‘first million;’ he’s now a small business owner (not to mention happily married with kids) in a state far away from here. He’s finally getting around to finishing a degree and wants help in college algebra or a similar class.


Now I remember yet again why the daily grind is worth it … I just hope I’m forging the same kind of connections with some of my current students and just need a little more time to pass before I realize it …


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New Blogger Initiation 4

I didn’t get to do as much with this one as I would’ve liked, but I chose:

1. Read another blogger’s post for the Math Blogging Initiation. Write a comment on their post.

Back in round 3, I almost responded to:

5. Statement: “Algebra 2 and Precalculus are a hodgepodge of ideas.” If you agree, what are some unifying and fundamental themes/ideas/concepts that can frame these courses so they can designed to be less of a mess and be something more coherent.

I’ve read a few of the responses to this one in my reader (but I’m getting hopelessly behind so I’m sure I’ve missed many more) and particularly like the responses by Bowditch’s Apprentice and Compact Spaces. I feel like the prompt is a reference to A Mathematician’s Lament by Paul Lockhart. I mostly agree with Lockhart’s main ideas and plan to share the opening analogy, a nightmarish method to teach music and painting, with pretty much all of my math classes in the future despite the fairly harsh criticism of the average/typical math education.

Here’s the table of contents for an Algebra 2 book from a major publisher (you won’t be able to tell which one; they’re all about the same):

  1. Expressions, Equations, and Inequalities
  2. Functions, Equations, and Graphs
  3. Linear Systems (includes a little bit of matrices despite the chapter title not mentioning it)
  4. Quadratic Functions and Equations
  5. Polynomials and Polynomial Functions
  6. Radical Functions and Rational Exponents (also includes some advanced function concepts: composition and inverses)
  7. Exponential and Logarithmic Functions
  8. Rational Functions
  9. Sequences and Series
  10. Quadratic Relations and Conic Sections
  11. Probability and Statistics
  12. Matrices (why isn’t the lone section of matrices from Ch. 3 included in here?)
  13. Periodic Functions and Trigonometry
  14. Trigonometric Identities and Equations

After chapter six, you may prefer some other shuffling of the chapters (I’d probably go something like 1-7, 9, 13, 11 as ‘musts’ for Common Core Algebra 2 … then use any remaining time on 10 {even though I don’t care much for conics for some reason}, 8, 12, 14 (harder trigonometry is definitely more ‘Pre-Calculus’ than ‘Algebra 2’ at that point in my opinion) in that order, but I would love to have this book as I’m currently book-less. I basically refuse to use our Algebra 2 book; it’s a ‘classic edition’ that was adopted like 7 years ago and was already old then – a teacher who was new to the district got to pick and chose what they knew they liked and then left two years later. He wanted ‘no tree frogs’ (his version of dogs in bandannas) but left us with a book that was completely visually unappealing (no color in the book except grayscale and lesson objectives in blue text) to use with students who are digital natives.

Every chapter title is a reference to the underlying theme of sets, structures, relationships, and functions in my opinion. Maybe I’m cheating and just being too broad with my unifying or fundamental ideas though. Obvious and not-as-obvious explanations (by the way, obvious is an extremely dangerous word in mathematics – I personally detest it almost as much as variations upon “the proof is left as an exercise for the reader” – thanks scumbag mathematics PhD):

  • Chapter 1: the “algebra 1” they’ve probably forgotten – emphasize solution sets
  • Chapter 2-8, 10, 13: basically have graph or function in the title … I’m only worrying about a lot of the conic section stuff because I’m theoretically legally obligated to include it in Algebra 2 – I really don’t feel like I ever really learned about ellipses and hyperbolas as the high school teachers never got to it and the college professors assumed I knew it (sad as it might be to admit that). I can complete the square but don’t know all the forms and focus business by heart.
  • Chapter 9: A sequence is a function from the natural numbers to the terms of the sequence (in case you’ve forgotten)
  • Chapter 11: Probability is a function of a random variable (the notation P(event) made so much more sense after I started teaching this stuff), and statistics is concerned with sets of data.
  • Chapter 12: Matrices and vectors are probably the easiest algebraic structure for students to consider besides the real numbers (or subsets of the real numbers)
  • Chapter 13: Trigonometric relationships abound … this is the chapter I personally would always run out of time before ever getting to in Algebra 2; too easy to put off until Pre-Calculus.

By the way, now that I’m basically finished with the post – I can merge my themes …. sets are a type of structure, and I was only including relationships to get at non-function conics. Thus, Algebra is the study of structures and relationships. Now I just need to check my work against a few more of the other newbie blog posts that I haven’t gotten to read yet …

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New Blogger Initiation 3

or “Why Two and Two Makes Fish”

Almost out of time yet again (so glad this was timed to coincide with the start of school), but I suppose part of the point is to see if you can handle reflecting as you go during the school year. My choice for week 3:

1. Introduce and show the solution to a math problem that you particularly like.

When I read this prompt, I thought of one of my favorite random teaching tangents (finally worked that in!); I have a few things I try to work in to each class whenever I need to kill some time a student asks a question that I can address with this idea/concept/problem. Unfortunately, these favorite mini-lessons are often not exactly tied to any particular required content, but I’ll have students a year or two later remember these and not much else.

So here’s a somewhat paraphrased, somewhat fictional account of one of my favorite problems and its solution:

Student: I liked math when it was easier; 2 + 2 = 4 is always true … why can’t algebra always work the same way?

Teacher: Well actually, you really need to remember math is completely made up by humans. I mean 2 + 2 = FISH is honestly just as valid if you know what you’re doing …

Student: Stop joking around …

Teacher: Let me show you – but you have to be willing to let me bend the rules and change the meaning of a few things. Math is a game; when you know the rules well enough, you know how to bend, break, or even make up your own rules.

I’m going to almost use normal addition, but you’re limited to combining four symbols: 1, 2, 3, and FISH (Greek alpha). First, I need to tell you that FISH is sort of like zero but not exactly. Also, I’m going to use ‘circle-plus’ since this isn’t quite normal addition …

<scribbling on board>



Student: … um, isn’t that the exact same thing as usual???

Teacher: so far yes, but how can we complete the table without using any new symbols (only FISH, 1, 2, and/or 3), and the table be consistent – it has to make sense

<student suggestions, teacher prompting/questioning, more scribbling>


Student: are you just making this up?

Teacher: I already said I’m just making it up, but it has to make sense! Okay, let’s try another one … with less numbers and multiplication instead of addition … yeah, this should do it … we’re going to use the symbol i; there’s a rule that i^2=-1 by the way {yes, I can sort of use LaTex}

<scribbling, questions, more scribbling>

Student: Okay, you can play games and move around squiggles on a piece of paper just so … what’s the big deal?

Teacher: You happen to skateboard, right?

Student: Yeah, so?

Teacher: Come here … face the class; this is position zero. Show me a 180° … good, reset then show me a 90° … okay, same thing but 270° … fine, 360° … wait that’s the same as the starting position?

Student: duh

Teacher: Let’s make it interesting then … let’s start build tricks or turns on top of one another … show me a 90° followed by another 90° without a reset.

Student: 180° of course

Teacher: Reset, then show me a 180° followed by a 270° … you might want to sit there and actually work through the turns.

<student attempts, teacher helps, asks for a few other examples if necessary>

Teacher: So tell me what we just figured out …

Student: Well, you can kinda sorta add angles together but if you get to 360° you start over – it’s the same as 0° in a circle.

Teacher: Great, now consider a square in the coordinate plane … it’s basically like the skateboarding stuff we just discussed?



Teacher: We’re just adding angles of rotation together, so let’s make a table … you should be getting the hang of this by now … work with a partner

<work, work, work>


Teacher: Great, notice anything yet?

Student: Not sure … this table starts over like the FISH stuff?

Teacher: Yeah! You’re getting there – can’t we really just think of these angles as multiples of 90, though?

Student: a 180 is two 90s … 270 is three … 360 resets to zero …

Teacher: You’ve just about got it … look at all three tables … color code them if you have to …

<student looks it over>

Student: The pattern is the same on each table isn’t it !?!!?!?!!?

Teacher: Awesome! The relationships are the same even though the ideas seem completely unrelated. On the first one, I used FISH instead of zero, because I wanted you focusing on relationships to get started. This problem demonstrates the basic concept of something called a group. You were just working on college-level math by the way – the kind for math majors even. We’re going genius-level in here …

Student: You’re kidding me – that seems easier than what we’re working on now!

Teacher: It turns out once you make it past calculus – math is mostly things you already know how to do but more abstract and even more interested in the ‘why’ than the ‘how’ … too bad so many people get turned off by the tedious calculation bits along the way

Student: This was the best thing we’ve done all year – it makes more sense than a lot of the other stuff …

Teacher: Remind me to show you the one about the empty trashcan, empty bag, and empty bottle not being empty anymore sometime … we should probably get back to factoring quadratics before class is over

Student: Yuck

Teacher: I know, I know … but this is a topic guaranteed to be on the state-sponsored high-stakes exit exam.

[Partially due to internet issues this is now over an hour ‘late’]

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New Blogger Initiation 2

This is going to be a quick one (until I start rambling). I’m tired, this is “due” in about 2.5 hours, I’ve spent most of the last 10 days getting back into school mode and fighting with technology in my spare time, and I don’t even care that this was an entire paragraph’s worth of run-on sentence.

Here’s the prompt I’m choosing:

1) Find one worksheet or activity or test or unit or question or powerpoint slide or syllabus or anything that you are proud of. Share it.

Here’s my pride and joy …

(and the guided notes to go along with it … ya’know, if you’re into that sort of thing)

I can’t tell you how much time and effort have gone into creating that one 40ish minute video. I’m proud to say I’m following through on my promise to myself to try different things this year; we’ve been in school 10 days, and I’m yet to really teach anything from the Common Core. We’ve done some team-building, some activities, some pre-tests (paper-based Algebra 1 and ALEKS), some almost interactive notebooks, a really awesome trick you into agreeing with the idea of ‘flipped classroom’ (turns out most students really connect with the idea of “why are we doing the easy stuff in class and then sending you home to work on the hard parts by yourself?”), some not quite interactive notebooks (with bonus not quite foldables paper-folding!), talked about how grades will work once we actually have some, and spent TWO-and-a-HALF DAYS watching that video together last week with frequent pausing. By the way, there is something quite bizarre about watching yourself teach your class in asynchronous real-time (not a paradox apparently).

Oh, and here’s the pre-test since I don’t think I’ve shared it on here yet …

(thus proving I kinda sorta know how to embed documents)

Anyways, today was supposed to be partial roll-out day – part of class session was going to be spent in the computer lab watching a video independently and taking notes over some basic algebra vocabulary (to be followed with a crossword to check if you were really processing or just copying); even more importantly, students without internet access were going to be getting a DVD with the first 5ish lessons already recorded on it. My laptops are slow as molasses at burning DVDs it turns out; no joke I had it sitting back on my teacher desk and would go back there every 30 minutes to start a new one since I only had about eight discs made between last night and this morning before school and probably ended up giving out about fifteen. I was stressed because I just really wanted to get them out and going while the interest was still fresh. Then I notice the YouTube upload for the vocabulary had failed … at about the same I noticed my principal walking in to see what we were up to that day … while my students were up walking around and supposedly pairing off to use numbers on half-notecards to find GCFs and LCMs (which was already partially a stall tactic) … as I recalled that I had mentioned to him in passing that I was going to be trying some different things this year without really ever following up with specifics … while I was sitting at my desk with my back to the class, madly trying to copy the PowerPoint to the common drive and loading one of the burnt DVD copies to have something to show for the chaos that was that particular moment of my life. Oh my, this could go one of two ways …

I survive the day; kids are coming by later  to pick up a DVD (I’m going to have to take a screenshot of the disc menu; I was impressed with how good free software is becoming) in a sandwich baggie since the first batch went quick. Kids are mostly flipping through the PowerPoint and trying the crossword with a decent level of seriousness. At some point, I figure out I can burn DVDs on school desktops amazingly fast when I have about two more left. I bump into him in the front office during lunch – “how’d you enjoy the experiment this morning?” I venture … <insert follow-questions and comments from the boss here>

Much later, I’m settling down to type this and notice a school email …

I cannot wait to share your flipped classroom and ALEKS hybrid with the staff.

I will probably be presenting what I’m trying and how it’s working at one of the first few faculty meetings. Maybe he’s just doing his job and following up on a class visit with a short email, but I’ll actually go with optimism for the moment – I deserve it in exchange for all the sleep I’ve been giving up.

PS – I’m sure I’ll realize this was quite the hot mess when I re-read it later.


Filed under Big Ideas, Getting Started, Technology

New Blogger Initiation 1

Sam Shah’s terrifying brilliant idea to get more math teachers out of lurking mode and into openly sharing surfaced maybe a month after I had decided to start trying this for myself (talk about timing). As I was gearing up for the first week of school, the email arrived; I loved the way it was written by the way. Here’s my choice for week 1:

3. Talk about one or two specific things you plan on doing differently this year… and how specifically you are going to implement them/get the buy-in. Why do you want to do these things?

I was already planning on doing a post or five similar to this and perhaps going ahead and committing some sentences to virtual paper will help finalize and focus (we had three days of school this past week – no real content covered – no syllabus given out to students).

Things I’m fairly excited to try to implement in my classroom this year after spending most of the summer gathering ideas from a lot of different teacher blogs:

  1. Standards-Based Grading and No Zeros/Late
  2. Interactive Notebooks and Foldables
  3. Flipping Lessons
  4. Problem-Solving and Collaboration

And yes, that is a lot to try to incorporate all at once!

I had heard of all these ideas already, but seeing other math/science teachers making the structures work in real classrooms made me want to stop making excuses and find ways to incorporate them into my own classroom this year. Each change is due to the same basic reasons. I went into teaching to ‘pay it forward’ and make a difference in young people’s lives. I am a first-generation college graduate; my mom and dad always encouraged me to do well in school and expected me to go to college, but my teachers also helped get me there (especially high school honors and AP teachers). I planned to be a career teacher; in fact, I switched to education from science just after graduating high school (also causing me to have to change colleges – but that’s another story) partially because I could see myself doing it for several decades and being relatively happy. Teaching is a lot more frustrating than I would have thought at 18 or 20 years old; like most teachers, I was pretty good at school, thus it was hard for me to relate to reluctant learners and struggling students my first few years. I’m tired of feeling frustrated or that I’m working harder than my students or that I can’t help the ones who need the most help. Thus, I’m hopefully making the fundamental shift from trying to help my students get up to the level of the content to trying to get the content down to the level of the students. I’ve always been more of a content specialist than a master motivator. I always say that I meet my students half-way and such, but I’ve got to be more intentional about structuring my class in such a way that it happens. The results sometimes speak for themselves; last year (and most years), I am doing everything I can to keep students from failing for the year. This often includes working a few extra days or even a week to give students the chance to drop by and basically do random stuff they didn’t do during the school year to chase those last few percentage points. To stay in this game another two decades, I’ve got to stop getting by and start meaningfully impacting some lives. Ambitious, right?

Standards-Based Grading and No Zeros/Late

I want to do some sort of hybrid SBG system. I already let kids do test corrections on the items they missed for partial credit, but the issue as that too many students simply see it as a way to get a few extra points not an opportunity to learn the things they messed up. Each test I gave last year was 25 multiple choice questions over the entire year; each test was the final exam for the year up to that point. I liked the idea, but students always did about the same for the most part. They did not learn from their mistakes; corrections were an easy way to grub for points not a structure to insure you learn from  your mistakes. Also, I was telling kids “I’d rather your work be late and correct than on time and wrong,” yet I was punishing late work by deducting a minor late penalty (1 point out of 8) and flagging assignments as missing in the electronic gradebook which creates a placeholder grade of zero. I was unintentionally causing some students to turn in work that they knew they didn’t understand and would be a low grade to avoid a late penalty or a zero placeholder in the gradebook – I heard “A few points is better than a zero.” too many times last year. After not using quizzes at all last year, I’m bringing them back with a vengeance; a return to small section-based quizzes probably graded on a 5-point scale. If a student messes up a quiz, they’ll be able to retake it once. If they mess up again, they must come to after-school tutoring before trying it a third time. Many of the quizzes will be five multiple-choice questions, but some will be ‘show-your-work’ problems. Also, the format will vary between the original and the retake – just because the original quiz was multiple choice doesn’t mean the retake will be. The homework from last year was six multiple choice questions and a  show your work problem that often required a student to extend the concept in some way; this will be the source for a lot of the quizzes this year. I don’t plan to use paper-based homework at all this year; I plan to go all-in on some kind of self-checking, self-paced system for practice (possible options include ALEKS, Compass Learning/Odyssey, or Khan Academy Practice/Coach features). The district is possibly providing the first two $$$ options; if they weren’t, I’d be using free stuff on Khan Academy or maybe even MangaHigh. I’m hoping students realize it’s in their best interest both in terms of learning and grades and buy into the system this time. I made a half-try at implementing SBG in one class two school years ago and felt forced to abandon it shortly after the start of second semester. As for tests, I’m currently considering implementing ‘testing weeks’ or windows instead of ‘test days’ – students can select a day (Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday?) to take the test, and they’re not allowed to take the test until their quiz grades indicate they are somewhat ready for it (at least a 2 out of 5 on everything?). I still have to work on the logistics of this idea.

Interactive Notebooks and Foldables

I’ve already been doing guided note-taking sheets in all my classes for at least five years and encouraging students to keep it all organized in binders and to refer to them when they forget things … but they don’t. This is especially frustrating since I’ve been teaching without a textbook for several years now. This time I’m going to try to ‘building our own textbook’ in more of a INB-style and include foldables as well. I saw a presentation on student notebooks a few years ago with another teacher from my department; we both liked the idea but neither of us had managed to implement it yet. We set up the skeleton in class this past Friday, and I already think the notebooks are going to work better than the binders ever have (*fingers crossed*). I want students to understand mathematics not take a guess at how the problem is supposed to be solved based on the way it looks … I hope these structures help develop better conceptual understanding in my students.

Flipping Lessons

I need more time in the school day to do meaningful work related to the ideas above, games, and other activities. The part of my class that students can do most easily on their own is not practice; it’s completing definitions and basic examples. I’m not sure how much more argument I need to hear to be a fan of the idea of flipped lessons. I’ve bought a Wacom Bamboo writing tablet on sale (~$65 instead of ~$80) at a nearby Best Buy and downloaded some free video software (CamStudio looks to be the most useful thus far into the experimentation stage). I’ll post my first efforts at creating a flip video soon hopefully. I just need to find the time to get two or three lessons ahead of where I’m at in class so that I can begin to phase this in early.

Problem-Solving and Collaboration

If I can get flipped lessons going, I should have time for some problem-based learning in class using resource like 3 Act math (even if I only steal other people’s first acts to use as lesson ‘hooks’ this year) and perhaps other things I can scrounge up from MAP or Exeter or Park. I don’t really want to do full-on project-based learning (even though PBL is an emphasis in our district), but I definitely need to include more PrBL. I’ve benefited a lot this summer by interacting with other teachers through their blogs. How can I carry that idea forward into my classrooms? We’re starting the year in teams or groups, and I spent a lot of the first week trying to stealthily develop the idea that everyone in the group has to work together, we all have jobs to do (get the kit, get the papers, turn in the papers, throw away the trash, etc.), and be helpful not judgmental because we’re all in this together. I’ll see how much progress I made on this front next week when we actually start working on content together. For example, I hope to foster more discussion in class by using stolen whiteboard strategies (especially the Mistake Game).

This post has turned into quite a lengthy ramble, but it really did help me continue to clarify the changes I plan to make this year; I might even be ready to crank out a syllabus to give out to the kiddos tomorrow!


Filed under Getting Started

Talk about jumping on some bandwagons …

My wife is pretty awesome (no, that’s not the bandwagon I want you to jump on …). She probably got the idea for this from Pinterest, but we discussed, modified, and created a version to use in our classes. It beats having the kids write some basic facts on an index card or buying the ‘about me’ sheets from a teacher store.



Most of the first two days of school will be occupied with students taking a ‘how much Algebra 1 do you remember?’ pre-test and then scoring it themselves to analyze strengths and weaknesses before we begin the review. I like to include review at the start of each class and hope that this pre-test will help most of them realize why I feel review is necessary (or show me that it isn’t!).



During one of the first math department meetings of the year, we decided to use a pre-test in Algebra 2. I made this one, and I really started liking the idea after deciding to design the key in such a way that students can grade it for themselves and hopefully reflect on the results.

I’ve also modified a game that wife is planning on using during this first week; I figure it’s about the closest to a ‘party game’ activity as I can do. I write a two-digit (or three-digit?) numbers on paper and tape them to students’ backs. The students’ goal is to figure out the number on their back by asking their classmates ‘yes or no’ questions. Students have to cycle through the class a few times asking questions (and mixing/mingling in case they don’t already know each other). The hook is that questions can only be answered with the word “maybe” and you are supposed to use inflection, body language, non-verbal cues (except head shakes/nods), etc. to communicate whether it’s maybe yes or maybe no. The students will have until the following song completes to come up with a guess for their number:

Of course, this song has been a huge hit this summer inspiring all sorts of shenanigans on YouTube. I think I’ll use this version from Late Night with Jimmy Fallon as it adds to the silliness. I will probably come up with some sort of sheet to help them track their questions and then we’ll have a discussion about which questions seem to be more or less helpful. This will hopefully lead into why there are names for different types of numbers (natural, even, odd, prime, multiples, etc.). I will edit to include the form for the “Here’s My Number, Guess Me Maybe” game when I produce one.

I know this is a little late for the official Sunday posts on ‘first day of school’ and “#Made4Monday” but oh well …

to recap:


  1. social media connections (Facebook/Pinterest)
  2. Call Me Maybe meme
  3. twitter #Made4MathMonday and #hsSunFun


Filed under Games/Activities