Monday, July 25, 2016

My #TMC16 takeaways (Post #2)

I'm still working through my #TMC16 thoughts, so bear with me...

One of the keynote speakers, Tracy Zager, pulled up this comic:

(It's from a post by Ben Orlin here.)

Honestly, it makes sense to me. I feel pretty confident in my content knowledge but struggle with the pedagogy (which I think of as the "why" of teaching). And stereotypically the elementary teachers aren't as knowledgeable but have great ideas in how to run their class. (Although my kids have had several excellent, strong math teachers... and yes, I totally feel bad about stating that stereotype.)

Tracy's point was that we have a lot we can learn from each other. I agree. But how do we get there?

My biggest takeaway from Tracy that I would like to incorporate into my classes this year is the idea of a closing activity. Nothing major, but just giving the kids the opportunity to think about what we'd done, what they'd learned, what they had questions on, etc. Not necessarily an exit slip (been there, tried that) but a chance to reflect. And not pack up their stuff with 10 minutes left. :)

My travel buddy Pam Wilson told me about an idea she'd heard in relation to using a closing activity. If you're anything like me, time totally gets away from you. So what Pam suggested is to set your fitbit (because so many people have them!) alarm for 5 minutes before the end of each class. That silent alarm won't disrupt the kids because they won't hear it, but it would be a great warning that time is ending soon!  And 5 minutes gives plenty of time to wrap up the activity, reflect, and pack up stuff.

(BTW, I really enjoyed the 12-hour drive with Pam! Such a sweet lady. And I kept sending myself emails of Pam's ideas on the way home so I wouldn't forget anything!)

Sunday, July 24, 2016

#TMC16 post #1 (My stuff.)

I've been back from Twitter Math Camp (#TMC16 if you're so inclined) for almost a week now, and I still have a lot of stuff meandering through my head.  I really need to sit and work through my notes sometime soon!  I'm actually hoping for some rain so that I don't feel guilty about missing pool time with the kids to do school work.

I felt pretty good about the presentation that I did on Saturday afternoon (many thanks to the schedulers for letting me get it done on that first day!) and was surprised to have 20-ish people there. I was also surprised that I actually wasn't nervous when it started! But I was happy to have it over.

Here are the slides that I used:

 And a direct link to a google folder with all of the materials I shared.  (Please let me know if the link doesn't work!)

It's been fun to see other people blogging about going to my session and having favorable comments. Considering the respect (and awe) I have for some of these fellow mathies, it really means a lot!

This is a picture of those of us who were at both TMC12 (the first one!) and TMC16.  And I just want to say that I'm actually quite a bit taller than Hedge; I was just crouching so you could see Julie behind me. ;)  There are a lot of amazing people in that picture!

Friday, June 24, 2016

Warming up (revisited)

I was really good about starting most classes (excluding quiz days, normally) with a warm up problem or two. I loved how it got the kids working immediately, gave me time to get my stuff together for class, and even gave me a few minutes to check homework (if I was going to).

And, most importantly, I think a lot of learning happened through those warm ups. Sometimes it was from kids asking each other for help, sometimes it was prompting them to think about a problem a different way, sometimes it was extending their thinking on a problem. Sometimes I reviewed a topic we hadn't seen in a while, sometimes I gave a question as a preview of things to come.

When it appeared that most were done, I'd take a few minutes to talk through (or have students talk through) the answer. This could take up to 15 minutes in class total.

In one of my evaluations a mention was made by my principal about setting a timer; it's something I always considered doing but didn't want to push kids through the problem without giving them a chance to think. And yet it would help with the dawdlers who I constantly had to tell to get working.

I gave the kids a new warm up sheet every two weeks; it has 10 blank spots on it, so after those two weeks were up I would collect the sheet and give them a completion score. One point per day that we had a warm up. So basically, not a big deal unless you didn't turn in the sheets a few times.

I've toyed with the idea of having the kids leave their warm ups in the table folders with the idea that I would periodically check them. I haven't figured out why that isn't a good idea yet. Aside from not making the kids responsible for a paper for 10 days in a row. 

So here's my question...
Do you do warm ups in class? If so, how do you work it? Do you set a timer? Do you grade them? Do you have a better way of doing warm ups?

Sorry, that's more than one question. But all feedback is appreciated! 

Monday, June 20, 2016

Student feedback (part 2)

And then a few more questions on the survey...
What type of learner would do best in my class and why?
  • A hands on
  • A learner who works well in groups and is somewhat outgoing would do best in your class because they can get help from and check answers with friends, and an outgoing learner would do well because your class requires a decent amount of participation
  • Auditory and visual learners that are great on repetition. I study notes often and did the practice work sheets along with then the screen casts and practice sheets when i would repeat the notes to myself over and over made it easy to learn a lot of the information. Especially when you would give demonstrations of certain things on the board because once I studied it I would be able to understand why you did something.
  • Any learner because you gave many examples that helped me learn better
  • One who doesn't mind taking notes. Your notes are very helpful and i didn't mind taking them most of the time but people who don't like to take notes would find it boring.
  • Classical learner: Listen how to do problems then do examples
  • Any learner because the class is well laid out.
  • A person ready to learn about math. If you go in not thinking it is worth your time, obviously it won't be a good year. A learner who is more math based and not picture based since we used more word equations than pictures I believe.
  • Seeing because of what we do on the board.
  • Listener and visual learner because that was the two main ways we learned
  • Listener, a lot of talking
  • One who can visualize aspects of equations because not all steps are shown sometimes
  • Note-takers because there were a lot of notes
  • A listener because you generally give us notes then go straight to a work sheet
  • Note taker, and paper person, lots of paper and notes
What type of learner would struggle in my class and why?
  • A lazy learner because the class does have some work that helps to succeed
  • Someone who needs to see pictures represent things. The triangles and real life situation problems are the best.
  • Listening because if they aren't paying attention it will be hard to catch up.
  • Someone who didn't listen well because you explained most of the things we learned.
  • Visual, we don't see things a lot.
  • One who needs every detail.
  • Non notes-based learners because there were a lot of notes.
  • Maybe a person to needs to see not just hear.
  • Hands on because there is a lot of visuals.
  • I think a shy learner would struggle because they are afraid to ask questions, even though you are a teacher who is truly more than willing to help.
  • A lazy one. You reached out to a lot of different types of people you were also so awake and full of energy in the morning it keeps things from getting too repetitious which can come from a pure lecture style the demonstrations and funny examples and jokes keep things engaging.   With the content being difficult at times if a student doesn't study and do the basics (like homework) it will be very difficult for them to learn.
  • I think that only someone who wasn't doing their work or weren't listening would struggle.
  • One who doesn't like to take notes or someone who does poorly on tests and quizzes. I'm not the best test taker but I always do my homework so it was a struggle to keep a solid A when my test grades would bring it down.
When you're fifty years old, what will you remember about our time together? What will stick with you?
  • All the fun things we did that may not have involved math at all. The friendships that I made with other kids in my class and with the seniors will stick with me.
  • -b +- (Squre Root) b(squared) - 4ab all over 2a. I will also remember how nice you were and how caring you were over students
  • My friends that I made by picking my own seat.
  • Yes because you were my favorite teacher and I learned the most from you. I never saw you get frustrated.
  • That you were really nice.
  • The games and extended review we had and the hot room haha
  • Nothing because I'll be really old. Maybe notes and stuff.
  • Probably not.
  • Most likely not.
  • I will definitely remember learning about fractals and hearing your stories!
  • Our awesome relationship. You told a lot of jokes and made me really smile and laugh. I looked forward to your class every single day and I will remember that for a long time.
  • I will probably remember some of the projects we did.
  • When you gave us our own personal unit circle which was laminated.
  • There's a good chance I'll be senile (it strikes early in my family), but if I remember anything it will likely be the derivatives despite the short amount of time they took. I enjoyed how they worked.
Anything else you'd like me to know?
  • I hope you have an amazing summer, keep up the good work. See you sometime in the fall, I will miss having you as a teacher.
  • Good job and try to draw straighter lines on the graphs or I will do it for you!! :)
  • Overall you're a great teacher! Best math teacher I've had since 5th grade probably
  • You have very pretty handwriting (ha!)
  • I thought you were a really great teacher and I hope you know some stuff about calculus because if you do I will probably come back to you for some help! You always made me laugh and I looked forward to coming to your class.
  • Thank you
  • I really enjoyed having you as my teacher!
  • I really enjoyed your class. Above on this survey, I was having a tough time coming up with anything negative. You are very good at your job. I'm kind of a math person but in past years I have had math teacher who ruined it for me. You are a very nice teacher (one of my favorites) and I thought you taught very well. I always wanted to give kudos to you because you were very patient with our class. Particularly with annoying kids who asked 10 million questions about things you had just gone over. Anyways, keep doing what you do because you made Math bearable :) Have a good summer.
  • Not really. It's been a good year and I hope I do well on the test tomorrow.
My take on it...

I'm happy with these responses. Every student is going to view the class in a different way, especially considering their own strengths and learning style. I try to make my class one that students enjoy and from what I've read, I've succeeded. The focus on note-taking was pretty major (in both a good and bad way) and that's definitely something I'd like to change.

Also, I was amused at the students who said "Good job". I don't think as a high schooler I had the awareness of how my teachers did their job. This reminds me of earlier in the year when one of the students made a comment about how much work I did for them. Again, I don't recall having that awareness as a student.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Student Feedback (Part 1)

I posted a form on Schoology the last week or so of school to give the kids an opportunity for feedback. And then I didn't check the results because I didn't want to know. No, not that I didn't want to know, but that I was a little worried to see what they would say. Only a few filled it out (I didn't make it a big deal) and the results are conflicting, but interesting.

I did it via a form that I found on twitter that someone shared (sorry - I don't remember who!). It basically asked the kids to list up to 4 things to keep, 4 to change, 4 to start, and 4 to stop.  (My comments in italics.)

Here are the results. (This got waaay long, so I split it up into 2 posts.)

  • Interactive notes on the projector (5)
  • Warm-ups (5)
  • Games with boards (?)
  • You always make sure [we] know the material before we test
  • Review sessions (4)
  • trashketball
  • Being funny and letting kids chose their seats. I worked really well with the people I was near and have some great memories your class is a lot of fun
  • Give time in class to work on homework (2)
  • No MathXL
  • MathXL (different class)
  • Exam reviews (2)
  • Review games
  • Worksheets (amount) (2)
  • Weekly agenda (I posted my plan for the week on a board in my room.)
  • Quizzes instead of tests (just the name quiz makes it less stressful)
  • Graded homework (always something for me to re-think in the summer!)
  • Spend lots of time on notes when we start a new topic
  • Online exams
  • Transitions between units
  • Going over homework
  • MathXL with factoring practice was so helpful for keeping the basics of first semester in mind because it made exam review much easier
  • Posting things on Schoology. It's a great way for keeping informed and helps students who are easily confused like myself and the notes you gave were a big help.
  • Homework (what? how?)
  • Less homework (2)
  • Go over tests 
  • That you choose seats
  • Go over all aspects of problems because sometimes it doesn't shop up that way on tests
  • Warm ups: I liked doing them on Schoology
  • Have more review games in class (2)
  • Length of notes: make them short and simple to understand
  • More time to do homework in class
  • Sit in table groups (the rows were less conducive to group learning and discovery) (yes!!)
  • Break practice exam on Schoology into sections
  • Maybe a little more review before quizzes
  • Give credit (or lack thereof) for every homework assignment
  • Class setup (?)
  • More in class time (to work?)
  • Go slower
  • Homework every night (there wasn't... maybe this person wish there had been?)
  • More opportunities for extra credit (2)
  • Partner projects: I liked them, but I like it if we could work with more than one other person
  • More problems on review sheets
  • Amount of homework (we have 9 (6) other bells, possibly 9 (6) other bells of homework and a life to live outside of school as well) (Funny, because their typical assignments were less than 10 problems. I'd have trouble shortening them any more and still feeling good about the practice they were getting.)
  • Have MathXL be extra credit
  • Do a warm up every day
  • Pizza boxes sometimes worked but all need to be in one direction or it doesn't work (I used pizza boxes to create barriers during quizzes. Adjacent students also had different quizzes. Nothing's perfect, but I thought this would be pretty good.)
  • Less time spent on the unit circle (Blasphemy.)
  • More test corrections
  • Wish you wouldn't go so fast sometimes when we learn things
  • Less MathXL
  • More class time work so we can ask more questions

  • Different fun in-class activities (3)
  • More review games (5)
  • Start going slower
  • Letting us choose seats (2) (I did for certain classes. Some couldn't handle it.)
  • More extra credit (4)
    • But only to the people who do their work and deserve it but maybe got a few bad grades on tests or quizzes
    •  It would be helpful for me, but learning benefits are dubious. This recommendation is less of something that you should do and more something I would prefer that you do. 
  • Slow down a little for students who struggle with the current topic
  • More partner work
  • Split up BOB into the chapters (it takes forever to find the answers in one big BOB) (I posted the odd answers for the kids to check their work. BOB = back of book)
  • If early exam review on MathXL doing it in class after due date would be really helpful instead of independent review (I'm not sure what exactly this means... go over assigned exam review problems together?)
  • More projects
  • A note sheet at the end of the year with the most important things to know
  • Be able to ask more questions
  • Quiz corrections
  • Help struggling students with extra material to help them review better
  • Short practice quizzes or tests for large unit test on Schoology or MathXL for independent review
  • Group assignments (which, IMO, only one person out of the group actually does)
  • Reward system? Candy? Homework passes?
  • Perhaps go deeper into derivatives? I enjoyed that unit. (Wish I'd had time!)
  • Being so lenient. I liked how you are ready to help but sometimes people became such a distraction and it was hard to learn. (TRUTH. I'm too nice sometimes and it causes issues.)
  • Giving homework.
  • MathXL (5)
    • Some of them are pretty tricky. Or at least give more attempts per question. (I would limit them to 2 - 3 tries per question.)
  • Teaching so fast
  • Don't teach new stuff the week that exams start (even though they had 3 days in class to review beforehand...)
  • Warmups (3)
    • Some of them are tough and having math early in the day makes warmups dreaded 
  • The tables (I didn't know anyone at my table and no one there made an effort to include me, so I didn't learn as well). (That's sad. But I also think this person should have made an effort to meet people. With juniors in high school do I need to do ice breakers to learn names?)
  • There was nothing really bad that I didn't like.
  • Everything seemed to go fairly well. I wouldn't recommend stopping anything.
  • gesmos (I think they meant desmos... and that ain't stopping!)
  • Choosing our seats
  • Large MathXLs
  • Having homework every night (again, they didn't)
  • I didn't think there was anything else I really didn't like!
  • Overall I thought the class was awesome and your class was really fun you are a great teacher

Here's my take on the perfect class.
No homework every night, and every homework is graded. For completion. And make it short.
More time in class to review and play games but go slower on the new material.
Lots of extra credit.
Keep warm ups, and yet don't.

Got it.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016


1.  Sleep. But get out of bed at a reasonable time and run before really starting the day. (And by reasonable I mean 8 - 8:30.)

2. Read. I have a stack of books that I'd like to read. And an awesome front porch that's just waiting for me.

3. Enjoy TMC and not freak out about presenting. Like, what the heck was I thinking?! Be nice to me, people.

4. Re-do Precalc.  No small feat!  But with switching to the integrated pathway there's a ton of overlap between Math 3 and Precalc. There's also a few things we need to add back in (conics and matrices) that were left out of the common core curriculum. But so much of the polynomials and rational functions live in Math 3 now that we shouldn't have to reteach it, especially in an honors class. Looks like there's a group of people on twitter that are re-thinking their precalc classes, too, so hopefully we'll get things figured out. (Check out #precalchat.)

5. Re-do Math 3. I'm not looking for a major overhaul here (hopefully), but we just adopted a book series that has a pretty substantial online portal. I'd like to play with it and get a good idea of how I'd like to use it next year.  It's nice to have the year laid out, though, so I can tweak this summer instead of creating from scratch.

6. All the little stuff.
How do I treat homework?  There's an online option for precalc too, that I could add in so the kids aren't always doing book work. I don't like going all online but it would be nice to be 50/50ish. And I'd feel better about giving grades for homework if I knew the kids weren't just copying each other's problems or the answers from the back of the book (which I encourage them to use to check). In Math 3 I plan on using the new program and supplement with worksheets. The kids won't have a physical book.

What about warm-ups? I love warm-ups in class; I think a lot of good learning and review happens then. But should I make them timed for those classes who are soooo sloooow to get started? And what about the kids who wait until I go over problems to write down the answers?  It'll never be perfect.

I loved using the folders for tables this year; it made passing out and collecting papers so much easier. I need to think about any possible changes for that, if necessary.

Last summer we bought a new house (moved the weekend after school started), and I got this "new" job. It was a crazy summer.  I'm hoping for a much more relaxing one in 2016!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Box Project (part 2)

I don't know that I ever wrote a "The Box Project (part 1)" post, but whatever. It's May.

On one of the first few days of school I give my precalc kids a randomly sized piece of rectangular card stock and tell them to make the biggest box possible. We have the "what is a box" conversation and then talk about the algebra involved.

It's a great review of all kinds of algebra... polynomials, domain, extrema, etc.

I have them fill out a summary sheet of their findings. They include the dimensions of their original paper, the dimensions of their box, and the cubic expression representing the volume of their box.

Then I put their papers in a folder and file it away, hoping that I'll find it on this day in May.  So far I've been lucky and have located them every year. But let's not jinx myself.

We've been finding limits and discussing the difference quotient (and how it will help us find slopes) for the past couple of weeks. Today I gave back their box summary sheets (which they were amazed to see) so they could apply the difference quotient to their volume functions.

Amazingly, after setting their result equal to 0 and solving, one of the values was eerily close to the value they'd determined would create the maximum height of their box.

Minds blown.

(Yes, we talked about why we were setting the derivative (although they don't know that term yet) equal to 0.)

And then I let them talk me into completing just 4 problems on a too-long worksheet that I'd given them. Because it's May.