Wednesday, December 30, 2015

#MTBoS12days - Tried and True Strategies

So the title says "Strategies", but I think I am going to share just one.  This one strategy has transformed how my kids work together in their groups.  It has turned group work into great strategy sessions that involve lots of great math discussion and problem solving.

The official name I give my kids for this activity is "Performance Tasks."  These actually started as a result of our new curriculum this year and the first performance tasks I used actually came straight from our book.  The strategy comes more from how I have them actually do the performance task.

It looks like this.  I create the performance task for the end of a Module (our book is broken into Modules with each unit consisting of 2-3 modules, each module is 3-4 lessons).  It's basically just a multi-step word problem that incorporates skills from all of the lessons.  I copy the Performance task onto four different colored papers so that in each group of four students they all have a different color.  I tell them that the performance task counts as a quiz, and they must work together and agree on what to write down as far as work and their thinking as they work the problem.  They should have some sort of graphic or picture that represents the problem or their thinking and justification for their answer.  I stress that each one of them must understand the problem and contribute to working the problem.

Then I tell them that they must make sure that each paper has everything they discussed and worked on because at the end I will only choose one color to grade and the entire group will get the grade of the color that I choose.  I also tell them that whoever's paper I chose must be able to explain to me and defend their thinking for that problem.  It's truly magic.  The discussion that has occurred over these performance tasks has been amazing.  If someone in their group doesn't understand, the others are teaching them until they get it.  They argue and bicker over what should be included in the justification and what should be left out.  They look at each other's graphs and discuss them and how they should look.

At the end of the period, after I pick up their papers, I put the four colors in a bucket and have a student draw the color to be graded in front of the class.  This way there is no question about how I chose the color to be graded.

I absolutely love these days that we do performance tasks.  I have 100% participation in class, great math discussions and peer teaching going on and the added bonus of only having to grade one fourth of the papers I would normally have to grade.

Let me know if you try this and how it works for you.

#MTBoS12days - Semester Reflection: Start, Stop, Continue

Time to reflect on the last semester.

What to Start...
I want to start being more consistent with an opening activity when the kids walk in the room.  I want that activity to set the pace for the rest of the period by getting the students thinking.  Some days I have a warm-up for them to start, on other days I have procedural directions.  I really like the idea that many of my twitter math peeps use of a different activity every day, but consistency on what is done each day of the week.

I'm going start a new homework checking procedure using a stamp page.  I'm in the process of designing it now, but I got the idea from a friend in the district, Leah Cramer, who has used this in the past.  The students keep up with the page which has a stamp for each homework assignment.  On the back there is a place for reflection after each lesson which the students keep up with as lessons are completed.  The idea is for them to use the reflection part to help study for the unit test.  The stamp sheet is then turned in on test day and the homework is recorded in the grade book.

I'd also like to start, in some form or fashion, spiraling my material.  I'm hoping that I can incorporate that some into my warm-ups.

What to Stop...
I'm going to stop having my kids turn in their homework electronically through our Google Classroom.  Although I love some aspects of this, the kids hate it.  In a perfect world where all kids turned their homework in on time, it would be great.  I've found it incredible difficult to keep up with all those kids who turn theirs in late.   I'm found that I would have to go back through the assignments multiple times to catch all those late kids.  We also had some difficulty with images not showing up or documents being blank.  I may give it a try again in the future, but if I do, I will do it at the very start of the year and have a day of training on how to do it and some better procedure for those kids that turn it in late.

What to Continue...
I'm going to continue using Google Forms and Flubaroo for warm-ups and Quizalize for quick in class assessments.  I've seen some posts on Quizziz too, so I'd like to try that and compare to Quizalize.

I'm going to continue using our Google Classroom to post notes and assignments for students who forget or miss class.

I'm going to continue giving my kids ways to self check as they are working in class.  In the fall semester I used some great partner activities as well as my solving scramble, which I use a lot now.  It has really freed me from the dreaded question "Did I do this right?" and allowed me to keep moving around the room.

#MTBoS12Days - Currently Reading...

I love, love, love to read.  Sadly, I don't read as much as I would like to because by the time I crawl into bed at night I can barely keep my eyes open these days.  When I do have a spare moment, I'm usually reading blogs looking for ideas to use in my classroom instead of pleasure reading.  I love reading fiction, especially medical mysteries and spy & espionage books. I wish I enjoyed reading non fiction more.  I always have good intentions of reading through a non fiction book, but more often than not, I never make it completely through the book.  I'll read particular chapters and skim other areas, but struggle to read it in its entirety.

A book I've recently read - "Coming Home" by Mariah Stewart.  This is one of my favorite authors who has written some really great suspense/mystery novels, but this particular book is a completely different genre.  It's more of a romantic fiction along the lines of Nicholas Sparks, which I occasionally read, but completely different from the other books I've read by her.  I was intrigued to see that she was writing books like this and had to see for myself if it was something I liked.  I found that I did like it and ended up reading the first three books in this series she wrote.  The rest of the series is on my list for next summer when I have more time to read.

A book I'm currently reading -  "Resistant" by Michael Palmer.  He's my absolute favorite medical mystery author.  Highly recommend any of his books if you like medical mysteries.

A book I'd like to read - Just got back from watching the STAR WARS movie and one of the movie previews was for a movie called "The 5th Wave."  The story line sounded intriguing and when I saw that it was based upon a book, I decided that the book would probably be much better than the movie.  It's sitting in my Amazon shopping cart right now.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

#MTBoS12days - How I Relax and Rejuvenate over the break!

It may not sound very relaxing, but the biggest stress reliever for me is organizing.  With 3 teenagers living at home, my house gets crazy cluttered during the semester.  I spend more time working on lesson plans and teaching than I do on my house and as a result it's utter chaos by Christmas break.  Once break starts,  the de-cluttering begins too.  I usually start with my desk at home, then move on to my closet, then my kitchen pantry and so on.  By the time I go back to school, I feel like I've accomplished something at home and hope that the neatness lasts at least a couple weeks.

After organizing, my next stress reliever is baking.  This I'm able to do throughout the school year, so it's not just an event that takes place over the break.  I love to bake!  Warming up the kitchen with all sorts of yummy smells puts me in my happy place.  Pies, cakes, cookies, brownies, and bread are my favorites.

Kind of funny that my two greatest stress relievers actually involve more work.  I don't mind though, it doesn't seem like work when I'm doing it.  What is your go to stress reliever during the break?

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

#MTBoS12days - Semester Success

There have been a lot of first and seconds for me this year and all in all I'd count it as a pretty successful first semester for the year.  This is my second year at my school and second year back teaching high school math, but my first as math department chair at my school.  This was my first year to be involved in curriculum writing in my district and first year to be part of several leadership teams on my campus.  To say that I have been dragged out of my comfort zone is an understatement.
I consider myself a worker bee.  I love being behind the scenes and doing what I love doing, teaching and planning, so it has been  a little uncomfortable to be out in front of my teacher friends, leading.  I've gotten good feedback from some of the projects I've been involved in, so I must be doing okay, even though I feel inadequate at times.

In my classroom, I have seen many successes this year as well.  Lots of failures and areas for improvement too, but today I am focusing on success.

Success #1 - Incorporating technology into some of my lessons.  We are not a 1:1 campus, but most kids have their own devices so my goal was to get my students to use them in class.  I don't want to be one of those teachers that constantly harps on her kids to put their cell phones away.  Cell phones are a fact of life for these kids and I'd rather spend my time teaching them ways to use them for school than punishing them for sneaking a look at a text or a post.  What I've found is if I treat them as if its no big deal that they have them out on their desks, then it really does end up being no big deal.  Sure there's an occasional text message sent or email checked, but for the most part I keep them busy and it becomes a non issue.

Being BYOD can be limiting sometimes, but we have had some great lessons using Desmos and Geogebra.  I've used Quzalize and Google Forms for formative assessments.  I'm using Google Classroom for all of my classes this year and have tried turning in electronic homework with on again, off again success.

Success #2 - Twitter and Blogs to extend my professional learning.  I am still in awe of the vast knowledge available to me as a teacher through twitter and blogs.  I would read an occasional blog before this year and had a twitter account that I rarely used, but this year I've finally figured out what those two things can do for me.  Getting active in the #MTBoS has really transformed my teaching.  The challenging part has been finding a system to organize all of the information I am finding.  When I find a great lesson idea for something that I don't teach until April, how do I help myself remember that idea.   I think I've figured out something that is working for me, but I'm sure this will be evolving over time too.  Any of you with great ideas on this one, please chime in here.

Success #3 - Student Relationships.  For whatever reason I feel like I have developed some great relationships with my students really quickly.  Usually about March or April I can look back and see that I've finally won all of my kids over, but this year I am already feeling like I'm at that place with them.  I have almost no discipline issues and my kids work for me.  It doesn't matter what silly or rigorous activity I plan, they are always great about playing along and giving it their best.  As a result I'm usually in awe of the conversations that are going on about math in my room.  It's a real boost when I have other teachers asking me about an activity we did in my class because my kids were still talking about it when they got to their class.   I hope to continue building onto these relationships with the kids as it makes taking risks and trying new things with them easier.

I'm looking forward to an even better second semester too!

Monday, December 21, 2015

#MTBoS12days - Favorite Family Holiday Recipes

If there's one thing my family does well, it's baking.  It's a tradition that has been handed down for many generations and I am continuing it on with my own girls.  My sister has an amazing blog where she shares lots of family recipes as well as new recipes she's trying.  My sister's three daughters have also carried on this tradition and they all post frequently about what is currently going on in their kitchens.  It's not just the women though, because one of my older brothers is just as gifted in the kitchen.  In fact, this Thanksgiving he prepared and sold 24 BBQ Pit Fireball Pumpkin Pies, his latest recipe hit.  I'm not quite as adventurous as my brother and usually stick to the tried and true recipes handed down from my Grandmother.

Chocolate Roll

5 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1 cup flour
1 tsp vanilla
powdered sugar
chocolate filling (recipe below)

Separate eggs.  Beat egg yolks until thick and lemon colored.  Gradually beat in 1/2 cup sugar and 1 tsp vanilla.

In a separate bowl, beat egg whites until almost stiff.  Gradually add remaining 1/2 cup sugar and beat until very stiff.

Fold yolks into whites, then fold in remaining dry ingredients.

Spread onto wax paper lined jelly roll pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for 12-14 minutes.

Dust a dish towel with powdered sugar and turn baked cake roll onto towel. Roll up and let cool.  Fill with chocolate filling and refrigerate.

Chocolate Roll Filling

3/4 cup milk - scalded
1 1/2 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup milk, cold
1 Tbs butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla

Scald 3/4 cup milk with chocolate. Thicken with flour.  Add 1/4 cup cold milk and 1 tablespoon of butter.  In a separate bowl, beat sugar, egg, salt and vanilla.  Add mixture to chocolate mixture and cook over low heat until smooth and thick.  Spread onto cooled cake roll.

Serves 12.

#MTBoS12days Yule Blog Challenge

As you can see I have not been very good about keeping up with my blog this fall. I'm hoping to do better in the spring semester. For now though I'm going to attempt @pamwilson and @druinok Yule Blog Challenge over the break. I'm hoping this will kick start my blogging going into the spring semester.

You can see Pam's original post here.

Here's a recap of the challenge, in case you want to join -
~ “My Holiday favorites” (you choose: treats & recipes to share, inexpensive gifts to give, holiday memories
~ a success story from this semester
~ How I relax and rejuvenate over the break
~ a book I’ve read… a book I’m reading… a book I want to read…
~ Reflection on last semester… What will I start, stop and continue in the new semester?
~ a tried and true task/strategy – I can always count on
~ a Moment / a-ha that challenged me as a teacher & how I handled it
~ 1 thing i want to improve next semester
~ classroom wishlist
~ looking forward to in 2016…
~ New Year Resolutions – Personal and/or professional
~ Something that makes me proud to be a – Laker, trojan, Knight, Wildcat, Eagle… etc.

Now, where do I begin?

Friday, November 6, 2015

Imaginary Numbers

Two posts in one week.  I'm even amazed.  Never mind the fact that I'm writing about activities we did a couple weeks ago.

We were in the middle of a solving quadratic equations unit and had already covered simplifying radicals and solving with square roots.  I introduced imaginary and complex numbers and wanted to spend some time practicing simplifying negative radicals.  We started with a foldable about imaginary numbers with some practice problems inside.

We then moved on to practicing with a Solving Scramble activity.  I gave the kids 16 problems that involved imaginary numbers, simplifying radicals and solving using square roots.  They used white boards and worked with a partner to work each problem.  

On the big white board in class I had all of the solutions in a scrambled mess.  They checked themselves by looking for their answer.  If it wasn't there, they went back to figure out what they did wrong.  I really  love these self checking activities because it gives them immediate feedback without all the questions to me of "Is this right?"

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Solving with Square Roots

Looks like I'm on a once a month post schedule.  I had really hoped to post once a week, but life just seems to be getting in the way.

We are working on solving quadratic equations by square roots.  I wanted the kids to get some practice in class before I sent them on their way with practice for home.  I chose to use one of Kagan's structures, Rally Coach.  I taught them four of the team cheers from Kagan and they loved it!  Getting silly in math, why not!  I think them seeing me super animate each cheer was exactly what we needed to liven things up a bit.  Even weeks later they are cheering each other on with the silly cheers.

Each set of partners received a recording sheet with about 12 problems, with the sheet folded in half longways.  The partners take turns solving the equations.  The one solving the equation talks their partner through the entire problem.  I told them that they can't write anything they don't talk about.  After partner A solves the first problem, Partner B gives them a cheer and they switch roles and turn the paper over to the other side.  It's really a pretty easy activity, but it's the silly cheers that make it so fun.  

This was the first time I have tried a Kagan structure, but I'm loving the student engagement I saw and will definitely be trying some others.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Quadratic Functions Intro

We started our Quadratic Functions Unit last week, which is one of my favorite units to teach.  On Day 1 we started with a Brain Dump to see exactly what everyone remembered about Quadratics from Algebra 1.  Some classes were more successful than others at what they remembered, but in each class we were able to help others remember more than they thought they did.  I had each student start by writing down everything they remembered on a piece of paper.  After about 5 minutes I then had them all get up and go chat with 3 other students with the goal of adding 2 more items from their list for each student they chatted with in the hopes that they could each add at least six more items to their own list.

After returning to their desks, I then asked for volunteers to write one thing from their list on the white board, but they could not duplicate anything that was already written.  It had to be something new that was not already on the board.  This process lasted for another 5-10 minutes as they began remembering more as they saw what others were adding to the board.  I asked them to add anything to their paper that was not already there as we were filling up the board.  At the end of this activity my board looked like this.

We then moved on to talk about the attributes of quadratic functions and did a few examples together where we picked out the vertex, axis of symmetry, domain, range, maximum or minimum, and increasing and decreasing intervals.  Once we worked on a few together, I gave each group their own quadratic function to work with and had them put the information on their group white boards to display.

After all were done, we did a gallery walk around the room to check each other's work.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Function Transformations

So excited about the Desmos Class Activity I created yesterday.  I was inspired by Meg Craig (@mathymeg07) of Insert Clever Math Pun Here after she shared a post about her transformations activity(here).   I was really surprised at how easy it was to set this up and am looking forward to giving this a try in my classes next week after we cover transformations.  We are planning to spend a day on translations, a day on stretching and compressing and a day on reflecting.  I will follow those three days up with this Desmos activity.

Some of these are a bit challenging, but I'm hoping my honors kiddos can handle it, maybe not without a little struggle first though.

Thursday, August 27, 2015


I’ve really been focused on the idea of reflection lately and the importance that it has in our learning and in our growth mindset.  It really is the basis for why I decided to start blogging.  I see a lot of value in being able to share what I do in the classroom and then take the time to think through everything and look for ways that I could do things better in the future.  I also like the idea of having others provide feedback and ideas on what I’m doing in my classroom to help me become a better teacher.  

Reflection is also something I am trying to implement with my students.  We started on day 1 by discussing the importance of reflection.  We talked about how important it was as a learning tool to look back at what you had done, process the information and then share your thoughts and ideas on what was learned.  I can already see in less than a week that giving students this voice to discuss what they personally learned from the lesson has been empowering to them.  

I’m asking a lot of my students this year.  We have a whole new curriculum in all of our high school math classes in our district and kids are learning math in a way that may be somewhat unfamiliar to them.  Our new textbooks are consumables and are heavy in reading.  We are spending a lot of time breaking down the text sections and analyzing what information is being given and what is being asked.  It’s pretty tough on the kids right now, but I’m hoping by mid October, they’ll be pros at this.  Although there is this learning curve on how to read the text and pull the information out, the thing I love about what we are doing this year is that the kids are really talking more math.  Before I explain anything I allow them time to read, time to process and then discuss with their group members what they are understanding or not understanding about the topic.  Just listening to the conversations that are already going on in my room after 1 week gets me excited about how these kids are going to be experts at discussing math by the end of the year.  The opportunity to reflect with their peers on what they have discussed and analyzed will hopefully only further their understanding.  

I absolutely love that I am talking less and they are talking more as they are working collaboratively to solve problems.  Although I did have a student say to me today, “you mean we are going to learn everything from this book and not from you this year?”  Yikes, that’s definitely not what we are doing.  I told her that we were going to learn everything by talking about it, by thinking about it, by writing about it, by analyzing it, and by reflecting on it.  We would allow the book to be a tool that we use to learn, but it definitely will not be the only tool we use to learn in my class.  

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Love My Online PLN!

One of my greatest discoveries this past summer was twitter chatting.  I've had a personal twitter account for some time, but decided not too long ago to create a professional account too.  I rarely used it at first, just tweeting about a few things that went on in my classroom, to no one in particular since I had only a handful of followers.  Then this summer, as I was visiting several of my favoite teacher blogs, I started noticing the use of various hashtags and I got curious.  After a little researching, I figured out that the hashtags were being used to carry on conversations revolving around common interests and stumbled on some that pertained to education and math and I was hooked!

I've participated in several chats now and absolutely love this method of learning about my field.  I've walked away from each chat having learned something new about my field, or some new idea for my classroom or some creative way to help me become a better teacher.  We are talking about a Global Professional Learning Network or PLN as there are teachers from across the world involved in these chats.

Take tonight for example.  I participated in the #txed chat, a weekly chat that consists of teachers and administrators from not just Texas, but from many other places too.  We chatted about an article found here. The discussion was awesome!  So many great thoughts shared by some pretty amazing educators.   I even walked away from the chat with an awesome idea to use on my first day of class from Paul Wagner using Chatterpix.  His idea involves the students interviewing each other and then creating a 30 second video using Chatterpix to introduce their "new friend" to the rest of the class.  Love it!  Of course I had to try it out and see how easy it would be to use and then upload the video to my google drive so that I could share with others.  It took me roughly 5 minutes to download the app, take a picture to use in the video and then upload it to my google drive.  You can see my silly first video below.  The kids are going to love this!  Thanks again Paul for such a fun idea!

Looking forward to learning a lot more on my PLN on twitter.  You should join us!  

Monday, August 10, 2015

Some Thoughts on This Year

I don’t even know where to start.  The last few days I have so many thoughts running around my head that I can’t even think straight or outline a clear plan for what I’d like to do this year.  Since discovering the whole world of a PLN on twitter, I have been drowning in fabulous ideas and inspiration by what I believe are some pretty awesome teachers out there.  

Probably best to just get some ideas out there.  Need a starting place somewhere.  So here goes…

Three things that  I am hoping to incorporate this year, that I didn’t use last year are the use of a google site for my classes, using twitter to have chats with my students regarding things that we are working on in class, and students blogging about math related topics.  Along with all of those techy things, I really want to get myself out from the front of the classroom and have the kids do more of the talking.  

The google site is up and ready to go.  I debated on whether to use Google Classroom or a Google Site and finally decided that the Google Site offered more options and would allow me to incorporate my blog as well.  I want a single “go to” place where my students can access a class calendar, links to resources, and class materials, but would also give me some flexibility to add images and pages that would relate to the materials we will be covering.  I’m also planning to use other aspects of my google drive that will work nicely with the class site.

I’m envisioning twitter being an opportunity for kids that may otherwise be reserved in class to have a platform where they will be able to communicate and converse with peers with a little less stress.  I’ve participated in a few twitter chats myself this summer, for the first time, and love the dynamics of this tool and hope that it will encourage some of my kids to get more involved in the discussions.  

And finally a class blog.  My hope is to get my kids to blog once during each 6 week grading period.  I will push for their post to be math related, where it’s something they have researched, or just something to do with the content we are learning in class.  Again, my thought is that this will be another way to get students talking about math.

Along with all of those techy things, I really want to get myself out from the front of the classroom and have the kids do more of the talking.   I feel it is so important for the learning in my room to be student centered and student led.  This is probably what I would consider to be one of my weakest areas as a teacher and the area I hope to grow in the most this year.  

Friday, July 24, 2015

Blogging Begins....

Today I am working on setting up the style and design of this blog of mine.  I set up the blog last summer, but didn't get very far with it.  I am truly hoping to do this blogging thing this year.  Fingers crossed!

As a high school math teacher I have spent hours perusing other "mathy" sites looking for lesson ideas, organizational ideas and classroom management ideas.  I have found so many great ideas and have so enjoyed reading about other teacher's experiences that I decided I wanted to somehow contribute to the vast knowledge that is available on the internet.  From that was born my desire to blog, although I don't feel that I will be necessarily adding anything to the already great information that is out there.  

The idea of blogging intrigues me and will hopefully give me a way to document things that I do and allow me the opportunity to reflect on what has worked and what has not worked in my classroom.  I don't guarantee that my ideas will be original as I am notorious for taking other's ideas and tweaking them to fit my needs.  

And so it begins...