Friday, August 29, 2014

Some Thanks...

The teacher workshops are completed, the room is set up, and the lessons are written.  It has been a long and exhausting week, but for the first time in a long time, I am feeling calm going into the school year.

This sense of calm comes from so many people who probably don't even know that they have helped me over the summer tie some loose ends together, rethink how and why I do things, and help me realize that all of us have the same issues in the classroom.  Everyone has the student who won't stop talking.  It's not just me.  Through the stories that they have shared, I have begun to feel that I'm not alone when I feel like I am swimming upstream.  So I want to take a moment as my school year begins to thank some of them.

First of all, I want to thank those who inspired my classroom bulletin boards this year.  Thank you for inspiration when I had none.

My favorite is the Star Wars themed growth mindset posters from Paul's (@TeacherPaulP) blog TeacherPaulP which I combined with Sarah's (@mathequalslove) idea, from her blog Math=Love, to put up sayings from a fixed and growth mindset.  I added Darth Vader and Yoda to the mindset phrases to keep the theme.  I will enjoy saying "Use the Force" this year when I hear fixed mindset statements.  

Next, I have to thank, Sarah (@msrubinteach) from Everyone's a Genius for the idea to do the loop-da-loop for how you learn a skill.  Looking forward to using it to remind students that learning is a process.  

Finally, Pam's (@pamjwilson) blog, the radical rational, had an awesome bulletin board for displaying sentence starters that I totally just did my best to recreate.  I am hoping that this will be well used by my students!

Besides all of the help with decorating, I need to also give some thanks to The Global Math Department for the truly awesome professional development that I attended this summer.  If you haven't attended a Global Math Department webinar yet, please try one.  It's free and that is every teacher's favorite word! 

MTBoS and everyone I met and worked with at Twitter Math Camp are awesome.  I am excited to become more and more involved with the both groups.  It is amazing how technology in general has made it possible to sit on my couch and talk to teachers all across the country.  I feel like I dated myself with that statement, but it's so true!

And speaking of sitting on my couch, I want to thank those who monitor the chats on Twitter.  I like to lurk during #msmathchat and Justin (@JustinAion) and Adrienne (@shlagteach) do an awesome job.  I know there are other groups and other monitors, but I haven't explored all of them yet! 

Thank you to everyone for your inspiration and willingness to share what you do! 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Behavior Expectations: My Only Summer Craft :(

This is going to be a short and sweet blog post because tomorrow is the first day of teacher workshops for the new school year and I have to start winding down and going to bed at a decent hour.  But I wanted to share one of the only craft projects I did for my classroom this summer (which I did today). 

I have been feeling like a grinch because I have had little enthusiasm to decorate my room.  I want it to look pretty, but really wish my fairy godmother of the classroom would come and wave a magic wand.  Then my room would be the prettiest in the land.  OK, enough wishful thinking.

I wanted to frame my expectations (ok, not really mine; borrowed from another school I used to teach at a few years back) and put them on the wall.  I went to my local craft store, but the $1 frames were to small and the others too expensive.  I thought about misscalcul8's blog and this picture.  I thought that I could get some scrapbook paper and laminate it.  I had found cute clothes pins at the craft store, so it seemed simple enough. 

Well, half way through picking out scrapbook paper, I decided that I wanted something sturdier.  I went back to get some foam board and found packages of 8"x10" foam board.  Problem solved!  I bought the foam board and the scrapbook paper and headed home to make something pretty for my classroom.

This is what I created.  Scrapbook paper and foam board are now my new best friends.  I am very excited and think that they will look great in the classroom.  Plus, they will be a visual reminder to the students. 

If you want to know more about the behavior expectations, here is a link to the parent handbook from my previous employer.  I don't use them exactly the way they are prescribed in this handbook. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Goals for 2014-2015 Academic Year

I go back to work on Monday for teacher workshops and getting the classroom ready for the new school year.  I have been lacking motivation to go and spruce up my room this year and I know that I will have a lot of work.  Fortunately, I did not have to take everything down off of my walls and bulletin boards.  So, it is more about trying to make the room look fresh for the new school year and I have plenty of ideas to make the freshness happen. 

Each year that I have worked with my principal, he has asked for the staff to write their personal goals for the academic year.  I have been working on what mine will be.  I've narrowed it down to theses three:

1) Blended Classroom:
At the end of last year, I felt that the goal for next year was going to be flipping the classroom.  That is still a goal, but it will be much more of a blended classroom than I originally thought it would be.  There are a lot of reasons for this. 

The biggest factor to sway me is that I am going to "unit-fy" the Saxon Algebra I book.  I found that as I "unit-fy" the text, there were places that I could actually give myself time back.  I especially found that there were lots of places to make a foldable that contained ideas from several lessons from the text. 

I will still make tutorial videos for students throughout the year.  I will also assign some of them.  I am just not quite ready to be fully flipped.  Maybe that will change as the year progresses.

2) Standards Based Grading:
I want to make strides to do this better this year.  I have spent a lot of time matching units, lessons, and standards and melding them together to hopefully be cohesive.  I have developed a self tracking sheet for students to keep in their INB this year.  I started units in Jumprope (it's a free on-line SBG grade book).  Still playing with the grade book and will see how it works.  I like the reports that it will make for me.  I think it will help parents transition into SBG.  I am also in the process of making syllabi for each unit.  All of this has meant less time for making foldables and putting together INBs.

However, none of this will work well unless I am more diligent about getting the corrected work back to the students.  Feedback is an area I have struggled with my entire career.  I need to improve and by focusing on making standards based grading work, feedback has to be timely.

3) Less Time Explaining; More Time Doing:
My last goal ties into the blended classroom.  I want to spend more time doing math and talking about math.  I have already gotten a subscription to Mathalicious and I want to subscribe to Yummy Math.  Both sites have lots of interesting problems, are real life based, and are very, very reasonable for the teacher budget.  Especially, if you are like me and will be paying out of pocket to access them.  

I want the students to do more thinking which means I really need to keep the classroom focused on collaboration.  I am hoping that the problems I find on both of these sites (and others sites I find throughout the year) will help me to foster that collaborative feeling.  Time will tell.  Plus, I can plan all I want, but until I have students in my room trying to do these activities, I won't know.

Well, those are my three goal.  I think that is enough.  I also feel like I will be able to measure them by the end of the school year.  Success is hopefully in my future!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Integer Word Problem Practice with My Twist

I have been procrastinating by digging through my folder on my desktop labeled, "7th Grade Math".  Clever, huh?  I came across some integer problems in there that had a lot of promise as in-class practice.  It was a freebie that I had downloaded awhile back and it took a little research to find the author.  Anyway, I found that it came from Lisa at Teacher's Notebook.  I really liked the problems that were on the worksheet, but I was bummed that it was a worksheet.  There had to be a way to rework it, so that it would be more intriguing to my middle school kiddos.

photo credit:
I started thinking about the old game show from the 80s, "Classic Concentration".  If you haven't seen the show, contestants make matches on the game board to win prizes and slowly uncover a puzzle.  The person who solved it got a bigger prize. (See sample to the left)

Since the worksheets eventually lead students to do a coloring sheet, I thought that maybe I could use the idea of uncovering a puzzle. 

The first thing that I did was take the answer sheet and resize it to be 20 cm by 25 cm.  I then printed it out and glued it to a piece of card stock.

Next, I made a 5 x 4 grid.  Then I wrote the 12 correct answers in the boxes and 8 incorrect answers.  All of the solutions and incorrect solutions came from the answer key.

Then I cut it apart into 25 separate squares. 

So this is the starting point of the activity.  I have the template for the answer sheet that students fill in at the end of this post.  The basic idea is that students would start like the above picture.  As they solve a problem, they will look at the board and then flip over the piece with their answer.  If they don't see their answer, they will need to check their work for errors.

As students continue to solve problems and flip over pieces, they will start to see the pieces of the answer sheet in the incorrect order.

Students will also realize that there are 8 unused answers.  Students will be asked to write a question/problem that has the unused answers as an answer.  

After the questions/problems are written, all of the pieces can be flipped over.  Students then have the job of getting the pieces into the correct order and making the picture.

The students' pictures will look like this when they are finished!

OK, so it's not exactly "Classic Concentration".  While making this activity though, I did have a few thoughts about how to make another activity that would resemble the actual game more.  I'm working on that one!

Here is the answer template that the students will be completing during the activity.  Before the activity, I would type in the questions from Lisa's worksheet or I am thinking to change "Problem" to be "Important information to solve the problem".  Then, I could just pass out the questions or put them on index cards.  

Monday, August 11, 2014

First Page of This Year's INB!

Now that there are only two weeks until teachers have to report, I have officially decided that it is time for me to begin panicking and get some stuff started and other stuff finished.  I started to put together my INB for my algebra class.  I only have a very rough start and will share when I get a few more things in it.  Some foldables are still in prototype phase and all the kinks are still being worked out of them! :)

I did however get the first page finished and I am really excited about it.  I originally decided that I would have the first page of the students notebooks be a "Math about Me" page and I went to my trusty friend, Google, to find some images for inspiration.  Most of the ones I had seen were for elementary grades.  Then I came across this one that was posted on "Shut the Door and Teach".

Template available at TPT
I really liked that the students made expressions that went with the numbers that were about them.  I really loved that it connected to our second topic of the year – order of operations!  I am still working the plan out, but I think we can spend some time double checking each others' "Figure Me Out" page as a warm-up or practice activity. 

The example above was for fourth grade, so I needed to put some guidelines in place for my middle school students.  In the directions, I said that they needed to use fractions, parentheses, exponents, square roots, etc. to write their expressions.  The expressions had to be at least 3 terms as well, to stop 9 + 1 being the expression for 10.  I also hope that my example will inspire them to be tricky and challenging.  Here is what I did:


I will fill in my self portrait by the time that the kiddos see it.  I also forgot to use a square root somewhere, so I have to fix a sticky note!  The answers are under the sticky notes, so after the students evaluate the expression they can check and see if they are right.  I think it is an easy entry point for students to get back into the groove of math.

Update (8/19/14):  I didn't realize that the author of Shut the Door and Teach had a template available on her TPT store.  Due to copyright, I can't keep the template I formatted to fit in my INB available for free download.   

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Tellagami for Vocabulary...I'm Still Unsure

This picture caught my eye on Pinterest a while back and I am finally getting around to checking it out.  This comes from Matt Coaty who writes the blog Educational Aspirations.  Matt teachers gifted and talented students at the elementary level.

When I first saw it, I thought what a cool idea for getting students to show multiple representations of the same vocabulary word.  After closer inspection, I realized that the students were actually showing how to solve the problem.  I thought this is brilliant and totally motivating for middle school kiddos.

Since I had never heard of Tellagami,  I downloaded the free version from the app store on iTunes to my phone.  I played with it a little bit and it is pretty simple and students would figure it out quickly.  It's nice from the standpoint that there are a limited number of choices that the students can pick, so they can't spend hours picking the outfits and hairstyles and then never get to the math.  There is the option to type in the text and let a computer voice say it or you can record your own voice.

I have finally made my first gami about slope.  To start, I made up some cards about slope.  I opened the app and selected the background, then took a picture of my cards with the little person on the screen.  Then I recorded a little something about slope. It was really that simple.

To hear it play, click here

But, there are some downsides to this app that I found as I played:
1) There are in-app purchases (boo!).

2) There is a limited trial time to access everything.  After that you are left with one type of clothing which you can change the color of the shirt/pant.  That doesn't bother me.  Losing the ability to type what the character should say and then pick a voice is a bummer for me.  I don't want to pay for it.

3) There is the cost for the educational version of the app.  The cost is $4.99/subscription.  The up-side is that there are no in-app purchases.  It's just a bit too much to ask my school to pay at this time.

4) Because of the in-app purchases, I can't have students use their phones to produce a Tellagami.

5) Students are limited in the free version to 30 seconds.  I believe it is reasonable for a vocabulary word, but might not work to explain a problem.

6) There just isn't an easy way to collect them and put them into a file for later that I can figure out.  The email depended on the email entered into the device.  We can't use Facebook or Twitter for good reason from our school devices.  The only other option to share is via text.  That is how I was able to link my screen shot to the gami that was made.  So, timing is vital if students create these.  We need to share them during the same class period.  Or, one day is for planning and another day is for recording/sharing.  

I know that my students would love it.  But I am not sure after playing with it.  So I started thinking of alternatives.  Since my students enjoy making videos, we could do it without the Tellagami app and just record a video and save it to Google drive.  We would loose the computer animated person though and I know that would be novel and intriging.  They could make their own figure and insert it into the video.  Ultimately, the idea that Matt wrote about on his blog can be adapted.

I am putting this out there, hoping, that maybe there is someone wiser than I, who can tell me other options to work around the downsides of the app.  Does anyone use Tellagami (or something similar) in their classroom?  What do you do with it?  Love to hear about it! 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Ratio Fill Up (Ratio/Fraction Equivalences)

Here is another game from TMC14.  This is the game that my group worked on so I can take some credit in it's creation.  My group's goal was to create a game about ratios/proportions.  We were thinking of ratio tables and wanting students to see that each ratio was equal to the other.  There are quite a few rules to this game as you can see.  I took the rules straight off of the TMC14 wiki.

Objective: To earn three points [counters] by filling ratio tables with congruent ratios.

Materials: Gameboard with 4 ratios tables with room for 5 ratios in each table,  ratio cards, point counters, calculator.

Set-up: Shuffle ratio cards and deal 5 to each player.

Game play:
1) The first player plays any ratio card from their hand in the blank first space in a ratio table and then draws a card to end his/her turn.
2) The second player can either play an equivalent ratio in the same table as the first player or play a different ratio in one of the empty tables.
3) Play continues with each player playing equivalent ratios to fill up the ratio tables and drawing cards to replace the ratios just played.
4) When a ratio table gets full, whoever played the last ratio into that table gets 1 point, as long as they can identify operations to get from the first ratio played to the last (ie, if the first ratio is 2/8 and the last is 4/16, they could say multiply by 2/2 or divide by 2/2 and multiply by 4/4).
5) The player to the right of the player that played the last ratio will take the calculator and divide out the ratios in order to check to make sure the ratios are all equivalent.
6) Cards from the completed ratio table are put into the discard pile, and the cleared ratio table is open for any player to play in.
7) The first player to 3 points (counters) is the winner.

Other rules:
1) If the draw pile ever runs out, reshuffle the discard pile to create a new draw pile.
2) If a card is played incorrectly the player that noticed the error draws an extra card and the incorrect card is put into the discard pile.
3) Skips, reverses and wilds:
  • Skips automatically skip the next player, 
  • Reverses switch which order the players play (so, if play is going left at first, it instead goes right), and 
  • wilds can be played in any ratio table that already has a ratio in it, but the player who plays it must name an equivalent ratio that isn't already in the table.  
4) If none of the cards from a player's hand can be played on their turn, that player discards one card and draws one card and their turn ends.

OK, this is a lot of rules!  Our group did agree that the game still needed some tweaking, but we just ran out of time.  Also, I am not so sure about the 4th rule.  I'm having trouble seeing the value in doing that.  Maybe when I play it with students I will, but right now I am struggling.  I would rather have my students identify the pattern in the ratio table and figure out how to do that considering that the ratios are not placed in any specific order during play.  What strategy would they use to figure out that there is a scale factor of 2/2?  What discussions or debates would come out of this?  Sometimes the first and last ratios played don't display an easily identifiable pattern and for the lower students, this could cause frustration.  I'll just have to play it and see.

Another thing that I did to modify this was to add labels to the ratio table.  I just felt like if students saw the labels they would not be thinking fractions.  The Power Point below is completely editable, so if you would like to remove those or change them, it is possible. 

Below you will find the gameboard and cards that I made up to use with my students.  The cards are ment to be cut out like fractions.  A more challenging option would be to cut the individual numbers apart and have the students work together to make ratio tables that are true and to explain how they know they are correct.  There is definitely room for tweaking and developing spin-offs of the basic game.

If you play this with students and make modifications, I would love to hear what you did and how it worked for you!

Monday, August 4, 2014

My Closest Neighbor (Estimating with Fractions)

At TMC14, I attended the same morning session for the three days that I was at the conference.  It was a session for middle school teachers and we spent time thinking about games.

I like games in the classroom, so this intrigued me.  We started by playing games and reflecting on their value in that classroom and how we could not only use what we played, but how we could structure time for the games.  I particularly liked the game Swish.  Here is a video if you haven't heard of the game before.  It is easier to watch than for me to explain.

I liked that Swish gave students practice working with transformations without them having to have been formally introduced to them.  It was also easy to create levels of skill by telling students they could only win cards if they could do it in 2,3, 4, 5, etc. moves.  More moves means more cards, but ups the difficulty level.

After playing the games, we spent the next two days developing and playing the games we created.  If you would like to see all of the games that were created click here to go to the middle school page of the TMC14 wiki.

One of the games that I played and really liked the adaptation for was the fraction war game on the wiki.  The variation that I played involved giving each player 5 cards.  We used Phase 10 cards to play with, however, I don't have those.  I do have Uno cards, and that allows me to play with fractions that have denominators from 1 to 9.  Until I can get Phase 10 cards, Uno is a good substitute.

After every player has 5 cards, we set a goal.  We decided that the player closest to 1/2 would win the round.  To not have fights among students, I made cards for them to flip over and make their goal for that round.
As you can see in the picture, the goal was to get the closest to 1/2.  So based on my hand above, I know 2/3 and 3/4 are too big, but would it be closer than what the other players put down?  That is where I (and students) need to take some strategy.  (It also needs to be decided ahead of time if going over is OK or not.)  My other options are 2/8 or 3/8.  So I have to pick one and hope I am the closest.

Since 3/8 is closer, I would choose to play that and hope that I would win.  Now, imagine the discussion that would happen and the proof that the students would have to have if another student put down 3/7.  Which is closer?  How do we know for sure?  How can we prove it?  These are great questions for mathematical thinking and great opportunity to do informal proof and debate in the math classroom.

Now what is pictured here would not work for closest to 1/2 because 2/4 is exactly 1/2 and that isn't what the card said.  This is a great chance for students to identify equivalent fractions as well.                                                                                                               

I didn't develop this game.  It came from another group's game fraction war.  As we were rotating and playing each others' games, my group mate Justin thought it would be an interesting twist to try to get the closest fraction to a certain value.  We played a few rounds like that and the discussion about what was close or that exact didn't win was valuable and worth time in my classroom next year.  

All that I can take credit for is giving it a new name, "My Closest Neighbor" and making the cards on the Power Point presentation below.  I left this editable.  Depending on how good my kiddos get at this, I may need to add 6/7 or 1.2 to the mix.  I do think some decimals would be good for them to think of equivalencies and conversions.  

I am looking forward to trying this with my kiddos in the fall.  My seventh graders should enjoy it!