When worlds collide, things are truly better together.

Before any gathering where there is the chance that I will see unfamiliar faces, the signs of anxiety trench into my body. Heart palpitations, clammy palms, racing mind full of “what-if” situations, and this time the cold sore of nervousness reared it’s ugly head. Now take that anxiety and amplify it twice with two back to back conferences filled with people that are from all over the the US/Canada that I may or may not even know. Some of them are at least 2D friends (Facebook/Twitter/Instagram) so they seem familiar, or at least their highlights. Some are the 3D friends I came to the conferences with or knew from prior conferences (hoping I remember them!!). These 3D friends help ease some of madness in my mind at the start, but it is never truly enough.

To add to the mix, the two conferences were worlds apart. The Thirty-One Gifts National Conference in Denver, CO and Twitter Math Camp (TMC) held this year in Claremont, CA. Cute organizational bags and totes, and math nerds. Two things I love but failed to see how these two worlds could co-exist in my brain for the two weeks away from home.
Then as I was sitting here at TMC, using my Thirty-One conference pen and highlighter to plan out my day, it hit me. Things are better together. The theme of this year’s fall Thirty-One catalog. At that conference our sessions focused on building our businesses by creating meaningful relationships, not by selling more bags. Those connections are what are so important to me. Connections with my customers, connections with my coworkers, connections with my students, connections with all those that touch some aspect of my life. 

  
In the last 13 days, I’ve strengthened old relationships, fostered new ones, and reached out to those that were my 2D friends to make them into 3D friends. Relationships are key to success in anything. Sharing ideas and troubles, celebrating accomplishments big and small, are all more meaningful when you have a relationship tied to the interactions.

   
 For those reading this that are still at TMC or are in Columbus for the second Thirty-One conference, I challenge you to reach out and truly take the time to strengthen those relationships. Take time to truly listen to someone’s story, get to know them beyond their curriculum style, their favorite party game, or their twitter handle. Trust me, especially if you are anxiety prone like I am, give it a try. For we are truly #bettertogether when we know the journey of others. 

  

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Riddle Me This

Thanks to @veganmathbeagle I can no longer teach sequences and series using a standard note packet of formulas and definitions. And that’s a good thing.
To try and get students to think “outside the box” we spent a portion of the hour working on Wuzzles, those fun boxes of cleverly written words.

These Wuzzles

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Not these Wuzzles

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We discussed how you can offer clues to the puzzle without blurting the answer out. “How many do you see?” “You wear these on your feet.”

Once we established the “no blurting” rule, we moved onto looking at patterns on visualpatterns.org starting with

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After a couple like this, we upped the challenge to one that @veganmathbeagle created (btw students thought it was cool that they knew her AND that she had several entries to the site).

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It was so cool walking the room and listening to the students interact. And even better when they willingly volunteered (not the “hey you go volunteer” that usually happens) to explain their unique ways of approaching the situation.

I think, they think

Quiz. No calculator. BUT you get your partner. No vocal communication. Each partner can communicate by a sheet of scratch paper.

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They think they are getting a break. And maybe they are. But what I value is the collaboration and review skills they receive from each other.

Your thoughts on partner assessments?

(Insert clever pun here) Solving Radical Equations

Solving radical equations.  It’s a dry subject when you look at the Algebra 2 textbook.  I’m trying to find new ways to approach teaching without telling.  Thanks to the help of fellow Twitter Math Camper, @misscalcul8 , I was able to help kids figure out traditional mathematical steps without doing a traditional lecture.  My take varies slightly from hers in that my access to colored paper while at home the night before didn’t allow me to prep it quite the same.

Each student received a copy of her graphic organizer/follow along worksheet.  Students were then placed into groups of 4 and each group received one of four “step” pages inside of sheet protectors.   I asked students what they noticed about these pages.  “Um, what’s going on?” was the first reaction.  Then eventually someone pointed out the (*) by one line of equations on the sheet.  Eventually someone said, “so you want us to put these in order?”  BINGO!  I didn’t even have to tell them!  They then worked as a group recording down the steps in the correct order as they reasoned through each line determining which line logically came next.  I helped groups by swapping out pages of steps so they would have the opportunity to work on all four sets.

As I walked the room, I over heard students actually talking and reasoning about math!  YES!!  Score one for trying a non-traditional approach! (Well, excluding the group that was watching hockey highlight videos.  They were eventually working.)

Once each group was done, I wanted to see if they could apply what they learned.  Students spent the remainder of the period working on 9 problems.  On the top of the sheet for these problems, students were exposed to the phrase “extraneous solutions”.  When asked, no one knew what that meant.  I’ve been challenging them to be resourceful Algebra 2 students, so with a prompt about being resourceful, some looked in the textbook and others used Google on their phones.  After a conversation about “extraneous solutions,” students got to work.

Except one thing snagged them.  They didn’t have to factor in the examples from the step sorting activity.  In several of these problems, they did.  And they panicked.  “You didn’t teach us these ones!”  To which I replied, “Well technically I didn’t teach you any of them, you did.”  And yet another student stepped up to the plate and said, “It’s just like example 4 in the book. You factor like we did all last chapter.”

I’m so ecstatic that students were resourceful AND worked together!  Bonus that they were also able to do the math.

2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

It looks like I have some more work to do!! I have tons of ideas and things in trying in the classroom, I just need to make blogging a priority!

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 490 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 8 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

“How you doin?” -Joey Tribbiani

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Have you ever taken a test and said, “Hmm, I wonder if I’m the only one that’s (excited, pleased, bummed, etc.) about how I did on that test?”
Once again, Plickers to the rescue! (And we did take the time to clarify what each choice was truly asking, a wordsmith in print I am not!)

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Before handing back our chapter 3 test on solving linear systems, students eagerly shared there thoughts on how well they though they did on the assessment. As a teacher I appreciated being able to look behind the scenes to see how individuals responded in an instant.

Once we went over the test, I quickly used the Plickers app on my phone to generate and survey again.

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LOVE instantaneous feedback!

What other methods of formative assessment do you use in your classroom?

This inquiring mind would love to know!!

The Little Things

I have one class of 14 students, Algebra 1 Concepts & Skills, our most basic algebra course offered at the high school. There are days that I end that class wondering if anyone is going to remember how to solve a 2 step equation; the overall maturity level is, well, that of a 14 year old boy since they dominate the class. Dominate vocally would be an understatement.
Then there’s days like today, where I started the hour with a student slipping me this note just as the bell rang:

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Day = Made

Even though 2 kids were sent out that hour today, some of “the usual suspects” were trying to be mindful of our class rules.
It’s the little things that keep me in the profession, not June, July and August. Well those are perks too 🙂

Hoo’s paying attention in class?

Boring looking classrooms drove me nuts in school. Stark walls, row after row of desks, and just a teacher sitting at an overhead projector or feverishly writing on a chalkboard. Even thinking back to that scene makes me sleepy!

Enter my classroom and you might find me near the front of the room at most times (working on that!) but my room will always feel inviting. Creating an atmosphere of learning looks different to everyone, but my style seems to surprise most. Mainly because I teach in high school, where students and parents expect boring classrooms. (I feel these photos don’t give the best angles, but using a phone and not my DSLR, I’ll take it!)

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I like your clouds!

Those that step foot for the first time instantly notice my light covers. Being a migraine sufferer, these partly cloudy blue sky filters make the lighting in the classroom closer to natural light than destructive fluorescent lighting ever can! (Ever notice how papers on the wall get discolored over the year in fluorescent lighting?)
Caribbean blue columns, engaging posters, inspirational quotes, cute cutout owls, mathy stuff, all fill up a good portion of my walls. The 2 extra whiteboards in my room are wonderful as well. Students that want to do a problem on the board but not in front the class have no issue with going to a side or rear board in the room.

IMG_8817.JPGAlgebra 1 students equation solving around the room.

And did I mention the cutout owls?Random huh? I’m a sucker for cute things, and when I had the chance to visit a supply store this summer that I’ve never been too, Mardel, I found matching folders, cutouts, and bathroom passes I couldn’t pass on!
I’m just now having students discover them in my room.

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How many do you think there are around my room?
And what makes your room environment special to you?

Perfect 10 Follow-Up

During the school year, finding time to make visuals in my classroom is tough.  Thank-goodness for student aids!  Here is a follow-up to table top Twitter in which my student aid compiled multiple class responses onto one poster board.  She used her good judgement and recorded responses that relate to the overall poster topic.  (#potato will no appear on the following photos.)  Thanks to @jaz_math for the inspiration to post this follow up!

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Plickers, with a “P”

Last week I handed out a 7 question pre-test to my Algebra 1 Concepts & Skills students.  Traditionally this course has student abilities ranging from pseudo understanding linear algebra down to using fingers to do single digit addition.  Over the years, students are exposed to algebra at an earlier age than with pass graduating classes.  The range of abilities continues to spread, and my pre-test confirmed that this trend lives on.  However, this time I was able to utilize my new favorite formative assessment tool and reached my conclusion on the ability range much sooner than in past years.

Collecting and deciphering abilities was much more timely and user friendly using Plickers.  If you are unfamiliar with Plickers, head over to the site and check it out after this post.  You won’t be disappointed!  Students appreciated being able to see the bar graph responses of their classmates, and it allowed for me to adjust how much time we went over a particular question if there was no clear common outcome.  Students were given the opportunity to talk with classmates and adjust their answers.  Discussion over common mistakes were being brought up and pointed out by students without any prompting from me.  I LOVED it!

Once my class rosters settle down, I plan on creating a set of Plicker cards for each class on card stock so each student can “own” their own card.

Also, if you do try this, let a student try scanning the class using your device.  Great sense of ownership over the activity!