Saturday, August 5, 2017

Year Six: Basically Year One for the Sixth Time

This post is my first attempt to be part of something bigger. It's my first purposeful step toward increasing my involvement in the math education world outside of my small bubble in Boise. I have been so lucky (thanks Boise School District!) to have had the opportunity to attend some national conferences the past few years like WIDA, La Cosecha, AVID Summer Institute, etc. This exposure gave me a real taste for the COMMUNITY that can be found with math educators all over the nation. 

How can I recreate that feeling of involvement, camaraderie, and belonging while being some what isolated in Boise? THE INTERNET! 

There are so many teacher blogs that I relentlessly follow (stalk) and a few of these incredible teachers have joined up to do a weekly #sundayfunday blogging challenging. I am ready to join in, instead of just being a silent observer like I have been. Here we go!


This weeks topic is: GOALS

I have two major goals for this upcoming school year. I am leaving the junior high after 5 years of teaching Pre-Algebra there and moving to the high school to teach Integrated 2 (aka Geometry). New school. New content. New challenges. New reasons to have a daily panic attack... NO! Just kidding. My goal is to be flexible and not let the obstacles that I will surely face overwhelm me. Is it going to be hard? For sure. Will I feel like it's my first year teaching all over again? Probably. But I have survived that before!

My second goal has already been set in motion with this blog post! I want to...

Be Inspired.
Be Challenged. 

and...make friends. 

I want to do all of these things both in person with the teachers in my building and district, and well as through social media and online outlets like Twitter and blogging. There is a whole world of FREE personal development and growth opportunities that I am not fully taking advantage of. Well folks, I think it's about time to...

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Making the Most of Math Warm Ups

"Make sure you have a great opener every day!"

"Don't forget you are expected to do a Bell Ringer every day!"

"You need to have students working on some kind of bell work as soon as the bell rings!"

We hear it over and over again. And for years I followed directions and made sure that students always had something to work on. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how much these "bell work" problems were disjointed from my units, unconnected from the days lesson, and seemingly worthless in the eyes of students. Usually, the problem was chosen by me 5 minutes before class started and was short and quick so that I could check the "bell work" box and move on to the good stuff. 

Oh how times have changed. 

The first major change to my bell work system was adding in some STRUCTURE to our day to day bell work. Each day serves a different purpose now, and helps me better choose what problems I am selecting so that I cover a wide variety of learning styles, outcomes, and solving strategies. 

Here is what our week looks like now:

Monday is for open minded thinking and a quick but effective discussion on multiple representations and most efficient representations. To do this, the problem selected needs to allow students to model their thinking in many different ways. After giving students time to model, I choose certain representations, in a certain order, with a certain purpose to be presented to the class. I was really inspired by the book "5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematical Discussions" by Margaret Smith and Mary Kay Stein. 

Image result for 5 best practices for mathematical discussions

The book focuses on ANTICIPATING, MONITORING, SELECTING, SEQUENCING, and CONNECTING. If you haven't read this book yet, you need to!

Here is an example of a problem we would do on Mondays:
No matter whether you like the new SBAC Common Core Test or not, the fact of the matter is that our kids have to take it. They have to. And I need to find a way to prepare them for the test with out getting overwhelmed. In the past, we have spent some time after Spring Break "practicing" for this test, and it's boring, monotonous, and absolutely dreadful to teach. Students hate it. And I can't say it's super effective. The problem is that the format of this test is a little different. The content isn't necessarily outrageously difficult, but the WAY that students have to answer problems and how students respond to the questions is kind of funky. And for that reason, I feel we NEED to have exposure to some of these types of problems. 

On Tuesdays, I pull grade level appropriate questions from the SBAC practice test. We focus on the content to some extent, but mostly focus on HOW to answer the question. Is it multiple choice? Are you being asked to select more than one answer that is correct? Is it open ended with lots of possible answers? Do you need to drag and drop items into an answer frame? How do you graph that line on the computer? 

Here are some examples, taken straight from the online portal of SBAC Sample Items:

I love having students analyze their own work as well as other student's work. On Wednesdays, students look at an example of made up student work and are given the task of finding where the student went wrong. Where did their error occur? I usually create these by hand, specifically targeting a misconception I have been seeing lately or anticipate coming up down the road. Students not only have to identify the error, but explain why it's wrong, and then fix it and solve the problem correctly. 

Here is an example:

Taken from the classic Instagram hashtag, on Thursdays we "throw back" to skills taught in previous grades. Pretty simple. Keep things fresh. Especially if it's an old skill that will be coming up or needed for future content. Purposefully place these "throw backs" to help you review skills you know you will need. 

Check out my previous blog post (here) to learn about what we do on Fridays.
What do you do for Bell Work? Now that students are productively working on something purposefully chosen each day, I find that these 5 minutes are no longer wasted but rather an essential part of the learning of our class! 

Saturday, April 8, 2017

It's a Good Day When Everyone Gets to be Right

Miss Rowe: "Fahad, will you share your thinking on this problem with the class when we all come back together?"

Fahad: "But misses, what if I'm wrong?"

Miss Rowe: "That's okay, I just want to hear what you think."

Fahad: "But what if I say something wrong?"

The fear of being wrong is scary enough. When you add in the fear of speaking with an accent or using the wrong word, the fear of speaking becomes overwhelming. The beginning of every new school year is filled with conversations like the one above. EL's are always second guessing their answers and their language, so much so that the fear of speaking keeps them from fully participating in the class discussions.

One activity I have started using to overcome this fear is called "Which One Doesn't Belong?". The idea for this activity is taken from the book with the same title by Christopher Danielson. You can find the book on Amazon here.

The great thing about this activity is that EVERYONE IS CORRECT! All 4 items in the picture could be the item that is wrong. Pick any of the items, there is a way to defend that it is the item that doesn't belong with the others. How great is that? Knowing that no matter which one you pick, you are right. BOOM! Your confidence skyrockets. Now you can work on being able to explain why. And the focus shifts from being right or wrong, to being able to communicate.

Here is a quick example:
3: Three doesn't belong because it's the only single digit number.
27: Twenty seven doesn't belong because it's the only number divisible by 9. Or its the only number that doesn't have a 3 in it.
123: One hundred twenty three doesn't belong because it's the only three digit number.
31: Thirty one doesn't belong because it's the only number not divisible by 3.

This is just a few of the many ways you could defend these numbers as the one that doesn't belong.

Want to know the best part? There is a website with TONS of examples for you to get started and get inspired. You can find it here. Once you get going, it's impossible to stop. I'm constantly finding ways to apply my content to this activity.

So how does this work?

1. Post the picture
2. Give students a few seconds of silent think time.
3. Have students go to the corner of the room that represents that number. I draw a quick map on the board that show the top right example would mean this corner of the room, etc.
4. Once they have chosen which one doesn't belong and walked to that corner, they talk as a group and pick their favorite justification.
5. Choose a volunteer to share out why the group thinks that that particular example doesn't belong.

So how could I make it harder?

To add another layer to this activity, challenge students to stay at the same corner no matter what and try to find a reason that number/example doesn't belong. 

And there you have it. A worry free activity where all students get a chance to be right. That's a classroom win for you AND all students! 

Friday, December 23, 2016

Leap Froggin'

I am always looking for new and engaging ways to inspire (okay, trick) my students into practicing the mathematics content we are learning. Every day is essentially a new quest for discovering how to get kids to "do" the math with out just giving them another worksheet. 

I am known for throwing out cheesy sports analogies frequently during the year and this particular lesson started with one. I asked kids the following question...

Usually they all start laughing at the thought of their cardigan wearing, logic puzzle dominating, nerdy math teacher trying to play in the NBA. But then we have a discussion about how YOU have to physically get out there and practice the skills in order to be able to do them. Watching someone else do it is not enough. BOOM... Now how will we all practice today students? By playing LEAP FROG! 

I got the idea for this game from one of my favorite blogs Math=Love. Check her original post out here!

Come up with about 10-20 problems you want students to solve. Then, create decks of cards for each student with the answer to each problem on each card. 

Students move their desks into a giant circle and lay out all their cards on their desk. 

Post a question on the board. For our lesson, students were practicing how to write repeating decimals as fractions. 

Students solve the problem on a worksheet (heaven forbid) or on whiteboards (much better for my students). Once they have their answer, they sneakily grab the card with the answer they think it is and hide it behind their whiteboard. 

After a certain amount of time, have students with an answer reveal their card. If they got it correct, they put their card back on the desk, stand up, and move to the next available desk. They might just move one desk, or they might "leap frog" over other students who didn't get the correct answer. 

Continue playing until the first student makes it all the way back to their original desk. 

The students LOVED this game. They asked to play it again the next day. Here are my recommendations for anyone looking to play it this game:

1. Make sure you have created a classroom culture where it is okay to be wrong. This game could be a real confidence killer if your classroom isn't a safe place for errors.

2. Make sure you have a mix of difficulty levels in the problem set so that even struggling students can get some of the problems correct.

3. I think this game is better at the end of a unit as review, not at the beginning of a unit when students are still learning how to do something.

Overall, loved the game and will definitely be playing it again! Just one more way to get students DOING the mathematics instead of just watching me do it! 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Your Brain on Poverty

I am not a brain scientist. So if you want a lengthy discussion about brain based education, you won't find it here. But I am an advocate for students and when I hear about something that might help my students learn better, I try it. If I see success, I share it. 

This past July I attended the Teaching and Engaging With Poverty in Mind conference with Eric Jensen in San Diego. Before the conference I read his book "Teaching With Poverty in Mind: What Being Poor Does to Kid's Brains and What Schools Can Do About It". Intriguing title right? I was wildly curious what he had to say, since I teach at a Title 1 school here in Idaho. Loved the book. Didn't love the conference, but there were some really great moments here and there. It was basically a 3 day lecture straight from the book. Read the book! It's very eyeopening. 

One HUGE take away from the book (and parts of the conference) was the effect that poverty has on a student's working memory. What's working memory you ask? Check out his article here:

And read this one too:

I was determined to try this. So starting the first Monday of the year, my math support class started "Memory Monday". Every Monday we play memory games and talk about growing our brains. We discuss the need for working memory and also go over how working memory connects to learning in the classroom. The students LOVE it. They beg for every day to be Memory Monday. Their excitement is great, but is it actually helping?

All jokes aside, I am seeing HUGE benefits. Just not any that I can really measure. Students are thinking faster, processing new information quicker, and I am slowly starting to notice a change in their overall attitude toward "the struggle" that happens when students learn new information and their brain starts to hurt. I don't know if it's just from talking about memory and the brain as a muscle that can grow (think growth mind set) or actually working the brain, but I LOVE the results I am seeing. 

So what does "Memory Monday" look like? Here are a few activities I am loving! (Thanks to Eric Jensen and lots of googling the phrase "working memory in the classroom")

The Alphabet Game
You probably played this in the car when you were on a road trip. The class picks a category. The first student says a word that starts with "A" in that category. The next student repeats the "A" word and adds on with a "B" word. Sounds easy right? I was dumbfounded. We struggled when we got to "E" the first time my class did this. Now, they whiz through them. Crazy! 

Can I Get Yo Digits?
Okay, the kids named this one. Put 4 digits up on the board (more once your students get good). One student can see, their partner can't. The student who can see them, reads them in order. The student who can't see them has to do a few things:
1. Repeat the numbers back
2. Say the numbers backwards
3. Say the numbers least to greatest
This is the ability to "visualize" things in your brain. To see the numbers, rearrange them in your brain, and then say them differently. This is where a LOT of mental math ability comes from

Hear Run Say
I say 5-10 words to the students. Can be related or not. Students listen, run down the hallway, run back, and then try to say them back to me. Hysterical. Most of the time students can remember the first few and the last few. The ones in the middle stand no chance. 

Online Computer Games
There are lots of cool websites on the internet with memory games, especially those focused on visual memory. These are my favorites!

General Memory Games:

Audio Word Match:

Concentration Games:

Picture Memory
Put up a slide with lots of pictures of different items on it. You can do as many as your students need to be challenged. I stick to around 10. Show them the slide for 30 seconds, but make sure they don't write anything down. Then, take the picture away and see how many items they can recall and write down. I like to do a theme, like farms and farm animals. Put lots of items you find on a farm, but not a cow. Almost EVERY TIME, students will put a cow as one of the items they thought they saw. So funny. 

If you aren't sure what this card game is, see the rules here. There are lots of pre-made Concentration Card Game sets you can buy. I have a few with random pictures on them that I use sometimes, but mostly I try to incorporate mathematics into them. So for example, if you flip over a card that says 1/2 and a card that says 0.5, that's a match. This way we are reviewing topics AND working on our memory. Win Win! 

Are there any other ways you incorporate working memory development into the classroom? I would love to hear!