Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Explore, Discover, Inquire: An Attempt at Inquiry Based Learning

I love the idea of inquiry based learning. I found this incredible graphic here to describe 10 reasons why teachers should be using inquiry-based learning in the classroom.

Phenomenal, right? Why would you NOT want to use inquiry-based learning in the classroom?

Let's be real for a second. There are just times when students cannot simply inquire their way through something. For example, the Quadratic Formula. I'm sorry, but no 15 year old is going to have enough grit or perseverance to ever come up with that bad boy.

Image result for quadratic formula meme

I am very selective with when I use inquiry in my classroom, cautiously only choosing content that students have plenty of background knowledge with so that they have an entry point to their exploration. I never want to have so much self guided inquiry that students shut down, give up, or feel like they have no idea how to begin. For 10th grade Geometry, finding the area of a polygon is the perfect opportunity for students to find success with an inquiry-based activity. Prior to this unit, students have had instruction on trigonometry, Pythagorean theorem, special right triangles, interior angle sum of polygons, and area of quadrilaterals, triangles, and trapezoids. With all the tools in their toolbox they need, students were ready to start exploring how to find the area of regular polygons!

In groups of 4, students were given a regular hexagon with a side length of 6. Of course I used my favorite dry erase mats. 

They were instructed to work together, using whatever mathematical tools necessary, to find the area of the hexagon. Here are some of the creative ways they split up their hexagons...

After students found the area (which by the way, almost every group was able to!), each group presented their strategy to the class.

After each group presented, we asked the class the following questions: 

1. How does this method compare with your method? What's similar? What's different?
2. If you had to find the area of another hexagon, would you change your method and do this one instead? Why or why not?
3. If you had to find the area of a heptagon, would this method still work? What about a octagon?

It was an awesome day and will lead beautifully into a more formal strategy for finding the area of any polygon as well as the formula using the apothem and perimeter. You could literally have checked each box from the graphic organizer above today. All the things happened. When inquiry is done right, it's a magnificent tool. 

Kudos to my student teacher, Ms. Schmidt for all the set up for this activity. She's half way through her student teaching and totally rocking it like a seasoned pro. I am so excited to see where her career takes her. If this is the beginning, I can't even imagine what's next!

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Traffic Light Class Activity

There's always certain topics that make me a little nervous to teach. Big topics. Those topics that you know your students need to understand, not just to be successful on this chapter or this year, but for all math every year after this year. It's a big responsibility to be the first teacher to expose them to a new idea, solving strategy, etc. It's sort of like laying the foundation on a house that you know others will need to build upon and the pressure to build a strong foundation can sometimes feel overwhelming. 

One of these topics for me this year is completing the square. I am especially anxious every year to teach this because it's a topic that I didn't understand at all when I was in school. It wasn't until college when I fully understood why we complete the square, when we complete the square or mathematically what the heck we're doing when we "randomly" add this "magic number" to both sides of the quadratic equation. I want to make sure that my students aren't just memorizing a bunch of steps but rather understanding the entire process with the end goal the focus of every step. 

After some good teaching days we were ready to practice but it was apparent that the level at which students were grasping this new idea was dramatically widespread. I needed an activity that would allow them to practice at a level that they felt comfortable, but would also challenge them to keep working on harder problem types. BOOM! Traffic Light Activity. Here it was...

The idea behind this activity is to create a variety of problems at different difficulty levels. Student choose the level they want to work at with the flexibility to change as needed. The cards are placed in my favorite pouches and spread all over the front of the room. It's organized chaos.

For this activity, green cards were worth 1 point and included completing the square problems where a=1 and the answers were nice rational numbers. Yellow cards were worth 2 points and included problems where there was a GCF involved (a is NOT 1) but still had rational solutions. Red cards were more challenging problems that sometimes had a GCF, but did NOT have rational answers, requiring them to simplify their answers in radical form. 

Students were told they needed to complete 8 points worth of work and they could be done for the day. Students got to choose how they wanted to earn their 8 points, with a mixture of easy, medium, and hard problems types. You could do more easy problems, or less hard problems. The choice is yours! The nice thing about a number like 8 is that you can't just do all green (there were only 5) so it forced students to at least try one or two of the harder ones to achieve 8 total. 

Many students got a little excited at the idea of the less work option, but when they realized they weren't quite ready and needed to go down a level, they just walked up to the front of the room and tried a level easier. There is lots of flexibility to allow students the ability to self asses where they are at, and change as needed with the goal of working up to the red cards. 

I wrote the answers on the back of the cards so that students could self check as we go. Our class culture involves almost daily conversations about how the answers are not the only end goal. Understanding how to arrive at the correct solution and being able to articulate a variety of solving methods with regards to efficiency, visualization, connections to previous concepts etc. is the bigger goal. When the answers aren't secret, students don't obsess over copying them with out doing the work. They know that I look for evidence of student thinking, not just answers.

There are so many ways to incorporate a traffic light activity in math content! This semester I have a student teacher again (TALK ABOUT A BLESSING) and she was so helpful in creating all these problem types. Seriously, can I have a student teacher like her every semester!? I am so lucky to have won the student teacher jackpot this semester! Boise State sure produces some top notch future educators. 

Friday, August 30, 2019

New Year & New Educational Tools

I have an Amazon Prime Day addiction. Every summer the anticipation of Prime Day gets me giddy just thinking about stocking up on all my favorite school supplies for August! This year, I went a little more nuts than normal since I had a small surplus of money in my teacher account from having a student teacher a few years ago. Let the games begin... 

I bought a ton of things, but hands down my favorite new addition to my classroom are these dry erase pockets. I don't understand how I have gone 8 years of teaching with out these! I have utilized these about 5 times in the last 2 weeks of school. GAME CHANGER.

Check out some of these awesome ways we've been using these dry erase pockets below!

For sorting shapes on Venn Diagram mats:

For discovering patterns: 

For playing Matho Bingo:

And now finally I have solved two of my biggest issues with stations/problem loops/scavenger hunts/etc. First, they can be so hard to see sometimes in a crowded classroom but now they are huge and the colored borders really stand out! Secondly, students would always write on them and give away hints or answers to the next group. I want them to mark them up (hello... problem solving!!), but with pens or even pencil sometimes it would be too hard to erase. Now they can mark it up all they want and just erase it before they leave. 

You can find the exact ones I purchased HERE!!

These are easily my favorite new addition to the school year! Welcome back, teacher community!

Monday, June 24, 2019

Colored Coded Review Game

I am always trying to mix it up for review day so that kids never get bored and stay excited about the content. Reviewing can get super boring, super fast so I am continually hunting the depths of the internet for novel and engaging ways to practice. 

I have a hard time with review games that always reward the "smartest" kid. Yes, having the correct answer should be worth something, but I've noticed that game after game after game solely reward the students who have the correct answers in the fastest amount of time. Being fast at math does not mean that a student is good at math. In addition to finding engaging games and activities, I also try to find ways to not always reward those who are correct, but those who are attempting. Here are two of my favorites this past year! 

Capture The Flag: 
Each group starts with a set number of flags of various colors. For this example, students started with 2 green, 2 yellow, and 2 orange. Each flag color is worth a mystery number of points. The teacher poses a question to the class and students work in groups to solve it. I usually designate one white board per group that is the "official" answer. If a group gets it right, they get to steal another group's flag and add it to their flags. At the end of the period the teacher reveals the point values for each color and the group with the most points wins. 

I LOVE this game because getting the answer right is worth a flag and no one "checks out" because they don't know if they have won until the very end. With high school students the stealing of the flag goes pretty well, but I would definitely go over guidelines and expectations ahead of time so that no one gets upset if their flag gets stolen! There was one particular class period this year where we had to have a rotation set up for who steals the flag first because they would always want to be the last group to steal. For the most part, there weren't any issues! 

Try to make the point values spread out enough to where some flags are worth significantly more points than others so that the final outcome is a big surprise! It's always interesting to see the strange strategies kids come up with to try to win. I also switch the winning color up for each period so that kids in the morning can't tell kids in the afternoon how to win! 

Flower Garden:
This game is similar to Capture The Flag but in this variation groups start with nothing. Once a group gets a question right, they come up and choose a colored flower from a large pile of colored flowers and add it to their group's garden. There is no stealing in this variation so it might go better for younger kids or kids who can't handle the stealing aspect.

Just like in Capture The Flag, the point value for each color is revealed at the very end. Some students try to vary the colors in their garden, and others pick a color and commit the entire game. Either way, it's a fun surprise that keeps students participating until the very end! 

The flower garden idea could easily be adapted for the season. For example, October could be ghosts in the graveyard and December could be presents under the tree. The symbols are easy to vary to keep it fresh!  

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

When Math Gets Artsy

Planning engaging lessons and activities in the month of May has always felt like somewhat of a lost cause. May is a battle. Every day in May I gear up for a fight against apathy, burn out, frustration, and "IDC" syndrome from my students. They don't care about anything, except the countdown to summer. To make matters worse, the month of May is usually filled with a final Chapter test, followed by a mind numbing semester review week where I mostly serve as a glorified babysitter, and then the final exams. This year I decided to mix it up and do a final Chapter project instead of a Chapter test. We had just finished our unit of parent functions and the students should now be able to graph linear, quadratic and absolute value functions as well as circles. Rather than test them on these topics, I challenged them to create "something" that demonstrated they could graph all of the parent functions they knew up to this point in a creative way using the Desmos online graphing calculator. Shout out to Desmos, my teaching BFF.

The requirements were simple. Graph a word, phrase, or picture that included at least one of each type of function we had been working with. That was it. The grading was simple, you either did or you didn't meet the requirements. If you didn't, I didn't grade it and gave you feedback on what was needed to meet the requirements. When you met the requirements you were good to go. I think a lot of the reason why these projects turned out so fantastic is that the grading wasn't really the point. As long as you graphed the functions, you got 100%. With out a complicated grading rubric, the creativity became the focal point. 

I am not artistic. It is actually painful for me to try to be creative, but this project even got me feeling sparks on the right side of my brain and I graphed this cute little bumble bee.

Students loved this project. And everyone who turned one in did a phenomenal job. They had 2 full class periods to work on the laptops and then emailed me the link to their graph. Check out some of my favorites below!

A lot of students also chose to graph their name, which was fun to see all the ways they worked to fit each function in. The letter "s" might be one of the most challenging letters, and students found incredibly creative ways to get the "s" to work. 

We had also worked with graphing quadratic inequalities a little bit, and I was REALLY impressed with students who wanted to shade parts of their graph and how desperate they were to figure out how to incorporate inequalities in their graph to be able to do so. So many connections being made!

This ended up being one of the highlights of the year and students (even with all their apathy and summer laziness) expressed how much fun they had creating their projects. Looking forward to May next year when we will do this again. Looking forward to May... I can't believe I said that!