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?

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!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Safe Enough to Learn

WARNING: This post contains confessions of a not perfect teacher who is always learning, growing, and improving her skills.

My first year teaching I was so overwhelmed with everything that creating a safe space for English Language Learners was not my number one priority. Between planning lessons from scratch (who needs curriculum?), to grading every single assignment that got turned in (that was stupid), and trying to manage a classroom full of 13 year olds (it's like the Animal Planet some days), the idea of a "safe" classroom space was so far from my mind. There is a specific moment that year when I realized how important intellectual safety is for ALL students. We did some contextual Pythagorean Theorem word problems in small groups and each group was supposed to present their work to the class, followed by a classroom discussion comparing similarities and differences between contexts. Simple enough, right?

I provided no structure for how the groups should present their work. No rubric for assessing their thinking. No example to follow. No sentence starters. No guiding questions. Nothing. I literally want to write myself a minor discipline report for bad teaching when I think back on this. But in the spirit of being vulnerable, I will continue to set the scene.

(Not) shockingly enough, the native English speakers did great. The language came easy to them, and they were able to quickly think on the spot if they got stuck in their explanation. The groups with English Language Learners did pretty horrible, if we are being honest. Many weren't sure where to start. You could see them struggling to put together this vocabulary puzzle in their brain as they tried to make sentences out of these words they had just barely learned. I was embarrassed for them. The other students in the class were great. No one snickered. No one made fun of them. Some even jumped in and tried to help. But everyone knew, even more than before, that these students were different. That they didn't speak English as well as the other students. And the worst part is... I set them up for that. I created an environment where they were destined to fail. How awful is that? Additionally, do you think they were super pumped to volunteer to speak again? Heck to the no. They were terrified. Their confidence was shattered.

Fast forward a few months in that first year to when I see an activity called Paper Slides on the internet some where. I tried to track down the original source, but couldn't seem to find an origin. I decided that for our 8th grade solving equations unit I would have small groups make Paper Slides about the types of solutions in solving variables on both sides (one solution, no solution, and infinite solutions) and then we would play them as a review before the unit test. Before I tell you about the magic that happened, take a look at some of my student work:

If you want to watch all of the Paper Slides, as well as Paper Slides for different contents, you can visit the South Jr. High YouTube channel: Click Here

You guys. It was incredible. Some things that I loved:

1. There were guidelines for what to include. Turns out they aren't kidding about the need for rubrics.
2. Some students, especially ELLs, chose to write out a script before they recorded their video. This is something I would highly recommend for all students from now on.
3. Some students, especially ELLs, recorded their video 500 times until they felt absolutely confident in their speaking. Students recorded their videos on their cell phones or my 7 class iPods.
4. When we played the videos, students were SO proud. Honestly, beaming. They knew exactly what the video was going to be like, exactly what they were going to say, and exactly how it was going to sound.

This is how you build confidence in students. You set them up to succeed. You create an environment where they can have moments that build them up, that show them what they are capable of, and inspire them to continue trying. What kind of environment are you creating for students?

Friday, November 18, 2016

What's That I Hear?

Holy guacamole. It has been a whirlwind few weeks. In September, I traveled to Philadelphia to present at the national WIDA conference and then last week I was in Santa Fe for the national La Cosecha conference. At both conferences, my friend and colleague Whitney Danner and I had the opportunity to share a a glimpse of what our classrooms look and sound like. Additionally, we presented strategies that we use to purposefully integrate academic language into our mathematics content. Missed our presentation but want the juicy nuggets of information we shared? Just head over to this link: WIDA Conference Slides

We received some INCREDIBLE feedback. There are no words to express how excited it makes me to know that educators all over the nation are working together to provide equitable access to grade level content for all students, but especially English Language Learners. At La Cosecha, one of the attendees at our session made a comment to me that really summarized the mindset shift that I continue to encounter time after time when I work with teachers who are first starting out on their academic language integration journey. She said (and I paraphrase), 

"This is so different than what I do right now. I just can't picture how this would go. A lot of the strategies you are sharing feel like they would be difficult in regards to classroom management. I don't like unstructured time."

She's right. It is different. It's loud. It's some what chaotic. It's exciting. It's never boring. And most of all, it's wildly engaging for students. If many of you are struggling to wrap your brain around how this all works, I recorded a quick video that really encompasses many important things:

1. The sound level
2. The location
3. The grouping of student pairs/groups/individuals
4. My questioning style with students
5. An example of a card sort in action (not an original card sort... but one that can be found here)

The best advice I can give? Try it. Try a strategy, sit back, and watch the learning happen. Because the person doing the work is doing the learning and I like to see the work in action!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Unit Vocab Cards: Part 1

Vocabulary Cards Set Up:

Every unit I make a list of vocabulary cards for that particular unit. This list includes on grade vocabulary for that unit as well as words and concepts that might have been taught in years previous, but still connect to my 8th grade unit. 

The first unit for my 8th grade Pre-Algebra includes the following Common Core State Standards (as directly copied from the CCSS Grade 8 Standards found online here:

Define, evaluate, and compare functions.

Understand that a function is a rule that assigns to each input exactly one output. The graph of a function is the set of ordered pairs consisting of an input and the corresponding output.1
Compare properties of two functions each represented in a different way (algebraically, graphically, numerically in tables, or by verbal descriptions). For example, given a linear function represented by a table of values and a linear function represented by an algebraic expression, determine which function has the greater rate of change.
Interpret the equation y = mx + b as defining a linear function, whose graph is a straight line; give examples of functions that are not linear. For example, the function A = s2giving the area of a square as a function of its side length is not linear because its graph contains the points (1,1), (2,4) and (3,9), which are not on a straight line.

Use functions to model relationships between quantities.

Construct a function to model a linear relationship between two quantities. Determine the rate of change  and initial value of the function from a description of a relationship or from two (x, y) values, including reading these from a table or from a graph. Interpret the rate of change and initial value of a linear function in terms of the situation it models, and in terms of its graph or a table of values.
Describe qualitatively the functional relationship between two quantities by analyzing a graph (e.g., where the function is increasing or decreasing, linear or nonlinear). Sketch a graph that exhibits the qualitative features of a function that has been described verbally.
Yikes. That's a lot, right? So from that list I created the following collection of vocabulary words in a Google Slide (found here) using some free fun template I found on the internet: