Saturday, September 24, 2016

Partner Round Up

Howdy Partner! On Friday we did one of my favorite classroom activities... Partner Round Up! Yeehaw! This strategy is one of the best ways I know to really encourage (force) kids to work together and learn from one another. If you or your school is part of the AVID program, this is a great one to use to show how you use "Collaboration" as a WICOR strategy. This isn't just partner work, this is about learning from and with others.

The idea is simple. Each kid gets a card. Sometimes the whole class has the same type of card and, depending on the content, sometimes half the class gets one type of card and the other half gets a different type. Students pair up, solve the problem, and move on to another partner. That's it! 

Let's run through some specifics. Friday we did Partner Round Up with graphing linear equations. Half the class got a card that had a slope written on it and the other half got a card with a y-intercept on it. A slope person must meet with a y-intercept person. Together they graph the linear equation and write the equation in slope intercept form. Then, and this is the important part, they trade cards. Otherwise one student would have the same card the entire time. This way, they only technically work with the same card twice and they should be an expert at this particular slope or y-intercept after already thinking about it with their last partner. After trading cards they find a new partner.

The students I have this year are wildly entertaining. They don't lack personality, that's for sure. Usually I just have students sort of wander around until they find a partner, but this year the students suggested we make one spot of the room for "single people". When you are "single", you can go here to "mingle". Clever. It stuck. Students were much faster at partnering up and getting through as many partnerships as possible. On average, students completed about 10 partnerships in the 20-30 minutes we had for this activity. 

1. I don't teach pretty much the whole day. I facilitate. And I think that at times this can be a very powerful position to be in. The students are doing the talking, thinking, working, and at times teaching. I walk around the room monitoring behavior and answering questions when they arise. But for the most part, I just get to watch my students be mathematicians.

2. Students teach other. On Friday I heard one student say to another "When I was partners with Gavin he explained it like this and it really helped me".

3. It encourages (forces) ELL students to work and talk with many other students in the class. They get to hear lots of academic language from their peers. You can start to see how after working with a few partners, ELL students gain confidence and begin to take the lead role at the partnerships that follow.

4. Repetition is key and this activity is so fun and engaging that it sort of tricks students into doing many math problems that would normally be somewhat mundane in worksheet form.

5. Students get to move. They are up out of their seat non-stop and getting to move about the room. Even  my most hyper-active students are able to stay on task for an extended amount of time due to the constant change in movement and partners.

Here are a few ideas I have gathered for various types of contents that would work great for this activity: 

What other ideas do you have? How could you adapt your lesson to fit this strategy? Can't wait to hear your ideas! 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Must Have Manipulatives: Part 1

I remember when I first started researching how to best help English Language Learners in math class, I read a lot about manipulatives. There was a a cornucopia of research out there to support the need for ELL's to be able to see, touch, and manipulate the math. Cool right? I was totally on board. Can I get an AMEN?! And then I saw the catalog of math manipulatives I had access to. For a girl that loves to shop, I was so overwhelmed. With a restricted budget, what's going to give me the best bang for my buck? What manipulatives am I going to use more than just one day a year? 

This post, and the ones to follow, are meant to serve as a guide to help teachers see how I use my favorite manipulatives. I may not have a million dollars, but I am working on finding a million ways to make a few great products work! 

Yesterday for our Right Now Rowe (aka Bell Work), students worked on a quick review problem that asked them to compare the perimeter and area of two rectangles. Definitely not an 8th grade standard, but I know that in a few weeks we will be combining like terms and solving equations and there are some great contextual problems that combine that 8th grade concept with area/perimeter tasks. OH MY GOSH. Students were so lost. From how to find the actual answer, to how to understand the answer, to deciding what unit the answer was in. Total melt down. Poor geometry chapter, always gets shoved to the end of the year and forgotten if time runs out. Boo. 

Today, we decided to back it up and do a quick review about how to measure around and inside a shape. Real basic. Students were handed MUST HAVE MANIPULATIVE #1: Square Tiles! Students were given a prompt up on the SmartBoard and had to build a shape using the square tiles that would satisfy the given requirement. For example, "Build a rectangle with a perimeter of 14 units". After students built their rectangles, students would draw their example up on the board. If there was more than one option, we would collect them all. From there the tasks got more challenging, like "Build a rectangle with an area of 12 square units but a perimeter greater than 15 units". 

Although there isn't an obvious "language" component to the task today, it definitely hit home for many of the ELL students. They could see it. Light bulb moment! 

After we built the shapes, students were handed a worksheet with about 12 blank rectangles on it. Then, students were given MUST HAVE MANIPULATIVE #2: Dice in Dice! Students rolled the dice, used the smaller number as the width and larger number as the length, and then calculated the perimeter and area of the rectangle. If they got the same number on both dice, they had to draw a square instead and go form there. They REALLY didn't like "pretending" the rectangle was a square, which was my first suggestion. Good for them. Attend to precision, kiddos!

There you have it! Two manipulatives that really add a lot of visual aid and interaction to my classroom, which benefits ALL students, but especially helps English Language Learners SEE the math! Stay tuned for more ideas on how to use square tiles and dice in dice with other concepts! 

Saturday, September 10, 2016


I have an obsession with card sorts. It's no secret. Ask anyone in my building, teachers and students alike. I love sorting cards. I think I love sorting cards more than I love Dutch Bros Iced Americanos with 2% milk. I even dream about card sorts. There is something about the repetition of sorting that helps students understand concepts SO MUCH MORE than just doing the problems on a worksheet. Before we dive into the language component (which you know is coming), let's just break down the mathematics involved in a card sort. 

There are card sort activities and there are card matching activities. I am talking about a sort. Come back soon for ideas on card matching activities. Let's run down the basics. Students get a pile of cards, and they need to sort them into categories. Maybe you have decided before hand what the categories will be or maybe the students create the categories depending on where you are in the content. It seems so simple, but the pay off has been huge. Here are just a few ideas on card sorts I have used or seen used in my building:

1. Function or Not a Function (give students multiple representations of functions or just focus on a particular representation)
2. Linear or Not Linear (same thing with the multiple representations as above)
3. Triangle Congruence Conditions (given a picture of two congruent triangles, sort based on SSS, SAS, ASA, etc.)
4. Solving Equations Solutions Types (one solution, infinite solutions, no solutions)
5. Proportional Function or Not a Proportional Function 
6. Negative Slope or Positive Slope 
7. Rational or Irrational Numbers
8. Non Repeating or Repeating Decimals (given as a rational number)
9. Prime Numbers or Not Prime Numbers (could also do even and odd numbers for the littles)

When sorting in groups, the conversations are incredible. You hear students arguing. You hear students justifying. You hear students explaining. You hear students learning from their peers... that's my favorite part. 

The card sort itself is great. But I got to the point where I felt like we didn't have anything to show for our awesome thinking. Students just sorted the cards and then left for the day. There was no way for students to go back and have a resource to study from. There was no evidence of our thinking or oral language that had been used. So now we make sure to ALWAYS finish up our card sort with a writing activity. 

Last week students sorted cards with pictures of linear functions on them. Some were proportional and some were not. They decided where to put the proportional and where to put the non proportional and then started sorting. Once they finished and we reviewed to make sure they were all correct, they picked their toughest cards to sort and they wrote about how they knew it was proportional or not in their Interactive Notebooks. 

I just loved finishing the card sort with a writing activity. It really helped to bring the day full circle, and solidify the knowledge gained. For English Language Learners, I found that doing this entire activity has been crucial for connecting the oral with the written academic language needed to understand the concept. Each ELL student sorted around 30 cards, listened to others in their group repeat the same reasoning over and over again for proportional or not proportional, spoke to their group members at times when they felt they were ready to reiterate that reasoning, and then wrote down that reasoning in their notebook. The repetition happening here has been incredibly beneficial for all students, but especially ELLs. 

What ideas do you have for mathematical content that would work well in a card sort? 

Sunday, September 4, 2016

On Fridays We Talk Vocab

After a rough start to the school year, things are finally settling down. And by settling down, I mean moving full steam ahead. Now that all the classroom rules and procedures have been set and burned into their brains, we can finally start diving into the mathematics! Yahoo! 

This week we started with our first unit in Pre-Algebra, functions! Identify them. Create them. Change them. Characterize them. All kinds of good stuff! The standard below is the specific Common Core State Standard we learned last week (you can find all the CCSS Math Standards here):

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.

Every day we do a problem to start class. You can call it whatever (bell ringer, bell work, etc.) but in our class we call it the Right Now Rowe (get it? Like, hey you guys, do this.. right now!). Across the hall, Miss Danner calls it the Daily Danner, and even farther down the hall Mr. Eiguren calls it the Everyday Eiguren. But I think my favorite name for bell work in the building is the Stoddard Starter. Might as well make it fun right? Sometimes the problem is review, sometimes it is a foreshadowing/pre-teach type problem, but on Fridays we focus on the language! Every Friday students are given a word that we have learned that week. Their task is write two complete sentences using that word correctly, both grammatically and mathematically. That's it! It seems so basic, but the rewards of doing this have been HUGE in my class. 

While taking the WIDA professional development class through the Boise School District, we were taught extensively about the WIDA components of language. The basics can be summarized in the graphic below: 

The minute I saw this I had a major AH-HA moment. I took 8 years of Spanish through high school and college and sadly, I cannot speak Spanish at all. I can translate words back and forth okay, but as far as understanding how all the words work together to actually communicate, I am a lost cause. My Spanish career started and stopped at the Vocabulary Usage level. I never learned how to use the vocab together to create more than just a bunch of random words. This is exactly how students must feel in my math class when they are learning the "language of mathematics". I don't want students to just tell me what a function is, I want them to be able to do more than that. This is where our Friday vocab word comes in. We practice taking the word, translating it, defining it, and then USING it to communicate. 

Students write their sentences independently and then we share a whole bunch up on the board. As they read their sentence aloud, I type it for the class to see. This way students can hear the sentence, and see it in writing. Great for ELL's! Sometimes I will clarify the grammar or ask if I can add or take away something for it to make more sense. Sometimes I ask if there is a way to keep their idea but change some of the language to be more specific or precise. By the end of the quick 5-10 minute activity, students have seen the word used a dozen different ways and their brains start making even more connections. 

This week our word was : output

Check out some of the sentences that students came up with (my edits/suggestions are in parenthesis):
  1. There can be many inputs all with the same output, and it (the relationship) will still be a function. 
  2. If every input has one and only one output, then it (again, what is it?) is a function. 
  3. If you have an input with more than one output, that is not a functioning relationship. 
  4. Inputs are the x-values and outputs are the y-values. 
  5. The outputs are like the y-values. 
  6. The y-value in an ordered pair is the output.
  7. A function is when each input has only one output. 
  8. A function has both inputs and outputs.  (Although this is true, it's not especially impressive. But I included it to show that not all the sentences were mind blowingly awesome). 
  9. You can show inputs and their matching outputs in a table, a mapping, a graph, or in a set of ordered pairs. 
There were a few more, but you get the idea. I love this because I know that every Friday we are going to take a minute and specifically focus on the language. If the week gets away from me and we don't specifically target language integration, I feel better knowing that Friday we will talk language no matter what. Stay tuned for more Friday Right Now Rowe's to come!