Friday, September 16, 2022

A Little Competition to Increase Participation

 There's a very blurred line between student engagement, participation, and compliance. You start down that rabbit hole and you quickly find that true student engagement is a tough thing to achieve. But somedays, and I hope I am not alone in this, you'd just be happy with whole class participation! Not every day is a student engagement masterpiece lesson, and that's okay! When I start to notice that students are a little down, a little tired, and a little too interested in their cell phones than normal, I like to throw in some fun ways to get kids motivated to participate through a little healthy competition! 

Now, before we talk about two of my favorite easy strategies, I have to first say that I am not a huge fan of games in the classroom that only reward the "smartest" kids who are the fastest at answering. Being a strong mathematician is about more than being fast, especially when content is newer. When the fastest and smartest are the only ones rewarded, I actually find that games can make more students check out then check in. Why participate if Sally is just going to win every time? We all have a Sally. We know who she is. And bless her, as teachers we do love Sally. I was Sally. 


I first saw this game at a CPM conference in San Francisco back a few years ago and was wildly confused until I finally tried it in my classroom and saw the simplistic beauty of it. Take a collection of problems you want students to practice solving. You know those days where you just need them to practice a skill and really hammer it home before you can dive into some of the deeper contextual connections that will truly promote student engagement? Yes, those days. 

Have students sit with a partner. They are going to be competing against this partner. 

Each student needs to fill out a MATHLOVE board. Here is my very not fancy version made in a table in Google Docs: 

Direct students to put four 3's, four 2's, four 1's, and four 0's anywhere on their board. When its finished it should look something like this: 

Okay now here is the fun part! Put a problem up on the board or direct students to complete a problem on a worksheet. Everyone works independently on the problem. When students have the answer they circle it on their paper. The circled answer is their final answer. Reveal the answer and have partners check each other to see if they got it correct. 

If they got it wrong, they get 0 points. If they got it correct, they have the opportunity to earn points. How many points? Here is how points are awarded after each problem. 

Create two cups and cut up the letters M-A-T-H in one cup and L-O-V-E in another cup. 

Draw a letter from each cup. Loudly, with lots of gusto and zest, announce the letters chosen. Students, once they know what's going on, will be holding their breath in anticipation. 

"M and V" you announce. The crowd explodes with noise. Chaos breaks out. I love it. Students check their board, and whatever number is at the intersection of the two letters is the number of points they earn for that problem. Students keep track of their points and the "winner" is whatever partner has the most points. 

Things to mention:
1. Some students will get the right answer and still get zero points, leveling the playing field a little for Sally who gets every single one right. Calm down, Sally. She will be very upset about this but that's the game. Her partner, on the other hand, will feel like he still has a chance.

2. Everyone is working on the same problem right now, together, and there is a time limit to get going. There is a sense of urgency to tune in, get started, and start working to get it done in time. 

3. If you throw each problem up one at a time students can't work ahead. I actually love this. Sally would do all of them in 5 minutes. This way as you go over the answer or address whole class misconceptions, everyone is hopefully more tuned in. 

4. It could not possibly be more low prep. Get some problems. Copy a very not fancy table. One you make the cups you can reuse them. It's great on days you need something but don't have time to create, laminate, cut, etc. 

5. Heads up... the first time you try this students will treat the board like a Bingo board and try to cross the numbers off. You could draw A & V multiple times over the course of a game so every single square stays in play the entire time. It's a one time issue and they figure it out pretty quick. 


Want to win the lottery?! Okay not really… And if lotteries or gambling is going to get you a parent email on this one maybe just change the name.

I 100% snagged this idea from a coworker. A win for one of us is a win for all, am I right? Students work in pairs and have a set number of problems to complete (I usually do about 10). Each right answer earns them a lottery number. You'll have to make sure you have enough lottery numbers for every group to claim however many they need. 

After they get a problem or two finished, they check their answers with me for approval and then go up and claim their lottery numbers by writing their initials on the whiteboard. I just ran around the room like a mad woman checking answers and addressing misconceptions with students. I love days where I get to connect one on one or two on one with everyone in the room.

At the end of the period I pulled up a random number generator and selected 10 numbers. Winners for each number got candy and everyone got great practice in for the day. Engagement? Debatable. Depends on the student and the content. But whole class participation and valuable practice time? You bet. 

Friday, June 3, 2022

When Math Gets Artsy.... Update!

In 2020, Covid-19 shut down our schools before I could take on another chance at one of my favorite projects. Check out my original blog post here

Then, in 2021, I had taken a job with an online school and didn't teach content that was applicable for this project. So again, I mourned the loss of another shot at this. 

Bring on 2022! The excitement and anticipation I had for this project was borderline insanity. I counted down the days until we could start all spring. I just knew that my group of students was going to absolutely crush it. A few changes to note from 2019 to 2022:

1. A more detailed attempt at a rubric. I wanted this project to be purposefully open ended with very little restrictions. Check out the 2022 rubric here: Desmos Art Project Rubric. Rubric writing is something I am still working hard to get better at. Students seemed to really understand the success criteria and I had very little confusion or questions arise about the rubric. 

2. We started the week long project with a full period of exploration in Desmos. I wanted to put out as many fires as possible before they started so they could really focus on the mathematics and the creativity could flow with out roadblocks. We covered all kinds of logistical tools and components in Desmos and I just let them explore and ask questions. This helped tremendously and I believe led to an increase in the quality of the projects turned in.

3. A Padlet for posting projects so that students could view each other's finished projects. They absolutely loved being able to see each other's projects and I do think that the fact that they were responsible for posting their project for others to see led to an increase in quality as well. The Padlet helped me stay organized and made for quick and easy sharing with colleagues and parents. 

So here it is, my 2022 Desmos Art Projects:

 2022 Desmos Art Projects Padlet

I could not possibly be more proud of my students. The work they put in and the amount of effort and grit they showed along the way to make the best possible version of the picture or image they could was beyond inspiring. 

4. After the project was over I asked them to complete a survey about the project and their experience. Here is the survey: 2022 Desmos Art Project Reflection. The results were almost as heartwarming and exciting as the projects for me. Here are a few direct student quotes from the survey: 

"I liked that creativity was important in this project which isn't the “usual” in math class, so that one thing i enjoyed."

"I liked the freedom and creativity and that there weren't really any rules that came with the project. It was easy but hard at the same time depending on what grade you wanted to get."

"I liked how challenging it was, some parts were harder to understand; especially the shading. I will say, I restarted like five times before I just stuck to a basic picture I knew I could create."

"I had a lot of fun figuring out how to move each line to match up with other lines. I was thinking about doing more for fun on my own."

"I enjoyed the process of moving around the different functions to perfect certain parts of my project."

"It was a fun way to review and get more practice on this units material."

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Six Terrible Words to Say to Your Child

 Me: "Great job this chapter! You really did a fantastic job grasping some tough concepts. Way to persevere!"

Student: "Yeah. Thanks. I mean, I am glad I got an A on the test but it was kind of a waste of time. Even my dad said I am never going to use this stuff."

Me: "What do you mean?" Holds breath... knowing where this is going...

Student: "Just like this stuff we learned is pointless, ya know?"

Me: "I don't think it's pointless. I would imagine that many other professionals who regularly use this type of mathematical thinking don't see it as pointless either. Do you want to discuss applications of any of the concepts we learned about this chapter in more detail?" 

Student: "No not really. But have a good day!"

Me: "You too!" (fakes a smile while dying on the inside)

This was one of my conversations with a student last month. It's been a few weeks and this conversation is still frustrating me. It's not really bugging me from a teacher stand point (I think I am just numb at this point to the question of "when am I ever going to use this?") but more so from a new parent perspective. 

This student's parent said "You're never going to use this". Six terrible, dangerous words. I would imagine that underneath those six words the child heard much more. For example:

"You're never going to pursue an advanced STEM degree where this type of thinking and knowledge is needed."

"You're not the type of person who is going to find value in these complex problem solving skills."

"You have limits and boundaries to what you are capable of and it does not include advanced mathematics."

"I know more about what you will and will not want to study some day than you do and I am telling you what you can or cannot do."

I taught for almost ten years before becoming a parent. During that decade I tried really hard to never judge anyone's parenting. How do I know what it's like? Sure, research says xyz about child psychology and building confidence and blah blah blah but I have never truly been able to view education through the eyes of a parent.

Until now. Granted, I am only 18 months in. I am far from an expert here. But I hope that my daughter never feels like there are limitations on what she can accomplish. I hope that I always choose to speak to her and about her current and future educational experiences with genuine curiosity and excitement for the content she is learning, whether I find it useful or not. I hope that I never make comments like that parent made. 

I don't really care what the content is. Ceramics? Shakespeare? The water cycle? Dividing fractions? The complex structure of the human heart? Making paper snowflakes? All learning has value. All content has it's place and time in a child's development. I hope I never squash her desire to learn for learning sake. Not everything taught in school has to be relevant to the "real world" or the perception of what the real world is or is not. Not everything taught in school has to have explicit purpose some day for all students. But the ability to learn, to problem solve, and to acquire new passions and interests should be celebrated and encouraged every day. 

And it is for this reason that I want to say... 

(image taken from here)

To all the teachers out there who work day in and day out to make sure that school is a safe place for children to thrive, explore, and learn.... We celebrate you! You are needed! 

Thursday, April 7, 2022

Desmos Day of Exploration


I finally made a Desmos activity. It may not seem like that impressive of a feat to most people, but I have started and surrendered so many times. My teacher.desmos account is really a graveyard of whole hearted but half finished attempts. I never really knew whether it was a lack of desire or a lack of skill that prevented me from finishing the task but this week my inspiration to create the vision I had was through the roof and I was determined to make this work. 

And work it did. It was an incredible day. One of those days that feels almost illegal to not document or celebrate.

So cheers, to a completed Desmos activity and an instructional win full of student connections and exploration!

Students have been working with linear, quadratic, and absolute value functions with a focus on transformations from the parent function. Mix in a little systems of equations (graphing only right now) and here we are! I'll be honest, the actual creation of the activity was pretty easy. There are 4 challenges, each challenge with a clear set of requirements for the functions they had to write and a target intersection point. This was SUPER open ended which allowed for some rich comparison conversation and a lot of notice/wonder type whole class and group discussion. 

Teacher Dashboard View:

The really impactful part of this lesson was projecting the teacher dashboard view for students to see. There was such a wide variety of ways students completed each challenge and being able to quickly pull together different subsets of answers was really powerful.

Students were really engaged and motivated to figure out functions for each challenge. Creating the "need" for students to understand and use those transformations was really key. Even some of my more disengaged and less motivated students were finally asking me, "Hey Mrs. Bell, how do I make this thing go to the right? I am too far left." BEAUTIFUL... so let's talk about everything we've learned the last two weeks.... Better late than never! Maybe they just needed an actual reason to move their dang parabolas around finally!

Here are some awesome examples of each challenge and the functions students' created.

Student Work Challenge #1: 

Student Work Challenge #2: 

Student Work Challenge #3: 

Student Work Challenge #4:

Been hesitant to finally create that Desmos activity? Here is your push to do it. New things are hard. After a decade of teaching and plenty of Desmos specific training, I finally did it. Now is always the best time to push ourselves out of our comfort zone and grow as educators!