Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Twittereen!

If  you're on twitter, you may have noticed some different avatars in the past 12 hours or so. For the past 3 - 4 years, people have changed their picture to emulate someone else on Halloween.  It's lots of fun but can get kinda confusing when you're used to associating someone with a picture!  (Like, now you actually have to *read* the username!  Geesh.)

For instance, here's my new one:

meant to be like @druinok.

(Just a side note:  see the purple toenail in the top right?  That's my little girl's. At Walmart this summer I ran over it (accidentally) with the shopping cart and the whole nail came off. Totally nasty.  It's growing back nicely, though! And do you like my blue sparkles?)

The list of everyone's changes (and a chance to vote for your favorites) is here.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

I guess.

There's been a lot of talk lately putting down the teaching profession. Not only do we get summers, weekends, and a couple of weeks at Christmas off, but test scores are dropping and our kids aren't learning anything.

A month or so ago a friend of mine inferred that I don't work full time because I'm home by 3 every day.

I guess she doesn't know about the days that I stay at school until 3:30 and then have to rush to get home by 4 to get my kids off the bus.  (And I'm there by 7 am every day.)

I guess she doesn't know about my 23 minute lunch period which is the only free time I have all day (as she talks about reading a book at her hour-long lunch).

I guess she doesn't know that I can spend 5 hours on a Sunday afternoon grading papers. And still have planning to do for the rest of the week.

I guess she doesn't know that I sit with my computer every night trying to find new/better/more interesting ways to teach my kids.

I guess she doesn't know that I am about to totally reorganize my whole curriculum to fit the CCSS.  And not only reorganize it but reinvent it too. Chances are slim that we'll have many resources to pull from that fit our immediate needs.

I guess she doesn't know that I spent hundreds of my own dollars to travel to TMC12 this summer. And I'll probably spend hundreds more this coming summer to repeat that experience.

I guess she doesn't know that I spent oodles of money and too many hours at a non-air conditioned school this summer to redo my classroom.

I guess she doesn't know that as I'm spending this extra money on my classroom and professional development opportunities, my salary has been frozen for a couple of years.

I guess she doesn't know that I'm basically available for my kids 18 hours a day through email, twitter, and schoology (our online environment).

I guess she doesn't know that I've spent close to $100 this year on various things that the kids are selling at school to help support their activities.

I guess that she doesn't know that when I take a day off (whether it be for a personal day, sick day, or because I have sick kids) it's more work preparing for a substitute teacher than it is to actually be there myself. Calling in isn't the end of it. (Last year I actually took my girl with an ear infection into school because there were some things I had to be there to do to prepare for a sub. And then we went to the doctor.)

I'm not a complainer. I love what I do. I just wish people could respect that and think about what goes on behind the scenes so that their kids are successful and learn.

ETA:  From a comment I received on fb when I posted a link to this...
Unfortunately, even though this is all SOOO true, sometimes non-teachers just don't get it. You didn't even mention the fact that our salaries (even considering summers off) are not equal to other professions with equal amount of education. Or the fact that the legislators who have not been in a classroom other than as a student, keep changing the laws and requirements for everything. And like you- not complaning.....we HAVE to love what we do or we wouldn't be doing it.  My husband always asks me why I don't get grading and lesson plans finished at school. Well.......that is when we make parent phone calls, go to IEP meetings and a million other distractions!

Friday, October 26, 2012

I'm telling!

A funny story from this afternoon:

There's a boy in my 7th period Integrated Algebra 1 class (I'm going to call him Bob) who's pretty bright and is probably only in the class because of his behavior (hate that). I think he gets bored, which definitely doesn't help with his distractability in class. Today Bob asked to sit in a different spot with some other kids and I told him yes, as long as he was quiet and did what he was supposed to do. It wasn't 10 minutes later that I had to tell him to move back to his regular seat.

Apparently Bob wasn't very happy with this and kept making rude comments, so I suggested he go sit in the hall to calm down. And so he did.

After finishing he lesson with the rest of the class, I went and sat down with Bob in the hall. We had a little chat about how he needed to realize that while he was able to not pay as much attention all of the time, there were several students in class who didn't have that luxury. Then Bob started telling me that today was "the last day" he would be sitting at his assigned desk. Bob just couldn't deal with sitting with the boy he was close to; he was annoying and took up too much space. I told Bob that he might not have a choice about that as we have a limited number of options in our seating arrangement. I haven't seen any problems between Bob and his tablemate and really don't see the need to move them. (And it's two boys with the space of 4 desks. Space isn't an issue.)

Again, Bob wasn't happy. He then told me that he was going to go tell our principal to tell me not to sit him by the other boy. Can't you just imagine this freshman boy storming into the office telling the principal that I'm wronging him by sitting him with someone he doesn't want to sit with?! I told Bob he was more than welcome to chat with our principal about that, so he stomped down the hall.

Unfortunately for Bob, the final bell rang about five minutes later and he'd left his backpack in my room. He came back in while I was chatting with another teacher, threw his INB in the storage area (I made him come back and put it away neatly) and took off down the hall.

I can't wait to find out if he was able to tell the principal on me.

On my way out of he building this afternoon, I ran into an Instructional Specialist who has Bob and his tablemate at the same time in a learning lab. It turns out that she's not able to keep them from talking while they're together and they seem like pretty good buds. That was the icing on the cake for me!


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

What is an honors student?

The students in my school district have the option of taking Honors Algebra 1 in 7th grade.  And then again in 8th.  So when I talk about having an Honors Algebra 1 class of freshmen, please remember that these aren't truly our "honors" kids. These are (normally) good, hardworking kids who are put in this class to avoid the "stigma" of being in College Prep.

With that being said, I think I was a bit spoiled last year with my Honors Algebra 1 class.  I had quite a few who were very bright and no issues with getting homework done.  This year hasn't gone so well.  The average number of missing assignments/student is 3.2, and while seven of the kids don't have a missing assignment, one of them has yet to do any work at all. (Except for a plotting points picture that they got on Monday... he's been working on that for 3 days now.)

It's a jovial bunch, but most of them could really care less about how they're doing in class.  So for today's warmup, I wanted them to consider what it meant to be in an honors class.  I asked them to list the qualities that an honors math student has.  Here's what they came up with:

After we generated the list, I asked them to think about how many of those qualities they had. The overall feeling was that no, they didn't fit the bill.  (From their perspective.)

Then I gave them a list of the qualities I would expect an honors student to have.

(I printed this on yellow cardstock and told them to attach it to their INB somewhere they'd see it often.)  I wanted the kids to know that their mathematical ability isn't what makes them an honors student. Sure, it's important, but not as important as their work ethic and their behavior.

Friday is the end of our first quarter, so we basically have one more quarter until we start thinking about scheduling for next year. I hope they'll keep this in mind throughout the next 9 weeks and start working a little harder.  I've told the kids that just because they're in Honors now doesn't mean that they'll stay.  If it's important to them, then the behavior and work habits need to change.

We'll see how that goes.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Solving Equations woes

We've been solving equations in my Integrated Algebra 1 class for the past few weeks, and as a whole I've been pretty impressed with their work.

 There are basically two different reactions:
1. These are too hard! I don't know what to do next!
2. Can you make them harder? These are fun! Can we have some more?

The problem with a couple of my kids who are struggling with the equations is that they can't keep their work organized.

So here's my plea for help: Does anyone have a special template or something that they give to the kids to keep their steps lined up?  Should I give them grid paper and make them write one number in each box?  Unless I hear from some of you in the next oh, 5 - 10 minutes, that's what I'll do.... but if you have any additional ideas after that I'd love to hear them! :)

(I just wrote this up to give to those kids... think it'll help?)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


My Integrated Algebra 1 class has quite a variety of skill levels. I've got a handful of kids that should be in College Prep but either need a little bit of extra time or have attitude issues and I've got kids that couldn't add 3 + 2 without a calculator.

I've been taking it pretty slow with them (2 days on combining like terms; two days on one-step equations) and was really worried about how bigger equations would go.  I was shocked on Monday when they totally ROCKED two-steppers. All of the exit slips were in the green bin and aside from a couple of negatives, answers were correct.  Today I gave them a quiz on one- and two-steps which I'm hoping will prove to be good scores.

After the quiz the kids picked up a sheet for their INB with other types of two-step equations. We'd really only done the ax + b = c type in class (or x/a + b = c) and I wanted to get them thinking about something like ax + bx = c (combining like terms first) and 1/2(x + a) = c (clearing out the fraction instead of distributing).  I was walking around while the kids were working and saw that quite a few of them were getting the hang of it.

We still had 10 minutes or so left in class, so I grabbed a marker and headed to my whiteboards. I wrote up 5 or so problems (like the ones on the worksheet) and tossed out markers to kids who wanted to work them.  Once they finished it I replaced their equation with another one, just a bit harder. Then another. Then another.

Here's what we ended up with:
Keep in mind, these kids have never seen equations like this before... and yet going from step to step was a natural progression for them. I didn't help a bit. We ran out of time for the equation on the very left side... the girl working on it took a picture so she can finish it up tomorrow just in case it gets erased.  The smaller one squeezed in the middle is from a girl who moved here from Cambodia and speaks little English (although her language is improving drastically).  She obviously took some sort of Algebra and knows how to solve equations, which I'm sure is making her adaption easier.

So I learned a lot today. I can't underestimate these kids and what they're capable of. I need to challenge them and keep them learning (btw, the kids at the board were LOVING this). But I also need to keep in mind the other kids not involved, whether they didn't want to work at the board or were still working at their desk on the worksheet or were embarrassed to say they didn't know how.  

The task ahead of me is clear. Without making students feel dumb or inferior, I need to start differentiating assignments. I want to make sure that everyone gets the knowledge they need to succeed, but I also want to push the kids who are willing and able.  Multiple assignments, here I come!  Now I just have to find a good balance.

Just overheard some student teachers chatting outside my room. The girl who's with a math teacher across the hall said this:

"I've taken every single math class available at (insert school name here) but I came here and I don't know how to explain Geometry to them. I don't know how to *teach* proofs. I don't know to *teach*."

I know it takes time, but that's a little scary.

Calculator Lessons

Things learned on the graphing calculator today:

1.  If you hit the store button it'll save a value for you so you can easily use it later. We were using phi to determine if a person's face fit the golden ratio. Homework was to do the same for their face.  Some of the kids were really freaked out that I had pictures of them to hand out! (Adapted from this activity at

2.  There's a delete button!

3.  If you hit 2nd on/off it will lighten or darken the screen.

4.  To see a y-value in a table you must have an equation in y = .

5. The ^ is your exponent button.

The scary thing is that 3 out of these 5 discoveries were made by my Precalc sophomores/juniors.  If only they played with/explored their calculator as much as they do their phones!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

My Favorite... (via

Megan Hayes-Golding started a weekly chat a month or so ago called #GlobalMathDepartment. The cool thing about this chat is that it's not just on twitter or gchat.  It's done using a platform called Big Marker which is more of an interactive venue. You can see and hear the presenter and there's a chat option to discuss or ask questions. It's pretty cool.  Here's the link for the presentation; it starts at 9 PM Eastern if you're interested!

Megan asked to to present a "My Favorite" so tonight I'll show a couple of hands-on things I do at the beginning of trig.  So now I'm nervous.

Also, I just had a math teacher friend stop by to ask about INBs! She's going to start using them in her Integrated Geometry class.  Score one for the good guys! :)

Monday, October 1, 2012

#Made4math: Exit slip update

I posted earlier how I was using exit slips in class now (in my general level Alg1). The kids just accept it as something they need to do and I don't give them their assignment until they've turned in their slip.

I have three bins out for the kids to turn their work into; a green, a yellow, and a red (see this post).  I ask them to put their paper in green if they're confident in the answers, yellow if they're not sure, and red if they have no clue.  Several people have asked me if the kids actually do this (or if there's a "stigma" attached to the yellow/red) and I'm happy to report that they do!  That doesn't always mean that the green results are good or the yellow/red are bad, but it's about the kids' confidence level with the material.

These are a couple of yellow submissions from today.  The top paper was pretty good and just messed up one of the negatives (on #4) but she didn't have the confidence to go green. The bottom is a student who struggles and needs a few days to get most concepts... yet she "kinda" gets this.

The great thing is that I use my exit slips to help focus attention on the kids who I know need it. Tomorrow I'll be sure to reassure student #1 that she's doing great and sit with student #2 to work through more problems.

I don't return the papers to the kids and have seen the idea of creating a laminated exit slip to use over and over again... I may go this route if I can be sure the markers (or whiteboard crayons, since I have some) will erase easily.

And for a REAL #Made4Math:  I'm pretty darn proud of this google site that I set up for my precalc kids to do some fractal explorations.  I showed them some of the PBS Nova video in class on Friday and they were disappointed that we didn't have time to watch it all!