Monday, November 30, 2009

Poker Chip Test Review

I stole this idea from Kate over at f(t) and modified to make it mine. I thought it worked great and would like to share with you.

I don't know about you, but I dread test review days. How do you get the students to take the reviews seriously? You want for them to see the importance of doing the review for the sake of learning, but instead all you hear are comments like "Is this for a grade", or "Do we get extra credit for doing the review?"

I've been trying to collect interesting ways of reviewing for tests and I have shared a few like my Test Review Bingo game. Today we played something called Poker Chip Test Review. I'll admit, it involves a little bribery, but I'll do just about anything to get my math models kids to study for a test and actually do the review.

Here is what you need:
1. 5 poker chips for each group
2. A test review for each person in the class
3. One worked-out answer key for each group

1. Place students into groups of 3-4 and have them appoint a "Chip-Master" and a "Key-Master". I told them that the chip master should be the bossiest person in the group and the key master should be the most responsible person in the group.
2. Hand out 5 poker chips to each chip master, the reviews to each person in the group, and an answer key to each key master
3. The poker chips represent 1-2 bonus points on the test the following day. I made mine worth two since my math models kids usually have such low test grades.
4. The role of the chip master is to keep the group on task and to be in charge of the chips.
5. The role of the key master is to keep the answer key face down and to check the answers for the group after they finish each problem or section of problems. (Be sure the key master understands that they have to do the review also)
6. Teacher circulates around the room answering questions and confiscating chips as the need arises.

Here is what I confiscated chips for (decide what is important to you and make your own list):

1. Group is off task or not following classroom rules. (Today I took up chips for talking about non-math related subjects, cell phone texting, profanity, etc)
2. Copying answers directly off answer key
3. One or two members doing the work and the others copying that work
4. Asking me a question that they had not discussed with the entire group before asking me.

At the beginning of class, I was very strict and tried to confiscate several chips right away. This got the rest of the groups busy . I was amazed to see them actually discuss problems and help each other. With six groups, I was able to easily spend quality time with each group. I would stop by and discuss the set of problems they were working on and talk about what they needed to remember for the test tomorrow. I was also amazed at how seriously some of the chip masters and key masters took their jobs. It really kind of surprised me. They did not want those chips taken away. I only had one group in each class that had the full 10 points at the end, and one poor group only had one-token left at the end of the period.

Overall, it was a successful day and an idea I'll definitely use again.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Ghosts in the Graveyard

Yesterday, I tried a new activity in my MMA class given to me by a colleague. This is by far one of the most successful group activities I have ever done with my at-risk kids. It is called Ghosts in the Graveyard for Halloween, but the activity could be adapted for any holiday. Here is how it works.

1. You will need 8 "Problem Cards" with 3 problems on each card. I made my cards in the shape of Ghosts.

2. You will need 5 black sheets of construction paper to symbolize the graveyard. I put tombstones on mine and hung them on my dry-erase board.

3. You will need about 50 "little ghosts" for each class period.

4. 2 glue sticks to attach the little ghosts to the graveyards.

1. Divide class into groups of 3-4 students
2. Give each group a problem card
3. Every member of the group works the problem and raises their hand when they are done. You go over and check their work and answers. If EVERYONE has done the problem correctly, they get a "little ghost" which they put their group number on and hang in any one of the graveyards.
4. As they finish a "Problem Card", they go get another one. The goal is get as many "little ghosts" as possible to hang in the graveyards.
5. About 10 minutes before the end of the period, I draw for how many points each graveyard will be worth. I use 0, 25, 50, 75, and 100. So if graveyard 2 is worth 50 points and a group had 2 ghosts in that graveyard, they will get 100 points.
6. Tally all the points for the groups and give prizes to 1st and 2nd.
(pencils, pts on a test, candy, etc)

The kids in my MMA class who hate to do work begged to play longer and asked if we could play again at Christmas so I said sure, I could come up with another one. I think it will be something like pin the ornament on a Christmas Tree. I'll make the big "Problem Cards" in the shape of presents.

You can get this activity here

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Communicator Boards.

Do you know what Communicator Boards are? Well, if you have never used them, you should talk your dept. chair into ordering you some. They are like Dry-Erase boards, but they are plastic and you can put different templates inside of them. They look like the plastic things that restaurants put their menus inside to keep them protected. They come in bright primary colors and are packaged in a big rubbermaid tub with cute little erasers and low-odor dry erase markers.

Anyway, I had a set at my old school and I would bring them out every so often. The kids loved them. I asked my new dept. chair if she had the money in her budget to buy me a set (about $100) and she said she did. They came in yesterday and we used them today in algebra I. Let me tell you, those kids were so excited. We are just beginning to solve linear equations and yesterday we did two-step equations so today, after our quiz, we spent the rest of the period doing problem after problem. Kids who haven't turned in a single homework paper this year were happily working the problems and showing their answers to me. It was loud, it was crazy, it was fun! Everyone was engaged and everyone was participating. Several students left saying that they hoped we could use the communicator boards again tomorrow.

We are also making progress on the distributive property. Last week I posted about the difficulties algebra I students have with problems like 4(x - 2) - 6(x - 4). I have decided to put one of these problems on every single warm-up we do until I am getting about 95% mastery. I am also going to put one on every single quiz they take even though it is a topic from Chapter 2. I guess you could call it drill and kill, but I am determined not to have these kids go on to algebra II without the ability to distribute a negative properly!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

An activity that actually worked!

Happy Labor Day weekend to everyone! I hope all of you who have already been in the trenches for several weeks are enjoying your long weekend. To those of you starting school within the next couple of weeks, I hope your year gets off to a great start.

Friday, the day before the holiday, I didn't want to start anything new in my Math Models classes so I played a little game that worked really well. I thought I'd share it with you. I had each student draw a 4 x 4 grid on a piece of notebook paper and number each space randomly with the numbers 1-16. I had a jar on my desk with the numbers 1-16 on little scraps of paper. We have been reviewing solving linear equations of all kinds, so I prepared a list of about 50 random equations to solve. I put an equation on the board and everyone worked it while I watched. I then worked and gave the correct answer. After I gave the answer, I drew a number out of my jar. Everyone who had the correct answer, got to "X" out that number on the grid. We played until someone got 4 "X"'s in a row. Did some cheat, and mark out a number when they really got it wrong?, probably, but for this game it doesn't matter. I was just really trying to keep them on task and doing something productive the day before a holiday.

I thought it worked great because I didn't need any materials. You could do this little game with any topic. All you need are some questions prepared in advance and some cut up numbers. in a jar. Also, the smart kids don't really have an advantage over the ones who struggle because they placed the numbers randomly on the grid. Everyone had a chance to win. They were really into it and wanted to know if we could play the game again sometime. It really surprised me that these classes got into the game so much. Of course, there were a couple who never do anything anyway that weren't really all that enthused, but for the most part, I got excellent participation.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Some pics from my new hometown

I haven't posted since my big move. I thought I'd share a few pictures from our new hometown, New Braunfels, Texas. We moved to our new home on June 1st and have spent the last two months settling in and getting to know the area. We are daily finding new restaurants and things to do. I can't believe the options this town has for entertainment and food. Being a major vacation destination, we have many great restaurants and free live music every night of the week. I know when summer is over things will be a little different, but for right now, I am loving all the activity. For someone who has lived in the "middle of nowhere" all her life, I feel I have died and gone to heaven.
One thing we have been doing since we got here is taking all kinds of dance lessons. We have already taken swing dance lessons (still struggling with this but will continue to practice), polka lessons, country lessons, and next, I think we will try salsa. So far, the polka lessons have been the most fun. We are trying to prepare for the giant Wurstfest in October. I have heard that over 100,000 people will attend during the 10 day festival. Can't wait!!
School starts for me on August 10th since I am a new teacher to the district. Believe it or not, I can't wait to get started!! I am looking forward to meeting new people and getting involved.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Final Goodbyes

I said goodbye today to my school family. It's been a tough day with lots of tears. I'm not just leaving a job. I'm leaving a place that for me was a home a way from home. A place that I truly loved to go every morning (ok, most mornings!). I'm leaving fellow teachers that are closer to me than some family members. I'm leaving the school that educated me and my three children.

There are those that say my school is "unacceptable" (TEA and the Federal Gov't). I guess if you just go by statisics then you would be right. But numbers sometimes lie and you must look a little more closely to see the whole story.

In my mind, BSHS is exemplerary and deserves the highest accolades and ratings possible for the following reasons:

1. An administration that fully and completely supports the teachers
2. A staff that is 100% committed to doing the best job possible for every single child
3. A commitment to extracurricular academics which resulted in a 3rd place team finish out of all the 4A high schools in the state of Texas
4. An athletics program that encourages excellence on the field and in the classrroom. Almost every sport saw players competing past the district level.
5. An AP calculus program where 100% of the students received 5's on the AP exam last year.
6. A top notch band and choir program
7. Award winning Career and Vocational program
8. Counselors who actually work with the teachers to do what is right for the students not what is easiest for them.

Goodbye Big Spring High School. I will miss you with all my heart. I pray God's richest blessings on you and all who pass through your doors!

Monday, May 25, 2009

State Champion!

I am reporting to you today live from the beautiful city of Austin, Texas where my number sense student just won a state championship.  I won't tell you which classification we are because the results are published online, but I am one proud math coach.  I have been working with this young man since he was a freshman.  He is truly the most determined student I have ever met.  He has qualified for state a total of five times in 4 different events:  Number Sense, Mathematics, Cross Country and Track.  In two weeks he will be here in Austin again to run the two-mile at the state track meet.  

I'm really proud and it was really cool that I got to go on stage with him and receive a little pin that they give all the coaches of the state champions.  It was a great way to end my career at Middle-of-Nowhere High School.  Mr. Mathlete will go on to study Chemical Engineering next year at Texas Tech and I am moving on to the Texas hill country, but I will never forget the last four years and the privilege I had to be his coach and mentor.

Friday, May 22, 2009

And the Results are In!

Well, our TAKS scores finally came in.  I was hoping for more, but in the end our 9th graders improved 9 points, 10th improved 7 points, and 11th had a decrease of 4 points.  I am hoping and praying these scores will be enough to meet federal AYP and get us off of the "unacceptable" status with Texas Education Agency.  We won't know until all the sub groups are broken down.  

I had some real heartbreakers in my remedial classes.  Out of 57 enrolled in the class, 38 passed and the rest failed.  Of the 19 who failed, there are 5 who I cannot figure out for the life of me how they did not meet the standard.  They were scoring in the 70's and 80's on all the practice tests.  It was so sad for them because I know they did their best.  They were really disheartened and said they didn't know how they would ever pass the exit level test.   One even said he felt like quitting school because this was the first year he'd had ever given it everything he had and he still failed math and science.  

I truly believe when I get personal results back, we will see a big improvement in their scores from last year to this year.  I keep telling myself that last year 100% of these kids failed the state assessment so the fact that 38 passed this year should make me happy.  It is just disheartening when I think of the 19 who failed.  I keep wondering if there was something I could have done differently.  At least they are only 10th graders and they have one more year before their exit level exam.  I think with another year of math instruction and another year of maturity, they will be right where they need to be to pass their exit level exam.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Hall Nazis

The teachers at my school share the duties associated with keeping a school running safely and orderly.  We are split into 6 teams and every 6 weeks we have a duty to do either in the morning or afternoon.  My job is always morning cafeteria duty.  I asked for cafeteria duty so that if any of my students need help, I can help them in the cafeteria at the tables.  I dread duty week.  I feel I am always behind when I do my duty.  My mornings just don't start off as smoothly.  

I've always thought all teachers dreaded morning duty, but I have come to realize there are some who love bossing kids around so much that they feel they must be on "duty" even when it is not their week.  At our school we have a set time for morning tutorials.  The bell for morning tutorials rings at 7:30 and heaven help you if you arrive at 7:31 and try to get upstairs to your math classroom.  These hall nazis are so gung ho about keeping the halls free of students that they spend their mornings outside their classroom doors making sure no one gets by them. 

 My next door colleague has morning duty this week in the hall where the kids enter the building from the parking lot and then either go upstairs to tutorials or to the cafeteria.  If a student needs to go to tutorials and it is just a few minutes past the tardy bell, he'll ask them where they are going and then tell them to hurry up and get up there before any of the hall Nazis catch them.  Unfortunately, he was caught in the act this morning and he received a severe tongue lashing for not following the rules and procedures that make our school run like a well oiled machine.  He wasn't about to put up with that kind of treatment so he pointed to the chair he had been sitting in and said "there's a chair for you".  Hall Nazi was confused and said, "Why do I need a chair" and he said, if you really want to do my duty for me, then I have lots of work in my room that needs to be done and I'm going to leave this hallway for you to take care of".  He then left her standing there flabbergasted as he walked up the stairs to his classroom.  

We have another Hall Nazi at the other end of the building.  She too, cannot seem to stay in her room in the mornings and work.  You can hear her screaming at students clear across the building about breaking some sort of hall rule.  Even on my wing of the building there is a Nazi who feels a strong need to spend all her spare time looking for rule-breakers.  Just last week, I heard a bunch of yelling near my room so I went out to see what was happening.  Two girls had come upstairs to put some books in their lockers.  Instead of nicely reminding the girls that they weren't supposed to be in the hall between 7:30 and 7:55, she was screaming so loudly at them to "Get out of the hall" and "Don't you girls know any better than to not be in the halls after 7:30?" that I could hear her all the way in my classroom.  How would you like to start out your day being screamed at?  Even better, how would you like to start out your day screaming at others?  I'm sorry, I just can't live like that.  Unless someone is being physically harmed or threatened, I can't think of a single reason to scream at anyone.  

So here's my idea.  Let's take the 6 Hall Nazis and just make them  the happiest people in the world.  We'll give them duty every single day of the school year.  We'll all be happy.  The other teachers will no longer have morning duty, and the 6 Hall Nazis can get their jollies by keeping all the kiddos in line and out of those hallways.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Today in algebra II, we were learning to solve polynomial equations by factoring. When factoring a sum or difference of two cubes, I begin with the formal patterns and then I give my students a mnemonic to help them remember the pattern. I tell my students to remember how to factor the sum or difference of two cubes, just remember the word SOFAS.

For example to factor x^3 + 125, we get our binomial factor of (x + 5) and then we use SOFAS

S (Square the front) x^2
O (opposite sign) x^2 -
F (Front times back) x^2 - 5x
A (Always Positive) x^2 - 5x +
S (Square the Back) x^2 - 5x + 25

Answer: (x + 5)(x^2 - 5x + 25)

To help the students remember SOFAS, we draw a little poster with a picture of a sofa and then write out an example showing how to use SOFA. I know this little activity helps them, because the Precal teacher told me at the beginning of the school year that my students from last year taught her this and she was so excited that they actually remembered something from the previous year.

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