Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Systems Flip Book

Here are some pictures of the systems flip book we are working on right now. Hard to believe we have less than three weeks left in this semester!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Introducing Systems

Last Thanksgiving I i was walking around Hobby Lobby and saw some little white gift boxes i was wondering if i could do anything with them in my classroom when I had an idea to use them to introduce systems of equations. I start the class by showing them two boxes like the ones below. One box contains coins and the other contains tickets. I show the boxes to the students and tell them we are going to have a contest to guess the contents of each box.

Then I direct them to these two problems on the board and ask them to solve in any way they can. I usually sweeten the pot and offer candy to the first four who can give me correct answers.

Generally is there a lot of frustration at the beginning since I won't give them any directions. After a lot of hemming and hawing, most get down to work using some type of guess and check. They get pretty frustrated because many can get the coins to add up to the correct money value only to realize they don't have the right number of coins.

Every year I am surprised who gets the answer first. Many times it is a student who struggles with algebra but for some reason perks up with a challenge like this.

After this activity, I take a set of systems word problems that have multiple choice answers and I teach them to make guess and check charts for each problem in order to solve the system.

We will move onto algebraic methods week, but I want them to have an understanding that we are solving for two different variables and they must pay close attention to the wording in the problem.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Graphing Book Project

In order to encourage more writing in mathematics and  to help our students make connections among all the graphing methods they have learned over the last month, our Algebra I team has assigned a graphing Project.  The objective is simply to make, and illustrate a book demonstrating all of the graphing methods they have learned. 

Pages will include graphing vertical and horizontal lines, graphing lines in y = mx + b form, graphing lines in standard form using intercepts, and graphing inequalities.

If you are interested in the graphing project description and grading rubric click here!

Friday, November 2, 2012

I Hate the Alligator

Every year when we study the graphing of linear inequalities in two variables, I get frustrated with my student's lack of understanding of  inequality symbols.  Of all the misconceptions that students learn in elementary school math, the alligator is the worst.  You know what I'm talkin' about right???  The students learn that the alligator always eats the bigger number in order to help them understand the concept of an inequality. 

Unfortunately, many students are completely stumped when determining if an ordered pair is a solution to an inequality when they end up with a statement like 0 < -6.  They think that since the inequality is opening up toward the -6 that -6 is the bigger number and they shade their graph in the wrong part.  It takes a lot of work to undo the concept of the alligator.  I usually start with the number line and we talk about solutions of inequalities in one variable.  The students have learned the "steps" in middle school, but they have no concept of what they are doing.  They learn tricks for knowing which way to shade their number line, like "always draw your arrow the direction the symbol is pointing".  I understand that teachers are trying to use terms that the student will understand, but I think if you give them enough visual examples and not just the "steps" they will eventually understand the concept of less than, greater than, and equal to.

Sorry for the rant today, my Algebra class really are going great and I don't have a lot to complain about, but gosh I hate that alligator and I just needed to tell someone.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Linear Function Star Chain

I've posted about this activity before, but I wanted to share a new Star Chain I made this week to review linear functions.  My students really struggled on a quiz last week when I mixed up the problem types.  I asked students to find slope, x-intercepts, y-intercepts , and zeros from all different types of situations.  They had been doing great when we studied each topic by itself, but once I mixed them all up on a quiz, many of them couldn't seem to remember what to do when.  They were finding rise over run when all I asked for was the x-intercept, or when asked to find a zero, they would find the y-intercept. 

I can't say that I blame them.  They've got a lot of brand new vocabulary floating around in their sweet little heads and they haven't yet made all the connections necessary to differentiate between all the critical elements of a line.

After doing a little reteach yesterday, I decided to pull out one of my older activities that I use when I need something that is completed individually and is self-checking.  The students seemed to enjoy making these star chains once they got the hang of how it worked.  They are very easy to make if you use my template.  All you need is twelve problems and 12 unique answers.  Be sure and give your star chain a trial run and make sure it doesn't loop back on itself.  I learned that lesson the hard way.
I would also allow at least 30 minutes to do this activity or  a little more if your students are slow at cutting things out.

You can click here to see the original post which explains how the activity works

Here is the  Linear Function Star Chain  I used today. It contains a mix of problems which require students to find slope, intercepts, and zeros from a variety of representations.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Football Frenzy

Today, I'd like to share an activity from one of my amazing colleagues.  My friend, Bonnie,  shared this activity with our team last week and I asked her if I could share it on my blog.  This activity is perfect for those fall Fridays when your students are more concerned about the big game than they are about staying on task and completing another boring homework assignment.  This activity would also be great for the Friday before the Super Bowl. 

If you are familiar with my Ghosts in the Graveyard, it is a very similar idea.  Students work in groups to complete a set of problem cards with the goal of moving their game piece down a football field in order to score a touchdown. Bonnie, used this activity to practice factoring, but you could practice just about any topic with this game.

Materials Needed:
1.  A large football field that your can draw onto your whiteboard or some green butcher paper
2.  A marker for each team to move down the field
3.  5-6 problem cards for each yardage:  5, 10, 15


1.  Place students in groups of three or four
2.  Give each group a “5 yard card”.  If group works all problems correctly, advance their marker 5 yards on the football field.  Once successful on a “5 yard card” they may advance to a “10 yard card”.  If successful, advance their marker 10 yards and they may work a “15 yard card”
3.  If the group is unsuccessful at any level, they must work another card on that same level before they move on.
4.  Once successful at every level, they may work cards at any level they choose.
5.  First group to score a touchdown wins
Here are the generic Football Frenzy instructions complete with templates for the football cards and markers
Here is my friend's Football Factoring activity


Friday, October 5, 2012

Ghosts In The Graveyard (New and Revised)

It's hard to believe, but October is already here and even though we are still dealing with temperatures in the 90's here in South Texas, it is time to start planning for my favorite activity of the entire year.

Ghosts in the Graveyard is an activity that I use every Halloween to review concepts I've taught since the beginning of school.  The activity has proven so popular that I've also had to create games to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas.  I've also had wonderful feedback from readers who've tried this activity in their classroom with great success. 

If you want to try it in your classroom, it is time to start planning now, because it will take you a little time to get it all together.  The main preparation is developing your ghost problem cards, getting them laminated, and then cutting out the little ghosts. 

Materials you will need

8-10 problem cards (I will provide you with a template)
4 Tombstones that you will draw and hang up on your board
About 50 little ghosts for each class (template provided)
Answer Sheet for each student
Answer Key

Objective:  Collect as many "little ghosts" as possible by working together as a group to complete a set of review problems.


1.  On each large ghost template, write or type 3 or 4 problems (I copy onto orange paper and laminate)

2.  Before each class hang up four tombstones at the front of the room

3.  Place students in groups of 3-4 and give each student an answer sheet to record their work

4.  Pass out a problem card to each group and place the extra cards at the front of the room

5.  Students work together to complete the problems on their card and then call you over when they are finished to check their answers.  If all three problems are correct (and every single person has worked the problem) I give them a "little ghost" which they write their group number on and place on one of the tombstones at the front of the room.  They can place all their "little ghosts" on the same tombstone or they can split them up.

6.  After finishing their first card, they go pick up another card and begin working on it with the goal of collecting as many "little ghosts" as possible.

7.   About 10 minutes before the end of class, I call time and then the fun starts.

8.  What they don't know at the beginning of the class is that I have assigned a point value of each tombstone.  So Tombstone #1 might be worth 25 points, #3 might be worth 50 points etc. 

9.  To calculate the score, count the number of ghosts on each tombstone and multiply by the point value.

10.  The cool thing about this game is that the group that does the most problems doesn't necessarily win.  This is one of the few activities I do that the students will literally beg to do "One more problem"!

Get all the templates, instructions, and student answer sheet here

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Matching a Verbal Description to a Graph

Last week we were studying matching Verbal Descriptions to a graph.  Some students are naturally good at this, and others really struggle.  Despite my best efforts to teach this topic, when looking at a Speed v. Time graph that increases and then decreases, many students will invariably choose the answer choice that indicates someone is walking up a hill and then down a hill.

I decided to try an interactive approach this year and selected twelve graphs and 18 verbal descriptions.  I had the students cut out the verbal descriptions and then work together in groups to match the descriptions to the graphs.  This activity turned out to be quite difficult for many of the students and looking back, I decided that having six incorrect answers was just too much and made the activity unnecessarily difficult.  I reworked the activity to include only three incorrect answers in an effort to make it a little less time consuming.

You can download the activity here.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Function Vocabulary Journal Entry

Can't take any credit for this one.  One of my colleagues did this journal entry with her students to help them keep all the function vocabulary we are learning straight.  I like how hers came out, so I'm gonna have to try it myself.  Thought I'd show you her pictures. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

All The Cool Kids Will Be There!

Hey guys, if you haven't joined the Global Math Department yet, you don't know what your missing.  Every Tuesday night, you can find a bunch of us chatting, learning, and collaborating about different topics. 

Anyway, come out tomorrow night at 9:00 Eastern Time and join me and a group of fantastic ladies as we present our favorite Review Games.  Don't be left out!  Join the Global Math Department so you can start to put names and faces with all your favorite bloggers. 

Tomorrow's agenda:

Lisa Henry will lead a panel of presenters who will share their favorite review games. Presenters include Lisa Henry (An Old Math Dog Learning New Tricks, @lmhenry9), Kim Hughey (Math Tales from the Spring), Julie Reulbach (I Speak Math, @jreulbach), Alisan Royster (@G8rAli), Remi Smith (The Math Smith, @reminoodle), and Sue VanHattum (Math Mama Writes, @suevanhattum).

If you are unable to attend, the sessions are recorded and you can download and watch at your leisure.  Hope to see you there!

Graphing Calcualtor Cheat Sheet

Here in the great state of Texas, Algebra I for all has been a mantra for the last fifteen years or so.  When we first started down this road of requiring Algebra I for HS graduation (and now algebra II), many of us wondered how we would ever get some of our students to pass Algebra I.  We were told that the graphing calculator would be the great equalizer and allow us to teach Algebra concepts to students who were behind mathematically. 

I'm not going to get into my views about the role of the graphing calculator in Algebra I.   Like any tool, it can be used to help or hinder mathematical maturity depending on the teacher.  I try to take a balanced approach and teach everything by hand and then on the calculator.  This enables my 9th graders to be very proficient with the basic capabilities of the calculator by the time they finish Algebra I and increases their chances of success on our state End of Course Exam.

In my old school where we had a student population that was over 70% economically disadvantaged and about 60% of my students had failed their 8th grade state math exam, we gave out calculators the 2nd day of school and never looked back.

In my new school, which is only about 30% economically disadvantaged, we teach our first unit (functions) without the calculator and then begin to use them in our 2nd unit (Solving Equations).

On the first day of using the calculator, I pass out this cheat sheet and let them play around with the buttons while I go over some of the basic features.  This cheat sheet pretty much covers most of the basic features that we will use in the first semester.  The students are expected to keep this cheat sheet all year in the Reference Section of their binder along with their formula charts and other important information I give them.

Here it is if you'd like a copy.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Translating Verbal Phrases into Algebraic Expressions

I'm a little behind in recording my INB activities.  Wow, the first two weeks of school have been a whirlwind.  I finally started to get a little caught up yesterday since I gave long quizzes and was able to organize the piles of paper that were EVERYWHERE. 

This INB activity is actually one I did the first week of school.  Our first lesson in Algebra I is on Translating Verbal Phrases.  We then extend this lesson on the next day by learning how to take a verbal phrase like "The set of y-values are three less than twice the x-value" and create function rules, mappings, tables, and graphs.

The lesson went well, it was short enough to keep their attention and then the INB activity allowed them to practice in a hands on way.  I then assigned a puzzle page  for homework that had a corny joke at the top.  When I handed it out, I was surprised to hear kids say things like, "I love these things".

Here are the files if you'd like to download them.  One thing I have found about cut and paste activities.  Give the students the page that they have to cut out first and give them about three or four minutes to get started cutting.  By then almost everyone will be done or almost done cutting.  Then pass out the "answer mats".  If you don't do this, some just want to write the answers down on the mat and skip the whole cutting part.  This may sound strange, but I think the whole act of cutting and pasting the answers seems to make the material stick in the brain better than just trying to write down the answers as quick as you can and get it turned down.  It is a deliberate effort on my part to get them to slow down and THINK.


Translating Verbal Phrases into Algebraic Expressions Cut and Paste

Puzzle Page Translating Verbal Phrases

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Domain and Range Cut and Paste Activity

My Algebra I students have been working on domain and range for the last couple of days.  I'm not completely satisfied with my lessons and really need to tweak them, however, we did do a cut and paste activity today that worked well.

For this activity, I had the students work with a partner, but they each had their own cards and answer mat.  The purpose of the partners was so that they would help each other and not rely on me to answer every little question they had.

I passed out the domain and range cards first and had them cut them out.  When everyone was almost finished, I passed out the answer mat which was made up of eight different graphs.  I asked them to place the domain and range cards onto the appropriate graph but wait to do the gluing until they checked their answers.  After about 10-15 minutes, I put the answers up on my document camera and let them start pasting their answers.

As I circulated the room, I heard lots of students say that they were finally "getting" domain and range.  In the past, one of my biggest struggles is teaching the students how to properly write the domain and range.  I will get lots of answer like -3 > x > 5 or other answers that don't really make sense.  This activity provides a way to scaffold the instruction so that they are able to focus on the concept and not worry about the correct notation.  Tomorrow, my plan is to give them eight more graphs but no answers and have them come up with the domain and range on their own.

The activity is here if you'd like to download it however, if your state requires your Algebra I students to use interval notation, you will have to edit the answer cards.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Student Graded Binders

Yesterday I posted here about my binder set up and my plan to have the students grade each other's binder.  I am happy to report that the process went fantastic.  The students did a great job using the rubric to grade their partner's binder and all I had to do was walk around and see if there were any questions about the process.  When the students walked in I had a slide up on the projector that gave explicit instructions as to what papers should be in which section.  I gave them about five minutes to do any last minute organizing and then we spent about 10 minutes grading. 

Here is the best part, 91% of my students showed up today with a complete binder including all their dividers and a decorated cover.  Tomorrow, I will begin to call all the parents of the students that did not bring binders.

I think the key to success is making this grade a major test grade.  In the past, I have not enforced the binder requirment and so I got about 70% participation.  This year, the binder is going to play a huge role in making Algebra I interactive so I feel that the time I spend making sure they are set up properly will pay off in the end and ultimately result in increased student learning.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Binder Project

In my last post I discussed the organizational system I will be using this year.  Students are required to have a 3 ring binder dedicated solely to Algebra I.  Their binders will have four dividers labeled reference, notes, quizzes, and journal.  Because having their binders every day will be such an important part of the class, I decided to create a project that involved setting up their binder and creating a cover with "Numbers About Me".  This Binder Project will count as a major test grade.

I gave out this project description on the 2nd day of School (August 28) and gave them until the Tuesday after Labor Day to complete the binder set up.  Every day for the first week we discussed the binder and the importance of getting it set up as soon as possible. 

The reference section will contain a student progress sheet, a syllabus, bell schedule, monthly calendar, State formula chart, a plastic sheet protector containing a coordinate grid that we will use as a white board and anything else I can think of to put it in there.

The notes section will contain the notes for the current unit only.

The quiz section will contain all graded and corrected quizzes

The journal section will contain a table of contents, warm-ups, journal entries from given prompts, activities we do like card sorts, matching activities, frayer models, foldables, and anything else that will summarize our learning for each unit.

If you are interested in my project description and grading rubric you can download it here

My plan is for students to grade each other's binders.  I know, I know, this may or may not go well, but I will find out tomorrow (the day after Labor Day).  This is the rubric I intend to hand out to the student's to help them grade their classmate's binder.  I plan to walk around the room and monitor this process. 

Interactive Notebook Woes

Okay, I've gotta come clean with something.  As much as I was pumped to begin Interactive Notebooking in my classes this year, I have not really jumped in with both feet like I wanted to.  I backed off after talking to the other teachers in my department and looking at a few challenges that were going to take a lot of time and effort on my part to overcome.  So I'm doing a form of interactive notebooking called journaling.  My entire department is on board with this endeavour and I'm going to try to blog and reflect on our journaling activities this year.  Next year, who knows, we might be ready to fully jump into the Interactive Notebooks.  In the meantime, we have created a new section of our notebook called "Journal".  In this section, we are pasting in activities we do, foldables, graphic organizers, frayer models, writing prompts, and even warm-ups

These are the challenges that swayed me into staying with the traditional binder:

1.  Our department uses common guided notes for each topic.  These notes were created by us as a department and they are formatted to fit into a 3 ring binder.  The thought of reformatting these notes for a composition notebook or even taking the time to paste them into a spiral seemed like  a precious waste of class time.  Goal for next year would be to get away from these altogether and create my own interactive notes for the RHP of a composition notebook.  Downfall for this goal is in my current system, I am easily able to give out copies of notes to my many students who have special accommodations that say they must be given a copy of class notes.  Not sure how to do INB's with these students.  I teach 2 inclusion classes with kids that have disabilities of everything from blindness, to autism, to severe dyslexia.  Meeting these accommodations is not a choice, but is my responsibility.  My current system is also so wonderful for absent students.  I fill out the notes under the document camera and then copy them at the end of the day for everyone absent.  I am also able to easily upload them our online student website.

2.  Our department has lots of schedule changes.  All of us currently require a binder with the same exact setup so that if a student transfers from one teacher to another, their notebook should work for any class.  If I do composition books and a student comes to me from another teacher who uses the binder system, how will I catch them up?

3.  The third challenge is personal.  Many times, I get this great idea and jump in with both feet.  Often times I learn my great idea will require more time and organization that I was prepared for and my great idea fizzles.  I was so fearful that INB's would become something that I was gung ho about for awhile and then gave up when I discovered they were requiring more than I thought they would.  I think, I am second guessing my ability to stick with something.  I think the approach I am taking this year is a good compromise.  I'm staying with a system that has worked for me for the last few years and adding a piece that will hopefully make student learning come alive and be more engaging.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Addressing the Behavior and Not the Student

During our inservice meetings before school, we had a great speaker who was not only humorous, but was full of helpful advice that could be applied to any classroom.  One of the things I took away from her presentation was a discipline technique that is simple and effective with any age of student.

Over the years, I've learned it is best to avoid direct confrontation with teenagers and to not put them in a position where they have to defend themselves in front of their peers.  Although I do my best to avoid this type of nasty situation, there are times when for one reason or another, I find myself having to confront unwanted behavior in my classroom.

The technique the speaker presented is simply to avoid conflict by addressing the behavior and not the student.  She demonstrated several situations and did a great job by using dramatic pauses as she addressed the evil deed doer.

So this week when I saw headphones in Johnny's ears, I didn't say a word to Johnny.  I simply gazed out into the classroom and said, without looking at anyone in particular, "If you (dramatic pause) currently have earbuds in your ears, I am going to need you to take them out at this time".  The entire class looked around trying to figure out who had the earphones and the guilty person sheepishly took them out while I continued teaching.

When charming little Ashley had her cell phone underneath her back pack and was busy texting, I stopped my lesson and calmly said, "If you (dramatic pause) currently have your cell phone out, I am going to need you to put that away".  Again, instant compliance and I don't think anyone other than the offender had a clue who it was that had their cell phone out.

In one class after lunch, I looked out and saw several heads on the desk, so you guessed it, I simply said "If you currently have your head down on your desk, I'm going to need you to lift it up right now."  Every single person complied without a single argument.

I literally used this technique every day  last week without a single problem.  The flow of the lesson was not interrupted by someone trying to defend themselves by saying "I'm just checking my phone to see what time it is or "my earbuds are in, but my music is off".  There was no need to defend themselves because I never pointed them out in front of the class. 

I can't believe I've been teaching fifteen years and no one has ever shared this technique with me before.  It is so simple that I can't believe I didn't think of it myself.  What kind of techniques do you use to put a stop to unwanted behavior?

Friday, August 31, 2012

For Ladies Only

This summer, I broke down and bought a Groupon for a facial.  I've never had one before and was very curious about the experience.  As much as I enjoyed the treatment, it was a small piece of beauty advice I got from my aestitician that made the experience worth the money I paid for it.

I have oily skin and my makeup tends to absorb into my face by 10:00 every morning.  I have used many types of face primers and most recently have been wearing one by Bare Minerals.  I think I pay $25.00 for one ounce. 

Anyway, this kind lady recommended that I try a product called Monistat Chafing Relief Powder Gel.

As skeptical as I was, I went to Target and found this tube which cost me $4.46 at Target.  I couldn't believe how it made my skin feel.  It truly did everything she said it would.  I put about a dime size on my face and let it dry.  I applied my foundation a few minutes later and it gave my makeup a flawless, matte look that lasted all day.  I will never go back to expensive primer again.  Try it, I think you will like it!  Just be sure you don't accidently buy the Monistat for yeast infections.  Not sure what that would do to your face!

I also found some reviews here, if you'd like to look at some more user opinions.

Monday, August 27, 2012

First Day Reflections 2012

Sorry for the boring nature of this post, but I am primarily writing to myself  so I can remember next year, what I did on day one. What went wrong,  what went right, what I'd change, and what I would leave the same.

To be honest, today was just so-so for me.  As I am recovering from foot surgery, I am not 100% either physically or mentally.  My doctor wasn't crazy about me going back to work after only two weeks, but I promised to be good and keep my feet elevated as much as possible.

Here was my initial plan.  Notice how I planned down to the minute.  What a joke!  You know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men. 

1.  Students Enter/Sit Where they want and begin filling out the Birthday Card (5 min)
This activity went OK.  I love the birthday cards.  This is the 2nd year I have used them.  I have a special bulletin board I put them on.  At the beginning of every month, I make up some little birthday cards for the students and attach a package of skittles.  The kids love to have their birthday recognized in front of the other students. 

2.  Teacher/Class Introduction (5 min)
Not sure what I was thinking when I planned the five minutes.  I love to talk and easily got distracted in each class talking to them about myself and why I became a teacher.  Most of the classes wanted to know all about my foot and even asked to see pictures of the scars (which I didn't show!)  Next year allow at least 10 minutes

3.  Students place themselves in alphabetical order by their first name, then I pass around the roster sheet for students to fill in their names.  I will then use this to make my seating charts. (5 min)
Again, five minutes for this activity was a complete joke.  Could not believe how difficult this was for my 9th graders, but the juniors did very well.  BTW, this is my first time to order students by first name.  This process was recommended to me by another teacher as a quick way to learn names.  I could already tell a huge difference in the number of names I knew at the end of the first day.  So overall, I will keep this activity, but allow 15 minutes for it next year.

4.  Discuss Supplies (Binder must be ready by Tuesday-Test Grade)  (5 min)
In reality, this took about 10 minutes

5.  Parent Homework  (5 min)
This activity also took about 10 minutes

6.  Syllabus (1st Page only) (10 min)
Did not get to

7.  Activity:  What Math Number Am I??  (10 min)
Did not get to

8.  Weighted Averages activity (10 min)

Did not get to

Made 4 Math Inspired Projects

Thanks to my foot surgery, I've had plenty of time the last few weeks scouring blogs and looking at classroom setup ideas.    I have been so inspired by many of the Made 4 Math posts and have been  itchin' to get in my classroom and try some of these ideas out for myself.  Since I'm supposed to stay off my feet, I enlisted my mom to go to my classroomm with me and  help me with a few of the Made 4 Math Projects.  There are still many more ideas I want to try, but these will probably be the only two I will have time to do before school starts on Monday.

Mrs Simmons over at Mrs. Simmon's Blog inspired me with this great idea.

Here is my mom and I's take on Mrs. Simmon's great idea.  The only thing I would do different would be to center to the board under my name.  Unfortunately, I found these cute letters to put up after the board was done, and I didn't feel like redoing the entire thing.

Every year I get dinged on my evaluation for my incomplete objectives.  Don't tell anyone I said this, but it just seems like there are more important things to teaching than making sure your objectives get written properly on the board.

Well this year, I am determined to do better.  When I found this picture, last week, I immediately printed a copy of it and showed it to my mom and asked her to help me replicate it.  I am so sorry that I can't remember which blog this came from so if this is your bulletin board, will you leave me a comment so I can link to your blog and give credit where credit is due?

We didn't have any of the cute colors of painter's tape, but we did have some cheap back to school border that we found at Walmart of 0.88 a package.  I'd like to take credit for this board, but really my mom did all the work since our freshmen orientation was held Friday morning and I was busy handing out supply lists and meeting my new students while she put the board together.  I love how it came out!

Here is my classroom door

A random bulletin board of family pics

Friday, August 24, 2012

My Favorite Way to Stay Cool in the Summer

I am lucky to live in one of the most beautiful areas of Texas.  The Texas Hill Country is known for its beautiful rolling hills and sweeping fields of colorful wildflowers in the spring.  One thing you might not know about are the beautiful swimming holes nestled in and around Austin, Texas. 

In honor of the end of summer, I'd like to show you a few of my favorite places in the Texas Hill Country.  The pictures below are of  my favorite Texas Swimming Holes.  If you ever come to Texas to visit in the summer, do yourself a favor, skip the riverwalk and check out some of these beautiful natural wonders!

Barton Springs Pool-Austin, Texas

McKinney Falls State Park Austin, Texas

 This is a picture of my son, at McKinney Falls State Park
Hamilton Pool, Dripping Springs, Texas (right outside of Austin)

This is my son, at Jacob's well in Wimberly, Texas (right outside of Austin)

Krause Springs, Driftwood, Texas (also right outside of Austin)

Comal River, in my hometown of New Braunfels, Texas and where I spend most every Sunday!



Monday, August 20, 2012

Made For Math Monday-Please use the Restroom Poster

Julie, over at I Speak Math inspired me to make my own Pinterest inspired poster.  This was the original poster that I pinned.

Here is my version

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Calculating Weighted Averages-First Day of School Activity

I don't know about you, but every year, my 9th graders have a hard time with the concept of weighted averages.  Even though we go over the fact that their homework is weighted 15%, quizzes 25% and tests 60%, they still have trouble understanding why they can make a 100 on "everything" and still have a 64 average. 

This year, I have decided to do a short activity on weighted averages on the first day of school.  I plan to let them use their cell phones to calculate the averages and the acitivity is designed to be completed in groups with very little teacher assistance.  I plan on spending no more than 15 minutes on this activity.  If they don't finish it, the back will be their first homework assignment.

Here is the activity if you'd like to modify it for your needs.

Friday, August 17, 2012

First Week of School Ice Breakers

I have several Ice Breaker Activities that I use each year.  I try to do a short activity each day for the first week of the school.  I usually look for activities that are short (less than 15 minutes) and allow me to get an insight into student's personalities and interests.  As a bonus, the first two make great wall decorations for my empty walls!

Here are my favorites:

1.  Name Reflection

2.  Bio Pyramid

3.  Get to Know Your Teacher Quiz

4.  What's Your Math Number?

5. M&M Game  (I changed the questions on this game for high school students)

Thursday, August 16, 2012

What's Your Math Number-First Day of School Activity

Instead of spending this week organizing, decorating, and cleaning my classroom, I am sitting in a chair with my foot propped up and drifting in and out of a Percocet daze.

Thanks to my foot surgery I am consigned to stalking other people's blogs and marveling at their amazingly organized and beautifully decorated classrooms.  I am chomping at the bit to get into my room and try out some of the neat ideas I've been seeing the last few weeks on "Made For Math Mondays" and Pinterest but I'm resigned to the fact that I will most likely be beginning the year in a bare and undecorated classroom.

The only good thing about being confined to "chair rest" is I have had plentry of time to plan for my first couple of weeks and work on curriculum issues from last year.  What I'm really trying to work out is a deatailed plan for each day of my first week and for the successful implementation of my Interarctive Student Notebooks.  While looking at the activities I did last year during the first week of school, I came across this one that was so successful I want to share it with my readers.
The purpose of the activity is two-fold.  First I want the students to feel comfortable talking with the partner and group they have been assigned to for the first grading period.  The second purpose is to teach the students how to move their desks into a partner arrangement or group arrangement (what I call a pod) very quickly. Done right, the students are able to go from single file rows to groups of four or (pods) in just a matter of seconds.  See this post about how I arrange my room for flexible groupings.

The title of the activity is "What's Your Math Number?"I ask them the question, "What's your math number?" and then I explain what a #1, #2, and #3 using this power point.    I ask them to think about what number they are and why but to not say anything out loud.  After a few minutes of thinking, I then ask them to scoot their desk together with their partner, introduce themselves, and take turns sharing their math number and their reasons for picking this number.  After the partners have a chance to visit, I have them group their desks into their pods and each partner introduces the other partner and tells the group their math number and why.  I was really impressed by the discussion I heard and pleased with how the students followed directions.  At the end of the activity I had all the ones raise their hands and then the twos and  the threes and we joked around a little about each group.  It really seemed to relieve some of the first day tension that many students feel on the first day of a new math class and gave me valuable insight into the personalities of the students in my classes.  I concluded the activity and told them I may not be able to turn all the threes into ones by the end of the year, but I was hoping to turn the threes into twos by the end of the year.  I did the activity at the beginning of the second semester and asked if their math number had changed and many said they had gone from threes to twos over the course of the first semester.

One touching thing happened during this activity.  Last year I had two inclusion math models classes.
In each class I had about 12 students with various learning and physical disabilities.  I expected these students to classify themselves as threes since their disabilities severely hamper their ability to learn math.  Much to my surprise, many of them classified themselves as ones.  Even though to my eyes, they had difficulties, in their eyes, they were proud to be in a "hard" math class and thought the reason they were in there was because they were good at math.  These students were a joy to teach all year long and many of them wrote me sweet notes at the end of the year that I will treasure forever.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Making the Most of Your First Grading Period

There is something about the first of every school year that has always frustrated me.  It seems to me that the first two or three weeks that we spend reviewing topics from previous years is such a waste of time.  Students either enter Algebra I with a good foundation on things like integer operations, distributive property, collecting like terms or they don't.  Two or three weeks of reviewing these topics seems to do nothing for those who are lacking these skills and only seems to bore the rest of the students. 

Last summer, I heard a fantastic speaker at CAMT (Conference for the Advancement of Mathematics Teaching) and she challenged us to begin our year differently.   She talked about how many students will give their maximum effort in the first grading period of the year, yet we waste this prime learning time teaching old material.  She urged us to make the most of this maximum effort that most students bring to a new school year by beginning the year with challenging material and fill in any gaps as we went.

When I came back to my campus and said I wanted to skip our "Algebra Foundations" unit also known as Chapter One in your textbook, most the teachers were very opposed to the  idea.  It took a little convincing, but we finally decided to begin the year with the topic of functions.  We jumped right in to rich mathematics and never looked back.

Challenging the students with new material from the first week of school on seemed to help with the complacency that some students seem to experience when presented with material they have already mastered.  I want them to get the idea early in the year that they will need to put forth effort in order to be successful. 

So how did this new approach affect the struggling learners?  Surprisingly, most of the students were able to fill in their gaps as we went.  After an entire year of solving linear equations, inequalities, and systems etc, they became quite proficient in the areas they were weak in when they entered algebra I.   I admit, they are probably still behind their peers when it comes to being prepared for the next level, but I don't think spending three weeks teaching them how to add and subtract signed numbers would have increased their knowledge base. 

So, think about your first few weeks of school carefully.  What can you do to challenge your students and make the most out of the first few weeks?

Friday, July 27, 2012

What to Put in your New Student Folders

I had a request from a reader to share the documents I place in my new student folders.   Here you go!

Welcome Letter

Student Information Sheet

Supply list

Class Syllabus

Parent Homework

Class calendar (I give out a new one at the beginning of each month)

Copy of your school's bell schedule

Package of Skittles

Mechanical Pencil

Thursday, July 26, 2012

New Student Folders

I want to share an idea that made my life so much easier last school year. Living right outside a major urban city, we get a lot of turnover in our student body.  Every school year I get a little flustered when new students unexpectedly show up at my classroom door. Do you stop everything and  help them settle in, or do you just tell them to go sit down and hope you will have time at the end to visit with the student?

To help alleviate the disruptions and help the new student feel welcome, I've started making New Student folders.  During the summer, I buy about 20 folders for each prep and set each one up with all the papers I give out on the first day or two of school.  My folders contain a welcome letter, a student information sheet, a parent information sheet that they will get signed and returned, a supply list, a calendar of our first unit, and a class syllabus.  And best of all, I put a little piece of candy in there to make them feel welcome.

My note says something like this:

"Welcome to our class. Whether you are new to Paradise High School or you are just had a schedule change, change can be stressful. This packet will explain everything you need to know about this class. Please complete the following steps:

1. Fill out the student information sheet (yellow)
2. Please take home the Parent information sheet and have your parent (or guardian) fill out and return tomorrow
And so on . . .

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Make a Check List in Word 2007

It looks like the rest of my summer is going to be a mad dash to the first day of school.  I just finished my graduate classes, and after 8 months of constant neck, shoulder, and foot pain. . . all on my right side, the doctor is telling me that I MUST have surgery on my foot before I go back to work.  I've tried every cure I could think of from doctors, chiropractors, and massage therapists all to no avail. The consensus is that my back and neck will not be getting any better until the problems in my right foot are fixed.

All of that would be well and good except that my husband and I have a cruise booked for August 4 -9. Which means I will return from the Western Carribean on Thursday morning, and on Friday morning, I will be under the knife.  After surgery I can expect to be off work anywhere from 2-3 weeks which means I will miss all my inservice days and possibly even the first week of school. 

So now, I am in a mad dash to prepare for my first ever cruise, get my lesson plans for the first month of school set in stone, and set up my classroom.  In reality, I have about 8 days to do this  because some of my days in the next two weeks will be taken up with pre-op appointments.

So what I am I doing wasting my time with a blog entry??  Well I just learned how to do something I think is cool.  I learned how to make a check-list on Word 2007.  All of you computer geeks out there probably already know how to do this, but I thought I'd share it in case in of you are like me. . . sometimes a little bit technologically challenged.

How to make a check list in Word 2007

1.  Open a Word 2007 Document
2.  Click the Arrow on the right side of the Bullets button
3.  At the bottom, click Define New Bullet
4.  Click Symbol
5.  Select Windings
6.  Look through the selections and pick any kind of box you like.
7.  Click Ok
8.  Make your To-Do List!

Last year, before school, I made a detailed list of every single thing I did in the two weeks leading up to the beginning of school.  I saved that list and made this year's to-do list from it.  If you'd like to just download mine, you can edit it to fit your needs.

I also used this feature to make Student Supply lists to hand out during Orientation.

Back-To-School To Do List

Monday, July 23, 2012

Make Classroom Posters with Microsoft Excel

Maybe you all already knew this, but I just learned that you can use Excel to make Clasroom Posters. I love to make teaching posters to emphasize whatever topic we are learning. I will put the posters up as we learn the topics and they stay up all year until it is time for state testing. During tests, I will see the kids searching the walls for the information they need or just a reminder that they are on the right track.

Anyway, here is a four minute video explaining the process. The teacher in the video does a great job of explaining a process. I can't wait to get started!

Make Classroom Posters with Microsoft Excel

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Slope Foldable

Here is another Slope Foldable.  I like this one better than the first one I made because it fits into our composition books better.

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