Sunday, September 16, 2012

ISN Organization

#msSunFunI tell the students from day one that I don't like to waste time. On the first day of school I show them an almost empty bottle of shampoo and a nearly empty jar of peanut butter and I ask them to guess what that means about me, especially in math class. Someone usually raises their hand and says "You don't like to waste time," but I have gotten some other interesting and creative responses! On the first day of school we practice passing out papers along the rows, a la Harry Wong. We also practice passing papers back in and moving the desks to get into their "pods" for group work. I read a post during the summer which had a photo of how desks are arranged for group work. I thought the configuration was brilliant because students only have to turn the two front desks to face each other and not the back two desks. It also creates a u-shaped group which allows all the students in the group to see the teacher and board easier when instructions are given to the whole class.

I started using math journals in my classes several years ago and with all the great ideas I have gotten from math teacher blogs, the journals have been morphing into interactive notebooks. I am so excited to try foldables this year and other note taking activities. This year I am encouraging my advanced students to take their journals home every day to study and review what we covered in class. In my general classes, I allow the students to leave their journals in the classroom. I laminated some 2-sided signs for math journals, calculators and responders indicating to the students, as they walk in the door, whether they should get these items before they go to their seat. For example, one side says Math Journals Today and the other side says No Math Journals Today. I just flip it over as needed for each class. 

One thing that I have liked about math journals that stay in class is that students always have something to take notes and do practice problems in no matter what their binder looks like. But keeping the journals in the classroom presents other challenges--getting them out and putting them away every day can be time consuming and chaotic. In order to make this classroom procedure efficient, I designate a place in the classroom for each class period so that the journals are easily accessible and available to every student every day. On the left is a picture of the journals for one class period before I labeled them. On the right is a photo of the journals after I labeled them. I write the class period, color-coded, on the left and then write the last name of each student in black sharpie (I covered the names of my students with a piece of paper). This helps each student find their journal quickly and easily as they come into class and it helps me find and relocate any journals that are returned to the wrong pile.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

I Have Who Has Games for Math

#msSunFunSeveral years ago when I found these I Have Who Has Cards on, I definitely wanted to try them in my classes. I have used the multiplication facts, Algebra Variable Expressions and Geometry decks. This is a photo of some cards from the multiplication facts deck from

Each student has one or more cards on their desk and the teacher keeps any card to start the game. Begin by reading the clue on the starting card "Who has 3 x 8?" The student with the answer "I have 24" reads the answer and also the new clue below it. The game is over when you have run through all the cards and on the last card a student reads the last clue "Who has 8 x 6" and the teacher, still holding the first card, reads the answer "I have 48."

The students enjoy this game and are very engaged because they really have to listen and concentrate as each card is read, especially the students who have 2 or more cards to keep track of. I like to time the class with a stopwatch to see how fast they can run through a deck of cards and I make it a competition between my classes or try to improve the class time on subsequent days.

Last year I decided to assign a creative end of the year project to the students after I read this post from I Hope This Old Train Breaks Down and several students chose to make their own I Have Who Has deck of cards for their project. I really enjoyed watching these students figure out how to make the cards so they would work out correctly and then choose the information they wanted to put on each card. Their presentation to the class was having the class play the game they made!

Here is a link to some more I Have Who Has Cards on which include: signed numbers, geometry (area & percent), calculus and directions for making your own cards or having students make a set for the class. The book pictured below has 38 games for 5th and 6th grades including: decimals, fractions, percents, data analysis, probability, square roots, exponents, etc., which would all be great review topics for 7th and 8th grade math classes. The book also contains directions for playing the game in different ways. For example the deck Extreme Mental Math has a maze worksheet for each student to complete during the game. "As your classmates identify the answers, draw a line to each number to complete the maze."

Has anyone else used these games in middle school math classes? What decks have worked well for you and what strategies have you used to make it an effective learning activity?

I have created a template for students to use to make their own set of I Have, Who Has? cards. Students really enjoyed making their own cards and then running the game themselves.

My First Foldable!

The students made their first foldable in class on Friday. The students started out class by writing in their notebooks about which classroom activities helped them learn the most. Then we discussed the pyramid of learning and retention. I gave them the list of activities from the pyramid in alphabetical order and asked them to guess which activity was the most effective in terms of learning and then which activity was the least effective. Then I showed them the pyramid with the percentages and we discussed how some classroom activities are more active and some are more passive and that when students are more active, they learn and remember more. Then the supply managers got out the supply bins and we folded, cut, colored and taped the first foldable of the year.

Click here for the template.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Third Time's the Charm!

#msSunFunThey say that the third time's the charm and I really believe that if students can successfully complete problems on a new concept three different times, then they are on their way to mastery. The first time is guided practice in class, the second time is independent practice at home and the third time is reviewing the concept the next day during the Do Now or homework review.

I have read many interesting and thoughtful posts on the homework and homework policies. It seems that many math teachers believe that independent practice is important but struggle to find the best system that works well for both students and teachers. I have definitely had that struggle.  I have tried many different strategies--some have worked well and some not so well and some have worked well but have taken up too much class time or too much of my time outside of class. Once again I want to try some new things this year in order to find the best system possible.

1) Assign fewer problems. I usually assign odd problems from the textbook and remind students frequently to check their answers in the back of the book in order to see if they are on track. I am thinking about assigning fewer problems this year (10-15 instead of 15-25). In fact, I LOVE the idea of assigning just one problem that is very rich. For example, I really like this surface area problem from Accessible Mathematics by Steven Leinwand. "Doctors estimate the amount of skin each person has using the formula S = 0.6h^2 where S is the number of square inches of skin and h is the person's height in inches. Use the formula to determine a reasonable estimate for how much skin you have. Then validate your result using a a referent such as an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper and using surface area formulas. Discuss the reasons for the differences among your three estimates." (pg. 51)
2) More Productive Homework Review. By assigning fewer problems, I hope to make homework review more productive by asking students to show and explain their solutions to the class. I am starting school with a unit on problem solving and after working on one strategy in class, students will be assigned a few problems for homework. Students will also be asked to pick one problem and write out a detailed solution to show and share with the class. Then when we review the problems in class I can quickly ask students to bring solutions up to the ELMO to show the whole class and explain. And then I can ask other students if they have other ways to solve the same problem.
3) "Flipped" Classroom. I would like to experiment with using some ideas from Flipped Classrooms. Of course teachers have been doing a low tech version of a flipped classroom for years by assigning some reading from the textbook before a topic is covered in class. Any student who does this kind of preparation can gain so much more from the classroom presentation/lecture/discussion on a new topic. I want to encourage students to come to class "ready" to learn something new by having some previous exposure to the topic. As part of the homework assignment I plan to give students a link to a video on the topic we will be covering the next day in class. Khan Academy is one resource that I will use for these videos.

1) Daily homework check. Continue to check homework very quickly at the beginning of class by walking around the room and initialing or stamping homework that has been completed. I want this process to take less than a minute or two and so I don't "grade" the assignment at all (I do that later) and just give them a stamp if they have the homework on their desk at the beginning of class.
2) Weekly homework check. Collecting all homework assignments on Friday and entering a weekly homework grade based on effort and completion of the work and following the homework guidelines. When I "grade" homework I look for a proper heading, completion of all problems assigned, effort, marking problems right or wrong, making corrections and showing work.

1) Grading every assignment every week. Last year I though to myself, if I still collect all homework assignments, but only look carefully and assign a grade to half of them I could save myself a lot of time and students would still know that I expect homework to be completed and would still get the benefit of independent practice. And since students are fairly consistent about doing or not doing homework, a homework grade based on only half of the assigned work would be an accurate reflection of their effort and homework completion. I plan to randomly decide each week if I am going to check homework and assign a grade or simply give them a check in the gradebook for turning in the assigned work.

I love my new homework board. I got the idea from Math = Love. THANK YOU. I plan to invite students to come up with quotes and math expressions for the calendar for bonus points. I have wanted for a long time to include motivational quotes about life and math and calendar math in my classes and I think I have finally found a way to make that part of the regular classroom routine.