Thursday, February 28, 2013

Totally non-fancy "clickers"

A few days ago I saw some ideas here and here to make very low tech "clickers."  State assessment is next week and I have a test prep class that this was perfect for.  With the test next week, the past couple days have been working through practice multiple-choice problems.  One day I used to collect their answers and they enjoyed it, but quite honestly it just takes too long to do over and over for each question.

Enter these cards.  I even managed to make them even more low tech and less fancy than Sam and Kate did.  Theirs are by far more creative and well thought out and great.

One index card per kid....quick and easy.  Not fancy. I had the kids make them yesterday and it took about 20 seconds. Now I don't think there's anything groundbreaking or creative about what I did here, but it has been rather effective so I figured it was worth sharing.

I have always used these dry erase boards and done the "hold up all your answers so I can see" method of quick assessment but sometimes they won't hold them up for some reason.  It could be because they think the boards are lame, but I think that more often they are insecure about their answer and don't want anyone else to see what they did.

I've gotten way more participation with these little cards.  I think it's because they don't have to hold up anything big and they don't have to show off all the work they did for anyone to see.  All they need to do is flash me the letter they chose.  Most times they are just holding it up right in front of them and that way no one else has to see their answer and I am able to give them quick feedback via a nod or shake of my head.  For me, it's just an easy way to gauge whether it's a problem I need to really go over or if it's one they're good with.

For more extensive and open ended type problems these obviously aren't the best choice, but for test prep stuff right now they are perfect.  Eventually I might like to make these a little more durable and have kids keep them in their ISN's.  Maybe even laminate them...or color code them.  Just some ideas, for now these are good enough.

Saturday, February 23, 2013


Giving out writing utensils drives me nuts.  Even more so is the kid that waits until 10 minutes into the period to ask.  Seriously??

Every year I start out with no real policy in place and I'm not sure why.  And every year I end up losing a bunch of pencils so I end up reverting back to the same system: collateral.  For me it's been the most successful system.

Eventually some of them still disappear with this, but it takes longer. This year I have 9 pencils, flagged and sitting in a custom made pencil holder.  It's been a couple weeks now and all 9 are still accounted for and I'm pretty impressed.

I had a kid build the holder for me out of a piece of scrap wood.  He even stained it for me.  (sidenote: I still can't get over how much I love having kids on hand to construct whatever I think up). Each pencil has a piece of masking tape with my name and a number from 1-9.  I'm not sure what the numbers are really for.  I had something in mind but it never happened.  The holder makes it really easy though to check with a quick glance if/how many pencils are missing.  And if one is gone but there is nothing on the shelf I know to ask who took a pencil without trading.

The pencil holder is sitting on a shelf and the kids just leave their item on the shelf and take it back when they return the pencil.  Easy and takes no effort on my part which is the best part.  My usual policy is only "good things."  Things like phones, iPods, bookbags, IDs, or shoes.  Things they definitely won't leave without.  Trading me their broken pen doesn't fly.

Sure it drives me crazy that they don't bring a pencil, but it's not worth being frustrated over every period. Kids end up with something to write with, I don't lose a ton of pencils, and I don't have to deal with it.  Success.  Now the trick is making sure I actually start this back up in September instead of waiting until I'm already down a bunch of pencils.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

What was your favorite part of the day?

In the morning I have a group of about four kids that routinely come hang out and chat with me. This week I randomly asked them what their favorite part of the previous day had been.  They looked at me with a funny look and laughed.  I explained to them that the question was something I used to do with my friends.  At first it was a joke, but then it turned into we regularly did.  At the end of the day we would go around and everyone would say their favorite and least favorite part of the day.  I enjoyed it so I thought I'd be fun to do with the kids.

I told them they could pick from the entire day...from when they woke up until they went to bed.  One of the kids said his favorite part of the whole previous day was my class.  I reminded him that he could even pick from when he went home and he thought for a second about it and said that yeah it was definitely had been my class because it was a fun day.

Later that day we were discussing a possible snow storm and another kid said that he actually hoped we didn't have off of school the next day because he really likes coming to school this year. He said it's because he really likes his teachers this year a lot and actually doesn't like staying home.

Love it.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Linear Equations

A couple days ago I shared the forms for my linear equation notes, but not the actual filled in versions so here ya go.  Nothing crazy, but just some organized information and a little color coding...oh and fairly horrible pictures.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Good Things

I have been reading One Good Thing lately and think the idea and blog is just so lovely.  It's so easy to get caught up in negativity in school and sit down with people and complain about kids or other teachers or whatever else is going on.  And trust me, I get frustrated and participate with my fair share of complaints often enough.  I'd much rather talk about something funny that happened or something that the kids did really awesome on though.  A place where teachers are talking about good things is very refreshing.

This is my good thing for today:

Today during my algebra class the kids were working on an activity that required them to write a linear equation for a table and a couple kids just totally blanked out on how to do it.  They looked at me and just were so stuck.  I prompted a girl by asking what she needed to know and she said she knew the y-intercept because it was in the table but just didn't know how to get the slope.  

I just smiled at her and told her to look it up in her ISN.  Her and the boy next to her pulled their notebooks out of the bookbags and continued on.  A couple minutes later I hadn't heard anything else from them so I asked if that helped.  They both looked and me and laughed and said they felt so dumb because once they looked it up the remembered exactly how to do it.

I enjoyed this not because they claimed to feel dumb, but because it makes me feel like I'm not wasting my time.  All I had to do was remind them to look it up and they knew exactly where to find it and how to use the information we had written down more than a month ago.  It makes me feel like it is time well spent.  It also gives me hope that next year they will be able to use it as a reference to help remind them of things they have forgotten.

Linear Equations Applications

Kids have trouble with algebra.  Like big trouble.  Many of them suck at it...big time.  I think that a lot of that comes from the fact that all of a sudden math gets really abstract and a lot more complicated than it was before.  Take linear equations for example.  In pre-algebra (where I taught at least) they learned about slope-intercept form.  And we did tons of applications with it.  Tons of scenarios that for the most part made sense to them.  So they were for the most part comfortable with writing equations.

All of a sudden in algebra though, we have standard form and even more abstract point-slope form.  And they all kinda represent the same thing (a line).  Take a kid for whom math doesn't come naturally and they're going to have no idea what's going on.

I tried for this unit to focus on some of the applications of these equations.  Especially so for standard form.  I actually feel pretty strongly about starting standard form off with an application.  I have always felt like standard form equations come naturally to many kids.  Before mentioning anything about standard form, or even being linear, I had kids do this activity.

Disclaimer: I did not make this up and take no credit for it whatsover.  It is a lesson from Connected Mathematics 2.

So without mentioning anything about Ax+By=C, kids are able to

  • write and graph an equation
  • find points
  • determine that the relationship is linear
  • find x and y intercepts
This is the part of CMP2 that I really liked, so I like to be able to infuse the investigation type model into a more traditional textbook curriculum.  I think that a mix of the two is ideal.

I'd love to have something similar for point-slope but I don't.  Maybe someday I will.

After teaching all three forms, I had kids do this station activity.

Another disclaimer: I didn't make up any of these problems.  I stole them all..just like I steal pretty much everything else.

They had to look at each problem and first determine what information was being given.  Some kids tried to read the problem and guess which form to use right away but I would stop them.  I had them first write down what information they were being given.

For example:

Marty is spending money at the average rate of $3 per day.  After 14 days he has $68 left.  The amount left depends on the number of days that have passed.
First I had them list the information out that they were being given:

  • $3 per day - RATE
  • 14 days, $68 left - PAIR OF VALUES
Then from there they could choose an appropriate form and write an equation.  They had to also be sure to define their variables.

Overall they did well and I enjoyed watching them actually have to think.  They couldn't just plug numbers into spots, they had to first make sense of the information which is often the most difficult part.

For homework that night I had them complete the same type of thing individually

My main reason for giving this homework was because the activity during class was done in groups so I wanted to check what they were able to do on their own.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

It's been awhile...

Hey remember me?  Yeah I used to blog here but then I got a bit busy, tired, and lazy.  I've had a bunch of fun stuff going this past month and have really just been too busy enjoying it all to sit down and write about it.  If I haven't answered your e-mail or comment, please don't take it personally.  So here's a super long post with all sorts of random stuff to make up for it..

Some of the highlights of the past month:

Linear Equations.  I taught what was probably my favorite algebra unit thus far.  It has been my favorite largely because I've actually been putting in the time and effort to make it good.  In December I was getting lazy and slipping into the rut of giving more typical notes which I wasn't crazy about.  For this chapter I've been just trying to focus on simplifying the information and presenting it in the clearest way possible.

In the past I had used this graphic organizer for my linear equation notes.  That had been with my honors kids.  I had given typical notes for each topic and then summed it all up with that organizer.  Instead this time, I broke them all apart and filled them out as we went.  Each form got its own ISN page.

On each right side we put in the notes and on each left side I had them fill out the web with different types of problems related to the form.  They actually liked the web for some reason.  Like I actually got cheers when I handed them out for homework.  Who knows, but I'm not complaining.  Also- I totally stole the web from someone online but I can't find who.  If it's you or you know, pleaseeee let me know so I can give credit.

Then after all of that I gave this for parallel & perpendicular lines.  The first two pages I put on the right side (printed double sided and folded) and the last two pages I put on the left side (printed double sided and folded).

So yeah...really nothing all that creative, but in my opinion it was a better alternative to just writing pages upon pages of notes.

SBG. I tried out standards based grading for this unit and really loved it.  I felt that it really helped improve retention because the kids were quizzing and re-quizzing on the same topics throughout the entire unit.  It also helped me to really pinpoint their areas of weaknesses.  I honestly feel like I have a very good understanding of exactly what each kid does and does not know.

Some kids really got into the idea and wanted to get their 5's (I used a 0-5 scale where two 4's in a row equals a 5) and it made them request help and ask more questions.  On the other hand, some kids did not rise to the occasion.  They did not request help and continued to get low scores.  When I asked them if they needed help, they said no.  They did not do well on the final unit test.  I didn't want to be super insistent on making them come for help because I really wanted them to want it, but some of them  just didn't get there.

For the next unit I plan to be more on top of them and make the help less optional.  Maybe create mandatory help sessions for anyone that has a 0-2 in a particular topic.

My kids.  I've said it here plenty before, but my kids are so awesome that I just can't stand it.  I like them this year so ridiculously much.  They make my days so enjoyable and really make me look forward to going to school.  I see them during their class period (of course) but I also feel like I see them all day.  At any given time one of them will pop into another class of mine or stop by during my prep periods.  When they have substitutes in other classes they ask to come spend the period with me instead.  Sure I like time to myself and time with other adults, but I really enjoy their company so much that I'll never say no.

A lot of kids get to school early because they come from all over the county so some of them have a good amount of time to spend at school before homeroom starts.  A group of my kids have started to spend their mornings in my room talking with me instead of hanging out in the hallways like everyone else.  Homeroom starts at 8:48 and these kids are in my room by like 8:10 so it means that I need to get all my prep work done about a half hour earlier, but I love it.  Everyday they come in with something different to talk about and it's great.

I have another kid that HATES math yet spends his lunch period every single day sitting in on my math class.  Some days he'll sit at my desk and work on his own homework and ask me for help, other days he'll listen in on my lesson and answer questions.  If it's a topic that he's comfortable with, he'll move around the room and help other kids. Some days he'll help me out with stuff I need done, like fixing something or some craft project I'm working on.  And other days he doesn't really do anything, but I think he just likes having a place to sit.

Another one is a girl of mine that is in the culinary program.  Every single time I come into the kitchen she has me try what she's making (and it's always great!).  Last week she had a free day in there so she showed up to my room with a to-go container of the lemon shrimp she had just make.  Uhh...amazing!

Another couple of my boys are in the carpentry program and when they need a new project idea they come to me and we look through my Pinterest boards for what they should make next.

Last week semester 1 ended and with that I lost the kids from my half year course.  They are a class that I absolutely love. They told me all week that they weren't going to leave me and that they just wanted to stay with me all year.  On the day that they were supposed to switch, one by one every single one of them walked into my room and it was kind of adorable.  I ended up having to walk them down to their new class to see them off.  Every couple days or so one of them will come to me instead of going to their new class and tell me that I need to walk them to class.  I don't mind.

Another period of mine lost a couple kids so it has gotten very small.  And all of them want my attention so instead of sitting at their desks they all want to sit with me.  They all pull their chairs up to my desk to be close.  Although I love that they wanted me to work with them, things were getting a bit cramped.  So one day for their period I did this:

When I did it, it reminded me of a big dining room table.  The kids loved it.  One kid walked in and said, "I don't know what this is, but I like it already."  They too, likened it to a dining room table and two boys in my class that have a strong bromance going on took the two heads of the table.  Somehow it later switched over to a boardroom metaphor with those two becoming the CEO's.  They all sit wherever they want and they get their work done and it's just awesome.

Also in that picture you can see my back chalkboard that has stopped being used for anything educational.  Instead it is a big graffiti drawing type board with all sorts of random stuff.  It seems like every so often a kid will just pick up a piece of chalk and go draw something back there or sign their name when the mood strikes them.  I think they just like to make their mark.  There isn't anything offensive up there so it's fine with me.  Also I'm fairly certain that if I erased it they would yell at me.

So did anyone actually make it to the end of all that??  Haha, my guess is no.  It turns out that I've had quite a bit to say after all.  Coming up next is a unit on systems of equations that I'm going to try to write about more as it goes to avoid this once a month super long recap.  If you did actually read all of this, I also think you should totally leave me a comment to say hi so I know people are actually still here reading :)

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