Math = Love

Saturday, April 4, 2020


A couple of months ago, my Algebra 2 students were working on polynomials. There was ~10 minutes left at the end of class, and they were in dire need of some good old fashioned practice. So, I had them get out a sheet of notebook paper and work out the problems I was going to write on the dry erase board.

Except there was an issue. I got to number nine, and I had asked all the different types of questions that I wanted to. But to stop at nine questions seemed weird. I had a split second to decide whether I was going to stop at an odd nine questions or if I was going to think of a tenth question on the fly.

I chose the latter. For question 10, I asked my students to draw a picture of "Polly"nomial. I didn't elaborate. I just threw the question up on the board to see how my students would take it. When students asked questions, I just shrugged my shoulders and told them that I wanted to see what they would come up with.

They didn't disappoint. And, it definitely made grading a somewhat boring assignment much more interesting!

Friday, April 3, 2020

Highlights: Volume 2

Welcome to the second ever volume of Highlights on my blog. When I posted Volume 1 in July of 2019, I certainly didn't think I'd be waiting until April of 2020 to post another volume. What's even sadder is that if schools weren't closed due to COVID-19, I'm not sure if the second volume would have ever been posted. Sorry for my inconsistent blogging since becoming a mom.

This semi-regular blog feature rose out of my feeling of missing out on the amazingness of math teacher twitter when I was pregnant/on maternity leave. I would go weeks at a time without even logging into twitter. And, when I did log in, all I could think about was all that I had missed. I often tweet out resources that I've ran across in books or on the Internet. So I decided I should start capturing these resources on my blog for people to peruse on their own time. So, this is for all of those people who love math resources but (gasp!) actually have a life that means they aren't glued to their twitter feed 24/7/365.

So, take a scroll, and maybe you'll see something that captures your eye. Or, maybe you're like me, and you'll have seen these posts before and completely forgot about the resources even though you're the person that originally tweeted about the min the first place!

Want even more ideas? Check out Volume 1 of Highlights here.


I ran across this image while searching for something else. It captured so many of the experiences I've had teaching Pre-Calc, that I thought I should share it on Twitter. My tweet was liked 881 times and retweeted 184 times, so I guess it resonated with a bunch of other math teachers as well. Doug Shaw commented on my tweet to say that he wrote this in 2002 and it was published in The Australian Mathematics Teacher. 

Source: Doug Shaw (Published in The Australian Mathematics Teacher)


I really liked this task that I ran across in Mathematics for the College Boards by Rich Barnett (Copyright 1967 AMSCO). If you follow this link, you can "borrow" the book for free as part of the Internet Archive's National Emergency Library. A commenter on twitter said that this type of question used to be standard far on the SAT in the 1970s and 1980s.

Source: Mathematics for the College Boards by Rich Barnett (Copyright 1967 AMSCO)


This lovely exponent task is from the same book: Mathematics for the College Boards by Rich Barnett (Copyright 1967 AMSCO). If you're looking for matching questions, this book is chock full of them!

Source: Mathematics for the College Boards by Rich Barnett (Copyright 1967 AMSCO)


I'm super intrigued by this variant of Tic Tac Toe from Giant Book of Puzzles and Games by Sheila Anne Barry. This is another book that you can borrow from the Internet Archive's Open Library for free. If you love using puzzles in your classroom, I get a lot of my puzzle making inspiration from puzzle books that I've borrowed virtually through the Internet Archive.

Source: Giant Book of Puzzles and Games by Sheila Anne Barry


When I ran across this task last fall, I thought it would make a great classroom activity for anyone needing to collect one variable data to analyze. The task is from Stephen Barr's Mathematical Brain Benders: 2nd Miscellany of Puzzles.

Source: Mathematical Brain Benders by Stephen Barr


These quadrilateral tasks from 100 Geometric Games by Pierre Berloquin (affiliate link) could spark some great classroom conversation. How many quadrilaterals are in each diagram? 

Source: 100 Geometric Games by Pierre Berloquin

Source: 100 Geometric Games by Pierre Berloquin

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Islands Puzzle

Yesterday's post on my most popular blog posts of 2019 had me opening lots of different blog posts to copy and paste pictures. One of the things that caught my eye was a blurb I had written about presenting at the Northeast Oklahoma Math Teachers Gathering. I did a one hour presentation on the Puzzling Classroom (which I totally plan to blog about someday...) In preparation for that presentation, I put together a bunch of new puzzles. 

Curiosity got the best of me, and I found the list of puzzles that I had presented at the conference. I was curious just how many of the new puzzles had made it up on the blog. The answer? Not enough! So, I hope you don't get too frustrated at me if I share quite a few puzzles in the next few weeks. The only problem is that the pretty laminated puzzles and puzzle pieces are locked up in my classroom which is locked up in my school which is closed due to COVID-19. So you may just have to live with screenshots of lots of these puzzles until the world calms down and I can update the posts with prettier pictures. 

Today's puzzle does have pretty pictures because I took them a million years ago and just never got around to writing this post. This puzzle is very similar to The Four Seasons Puzzle and North East South West Puzzle which both made their appearance on this blog back in early 2018.  

In this puzzle, you are provided with thirteen letter squares. These letter squares are placed on the grid in such a way that the seven main inhabited Hawaiian islands can be spelled by moving one square at a time horizontally, vertically, or diagonally.

For example, in this picture, you can see that the letters in "OAHU" and "MAUI" can be traced out.

It is quite a task to find a way to spell out ALL seven of the islands. When I've done similar puzzles with students in the past, they have found them to be very engaging. I like that this sort of puzzle has a low barrier to entry. Can you make the grid spell out the name of just one island? How about another? And another? Oh wait, maybe we should start with the longest island name and work towards adding the smaller names... 

This puzzle is by Donald Knuth and is featured in Puzzle Box, Volume 1 (affiliate link).

The puzzle board is designed to print on 11 x 17 paper or cardstock (affiliate link). The puzzle pieces are designed to print on letter sized paper.

You can print it on letter sized paper by changing the scale percentage. I had to scale it to 65% to make it fit. Be sure you remember what percent you chose because you will need to scale the puzzle pieces to the SAME percent so that the puzzle pieces fit on the puzzle board properly.

I hope you and your students have fun with this puzzle! If you haven't already, I definitely recommend that you check out the Puzzle Box books. You can get a great taste of what types of puzzles they have to offer you and your students by looking at the free Amazon Preview! Just click the "Look Inside" button for each book. If you're logged into Amazon, you can click "Surprise Me!" on the left side of the page. This will let you see quite a few of the puzzles inside the book for free. I typed up my first Puzzle Box puzzle from the free preview. Then, I did some more looking around and knew I had to order it!

I have uploaded the files for this puzzle here. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

2019's Most Popular Posts

I started this post back in early December. I put off finishing it until closer to the end of 2019. Then, we took a whirlwind trip to Australia (including six flights with an infant) over Christmas Break. I'd started to think that I was never going to have time to finish this post. I guess you could say I didn't see this worldwide pandemic coming...

So, as I now have time to blog again, I guess it's fitting to take a look at last year's top ten posts to see what types of posts you guys actually like to read. Here are my top ten posts according to popularity of pageviews. Maybe you'll run across a post you somehow missed in 2019!

1. Twelve Envelopes Puzzle

I guess it's no huge surprise that my first day of school activity was my post popular post of the year. 2018's First Day of School Post (2s to 9s Challenge) was my second most popular post of that year. It helps that Oklahoma goes back to school before a large chunk of the rest of the country. And, my blog views always seem to peak around the beginning of the school year. I guess it's time to start thinking about how I'll start off next school year when I hopefully get to see my students in person again!

2. Math Joke of the Week

You guys were just as excited by the idea of a math joke of the week as I was! It turns out my students really loved it, too. They were quick to remind me whenever I forgot to change the week's joke. Usually, one student in a class period would notice the new joke, read the joke aloud to the class, and then flip up the joke to reveal the answer with great fanfare. It was a beautiful sight to see.

3. Nine Squares Puzzle

This puzzle was super popular on both my blog and twitter. I love seeing the photos of everyone trying out this puzzle with their students!

4. Trig Identity Match-Up Activity

I have LOVED getting to teach Trig/Pre-Calculus each year as part of my new job teaching at my old high school. It's been so fun getting to make new activities. This matching activity for trig identities has been one of my favorite new creations. I'm excited to see a non puzzle/classroom decoration post getting some love.

5. 1-4-5 Square Challenge

This was an updated jumbo magnetic version of a puzzle I've been using with my students for YEARS. This puzzle is a popular post for good reason. This is an excellent leveled puzzle that starts students off with a challenge they can't fail and slowly ramps up the difficulty level until students are claiming the puzzle is impossible. I promise. It it isn't!

6. Teaching the Train Game

The "Train Game" is one of my very favorite games to play at the beginning of the year with my students while schedules are still settling down. It's an easy to learn game, but it's not always the easiest to explain to students. Hopefully, my post about how I teach the game to my students made the game accessible to many more classrooms than previously.

7. Dividing Polynomials Using the Box Method Puzzle

The Box Method has to be one of my favorite parts of teaching Algebra 2. I refuse to teach polynomial division any other way. I'm glad to see this post about introducing polynomial division using some puzzles getting some positive attention!

8. Square Pi Puzzle

I love this Square Pi Puzzle for bringing a bit of puzzling fun to the classroom for Pi Day. Sadly, Pi Day was on a weekend this year, and the few days leading up to it were a bit overshadowed by COVID-19 news. So I didn't actually end up celebrating it in my classroom this year. I guess I'll have to wait until next year to pull out this always-popular puzzle.

9. SOMA Challenges

It's exciting to see some of my summer block projects getting some blog love. These SOMA Challenges were a huge hit with my students during the first few months of the school year when I had them out on the Puzzle Table. Kids loved being able to flip through the binder of challenges and choose a new puzzle to tackle with the blocks. Plus, they were pretty fun to build out of wooden cubes!

10. Genius Blocks 

My tenth most popular post of the year was another summer block project. I actually never got a chance to try these with my students this year. :( I still really enjoyed people sending me pictures of their students tackling the genius block puzzles throughout the year.

I hope you enjoyed this look back at 2019. Here's hoping for plenty of blogging in 2020.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Monday Must Reads: Volume 63

Well, it's a new week, and the world is still an insane place. My school is meeting virtually today to start putting into place a plan to do distance learning starting next week. I still can't wrap my mind around what this is actually going to look like.

A tiny silver lining? This extra at-home time has given me some time to start working through my backlog of Twitter "likes" that deserve to be shared in the form of Monday Must Reads. It is my hope that you find some useful ideas that you can apply now or in the future in your own classroom.

Hope everyone is staying safe and well out there!

Mr Knowles shares a lovely task involving radicals (or surds).

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Nolan Fossum shares some Open Middle tasks for calculus students to tackle.

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Fawn Nguyen has opened my eyes to a different way to present quadratics to students from The Madison Project.

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Eddie Woo shares a fabulous quadrilateral classification task from Stuart Palmer.

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Andrea Wardell engages students in proportional reasoning with a poster of Abraham Lincoln.

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Katie Marhefki shares some excellent student work involving real-world sine curves.

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Looking for a Desmos project involving linear equations? Look no further than Tyler Beranek's amazing skyline project.

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Teaching science? Check out Allison Kipping's recommendation of using Google Forms for pre-labs.

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Jennifer Fairbanks shares some lovely photos of student work adorning her classroom door.

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David Butler shares some beautifully designed handouts for various topics including geometry, trigonometry, and calculus.

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Meagan White shares an idea that gets students reflecting on their work/mistakes AND reduces that amount you have to grade. I call that a WIN-WIN!

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Joshua Schmidt shares a clever way to engage his students in the game of chess.

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Jennifer Abel shares a weekly check-in that she has students complete that was inspired by Mr. Schmidt.

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Check out this crafty, letter-themed volume and surface area project from Rachel Blunt

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Tim Chartier shares a useful calculus analogy involving balloons and series. 

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Liz Mastalio offers a peek into how she preps for parent-teacher conferences. This checklist is brilliant! 

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When I'm next in the classroom again, I definitely want to try to implement a system for which students next need my help. I like this simple (yet brilliant) approach from Hannah Shaw

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These angle puzzle posters from David McConnell look like a lot of fun! 

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Until next time, keep sharing your awesome ideas!