Math = Love: April 2013

Tuesday, April 30, 2013


The end of the school year is CRAZY.  And, it's definitely reflected in my blogging or lack thereof.  During my student teaching experiences, I never really got to experience the last few weeks of school.  Our finals were always over long before the local middle schools and high schools released for summer.  We have seven days left of school and one professional development day left before summer.  I'm having a really hard time comprehending the fact that I am almost finished with my first year of teaching.  Where in the world has this year gone???   

EOI tests are over.  And, I'm incredibly thankful for that fact!  My Algebra 1 and Algebra 2 students did extremely well.  I am incredibly proud of them and what they have accomplished this school year.  I have a reflective blog post in the works on this topic. 

I'm pretty sure that if I sat down and wrote 49 more blog posts this evening, I *might* feel caught up on this blog.  There are so many lessons and funny quotes and experiences that I want to share with everybody.  I just need more time.  Hopefully, I will be able to carve out the time for that this summer.  But, it looks like my summer is already filling up with workshops and trainings and church activities. 

My students and I are becoming addicted to origami.  We've went through almost 500 pieces of origami paper in the last two weeks.  During EOI testing, our schedules were crazy.  I would see some class periods and not others.  And, even if I saw a class period, there were always a few students who were absent or testing.  I decided that I would use this time to introduce my students to origami.  One or two of my classes experimented with making cubes from sonobe units earlier this year.  But, this was the first time for many of my students to complete an origami project.   (I guess we did make origami envelopes earlier this year, though.)

I did have a few students who figured out that origami wasn't their thing.  So, I gave students the option between creating an origami model or completing 8 KenKen puzzles.  I did have some students opt to complete the KenKen puzzles.  Some students even did both.     

Even though most of my students have been taking their origami projects home with them, I have still managed to collect this many origami projects on my desk.  I think they're multiplying!
Origami Projects (Made from Sonobe Units)
I've started an origami section in my personal library.  My students love to look through these to find potential projects.  I love looking through them, too. 
My Growing Library of Origami Books

Sunday, April 14, 2013

T Minus 10 Hours

T minus ten hours until state testing begins.  My Algebra 1 and Algebra 2 students will all test Monday morning.  This will be my first time to administer a standardized test.  During my student teaching, I had the opportunity to proctor a standardized test.  I'm just hoping that we won't have any technology issues tomorrow... 

I don't know where this past year has gone.  A year ago today, I was calling my superintendent to accept this job.  A year ago yesterday, I had never set foot in this town that I now call home.  I didn't know where it was on a map or even know how to get here.   

My emotions are all over the place right now.  I'm scared.  I'm excited.  I'm terrified.  I'm nervous.  I'm unsure of exactly how I'm supposed to feel right now.  My students and I have worked hard this school year.  For my Algebra 1 students, the stakes are high.  Students are required to pass the Algebra 1 EOI in order to graduate.  My Algebra 2 students don't have that pressure on them, but that scares me, too.  Will they try their hardest if they know they don't have to pass the test to graduate? 

I teach a large number of students who have failed to pass their standardized tests in mathematics in the past.  And, I want nothing more than to see them pass.  I want them to see that hard work does pay off.  I did some research this weekend, and I discovered that my school district regularly performs the worst or second-worst in mathematics in our entire county.  I knew that our test scores were low when I took this job, but I didn't realize that they were that low.  My mentors continually remind me that progress is slow.  Any progress is good progress.  But, my perfectionistic self has a hard time accepting that.  I want instant change.     

Sadly, some of my students have chosen not to put in ample work to master the concepts of the course.  And, I believe that will also be reflected in their test scores.  A small number of students chose to not complete our review assignments.  I've reminded them constantly that the need to try their hardest.  If the students don't pass, they will take Algebra 1 again next year.  I've tried my hardest to prevent this, but I think I have some students who need that in order to be successful in the long run.   

I've been told by some that my test scores directly reflect my effectiveness as a teacher.  Others have cautioned me to not read too much into my test scores because they reflect the education my students have received over the course of their school careers.  So, I don't really know what to think. 

But, I have a feeling I will shed some tears tomorrow, though.  Tears of joy and tears of sadness.   

Saturday, April 13, 2013


Lately, I've starting having doubts if I actually teach high school. 


(These are all actual things I've found myself saying this week!) 

1.  "Please take the cardboard box off of your head."  As review for the EOI, my Algebra 1 students were playing Around the World.  One of my class periods was really into the game.  I had students yelling when they didn't advance.  After one student lost, I looked over to see him laying in the floor like he was about to have a temper tantrum.  Later, I look back over, and he is sitting in the floor with a cardboard box on his head.  And, this was no small cardboard box.  It was probably 3 feet tall, 2 feet wide, and 1 foot deep.  I had gotten some fundraiser material in it for student council.  I still can't figure out why in the world he would feel compelled to place it over his head...   

2.  "Please stop making pterodactyl noises."  Honestly, I don't know if they were pterodactyl noises.  But, my students said they were pterodactyl noises.  And, they were extremely annoying and distracting.  How do we even know what pterodactyls sounded like?  I'm pretty sure they went extinct a long time before we had the means of recording sounds.  And, of course, as soon as one student starting making pterodactyl noises, the other students sitting around him had to start making them, too.  It's really hard to keep a straight face while repeatedly asking students to stop making pterodactyl noises.   

3.  "Please don't lick your desk."  One of my students thought it would be more fun to drink his Sprite by pouring small amounts from his bottle into the cap of his bottle and drinking it from there.  Another student thought it would be funny to make his desk shift slightly at the exact moment he went to take his drink.  The student's capful of Sprite ended up spilling all over his desk.  Not wanting it to go to waste, he decided he would lick it off his desk.  At one point, I actually saw his mouth touch the desk.  The other students were outraged, too.  And, I think their comments may have been more powerful in stopping him than my plea.  I would not eat anything that touched the top of one of my students' desks.  They might get cleaned every nine-to-twelve weeks.  (Though, I do have one student who brought her own bottle of Clorox wipes to store in my classroom.  And, she sanitizes her desk and her friends' desks every day before class.)     

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

My New Classroom Pet

Throughout elementary school, I only had one experience with a class pet.  The year was fifth grade, and our class had raised enough money to purchase a hamster.  At least, I think it was a hamster.  But, I guess it could have been a guinea pig.  What I do remember, though, is that the animal had one of those wheels in his cage.  And, he loved to run on his wheel.  We also had one of those balls that allowed him to roll around our classroom.  That was always fun, but I'm afraid that we might have spent more time watching where the hamster was going on those days then actually focusing on our work.  I'm sure that the hamster had a name, but I can't seem to remember it. 

Anyway, back to the wheel.  Our class hamster soon tired of just running on his wheel.  So, he decided to learn a new trick.  He would learn to balance on top of his wheel.  Looking back, he was probably more interested in escaping than balancing...  But, balancing on top of a circular wheel is harder than you would think.  I guess I've never tried it myself, but it was really difficult for our hamster.  Every day, the hamster would climb on top of the wheel and fall off.  Climb on top of the wheel and fall off.  Over and over and over. 

Finally, one day our hamster stopped climbing on top of the wheel.  We blamed his death on the fact that he had taken too many hits to the head from falling off of the wheel. 

Why am I telling you this story?  I'm not really sure.  All I really wanted to do was tell you about a cool new gadget that I got for my classroom.  But, then I had to think of a creative title.  I started thinking about classroom pets, and here we are.  Sorry for the tangent...

Without further ado, meet my Monkey Multiplier. 

Monkey Multiplier
My parents picked up this nifty thing at a thrift store for $1.49.  Here's how he works.  Move the monkey's toes to rest on the two numbers you wish to multiply.  If you want to square a number, place one toe on the number and one toe on the square on the far right. 
Monkey Multiplier
For this example, I want to multiply 7 times 9.  To find my answer, I look at the hands of the monkey. 
Monkey Multiplier
Mr. Monkey has correctly identified 63 as the correct answer. 
Even though I teach high school, my students are still mesmerized by this toy.  I have even had students borrow it to help with an assignment instead of using a calculator.  It's also helped spark some great conversations about how it works. 
When my students leave my classroom, I hope they will agree that a) math is doable and b) math can be a lot of fun. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Parts of a Radical Graphic Organizer for Interactive Notebooks

As a first year teacher, I am still working on my pacing.  How long do I need to devote to this unit?  How fast should I move?  Next year, I feel like I will be much more prepared to map out my curriculum plan for the entire school year.  I attempted to do that this year, but I never ended up using it because it turned out to be made up of entirely wrong guesses.  Yeah, let's just say my Algebra 1 students didn't master factoring polynomials in 2-3 days... 

The last unit I will be covering before Algebra 1 state testing will be radicals.  We're in the middle of the unit now, and I feel like we are moving at a snail's pace.  I guess one of the reasons I am being so intentional in how I teach radicals is because my Algebra 2 students tended to struggle with them this year.  I wrongly assumed that they had had an in-depth introduction to them in Algebra 1. 

I'm also trying to fit new material and EOI review material into a 50-minute class period.  By focusing on only one facet of radicals each day, I am able to find time to do both. 

Here is how my unit on radicals has progressed so far:
Day 1 - Vocabulary Survey; Prime and Composite Numbers; Prime Factorization*
Day 2 - Parts of a Radical
Day 3 - Simplify Radicals
Day 4 - Simplify Radicals, continued
Day 5 - Add and Subtract Radicals
Day 6 - Multiply Radicals

I still need to cover dividing radicals and rationalizing the denominator. 

* I tried out a new vocabulary strategy on Day 1 that I read about over Spring Break.  I haven't blogged about it, yet.  I was hoping to finish the unit first so I could share my students' experiences and feedback.  So, check back soon for that!   

I have really been emphasizing vocabulary this semester.  This unit on radicals is no exception.  I learned a lot from teaching radicals to my Algebra 2 students last semester, and I'm putting that knowledge to work to create the best possible learning experience for my Algebra 1 students.

Confession time.  Even though I have a BS in Mathematics, I started my teaching career without knowing crucial words like "index" and "radicand."  Do you know how frustrating it is to constantly have to keep describing the index as the small number that can be found to the top and left of the radical symbol?  It's frustrating enough to make you stop your lesson and google "parts of a radical."  After that terrible experience in Algebra 2, I decided that I would teach my Algebra 1 students the crucial vocabulary words from the start. 

I created this graphic organizer over the parts of a radical for our interactive notebooks.  Students were allowed to choose their own index and radicand.   
Parts of a Radical - Graphic Organizer in Interactive Notebook
On the next page of our notebook, I created a practice sheet of sorts.  I cut and pasted some radicals from a free Kuta worksheet.  All my students had to do was identify the index and the radicand.  The students were excited about having an "easy" lesson.  They were less excited when I handed out an EOI review packet... 

Parts of a Radical - Practice Sheet for Interactive Notebook
File can be found here.  

Monday, April 1, 2013

Algebra 1 - Graphing Linear Inequalities

I've basically thrown the textbook the rest of the way out the window.  Last semester, I tried to present Algebra 1 concepts in the same order as the textbook even though my students were not using the textbook.  I didn't do such a good job of that.  The textbook order just didn't make sense when I looked at what my students needed.  After finishing our unit on linear equations, I chose to temporarily skip over linear inequalities and systems of linear equations.  When we returned from Christmas Break, we dove head first into exponents.  That unit was followed by polynomials.  We graphed absolute value equations.  And, my students loved them.  Absolute value was followed by linear inequalities. 

For this unit, I modified an idea I had used with my Algebra 2 students.  I taught my Algebra 2 students to shade inequalities by testing points.  It was a natural way for me to teach it because that is how I remember learning.  But, it failed for my students. 

I modified my instruction away from testing points, and I like the end result a lot better. 

Graphing Inequalities - Interactive Notebook Entry
For inequalities that can be solved for y, I taught students to shade their graphs according to the inequality symbol.  If the inequality says "y is less than," that means we want to shade the y-axis where it is "less than" our graph.  This translates to shading the part of the graph that includes the y-axis below the graph.  If the inequality says "y is greater than," that means we want to shade the y-axis where it is "greater than" our graph.  This translates to shading the part of the graph that includes the y-axis above the graph. 

A similar explanation can be used for vertical lines, but I neglected to include it on the graphic organizer that we glued in our interactive notebooks. 

I surveyed my students about postponing this unit until several months after finishing our unit on linear equations.  I asked them if they whether they liked the placement of this unit or if they would have preferred to have covered this when initially learning to graph linear equations.  I believe the consensus of the class was that they thought it was beneficial that we waited.  And, I agree.  Postponing this unit allowed me time to spend an entire week on solving literal equations.  This helped beef up our skills to allow us to quickly and accurately convert an equation into slope-intercept form. 

File has been uploaded here.