Math = Love: Conic Card Diary

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Conic Card Diary

This post has been setting in my drafts since early April.  I finally got around to finishing it today.  If you teach Algebra 2 and you haven't heard of Conic Cards, I want you to stop what you are doing right now and send Cindy Johnson an e-mail right now.  Cindy Johnson is a National Board Certified Teacher.  Her e-mail is johnsoncindy2002 at yahoo dot com.  You can also check out her blog at Conic Card Lady.

The conic cards include ten equations, ten graphs, and ten descriptions of each type of conic section for the students to match.  Formula cards are also included.  There are 9 different decks that allow students to practice matching different equations, graphs, and descriptions each day.  When you e-mail Cindy, she will send you the cards to print, worksheets for each day, and copies of tests and projects she has successfully used in her own classroom. 

If you're thinking that these conic cards can't possibly be that great, lots of other bloggers have already written about their love for conic cards.      

Conic Cards
Honestly, I was dreading teaching this unit.  When I took Algebra 2, I remember struggling with conic sections more than any other topic we studied.  There were so many formulas to remember, that it was quite overwhelming. 

The Preparation Process

Lots of Cutting and Laminating!

Day 1: Parabolas
If this was a one-day activity, I would call it a failure.  But, it's only day one of a learning process.  My students obviously don't know how to follow directions.  I thought that asking students to remove the cards with only one word on them was as clear as possible.  I also thought that asking them to remove the cards that didn't have a number, letter, or symbol in the top left hand corner was clear.  Wrong. 

My students really wanted me to let them use their graphing calculators.  All year, we've used our graphing calculators.  So, it was hard for them to understand why I was asking them to identify parabolas without the calculator. 

They didn't pay as much attention to the formula cards as I would have liked.  But, I have to keep reminding myself this is Day 1.  They will start to see the patterns.  They will start to look for the patterns. 

Day 2: Parabolas and Circles
Conic cards are great.  Conic cards held together with a rubber band are less great.  I don't know what it is about a rubber band, but my students can't seem to stop playing with them.  Let's just say that tomorrow, my students will find that their conic cards are stored in freezer bags instead of held together by a rubber band. 

Some of my students really stepped it up today.  They started looking for patterns in the formulas of the parabolas and circles.  I had a couple of students ask a really great question about determining the vertex of a parabola.  They had one equation of a horizontal parabola and one equation of a vertical parabola.  We had a great conversation about how the location of h and k in the equation depends on what variable the equation has been solved for. 

It wasn't a perfect lesson, though.  One student who was absent on Day 1 wanted nothing to do with the conic cards.  She refused to participate.  She refused to work with her partner.  She even refused to scoot her desk next to her partners.  Instead of asking questions, she just wanted to talk to the boys sitting behind her and play with the rubber band off her deck of conic cards.  She ended up actually walking out of my classroom without permission.  Some other students stepped in and helped her partner, and that was really great to see. 

The Day 2 activities did not entirely fill our 50-minute period.  But, I'm kind of glad.  The early finishers really stepped up today and helped the other students.  Those who had discovered patterns and created tricks of their own started just going around the room and helping others.  And, they weren't giving answers.  They were actually explaining and helping each other.  I consider that major progress.          

Day 3: Parabolas, Circles, and Ellipses
The students noticed today that the rubber bands were gone.  They were sad.  I wasn't.  The girl who stormed out of class yesterday acted like she didn't want to participate today either.  I let her and her partner work individually.  I don't know if that was a good decision or not.  I mean, it worked out, but was I rewarding her for acting out?  Since I had three students working individually today, I ended up doing a lot more explaining than on the previous days.  I like the group work aspect of this.  It encourages mathematical conversation.  Still, many of my students refuse to talk to their partner.  Or, one partner tends to dominate the sorting process.  I saw students stepping up and helping other students today which was exciting.  And, I loved seeing my students' reactions as I checked their answers.  If the first trio of cards was correctly matched, they would utter a quiet "Yes!"  With each successive trio, their exclamations became louder and more excited.  Excitement in Algebra 2?  Yes, it's possible.  But, I have to say I haven't had enough of it in my Algebra 2 class this year. 

I took for granted that my students would know that an ellipse was oval-shaped. 

One group of boys even went ahead and matched the hyperbolas even though that wasn't part of today's lesson.  I didn't stop them, though.  I'm still not sure how to best manage my class time during this unit.  The matching does not take my students the full 50-minute class period.  Even after doing two EOI prep questions as bellwork, the students still complete the matching and finish their homework with more time to spare than I'm comfortable with.  I want my students to be working from bell to bell.  Maybe I'll try to sneak in more EOI review at the beginning tomorrow.  I know my students are going to love me!   

Day 4: Parabolas, Circles, and Ellipses
I think my students are finally getting the hang of the card-sorting process.  When I hand out the cards, they simply start sorting the cards into groups.  They're doing really well with parabolas and circles.  Ellipses are still tough for them, though.  Some of my students have figured it out, but most just cross their fingers and guess which ellipse cards go together.  Tomorrow, I think we're going to spend some time graphing ellipses on the smart board and discussing what role each number and variable in the equation plays. 

Day 5: Parabolas, Circles, and Ellipses
So, after graphing some ellipses together as a class, my students did a much better job today of matching their ellipses.  My students are really anxious to start the hyperbolas.  Every day, they come in and ask if we're going to do hyperbolas yet.  A lot of students have been gone lately for various school activities, and that makes me nervous.  I told them that they would need to come in before school, after school, or at lunch to work on matching up the cards from the days they were gone, but they don't seem too concerned.  Next year, I think I don't think I want to save conic sections for the very end.  This whole unit is feeling a little more rushed than I would like. 

Day 6: Parabolas, Circles, Ellipses, and Hyperbolas
Today was my students' first experience with hyperbolas.  They whizzed through their matching of the parabolas, circles, and ellipses.  Then, everybody seemed to raise their hand at once wanting help with the hyperbolas.  Since I don't have the ability to clone myself, I told them to look at their formula cards for help and to discuss ideas with their partner.  Then, I slowly worked my way around the room.  I think I'm going to have to do the same thing with hyperbolas as I did with ellipses.  I need to walk my students through the process of graphing a hyperbola tomorrow.  If I was teaching a Pre-AP Algebra 2 class, this direct instruction may not have been necessary.  But, my school only has one Algebra 2 class.  My class is made up of students of all levels.  Next year, I think I will design interactive notebook pages that we will complete together as a class before jumping into the card-sorting.  This will give my students something to reference when I am not immediately available to answer their questions.

Day 7: Parabolas, Circles, Ellipses, and Hyperbolas
Half of my class was gone today.  Students are still frustrated over hyperbolas.  So, today I decided that we would get out our interactive notebooks and write a summary of each conic section.  This too a lot more time than I expected, but I think it was worth it.  I'm pretty sure I saw a few light bulbs come on. 

One of my students raised his hand to ask a question.  "How can I be good at this when I haven't understood anything else all year long?"  These cards work.  These cards show students that they are capable of doing algebra.  And, that student did pass his Algebra 2 EOI exam.  He may have struggled with the concepts more than his fellow students, but he definitely learned a lot this year.  I'm proud of him and all the hard work he put in even when it didn't come easily to him. 

Day 8: TEST Day!
Yesterday, I told my students they were going to be having a test.  They weren't excited.  But, when I told them that their test was to simply match up all the conic cards, they didn't seem to have a problem with that. 

I just got finished grading the tests, and each group scored at least a 90%.  I would call conic cards a definite success.  Now that I fully understand how the cards work, I'm looking forward to teaching conic sections next year.  I'll be making a few tweaks, and I look forward to sharing those with you next year! 


  1. I use her conic cards as well. And they are awesome.

    1. I can't find them on her blog and my email was returned. Can anyone help?

    2. Here's a link:

  2. I used them back in May for the first time,' feedback from the year stated it was their favorite thing!!

  3. I'd still love access to these cards! I tried emailing but didn't get a response :( Any chance you can send them my way?

    1. same here! i cant find them anywhere!

    2. Here's a link:

  4. Could you send them my way, as well? :)

    1. Certainly! E-mail me at mathequalslove (at) gmail (dot) com so I will have your e-mail address to send them to.

  5. Hi Sarah, Did you ever make INB pages to go along with the conic cards? I am starting them this week! (IF I can get them all cut out in time). lol! Thanks!!

  6. Could you send them to me as well?

    1. Sure! Send me an e-mail at

  7. Melissa Lough
    How can I get a copy of the conic cards?
    Sounds like a great idea!!

    1. Link here: