Math = Love: September 2013

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Good Things is a Great Thing!

Teenagers will never cease to surprise me!  Just when I think I finally have them figured out, they shock me by hating something I was sure they would love and loving something I was sure they would hate.  

For example, last Thursday was International Talk Like A Pirate Day.  Every day, I post whatever holiday it is on my dry erase board below the date.  I get my holidays from this site

Pirate Day Bellwork for Algebra 1

So, on International Talk Like A Pirate Day, my students entered the classroom to find pirate-themed bellwork.  Were they impressed?  No.  Could they care less?  No.  Did anyone try to talk like a pirate?  No.  My third hour has the tendency to be a little unruly, so I was able to quiet them down rather quickly by exclaiming, "Avast!"  Of course, they told me the only reason they stopped and listened to me was because I sounded ridiculous.  Whatever it takes...

In late August, my district brought in an elementary school principal from another school district to talk to the entire district on classroom management and building classroom culture.  I was skeptical about the training because the same presentation was being given to all the faculty from pre-K through 12 at the same time.  After introducing herself, the presenter put up a slide that read, "Good Things."  It was subtitled, "Personal or Professional."  The presenter modeled how Good Things works by (briefly) sharing something good that had happened in her life recently.  Then, she asked for a few volunteers from the audience to share a good thing that had happened to them.  Some of the things shared were funny.  Others were serious.  Some were school-related.  Others were personal.  I instantly fell in love with this activity.      

Good Things
I know I've read about this classroom routine somewhere before, but I had never tried it.  I feared it would take too much time, but the good thing about Good Things is that you decide how many students share.  If you only have three minutes for this activity, you only let three students share before moving on.

I'm going to be honest.  The first time I tried this out in my classroom, it was kinda awkward.  I modeled how to share a Good Thing.  And, there was dead silence.  On top of that, my principal was in my classroom observing.  Now that we've been doing this every Monday for almost a month, the students know exactly what to do when I put up the Smart Board slide that says "Good Things."  Hands are raised, clamoring to be the first one to share their good thing.  I'm learning things about my students that I would have otherwise never learned.  Students who won't speak up in class will raise their hand to share a good thing that is going on in their life.  Students get to see a different side of their classmates, and it's exciting to see them realize that they have shared interests with others.

I'll put it this way.  My students LOVE Good Things.  One class loves it so much that they've decided that Wednesday should be dubbed, "Bad Things Day."  They told me that sometimes they just need an opportunity to vent.  I'm just not so sure about whether that is a great idea or not.  I'm thinking it's not a good idea.  The goal of Good Things is to build a climate of positivity, caring, and sharing.  And, hopefully, students will realize that I care and will know that they can come and talk to me about anything.  

I've decided that Mondays are the perfect day for this activity.  First of all, it's easy to be negative on a Monday because most everyone wishes it was still the weekend.  And, most of my students get their inspiration for Good Things from their weekend activities.  Not only am I getting to know my students better, but my students are getting to know me better.  Last week, I asked for Good Things for the first time without first sharing my own good thing.  My weekend had been less than exciting, and I just really couldn't think of anything noteworthy to share.  After the students were done sharing, one table of students was quick to point out that I hadn't shared anything, and they wanted to know how my weekend was.  It was a nice feeling to know that my students cared enough to want to hear about my weekend.  I guess I shouldn't be surprised, though.  This is the same group of students who took it upon themselves to write me an online dating profile description...    

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Relations, Functions, and Dating Advice

I guess I shouldn't be surprised when my students give me dating advice.  After all, I gave them some dating advice a few weeks ago, and they must be just returning the favor.  If you want to know what your students really think of you, let them write you an online dating profile.  But, more on that scenario and how it came to be at the end of this post. 

After spending several days on relations and functions in Algebra 2, I put up this slide.  Mathematical Dating Advice.  Yes, the room will grow quiet.  Conversations will cease, and all eyes will be on you.  You will be shocked at the rapt attention that your students are capable of paying you.   

When you are dating, you want to be in a functional relationship.  Let the x-coordinate of the ordered pair be any person.  In this case, the x-coordinate is Bob.  Let the y-coordinate of the ordered pair be the x-coordinate's significant other.  As you can see, Bob is dating both Jill and Sue.  Therefore, this is not a functional relationship.  And, unless you want to get your heart shattered in a million pieces, you need to get out of this relationship as fast as possible.    

After this short conversation, I think I saw some light-bulbs come on.  There was laughter, and I heard several girls discussing how they were going to ask the next guy they were interested in if he was a function or non-function.  They decided this was problematic, though, because he wouldn't know what they were talking about if he hadn't taken Algebra 2. 

As students were working on their function/not a function card sort, one group of students called me over for what I thought was help.  Actually, they had been discussing my advice, and they had decided that one of the girls was currently talking to a guy who was definitely not a function.  So, could I please tell their friend that she should stop talking to this guy?

Fast-forward to about 2.5 weeks ago, my Algebra 2 students are now working on distance vs. time graphs.  We're doing graphing stories.  We're writing stories to match graphs.  And, this is leading to a lot of off-topic conversations.  It's a Friday, and the class consensus is that we would all rather be at the beach than analyzing graphs of walks at the beach.

And somehow, one comment leads to another, and my class is soon discussing how I should describe myself if/when I try online dating.  This is what they come up with:  "I like taking long walks along the beach and graphing them.  I love reciting the quadratic formula.  And, I enjoy reading math books by a roaring fire."

I guess I should be thankful that they are concerned about my relationship status.  But, I don't think I will be taking their advice any time soon...   

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Things Teenagers Say... Volume 1

Year two of teaching has been a lot easier than year one was.  Of course, this year has brought its own unique challenges.  My Algebra 1 students, as a group, struggle much more with mathematics than last year's group.  The number of students we have taking Algebra 2 has tripled since last year.  I'm really excited about what this group of kids will be able to accomplish, but we have some major confidence issues to overcome in the next several months!  I'm teaching statistics for the first time, and I'm learning as my students learn.

It's easier in that I'm teaching in the same school with the same administrators.  I know exactly who to go to when I have a problem.  I know the best time to use the copy machine.  I know what to expect now when it comes to things like homecoming, prom, and graduation.  When I go to a football game, I see a ton of familiar faces.  I don't worry about what I'm going to say when I stand up in front of my students.  I have a reputation for requiring a lot from my students.  I also have a reputation for having a really fun class.    

This year, it seems like my students are saying funnier things than normal.  This probably isn't the case.  What is more likely is that I am paying more attention to what my students are saying instead of being overwhelmed by the newness of everything.  And, I've learned the importance of recording the good moments.  If you don't record the good, it is very easy to become overwhelmed by the bad.  

So, I present to you Volume 1 of Things Teenagers Say:

An actual phone conversation that occurred in my class:

Yes sir, I was calling in regards to renting a tiger for our homecoming float...$5,000 per hour...I don't think so.  Thank you for your time.  


I feel like God today. 

(Said by a student who was wearing ALL white.)


I don't like how much homework you're giving us.  I'm about to run out of the teacher's credit union.

(I'm still not sure I quite understand this one...)


You have pretty handwriting.  Your handwriting on the Smart Board does not look like this!


While making a concept map over "algebra:"

Ms. Hagan - how do you spell exciting?
E-X-C-I-T-I-N-G.  I'm so glad that you find my class to be exciting!
There's another word before that word, isn't there?
Yeah - "non."


I've already missed 20 problems, and we're only on number 14.


At least you're not like most teachers who drain their students' blood to grade their papers with.


Ms. Hagan!  Did you see them carry out the dead body?!?


Me: What is -3-5?
Student: -2
Me: No.
Student: 2
Me: No
Student: 8
Me: No
Student: (exasperated) Is it -8?
Me: YES! 
Student: Well, I thought it was -8 at first, but then I decided that was too mainstream.


 I feel like I'm in a haunted house whenever I come into your classroom.


Is "describe" spelled with an "L"?


Do penguins have ears?


Do you have a sister?  Because I saw someone who looked EXACTLY like you on television. 
What show were you watching?
What Not to Wear


Do you know what we should do in class today?  We should find the end of pi!


I make it clear to my students that I am most definitely not an artist.  But, I don't think they quite believe me until they see me draw for the first time.  Then, that leads to conversations like this: 

Did you draw that while an earthquake was happening?

Friday, September 6, 2013

An Algebraic Oath

I believe that my Algebra 2 teaching experience has made me a better Algebra 1 teacher. I see the misconceptions that my students enter Algebra 2 with. And, I'm striving to clear up as many of those misconceptions as possible with my current group of Algebra 1 students.

During our first Algebra 2 unit on functions, my students have been evaluating a lot of functions. They fully understand the concept of substituting in the given value of the variable. However, so many of my students do not place the value in parentheses when they substitute it into the function. Most of the time, they still end up with the right answer. But, they always end up missing problems such as find f(-2) if f(x) = -x^2 - 2x + 4. When they substitute in the -2 without parentheses, many of my students' first instinct is to change the two negative signs to a positive sign. This is bad. Very bad.

I don't know about you, but I have a terrible time convincing students that the way they have been doing algebra for the past few years is wrong. I can tell them it is wrong. I can hand back their graded papers that are covered with ink. We can review it as a class. But, for some reason, they seem to instantly tune me out as soon as they realize this is something they have already learned before, even though they did not learn it correctly in the first place.

This year, I decided that my Algebra 1 students were not going to follow in the footsteps of my current Algebra 2 students. When my students evaluated expressions or functions, they were going to always, always, always use parentheses. I asked myself, "How can I accomplish this?" I thought about the way I normally emphasize things in my classroom. I say them over and over and over. I write them in all caps with plenty of underlining on the Smart Board. I have my students write it in their notebooks. I repeat myself constantly.

That just didn't seem quite special enough. Those methods are just a normal day in my classroom. I emphasize a lot of stuff. So, how could I really emphasize something? How could I teach like a pirate? How could I give my students an experience instead of just another math lesson? The answer didn't come quickly.

In fact, it came as an epiphany about fifteen minutes before class was supposed to start. I wasn't going to just tell my students that they should always use parentheses when substituting values into an algebraic expression. No, my students were going to tell me that they would always use parentheses when substituting values into an algebraic expression.

I quickly typed up an oath: I, _______________________, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will always use parentheses when substituting values into an algebraic expression. To complete the experience, I printed the oath on gray card stock. I made lines for my students to sign and date. When cut out, the oaths would be conveniently wallet-sized so students could be reminded of this oath forever. (Students who were uncomfortable with taking an oath or swearing were given the option of affirming the statement instead. By saying that they affirmed the statement, they would be making an affirmation instead of an oath.)

Algebraic Oath Card

I used all of my acting skills to really play up this oath. I told the students how serious of a matter this was. I passed out the cards with the oath printed on it. I asked students to read the oath to themselves and see if they had any questions about the commitment they were preparing to make. Next, I made my students stand up. I chastised them for not taking this experience seriously enough. I had them raise their right hands. There were giggles and smart comments. Again, I reminded students that this was a very serious matter. I told them that the fact that they were not taking this as seriously as they should be was "crushing my heart."

In unison, we read the oath together as a class, and we signed our cards to commemorate the occasion.  My students pointed out that there should have been a place on the card for a witness to sign...  Some of my students suggested that we should have placed our hands on our interactive notebooks when we took the oath.  I heard several students say that they felt like they had just joined a gang.  Apparently, they now look at me as their ringleader.

There were the students who thought the entire thing was stupid.  They told me that they were going to bring their cards to graduation and burn them in front of me.  But, for the most part, I think my students really enjoyed it.  I love the fact that sometimes the only help I have to give a student is to ask them, "Remember the oath that you took?"  One of my students, when he turned in his homework, said, "I think I got all of my problems right because I remembered my oath."  

I've uploaded a pdf version of the cards here, but I'm not entirely happy with it.  I whipped up these cards in less than five minutes, and it definitely shows.  But, I think they served their purpose.