Math = Love: Math Teachers' Circle Reflection

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Math Teachers' Circle Reflection

I've been busy, busy, busy lately!  I've got a lot of recent classroom action that needs to be shared, but it will have to wait.  I promised @pamjwilson that I would blog about this, and I try to keep my promises!  :)  But first, I have to share a picture of a flower that one of my students brought me.

A Gift From A Student
So, Thursday, after school, I was in my classroom.  One of my Algebra 2 students from last year is currently taking Pre-Calculus at our local technology center, and I was tutoring her.  As we were working on determining the end behavior of functions, another student came bounding into my classroom.  She presented me with this pipe cleaner flower and said, "I made this flower for you because you're so bright and cheery like this flower."  I was smiling until I heard her say "Not really" as she skipped back out of my classroom.  It's the thought that counts, right?  

On Thursday night, I joined @druinok for the inaugural meeting of the Tulsa Math Teachers' Circle.  This was a new experience for me, and I wasn't exactly sure what to expect.  I had done some reading online about math teachers' circles, but everything I read gave me the impression that each circle is unique.

We met at my alma mater, the University of Tulsa.  I saw several of my math professors from college at the meeting, but they introduced themselves to me like we had never met before.  Our evening started off with a lovely dinner.  I sat with @druinok, two lovely ladies who teach middle school math at a local private school, and my former Calc 1 TA from college.  Over dinner, we discussed what each of us taught and shared some funny stories about what life is like as a teacher.  We also were reminded of what a small world it is that we live in!

Our session was facilitated by Judith Covington, a math professor at LSU Shreveport.  She is a member of the North Louisiana Math Teachers' Circle, and she did a great job of introducing the concept of a math teachers' circle to us all.  The main focus of the night was learning to play the game of SET.  I had heard about this game via several blogs, and I had even tried to teach myself to play once using the Daily Set Game.  That lasted about fifteen minutes before I gave up, frustrated.  So, I was excited to finally learn how to play.

Three out of the five of us sitting at the table were experienced SET players.  Thankfully, these three ladies did an amazing job of being patient with the other newbie and me.  They did exactly what a good teacher should do.  They gave us time to look for sets on our own.  They would tell us when they found a set, but they didn't point it out.  Each time they did point out a set, they would take the time to explain how the number, color, shading, and shape were either all the same or all different.  When we pointed out things that weren't actually sets, they used it as a teachable moment.  What card would you need to make a set with those two cards?  And, slowly but surely, I think I started catching on.

My Very Own SET Game!  

I think it's going to take me a long time to be able to identify sets efficiently, but I at least understand what I am doing now.  Friday morning, I completed my first Daily Set Game.  It may have taken me 12 minutes and 36 seconds, but I finished it all by myself!  I think this is going to become part of my morning routine when I get to school.  If I record the amount of time it takes me each day, I wonder what type of function would best model it?      

After playing the game for a while, we turned our conversation to how the game relates to mathematics.  Our facilitator led us through a great exploration of how SET can be used to teach geometry.  We defined points, lines, planes, and hyper-planes using SET cards.  I have to admit, I got a little lost when we started talking about hyperplanes.  I was reminded once again why I teach algebra and not geometry!  Still, it was so refreshing to spend time exploring and discussing mathematical concepts with other mathematically-minded people.  The evening was most fun and intellectually stimulating.  More information on the mathematics and geometry of SET can be found here.

This brings me to the most important thing I learned about math teachers' circles.  These Circles are not meant to be a gathering of teachers to discuss the best way to teach factoring or share lesson plans.  Instead, the purpose of these meetings is to engage teachers in actually doing and discussing mathematics.  If you learn nothing that you can use in your own classroom, that is fine.  As teachers, we require our students to problem solve.  We continually present them with new material and ask them to grapple with it.  Yet, how often do we do that?  How often do we explore math problems that we don't automatically know how to solve or even approach?  I know my students are amazed by my ability to look at 7x + x - 3x and determine that the expression can be simplified to 5x, but performing that process requires no real mental effort from me.  This summer, I spent 16 days at various conferences, learning how to be a better math teacher.  And, I learned a lot.  But, I'm also excited for this monthly opportunity to just do math, whether it applies to what I am teaching or not.  I hope that I never forget what it feels like to struggle through a problem, to persevere, to try different approaches.

I <3 Nerds Pocket Protector Courtesy of OSSM

Other highlights of the evening include my very own pocket protector!  I also got to meet one of my blog readers which was very cool!  I know that when I write something on here that I am putting it out there for the entire world to read.  But, I'm still amazed to know that others actually read and use what I share!  I also stopped by Dollar Tree while I was in Tulsa.  I picked up these awesome neon starbursts.

Neon Starburts from Dollar Tree
When I bought them, I wasn't exactly sure what I wanted to use them for, but I knew I had to have them.  I ended up buying three packages.  On Friday, I decided that these starbursts were the perfect size to write reminders of what various buttons on our calculators do.  This was definitely inspired by this pin!  I can't tell you how many times I have had to explain how to type in an exponent on our calculators since school started.  I doubt this will solve the problem, but maybe it will help at least one student.  So far, I have put up calculator reminders for my Algebra 1 students.  I'm still debating on what buttons to focus on for my Algebra 2 students who are using TI-Nspires.

Calculator Button Reminders


  1. Thanks for sharing about your Math Teacher's Circle! I have participated in one over the last four years and have found myself challenged, but enjoying it. I hope that you continue to enjoy your circle!

  2. That sounds great! How do you find out if there is a circle in your area?

    The NY Times website also has daily set games, and they have a beginner level where one of the attributes is not used (i.e., all of the shapes are already one color or the same number). Also, are you familiar with Kenken? It's also at the NY Times website. I am addicted to it, and I have used it with students who finish quickly and want a challenge. They love it too!

    1. I heart KenKen. And, I love doing the Daily Set Game from the New York Times with my students!

  3. I love that one of the teachers in my circle reads your blog. What a small world! If you want to find out if there is a circle in your area go to