Math = Love: Help! My classroom has been taken over by flies!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Help! My classroom has been taken over by flies!

In college, I was always taught to begin my lesson plans with an anticipatory set.  I always struggled with these.  I couldn't quite remember my teachers ever using them when I was in school.  How in the world would I be able to come up with one of these for every lesson that I teach?

I wish I could say I have mastered the anticipatory set.  I haven't.  Most days, the thought doesn't even cross my mind.  But, I've certainly become more creative.  My goal is that when students enter my classroom that their curiosity is piqued.  What are we doing today?  Why are there tennis balls on your desk?  Why are the desks arranged differently?  Or, today, "Why are there flies everywhere?  That's just weird."  To this, I responded, "Flies?  Sorry, I haven't noticed any."  

Flies on the back of chairs

A fly on the air conditioner

Flies perching on posters

A fly on the dry erase board

Flies are everywhere!  
The flies were kinda hard to miss.  There were twenty of them.  And, that was the point.  I wanted my students to be wondering what today's lesson was going to be about.  

Have you figured it out yet?  I don't know how true this story about Descartes and the invention of the coordinate plane is, but I don't really care.  I like the story, and I had a blast sharing it with my students.  I told them that this story was from long ago, long before they had anything like electricity.  "Do you mean this story is from 19 years ago?"  Ummm...electricity had been invented nineteen nears ago.  

I pieced together my version of the story from several different versions I found online.  Rene Descartes was a sickly child.  He was smaller and weaker than his peers.  His father sent him off to boarding school.  The school master was worried about Descartes.  His theory was that if Descartes slept more, he would become stronger.  So, Descartes was forced to remain in bed until late in the morning.  He would lay in bed and ponder life and all things scientific and mathematical.  

This habit carried over into his adult life.  He often stayed in bed until almost noon.  One day, Descartes noticed a fly on the ceiling while he was laying in bed.  He watched it buzz to and fro, to and fro.  And, he started to wonder.  What if I wanted to share the exact location of the fly on my ceiling with someone else?  After thinking about this for sometime, he determined that the location of the fly could be determined with precision if you knew the distance of the fly from two walls.  From this epiphany, the idea of the coordinate plane system was born.  Descartes never actually graphed on a coordinate plane, but he made it possible.  The end.  

"Oh, so that's why there are flies on the wall."  

Next, I brought out my new favorite algebra teaching tool.  

Life-Sized Coordinate Plane Made out of a Shower Curtain Liner, Duct Tape, and Electrical Tape 

Over Thanksgiving Break, I pulled out my copy of Teach Like A Pirate to help me infuse some creative ideas into this unit on relations and functions in Algebra 1.  One of the questions you should ask yourself when planning a lesson is if there is anyway you can get the students moving around.  Can they act out the process? 

I was reminded of my 8th grade Algebra 1 class in middle school.  I remember walking down the hall with my class to stand in front of the auditorium.  We used the grid lines on the linoleum floor to practice walking out various slopes.  I actually remember it most for being incredibly confused about the entire process.  But, I definitely have to give my teacher points for trying to make it more hands-on and kinesthetic.  

I started to think of ways in which my students could graph points and later explore slope.  My school was built in 1919.  My classroom is carpeted.  The hall outside my classroom is small 1-inch tile.  There is some linoleum right outside the elevator, but I think my kids would disturb all of the other classes on that hall if I tried to have class in the hall.  Where could I build a life-sized coordinate plane?  

My sister suggested that I make my coordinate plane on something that could be picked up and moved like a shower curtain.  I liked the idea.  I went to Dollar Tree and purchased a 70" by 72" shower curtain liner and four rolls of electrical tape for $3.00.

Coordinate Plane Supplies.  Grand Total: $3
With the help of my mom and sister, we laid out the shower curtain liner and marked the center of each side.  We placed the rows of electrical tape 6 inches apart to make a grid that extended from -5 to 5.  

Laying Out and Marking the Coordinate Plane
Starting the Grid
Finishing the Electrical Tape Grid
We used colorful duct tape to form an x- and y-axis for the coordinate plane.  

Finished Product
It's definitely not perfect.  There are lots of little wrinkles.  The grid lines aren't all perfect straight.  But, I love it.  It's a coordinate plane.  You can walk on it.  I can fold it up and store it when I'm not using it.  Plus, it's just cute.  

When I pulled out my coordinate plane after discussing the invention of the coordinate plane, my students had incredulous looks on their faces.  I'm surprised that I can do anything nowadays that will still shock them.  "Did you make that?"  Yes.  They, of course, wanted to know what it was made out of.  

I laid the coordinate plane in the floor and instructed my students to get out their interactive notebooks.  We created a foldable about ordered pairs and a foldable about the parts of the coordinate plane.  I have attached PDF templates of each at the bottom of this post.  

Graphing Ordered Pairs Foldable - Outside
Graphing Ordered Pairs Foldable - Middle
Graphing Ordered Pairs Foldable - Inside
Parts of the Coordinate Plane - Outside of Foldable
Parts of the Coordinate Plane - Inside of Some Flaps
Parts of the Coordinate Plane - Inside
The parts of the coordinate plane foldable was stolen from the Journal Wizard blog.  I always teach my students that the quadrants are numbered like the letter "c" is drawn.  

After taking notes, my students were ready to do some coordinate graphing on their own.  I invited the students to look around the room and pick their favorite fly  "But they're all the same."  "I don't care.  Just pick your favorite fly."  I pulled up a random name generator that I have saved in my favorites that I have already typed my class rosters into.  I let the computer randomly pick a name.  That student was tasked with taking a fly down from the wall.  On the back of each fly is an ordered pair to graph.  The student had to stand on the origin and walk through the process of graphing the point on the coordinate plane.  The next person chose another fly from the wall and graphed it.     

My students had a blast!  We ran out of time for all the students to have a turn, and some of my students insisted on staying after the bell rang to have their turn.  Of course, there were some students who acted like they were too cool to stand on the coordinate plane and graph.  Nobody made any comments about it being too elementary.  I loved it!  

Even though the coordinate plane isn't the sturdiest or toughest, I think it stood up fine today after being used by three sections of Algebra 1.  I'm definitely looking forward to using this new resource throughout the rest of this year.  

PDF Templates to Download: Here!


  1. I love this! Might try to sneak it in soon to solidify slope-intercept form and creating an equation given two points.

    I was so inspired when I read "Teach Like a Pirate" I need to go through it on a more frequent basis. The anticipatory set is where you hook them and sell your lesson, so maybe that is where I am losing students that otherwise might be interested in the lesson.

    Thanks for sharing this!

    1. I definitely need to go through it again, too! I had plans to re-read it over Christmas Break, but it just didn't happen.

  2. I just have to say that as a first year high-school teacher (I've been an djunct at the community college level for 4 years), I LOVE your blog. I have been stealing ideas right and left and my students love them. I will be using this for the next few weeks to help reinforce graphing. I teach Liberal Arts Math 1, so my students really need all the help they can get. Thank you for making these things so readily available. Keep up with the awesome things you do!

  3. I cannot thank you enough for your creativity and love of math. I am excited to use these in my SPED classroom. :)

  4. The templates are not showing up that I can download and I look forward to using your info with my Sped Alg kids. Any ideas?

    1. Make sure you have flash/shockwave installed. If this doesn't work, send me an e-mail. And, I will send you the attachments.

    2. Hi, Sarah! Was wondering if you could send me the templates for the awesome foldables? Thank you!

    3. Here's the link:

  5. I love how you included the story of how the coordinate grid was created into your lesson! Would you be able to email me the PDF files as well? I am not given any link or picture to click on. Thanks!!

    1. Here's the link:

  6. I was going to do something similar and have masking tape on the floor as my coordinate grid but then 1) it'd have to be there all day and therefore wouldn't last until 5th period!
    2) I wouldn't be able to reuse it!
    Thank your sister for the amazing idea of using a shower curtain!

    Just out if interest... how old are the students when you first teach them this topic? (and move onto the composite functions later)

    1. P.s Thank you for also uploading a copy of the foladables!

    2. You're very welcome! I use this with my students in Algebra 1 which is typically 9th grade. But, I have the occasional 8th or 10th grader.

  7. This is INCREDIBLE. You are so creative, I love you!

  8. The story reminded me of a book I got for my son at the used book store. Here's a link to the description: It's a fictional version, but if you have the time, would probably take about 7-8 minutes to read (or you could skip pages and leave things out) for a cute hook. Thank you for all of the tips and resources!!

  9. I cannot access the link to the PDF file of the foldables. Could I possibly have those emailed to me? Thank you so much!

    1. I realize this is super late, but I can still e-mail them if you send me your e-mail address, Jennifer!