Math = Love: January 2014

Friday, January 31, 2014

Things I Never Thought I'd Do As A Teacher

These past couple of weeks have been interesting.  I present to you: Things I Never Thought I'd Do As A Teacher.

I never thought I'd help a student fix the zipper on her jeans.  Don't worry.  She wasn't wearing them.  And, she was fully clothed.  I'm pretty sure the only reason she brought them to me to fix was because our FACS teacher had already gone home for the day.  And, I was one of only two teachers left in the school building.

I just hope this doesn't become a regular thing.  The next day, the student announced to the class, "Hey everybody!  If you have any jeans where the zipper is messed up, bring them to Ms. Hagan.  She is a miracle worker when it comes to fixing jeans!"


I also never thought I'd teach a lesson while students were holding infant simulators.  As part of our FACS I curriculum, students have to care for a baby from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m.  I had two male students in my 6th hour class bring their babies to class with them.  The babies had yet to turn on, but my female students were instantly drawn to the babies.  The insisted on taking them out of their carriers and holding them for the ENTIRE class period.  They managed to get all their work done, so I didn't mind.  

Infant Simulator in Student Arms in Class

Infant Simulator in Carrier
I never got a picture of the other infant because he was continually in someone's arms.  But, here is his carrier and his diaper bag.

Infant Gear

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Wrapping up Unit on Logarithms

I love logarithms, and I'm kinda sad to be finished with them.

As I went to file away my master copies of foldables and worksheets for this unit, I was reminded of just how much I love logarithms.  I don't remember doing this, but I apparently drew a smiley face on my logarithms folder when I labeled it.

Logarithms Folder
I've already posted about the foldables and activities I used to introduce the concept of a logarithm.  Here are our last two pages regarding logarithms.  

Logarithm Interactive Notebook Pages
Properties of Logarithms will not be on my students' EOI exam at the end of the year, but I still wanted to make sure they had exposure to them.

Properties of Logarithms Foldable - Outside
I projected various logarithmic expressions on the board.  Students had to decide which property we could use to rewrite the expression.  We opened up the appropriate flap of our foldable and recorded the example and our rewrite of the example under the flap.

Properties of Logarithms Foldable - Inside
Our end of year exam also requires students to be familiar with the change of base formula.  Last year, I used TI-84 graphing calculators with my students.  We had to use the change of base formula in order to evaluate logarithms that were not written with base 10.  This year, I am using TI-Nspire graphing calculators with my students.  When students press the log button, they are allowed to type in whatever base they choose.

Change of Base Formula Notes - INB
As a class, we brainstormed ways to remember the change of base formula.  One student suggested that we think of the a as the attic and the b as the basement.  The attic is the top level of a house.  The basement is the bottom level of a house.  If we are rewriting the log base b of a, the logarithm of the attic ends up on the top of our fraction.  The logarithm of the basement ends up on the bottom of our fraction.

Another student suggested that was too complicated.  The base of the logarithm is already written lower than the rest of the problem.  So, it makes sense for the logarithm of the base to end up on the bottom of the fraction when using the change of base formula.

Change of Base Formula - INB Notes
One other thing that we discussed was natural logarithms with a base of e.  We did a short exploration of the number e on our calculators.  Next year, I definitely want to spend an extra day on natural logarithms.  And, I think we need to create a page regarding natural logarithms for our interactive notebooks.

Logarithm Property Foldable Template can be downloaded below:

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Time-Saving Tips

The more I teach, the more I look for time savers.  There is just not enough time in the day to do everything I want to.  So, any time saving measure I can implement allows me more time to get my work done and still try to have a life outside of school.

Occasionally, I will admit to my students that I didn't grade their quizzes or homework or something else that they expected me to do.  I usually apologize and try to make it into a joke.  "Sorry, but you know I like to have a life sometimes, too."  They usually follow this up with something like this: "Oh, did you go clubbing last night?"  "  Actually, I was asleep before 9 pm."  I guess my definition of having a life and theirs varies greatly.

So, here are some ways that I try to save myself and my students time.

Make copies of frequently used interactive notebook forms.  It's no secret that I love the Frayer Model for Vocabulary.  I usually print 50-100 of these at a time and chop them in half.  I keep them in a file folder labeled "Frayer Model."  Whenever I want to use a Frayer Model with my students, I just pull out the file, and I'm ready to go without having to make copies.

I also run off our Unit Table of Contents pages in bulk.  We put one of these table of contents forms at the beginning of every unit in our interactive notebooks.  I also print 50-100 of these at a time and chop them in half.  They are kept in a file folder labeled "Table of Contents."  I always know where they are at, and it's nice to not have to make copies every time we go to put one of these in our notebooks!

Frayer Model / Table of Contents Form
Make copies of frequently used tables/reference sheets on colored paper.  The next idea is something that probably saves my students more time than it does me.  In Statistics, we are working with the Normal Distribution Model.  Our textbook has tables in the back, but they are kind of inconvenient to use and find.  Students quickly tire of flipping back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.  So, I ran off copies of these tables, double-sided, on colored paper.  I keep them in a folder at my desk.  Whenever we are working on problems that require the use of these tables, I set out the folder.  Students grab a table from the folder and return it when they are done.  These have been a giant time saver!

Normal Distribution Tables
Laminate stuff so it lasts!  My Algebra 2 students and I LOVE conic cards.  I will continue writing about conic cards until the entire world knows about their greatness!  :)  I've learned the hard way that simply printing activities on card stock is not enough if I want to reuse them the next year.  Laminating stuff and cutting them out is time consuming.  But, having to recreate the same activities year after year is also time consuming.  I've found it's better to take a little extra time and laminate stuff in the first place so I don't have to spend time the next year recreating it.  I also laminated the answer sheets to my conic cards.  The fact that they are laminated and color-coded makes it much easier for me to find my answer sheets.

Conic Card Answer Sheets
Keep Track of Future INB Changes In This Year's INB.  Recently, I had an epiphany in regards to interactive notebooks.  Every year's interactive notebooks are different.  I'm continually trying new strategies to engage my students.  From year-to-year, I keep the best pages and strategies from the previous year, and I try new things in an attempt to give my students the best education possible.  Sometimes, I have a brilliant idea AFTER we create a page.  Or, I find after teaching something for the third time that day, I decide that there has to be a better way to word something.

This summer, I picked up some light bulb post-it notes at Target in the Dollar Spot.  I've started marking things that I want to change or did change with a light bulb note.  This way, next year, I will be able to remember what did and did not work well with my students.

Light Bulb Notes - Reminders for Next Year
Make SBG Quizzes Easier to Write.  I haven't written about it a lot, but I'm kinda sorta trying out SBG with my Algebra 2 classes.  This means I've been writing more quizzes lately than I've ever written in my life.  Quizzes can be time-consuming things to write if I let them.  In college, I remember thinking poorly of professors for hand-writing their tests and quizzes.  For some reason, I thought that if they really cared, they would type everything.  Well, I'm coming around and seeing things differently.

I can hand write a quiz in about a third of the time that it takes to type a quiz.  Let's be real.  Equation editors are nice.  But, it takes forever to input all of the various equations needed for a quiz.  Recently, I decided to steal Dan Meyer's blank SBG test (at the bottom of his page before the comments) and use it to write my quizzes.  I've made 15 or so copies of this that I keep in a file.  When it is time to write a quiz, I pull out a blank copy, write my quiz, and make copies.

SBG Quiz Template
Split Up Calculators.  To save my students' time, I have recently placed my calculators in two different locations in my room.  This was actually a suggestion of one of my students.  Now, students who sit toward the front of the classroom can pick up a calculator from the front of the classroom.  Students who sit toward the back of the classroom can pick up a calculator from the back of the classroom.  I'd like to think that this also makes students more likely to put up their calculators when leaving the classroom.

Calculators At Back of Classroom

Calculators at Front of Classroom

What cool tips do you have to save time?  Share them in the comments!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Probability Bingo

Foam Counting Blocks to Make Dice (From Dollar Tree)

Over Thanksgiving Break, I picked up some foam counting blocks from Dollar Tree for $1.  I don't remember where I saw the idea originally, but someone had suggested that these be purchased and used to make your own dice.  They've been sitting under my podium, just waiting to be used.

I'm not positive if I ever actually blogged about it, but I attended an AP Summer Institute for AP Statistics this summer at The University of Tulsa (my alma mater) with Dave Ferris.  Dave is an AP Stats teacher in Noblesville, IN.  He has a website that is chock full of stats resources.  This is my first time to ever teach statistics, so I have referenced it frequently.

My statistics students have been working really hard since we came back from Christmas Break.  We've been dealing with the probability of random variables.  I was in the mood to postpone the next section in our textbooks by doing a fun, thought-provoking activity.  (Don't worry.  This is a non-AP stats class.)  

On Dave's probability resource page, I found a file called "Probability Bingo."  I opened the file, and I was instantly intrigued.  (By the way, the file gives credit to Brian Mehmed, 2011 WV APSI.)  

Here are the instructions at the top of the bingo card:

Each of two die has colored faces, 3 green, 2 blue and 1 red. The two dice will be rolled. The outcome will be considered to be one “bingo call.” If you have this outcome on your bingo card, mark it off. The winner will be the student who gets a bingo card completely marked off (all 25 squares). Mark each square on your bingo card (use BG for “blue green,” BB for “blue blue,” etc.) so that you have the best chance of winning.

Probability Bingo Dice

Two of my students volunteered to make the necessary dice for this activity.  At first, they colored the sides of the foam cubes.  But, the colors were hard to differentiate since the foam was orange underneath.  I suggested that they take a sharpie and write the first letter of the name of the color on each face of the die.  They decided we should have just done that in the first place.  

After the dice were made, I handed out blank bingo cards (two-sided) to my students.  We discussed how the dice were made, and they got to work filling out their bingo cards.  I decided I wanted to play along.  I quickly calculated the probability of each combination of colors.  I multiplied each probability by the 25 bingo squares to determine how many squares I should label with each color.  I had one square left at the end, so I went ahead and labeled it RR even though the probability of rolling a RR is approximately 0.03.  

The students took turns rolling the two dice.  With each roll, we marked off the combination once.  This is not your typical bingo game.  You're not looking for five in a row.  You're looking to be the first to fill up your entire bingo card.  At first, I was off to a good start.  With every roll, I got to mark off a square.

Probability Bingo Card - Game 1 (Beginning)

Then, the dark time began.  I quickly ran out of Blue/Green squares.  So, did my students.  We all agreed that we should have put more Blue/Green squares on our bingo cards.  The GG combination was not rolled as much as I would have liked.

Probability Bingo Card - Game 1 (Middle)

I didn't take a picture of it, but I sat for a long time with only my RR square unmarked.  I wasn't the only person waiting for an RR.  Eventually, an RR was rolled, and I won!  

Probability Bingo Card - Game 1 (End)

My students instantly wanted to play again.  I had anticipated this, hence the double-sided bingo cards.  Based on our first round of bingo, my students set out to create a better bingo card.  One of my students decided to calculate the probability like I had.  She accidentally left the BB combination off of her card.  She was not happy about this!

Just for fun, I decided to leave my card exactly the same since I had won the first round.  Here's the start of Round 2.

Probability Bingo Card - Game 2 (Beginning)

Pretty soon, history repeated itself.  Once again, I found myself waiting and waiting and waiting for RR.

Probability Bingo Card - Game 2 (End)

That Red/Red combination never came because another student filled up her card first.  The moral of the story?  If there's only a 3% chance that something will be rolled, don't put it on your bingo card.

In order to give my students a grade for the day, I asked them to calculate the probability of rolling each color combination.  Then, they had to critique the strategy of designing your card to reflect these probabilities.

Colored Dice Probabilities 

I would definitely recommend this activity!  It was thought-provoking and fun.  If time allows, I would love to play this with my Algebra 1 students when we review probability for the EOI.

Monday, January 27, 2014

A Google Surprise

Do you ever google yourself?  I do.

I still remember the first time I ever heard about google.  I think I was in middle school.  I was riding in the car with my grandmother, and we were listening to NPR.  They were talking about a new phenomenon of googling someone before you met them.  The piece told the story of two people who had been set up on a blind date.  Both had googled each other before meeting in person, and it ended up coming out during their first date because they ended up revealing that they knew more about the person than they should have.

Seeing as Google has now been around longer than most of my students have been alive, they can't imagine life without google.  I remember life without google.  I remember it vividly.  On my first day of sixth grade, my science teacher gave us a worksheet that asked us questions about various inventions and their inventors.  After doing the ones I knew, I went to my parents for help.  My mother directed me to the set of encyclopedias she received as a graduation gift in the late 70's.  That worked great except for the fact that some of the inventions were not around in the late 70's.  So, do you know what we did?  We called the library, and a reference librarian kindly looked up the information for us.  I can't even imagine doing that nowadays.

By the time I started 7th grade, my parents decided that it would probably be a good idea to have a home computer.  Before that time, if I wanted to use a computer, I had to do it at my parents' work place.  It's crazy to think about how much things have changed in just my short life span.  When I tell my students that I was 16 when I got my first cell phone, they are amazed.  The iphone wasn't introduced until my senior year of high school.  And, they still can't quite comprehend how I can survive with a non-smart phone.  "You mean you use twitter from a computer?  I didn't know you could do that!"

So, anyway, back to my story about googling myself.  A couple of days ago, I googled my blog username just to see what popped up.  Most of the search results were my blog.  And, a few mentions of my blog on other blogs were there as well.  What I wasn't expecting was a youtube link.

I found a video describing how to do my Pre-Algebra Road Trip Project.  I thoroughly enjoyed watching the video and seeing how another teacher explained things.  If you're interested in the project, click here.

Or, alternatively, press play below.


Sunday, January 26, 2014

Things Teenagers Say...Volume Seven

Previous Volumes of Things Teenagers Say

Over Christmas Break, I let the hair stylist talk me into highlights.  This was the first time I'd ever done anything like that to my hair.  The change was pretty drastic, but I love it!  On the first day back from break, it seemed like every single student had something to say about my hair.

If I was bald, I would be jealous of your hair.


Freshman Boy (to me): You got streaks in your hair!
Freshman Girl: They're called highlights.
Freshman Boy:  I may not know what they are called, but at least I noticed them.
Another Freshman Boy: I noticed them too, but I wasn't going to say anything about them.


Student 1: I got my hair cut over break, too.
Student 2: It's not your time to shine.  It's Ms. Hagan's time to shine.
Student 1: It's ALWAYS Ms. Hagan's time to shine!


Me: It's crunch time.
Student 1: What?
Me: It's crunch time.
Student 1: Don't you mean it's cram time?  I've never heard of crunch time.  I think it's called cram time.
Me: No, its crunch time.
Student 2: That sounds like a brand of cereal.  Are you hungry, Ms. Hagan?
Student 3: No, wait.  Isn't that a candy bar?  Are you sure you aren't hungry?
Me: You've seriously never heard of crunch time?!?  Crunch time means we're running out of time, and we need to get serious.


Student: What do you call people that don't celebrate Christmas?
Me: Atheists???
Student: No, Ms. Hagan!!!  Atheists don't believe in God.  I mean people that don't celebrate Christmas!
Me: Well, I don't know then. 
Student: You know, like [a certain teacher.]
Me: Oh, you mean Jehovah Witnesses.
Student: Yeah, that's it.  I don't like Christmas anymore.  I'm going to become a Jehovah Witness.  Wait... Are you allowed to be a Jehovah Witness if you weren't in the Holocaust?
The ENTIRE rest of the class: Jehovah Witnesses weren't in the Holocaust!  That was the Jews.  Didn't you pay attention any in class?!?!


Apparently, not all of my students enjoyed our last Algebra 2 unit on logarithms.

I wish we had beavers that could eat all our logs.


I'm just going to take one bite of this.  I want to see what it tastes like.

What was this student wanting to taste?  A piece of pizza that had been sitting in their locker since lunch the previous day.  Ewww...  


While solving a multiple choice bellwork question:

Student: Did you meet a guy whose name starts with a D?
Me: No... Why?
Student: Well, D has been the answer to our bellwork problems a lot lately.  I thought you might have been picking it because you met a guy whose name starts with D.
Me: No...
Student: Oh, is your boyfriend 63, then?  (The answer to D was 63)


We don't want to make Ms. Hagan puke.  She's an awesome teacher.


One of my students shared this as his good thing on a Monday:

Student: I got a side by side this weekend.
Me: You sound really excited about a refrigerator.
Student: It's not a refrigerator.
Me: Oh...


I also had to make a new rule that I never envisioned myself making.

Me: No lassoing things!  

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Ice Storm 2013

Christmas Break started off with a bang!  Bad weather was supposed to be moving in, so I headed for my parents' house soon after school let out on Friday.  It was a good thing, too, because we woke up to no electricity.  An ice storm had hit.

Growing up in Oklahoma, I am no stranger to ice storms.  I was so thankful I was staying at my parents' house, though, because I've never been by myself when the power is out.  My parents are prepared people.  We soon had oil lamps burning throughout the house.

Ice Storm 2013

My mom's plans to make pancakes and hot chocolate were not derailed.  She just put the griddle on top of the wood burning stove.  The pancakes took FOREVER to cook, but they were delicious!

Cooking On The Wood Burning Stove

I felt like we were channeling Little House On The Prairie.  I always wished I could have lived the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder.  It just seemed so romantic.  The power (thankfully) finally came back on around 3 pm.  Of course, this was just minutes before my parents finished hooking up the generator.  

My sister and I spent the day reading and playing mathematical games like Set and Swish.  I'm so lucky to have a sister who will play games like that with me!

The ice coated trees were beautiful!

Ice Storm 2013
Isn't it crazy how you can still have some green grass at the same time as an ice storm?

Ice Storm 2013

Friday, January 24, 2014

Slope Name Art

I've seen this idea multiple places online, so I'm not exactly sure who to credit.  Most recently, I've seen it from Pam J. Wilson and Mrs. Hester.  It's a variation on two activities that I did last year.  So, my students have been working on slope.  We started out by discussing the four types of slope.  Slope Dude was a must for this!  Y'all are probably tired of hearing me go on and on about Slope Dude.  But, I just can't help it.  My students think the video is stupid, but I can guarantee you that they will NEVER forget Slope Dude's most infamous words.  One of the new rules I've made in my class is that students are only allowed to say the word "undefined" if they say it like they are falling off of a cliff!  "UNDEFIIIIIIIIIIINED!"

So, last year, we classified the slope of each line segment of each letter of the alphabet.  I enjoyed this activity, but this year I wanted students to create something to keep in their interactive notebooks.  This year, I have made it my goal for our interactive notebooks to be comprehensive.  Last year, there were a lot of gaps in our notebooks.

Last year, I also had students draw pictures and classify the slope of each line segment.  Again, it was a fun activity, but my students had barely anything in their notebooks regarding the four kinds of slope.

Slope Name Art
This year, I decided to have my students create what I deemed "Slope Name Art."  On the next blank page in their notebooks, I instructed students to write their name as large as possible.  The only caveat was that they could only use straight lines.  Any letters of the alphabet that would normally be written using curves would need to be modified.

I illustrated on the board with my own name.  Once students wrote their names, their next task was to classify the slope of each line segment.  I only classified the slope on the first two letters in my example.  My students were required to do this for every single letter.  They were given the chance to write their first name, last name, or both.        

Once they had classified the slope of each line segment, I asked them to color-code their name.  Choose one color and highlight all the line segments with a positive slope with that color.  Choose another color to highlight all the line segments that have a negative slope, etc.

In my notebook, I simply created a key that told which color represented which type of slope.

Slope Name Art
My students really enjoyed this activity.  It was almost a sort of competition between them.  "I only have one negative slope in my name."  "Almost all my letters are made up of zero slopes and undefined slopes."

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Demanding Respect

I've been reflecting on my new semester resolutions.  I wrote about my resolutions here.  And, I've already posted about confiscating cell phones and timing my students like their lives depended on it.  

To refresh your memory, here are my resolutions as I presented them to my students on the first day of our second semester.  

Keep / Change / Start / Stop Resolutions for New Semester
Our first week back, I kept a sort of diary regarding my experiences with carrying out these resolutions in my classroom.  Enjoy!

Day 1

So, I told my students today about my Keep/Change/Start/Stop Resolutions.  I let them fill out their reflection forms first.  Then, I told them of the changes I was going to make.  They were less than excited.  They immediately wanted their reflection forms back so they could tell me that they didn't like my changes.  Others questioned why I asked them for feedback if I was going to decide what changes to make on my own anyway. 

Form Students Must Fill Out For Disrespect/Misbehavior

I only handed out one Respect Form today.  One of my students who is notorious for talking at the wrong time (and spends a lot of time out in the hall) was talking when I was trying to talk.  I hadn't explained the form to my students.  I just asked him to stand up, grab his pencil, and fill out the form I was going to hand him.  When he was done, he was to return to the classroom, put the form in my tray, and get back to work. 

He wasn't gone very long.  His answers:
What were you doing? Being stupid
What were you supposed to be doing? Taking notes
Were you doing it? Yes
What are you going to do about it now? Shut up and do my work

I like the process.  I didn't argue with the student.  He had an opportunity to tell his side of the story.  He was taking notes.  But, he was also given the opportunity to own up for his actions.  He wrote out his plan of action.  And, that's something I can hold my students to.  If a student continues to misbehave/disrespect me, then I can show them in their own handwriting what they should be doing.  I can also show their parents what the students told me they were going to do (in their own handwriting) if the misbehavior persists!  

I didn't end up in an argument.  There was no backtalking with this student like there usually is after I hand out a punishment.  I should have handed out some more of these today, but I guess I am still too nice.  I will get better at this.  I will get better at taking charge of my classroom. 

I almost chickened out and didn't tell my classes about the changes I want to make.  How sad is that?  It was in my Smart Board file, though, so I went through with it. 

As I was cleaning up my room at the end of the day (which was much cleaner than usual.  Voicing my expectations is a powerful thing.  When I tell students that I expect them to put up everything in its right place, they do it for the most part.), I noticed a folded-up piece of paper on the back table.  Curious, I unfolded it.  There, I saw the four questions, handwritten. 

What was I doing? Going "Yeah"
What am I supposed to be doing? Taking notes
Were you doing it? Yes
What are you going to do about it? Do work

I guess someone was curious about what the paper said.  So, my student I sent out in the hall recreated it for them.  Teenagers... 

Quote of the Day: "I don't think I like the new Ms. Hagan."

Day 2

Today, I gave students a "friendly reminder" about my new cell phone policy right as the bell rang and class began.  I also posted a reminder on the dry erase board.  I didn't see ANY phones until 6th hour.  I felt kinda bad for taking the student's phone because I could tell that he really was "just checking the time."  But, a rule is a rule.  And, if I'm not consistent, my students are going to run right over me.  I took his phone.  And, I called and left a message for his parents.  I'm not making the parents come up to retrieve the phone (yet) because that seems like such a hassle. 

One of my students today said that their new year's resolution is to make me decide to stop enforcing my new year's resolutions. 

My Algebra 2 classes are still chatty when I'm trying to teach, and it's driving me CRAZY.  I haven't handed out the 4 question forms that I made for disrespect because I would have to hand it to like half the class.  But, tomorrow I just may.  If I make an example of a few students, then the rest should see just how serious I am and fall in line. 

I need to just stop letting my students get to me.  I don't know if I'm worried about hurting their feelings or what?  Why is it so hard for me to discipline my students?  I'm just too nice of a person, or something. 
A coworker suggested once that I consider getting my master's in Educational Administration.  I just don't think I would make a very good disciplinarian in a school setting if I can't control my students in my very own classroom.  Plus, there's the fact that I can't picture myself ever leaving the classroom at this point in time.  I think my heart is with students in the classroom. 

I think things are going better.  But, maybe this is just another honey moon period like we had at the very beginning of the school year.  I have got to become tougher.  I've got to grow tougher skin.

Day 3

I think my students are definitely noticing a change in me.

Students asked me several questions today:

"Did you maybe decide to stop taking your medicine over Christmas Break?  Because you've been different ever since we came back."

"Did your meth lab get busted?"

Yeah.  I don't quite have a response for these questions.  Either my students think that my former classroom management style was a result of drugs or...

Day 4

Apparently, my taking cell phones away has become a topic of conversation in other classes.  They try to know the names of all the people represented by a tally on my board.

Cell Phone Confiscation Tally

I wish I had gotten more serious about cell phones sooner.  I think that my looking the other way when students had cell phones out caused a lot of my problems.  After all, if I will look the other way regarding cell phones, students probably assumed that I would look the other way regarding other rules.

I've still got to get tougher.  This is a good start.  But, I'm still letting my Algebra 2 classes walk all over me.  My Algebra 1 classes have fell in line, for the most part.  I would fully expect it to be the other way around.  Hmm...

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Life by the Timer

I've already written about my new semester resolutions.  In real life, I've never actually kept a new year's resolution.  Ever.  This semester, so far, it's been different.  First, I didn't make these resolutions on January 1st.  I think I made them on January 6th.  The perfectionist in me hates this.  But, it's okay.  I'm fighting against those perfectionistic tendencies.

I'll post more about how my resolutions are going later.  But, today, I wanted to talk about a little change I made to help me achieve one of my goals: Start Demanding Respect From My Students.

Interactive notebooks are time consuming.  There.  I said it.  I love them, though.  And, every second spent on them is worth it.  Some days, though, my students have a tendency to dawdle.  They take forever to get their notebooks out.  They expect me to move at their pace of choice.  And, that pace is incredibly slow.  Frustratingly slow!

I mean, if you already have a glue stick and your notebook on your desk, and I pass out a sheet of paper for you to glue in, it should take you no more than 1 minute to label the page and glue in the paper.  One minute.
Part of respecting me includes respecting my time.  I only get 50 minutes a day with my students.  And, I need to make sure every single one of those 50 minutes counts!  So, I've started setting expectations of how long it should take my students to get certain tasks done.  When they walk in the room, there is a box on the Smart Board that tells them all the supplies they need for the day.  It is there job to get their supplies and get seated BEFORE the bell rings.  I'm saving time there.

Recently, my Algebra 1 students started Unit 6 - Linear Functions.  I handed out a table of contents to be glued on page 57.  Students were responsible or labeling their table of contents with the unit number and title and gluing this page in their notebooks.  I set a timer for 1 minute.

Smart Board Timer
Panic ensued.  We can't possibly get this done in one minute.  Actually, I think you can.  I believe in you.  You already have your supplies out.  If you use your time wisely, I think you will be able to get done in time.
A few students didn't finish in time.  Usually, I would pause and wait for them.  This time, I didn't.  If I wait until every single student finishes, the timer will become meaningless.  Instead, I went directly to the next slide.  When students protested, I told them that those around them had written down the title already.  They were going to have to get the title from somebody else.  Harsh?  Maybe.  But, I've got to teach my students to value my time.  I have to teach them that actions have consequences.  I think maybe that's what I've been missing in how I run my classroom.  Consequences.  

On the second and third days that we celebrated Universal Letter Writing Week, I gave students five minutes to compose their letters.  If I let them, letter writing would consume the entire class period.  As important as letter writing is, my main job is to teach math.  So, I must prioritize my time accordingly.  When the timer went off, I gave them one additional minute to fold their letters while I passed out materials for the day.  Those who were not done would have to finish their letters on their own sometime during the class period if time allowed.    

Letter writing Timer
My Algebra 1 students have actually done remarkably well with the timer.  They don't complain much.  They just get to work.  My Algebra 2 students, however, are a completely different story.  You would think having a timer on the screen was the equivalent of me performing the most heinous crime against them.  They complain.  And, they complain loudly.

I am good friends with our school counselor, and her son is in my Algebra 2 class.  Last week, I was sitting in her office, and we were talking about how our days had gone.  Suddenly, she asked, "What is this that I hear about you and a timer?  My son keeps complaining that you set a timer for EVERYTHING."  I had to laugh.  I told her and the other teacher in the office about my new semester resolutions.

After explaining how I set the timer for how long it should take students to complete a task, and I move on to the next task when the timer goes off, they thought it was a brilliant idea!  It keeps me on track.  It keeps the class focused.  It lets students know exactly what I expect of them.  The other teacher expressed interest in using the strategy in her own classroom.  And, the counselor?  She told me to use the timer every single day.  I was doing a good thing by timing my students, no matter what they thought.  It reminded her of the parenting strategy of "If you're not in the car in 5 minutes, I'm leaving without you."

I never thought such a tiny timer would create such an uproar.  I'm learning, though, that respect is something my students must be taught.  They don't enter my classroom knowing how to respect me.  I've got to teach them respect.  Eventually, respect should become internalized.  But, until then, I will teach it.

All those teaching books I read before I started teaching are starting to make complete sense...

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The #EmptyShelf Challenge

I LOVE challenges.  I'm just a naturally competitive person.  No matter what I'm doing, I have a desire to be the best at it.

I also LOVE to read.  As a child, I can remember going to the library once a week during the summer.  I would leave with 7-8 chapter books which I would promptly devour.  My favorites included Nancy Drew, Little House On The Prairie, The Babysitters Club, The Boxcar Children, Sweet Valley High, The Bobbsey Twins, the Anne of Green Gables series, and anything by Judy Blume.  In high school, I became obsessed with classic literature, and I amassed so many classics that my bookshelves look like they should belong to an English teacher.

Then came college.  Instead of reading for pleasure, I found myself reading for school.  My pile of books to read kept growing, and my time to read kept shrinking.  Since starting teaching, I've found myself with even less time to read.  I still love to read.  But, I have limited time.  In order to make time to read, I have to chose not to do certain other things.

This year, I've decided I want to read more.  My sister also loves to read.  So, I decided the best way to get myself to read more was to turn it into a competition.  My sister is super competitive and loves to read, too.  So, I think it's a good pairing.  Who can read the most books before the end of the year?

My Empty Shelf
On December 27th, we started The Empty Shelf Challenge.  I read about the #EmptyShelf challenge on the blog of Jon Acuff.  The premise is simple.  Empty off one of your shelves.  For every book you finish from then until December 31, 2014, place the book on the shelf.  Amaze yourself by just how many books you read in the next year.

We're over half-way through January, and I've already read more books than I probably read in the entirety of 2013.  Okay, maybe that's a slight exaggeration.  But, I've definitely been reading a lot more.  I don't know how much to attribute to this challenge, but this challenge certainly isn't hurting me.

I'm thinking that I will post an update of books read at the end of each month here on my blog.  (And, for the record, I think I may be in the lead right now.  Of course, my sister didn't start counting the books she had read until the first of January.  It's not my fault she gave me a bit of an early start, though.)

I'm hoping to tackle some math books this year, too.  One of the first I want to revisit is Isaac Asimov's Realm of Algebra.  I read it a few years ago, and I was so impressed with his explanation of algebra in everyday language.  Now that I'm working on finishing my second year of teaching, I think I could learn a lot from revisiting it and comparing his explanations to my own.

Don't even get me started on all the teaching books I want to reread...  

Monday, January 20, 2014

My Fortune

Last week, one of my students brought me a fortune cookie!  I was excited because I hadn't had a fortune cookie in ages.  It sat on my desk of the first few hours of the day.

Eventually, I decided I couldn't wait any more.  I had to know what my fortune was!  It said, "Your luck will be changed today."  Seeing how it wasn't a very memorable day, I don't think it was that accurate.  But, the fact that my student brought me a fortune cookie did make my day.

The little things matter!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Math is Everywhere!

Over Christmas Break, we were lucky to enjoy some pretty warm days here in Oklahoma.  I spent all of the holiday at my parents' house.  I live about 60 miles away from them, so I don't always get to see them as often as I would like.  I do go to church and have lunch with my parents and sister every Sunday.

We took advantage of a warmer than normal Saturday to take a short day trip down historic Route 66.  We started in Tulsa and ended up in Oklahoma City.  As I was looking through the pictures I took that day, I couldn't help but see math in so many of the pictures.

My students often argue that math has no place in real life.  I would beg to differ.  Math is all around us if we take the time to notice.

The Route 66 Bridge in Tulsa got me to thinking.  What type of function would best model this bridge?  Is this a parabola?  Or something else?

Route 66 Bridge
In Tulsa, there is also a small park that has a train exhibit.  The wheels on the steam engine were HUGE.  For reference, I'm 5'7''.  Or, 5'6''.  I can't really remember.

I can see using this as a geometry problem.  What is the area of the wheel?  What is the circumference of the wheel?
There was also an Oklahoma shaped flower bed.  Wait.  Can you call it a flower bed if it doesn't have flowers in it?  Rock bed?  Well, I'm not quite sure what to call this thing.  But, my inquiring mind is curious about whether the is truly proportional to the state of Oklahoma.  Does the stone that the plaque is resting on represent a county?  Is it proportional?  What about the star that represents Tulsa?  Is it proportional?

Oklahoma Flower Bed - Proportional?

In Sapulpa, there is a display featuring a Frankhoma Pottery plate and a giant glass bottle.  Frankhoma Pottery is very popular in this part of the country.  This also screams proportions to me.  How much does the large plate weigh?  Could you figure it out by weighing a normal dinner plate?  Were the plate and the bottle increased at the same scale?

Sapulpa, OK Route 66 Display
Our next to last stop was the Round Barn in Arcadia, OK.  It is the only round barn left in the state of Oklahoma.  It was built in 1898!  How much paint would it take to repaint the Round Barn?  The top loft is rented out for parties and events.  When people are planning weddings, square footage can be very important.  How many square feet would this venue provide?  When we were there, there was actually a wedding going on upstairs.  You could hear the people walking around upstairs.

Round Barn - Arcadia, OK 

The first floor of the Round Barn is a gift shop and museum.  All around the room, there are these handmade posters.  I took a picture of one of them.  Even though the punchline is at the bottom of the paper, I didn't understand the joke.  This was about 3 p.m.  Around 10 p.m. that night, I was looking through all of the pictures I had taken.  I read the joke again, and I finally understood it!  It only took me 7 hours...

Cemetery Joke Found In Round Barn
I think this last one might be my favorite math question.  POPS is a new(ish) landmark on Route 66.  It's part restaurant.  Part pop shop.  Part gas station.  There is a giant pop bottle statue out in front.  According to the POPS website, the giant pop bottle stands 66 feet tall.  I guess that's fitting since it's on Route 66.  It also weighs over 4 tons!

POPS - Arcadia, OK
Inside POPS, you can purchase over 650 different kinds of soda pop.  They are supposed to have over 60 different varieties of root bear and over 40 different varieties of cream soda.  Here's my math question - if you poured every bottle of pop from POPS into the large sculpture (assuming it wouldn't leak out by some type of magic!), how full would the bottle be?

We offer an Oklahoma tourism class at my school, and they actually stopped at POPS on a field trip.  Students from that class could give us information on how many bottles of each flavor of pop are typically on the shelves at POPS.  Students could actually call the store with further questions.  How many of each flavor do they typically stock?  

Maybe one day I will get to the point in my teaching career that I don't feel so constricted by the curriculum I am supposed to be teaching.  There are amazing math problems out there in the world, just waiting to be solved.  Some day, I will make time for them.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Wax Paper Parabolas

This year, my Algebra 2 interactive notebooks are easily a hundred times better than last year's Algebra 2 notebooks!  I'm serious.  Last year, I did a pretty good job with Algebra 1.  And, Algebra 2 sort of got the short end of the stick.  This year, I made a commitment to put in extra time to make sure our Algebra 2 notebooks were well thought out and comprehensive.

I feel like the way I am approaching my Algebra 2 class this year is also way better.  Of course, there are a lot of things that I would like to change and do differently next time.  I'm still not entirely satisfied with the ordering of my units.  They don't exactly flow into one another the way I would like them to.  Next year, when I teach to the CCSS (or Oklahoma Academic Standards - my state decided they needed a new name) for the first time, I will have plenty of opportunities to change things up!  I'll start stressing over that this summer.

As a high school student, I was smart.  Really smart.  I was valedictorian.  I made it my goal to make the highest grade in every single class.  I even had teachers make bets with each other about whether I would earn the top score in every class that semester.  And, I did.  If I didn't have a 100% in a class, it was a sign that I could be doing better.  I went to TU on a full-ride scholarship for National Merit.  I don't say this to brag.  I say this to make a point.  In high school, I was smart, but I wasn't curious.  Whenever a teacher taught something, I didn't question it.  I cataloged it in my memory and accepted it.  Teaching is changing that practice, however.

I have students who are incredibly curious.  When I teach them something, they ask me why it works.  And, I'm not talking about the students who ask questions in an attempt to get out of doing an assignment.  These students really want to know the why behind what I am teaching.  For example, I've never questioned why the change of base formula for logarithms works.  It just does.  I've never really wondered why natural logarithms have a base of e.  They just do.  The more I research the math behind their questions, the more I realize how much more I could/should be doing in my classroom.  

I've started teaching my students things that I never learned in high school.  And, I certainly never learned them in college.  Last year, I skipped so many things because it wasn't on the test.  But when I only teach to the test, I'm cheating my students.  It's taken me a while to realize this.  Teaching this way takes more time, but I'm realizing it's worth it.

Here are the supplies we used in Algebra 2 earlier this week.  Wax paper.  Rulers.  Colored Paper.  Sharpies.  Can you guess what unit we are in?  

Wax Paper Parabola Supplies
We just started quadratic functions.  Last year, my students performed worse on the quadratic function questions than any other topic on the state test.  They performed better on the conic section questions than any other topic.

This summer, I got the chance to build a parabola using a piece of paper at the common core workshop I attended (OGAP).  I had never experienced anything like that, and I thought it was really cool.

Confession Time.  A week ago, I didn't know what a parabola was.  Oh, I knew what they looked like.  I could graph one.  I could tell you if an equation belonged to a parabola.  But, I didn't really know what a parabola was.  Last year when my Algebra 2 students did Conic Cards, I had zero clue what a focus and a directrix were.  I just knew it wasn't going to be on the test.  And, last year that was enough.  But, not this year.

I tailored this project so that our wax paper parabolas could fit in our interactive notebooks.  If you're not doing interactive notebooks (or you want to display your parabolas), you could easily use a full sheet of paper and a larger sheet of wax paper for this activity.

Start by trimming your wax paper to match the size you want your finished parabola to be.  We used a half-sheet of letter sized paper.  I instructed pairs of students to grab a sheet of paper, cut it in half, and share it with their partner.

Wax Paper and Colored Paper

I tore the wax paper off so it was as close as possible to the size of a letter size sheet of paper.  Less trimming equals less potential trash to be left in my room.

So, you're probably wondering.  Why the wax paper?  Well, you can do this with paper, but it's a hundred times harder.  Wax paper is perfect for folding a parabola.  You can see through the paper, and that will make all the difference in this activity!  Plus, wax paper is only $1.28 at Wal-Mart.    

But, first, I think I might need to remind you about what a parabola is.  I can't be the only one who didn't know the exact definition of a parabola.

A parabola is a special arch-shaped curve.  This is where my previous knowledge stopped.  It's not just any arch-shaped curve, though.  Each and every point on a parabola is at an equal distance from a fixed point (called the focus) and a fixed line (called the directrix.)  Once I learned this, the conic cards from last year started to make more sense!  I promise.  I really do have a bachelor's degree in math.    

Lay the wax paper over the colored paper so you can see what you are doing easier.

I modeled these steps under my document camera.  This allowed students to see exactly what I was doing and to follow along.

Draw a straight line on the wax paper using a permanent marker.  I placed this line at the bottom of my wax paper, about a ruler's width from the bottom.  This will be the directrix of your parabola.  

Drawing the Directrix

Be sure to let the line dry for at least 30 seconds or so before folding.  Otherwise, the permanent marker will smudge and transfer during the folding process.

Wax Paper Parabola - Directrix

Next, we need to decide where the focus of our parabola will be.  Instruct students to try to center their focus over the directrix.  They are allowed, however, to place their focus as close to or as far away from the directrix as they choose.  It just needs to be centered.  If it's not perfectly centered, the world will not come to an end or anything.  But, you will not end up with a centered parabola.

The placement of the focus will determine what the parabola will look like.  I told students this, but I didn't tell them how it would affect the parabola.

Wax Paper Parabola - Focus

If every point on a parabola is at an equal distance from the focus and the directrix, we can find points on the graph by folding the wax paper so that the directrix and the focus intersect one another.  The crease will be half-way between the focus and the directrix.  Thus, that point must be at an equal distance from both.

Folding the Wax Paper Parabola

Repeat the process.  Fold the wax paper a different way so that the focus and the directrix intersect.

Second Fold of my Wax Paper Parabola

After making several folds, many students will start to think that they have run out of possible folds.  I encouraged them to keep trying different folds.

One side of the parabola is starting to take shape. 

Soon, a few students realized that we could make some folds on the other side of the focus/directrix.

Folding the other side of the wax paper parabola

The more folds you make, the more obvious the parabola will become.  If students complain that their parabola looks jagged, encourage them to make more folds.

Parabola Progress

When you are satisfied with the curve formed by the folds, stop folding and use a permanent marker to trace over the parabola.

Finished with Folding

Here is one parabola I created.

The Finished Parabola

In another class period, I created this beauty.  Notice the difference made by changing the location of the focus!  It is also quite obvious that I did not have my focus centered over the directrix.  Oops.

A different parabola with a different focus

To keep the wax paper from moving, I had students staple the top of their wax paper to the colored paper below.

Stapling the wax paper to the colored background paper

Here are two of the parabolas I made, side by side.  Next time I do this, I want to have students go through a see/notice/wonder activity where they look at everyone's parabolas.  Or, maybe I should tell students how many inches above their directrix to place their focus.  Then, we could have a class discussion regarding the difference made by the location of the focus.  

Comparing Parabolas

On the colored paper (under the wax paper), we labeled the focus, directrix, and created parabola.  Then, we stapled the bottom of the wax paper to our colored paper.  By stapling this to colored paper, we can see the parabola more easily.  And, we are actually able to glue our creation in our notebook.  I couldn't think of any other way to attach wax paper to our notebook.  

Parts of a Parabola Notes
 Here's a close-up of the parabola I made that made it into my interactive notebook.  (This one is different from the ones pictured above.)

One of my students got really creative with his labeling.  He made the focus into the "o" in his label of focus.  And, he made the word "parabola" exactly follow the curve of his parabola.  I was impressed!  I certainly wasn't that creative.
Creating A Parabola Notebook Page
After creating our parabola out of wax paper, we took notes over the parts of a parabola.  Our notes covered the parabola, focus, directrix, axis of symmetry, and vertex.  

Parts of a Parabola Vocabulary Notebook Page

On the day following this lesson, I finally introduced them to the term "quadratic function."  Now that we had learned what a parabola was, we were finally ready to learn what type of function produces a parabola when graphed.  we organized our notes on quadratic functions in a Frayer Model.

Quadratic Function Vocabulary Frayer Model
After having my students create their own parabolas out of wax paper, I realized they weren't quite as excited about the process as I had hoped they would have been.  The payoff came a day later, however.  I have an Algebra 2 student who has made it pretty clear that she does not want to be in my class.  She does just enough work to get by.  Many days, she is the epitome of disinterested.  So, I'm pretty sure my jaw was on the floor when I overheard the conversation she was having with someone who had been gone the day before when we made the parabolas.  She was literally gushing about the activity we had done and how fun it was.  She was trying to explain the process of making a parabola out of wax paper, and it was clearly going over the head of her classmate.  I looked at her in shock.  "I didn't think your class was too thrilled by the parabolas we made yesterday."  "Oh, I loved it! I love it when we do hands-on things like that in class."  

After some quick research, I have found tutorials for making all of the conic sections out of wax paper.  I think I know what we'll be doing in the next unit!