Math = Love: OCTM Recap: Taking the Practice Out of the Worksheet

Saturday, June 18, 2016

OCTM Recap: Taking the Practice Out of the Worksheet

For the past few days, I've been recapping various sessions that Shaun and I attended at the Oklahoma Council of Teachers of Mathematics Summer Conference.  So far, I've recapped High Yield Geometry Routines and Fun Functions.  Today, I want to share what I learned from a session called "Taking the Practice Out of the Worksheet" by Judy Schwarz (her name is misspelled below).  There are SO many good ideas in here!  Apologies in advance for the picture overload that this post is sure to become!

I guess I didn't read very carefully because I didn't realize this was a geometry session.  Thankfully, even though a lot of the ideas are for geometry, they can be modified for any math classroom.  The facilitator just happens to teach geometry, so that's what form most of her ideas are in.  

If...Then Posters

The first idea that Judy shared was to have students make "If...Then" posters at the beginning of the school year.  She said she often has students do this before they've ever even talked about conditional statements.  If I remember correctly, she usually has students complete this as homework.  But, if you have access to a stack of magazines, you could even have students do it in class during the first week.  
Here are some examples she brought to show us:

And, here are my interpretations:

If you eat spicy food, you need to brush your teeth. 

If you own a lot of dogs, you have to buy a lot of dog food. 

If you get caught drinking and driving, you will end up in jail.  

The facilitator said she hangs these up around the classroom for instant decorations.  Then, when they begin the unit on conditional statements, she has students work problems from the posters made by their students instead of from the problems in the textbook.  Students will have to pick a poster from the room and write the converse, contrapositive, etc.  By starting with real-life examples, students are more engaged.  Eventually, they do move on to the problems in the textbook.  

I love this idea, and it kinda makes me sad I'm not teaching geometry...  

Stump The Teacher

Next, Judy shared an activity she uses occasionally with her students: Stump the Teacher.  It goes as follows:

* Give students a textbook section to read.  Set a timer.  
* When the timer goes off, the teacher closes his/her textbook.  
* Students take turns asking the teacher questions that could be found in that textbook section.  
* If a student is able to stump the teacher, he/she gets a small prize.  (Judy says she gives 1 point extra credit when a student is able to stump her.)  
* After the teacher feels like she has an idea of the students' understanding of the concept based on their questions, the tables are turned.  Now, the students close their textbooks and the teacher starts calling on students to answer questions.  

This activity gets students reading and re-reading as they try to formulate questions to ask.  Students need to think about what the main ideas of the lesson are and what common sources of errors might be.  The teacher makes sure to pull out important ideas not brought up by students when it is his/her turn to ask questions.  

A quick google search led me to another more thorough explanation of this activity.  

I don't use textbooks in my classroom, so I'm not sure how I'd apply this structure to my classroom.  If I could find an interesting article that relates to a topic we are studying, I might could see myself using this structure to ensure that students actually read the article.  Hmmm... 

Top Ten List

This next idea is so simple, but I think it's definitely a keeper!  

At the end of a chapter or unit, have a students make a list of the top 10 things they learned.  This could be done as a homework assignment, or you could give students a few minutes in class to complete.  

Then, put students in groups.  They must each read their top ten list to the group and compile a top five (or top three) list that is agreed upon by all members of their group.  

Judy claims that this simple activity gets kids talking about math and justifying their answers.  The discussion helps kids really concentrate on what the key ideas of the unit were.  

Remember my interactive notebook dividers for next year?  I'm already thinking about replacing the bit with the pretty picture to be a place for them to record their top ten list.  

Around the World

This is an idea I've used in my own classroom, but I've always referred to it as a "Scavenger Hunt." 

Sheets of paper are placed around the classroom.  Each sheet has a problem and an answer (to a different problem.)  

Students choose one poster to start at.  After working out the solution to the problem on that poster, they search the other posters for the poster containing the appropriate answer.  Then, they solve the problem on that poster.  This process continues until you circle back around to where you started.  

Picasso Polygon Portrait

Students are given a set of requirements of what must be in their self-portrait.  Students MUST use a ruler when completing the project.    

Here's what a finished portrait looks like:

Students peer grade each other's projects using a rubric.  

I really liked Judy's explanation of how she has her students peer grade each others' projects.  She takes up all of the projects, shuffles them, and hands them back to students to grade.  She makes sure that best friends aren't grading each other's work.  Students use a copy of the rubric to grade another student's project.  When students are done grading, they take the original project and the rubric and deliver it to the student it belongs to.  Each student looks at the rubric and decides if they agree with the grade they have been given.  If a student disagrees with the way they have been graded, they take a colored sheet of paper and staple it to the top of the project with why they disagree with the grade the other student gave them.  When the teacher is entering grades, he/she just need to double check the projects that have colored sheets of paper on top.  

Leap Frog

The next activity we did was called Leap Frog.  This was a review game that was totally new to me.  That's always exciting to experience at a conference! 

Each student is given a deck of cards.  This will be their answer bank.  Judy suggested printing each deck on a separate color of paper.  If this isn't feasible, have the first set of students who use each deck write their initials on the back of each card.  Then, if a card gets dropped in the floor during clean-up, it can easily be reunited with its friends.  

Students arrange their desks in a circle, and each student lays out their deck of cards.

We played Leap Frog around two rectangular tables.  This worked, too.

A problem is projected on the board.

When a student figures out the answer (or what they think the answer is) they grab the answer card and hide it so none of their neighbors can see.

When time is called, each person compares the answer card in their hand with the answer card in their neighbor's hand.  The teacher announces the correct answer.  Everyone returns their answer card to the deck in front of them.  Those students who got the answer correct stand and rotate desks to the right.

The goal of the game is to be the first student to make it all the way back to where you started by "leap frogging" over other players.

The facilitator said she has used this with great success with her Pre-AP Geometry classes.  I can definitely see the competitive nature of this activity working for more advanced students.  But, I'm not sure if I'd want to use this with my Algebra 1 classes.  I can see my IEP students getting very, very frustrated.  My trig and statistics classes, on the other hand, would probably have a lot of fun with this.

Some of the audience members expressed that making up a deck of cards was too much work, and they suggested having students write their answers on a dry erase board.

One other concern I have with this activity is that I think it might be a tad bit too easy for students to cheat.  I was sitting right next to Shaun, and it would have been very easy to just wait for him to pick up his answer and pick up the same answer.  Of course, students can cheat with many review games by just looking at what their neighbors are doing.  I guess the only person they are punishing is themselves.

The last few things we did during the hour-long workshop was to circulate between three tables with more ideas of practice activities that don't involve just doing a worksheet.  Each table had a sheet explaining each activity.  Instead of trying to put each activity into my own words, I'm just posting the picture I took of each sheet.

Sorting Activities

Self-Checking Activities

Miscellaneous Activities

I really liked having the line on a transparency where students could just move it around.  I thought this was super clever!

And, that's a wrap.  This was such an awesome session to attend!  


  1. Lots of great ideas. Even though I don't teach geometry, I agree with you, these ideas could be modified for almost any math content. Thank you for sharing your feedback - great thoughts!!!!

    1. Hope you found something to use in your own classroom!

  2. Great ideas! I can see myself using some of these ideas in my geometry classroom! Could you explain how Leap Frog works? If a participant doesn't get the answer right, do they move in the opposite direction, or do two people sit/stand in one place? Thanks!

    1. If the participant doesn't get it right, they stay sitting and get "leap frogged." The only people who change seats are those standing.

  3. Sarah,

    Great ideas! As a high school math teacher going into my 3rd year of teaching, I am always looking for new and creative ways to teach students and engage them in a way that sticks with them. I believe I am teaching geometry next year for the first time so this post in particular is especially helpful.

    First, the conditional statements activity is very creative and immediately draws students into a mathematical concept while allowing them to apply it to something they are interested in. I love the idea that these are instant decorations and then as the logic unit progresses, students try to find various concepts using posters that their fellow classmates made. This is an example of how students will remember the unit of logic much more than if they just worked out of the textbook. Next, I love the "Stump the Teacher" idea and think it also could work wonders as a "Stump your Peer" activity as well. Students could ask one another questions as a powerful review tool for a topic or unit. The scavenger hunt activity seems extremely easy to set up around the room, fun for students, and rigorous. The simpler the planning and set up time while students are getting a lot of knowledge and practice out of the activity is the perfect combination for me!

    Continuing my reflection, the Picasso Portrait has so many different elements that I LOVE! Students are able to demonstrate their knowledge of shapes while being given the freedom to creativity draw and use art. I think that the implementation of art in any content area is an element that is lacking and I appreciate this activity for that reason. Again, this can also be an instant decoration tool for the classroom. What I particularly like is students follow a rubric and their peers grade them based off of the rubric. This activity takes peer grading a step further by allowing students to advocate for themselves if they are not happy with the grade they received, which I think is a very important character trait to instill in students. For the leap frog activity, I agree with you that may be too easy for students to cheat. White boards may be easier to eliminate this worry and less work for the teacher. I love the idea of leap frog as it encourages students to move around and does trigger a competitive nature. The sorting activity is simple and again has students moving around pieces as oppose to working problems out of the textbook, making this topic much more interesting. The self-check activity is awesome because besides mathematics being a puzzle within itself, their end result needs to fit perfectly as a puzzle as well. I love this. It forces students to think and check their work and serves as a review tool. Thanks also for sharing the site "Tarsia Puzzle" as having a computer generated program is much easier than creating the pieces myself. For the miscellaneous activities, transparencies are super useful and matching games are always fun.

    Overall, I love this post because no matter what mathematical subject you teach, these ideas can be translated to that content. I also believe that keeping things interesting and engaging is important especially in mathematics. Playing games is a great way to do this.

    Thanks so much for sharing! Out of all of these activities, which one do you think is the most powerful in terms of student engagement and knowledge retention?

    1. I haven't used any of them myself, so I'm not sure which is most engaging. Sorry!

  4. Sara, I love the idea with the line transparency. I really think this will help students determine the equation easier. I cannot wait to try it this fall. Picasso portait is another excellent resource and I like shifting the evaluation to peers. This is the year of releasing and empowering the students even more.

    Thank you,

    1. I love that idea, too! I even found a box of transparencies at a thrift store!

  5. Thank you for writing this! So many great ideas I can use this year...pinned a bunch of them so I remember to come back here. :-)