Math = Love: August 2020

Monday, August 3, 2020

Shifting my Perspective

I started writing this as a blog post about how I've been working on cultivating healthy and productive habits in my life since school shut down in March. It turned into a rambling reflection on my morning walk and what I can take away from it and apply to the upcoming school year. While it's not exactly what I was going for, I guess it still means I have a blog post idea for tomorrow which will be Day 4 of the MTBoS Blaugust Blogging Challenge.

This morning I did NOT want to go for a walk. I wasn't feeling the greatest, but I'll spare you the details. Shaun even suggested at one point amidst my complaints about not feeling the best that I could go back to bed. My response? "But I already have my shoes on." Yes, I can be stubborn like that.


I convinced myself that I would just walk around the block a single time instead of my normal 1 mile loop of late. The weather was gorgeous, and our kiddo is always super calm (a stark difference from his constant energy the rest of the day) in the stroller. By the time I had made it to the stop sign at the end of our street, I decided that I might as well do my usual walking route. I was slow. Very slow. But, I did it. And at the end of the route, I decided to push myself a bit by tacking on that extra loop around the block that I'd originally set out to complete when I left the house.

Now, I am most definitely not an athlete. My crowning athletic achievement in life is running for twenty minutes without stopping once in the fifth grade. I wasn't athletic back then, either; I just wanted to impress my PE teacher. Yes, I was a teacher's pet, even in PE class. My gym teacher must not have acknowledged my efforts as much as I had hoped for back then. We did the twenty minute run once per quarter, and I ran less and less each time before giving up. If we were caught (gasp) walking during those twenty minutes, we had to sit in the middle of the gymnasium and watch all of the remaining runners finish.

Okay. Enough middle school memory sharing. As I finished my walk, Runkeeper proudly told me that this was my 15th fastest time. Super impressive, right? Maybe it would be if I'd used Runkeeper 50, 100, or 1000 times. Nope. I just checked. I've logged 19 activities. So, 15th fastest is really the same as saying "Almost your slowest time ever, Sarah!"


After I was back in the house and cleaned up, I went to check my email. Runkeeper was congratulating me on setting a new personal record. Wait...that doesn't make sense. I opened the email to see that I had set a record for farthest distance and longest duration. Why hadn't the app congratulated me about these accomplishments earlier when I had finished instead of applauding my "15th fastest time?"

So, why am I rambling on and on about my morning walk? And, what does this have to do with teaching math? I think there are definitely applications.

The app is built for runners. Athletes. Competitive people who are constantly pushing themselves to be better and faster.

I'm not a runner. I'm not an athlete. I'm just a mom of a toddler who is trying to get healthier. If you look at my speed today, I was a failure. I'm choosing to see myself as a winner instead. I won today when I got out of the house and told myself I was going to walk even if I stopped after a loop around the block. I won today when I got out of bed and put my running shoes on. I won today when I took literal steps toward building this habit of a healthy lifestyle.

I can't fault the app too much. In fact, I'm guilty of being stuck in a single mindset when it comes to thinking about back to school. I don't think it's fully set in that I go back to work this week. I don't think it's set in that I will have students in my classroom next week.



That amount of actual planning I have done is abysmal because I keep getting hung up on the fact that school will look so different. I'll be teaching face to face, but that will only last until students and staff start testing positive for COVID-19.



For the past two years, I've made it a goal of mine each year to increase the number of hands-on/interactive activities that I do with my students. I highlight them in my lesson plan book in a certain color so at a glance I can see how well of a job I am doing engaging my students.

This has been my focus. It's how I grade myself when I think about whether I'm doing a good job in the classroom or not. For me, I'm an effective math teacher when my students are engaged with hands-on, minds-on activities. And while that phrase could describe a wide range of tasks, I have a very specific style of tasks that I have specialized in, My filing cabinets are full of laminated activities, dry erase activities, craft supplies, and manipulatives.

This year, those are a no go. Kids sitting in groups. Kids leaning in to look at the same set of laminated cards. Kids touching and manipulating the cards together to complete a matching task. Kids sharing a large dry erase board and a handful of markers. Kids coming up to my desk to get their group's work checked. Kids high fiving with excitement when they finally solve a tough problem. What I would have once described as an ideal day in my classroom now describes an ideal setting to spread COVID-19.

Just as I redefined my morning walk as a "win," I need to redefine what counts as a win in my classroom. This year, I won't be highlighting hands-on activities in my lesson plan book. To be honest, I'm not sure what I'll be highlighting. I think the best back to school prep I can do over the course of this new week is to shift my thinking and redefine what a winning day in my face-to-face classroom (or virtual classroom) will look like.

If you've put up with my rambling this for this long, I'm impressed. I present to you one imaginary gold star. I'll be back again tomorrow (with hopefully less rambling) to continue the Blaugust Challenge.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

8 Sticks Puzzle - Printable Version and Google Slides Version

Yesterday, I bemoaned the loss of my classroom puzzle corner. I've been trying to come up with some ways to keep incorporating puzzles in my classroom in a pandemic-friendly manner. My favorite puzzles are the ones with pieces that students can manipulate. This leaves me two options. I can shift to posting puzzles in my classroom that can be solved using only your mind. Alternatively, I can try to create virtual puzzles. I'm not thrilled with either path, but I think either of these options is better than no puzzles at all.



Yesterday, Elizabeth Provencal tweeted me to ask if she could recreate my Factoring Monic Quadratics Activity in Google Slides. Of course, I agreed.


When she tweeted the results, I was intrigued by the fact that her Google Slides link automatically created a copy in the user's google drive folder. Check it out yourself here. I started to think that this would be a useful thing to be able to do if I recreated some of my puzzles in Google Slides.


Earlier this summer, I did manage to make one new puzzle for my classroom before realizing that there was no way I would be teaching in a classroom where my typical style of puzzles would be allowed any time soon.


The Eight Sticks Puzzle is from Amusement in Mathematics by Henry Ernest Dudeney. The book is available for free through Project Gutenberg.

The puzzle: Arrange all eight sticks (four of them being exactly half the length of the others) to form three squares, all of the same size. The sticks may overlap, but there must be no loose ends hanging out.

Originally, it was worded "Arrange the eight sticks," but my husband tried solving the puzzle with only six of the sticks. So I changed the wording to "all eight sticks" to emphasize to students that they needed to use ALL the sticks.

To make my classroom version which I can't use, I just took a letter sized piece of paper and cut it up with my paper chopper.


With the paper in landscape orientation, I cut 6 one inch strips.


Then, I cut two of those one inch strips in half. This left me with eight sticks (four of them being exactly half the length of the others).


I will say this wasn't the easiest thing to do with only one hand since I was still in a cast from my hand surgery at this point in the summer.


I took the resulting eight strips of paper and placed them in a laminating sheet.


Then, I ran them through my trusty Scotch laminator (only $20 from Walmart!) before cutting them apart.


If school ever returns to normal, I plan on putting magnets on the back of the sticks so students can manipulate them easily. In the mean time, I guess I'll be trying to figure out how to incorporate my new Google Slides version of this puzzle. I'm not sure how effective it will be when used with students because I've never tried using anything like this with students.



And, honestly, I'm still not sure how to use it with students. With my magnetic puzzles, I never promoted them to students. They just noticed them on the wall and were instantly drawn in. With a puzzle on Google Slides, I have to be a bit more involved in getting students involved. Maybe I just post a link in Google Classroom on Mondays and see who bites? This is totally new territory for me. I welcome any and all ideas!

After some googling, I learned how to share a link to the puzzle that forces each user to make a copy to their own google drive. It turns out it's as easy as a quick edit to the URL that google gives you to share with others. Maybe everyone else already knows about this trick, but in case you're like me and didn't know how to share a document that always creates a new copy, here are the instructions.

Here's the link to download your own copy of my Google Slides version of the 8 Sticks Puzzle. Want a download of the original instructions? You can download them here.

Now, I'm off to add my second sticker to my Blaugust Blogging Challenge Calendar. See you back here tomorrow with more thoughts about this upcoming crazy school year.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

#MTBoSBlaugust: Challenge Accepted

When I saw @druinok's tweet about her yearly #MTBoSBlaugust challenge this morning, I did a bit of a double take. August? How in the world is it August?!? Of course it is August. I had a doctor's appointment yesterday on July 31st. It naturally follows that today is August 1st, but I would say that I'm probably not alone in thinking that it doesn't really feel like the beginning of August. This pandemic has thrown off so many things, and one of the first to go was the sense of time passing normally.



Normally, August 1st means kicking my back to school prep into high gear. This year, I just don't feel like it. I won't be spending much time in my classroom before our professional development days start up. As a result of the pandemic, we're reporting back in person two days earlier than planned to allow for extra professional development and training to help us prepare for this very weird school year that is soon to start. On August 6th, I'll be back at work. To be honest, it hasn't really sunk in yet.



I haven't designed any new posters for my classroom this year. Instead, all the decorating I have planned is to rehang the handful of posters that have fallen down since March. Usually, I eagerly take down my posters at the end of each school year as I start to dream about the new decorations I will make over the summer. Not this year. When students report to my classroom on August 12th, they will see a room that looks very much like last year's classroom. And, that's okay. (In case you're curious, my district's current plan is to have students receiving face-to-face instruction four days a week.)



I won't be carting boxes of newly laminated puzzles to school that I spent hours making this summer. If students aren't allowed to share a tub of colored pencils, they shouldn't also be touching the same puzzle pieces. The same goes for all my go-to math activities involving laminated cards. Back in May when I got to close out my classroom for the summer, I brought home my laminator and a heap of colored paper so I could start making new activities for the fall. That obviously didn't happen. The paper is still sitting in the floor of our guest bedroom, and I'm not excited about the prospect of carting reams and reams of paper back to school.

I never dreamed back in May that our virus numbers would be so much worse now. I used to be shocked when there were 100 new cases in Oklahoma on any given day. Now, we're excited when the number is under 1000.

I've spent the last 8 years in the classroom figuring out exactly who I am as a teacher. I'm the teacher with the super decorated math classroom. I'm the teacher with the puzzle corner. I'm the teacher with hands-on activities. I'm the teacher who loves coming up with creative ways to take notes. And, all of a sudden, these things that define me as a teacher have been violently yanked away. I'm worried that I don't know how to get kids excited about learning math without hands-on activities, groupwork, games, and puzzles.

Before I get to feeling too sorry for myself, I have to remind myself to keep things in perspective. I am blessed. I'm not fighting for my life in a hospital COVID unit right now. I have a job. I'm not worrying about how I'm going to feed my family right now. I am not alone in these feelings or these new circumstances. Twitter is full of amazing educators who are in the midst of figuring out all this stuff right now.

I saw someone post an image the other day that asked people to be patient with the schools this year because we are all first-year teachers this year. And, wow, do I feel like a first year teacher! I mentioned in my last post about my hand surgery that I was hoping to get back to blogging more. I can't thing of a better way to get back to blogging and get back to feeling excited about this job that I really do love than to participate in the #MTBoSBlaugust Challenge.


If you want to join in and commit to blogging more this August, I thought I would share a free printable (Link to Download) I made to add to my planner to track my blog posts this month. My personal goal is to write a new blog post every day. Don't expect super polished posts of amazing, tried and true resources. These are very much going to be just me processing the world around and sharing what I'm learning. I added a space for you to write in your own goal. Maybe you want to just post once a week? Or maybe a goal of 5 or 10 blog posts? Make this challenge what YOU need. I look forward to following along with your posts no matter how often you choose to post! Just be sure to tweet them out with the #MTBoSBlaugust hash tag so I can find them.


I cheated a bit and added my sticker for today's blog post before ever writing this post just so I could take a picture of the calendar for this blog post. I know it's probably cheesy, but I actually get really motivated by things as simple as getting to pick out a sticker to reward myself for a task. It also gives me an excuse to use up a bunch of random cheap stickers I bought a few years ago when I tried out a Passion Planner.

So, here's to a month of rambling blog posts while I try to rediscover in my passion for teaching math and my teacher identity in this world of pandemic teaching. I hope you'll join me!