General Ideas for the Classroom

Archiving some gems from Twitter (April 2019)

I have seen a lot of great stuff on twitter lately, and I’ve missed a lot too, I’m sure. I wanted to just archive some of the things that I’ve saved so they don’t disappear! I also think it might be a benefit for someone who reads this who isn’t on twitter or missed some of these tweets. But that’s just a side benefit. I’m writing this for me!!!

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Desmos writes interesting job descriptions when they have openings. When someone pointed that out to them, they mentioned that this article on reducing unconscious bias helped informed how they write their job descriptions. It’s pretty great and I highly recommend it if you’re hiring. I have thought a lot about “fit” in the past few years when doing hiring, but it’s tricky to think about it well. I have come to recognize that someone entering our department needs to be open and willing to collaborate and compromise, but also have sympathetic pedagogical beliefs with what our department values (and can’t compromise on those). One way I have tried to avoid it is thinking about these things:

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But also I have found it harder to balance these thoughts, which I admittedly have a lot:

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Not quite those things, but similar thoughts that get at my own personal views on the what persona/personality traits make an effective teacher. Which I tend to think mirror my own traits. But that’s only because I have these traits because I think they make an effective teacher. But I have worked with enough amazing teachers to know that amazing teachers come in all personas! Just like amazing students don’t all have to have the same personas. But this type of bias is something I am trying to be super cognizant about when on hiring committees.

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I saved this just because I like the question and wanted to work on it. And I can see all kinds of extensions. A formula for n circles? What about spheres? I’m guessing (without working on this problem yet) that this is a classic “low entry point, high ceiling” type problem.

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I just really liked this quotation, and I need to think about the ways that students can see themselves in the mathematics they do. It is part of a larger thing I want to do which is “humanize math” — but I’m not very good at making it a core part of what I do in the classroom. Small bits here and there humanize and expand what kids think about math, but I’m not there yet. I want to one year leave the classroom and know that kids have looked in the mirror and saw something. (It kind of reminds me in a super literal way of how Elissa Miller put a mirror in her classroom, and I think on the bottom she wrote “mathematician.”)

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Okay, I love this so much. If you’ve never seen it before, it a great trick. You have someone pick any number between 1 and 63 secretly. They just point to the cards that number is on. In about three seconds, I can tell you your number.

I actually made a set of these cards where the numbers are more jumbled up, so kids don’t see a pattern to it. I do put the powers of 2 in one of the four corners though to make things easier for me. Oh wait, have I said too much?

If you don’t know this trick, or how or why it works, I’m sure you can google it. But I’m going to recommend the awesome book “Math Girls Talk About Integers” (there are a lot of great “Math Girls” books out there, so make sure you get the Integer one.

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Not only is the book awesome (and great for kids to read), but it breaks down this trick so well. *Shivers with joy*

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I was excited with Karen Uhlenbeck won this year’s Abel Prize, the first woman to win it ever! I had my kids read this article in the NYTimes about it, and write down three notes about the article. We started the next class with a “popcorn sharing” of what people wrote down. (I also said that although I liked the article, it was a bit dense and thought it could have been written more lucidly.) One thing that came up in both classes I did this in was what a “minimal surface” was — so I told kids it is a surface with minimal area.

I then showed my kids this short youtube video:

And explained that bubbles, though not “central” to all higher level mathematics, do come up. And then I gave them a question. I’m too lazy to type it out, but watch the first 1 minute and 45 seconds of this video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dAyDi1aa40E) and you’ll see it. Then we talked about some basic solutions. And THEN I revealed the best answer was the answer shown in the video we all watched together.

Of course @toddf9 (Todd Feitelson) used this as inspiration to create his own bubble thingies:

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but he also explained how he made them…

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and then he EVEN created an awesome desmos activity on this very problem, which I want to archive here for use later: https://teacher.desmos.com/activitybuilder/custom/5cb50bed4dcd045435210d29

(Oh! And Mike Lawler (@mikeandallie) made a mobius strip bubble!)

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Dylan Kane wrote a nice blogpost about calling on students (and the “popsicle sticks of destiny” — though he doesn’t call them that). My favorite line is this simple question that isn’t about right or wrong:

  • After students attempt a problem in groups, or reflect on an idea and share with partners, I call on students asking, “How did your group approach the problem?” or “What is something useful that you or your partner shared?”

It’s so obvious, but even after so many years of teaching, I forget to ask things like this. Or my curriculum isn’t group problem solving based enough for things like this to make sense asking. Or whatever.

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There’s nothing special about this one… I’ve read it a few places before and it always makes me laugh.

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Questions are good. I might have a kid read this at the start of the year and then have a short conversation about why we’re reading it.

It will get at the problematic idea of “obvious,” and when and how learning happens and more importantly when and how learning doesn’t happen.

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In case you didn’t know, Desmos has a list of all their mathematicians they use when they anonymize in Activity Builder.

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https://docs.google.com/document/d/1OY-8dk6vYW1Cags8E6_v3I8YZ-RYROzgsCauW5CZt9w/edit

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I can imagine putting this picture on a geometry test as a bonus question and asking them why it makes math teachers all angsty… Plus it made me chuckle!

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I’m so not here yet. Anyone who knows me as a teacher will probably know I’ll probably never get here. I’m such a stickler for making the use of every second of classtime.

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Crystal Lancour (@lancour28) tweeted out a slide from a session led by Robert Berry (NCTM president) which had this very powerful slide:

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Four rights of the learner in the mathematics classroom

  1. The right to be confused and to share their confusions with each other and the teacher
  2. The right to claim a mistake
  3. The right to speak, listen, and be heard
  4. The right to write, do, and represent only what makes sense to you

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Love the idea of using marbles/paint to draw parabolas (click here to go to the original tweet and watch the video — it’s not a static picture).

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Bree Pickford-Murray (@btwnthenumbers) gave a talk at NCTM about a team-taught math and humanities course called “Math and Democracy.” Not only did she share her slides (like *right after* the talk) but also she links to her entire curriculum in a google folder. SUPERSTAR!!!

I’ve gone to a few talks about math and gerrymandering (both at MoMATH and NYU) and listened to a number of supreme court oral arguments on these cases. It’s fascinating!

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I just finished teaching “shape of a graph” in calculus. But I wish I had developed some activities like this, to make it interactive:

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I’ve literally been preparing to give a talk next month for… months now. And this one stupid tweet summarized the talk. Thanks.

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I have so many more things I can post, but I’m now tired. So this will be the end.

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A simple question

I know I haven’t posted a lot this year. I actually have tons to post on because I’m writing a lot of Algebra 2 material, but because I’m doing that work, I haven’t been able to carve out the time to post about it. Blerg.

But today I wanted to write a short but sweet post. Every so often, I ask for feedback from my classes. I’ll create a google form and ask how things are going, if kids’ pronouns have changed, how long their nightly work takes, and other thing I’m curious about. Sometimes I have kids reflect about their own work or their groupwork.

But last year, I started occasionally including this question:

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I love that it gives kids a chance to think about who has helped them out. I don’t make it a required question. Only about 1/2 or 1/3 of my kids filled that question out this time. But I really loved the short bits I did get to see. I learned who might have been studying together for tests, or who worked super patiently with another person who might have been struggling, or whatever. And kids got to have a moment where they got to be grateful for someone else.

What was nice is that I actually asked for this survey a week before parent-teacher conferences, so I was able to share with parents who came some shoutouts about their kids (if they got any). Parents really appreciated hearing that their kid received praise from another kid (and why).

And today, I sent short emails to any kid who got a shoutout…

Hi Stu,

In our last check-in survey, I asked students to give a shoutout to someone who was an important part of their learning experience. I wanted to privately share these with students…

Stu2 wrote:

Stu! We work great together because we have different strengths and weaknesses, so when we do a problem together I’m able to understand the whole problem, not just the aspects I’m especially strong at.
Stu3 wrote:
Stu! He is always great at explaining things to me!
Hope this brightens your day!
Always,
Mr. Shah

And… that’s it! A little sweet thing that I came up with that I really like. Short, simple, but for the right kid at the right time, it can be meaningful. (A few kids emailed me back saying that reading the email did make them smile or brought some light in a dark day…)

PS. Once, I had a bulletin board in my room that I had reserved for “shoutouts” or “notices of gratitude.” Where kids could post index cards with shoutouts for other students. I wanted it to be public and for it to “grow.” I would occasionally build in time for students to reflect and add to the bulletin board. That was years ago. It didn’t really take off, which means I didn’t roll it out and implement it well. But what I’m doing with this google form is really nice because it isn’t intensive or involve much planning!

PPS. If you’re at my school and want advice on how to do something like this, feel free to ask. I’m happy to brainstorm with you. I just don’t want everyone doing this which then will take away the “specialness” of when I do it!

My First Day, 2018 Edition

I had my first day with kids this past Thursday. We had only 30 minutes with each of our classes, so I went back and forth about what I wanted to do. Some years, I like to get them in their groups and we start right away. I have a compelling question or *something* that starts the first unit, and we charge ahead. When I do this, I’m thinking “I want kids to see what we do every day in class. We do math. We work together. We don’t waste time.” [1] Kids seem to enjoy that. They are usually revved up and excited to start, even though we’re all a little sad that summer is over. (Okay, very sad.) But there’s energy in the air.

This year I decided to do something different. A colleague of mine did this for a class we both co-taught years ago, and I really thought it would be a great way to start this year.

Part I: The Initial Card Sort that Sorted My Kids Into Their First Groups

I said hello for literally only one or two minutes, and then I shared the activity we were going to do for 15-20 minutes. We were going to do a puzzle-y card sort to figure out who was grouped with whom. But in order for the class to be successful, they all needed to work together. I projected a sample card. I said anyone is allowed to use a calculator. But some of the cards might require some laptop assistance. So they had a little laptop symbol on it.

card1.pngSo in this case, for example, I knew almost none of my kids would know what binary numbers are, but using google they could find a converter online that would say this was actually “170.”

Each card had a kid’s name written on back. So each kid got “their” card. And their goal was to find others who were in their group because their cards formed a logical group. Here’s a sample group to show you what the cards looked like and how they link:

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See if you can tell what the link is among these four cards…

I’ll give you a second.

I will reveal the answer in the next line, so don’t keep reading until you are sure you want to know.

Okay, the link is the number “ten.” So 10! is the number of seconds in six weeks. When the kids type those equations into desmos, they will see the number 10 show up. Neon is the 10th atomic element. And “X” is 10 in roman numerals.

You can see why kids are going to need each other and the class is going to have to work together. Because until someone recognizes that “ten” is a category, these all seem very unconnected. But as soon as you know someone’s card represents “ten,” then things like the neon symbol or the “x” make sense.

I’m kinda proud of these, so I’ll show you another:

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The theme? “Pi.” The first one is circumference over diameter, the second is a recipe for pie crust, the third is an approximation for pi, and the fourth is a world record holder for reciting the digits of pi.

(If you want to download my cards, here you go: Group Card Sort! And the explanations are Group Card Sort Explanations.)

I only had allotted 15-20 minutes for this. I had no idea if this would go quickly or take forever. In all four classes I did this in, I was able to get them to finish in 20 minutes but only through some careful prodding/help. If I were a bit more hands off, I could see this easily taking 40 minutes and it being time well spent. But alas, I didn’t. Here’s how I intervened:

  1. After 7 minutes, I stopped everyone. I asked who knew what they had. A few people did.
  2. Throughout the time, I gave a “few” hints where I could, but mainly I was acting as facilitator to help others help each other. So for the pie crust recipe one, I had the person go around asking if anyone was a baker (or I would shout out to the room if anyone liked to bake, and had them come to us).
  3. When someone wasn’t doing anything, I had them go help others. They might have been confused about their card, but they could help others (and get help from others).
  4. Sometimes when a kid “got it” but still had some uncertainty, I would put them out of their frustration and tell them they got it. If I didn’t have time pressure, I wouldn’t have done this, but it didn’t ruin the activity or anything.
  5. After 15 minutes, with my proddings and connecting, kids were doing pretty well. So I stopped everyone and had people who knew what their card represented be quiet. There were always three or four people who were stuck. So I had them share their card or write their puzzle on the board and see if anyone could figure it out in the remaining few minutes. (We wrote the different “solved” categories on the board, so sometimes they could figure out their card by seeing what it might be.) They gathered, talked, and some classes barely finished in time and others didn’t. I didn’t focus on that. For the ones that didn’t get them all in 20 minutes, I quickly went through the explanation of the remaining few cards.

It was really fun for me to watch, and I saw kids really getting into the puzzle-aspect of things. The first time a kid figures out their card and finds someone else with the same thing, it’s just a wonderful feeling. It honestly feels impossible to kids at the beginning. They literally start looking for anyone with the exact same card as them, or if they have a picture they’re looking for other people with pictures. But as soon as they realize it’s more challenging and more interesting, I get to see how they react and what they do. Do they sort of back down? Do they go help others? Do they hope someone comes to them? My big goal was having kids realize they can’t do this alone and most cards won’t tell you what they are so you need to hear about others and help others.

Oh! One big thing. I realized in the first class that kids were just kinda sitting with their cards. So I made a rule that until the card sort was over and everyone in the class figured out their cards, no one was allowed to sit down — not even when using their laptops. This actually got kids up and moving. It was a small thing, but I know it was super helpful to making this a success.

I wish we had time for kids to say hi to their first group and do a little group norm setting, but alas with only 10 minutes left, I had to transition.

Part II: New Years

So I totally saw Howie Hua’s first day post and was in love. It was positively inspired. Often times, people post awesome things they do in their classrooms that are awesome but just not me. When I read this, I felt: “OMG THIS IS ME!” He celebrated new years with his classes. Here’s one of his students’ videos/tweets:

And it really got me thinking. The first day IS my new years. My life doesn’t go in January-December cycles. It goes in September-August cycles! And it was the perfect time for kids to make a new years resolution. They had 90 seconds of thinking to come up with something.

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Then after 90 seconds, I threw up this screen, obliquely referencing the Maurader’s Map from Harry Potter (but opposite-ish) and I had them recite this pledge:

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Then I gave each kid a baggie that I prepared. In it was a super fancy piece of origami paper, a mardi-gras necklace that someone had a zillion of and was throwing them away, and a noisemaker I bought from amazon. It mabye took me 45 minutes to put these all together. But totally worth it. For some reason, I believe that being given your own personal goody bag is way more exciting than having someone pass out necklaces, noise makers, and origami paper individually.

I then handed out party hats too (but those had to be returned to me). I actually always keep a stack of party hats in my office, and when it’s a kids birthday, I give them a hat, candy, and we sing a short birthday song. As I said, this idea of Howie’s fit me!!! Anyway, kids had to write their name and their resolution on the origami paper which I collected. (Later that day, I put them together in a ziploc bag and hung them visibly in the room so this doesn’t become a thing we did but wouldn’t return to. I was thinking I’d give them back to kids after the end of the first semester so they can see how they’re doing on their resolution. But I might have another brilliant idea. Who knows!) As soon as the bags were out, the noise makers were making noise. And that was a lovely cacophony of BWWWAAAPP and BAAAAAAAA noises. (That was also why I had kids pledge to do no evil with what they were given… *grin*)

In any case, I was standing at the front of the room when they worked on writing their resolutions. When they were done, they had to bring up the resolution to me and wait at the front of the room with me (with the necklace, hat, and noisemaker). After 2-3 minutes everyone was up. And then… we took a class picture, all decked out, blowing on the noisemakers and just being amazing. And oh yeah, we also took a class boomerang (which is an app that lets you take a 2 second video and plays it over and over).

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The boomerang was my favorite part because kids were jumping up and ducking down and doing fun things. And I kind of am obsessed with boomerangs. So there’s that.

I think I’m going to get these photos printed and framed, and hang them up in the classroom. I don’t know what to do about kids who were missing  (there were a few) or who transfer in after some schedule change, but maybe I’ll list them missing on a caption instead of some awkward photoshop job?

Our first day together. (I did post the boomerang video and our class photograph on the google classroom site in case any kid wanted it.) [2]

And then it was the end of our first 30 minutes together. I was really happy with how it went. I like the feeling that I left each class starting the year with good vibes. Thanks go to my chemistry teacher colleague and friend for the card sort idea which I made into something my style (with my kind of clues!), and to Howie Hua for helping me make a memorable moment to start the year.

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[1] We do a lot of the logistics things in the following week. They read the course expectations at home and fill out a “get to know you” google form which also asks them questions that require the expectations to finish. And then each day or day, I talk about one or two things I want to be explicit about (like how to write me an email, or that’s it’s okay to go to the bathroom and they don’t need to ask, but they do have to discretely let me know they’re leaving if I don’t see them, or that they need to bring a waterbottle to class because they can’t leave to get a drink).

[2] I just realized this photo could be fun to have up on the screen on parent night, when parents/caretakers come in two weeks to hear me talk about our class.

 

 

Start Of Year Edition: Even More Things I Want To Highlight From Twitter

A few months ago, I had “liked” so many tweets but I wanted to archive them somewhere so I wouldn’t forget them. So I wrote a post. I don’t have too much time, but I want to do that again. [Update: Okay, I might have spent a few hours compiling this. But I’m so glad I did.]

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A lot of people use four 4s as a way to get kids thinking. I liked this idea of having a sheet and kids using post it notes to fill in the missing ones. It’s compact. I might use the small post-its, and have kids use a different color post-it if they have a different solution than the one posted. It might be good to keep in a public hallway for everyone to work on, or maaaybe in my classroom (if a group finishes something way before everyone else but I don’t want them moving on yet). But four 4s is all over the web, so I might need to change it to 5s or 6s. :)

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Ummm. Oh, okay, @mathequalslove had a tweet which showed she already thought about how to create a first day activity around this, along with amazing facilitation notes. Yay!

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@abel_jennifer tweeted out saying she was going to be bringing math kids on a (multi-day?!) field trip to NYC and wanted to know what mathy things kids could do here. Many people responded, and so she compiled the responses in a google doc. I never take my kids on field trips. I should. (Maybe as a reward for completing the four 4s challenge?!)

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@stevenstrogatz linked to Harvey Mudd’s math department goals. It’s beautiful and shows they worked collaboratively to generate a shared vision. Our department has done this too, though we need to refer back to it and see where our strengths and weaknesses are so we can move forward.

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@mrdardy shared his geometry curriculum with someone looking to explore new ideas for their class. He shared the book he wrote with them [which I highly recommend checking out!]! And in that folder, he has an awesome short paper he writes called “How to Succeed in Geometry.” However it is soooo not specific to geometry. It’s amahzing and most of what he writes is true for my kids also. I should look at this when revising my course syllabus this year!

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@zimmerdiamonds posted a nice open-middle problem that I think I could use this year with my new Algebra II class.

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@Caitlyn_Gironda gave a presentation on making AP calculus more engaging, and she shared her slides, but also a set of folders filled with great activities! Because she’s aweeeesome. I need to look through these before teaching my (non-AP) calculus class this year!

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I love this question. The activity is here. I could see it being used for a first day challenge. I wish there were like 10 of these, instead of just one, with different “levels.” That probably exists somewhere. Ooooh, or maybe after kids do this, they create their own to challenge other kids. This could be a groupwork task, where at first they solve this together… but then the work together to create something complicated that stymies other groups! <3

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I always forget where I can find desmos activities made by other teachers. It’s the desmos bank. The link is here: https://sites.google.com/site/desmosbank/

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@mathycathy posted how she had some students’ desmos projects printed on canvas to hang up in her room. It shows her kids how much pride she has in their work! But more importantly to me, she shared her project, which is kids making a pet house in desmos. The activity builder for it is thoughtful and kids learn about lines just by playing with them! I think I could modify this to add in other kinds of graphs (parabolas, square roots, etc.) for Algebra II.

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@cljreagan posted a problem she used in her precalculus class on the first day.

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I wonder if I could do this for my standard Algebra 2 kids, actually?! Start with them working with whatever approaches they could come up with, individually. Then after a minute of individual thinking, they share their thoughts with their group. Then the group works together. Then finally, graphing! And a discussion about why the graph might look crazy in the places that it does!

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A terrific teacher: is, says, does, does not.

I think I might want to do this for a terrific student also. The teacher I look up to most in my building does something like this as a way to build class norms. This wouldn’t involve the refining and consensus building that she asks for, but I might use it anyway. I could transcribe them into a draft teacher poster, and then talk about ones that might be problematic for me (based on either who I am, what I can do, or things I philosophically disagree with) and be transparent about those things. And then I can have kids look and see if there are anything on the draft student poster and see if there are similar things they want to discuss/refine/change. Then I can create a final version to hang up.

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This idea. It reminds me of something I used to do called “Path to Glory” (which I heard about so long ago and I don’t remember from whom…) where I asked kids to fill out a 10 question True / False test … but they weren’t given the questions. They just had to fill out the answers.

Then they all stood up. And then I read the questions and kids decided whether it was true or false, and then those who got it wrong sat down. And we’d continue on the PATH TO GLORY (the last person standing).

I always incorporate this on the last day of my calculus classes, and the T/F questions are questions about the kids in the class or me. It’s cute, and I think special to me. Because it shows my kids I know them and listen to them, and it’s a community closing activity. (It could be a community building activity too.)

 

 

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@eulersnephew posted a google doc with a ton of amazing quotations about mathematics that he’s been compiling. The tweet thread then led to this wikiquote page with quotations about mathematics. And he linked to a google drive folder that @MrCoreyMath shared with lots of posters of mathematicians and what they work(ed) on (modern and old time-y). He also has a poster with a lot of questions students can/should be asking themselves when they solve a problem or are working on a problem.

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@joelbezaire posted a great challenge. He gives his kids this chart, and asks them what the relationship is between the four variables. Then when kids think they know, they go up an add a line (which then gives more data for kids who might not see it). He created these exercises (called Variable Analysis) and they are here (along with more about how he facilitates it).  pic15.png

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The post of his activity is here. I watched a documentary of the MIT Mystery Hunt, and there was an awesome communication activity in it. Watch this video (11:19-13:50). I think it would be hilarious to watch kids do this.

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This quotation:
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And this quotation:

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@allison_krasnow shared this site with great collaborative activities for students. *Swoon.* *I’m in love.* To whet your appetite, here’s a screenshot of what awaits you:

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Which of course reminds me of Play With Your Math by Joey Kelly and CiCi Yu (twitter for site: @playwyourmath), which I will also screenshot to whet your appetite:

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Sara Van Der Werf does an amazing “name tent” thing at the start of the year (I’ve done it and enjoy it!). But I always struggle in the moment to come up with good questions. @averypickford shares questions he uses for student interviews which could make good name tent questions. The questions he’s going to use this year are:
“What was the last movie you saw or book you read that you really enjoyed or had a lasting impact? If I gave you enough 💰 to live comfortably w/out going to school or working, what is 1 thing you’d do with your time? What is something you’re particularly good at? What do you think is important for me to know in order for you to be successful in this class?”

@algebrainiac1 shares her questions in a blogpost.

@JennSWhite tweeted that she does:
Day 1: If you could be any creature real/fictitious what would you be & why?
Day 2: What is the sure-fire way to lift your mood/spirit?
Day 3: If you could have dinner with any person alive/dead who would you pick & why? What would you eat?
Day 4: What superpower would you want?

@Riehlt says: “”If you had three wishes, what would they be?” I got this from a school phycologist and used it for many years. It really gives insight to what they value and has revealed all sort of things; hardships, illnesses, deaths, body image, family conflicts. A few rich, fame, etc.

@EmilySilman asked kids to finish this “If math were an animal, it would be _____ because _____” or “If math were a food, it would be _____ because ______.”

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Just because cool!

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@JennSWhite posted this picture from the second day of her classroom. A group activity:
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When people asked for more information, she shared the puzzles and the solutions! It was inspired by @nomad_penguin’s post here. And links to Mark Chubb’s post which talks about things to consider if doing activities like this in your classroom.

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@a_schindy posted some posters she hangs up in her classroom about the behaviors/traits of a mathematician (from Tracy Zager’s Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You’d Had). And, importantly, how she had a conversation about what was on the posters, which she blogged about here.

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@BearStMichael shares his classroom norms and his thinking about how to introduce them/start the year. This is a must read. Full stop.

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Edutopia tweeted a sweet way to end a particularly harrowing or energetic class or challenging discussion. It’s a video, so you have to go here to see it. It’s called “the three As”  (appreciations, apologies, aha!s). The purpose is the reflect on the day and the dynamics. Kids stand in a circle and just say an appreciation, an apology, or an aha moment!

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@Lisa99Bailey posted these pencils she made for her kids. Here’s the original tweet so you can see what she wrote on them bigger. Other people, in the replies, also added “Be Original” and “Be Inclusive.” I think I’d want to do this randomly on a day that had nothing special so it was truly unexpected.

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And @MrsDi, in the replies, had a great idea to spread the love: “Super cool! How about on the next batch you have the kids each write an inspiring message and put all those pencils in a classroom-share location? Or… trade with the classroom next door?”

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@davidwees posted this

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and shared the isometric drawing tool that NCTM has for creating stuff like this!

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@bowmanimal tweeted out a great blogpost he wrote about changing how we think about assessments. It is fantastic. An excerpt:

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Years ago, maybe at PCMI, I also heard of a great quiz idea. Partner kids up to take a quiz. And they have to do it silently, and write notes to each other to help them communicate. They’ve made all their thinking visible for you, and they have each other to rely on. I can’t believe I’ve never done this.

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A number of  years ago, I did a random act of kindness day. We didn’t do content, but we wrote thank you cards to people in the building. I haven’t done that recently, because other teachers have taken to doing that in other forms, and it felt like it wouldn’t be special if I did it. But if I end up doing something like that again, @allison_krasnow shared @MsCummins12’s blogpost about reading How Full Is Your Bucket with her kids. I really liked the idea. I think if I did a random act of kindness day, I might read the kid with books, have a discussion, and then have kids plan random acts of kindness that aren’t thank you cards. What are ways we can be kind that takes a different form? And then their homework will be to actually execute those acts of kindness.

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@HankReuling posted this great puzzle (a sangaku!). It took me a page of work to solve. But then I saw someone replied with three lines of work. But that didn’t take away from the sense of accomplishment I had! Have fun playing with it!

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@DavidButlerUofA posted a display / game he does with kids called “Numbers and Letters.” I had seen the British show Countdown on youtube on which this is based. I love this as a display, and there is a random element to it which is eggggselent!  It might be fun to get a moveable whiteboard to the front entrance where we have this up, and encourage caretakers and kids alike to engage (and the younger kids can take a short in-school field trip to work on this together as a class). Maybe have a jar of starbursts for anyone who contributes an answer?

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Sara Van Der Werf @saravdwerf compiled all her week 1 activities here. I’ve done some of them and am a fan.

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Look at these. I’m in love. From @solvemymaths (post, post, post, post).

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@rwhite_teacher1 created “extension cards” for kids when they have finished early. The google drive folder is here. I don’t quite know how I’d use them in class, but I like the sentiments. It might be more for me to remind me about ways I can ask kids to extend their work.

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This is one of my favorite @benorlin comics. I want to show it in class early on.

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A public WoDB bulletin board space!

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And, in case you were wondering, there are actual fancy posters you can buy too! My department head just ordered them for us!!!

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@rundquist wrote “Don’t just ask what they learned, ask what they unlearned.” It’s a great exit ticket question.

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I’m teaching Algebra II this year and I remember how this vocabulary in particular used to be tough for kids. The only change I might make in this is not have the equation equal 0. Kids like to set everything to 0, and that’s crazy. I don’t want to reinforce that.

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@davidwees posted a neat set of pictures to think about exponentiation and logarithms, using the Connecting Representations instructional routine I learned in my TMC17 morning session. To see the images/tweet, go here.

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@glennwaddelnvhs posted a google doc compiling all the great exit ticket questions that people have come up with!

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@TracyZager tweeted a 2-page PDF of great questions to help kids utilize their own intuition when problem solving. A random snip of that PDF:

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@mpershan tweeted about using Anna Weltman’s Loop-de-Loops! in class. I’ve always wanted to do that! It’s a great exercise in generating mathematical questions. His class came up with these:

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And AMAAAAAZINGLY, Lusto created a beautiful interactive webpage for this.

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Fin.

Desmos Pre-Conference 2018 Recap

This is a quick blogpost that I’m using to recap just some of the information from the Desmos Preconference before TMC18. I was dealing with some other stuff when I returned from TMC, and then I had to take a short few-day jaunt to see my parents/aunt/uncle. Now I’m finally home and starting to do things like write college recommendations and think about my new class for next year (Algebra II). But I’m afraid if I don’t take the time to reflect on some of what I took away from the conference, I will not end up using it. But at the same time, I feel like it’s so much stuff that to do it comprehensively, it will take too long and that’s keeping me from starting. So here’s my pledge: I’m just going to do what I can, and not worry about being incomplete, and then I’m going to #pushsend.

Tonight, I’m going to #pushsend on the desmos preconference day.

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I went to one session, led by Heather Kohn, David Sabol, and Mary Bourassa. These three desmos fellows shared how they use Desmos in the classrooms. Here are a few gems:

  • Heather often creates handouts to accompany activities. For example, for Will it hit the hoop? she has a spreadsheet for kids to fill in (e.g. “Predict, Screens 5-11” “Analyze, Screens 12-19” and “Verify, Screens 20-26”). 
  • I shy away from doing cardsorts (or even short activities) on desmos because I tend to have some groups finish way earlier than others. But this would happen even for paper cardsorts! So here are some tips. First, just so all groups start at the same time, you can pause the activity on the first screen (which you can have be an introductory screen). When everyone is ready and logged in, you can then unpause the activity which allows everyone to start at the same time. More importantly, you should create a slide after the cardsort/activity which links to another activity or has some extra practice for those kids to work on. And for extra fun, you can have this slide be a “marbleslides challenge.” But one tip is to use the teacher dashboard to pace the activity to the slide before the challenge, so that you can make sure kids aren’t rushing. (You can check in with the first group done and ask them a few questions to make sure they’re getting things.)
  • You can do a Which One Does Belong on Desmos (example: go to https://student.desmos.com and enter 5CK W7N). Have kids vote on which one doesn’t belong. You can then display how they voted! If no one picks one, after they finish and you discuss, you can have them go back and everyone has to pick the one that wasn’t picked… and then explain why that last one might also “not belong.”
  • David was worried about how kids will access desmos activity knowledge later. There’s a lot of digital work and verbal work in class, but then things aren’t archived. So here’s a great example of how David deals with this. He used Andrew Stadel’s “Math Mistakes with Exponent Rules.” On day 1, he used the first day PDF to have kids work the problems in class. Then on day 2, he screen grabbed the second day PDF and made a desmos cardsort (sorting them into true/false) and used the dashboard to showcase wrong answers and have class discussions. Also, after the cardsort, he had a screen that said: “Make a FALSE statement that a classmate may think is actually TRUE.” Then that night he created — using what kids wrote for their false statements — a paper copy with all these FALSE statements (sometimes there’s a true statement that a person wrote!) where kids had to identify the errors!
  •  A great question in a desmos activity is to show a lot of work/visualizations/etc. and write: “What would you tell this student to reinforce what they know and correct their errors?” If the student work has some nice thinking and some subtle not-so-good thinking, this often will lead to solid class discussions.
  • Mary uses Desmos occasionally for assessments. There were only a few questions, but they involved deeper thinking (e.g. given a graph of part of a parabola, can you come up with the equation for the parabola?). The presenter asked her kids to do all their written work on paper handed out for the test. Yes, students could revise their work/answers based on what they saw on Desmos, but that had to be reflected in words/notes/changes on the written paper. So a student guessing-and-checking on desmos with no supporting work will not garner credit. (For students who finish early, put a screen with marbleslides challenge.) One big note: make sure that at the end of the test, every kid goes to a blank last screen, and then PAUSE the activity. That way kids can’t come back and rework problems or show other students particular questions on the assessment.
  • Rachel K. (attending the session) said that she often had kids project their laptops up to the airplay and lead the class through something they found/built/figured-out on the Desmos calculator, or will have one kid lead a desmos activity on the big screen.
  • I often worry about how to lead effective discussions on activities that kids are doing. For pre-existing Desmos built activities, there are “teacher tips” that help teachers figure out what to focus on and how to facilitate conversations. But more importantly, whether Desmos built or random-person built, every activity has a teacher PDF guide (Click on “Teacher guide” in the top right hand of the screen for the activity.) You can print this out and use this to help you come up with a specific list of things you want to talk about, and stop at those places (e.g. questions, places to pause, etc.)
  • After the session, I talked with Heather about this feeling I had when doing long activities with Desmos. Although I was constantly checking the dashboard, and walking around listening for conversations, I often felt useless and bored and like I was doing something wrong because I wasn’t … doing much. She let me know that she also feels this, but that’s part of it. Letting kids engage. But I realized that some of my best classes (without desmos) have me circulating and listening but not doing too much beyond that. I was “being less helpful.” So I think I just have to make sure that when I’m not doing much, it’s because kids are doing good things mathematically and conversationally, and that’s because I’ve orchestrated things to be that way.

As an interlude to this wall of text, here’s my favorite nerdy math picture from the day.

20180718_141146.jpgYes, indeed, you see a 3-4-5 right triangle, and a visualization of the oft-taught “Pool Problem.” In Starburst. My kind of math manipulative!

For the remaining two sessions, I worked on playing with Computation Layer and refamiliarizing myself with it (I spent 3 days earlier this summer spending huge swaths of time on this… a huge shoutout to Jay Chow who helped immensely with this). Having CL experts in the room and granting myself three hours to play with CL was amaaahzing. I first reacquainted myself with some of the basics (a lot of which I had forgotten, but it came back fairly quickly) and then I decided to start trying to “desmosify” this calculus optimization activity.). I didn’t get too far in, and so far this is no better than the paper version of the activity, but I am proud of what I was able to do with my CL chops! (You can see what I made here.)

The keynote session was given by Robert Berry (the new NCTM president) and he gave an overview of the recent NCTM book Catalyzing Change (which I have bought but haven’t yet read!), talked about some big picture NCTM things (advocacy, membership, financial health), and then told us what has been happening on the ground level. He ended his session talking about technology and what excites him about that. He said that “Technology that supports and advance mathematical sense-making, reasoning, problem solving, and communication excites me” and that “Competence is about being participatory in mathematics – with each other, with the teacher, and with the mathematics.” He then said technology can be used for good or evil based on how technology affects the following things in the classroom: 

  • Positionality [how students engage with each other, their teacher, the curriculum, the technology, etc.]
  • Identity [how students see themselves]
  • Agency [how students present themselves to the world? how do we create structures for that to happen?]
  • Authority [“shared intellectual authority”]

His latest NCTM President’s Message is precisely on this. Also, Robert is a totally awesome guy.

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That’s me on the left, him in the middle, and friend and TMC keynote speaker Glenn Waddell on the right.

Lastly, Eli (founder of Desmos and super nice guy) showcased a new desmos feature for teachers: SNAPSHOTS. You can read about it here, but what I love is that it allows teachers to facilitate discussions more thoughtfully in line with the 5 practices. (I’d love any help finding or coming up with problems at the high school level that work well with the 5 practices… Most examples that I’ve seen are at the middle school level so it’s been hard to wrap my mind around how to find/create problems for a precalculus or calculus class that might make this approach work super well.)

My favorite slide of his was:

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Eli keeps things simple, which allows me to read slides like this and think: “wait, in what ways does my teaching do that?”

And with that, it’s time to #pushsend.

 

Senior Letter 2017-2018

Every year that I’ve been teaching, And at the end of each year, when I start growing wistful (but also a little bit glad to get them out of school because their second semester-ness starts to take over), I write them a letter which I give to them on the last day of classes. The letter usually always says the same thing, hits on similar themes, but I write it from the heart.

Sometimes I remember to post it on my blog, sometimes I don’t. This year (obvs) I remembered!

Even though they got to be a bit punchy at the end of the year, I’m kinda missing my seniors right now.

 

A Secret Handshake

 

In one of my Advanced Precalculus classes last week, I saw a group of three students successfully figure something out. To celebrate, one group member taught his group how to do a three person handshake which was elaborate and awesomesauce.

Yeah, it moved me. Those are the things that get me.

Because what it showed me, in that moment, was how solid a group that was. They came to a collective understanding. They were having fun together — being wonderfully silly. And they were celebrating their success. It was a sign that the group had gone beyond being three people working together; they had created some sort of synergy. It was a lovely instantiation of that synergy.

Sadly for them, two days later, I changed groups. (My groups stay with each other for 6-7 weeks, usually.)

But inspired by this group, I changed what I did when I had kids sit with their new group members (in all four of my classes). They all said “Hi!” but then I dramatically and mysteriously had them hush up, and I showed them the first 11 seconds of this video.

They were entranced. So I asked if they wanted to see it again. They did, so I showed them the first 11 seconds again. They all thought they were going to learn that handshake. Fools! FOOLS!

Instead, I told them about how amazing it was to see this precalculus group develop their own handshake. I shared with them what that handshake meant to me, an outside observer… what it said about their group to me.

And then… I gave kids 3 minutes to develop their own group handshake together. The only thing I said was that the handshake had to involve everyone from the group. (Of course, this took 4 minutes, but saying you are giving them 3 minutes gets them working together very quickly.)

Now I’ll be honest. I thought this could go either way. I thought kids might be hesitant to do something corny/dorky like this, and it would be a huge flop. But in all four classes, every group did it. [1] And they were doing SUPER COOL THINGS including pounding the table, incorporating fistbumps, incorporating dance moves, and creating beautifully symmetric hand formations. It was super fun to watch. And some kids wanted to share their handshakes publicly, so those who were comfortable (and that was most of them) demonstrated their handshakes for the rest of the class.

What is going to happen with this?

I don’t know. Maybe nothing. At the very least, it was a great quick way to get kids working as a team on something when switching groups. And if the group can use it when celebrating a collective success, it will make visible and public what fun and friendly groupwork can look like. And that might just inspire other groups to do the same. I like an atmosphere where kids are propping each other up, patting each other on the back, and see themselves working as a team. And the more structures that I can develop that promote this [2], the better.

 

[1] Okay, one of my calculus classes was a little less enthusiastic as the others, but they all did it too! I didn’t get the same JUMP RIGHT IN feeling in all groups I got from the other classes. Some groups had it, but not all.

[2] Like the hotel bells