Monday, July 30, 2012

Homework Folders - Made 4 Math #5

I think I skipped a few weeks there, but hey, that's just how I roll. Anyways, today's Made 4 Math post is basically the only original thing that I've ever thought of for teaching. I mean, literally ever. I take the "beg, borrow, and steal" mentality of teachers everywhere to a new level, which is why I am so proud of this one idea that is my very own. It came about because my biggest difficulty in teaching (and life) is organization. Loose papers are my kryptonite. So this is my system for keeping kids' homework organized. I buy 4 sets of colored folders ($0.10 each at Office Depot), one set for each of my classes, 7 folders per set.

Each folder will hold the work of one group. I generally have between 4 and 6 groups of 4 students per class, but I buy a few extra folders in case one rips or a kid loses one (more on that later). The groups are based on the kids' seats - the desks are usually arranged in groups of 4. 

The folder is labeled with the kids' names and the class and period number. When we change seats, I just stick a new label on top of the old one and write the names of the new group on it.

The folder has two parts: "In" on the left side is where kids turn in their homework and "Out" on the right side is where I place graded homework. One of my group roles is a Materials Manager. This student's role every day is to pick up his or her group folder from the magazine stands that hold all of the folders.

He or she passes out the graded homework from the right side of the folder to each member of the group and after the group or class goes over homework questions, the Materials Manager inserts everyone's homework papers into the left side in numerical order (each kid in the group is assigned the numbers 1 through 4). My gradebook is set up so that the kids are listed in the order of their groups and their assigned numbers so entering grades is a snap, straight from the group folder. It also means that I never ever ever lose homework - it just moves from the left side of the folder to the right side. I don't have to use any class time to collect or pass out assignments, and if I want to know if a kid turned in their homework that day, I can find out very quickly. I also like that it turns over responsibility to the students.

This also allows me to easily keep track of work for kids who are absent. When I pass out any worksheets or problem sets in class, I pass out a copy for the absent kid too and the Materials Manager puts his or her name on the sheet and places it in the right side of the folder so that it's ready for the student when they return to school. 

The best part is that almost all of the other MS math teachers at my school have adopted this system so now I don't even need to take the 5 minutes I used to explain how it works or remind students to not put any papers on my desk or try to hand them to me (I literally tell students that if they hand me a piece of paper, there is about a 90% chance that this paper will never be seen again by human eyes).

One more logistic thing - I added a responsibility for the class leader (a job that rotates each week) to check at the end of class that all group folders have been returned to their container so that no one walks off with one. Before I added that, I had a group folder disappear for good about once every two years, which is still probably a better statistic than how often I lost homework before I started using this system. Hopefully, this is useful to some new teachers out there, and I'd love to hear how you handle homework organization in your class.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Whiteboarding activities in the MS/Algebra 1 classroom: Part 2

So my last post got a bit long, so I decided to stop at the half-way point of Algebra 1. The second half of the Algebra 1 curriculum, for me, feels way more dry and theoretical and with fewer opportunities for rich, problem-solving tasks that would really make good use of my whiteboards. There are some content-specific ideas, but before I start with those, I also had some general ideas of how to use the large whiteboards in my classroom:

General Ideas:

  1. Each student in the group gets a different colored marker and the group's product has to include each color.
  2. Each group gets one marker and at least three or four problems. The marker has to rotate through each member of the group.
  3. As I circulate, I need to remember to ask random group members questions about the group's work to make sure that everyone is involved.
  4. Combine whiteboarding with a "participation quiz," as described on Sam Shah's blog.
  5. Provide opportunities for students to give feedback to their groups as to how well they are working together, including everyone, and promoting learning.

(I would love more ideas on how to encourage/require individual accountability in group situations, since this is something that I've struggled with in the past.)

Content-Specific Ideas 

(from the second half of Algebra 1):

  1. Investigate possible exponent properties; use numbers to determine which are and which aren't true (adapted from CME Project, Algebra 1).
  2. Given a trinomial of the form , students will generate several factorable quadratic polynomials and several non-factorable quadratic polynomials (whenever I say factorable, I am talking about being factorable over ), and a conclusion describing how those that are factorable differ from those that are not. The same can be done with a trinomial of the form .
  3. Writing a quadratic equation given its rational solutions. Groups can be challenged to come up with at least 3 or 4 possible equations and an explanation of how they are related to each other and how to describe the set of all possible correct equations.
  4. Working on the Exeter problems that can be solved using quadratic functions, such as

    or "Is it possible for a rectangle to have a perimeter of 100 feet and an area of 100 square feet? Justify your response."
  5. Investigation that leads up to exponential functions (Adapted from IMP, Year 2):
    Phone Tree
  6. This is a question that I have found to be very helpful in uncovering misunderstandings about percent change and exponential functions, but I think that it would be even more powerful for students to work on it in groups using a whiteboard (adapted from Exeter, Math 1 problem set): 
The population of a small town increased 25% two years ago and then decreased by 25% last year. The population is now 4500 persons. What was the population before the two changes? Show and annotate your work clearly - explain what you are doing and why.

I don't have many interesting or "whiteboard-worthy" tasks involving rational or radical functions and equations, and I'm always looking for more rich content-specific problems that stimulate group discussion and where different approaches or solutions are possible, so please share if you have some that you think might fit that description.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Whiteboarding activities in the MS/Algebra 1 classroom: Part 1

In my most recent post, I discussed how to get cheap whiteboards for student use in the classroom. I made large whiteboards (24" by 32") so that I could use them for group activities and investigations. The logical next question is what would be some activities and investigations that would make good use of this resource? Since my most recent experience is with MS Math classes, specifically Algebra 1, I'm digging through my files and seeing what would work well as a whiteboarding activity.

There are some awesome ideas at you know of others, please link to them in the comments or ping me on twitter (@Borschtwithanna).

So, from my files from last year, here are some activities that I think can be adapted to whiteboarding in groups.

  1. "1, 2, 3, 4 competition": Groups compete to see how many different ways they can generate the integers -24 through 24 using the numbers 1, 2, 3, and 4 exactly once each and any of the standard operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division), as well as parentheses. Sometimes, I let groups use square roots and exponents, as an extra challenge. So for example, doing 1 + 3 • (2 – 4) generates the integer -5. Each different expression is worth one point, even if it generates the same integer. Bonus points if they can generate all of the integers in the set. After time is up, all of the whiteboards will be revealed and groups have a chance to challenge an expression they think is incorrect, getting a point for each error they find. (Adapted from an IMP, Year 1 task)
  2. "Number tricks with expressions": students can work on the following problem in their groups:

    A magician said to a volunteer from the audience, "Pick a number, but don't tell me what it is. Add 15 to it. Multiply your answer by 3. Subtract 9. Divide by 3. Subtract 8. Now tell me your answer."

    "Thirty-two," replied the volunteer.

    Then the magician immediately guessed the number that the volunteer had originally chosen.

    a. What was the volunteer's number?
    b. How did the magician know so quickly? (The magician couldn't possibly have worked backwards that fast.)
    c. Create your own impressive number trick. Write down the directions that you would give an audience member and explain what you would do to figure out the number that was picked. (Adapted from Discovering Algebra)
  3. "Mystery Bags" investigation, which builds towards formal equation solving using the balance scale model. (Adapted from IMP, Year 2)
  4. "Pauline's Run": fractions, rates, and equation solving. Students could use whiteboards to compare and contrast different methods. (Adapted from IMP, Year 1)

    One day, Pauline was walking through a train tunnel on her way to town. Suddenly, she heard the whistle of a train approaching from behind her! Pauline knew that the train always traveled at an even 60 miles per hour. She also knew that she was exactly three-eighths of the way through the tunnel, and she could tell from the train whistle how far the train was from the tunnel. Pauline wasn't sure if she should run forward as fast as she could, or run back to the near end of the tunnel.

    Well, she did some lightning-fast calculations, based on how fast she could run and the length of the tunnel. She figured out that whichever way she ran, she would just barely make it out of the tunnel before the train reached her. Whew!!

    How fast could Pauline run? Carefully explain how you found your answer.
  5. Groups could use whiteboards to solve different versions of one problem so that the class can then discuss how they are related to one another. For example, one group could solve and graph the solution set for each of the following:
    a. 2x – 3 = 13
    b. 2x – 3 > 13
    c. 2x – 3 < 13
    d. |2x – 3| = 13
    e. |2x – 3| > 13
    f. |2x – 3| < 13
  6. Sketching graphs to model situations and vice versa. For example, having students sketch a variety of graphs representing motion (walking away at a constant speed, standing still, walking away at an accelerating speed, walking toward at various speeds, etc) or having students create stories from a series of graphs representing different people's walks (there are lots of these types of activities in the book A Visual Approach to Functions). Here is a similar set of questions from the Exeter Math 1 packet:
    Graphing Functions
  7. Introducing slope-intercept form of a line through changing patterns (adapted from The Pattern and Function Connection).
  8. Intro to Slope-Intercept Form
  9. Group investigations that can be presented and summarized. One idea is that groups can use graphing calculators and sketch a variety of functions and what happens when you take their absolute value in order to reach a conclusion about the nature of the absolute value function and how it operates on other functions. For example, one group would graph and , another group would graph and , a third group would graph and , and so on. Many types of graphic transformations can be examined by having each group present an example to the class and then synthesizing the investigation into a cohesive conclusion.
Since this blog entry is getting a bit long, I'll put the activities from the second half of Algebra 1 into a new post.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Whiteboards for groups & student roles - Made 4 Math Monday #2

Recently, @fnoschese linked to a blog post he wrote just about two years ago, called "The $2 Interactive Whiteboard," where he described the advantages of a large dry-erase board that students can use to work collaboratively and then easily share their findings with the class. You can buy these large whiteboards from various places on the interwebs, but I thought I would try the cheaper option explained in the blog and went to Lowe's, where a 48" by 96" piece of white tile board cost me $11.50.

They cut it for me into 6 pieces that are 24" by 32" each (for free!!), which are just about perfect for two or three students to use for a partner or group activity. The edges weren't sharp, but I put duct tape around them so that the cardboard backing wouldn't get fuzzy and disintegrate.

I'm thinking that students can just stand them up on the marker tray at the blackboard at the front of the room, but if that doesn't work, I can get all fancy and attach two metal hoops to the back of each whiteboard so that it can hang on the hooks at the top of my blackboard.

There are more whiteboarding resources at Whiteboards USA and Whiteboarding in the Classroom, as well as at Frank Noschese's blog, linked above.

The second thing that I worked on today was cleaning up classroom roles and expectations. I've had an assigned class leader for the past few years, who rotates every week, and it's been helpful both in making the class run more smoothly and in fostering students' independence (it's really nice to leave sub directions like, "1. Take attendance 2. Give all handouts to class leader and let her direct class for the rest of the period."). I've gradually moved away from group roles, which has made the class roles more meaningful as well. This year, I've decided to split up some of the jobs into two roles: a Class Leader, who sort of runs many of the starting and ending class routines, and a Materials Manager, who takes care of supplies and handouts/class organization.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Three Templates - Made 4 Math Monday #1

A few fellow math teachers on Twitter (yay @druinok and @pamjwilson!) came up with the idea of making something for your math class, at least once per week, and sharing it on Monday and attaching the tag #made4math. I decided to put together two templates that have been bouncing around in my head for some time now. The first one is inspired by @mgolding, who has written a lot about interactive notebooks (for example, here and here). I will still have students use a binder system next year rather than interactive notebooks in order to save time and avoid cutting and gluing, but I wanted to move to a more interactive system for note-taking so I created a note-taking template that uses the "input" and "output" notions of interactive notebooks to help kids move from passive note-taking to processing and making sense of what they did in class.

Note Taking Template

The idea is that students would write down what's happening in class in the "input" (right) side, then write down reflections, comments, and questions in the "output" (left) side. I will also have them write an annotated example that either shows what they understand or what is still confusing to them from that day's lesson and to write a summary at the bottom of the last page in their own words of what they learned that day. My plan is to have them do this during the last few minutes of the class period since my experience has been that kids tend to blow these types of assignments off if they are asked to do them for homework.

The second template that I created for today was inspired by @samjshah's post on participation quizzes, where he talked about giving feedback to groups on the quality of their communication and ability to work together on a given mathematical task. The idea is that while students are working in their groups, the teacher is circulating and making notes on an overhead or SmartBoard of the things that are going on in each group, both positive and negative, as well as positive phrases or quotes that are promoting good groupwork. This gives groups instantaneous feedback and an opportunity to learn about group norms and what types of behaviors and ways of talking promote or hinder their ability to work together. I'm hoping to be able to use the template below to organize my feedback to each group and to be able to do this on my iPad while circulating around the room. I've done it before on an overhead and it can get a little hectic to both circulate and keep running to the front of the room to write down comments and observations.

Participation Quiz Template

The final template I made is inspired by stolen from @approx_normal's Homework SWHHW (See, what had happened was...) sheet, which she collects from students who don't have the homework due that day. I thought that this was a great way to keep a clear record for students who habitually neglect their homework beyond what I record in my grade book. This just seems so much more objective and will be in the students' own handwriting too, so no squirreling out of that one during a conference with parents. My optimistic plan, since I am terrible at keeping track of papers, is to take a photo of the form the student fills out in class and then upload it somewhere - possibly Evernote - where I can tag it with the student's name. Then, I can call up all of the missing homework forms for a particular student by searching. In a future world where every student has some sort of digital device in my classroom, I can just have them fill it out electronically, but I'm getting ahead of myself. So, here's my version of the form, just slightly altered from @approx_normal's document.

I would love any comments or ideas on how to improve these templates since this is just my first attempt at putting them together.