Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The joy of a rich question

I was considering the first unit for my Intermediate Algebra class and how I could enliven it.  My first unit isn't even really part of Intermediate Algebra but rather part of my state's 8th grade curriculum.  Because I teach high school courses in middle school, I'm responsible for delivering two courses worth of curricula in one school year.  Thankfully, we operate on a schedule that allows a year-long every day block of 88 minutes for math and reading, so I can get it done.

I'm challenging myself this year to find a really rich question to ask near the beginning of every unit with the intention of answering it throughout the unit.  Today, I started my measurement unit with my students.  Our state standards require students to find the area of composite figures composed of polygons and circles and to find the volume of cylinders.  I posed the following question to my students: "How much would it cost to paint the ceiling throughout the school?"  Our school is highly irregular in design thanks to its age and at least three renovations/additions of which I'm aware.  The map is far from rectangular; my room is a trapezoid and our cafeteria has a wall that bows out in an arc.

I set the students to work in a Think, Pair, Share in which they had to list factors we would have to consider when evaluating the cost.  I meant to take photos of their posters.  They'll get added to this post when I get back to my classroom.  Here are a few of the "obvious" answers and some highlights that show they were really thinking about this in depth:
• The area of each ceiling tile and number of ceiling tiles
• The amount of paint per can, its cost, and how much surface it would cover
• The amount of masking tape, plastic sheeting, brushes, rollers, stir sticks, paint trays, ladders, and gloves needed. (I get the feeling these kids have painted before!)
• The salary of the crew, how long it would take to paint, and when the painting would happen
• How the lights would be treated, if at all.  (This was a point of great contention.  Some students thought it was a fabulous idea to paint the lights and give everything a blue cast.  Others thought they would like regular white light in the classroom.)
• What kind of paint would be necessary. (They realized that the gym has a different type of ceiling than the classrooms and that they would need to research the proper materials.)
• The need to consider HVAC and proper ventilation. (They pointed out that we would waste A/C if we left the windows open to let the fumes escape.)
I was very impressed with their quick brainstorm.  Now I would like to hone this into a class project that culminates with a presentation to our principal.  She used to be a math teacher, so I think she would appreciate it.

My next plan is to have them consider the list they made and decide what math skills they know that will help them with each aspect.  I see applications of area, perimeter, volume, proportional reasoning, and likely percents (when items are on sale or using the percent of ceiling covered in lights in my room to predict the amount covered in the whole school).  Just my luck, all of these are within my curriculum.  :)

Students will then work on determining the area to be covered.  I know we can do this with the maps of the school that we have, but I think I might be able to use my classroom GPS units at some point to get measurements on the outside corners of the building to help the students calculate the total area of the ceiling of the school.  I honestly don't know much about how the GPS units work and need to learn what to do with them.  That's a goal I have for this year.  I did buy a book of lesson plan ideas so I could try to incorporate them this year.

Next, I will divide the class into teams, each of which is to research one area of interest (paint type, salary for workers, other materials, color selection) and provide two or three options for the proposal along with their recommendations for which one is the best choice.

At that point, we can put together a PowerPoint as a class and (I hope) "brief" our principal on the idea in our teams.

I really doubt we'll be painting anything, but it's food for thought!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Measures of Central Tendency Cootie Catcher or Fortune Teller

First, a PSA: Tomorrow is the first day of school!  Hooray!

I've seen some academic uses of the so called "cootie catcher" or "fortune teller" and I decided to make one for my kids to use this week as we review measures of central tendency in Algebra I.

Here's the basic template I made in Word.  If you want the file, please just leave me a comment and I'll be happy to share   download the PDF from Google Docs.  Obviously, you could just have your kids fold a plain one and write things on it.  I don't know my clientele yet, so I'm doing most of the work for them this time.
The four corner squares are labeled mean, median, mode, and range.  These are the measures of central tendency and variation that my students should have mastered in 7th grade.  Generally, they come in pretty well prepared on this topic, with some of them mixing up the "m" words.

I filled in everything but the solutions and definitions for them.  There are 8 data sets given and there are places for the kids to write in the mean, median, mode, and range for each of the sets.  My plan is for them to work in partners to "play the game" and collaborate on finding the answers for each data set, only recording their work if they both agree.  They can then take this home as a study guide/review game.   The colors on the words are just pretty.  The colors around the data sets and answers are there to keep the kids from getting switched around.

Again, you can download the blank template here if you missed the link above!  If you'd like the filled in copy (in my lovely handwriting, sorry), you can get it from my updated post.

How do you make review activities fun and unique to keep kids motivated?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Storage pouches

I find that one of the most frustrating aspects of organizing my classroom is having supplies accessible to students in a way that minimizes the time and movement needed to get the supplies out and put them back.

I've had plastic shoe boxes with supplies on shelves for my entire career.  The kids understand the organization and do a good job managing the supplies.  I've even made it through 4 years on the same $1 bins, so I think that's definitely a plus, too. What I dislike is the ordeal of either passing out the supplies, having students pass out the supplies, or managing the parade of students gathering their own supplies. Enter what I hope will be a fix for these messy transitions. Each desk will have its own set of supplies that are meant to stay there until we need them. I searched high and low for the right container that wouldn't infringe on a students' book storage space. I got these great mesh zipper pouches at the Dollar Tree. Because they're mesh all over, the students will be able to see what's inside and not feel the need to dump the contents out to get an item (I hope). I attached each one to a desk using a single zip tie through the fabric loop on the pouch. The direction the pouch hangs is nice because the zipper is facing upward so things won't inadvertently fall out when it's opened. Inside, I placed our most-used items: protractor (which we also use as a ruler/straightedge), yellow highlighter, red pen, dry erase marker, and eraser cloth. The expectation will be that the students may only use the items in the pouch when they are instructed to do so. If I know kids will need other items like scissors or glue, I can add the items to the pouches for a particular day or pass them out in the first class and have the kids store the items in the pouch until the last class. Sunday, August 19, 2012 Summer Recap I often wonder if other teachers view summer vacation in the same way that I do. From September to May, the words "summer vacation" evoke a feeling of longing. That's longing for calm, relaxation, freedom from a schedule, and no dress code. From June to August, my life feels fuller than it does during the school year and I wonder why on Earth I thought "summer" was synonymous with "relaxation." Don't get me wrong, I pack enough fun into my summers that they don't feel like work, but I do wonder why I never feel rested! Since I go back to work on Tuesday, I thought I'd share a little recap of my summer bucket list. Some of my summer fun included: • vacationing with my family in Seattle (and seeing Mt. Ranier up close and personal in the snow in June) • eating steamed crabs three times in a month (probably a personal record) • going to Massachusetts twice to visit family • throwing a bachelorette party and bridal shower for my best friend • playing trivia night at the local pub (and nearly winning) • reorganizing my craft room • culling unwanted clothing and shoes from my closets (and subsequently buying more items to replace the cast-offs) • catching up with all of my closest friends (mostly in person except for those who live very far away) • welcoming soon-to-be-born babies at two baby showers (can't wait until next month to meet them along with the baby that my cousin is due to have later this month!) • planting my best garden to date (and then watching it wither under the extreme heat and drought conditions my state dealt with in July) • watching way too many DVDs • making hundreds of cards for Operation Write Home • spending 5 days working on PD at school related to Common Core and Universal Design for Learning so that I'm prepared to deliver inservice to my co-workers this school year • setting up my classroom (work, but fun work!) • having each of my parents come visit for a few days on separate mini vacations so we could have some quality time together • spending a day at the beach • taking in Summerfest, my town's annual festival • ordering ice cream at the local deli where a single scoop (the size of a grapefruit) costs just$2.49 and is often served by a former student
• finally covering my sofa (goodbye blue plaid fabric, hello tan fabric)
• completing three unique baby blankets and finally feeling like I know something about knitting and crocheting
Some things I wish I'd done but never got around to:
• kayaking (this might still happen in the next few weeks)
• organizing my filing cabinet in a way that it will be useful (could be tomorrow's project)
• emptying the pantry and reorganizing it (just not enthused on this one)
I'm happy that my list of thing undone is so short and that the things on that list are possible to complete during the school year.  My best friend is visiting over Labor Day weekend and we are planning on kayaking if spending the day at the beach doesn't pan out.

How are you winding down summer and gearing up for the new school year?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

What to do about "I'm done!"

We all have experienced the joys trials of teaching a group of students who work at very different paces.  There are those children who must be encouraged, coaxed, and refocused so that their work gets finished.  There are the kids on the opposite end of the spectrum who, it seems, have finished the worksheet before their classmates have even managed to get started.  What to do with the children who finish early?

Obviously, you want to ensure that they're producing their best work and not rushing through an assignment simply to be finished.  I had one child who was such a pro at finishing everything quickly that I always saved my classroom chores for him (passing out papers, sorting things, taking a note to a classroom, etc).  It helped him to have something physical to do because he was very prone to getting into trouble and pestering other children within seconds of being finished his work.

Other than classroom chores and the overused, "read your free reading book," there weren't many options in my classroom for early finishers.  I decided that this was the year I needed to make it happen!

I'm going a totally different route with my Early Finisher choices.  I'm putting together brain teasers, puzzles, pentominoes, tangrams, 24, and the like with instructions for a short activity.  It's sort of an homage to elementary school math centers.  Each center will be stored in a zippered pencil pouch that the kids will select and take back to their seats.  I think the fabric pencil pouches will hold up and be easy for the kids to use.  I put a binder ring though the zipper on each pouch so it's easy to hang.  My hope is that these stations will build logical and spatial reasoning which are applicable across many subjects.  The start-up cost for me was about $20 for the pouches ($1.50 each at the discount store in my town, probably at Dollar Tree but not worth the drive for me) because I already had the other materials.  Most of them were sitting unused because I either didn't have enough for the whole class to use at once or because they weren't strictly related to my curriculum.  This is a step in the right direction!  I hope to create enough materials so I can swap these out mid-year.  Every term would be awesome, but I don't have enough materials for that just yet.

 These pouches are left over from previous students.  I purchased 12 more (not pictured) for a total of 16.
I also set up my classroom library in a much more inviting way than in years past.  I stacked some file crates sideways and used them as my bookshelves.  I placed some books related to math in a display.  I was so close to selling that pink locker storage piece because the pockets are so deep when it occurred to me that I could stuff the bottom with paper so items would sit up higher and be visible.  Duh!  My library last year, in comparison, had all of my books piled in one crate that was placed under a chair in a corner.  Not exactly inviting!  I could use some better books; most of what I have is so dated I don't even want to pick them up.  I will try to make it to a library sale this year in hopes of adding some attractive books to the collection and I'll go through my books at home to see if I have any that are age appropriate for the kiddos.

 Finally!  A classroom library with a bit of character.

Do you have any great ways to keep kids' brains active when they've finished their assignments?  Please share what works for you.

Miss B

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Building Vocabulary with a Word Wall

I think most teachers are familiar with word walls.  I've seen elementary teachers organize them alphabetically.  For my math students in middle school, I organize the walls by unit theme.  Each unit we study is assigned a color so students can look for related words in the group.  We make use of our word walls in countless ways, but here are just a few:

1. I place all of the words for a new unit on the wall.  As we work our way through a unit and learn a new concept, students try to guess which word could have that meaning.  This often guides us through a discussion of prefixes, suffixes, and roots as students break down the words and try to make meaning from them.

2. Students refer to the wall to help them recall words that have slipped their minds and for spelling.

3. Because I am lucky to have two metal walls, my words are most often individual strips with magnets on the back.  We take them down and use them for games.  One favorite game is the fly-swatter game.  Give a representative from each team a fly-swatter (clean, of course), scatter the vocabulary words on the board, and give a definition, example, non-example, drawing, etc that the students have to match to the correct word.  It's fast-paced and they get to smack the board, so they love it!  My rules are that they may only smack the board and they must alternate turns smacking words (otherwise it looks like whack-a-mole gone bad and the kids don't pay attention to the words).

4. Review/Study.  I give a final exam so I encourage my students to use the word wall to identify their weaknesses.  They can read through the words and decide what to study based on what vocabulary is most difficult for them.  This is true for unit tests and quizzes as well.  I also find my students using the word wall when they help each other.  They are frequently overheard asking each other about the words and the responses typically include the related words.  I love hearing my kids use their vocabulary!

I have experienced a few set-backs with my word walls in the past.  First, the words get a glare once laminated so they can be hard to read.   Sometimes I end up with students who have trouble reading at a distance even with really large font sizes.  So, readability is a big problem in my classroom.  Second, the students can't take the wall home so they don't have that resource when they are completing assignments outside of my room.  In response to those issues, I decided to do a little more with vocabulary this year.

New to my class this year will be personal word walls.  Hooray!  I designed a template to look like a brick wall complete with a graffiti title.  Kids will be responsible for adding words to their wall when we first learn them in class.  Each unit will be written in a different color and the kids will be able to place the words how they want to on the sheet though I'll encourage them to group like words in some way instead of randomly scattering them.  I'm going to have the kids lightly shade or outline the boxes with colored pencil when they feel they have mastered the term.  To me, that means they can describe/define it clearly, draw it accurately, and spell it correctly.  I think we'll need two or more copies to fit all of our words depending on the course as each size holds about 75 words.  When I taught Geometry in the past, we had nearly 300 words, so we would have needed 4 of these.  I'm going to make this double sided and copy it on cardstock.  They'll keep it in a sheet protector so they can use it to quiz themselves by marking things off with a dry erase marker.

Here's the file.  You'll need the font "a dripping marker" for the title (or just choose a font that you already have).

Now, as we keep the personal word walls, we'll also keep up with the one in the classroom.  I want the students to take more ownership this year, so I'm toying with the idea of letting them write the word strips.  The problem is that they wouldn't all be pretty and uniform and I don't know if I could handle it!   I made a matching title for the word wall in the graffiti font I used on the worksheet.  I'll report back and let you know who is making the word strips, me or the kids.

If you would like to use this with your class, leave me a comment with your e-mail address and I'll send you the file.

How do you organize vocabulary with your students?  What makes it meaningful to them?  I'd love to hear more strategies that work with math.

Miss B

Flexible Grouping

This is not a new idea.  It is, however, new to my classroom.  I have gotten so sick of getting kids into groups and then hearing the questions, "Who's in my group?" "Where is my group meeting?" or "What group number am I?" about 25 times in two minutes.  Enough is enough!

I reclaimed some wall space from other things this year so I could put up pocket charts for flexible grouping in my classroom.  I want to be much more deliberate with my grouping this year.  I am hoping to get at least one or two STEM PBL experiences in for my kids and I know I will need to engineer those groups so the students can be successful.

I purchased 5/8 of a yard of striped corduroy from Wal-mart's clearance fabric.  At $3/yd, this was a steal! I love that they brought back a fabric section in my store because they have really reasonable prices on fabrics when I need them for school. I got my curtain fabric there four years ago and it was very inexpensive, too. I don't have a strict color scheme or theme, but most everything I've brought into the space is a bright or neon color. When I've chosen things with a pattern, they've been polka-dotted or striped. It's a loose theme, but I'm trying to make it look happy! At first, I planned to sew a cover with elastic. Then I reconsidered the effort that would take and decided to go a more permanent and expedient route. Enter tacks and a hammer. Free! A staple gun would have been ideal but as I didn't have access to one, I got creative. I may go back and paint the legs, but I first want to check if the matching stool is still at my parents' house. I took this one from their old basement bar and wouldn't want to paint this one if the other one is still hanging around and normal looking! Have you done anything to make your classroom take on your personality? Do you have a theme, color scheme, or design aesthetic that influences your choices? Leave me a comment and tell me all about it! Miss B Keeping paperwork organized I teach 80 students in an average year, all of whom I see every day for 80 minutes. Some of these students (and often some I don't have during the blocks) are also in my 45-minute intervention or enrichment period at the end of the day. It took me a few years to find the paperwork management system that worked best for me and my classes because I am not good at managing papers. I was always that kid in school with the 2-inch thick folder and nothing clipped in her binder rings dated past September! Here's what I use in my classroom that I can actually stay on top of. These hanging file pockets hold four things for each class: missed work from absences, tests/quizzes that need to be made up, no name or not finished papers, and papers to be handed back. I got these at JoAnn in the dorm section and they've been going strong for two years already with no signs of wear. It doesn't look like they are carrying them this year because I couldn't find them in my store or online. In any case, I know you can find similar hanging file organizers in teacher catalogs. Lakeshore sells some here I teach the kids to check the top pockets any time they're absent and then to ask me about make-up work. Kids remind me to (let them) hand back papers when some are in the organizer because I am notoriously bad about remembering to pass back what I've graded. Not pictured are the bins where students turn in their work to me. Those aren't as interesting. They're simply stacked plastic file trays labeled with the class period. Simple, and they work! How do you organize paperwork for your students? Miss B Homeworkopoly and Parking Lot Last Thursday, I started to get my classroom set up for the upcoming school year. It's earlier than I've ever started that process, but I know that there will be lots of changes at school this year, so the sooner I get rolling, the smoother it should go. On Friday, I was quite industrious, I think. Inspired by Pinterest, I took on several projects. The first project is dubbed Homeworkopoly. I changed the directions and the board to suit my classroom. My students will individually earn the right to play on Friday if they have turned in all of their homework for the week on time. They'll roll just one die since the board is small (and I don't want to hear about taking a second turn for rolling doubles). The potential rewards are small prizes that are inexpensive or free but are things I know my kids generally like. Go earns$50 Cat Cash (money in our grade-level economy).  They'll earn this whenever they pass by Go, just like in real Monopoly.
Free Reading awards kids with the opportunity to free read instead of doing the math warm-up one day.  They always whine about doing the warm-up, so this might be a good motivator to do homework.  Since I repeat the same skills all week on a warm-up, missing out on one day shouldn't detract from a child's overall learning.
Treasure Chest is just the choice of a small prize (pencil, eraser, etc), piece of candy, or \$25 Cat Cash.
Lunch Bunch will be the coveted prize for sure!  It gives kids the chance to bring two friends to eat lunch in my room.  Since lunch tables are assigned and stay the same all year, some kids never get to eat with their closest friends.
When they land on Chance, the kids can answer a math problem to earn extra Cat Cash.  I found some brain teaser flash cards at Target and I decided to use the math questions from them as most of them fall within our 7th or 8th grade state standards.  The rest are logical reasoning combined with math that could also be solved with just a little brute force.

I'm storing all of the cards in plastic index card boxes.  I put advertising magnets on the backs (free!).  I bought magnets at Dollar Tree and put numbered stickers on them.  Each class will have a different color.  With the hope this will work, I shouldn't have to remake the pieces for next year.  They're a little bigger than I would have liked, but I'm sure we'll make it work!  I also added a small dry erase board nearby so that kids can work out their Chance problems there if they want to.  Please ignore the pink hooks.  I haven't taken them down from last year because I'm not sure the game is going to stay right here.

On to project #2.  Here's our classroom "Parking Lot."   My middle schoolers can't drive yet, but they'll all be assigned a parking space.  When I need to do a quick, short exit pass, I can have the kids write their work on post-it notes and stick them to this poster.  Each kid will use their number (based off my alphabetized list, of course) so I can quickly record their scores.  To differentiate this assignment, I can give out different colored post-its and direct the children to answer a certain question based on the color of their post-it.  Then when scoring them, I can score by color.  Easy peasy!  I think it will be quick enough to score one class's answers while the next class is doing the warm-up.

Another thing I LOVE about my craftiness is that I used two hideously old fashioned pieces of scrapbooking paper.  They're great for school but not so hot for my own crafts!

What have you been working on this summer?  Leave me a comment and a link and let me know.  As always, if you like what you see, please become a follower!

Miss B

Welcome!

Thanks for visiting my new blog.  I currently teach Pre-Algebra and Intermediate Algebra at a middle school and as I was beginning to be inspired for the new school year, I found I had lots to share.  While Pinterest is fun, I needed a place to share my own creations.

I chose "i is a number" for the title of my blog because it gets at my love of math and sounds like poor grammar- one of my major pet peeves.  Teaching students about i last year for the first time was such an experience!  "Really, kids, it's a number.  I promise!"

I don't know how regularly I'll get to update as the school year progresses, but I'm looking forward to networking with other secondary math teachers, especially any with PBL or STEM experiences to share.  I hope you find something here you can use and that you let me know if you do.  Thanks again for visiting!

Miss B