A Year in the Past

One more year is almost in the past and I want to reflect on what I have done differently and what/who changed my teaching profession for the better.

This was the third year for me using Twitter, the second year of TMC and the first year of being a Desmos Fellow. I bring that up because there were many things that shaped me as a math teacher over the years, but these are three things that are currently guiding me in my profession.

Twitter: I started teaching 36+ years ago in a small high school as the only math teacher and struggled to find mentors. The state of Montana has been constantly struggling to get enough teachers in the rural areas, and then supporting them with mentor programs because of the distance to other schools. Now I teach in a larger school with 12 great math teachers in the same hall. We still rely on innovative ideas from the Internet. My single biggest source of new ideas is my Twitter community. That community started with #mtbos and @tmathc. The amazing part of my teaching career, started trying to find someone locally to collaborate with and I have recently collaborated with people literally around the world via Twitter on math techniques and lessons.

Twitter Math Camp: Early in my Twitter life I discovered a group that was meeting during the summer to make connections with each other via Twitter and an annual meeting. I followed their tweets that first year and became determined that I would be at the next summer meeting, no matter what it took. I attended TMC15 with a colleague and brought home more ideas than I could carry. Besides attending morning sessions on Desmos, I brought home ideas about VNPS (vertical non-permanent surfaces)  and VRG (visual random grouping) from the amazing Alex Overwijk @alexoverwijk. These two ideas changed the way that I taught. I implemented VNPS as soon as my classes started in the fall. Not only did it change how I taught, but the majority of my math colleagues in my building now also use VNPS on a regular basis. If you are not familiar with VNPS, research now and put it into practice ASAP. The amount of formative assessing I can do, and the student collaboration that takes place during VNPS is clearly superior to anything that I have ever done in my classroom. I now greet my students at the door and give them a random card to assign seats in groups of three. This is called VRG because students know two things, they are assigned randomly rather than some form of teacher manipulation and their partners are just for that day. I tried this mid-year last year and was not as successful. Starting at the beginning of the year, students haven’t already formed many opinions about their classmates and get to know a lot of student early in the year. I attended TMC16 and will be at TMC17!

Desmos: If you teach anything that involves graphing, you MUST use Desmos. Between the graphing tool for graphing and discovery, to the classroom activities that you can use, it will change the way you look at math and working in your classroom. If you haven’t seen Desmos or didn’t get the Desmos bug, go there NOW! desmos.com and/or teacher.desmos.com. I also have had the great fortune to be invited to be a part of an amazing group called the Desmos Fellowship. The great ideas just keep flowing from the creative Desmos Team and the fellowship group. Desmos gave me the opportunity to personally meet all these amazing people in November at the Desmos headquarters. These two groups are changing the way math is taught and how we look at math education.

Sub categories (but also important): 

  • Backwards Brain Bicycle: Thanks to @saravdwerf and @msfierst for the inspiration to build a Backwards Brain Bicycle and use it in my school to demonstrate perseverance with numerous side lessons. Here is my story: Backwards Brain Bicycle
  • Name Tents: These are not your usual name tent and you MUST do this to start your next year. Once again with great influence from TMC and @saravdwerd my colleagues and I used Name tents during the first week, with amazing results. Click on the link above for more information.
  • M Cubed: This is a local beginning to create a community like TMC. Thanks to@HilaryRisser we had the first annual event in Montana and I hope many to follow. Here is this past year’s link.
  • Standards Based Grading: I actually use Objective Based Grading, but with the same philosophy. I used it in my Algebra 1 classes this past Fall and will incorporate it in my Honors Algebra 2 classes this Spring.

It has been a really great year and next year will surely be better because of the wonderful math communities that allow me to live in their world! Thank you!

Do Amazing Teachers Teach from a Textbook?

Last week started with a colleague/daughter of mine (@jwbrackney) making an observation that all the really amazing teachers that are recognized, because they are making a difference, don’t appear to be teaching out of a textbook. At that point it hit me that my classroom was in a slump and I needed to get out of the textbook more.

Recent background: About five years ago our district adopted a CCSS curriculum without resources to support it. The next two years my colleagues and I spent an enormous amount of time searching for good math materials and creating many great lessons (and some we won’t claim). At about the same time we were attending summer training on the Mathematics Vision Project (MVP) from Utah. After a few years of tirelessly trying to gather and create our materials, a few colleagues and I went rogue and used the MVP materials for our Algebra 1 classes. Since we ditched our very old, non-CCSS aligned textbook, it wasn’t that rogue.

Last summer we adopted a new textbook. Raised to be a “rule follower”, I decided to give the textbook a good shot. Many, many times during the school year I questioned my recent choice. My students just weren’t developing to be the readers and “thinkers” that I was able to nurture in the past years. Was it me? Could I do something different with the textbook?

My current analysis told me I need to get out of the textbook and my comfort zone. With all the resources from the Internet, @MTBos, @TMC, etc. I can do better. There were so many ideas in my career that I thought were great things, but I didn’t know when/how to incorporate them in my classroom. The WHEN is NOW!

I work closely with a colleague (@KGruizenga) and once again we jumped in. Between ideas we get from many sources and ideas we develop, we will reclaim our mathematical destiny.

THE TIME IS NOW: Friday we started with “Which One Doesn’t Belong”  and then did an activity (@KGruizenga idea) where a graph of a parabola was displayed and all students went to the board and listed one thing about the parabola, and put their initials by the statement. As a class we discussed the statements, fixed the statements that were “close” but not correct and looked for the most challenging and unique true statements,  and rewarded those students. GREAT day!

WODB by Mary Bourassa

So much work to do, so little time…

This will work with the help of ideas from:

classroomchef.com – John Stevens and Matt Vaudrey

http://wodb.ca/ – Which One Doesn’t Belong – Mary Bourassa

desmos.com and teacher.desmos.com

visualpatterns.org – started by Fawn Nguyen

http://www.mathematicsvisionproject.org/

https://www.engageny.org/

and many many more…

Progression of a Great Activity

Over the past 35 years I have taken good activities and made them better multiple times. Sometimes the improvements have been because of past experiences and sometimes the improvements have been because of new tools.

This past week, I took a project that I have done with various grade levels and in various degrees of depth. It is a project that includes paper folding and exploring exponential growth and exponential decay. Most of the time it includes a Myth Busters video clip about folding paper a maximum number of times (link below).

This activity explores the exponential growth of the thickness of the paper as they fold it and the exponential decay of the area of the top sheet as they fold it.

This past week I created a Desmos Activity to complete the whole project and most of my Algebra 1 students completed it in a one hour period and felt lots of success. I didn’t show the video, but I handed them a sheet of paper to do the folding. Good old fashion manipulative married to technology. The Desmos Activity link is included below.

In the past some students got lost in the hand calculations and tedious graphing, and missed the AAHHH moment (on day 2 with the babysitter project they did graph on graph paper, which they needed to develop).

I followed up the next day with a babysitter project modified from a Maryland CCRG Algebra Task Project lesson (link below). I also included a document link with my modifications to make it a one day activity (link below).

This was an introduction to exponential functions with no pre-teaching. After two days I felt very confident that my students understood the difference between linear and exponential functions and could identify key features of each in a story, table and a graph. They also clarified slope and y-intercept for lines, and discovered exponential growth factor and exponential decay factor for exponential functions. They could also write an equation for exponential growth and decay. We will need some reinforcement on these next week.

Myth Busters link to exponential growth: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kRAEBbotuIE

My Desmos Activity Builder on exponential growth and decay: https://teacher.desmos.com/activitybuilder/custom/566983bb412bcf1d06986c70

Maryland CCRG Algebra Task Project link: https://commoncorealgebra1.wikispaces.hcpss.org/file/view/A.CED.1+Babysit+Task.doc

My one day babysitting project: https://www.dropbox.com/s/bbj4spkmtar950k/Babysitting%20task%20sheet%202015.docx?dl=0

Here is a link to other Desmos Activity Builder activities I have used in my classroom this year:  https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1ZlAPdLDSTeTF54gHiGrSQx0d4J399Tnl1fPweMpChc8/edit?usp=sharing