Category Archives: useful for teaching

If it is math, then it must be my fault.


Next week we are starting the logic part of Geometry. Thanks to Direct TV ads, everyone has seen syllogisms. So my plan is to have kids make their own. Honestly, I wanted to see this – I made it as a project, but I can’t get anyone to do projects, they all want book-based work. Our principal is an English teacher, and he wants everyone to do a writing project. So I plan to use this as my writing project.  And  video-creation project. I hope thereby to avoid the usual whining about why we have to write in Math.

We shall see.

Last week we had the first test using Webwork. I was introduced to this by a math professor. The advantage for me was that it gets students used to working on complex problems from the computer, writing out their work. Since we’re going to have to do that next year for common core, ti seems like a good plan to use this format. The grading is easy, retakes are easy (for me!) and my students liked that I included the feature that they could grade their work and then fix their errors.

I also see that the calculators for smarter balanced are available to use, so I will try and get my students to use these too.

In the last week, we have had 2 teachers collapse with stress-related symptoms. Somehow this has to stop!


Week 4 – stability?


circlesI think we are at week 4. I hope they have stopped moving kids in and out of classrooms. I hope that all those kids who decided to come back way after everyone else have come in, because some of the late starters last week looked pretty shellshocked when I gave them their catchup work. I am pretty mean – just because you decided to take an extra couple of weeks’ vacation doesn’t mean you get to skip work.

So this week  I decided to join together triangles and circles in the wholemovement way.  Seriously, if you get a chance to see Bradford  in action, do so. He’s in Ann Arbor in October and it is sooo cool, if a bit whacky (oh, like you’re not!). One of my former student’s dads runs this conference, which is how I found out about the circle thing in the first place. I have no vested interest.


geometry strings


ooh string designs. Our book introduces these as straight line patterns. Minimath projects has very affordable card supplies and patterns that even I, the inartistic math teacher, can follow. 2013-08-31 20.08.47I made one example of each for the students to see what they look like. Really, only card 3 is very mathy, since it uses coordinates. However, one has to follow instructions in order, which is a challenge in itself for my students.

I use crochet thread and tapestry needles, to minimize the eye-poking-out possibilities in the classroom. The last time I had geometry, 5 years ago, some students liked these, and made them as christmas gifts. Not bad for the mean Jewish math teacher.

Our cups floweth over


cupsThree types of Styrofoam stackable cups. Each group gets three of each type. Choose one type to find the number of cups to be the same height as teacher, another to reach the same height as a group member, and use the third to match a Perfect Man.
We even did “try it.” You think 18 cups match me? I am pretty short, but stack ’em up, and show me. Are they my height? No, they are up to my knee. No, don’t come back with a new guess of 30 cups. Go away and measure. Measure one cup, measure two cups, measure three cups. I want a table, a graph, and an equation, and an explanation. How do you put oen guess into a table? Maybe that should make you think about your one guess.
How many groups managed it? One. The hardest part? Me staying out of it. The three measurements were the only hint. Should we use Excel? good idea. Can we do this by hand? good idea. Should we look for a pattern? good idea. I hope they come to their senses by tomorrow.
This is high school? Thanks Fawn

I blame the decoupling of measurement from reality.

Woah! Slacker poster! Perfect Man and Hot Dogs


Has it really been 2 weeks since I posted? Oddly, in my head I posted the results from the great hot Dog experiment and the Perfect Man project (which I stole unbashedly).
First, the Perfect Man. yes, i know it’s a middle school project, so it was well within the range of challenge for my low performing students. I solicited contestants for the “Perfect Man.” I am so lucky to work with some great guys who were willing to be measured, as long as all the measurements were along the outer sides of the body. It was enlightening for some of our English teachers to see the measurement skills of our students – they are getting an inkling of the skills our students need to master at 9th and 11th grade in “math” class.
Then we calculated ratios of the “perfect man” and of the “measured man.” Finally, the students calculated the percent difference, and were able to create posters for “their guy.” We put the posters outside in the hallway, and we’ve had several visitors. Now I have created an essay contest for the “Perfect Man”- persuade me that the person you pick is indeed perfect. I have a give-away TI84 calculator as a prize.
Then last week, we completed the Hot Dog experiment. I bought 100 hot dogs and 50 buns. I found we only had 6 thermometers in the entire school (it was school of Health, Science and Technology – now the school of Health Science, apparently we have no technology). So we had groups measuring the temperature drop over time of a hot dog in air and in a bun. I did this at home, and I had a good difference between air and in the bun, but we did not see this at school.
We did get nice exponential drops in temperature – clearly not linear. And most kids got the excel modeling done in 2 days instead of a week. Clearly some skills are improving. Hurrah!
Too many hot dogs. I blame the ‘flu, as having 25% of the students gone meant there were too many hot dogs, even for teenagers.



CA_groupI like this newer version of the M&M exponential increase and decay. I started with 5 M&Ms, so that the kids could see that the first value was related tot he 5, otherwise the 2 gets mixed up with the half. Then I had the kids use Excel to make a mathematical model, using the sum of the squares of the difference. We used solver to minimize. They got to see their graph line goign form crazy not fit to ooh looks fabulous.

“I see that Excel does the hard work for you.” Yes, yes it does, my little friend!

And at the other extreme I have someone who is trying for the first time, but does not know how to round numbers.  Actually he may not be at the other extreme, since there are still 8 others who are doing no work. Is it because they cannot or because they will not? Or both? Anyway, Rounding Boy has persisted for four days, and we have actually completed the first two sides of the M&Ms handout in that time. Nobody works with him, because he was so nasty to them last semester, and I have enough problem children that I can get back to him for only about 2 minutes in every 15. He is quite obnoxious when I offer assistance, but I can be obnoxious too. Should I consider it a victory that I have a 15-year-old who now might be able to round numbers? It’s really a waste of time, because he’s not going to be able to pass the class, or the real algebra class. And yet, like a moth to a flame, I can’t help but try. Maybe I can get him to graph a line – maybe, if I try hard enough…

I blame the candy. It went to my head.

Well, I have to shift too


I empathize with my students. They operate at a 5th grade level, they’re being given 9th grade work ( or 11th grade work), obviously dumbed down so they can understand it, and they come in day after day, to be made to feel bad about themselves.

I feel ground down too. I have grandiose ideas to bring in new projects, I have tried to make up applications that will interest kids and… nothing. Meanwhile, we got these new text books which provide an exploration/hands-on application for every lesson ( I don’t have those, I have a “lab” class). And the other teachers are hunting down our old traditional textbooks to use them. No, they didn’t work either. We’re a failing school.

Anyway, after some personal PD, I have given myself a good shake at the nape of the neck, and kicked myself. I have found a website to teach LOGO to kids, I have written step-by-step instructions for making math models on Excel from the M&Ms activity on growth and decay.

I had accidentally started dragging the poor beasts through an “all do this together” lecture-type interaction, so I had to undo myself, and give it back to the kids. I was wavering on not giving instant feedback to the Math Mistakes warmup – and then some kids said they realized on day 4 how to do day 1’s work, so they were glad they had a week to think about it.

But I realized it’s lonesome. Even though every teacher operates in a vacuum, we continue to get the slurry shoveled down about what we should be doing. And being the salmon swimming upstream, because I read all the common core stuff, and Dan Meyer, and the entire panoply of “let’s do it” blogs, is tiring.  I don’t even know if it works, but what we were doing does not work for teaching math skills. And then – somewhere in someone’s blog – I found Mathematical Quality of Instruction § MQI Training Site  Hooray! I feel as if I have something to fight back with. Stop evaluating me on whether students comply, start looking at what math I know and what math they can do.

And I recognize that Mike Pershan is such a nice boy, I only hope my son is half as kind. And Fawn Ngyuen sharing her lovely ideas, her work, her classes with us. I have been ungrateful, and I repent. Will try to do better.

I blame winter. Hate those short sunlight hours.