Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Problem of the Week success:)

This week I graded what I think was the third POW writeup that I have assigned. Once again (even though I dread grading them) they provided "teacher encouragement." My 2 favorite comments in the "what I learned" portion were:
If you listen to the teacher she will give you hints that really help you. 

My parents said they didn't get to do fun assignments or sit in groups in their math class. (She thinks math can be fun??? = total success!!) 
I think the one about listening to the teacher is funny; the truth is many of my students tune me out while I am addressing the class as a whole. Then when the realize I've stopped talking they look around and say, "What are we supposed to be doing?" Ugh! I am trying some tricks to try to improve my students listening skills. One is to randomly call on a student at the end of class and ask them a question that they should know the answer to if they listened in class. I don't always ask them a math question either. I reward them with candy or letting them leave the room first.

One other thing that encouraged me this past week was noticing that I had one student use tables to graph lines. As a math teacher I think that is strange because I used to always put my equations in slope-intercept form to graph. Teaching from the IMP Meaningful Math Algebra book has helped me to allow students to discover the way that works best for them (believe me I always tell them the way I think is easier!! Haha!). I taught slope-intercept form (conceptually first in Overland Trail), graphing by intercepts, and graphing using tables almost simultaneously. I would stress the easiest way depending on the way the equation was written but told them over and over to use the way that makes the most sense to them. Out of 21 students I had 1 girl get 8 out of 9 graphing questions correct using tables. Even though it was only one student who chose that method it really encouraged me to see that some students really do benefit from the "alternate" approach. I have spent many years teaching them with the methods that I think are the most efficient. I feel like what I am doing now benifits my students more.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Questioning and group work

My newest focus is to improve at using quality questioning to improve discussions and student engagement in my classroom AND to learn how to better manage group work. I have just recently decided to really narrow my focus to these 2 things for the rest of the year. There are so many teachers that I have talked to about these things and I have come to realize (again) that just because something works great in someone else's classroom it may or may not work in mine.

Here's an example...I had someone (Tanya Barnes) to tell me that I should rarely be the one at the board going over problems. She said the students should do it because then they take more ownership. My argument was that I do sometimes have my students go to the board to share their thoughts or answers on a task. However, more often I stand at the board and lead the discussion and write down the answers the students say so that the class can decide if it is correct. It is so much faster!!! And I have alot of material to cover!!! So...I listened to her and made a concentrated effort to have students go to the board today to share out. I even let them do the examples  (when I had a student that understood). You see....I teach freshman. And I have several competitive boys in my classes AND a few girls who love to prove people wrong. It takes twice as long (or longer) when they go to the board because they have to turn around every time someone makes a noise or comment....then they have to be a comedian....then they have to pop someone on the back of the head on the way back to his seat. Ugh!!! I caught another teacher walking by my room (good ole Amy Walker) and said, "There are some strategies that just DON'T WORK with all classes!" I told her what I was attempting and she reminded me that no one else knows my students like I do. Even if another teacher has freshmen they aren't exactly like our freshmen. I AM THE EXPERIENCED PROFESSIONAL....I AM THE EXPERIENCED PROFESSIONAL.... (excuse me while I try to convince myself....haha!). I know how to make adjustments based on the students in my classes....right? then I thought about it and remembered how I have judged people for trying something one time and then giving up on it. So, my commitment is to keep on trying this "strategy" until Christmas. I am hoping my students will get more accustomed to listening to their peers and using the question stems I have hung in my room without being so immature and silly. But....I teach freshmen. I am just hoping the percentage of silliness lessens. I know it will still happen. My goal is to not be writing on the board if I have a student who can be doing the work instead. It's like a balancing act at the circus. If I lean too much in the wrong direction it's not good. (Did I really just compare my classes to the circus?) Here is hoping for a great balance of mathematical discussions, productive groupwork, and teacher-led discussions.

I appreciate the input and opinions of everyone and hope to use them all to find what works best for me and my students.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Celebrate Life!! Yes...especially the teacher's life!

My pastor talked to us today about how we should be celebrating life. He spoke of how we should be different from the rest of the world. We should not be shrinking in fear of the events that are happening in the world but we should be a light and an inspiration for those around us. Encouragers. Inspirations. (I may be using my own words a little...but this was my take away today.) I sat there and thought about how I can apply that to teacher life.

What would it mean to celebrate teacher life?

  • Staying focused on the incredible calling and responsibility we have to teach, motivate, and love the students that we have the opportunity to work with
  • Avoid feeling frustrated every time the decision makers that be change/create policies that don't seem to make sense...(by remembering the reason you became teachers to begin with) - if you let it get to you then you will be unhappy all the time!!
  • Celebrate the successes of your students and fellow teachers
  • Try not to speak negatively about colleagues and administrators even when you don't understand or agree - everyone is human which means they will not make be perfect (and neither am I!!)
  • Remember how much I love being around teenagers. I hate being serious all the time (and so do they). I like to be silly and have fun. Teenagers (and children) seem to appreciate that a lot more than adults do! HAHA!
  • Remember that we knew when we entered this profession that we could make more money if we chose different career paths. We have a job that is often thankless. Are we here to hear thank yous or to make an impact on the future of our communities? (Of course thank yous are always you thank the teachers and coaches who invest time in your children?)
I read a book one time entitled Pushing Up People by Art Williams. It has been a long time since I read it but I remember the basic premise. We should be encouraging and promoting those around us...especially our bosses and school leaders. When we operate with this philosophy we model some valuable lessons for our students, fellow teachers, and families. That is a great way to celebrate the teacher life!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Positive phone calls made my day!!

This afternoon I was feeling frustrated. I am drowning under a stack of papers to grade (I should be grading now instead of writing this!). Also, I have been trying to figure out a strategy to improve the investment that my students are making into one of my classes and I have not reached a solution. Every time I try to have a conversation with them it seems to turn negative. UGH!

So, I was sitting there looking at my stack of papers to grade and then I saw a reminder to make my positive phone call. Thanks to the leadership of our new principal, Ryan Barkley, I have been asked to try to make one positive phone call per week. I am behind on this project so I decided to call 2 parents this afternoon. It was the BEST thing I have done all week. The excitement and pride in the voices of the parent and grandparent that I spoke with was so rewarding. It truly brightened my day and reminded me of all the GOOD things that are going on in my classroom. I have some incredible students.

Are you feeling frustrated? Think about the students who are making progress and call their parents to let them know about it. It will be the highlight of your week.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Hey...I still love math:)

I know this is a strange comment for a math teacher to make. For years I have just taught math. I chose to become a math teacher because I love math but to be honest all the years of teaching math to people who do not really want to learn it had just "sucked the life" right out of my math enjoyment! I was covering the standards but rarely ever used any activities that peaked the curiosity of my students.

Thanks to our "Meaningful Math adventure" (see this blog post for an explanation) I am having fun teaching math again. I see my students having more fun learning math. Last week I had a student to tell me that she had fun in class that day. I also had some students tell me that we do the most work of any of their classes but my class is also the most fun. I read Teach Like a Pirate this Summer and I have come to realize that it is okay to have a goal of having fun with your a matter of fact we need to throw in some activities that the students will consider a "fun break" from "regular math."

Today I also found myself sitting at my desk working on the High-Low Differences activity in Overland Trail's supplemental activities. I was "noticing and wondering" myself! I was thinking that I really need to find some extra time to investigate why this works like it does. Then I was so ambitious that I answered one of the questions (in a survey I had to take) to indicate that I considered myself to be a mathematician! (HAHA!) I have found value in addressing problems from a student's perspective. Our new textbooks from It's About Time give me many opportunities to have fun working on math and then turn it around to my students as an opportunity to problem solve and enjoy themselves while they do it. I asked them a few times last week if they wanted me to "introduce" them to the activities or let them just try to figure it out on their own. I was amazed at the number of students who wanted to try it without any assistance.

Now, don't get me wrong. I still have students who sit there like "knots on logs" and wait for the problems to be presented to the class so that they can write down the answers - they just hope that when I roll the dice to call on someone that their number is not called. And when I do call on them they tell me they didn't do that problem...and then I talk them through it until I pull the answers out of some cases it would be easier to pull their teeth without anesthesia. I also still have students who gripe and whine and ask for help before I even get the page number out of my mouth. However, it is so cool to catch that student who says he hates our textbooks truly engaged and enjoying himself during an activity (because he figured it out by himself!). This certain student that I have in mind was "called on the carpet" when I told him that I noticed he had fun working on the activity for the day - which just so happened to be "Getting the Gold" that I blogged about here.

I would like to end this blog with a funny picture of what some of my students did last year after I had gotten onto them for sitting there like "knots on logs" instead of doing their work.

IMP Overland Trail - Getting the Gold

I skipped Getting the Gold when I taught Overland Trail last year. I am so sad that I did! This is such a cool activity because it has such real-world applications. In this activity the students are asked to compare the profits of 2 different ways to gather gold. While discussing this activity it is fun to bring up discussions about making business decisions.

The discussion points that are a part of this activity include:

  1. Business start up costs
  2. Profit
  3. Breaking even
  4. BONUS...This is the first activity where the starting point is negative so it is fun to watch the students say..."the starting point is negative this time!" 
**I still catch myself wanting to give the student too many hints. I am sometimes excited about how the activities bring in different aspects and I just want to point them out! HAHA!

This activity and Water Conservation are fun "wrap-up" activities that have the students once more create graphs and answer questions. I love to ask questions like:

How do you know how much profit they had on Day 7 according to the graph?
Now, how can you answer that same question using the rule we created?
Could you use a table to answer that same question? 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Courageous math teachers

I had the opportunity to spend 2 days last week with some incredible math educators in Alabama. The pilot that was started at Etowah High School last year has expanded through a partnership between AMSTI and It's About Time. There are math teachers throughout the state that are now piloting the full IMP Meaningful Math curriculum. While sitting there listening and learning with these teachers I was in awe. These math teachers are committed to trying something new in order to improve student achievement.

Susan Jeffers says to "feel the fear and do it anyway" and many of these teachers are doing just that. I heard many teachers grappling with the unfamiliar territory of things like assessment and assigning homework within such a different teaching format. It is exciting to be associated with teachers who are willing to get out of their comfort zone in order to try a curriculum that is time tested and has brought results over and over again.

A few years back I came to the realization that I wasn't reaching as many students as I used to and I started seeking a different way to teach math. God directed me down a path that involved coworkers, workshops, Tweets (the MTBoS especially!), and a "chance" meeting of the president of It's About Time in an elevator! Remember that the sky is purple in my world (haha!) but I really believe all these things have lined up to improve math education in the state of Alabama. I am amazed that the small pilot at one school has grown into a state-wide pilot involving many. I am thankful that AMSTI and It's About Time are providing this opportunity for the schools in our state!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

AMSTI/IAT training Day 1

Lately I have not been a "person of many words." HAHA! I guess sometimes we hit a busy season and there are some things that have to be "cut" from our daily routine. So far this school year the part that has been cut out of mine has been taking time to blog and reflect. I really enjoy doing it and intend to some point.

The pilot that was started at Etowah High School last year has expanded through a partnership between AMSTI and It's About Time. This past week we had 2 days of professional development. Again, I have never seen a textbook company invest in the teachers who used their books in this way. They are truly committed to teaching teachers the best way to teach with their curriculum. Thank you to AMSTI and It's About Time for this opportunity.

One of my favorite conversations on day 1 was about "prizing the doubt." Michael Reitemeyer was the presenter for our algebra training and he had a course with a professor named Mandy Jansen who had told them that one "scholarly disposition" is to prize the doubt (Here is Michael's blog about this topic). Below I am going to paste the notes I took during that discussion.

Prize the doubt - to be comfortable with uncertainty, embrace and welcome times of uncertainty, not having everything figured out all the time, people go through "early foreclosure" just to feel certain again 
*assume that I think you are all smart 
*an alternative way to engage is to wonder...or posing thoughtful questions 
*get excited about having things in progress

I am proud to say that I spent the entire year last year dealing with the doubt and uncertainty of teaching a new curriculum (IMP Meaningful Math) that was very different than anything I had ever done before. I truly believed the research and the testimonies of other teachers but it really felt so strange and different. I can relate to the "early foreclosure" part because I remember the first few times I tried teaching my students in groups I thought it wasn't for me. I kind of thought that teachers at other schools with different types of students might be able to teach that way but it just wouldn't work in my classroom. the 2013-2014 school year I had already spent the year determined to make groups work in my classroom so the transition into teaching using the IMP curriculum (2014-2015) was not quite as hard. Since I trusted the curriculum I was willing to just have the attitude that I was going to do the best I could because I believed it was best for my students. As time went on I was less nervous and really enjoyed teaching with the curriculum. After spending the day with veteran IMP teachers/trainers and other incredible math teachers throughout the state of Alabama I feel like I have so much more growing to do. I just have to take a deep breath and remember I can not completely change my teaching practices in a year. But I will "prize the doubt," remember that I am smart, and get excited about the things I have in progress!!

Other things that stood out to me during our Day 1 training are listed below:
  • Wonderment wall/board - when students have good questions write them down and display them in class...then as you have ways throughout your lessons/units that you can address the question you have a visual reminder
  • I need a document camera!
  • Sometimes when you have a student to "share out" it would be good to sit in the desk that they vacated to have a visual cue that they are leading the learning at that moment
  • Give students space to ask questions and have "divergent thinking" - the questions may not be mathematical all the time but they own the math more when they have invested
  • According to Michael the #1 quality of a good teacher - listening....compassion would listen, flexibility comes from listening, connecting comes from listening 
Lastly, I was honored to be included on the panel for a brief question and answer session at the end of the day. Brian Lawler facilitated the discussion and afterwards we talked a few minutes. One of the questions during the discussion had to do with pacing and how much time to spend on the units. He said that Sherry Fraser (one of the authors of the curriculum) told them in a training one time that if the pacing guide says to spend 20 days that you should stop that unit after 20 days even if you are not done - which is mind-boggling but I intend to follow her advice! I told Brian that I took forever teaching Overland Trail last year. He said, "I know. I was following your blog and felt sorry for you students. I thought that they would never get to California!" HAHA! 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Students teach the class - IMP Mini POW About Mini Camel

Today I decided to do the Mini POW About Mini Camel activity from The Pit and the Pendulum. We decided to skip Corey Camel POW and do this one first. I had not worked through the problem myself prior to doing it with my Algebra IB class today. Please don't judge me on this. Haha! I find that I do not lead the students quite as much when I don't know the answer myself. Actually, the teacher's guide does give you the highest possible answer but doesn't tell you how to arrive there. It does give you the hint to ask the students if the camel has to go straight to the market. (In other words...can he go part of the way and put a portion of his bananas down?)

I knew that the camel had to have some "pitstops" along the way but I had not sat down myself and figured out the problem. I gave the students some manipulatives and gave them approximately 20 minutes to work. I walked around and helped them to model their ideas with the counters. When I had one of  the boys in my class tell me he figured it out I was skeptical and made him show me. He and his partner talked me through the situation (which involves the camel only traveling distances of 1 mile at a time - and is pretty cool!!) I was amazed. I often find that my students are better than me at logic problems. I told the student that he had taught me something today and he was so proud.

Typically if my students do not come up with and defend a solution I will work through the problem with the entire class. If no one had come up with a valid solution I would have done that today. Also, if I model the problem solving process with the entire class and we don't come to a solution right away I just tell the class to help me think about the problem and let's see if we can work on it again the next day. It is so exciting to me when my students do it on their own.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

IMP Pit and the Pendulum Days 1-2 - The Question and Initial Experiments

On the first day of Pit I was actually issuing books. Therefore I used the WONDERFUL advice of Jim Roebuck and we listened to a Youtube video in which the entire story was read. If it were not for the fact that I needed the time to issue books anyway I probably would have gotten too impatient and skipped to the portion that read the excerpt from our algebra books.

After the story I assigned The Question where they draw a sketch of the situation and look for information in the story to answer the big question...does the story's hero really have time to carry out his escape plan? On the first day we didn't completely finish the sketches and didn't even start the discussion so we continued it on the 2nd day. We made a list of what we know from the story (especially the items that are mathematicaly relevant). They include the following:

  • The ceiling is 30-40 feet high
  • The pendulum swings perpendicular with his body
  • The pendulum was 3 inches from his body
  • He thinks he has 10-12 sweeps or vibrations (back and forth) before it will touch him
  • It will take the rats one minute to eat through the rope (yuck!!)
Then we arrived at a "revised question" - How long does it take the pendulum to make 10 swings? We are also going to use the assumption that the ceiling is 30 ft high. 

Initial Experiments pg. 201
Okay...the fun part was then asking the students what we needed to know to answer this unit question. I had one boy who instantly said that we needed to know how long it took the pendulum to make one sweep. We had a class discussion about all the things that might effect this time and we narrowed it down to 3 things that we could actually test in class: weight of the bob (end of pendulum), length of pendulum (which is the height of the ceiling in the problem), and the angle of release (amplitude??) of the pendulum. I am not used to using the word amplitude for this type of problem. I keep picturing the perpencicular distance between opposite sides of a parallelogram!

Anyway...the students enjoyed building pendulums. I assigned each group one variable to test but I didn't give them any guidelines other than to test each weight (or length or angle of release) 10 times. Therefore they did 30 total trials. Also they only timed one sweep. After the experiments they decided that the angle of release didn't matter but that the other 2 variables did. Then we discussed issues that may have effected our data like not using the same angle or pendulum length when you were trying to test different weights. Or not using the same pendulum length and weight when testing angle of release. Also, some student held the pendulums in their hands and kind of helped the swing by moving their hand up and down. I look forward to doing more investigations and tying in the statistics as we go!

Students working on their sketches

P.S. - Thank you Jim Roebuck for giving us helpful hints on how to best teach this unit!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

"Own your answer!"

Today I was collaborating with Mrs. New concerning the next lessons in our algebra class. We actually started discussing how much we have enjoyed starting our classes off the week with Jo Boaler's "week of math" lessons from We were talking about how the activities really "set the tone" for having our students to explain their reasoning which is a staple in our IMP Meaningful Math curriculum.

Mrs New was telling me how one of her student reacted to the 4 corners activity that we did (using which one doesn't belong). She said that at one point one of her students stood in the middle of the room and said, "Why are we doing this?" Then Mrs. New told her that she is trying to teach them to "own their answers" and be able to explain their reasoning. I just loved the wording she used so I wanted to share it!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

First days of school ideas - adapted from basketball camp!

My son and husband have attended a basketball camp this week. There are a couple of activities they have done in the classroom sessions that I want to adapt for the first days of my algebra classes.

First idea:
Explain a little about what makes a good group member or leader, an average group member, and a bad group member (my students sit in groups of 4)...then give the students some classroom scenarios and ask them to work in their groups to decide how the 3 types of group members would respond.

Example scenario:
The teacher puts a problem on the board and tells you it is review and you should all know how to do the problem. However, no one in your group knows how to do the problem.

Sample reaction of a good group member/leader: "Well, let's look in the book for similar problems."

Sample reaction of average group member: Raises his/her hand and waits for the teacher to come to their group.

Sample reaction of a bad group member: "She's crazy! What's for lunch today?"

I think this has a lot of potential. I want to improve my 3 names of types of group members and I want to come up with some GREAT scenarios! Also, I want to record the students' responses on chart paper and post them in my room as "rules" so I can ask them which category they fall under as we do group work throughout the year.

Second idea:
Next, I want to do a "4 corners" activity where I give the students 4 different characteristics and ask them to determine which one is the most important one for a great student to have. The 4 characteristics (or however many you want) need to all be good...therefore there is no wrong answer. After the students go to the location for the characteristic they feel is most important each group brainstorms why they feel the way they do and then selects one person to "share out" and defend their answer.

I hope these activities will help establish a culture of good communication and quality group work. Who would have thought these ideas would be learned second hand from a basketball camp?!?! If you have any ideas please email me ( or send me a tweet (@owensteri). I will add them to this post :)

**I tweaked this idea a little but and Mrs. New and I created this presentation for the 1st day of school. Mrs. New had a great idea to use "Which one doesn't belong" activities for the 4 corners. Also, we are doing Jo Boaler's week of math activities from

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Pirate's Life for Me!

Thank you Robin Bynum for letting me read your Teach Like a Pirate book by Dave Burgess. I must admit I was a bit skeptical at first. I mean....I'm a math teacher! I thought the book was only going to be about dressing up as historical characters and other "history-specific" hooks. However, as I got deeper into the book I found myself becoming re-energized for this coming school year. Here are some of my take aways:

  • If your students aren't engaged don't get mad at them. See it as feedback.
  • It's okay to spend some time on activities that loosely tie into the curriculum yet promote creativity and fun in the classroom! 
  • Ask yourself the right questions about how to "hook" your students into a lesson.
  • Pursue excellence as an educator. It is okay to want to be great at what you do!
  • Don't let fear of failure, perfectionism, or fear of criticism hold you a back. Failure is a part of growth.
I know I have left out way too much. However, I believe every teacher -no matter the subject area or grade level -can benefit from this book. It may not all apply to you...or you may not agree with all parts of the book...but I think anyone who reads will find at least a few ideas for the next school year. I believe that each time you read a book or hear a speaker at a conference you can learn something.  I am probably not going to wear costumes or redecorate my room for certain lessons...but I still have many other ideas knocking around in my head because of this book.

So...I will accept the challenge to go daringly into next year and try some things I have never done before - a "pirate's life for me!"

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

IMP Problems of the Week and Rubrics

For some reason today I have been thinking about how much I enjoyed doing the Problems of the Week (POWs) with my algebra students. (Disclaimer: We did not do them every week...we did about 2 or 3 each 9 weeks). Here is a post with a picture of part of a POW writeup that was good. And this post (toward the bottom) has a portion of one of my favorite write ups from this year. One of my favorite quotes from a POW was "every time we use this I go deeper into thinking than I ever have in math."

When I attempted to grade the first POW writeups I was so disappointed. I had a rubric that I used to grade it that I found at and it was so helpful. Our Instructional Partner, Dr. Shelley Montgomery (@DrSMontgomery), came by and I was talking to her about my students' writeups. She asked me if I had given my students the rubric when I gave them the assignment. I didn't even find the rubric until I got ready to grade the assignment. I went over each of the categories for the POW Write-up and gave examples...but I did not give them the rubric ahead of time. Don't judge me! HAHA! Please remember I am a math teacher and I was not accustomed to grading writing assignments. I ended up giving the writeups back to the students WITH my grading rubric. The 2nd attempt at the POW writeup was much better. As the year went by my students really improved in this area. It was frustrating how many of them just did not pay attention to details. I am hoping that the experiences they had using rubrics in my class will serve them well as they use them in their future English classes - I know that their 10th grade English teacher uses them often.

If you are teaching using the IMP curriculum please go to the gphilly website. There are many awesome resources which will make your life easier. AND...give the grading rubric to the students on the first day that you go over the POW in class.

As a math teacher I feel that there are 2 different ways to use rubrics. The POW writeups are similar to the types that English teachers use. However, before this year I had mostly used rubrics to help me to grade my tests consistently. Awarding partial credit can get confusing when you can't remember how many points you gave for portions of the answers being correct. I have not included these "rubrics" on the quizzes or put them on the board for my students to look at while they are taking the quizzes but I feel that it would be a good thing to do. Maybe if the students saw the ways in which you were going to award credit they will be more willing to try problems that seem difficult at first.

Even the teachers had to PERSEVERE in problem solving to figure out the POWs - Coach Whitt was cracking me up on this day!

I love that the students learned how to ask for help and find other ways to help themselves via the Internet or asking for help from their parents or friends. I allowed that for POWs as long as they included how they received help in their writeups.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Sonya New's Reflection after Year 1 teaching IMP Meaningful Math Algebra

Once again I thought that anyone who is reading any of my blog posts concerning the IMP curriculum might like to "hear" from someone else. We are so blessed to have 3 teachers at Etowah High who implemented this algebra curriculum at the same time. Having the opportunity to collaborate throughout the year was incredible! 

The Mom of  2 little ones (like both under age 1 year little) takes a little more time getting her thoughts together. I once again thought you might enjoy hearing from the 3rd teacher (I posted Gary Webb's reflection in a separate post and my reflections in this post) who taught the IMP Meaningful Math Algebra curriculum for the first time this year. Here are Sonya New's thoughts:

Teaching Algebra with the It's About Time curriculum is a much needed complete departure from the norm.  I was always the Algebra teacher that would look at the word problems in the textbook and think wow what a great question and would assign it just to have students not attempt it because "it was too hard" or "I didn't understand what it was asking me to do", so as the year progressed I would resign that kids just couldn't do those problems and basically stick to practice of the most basic problems.  Even after "going over" the "hard" problems my students didn't seem to get it.
When we received our new textbooks my students opened them to discover mostly words, very few numbers, and virtually no "traditional" practice problems.  Students are taught Algebra through situations.  Many students have found Algebra to be a very attainable subject that once thought it was "so hard".  As a teacher and lover of math I have also discovered that Algebra doesn't have to be so structured, formulated, and procedural.  The concepts of Algebra are often "common sense" and when approached from that direction make sense to many students.  By the end of the year my students were no longer afraid of the "hard word problems." They were not intimidated to try them anymore.  They would try to make sense of a problem and work their way around to a solution. Still not all would get the correct solution but at least we had something to work with ;-).
There were times during the year I would question the curriculum.  Are my students really getting it?  What about this formula or this method?  When is this concept covered?  I have learned to relax and trust the progression of the curriculum.  Things are not taught in a traditional progression, but the topics do get covered.  I am still working on my balance between completely trusting and supplementing more practice but I am coming around.  I anticipate each year to get easier for me to understand the beauty of the curriculum and to do a better job of facilitating.  I know this one thing for may have been my first year to use the curriculum and there were definitely flaws in my implementation but I don't want to teach Algebra using anything else!!!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

End-of-Year Teacher Reflections on IMP Meaningful Math Algebra

I have been challenged by Brian Lawler to answer the same End-of-Year Reflection questions that my students answered. He reworded them a little and I am going to paste them into this blog and answer them. They are all very thought-provoking!

1. How was this experience "teaching mathematics" different from your previous work teaching mathematics?  How was the math itself different? Did you learn the mathematics differently?

This teaching experience has been different in numerous ways. First, I have never taught a curriculum that had unit problems or "themes." Having a context for almost every algebra topic that I taught this year truly did make the subject more meaningful to my students. Secondly, the tasks are written in a way that students are given the opportunity to discuss and "struggle" with the problems even if they do not initially understand the math behind it. The teacher's guides always provide you with great "leading questions" that help you to guide your students to discovering the math without you just saying, "This is how you do this problem. Write it down." Having the teacher's guides AND having seen this style of teaching at AMSTI training were huge helps for teaching this curriculum the way the authors intended (or at least close to the way it was intended to be taught). We also received training from It's About Time in which we were able to go through many of the activities as "students."

When going through the training as a student (at AMSTI and It's About Time training) I was reminded often to quit thinking like a teacher. I think that one piece of advice was one of the most helpful. At first I would only see the training from a teacher's perspective and I would be worried about what formula I should use to solve the problems. As I taught this curriculum I have realized that the students are asked to use common sense, repeated patterns, and the context in order to solve the problems. The formulas can also be used (and taught, of course!) but when a student is taught to totally rely on formulas and then they get on the ACT (or other standardized test) and forget the formulas they don't have the problem-solving experiences that will help them to persevere and be successful.

This is my 2nd year to teach the entire year with my students sitting in groups of 4. Although I had already taught with students grouped last year, the majority of the year the only function the groups had were that my students could check to see if they had the same answer on a problem and help each other if someone was confused. This year the IMP Meaningful Math Curriculum provided my students with opportunities to utilize group work in a whole new way. The problems were presented in such a way that the students would start discussing their ideas on the best way to solve the problem. Sometimes a few of them would work quietly until they felt like they had an idea to share with the group. Other times they would sit there and talk about it before they tried to put pencil to paper. The exciting thing was that the groups this year were used for actual mathematical discussions about how to solve problems.

I think what I "learned differently" was that the students will really and truly try different approaches to solving problems if you give them the freedom. When I used to stand at the board and show them how to do a particular type of problem that is the way they did it. However, I have seen multiple times this year that if I give them a task and then give them the opportunity to figure it out on their own (with the support of their group members) they will solve it with various approaches that make better sense to them. I use to teach them the way that I thought was best. This year has taught me that struggling math students do not interpret and work through a problem in the same way that an algebra teacher does!

2. How have you changed personally as a result of your experience? Has your confidence in your own ability grown? How has your experience of working with math-teacher colleagues changed?

I had a day or two that I would kind of go back into my "old teacher" mode and stand at the board doing examples and "giving notes." I would actually stand there and think that I was boring myself to death! HAHA! I have learned a new way to teach that is much more engaging. I do not want to go back to my "old teacher" mode again.

My confidence in my ability to teach math has grown. I have always been a confident math student. I was good at math and so I wanted to be a math teacher. In the past I believed that math was something that some students were gifted at and others were not. The way this curriculum is written gives students more than random "number crunching" in math class. This is a problem-based curriculum in which they are constantly applying the math within a context that gives it a purpose. Using this curriculum literally helped me to reach students that had failed my class in previous years because of lack of interest.

I am blessed to be a part of a terrific team of math teachers at Etowah High School. Sonya New and Gary Webb were also implementing this algebra curriculum. Sonya and I were able to discuss our lessons on a daily basis because we had the same planning period. It was harder to have discussions with Gary but we did have lunch with the entire math department so we were able to talk to him some during lunch. I do not believe we would have been as successful without the opportunity to collaborate and learn from each other.

I also reached out to other IMP teachers via email and Twitter throughout this year. I have found so many helpful teachers who have shared their teaching ideas and resources.

3. What are your mathematics-teaching goals for next year? How have those goals changed over the past year and why?

My main goal is to keep improving. There are many times I felt that I was blindly going through the curriculum this year. I would sometimes hesitate to introduce a particular "math formula" because I didn't want to "steal the thunder" of a future lesson. There are so many concepts that the curriculum kind of allows the student to develop his/her own understanding instead of a teacher just telling them how to perform the problem using a formula or particular process. Another goal I have is I want to do a better job teaching my students how to present their work next year!

My goal of teaching students to present their work is different because the types of tasks that they do in this curriculum are different. For example - If a student is asked to solve a system of equations where they are already given the 2 equations there is not a lot to discuss. They can go to the board and tell the class the method they chose (substitution, elimination or graphing) and then work it out. In the IMP curriculum the students would be given a scenario in which they have to write their own equations and then solve the system. They would have the opportunity to discuss how they assigned their variables, wrote the equations, solved the problems mathematically, and verified that the solution was viable within the context. There is so much more to discuss!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Gary Webb's reflection of 1st year teaching Meaningful Math Algebra

There are 2 other math teachers who have gone through IMP Meaningful Math Algebra with for the first time this year. I have mentioned them both from time to time in my blogs. One of them is Gary Webb. We were asked to write a testimonial about our first year's experience. I thought another teacher's perspective might be interesting. Here are his thoughts:

I really enjoyed teaching from the Algebra I Meaningful Math book this past school year. It was quite different than traditional math text books. The books have few examples, fewer problems, require deeper thinking, and don't have answers in the back either.

One takeaway I have is that your best students will do whatever you ask them to do. Some of the students are not going to do anything no matter what. These are the ones who complained most about the book. However, these are the same students who might do 5 traditional math problems in 30 minutes and complain about having homework.  The many students who are in the middle were the ones that I was able to reach. Students were more engaged because they were able to use their creativity in the math classroom, were in groups much more often, and were encouraged to discover mathematical concepts on their own.  I loved watching my students think and not be a robot and follow set procedures.

Gary Don Webb
Etowah High School

Friday, May 22, 2015

Results after 1 year of IMP Meaningful Math Algebra

I just wrote a post in which I shared some student reflections after their first year of IMP Meaningful Math Algebra. I have written several posts reflecting about the differences of the curriculum. I have learned so much about how to facilitate "productive struggle" in the classroom. The new curriculum along with thing I learned from blogs, Twitter posts and professional development (esp AMSTI and It's About Time training) have all combined to help me to make improvements in my instruction and test results. Many teachers ask about how the "new curriculum" is going and it went GREAT. Even though we were told not to expect growth in the first year of teaching the curriculum we analyzed the data and WE SAW GROWTH. Woohoo!

We had 3 algebra teachers at Etowah High School - Sonya New, Gary Webb, and I - who implemented the curriculum 7 weeks into the school year. There are 5 units and we only had time to complete 4 of them. We did not cover the Pit and the Pendulum. In the state of Alabama the last 3 years 8th graders took the ACT Explore. After our students complete algebra they take the ACT Quality Core Algebra End-of-Course test. We looked at this year's 2015 9th graders (who had the IMP curriculum) and compared them to last year's 2014 9th graders (who were taught with a more "traditional" curriculum). It is a little difficult to explain but I will try so that you will see that the results are valid. Instead of just looking to see if the average scores on the EOC tests improved we compared students who came in with the same score on the 8th grade Explore and then compared each group of same-scoring Explore students from the 2 years. We averaged each group's Algebra EOC test results and compared them. Then we just did a +/- on whether or not the scores improved or declined for each category (i.e. students from each year who came to us with a 12 on the Explore). When we factored in all of our students we had a +1.94. All year long we have said that we think the curriculum is beneficial for all students but that it really seems to make a bigger difference for our non-honors students. Therefore we took out the honors students from each of the 2 years and then did the +/- for growth again. We showed total growth of +9.02 which we believe to be an average of about +1.13 per student. The EOC Algebra test scores range from the 130s to the 150s so we feel that the improvement is significant.

Now...I am definitely not a statistics major so there is room for error in the analysis of this data. However, we are very excited to have seen this growth in our first year! We know that we have so much room to improve - especially since we didn't have time to cover all 5 units.

STUDENT End-of-Year Reflections on IMP Meaningful Math Algebra

Wow! What a year it has been! It has been a while since I have written a blog post due to the craziness of the end of the school year. I have so much that I would like to share.

Here are the student responses I got from the end-of-year review questions in the Fireworks portfolio. We did not have time to do the complete portfolio so I just had them answer the questions on pg. 421 in the book. I feel like what they have to say is more important than anything I could add. I only had one student to just absolutely say that he wishes he was taught out of the "old" type of textbook. Of course the responses I am sharing below are the "fun" ones for me to read as a teacher. There were some students that talked about how they didn't like that the book was so "wordy" but those same students later admitted to growing more confident and learning how to work in groups. I also had a few students to tell me that they still preferred to work alone but the overwhelming majority had positive things to say about group work. I told my students to be honest with their responses and give good explanations to support their comments. I told them I really wanted to know what they thought.

The first question set included the following:
How was this experience different from your previous work in mathematics? Did you learn the mathematics differently? How was the math itself different? 
Here are some of the responses: (I really wanted to fix all the grammatical errors...but I didn't because I didn't want to put my "spin" on what they said.)

  • The books we used this year was all word problems and that will help me during high school and college. 
  • Working in a group helped me understand better cause some of them understand better than I did and they helped me understand it better. 
  • It was more fun with the activities and been taught different.
  • ...the mathematics itself was longer and a bit harder also
  • My past experiences I didn't understand anything but now everything seems a lot easier. (this is a repeat algebra student)
  • This book is also different because it never (is) just straight on work it always has a fun story. Also it helps you a lot more than any other math book.
  • We actually learned about real work stuff. We did a POW about having a house, paying bills, etc...
The second question set included the following questions:
How have you changed personally as a result of your experience? Has your confidence in your own ability grown? How has your experience of working with others changed?
Student responses:

  • Working with others - I've started talking about it more than just trying to work on it.
  • I'm more conficent in math now than I ever was. (this comment was repeated by several students)
  • All year I've had a group to work and to collaborate with so I do believe I have gotten better working with others.
  • My confidence in math has grown a lot because at first I never answered out loud, but now I know that I can do it.
  • I don't hate math as much. It's not as hard as it was. My experience of working with others has grown alot and I can talk better with other people. (this student is a very quiet and shy young lady) 
  • I like working with other people. You get to see what everybody thinks and their ideas. My personality has grown to like math a little bit more. I still kinda don't like it, but I like it more than I did.
  • I think I have become more confident. I think I have learned to work with people that I normally don't talk to.
  • It's changed (experience working with other) cause if I need help then I can ask my group members.
  • It has helped me change by helping me with the word problems to look for clues through the paragraph. I myself had a hard time on word problems till this book helped me out.
  • Personally I changed mathematically. My math skills have grown and so has my confidence in my own ability. My experience of working with others has changed like now I can work better with others. I can cooperate with others better. (This student stated in his answers to the first question set that he didn't like the book. I sure did like the results he got though!!)
  • Yes my confidence has grown going into ninth grade. I never like working in groups but now I do.
  • From a special education student: My confidence grown alot since last semester. It change because I use to just copy people because I didn't know how to do it but now I work together to figure out the answer.
  • Working with others gave me more confidence and helped me understand something I didn't know and I could just tell my group and see if they know so we could help each other out.
The last question set had these questions:
What are your mathematics goals for the rest of your high school years? How have those goals changed over the past year and why?
Student responses:

  • I also would want to keep learning more math cuase it can actually be fun to do.... But this year in math it has been easier for me and I'm getting higher grades.
  • My goals have changed because I feel like I'm trying in my math classes and not just copying.
  • I wanna keep improving my math skills for the rest of my high school years and beyond that. My goals have changed over the past year because I learned that I can keep improving my math skills. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Four 4s - an activity from Jo Boaler's book

Today I spent most of my day in the computer lab where my Algebra IB students took a "mock" end-of-course exam. Those days are so draining for some reason! I am happy that it gave me the opportunity to finish reading Jo Boaler's What's Math Got To Do With It? which I believe every math teacher should read! Thankfully one of the last chapters discusses some puzzles and number talk activities that are good for students. I was so tired I could not imagine having a "normal" class with my 5th period today. Instead I gave them The Four 4s to do as an activity. The task asks them to try to make every number between 0 and 20 using only four 4s and any mathematical operation. The directions for the task gives one example and then asks them how many of the numbers between 0 and 20 they can find.

At first my students wanted me to give them more examples but I refused by telling them I didn't want to rob them of the opportunity to get them on their own (haha!). I finally got a few of them moving by telling them to just write four 4s on their papers and then put some operation signs in between them. Once they did this I told them to evaluate the expression making sure they used the order of operations correctly. This really got them rolling. A cool thing about this task was that everyone worked on it. At the beginning I had to seperate a few that were totally off task but once they saw that they could get some of the numbers they worked on their own.

I think that you need to have variety in your classes. I have many students who do not enjoy an activity when they view it as purely mathematical but when you give them a puzzle to solve they engage. I intend to use activities like this more often. One of the discussions on Boaler's website ( talked about how they just listed the numbers 0 thru 20 on a board in the back of the room and allowed students to write their expressions and put their name beside it. That way all of the classes throughout the day could contribute until all of the numbers are found. This task will engage some students that are bored with the normal daily routine!

Just in case you read this blog because you are using the IMP Meaningful Math textbooks, Jo Boaler has a list of 3 curricula that she recommends for use in 9-12 and the Interactive Mathematics Program from It's About Time is on that list. After I started reading her book I realized that she was one of the keynote speakers at NCTM this year. I learned so much about what the research says about the best ways to teach math for student success!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

IMP Fireworks - Distributing the Area II and Square It!

Michael Reitemeyer shared with me that he uses the video above as an introduction to his class. Today, as my students were working on the Distributing the Area II activity, I was reminded of the video. The very first problem is one where the students need to guess and check in order to get the correct answer. There are several students who just stared at the problem. I gave them a hint and then gave them a few more minutes. Afterwards I had a student share HOW she got her answer. I asked her if the first numbers she tried worked and she said no. She tried some numbers and then made some adjustments until she got the result she needed. I reminded the class of the video. I told them that Jada got to an answer faster than most of the rest of them because she was willing to TRY some numbers. After she tried some numbers and saw that they didn't work she was able to make a revision and find the solution.

One of the questions in this activity actually has the students to factor a trinomial but they don't realize that is what they are doing. I stressed to the students that they are being asked to try both the vertical method and the area model to multiply polynomials but afterwards they can choose the method they like best.

Square It!  introduces the standard form of a quadratic equation and leads the students to convert quadratic equations from vertex to standard form. Number 1 has the students practice squaring a binomial. Then they are given problems in vertex form and told to put them in standard form. It amazed me that some of the students in one of my classes didn't make the connection between number 1 and number 2. I even told them to square the binomial first just like we did in number 1. (I try to help them see the connection between the order of operations and the idea of squaring before you distribute.) I kind of  "got onto" them about not trying to make connections from number 1 to number 2. They just kind of shut down on me and started whining. I noticed that there are several more places in the next few activities where the students will practice this skill again and I am glad. My other algebra class did fine with the activity - no whining or complaining. I wonder if my experience with the first class helped me to put more emphasis on the connection between numbers 1 and 2?

**While planning for the next day I realized that the students will be given a couple more chances in the next few activities to work on changing from vertex to standard form.

Squares and Expansions is an activity where the students are first introduced to the concept of completing the square. Then they practice converting from vertex to standard form.

Monday, April 20, 2015

IMP Fireworks - Distributing the Area I and Views of the Distributive Property

I love that Mrs. New has already been through this unit a couple of times. She give me great tips! For "Distributing the Area I" she advised that we make a handout with the 6 area model rectangles so the students could just write inside them. This helped the activity to move along faster than if they had drawn the area models. Some of my students are perfectionists so they would take forever to draw a perfect rectangle and then have little time to work on the actual task in the lesson. My students seemed to really enjoy this activity. After I showed them #1 as an example they pretty much took off with it. I even had one boy who I have to get on to often for sitting and doing nothing to be the first one to get the answers for #6. I was proud of him!

"Views of the Distributive Property" was an activity that made them think about the way that they multiply 2 digit numbers. They are shown through the activity that they have really been using the distributive property and partial products all along. My students whined a little bit about having to do the problem involving the long form but I tried to explain to them that this was just a foundation on which we were going to build as we started multiplying algebraic expressions.

I have taught multiplying and factoring polynomials using the area model for a couple of years. I have called it "the box method" but it is the same thing. Even though I feel like it gave the students a more visual way to work through the problem and it also helped them to organize their work I still had some students who would take forever to get the idea that the product inside the box comes from multiplying the 2 values on the outside of the boxes. I am excited about the way Fireworks has built the idea of using the area model. My students will have the idea of the "lots" changing size from the "A Lot of Changing Sides" activity so hopefully they will feel like the answer is just like adding up all the smaller areas even when we are multiplying polynomials.

Another thing that excited me today is that I got through these activities in the time that the teacher's guide recommends. That is an accomplishment for me!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

IMP Fireworks - A Lot of Changing Sides

I really enjoyed doing this activity with my students. It starts with a background story of a housing developer wanting to change the lot sizes for a new housing development. Instead of all the lots being square the city planner wants some of other types of rectangles. The questions tell the students exactly how to change the dimensions of the lots. The first 4 are situations where they increase the size of the lots and the last 2 involve a decrease in the length of at least one side.

Mrs. New had already taught this lesson and showed me the way the teacher's guide recommended the sketch of the lots be drawn. These diagrams will look like "the box method" that they will use to multiply and factor polynomials. The activity asks the students to express the area as the product of the length and the width (which will be binomials) or as a sum of smaller areas. Since the 2 areas are equivalent the students are led to realize that the 2 expressions are equal. I aksed them to look for connections between the sum and the product and a few of them saw it.  I love that the authors have once again provided a context for the formal math to make sense to them!

I led the students through #1 so I could model how to sketch the diagram with the original side length of X. In #5 and #6 I let them come up with their own diagrams to represent the situation. Also, just for the sake of organizing, I labeled the bullets as A, B, and C so that it would be a little easier to organize and discuss.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

IMP Fireworks - Using Vertex Form, Crossing the Axis, and Is It a Homer?

In Using Vertex Form, the students have another picture to create with their graphing calculators. Then they are given equations in vertex form and asked to give the vertex. Most of the students could do this without using the graphing calculators but a few still depended on them. I advised them to use the "Trace" feature of the calculator to find the coordinates of the highest point and then compare the coordinates to the equation. This improved their confidence in finding the vertex.

I gave my students a quiz where they had 6 questions in which they matched quadratic equations to their graphs. Then they had a couple where they had the equation and had to list 3 things they know about the equation. The last 2 questions had them describe how to flip a graph so that it was concave down and then sketch a graph with 3 different parabolas and give their equations. I was so excited about the quiz results. I wish I could say that all my students aced it but that is so not true! However, the large majority of my students passed the quiz and many made As and Bs. I have never expected my students to be able to do so much with graphing quadratic equations. The way the activities led the students through the process was so thorough it made the quiz seem easy.

The Crossing the Axis lesson gets students to start thinking about how many x-intercepts the graph of each quadratic equation will have based on the phase shifts. The activity also has students to write the equation given the vertex and another point on the parabola. They have to use the information to solve for the value of a. Numbers 5 and 6 are very important to complete because they give the students the tools they will need to complete the Is It a Homer activity.

Is It a Homer is an awesome activity to me as a former softball player and coach. It was also fun to the students. Mr. Webb shared a link with me of a Youtube video of a "dramatic reading" of a poem about the "Mighty Casey." We watched it before we read the activity. They are challenged to figure out if the ball clears the fence and they must prove it mathematically. I had the students sketch the graph with height on the y-axis and distance from home plate on the x-axis (which was advised in the teacher's guide). I gave the students the hint that they will be using the same process they did on 5 and 6 of the previous activity. After giving the students some time to think I went to the board and sketched the graph and labeled the vertex. I asked the students if there was another time when we knew what the height of the ball was. My 2nd block students chose to use (0,0) and but my 4th block students pointed out that the ball was not hit off the ground so they used (0,3). They struggled some with the computation of this problem but a few students in each class got the answer correct based on the height of the ball at contact. I had one student who told me that he estimated that the ball would fly 400 feet because the maximum height was after the ball flew 200 feet. Even though we have not yet talked about the symmetry of the graphs he had recognized it and used it for his reasoning. Unfortunately he didn't tell me his thoughts until AFTER class. I will be sharing it with my classes tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Teaching equations using the cover-up or blob method

I have a group of struggling algebra students. They were taught to solve equations last year in 8th grade. When we approached the Mystery Bags activity (which covers solving equations with variables on both sides) I gave them some simple one-step equations and realized that they needed some more practice - especially with equations involving integers. The first day I "retaught" solving equations using inverse operations it did not compute with the majority of the class. I discussed with Mrs. New whether or not I should try to find a creative way to teach equations. After teaching using our Meaningful Math books in which we have a context and discovery/inquiry based activities it was so hard to just teach by giving notes and examples. I had seen a cover-up method for solving equations but the worksheet I had was a little confusing. Mrs. New had learned about a Cover Up Math app when she was at ISTE last Summer. I decided to let the students work with the app and see their reactions. When they told me that they understood it better using this method I did a little more searching. I found this worksheet along with this video which teaches solving equations with a method very similar to the Cover Up Math app. I had some students really grasp hold of this method because it made more sense to them. I still would kind of go to the side a be a "real" math teacher and talk about inverse operations. I had one student who did great using the traditional inverse operations. forward a week or so and we are now working on solving inequalities. I have realized that since I have so many students in the class that did not solve by inverse operations it is difficult to explain to them about when they need to change the direction of the inequality. We did an exploratory activity in Cookies where they discovered that when you multiply or divide by a negative (when solving inequalities) that we have to flip the inequality for the statement to remain true. However, when we looked at solving inequalities and we "reached back" to the blob/cover up method we do not  talk about multiplying or dividing by a negative. order to modify for the students to get the answers correct I told them to do these steps:

1. Replace the inequality symbol with an equal sign and solve the equation. (It is amazing how happy some of my students were when they didn't have an inequality symbol anymore.)
2. Draw a number line and decide whether or not to use an open or closed circle based on the inequality symbol (we had already discussed this)
3. Test a value on either side of the circled number to see if it makes the original inequality true. If it does shade on that side and if it doesn't shade the opposite side.
4. Lastly, make sure your "solution" matches the graph. This helps them to write the inequality with the sign going in the correct direction.

I did not write these steps on the board. We just worked through several together. I can't help but stand there thinking that it would be so much easier to just use the inverse operations with the "flip if you divide or multiply by a negative" rule. I had a few students tell me today that it all made sense to them now. I just wanted to say, "Really??"

So, I write this entry with a conflict brewing in my head over whether or not I have done the right thing. My reasoning for using the other method was that the students had been taught last year and  this year with the inverse operation approach and it just did not seem to work for them. The math teacher in me tells me that it is so important for them to understand how to solve using inverse operations. The common sense portion of my brain says if I can get these students to improve their ability to solve 1 and 2-step equations then I am doing good. These are students whose math confidence level is so low.

As we go through these problems I often show the inverse operations method beside the cover up/blob method in order to show them the connection between the two. I want them to get to where they can understand the formal mathematics of what they are doing.

Monday, April 13, 2015

IMP Fireworks - Parabolas and Equations I, II, and III and The Vertex Form of a Parabola

I am absolutely loving the way Meaningful Math develops the Fireworks unit. These graphing activities go through each of the ways that parabolas are transformed using phase shifts. The students explore each of the phase shifts using graphing calculators. They start with different equations to enter and analyze and then they are given a picture of multiple graphs on the same coordinate plane. They areasked to create the picture by typing equations into the calculator.

The first few activities I gave each student a TI-83 and each group also had an Ipad. Once they figured out the correct combination of equations the group displayed their graphs on Desmos which I projected on the board using Airplay. This was a neat way to have the students to "show off" their work. However, as we were going through the activities I noticed that many of the students were just waiting for the person with the Ipad to type in the equations. They were not using their calculators like I had intended. I wanted them to use the calculators first and then display their findings using Desmos. Therefore, today I had the students to let me know when they got each of the pictures correct. I initialed their papers where they had written down the equations that gave the picture. We did not use the Ipads today. I liked the change - especially since we were working on the activity that pulls all the shifts together. By requiring initials for each of the problems I was able to formatively assess each individual instead of each group. Since each graph took a good bit of  time to create it was feasible for me to initial.

Today's activity introduced the students to the vertex form of a parabola. It combined all the pieces that we have been working on in the last few days. I feel that after working on getting the equations that generate the pictures the students were beginning to demonstrate a firm understanding of the phase shifts. 

On a side note...Thursday Tom Laster and Laura Murphy from It's About Time came to our school to observe our classes and discuss plans for next year. Observe is really the wrong word...they actually came into my class and sat with my students and participated in the graphing activity. My students really enjoyed this and I was honored that they came to visit!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

IMP Fireworks Day 1 - Victory Celebration

I am excited to be "switching gears" and starting a new unit today. We did the Victory Celebration activity which introduces students to the unit problem for Fireworks. I love that the activity asks students to sketch the situation - this gives students with an artistic flair the chance to "show off" in class! There are 4 questions in the activity so I had each group split up. In my 2nd block class I had groups of 4 so I told them to let 2 people sketch the situation while the other 2 started working on the other questions. This worked out well because there was not more than 1 or 2 students in each group who were interested in drawing.

Some groups took longer than others on their sketches so I had everyone who was finished to get a graphing calculator and showed them how to enter the height equation into the calculators. It was necessary to also talk about how to adjust the window for the graph. We played with the tracing features on the calculators in order to look at approximations for the maximum height and the time the rocket was in the air.

I pulled a piece of chart paper and started talking about sketching the graph on the chart paper so we could refer to it throughout the unit. This brought up a discussion about which quadrants were needed. We also talked about labeling the axes and how we needed to be careful about drawing the graph because we didn't know how to scale the axes until we knew the maximum height and the amount of time it took for the rocket to land. (This is when we started playing with the tracing feature on the calculator but we ran out of time.)

Also, we discussed what the height of the rocket was when time was 0 seconds and what the height of the rocket was when the rocket hit the ground. These concepts are common sense really but it takes a few seconds for the answers to "hit" them.

Another cool thing that happened today was that my 4th block came in excited about getting to draw in math class. They took so long with their sketches that we didn't get as far with our discussions...but it was worth seeing them so invested in the activity.

After writing this post today I had an afterthought. I know that many people may ask, "Why are you drawing in a math class?" I told the students today that when people in the "real world" have large problems or projects to solve they often draw sketches or models in order to visualize what is happening. I think it is neat that this activity leads the students to start with a sketch!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Reviewing Exponent Rules with "The Zombie Game" and the Alice Portfolio

I was looking for some ideas over the weekend and ran across this blog post by Sarah Hagan (Math=Love). The post includes alot of great ideas but the one that I borrowed came from yet another blog post by Nathan Kraft. I have really gotten so many great ideas from the teachers I follow on Twitter and through my Feedly blog reader! I am so thankful for teachers who are so willing to share their resources and ideas with others.

So, today was the first day back after Spring Break and I wanted to review problems using exponent rules. I borrowed some individual white boards from Ms. Whitt and gave one to each student. I had my students go write their names on my board and put 4 x's under each name. The last student with an x under his/her name wins. I gave the class a problem to work and had them put their markers down after a certain period of time. Any student who gets an answer correct gets to go erase an 'x' from any person's name. The "zombie" part comes when students have all 4 of their x's erased. Even though they can no longer win the game, they can still erase x's from others.  I will give the winners 5 bonus points on the next quiz grade. Ms. Whitt and I did go over how to work each problem afterwards.

I altered what my students will be doing for the Alice portfolio. Due to time constraints we chose to skip some of the activities that were mentioned in the portfolio list in the book. I created my own Alice Portfolio assignment. I borrowed some items from the Meaningful Math version of the portfolio. I do not necessarily think that mine is better; it just was a better fit for me this year since we had to cut some of the activities.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Solving Equations Scavenger Hunt - Thanks Mr. Webb

It is great to have fellow algebra teachers that share their fun activities! Mr. Webb is another algebra teacher at Etowah High School and he made a scavenger hunt using QR codes in which the students had to solve equations in order to find the missing digits in the next room number. He bought cupcakes for the winners and we also awarded bonus points to the top 2 teams (everyone got a grade for participating). So during 5th period today we combined our  classes and created random teams of students.  Each team got a paper with a QR code that gave them an equation to solve in order to get the next room number.  They ran all over the school!
They had to get the room numbers in the correct sequence to win so they often returned to my checkpoint a little frustrated...

They do eventually get the hang of it though and they seemed to have alot of fun too! This was a great way to spend the last class of the day on the Friday before Spring Break! (And I got to eat a cupcake too!!)
Thank you again Mr. Webb for creating this activity and sharing with us!
Winners eating their cupcakes:)

Thursday, March 26, 2015

IMP Alice - Stranger Pieces of Cake and Confusion Reigns

Today I first had my students do Stranger Pieces of Cake. I started off by reading over the into and giving them 5 minutes to think about number 1. When they were asked to put their findings on the ipads and project them (using airplay) I realized that they were in need of help. I did have one girl say that 2 to the 3/5 power would be like Alice's height increasing by 60 percent. I was excited that she used that description but I needed to lead them to a point where we could explain the problem using ideas we had already learned in that we could develop the rule for fractional exponents.

So...I then asked them if they could figure out a problem where they either raised a power to a power or multiplied powers with the same base and the answer was 2^(3/5). Luckily, at least one group in each class eventually came up with 2^(1/5) * 2^(1/5) * 2^(1/5). We related this back to the activity where we developed the rule for exponents that are unit fractions which eventually got us to the idea that the 5th root of 2^3. Anyway...I had to do ALOT of leading through this activity but I really believe that the students have a better chance of remembering the rule for fractional exponents after they have had their "hands on" trying to figure it out themselves.

Confusion Reigns is a good activity that makes students just rethink through a few of the rules they have learned. I LOVE the first problem because so many students didn't pay any attention to the fact that they were adding 2 powers with the same base instead of multiplying. I hope this helps them to pay closer attention to the operation signs in the future.

A "case" for a problem-based curriculum with group work

As we have gone through Alice we have seen the need to just pull alot of practice problems for each of the rules. I still have students that approach these problems in a variety of ways. At this point there are some that have memorized the rules. I still have some who use expansion . I have explained to them that expansion is not always feasible but hopefully being able to expand problems correctly will help them to remember a rule.

Yesterday I spent the majority of class answering questions and going over examples from a couple of worksheets that I had left for them to work on when I had a sub. We have developed all the rules they needed throughout our Alice lessons but these problems had more "moving parts" for them to work through. After changing my teaching methods this year yesterday was such a "drag." I asked the students if they liked working through the packet instead of the Alice activities and some of them said yes. Today (while we were working through an Alice activity) I asked them whether they would prefer me just tell them the rule and give them practice problems or allow them to explore their way through a problem and help me to develop the rule. Once again I had some that preferred both ways. HOWEVER, when I asked them which way do you think might help them to remember the material 2 weeks from now not one student chose the "worksheet method." I think we will always have students that battle with you over having to think for themselves. There are many times that my students don't actually get ALL THE WAY to the rule or formula or method that they need to do the algebra. However, once they have had some time to "productively struggle" with a concept our discussion is so much more MEANINGFUL than when I just told the students the rule and had them practice problems using it.

One of my first major AHA! moments came when I attended an ACT Quality Core workshop in which Roy Dean was one of the presenters. I actually had to look back for some email communication between me and Roy in order to get his name. This was the first time that I remember sitting through a workshop (I hadn't attended AMSTI at this point) where MATH teachers modeled how to use strategic teaching strategies. He was very patient with me because I was often picking his brain about how he did things in his classroom instead of doing the actual activity assigned. When I found the emails I just wanted to share them because I learned so much from his answer. Below is the email I sent to him:


Thanks for the information and your willingness to share.  So...when I
came back to school and started telling other teachers about the
movement to teach using the methods we discussed I often get the same
question.  Teachers wonder if the group work translates into higher
test scores since the students take the tests (standardized - like
EOC, ACT, etc...) by themselves.  Concerns are also expressed about
having students in our classrooms to learn primarily through the
methods we discussed when most college classrooms are going to be
lecture based.  I didn't want to ask these questions at the workshop
because I feel like they seem argumentative.  However, I wondered if
you have any direction or advice on how I might answer these
questions.  I certainly share their concerns and understand the

I have pulled out the "On Course for Success" book and am trying to
skim it to get answers...but I wondered if you could give me some

Teri Owens
Etowah High School
Attalla, Alabama

And here is his reply...

Hi Teri, 

Sorry it's taken a couple days to get back to you. The severe weather yesterday had me "enjoying" the Bham airport for most of yesterday.
In answer to your question, I know the "on Course for Success" book has some data that you can use.  I would also think if you Googled reform math scores, group work and test scores, and such if you would find some data on your questions.

As far as my personal experience, at my school our scores rose 6 points (a statistically significant rise for Colorado testing) the first year and 2 to 3 points over the next 8 when we switched out curriculum to a group/problem solving approach to mathematics.

I also had a summer school class (not exactly your star students) that I taught with the reform/group/prob solve math for 6 weeks in the summer instead of the usual fraction ws, decimal ws, etc. The students seemed to enjoy the class more.  Of the 24 students I had that actually attended thes ummer classes, 23 improved the test scores the next spring and 8 moved from unsatisfactory to proficient (we have unsatisfactory, partially proficient,proficient, and advanced) and all but one improved their scores a substantial amount.

As far as students to college, students that returned from college to chat mentioned that the college classes were different (having more lecture) but they weren't hard.  It seemed to me that since they knew the concepts and not algorithms, they could adjust.

Sorry I don't have any hard data for you.  I at least hope this helps some.Thank you for your hard work during the training. Have a great rest of the year.