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