Going In Blind - Math Activity

on Monday, November 25, 2013
Is anyone else obsessed with whiteboards? I love them. I have a classroom set of 15 so that every pair of students has one. Well, I wanted to do a twist on our Graph Wars activity for my lesson on matrix translations, so I came up with this. I call it Going in Blind because only 1 person out of the pair actually sees what's going on!

The Set Up
Students are in pairs. One person in the pair faces the “front” or the screen where you display a certain problem and the other faces the back of the room. The two people are face to face. The person facing the back of the room has the whiteboard. On the screen you display a question the partners must accomplish together. The person looking at the screen can not offer up any information unless they are asked a direct question about it. The person holding the whiteboard should ask questions to figure out what the problem is and to get the necessary information of how to answer it. All their work should be done on the whiteboard. However, they c

an’t ask “what’s the answer?” or “what should I do?”

Here's an example picture of what I put up on the screen with the question: Write the matrix equation for the translation.
Image Credit: Regents Prep

The student asking questions should start off asking, "What's the question?" Then they are able to figure out there is an image, so they can ask "How many points is it?" or "What are the coordinates of the preimage?" They keep asking questions until they think they have it right, and usually the question answer-er will help them figure out what they did wrong if they happened to go astray. At the end of each question you switch spots so the other person has a chance to ask questions.

What I love is that the student asking the question is forced to envision what the picture could possible look like and know what kinds of questions will help them get the answer they need. The other thing is that it gets students talking about math. They are required to put their thoughts into words to answer or ask the question.

Please use my powerpoint to inspire you - I feel like this would be an amazing activity to use for transformations of parabolas too!

Speed Dating in the Math Classroom

on Monday, November 18, 2013

Okay - it's not actually speed dating. Since I have whiteboards for each table of 2 in my room, I have been trying to find ways to incorporate them into the work we do. Kelly O'Shea has a phenomenal blog about what happens in her Physics classes. She explained this idea of Whiteboard Speed dating, and I knew I had to give it a shot.

The Setup:
Set desks up in a circle with two kids per desk. There is 1 white board for every group of 2 kids. You give everyone the same problem to work on. After a short length of time you tell the student everyone is going to move. You tell each team of 2 to volunteer one kid to raise their hand. Once you have kids raising their hand, tell them to move one whiteboard to the left. Tell the kids who didn't raise their hands to move one whiteboard to the right. The whiteboard should stay where it is, untouched. Then, a new group of 2 is working on a new whiteboard with someone else's chicken scratch on it. Students need to figure out where the last group left of and keep going. Every few minutes you do the same rotation, but have kids continue to go in the same direction they did the first time. (Kelly has a great visual of this rotation - check it out!). When it looks like everyone is done, you can have a board meeting and showcase all of the whiteboards. This is a great time to compare methods or to figure out if people have gotten to the same conclusion for an answer.

What I learned:
(1) This does not work for short problems. Even the long word problems that you find at the end of a chapter in the math books are not long enough.
(2) It doesn't work well for students to make their own problem as one of the problems. (i.e. Don't give them this: Write an example of a linear equation and .... )
(3) You need to be ready for when a team of 2 students is stuck.
(4) Students should be encouraged not to erase the work they come to. They should try and spend some time deciphering it first before giving up and starting fresh.
(5) The board meeting at the end is key.

Would I do it again?
Yes. but, I would make some very key changes. The first time I used problems that were far too short. To get the effect of the "speed dating", I would have needed to call time every 60 seconds to get a few rounds in before students finished the problem. Also, I would not be discouraged after the first time going through it. Remember, for any new activity like this, students are trying to figure out the material as well as the activity at the same time. The more they "speed date" the more beneficial it can be. Also, students are super creative - they might come up with some variations that you never imagined!

Math Practice Scavenger Hunt

on Thursday, November 14, 2013
I love worksheets. I love that they are organized and that you can fit all kinds of problems on to them. Students love that they don't have to bring their book home - even though they don't realize they're pretty much the same problems! It seems like a win-win. However, I hate the monotony. If every day you keep doing worksheets or practice problems in the same format, it can get old.

To combat the monotony, I made a scavenger hunt for my students. We are currently working on solving systems of equations by graphing, substitution, elimination, and matrices. For our substitution day I created 8 substitution problems that had different ordered pairs as solutions. I typed them on a half sheet of paper with another system's solution on it.

A student starts with the SOLVE question. They copy it down onto their paper. When they come up with the solution they look around the room for the page with their solution. So if a student started doing the system above, they would come up with the solution (8, 4). Around the room somewhere is another page with the solution (8, 4) so they go to that page and solve the system on that paper. They keep going around until they reach the point where they started.
Link to the: pdf

I love this activity because it can be set up for any type of lesson where I want students to have a number of practice questions for. By having all the solutions there, students can also tell if they are on the right track. If they find their first coordinate is x = -14.5, and see that that is not part of any of the solutions, they know they need to check their work.

This set up also allows the students who understand the material to whip through it pretty quick. However, for students who are new to the concept, they have plenty of time and access to help during the activity. Also, as students are moving around the room at different paces, they are able to work with other students who are on the same problem. The students want to "win" and finish the scavenger hunt, so they help each other out and do a great job of explaining things to each other.

(1) On the back of each of the questions I wrote the answer to the system students were supposed to solve. I didn't tell the kids this, but it allowed me to sneakily tell a kid who was struggling to check what the answer was supposed to be and use that to help them.
(2) Be ready to field questions. I found having an answer key ready and accessible made my life easier.
(3) Have students spread out where they start, or else you'll get crowding happening at too many questions.
(4) Write the solution large so students can see where they're supposed to go. If it's too small and they can't see it from across the room they'll spend more time searching and being frustrated than actually doing the practice.
(5) Paste on bright colored paper so they're easy to find.

What have you done to encourage practice but get away from monotonous worksheets?

Why Study Math? A new way to begin the year...

on Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Syllabus Shock i.e. the first day of school.

Why do we do this to ourselves? To our kids? That, I don't know. But I do know that by the time my students get to my 4th hour class, their ears have stopped working. They can't listen to syllabi any more! Instead of participating in this cruel ritual, I start the year asking my students the question, "Why study math?" If we are going to spend the next 9 months learning math, there better be a pretty good reason as to why.

I adapt a lesson from Kuyers Mathematics to help my students who are suffering from syllabus shock. They have great resources for math teachers in Christian high schools and their first lesson entitled, Why Study Math? is the basis of my first week of class.

The first day students look at rationales for studying math provided by a variety of people throughout history - Descartes, Bertrand Russell, and St. Augustine compose a few of the quote sources provided. Since the text is fairly dense, and students brains are not quite awake after summer, we break into groups to analyze what reason for studying math each author suggests. The group collectively comes us with their reason, if they think it's a good reason or not, and why. Students write their group's work on a whiteboard and then they are able to have a visual to use when they explain their quote to the rest of the class. Usually this sharing and presenting will not get completely done in the first day, so that continues into day 2. This is a great introduction also to the expectation that every student should contribute to the collaboration, and that this will be a class where conversation is encouraged.

The second piece is to look at verses from the Bible, and how they help us think about why we should study math. We do this in a similar fashion - splitting into groups and sharing our discoveries.

On the third day students are asked to do some personal reflection on this topic. Students have not yet had a chance to reflect upon what they think in light of the work from the previous two days. I had students complete a reflection page in a google doc and submit it to me electronically. They were asked to reflect upon some of the quotes, probed about their understanding of why God made us able to comprehend mathematics, and led to create a document they can use later in a senior faith project (a requirement for Seniors at my school).

This activity sets up the the rest of the year. After these few days, students are able to understand key elements of my course that I don't know how to put into words for a syllabus. I want them to talk. I want them to collaborate. I want them to think deeply about things that matter.

What do you do during the first week of school to combat syllabus shock?