Saturday, December 7, 2013

A Day in the Life of.....

This week's MTBoS challenge was to write about a typical day in my professional life.  Pretty funny, since I am now 3 or 4 challenges behind and desperately trying to catch up! :)

Background info:  I teach 4.5 different math courses at a vocational high school.  Vocational schools have the challenge of having to teach to all the academic standards required by the state (as well as all the vocational standards required by the state), but in only 90 days, and in 6 day chunks.  We have 2 cycles:  A-cycle, in which we see our freshmen and our juniors for 6 days in a row (while the sophomores and seniors are in their shops), and B-cycle in which we work with our sophomores and seniors while the other 2 grades go to shop.  This means we can go up to 10 or more days before seeing the same group of kids again. To make it REALLY interesting, our students come from 8 different towns.

Oh, and btw, I am the Math Dept. Chairman.  To do this job, I am given one extra prep each of the 6 days of B-cycle.  

I am responsible for 8 other staff.  Because I am a teacher, I do not do evaluations, but I am responsible for transitioning the Dept. to the new MA Curriculum Frameworks (aka Common Core), working with my staff to create and update benchmark assessments, create the annual math budget, run monthly Dept meetings, go to Academic Dept Chair meetings, and lead my staff through any Math Dept and/or school wide initiatives.  Of course, it is my responsibility to contact book publishers and find new texts that "reflect the new standards" etc. Hahahahahaha.  And on days when there are not enough subs, the academic dept chair (who has the "extra prep") fills in.

So here is a pretty typical day:

My day starts when the alarm goes off at 5:01 a.m.  I do this so I can say I get up after 5.  But to be honest, that is a lie.  I set the clock 20 mins fast!  It is TOOOO depressing to see 4:40 on my digital clock.  This way, by the time I have made my way to the kitchen, I've gained about 15 mins!  Kitchen clock says quarter to 5 and is analog, not digital.  (There are some of you out there who understand that quarter to 5 is WAY less depressing than 4:45 a.m.  C'mon, 'fess up if you are one of these people!)  

Out of the house by 6, having fed cats, dog, and the wood stove.

Arrive at school by 6:25 a.m.  Hang up the agendas for the day, check emails, run off the last minute hwks I decided to change while I dried my hair.  Realize there won't be time to get everything done if I let the kids cut out the stuff for interactive NB, so I cut out 16 folding items for transformational geometry: reflections. 

7:20 - Senior comes in to retake quiz.  Works until the juniors come in at 7:40. 

7:50 - Asst Principal comes in to do the 1st Walk Through of the new Massachusetts Teacher Evaluation System. My juniors are modeling some trig problems on white boards. In his written comment, wants to know why the rest of my department isn't using these big white boards.
                                    AT-A-GLANCE WallMates Self-Adhesive Dry-Erase Open Planning Surface, White/Gray, 24" x 18"
I let him know it is because I purchased 7 of these with my own money.

7:50 - 11:15 - Have wonderful time with some of the best kids on the planet.  Hopefully they learned something today.  I know they made me laugh on more than one occasion!

11:20, I get my first break of the day (juniors, freshmen, then juniors) when the Hon. Alg 2 juniors head to lunch.  Check my email, eat part of a sandwich, run into the school (I teach in a portable classroom) to see a guidance counselor and get to the restroom before the kids come back 20 minutes later.

12:25 - finish teaching for the day.  Correct freshmen quizzes, get agendas set for the Monday.  Put together homework for freshmen:  they did NOT come to us with Algebra 1 skills (we are teaching our frosh Geometry this year for the first time), so we have to do a lot of "algebra review" (read: teach Alg 1 and Geom at the same time).

1:45 - Juniors back for study hall.  5 freshmen come in to retake order of operations quiz.

2:25 - School day is over.  Meet with a parent for 25 mins.  

3:00 - Pack up notebooks etc so I can do planning for next cycle during my weekend.  Make sure everything I need for Monday is in order.  Rearrange room for group work Monday morning.

3:30 - leave school.  Go grocery shopping.

4:30 - arrive home, put away groceries, head out to put on church supper.

9 pm - home.  Whew.  

Saturday, October 19, 2013

So Much Tweeting!

Mission #2 from Exploring the Math Twitter Blogosphere was to 1) jump into the pond and start tweeting (introduce yourself, tweet @ someone you have been following, etc), and 2) write a blog post about tweeting.

I started tweeting because the head of IT at my school suggested I start a Twitter account that I could use with my students.  I looked at her skeptically, but in a moment of weakness went ahead and created an account.  For eons I didn't even tell anyone I had taken the plunge!  But then I had to ask Son #3 some questions about Twitter, so he ended up being my first follower.  Shortly after that, the sweetheart girlfriend of Son #1 requested to follow me.  Wow!  I had a following!

But it was not too long after, that Son #2 sent me the link to Dan Meyer's Ted Talk....and well the rest is history:  I went to his blog, which led to his 3 Act Activities.  His site also led me to follow him on Twitter.  And BOOM!  All of a sudden I met all these amazing people!  I poked around their sites, "borrowed" ideas, downloaded worksheets, looked at games, and found interactive notebook ideas.  Who WERE these people??

They were the ones who make me want to go to Twitter Math Camp!

Yes, I almost cried when I found out the Twitter Math Camp was in Philly the same time they were, but didn't know it until it was over.  (Yes, I would have crashed it just so I can get Fawn Nguyen's autograph! :)  Please tell me there will be a 2014 Camp.  Please tell me it will be somewhere that I can get to without spending tooooooo much $!!

My biggest difficulty is not being able to spend as much time as I would like reading everyone's tweets.  I follow almost exclusively math teachers.  There are so many good ideas out there it makes my head spin, but already I have made subtle changes to the way I do things in class.  The Silent Partners Quiz (previous blog post) came from something I saw that someone else did.  (Man, if someone has a way they keep all these good ideas organized, please post!!)  The Interactive Notebook also came from having read tweets and then visiting blogs.

Bless you all.  And thank you for your kindness to those of us just starting out!

Silent Partners Quiz

I had to give a right triangle trig assessment to my seniors.  I always hate wasting time assessing them on stuff they were supposed to have dealt with sophomore year, but I knew I had to, so the question was how to do it so it was the least painful for all of us (especially me).  Also, one of my students is dealing with a concussion and I have to have all sorts of accommodations in place for her.

Below is the question I put up when we first started the Trig section.  It was the teaser.  I put them into groups of 4 and had them come up with questions, statements, whatever.

I think I originally saw a picture like this on Yummy Math or some variation thereof.   In the spirit of making the problem more rich (and because Hubby and I heat with wood that we take from our property...often in situations just like the picture!), I chose to ask how many logs I could get from the tree.

Most saw the right triangle right away, and many wanted to use Pythagoras (aka The Greek Geek) to find out how long the main part of the tree was.  They were told that it was too dangerous to get up on the trunk and actually measure it, the tree it is hung up in is too skinny too climb.  They had some more thoughts and then asked the question:  "If we don't have 2 sides, how can we do this??"  Huzzah!  And off we went into discovering (all over again) about trig ratios.

SO, when I was trying to figure out what to do for an assessment, I realized: OH!  We never answered the teaser question!  I paired them up (thus taking care of the one with the concussion), put this pic back up on the board, and pointed out that the angle of elevation was 40 degrees and that Hubby and I measured out 100 ft on the ground.  Then I gave them one more question that related to our Precision Machine Shop and gave them these instructions:

  • You and your partner must answer these 2 questions together.  Be sure I can see your work.
  • You may ask each other questions, make observations, etc, but not a single word can be spoken aloud.  Everything you want to ask or point out has to be on paper. (Yeah, this is not original either.  Love all of you bloggers:  I saw someone had done this on the larger whiteboards, but I only have 5 of the larger whiteboards, so I had to resort to pink paper ....Breast Cancer Awareness Day at school).
Here are some results:
I was blown away.  For all the times I have let my students do partner quizzes, I would wander and listen, but never had a record of their thought processes.  I was AMAZED at how many of my 23 students would have bombed this quiz because of their inattentiveness to units of measure.  Only one grouping (the only trio!) made an error.  Not one of the three thought there was anything wrong with an answer of: "Seven 18 inch logs can be gotten from this tree."  This in spite of the fact that the picture they had in front of them to work from had 100 ft clearly labeled on the ground.  Yowch!

Needless to say, I have to figure out a way to incorporate more dimensional analysis!  

Monday, October 14, 2013

Interactive Notebooks

As a major "lurker" in the MTBoS,  I have come across some fabulous people who share freely of amazing resources.  I forget where I first saw this idea of the Interactive Notebook, but Crazy Math Teacher Lady has been doing some phenomenal stuff with it!

Check out Oct 7 of her 180 days of Geometry blog:


I had been doing some things like this, but never had the students keep a special notebook for it.  Sometimes these pages would make it into their binders or spiralbound notebooks and sometimes they just went into the deep dark black-hole called BackPack.

This year I have two Geometry classes that have lots of students with special needs.  Notetaking was going to be a challenge for them.  I felt that I might better assist ALL the students (and maybe even have them refer to their notes) if we had this kind of notebook: page numbered, dated, and filled in.

In my quest for how to be more organized about it, I have come across this site, which has some useful ways for the students to make a table of contents, and has an assortment of rubrics if you decide to grade your students' notebooks.  It also has some great activities.

But if you are just starting out with this, then you want to visit Sarah at Everybody is a Genius.  WOW.  If you have any questions on how to get started, what resources are out there, etc., she has got it all.  I have learned so much from her blog!

We had been doing special angle pairs, particularly with parallel lines.  I decided to jump right in to special parallelograms (using Sketchpad) so they could see places where some of these special angle pairs show up.  They were given an Always Sometimes Never sheet and asked to construct the special parallelograms then make conjectures.  I could see at the end of the period we were going to need a way to keep all that amazing information to hand.  So this is what I made for their notebooks:

and after we get this into our notebooks, I will have them work with their partners to fill in under the "pie" pieces ( I also put notes on the underside of my pie pieces to remind me what supplementary meant, as well as that funny upside down T symbol!)

On the left side I will give them some problems involving angles and lengths of various parts of diagonals.  I think I will give them at least one problem where they will need to use the Pythagorean Theorem to find a side length of the rhombus, since we reviewed the Theorem while doing distance formula.

I don't anticipate being great at this right away.  And I am starting it already a month into the course.  But, I will learn, they will have a resource, and we will all get better at this as we go.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Four = Eight (almost)

I am taking part in the Exploring the MTBoS challenge.  This week's challenge had two different prompts: share my favorite rich problem or share what makes my classroom unique.  Since most of the really cool, rich problems I am currently doing have been shamelessly "borrowed" from other people, I thought I would share what makes my classroom uniquely mine.

If you have read the book The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, you may recognize these signs that hang above the window in my room:

For years these have been the four rules of my classroom.  During the first day or two, we go through them and decide what they might mean in the context of being together in this classroom and in our friendships and relationships outside of the classroom.  These have had the added benefit of tying in nicely with the math classroom.  Ask any student in my room, especially the Geometry students, how many times I have just POINTED to rule number three as they worked.  "Oh, right...."   

In the last 2 years I have been trying to really incorporate the Eight Standards For Mathematical Practice in all aspects of my classes:

List of Common Core Mathematical Standards

What I have noticed is how well these eight standards match up with the Four Agreements.

Be impeccable with your word
MP 3:  Constructing viable arguments and critiquing others' reasoning requires a great deal of thought. Students must learn to put together words and thoughts in a logical manner: both to present their arguments, as well as to refute the arguments of others.  All the while, they must be careful to attack the thought process, not the thinker.

MP 6:  We are asked to attend to precision.  That means we need to use the best possible language to describe what is going on.  No longer will I fill in the words for the students. They use the word boards, the magnetic theorems and postulates hanging up, and or their notes and or their phones, but the responsibility lies with them.  For me, I may need to look long and hard at all the little "cute" ways I refer to parabolas (happy vs sad) and instead help them identify what transformation has occurred - a reflection (not a "flip"!) across the x axis?  I know this will be a challenge for me!

MP 7, 8:  Both of these require excellent communication skills along with precise language.

Don't take anything personally:
MP 3:  When someone has inadvertently NOT been impeccable with their word, know that they are not attacking you as a person.  They are attempting to say something about the logic chain you put into play.  We remind each other how to use more precise wording, and use "I" instead "you".  

Don't make assumptions:
MP 2: It is too easy when we first begin to reason abstractly to assume something is happening, say, in a pattern, without really probing.  Students frequently want to make the quick jump, but often they need the manipulative first, which allows them to SEE.  From there they can talk about the assumptions they made and how that led them down the wrong path.

MP 6:  Lack of precision in a drawing (neglecting tic marks, right angle markers) can cause another to go astray.  Assuming that those lines are parallel because they LOOK parallel can lead to disaster. 

Always do your best:
MP 1:  Make sense of a problem and persevere!  No giving up!  Keep plugging away!  I teach at a vocational school and I often tell the students that as tradesmen, frequently they will  be stumped by a broken down car, a furnace that isn't working, or a patient that is not responding to physical therapy.  It is their responsibility to pose questions that will lead to answers.  Just saying: "Sorry, I don't know why your burner won't turn on!", is not an option and will not lead to a paycheck!

MP 7:  Some days students will not want to find the pattern, will not want to "guess the rule", will not see that 16x^4-9y^4 is just a difference of squares!  They will not want to stretch their brains, and we will find it easier just to tell them, or at least give them so many hints we might as well have told them! But if we do that then we have not allowed them to do their best.  Since this applies to me, as well, if I give in, then I have not done MY best either.

Friday, August 30, 2013

I wonder......

My husband and I raised 3 boys.  We went through a "mountain" of cheerios in that time:  they ate them for breakfast and snack,  fed some to the dogs, stuffed some in couch cushions, crushed several million on the floor and into the rug, and of course they were used for various crafts, not to mention projectiles!

The other day, the chimney man came to replace the liner in the chimney.  The new liner came in this amazing box.  I begged them not to throw it away.  Cheerios came to mind and the following video was the result.

Cheerios in a chimney box

I am still working on what the problem will look like.  I think I may just show it to my Geometry students and hold a competition for the question or questions that we need to answer.  I kept the lid to the box in case they want to do something along the line of Dan Meyer's penny question (

Feel free to make suggestions!  I am VERY new at this! :)

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Math and Art

Today while visiting the Math Twittersphere, I found this great resource called Math Munch.  It is a weekly digest of internet resources for math teachers (specifically middle school teachers), but it has some FABULOUS math and art resources.

This is called a Temari Ball, created by Carolyn Yackel.

Being a Math and Art fanatic, I wanted to find out more about these!  Here is a YouTube video, describing how to make this traditional Japanese ball (originally they were children's toys!)  and then a step by step instruction guide.

I REALLY want to learn how to make these!

Friday, July 5, 2013

A Fun Geometry Puzzle Site

I spend a lot of time following some fine math teachers on Twitter.  If you are a math teacher and haven't yet succumbed to this new social media, I highly recommend it.

Start by following Dan Meyer, and then work your way through others that he follows or who follow him.  What a Professional Learning Group!!  Sue VanHattum (MathMama) showed up in my feed today.  She shared this site:

This site starts you out with 2 points.  From there you create circles and attach segments to create certain shapes.  It tells you what the minimum number of moves it can be made in and also the max, I think.  It is really fun trying to do the minimum!  So go forth and have a blast!

This is Sue's "Circle Pack 7".  I am impressed!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

First Full Day of Summer

It is Saturday, June 22, 2013.
I was up at 5:30 a.m. to say farewell to my hubbie who is off to a conference in FL for 4 days, walked the dogs, fed the cats, and then got ready for my day.

I am in hour 5 of an all day iPad training.  I have learned how to use Noteworthy, Explain Everything, and now, how to make a blog.  So I am writing this entry to practice.

It is 80 degrees and sunny outside, but FREEZING in here.  Here is a picture of Mrs. Mathisen to show you just how cold it is!