Saturday, October 11, 2014

We Have the Power!

Sometime during the last school year, I saw people tweeting about a book called Powerful Problem Solving, written by Math Forum's Max Ray and other members of that fabulous team.  I finally found time to read some of it during the late spring, then the end of the school year happened, and hubbie got sick, and....well, you know how it is.  On my flight to Twitter Math Camp (TMC14), I finally found the time to finish the book!

At some point, after one of the evening meals at the hotel, a bunch of us were talking and I heard someone say something to a young man named Max who was part of the group.  I listened some more and finally realized this was THE Max.  We began a conversation about the strategies he explains in his book:

"But, you obviously are talking to elementary and middle school teachers.  I am sure these will work for high school aged kids, because without even knowing where it came from, I have been using Noticing and Wondering a bunch of times this year." Max agreed and said they had been wanting to get some video of high school teachers using these strategies and could he come to my school?

In preparation for his coming, I took Math Forum's online course "Developing Powerful Problem Solvers" . While participating, I came across some amazing videos:  one of which I used with the class of sophomores that Max would be coming to see. It is called Charlie's Gumballs.  Try it out!

My students were very excited to hear that "my friend Max" (of Charlie's Gumballs) would be coming to visit them.  Max shared "Angela's Grapes".  We had visitors watching Max do his amazing Max thing.  These observers were amazed at how engaged the students stayed throughout the whole thing. 

So what did I notice throughout this experience?  
  • I noticed that "Angela's Grapes" was a silly little story with a richness that belies its simple wording.
  • I noticed that it was not a "real life problem", yet the kids were fascinated by it.
  • I noticed that Max spent a chunk of time helping the students make sense of the problem ahead of time, yet HE never pointed anything out to them.  They did the noticing, then he would reread the story problem and ask if they wanted to add or revise anything.  This helped them sort out things ahead of time.
  • I noticed that he gave them a paper copy ONLY after they had done the listening, wondering, and noticing part.
  • I noticed that his only response would be a soft, "O.K. Thank you."  No praise, no repeating, no clarifying.
  • I noticed that after noticing, Max had the students share anything they were wondering about.  Again, nothing was judged.  If the kids wondered if Angela ever ate any protein, that also received a gentle "O.K., thank you," as did the question that we would eventually have them answer: "I wonder how many grapes she ate on Monday?"
  • I noticed that Max gave a whole new meaning to wait time.  I mean it.  If wait time were an Olympic Sport, Max would be a gold medalist.  And it never failed him.  He looked around the room with such interest: this SILENT room.  Finally some student might ask, "Could you repeat the question?"  "Oh sure!" he would say enthusiastically.  "I was wondering....." and off he would go, and several students would respond as a result.
  • I noticed that when a smart aleck response was given, Max could deflect it by making it part of the whole.  He was always aware, but never judgmental.  The smart aleck kids were flummoxed and eventually just got on with whatever the class was doing.
  • I noticed that whether he was working with elementary students (as seen in the Math Forum videos) or with my sophomores or with a couple of senior classes (of mixed abilities), the students stayed engaged and were challenged by story problems that sounded very simple, but could be solved using a variety of methods: from counting blocks, to drawing pictures,  to making tables, to creating an equation, to solving using calculus.

And what do I wonder?

  • I wonder if I can learn to master wait time to the extent Max used it?
  • I wonder how I can extend these problems into the "nuts and bolts" of topics that we absolutely have to get through for the state test?
  • I wonder what my staff at school (the ones who got to see Max in action) took away from this experience?
  • I wonder how many of these story problems I can fit in to my lesson plans and still make it through all the material that I am required to get through?
  • I wonder if these strategies of noticing, wondering, persevering, revising, trying another tactic, will carry over into the open response questions of the state test?
More USEFUL learning took place in the strategies, in the teamwork, in the communication, and in the revision of thought those students used in those 45 - 50 minutes, than has taken place in hours and hours of some of the other lessons in my classroom throughout the years as we rush to be ready for the test that is used to measure both them as students and me as a teacher.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Compounding Students' Interest

I have a group of seniors who have not had the opportunity to do the Alg 2 chapter on Exponential Functions.  We were scheduled to do the section on using the compound interest formula, when in my email appeared the most WONDERFUL link to a post from Robert Kaplinsky lessons.

I copied and pasted the above photo from Robert's lesson and projected it onto our SmartBoard.  Using Math Forum's Powerful Problem Solving strategies, we did a Noticing and Wondering about what we read.  From the wonderings, we were able to generate a number of questions: some of which we would need Mr. Peterson's phone number to answer, and some that we could answer ourselves.  

The students decided to answer these three questions:
  1. How much money would he have now if he put the money in the bank?
  2. How much money would he earn in interest?
  3. Was he savvy for NOT cashing the check?
I LOVED the last question because it was an opinion question for which they would have to practice arguing and supporting their positions (can you say MP 3?).  Whoo hoo!

Once they calculated the amount of interest earned in a CD that was compounded daily, one student suggested if Mr. Peterson didn't want it, maybe he could donate it to our school!  As additional practice, we decided to suggest that he donate the interest earned from the day he received his $15 million bonus until today's  date.  Finally, someone suggested we calculate how much it would be if he put his entire salary AND his signing bonus in the bank and donated the interest to know just for the heck of it !!

Thursday, August 7, 2014


Wow.  How do I sum up TMC14?  Well, for starters, here's what I made at Camp (Thanks to Edmund Harris, aka @Gelada):

Heather Kohn has shared some amazing favorites over at her blog, Growing Exponentially, which I highly recommend you check out.

What are my take-aways from TMC14, from 4 days packed FULL of amazing sessions, great collaboration, and unbelievably awesome, caring people?  

1)  Be gentle with yourself. In one of her sessions, Elizabeth (@cheesemonkeysf) noted : "Be gentle to yourself upon re-entry to your normal life."  That was the best advice.  My head was spinning with ideas because living, eating, and sharing a room with math teachers,  I had been in constant "sharing" mode with mathies for a full four days.  Then, BOOM, back to a house that needed cleaning, a hubbie with some health issues, a son who is getting married in a little over a month, a mountain of firewood to be stacked, and grass that keeps growing back!!  And of course all I wanted to do was get my classroom set up, think about how to incorporate all these new and amazing ideas into my curriculum, and chat with people I had met out in Jenks.  I had to give myself a day or two to just breathe.

2.  Pick one or two ideas and try them out.  On the plane ride home, I looked over my notes from the various sessions and was blown away.  That was when I truly realized what I had just experienced, but I also knew that if I tried to do all that was starred as being "super amazing idea!", I would find myself residing in a looney bin within a month.  So I am going to pick two things that I think I can incorporate fairly easily.  

One of these ideas to is expand the use of Interactive Notebooks with more than just my Geometry kiddos.  The other is to use several of Max Ray's Powerful Problem Solving techniques with the students.  I had been doing What Do You Wonder, What Do You Notice for a year now (not knowing where they came from!), but there are a number of others I want to try out!

3.  Incorporate "My Favorites" into my monthly Math Department Meetings.  One of the best part of each day was the 10 minute "My Favorites" shared by a variety of people.  Each day a number of teachers shared one of the favorite things they do, activities they developed, or technology they have found and how it works.  I can see where this would fit into our monthly department meetings as an opener. I think I will start off by either sharing how I store my personal white boards (see post from #july2014 challenge) OR one of the My Favorites from TMC14.  John Mahlstedt had 2 fabulous ideas:

First:  Make each date be a math problem!  LOOOOVE it.  And I can see assigning this to a different kid each day.  There are so many benefits to this, I can't even name them all!

Second:  Make a power point presentation to introduce yourself. "32 Things You May Not Know About Mrs. Palmer".  Ok, well maybe not 32, but surely 10 or 15!  The thing is, you share cool things, things you are good at, things you are bad at, things that are on your bucket list, etc.  Helps break the ice, and helps kids connect with you in interesting ways ("Hey, I see words in color, too!"  Check out synesthesia on Google if you want to know what I am talking about here.)  Here is my first slide:

Hey, I lived with four brothers and a crazy sister (love you, P!), had three sons, and helped run a youth group for 20+ years.  I come by my sick sense of humor honestly.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

What's on My Walls

I have not been very faithful about the #july2014challenge, but I find myself with a moment or two and will share what is on the walls of my classroom.

My room is interesting, to say the least, and to just tell you what is, or is not, on the walls is too hard, so I am just going to share the room with you!

It is a portable classroom.  Small: fits 20 desks in a pinch, but this year I had 23 PreCal seniors, so we had to import a table and get rid of one of my storage units.  The portable is only one classroom wide, so it has windows on both sides of the room, leaving us with VERY little wall space.  It also came with no built in bookshelves or closets, so all that had to be imported as well.

The back wall has the 8 Standards of Mathematical Practices, and a few other things. The side wall between the windows has a few pithy quotes and whatever poster I need to put up to remind a certain class how to do a certain thing!

Then we move on to the rest of the back wall.  As you can see I use the door to the next room as a bulletin board!  Past the cabinet is my desk area: A mess, so I will not share it with you!  These pix were taken to hang up on the board for the janitors so they know how to put my room back together. Normally desks are in pairs or fours:  Gives the illusion of more space!

The front of the room is taken up by the white board, and the SmartBoard (yes, it still has holiday decorations around it.  The girls who decorated wouldn't let me take it down!).  There are no more desks to the left, because the students in the front left wouldn't be able to see the white board.  The SmartBoard is on a "bump out" in the room (the mechanicals are behind it, I am told:  airconditioning and heating units) and had to be hung on plywood which is hinged so I can swing it out. Otherwise the kids on the front right wouldn't be able to see it.

Way over on the right is a metal "bulletin" board that the Metal Fab shop made for me. I LOVE this and think every room should have one! I needed a place to hang things with magnets and with only one white board, it just wasn't working out for me to use up space on the board.

This helps you see how close the desks have to be in the front of the room.  We are VERY cozy.  That door opens out onto a deck, which leads back into the school.  Lovely in the fall and spring.  Not so nice in the freezing winter.  Or in the rain.  

It is a constant challenge to keep organized, and it is kind of lonely because you have to go outside to get to us and there are only 3 of us out here.  However, we rarely get interrupted by people going by, or someone just sticking their head in to say hey.  

This will be my 15th year that I have been out in the portables ("trailer trash" as one gym teacher called us!:), and while I miss hanging out with my colleagues, my little kingdom has been a fun place to practice the trade!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

5 Things

I love the challenge (#5things from @druinok) of thinking about the 5 things I absolutely could NOT do without in my classroom.

Here are my 5:

1.  SmartPal sleeves from EAI.  These are used as personal white boards.  I put velcro on them and attach them to each desk.  I buy 30 of these most years.  It is worth every single penny and if we take good care of them, I can get more than a year out of a lot of them.

The best part is when I say, "Get your white boards out."  There is one big "riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiip" sound that never fails to make us all laugh!

2.  Name Cards:  I make a set of these for each class.  They are color coded, so all I have to do is grab the right color from the Bucket where they are kept, and I can randomly call on kids, set up groups really quickly, make teams, etc. Sometimes if I want kids to sit at different seats, I just put their name card on the desk where they should sit (before they enter class). I could not teach with out these.  AND it helps me learn names quickly at the beginning of the year!

3.   Document Camera:  I do not know how I taught before this came into my life.  I saw it used at a conference, went back and told my IT lady I needed one bc I was having rotator cuff issues, and bam, there it was!  It sits on an extra student desk and the kids and I write directly on the desk with a white board marker.  

The bonus of this piece of technology is being able to share student work quickly and easily, show worksheets, sketches, interactive notebook notes, etc.

4.  Different Color Correcting Pens:  I buy a couple of boxes of green, purple, and red pens.  They reside in the Correcting Pen Box (made in word working class by #2 Son).  We frequently correct our own homework, or formative assessments and students are required to make a check mark for correct answers, circles or stars for problems they had issues with.  This requirement keeps them in the game as other students share answers. I can wander and see at a glance where the class as a whole is having issues or where a particular student is struggling.  Every so often I collect these homeworks or formative assessments, just to keep them on their toes!

5.  Warm Up Books and Little Black Books:  ( Yeah, yeah, this is kind of a cheat because it is really two things, but so closely related! )

Thank goodness I work at a Vocational School!  Our Graphic Communications Shop always has left over bits and pieces which they kindly put together into warm up books.  These are passed out each day at the beginning of class, and the students do their Wm Ups in them.  This means they can look back at warm ups from previous weeks if they come across something they forgot.

The Little Black Book is a composition book (I like the quadrille).  We use these for our Interactive Notebooks.  

And speaking of Interactive Notebooks:  I would like to hear from people who do these.  Do you have students take them back and forth with them or do you keep them in your classroom and what is your rationale?  Do you let students use them on assessments?

Mamah Palmah's Real Life Skills and Unsolicited Advice Academy: Day 2

The second day of Mamah Palmah's Real Life Skills and Unsolicited Advice Academy involved some important things I made sure my own boys could do before they headed off for college:  

they had to sew on a button, iron a dress shirt and pants, and mend a hem or seam.

I nabbed some of Hubby's older shirts (cut off all the buttons), a pair of too small trousers that had belonged to the sons (ripped hems/seams in several places), my ironing board & iron, and my sewing box.

Since it was sign out day, I informed these PreCal cherubs that their last exam was to do everything on the agenda:  I would not sign them out until I saw them do some of every task.  The pix on the board are of me ironing a shirt, step by step, so the could refer to them while I helped others with the mending.


They claimed it was the most useful day they had in 4 yrs.  Not sure how I feel about that: some had me for 3 of 4 yrs!!

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Finishing Up

My Pre-Cal seniors had two days left after grades were due.  I decided it was time to get them ready for the "outside".  When they came in to class they found this on the board:

We spent the 80 minute class going through the Post Test from the Credit for Life Fair that all the seniors did (a role play financial literacy activity).  We just did NOT have time to debrief after the Fair in April, so I saved their post tests knowing that I would have these 2 days.  

When we finished with that, I dragged out a packet from the local bank.  We discussed checking accounts, practiced writing checks, filling out deposit slips, and balancing the check book from one month's statement.

My favorite line of the day: "How do people LEARN this stuff if the bank doesn't teach you??"  I told them the best way was to ask a parent (lots of snorts and grunts) or find a "Mama Palmah"!

In my next post, I will share how we spent the very last day together!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Boston Strong

Last year on Patriots Day, my niece, at the last minute, agreed to run the Boston Marathon to help pace a friend of hers.  I had no idea she was even IN Boston that day. The month before she had run the LA Marathon and I thought she was still in CA working.

But, no, she had come home to Dorchester to watch the Marathon, and, in the end, to run it again as she had the year before.  She and her friend had just crossed the finish line and were only a block or so away when the bombs went off.  She and friend are fine physically, but no one who was there or who had loved ones there will ever be quite the same.

This is a tribute that my niece put together.  She is an amazing person and this is an amazing tribute.

Please take a moment to watch this and, if you feel moved to, share it with others.

Thursday, April 3, 2014


I have spent so much time in the Math TwitterBlogosphere this year that some people are wondering about my sanity.  I keep sending links to my staff, sharing cool ideas, and in general trying to get people to see what an AMAZING community of mathies is out there!

Most Tuesday evenings I can be found bouncing between computer and getting my stuff together to be ready for school the next morning.  The Global Math Department has some pretty fantastic PD nearly every Tuesday.  This past Tuesday William McCallum shared what he was doing with the Illustrative Mathematics Project.  As I buzzed between closet and kitchen, I heard (and read....the chat box is often just as informative as the presenter!) some thought provoking ideas.

Can't remember what Bill was talking about, but he showed the Stained Glass Window task, and since I had JUST been doing perimeter and area of compound shapes, it really caught my eye.  Off to the website, I went.  I copied and pasted (and credited), stuck it in a Word doc and voila:

Sent it off to my staff,  many of whom are doing the same unit as I am, so I thought maybe it would catch their interest.  

TA DA!  Sound the horns!  Here is the email response from a pair of co-teachers.

Awesome!  Our period one class loved this problem - and they don't love anything!  They're usually so dull and boring! 

When I spoke to one of the teachers later she said that her co-teacher talked her into trying it with the kids.  Since it was a last minute idea, they had no real plan, and figured they would just toss it out there and see what happened.  If it started to bomb, they would do some interventions.

"So Ms. D and I sat in the back working out the answers ourselves.  The kids worked in pairs and were ALL working, even your buddy N !  As Ms. D and I got closer to an answer the kids kept saying, 'No!  Don't tell us, we want to figure it our ourselves!'  It was so AWESOME!"

I managed to restrain myself from saying "Right?  This is what I have been trying to say all along!"  So instead I did my little happy dance and grinned the rest of the way back to my room.  Then I sent her my plans for this past week in case she wanted to try any.

And so I think I may have a couple of converts.  Watch out, MTBoS!  I'm on a mission! :)

Sunday, February 23, 2014

State Test Questions That Make Me Angry

In my warm ups,  I am trying to incorporate some of the typical Data and Stats questions from the MCAS (state test) that my sophomores have to take in May.  Many of them haven't dealt with mean, median, mode, etc since middle school and some forget ever even SEEING some of the data displays.

While poking around the MCAS Test Questions site, I came across this one.  Honestly!

Such a MEANINGLESS question that leaves kids scratching their heads.  THIS is an example of what we hope our kids can do??? 

I am hoping that the kids who grow up and are in charge of taking care of me in my dotage can do a whole lot more than this!

And here is one more.  LOVE that the word "greatest" and "median" get used in the same sentence.  I sat and looked at this question for a while wondering what the heck they were trying to get at.


Friday, February 14, 2014

Today I Shut Up

Today I shut up.  And I listened.  And great things happened.

My Geometry students came to me with several major weaknesses.  One of those is that they have a REALLY hard time with patterns.  Since patterns show up on the state test, it is an area that I need to spend some time on with them, but because we a vocational school, I have these cherubs for only 90 of the 180 days.

Here is where Fawn Nguyen's Visual Patterns website has come to my rescue.  I thought that working with visual patterns would be a good segue into working with number patterns.  I put one of these each week into their warm ups.  I choose a pattern by clicking on several until I find one that intrigues me!  Usually I cut and paste into a SmartBoard Notebook page, but this one I just duplicated by drawing the shapes.

(I love using Stage 0 as the first stage, because it lends so well to "What did we start with at the very beginning?  or at time 0? or before we  worked any hours?")

Having worked with this group, I knew that just figuring out how many figures were in Stage 43 would be challenging for a few, which is why I asked the first question.

I covered up the 2nd two questions with the shade option on Smartboard, and asked them to take out their warm up books and  write their responses to "Stage ?" and the first question.  Some got right to it, some did "scrunchy face".  I told them I expected everyone to have something written down and that Mr. G (student teacher) and I would be around just to peek.

And then I shut up.  

We wandered and peeked, but said nothing.  It was crazy hard.

When we were sure everyone had something down (even if it was just to name "Stage ?") we had kids respond.

Kiddo 1:  I noticed that the Stage number was one less than the number of objects.  

Kiddo 2:  Yeah:  the Stage number was always one less than the number of hexagons.  But you could also say that the number of hexagons was one more than the stage number.  (Wowzer! Yes, he got to pick from the candy tin for using such excellent polygon vocabulary!)

Kiddo 3:  (and this one made me practically weep with joy because he is one of my MOST struggling students AND because it is NOT something I noticed!)  I noticed that the Stage number is the same as the number of shared sides.

Kiddo 4:  Oh! I noticed that too, but I thought it was wrong.  (This, too, made me nearly weep for all the opposite reasons, but I told her that when you notice something, you absolutely, positively CANNOT be wrong because it is what YOU noticed!)

Next, I pulled the shade down a bit and asked them to find the perimeter for "Stage 0 - Stage ?".

And then I shut up.

Which was impossibly hard because I noticed a new way to find the perimeter!  I actually went to the board to write some sort of leading question, when I put my hand over my mouth and slunk away.  My student teacher gave me a puzzled look.  "I am shutting up, " I whispered.

When everyone had something down, I pulled the shade all the way down and asked them to find a rule for what they had just done.  Lots of them had already done that, without being asked!  Whoo hoo!

But still I shut up.
And gave everyone some more think time.
And, wow, was it worth it!

Kiddo 5:
I asked her what the 4 and the 6 represented.  "I don't really know.  I just played around with numbers until it worked for finding the perimeter of every stage."

Kiddo 6:
When I asked this young lady to explain what the 4 and the 6 represented she explained as she wrote some more: "Well I noticed that when I made a table of the perimeter, the perimeter changed by 4 each time, and that we began with a perimeter of 6."

At this point we really needed to wrap up the warm up time and I was pretty pleased that everyone had done SOMEthing with this problem.  But THEN, one young man said, "Uh, I did something different."

And it was SO fantastic, that I need to share it with all of you:

Kiddo 7:
Enlarge this picture and take a REALLY good look at it all.  This kid was on fire!!!!!

The words in green are my handwriting:  I wrote as he explained his thought process to the rest of the class when we asked him questions.
When he was done, I bowed to him!

I wanted to weep.  He saw what I had seen.  And I almost stole his thunder, which would have been SUCH a tragedy.  Instead, he had his moment in the spotlight.  He helped 13 other kids see this pattern in a really unique way, and did it using language that the kids really understood.  It was amazing.

I need to thank all my new "friends" and mentors on MTBoS.  You have never met me.  I have never met you.  And yet you have taught me so much. I am becoming a better teacher, and my students are becoming better learners.

And all because I have finally learned to ---------------------shut up.

Saturday, February 8, 2014


Twitter Math Camp 2014  (Professional Development By Teachers, For Teachers) will be happening just outside of Tulsa OK this July.  Hooray!

You can find out more about this at their website.

I am very excited about this because when I mentioned it to my Principal, she thought it would be a great idea, and that I should invite at least one more math teacher from the building!  Whoo hoo!

But I am hereby admitting outloud, that I am a chicken.  Traveling all that way (yep all the way from the backwaters of southeastern MA) to unfamiliar territory, meeting all these new people whom have been made into demi-gods in my mind, and on top of everything else: being the NEW person.  Oh ugh.  BUT just looking at all the seminars:  egad, I am positively drooling!

So if you read this, and you are thinking of heading out to Jenks, OK this July, contact me via Twitter (@TPalmer207) and let me know.  Maybe my brave-o-meter can move a little more in the right direction!  :)