10 Pounds of Math In A 5 Pound Sack

School Countdown
You can pay for an actual working countdown clock for your site at countingdownto.com.

Real talk? If you ain’t counting, you lying. Yeah, I know. We’re not supposed to be counting.

But we are supposed to be planning. And adjusting when plans go sideways.

Which is how this happened at our Algebra II (Track 3) Late Start Wednesday Meeting:

Here's The Math

Related image
Low-Grade Panic sets in amongst our ragtag band of Alg II teachers. Image via What A Day For A Daydream.

29 days.

1 day for the final exam, preceded by 5 days of review. That leaves 23 instructional days. For 21 sections across 4 chapters which will account for 32 final exam questions.

Yikes. Something’s got to give.

I’ve got a thought about how to fire up a spaceship on 12 amps. So do my math department colleagues.

But you know who else has a thought? My students. And they might be willing to go along with some changes if they have proposed those changes.

So I asked them.

Here’s what they told me:

  • Skip bellringers
  • Skip the Friday Self-Assessment
  • Shorten up the notes
  • Do the practice assignment (“homework”) in class
  • Quick-hitter quizzes over a couple of day’s worth of skills
  • Rinse, repeat

Good Lord. Why don’t you just tell me to teach the class while standing on my head in a corner? Because that would be an easier change to make.

One of my students heard her classmates making these suggestions about cutting back on notes and not taking “homework” home and said under her breath “Oh God, that’s stressing me out”. Guess what, my dear: it’s stressing me out too. Wayyyy too traditional a classroom for my tastes. And for my students’ needs.

Or is it?

If they are telling me what they need right now, and what has worked well for them in previous years with teachers in my building, it’s worth a listen. Using a solid, ancient negotiating tactic, I came to the table with a mental list of concessions I was willing to make. Then I can can lay it on the table at make-or-break time, like it’s something that it absolutely kills me to give up. I love giving my students a chance to engage deeply with math thru Estimation 180, Which One Doesn’t Belong, 101qs, and Would You Rather?, but right now I’ll make the trade for the time and hope that over the last 7 months we built a culture of curiosity and problem-solving in my class that carries over to “traditional” tasks.

Plus, it’s nice to have a little leverage as the temperatures (inside and outside the classroom) warm up. “Hey you guys, you told me if I did x, you would do y. Time to hold up your end of the bargain.”

Now, it’s time to go try to land a 747 on a two-lane road. In a crosswind.

Wish me luck.

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Quiz Review: Easy as 1, 2, 3

Dyngus Day
Smigus-Dyngus.

A three-day Easter weekend (Dyngus Day included) is coming up. And of course, before we leave out, we’re due for a quiz. Because I can’t very well send my students away for three days and expect them to come back sharp for assessment, right? Let’s set them up for success, not failure.

And that means Quiz Review. I’ve been trying to keep things fresh all year, rotating in some of my “go-to” activities: Speed Dating, Trashketball, Grudgeball, Four In A Row, Jeopardy, Kahoot.

Gotta mix things up, well, because even the good stuff gets stale after awhile.

I had promised my Little Cherubs™ a game for review on the day before the quiz. Really, really. Pinky-swear.

Yeah, and then life intruded. I spent every minute from 3:30 after my monthly Mentor-Mentee meeting until after (a very late) dinner taking care of Dad Job Description Issues, including my oldest son’s first car accident, my youngest’s middle school talent show, and whipping up a yummy, healthy (not really), budget-friendly meal. So I’m gonna start working on the materials for a game review at 10:30 at night and, yeah, no.

California English
You see, you gotta speak the lingo. Image via whisper.sh.

So I could just give my students a big old Kuta review packet, do some examples, say we reviewed, and then go home and feel shame and remorse for not coming up with something cool. And something with actual educational value. Or:

Provide some structure, teach some study skills applicable across the curriculum, and get some review done, all in a 50 minute class.

Easy as 1, 2, 3.


dcbd381680c07cc8a46a6d7ae62e1b1f_-123-free-clip-art-1-2-3-clipart_6621-3238
Image via img.clipartfest.com

So yeah, I gave them that big old packet. But: instead of “OK kiddies, start working on these problems, I’ll be around to help” (barf), It’s: “Don’t start yet. Look at the section headings, glance at the problem, and rate yourself on that skill. Use this scale”:

1 = I got this. I am confident I can do this problem correctly every time.

2= I need some support. I can probably do this type of problem, but I’ll have to look at my notes, go online for help, or ask a classmate or teacher if I’m on the right track.

3 = I got no clue. I don’t even know where to start. Help me!

Now I set a 5 minute timer and have them try to do as many of the 1’s as they can. (Prove to yourself that you got this).

Knock out the Number 1s (1)

Now reset the timer to 5:00, and have them start on the 2’s. Maybe they find out some of the 2’s are actually 1’s. Or 3’s. But they get in some reps, and get some practice at locating help.

Two minutes to play in the period
Two Minutes To Play In The Period
All about the teamwork (1)
Teamwork make the dream work.

Now: Everybody has done probably 5-8 problems, they’re feeling pretty good. And we’ve only used, max, 15 minutes of classtime.

Now we kick it up a notch: “Everybody stand up. Look at your 3’s. Go find somebody in the classroom who has that type of problem marked as a 1 or 2. Sit together and work out a problem together. Go make a friend.”

Number 3 meets Number 1
Number 3, meet Number 1. I’m gonna let you two kids talk.

We self-assess, we practice, we identify areas that need a little brush-up, and areas that need major attention before the quiz. We get out of our seats, we peer tutor. And we create an understanding that the quiz preparation will continue outside of class.

Not bad for 50 minutes of class. Not bad at all.

It’s the lowest-tech, least gamified review that I do. And: It’s worked in grades 9 through 12, for Algebra 1 Frequent Fliers and for semi-serious Algebra II students.

It’s a keeper.

Neymar goal saved by Ochoa-b

You Suck

Soaking Up The Sun At Sox Park
Only at Sox Park does a Brooklyn Dodgers hat almost start a fight.

Took my oldest son to a White Sox game this weekend, to celebrate his 21st birthday. We had a glorious Saturday afternoon and great seats for him to watch his favorite team. I’m a Cubs guy, but I like baseball just in general. And I love my son. So we go to Sox games together. With seats on the third-base side I knew we were sitting in the sun for a day game at Comiskey, so I broke out my Brooklyn Dodgers hat to keep the sun off my head. Can’t be heading back to school on Monday with a sunburned dome, right? A few innings in, walking back from the restroom to my seat, I hear a voice from behind me: “Look at that guy wearing the queer Cubbie blue hat. And the queer Dodger blue hat.”

Really? That’s the best you can do? “Queer?” I mean, aside from being an unacceptable slur, it’s just… lazy.


 

My students. They are passionate, but not always about math. At my previous school their NBA discussions sounded like the barbershop boxing scene (NSFW, obvi) from “Coming To America”.

“Awww, LaBron sucks.” “No, Kobe sucks.”

These are 2 of the top probably 10 best players in the history of the NBA. Which means they are 2 of probably 10 of the best at the game in the history of man walking upright and drawing breath.

But yeah, the guy that’s not your guy “sucks”. OK.

This frustrates me to no end. Make an argument, and back it up. Or: Shut Up. Because you sound stupid.


 

The Standards for Mathematical Practice describe ways in which developing student practitioners of the discipline of mathematics increasingly ought to engage with the subject matter as they grow in mathematical maturity and expertise throughout the elementary, middle and high school years.

Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, page eight

The Standards of Mathematical Practice. They are the linchpin of almost everything I’m trying to get done with my students in class. I try to create opportunities for them to persist in problem solving, to model with mathematics, to attend to precision, to reason abstractly and quantitatively, and to construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others. All sound like important skills, right?

We hit a couple of the SMPs every day with our bellringers. As an example, the Would You Rather task from last Thursday:

Would You Rather Brownies
Image via wouldyourathermath.com. That’s a website put together by John Stevens, co-author of The Classroom Chef.  

Is that a silly question? Sure. Any one could guess A or B. They’d have a 50-50 chance of being right. And that would be a very large waste of instructional time. But the real payoff comes when we get factions of class arguing against each other for their position (Math Fight!). That is an excellent use of our time.

To come up with an answer and justify it, they had to model the remaining portion of brownies (probably with a fraction), calculate what portion of the whole pan would each friend get in each scenario (more fraction operations), and convert to a decimal to compare amounts. A lot of work. A lot of persistence, actually. And right now we’re in that place where all they want is 1) to be told how to do the problem, 2) the homework, and 3) gimme my points. Right now, they want to dump out of the bellringers altogether. They feel it takes too much time away from the lesson presentation. I feel the skills they are building are just as important as the mechanics of working the skills practice, and will help them power through the practice work when they get stuck.

I am very stubborn. The bellringers stay. They are building a problem-solving toolkit that my students will need way after they’ve forgotten my name.

When are my kids gonna have to solve a log equation after high school? Hell, I don’t know. Probably never. But I guarantee you they’re gonna have to take a stand sometime and convince somebody of their position. Or at least not sound like a fool while they try.

Let’s give it a shot, shall we? I’ll help.

My Hall Of Fame

Sunday afternoon. Sunshine. Driving thru a blue-collar neighborhood in my town. Looking out the passenger window, I saw a family out for a walk: mom pushing a Little One in a stroller, dad with Toddler Son riding on his shoulders.

Not quite a “record scratch/freeze frame” moment, but for me, there was a definite double-take. It’s one of those iconic moments of fatherhood that we all look forward to. And that dad didn’t know it, but for a millisecond in my mind, we shared that moment.

Because: It was me, not that long ago. I remember what that felt like. Exactly.

Going For A Ride
Father and Son, ready to tackle The Strip in the sunshine.

It’s birthday season for my boys. That guy on my shoulders up there? As the last day of March, he’s a teenager. My oldest? He’ll be 21 within days.

Our little ones, all they want is to be Big. To see the world from where Dad sees it. And all we want to do is to hoist them up on our shoulders, bursting with pride.

Image via rudyinternational.com

And that never goes away. We boost them up physically when they are little, when it’s kind of a cool dad thing to do, and spend the rest of our lives giving whatever support is needed, when it’s the hard work of grinding out a life, sight unseen, day by day by day.


Gary Works
US Steel’s Gary Works. Image via nwi.com (story link)

The encroachment of Colts-wear north of, say, Rensselaer notwithstanding, Northwest Indiana is by any measure under the sphere of influence of the Chicago Bears. But my particular town has long been a bedroom community for US Steel’s Gary Works. As such, there are plenty of Pittsburgh transplants here. My dad worked 40 years at Inland Steel in East Chicago. We’re Region people (and Bears fans) to the core. But you don’t have to be a Steelers guy to love Jack Lambert.  His 1990 Hall of Fame enshrinement speech is a classic of the genre.

As my career in the School City of Hammond lengthened, as I started to look like a lifer, I thought of that speech often.

Lambert pull quote
Image via http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1258951-the-20-greatest-pittsburgh-steelers-quotes-of-all-time

I pictured myself at my retirement dinner, in front of family and a few teacher friends, sharing drinks and memories. And I’d steal the money line: “If I had to do it all over again, I’d be a high school math teacher. And you damn well better believe I’d be a Gavit Gladiator.”

But there was more to that Hall of Fame speech. A lot more.

Man of Steel
Image via si.com (see link below)

The guy who made the cover of Sports Illustrated, who was selected All-Pro and hoisted the Lombardi Trophy, who heard the roar of 60,000 voices wash over him, that day stood on stage, receiving the highest honor his sport can bestow, and he thanked coaches, equipment guys, team doctors, teammates. By name.

And… family.

Lambert saved the best for last. He called out his wife and children, by name, pointed to them and said, “There’s my Hall of Fame.”

It’s OK if you get the chills reading that. I do, every time I watch the speech.

Spring Break is great. Aside from Birthday Season (and occasionally Easter), it’s an opportunity to recharge, to take stock, to gear up for the last 10 weeks of school, to think about how the year has gone, what I can do better next  year.

Always trying to get better. You know why?

I won’t be a Hall of Fame anything. Not teacher of the year, month, day, or hour. But I’ve got a Hall of Fame around me in my classroom(s), six periods a day, 180 days a year…. and at home, 16 hours a day, every day.

I’ll take that. You damn well better believe….